I borrowed Looking Into the Sun by Todd Tavolazzi from a friend who had purchased the ebook version from Amazon for the Kindle. When he purchased the book, he read the book’s description to me, and I said that it sounded intriguing, to say the least. When he finished reading, he sent it to my Kindle App, and I began reading with a sense of excitement that I rarely get when reading the first book from a new author.
(Score is determined by calculating the mean average of the scores of the five criteria I judge novels by)
Storyline: The storyline as reported in the book description hooked me immediately. Itwas supposed to tell the story from the perspective of those most impacted by the Syrian conflict currently raging in the middle east: the civilians. It promised to show how the children in Syria are the ones suffering, which is something that all thinking people are sure to know.
Unfortunately, Tavolazzi not only failed to deliver on his promises, he completely ignored the story he claimed to be telling. Instead of telling the story through the eyes of the Syrians, he told it through the eyes of a freelance journalist. The few redeeming qualities the book possessed (decent action and pacing) were cast in sharp relief with the news stories that the journalist uploaded to the freelance writing organization that he teamed with. Obnoxious, repetitive, and adding nothing to the story, you can skip every “news story” in the book and miss nothing. Even worse, the story is never truly about the children and the random statements like “I need to get these kids out of here” come in at seemingly random intervals, and never really fit what is going on around the protagonist.
I give the storyline 1.5 stars.
The book’s description has been changed since I first read it. Now, instead of saying that the story is in the eyes of the Syrian civilians, it clearly states that the story is told in the eyes of an American journalist.
Characters: The protagonist is a freelance journalist named Angus Conn, who is chronicling the events in Syria. Tagging along with Angus is Jake Westin, a Hollywood pretty boy who is researching an upcoming movie role-as a journalist-and the man paying for Angus’s trip. While there are definitely some points where Angus and Jake show some great potential (such as Jake’s anger or Angus’s heartache), they are never really explored in depth, leaving the reader feeling as if they learned anything about the characters. While Jake walks away completely changed by his experiences in Syria, it seems forced in much the same way as the children are forced. As for Angus, he would be better cast in a supporting role.
The one redeeming quality of Tavolazzi’s characters is the supporting cast. Amala has a very interesting backstory and Gary is downright frightening. Because they are supporting characters, though, neither receives as much time as the irredeemably bad Angus, or the overdone Jake.
I give the characters three-stars, purely because of the supporting cast.
Setting: The setting is Syria, the real world country currently embroiled in a three-way civil war. Unfortunately, this promising setting never really comes to life, and I found myself trying to figure out where the characters were on several occasions. There was very little time spent creating a “mental picture” of the area, which I found slightly disappointing.
However, it is clear that Tavolazzi kept the setting in his mind at all times and he never deviated from it. I give 3.5 stars to the setting of Looking Into the Sun.
Plot: This is the true low point of Looking into the Sun. As I mentioned above, the story was never truly about the children, and the plot suffered for it.Sure, the action scenes necessary for a novel taking place in a war-zone are exciting enough, but the fact is, the plot does not function as a cohesive whole to make a specific point.
I am not sure if the theme is too broad (“war is hell,” for instance) or too narrow (“war is especially hard on civilians”), but either way, I felt that I was hit over the head with a baseball bat of a theme, rather than cleanly cut by a razor sharp edge of a well-sharpened plot. I give the plot one star.
Resolution: The resolution of the story would be great…if the previous 95% of the novel was rewritten. Instead of resolving the story that he wrote (American’s attempt to escape war-torn Syria), Tavolazzi resolved the story he claimed he set out to tell. However, it did function as resolutions are supposed to, giving us an idea of what happened after the plot ended.
Jake made his movie, Angus saved the kids, and they started a foundation for orphaned children from the war. I give the Resolution three stars.
Final Grade: With grades of 1.5, 3, 3.5, 1, and 3, Looking Into the Sun scored 12 points. This makes for a final grade of:
As much as I would love to write a great review, I simply can’t. Some will love this story, and others will agree with me. If I could tell Todd Tavolazzi one thing, it would be this: you did a great job for a first-time novelist. I hope that you will take the criticisms I have given in this review and use them to improve and come back better than before. There is definitely talent there, and certainly a love for people that you can leverage into a great writing career. Keep at it, and (as I always say) never stop learning.
My Grade: The jury is out
Last week was the first week of my new blogging schedule, and I have to say that I’m very pleased with how it went.
