Saturday, 10 December 2011

49 year anniversary - John Steinbeck wins the Nobel Prize for Literature

I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession. ~ John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck's acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize 10 December 1962 --

I thank the Swedish Academy for finding my work worthy of this highest honor.

In my heart there may be doubt that I deserve the Nobel award over other men of letters whom I hold in respect and reverence - but there is no question of my pleasure and pride in having it for myself.

It is customary for the recipient of this award to offer personal or scholarly comment on the nature and the direction of literature. At this particular time, however, I think it would be well to consider the high duties and the responsibilities of the makers of literature.

Such is the prestige of the Nobel award and of this place where I stand that I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession and in the great and good men who have practiced it through the ages.

Literature was not promulgated by a pale and emasculated critical priesthood singing their litanies in empty churches - nor is it a game for the cloistered elect, the tinhorn mendicants of low calorie despair.

Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed.

The skalds, the bards, the writers are not separate and exclusive. From the beginning, their functions, their duties, their responsibilities have been decreed by our species.

Humanity has been passing through a gray and desolate time of confusion. My great predecessor, William Faulkner, speaking here, referred to it as a tragedy of universal fear so long sustained that there were no longer problems of the spirit, so that only the human heart in conflict with itself seemed worth writing about.

Faulkner, more than most men, was aware of human strength as well as of human weakness. He knew that the understanding and the resolution of fear are a large part of the writer's reason for being.

This is not new. The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.

Furthermore, the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit - for gallantry in defeat - for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally-flags of hope and of emulation.

I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man, has no dedication nor any membership in literature.

The present universal fear has been the result of a forward surge in our knowledge and manipulation of certain dangerous factors in the physical world.

It is true that other phases of understanding have not yet caught up with this great step, but there is no reason to presume that they cannot or will not draw abreast. Indeed it is a part of the writer's responsibility to make sure that they do.

With humanity's long proud history of standing firm against natural enemies, sometimes in the face of almost certain defeat and extinction, we would be cowardly and stupid to leave the field on the eve of our greatest potential victory.

Understandably, I have been reading the life of Alfred Nobel - a solitary man, the books say, a thoughtful man. He perfected the release of explosive forces, capable of creative good or of destructive evil, but lacking choice, ungoverned by conscience or judgment.

Nobel saw some of the cruel and bloody misuses of his inventions. He may even have foreseen the end result of his probing - access to ultimate violence - to final destruction. Some say that he became cynical, but I do not believe this. I think he strove to invent a control, a safety valve. I think he found it finally only in the human mind and the human spirit. To me, his thinking is clearly indicated in the categories of these awards.

They are offered for increased and continuing knowledge of man and of his world - for understanding and communication, which are the functions of literature. And they are offered for demonstrations of the capacity for peace - the culmination of all the others.

Less than fifty years after his death, the door of nature was unlocked and we were offered the dreadful burden of choice.

We have usurped many of the powers we once ascribed to God.

Fearful and unprepared, we have assumed lordship over the life or death of the whole world - of all living things.

The danger and the glory and the choice rest finally in man. The test of his perfectibility is at hand.

Having taken Godlike power, we must seek in ourselves for the responsibility and the wisdom we once prayed some deity might have.

Man himself has become our greatest hazard and our only hope.

So that today, St. John the apostle may well be paraphrased: In the end is the Word, and the Word is Man - and the Word is with Men.


Friday, 4 March 2011

Guest Blogger: Jean Hart Stewart

A BIG welcome to Jean Hart Stewart! She joins us this week to talk about love at first sight, which is the premise of her newly released book, For Love is New, published by Passion in Print Press. This phenomenon has always fascinated me. Perhaps it does you, too.


Love at first sight? What a wonderful topic to ask me to write about. I believe in it thoroughly. I lived it, I experienced it, I never doubted when it happened to me.

