Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Book Review – The Tatja Grimm’s World

Vernor Vinge is my favorite author at the moment. Even his less than stellar works, like The Tatja Grimm's World, is so much fun to read that it's hard not to be impressed.

My wife and I, not sci-fi fans, enjoyed watching the first season of the new Battlestar Gallactica when it was released a few years ago. We thought the story lines were interesting, the acting was good, an all around good show. We felt it slumped in season 2 and stopped watching, but the authors employed an amazing technique between seasons 1 and 2, he advanced the story almost a year. All of a sudden the audience was forced to pay attention to understand what happened and how their favorite characters had developed during the time shift. I bring this up because Vernor Vinge does this not just in The Tatja Grimm's World, but does it in all of his novels, and he does it well. Just as the reader is intrigued by the story and the characters, boom! onto the same story but five years in the future. It's like a whole new story is created during that time but with characters who don't have to be re-introduced. It might be necessary to get reacquainted, but not re-introduced.

Another aspect of Vernor Vinge's novels that I find compelling are his larger than life characters. In Deepness in the Sky and Fire Upon the Deep the reader follows an almost god-like Pham Nuwen. In this novel it's Tatja Grimm. Both of these characters have almost super-human intelligence and reading about them, watching the plot unfold, is like watching speed chess . . . but really fun and interesting speed chess (normally I don't like chess, but the maneuvering of the characters, the ambushes and plots all have that type of appeal).

I noted some lines and words below:

"He was wrapped in blankets, his hands clasped and shivering in his lap. Only one eye tracked and it was starred with a cataract. His voice was quavery, the delivery almost addeled."

The description of the eyes caught my eye.

One of the main characters is on a forced road march, the description of the pain was interesting.

"Each step sent bright spurts of pain up Svir's calves. Each breath burned at his lungs."

Finally, although this is a common theme in many novels and stories about combat, I thought this character's thoughts summed up the idea nicely.

"He reflected with some irritation that in general his courage derived from that fear that he might be taken for a coward."

Mendicant – Beggar; a member of a religious order (as the Franciscans) combining monastic life and outside religious activity and originally owning neither personal nor community property : friar.

Soporific - causing or tending to cause sleep; tending to dull awareness or alertness.

Don't like Sci-Fi but love fascinating writing with rich characters and indepth plots? Go read a Vernor Vinge. Don't read this one right away, go get A Deepness in the Sky then read Fire Upon the Deep. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Editing . . . Hard on the Old Self Esteem

It never ceases to amaze me how edits are a shock to the system. I just got an edit back from the online critique group. This is for a second novel. I submit a chapter a month and get a review. I provide the same service to the others in the group. Today's edits weren't tough, but there were enough where I wanted to tell the editor what I was thinking and why I'd written it that way. Its frustrating. Then again, if she didn't see why I'd written that way, I obviously didn't do a good enough job.

But, you should remember (or I should) that no matter how good you think something is, editors will always find something to correct or say. It's their job. Even if all the spelling and grammar are correct, they'll find words to transpose, or sentences to restructure. They don't feel as though they've done a good job unless they write something. It's a delicate balancing act to separate the wheat from the chaff. The hardest part is taking all three critiques and bringing them all together and making one final draft. Still, it's better than having to go through it in person. At least I know that this person has taken a second or two to read it.

Anyone interested in a pretty good critique group should consider joining this one (here).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Most Recent First Line

I started the "First Lines" thread because my editor was so brutal in red lining my own first line, and because so many of the "Writing" books I read emphasized their importance. Lately, I've started to take David Morrell's advice an have begun to read the first lines and first few pages of new books in the bookstore, looking for unique or novel writing styles. Today's entry, . . . not so great.

"Fair Haven at South Cape was a squalid little town."

The Tatja Grimm's World – Vernor Vinge.

Anyone who reads this blog religiously will know that Vernor Vinge is one of my faves. So I'll give him the first paragraph to wow me. He fails there too.

"Fair Haven at South Cape was a squalid little town. Ramshackle warehouses lined the harbor, their wooden sides unpainted and rotting. Inland, the principal cultural attractions were a couple of brothels and the barracks of the Crown garrison. Yet in one sense Fair Haven lived up to its name. No matter how scruffy things were here, you knew they would be worse further east. This was the nether end of civilization on the south coast of the Continent."

BLAH. Truth is things don't really get interesting till chapter three.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Is That a Kindle I See in the Rearview Mirror?

As the parent of a four year old, I found this article in the WSJ by L. Gordon Crovitz called E-Seuss: Be Glad, Not Sad or Madon iPad's interesting (here). Not the best discussion of what will be in store for the next few years with e-readers and the iPad, but one that instead looks at the revolution through the eyes of Dr. Seuss. I for one, even one who owns and loves his Kindle, is happy that his four year old will in all likelihood be the owner of an iPad within the next year. I look forward to seeing in what ways the iPad outstrips the plain, jane, utilitarianism of the Kindle.

I hate to say it, but what has me even more enthralled with the iPad came from this article by John Naughton (here) about The Economist's (even more well loved round here than WSJ) digital plans from a year ago. Not soul shaking by any means but he provides a wake up call to publishers who have been lulled into believing the e-reader revolution will be lead by the Kindle.

"These two developments – the Economist's app and Eagleman's "book" – ought to serve as a wake-up call for the print publishing industry. The success of Amazon's Kindle has, I think, lulled print publishers into a false sense of security. After all, they're thinking, the stuff that goes on the Kindle is just text. It may not be created by squeezing dyes on to processed wood-pulp, but it's still text. And that's something we're good at. So no need to panic. Amazon may be a pain to deal with, but the Kindle and its ilk will see us through."

"If that's really what publishers are thinking, then they're in for some nasty surprises. The concept of a "book" will change under the pressure of iPad-type devices, just as concepts of what constitutes a magazine or a newspaper are already changing. This doesn't mean that paper publications will go away. But it does mean that print publishers who wish to thrive in the new environment will not just have to learn new tricks but will also have to tool up. In particular, they will have to add serious in-house technological competencies to their publishing skills."

Friday, December 17, 2010

Book Review: Tough Cookie...or Don't Tell My Army Buddies, Sometimes I Like To Read Chick Books

ARGH! . . . As I've always said, I write these book reviews for me, not for you the reader. I like to know what I've read so I can either go back and read it again, continue or discontinue the series, or avoid the author completely. At the moment I'm struggling with the fact that I can remember reading a particularly compelling thriller about the Middle East, but apparently I didn't think enough about it to actually write it down here. Nevertheless, I'm also in a bit of a quandary about this latest book I've finished, Tough Cookie by Diane Mott Davidson.

I started reading Davidson's series on cooking and sleuthing and wasn't too disappointed. Now, the mild enthusiasm has waned. It might take quite a bit of convincing for me to read another. Although I find her characters shallow, her excessive use of modifying adverbs maddening and silly and her descriptions bordering on insipid and confusing, I will say that her mysteries, the actual story, the plot is fun to watch come together. It's as if she sprinkles all her characters in her book like fish food in an aquarium and they all dance and float around higgelty-piggelty then at the last instant they all come together. Sadly that's the only positive aspect I could find.

