Category Archives: Books

Family Pyrate Day in New Orleans!

I’ve been late getting this up, but Confetti Kids and Old Point Bar in Algiers Point,  New Orleans are kicking off NOLA Pirate Week with Family Pyrate Day on Saturday, March 25th from 11 am to 5 pm.

A whole slate of entertainers and authors is set up starting at 11 am at the Old Point Bar. I will do a reading from The Pirate of Panther Bay at 12:30 pm.

Pirates of all ages are welcome!

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Florida’s top local young-adult authors

Tortuga Bay takes home three awards in 2016 Royal Palm Literary Award competition.

National authors are easy to spot–they are the ones on the best-seller lists of the New York Times, USA Today, and other national publications. But what about local authors? These writers are often unknown and lack the national distribution networks of big publishers, but they also produce exceptional work from small and independent presses. The problem for readers (and bookstores) is assessing the quality of their work in a crowded field. One way to set them apart is to look at their performance in literary competitions that are referred by independent judges.

Florida Literary Competitions

Tortuga Bay earned two gold medals in the FAPA President’s Awards

Fortunately, several organizations exist in Florida that hold statewide competitions. These competitions generate hundreds of submissions from Florida authors and publishers, but they award top prizes to just a few.  The better literary competitions employ rubrics that independent judges use for numeric scoring to rank submissions. These rubrics generate overall scores that must meet certain minimum thresholds before a book can advance in the competition.

I examined data on the first, second, and third place awards for three established statewide literary competitions: The Florida Book Awards (FBA) hosted by Florida State University, the President’s Awards run by the Florida Authors and Publishers Association (FAPA), and the Royal Palm Literary Awards (RPLA) hosted by the Florida Writers Association. I then analyzed the places earned by Florida authors and ranked them by the number of wins.

Since a first place is generally considered superior in quality to second place (and third place), a first place award was given 10 points, a second place award 5 points, and a third place award 3 points. Thus, an author who earned two first place awards would score 20 points, and an author who earned a first place and a second place award would score 15.

These competitions, of course, are not inclusive of all authors. Authors may not submit their books because they are unaware of the competitions, find the entry fees too costly, don’t need or want the visibility, or already have an established marketing and distribution platform. Nevertheless, as a general indicator, placing well multiple times in a competitive literary contest is probably a reasonable indicator of quality.

Full disclosure: I have done well in recent literary competitions, albeit in multiple categories, and have won awards in the FAPA (Tortuga Bay), RPLA (Tortuga Bay, St. Nic, Inc.), and Seven Hills Literary Competition (Renegade) run by the Tallahassee Writers Association (and not included in the rankings for this article). The results below are based on the methodology above which focuses exclusively on weighted, numeric scoring.

Florida Young Adult Author Rankings

The FBA, FAPA, and RPLA competitions provide lists of all award winners going back several years. I wanted to capture active writers and those committed to the Florida literary scene. Thus, the rankings include only those for the last five years.

Since 2011, 53 authors have received first, second, or third place awards from one of these three organizations. Just six have received multiple awards. The top five young adult authors were multi-award winners and placed first in at least one competition, and are

  1. Leslee Horner (Tallahassee), coming of age, http://lesleehorner.com
  2. SR Staley (Tallahassee), action adventure, http://www.srstaley.com
  3. Jade Kerrion (Orlando), science fiction, fantasy, http://jadekerrion.com
  4. Kyle Prue (Naples), fantasy, http://kyleprue.com.
  5. M.R. Street (Tallahassee), coming of age, horror,  http://turtlecovepress.com  

Leslee Horner’s work is notable since her books have taken home four awards–the most of all authors entering the competitions–in the young adult categories in FAPA and FBA competitions. Honorable mention also goes to Alex Finn (http://alexfinn.com), also a multiple award winner (although not first place).

Other Florida authors who earned first place awards in one of these competitions included:

  • Gino Bardi
  • Mary Dawson
  • Dennis Cooper
  • Debbie Reed Fisher
  • Carl Hiassen
  • Christina Diaz Gonzalez
  • Shaun David Hutchinson
  • Joe Iriarte
  • Linda Kelley
  • Madeline Kuderick
  • Alison McMahan
  • Mark McWaters
  • K.B. Schaller
  • Ryan Van Cleave
  • Rick Yancey

Future blog posts will include rankings for the categories of historical fiction, mainstream/literary and thriller/suspense.

