What Happens When We Judge a Book by Its Cover? | Kristen Twardowski

Kristen Twardowski

Neverwhere and Enclave Rankings.PNG

People usually respond in one of two ways to the phenomenon of judging a book by its cover; they mourn man’s shallowness, or they consider a book’s marketing potential. But how much does the look of a book matter? How do people feel about book covers? And how do those feelings relate to the scores that books receive on review sites like Goodreads? Several digital technology people went on a mission to find out.

A year and a half ago Dean Casalena and Nate Gagnon launched Judgey, an online game that let people rank book covers. The covers used were all modern editions of books, and all (or nearly all) of them were released by a major publishing house. The covers chosen did not belong to a single genre. Books by Ernest Hemingway and Harper Lee appeared alongside Twilight and The Hunger Games. Ultimately players of Judgey evaluated over 3 million…

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The Road to Alexander – 1st Excerpt | Jennifer Macaire

51wt6yp3qhl~ The Road to Alexander ~

Excerpt One: War

by Jennifer Macaire

I stood in front of the tent and watched the men file by. They were grim, holding their long spears and shields, wearing bronze helmets with white plumes. They had sandals and shin-guards made of stiff leather. Otherwise they were nude. This was the phalanx, their thirty-foot spears forming a nightmare porcupine. Following them were the infantry, armed with short swords and wearing skirts of leather to protect their thighs. Their arms were wrapped with leather thongs. After them trotted the cavalry. Their horses rolled wild eyes and snorted, anxious to gallop. I saw my gray mare and hoped she would be all right. The cavalrymen had long, bronze-tipped spears and short swords. Their legs were sheathed in leather, and they carried small, round shields. Their horses had wide leather bands across their chests and under their stomachs for protection. The Hipparchie, mounted archers with bows slung over their shoulders and clusters of sharp arrows in their quivers, came last.

Alexander paused in front of me. For a moment he didn’t speak, and then he said in a low voice, “Fear not for the child. I will get him back.”

I smiled then and didn’t try to stop my tears. “I know you will. Take care of yourself,” I told him, my voice shaking.

The men left the camp and rode toward the city. I stayed behind with the slaves and offered to help the doctors prepare for the wounded. I wanted to make myself useful, so I’d proposed my services to Usse, Alexander’s physician. He’d accepted readily. In ancient Greece women were received into the medical corps without any problem.

Afterwards everyone settled down to wait. I hated waiting. The army was out of sight but I thought that if I climbed the hill I could see what was happening. I started up the rocky slope, slipping on the frosty grass and wishing that I had something sturdier than sandals. Blades of grass stuck between my toes. A vulture wheeled overhead in the cloudless sky. I shaded my eyes to peer over the plain.

Persepolis was visible in the distance. An empty city built by Darius the Great for the master races, the Persians and the Medes. They used it for their spring rites and ceremonies. It was immense, with several palaces and temples set out in perfect harmony around a huge central square. From where I was, I could only see the stairs that led to the city’s front gate. They were made of slabs of white marble, seven meters long and shallow enough to ride horses up, and flanked with walls carved with sacred beasts. I couldn’t see the carvings from so far away, but I’d seen them before, in pictures. They had been ruins when I’d first seen them. I’d seen them as crumbling relics, and now they were shining before me in the bright sun. The temples, their roofs covered in gold-colored tiles, were intact, not yet reduced to broken columns. I put my hands over my eyes and sat down, shaking. Living history backwards was a terrifying experience.

A cloud of dust billowed on the far side of the city. Darius had tried to defend the great eastern gate, but I knew that soon the city would fall to Alexander. Already I could see the first of the wounded limping toward the camp. Slaves ran out with stretchers, and I slipped and slithered down the hill. I would try to be useful. I only hoped I could do some good.

Later, I wiped sweat off my face and wished I had paid more attention during first aid class. I had no idea if what I was doing was helping. Usse set broken bones as fast as he could. He also received the wounded, putting them in one of three tents. One tent for those needing urgent help, one tent for those who could wait, and one for those who were dying. In the tent for the dying a brazier had been set up, and Usse put herbs upon the hot coals, making a thick, fragrant smoke. The smoke, Usse told me, helped the men’s souls find the gods. I think it was mostly opium.