Some of the passages I highlighted, showing both good and bad:

First, the annoying adverbs.

"Without my business, an enterprise I'd lovingly built up for almost a decade, I entered a spiritual fog as thick as the gray autumnal mist snaking between the Colorado mountains."

“I’d lovingly built up?” Would have worked as well or better without “lovingly.”

“She expertly poured both the juice and the champagne into a clean crystal flute to make a mimosa.”

Expertly poured? What’s that really mean? Think about it a sec, how descriptive is that?

Tom’s makeshift version, composed of kettle-dipped water, cocoa, sugar, powered creamer and milk was actually quite luscious, like a hot chocolate gelato.

I have no idea what that above sentence means. Have you ever tried that recipe? I have. Less than luscious to say the least. And can someone tell me what hot chocolate gelato means?

There were a million more like the above throughout the book. Too many to mention. “She rolled the luscious chocolate in her mouth” or “The scrumptious aroma of beef” etc. It’s not as bad in this forum and when I just give a souciant of the whole, but it gets tiresome throughout the book.

One thing that Davidson does do well is relate food and cooking to every aspect of her writing, including scene and character descriptions. Two examples:

Describig a ski slope: “Most runs are set up like slant-sided wedding cakes. Long sloped section alternate with narrow flat areas.”

“Just before eight o’clock, a state patrolman knocked on our door. Into our kitchen Tom ushered a tall, corpulent man with black hair so short and think it looked like someone had ground pepper over his scalp.”

Another thing Davidson does poorly is dialogue. In many cases when I think an author is struggling with dialogue I can give a bit of leeway, but in this case, it’s just horrible. I don’t know anyone who speaks like this, do you?

She sighed. “Not to worry, my dear friend. How's the planning going?”

I’ve never said “dear friend” when speaking to anyone.

“That won’t stop the ski traffic, unfortunately,” he said mournfully. “A day for accidents. What a shame.” – “Yes, indeed.” I said.

This one is filled with problems. Try reading that out loud then imagine saying it to a friend. It doesn’t work at all. “What a shame?” “Yes, indeed?” It’s stilted and unrealistic at best.

I try to read critically now, and I have to say to a great degree I notice new aspects of many of the books I’ve read. One thing I’ve noticed is that authors love to describe mornings. I could start a whole series of posts like my “First Lines” and “Last Lines” threads whereby I just include morning descriptions. Davidson used an original one when she says of the morning:

"To the east the sky was edged with pewter."

Finally, one problem I have with Davidson . . . her characters never goes to the store. She begins the description of Goldy making lasagna and meatballs with:

“Serving meatballs and lasagna could jeopardize my upscale reputation, I reflected while removing ground beef, ricotta, Fontina, whipping cream, eggs and mozzarella from the walk-in.”

I would have a hard time making a bowl of Cheerios with milk with what I have in my refrigerator right now, yet this lady can whip up lasagna, meatballs, a curry dish, shrimp scampi, cookies galore, two casseroles, desserts, etc. and never once have to go to the store. Made me think it was lazy writing. Kinda irked me.

There were a couple of vocabulary words that struck me:

Ingenue - a naive girl or young woman; an actress playing such a role

Frisson - a brief moment of emotional excitement : shudder, thrill

And finally, I love onomatopoeia. This example, although less than lyrical is certainly perfectly descriptive.

“The doorbell bing-bonged into the depths of Arthur’s condo.”

I guess what bothers me about this series is that I feel that my own novel is better; not much better, but better. My second novel will be much better. I suppose I should feel invigorated that if this can find an audience, my own novels should as well. I really only read these books cause I like cooking and enjoy mysteries. At this point though I might forego the next Davidson book. I might have outgrown them.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

In All Seriousness . . .

One of my friends, a co-worker and pseudo-manager, has just taken a job as a Director of Marketing at a large, national, oil-field services company. Combine this with a story I read (here) about an eleven year old who is starting in on his second fantasy novel, having just finished having his first published, and you have a recipe for self-reflection, angst, and regret.

I read Stephen King's On Writing several months ago and was surprised to learn that as a young child he not only wrote voraciously, but he also submitted stories for publication. I think he started in his early teens. He has been refining the craft of writing for decades and decades. Seemingly he has done little else. My work friend had a similar story. When I worked with him I was amazed by how driven he was. How could anyone be so focused on hazardous waste and industrial cleaning?

Throughout my life I've lacked the necessary seriousness to take my career to the next level. In the Army, all of my comrades were there striving for purpose and long careers, I was there for fun. Now, many of them are contractors, pilots or better in the Army. The remains of the five different jobs that I've had over the past ten years seems to point to a lack of seriousness in my professional career. It's only now, almost 40, despite having written to varying degrees throughout my life, that I've become at all serious about writing.

That makes me what? 30 years behind Stephen King's power curve. So I should expect fame in riches when I'm 80. Bully for me!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Back to the Last Lines Thread

“The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off.”

Joseph Heller - Catch 22

The first line is in the first lines thread. I was reminded that I've not updated this thread for a while after reading The Danger last week, with its clipped, almost immediate ending. Expect more.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Two Fun Articles

Two different articles caught my eye this morning as I perused the Journal. The first was a review by Eric Felton of a new book called Euphemania by Ralph Keyes (here). Anyone who knows me or reads this blog even semi-regularly will know that I love the Wall Street Journal each morning primarily for the book review article in the Op-Ed pages. I love Saturdays because the Weekend Journal section is all about books. I've yet to find a daily publication that provides as much information and reviews of books as the Journal. Today's review of Euphemania is probably the most scathing review I've yet read.

In Ratatouille, the restaurant critic Anton Ego, voiced by Peter O'Toole, has an epiphany regarding food that he relates to his readers by discussing how fun it is to write scathing reviews. The review of Euphemania does not come across as having been fun to write. It isn't even all that fun to read. It's a decimation of the book by Felton, and based on his arguments it seems that it was well deserved. I came away thinking that Mr. Felton had put more time, study and research into his review than Mr. Keyes put into his book. Well worth a quick read. Quite memorable.

The second article is a bit cringe worthy. Room Service for Running Shoes by Kevin Helliker (here) discusses how higher end hotels are now offering running togs to include socks and shoes to guests who don't wish to tote around workout gear when they travel. I don't know about you, but when I traveled I didn't mind taking my own running gear and would not quickly give that up to wear anything the hotel might give me. At one point in the article Mr. Helliker states the hotel's case:

"Westin's program is part of a larger move by the hotel industry to beef up fitness offerings and cater to the frequent business travelers who tend to use hotel gyms the most. Fairmont Hotels & Resorts recently introduced a gear-lending program with an MP3 player and Adidas shoes and apparel. It, however, is only available to Fairmont's most-loyal guests and, in most cases, requires a small fee. Hotel companies have also recently put more resources into their gyms, transforming many of them from cramped, windowless spaces jammed with old treadmills into spacious centers stocked with high-end equipment, flat-screen televisions and free yoga classes."