For additional information on the rankings, contact Sam Staley at sam@srstaley.com.

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How to fix Jack Reacher

jack_reacher_never_go_back_posterI recently saw the Tom Cruise action film Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. The movie was very serviceable as an action film—lots of fights, car chases, and take downs of bad guys—but I was disappointed overall. I personally believe Cruise is one of our best actors, and he, like Matt Damon, is capable of filling action hero roles quite capably even as he progresses through his mid-50s. (In fact, the sci fi action movie Edge of Tomorrow remains one of my favorite movies.) Even though Cruise has an entire wikepedia page devoted to his awards, he may be the best actor currently working yet to receive an acting academy award. Jack Reacher doesn’t come close to other movies in quality despite the talents of Edward Zwick, the academy award winning director of Shakespeare in Love and critically acclaimed films such as GloryLegends of the Fall, and The Last Samurai. Why?

I explored this question using a rubric that includes seven criteria to help me think through a film’s overall quality and pinpoint its strengths and weaknesses. I’ve done similar things for character development in novels (see here and here).

Never Go Back is part of the Jack Reacher thriller series penned by British novelist Lee Child. The story puts former military policy investigator Jack Reacher into the center of a conspiracy to swindle the U.S. government out of millions of dollars through illegal arms sales. The inciting incident is the arrest of Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), who is in charge of Reacher’s old unit. She’s jailed for espionage, but is really a target for assassination because her investigative work uncovered the arms trafficking scheme. Reacher also learns of a paternity suit in the course of the investigation that claims he is the father of a 15 year-old girl, Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh). When Turner’s attorney is murdered, Reacher is framed for the crime. The assassins quickly link Dayton to Reacher, expecting to use her as a pawn to trap and kill Reacher. So, the film is off and running as action adventure crime thriller.

I thought Never Go Back was a enjoyable action movie, but fell short of being an excellent one. It relied too much on formulas, and not enough on creative storytelling. So, how did this movie fall short? What made the difference between mediocre and great? These are my thoughts based on my film criticism rubric.

