Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

Dublin Murders: 2 Novels = 1 Screenplay = Discussion Among Friends, Re: Is the Book Always Better than the Movie?

JILL AND I MEET EVERY SUNDAY TO WALK, talk books and life, and watch something on TV. Lately, our book chat and viewing choice have coincided as we’ve watched—and discussed—DUBLIN MURDERS. This eight-episode series is based on two Tana French mysteries: IN THE WOODS and THE LIKENESS.

Both books have powerful, intricate plots. So we were interested to see that screenwriter Sarah Phelps’s television adaptation has dovetailed their plot lines—creating a single interwoven narrative of the two stand-alone mysteries.

The novels (spoiler alert!)

IN THE WOODS: When Detective Rob Ryan was a kid, he and two of his friends went into the woods near their home in Knocknaree, Ireland, to play—but only Rob came out, and he remembers nothing of what happened that day. Author French flings wide a door on the possibility that the mysterious disappearance of the two other children had a supernatural cause. Certainly, the incident continues to haunt Rob twenty years later, its long shadow creating an enticingly spooky atmosphere for the present investigation, the murder of young Katy Devlin, whose body was found in those same woods.

Rob and his partner, Detective Cassie Maddox, are assigned the case, giving Rob the opportunity to reopen inquiries into the still-unsolved disappearance of his childhood friends. But what only Cassie knows is that Rob—who was once called Adam Ryan—is the same kid who emerged, alone, physically unharmed but profoundly disturbed, from the Knocknaree woods in 1984.

Having hidden his identity for twenty years, Rob is confident no one will associate him with young Adam. This identity sleight of hand is important because, if anyone besides Cassie knew who he was, Rob would be thrown off the case—and now that he’s back in the woods, Rob is not going to rest until he finds out what happened to his friends, and to Katy Devlin, and whether the tragedies are connected.

THE LIKENESS: French’s second novel, THE LIKENESS, picks up some months after IN THE WOODS ends. Although Rob is mentioned here, he is no longer a relevant character; it’s Cassie’s story entirely. While an unlikely coincidence pulls the trigger on this story, there is no hint of the uncanny in the book—only a healthy dose of psychological drama. Hoping to tease out her doppelgänger’s killer, it is Cassie, now undercover for “Operation Mirror,” who is playing cat and mouse with her identity.

The screenplay (spoiler alert!)

DUBLIN MURDERS: As I mentioned, for the TV production, the plots from these two novels have been twisted together to make a single story. This has been accomplished in several ways. Among them is the anticipated construction of a roadway, which originally threatened just the titular forest of IN THE WOODS, but now also touches the manor house at the center of the action in THE LIKENESS.

Also, in the DUBLIN MURDERS script, the plot from THE LIKENESS has been twisted to create a follow-up to a tragic childhood accident for Cassie—one that’s scarred her psyche every bit as much as Rob’s mysterious experience in the woods has scarred his. But while in the original telling of IN THE WOODS Rob’s backstory is as deeply entwined with the current-day tale as the vines winding among the trees of the Knocknaree woods, neither IN THE WOODS nor THE LIKENESS includes much of Cassie’s backstory at all. From them, we discover little about her that predates her time as an undercover officer, just prior to her partnership with Rob on the Dublin Murder Squad.

But, like author French does with the disappearance of Rob’s young friends, screenwriter Phelps imbues the tragedy in Cassie’s childhood with more than a hint of the supernatural—developing both a parallel to Rob’s mysterious backstory and giving the heretofore no-nonsense Cassie as tangled a personality as Rob’s by doing so.

With this addition, Phelps inflates an issue of identity confusion that’s at the foundation of THE LIKENESS’S murder investigation. In the TV version, when Rob’s and Cassie’s stories diverge, and Cassie leaves Rob alone with the investigation of the Knocknaree murder to go undercover on Operation Mirror, that now-sensationalized thread colors Cassie’s experiences, quite lividly.

Sensational? Or sensationalized?