Today is Mash-Up Monday, so it’s time for my weekly recap of news and information from the previous week:
On Monday of last week, I announced that I will be following a new blogging schedule that will allow you to know what is coming every day. In the event that you missed the announcement that I will be following a new schedule, you can find it HERE.
For my first ever “Tuesday Tales” segment, I wrote a short story about how I met and came to know one of my closest friends and confidants, R.F. Dunham. You can read that story HERE.
On Wednesday, I was on twitter and noticed something in the “trending” section that has serious implications for somebody in my profession. To find out what happened, check THIS out.
Thursday, of course, I did my newest installment in the #WritingTipsWithJosh video series, on introductions and prologues. I did not do a blog post here, because I was invited to do a guest blog post on writing tips, and I knew that I could do the post there. To view the video, go to this LINK, and to read the post, go HERE.
On Friday, I featured guest writer Ian Townsend, who wrote of his own journey to writing. You can read Ian’s post HERE.
Last week, we took a big step in my company’s fiction writing contest, as an award-winning and best-selling author agreed to assist us with the judging of the contest. To read the announcement, go HERE, and to enter, visit this LINK.
Today is “Free-For-All Friday,” the day in which I like to feature guest bloggers as well as book reviews and other fun things. Today’s F4AF is brought to us by Ian Townsend.
Writing fiction is a tough gig. You have to convert the crazy made up things in your head into understandable context and plots. For some people, it comes very easy. Some people have to work pretty hard at it. The biggest factor is having the will to put in the work.
I love writing.
There has always been a bit freedom in the art of word craft for me. While the practice of writing has not always been an easy thing for me, it has always been rewarding. It was a long road from my first attempts at writing fiction to now, but the path has been an interesting one.
When I was young, I read voraciously. As I filled my head with the brilliant visions and tales built by the words of others, my imagination began weaving its own stories. Immersing myself in fictional worlds and adventures had always been a mental liberation for me. The words came alive in my imagination, and the stories played like movies in my head. I could sense the emotions, hear the voices and sounds, and feel the actions. I felt like I knew exactly what the writer had felt when they wrote the words.
Eventually, I wanted to try and turn my imagination in to words as well. Writing would let me express myself in a way that speech and movement never could. Some people have a talent for music, athletics, oration, or so many other fields (my wife, for example, has an amazing talent with music.) My heart always drew me to written words. I was never big on poetry or lyrical phrase, but the eloquence and beauty of well-crafted literature drew me like a magnet. The early going was difficult. It was like trying to catch fireflies with no net. I would struggle to transition the bright, vivid images in to words that could do them justice. I often fought with myself and ended up with disappointing results. This only occurred when I was trying to write from my own mind. If I was writing a paper for school, I was able to do so easily and efficiently. It wasn’t until college that I found the key that unlocked the floodgates for my imagination.
In college, I wrote infrequently, and I generally didn’t do anything that wasn’t school related. I started out as a Criminal Justice major, but switched to Education after a year. I was playing two sports, going to class, and didn’t have much time to work on my own writing. When the Education program dropped its Secondary program, I was left searching for another major. My English teacher at the time practically brow beat me in to joining the Journalism program, and it was a life changing decision.
Journalism allowed me to enlist my imagination while writing something that mattered. I grew as a writer, and my ability to change the ideas in my head in to words was honed. For two years, I worked as a journalist for the school and a local paper, and I loved it greatly. It gave me the freedom to explore my own ideas and to express them in a way that painted them in the light that I saw them in my mind.
As much as I enjoyed being a journalist, I decided to join the Navy, and my writing went on a general hiatus for a while. My writing came and went for seven years, and ideas would come and go without me investing much effort in them. I would always regret not tacking those ideas down and exploring them. I was always so busy with work that I allowed my writing to atrophy.
In the past year, I realized that I needed to start writing again. I felt that something was missing from my life, and watching my wife pursue her dreams of music made me take stock of my own aspirations. I made the decision to begin working towards my vision of writing fiction for publication. The choice has become a blessing. I have a sense of direction in my life, and a goal to strive for. My military career won’t last forever, and the only thing I can see myself doing afterwards is writing. The knowledge I have gained in the past year has given me a lot of confidence to put my work out there for the world to see.
I couldn’t have made the strides I have without the support of my mentors and peers. The writing community is vast, but the people are accepting and caring. If you are willing to learn and put in the work, you can find a spot in the world of writing. It doesn’t matter what your story is, or where the tale comes from. If you put your heart and soul in to building, nurturing, and perfecting it, you can make it a narrative to be proud of. My journey was long and winding, but I found the calling that had been right for me since I was young. If you feel the same, then go after it. Trust me, it is absolutely worth it.
