Close To Home: Luca Bistro

After visiting the wonderful Household Books in Cincinnati, I thought I might as well grab some dinner since I had driven two hours to the big city. I wasn’t sure where to eat, so I looked up places around me and finally settled on one called Luca Bistro. It advertised itself as French cuisine, and since I’ve never had authentic French food before, I thought I’d give it a try.

It was located in a super cute area of town called Mount Adams. There was free public parking only a block away from the restaurant! The outside was painted bright red, making it easy to find. Upon walking in, I saw it wasn’t very busy, and the bartender told me to have a seat anywhere and she’d be right with me.

The menu had some interesting graphics, including a map of France showing where the chef is from:

The front of the menu. It reads

And a section to learn French terms from:

The backside of the menu. It lists the entrees and sides.

While writing this post I used Google to translate what the French is at the top, and apparently it means “gastronomy is the art of using food to create happiness.” If you know French, let me know how accurate that translation is. I think it’s a pretty neat saying, anyway.

To start, I ordered the Bistro Side Car, mostly because I liked the name.

A martini glass filled with orangish yellow liquid. A glass bottle of water sits next to it on the table.

I’m not positive if I’d had Cognac before this particular drink, but either way it was good!

Looking at the menu, I knew I simply had to try the gazpacho:

A large white bowl filled with gazpacho. The red liquid is filled with small diced vegetables. It looks more like a chunky salsa than a soup, though to be fair it kind of is.

I’ve had gazpacho exactly one time before this, and it was one I made as a freshman in high school. This was better. In fact, it was so much better than I could have ever hoped a bowl of gazpacho to be. It was the perfect encapsulation of a summer garden. Fresh, crunchy, unbelievably ripe produce in a harmonious medley with bright herbs made for a truly light and delicious bowl of soup. It was more like a chunky salsa, really, but that’s no problem as far as I’m concerned. Plus, it was a pretty large portion. A total 10/10 gazpacho, in my mind.

I also got the Tarte Tomatoes Provençale:

A rectangular flatbread cut into five rectangle pieces, on a long white rectangular plate. The flatbread has melty gruyere on top of its flaky base.

This flatbread was truly next level with its perfectly flaky, crispy crust and melty gruyere. Its herbaceousness is not to be understated, as it was intensely flavorful. It was like pizza, but better. You heard me right; better than pizza! Plus it was a great sharing size if you had a dining partner with you.

At this point, it was time for another drink. The bartender was very kind when I told her I wasn’t sure what to get, and she whipped me up a Boulevardier.

A short glass filled with bright red liquid and ice, topped with a maraschino cherry. It looks like a Shirley Temple.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not the biggest fan of bourbon, but this was definitely drinkable. I appreciate the bartender giving me something fun to try. And who doesn’t love a maraschino cherry?

At this point I started to look more closely at the decorations. They were quite interesting.

A whole wall of framed (and some unframed) posters and artwork. They're all French.

This one in particular was my favorite:

A large blue poster featuring an illustration of a bottle of Orangina. It's a sparkling orange beverage inside a rotund glass bottle.

My entree of salmon came out, and it tasted every bit as good as it looks:

A large white platter with a filet of salmon atop a heap of mashed potatoes, which is accompanied by a creamy green herb sauce.

The salmon was perfectly cooked and flaked apart nicely. The herb cream sauce was light enough to be the perfect accompaniment to the super creamy mashed potatoes. Everything paired together beautifully, and it was surely a showstopper salmon.

Thanks to the implementation of to-go containers, I had room for dessert, and got this pear and almond tart:

A large, round white plate. Atop it sits a triangular cut of a pear and almond tart. The almonds on top are toasted to a golden brown color. A large mound of whipped cream sits next to the slice of tart, topped with a sprig of mint. The plate is dusted with powdered sugar.

While this pear tart was mild in flavor, I honestly thought it was a better end to this meal than something like an ultra-rich-mega-decadent-chocolate-lava something or other would’ve been. It was light, and not too sweet, and had a wonderful texture and delicate flavor.

Instead of ending on dessert, I ended on one final cocktail, the French martini:

A tall martini glass filled with dark orange liquid. There is a very full slice of an orange garnishing the rim of the glass.

This cocktail ended up being my favorite of the night. It was sweet, totally yumalicious, and came with a huge orange slice! The pineapple juice definitely made this drink for me.

All in all, I had an excellent time at Luca’s. Aside from the food being pretty dang amazing, the service was really excellent. Everyone was so friendly and engaging. I wish it wasn’t two hours from me, because I really want to go back. At least I know the drive will be worth it.

Do you like gazpacho, or is cold soup too weird for you? Have you been to a French restaurant before? Which special would you try? Let me know in the comments, don’t forget to check out their Instagram, and have a great day!


Sunset, 10/23/23

Our neighbors have an old TV antenna that, depending on the time of year, gets in the way of the sunset photos. I will often Photoshop it out, but today, for some reason, I kinda like what it’s giving to the photo. It’s staying in.

In other news, I am now home from my book tour! For good! Well, for a couple of weeks anyway, and then I do the Texas Book Festival, but that’s far enough away that I don’t count it as formally being part of the tour. My plan is to sleep for the next three days. I think it’s a good plan. I’ll let you know how it goes.

— JS

The Big Idea: Michael Mammay

People are people and they will do what people will do — but would a change in circumstance and environment change that, for better… or worse? This is the question Michael Mammay confronts in the Big Idea for his novel Generation Ship.