  1. Production values & artistic scope. Overall, the film didn’t have anything that pushed the envelop. The cinematography was state of the industry, but not state of he art. In leading action films such as Mission Impossible or Jason Bourne, technology is used to augment action sequences. Creative editing slows or hastens the pace. The camera shots engage the viewer with different angles and perspectives to illuminate motivation, create suspense, and immerse the viewer. I didn’t see much of this creative use of standard film tools and techniques in Never Go Back. It was yoeman’s work, for sure, but not much beyond it.
  2. Plot, internal consistency & composition The plot wasn’t particularly creative;
    “good guy, but flawed, cop uncovers duplicitous arms dealer” is a pretty worn concept. Buddy rescue stories are also pretty common. The fact that the new boss of Reacher’s old unit is a woman (Turner) might have been innovative in the 1980s and 1990s, but in the 2010s it’s almost cliche. Similarly, the emotional threat of a family member being used to derail the good guy cop is also pretty common (remember Lethal Weapon?). Reacher is a drifter and loner, much like old western heroes, and being tied down by an unwanted child is also a familiar plot device (recall True GritShane, etc.). While the story had an internal consistency—few loose ends left around at the end—its plot and composition were pretty stale. Also, the subplot of the uncertainty about paternity seemed contrived to add some humanity to the hardened soldier turned outlaw. In part this was necessary because Major Turner could pretty much take care of herself. So, some character had to be vulnerable, and that ended up being the teenager that might be Reacher’s daughter. She was never fully integrated as an essential element of the plot.
  3. Story plausibility and dialogue. Okay, this is a bit of a stretch for action films—they are almost always implausible—but my assessments are put in the context of the genre. The dialogue was straightforward without nuance in Jack Reacher. The banter was standard and straightforward, with little wit; Audiences weren’t asked to interpret much beyond what was said by the actors. In fact, I found very little in the way of compelling visual storytelling, in contrast to other similar films such as Deepwater Horizon and Jason Bourne. What makes cinema different from literary forms is the ability to show character and emotion through facial expressions, physical action, and reactions to events and other people without resorting to dialogue to tell the story. Visuals substitute for literary description. The actors were asked to do little more than straightforward acting in the film.
  4. Context in terms of genre. The film’s plot is relevant to the action film genre. After all, the U.S. is winding down the war in Afghanistan, and those weapons can easily be diverted. But the story doesn’t unfold in a creative way. The theft of arms is a standard plot for military television series such as NCIS or JAG. The theme simply is transported onto the big screen in a formulaic way. Even adding a corrupt inside guy n the military isn’t presented in an innovative or creative way.
  5. Entertainment & audience engagement. Never Go Back was entertaining, but it didn’t keep me engaged evenly throughout the film. If I had received a phone call or text message, I would have been willing to leave the theater to take it believing I wouldn’t miss much by the time I returned. In part, this is because the film was predictable and lacked imagination. This movie could have easily gone straight to DVD and saved for late night parties for your teenager.
  6. Character depth & arc. None of the characters really grow. At the end of the film, Major Turner is redeemed and goes back to her job running Reacher’s old unit. She is restored to her position rather than given new responsibilities, and her relationship with Reacher is not significantly deepened. Reacher goes back on the road, taking up his vigilante lifestyle, and the girl goes back to school (albeit this time living with her real mother who has cleaned up her act). Ironically, its the teenager—Samantha—that grows the most. She realizes the truth about Reacher, develops true feelings for him, but takes on a more mature and adult role as daughter to her mother. Unfortunately, Reacher and Turner on the leads in the movie, not the girl.
  7. Social message & relevance. The film has virtually no social relevance or meaningful message, except that Jack Reacher might not forsake the child he may have fathered. The film ends with Samantha giving Reacher a phone for him to contact her, but he doesn’t embrace the new relationship. Similarly, showing bad guys as bad guys doesn’t really advance our understanding of human nature, or reveal new ways of looking at human relationships. It’s all standard formula action movie fodder.

I am not sure how these aspects of the film could be “fixed,” but actors, producers, and directors of Tom Cruise and Edward Zick’s stature and experience can certainly find ways to do it. I didn’t feel like I was ripped off sitting in the movie theater, but I certainly expected more and I believe the principals could have given more. With a production budget of $60 million, they could have. On the other hand, the film has generated nearly the same amount in domestic revenue and $136 million worldwide. So, in at least a commercial sense, the film is a success despite its artistic flaws.

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Isabella and Tortuga Bay closes out 2016 with a boom!

Literary Competition Results: 2016

Tortuga Bay Literary Competition Results: 2016

The year 2016 will be logged as one of the most successful in my writing fiction writing career, as Tortuga Bay takes how three first place wins, two second place finishes, and two additional finalist spots in literary in national and statewide literary competitions.

These were not small wins, either. We started out the year with a bang, when Tortuga Bay earned a category finalist spot in the Eric Hoffer book awards, a competition that generates more than 1,200 submissions. I estimate that this put Tortuga Bay in the top 10% of submissions.

Then, in August, we found out the results of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association President’s Awards. FAPA’s competition generated nearly 400 entries from across the nation. Tortuga Bay placed first in Young Adult Fiction and Young Adult Romance/Coming of Age/New Adult.

And now, in October, we were in Orlando to accept several awards in the Royal Palm Literary Awards sponsored by the 1,500 strong Florida Writers Association. the first place award for Published Historical Fiction, second place award for Published Mainstream/Literary Fiction, and second place award for Published Young Adult/New Adult Fiction.  This year’s competition attracted 480 submissions, mainly from Florida authors and members of the FWA. About 140 authors made it into the final rounds based on a rubric used for scoring each submission and tallying up their points.

Isabella’s story has proven to be a robust one that attracts readers from across genres—young adult, adult, new adult, women’s fiction, mainstream, action/adventure, among others.

Buy Tortuga Bay (or The Pirate of Panther Bay) from SYP Publishing, amazon.com (Kindle or print), bn.com (Nook or print), walmart.com, or other on-line retailers.