Jill and I agree that DUBLIN MURDERS is a dynamic, suspenseful—often pulse-raising—adaptation. It was exciting to find ourselves in the midst of unfamiliar narrative territory, rather than just watching a stylish retelling of books we know so well. But for me, this retelling feels over-hyped, relying as it does on Cassie’s manufactured—gratuitous—response to an early tragedy. (In this opinion, Jill and I are not in absolute agreement.)

As much as the series titillated me as a viewer, as a reader, I leave it feeling overstimulated, as if I’ve eaten an entire fluffy cone of hot-pink cotton candy and now there’s too much sugar racing through my brain. (I’m planning an early 2020 re-read of THE LIKENESS to settle myself back down!)

Books vs. movie adaptations

When I discussed my concerns about DUBLIN MURDERS with ghostwriter/freelance editor pal Tom Wallace, he said, Reading a book is more active, and watching a movie or TV show is more passive. Books demand you be engaged. You’re doing some work, making more of a contribution to the story. When you read fiction, you have to use your imagination, bring something to the characters, the setting. This develops more intellectual muscle [than watching films], the ability and inclination to invest real thought and imagination.

Tom also mentioned the compression of story common in movie adaptations, citing Michael Chabon’s novel WONDER BOYS for example, saying, Reading the book is a much richer experience. If you read the book first, when you’re watching the film, you get to spots where you think, “It’s thin right there,” because the screenwriter [Steve Kloves] has had to connect two important plot issues with a very thin line. They’re under a time constraint. Everything has to fit into 120 minutes. Because the screenwriter doesn’t have time to fully develop the threads between plot points, those spots can feel thin. But when you read Chabon, nothing feels thin; he doesn’t write anything he’s not going to write in a rich way.

(Interestingly, where Tom finds Chabon “rich,” Jill finds him dense and says she connected more to Kloves’s WONDER BOYS adaptation than to the novel.)


I’m glad to say DUBLIN MURDERS doesn’t suffer from this sort of compression. Too often, though, while film adaptations may be true to the events of the book, they end up feeling episodic—quick-juxtaposing one important scene after the next. Although they may hit every plot point, as Tom says, they tend to do so without creating enough space, enough context for those points to unfold organically. Instead, transitions from beat to beat may feel abrupt, making for a fractured, staccato delivery of the story.

For example, six-part British mini-series WOLF HALL, based on Hilary Mantel’s stunning historical novels WOLF HALL and BRING UP THE BODIES (screenplay by Peter Straughan) and 2011’s JANE EYRE, based on Charlotte Brontë’s novel of the same name, exemplify this rapid-fire approach. In both cases, the movies rush through the intricate emotional landscapes evoked by the books, leaving me less than satisfied. Like Oliver Twist, watching them, I wanted to beg, Please sir, may I have some more?

(Jill, on the other hand, loves the 2011 version of JANE EYRE and credits screenwriter Moira Buffini with creating both a beautiful translation of the almost 200-year-old book and one that makes the story accessible to a contemporary audience. Also, while Jill did feel rushed by the WOLF HALL miniseries, the authority with which actor Mark Rylance brings to life historical figure Thomas Cromwell made watching WOLF HALL not only a worthwhile experience for her, but, she says, an awesome one!)

Back to Dublin

But let’s return to DUBLIN MURDERS, which, as I said, doesn’t suffer from Oliver Twist syndrome. Still, watching the show as a writer, editor, and lifelong reader, I found myself wondering about this adaptation business. For instance,

  • What does Tana French think of the screenplay? And other authors whose books have been rewritten for the screen? How do they feel about the adaptations of their work?
  • Does preparing a book for the screen necessitate significant tightening, tweaking, and manipulation? Is that simply a function of adaptation? Or is such treatment a reflection of our heightened, hyperbolic times?
  • How often are the often contrived screen versions of novels all that most people remember of the original books? And if they are, is that a loss of some kind? Or does it just preserve the work for our fast-paced world?

And the big question

  • Is the book always better than the movie?