Here’s my personal story. A very nice guy, but one who didn’t appeal to me asked me for several dates and I turned him down. So when he phoned me to say his brother wanted to meet me I assumed either it was either a setup or that the brother wouldn’t interest me. So I dodged, saying I had to go to the library. This all took place at Ohio State University, a large campus and definitely not the best excuse I could have come up with. Brother replied fine, they’d meet me there. At this point I started getting a little nervous, so talked a girl friend into going with me for protection.

When we got to the library, the two brothers walked down the twelve foot wide library steps to the first floor. I can still shut my eyes and see them coming. I thought my future mate was the handsomest man I’d ever seen, and I still do. DH-to-be asked me to go to the drugstore for a coke, and cursing myself I had to decline since I had my friend to consider. On the way home, I told her I’d just met the man I was going to marry. She laughed, but let me tell you he didn’t have a chance, poor about-to-be-married dear. A determined woman is gonna win every time.

So I most definitely believe in love at first sight. Looking back, I find I’ve used my deep conviction such love is possible in many of my books. My latest WIP has two brothers, both of whom fall instantly for girls, and neither one is looking for love at all. It’s tentatively titled Victoria’s Visions, and I’m having lots of fun writing it. Here’s a very short and unedited excerpt from when Cabot meets Vicky. He’s engaged to another girl, but Vicky grabs him by the heartstrings. Immediately. This takes place two days after they meet.

“What’s wrong Cabot? You suddenly look like a thundercloud. I thought you liked the view.”
He’d reached the edge of the stand of trees. He wheeled and grabbed her against his rampant body, kissing her with a ferocity stunning them both.
“You’re what’s wrong, Victoria.”
Her lips parted under his as she sighed into his mouth. He briefly tightened his hold but gentled his kiss. When he felt her lips grow even softer he let his hands trace the curves of her body with a hunger barely under control. A wave of passion swept through his all too ready body. It didn’t help at all when she flung her arms around him, clinging tightly and pressing her softness against his stiff erection.”

Just an ordinary love scene? Not quite. Cabot and Vicky met the day before. So yes, I definitely believe in love at first sight and write about it often. I’d love to know if any of you are as convinced as I am.

Lord Christian Cherne, recently invalided out of the Penninsular Army, is looking forward to the pleasures of London. He has one duty to discharge before he searches for a mistress. He must offer his protection to Lady Juliet Sloan. Paul Sloan was killed in battle, leaving Christian a horrifying letter of his sadistic treatment at the hands of Roger Gullis. To his dismay, Christian finds Gullis sitting in Lady Juliet’s parlor when he comes to call. All his plans must now concentrate on keeping Juliet safe. Christian further suspects Gullis of being a traitor and his fears for Juliet increase.
Juliet is attracted, but suspicious of which man is the traitor. As attraction between Juliet and Christian grows, Gullis turns cruelly vengeful.
Will Juliet and Christian be able to thwart Gullis’ plans to help bring Napoleon back to power, even as he finds wicked retribution for his rejection by the two lovers he has come to hate?


They reached the oak almost simultaneously.

“I won,” crowed Julie. “You were close, but I won.”

“You little minx, it was a tie. Next time I won’t offer you any start if you can ride like that.”

Her face alight with laughter, Julie swiped at her arm. “These blasted black flies. Oh drat, a huge one’s settled on Torie.”

She leaned over to brush the big insect off Torie’s shoulder at the precise moment a shot rang out. Juliet felt the whoosh of air as the bullet passed over her. Right where she would have been had she not stooped over Torie.

“Julie!” Christian was off his horse in a flash and pulled her down into his arms. “Are you hit?”

He ran his hands up and down her body and then over her face. He groaned as he held her face in his hands and fastened his lips on hers in a desperate attempt to assure himself she was alive and well. Her response was immediate, even more ardent than the times he’d kissed her before. He buried his tongue in her mouth for a brief moment before shuddering and setting her aside.

“My God, Julie, you could have died before my eyes. A fine protector I am.”


Join Jean on her next stop on her virtual book tour at Romance That's Out of This World.