I’ve had the idea for Generation Ship since 2018 when I was at Launch Pad (sponsored by SFWA) studying space with some college professors. Most notable of those was the class we had on telescopes, which led me to the realization that in a hundred years, telescope technology might be such that we could know a lot more about planets around distant stars.

But I wasn’t ready to write the book at the time. I didn’t have the skill set to bring it together the way I wanted. And while the premise of the book—a generation ship that left earth 250 years ago reaching its destination planet—didn’t change, the big idea for it did.

There’s this myth that most of us probably used to believe that if we as a society ever faced something truly life-altering, that we’d come together and form a united front to deal with it. You see it in a lot of SF movies. Take Independence Day, for example. We all get together and fight the evil aliens.

I think it’s safe to say that the last decade has put the lie to that myth.

Is there anything that we would universally come together about? Even if we could agree as a society what right was (we can’t) we’d still have infighting about how to achieve it. People would war over who got credit and proclaim that their opponents never truly wanted to do the thing.

That’s the Big Idea of Generation Ship. After 250 years and a dozen generations on the same ship, the 18,000-person crew is facing the thing that they all set out to do so many years ago. It should be a great moment where they all come together. They don’t.

Maybe the original crew were true believers in the cause. Ship history certainly portrays them that way. But they’ve been dead for centuries, and the crew now has a variety of ideas, and not all of them are in line with the laws set down so long ago. Vocal minorities across the ship push radical agendas, and while they don’t always represent the population as a whole, they fight to sway public opinion which is as fickle as public opinion has always been.

The governor wants to push ahead with a quick colonization, and he’s willing to use the full weight of the ship’s ancient Charter and all sorts of political maneuvers to make that happen. A scientist wants more time to study the anomalies that they’ve detected so that they can make better decisions before rushing into things. A crime ringleader doesn’t care who gets their way as long as he can turn a profit. A security officer sees it as an opportunity for personal advancement. An agricultural specialist and a coder want to keep their heads down and just live life, but the coming storm sweeps up unwilling participants right along with the willing. 

I’ve always liked political maneuvering, and the opportunity to set it in a closed-ship environment just added to it. I love Battlestar Galactica and CJ Cherryh and Arkady Martine, and with Generation Ship I tried to take political elements that I love and put them into a more earth-centered environment. None of the crew of the generation ship ever stood on earth, but they’re all from there, and they’ve packed along a lot of earth baggage for the journey. I think it’s fair to warn the reader that they’re probably not going to like all the characters. They’re far too human for that.

Generation Ship: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|E Shaver Books

Author Socials: Web Site| Twitter

A Sunday Composition: “Lake Monona”

Today is the last day of my tour, and I spent it in Madison, Wisconsin, closing out the Wisconsin Book Festival. I had an excellent time. When it was done, felt the need to introvert heavily in my hotel room, and also play a bit with the iPad version of Logic Pro, which I have not deeply delved into yet. In the course of fiddling with the software, and figuring out how it’s different from its counterpart on the Mac, I ended up making a nice little ambient piece, which, in honor of the city in which it was composed, and one of the bodies of water it resides by, I am calling “Lake Monona.” It’s made up of gentle repeating motifs of differing lengths, which called up in my wind the small waves you get on a lake as the wind goes past. I hope you enjoy it.

Tomorrow I go home, and the tour will end. The tour has been lovely. I’m ready to be home for a while.

— JS

Small Business Saturday: Household Books

If you read my post over an event I went to recently called Plates & Pages at Five on Vine in Cincinnati, you may recall me talking about the bookstore that was the “pages” part of the event. I enjoyed the pop-up shop at the event and conversing with the owner so much that I decided to visit the actual bookstore, Household Books, at its location only two miles down the road from the restaurant. It’s located in Walnut Hills, which is an area of Cinci I’d never been to before, but it’s super close to the University of Cincinnati, Eden Park, the Cincinnati Ballet, and the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Upon walking into the bookstore, I was surprised at how large and open the space was.

A shot of pretty much the entire bookstore. It's the view when you walk in the front door. A table of books right in front, a lounging area with brown leather couches and tables beyond that, a big banner sign that reads

The owner, Bobby Minelli, welcomed me in and gave me the grand tour as he told me a little bit about the space, as well as some of his plans and goals for Household.

There’s this cozy little art-lounge section:

A section of the store with three leather chairs across from a long couch. There's several paintings on the walls and an area rug.

A curated collection of vintage clothing takes up most of the back left section of the store:

A rack of vintage clothing. More racks with clothes are visible in the background.

This is also where the records are!

A wooden box of records. The visible one in front is

As well as more art on the walls:

Several paintings hanging on the wall, spaced out sporadically.

There’s a whole wall of cookbooks:

A huge bookshelf full of nothing but cookbooks.

And a separate shelf of extra cool vintage cookbooks (I might be a little biased, but this was definitely my favorite section):

A medium sized bookshelf full of unique and vintage cookbooks.

Aside from the wonderful and diverse collection of used books, records, and vintage clothing, they also have rare books and first editions, like this version of The Princess Bride:

Or all these cool designs of the Harry Potter series:

A small dark green bookshelf containing several different collections of the Harry Potter series.

I’m not sure if you can read the sign on top, but it states that fifty percent of all Harry Potter sales will be donated to organizations that protect our Trans community. Barnes & Noble could never.