I think it may be. And so does Tom. At least most of the time. And Rick Riordan, author of PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS, among many other books for younger readers, agrees. In a post on his site titled “Books to Movies, Riordan, who is famously unhappy with the adaptations made of two of his novels, writes,

…. very few books … are turned into decent movie versions … [T]he vast majority are dreadful adaptations…. Still, hope springs eternal…. despite the fact that I have never walked out of the cinema and said, “Wow, the movie was so much better than the book!”

Jill, though? She says, “If screenwriters are mining the story in a new way for the their medium, I’m all for that.” And she found a 2013 FLAVORWIRE article titled “10 Authors Who Loved the Film Adaptations of Their Books” to back up her contention that at least some authors are happy with how the movie version of their work turned out!)

But despite our differences of opinion, Jill and I are proving Riordan right in one thing: Regarding book-to-film adaptation, hope does seem to spring eternal—demonstrated in this case by the Jill’s and my mutual very high hopes for Greta Gerwig’s new version of Louisa May Alcott’s LITTLE WOMEN!

* * *

Thanks to writer friend Teri Anpowi Saveliff for sending me looking to Rick Riordan for his thoughts on film adaptations!

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A Novel That’s a Tarot Writing Prompt: Story Archetypes

LIKE THE YOUNGEST SON OF FAIRY-TALE FAME, the tarot Fool leaps into whatever wild undertaking has captured his imagination—and thus begins his journey. Similar to Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, or Christopher Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, the quest the Fool embarks upon is called “the Fool’s Journey.” On his path, he meets—and is schooled by—the other cards in tarot’s major arcana, figures like the Magician, the High Priestess, and the Hermit.

The impulsive young hero at the center of THE STOCKHOLM OCTAVO, a historical novel by Karen Engelmann, is an eighteenth-century secretaire named Emil Larsson, who is also on a Fool’s journey of sorts. Emil’s journey starts when mysterious psychic (and Swedish Royalist) Mrs. Sparrow lays tarot cards for Emil in a pattern she calls “the Octavo.”

This layout consists of a central card, which represents Emil, surrounded by eight additional cards, that, Mrs. Sparrow explains, signify people and events Emil will encounter as he fulfills his destiny. Dealt randomly into their positions, these eight cards stand for what she calls a Companion, a Prisoner, a Teacher, a Courier, a Trickster, a Magpie, a Prize, and a Key. It’s up to Emil to distinguish who is whom and which is which!

Tarot writing prompt

As befits an idea that sustains a 400-page novel, this is a long-ish prompt. You might dive in and work through all the steps in one go (long weekend, anyone?). Or perhaps you’d prefer to proceed as Mrs. Sparrow did, when she doled out her reading for Emil, one card at a time, over eight consecutive nights.

Alternatively, of course, you can just dip in when you’re stuck mid-draft and need some literary fuel to get your story back on the road.

PICK AND CHOOSE: To start, you’ll need a pool of images to choose from. A tarot deck is ideal, but so is a stack of intriguing pictures torn from magazines. (If you’re going the magazine route, find at least twenty pictures to work with.) Sort through your images and find one to represent your main character, your Hero. Lay that image on a flat surface with room around it for the rest of its Octavo.

UPSIDE DOWN, BOY YOU’RE TURNING ME: Next, lay the rest of the images face down. Blindly, choose eight images from your upside-down deck or stack of magazine pics. (The point is to make yourself pick these eight images randomly.) For now, set these images aside without turning them over to peek.