Click here for more information on Jean's Virtual Book Tour.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Guest Blogger: Melissa McClone

I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome author Melissa McClone to Heart of Fiction where she'll talk about her current Harlequin release, Expecting Royal Twins. She's our first guest blogger, and what a better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than talking about ROMANCE!

Take it away, Melissa!!


If you think the romance genre takes some hard hits from the media, try writing category romance.

Some people call them formulaic or cookie-cutter. Others deem them "little" books. Many think they are so easy to write anyone can crank out ten of them without much effort. A few romance writers have said their novels aren't like Harlequins, as if those who do write category romance should be wearing a big red H on their chest.
Well, just stick one on me.

I write for Harlequin Romance. Back in high school, I read my first category romance, a Harlequin Romance set in the Canary Islands. That book got me hooked as a romance reader and led me try writing romance novels several years later.

What is category romance?

Since I write for Harlequin, I'll use their books to define the term. Category romances are novels released monthly by a specific Harlequin line, such as Romance, Medical, Historical, Presents, Desire, Intrigue, American Romance, Special Edition, Blaze, Nocturne, Romantic Suspense, Love Inspired and Superromance. Each line represents a specific category of romance: sweet, sensual, inspirational, suspense, paranormal, etc.

Sometimes the term "series romance" is used due to a line's sequential numbering of book on the covers and spine. This number is based on a book's publication order.

Each line has its own distinctive packaging. The books published within a specific line have similar word counts, flavor, tone and sensuality level.

Category reader expectation is high. Readers know what kind of story they'll get with each line, but the books aren't all the same. If you look at this month's line up from Harlequin Romance, the six releases are part of the Babies and Brides miniseries. A quick glance at the back cover copy at will show you how each story, including the heroes and heroines, are all very different.

My contribution to the month's line up is Expecting Royal Twins! When I first came up with the idea, I wanted to put a fresh twist on two traditional romance plotlines—a long lost royal and a marriage of convenience (more like a marriage of duty, in this instance.) Instead of setting the tale in an idyllic land, I choose a fictional Balkan country that had been torn apart by a civil war.

With a 50,000 word count, there isn't a lot of room for subplots and extra characters in shorter lines like Harlequin Romance. The focus must be on the romance, but you can't leave the other stuff out, either. It's like trying to fit a seven-course meal on a salad plate. Not all category lines are as short as the ones I write. Harlequin Superromance's word count ranges from 70K to 75K words. They get to use a full-sized plate.

Category romances used to have a very short shelf life. Readers had to rely on libraries and used bookstores to find a category author's backlist. On-line bookstores enabled readers to buy new releases past the month of publication. Now with the influx of eBooks, more category backlists are becoming available which is a great thing for both readers and authors.

Why do I write category romance?

Because I love reading them.

I read across the romance genre, as well as outside of it. But as a wife with a traveling spouse, mother of three active kids and a romance writer, I don't always have the time or energy for longer books these days. Category romances are the perfect length and escape for me. I can finish a story in one setting. That's my favorite way of reading any book. And I know when I reach "The End" I'll have a smile on my face and a feeling of ah in my heart.

That was how I wanted to make readers feel when I started writing so many years ago, and it's still the end goal today.

Do you read category romance? If so, what is your favorite line?


Suddenly a Princess...

It's not every day that a tall, dark, handsome prince strides into your workshop and announces he's your husband! Mechanic Izzy nearly drops her wrench. Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine that she'd become a princess!

Independent Izzy struggles with exchanging her oil-stained overalls for silken gowns, let alone becoming responsible for an entire country! Yet her attraction to Prince Niko tempts her further into the fairy tale. And then two small surprises change all the rules of the game...


Inside Bay #2 at Rowdy's One Stop Garage in Charlotte, North Carolina, a Brad Paisley song blared from a nearby boom box. Oil, gasoline and grease scented the air. Isabel Poussard bent over a Chevy 350 small block engine. The bolt she needed to remove wouldn't budge, but she wasn't giving up or asking for help. She wanted the guys to see her as an equal, not a woman who couldn't make it on her own.