If browsing books isn’t your style, they also host tons of community events! Black youth reading nights, yoga, comedy shows, music, and more. Plus, their collaborative off-site events like Plates & Pages, which is happening again at Five on Vine next week on Wednesday the 25th. Sadly, I can’t attend this one, as I’ll be out of town, but if you go let me know how amazing it was.

These types of events are essential to what Household Books is all about: community and connection. Household is meant to be a place of engagement and enrichment for all in the community.

Of course, I had some burning questions about owning a bookstore and some of the books in the vast collection, and Bobby was kind enough to answer all of them for me!

Here’s a few:

1. What’s been the coolest part of owning a bookstore?
A: Hard to pick the coolest! Maybe I can narrow it down to three?  Watching people connect in a space I have where I have planted, watered, tended, seeing kids enjoy it in the way I enjoyed bookstores as a child (with no more consideration for how it got there than an old oak tree),  and seeing my family feel at home surrounded by books.
2. What is one book in your collection you won’t be parting with?
A: I have a copy of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay that Michael Chabon dedicated and signed after a really cool conversation. It’s my number one.
3. What genre do you see get purchased the most from your shop?
A: I’m always impressed by the range, but for me, and perhaps it’s a reflection of my taste, I sell a lot of vintage horror and gothic romance.
4. What’s some of your favorite events to host at your store?
A: I love subcultural cross-pollination, and I love mixing highbrow and lowbrow, whether it be aesthetic or conceptual. So having rock n roll in a bookstore has been my favorite so far, but I have designs on doing a scary storytelling night, and I am really looking forward to that!
5. What’s the genre you read the least often?
A: I want to read more non-fiction, but I find it tough when the state of fiction is soooooo damn good.
6. Did you ever see yourself having a bookstore in Cincinnati or did it just kind of happen unexpectedly?
A: In a strange way, it makes perfect sense. I also spent a great deal of time thinking about the idea of Household, what I loved about bookstores, and what I wanted to try in new ways. I couldn’t be more grateful for the way life shook out.
7. What’s the oldest book in your personal collection?
A: The Art of Memory; Whether Clear or Transparent – 1715
8. What’s the most expensive book you’ve ever bought?
A: Purchasssssed? The Easton Press set of the Lord of the Rings which I did some heavy bartering for and still set me back a lot of chips. But fortunately, most of the really pricey books I have in my collection, I was able to find in the wild.
9. Do you plan to sell things other than books, records, and vintage clothes, or is that kind of the max amount of stuff we can expect to see in the store?
A: I think, in terms of further output, I would rather put my focus on creating a subprint or a label- so I’d love to sell books and or records, or photo books or zines, that  were made ‘In House’ and I am already moving in that direction.
10. What is your favorite quote from any book/magazine/article you’ve ever read?
A: “Take care-there is no force more powerful than that of an unbridled imagination.”― Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

As you can see, Household Books is a truly wonderful space that I highly encourage checking out for yourself. There’s art to enjoy, great music to hear, friendly staff to converse with, and so many books to check out! I’m delighted to know that such a cool place exists in Cinci. Even if it is a bit of a drive for me, I’m glad that people in the area have such an accessible, welcoming place to peruse books.

What first edition book would you be interested in having? Do you have a record player? What’s a local bookstore near you that you enjoy? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!

The Big Idea: Alex Shvartsman

When opportunity comes knocking, author Alex Shvartsman is quick to answer the call. Follow along in his Big Idea for the second novel in his Conradverse Chronicles, Kakistocracy, to see just how he started crafting this sequel.


Sometimes you have to work at coming up with the big idea for your next-in-series, and sometimes the idea shows up on your doorstep, inevitable and undeniable, and demands to be written.

When I first began writing humorous urban fantasy stories set in Conrad Brent’s arcane version of New York City, I wanted to populate the setting with some larger-than-life Big Apple personalities. One minor character was Bradley Holcomb, a real estate developer with a reality TV show and a penchant for gaudy gilded environs. This was long before Holcomb’s inspiration ventured into politics, and the character mostly served as local color and comic relief.

Fast forward a decade or so, when I was completing the first Conradverse novel, and suddenly Holcomb’s presence was no longer funny, at least not in the same way. It carried connotations and subtext that hadn’t originally been intended, because when you write a setting that so closely resembles the real world, sometimes the real world has its own ideas. I considered getting rid of this character entirely, but ultimately I chose to keep him, as the concept for the sequel was already taking shape in my mind.

What if a vain, amoral, and incompetent swindler gets elected mayor of New York City?

While I write silly books filled to the brim with pop culture references, I aspire to tackle real-world issues underneath all that pulp. The Middling Affliction had things to say about systemic and long-standing prejudice (and I’ve written about this here on the Big Idea–thanks, John!). In Kakistocracy, I tackle concepts of power structures and how the least capable or suitable individuals so often rise to positions of power (which also happens to literally be the definition of the title.)

But I didn’t want the book to focus on Holcomb directly. What jokes could I write that wouldn’t feel recycled, or which hadn’t already been told better by the writing staffs of John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, and the like? So, I made the intentional choice of keeping Holcomb off-screen. The characters are forced to deal with many unfortunate consequences of the policies and decisions his administration sets in place, rather than with the man himself, as is the experience for most of us with leaders and politicians. Of course, this makes handling the plethora of other problems and threats the protagonists face all the more difficult.