I was put to work cleaning and binding the wounds. As a woman, I was supposed to know how to do this. There were no sutures. Wounds were cauterized without anesthesia using white-hot irons. Searing heat killed germs, so although the scars were horrendous, wounds usually healed cleanly.

Slaves held the men down. The screams of the wounded and the smell of scorching flesh permeated the camp.

Usse concocted a drink that he gave to the wounded. They calmed down and went into a trance. Their eyes glazed and they breathed through their mouths, making the ones with broken noses easier to treat. Broken noses were fairly common.

I finished binding up a slashed arm and concentrated on my next victim, a young man with an arrow in his chest. He looked at me hopefully, and I smiled and cursed under my breath in English.

“Are you saying magic words?” he gasped.

“Yes, as a matter of fact I am.”

His face relaxed and he gave a huge sigh. “You’re a goddess, so I know that I will live,” he said confidently.

I studied the arrow and wished I felt as confident. Its feathered end was sticking out at an angle and the arrowhead was hidden by his armor, but judging from the amount of blood pooled his lap it must have struck something major. I undid his shoulder straps and carefully peeled his armor away. The arrow fell to the ground; it had simply been stuck between the leather and the brass plates. The blood was from someone else. There was no wound at all. I closed my eyes and clung to the edge of the table.

The man ran his hands up and down his chest, feeling frantically for the wound. “It’s a miracle,” he cried, “a miracle!”

“No it’s not,” I insisted. “You weren’t even hit, it was deflected by your armor.” However, he didn’t believe me, and neither did anyone else. As a result, all the arrow wounds got sent to me.

I hate arrows. They usually kill outright, cutting arteries, severing veins, and the victim bleeds to death very quickly. But when nothing vital is hit, the arrow is stuck because of its shape and impossible to pull out. Then one has to either push it through, or cut it out using special clamps and spreaders invented for such occasions. Pushing it through is excruciating. The patient screams and tries to get away. Large slaves sit on them, and Usse gives a double dose of his potion.

I did my best. I had a working knowledge of anatomy and that helped. More importantly, I was reputed to be a goddess and that helped most of all.

That day I discovered that men are both a lot tougher, and at the same time, more fragile than I thought. Wounds that I was sure were fatal were somehow healed because the man had decided he would live. And if a man thought he would die, he usually did, and there was nothing we could do to save him.

Book One in the series, The Road to Alexander is the first to be remastered and reissued digitally worldwide on March 9th, via Accent Press. Available for pre-order now. (US) (UK)


~ About the Author ~

Jennifer Macaire is an American living in Paris. She likes to read, eat chocolate, and plays a mean game of golf. She grew up in upstate New York, Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. She graduated from St Peter and Paul High School in St Thomas and moved to NYC where she modeled for five years for Elite. She went to France and met her husband at the polo club. All that is true. But she mostly likes to make up stories. Her short stories have been published by Three Rivers Press, Nothing But Red, The Bear Deluxe, and The Vestal Review, among others. One of her short stories was nominated for the Push Cart Prize (Honey on Your Skin) and is now being made into a film. Her short story ‘There be Gheckos’ won the Harper Collins /3 AM flash fiction prize.

Author Q&A with Jennifer Macaire – Part 1

cropped-mesite1Jennifer Macaire is an expat wife, mother and novelist living in France. The following is Part One of a trilogy of weekly Q&As leading up to the March 9th re-release of her novel The Road to Alexander, Book One of the epic Time for Alexander series of novels. A separate post with an excerpt of the novel will follow each of these sessions as well.

Hello, Jennifer! I suppose in introducing you I should start with the fact that I have known you, my fellow scribe, for over fifteen years now and I’m amazed at the literary trail you’ve blazed the last decade-and-a-half in rather prolific fashion with more than two dozen novels (and countless short stories) published. And so here I welcome you, my dear friend abroad, to chat about your latest publishing event. 