Ian is currently serving in the US Navy. He is the proud husband of a rock star viola player, the harried father of a 3 year old hurricane daughter, and is hard at work on his first novel, a fantasy tale. His personal blog, The Town’s End Tribune, helps keep his writing claws sharpened when he is not writing fiction. Born and raised in Texas, he has traveled far and wide, but is currently mired in the swamps of New Orleans, LA. You can stay connected with Ian by following him on Facebook at The Town’s End Tribune.
For those of you who have been paying attention to my blog over the last few days, you know that I’m trying to be more prolific in my posting schedule. One thing you have likely noticed about my writing career additionally is that I tend to avoid one topic like the plague: politics.
Sure, I will occasionally mention religion because my Christian faith is something that is a key part of who I am, and it plays itself out daily in how I conduct business as a freelance ghostwriter and publishing company owner. In fact, I have made a habit of posting things that are directly tied to my faith, and my story of how I became a writer is one that has been deeply impacted by my faith.
However, I avoid politics…and for good reason. The simple fact is, the two most polarizing topics available to write about are politics and religion. I talk about my faith, so I stay out of politics.
Before I go any further, let me give you my “voter’s report card” of major elections since I came of age and gained the right to vote:
- 2008, Republican Presidential Primary: Mike Huckabee
- 2008, US Presidential Election: Chuck Baldwin/Darrell Castle (Constitution Party)
- 2008, VA 5th Congressional Seat: Rep. Virgil Goode (Republican)
- 2008, US Senator from Virginia: Abstained
- 2009, VA Governor/Lt. Governor: AG Bob McDonnell, Lt. Gov Bill Bolling (Republican)
- 2009, VA Attorney General: Steve Shannon (Democrat)
- 2010, VA 5th Congressional Seat: Jeffery Clark (Independent)
- 2012, Republican Presidential Primary: Abstained
- 2012, US Presidential Election: Rep. Virgil Goode/Jim Clymer (Constitution Party)
- 2012, US Senator from VA, Gov. George Allen (Republican)
- 2012, VA 5th Congressional Seat: Gen. John Douglass (Democrat)
- 2013, VA Governor: Robert Sarvis (Libertarian)
- 2013, VA Lt. Governor: Ralph Northam (Democrat)
- 2013, VA Attorney General: Mark Obenshain (Republican)
- 2014, US Senator from Virginia: Abstained
- 2016, Republican Presidential Primary: Sen. Marco Rubio
As you can see, I have quite a balanced “voter report card.” In addition to voting in two Republican presidential primaries, I have cast ballots for five Republican candidates, three Democratic candidates, and six third-party candidates in general elections. In the 2013 elections for statewide offices, I casted votes for all three!
The reason for this is simple: I don’t vote for men or women that I don’t believe in, or I don’t believe their message. This is the reason that I have “thrown my vote away” on third party candidates in two presidential elections, a US congressional election, and a Virginia Governors election. When I vote for someone, it is because I believe in them and their vision. That is why in 2012, I voted for a third party in the Presidential election (notice that I voted for Virgil Goode as a Republican for congress in 2008 as well), a Republican for Senate, and a Democrat for congress…all in 2012!
That is also why Ralph Northam for Lt. Governor earned my vote in 2013, but his running mates, Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herrig did not. I also have plans on voting for a third-party candidate in this year’s Presidential election…because I do not believe a word that either major party candidate says, and I don’t support their visions for America.
Now, I say this to make one thing exceedingly clear: I am a right-leaning independent voter.
I am also a writer.
Of the entire U.S. Constitution (including its amendments), there is no right that I value more than that of free-speech, protected by the First Constitutional Amendment, which says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
As Americans, there can be no greater rights! We are allowed to believe what we choose, say or write the things we wish, assemble peacably (for demonstrations and such), and to petition the government to make things right that we think wrong.
Over the years, this has played out in the private sector as well, as even hateful and abusive language has been considered protected, and no institution-government or otherwise-is allowed to infringe on those rights.
As a writer, this is huge. This one amendment to the US Constitution gives me the right to put whatever I wish on paper. In my case, of course, I tend to stick to stories and religious conversations…however, I noticed something today that really got me fired up.
The #FreeMilo hashtag was trending on twitter.