It's this second half of the quote that should be most telling. I hate going to those small fitness rooms. Usually if there is even just one other person the place is too crowded. If hotels want to attract more people to their fitness areas and to return stays just increase the size of their fitness rooms, don't give out used gear.

Monday, December 13, 2010

First Line I’m Reading Now

"Show business and death don't mix. Unfortunately I discovered this while hosting a TV cooking show."
Diane Mott Davidson – Tough Cookie

Not a huge fan of these books, but they're fun and quick. A nice break. Not a great first line, but like the book, fun and quick.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Book Review: The Danger

I finished The Danger by Dick Francis at about midnight on Tuesday. I don't know if I've read this one before or not. I suspect that I have as there were one or two scenes I felt I could just about have predicted before they were complete, but that could be because I consider myself such a Dick Franciscan.

One of the aspects of his writing that I enjoy, and have a new respect for now that I've tried it myself, is Francis' ability to have a story that revolves around horse racing and not have the main character be a part of the horse racing world. In The Danger, the main character is a hostage negotiator. He happens to fall into the racing world when a spate of kidnaps infects the horse racing world.

Not much in the way of vocabulary, but I highlighted some passages.

In this first the main character is describing to another character a father who is upset by the kidnapping of his son. A great sample of an interesting simile.

"John Nerrity is like one of those snowstorm paperweights, all shaken up, with bits of guilt and fear and relief and meanness all floating around in a turmoil. It takes a while after something as traumatic as the last few days for everything in someone's character to settle, like the snowstorm, so to speak, and for all the old patterns to reassert."

This next describes the main character talking to the police chief. I like the way Francis allows his own character to describe a dominant feature of himself, phrasing suggestions as questions.

"'Andrew!' The beginnings of exasperation. 'What's been going on?'

'Will you be coming here yourself?'

A short pause came down the line. He'd told me once that I always put suggestions into the form of questions, and I supposed that it was true that I did. Implant the thought, seek the decision. He knew the tap was on the telephone, he'd ordered it himself, with every word recorded. He would guess there were things I might tell him privately.'"

This final passage describes the way that the main character feels about America.

"I felt liberated, as always in America, a feeling which I thought had something to do with the country's own vastness, as if the wide-apartness of everything flooded into the mind and put spaces between everyday problems."

It's a good, solid, Francis book. I enjoyed it. Unlike many of his and other mystery books, this one ends rather abruptly. There is no denouement, just a quick sentence or two after the climax. The reader is forced to imagine the rest. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Couple of Links

Unimpressed with the screensavers on the Kindle? I am. I've written about that before. Seriously, I don't like some of the authors that are on that screensaver,…doesn't seem like it would be too hard to have the screensaver be the cover art of the books on the Kindle, or pictures of the authors that the reader downloads the most. Well, since Amazon won't fix it, others have (here). Not as simple as a cut and paste AND I will have to make my own art, but at least it provides options. A smart entrepreneur would go out and start making some screensavers and selling them to Kindle owners. I suppose that will be my last Google search.

Secondly, another blogger has discussed his NaNoWriMo experience (here). It's a good summation. Similar to my own.

Last thing, I plan on contacting this fellow (here). If he can make e-reader publishing worthwhile, why can't I?


 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Most Recent First Line

"Kidnapping is a fact of life."

Dick Francis – The Danger

It's not the best first line of Dick Francis' career but it catches your eye and makes you think. Also lets you know what the rest of the novel is going to be about. A couple of lines later he uses a pretty great metaphor.

"All kidnappers are unstable, but the political variety, hungry for power and publicity as much as money, make quicksand look like rock."

Friday, December 3, 2010

New Book – Dead Or Alive

I used to be a HUGE Tom Clancy fan. For years one of my favorite books was Debt of Honor. I think I read it twice in one year. Once I read Without Remorse and Rainbow Six, I found the bloom had fallen off the rose. I never did read The Bear and the Dragon or Red Rabbit. I think that might change. Tom Clancy has a new book coming out, Dead Or Alive (see here). Saw in the WSJ that they are planning an initial print run of 1,750,000 copies for $28.95, e-book . . . just $14.99. Sign me up for the e-book version.

What I Couldn't Say

Sometimes I love when I read someone write something that I wish I had said. Sometimes I hate it. In the case of Sarah Millar's article iPad vs. Kindle, which would you prefer? (here) she says what I've tried to say in a concise and brief manner. The column addresses why a Kindle is worthwhile and ends with this passage:

"In her column this week, Ellen Roseman said she favoured the iPad over her Sony e-Reader because her iPad does so much more than just lets you read books on it. But that’s exactly why an e-reader is better than a tablet. A tablet is a device that does many things, but is not dedicated for one use. An e-reader, on the other hand, does one thing and does it very well."

Couldn't have said it better, . . . tried to.

Secondly, this article (here) about my alma mater, Lamar High School in Houston, is pushing to go e-book in their library. I spent alot of time in the Lamar library. When I was in school I spent my lunch hours in the library. When the library was closed I sat on the steps outside the library and read. Would be nice to be a student there again and be able to download any of those books to my Kindle or Droid.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Book Review: Hard Rain or “Man This Guy is Good”

When I was younger, teenage years, one of my favorite authors was Pat Conroy. I loved reading the Prince of Tides, Lords of Discipline, The Water is Wide and The Great Santini. I thought that Conroy had a lyrical voice and style that was engaging and interesting to read. In college I found the same style in James Dickey of Deliverance fame. Serendipidous then that I have run across Barry Eisler and his John Rain series. Hard Rain in this the second book of Eisler's that I've read and this series of his is easily my favorite series of the moment. His prose, particularly in the first chapters, are incredibly rich and he uses a vocabulary that makes you think. Perfect to read on a Kindle with a dictionary application. The story and plot are gruesome, his main character is an anti-hero, an assassin who although a murderer and killer is out to do good, but the story is wide in scope and has a tight POV that keeps me wanting to read more.

First the vocabulary. A majority of these came in the first thirty pages. Makes me think about all those books on writing where-in they tell you to make the first few chapters as perfect as you can make them. Sadly, the twenty-five cent words trailed off throughout the book.

Demimonde - A class of women kept by wealthy lovers or protectors; women prostitutes considered as a group; a group whose respectability is dubious or whose success is marginal.

Antedeluvian - Of or relating to the period before the flood described in the Bible; made, evolved, or developed a long time ago; extremely primitive or outmoded an antediluvian prejudice.

Ambit - Circuit, compass; the bounds or limits of a place or district; a sphere of action, expression, or influence : scope.

Anodyne - Serving to alleviate pain; not likely to offend or arouse tensions : innocuous.

Solipsistic - A theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing; also : extreme egocentrism.

Amanuensis - One employed to write from dictation or to copy manuscript.

Quotidian - Occurring every day; belonging to each day; commonplace, ordinary.

Fulgent - Dazzlingly bright : radiant.

Soporific - Causing or tending to cause sleep, tending to dull awareness or alertness; of, relating to, or marked by sleepiness or lethargy.

Some lines that caught my eye.