ARTS AND CRAFTS TIME: Write the titles of the following eight story archetypes (which differ somewhat from those Mrs. Sparrow assigned to Emil’s cards) on eight small sticky notes:

  • Prize (what the Hero wants most; that for which he quests)
  • Herald (the character or event that reveals the quest to the Hero)
  • Antagonist (also, “Villain”; a person or force hostile to the Hero, which actively attempts to stop the Hero from completing his quest; does not need to be a person: for instance, might be a forest fire or a political situation)
  • Guardian (also, “Threshold Guardian”; ensures your Hero is worthy of crossing the threshold into their quest, proper; to do so, creates obstacles to the Hero early on that test the Hero’s mettle)
  • Sidekick (a best-friend archetype, who, notably, gets sidelined somewhere in the thick of the action)
  • Precious Child (a vulnerable story element; could be an animal, child, or family farm, for instance, which the Hero treasures and which the Antagonist threatens, raising the story stakes and tension)
  • Trickster (an unreliable, self-dealing character who creates story confusion; whose side is the Trickster really on? Maybe even the Trickster doesn’t know for sure.)
  • Mentor (a character whose story-relevant knowledge and skills are far more advanced than the Hero’s and who guides the Hero at pivotal points in his quest; notably, the Mentor must be absent at the story’s climax, so the Hero has to face the Antagonist in that final battle on his own)

Turn over your eight set-aside images, now, and randomly affix the archetype-stickies to them. (This randomness makes the story more true to our experience, as we seldom know what role a new acquaintance will play in our life or what effect an unforeseen event might have!)

RING AROUND THE ROSY (-CHEEKED HERO): Now, lay the stickied images around the one representing your Hero. Bravo! You’ve created your Hero’s Octavo!

READY, STEADY, GO! Write one scene for each archetype. Through your Hero’s eight in-scene interactions, be sure to show how his quest is affected by each of the people and/or situations represented by the image and archetype it’s been assigned.

Since these archetypes are present in most stories, once you’ve written your way through all eight interactions, you might find—voila!—you are well on your way to a draft of a novel or novella! Certainly, it’s a good weekend’s worth of work (because you and I both know the lawn—and the dishes and the bills and the litter box—can wait ’til next week).

Novel-writing inspiration (and blog-posting appreciation!)

If you’re new to the idea of story archetypes, a quick digest of a few of them is available at Graeme Shimmin’s site. You’ll find a more in-depth consideration in this Hillsborough Community College PDF.

Or dive deep into Christopher Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY. (You won’t be sorry. Tired, maybe. But not sorry!)

There’s a lovely NEW YORK TIMES book review of THE STOCKHOLM OCTAVO by Susann Cokal.

Thank you to U.S. Games Systems, Inc. for their kind permission to use images from the RIDER WAITE SMITH TAROT for my Octavo example. I’m also grateful to Illustrator Dylan Meconis, whose image of Luther as the Fool accompanies this post.

Finally, thanks to George and Sal, who knew I wouldn’t be able to resist a story based on a tarot spread.

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Tarot Deck Review: The (New) Illuminated Tarot

THE ILLUMINATED TAROT is a tarot deck that’s been created using just the 52 cards of a standard playing card deck (plus a 53rd card for The Fool), rather than the 78 cards that usually comprise a tarot. I’m not a playing-card reader, but I am an avid tarot reader, so I wasn’t sure how the deck would work for me. But the imagery in this tarot/playing card deck is so gorgeous—and the price so reasonable—that I was happy to take a chance on it just to see the images up close and personal. And they fulfill their on-line promise beautifully, in hand.

Bright, graphic, and personality-filled, the cards are a joy to look at. I assumed they would be standard playing card size, but in fact they are oversized cards. At 5″ high by 3.5″ wide, their proportions are closer to playing cards than to a relatively longer, narrower standard tarot. Their generous size allows the viewer to see all the details of the artwork (which is a particular pleasure for someone with aging eyes).

So, how does deck creator/artist Caitlin Keegan get a 78-card tarot into 53 cards? Very cleverly! First, she eliminated the four Knights, leaving her court cards as Jack (Page), Queen, and King. But all the other cards are there! Really! By finding some very sharp connections between the Majors and the Minors, she makes 21 of the cards to do double duty. For instance, the Ace of Wands is also Strength: That card illustration (did I mention clever?) shows a lion holding a wand in its mouth.

