Sunday, February 23, 2014

Life First by R.J. Crayton

Indie Author Spotlight

Life First, by R.J. Crayton

Life First, by R.J. Crayton, is one of those novels that uses a disturbing possible future to make us think critically about our present and ourselves. 

Years after a pandemic killed the vast majority of the population, life has become sacred, to be preserved at all costs.  If someone needs a kidney transplant, for example, the vast medical database finds the citizen who is the best match, and that person must give the needed kidney.  Kelsey, marked for the procedure, decides that it should be her choice, and tries to run away before the surgery. 

This brings up all sorts of ethical questions:  Is Kelsey right or wrong, selfish or not?  Is the government justified?  Is the good of society more important than the rights of the individual?  Is saving one person's life worth the risk to another?   I love the way Crayton doesn't shy away from giving sound arguments for the others side—sometimes even more sound than the main character's—so we're never sure what to think.  This is the beginning of wisdom:  admitting that we don't know, and then examining the issue. 

I rather wish Kelsey would have stuck to her position more, and tried to make a stand, because after the first part of the book, these fascinating dilemmas fade a bit.  However, even her backing off is interesting.  She doesn't try to change the world.  She tries to save herself.  And again we wonder:  selfish or not? 

There is some great world-building, like the offhand references to survival statistics classes that seem to be the norm for school children, but there are also a few believability issues.  Would a government that forces you to donate your organs really only demand blood donation once every two years?  Why has there been so little crime since the pandemic?  After all, we've seen the aftermath of real disasters, and it's usually not pretty.  Other believability issues crop up here and there, but most stem from the troubling what-ifs of the future, leaving room for debate.

Repetition and over-explanation sometimes bog down the pace of the story, and there are a few errors or oddities in language and mechanics, but otherwise the book is well written.

The narrative takes a turn in the middle, becoming a legal drama with a lot of talking and little action.  Some readers may not like this, since the first few chapters set a different tone, but I quite enjoyed it, and applaud Crayton for going where the story would go, instead of where commercial writing advice might suggest.  The courtrooms scenes are full of twisty logic, clever arguments, and verbal traps.  Very engaging.  

During this middle section, Kelsey doesn't actually do much.  She's just an observer.  She thinks and reacts, but doesn't make many choices.  Again, some readers won't like this, but I believe it works here, and communicates the sensation of not being in control. 

The ending is satisfying yet leaves some questions unanswered for the next book, Second Life. 

Though Life First isn't specifically about current issues, readers can draw many thought-provoking—and perhaps uncomfortable—parallels.  This is the job of the good speculative fiction, and Life First accomplishes the task.   


Warning:  One rather explicit scene

*I was given a free copy in exchange for an honest review*

Click to read an excerpt of Life First
See my review of Second Life

My Interview with R.J. Crayton

1)  Life First is science fiction, but mostly in the sense that it allows us to explore the social ramifications of a possible future.  Are there any other books of this genre that have inspired you, are that you think are particularly powerful?
There are so many great dystopian future books out there that explore the slippery slope of what will happen if a certain principle is taken too far, and the government runs amok. I think I like all the big ones of the past, like Fahrenheit 451  and1984. Of the current dystopian books out, I like the big names like Wool, the Hunger Games and Divergent. All interesting takes on people who are against the current status quo.

2)  Life First has some really good court scenes.  Did you do a lot of legal research?
I did not do legal research, but my husband is an attorney who used to practice criminal law. So, he was helpful with making sure the court scenes were realistic.

3)  I'm curious:  what do you think would have happened to Kelsey if she hadn't had politically prominent relatives? 
In some ways, Kelsey’s father being so prominent made it harder for Kelsey, because people were watching what happened even closer. There were also political grudges working against her. But, even had her father not been the leading gubernatorial candidate, she still would have faced tough consequences. The timing of the book is a flash point, where people are all poised for something of enormity to happen.

4)  What was your favorite thing about writing this book?
My son is reading over my shoulder and saying my favorite thing was telling him, “No you can’t use the computer. I’m working.” He suggests I wasn’t really working, but playing games. However, I was working (most of the time)! But, back to the question. My favorite thing was probably figuring out the whole Kelsey/Luke relationship, particularly the stuff that happened before the book opened. I wrote a couple of scenes, just for my own knowledge (they’re in the extras section of my website) and they turned out to be really helpful in writing book two of the series.