She adjusted the wrench. "Come on now. Turn for Izzy."

A swatch of light brown hair fell across her eyes so she couldn't see.

Darn ponytail. It never stayed put. If she had any extra money, she would get a short hairstyle so she wouldn't be bothered any more. She didn't dare cut it herself. For years her Uncle Frank had chopped her hair with whatever was handy, scissors or razor blades. She'd grown up looking more like a boy than a girl. Not that any dresses hung in her closest today.

Izzy tucked the stray strands behind her ear. She struggled to turn the wrench. Her palm sweated. The wrench slipped.

Frustrated, she blew out a puff of air. "No one is going to let you work over the wall in the pits during a race if you can't loosen a little bolt."

She imagined the start of the Daytona 500. The roar of the crowd. The heat from the pavement. The smell of burning of rubber. The rev of engines.

Excitement surged through her.

Being on a professional pit crew had been Uncle Frank's dream for as long as Izzy remembered. An aneurysm had cut his life short. Now it was up to her to turn his dream into a reality. He'd spent his life caring for her and sharing his skill and love of cars. More than once he'd had the opportunity to be on a pit crew, but he hadn't wanted to leave her. This was the least she could do for him.

As soon as she saved enough money, she would enroll in pit crew school. She wanted to put her days at dirt tracks and stock car circuits behind her and take a shot at the big leagues. For Uncle Frank and herself. She had bigger goals than just being on the pit crew. She wanted to be the crew chief. Izzy would show those kids who laughed at her grease stained hands they were wrong. She would do something with her life. Something big.

She adjusted her grip on the wrench and tried again. The bolt turned. "Yes."

"Hey, Izzy," the garage owner's son and her closest friend Boyd shouted to her over the Lady Antebellum song now playing on the radio. "Some folks here to see you."

Word of mouth about her skills kept spreading. She could not only fix old engines, but the new hybrids, too. Her understanding of the computer and electronics side of things coupled with a gift for diagnostics drew in new clients daily. Her boss Rowdy was so happy he'd given Izzy a raise. If this kept up, she could enroll in school in a few months.

With a smile, she placed her wrench and the bolt on the top of her toolbox.

Izzy stepped outside. Fresh air filled her lungs. Sunshine warmed her face. She loved spring days better than the humid ones summer brought with it.

In front of her, a black limousine gleamed beneath the midday sun. The engine idled perfectly. Darkened windows hid the identity of the car's passengers, but uniformed police officers stood nearby.

Not simply "some folks" wanting to see her. Must be a VIP inside the limo if police escorts were needed.

Izzy couldn't imagine what they wanted with her since the car sounded like it was running fine.

She wiped her dirty hands on the thighs of her cotton coveralls. Not exactly clean, especially with grease caked under her fingernails, but cleaner.

One of the police officers gave her the once over, as if sizing up her danger potential. A good thing she'd left the wrench in the garage.

A chauffeur walked around the car and opened the back door. A blond man exited. He wore a designer suit and nicely polished black dress shoes. With a classically handsome face and short clipped hair, he was easy on the eyes. But his good looks seemed a little bland like a bowl of vanilla ice cream without any hot fudge, whipped cream and candy sprinkles. She preferred men who weren't quite so pretty, men with a little more…character.

"Isabel Poussard?" the man asked.

She stiffened. The last time anyone used her real name had been during her high school graduation ceremony when she received her diploma. She'd always been Izzy, ever since she was a little girl. Uncle Frank had taught her to be careful and cautious around strangers. He'd worried about her and been very protective. She knew he'd be that way now if he were here.

Izzy raised her chin and stared down her nose. The gesture had sent more than one guy running in the opposite direction. "Who wants to know?"

Warm, brown eyes met hers. The guy wasn't intimidated at all. He looked almost amused for some strange reason. "I am Jovan Novak, aide to His Royal Highness Crown Prince Nikola Tomislav Kresimir."