Some of the connections work better—that is to say, more immediately—for me than others, but all of them make me think, most bring a smile of recognition and understanding, and one, Seven of Swords/Chariot, brought tears to my eyes. (Not sure why. I do have thing for horses, though.) I won’t list any of the other pairings, as it would spoil the fun of discovering them for yourself.

Not that you’re left to decipher the “translations” on your own! Keegan provides a beautifully designed, full-color “little white book,” which reveals where the doubles appear. Her card meanings (key words, only) do not adhere strictly to standard Rider-Waite-Smith meanings, but stray a bit here and there, perhaps toward Crowley, maybe toward playing-card divination. However, although I’m neither a Crowley-style reader nor a playing-card reader, I found the images expressed themselves clearly to me. (Still, the combining of images and meanings make this a deck best suited for experienced readers.)

I did a quick four-card reading for a friend, to test drive the deck, and WOW! It really delivered! So smart, so spot on, and so easy to interpret. I was surprised and impressed! And, like every deck worth its salt, it gave me new insights about the cards drawn.

Like the playing cards their graphic vibe borrows from, many of the cards are mirror-image reversible. And the suits are Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, and Spades, rather than tarot’s Wands, Coins, Cups, and Swords.

Produced by Potter Style, an imprint of the Crown Publishing group, the beautifully designed deck and book are housed together in a useful, equally well designed hard-shell box that hinges on the left side. A ribbon lies across the well for the cards, which facilitates removing the cards easily.

My only disappointment is the card stock. It’s too “paper-y” for my taste, feeling a lot like cardboard, rather than playing-card or tarot stock. However, I’ve riffle-shuffled the cards pretty thoroughly, and they held up just fine … so far. But for sure I’m going to purchase another copy. Just in case. And because it rocks.

Tarot Writing Prompt: What the Heart Wants

THE HEART WANTS WHAT THE HEART WANTS. It’s true. And the heart is so strong willed (remember, it’s a muscle!) that, even when the mind votes otherwise, the heart often gets its unruly way.

In Patti Smith’s new book, M TRAIN, a collection of dreamy, journal-like essays (which I bought to inspire my own writing practice—and look! it did!), she talks about renting a space in New York City in which to open a cafe, a long-held dream of hers. She was preparing for the necessary renovations, but, Smith writes,

In the end I was obliged to abandon my cafe. Two years before, I had met the musician Fred Sonic Smith in Detroit. It was an unexpected encounter that slowly altered the course of my life. My yearning for him permeated everything…. We endured a parallel existence, shuttling back and forth between New York and Detroit, brief rendezvous that always ended in wrenching separation. Just as I was mapping out where to install a sink and coffee machine, Fred implored me to come and live with him in Detroit. Nothing seemed more vital than to join my love…. Saying good-bye to New York City and the aspirations it contained, I packed what was most precious and left all else behind….

We’ve all done it. Abandoned something that held great value for us “just” to satisfy the demands of our heart. Sometimes painful, sometimes wildly fulfilling, these experiences can provide potent creative fuel.

Tarot writing prompt

Remember such a situation from your past (or imagine one for a character) and write about someone reneging on a well-laid plan to follow the call of their heart. Make it a fair fight. Let us know how important the plan was—and how compelling the call. And don’t forget to include the consequences. Because there are always consequences.

This post was inspired by The Lovers card of the tarot deck, which can refer to the need to make a choice between two desirable options. Typically, a Lovers-like decision will be life-changing. Therefore, in such a circumstance, we do well to listen closely to what our heart has to say about the matter—and also to consider the cost of following its lead.

In this version of The Lovers, from The Cat’s Eye Tarot, the big tabby is glancing out the window at a lone, black cat, who is making his nonchalant way across a stone wall. This suggests that the tabby has made a choice between the safety of his domestic life, which he lovingly shares with the other tabby, and the more risky life of freedom the black cat is enjoying. (Image used by kind permission of U.S. Games Systems.)