First, despite the sometimes lowly descriptions, Eisler, a westerner, describes Tokyo in such a way that I can't wait to go visit it. Here is his description of a cemetery in Tokyo:

"I moved deeper into the comforting gloom, along a stone walkway covered in cherry blossoms that lay like tenebrous snow in the glow of lamplights to either side. Just days earlier, these same blossoms had been celebrated by living Tokyoites, who came here in their drunken thousands to see reflected in the blossom's brief and vital beauty the inherent pathos of their own lives. But now the blossoms were fallen, the revelers departed, even the garbage disgorged by their parties efficiently removed and discarded, and the area was once again given over only to the dead."

Then this:

"Everywhere were metastasizing telephone lines, riots of electric wires, laundry hanging from prefabricated apartment windows like tears from idiot eyes."

Finally, after he has used a disguise to kill someone, the hero, John Rain, gets rid of the elements of his disguise by leaving it for the homeless:

"Within days, perhaps hours, the discarded remnants of this last job would have been bleached of any trace of their origin, each just another nameless, colorless item among nameless colorless souls, the flotsam and jetsam of loneliness and despair that fall from time to time into Tokyo's collective blind spot and from there into oblivion."

I wrote about a Nero Wolfe story I read wherein Archie describes then watches a character continually replace his glasses ontop of his nose. Eventually Archie's narration boils down to nothing more than his saying, "specs again" or "glasses" and the reader knows exactly what the author is referring to. Eisler does a similar thing as Rain watches the people with whom he interacts, in this case catching someone lying, something I've always been intrigued by.

"He glanced to his left, which for most people is a neurolinguistic sign of recall rather than of construction. Had he looked in the opposite direction, I would have read it as a lie."

Then much later all Eisler has to write is the following, and the reader knows what he is referring to:

"He glanced to his right. The glance said, think of something."

Loved reading this book. Not quite as good as the first if only because the reader can tell that the first was meant as a singleton, and this is an expansion of a story that came to a nice tight end with book one. That being said, I look forward to reading the next in the series.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Google Editions

There was an article today on Google Edtions (here) that discusses Google's foray into the e-book selling world. More open to multiple formats seems to be the key.

"Google Editions hopes to upend the existing e-book market by offering an open, "read anywhere" model that is different from many competitors. Users will be able to buy books directly from Google or from multiple online retailers—including independent bookstores—and add them to an online library tied to a Google account. They will be able to access their Google accounts on most devices with a Web browser, including personal computers, smartphones and tablets."

But beyond this is Google's desire to route all searches for books to their site to buy it.

"Google says it is on a mission to reach all Internet users, not just those with tablets, through a program in which websites refer their users to Google Editions. For example, a surfing-related blog could recommend a surfing book, point readers to Google Editions to purchase it, and share revenue with Google. Through another program, booksellers could sell Google Editions e-books from their websites and share revenue with Google.
"Google is going to turn every Internet space that talks about a book into a place where you can buy that book," says Dominique Raccah, publisher and owner of Sourcebooks Inc., an independent publisher based in Naperville, Ill. "The Google model is going to drive a lot of sales. We think they could get 20% of the e-book market very fast."

That first quote is ho-hum. I am, and most people are creatures of habit. I like my little Kindle, have gotten use to it, and from time to time enjoy downloading my Kindle books to my phone. That's about all I need. Multiple by thousands of people and across different platforms. Still, it doesn't necessarily effect me. Quote two does. That is the insidious part. The passive influence of Google to reach into every search that you might do in order to sell you your book.

I take the Norm Peterson of Cheer's approach when they were talking about changes to the bar. "Is this going to affect the price of beer? No? Then what do I care?" If anything I suspect it will make books easier to find and procure. Secondly, the competition will drive the price down. Win -Win for the reader. Not sure yet what the writer side of me thinks.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Book Review: Dr. No - Even Better Than the Movie

I finished reading Dr. No by Ian Fleming and I have to say I am thoroughly impressed. I read it as a part of a five story compilation book and I can't wait to move to the next one. The one thing I do regret is that the books aren't on the Kindle. I swear I made more notes, or meant to, but when I was done and went back to look for interesting words or lines all I could find were the following:

Apotheosis – Elevation to a divine status; deification or the perfect example; quintessence (I thought I knew this word then I looked it up and realized how wrong I was)

Susuration – Whispering sound; murmur (knew this one, just really like saying it)

Putsch – A secretly plotted and suddenly executed attempt to overthrow a government (of course I knew this one, who doesn't know about the Beer Hall Putsch, but it's so much fun to use)

A couple of lines that caught my eye. When Bond and Quarrel are slipping into Crab Cay Fleming describes it as:

"There was a turmoil of water and a series of grating thuds, and then a sudden rush forward into peace and the canoe was moving slowly across a smooth mirror towards shore."

Then:

"The beach was black. The sand was soft and wonderful to the feet but it must have been formed by volcanic rock, pounded over centuries, and Bond's naked feet on it looked like white crabs."

These are indicative of Fleming's writing it seems to me. He could have said "The canoe came onto the shore easily" or "Bond jumped out onto the black sand beach" but the method he uses are far more descriptive and inspirational.

Finally, the story is far deeper and engaging than the movie story. In the movie Dr. No is portrayed as almost comical. In the book he is intriguing. A full chapter is given over to his back story and it might be the most engaging portion of the story. Did you know Dr. No was shot in the chest and only survived because his heart is shifted to the right side of his chest instead of the left? Well, you wouldn't from the movie. All you would think about are his metal hands. Dr. No is a far more engaging villain in the book than the movie's evil villain.

Well worth the time, glad I bought the compilation.

Monday, November 29, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010

Made it to 50,000 words. Sadly, as I've predicted, it will take another 20,000 at least till the end of the story. I'm faced with the predicament of going forward and plunging ahead with the other 20,000 or going back to my entry from 2008.

I'm going back. I think that writing so quick, although great for getting a rough draft out there, just isn't good writing. So, although it's still a positive experience each year, it's back to the editing of the other book.

One of the best aspects of NaNoWriMo that I've discovered is the community that springs up on their website. Forums and writing buddies are everywhere. Sadly, as in the previous years, I expect they'll slough away in a few weeks.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Enhancements

I read a WSJ article by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg entitled Testing Enhanced E-Books (here) about publishers trying to encourage e-book sales through enhanced capabilities.

This article reminded me of the post I wrote on Shogun several months ago (here). Right now one aspect of the Kindle I enjoy is the immediate capability to define vocabulary words I don't know through the Kindle's Dictionary function. If I don't know a word I just press the cursor and "Boop" there's the definition. In the Shogun post I discussed how much more enjoyable it would be to have a map of feudal Japan to go along with the book so I could look up towns and cities as they are mentioned. Finally, a music companion would have been nice. Like Panadora an application that picks specific background music to go along with the book you're reading. These are the enhancements I'd like to see.