 

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4 ways Trump’s “locker room talk” leads to campus sexual assault

Unsafe On Any Campus?Video tapes of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump demeaning women and bragging about sexually assaulting them led to a firestorm on social media. For his part, Trump apologized while deflecting responsibility for the full weight of his actions by dismissing the banter as “locker room talk.” The fact Trump is so casual in his willingness to brag about sexual assault is deeply troubling because it fails to recognize how it contributes to a toxic environment on high school and college campus. Locker room talk like that exchanges captured on the audio table enables, abets, and sustains attitudes the promote campus sexual assault and rape.

This is how the New York Times summed up the banter among Trump, the male host of Access Hollywood, and the other men in the vehicle:

In the three-minute recording, which was obtained by The Washington Post, Mr. Trump recounts to the television personality Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood” how he once pursued a married woman and “moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there,” expressing regret that they did not have sex. But he brags of a special status with women: Because he was “a star,” he says, he could “grab them by the pussy” whenever he wanted.

Is this harmless banter, just playful back and forth between men?

I would have been more dismissive of the effects five years ago, before I started coaching self-defense to women at FSU. I would have thought the language was distasteful, disrespectful, and offensive, but I would not have put much stock in the banter among men as directly harmful. I would also have been wrong. Research now shows that 18-20% of women will report experiencing the kinds of sexual assault Trump brags about by the time they graduate from college (and the share is higher for non-college students). 

Ample research has shown that fraternities, sororities, athletic teams, and certain cohorts of students hold general attitudes that diminish and objectivize women the way Trump did in his comments. For a few examples, see the study by Bannon, Brosi and Foubert on sorority and fraternity men’s attitudes in the Journal of student Affairs Research and Practice; the study by Chad Menning on perceptions of personal safety and risk at these parties in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence; and an analysis of fraternity party structure that produces these results by Brandon Harris and Dorothy Schmalz in the journal Deviant BehaviorWhile the question of whether our campuses are characterized by a widespread and deeply embedded rape culture is open to question, certain institutions and subgroups clearly do.

Thus, I now think differently. My perspective evolved because of the women I coach, the stories I’ve been privileged to learn about from sexual assault survivors, and a careful reading of research on young-adult behavior and human sexuality.

But what is still missing in the public outrage over Trump’s talk and his weak and shallow response is a clearer understanding of how this banter supports and sustains a rape culture, whether widespread or contained within smaller sub-groups.

Below are four ways “locker room talk” promotes misogyny and thus abets sexual assault on campuses.

1. Locker boom talk robs women of agency.

The narrative in this type of talk mocks the idea that women have any legitimate ability to prevent an attack on their body and human dignity. In other words, women cannot, should not, or do not, act on their own, with agency. The tone also promotes the idea that this weakness should be exploited regardless of their victim’s desires or preferences. It’s an attitude that is opposite the values taught in most Western societies—that those unable to defend themselves should be protected. The idea that a woman could, or should, object to these assaults, or say “no,” is dismissed, undermined, and pushed by perpetrators outside the boundaries of tolerable behavior or response, even when this behavior is highly offensive and even traumatizing. The banter is framed solely in the context of men taking what they want, regardless of the desires, preferences, or concerns of their target. This is what is meant by locker room talk “objectifying” women.  Indeed, Trump laments that fact he could not actually force a women to have sex with him, as if it’s he was denied a legitimate claim. But this is just the first layer of misogyny.

2. Locker Room Banter forces women to play victim.

Because the narrative is set up to give men power, and to marginalize resistance by the target of the assault, women are forced to play victim. They must accept the injury without comment or resistance because that is their “place.” The talk de-legitimizes self-defense, retaliation against the harm inflicted, or efforts to seek justice by equalizing the balance of power. In fact, the behavior implicitly rejects that idea that a harm has been created by the victims, and efforts to search for redress or rebalancing of these relationships is therefore illegitimate. Thus, Trump gloats about how he can kiss women on the lips, or grab them between their legs, and they will simply take it without objecting or defending themselves.