And there are plenty of threats, from the vendetta waged by the fae assassins to the representatives of On High and Down Below being terrible at sharing, which could lead to a literal Armageddon, to the nefarious machinations of a villain who’s been playing the long game and manipulating events to achieve goals which Conrad and his friends must decipher in order to thwart. Just because things are rotten in Gracie Mansion, doesn’t place all the other various troubles on hold. Again, just like in real life.

The true challenge of working on this book wasn’t imagining the sort of trouble the Holcomb administration might engender; current events made that part easy. Rather, it was striking a balance between what I hope will be an entertaining and funny read with a dollop of social commentary, and imagining a viable path forward for the protagonists as well as the citizens oppressed by such a regime. 

Kakistocracy: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Powell’s

Listen to chapter 1. Visit the author’s website. Follow him on Facebook.

View From A Hotel Window, 10/19/23: Nashville

There are some quality parking lots in Nashville.

It’s also a lovely town, and in that red building that you can see here, there is the Gibson garage, which is a shop featuring lots and lots and lots of Gibson guitars. And was suitably impressed. I did not purchase any guitars. I can’t fit them into my carry-on.

How is your Thursday?

— JS

The Big Idea: Dan Moren

For some, there is magic in the ordinary. For others, magic is the ordinary. Such is the case for the main character of author Dan Moren’s newest novel, All Souls Lost. Follow along in his Big Idea as he expands a bit on the mystical world of magic and technology.


Every speculative fiction writer knows the old Arthur C. Clarke saw: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

But it’s the transitional part of that idea that’s always caught me: when and how does technology shift into becoming magic? Or vice versa? 

Technology and magic have both been real fixations in my life. Our family didn’t have a computer until I was around 12 years old, and when my dad brought home a Macintosh LC, I immediately started to make up for lost time by delving into its every nook and cranny. I learned how to replace sprites in my favorite video game, I read The Macintosh Bible from cover to cover, I wrote shareware apps in Microsoft BASIC that I distributed on the dial-up bulletin boards of the era. To me, it was all magic that I was slowly demystifying, discovering the rules and systems beneath. 

This era of technological exploration neatly coincided with my burgeoning love of fantasy and science-fiction. One of the first things I remember doing on my brand-new computer was firing up the word processor and writing stories, the first of which was (as is contractually obligated for all pre-teens attempting to write fantasy) the continuing adventures of my D&D characters. My creative coup in that story was typing mysterious messages in “magical runes”—namely, the classic Mac font Symbol (which is basically just the Greek alphabet). While that story never saw the light of day, it did encourage me to further pursue my passion for writing, as I tried to break down something that seemed magical—a completed piece of art with the power to transport readers—into a piece of machinery, powered by a complicated set of gears and cogs. 

Both technology and magic have continued to play outsized and intertwined roles in my life: I’ve spent the last seventeen years as a journalist covering the technology industry and, at the same time, continued to pursue my dream of writing speculative fiction, with four novels under my belt. 

Throughout, that fascination with the interplay of the magic and technology—and, most crucially, the line between them—has stuck with me. Embarking upon writing All Souls Lost finally presented an opportunity to weave that theme into a narrative. Mike Lucifer, spiritual consultant, is a man for whom dealing with ghosts, demons, and the supernatural, is old hat—even if it’s a routine he’s not eager to go back to. But technology? He’s no more likely to start delving into the nooks and crannies of a computer than he is to dissect his sandwich. Technology might as well be ancient Akkadian to him—except he speaks ancient Akkadian. 

But when all the signs of the case he’s become embroiled in point back to a big tech company, he’s out of his depth. To solve this mystery, he’s going to need help from someone for whom technology is like magic is to him: mundane, boring, everyday. 

Enter Jenna Sparks. To say more would give away too much of the story, but it’s the interaction between these two characters, and what they represent, that’s at the heart of this book. They bring together the disparate threads of magic and technology, of things wondrous and explicable, and remind me that magic and technology are not a dichotomy, but a continuum. After all, the best technology feels like magic, and digging apart how it was accomplished just makes it all the more impressive—not that dissimilar from the best stories.

All Souls Lost: Amazon|Apple Books|Barnes & Noble|Kobo

Author socials: Website|Bluesky|Mastodon

View From a Hotel Window, 10/18/23: Detroit

Taken a little later than my hotel room shots usually are, but then, look, you get a nice crescent moon out of it. So you have that going for you, which is nice. And today was me making an appearance at a bookseller’s convention, so I got to meet a lot of lovely people who put my book on their shelves. Needless to say, I appreciate them greatly.

Tomorrow: I am in Nashville and I’m having an event at Parnassus Books, one of the great bookstores. If you are in or near Nashville, please come see me!

— JS

The Big Idea: Tobias S. Buckell

The power of books is undeniable. But the power of books is also fragile and constantly in danger. These are facts which inform Tobias S. Buckell’s latest work A Stranger in the Citadel — along with his own love of literature and the physical form it takes.


It’ll surprise none of you that I love books. I mean, I write them, after all! I love that faint musty odor that clings to old book stores, along with the tactile sense of flipping through the pages while hoping for a sentence that lets me fall right into the story. That moment our thoughts could end up permanently chiseled, inked, and read, it feels like history became this granite edifice. Thanks to this next level invention we could beam our thoughts to each other, and read the musings our ancestors left to us.