Hi Brandon, thank you for having me as a guest blogger to talk about my upcoming book The Road to Alexander, the first in a series about a time traveler who is sent back to interview Alexander the Great. He mistakes her for Persephone, goddess of the dead, and kidnaps her, stranding her in his time.

Q: First question for you – What inspired you to write this epic story about Alexander the Great?

A: It started out as a short story – I had been writing and selling short stories to magazines, and I just had an idea of a sort of alternate history short story where Alexander the Great is never bitten by the mosquito that caused his fatal malaria. I wrote it from the viewpoint of a woman time-traveler/journalist, but when I came to the part where she slaps the mosquito away…I just kept going. In fact, I kept going for seven novels which became the Time for Alexander series. In the first book, The Road to Alexander, I even left the part about the mosquito, and you can catch it if you’re paying attention although it’s no longer important to the plot. I ended up shifting everything around, because he dies in Babylon and I needed to introduce the time-traveling character at the beginning of his great adventure.

Q: What type of research did you have to do for your book?

A: I researched extensively. I used several books on Alexander the Great, including In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great, by Michael Wood, which was produced by the BBC. It was extremely helpful, because the author literally took the path Alexander’s army took across Persia and Bactria on foot. The book was indispensable for calculating how long it took to get from one place to another. More research was done on the army, how it moved, who was in it, and how Alexander fought his battles. Still more was for daily rituals: food, medicine, clothes, money, toothpaste, and religious ceremonies. I researched constantly – every time I had a question I’d either write to an expert or hit the library and search out books. I’m not big on Internet research, it’s too hard to verify facts, but I did use the Internet to put myself in touch with authors and historians. Everyone was very helpful, and I learned a great deal about ancient Greece and Rome!

Q: Do you prefer to plot your story or just go with the flow?

A: I am a plotter and use outlines. I’ve written a couple books just “going with the flow”, but they took forever to finish because I kept getting distracted. I much prefer a chapter-by-chapter outline. This book had to be plotted out using existing people and historical events, the army’s movements, and take into account the seasons and weather, so it was vital to have a strong outline. Within that framework I took many liberties. One of the tricks of writing historical fiction is to keep real events pinned to their place and time. I had to move some of the characters around – I had one of Alexander’s generals interacting directly with Alexander when most historians agree he was back in Macedonia – but I needed him there, so thanks to the wonders of fiction, there he was! It is a work of fiction, after all!

Q&A to be continued next Thursday, March 2nd . . . and now read the first (of three) excerpts here.


~ About the Author ~

Jennifer Macaire is an American living in Paris. She likes to read, eat chocolate, and plays a mean game of golf. She grew up in upstate New York, Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. She graduated from St Peter and Paul High School in St Thomas and moved to NYC where she modeled for five years for Elite. She went to France and met her husband at the polo club. All that is true. But she mostly likes to make up stories. Her short stories have been published by Three Rivers Press, Nothing But Red, The Bear Deluxe, and The Vestal Review, among others. One of her short stories was nominated for the Push Cart Prize (Honey on Your Skin) and is now being made into a film. Her short story ‘There be Gheckos’ won the Harper Collins /3 AM flash fiction prize.


Jennifer Macaire on Patience + Writing

Question Me – Part 1

square-smashwords-logoSo over at Smashwords they have this built-in interview mechanism where they encourage authors to participate in a Q&A that posts on their profile page and gives interested readers a means to learn a little something about the author in question. Since I’m probably as unknown as they come, I figure it’d be a good idea to do an updated version of that 2015 Q&A here on the ol’ blogsite. So what follows is the first weekly installment of the 2017 edition of who the heck am I?, if you will. One question at a time.

Q: When did you first start writing?

A: I’ll answer this with when I first started writing prose seriously. And that was in the winter or spring of 1993 when after reading my mom’s paperback copy of Dean Koontz’s Watchers (1987) novel in late 1992 (which I still have)  and being deeply influenced by that reading experience and thinking I wanted to
be as imaginative and accomplished someday in deftly telling suspenseful stories in a very accessible way.