You see, I regularly check the “trending” sections on Facebook and twitter, because they tend to give me the news of the day much more quickly than the television. When I saw that #FreeMilo was trending, I immediately thought of the best known “Milo” that I am familiar with: Conservative commentator (and openly homosexual) Milo Yiannopoulos.
“Did he say something to get himself locked up?” I thought.
Turns out that something different happened entirely. He had been suspended from twitter and tens-of-thousands of his followers were artificially removed by twitter, as artificially lost nearly 50,000 of his twitter followers.
You see, in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting by an individual with ties to the Islamic State (ISIS), the radical terrorist organization, the inflammatory Yiannopoulos made some comments that were considered by some to be “anti-Islam.” As a result, his twitter account was suspended, hence the #FreeMilo hashtag.
He has since been reinstated, but the fact remains…Milo Yiannopoulos has a God given right to free speech. I don’t care where you fall on the political spectrum, you have a right (not a priviledge, which can be taken away) to say what you wish…at least, for now.
You see, this is not so much a political issue (for me, anyway) as it is a freedom issue. How long can a free society last if this censorship takes place?
As I mentioned before, the first amendment to the US Constitution is the one that I personally hold closest to my heart. As an artistic mind, I do not want to see the day where people (such as myself) are censored. I may disagree with you, but the fact is, you have the right to say it anyway!
I won’t get into the politics of it, but Milo Yiannopoulos is the loudest voice for conservatism in the homosexual community. There is no-one better to be the voice of the conservative movement nationwide as we all react in shock and horror at the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, a location known to cater to the homosexual community in Orlando.
Sure, he may have said some things that I disagree with, and he may not have. The fact remains that allegedly, a lone gunman with ties to ISIS walked into a so-called “gay-bar,” and opened fire, killing 50 and wounding as many more. Whether we want to face the facts or not, groups such as ISIS, al Quaeda, and the Sultanate of Saudi Arabia all routinely persecute homosexuals simply for being homosexual. Saying a statement very much like that is what got Milo banned.
I don’t care where you stand on the political spectrum, the fact is that this was a blatant attack on free speech by the social media giant, and it should not now or ever be tolerated. As the great French philosopher, Voltaire, once wrote: “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”
I hope you all agree.
Read more about the response to the twitter suspension HERE
When I was young, there were few people that could tolerate me. I was loud, obnoxious, and notoriously difficult to get along with. In fact, I was so loud and so obnoxious that I had few friends for the first ten years or so of my life. Some will call it ADHD, some will say that it’s just because I was a high-energy boy, but the fact is, I was annoying. I have always been the kind of guy that is highly opinionated, and I’m not afraid to say whatever is on my mind, and damn the consequences. I have always said that there is no middle ground with me: you either love me or you hate me…and a lot of my peers hated me for it.
Growing up in a divided household in which my sister (and only sibling) was eleven years older than me did not help matters either.
When I was nine, I made my first life-long friend, Jimmy. Two years older than me, friendship with Jimmy was something that meant the world to me. It was one person with whom I could be myself, and who was not afraid to be himself with me. I learned a lot about friendship over the course of our friendship, most notably how to avoid discipline for the mischief we got into. However, because of that two-year age difference and the fact that we were often in different schools, I often remained on my own.
That all changed for me in sixth grade, when I joined the school band. Because of the way our class schedule fell, I had lunch with my bandmates, and there was one guy that I sat with that year: J.T.
J.T. was in the advanced learner’s program, and as such, the majority of his friends were as well. When he suggested that we join a group of his ALP friends, I followed…it was either that, or eat alone. Trevor, J.T., Bryan, and a few others sat at that table, and for the first time in my life, I sat with a group of my peers, rather than one or two. However, there was one other student that I most wanted to befriend.
That student was one I had literally known since childhood. You see, my grandmother took me to church regularly, and when we were young, he went to the same church as I. He was also in the band. We had never been friends, but then? He seemed openly hostile to my presence.This continued for several years…without a circle of friends to call my own (in school anyway) I bounced around a bit, but I always ended up in that same circle, with that same guy.
When we were in eighth grade, we worked together to start a Bible study for the students in the middle school. We met some opposition, but we finally found a place where we could meet every week to study the Bible with a group of other students. As we continued into high school, this guy stopped being veiled with his annoyance at me and became more open with it. Of course, being used to comments like the ones he made, I just ignored it and stuck around anyway.