Writing Prompt: The Peter Principle

HERE’S A SECRET. Peter Elbow, author and professor of writing, is a crazy genius. dvd_jacket_301The spine of my worn, torn copy of his WRITING WITH POWER is cracked at Chapter 9, “Metaphors for Priming the Pump,” from frequent consultation. In that chapter, Elbow lists wild ways to help you get at a topic.

These include (but are not limited to!), “Questions to help you write a self-evaluation,” “Questions to help you write about a place,” and “Suggestions to help you write about a problem or dilemma.”

Writing prompt

Just to give you an example, let’s hop to “Suggestions to help you write about a problem or dilemma,” and see what we can make happen.

  1. To start I’m going to name a dilemma. (If you’re playing along, go ahead and jot down a problem facing either you or your character.)
  2. Dilemma: My unshaded front yard receives unwavering Florida sun. I dislike too much sun. Therefore, I dislike—and neglect—my yard.
  3. Now, I’m going to consult Elbow’s write-about-a-problem list. (If you’re still playing, consider these suggestions to apply to your stated problem.)
    1. The problem is that God is angry. At whom? Why? What did that person do to make God angry?
    2. Assume the problem is a problem of numbers. Try performing the following operations on it: addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, percentages, moving a decimal place.
    3. Assume the problem is sabotage.
  4. I’ve picked an approach: Assume the problem is sabotage. (Because, of course!)
  5. I’m going to write my little heart out about my too-hot-to-bear yard, as if it were an issue of sabotage, and see where it takes me. (Still playing? Pick a suggestion, apply it to your dilemma, and write your little heart out with me!)

The sun beats down on my tiny plot of green. Only it’s not green. It’s brown. Baked. Rimmed with twigs and sticks that used to be shrubs—and punctuated by a few upright posts that once were magnolia trees. Clearly, my yard has been sabotaged. I believe someone comes every night and pours acid into the soil. But why? What have I done to deserve this? I’m such a good neighbor! I pick up bits of paper left behind by the recycling guys. I pat all the dogs and coo at the babies. I even pay my HOA bill on time.

Still, it’s obvious. I have an enemy. And a clever one. One who knows that all I want is green and quiet and shade to meet me when I walk out my front door. One who wants me to be miserable for some reason. One who wants me to put my house on the market and move out . . . so they can move in?

Yes, that’s it! One of my neighbors covets my little sun-baked house and yard. But who could it be? Lorraine, three doors down? I’ve noticed her squinting proprietarily at my place when she walks to the mailbox. Her son recently lost his apartment. Could Lorraine have her eye on my house for Matthew?

Or maybe it’s Kevin. A) Kevin hates cats—and I feed the ferals in our ‘hood. B) Kevin’s own house is lopsided. (And who knows what else is wrong with it.) Maybe Kevin wants to walk away from his crooked little abode and set up housekeeping in mine, which, while unfortunate in its orientation to the sun, does at least sit evenly on its haunches.

Oh! No! I’ve got it! It’s Angela!! I wouldn’t buy Girl Scout cookies from her bratty little Missy, and this is payback! Plus, my kitchen is twice the size of hers, so if she forces me out, she’ll have room to set up her own cookie-baking operation (or meth lab; I have my suspicions about Angela) and give the Scouts a run for their money!

* * *

So. How did that go for you?

For my part, while I have yet to resolve my desert-yard problem, I did have a lot of fun. And I could imagine continuing forward from here with A) a mystery about a woman who is actually the target of neighborhood sabotage, or B) a drama about a woman drifting into clinical paranoia, or C) a psychological thriller about a woman who is both clinically paranoid AND the target of sabotage!

The larger point, however, is that I wrote something quite different than I usually would have (if I’d written at all!) because I was dragged so far from my typical literary course by Elbow’s suggestion my brain had to leap a hundred hurdles-worth of synapses just to begin.

For that, and so much more, I am grateful to Peter Elbow, whose own struggles with writing resulted in him finding around-the-back hacks to get (more! fresher!) words on the page every time.