Then there was this terrific NPR story (here) about travel guides in e form vs paper form. Apparently paper won, but I bet only because the author used a conventional book that was modified for Kindle, not a travel book written specifically for Kindle. I wouldn't bet on the same result in coming years.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Book Review: The Hostage

I know that I'm a book behind; I still haven't written what I thought of Dr. No. The problem is I read it in hard cover and haven't had a chance to transcribe my notes to the blog. This is not a problem with The Hostage by WEB Griffen. Not only did I read The Hostage via Kindle, but there were no notes or marks that I need to transcribe. This absence of compelling or noteworthy quotes does not speak well of a positive or glowing review.

I've said before that I write these little reviews for my own purposes; primarily to remind myself which books I have read and what I thought of them. In this case I hope that I remember that I wrote that the book is a waste of time and energy and when I one day think, "You know, I should read The Hunters, the next book in WEB Griffen's The Presidential Agent Series," I will read this review and reconsider that thought. I have faith that this process will work because as I was reading The Hostage I remembered that I'd read the first book in the same series, By Order of the President, and I remembered that I didn't think it was worthwhile. Had I written that in the blog I feel certain I would have passed on The Hostage and been a better person because of it.

I first read a WEB Griffen book when I was in the military. The first book in The Brotherhood of War series is The Lieutenants. It's not bad. It's about four different soldiers and how they experience the military and politics in the US in the 1940's and 1950's. I liked it enough that I read the second book, The Captains. At some point I switched to The Corps Series and read Semper Fi and A Call to Arms. I remember that I liked all of these books. They were fun to read, thick, engaging and patriotic. I also remember thinking that all of the characters were a bit extraordinary, almost caricatures of real people. This worked for that era. For some reason I see people in the 1950's as caricatures. Sadly this style does not work well in the present day and The Hostage exposes this weakness.

So much of the time in The Hostage it seems as though Griffen is just moving the story along to get it over with. Setting and scene descriptions take a back seat to military characters who say supposedly strong and poignant things but who come off seeming silly and trite. Having been in the military I think a majority of these characters would be punched squarely in the nose by real soldiers if they were actual people. The dialogue is ridiculous and the plot was flimsy. I find it difficult to watch movies about the military cause I spend so much of the movie thinking "That wouldn't happen" or "That's not how it works." In this book, Griffen even has his character think that same sentiment. Reading this book provided that same frustration in literary form.

In conclusion, I am going to abandon The Presidential Agent series and revert back to The Brotherhood of War series in the future.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

UGH! NaNoWriMo Hell

Things have slowed down! I have less than five thousand words to go and the pace of my thriller is about as slow as a turtle in winter. Not only that, and this is something I discovered last year, my chapters are short . . . painfully short. A couple of paragraphs and then done.

This is why I believe that this manuscrip will easily be 90K words when it's complete. Once I go back and write the setting and add more back story, this sucker will be almost 30% longer. Right now though I just want to get to the end. Not to 50K but to the end of the story.

Two NaNoWriMo's ago I finished the 50K words but didn't finish the story. It's still not finished. I'm going back and editing it now . . . the ending is still missing. I'd rather have an ending that gets massaged and changed over time than no ending at all.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Busy, Busy, Busy

Sorry this is going to be such a light weight post but I'm just 7,000 words from completeing my National Novel Writing Month Novel. . . aka my Duller.

I'm finding that in one or two cases I'm going back and adding in scenes that I've forgotten to make my duller more a thriller. I'm not done yet, still several chapters from a climax, but I still find a need to go back and help set things up correctly.

One thing I have noticed about this NaNoWriMo is that I have not limited my reading as I have in the past. I'm even tailoring my reading. I've read a James Bond, Dr. No, and I'm currently reading Hostage by WEB Griffen. I think this is helping. Could also be a contributor to my thriller being less than thrilling, but I'll bring that up another time. The teachable point here is that reading, even when plowing through 50K words is just as important as when you aren't writing.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Note to Friends and Family

To all friends and family who are wondering what to get me for Christmas, I ran across this little bit of information (here). It is now possible to buy e-books from Amazon and send them as gifts to other people, even those people who do not have a Kindle or other e-reader. Not a huge leap I suppose, in fact I'm a tad surprised that this was not built into the sucker from the beginning. So, if you're wondering what to get the man who has everything, namely me, then head over to Amazon and hit the "Give as a Gift" button. Next though I want to see Amazon provide the ability for my friends and family to access my wish list so they can buy the very book that I want. Get on that Amazon.


 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

If Not a Thriller, a Duller

I'm worried that my new story might be more a Duller than a Thriller. Do other's think this? When Dan Brown wrote DaVinci Code was he bored as he wrote it and only found a way to make it gripping during the rewrites?

Matt Lynn, a thriller author, advises in his blog (here) to learn about structure for Thrillers and to do so by studying early Frederick Forsyth novels. I'm listening to Day of the Jackal right now and two years ago I read Dogs of War. Although they're good books I still feel as though that they both act as treatises on how to be a project manager in the 1950's. Both are filled with the minutiae that go into military operations and assignations. I remember one scene in the Dogs of War where Cat Shannon describes in great detail getting a boat out of customs and bonding it properly. Then again, there's Nelson DeMille. In his book the Lion's Game, the first half seems to be nothing more than a description of the actions during fifteen minutes during an emergency landing of a 747.

So what have I learned? Take your time? Be excessively descriptive? I think of Tom Clancy's books and boy that second one rings true when applied to his books. When I first started writing this thriller I'd hoped to leverage my experiences and history in Special Operations, now. . . particularly if Forsyth is my guide,. . . descriptions of my project management capabilities might be more apropos.

Also, I'm up to 38K for NaNoWriMo. I feel confident I'll hit 50K easily and probably 90K after revising and rewriting.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Two Links

Nathan Bransford has a link on Why He's Optomistic About EBooks (here). Nathan's blog is a staple for anyone hoping to learn more about the craft of writing queries and getting into publishing.

Second link comes from my brother (here). This is an interesting site. Basically send this group your book, hard cover, ebook or any other type, if they like it they'll tell there users and viewers about it. In the About Text they sum up the purpose of the site as "The Staff Recommends, a way to spread the book love across the internet at no cost to you, the book lover." Whether or not this is worthwhile depends on the size of their readership.

Monday, November 15, 2010

NaNoWriMo Links

Anyone who reads this blog is aware that I've been in the throes of a tough decsion regarding my story Toe the Line . . . whether to continue to search for an agent and publish following a conventional method or to self/ e publsih. Articles like this one (here) always make me swerve into the lane of self publishing. Still not sure which way to go. I have sent my query out to several agents, maybe this time I'll learn that it's a waste of time.

I enjoyed this article (here). For anyone who wants to know a bit of background about NaNoWriMo, or how another writer sees the event, it is a short read. Basically it let me know that I'm just as motivate as that dude and have the second guesses except I don't harken back to the movie Cool Runnings, for me, it's Never Been Licked (WHOOP!).

Finally there is this (here). Truthfully this link best represents my own opinion on NaNoWriMo. The article is titled Everyone Has a Certain Amount of Bad Writing to Get Out of Their System. This is the mantra I keep, even if my writing is horrid, it's writing. I look back on my last few year's NaNoWriMo submissions and they look nothing like the final manuscripts. In the words of Rebecca Howe when she was a part of Norm's painting company: "ust do it, Babe!"