3. Locker Room Banter deflects responsibility for bad behavior and the harm created.

Talk that victimizes and objectifies others reinforces attitudes about a natural order of supremacy between men over women. Trump’s words and banter establishes a male-dominated paternalism that allows him and others to ignore responsibility for any bad behavior and outcomes from their actions. This dominance forged in private, giving it a privileged status among equals that is separated from public behavior and accountability. “Boys will be boys” attitudes essentially absolves them of responsibility for their actions and the consequences for their victims, and these are the attitudes agreed to by the group or tribe. Women have to just “get over it” and accept that this is what men do. This separates thoughts from actions as if it were okay to think about hurting people as long as someone’s doesn’t act on it, or isn’t caught performing the act. (But of course Trump is bragging about acts he claims he perpetrated.) Thus, the men in the trailer react positively to Trump’s claims of repeated attempts and successes in assaulting the women he comes in contact with. 

4. Locker Room Banter perpetuates victimization and harmful behavior among offenders.  

Cognitive psychology and cognitive behavioral therapy has shown that thoughts and behaviors are intertwined, and one cannot separate them easily. One way of looking at this is that if someone habitually and routinely objectifies other people, their behavior begins to track with those thoughts and is patterned by those prejudices. Thus, words become actions. Locker room talk normalizes the behavior being described, thus perpetuating actions that further diminish, objectify, and harm women (or others that are the target of the attacks). Again, this is clear in the audio tape by the reaction from the other men, who seem encouraged by Trump’s self-described success and admiration for his ability to use his privilege to continue his assaults without consequence. 

In Unsafe On Any Campus?, I argue that the respect for individual human dignity must form the core of a holistic and comprehensive approach to sexual assault on college campuses. The locker room banter used by Donald Trump, and accepted by the other men in the trailer, flies in the face of that concept by completely ignoring and belittling the value of the women he has targeted with his assaults. The fact Donald Trump does not seem to understand this, and in fact boasts of how he intentionally assaults the dignity of women by using the privileges bestowed on him by wealth and celebrity, is a dramatic illustration of why sexual assault continues to be a significant problem on college campuses in and society more generally.

Here is also a short interview I provided to the Capitol News Service on October 11, 2016, explaining some of these thoughts.

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Isabella sails into gold at the FAPA President’s Awards

Tortuga Bay earned two gold medals in the FAPA President's Awards

Tortuga Bay earned two gold medals in the FAPA President’s Awards

Tortuga Bay continues to generate enthusiasm and accolades as 2016 moves into its final months. Earlier, Isabella and her crew fought their way to recognition as a Category Finalist in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards. Tortuga Bay has also made it into the final rounds of the Royal Palm Literary Awards (final results will be released in October). Now, her crew earned gold medals in two categories of the President’s Award competition hosted by the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.

Both awards came in Young Adult (YA) categories. This first category was Young Adult Fiction, a broad category that would have her compete among many other books and subgenres. The second category was in YA Romance, Coming of Age, and New Adult.

Gold medal certificate for Young Adult Fiction

Gold medal certificate for Young Adult Fiction

Tortuga Bay (and the Pirate of Panther Bay series) are showing a broad appeal. While all the results are not in, the story has made it into the RPLA finals under Published Fiction—Mainstream/Literary. That means the novel is competing against a wide range of novels, in and outside the young adult category. In addition, Tortuga Bay made it into the RPLA semi-finals in the categories of YA historical fiction, women’s fiction, and YA romance.

Gold medal certificate for Young Adult Romance/Coming of Age/New Adult

Gold medal certificate for Young Adult Romance/Coming of Age/New Adult

FAPA’s awards have a lot of integrity. Unlike some other competitions, FAPA does not feel obligated to hand out awards to books based on the number of submissions in a category. Each book is judged and evaluated numerically based on a rubric. In order to become a finalist, the book has to meet a minimum numerical threshold from the judges. Specific thresholds are also necessary to qualify as bronze, silver or gold. Some categories, in fact, didn’t have any medalists. Other categories didn’t have any gold medals awarded, and others didn’t have bronze or silver medal awards. So, winners have confidence that their award was based on an absolute measure of quality (although scores are still subjective) that are compared equally across other submissions.

Thus, we are particularly proud to have earned these gold medals.

To buy Tortuga Bay, check out amazon.com or SYP Publishing.