Survival: Omegaland Tarot Review

OMEGALAND TAROT, CREATED BY JOE BOGINSKI, lives in a post-apocalyptic Pacific Northwest (at least, it looks like the PNW to me). Characters in the deck are cartoon-ish, with sometimes-exaggerated limbs.They are placed in harsh situations, and there are topic-appropriate references to violence in the deck—although few images are really gory. Still, despite the desperate times depicted throughout the deck, I find the characters very human—and the deck, overall, surprisingly warm (and, somehow, reassuring).

As a tarot, OMEGALAND is brilliant in its close interpretation of the imagery of the classic Rider Waite Smith Tarot. index150px-Wands07 For instance, the OMEGALAND Seven of Wands shows two armed men in a lookout tower, protecting their encampment. Below them sit five of their “tribe,” also armed.  Compare this to the standard RWS Seven of Wands, in which a single armed man on high defends his territory!

And Temperance? Just as in the RWS illustration, a figure pours water from one container into another. Unlike the RWS version, though, in OMEGALAND, the figure filters the water as she pours! (Clean water is a big deal when you’re a survivalist!)

As smart as his tarot interpretations are, Joe Boginski is every bit as much an artist as he is a tarot-ist. He attended New York’s School of the Visual Arts, and exhibited the original OMEGALAND drawings—11×14″, colored pencil and ink on paper—at Fernando Luis Alvarez Gallery in Stamford, Connecticut.

For OMEGALAND, Boginski employs a color palette I would call “moody”—lots of soft browns and greens punctuated with brighter colors. There’s a wonderful consistency to the artwork throughout the deck—excepting the Nine of Swords. That particular card is illustrated by a figure shown at a much different angle and seen from much closer proximity than any of the other figures in the deck. (In fact, Omegaland’s Nine of Swords reminds me very much of the Dreamer Nine card—Nine of Swords—in Emily Carding’s Tarot of the Sidhe.)

Card titles and suit names are standard, but the imagery is true to the survivalist theme: Wands are represented by rifles and pistols; Cups are canteens or other water containers; Coins are cans of soup(!); and Swords are crossbows.

For tarot readers and collectors, this deck offers lots of good basics: Nice card stock and  a smooth satin finish give it a good shuffle. Cards are generously sized—at 2.95″ x 4.75″, they’re a bit wider than the norm. The fun, non-reversible backs show an image of a boarded up doorway. Soft-edged borders add to the scenes, rather than detracting—and card titles are written in a great font!

There’s also a quirky little illustrated bit of “masking tape” at the upper left corner of each of the Minors—including the Courts—inscribed with a single number, or a letter and a number, that signifies points for the Omegaland game. And about that game. . . . The deck includes six extra game cards, and the LWB dedicates the last dozen pages to instruction about the game. Which I haven’t played. Which I probably won’t play. But don’t let that stop you!

Published by US Games Systems, Inc., this fab deck is available in all the usual places.

Thanks to Tarot by Arwen for her excellent video review of the OMEGALAND TAROT. Her review pushed me over the edge (into Amazon’s waiting arms).


5 Paths to Amazon Success!

REMEMBER WHEN AN “AMAZON” search retrieved an aerial photo of the Amazon River, first? It wasn’t that long ago, folks! Now, intrepid authors must navigate—as much a challenge as navigating the river whose name the mega-bookseller bears.

As with the river, if you’re going to launch your (literary) raft on, it’s good to have an experienced guide! I’ve beat the bushes and found a backpack’s worth of articles by writers who know how to swim—not sink—in the shifting Amazonian rapids.