Friday, November 12, 2010

Multiple Storylines

Donald Maass, in his oft cited (at least in this blog) book Writing the Breakout Novel mentions several different novels that he feels fit the mold of a breakout novel. One of these novels is Lonesome Dove, a favorite of mine. Seems to me that in Lonesome Dove there are a multitude of characters from whose eyes the reader sees the story (Augustus, Call, Pea, Newt, Lori, Clara, Elmira, Roscoe, July, Jake) all take a chance at showing their point of view. Each story is small by itself but each support the overall story of the trail ride moving North. I've always enjoyed stories like this. A multitude of stories that all contribute to a larger story. In Lonesome Dove there are small and large story parts. The reader has to wade through those slower, smaller ones in order to get to another bigger, faster storyline. It helps drive the story forward. The movie Crash was like this as well, multiple storylines with little linking them together that moves the story along a common theme.

Why's this coming up? I got to about 15,000 words and started to notice that my new National Novel Writing Month submission was turning a bit flat. It also looked like I would have a hard time getting to 50,000 words. Fearing the worst I added a second story line I'd been chewing on. Suddenly I had a slew of new characters, three new storylines, and now that I'm at 27,000 words I feel as though I'm only a third of the way through the story. I'm hoping to branch out again and find a third major storyline to add in as well.

So, here's the take away. Most writer's advise reading as much as you can in the genre in which you want to write. This past year I made a resolution to read one book on the writing craft for every three fiction books I read. For the most part I've stuck to it. Glad I did. If I hadn't read all those books on writing I never would have read Donald Maass' book, and had I not read that I doubt that writing this submission for National Novel Writing Month would have been as easy or my story as deep or compelling.

Yeah me!

Another Interesting Blog

I ran across a blog today that I really enjoyed reading. Added to this, the most recent blog post was apropos for my National Novel Writing Month work.

Another Slightly Scary Story by Draven Ames has a post on writing dialog (here). He explains nicely the difference of telling vs showing and how dialog can help reduce showing in a story, but what I really enjoyed was his advice on lying. He advises us to use white lies to flesh out a character to a greater degree for the reader. What I find interesting about this is the contradiction many of his bullet points have with the book I'm currently reading. All of his points are worthwhile and are repeated by many of the books on writing that I've recently read, but Dr. No by Ian Fleming that is currently at the number one spot on my bedside table chunks many of these rules out the window. Dialogue is short and rarely used. I just read the chapter where Honey Rider tells Bond about her past. Much more of this description than I expected was either Honey giving long speeches or Bond summing it up for the reader.

Just thought it was interesting. I'll keep Ames' blog in my hip pocket and check in often.

Also, I'm at the 26K mark for NaNoWriMo and still going strong.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Halfway

Each year the writing gets easier. This year it is surprisingly easy. I'm at the halfway mark, 25K words and I'm barely a third of the way through the story I have planned out. Secondly, and I must thank Donald Maass' book Writing the Breakout Novel, I believe this is a far deeper story than my previous NaNoWriMo entries. I'm actually looking forward to editing this sucker. Nevertheless, at eleven days in I'm at 25,401 words and still going strong.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

According to Grisham The Future Has Arrived

Although I was not much interested in this article titled Same-Day E-Book Sales Propel Grisham's Thriller by Jeffrey A. Tractehberg (here) about John Grisham's release of his next book via eBook at the same time as the hardcover, I did find two quotes that I found interesting.

First there was this:

"The e-book sales are astonishing," said Mr. Grisham in an interview. "Would anybody have thought that a year ago? The future has arrived, and we're looking at it."

I suppose I assumed we were already at this point. It's good to see everyone else is catching up to my view of the world.

The other:

"Mr. Grisham said he initially opposed selling his books digitally because he worried it would cripple his book sales at the independent bookstores that were among his earliest supporters. However, the author said he received numerous unhappy emails from readers who were upset that they couldn't buy his book digitally. "As an author, that hits pretty close to home," he said."

I think it's good to see an author listening to the fans and those fans having an impact. Makes me want to go out and buy it eventhough I'm not a Grisham fan.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Plot, Or Lack of One, Is Becoming a Problem

I'm up to 20,000 words, ahead of schedule but way behind on plot, thrills and character development. Missing these three things in a thriller novel is not good.

I find I have to continually remind myself that I'm not trying to produce a finished product. The first year I did NaNoWriMo the writing was so bad I don't think I've looked at it or even tried to edit it since I wrote it. Second year, also stank, but I've now edited that sucker to a point that I'm happy with it. If I look back at that rough draft and then the finished product there are very few similarities. The third year, same as the second. I'm in the process of editing it and I'm finding the same is true for this story as the other, the NaNoWriMo draft serves as a basis for the story but very little of what I actually wrote in NaNoWriMo is still in that sucker.

So what's the take-away? Keep writing I suppose. Even if it sucks I'll fix it in the editing process. I've done it before, I'll do it again. As so many people like to say, it's not writing that's hard, it's rewriting.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Links

I ran across a terrific blog post at the StarkInsider about the newness of the Kindle wearing off (here). Always a big fan of writing that makes me think, "Yeah, that's what I thought, I just wasn't able to put it so eloquently." But, this is fairly common in my life as I rarely put anything eloquently. I found it peculiar that not only was Loni Kao Stark expressing my opinions in her blog, she was also reading the books I want to read! Still, despite the author's nostaglia for reading contemporary books I find that the benefits of reading via the Kindle outweight the detriments. Short and worth reading.

I also ran across a blog that discussed and Economist article on eBooks. War on Error by John E. Dunn (here) discuss how the model for eBooks could change in the near future and book buying could become book lending with no buying ever really needed. An interesting concept to say the least. The Economist article (here) is short enought to be read quickly which is a bit stange based on my past experiences with Economist articles.

Finally there is this link (here) that is an announcement that many of the James Bond novels will shortly be available as eBooks. Appropos as that is exactly what I'm reading now. Wish I'd had the choice a month ago. Despite what Loni Kao Stark thinks, I would have preferred reading Dr. No on the Kindle.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Advice I'm Thrilled to Accept

I'm at 8000 words. End of Chapter 3 of my thriller novel. I'm less than thrilled with it.

That being said, I found two snippets of advice. First this (here), advice to newbie thriller writers. I think I fit in that class of writer at this point. Like most others, a couple of the points this author makes is first, read. Read lots. Second . . . write. Write lots. Even when you don't feel like doing either, it's good to buckle down and do them both. Good, simple, advice.

The second piece of advice comes from David Morrel of First Blood fame. His advice, and I've yet to try it, look forward to it though, is to go to a bookstore and read the first page of as many thrillers as there are on the shelves. He says that you'll find an amazing similarity among them, and on the whole you won't be impressed. But, when you do find that one, or two, that does make you sit up and take notice, stop and figure out why. He says that's what's important. Try to be a game changer.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Thrilling Links

Found my next favorite blog, and this one is incredibly timely. The Curzon Group appears to be a group of thriller writers who submit their work toward a common story. Years ago a radio host promoted this same concept. He asked a dozen or so thriller writers to write one chapter, one after the other, and continue a thriller novel as a group. Sounded like fun, and this Curzon group does too. I look forward to following it, particularly now that I'm trying my own hand at writing a thriller.