5)  What are you writing now?
 Right now, I’m finishing up the final book of the Life First series. I wrote the first draft. It came in around 72,000 words, which makes it the shortest of the trilogy (Life First is 86k, and Second Life is 98k). However, my husband did a first read, and I may add a scene based on his comments, which will bump up the word count slightly. Book three is meant to be fast-paced and then over, with a nice (OK, somewhat nice) conclusion. The book takes place over the course of six days, so I don’t think there’s too much more I can pack into those days. I’m also working on a YA paranormal book, loosely title Scented. But, I’m just writing dribs and drabs of that, because I’d like to get the final Life First book out by June.

6)  How can fans contact you?
I’m all over the place. My website has all my info: I’m also on:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Olympic Medals you won't ever see

I'm not a sports watcher, but for some reason I really love the Olympics.  Maybe it's because there's the travel element (all the stuff you learn about the host country and the participants' countries).  Maybe it's the epic nature of it.  Maybe it's how artistic my favorites Olympic sports are.  I'm really not sure.

 But one thing I do know:  If I were on the Olympic Committee, I'm afraid that the athletes would get medals for

-First place
-Second place
-Third place
-Almost third place
-Making it down the hill without breaking your neck
-Falling and getting back up again
-Double toe loops that should have been triples, since heck, a double is amazing 
-15th--hey, it's only 7/10ths of a second behind gold

I think the Olympic Committee would fire me.

Good job EVERYONE in the Olympics.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Guest Post: This Writer's Life, by Jeffrey Perren

Today we have a guest post from Jeffrey Perren, a fellow writer, author of historical and mystery novels.  I asked him to talk about the writing life, and here's his take.

This Writer's Life by Jeffrey Perren

Up before dawn — make tea for me, coffee for the wife. Check emails — marketing tasks, correspondence with beta readers, and miscellaneous.

So far, that doesn’t sound very exciting. But that’s the business side of things. I leave as much of that as I can to my publicist — remembering how blessed I am to have one who loves my work.

Later, write or edit the latest story. Currently, that’s Clonmac’s Bridge, the tale of a maritime archaeologist who discovers a Dark Ages bridge near Ireland’s Clonmacnoise Monastery — and finds it perfectly intact. Soon, it will be a re-telling of the William Tell legend and later a trilogy set in the Age of Discovery.

But whatever the subject matter, the process is similar: research everything you can about the history, technology, and general society and daily lives of the period and people. Then, weave a plot within and around all that — filled with drama, romance, and ideas to enrapture the reader for every single page until the end.

Tall orders, all of them. But that’s what makes the writer’s life a glorious adventure all on its own. Visit places I’ve never been but want to see. Be people I’ve never been but strive to become.

Like life, the effort is three-parts tedium to one-part heart-pounding excitement. And you’re continuously trying to shift the ratio, despite the never-ending resistance of the universe to move it in the undesired direction. Still, you have to try — and try and try again. To give up is to decay, to die a little, on your way to complete dissolution. No profit in that.

It isn’t for everyone, for sure. It’s cerebral and emotionally taxing. It’s isolated and isolating, and it takes far more self-discipline than most people — me included — can manage on a regular basis.

No one orders you to write all day, every day. But if you don’t the page doesn’t get filled. You feel guilty when you slack off, and rightly so. You realize that no one, yourself included, is paying you to not write — neither in coin nor in praise. So, you pick yourself up by the bootstraps and plunge in.

Then, you find you’re enjoying the process so much you wonder why you procrastinated so long.

That’s one writer’s life, anyway. Your mileage will no doubt vary.


Jeffrey Perren wrote his first short story at age 12 and went on to win the Bank of America Fine Arts award at 17. Since then he has published at award-winning sites and magazines from the U.S. to New Zealand.

Educated in philosophy and physics at UCLA and UC Irvine, he lives in Sandpoint, Idaho.

He is also the author of "Cossacks In Paris," an historical war novel set in the Napoleonic era, as well as the romantic travel mystery "Death Is Overrated."









Expected publication: March 22nd 2014

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Life First Excerpt by R.J. Crayton

Read this great excerpt from Life First by R.J. Crayton. 
 I'll have more about R.J. Crayton on my next Indie Author Spotlight, so stay tuned.

I smile. Dr. Grant does not. His face is overwhelmingly serious. I notice his left cheek is darkish purple, as if he’s suffered some injury. My insides turn uneasily as the first inkling of something wrong hits me. I’ve only been in the tiny secret room a moment, and things are going downhill.

The room is only about 12 feet by 12 feet, and reminds me of the tiny dorm rooms on campus dubbed “psycho singles” due to their claustrophobic nature. The wall’s contours are curved, uneven, like a cavern. A few feet away, I see a figure sitting on the floor, back to the wall, head tucked down, knees pressed to chest. Even though his face isn’t showing, I’d know that sandy brown mop of hair anywhere.