I’d dabbled a little before that (the oldest story I remember writing was in 1989 or so), but at the time I still wanted to be a comic book writer since I’d been reading them for about seven years prior to getting bit by the novel and short story writing bug.  So fast-forward to 2017 and I’ve been writing seriously for about 24 years, with a few breaks here and there.

As for journalism writing, I lit the wick in high school as the school paper’s editorial editor, which suited me well because even though I had the title of editor, I was the only writer for that section of the paper and thus was free to write on whatever subject I wanted. The editor part of it was being the decision-maker as to what I would write about and of course staying on top of things in terms of deadlines and such.

Prior to discovering prose writing, though, I’d been wanting to be a comic book writer ever since I started reading comics in the mid-1980s. I used to draw my own little mini-comics and eventually started writing these dialogue-only scripts because as a kid I had no idea how you wrote them. Yet, all these years my dream to someday be writing them professionally has never waned. If you read comics regularly, you love them, and if you love them you want to create them yourself. It’s no different than reading prose books in that sense. The desire to create is fed by the consumption.

To be continued . . .

Tune in Thursday for my Q&A with friend and author Jennifer Macaire!


Three Questions with Brandon Rucker

2-Minute Drill Q&A with Brandon Rucker

Hello and Welcome!

Hey there, Dear Readers! I humbly welcome all the new followers this year so far and want to thank you all, new and old, for following and reading. Listen, I sometimes don’t know exactly what I’m doing with this blog space here — hell, I can’t even settle on a permanent name or layout, but I know I totally appreciate you letting it scroll across your eyes from time to time.

There are many reasons people start blogs, of course. The general idea for this blog when I started it over on Blogger back in 2009 was primarily to get me to write somewhat regularly and keep my diction and syntax sharp because I learned the hard way that going long periods without writing with purpose regularly can severely affect the quality of prose for your fiction. Yet, little did I know that writing nonfiction (i.e. journalism, blogging and social media) more often than writing fiction would have an adverse affect on one’s own literature. But that’s a separate topic for another day.

The secondary purpose for this blog is about connecting with other interesting people and intellectual minds, sharing our thoughts, interests, passions, gripes and ideas with each other, and more. So the intent was always for this to be an interactive forum as well. As some of you already know, I write, I read, I rock — sometimes all at the same time. I’m a literary rockin’ bookworm, if you will. So I also like sharing what I’m reading, writing, listening to, what I’m doing creatively, what I’m thinking, what I’m watching and what I’m creating and working on creatively. Y’know, normal blog stuff.

Of course you can learn more on the About page and the bio/credits page. You can sample a small portion of my fiction/lyrics/poetry work in the library or sample a small portion of my music on the virtual jukebox.

Starting this week (today in fact) I will be doing a weekly Q&A with myself, and also starting this week I will have the first part of a trilogy Q&A/Guest Blog session with friend and author Jennifer Macaire. Be sure to check it out.

Recently I added widgets to the site layout that showcases the other WP bloggers I follow and am friendly with so make sure you check those fine folks out when you get a chance and maybe give’em a follow too. You should also check out the Guest Blog section where the cool kids have left their own interesting mark.

Okay, this went on longer than planned. Have a wonderful rest of the week and I’ll be seeing ya around.


“Where’s the Revolution” – New Music from Depeche Mode | Earworm of the Week

~ Earworm | 2.20.17 ~

Out for a couple of weeks now, “Where’s the Revolution” is the first single from Depeche Mode’s forthcoming new album Spirit (out March 17th). Here’s the official video as well as a lyric video below.

Now Reading: The Road to Alexander

~ Bookworm Ruckus | 2.19.17 ~

Something I’ve always dug is alternate history. That’s exactly what my friend Jennifer Macaire’s Time for Alexander series of novels is — a time-traveling trip through an altered history in which a modern  woman from our time becomes the object of Alexander the Great’s affections.

Book One in the series, The Road to Alexander is the first to be remastered and reissued digitally worldwide on March 9th, via Accent Press. Available for pre-order now. (US) (UK)

I’ve invited Mrs. Macaire to chat about and share excerpts of this intriguing novel here on the blog, so make sure to be on the lookout for that later this week on Thursday.