And as this is National Novel Writing Month, I found this link (here) that lists famous books that have been written in short time periods. (I believe I pulled this link from the Curzon Group website) I don't write my 50K word stories expecting them to come out perfectly. I'm not Robert B. Parker whose first draft is his last. I like this month becuase it makes me put something down and gives me a deadline for doing it. Self-editing while writing will come later I hope.

Publishers of the Future

Loved this article written by a publisher about the pitfalls and problems he sees with e-publishing (here). One quote by Mr. Paul Biba's article in Teleread caught my eye;

"If you remember only one thing from reading this article, let it be this: metadata really matters for ebooks. On the web, reading with your e-reader, on your phone or however/wherever you access ebooks, discovery is everything. Unlike in a physical bookstore where you can browse shelves and find that next perfect book that you want to read, how you find a book online (whether a physical book or a digital book) is all about metadata. So making sure all those descriptive pieces are correct and where they’re supposed to be really matters."

This is something that I'm dealing with in my real world job and it's interesting to see that if I do get published, I shant get away from it.

Finally, thanks to some advice from a leading muckety-muck in the publishing industry I'm going to be reading, researching and posting some articles on how to properly quote articles and other materials in a blog. To begin, I found this generic article (here) on eHow by C.L. Williams. Good all around starting place, look forward to refining my base of knowledge base.

So Far...But So Far To Go

I'm 4300 words into my first thriller novel. Still a long way to go.

But, there's no payoff at the end according to this article (here) so at least I got that going for me. The best line in the article? Is one I've heard before. When Elmore Leonard was asked what writer's should write in order to insure they get the most money his answer was "ransom notes."

Finally, I read an article (here) about critique groups. In it she discusses both the importance of critique groups as well as what a young writer should look out for. I post it if only because a week or so ago I posted about that same subject (here and here). One area where I and the author differ is on online critique groups. She writes that it is best to eschew them. I feel that my own usage of one is due in part to the demands of my youngsters. I do hope to find a "flesh and blood" critique group that I might enjoy reading with, but until then I actually feel lucky with the one that I found.

Monday, November 1, 2010

First Day and First Line

Not mine, but a great first line for the first day of NaNoWriMo.

"Punctually at six o'clock the sun set with a last yellow flash behind the Blue Mountains, a wave of fiolet shadow poured down Richmond Road, and the crickets and tree frogs in the fine gardens began to zing and tinkle."

Ian Fleming - Dr. No.

I hope that my NaNoWriMo first line will eventually be this lyrical, but I doubt it. I like Fleming becasue he reminds me of James Dickey of Deliverance fame and Pat Conroy. I think they all sound poetic when they write.

As to my NaNo effort, I'm writing the thriller about the burglar that I posted last week. Moving onward and upward from mysteries.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Thrilled by the Rejection Letter

Received the most prompt, well written and informative rejection of my short writing and querying career the other day. Mr. Mecoy is an agent for John Corrigan, a mystery novelist who writes stories that revolve around the PGA. I thought he would be a perfect match for my manuscript Toe the Line. He explained about the marketability of such mysteries in his rejection:

"Thank you for the opportunity to consider your novel for representation. While I do appreciate the widespread interest in the sport, I am afraid that I do not feel that sports and mysteries mix all that well. Over the years, I've done baseball mysteries, Formula 1 and NASCAR suspense novels and, yes, Mr. Corrigan's golf books and none of them have broken out. I don't know if it's the genre's gender bias or the fact that people who love to get out and do or see these things don't want to read about them. Unfortunately, mystery editors as a group (at least the ones I know) share my prejudice against this sort of novel. So, I regret that I can only offer you all my best wishes for your future success with an agent who hasn't had my experience and who can find an editor who hasn't been infected with this particular sort of cynicism."

A few posts ago I asked which was more important, marketability or writing. I'm beginning to think that marketing is more important. I'm also beginning to think that a change in writing tactics on my part is called for.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

NaNoWriMo Idea #4

First, I think this is silly. Although I don't own one, I would like a Kindle cover. I've seen other's with covers and think that it would be a good addition to my Kindle library. But I don't want one that makes my Kindle look like a book. First, I like having a thin Kindle. You put a huge book-like case on it, and half of what I like is gone. Secondly, it smacks of putting a flat HD TV in one of those old school television consoles with the tubes in the back. Sure, a Kindle may be becoming an antique in the e-reader and i-Pad world but I don't want it to look quite so ancient.

Now for the NaNoWriMo idea. This one was inspired by a police video I watched at work that showed an officer getting beaten to death and then shot by a fireman who was out in rural Oklahoma cooking meth in his trunk. It was a gruesome video. I thought it would be interesting to have a main character compelled to go and help the department retrieve the damaged video and then help track down the murderer. It's a bit one dimensional at the moment, so I may not use this one either. Also, I think NaNoWriMo should be for flexing ones muscles, trying new things, and enjoying the writing. Maybe I should go back and revisit those thriller ideas.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

NaNoWriMo Idea #3

First, saw a great site for mystery writers. Looks like it could add some needed verisimilitude to my mysteries and for any fellow writers. It provides a top ten list for crime scene investigators, a checklist of sorts. If your detective aint doing these things, perhaps he should.

Secondly, another NaNoWriMo idea that is not meant for this year.

I had this idea several years ago. If you ever saw the movie Sneakers with Robert Redford, Sidney Pointier and Ben Kingsley, then you're already familiar with the plot. Ex-Army dude is contracted by the FBI to devise plans for a terrorist operation in his city. He's told it is all part of a plan by the government to get fresh ideas for enemy operations they might not immediately see. It's only after he submits his plans, is almost killed by the people who hired him and is arrested by the real FBI that he realizes the organization he gave his plans to was a terrorist cell. Naturally the FBI thinks he's a part of the terrorist group so he has to escape and track down the original group and stop them before they carry out any of his plan, all while evading capture and avoiding being killed by the terrorist cell. I think it would make for a pretty exciting thriller novel, which is why I am not doing it. Not a thriller writer at the moment.

Another Look At Nook

The Barnes and Noble Nook is now in color, see here.

"The new touchscreen Nook Color, priced at $249, costs about half as much as an entry-level Apple Inc. iPad—but almost twice as much as an entry-level Kindle from Amazon.com Inc. and Barnes & Noble's existing monochrome Nook device."

The above quote hits at the one thing I like about my Kindle . . . it's all about reading. When I sit down with my Kindle there is no chance that I'll get distracted by games or the internet or anything else. I can't.

A reader commented on my post from a couple of days ago on how important she feels color is to the reading experience. I agree with her. But beyond giving the Nook a color display there is another advantage that the Nook has over the Kindle.