“Luke,” I say softly, taking a couple of steps toward him. I am afraid that saying it louder or getting any closer means he’ll hear me speak, look up, and confirm the sinking feeling I have. But, in truth, his very posture has already done that. Why would my Luke not get up and greet me? Why wouldn’t he sweep me into his arms and murmur in my ear words of encouragement about tonight, if everything were alright?

Luke doesn’t answer. I’m sure he heard me, and not answering further hammers in what I already know: something is terribly wrong.

I turn back to Dr. Grant. “What’s going on? And what happened to your face?”

Dr. Grant looks away from me, closing the door to the secret room. When he turns back, he sighs and puts his hand to his chin, considering my question. I search his face for any clues about what has gone wrong.
From behind me, Luke speaks. “I hit him.”

Frozen momentarily by what he said, I take my time to slowly turn and face him. “What?” He can’t have said what I thought he did. I wonder if saying the words aloud will help them make sense. “You hit him?”

He doesn’t speak but nods and inclines his head toward the doctor. My lips part slightly, then I stop myself from giving into the jaw-dropping shock I feel. Instead, I take a deep breath and hope a moment of silence will help me compose myself. I don’t want to be angry at Luke. Not now. Not when time is of the essence. Not when I am barely holding it together as is. But I do want answers.

Feeling silly in this ridiculous blonde wig and wanting Luke to see the real me, I pull it off my head, and shove it in my shoulder bag. I do the same with the stocking cap and rubber band that had been holding my hair in a bun. Yanking the shoulder strap over my head, I drop my satchel to the floor and take the few remaining steps to get to Luke, who is blanketed in shadow in the crevice he’s chosen. I kneel and look at his face. His blue eyes are moist at the edges and he appears to be suppressing a deep urge to scream — or perhaps an urge to hit Dr. Grant again.

I whisper, “Why did you hit him?”

He looks past me, at Dr. Grant. “Tell her,” he spits, with more venom than I’ve ever heard him direct at another human being.

"I made a mistake," Dr. Grant admits, moving closer to us.


To read on, buy the book:

Other links:

Friday, February 7, 2014

100 Reviews on Amazon

I just wrote my hundredth review on Amazon!  Most of them are books, so if you want to see what some of my favorite (and not so favorite) books are, check out my review here:

Melinda's Amazon Reviews

If you haven't ever reviewed books and Amazon, you should try it.  You don't necessarily have to have purchased the book there, and it gives much-needed legitimacy to books with few ratings. I found one book by Hilari Bell, one of my favorite authors, with TWO reviews.  And one of them's mine.  This is a traditionally published book by an author with at least 10-12 other published books.  It's a great story, and well written.  How can Hilari Bell's The Prophecy possibly have only two reviews, when things like Fifty Shades of Gray have 22,000???  I guess they never promised that life would be fair.  


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Writing Quotes

So, today's a great day for writing quotes. This morning I was watching Hawaii 5-0 (the OLD one) while I ran on the treadmill. In it, a reporter quoted Benjamin Franklin:

"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."

I love it.

Then I read an interview with Anna Quindlen.  She quoted H.L.Mencken, who said that a writer should...

"Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable."  
H.L Mencken.  Photo by Robert Kniesche

Inspires me to go out and afflict some people.  :)

Both quotes have a similar structure, and I heard them both in the same day.  Interesting lesson on rhetoric.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Glendale Chocolate Affaire, 2014

For any of you who live in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, this weekend is a great event in Glendale:  The Chocolate Affaire, February 7-9.  In addition to music, crafts for sell, and a myriad of food and chocolate treats, there's a romance writer's booth and free writing classes.  It's a great opportunity.  

Here's the line-up of classes:

Glendale Chocolate Affaire - picture of heartAuthor Classes

    12:00-12:45 Deena Remiel - Evolution of the Alpha Male

    1:00-1:45 Kris Tualla - 4.5 Paths to Publishing

    2:00-2:45 Tina Radcliffe - Writing Romantic Short Stories

    3:00-3:45 Erin Quinn - Editors & Agents: How to reach them and what they can do for you

    4:00-4:45 Morgan Kearns - Self-Publishing Pitfalls

    1:00-1:45 Anna Questerly - Using Figurative Language

    2:00-2:45 Michelle McKissack - Marketing with Facebook

    3:00-3:45 Virginia Nelson - Marketing with Swag

    4:00-4:45 Sandra Smith - Traveling for Research

And don't leave without splurging on chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick, or some other delectable treat.