Then, when we returned to school after summer break between our sophomore and junior years, I noticed a drastic change. Something had happened, and he was being nice to me. I could not understand the change or where it came from, but it was obvious to everyone. Instead of joining in with the group when they would say less than polite things to me (that I, admittedly, deserved), he would tell them to lay off.
“What?” I thought to myself. You see, at that point in my life, I was just waiting to
graduate and to escape my hometown. “I’ll go to college,” I thought. “Life will be easier then.” But now, this guy that I so desperately wanted as a friend was different…he wasn’t nearly as antagonistic to me anymore, and I came to see him as more of a friend. All that year, we got closer, and by Senior year, we had a fully-fledged friendship.
It was years before I understood what happened. It turns out, he began to feel that it wasn’t very much like Jesus to treat me as he had been for those several years. When we came back to school, he had resolved to just be nice to me.
That (and a few other things) gave me a reason to not be so obnoxious, opinionated, and difficult to get along with. You see, in the years since that all happened, I discovered the reason I was the way I was: I was crying out for attention and I had no idea how to get it. I was a young kid with few friends, and I desperately craved friendship.
Of course, as we grew closer, he began to tell me when I was being annoying or obnoxious: not to be mean, but because he knew that I didn’t want to be seen in that light anymore. He loved me enough to say, “Hey Josh, you’re being a bit of a pain right now, I know you don’t want to be, so fix it.”
After we graduated high-school, he was the only one of my high-school friends that attended my wedding, and I was honored to attend his a few years later. He is actually the only friend that I have from school that I see regularly and keep in nearly constant contact with.
We actually are on the same career path as well…he’s a writer too, and a really good one at that. When he was having his newly finished novel edited, he came to me. Of course, when I finish my first novel, I’ll be going to him. We are planning on publishing a book together soon, about writing and developing as a writer, and we have a podcast in the works too. If you haven’t figured out who it is I’m talking about, it’s none other than R.F. Dunham.
I love you buddy, and I hope that you know just how much I cherish our friendship. Write on, bro.
So, I’ve been thinking of the ways that I can build this blog into something special…something that will get you guys involved and that you will be interested in keeping up with regularly. So, because of that, I’ve decided to revamp this blog just a little bit and share my thoughts with you.
To be honest, my dedication to this blog has been sparse at best, primarily because I’ve been so focused on my new company (Davis Publishing Company) and trying to meet my commitments to my ghostwriting client. That has got to stop because I really want to get a community of people involved with my work, so I have decided that I’m going to start following a fairly strict schedule that I will only deviate from when I absolutely have to. It’s going to look something like this:
On Mondays of every week, I’m going to post a recap post, in which I will share links to any posts from the previous week that you may have missed, as well as any news from the world of writing and publishing that I think that you may find interesting.
Every Tuesday, I’ll be sharing a short story, either from my own life, a fictional short story, or an inspirational story that you may find beneficial.
Those of you who have been paying attention to my #WritingTipsWithJosh videos may have noticed that I haven’t posted one in several weeks. The truth is, I’ve been rethinking how I want to get those out there, and I have finally decided what I’m going to do with them. Well, now that I’ve finalized how I want to do this, I can start doing it this week.
From now on, I’ll be posting the #WritingTipsWithJosh videos to YouTube as always, but instead of putting the actual video on this blog, I’m going to do a complete write up article, explaining the tip and giving you examples that are going to be really beneficial to those of you who are more visual learners.
On Friday, I’ll be doing a bunch of random things, whether I am featuring a guest blogger or posting book reviews, sharing humorous stories or announcing upcoming works, this will be the “catch-all” day. I may also use this day to catch my breath, and you won’t see anything from me at all.
So what do you think? Do you like these categories, or do you think that I missed the mark somewhere? Let me know in the comments below, and as always, #WriteOn!
So, if you follow me at all, you know that one of my best friends is R.F. Dunham, and we regularly publically converse on both twitter and Facebook. Because we are both wordsmiths, we love using words that don’t normally come up in conversation.
Well, after I accurately used the word “paradigm” in a tweet, he responded by accurately using the word “indubitably.” He then asked if there is a hashtag for “big words” on twitter. I, of course, responded that we should start one and get it trending!
The rules are simple: compose a tweet in which you accurately use a “big” or “cool sounding” word, and make sure to include the hashtag #bigwords! Also, make sure you retweet this article, so that as many people as possible can join in the fun!
Make sure to follow R.F. on twitter as well! Use this LINK to find him!