Jovan's accent sounded European. Interesting since this was NASCAR country, not Formula 1 territory. "Never heard of him."

"He's from Vernonia."

"Vernonia." The name sounded vaguely familiar. Izzy rolled the word over in her mind. Suddenly, she remembered. "That's one of those Balkan countries. Fairytale castles and snowcapped mountains. There was a civil war there."


"Hey, Izzy," Boyd shouted from behind her. "You need any help?"

She glanced back at the bear of a man who stood with a mallet in his hands and curiosity in his eyes. A grin tugged at her lips. She appreciated how Boyd treated her like a little sister, especially since she had no family. Of course that made things interesting the few times she had a date pick her up after work. "Not yet, Boyd, but I'll let you know if I do."

Jovan looked like he might be in shape, but she could probably take him without Boyd's help thanks to Uncle Frank. When she was younger, he used to barter his mechanic skills for her martial arts class tuition. Now she worked out every day to get in shape for the work necessary by a pit crew member during a race.

"Isabel. Izzy." Jovan's smile reached all the way to his eyes. He bowed. "It is such a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Your—"

"Is this about a car repair?" He acted so happy to meet her. That bothered Izzy. Most customers limited their interactions to questions about their cars. Some simply ignored her. The men who went out of their way to talk to her usually ended up propositioning her. "Or do you want something else? I'm in the middle of a job?"

Not exactly the most friendly customer service, but something felt off. No customer would know her real name. And the guy smiled too much to be having car trouble.

"One moment please." Jovan ducked into the limousine.

Time ticked by. Seconds or minutes Izzy couldn't tell since she wasn't wearing a watch. She used the clock hanging in the garage or her cellphone to keep track of time while she worked.

Izzy tapped her foot. She had to get the Chevy finished so she could work on the Dodge Grand Caravan. Somewhere a frazzled mom with four kids was waiting to get her minivan back. It was up to Izzy to get the job done.

Jovan stepped out of the limo finally.

About time, she thought.

Another man in a dark suit followed. Izzy took a closer look.


The thought shot from her brain to the tips of her steel-toed boots and ricocheted back to the top of her head.

The guy was at least six feet tall with thick, shoulder length brown hair and piercing blue-green eyes framed by dark lashes.

She straightened as if an extra inch could bring her closer to his height. Even then the top of her head would barely come to his chin.

But what a chin.

Izzy swallowed a sigh.

A strong nose, chiseled cheekbones, dark brows. Rugged features that made for an interesting—a handsome—combination in spite of a jagged scar on his right cheek.

Talk about character. He had it in spades.

Not that she was interested.

Spending her entire life surrounded by men, car mechanics, gave her an understanding of how the opposite sex thought and operated. The one standing in front of her wearing a nice suit and shiny shoes was trouble. Dangerous, too.

The limo, expensive clothing, personal aide and police escort meant he lived in a completely different world than her, a world where she was seen as nothing more than a servant or wallpaper or worse, a one night stand. Having to deal with mysterious rich people intimated her. She wanted nothing to do with him.

But she didn't mind looking. The man belonged on the cover of a glossy men's magazine. He moved with the grace and agility of an athlete. The fit of his suit made her wonder what was underneath the fancy fabric.

Everyone else around her seemed to fade into the background with him around. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had this kind of reaction to a guy. No doubt the result of working too much overtime. Time to take a night off and have some fun. That would keep her from mooning over the next gorgeous guy who crossed her path.

"You are Isabel Poussard." His accent, a mix of British and something else, could melt a frozen stick of butter.

She nodded, not trusting her voice.

His assessing gaze traveled the length of her. Nothing in his eyes or on his face hinted if he liked what he saw.

Not that she cared. Not much anyway.

A hottie like him would never be interested in a grease monkey like her. Still he was a yummy piece of eye candy. One she could appreciate.

Izzy raised her chin again, but didn't stare down her nose the way she'd done with Jovan. She wasn't ready to send this one on his way just yet. "You know my name, but I don't know yours."