I’ve always felt this gift of paper, this paper-based telepathy, was a defining moment in human history. Before it lies the mists of pre-history and the unknown, and since then, words. And what would happen if we lost the books?

At the end of Fahrenheit 451, the Ray Bradbury novel that involves ‘firemen’ who have the job of burning books (which have been outlawed), there’s a scene that always chilled me. The main characters end up with a group of insurgents fighting back by memorizing sections of novels so that the words aren’t lost. This horrified me at the time because I suspected the numbers willing to commit to memorizing *my* favorite SF/F novels would be small. Bradbury’s little moment of hope at the end of his book came across much in the same way the end of a horror movie does.

I also assumed there was no way people could memorize books. I could barely memorize my own phone number at the time, and was ADHD. Listen to a rumor, or play the game telephone in a classroom, and you would get garbled nonsense out the other side. Fidelity of transmission could not be assured. Or so I thought.

It was a friend of mine that took this seed of an idea, what would a post-book society look like with distant memories of our wealth of literature to draw on, and helped me understand that this has been the case for most of our history. A professor at a nearby university, Dr. Ray Person, studies oral history and transmission. He pointed out to me that oral tradition has a self-correcting mechanism in it: the community that values the story itself.

The storyteller alone does not bear the weight of memory, the storyteller is the performer. And if they stray too far from the story, the community shouts out corrections. Thus, we are all the memory, passing on stories. In oral culture that values the stories, researchers have found startling details preserved over hundreds of years. Storytellers among the First Australians have passed on details in descriptions of ten thousand year old volcanic eruptions that climate scientists have studied.

Obviously some stories would change, mutated to meet their community’s needs, and some stories we think important now may be lost. But it wouldn’t be that deep easement, a void that I’d feared when I finished Fahrenheit 451 for the first time. It may not be the exact paper-printing world we know now, but storytelling is buried so deep in our bones I believe it speaks to something about being human.

In these days of book bans, the fights over who gets to tell what stories, and where, what is canon, what is not, I think I take heart in the fact that stories have existed for as long as we’ve had the tools to tell them. Which is why I wrote this book. To imagine the people of a society that have lost all touch with print books, who are in a world of myth and legend, who are trying to understand the world around them with what they’ve been given and what they can seek.

I think, even if we lose it, if our community values it, stories can’t be killed. They’ll try, those who manipulate and bend and demand that only their views are seen. But the words, they’re like magic, the stories live on in us, and to take on story itself is to underestimate the weight of thousands of years of stories that yearn to break free and be told.

The first line of this book “Thou shalt not suffer a librarian to live” came from a tongue in cheek exercise I teach where we reimagine common phrases as a seed for a story. But as I got deeper and deeper into the story that came from it, I found something reassuring at the heart of it.

Stories are stronger than we realize.

And the search for knowledge will always be there, because the truth and knowledge never went anywhere. They were always there for us to discover. And those who fight it, who cast it into darkness, they have to actively hide it and bury it from us. They’ll always have to be on the look out, they’ll always have to be actively censoring, they’ll always have to expend energy to take this away from us.

But the moment they tire, the moment they take their eye off the ball, the stories and words resurface. There are renaissances, even after the darkest ages.

Writing this book led to this realization for me, and regardless of who reads or champions what I wrote, that understanding will always be the lesson I learned from this book, and the big idea buried in the heart of it. There will always be characters like Lilith, from this book, who will reach out to something as forbidden as a librarian in her world, who will set aside their fears, and pick up a book.

Even if the entire world says it’s forbidden.

Honestly, if it’s a good book, we can’t help ourselves.


A Stranger In the Citadel: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|Powell’s

Read an excerpt.

Author Socials: Web site|Bluesky|Instagram

Sunset, 10/17/23 + Annoying Facebook News

First: Look! A sunset! Isn’t that pretty? Let’s all bask in its orange cloudiliciousness for a moment.

Second: Some dude snuck his way into my Facebook account and it was shut down after it became clear it was breached. I’m in the process of recovering the account, but honestly who knows how long that will take. So, if you were following me on Facebook and wondering where I might be, I’m away for a few days at least.

What makes this annoying is that I had strong passwords and two factor authentication on the account; this shouldn’t have happened. Naturally, I blame Facebook. Anyway.

— JS

The Big Idea: E. E. Williams

Who do authors write for? E.E. Williams has no uncertain opinions on this matter, and in this Big Idea for No More Tomorrows, invites you along for an exploration of this topic.



Write for yourself.

That was the advice I kept getting from many friends and family members after I wrote a humorous Facebook post lamenting the meager sales of my last mystery novel, My Grave Is Deep, the third in a series featuring an amateur detective named Noah Greene.

Just write for yourself.

My friends were trying to soothe my feelings because they knew, behind the comic musing, I was probably hurting. Truth be told, I was.

Because I don’t write for myself. I don’t believe many authors do. 

Writing a novel isn’t something you do on a lark. It’s hard. First, you need an idea, a story that will grab a reader by the throat and won’t let go. You need a plot with no holes, relatable characters with relatable backstories, authentic dialogue, a coherent beginning and middle, and an end that kicks ass. One that makes a reader laugh, cry, or reach for something to calm their nerves. It’s like wrestling a giant squid. 

