Book in a Minute: The Revisionists

The Revisionists by Thomas Mullen

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Billed as a science fiction tale about time travel, The Revisionists is really a political thriller with an intriguing subplot about the nature of reality. Despite that misleading publisher’s blurb, this was an awesome book. The kind that makes me say, “Why the hell do I write? Even this guy’s grocery lists are probably better written than mine.”

Zed is a sort of time cop from the future – or is he really? While the true nature of his identity is somewhat mysterious and open to interpretation, Zed manages to come across as a complex, sympathetic, and believable character — as are the two main female characters, Sari and Tasha. The weak link is Leo, a rather unbelievably gullible former intelligence operative.

To be honest, Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me was more of a true science fiction tale than this one. But even though The Revisionists wasn’t the book I expected it to be, I still enjoyed it immensely.

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Books and How to Sell Them

Hah! That got your attention, right? You’re thinking I’m going to tell you how to make millions selling your book. Well, no.

I can tell you that a lot of book selling success these days comes from having three things.

First – a BIG CONCEPT. For example: Girl archer in dystopian future unwittingly instigates rebellion against repressive regime; Orphan boy discovers he’s a wizard and must battle evil super-wizard; Doormatty Twilight heroine knock-off decides she’s okay with being beaten, forced into uncomfortable sexual activity, and dominated by a totally abusive jerk who kinda reminds her of Edward.

Whoa, wait? How’d that last one get in there? How did badly written porn that features main characters who are knock-offs of someone else’s characters get in there? Well, that goes to the second item on today’s list.

Second – CONNECTIONS. It appears to be true that if you are, say, a former network executive with a husband who heads one of the biggest talent agencies in the world, then you can write whatever you want and be pretty sure that one of your buddies at the Club will publish it for you and then one of your other buddies will be happy to help you get massive amounts of free publicity for it. Pretty useful, that.

But what’s the other essential element, you ask? What’s that third thing you’ll need to be a bestseller?

Third – SEX. No, wait, Harry Potter didn’t have that and it was fabulous. MAGICAL CREATURES. No wait, The Hunger Games is brilliantly and relentlessly gritty and realistic. No centaurs or dragons or even intelligent owls, but it’s still great.

Third – GOOD WRITING. No, wait, that unnamed third book didn’t have that.

Third –  COMPELLING CHARACTERS. Huh? Whenever someone can’t explain the success of a certain book (like that one), they say something like, “It has compelling characters.” This means the person speaking happens to like those particular characters, not necessarily that the characters are well-developed or realistic. I find Wonder Woman to be a compelling character because she has an awesome costume and a magic lasso. But that doesn’t mean she’s particularly complex. Really, one reader’s “compelling character” is another person’s total nimrod. So no, it’s not compelling characters either.

Third –  PATIENCE.

Wait, let’s try that one again.


Well, considering how many times J.K. Rowling was rejected, this one is at least plausible. Considering how long it takes to get from “Once upon a time,” to “The End” in writing any story, patience is certainly an essential part of the craft. Far more essential than the BIG CONCEPT or CONNECTIONS or even fantastic writing. Because let’s face it, at least the author of that unnamed third book had the patience to finish the book. And then she wrote a second one. And a third! (Which is a bigger accomplishment than you might think. I was getting tired of writing about sex by the end of my first and so far only really steamy romance. And that was a mere 60,000 words.) PATIENCE, then, is a strong contender for the third thing you need to successfully sell a novel.

But nope, that’s not the third essential thing either.

Real writers know that the Third thing you need to sell your book is A GREAT BOOKMARK. And here is mine.


So now you know the real secret to being a professional author. You’re welcome.

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English: W. Somerset Maugham British writer
English: W. Somerset Maugham British writer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“There are three rules to the writing of a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

– W. Somerset Maugham

I know, right?! If only Somerset Maugham had known about the bookmarks he’d be bigger than Hemingway now!

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Also – yes, I know there’s a typo on the bookmark and the ISBN numbers aren’t filled in yet. This one’s just a draft. But clearly, this bookmark is what’s going to put me over the top. Nora Roberts, watch out!

[Thanks to the magnificent Ms. Rita Baker-Schmidt for another great design.]

The Death of a Minivan

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man with a dying car must be in want of common sense. For no greater love hath a man than that for his car.

