Book Review Wednesday – Uncommon Type

The book-a-week challenge kicks off with this review of Tom Hanks’ Uncommon Type.

I have been writing short stories for ages. I think all writers, at some point in their writing life, take a stab at it. I like the form. Maybe because it’s like a half-hour comedy or an hour-long drama on television. When it’s good, it’s very good.

HanksBookCover2Tom Hanks’ Uncommon Type is very good. Others have many things to say about him as an actor, producer, champion of causes, husband, father. I’ll stick to a few words about Hanks the writer.

Uncommon Type is at times funny, sweet, nostalgic, tense, dull, poignant, and thoughtful. The collection of stories is built around many themes but mainly its about looking back. There are stories you might expect from Hanks, based on his interests: the Greatest Generation, space, family. A boy’s memorable weekend just before he turns 10. A young woman’s leap of faith to “make it” in New York. My favorite: a coming-of-age story, Welcome to Mars. Hanks’ stories reveal the mind of a creative storyteller. No surprise there.

But don’t let the title, or the typewriter motif, fool you. Or the reflective nature of some of the stories. The common theme here is heart. At the center of every good story, that’s the most important thing, isn’t it?

Uncommon Type – Some Stories, by Tom Hanks.

4 stars out of 5.

Available in all formats everywhere.


Check in every week for Book Review Wednesday. I’m reading and reviewing a book a week throughout 2018. Join me. Authors, if you have a book you would like reviewed, send me an email at


Joseph Mark Brewer writes the Shig Sato mysteries. Mix up some Lieutenant Columbo and Kurt Wallander and you have an interesting new character in Shig Sato and a thrilling new series set in the heart of Tokyo. Click for your copy of The Gangster’s SonThe Thief’s MistakeTraitors & Lies, or Cat’s Meow. And check out Shig’s Readers Club to get a free copy of Tokyo Summer, the exciting Shig Sato prequel that tells the story of the events that led up to The Gangster’s Son.




Like Knives Behind My Eyes

Suicide – or murder? Will scandal taint the Bank of Japan? Here’s Chapter one of Tokyo Summer – A Shig Sato Novella.


Chapter 1


“It feels like knives behind my eyes.”ssnovella1

Setsuko Usami said it so often her husband seemed deaf to it. She knew that their years together taught her that Taro would not understand it, not even try. Taro Usami’s indifference had become almost as painful as the migraines themselves.

At one time early in their marriage she was surprised and glad Taro asked about her headaches, if anything was wrong, but that stopped. Her migraines always returned and he was tired of feeling useless, and would say, “What could he do?”

He never had headaches. He didn’t know what to do.

Eventually Setsuko gave up. What could he do? He was a rising star at the Bank of Japan and they had a tiny four-room flat in Chuo and she was the mother of two teenagers. His life was outside the home. Her life had not changed since her 20s. She cooked and cleaned and shopped and succumbed to the incessant, unbearable beat of the never-ending demands of life in Tokyo.

Setsuko remembered when Taro would ask about her day, act like he cared. That was when they were young and the world held so much promise for smart young couples staking their claim to making a good life for themselves in the city. She sometimes thought that being young was the cause of that. Now they were in their 40s and she was weary and laid in bed for hours every day even when she didn’t have her migraines.

She held onto hopes, though. Like it being the year 1988, and thinking that perhaps this would be the year her luck would change. She had heard 88 was a lucky number.

But it was the end of May and she laid on her futon and suffered through her migraines and wondered if her luck would ever change, or if this really was her life. She wondered if she would ever get fed up and actually say something like “that’s the last straw.” She wondered what would it be, that straw that finally broke the camel’s back.

She wondered about it, idly at times, then forgot about it as a new day presented new problems. But the thought always returned. What would happen? What would it take?


The last straw came at the end of June. Plans for the children’s summer holiday had to be decided. Taro’s indifference infuriated her. He said he was busy at work. He said a promotion was in the works. He said he couldn’t get away because the timing was all wrong.

She kept asking. A trip with her sister and their children just didn’t happen on a whim. She needed to know. She needed to plan. Her daughter’s sullen peevishness was driving her mad – getting the girl to agree to anything was a battle in itself, now that she was 15 and in full rebellion mode. Her son was pulling away from her, as boys do when they become teenagers. He was 13 and had sprouted up and seemingly overnight his voice had dropped an octave. His charming little boy self was disappearing. Getting them both to agree to go with her sister and their children to Okinawa had been like moving heaven and earth. And in another year she knew it would be impossible to get anyone to agree on anything.