Once you’ve got all that, you’ve got to write the sucker and that can be laborious, tedious, and often tortuous. Not for all of us. I know a famous Science Fiction writer (oh, you know who I’m talking about) who once scrapped a manuscript not to his liking, and is so talented and fast, he took less than a month to write a new novel that only went on to become a best-seller and win a slew of awards. 

Most of us are not that writer. 

Some days you feel it, some days you don’t, yet you slog on until you reach at least 80,000 words, the generally accepted total for a typical novel. (The average is 60,000 to 100,000.)

When you finally drag yourself across the finish line and typed THE END on your manuscript, you’re mentally exhausted and the last thing you want is do is pat yourself on the back and shout, “Now what else can I write that nobody else will read?” 

I once had a manuscript squirreled away in various desk drawers for 35 years before I finally said enough is enough and finished my first Noah Greene novel, Tears in the Rain. It didn’t take that long to write My Grave Is Deep, but many, many hours did go into composing it. Many, many more revising it. Many, many more rewriting it. Many, many more agonizing over each paragraph, each sentence, each word.

I grappled and cursed and threw too many tantrums to count while writing My Grave Is Deep, and when I finally finished, I was pretty happy with it. Then again, as that great philosopher, Snoopy, once said, I’m a great admirer of my own writing. Still, I thought My Grave Is Deep was the best of the three novels. Not high art, but not pulp fiction, either. Even Kirkus Reviews, a well-known reviewer of books, liked it, calling it “An involving installment of an offbeat detective’s journey toward redemption.” That right there!

I thought readers would buy it. Hoped they’d buy it. Prayed they’d buy it.

They didn’t buy it.

At least not in the numbers I’d have liked.

A little background here. That first novel and the one that followed—Tears of God—were published by a small independent publisher that subsequently went out of business. I don’t think it was my fault, but … maybe? Afterwards, I tried some other publishers where I thought my books would fit, but most of them didn’t take unsolicited manuscripts. Get an agent first, they told me. Good idea, except for the most part, agents want writers with a track record. My track record was maybe, perhaps putting a publisher out of business. Which meant, I didn’t have an agent. 

So, like many a couple of million other authors who are wishin’ and hopin’ and prayin’ that someone will notice them, I published the book myself through Amazon’s KDP platform.

It was an incredibly easy process, and with a little advertising dollars thrown here and there, I managed to sell more books than I ever had. 

Five is better than two, right?

Nah, it sold more than that but not a lot. I think one of my royalty checks from Amazon was for 80 cents. You either gotta laugh at that or cry.

The problem with publishing on KDP is that the only place readers can get your book is at, well, Amazon. Not Barnes & Noble, not Books-A-Million, not Powells. Not in any independent bookstore. Only Amazon. Period.

That’s going to limit your readership. A lot.

Bottom line, authors want to be read by as many people as possible. For the money, yes, because they like to eat. But there are other reasons to tackle a novel. Some do it to scratch a creative itch. Some to stroke their ego. Some because they have something to say … about themselves, the human condition, the world, life. But all do it for the reader.

As I say, My Grave Is Deep reached more readers than the first two novels. Just not the numbers I’d hoped for. My 16-year-old granddaughter recently asked me about my writing and when I told her of my disappointment she asked, “Why don’t you just quit?”

I could, I would, except for these voices in my head. (Metaphorically speaking, for any psychiatrists in the crowd.) I go to bed at every night hearing dialog of characters, fall asleep creating scenes, and rise the next morning with the characters playing out the scenes from the night before. It’s non-stop. I suspect it’s the same for most authors.

Some reading this will think this is nothing more than an unabashed play for you to buy my next Noah Greene novel, No More Tomorrows, which is available today through another small independent press, Moonshine Cove. While I wouldn’t exactly put it that way, I wouldn’t exactly not put it that way, either.

Look, I don’t have 20,000 (or even 20) followers on Twit … ah, ‘X,’ or Instagram, or an email list of hundreds (things authors need to gain traction these days), so I’m not expecting to wake one morning and find “No More Tomorrows” rocking the top of the New York Times bestseller list. And much as I’d like to believe 74 is the new 40, unless I suddenly become the Grandma Moses of mystery fiction, I’m not going to be signing John Grisham-like mega book and movie deals. My goals are much more … modest. Like having people who don’t share my last name read my work.

It might not matter as much had I another dozen books left in these arthritic fingers. But realistically, time isn’t on my side.

So, while my friends were being kind in advising me to write for myself, it’s not something I can or want to do. 

I want to write for the person who’s lonely and alone and needs to escape into another life for a while; for the person stranded in an airport because of a flight delay or cancellation and needs something to occupy their mind so they don’t go crazy and do a Karen on the gate attendant; for someone who belongs to a book club and is desperate to read something a little spicier (and a whole lot shorter) than Ayn Rand; for those who’ve had a trying, depressing day at work; for the parent staying up late waiting for their teenager to come home safely; for the sick and bedridden and hospitalized; for someone looking for a smidgen of sanity in our insane world. 

I want to write … for you.

No More Tomorrows: Amazon

Author socials: Web site|Facebook

A Deer Tried To Murder Me Today (Spoiler: I’m Fine)

The attempt was made roughly an hour ago, as the deer stood in my lane at a bend in the road, giving me almost no time to register that it was there, much less do anything about it. Even so, I managed to both swerve away from the thing and still stay on the road, for which I credit years of video games giving me some creditable twitch reflexes — not good enough to fend off getting sniped by swear-laden 13-year-old boys in Overwatch, but good enough to miss a dear just hanging out in the road because what else is there to do when you’re a deer, I suppose.