  1. In “How to Get a Truckload of Reviews on Amazon,” author-marketing guru Penny Sansevieri shares ways to find quality reviewers for your book—important because more reviews = greater visibility!amaindex
  2. In “How to Launch Your Book,” Tim Grahl, author of YOUR FIRST 1000 COPIEStakes writers through a step-by-step process to turn your own contacts into reviewers.
  3. On Savvy Bookwriters, there’s a discussion on book covers and book category placement: “How to Improve Your Amazon Sales Page.”
  4. Novelist Lindsay Buroker offers strategies for maintaining momentum in “How Do You Maintain Steady Books Sales.”
  5. And if your book is languishing online? Indie book distributor Smashwords’ post on “Six Tips to Bring Your Book Back from the Doldrums” might help!
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lexi_leaderboard_728-90And speaking of reviews, writer pal Jon Fore’s latest fantasy adventure, SCROLLS OF THE HARLEQUIN, has just been released! He’s offering free e-copies to any of my readers willing to give it a review. If you’re interested, contact Jon at


The Urban Legion

FIRST, A HOSTILE VOICE INVADES the (pretty) head of restaurant critic Lynn Grady. Then a (sort of handsome) stranger appears, blocks the voice with an improvised tin-foil hat, and recruits Lynn for a hydroponic-farm-to-fork tasting gig. 51K7minh0lL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_In the fun-house logic that rules Dave Agans’ THE URBAN LEGION, this leads naturally to a vicious attack by French waiters, a high-tech underground war, and the discovery of a consumer-products conspiracy. You’ll never feel the same about food courts or airport restrooms, once you’ve read THE URBAN LEGION!

Congrats, Dave! And thanks for your note: Hi, Jamie. It’s been a while since you did a comprehensive analysis of THE URBAN LEGION. You’re mentioned in the acknowledgments. Thanks for all the help!

Tarot Writing Prompt: Impressionists Tarot

A. Read on!

I liked the IMPRESSIONISTS TAROT so much, I let my inner fan girl loose to write the Amazon review, below.

Wonderful, moody, readable deck 883dd73f9256945937fe89e99c5e36da

I just got a new Lo Scarabeo deck, the IMPRESSIONISTS TAROT, by Corrine Kenner, art by Arturo Picca. I loved the images I saw, so despite having been disappointed in several recent Lo Scarabeo purchases, I went ahead and bought the IMPRESSIONIST TAROT KIT.

OMG! I really love it! The images are not appropriated directly from Impressionist paintings. That is to say, they are not prints of original paintings. Rather, Picca has either painted copies of the originals, adding minor adjustments to make them tarot-appropriate, or he’s used the artists’ styles and borrowed aspects of specific paintings as inspiration for his original work.

The KIT (not the deck-only option, as it was first released) includes a WONDERFUL companion book by Corrine Kenner, in which she discusses the artists whose particular works/styles the card images are based upon.

Overall, it feels like a moody, emotional deck to me. One Amazon reviewer complained about the card stock, but while it is thin, it doesn’t seem problematic to me (and I’m quick to hate bad stock). Another reviewer mentioned the colors, saying they seemed muddier than they associate with Impressionism. And I have to say, there is a less-than-bright quality to the colors, notable, since the Impressionists were known for being “painters of light.” (However, since originally writing this review, I got a second copy of this kit, and the printing was distinctly brighter and sharper in the newer version. Hmm.)

As always, my aging eyes wish the images were larger. And while the borders are quite visually impactful (they’re created to look like museum frames), I think they serve the artwork well, rather than distracting from the card art, too much. Finally, the card backs, which look like the back of a framed painting, are fabulous!

Tarot writing prompt

But what about you? Is there a book you love (or loathe)? A film? A writing product (lap desk, editing program, particularly awesome pen)? If so, shout out your appreciation (or criticism) in a good, old-fashioned, online review. It’s a fine way to hone your persuasive writing skills. Plus, it’s always fun to see your name in—well—pixels.

I am Calico Jones

BRILLIANT MYSTERY WRITER ELIZABETH SIMS indexhas a new, short e-book—a collection of four short stories, titled, I AM CALICO JONES, from her imprint, Spruce Park Press. AND her short story “Untold Riches” is available in another new anthology, LESBIANS ON THE LOOSE: Crime Writers on the Lam, from Launchpoint Press. AND LEFT FIELD, the fifth in her Lillian Byrd series, was a finalist for a ‘Goldie’ at the recent Golden Crown Literary Society‘s conference in New Orleans! Way to go, Ms. Ez!

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