For more on the series and how it can be used in the classroom, check out my website: http://www.srstaley.com/pirate-of-panther-bay.html

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Tortuga Bay advances in Royal Palm Literary Awards

Tortuga Bay makes semifinals in four cross over categories at RPLA

Tortuga Bay makes semifinals in four cross over categories at RPLA

I am really excited to announce that Tortuga Bay, the second book in the Pirate of Panther Bay Series published by Southern Yellow Pine Publishing, has advanced to the semifinals in four categories in the Royal Palm Literary Awards: Mainstream/Literary published fiction, Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction (published), and Young Adult/New Adult fiction. These accomplishments simply reinforce the cross over appeal of the Pirate of Panther Bay series, something I had sensed but really didn’t have good evidence to support my thoughts.

TortugaBaywEHAThis adds to Tortuga Bay’s wins in the Florida Authors and Publishers Association President’s Awards in Young Adult Historical Fiction and Young Adult/New Adult/Coming of Age. (We won’t know until August 6th whether the book wins a gold, silver, or bronze medal.)

Perhaps the highest profile success so far has been becoming a Finalist in the Eric Hoffer Books Awards.

The next step for RPLA is to wait to see if Tortuga Bay makes it into the finals. If that happens, I’m off to Orlando again in October.

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Tracy Lawson’s “Ignite” piles on action, conspiracy and ideas

Lawson,InciteI have previously reviewed Tracy Lawson’s first and second books (Counteract and Resist) in her dystopian Resistance Series, and I am enjoying how her story is arcing and taking shape.

In Ignite, the third book, the characters are becoming more complex, their personal struggles more nuanced. The plot is not just thickening, it’s becoming more layered. New, quirky characters are added with enough foreboding and mystery to keep us hooked. All these are signs of a series that is maturing and is growing with its readership.

One of the great benefits of science fiction, and YA dystopian literature in particular, is the ability to create worlds that grapple with larger issues that can be difficult to address in contemporary novels. The Hunger Games may be one of the most famous examples, where Suzanne Collins used her novels to explore the effects of violence on children, power, and society. Lawson—winner of the 2016 Best YA Fiction award from the Texas Writers Association—follows in this tradition although her ideas are more straightforward and more clearly embedded in the plot.

Tracy Lawson, author of the Resistance Series

Tracy Lawson, author of the Resistance Series

The premise of the series is actually not that fantastical—another trait of good science fiction. Using the threat of imminent terrorist threats, including biological attack, the federal government has developed a serum that inoculates the public against the threat. In truth, public officials use it to control the population. One of the more fascinating subplots is how these public officials seize control of the government apparatus by essentially sidestepping the traditional policy making process. The country still has an elected president, but the real power is in the Office of Civilian Safety and Defense (OCSD). Anyone who has observed the growing power of the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection since the 1970s will have no trouble believing this kind of political ninjitsu (but this is another story for another blog).

Ignite picks up where Resist’s cliff hanger left the reader—the lead character Careen Catecher has been wounded in an explosion that destroyed the student center at the local university (geographically in the Midwest). She is captured, and as a leader of The Resistance she is a coveted prize for the nefarious leader of the OSCD, Madalyn. Meanwhile, Tommy Bailey hides out in the mountains with other leaders of The Resistance looking for his opportunity to rescue her.

While Ignite continues the star-crossed love story of Tommy and Careen—and the most important thread that holds the series together—its role as the literary vehicle that carries the tension and plot of series becomes more clear as the fourth novel ratchets up conspiracies to new levels. The conspiracies challenge Tommy and Careen, but also relationships between families, allies, and enemies.

But Lawson adds a substantive twist to this series and story that is rare in contemporary literature outside of authors such as Ayn Rand—she fuses economic and political commentary into the plot and character arcs. As times become more desperate, the government has seized control of the “commanding heights” of the economy, particularly food production and distribution. The government has banned private grocery stories to prevent price gauging and to ensure fair and equitable distributions of food (and, of course, give the government more control over the distribution of their mind control drug).