Setsuko Usami clung to the hope her plans had not gone to pieces. Then one evening Taro came home late and she was ready to have it out once and for all. But before she could get started he said, “I have to go to Singapore for the Pacific Rim finance ministers meeting.” He said it as if he was taking the car to a mechanic.

“What! When?” She prayed it wouldn’t interfere with their holiday. “When do you have to go?”

“You know when,” he said as he removed his clothes and left them where they lay and reached for the pajama bottoms she had laid out for him. He escaped to the bathroom.

“Taro! My plans! Why can’t–”

“It can’t be helped!”

Setsuko stared at the bathroom door until he stepped out. She collapsed onto her futon and watched Taro lay down with his back to her. A thunderbolt of nausea erupted from deep inside her gut and she ran to the bathroom.

Taro called out, “What is it now?”

“You know what it is!”

Taro turned off the light. A pink half-darkness beyond their window spilled into the room where they slept, the dim split in two by a rare moonbeam. Sleep came easily.




Aroused from his slumber, Taro Usami realized he sensed Setsuko’s absence. He sat up and saw her unmussed futon. He listened for any household sounds. He heard nothing. Then he realized a need to relieve himself.

Stepping to the bathroom, half asleep, he wondered why the door wouldn’t open fully.

And why the light was on.

Once he managed to get his head in for a peek, he saw why. Setsuko lay on the floor, her body twisted, eyes open, mouth sagging, tongue limp, strands of hair matted on her forehead and cheek. An empty prescription medicine vial lay inches from her fingertips.

Later, his children would say he shouted “Setsuko” over and over.

Taro Usami would say he didn’t remember.

To pre-order a copy of  Tokyo Summer, click here. To sign up for for great deals and advance notice of more great Shig Sato stuff, just click here. Be assured your information is safe – I hate spam and never share information.


The MIddle Lane

threelanesThere have been so many changes in my life recently that I cannot begin to ponder the full effect of them all. What is certain, though, is my journey through the writing life has changed lanes, so to speak, from the plodding slow lane, to the occasional high speed passing  lane, and for those of you who live in urban areas where there are three lanes from which to choose, to the glorious middle lane.

Why the lane analogy? Most of my writing life has been spent in the the slow lane, the enter and exit lane, leaving the writing highway for whatever necessary life occurrence demanded my attention. And just like with driving on the interstate, getting back on the road often means maneuvering to the fast lane and a burst of speed to make up for lost time, lost miles, lost everything.

What’s different now? Taking to heart what all writers know to be true: waiting for inspiration means waiting forever, the words won’t write themselves, the habit of doing something daily makes a story flower from seed to blossom.

An article on Maria Popova’s excellent Brain Pickings web site, ‘The Pace of Productivity and How to Master Your Routine’ examines daily routines and rituals.

Scott Belsky: “It’s time to stop blaming our surroundings and start taking responsibility. While no workplace is perfect, it turns out that our gravest challenges are a lot more primal and personal. Our individual practices ultimately determine what we do and how well we do it. Specifically, it’s our routine (or lack thereof), our capacity to work proactively rather than reactively, and our ability to systematically optimize our work habits over time that determine our ability to make ideas happen.”

Gretchen Rubin: “We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period, and underestimate what we can do over a long period, provided we work slowly and consistently. Anthony Trollope, the nineteenth-century writer who managed to be a prolific novelist while also revolutionizing the British postal system, observed, “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.” Over the long run, the unglamorous habit of frequency fosters both productivity and creativity.”

Pearl S. Buck: “I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.”

Ray Bradbury: “You can’t TRY to do things, you must simply DO them.”

Taking this advice to heart, I have been a more productive writer, editor and journalist while at the some time entertaining visitors, hosting a college graduation and preparing to launch my first e-book.

It truly does come down to doing something every day, working at the task before you, and simply DOING it.

So, no more right lanes. Maybe an occasional fast lane, but for me, definitely, the middle lane.

Here’s someone who is doing it right

ImageToday I met Judy Christie. Well, not in person. Through the Writer’s Digest online posting I get. The article is called “The No. 1 Tip of Successful Writers.” I have no idea how much Judy is like me: I’m not a woman, I’m not married, I don’t live in Louisiana, and I don’t have a bunch of books published. But she talks about the same thing I share with writers whenever I can: Just write.

Judy says, “But I have noticed bestselling authors had something in common. Despite differences in genre, style, voice, settings or character, they developed a writing habit.