Yea, even though that car may be an Oldsmobile Firenza or a Plymouth Acclaim or even, verily, a FORD WINDSTAR MINIVAN — truly no man has ever parted willingly with his vehicle.

For no matter how bland and boring that vehicle may be, it is HIS vehicle and he loves it as though it were his own child. Indeed, sometimes he loves it better than his own child, particularly when that child is sitting in the backseat of that vehicle saying things like, “Mom was right, we should have taken her Subaru.”

Thus it came to pass that we as a family found ourselves stranded in the right turn lane of South Street (I think) heading onto the Schuylkill Expressway on the hottest day of the year in decades. For the Man’s Ford Windstar minivan (circa 2003, odometer reading 200,000 miles) or The Beloved, as it shall hereafter be named, was dying. I would say that it was in fact dead, and that it had in fact been dead for a good week and a half at this point. Indeed, I would call it a Zombie Car — but the Man would argue that point, as he did on the morning in question — assuring me that the latest mechanic to look at The Beloved had found the root of her problem and truly fixed her this time. The problem being a pesky tendency for the entire electrical system to simply cut out in mid-drive. With a blazing suddenness reminiscent of the first episode of “The X-Files,” everything in the car would stop functioning. Air conditioning, lights (including headlights and hazard lights), radio — you name it, in the blink of an eye, it was gone. And oh yes, the engine too. If the engine was hot enough, it had enough life to limp into some parking lot — as long as that parking lot was not too far away.

Many wise men with grease under their nails and girlie calendars on their walls had inspected The Beloved and pronounced various verdicts as to what was wrong — the alternator, the battery, the serpentine belt, or even some undetectable lose wire that could require hours or even days of random prospecting. None of the fixes held for more than a day or two.

You would think that dying in heavy traffic in Philadelphia in 100 degree heat would have convinced the man to take The Beloved out back and shoot it in the transmission. But you would be wrong.

After a morning stop at the Penn Museum to see their very cool Mayan Exhibit, we planned to go to lunch and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Instead, we wound up spending the rest of the day in the tiny waiting room of Wayne’s Garage on Springfield Avenue (certified female friendly and no girlie calendars anywhere in sight!) Once we had limped home with The Beloved, I felt sure we would be calling someone to tow it away the next day. Instead, the Man took it to yet another mechanic for yet more tinkering. Granted, his intentions were noble. We are at this point, in technical terms, broke, and he was trying desperately to eke another year out of the Zombie Car.

Reader, we failed. A few days after the Philadelphia debacle, the Man and I found ourselves drifting powerless down a steep hill. We were on the way to Walmart, and I thought to myself, Now this is a truly stupid and embarrassing way to die. A lot of screaming happened. Mostly me screaming things like, “Get it into that parking lot over there now! Before we get killed!” Followed by the Man shouting thing like, “I can get it started again! I can really get it started again! Just wait!” And finally, me shouting semi-incoherent replies that used lots of Anglo-Saxon words plus a few words like “idiot” and “divorce.”

Finally, after some frantic rocking back and forth in our seats in an effort to give The Beloved enough momentum to drift safely into an empty school parking lot, the Man finally admitted defeat. He hung his head and almost wept, he was so dejected. You would think that car was Old Yeller. He was so sad, I completely forgave him for nearly getting us killed. Repeatedly.

Sadly, the new part-time job I managed to land after 18 months of looking will not pay down existing debt or build a small college fund for Dr. Cooper after all. Instead, it will pay for this:

On the other hand, it has a fabulous stereo system, an iPod port and even a USB port, as well as hands-free Bluetooth with voice command. So even in death, we see that there is new life. Or at least, a better sound system.

Funeral services for The Beloved will be held later this week and will involve the traditional removal of the tags, followed by the ceremonial tax-deductible towing away by the Salvation Army. There might also be a fair amount of drinking involved, because I’m Irish and you can’t have a proper wake for anything without booze. Ask Dr. Cooper about how Mommy dealt with it when his Betta fish Steve died many years ago.

In lieu of flowers, we ask that you remember to change your transmission fluid regularly and give your own cars a loving pat on the hood. For who knows when their hour might come to pass, and you too may find yourself bereft and sweaty on a busy highway in a strange city?