"I am Prince Nikola of Vernonia."

"A prince?"


She supposed a prince would have a police escort as well as an aide, but this was just the kind of prank Boyd would pull and kid Izzy about for the rest of her life. She glanced around looking for a camera. "Am I being punk'd?"


Thank you for joining us Melissa!

Join Melissa on her next stop on her virtual book tour at Grace Elliot's blog.

Click here for more information on Melissa's Virtual Book Tour.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Review Quickies: Marshall Karp and Grant McKenzie

Further on my New Year's 2011 To-Do List -- I will periodically post a short review of books I read during the year. Aside from being bloody good reads, it's my hope that my recommendations will inspire readers to branch out and try authors they may not be familiar with. Also, all books should be learning tools, so I'm hoping my reading recommendations will encourage writers to look at how the pros do it.

So let's get started.

Being an American in Ireland, I find it challenging sometimes to find books in Irish bookstores. Strange as that may sound, as Ireland has a wonderful literary tradition, the fact is, unless I want to read chick lit or Mills & Boon, my only other choices fall to authors who are household names. I'm not saying they don't write a good story. I'm sure they do. But the choices just aren't on the shelves for me. So I use Amazon UK to satisfy my romance reading needs, unless of course, I find something really interesting on the digital market. I still love trolling traditional bookstores, the feel of an actual book in my hands, and the knowledge that if I fall asleep while reading that it won't break when it hits the floor (the main reason I haven't bought a digital reader . . . yet!). Also, there are some great authors who just aren't stocked on Irish shelves, and who really should be.

Let's take Mr. Marshall Karp for example. I was contacted a few years ago by Mr. Karps publicist when I was reviewing regularly. The first book is called The Rabbit Factory and was very loosly based on Warner Brothers Studios and Six Flags/Magic Mountain Amusement Park. The rabbit in this book could easily have been Bugs himself.

Mr. Karp is a well-known and well-respected writer, his career including writing for commercials, plays, movies, and TV sitcoms. If you read his bio, you'll understand what makes his new book series such a hit. His two heroes, Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs, are every bit as much of Karp as Karp is of Lomax and Biggs.

In The Rabbit Factory, Lomax and Biggs are called onto the scene of a gruesome murder at Familyland, an amusement park run by animation house, Lamaar Studios. A dead man was found murdered inside a rabbit costume and the boys, as I call them, must solve the crime. The story takes readers on a wild ride behind the scenes at the amusement park and around Southern CA in search of the murderer.

Bloodthirsty quickly came on the heels of The Rabbit Factory, Lomax and Biggs called in to solve another murder, that of the most hated man in Hollywood. Now, I wonder who that could really be!

I was hooked on Lomax and Biggs from the first few pages of The Rabbit Factory, and I quickly developed a great appreciation for Mr. Karp's sense of humor and writing style. Lomax and Biggs are instantly likeable and their relationship admirable. Karp's writing is fast-paced. There's always something happening on every page, even if it's just snappy dialog. For me, the pages seemed to turn themselves.

This Xmas just past, while purchasing some books for gifts, I treated myself to a few books too. The first on the list was Flipping Out by our esteemed Marshall Karp.

One thing I really appreciate when I find an author I like is their consistent writing. This book was every bit as enjoyable as the first two in the series, and probably more so because it didn't involve Hollywood. It's certainly understandable that Mr. Karp would write a story set in a familiar area, but it was great to see the boys outside of Mr. Karp's comfort zone.

Flipping Out is about a mystery writer called Nora Bannister who, with some friends, buys fixer houses to 'flip' . . . fix up and sell for a profit. Then Nora gets a bright idea to write a story set in the house they're selling. The selling prices of the houses suddenly shoot up. What a novelty to buy a house used as the setting in a murder mystery novel!

But what happens when real dead bodies start turning up, and they're the bodies of the partners? And what happens with one of the partners is married to Terry Biggs??