“After years of procrastination and fear, that lesson helped me write my first novel and five since.

“When I flounder as a writer, it’s because I’m inconsistent with my daily writing discipline. When I produce my best stories, I rely on that basic lesson from the masters – words on the page.

“I’m almost embarrassed to admit that on my most rewarding and productive writing days, I use a kitchen timer, set for an hour at a time. I track how many hours I actually write — as opposed to time spent Tweeting, Facebooking or wandering around my friends’ blogs.

“You’d think at age fifty-five I wouldn’t need such a trick, but, after all, it took me fifty years to write a novel.”

That’s what caught my attention. I’ve had stories swirl around in my head for years, wrote many of them, even sent out submissions during my 40s, but NEVER TOOK IT SERIOUSLY. My favorite line is “Life gets in the way.”

Well, of course it does. OK, full-time moms with tots and husbands and cooking and cleaning, you can stop laughing. Everyone makes excuses. And they’re all bad. Thing is, when I turned 50, I had the same epiphany. I have to start taking my writing seriously. How did I do that?

Write every day.

I don’t use a kitchen timer  and count my words (although that’s a heckuva good idea), but I write. Every day. And I have short story collections and novels to show for it.

But the difference between Judy and me is I haven’t been published. Because I haven’t submitted anything. Not since 2002.

That was 10 years ago. Writing doesn’t do anyone any good if it’s not published. And I am America’s Most Wanted in using every excuse in the book for not submitting stories for publication.

Weird, huh?

OK, now you know.

As we speak I’m getting feedback on a query letter for a detective novel I’ve written that I hope will see the light of day sometime soon. (Some of the chapters are posted on this blog, as are some other stories. Feel free to read and comment!)

But I’m approaching 55 myself, and I don’t have near the success Judy does.

She’s my inspiration.

And I hope she inspires you, too.

Here’s a link to Judy’s article.

Do you write every day? What are your secrets or tricks?

Tell A Story

In previous posts about writing, I’ve focused on the how, not the why. This post by Norma Jean Lutz I found on the Be A Novelist web site hit home for me. Among many other terrific things, she relays what Albert Einstein had to say about stories:

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

What came immediately to me was Aesop’s Fables, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Peter Rabbit: stories that capture the imagination and along the way, leave gems of truth and awareness that sit in one’s subconscious, to emerge at (hopefully) times that amplified their worth. When I discovered I could learn about the world by reading stories written from far off lands, in things called newspapers and magazines, that notion already had a home to go to, thanks to stories already in my mind.

It’s only natural to want to attempt to recreate what one has seen and appreciated all one’s life. Draw a picture, build a sand castle, tell a story: all of these potentially wild flights of the imagination are what gives life a certain je ne sais quoi  I know I could not live without.

Lutz asks the question ‘Does a story have any practical use?’ Good question, in these technological times. But we as a people have always been tellers of stories. So it’s only natural that some of us satisfy that itch that can only be scratched by not just telling a story, but writing it down and sharing it.

Now, about that getting up in the morning thing …

Writing Grows from Ideas, Rewriting Shapes the Writing

A continuation of last week’s post:
Another topic in the conversations I had focusing on writing centered on how the essence of stories are lost in the verbiage the writer wants to use when stringing sentences together.  In other words, the writer knows what he or she wants to write, and the sentences come out beautifully, but the story is hard to find among the finely turned phrases. I think what happens is the writer knows what he or she wants to say but gets caught up “in the moment” of writing and the words get in the way.
 For example, find any recent college or high school graduation story, print or viral, and see if the story includes basic information: name and location of school,  the guest speaker, valedictorian, salutatorian, what was said, how many students graduated — you name it. Is it a speech story? Depending on the guest speaker, maybe it is. But far too much time was spent trying to come up with different adjectives and adverbs to describe a run-of-the-mill graduation story without getting in the facts, takes far too much time to write, and for the editor, takes far too much to edit.
How does this apply to writing fiction? Ideas tend to grow from the inside out, like dropping a pebble in a pond, and watching the ripples grow larger and larger. But writing is rewriting. It’s like that unruly shrub that needs to be trimmed back. So get some sharp clippers and have it.
Writers love to stand in shade and drop pebbles into ponds. Who doesn’t? But the work of the writer is standing in the sun, hot and thirsty, clipping back the shrubs to make them look like something. It isn’t easy. In fact, a lot of times it just plain sucks. But in the end it’s worth it.