But this strategy backfires because Lawson understands economics. She uses basic economic principles to lay the foundation for growing civil unrest, something we’ve seen over and over again in real life. Lawson cleverly uses access to an essential commodity—food—to show the inevitable social and economic dysfunction that arises when policymakers fail to remember that one single entity can’t coordinate the distribution of goods to meet consumer desires and needs efficiently. Inevitably, the product that the central authority—usually the government—attempts to control, becomes more scarce. When policymakers ignore this insight, gleaned from way too much human tragedy in history, shortages result. (Think Venezuela today, but also North Korea or Cuba, or the former Soviet Union.) The masses are deprived of basic goods and services while the politically connected have privileged access. If the shortages persist, civil unrest is often inevitable. The OCSD is not immune from these economic principles, which are robust enough to almost be called laws.

While some of the dialogue tends toward the Randianesque—focusing on content more than action—the tension created by this dynamic propels the plot so the reader gets a healthy dose of ideas on top of emotional tension and conflict. Whether Lawson’s YA readers will grasp this substance has yet to be seen, but so far the Resistance Series has been selling. Regardless, by adding this substance, Lawson adds complexity that reflects a literary evolution of the series that will suit her readers as they mature with the books.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the first two books, Lawson is promoting the third book with a free giveaway of the first two books (in ebook versions July 19-20, buy Ignite: Book 3 of the Resistence Series from amazon (http://amzn.to/295WBYY). Then, send the receipt to tracy@counteractbook.com. She’ll then send you free downloads of the first two books for free.

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Totuga Bay makes final round of FAPA President’s Awards!

TortugaBaywEHAFresh off her success in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards, where Tortuga Bay was a category Finalist, Isabella is sailing her ship into the final round of another award: The President’s Awards offered up by the Florida Authors and Publishers Association, or FAPA. This rollicking action adventure through the Caribbean into the Straights of Jaimaica and Port-au-Prince, Haiti qualified in Young Adult Fiction. This means Tortuga Bay will earn either a Gold, Silver or Bronze medal. We won’t know which one until the FAPA annual conference and awards ceremony on August 6, 2016 in Orlando.

Tortuga Bay and the Pirate of Panther Bay series is showing amazing crossover appear. Isabella and her crew are making their way through the Royal Palm Literary Awards, jumping into the semi-final round in two categories: Mainstream/Literary and Women’s fiction. We won’t know if she made it into the final rounds for a few more weeks. Last year, St. Nic, Inc. won 2nd place in the the category of published Mainstream/Literary fiction. The final awards for the RPLA are announced at the Florida Writers Association annual conference in Orlando, Florida from October 20-23, 2016.RPLA_16_SemiFinalist_Badge

Tortuga Bay is available in print and digital editions on amazon, bn.com and other on-line retailers as well as through Southern Yellow Pine Publishing.

 

 

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Dystopian literature and the reality of apocalypse

SR Staley standing before the iconic image of the atomic bomb's aftermath: the A-Bomb Dome.

SR Staley standing before the iconic image of the atomic bomb’s aftermath: the A-Bomb Dome.

I recently spent some time at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. This is a transformative experience for many people because it’s the first time they connect the horrors of war to their lives in a tangible way. I can’t say I was transformed–I contemplate and reflect on violence a lot in my writing, whether it’s Isabella’s ethical struggles with death and life, Luke’s attempt to combat bullies, or the effects of campus sexual assault–but I found several elements of the peace park sobering and humbling. The atomic bomb truly was horrific in its ability to concentrate power, suffering, and obliterate human existence.

I’ve written more extensively about this on the Independent Institute’s blog, The Beacon, noting,

While many visitors to the peace park see the A-Bomb Dome as the iconic symbol of the horrors of total war, I didn’t find it a compelling image. It’s a building. The real horrors of war on what it does to human beings and our ability to create, innovate, and improve our lives. The Dome represents the destruction of physical space, and indirectly places. Dystopian YA novels get it right: The horrors of war are really human tragedies.

In Hiroshima alone, thousands of children were killed, most instantly, when the bomb blew up. Many of the survivors had to live in a world that is strikingly similar to the post-apocalyptic worlds in which novels such as The Hunger GamesDivergent, and The Fifth Wave are set. In someways, many contemporary dystopian novels are, perhaps, imaginations of a world in which humans failed to show the restraint they did in the aftermath of World War II.

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