The story moves along at a fast clip as the boys track down clues, witnesses and more bodies. The writing is fast-paced and the one liners seem to shoot out as rapidly as machine gun fire. As author James Patterson said, "Marshall Karp is the only writer I know who can get big laughs our of murdering someone." And ain't it the truth. And just when you think the murder has been caught . . . tighten your seatbelt because the ride is only just starting.

I recommend this book as a writer's tool so aspiring authors, and author's looking to jizz up their style, can see that murder mysteries can be both serious and funny. Writing styles are so personalized, yet we can always learn from those who go before us. What I take away from Mr. Karp's books is that well-written narrative will keep the pages turning. Snappy dialog endears characters to readers. Intriguing and intricate plots will suck readers in. I want the same thing Mr. Karp has -- at the end of the story when the last page is turned, I want my readers to sit up with incredulity, shouting, "It can't be over already!"

Which leads me to my next recommendation. Mr. Grant McKenzie.

I don't know where Mr. Grant found me, but he asked me for a friendship on Facebook. Both of us being debut novelists, I accepted his friend link and have been following his career as it's been shifting into high gear. Reading his reviews encouraged me to pick up a copy of his first book, Switch.

Sam White is a failed actor who's now working as a security guard for a shopping mall. After his shift ends, he goes home only to discover his street is cordoned off and filled with fire crews and police. In the space of a paragraph, Sam learns his house blew up, and with it his wife and daughter. After a night of interrogation at the police department, a strange messenger hands Sam a packet containing a cell phone. When it rings, the man on the other end tells Sam his family is alive, and if he wants them back, he has to perform a few 'simple' tasks.

When it's discovered that the bodies in the house were not those of his family, Sam vows to do what it takes to rescue his family. He just didn't count on the kidnapper to be so sadistic.

Neurosurgeon Zack Parker has suffered at the hands of the same mad man. Together, Sam and Zack find a way to save their families.

Like Mr. Karp, Mr. McKenzie takes readers through a maze of complicated twists and turns to reach the end of the story. Just when you think you know who the bad guy is, it's not. Just when you think you know why the bad guy is doing what he's doing, think again. Where Mr. Karp's stories are filled with humor which offsets the serious nature of the crimes being investigated, Mr. McKenzie's story is hard hitting, gritting and all too believable. It's easy to see why such stars in the crime field are so impressed --

**Lee Child, #1 NY Times best-selling author says, "A terrific little-guy-in-big-trouble thriller moving at warp speed — with the emphasis on warp."
**Ken Bruen, best-selling author of the Jack Taylor series says, "Think Harlan Coben on speed with a heart breaking compassion that will literally have you biting your nails."
**Rick Mofina, international best-selling author says, "Switch crackles with suspense and is as tense as a switchblade opening in a dark alley."

I say, "An awesome debut novel for Mr. McKenzie." This was a real edge of your seat page-turner. I hate to use cliche's, but cliche or not, it's the truth. I normally only read at night before bed or on long car journeys if I'm not knitting. Sometimes a book can take me weeks to get through, especially if I'm tired. But once I opened the cover of this book and turned to chapter one, I was hooked. I finished it in three nights, staying up way past a decent hour, reading just one more chapter before lights out.

What kept me engrossed was that Switch was a well-rounded story with characters stretched to the brink of their endurance, then pushed a little more. The storyline is, sadly, very believable. Just watch TV shows like Criminal Minds, or your evening news, and you'll see how gruesome a human being can become. And it just takes one small, almost insignificant act or word to trigger instability that lasts a lifetime. Mr. McKenzie's telling of his story was articulate and engrossing, and it will have me ordering his newest title, No Cry For Help. While it's another story of a vanished family, the storyline itself is completely different. I can't wait to read it.

I hope if any of my readers here decide to pick up a copy, or both copies, of these books, you'll learn something about how to improve your own writing -- where to add conflict, how to keep the tension tight, what makes believable characters . . . even for the bad guy!

Are there any books you've read that you've learned from? If so, what are they and what lessons were learned? Drop me an email or post your comments here.