Anyway, I’m fine, the car is fine and the deer is fine, or at least was the last I saw of it, although I’m still riding a bit of an adrenaline spike and am waiting to crash down. When I do I suspect I will sleep for 12 hours straight.

So that’s me this fine Monday. How are you?

— JS

And Now, One Of My Favorite Photos From My NYC Trip

It’s looking thorough the Red Cube by Isamu Noguchi, which is located at 140 Broadway, in downtown Manhattan. There’s a lot going on here, and I’m happy I got it into a picture.

New York City was fabulous as ever, but now I’m home and happy to be here. I may sleep all day tomorrow. There are worse ways to spend a Monday.

— JS

The Terrifying Visage of the Pac-Man Lights Up the Skyline

I saw my first live drone display and of course it was an advertisement. In this case, for a new Pac-Man game. The advertisement was effective, since everyone at the restaurant I was at had their phones out and were taking pictures of it (including, obviously, me). But it was still existentially disappointing to me. A new, delightfully weird use of technology and what we choose to make of it is an ad. Make no mistake that if we were allowed to put advertising into orbit, it would have been done already. At least Pac-Man is cute.

In other news, another successful day at Comic Con, including a panel and two signings, is now in the books. I am back in my hotel room and honestly if I am still awake at 9pm it should be considered a minor miracle. I go home tomorrow and as lovely as New York has been, I will be happy to be home.

— JS

Hello From New York Comic Con

As you can see, it’s a totally normal place with totally normal stuff around.

Today for me was a panel and a signing, both of which went well. I’m taking a break in my hotel room before I go off to do crimes, by which I mean probably get something to eat. CRIMINALLY.

It’s a weird but mostly delightful life.

— JS

View From a Hotel Window, 10/12/23: NYC

It’s a lovely day here in the Big Apple, and I took a long walk in it, from Midtown to Downtown, just because it was Autumn in New York. I recommend it for anyone.

New York Comic Con has started and I’ll be at it tomorrow and Saturday, with panels and signings. Please check with official NYCC schedule for times and locations, I, uhhhh, haven’t checked yet myself. But it’ll be fun! Promise!

— JS

The Big Idea: Christina Consolino

Few things in life are harder than watching your parents age. Author Christina Consolino is no stranger to this struggle, and explores the difficult topic of her own parents declining with age in her newest novel, The Weight We Carry. Read on to see what drove Consolino to share this deeply personal story.


Years before The Weight We Carry existed in draft form, I watched an ABC report with Cynthia McFadden. In the video, McFadden and Blane Wilson (whose mother, Lawanda, had Alzheimer’s) spend 12 minutes as a person with dementia. Goggles limit their sight, gloves dampen their sense of touch, and headphones deliver incessant noise, all of which visibly frustrate the pair and decrease their ability to concentrate. McFadden and Wilson are each given five tasks, but neither has the ability to follow through on them. The point of the experiment? To help McFadden and Wilson—and the viewer—understand what someone with dementia is going through and increase awareness, empathy, and compassion.

At the time the report aired, my mom’s indecisiveness and forgetfulness concerned my sisters and me. By fall 2014, when Mom got lost going back to her hotel room at my sister’s wedding, it was clear she needed help. My sisters and I knew what we needed to do. The real question was, how? Up until then, Mom had been resistant to listening to our concerns about her memory, always pushing them away or getting angry and agitated when the subject arose.

As it turns out, during Dad’s health crisis in summer 2015, Mom made a large error in judgment, and we told her that Dad’s doctors had suggested evaluations for them both. Later that summer, after an appointment with a senior specialist, a cognitive evaluation, and an MRI, we received the news: probable Alzheimer’s disease.

None of us were surprised; all of us accepted it.

Except Mom and Dad. 

Even with a diagnosis in hand, they refused to see it as a time to take Mom’s health seriously in a way that neither had done before. Stubborn and hardheaded barely scratch the surface of how our parents approached this diagnosis, which meant the burden (dare I say weight?) fell to their daughters.

While trying to work and care for our children (ages 13 and under), my sisters and I alternated trips to visit Mom and Dad—everyone was either out of state or over an hour away—to nurse Dad back to health and schedule appointments for Mom. We didn’t have all the answers, but we wanted to be proactive: get Mom on medication, help slow Mom’s decline, maybe extend Mom’s good years for a little longer so she could enjoy time with us and her seven grandchildren, the flower garden surrounding her house, and the books she held so dear. We begged our parents to think about selling their house, look into independent living communities with a continuum of care, or build an addition onto my home.

They did none of those things. And as Mom’s disease progressed, which might have explained some of her resistance, Dad’s denial grew even stronger. Maybe it was indicative of his generation, maybe he didn’t have the capability of truly understanding what was happening, maybe he just hoped for a different outcome. Regardless, he was content with the status quo, doing very little to prepare himself or Mom for the future. 

The fall after that harrowing summer, I had to purge myself of all the angst, anger, and anguish, and I wrote the first draft of The Weight We Carry. I let it sit for years, not sure if I ever wanted to bring the story to life, to relive that heavy, chaotic summer. But as time passed, I realized our story, one that was so different from what was available, needed to be told. 

Which meant that during revision, instead of stripping out the denial, the hardheadedness, and the other frustrating characteristics that had made my sisters and me feel helpless, I leaned into them, bringing to life a few characters who resemble my parents more than I first intended. 

On my second pass, I thought about another side of our story that should see the light of day—the sibling relationship. Infusing humor and levity, I painted a true-to-life rendering of how my sisters and I came together during that summer of crisis. Our days were long, tempers high, and yet, we found comfort and congeniality in each other through texts, emails, blog posts, and phone calls. 

Of course, revision of the novel took much more than two passes, but in the end, the story held tight to what I wanted readers to understand: the turmoil that comes when parents refuse to acknowledge changes in abilities and behaviors, how difficult it can be to get to the diagnosis stage of a disease, and that denial is a long road to traverse. But it also spoke of the unique bond of siblings and how, when crises arise, being in it together is crucial.

At the end of the ABC video, Blane Wilson refers to those living with dementia and says, “They need your help. They need your understanding.” I hope The Weight We Carry serves in that regard. But I hope the novel also drives home the point that family members who step up need help and understanding too. Acceptance, though difficult, is important, as is trust in the people who love you. Without those, the weight carried by the family is almost too much to bear.

The Weight We Carry: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|Indiebound|Powell’s|Blackwell’s

Author’s socials: Website|Facebook|Instagram|Goodreads

Ohio: You Can Vote Now

Early voting has begun in Ohio, so if you’re registered to vote in this November’s election, and you already know how you’re going to vote, why wait? I voted today (and was the 63rd person in my whole county to do so) because I still have quite a lot of travel to do between now and Election Day, and when it comes to voting my philosophy is never put off until tomorrow what you can vote on today. I could be eaten by a bear tomorrow! And if I am, my vote will still count. How cool is that.

Incidentally, here in Ohio, two issues are up for statewide ballot: Issue 1, which is the one that keeps busybodies out of other people’s uteruses, and Issue 2, which would generally legalizes marijuana use. I voted “yes” on both of these, Issue 1 because medical decisions should be between patient and doctor, not patient and doctor and a politician who thinks they have a special relationship with God, and Issue 2 because it’s stupid for marijuana to be illegal, for all sorts of reasons, and this is coming from someone who both does not partake in the stuff and who finds it frankly annoying as fuck. I am not looking forward to the general increase of stank that will result in the passage of Issue 2. But my irritation that Ohio will smell incrementally more like an unwashed armpit is a minor thing compared to the much larger societal harms that come from marijuana being illegal, so.

Obviously if you are voting in Ohio this election season, I urge you to vote as I did on these issues, and to study up on the local races and various levies that will be on the ballot as well. Please be an informed and active voter! Our state, and nation, thank you in advance.

The Big Idea: Hailey Piper

Sometimes, in the times with the most trial, a single thing can make the difference between despair and survival. In this Big Idea for A Light Most Hateful, author Hailey Piper shares what that one thing might be.


What if, in the moment your life shattered to pieces and left you tumbling like you’d been thrown down a hillside, there was someone waiting to catch you?

The idea feels impossible sometimes. We’re living the curse, often misattributed as a Chinese expression but more likely a mistranslation or fabrication by British envoys, “May you live in interesting times.” There’s an invitation to mire in hurt and despair. The idea that someone unflinchingly has your back in the darkest of times might sound preposterous. But what the hell else is fiction for?

I grew up in a small town, and that plays into my book A Light Most Hateful, where Olivia has found herself in Chapel Hill, Pennsylvania three years after leaving Hartford, Connecticut as a teenage runaway. It’s clear her arrival was the most exciting thing to happen to this town in a while, and nothing much has happened since.

But an eeriness has taken up residence with Olivia on her Friday night shift at the drive-in, that sense of something lurking beneath the small town’s stillness. A pressure in the air ready to burst with storm, and it does, in the shape of a people-eating monster, the town residents falling under a violent trance, and more bizarre phenomena that follows as the night of terror rides on, straining the limits of reality and friendship.

Within that chaos, there’s potential to show devotion. Olivia’s best friend in Chapel Hill (and her secret crush), Sunflower Mason, is missing, maybe dead, maybe turned into another violent wanderer like the rest of town, but Olivia is determined to find her and escape together. She will not let this grim night split them apart if she can help it.

And then there’s the stranger, Christmas. They’re tall, broody, and they pretend they don’t care about anyone, but there’s a brightness in their eyes that suggests they care so damn much, as if the night’s lethality has forced them to either be a protector or be nothing.

Olivia has Sunflower’s back, Christmas might have Olivia’s back. Even as the residents of Chapel Hill threaten anyone who touches them and cracks begin to grow in reality itself, imagine knowing you aren’t alone, no matter what you face. Even Sunflower’s looking out for someone, albeit lost in her memories.

There’s a duality to a life-changing experience—wonder and horror, hardship and triumph—that lives in Olivia’s story. Potential for death, yes, but also the true nature brought out when the chips are down and the outlandish notion that someone can be their best self with everything else fails.

I’ve said elsewhere, but for me, horror is the most honest genre. Part of that is the breadth which horror explores different sides of people. And part of that is, you find out who people really are when they’re afraid. Sometimes, they surprise you in the worst ways. Or if you’re really lucky, they surprise you by showing the best sides of themselves.

Maybe now and then, living in interesting times is worth it for the people you meet.

A Light Most Hateful: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|Powell’s

Author socials: Website|Twitter|Instagram