However, I have just finished working on a project at work. The CEO of my company was interviewed about our product and he brought up the touchscreen interface advantage. He likened it to a cell phone with touchscreen capabilities to one without. He ends his statement by asking, "if you were investing for your police department, for the next several years, in a technology, which would you rather invest in, the one where changes and applications can be made via software, or the one with the hard wired buttons?"

Were I buying an e-reader now I'd seriously consider the Nook. If I was buying a tablet, I'd get an i-Pad. Where's that leave the Kindle? Better step your game up Amazon!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

NaNoWriMo Idea #2

The second idea I discounted came by way of my indefensible brother.

Leveraging my military experience and my desire to write a thriller, David wanted me to write a novel depicting two Special Forces units involved in hostilities in "the Ghan." I believe that some of this idea came about as my brother was watching a show that showed a Spec Ops unit all hepped up on testosterone refusing to be called off from the objective. The idea would be to have the two units involved in a long range fire fight neither of them knowing that they are actually shooting at one another. Each unit could call in air strikes on the other and continue to escalate the battle without ever realizing who the enemy is. It was my addition to have a native, enemy, unit watching the battle and instigating action when they see it starting to lull.

Some of the themes that might be fun to play with include out running the lines of communication in battle, a la Pat Tillman, the intransigency and stubbornness of Spec Ops operators in regards to mission completion, and the splintered chain of command in the Spec Ops community. This last has always been a bone of contention with me.

I discounted it due to the fact that I still haven't fleshed out the idea enough to make it anymore than a novella or short story, and I don't know if it would be a good topic for my first thriller novel.

Two Things of Note in the e-Publishing World

First, to carry-on the discussion from yesterday’s blog about the ability to lend Kindle e-books comes this story about how Starbucks will begin offering free e-books to Kindle users via their wi-fi network. Years ago, when I frequented Starbucks more than I do now, I was always getting my boxers in a bunch about the lack of free wifi. Why shouldn’t I be able to get an access code with my receipt that entitles me to use their wifi for fifteen minutes or thirty minutes after my purchase. IHOP could do the same thing for those damn study groups that always show up and take over booths. This new lending of free e-books will not help me in this regard, and I kinda doubt if I’ll ever use it. Still, nice to know that someone out there is trying to integrate e-books into their business plans.

The second story is this one, from PC World. Adobe is trying to provide the ability for greater ease in e-publishing, not just for novels, but other publishable material.

"The publishing industry is reinventing itself and a new era of editorial and advertising innovation is upon us as publishers target new mobile hardware platforms," said David Wadhwani, a senior vice president at Adobe. "By leveraging the InDesign CS5 workflow and the services of the Digital Publishing Suite, professional publishers can design and commercialize a new class of innovative digital magazines to create a richer and more dynamic reading experience that will attract high-value subscribers and advertisers."

Then they’ll also have a distribution platform as described below.
"The Distribution Service stores, hosts, and distributes digital content across tablet devices and desktops. Publishers can publish and fulfill issues across devices and screen resolutions with cross-platform viewers and notify readers when a new magazine issue is available for purchase or download.”

Again, nice to see that some businesses are keeping up and staying in front of the e-publishing and e-reading wave.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lendling

Amazon has announced that Kindle owners and readers who use Kindle apps will now be able to loan e-books to other users (story here).

"The online retailer announced the upcoming feature in a discussion forum for the Kindle on its website Friday, saying that later in the year it will start letting Kindle users and people who use its free Kindle apps loan books to others for a two-week period. During the loan, the book's owner will not be able to read the book, Amazon said."

Not a bad start. Why only two weeks is my question. If I can't read it on my Kindle, why does it matter how long the friend has it. I think it should be indefinite.

Did not know this:

"The Kindle will not be the first e-reader to get a lending feature; Barnes & Noble Inc.'s Nook e-reader also has such a feature that lets users loan books between other Nooks and gadgets that have the free Nook software."

Had I known this about the Nook, I might have gone this route instead of toward the Kindle.

2010 No Id for NaNoWriMo

For those not NaNoWriMo literate let me explain the title. Novel Idea's for NaNoWriMo. I have several. Now that it is a week away I had to decide on one. The next few days, leading up to the start of NaNoWriMo I'll detail each idea I had and in the case of the first few, why I decided not to use it.

First - Soul Food
I've been wanting to write Soul Food for years. It is a Sci-Fi story about an astronaut who bungles a mission in space, falls into a coma, and wakes up twenty years later and sees the changes happening on Earth all around him. Prior to his slipping into this coma he thinks he sees an alien force or being causing the catastrophe.

As an astronaut his projects were all about "off Earth" living, but after his coma he sees that surface dwelling capabilities have exploded, that religiousosity is a new, overwhelming fad, and that there have been great leaps forwad made in ensuring contentment in old age as well as longer living. It is only becasue he has as an alternate perspective due to his coma that he begins to see that all of these advancements are a product of the alien entity and he surmises that the alien is harvesting human souls for food. How the hero discovers that Aliens perfer the taste of old souls in a manner similar to human's like corn fed beef is still a bit of a mystery.

The original title was Soul Ranch. Soul Food is more tongue in cheek but far more catchy. Could be a comedy in the vein of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but sadly I have no comedy writing experience. It's a pretty nebulous topic for a novel. Hard to write believably. Plus, what would the ending be?

Would have been fun to explore themes like religiosity keeping the herd docile, the ability to increase population in a manner similar to a cattle ranch being taken over by new ownership and turned around. All fun, but tough stuff to get across easily.

Needless to say, this idea goes back in the cellar for more aging. Not suitable for NaNoWriMo 2010.

Virality

I just met my fourth blog follower. Saw him at the zoo. Does having four blog readers make me viral yet?

All tongue and cheek of course. I have far more than four. Found out today that I'm actually making money off the blog as I have several subscribers to the blog via Kindle. How's about that?

Virality coming soon!

Friday, October 22, 2010

NaNoWriMo

As my indefensible brother likes to point out NaNoWriMo is next month.

Yes, NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month) is a silly name. Personally I think the founders could have done themselves a favor by calling it NaNoMo (National Novelling Month) but, my brother loves to mock the name, so he’s out there saying it, so perhaps their marketing is working.

NaNoWriMo is an online contest whereby aspiring writers “compete” to write 50,000 words in the month of November. If you complete a 50,000 word novel in the month you “win”. It’s really a lose interpretation of winning and competition as I could fake the whole thing and still “win.” However I have not faked the past four times I’ve won.

Although I’ve spoken to several writers who think that writing in the NaNoWriMo style is not for them, I’ve found it’s a terrific avenue for getting the rough draft out of the head and onto the paper in as short a time as possible. There is also an opportunity to meet and write with fellow writers. The NaNoWriMo website offers the ability to connect with other writers in your area and “meet up” to write together.

I’ve already started outlining my NaNoWriMo entry for this year and am looking forward to starting it next week. If you’ve ever felt like writing a novel, need a kick in the pants to get going, and are looking for an opportunity to do a brain dump over the course of 30 days, then go visit NaNoWriMo on the web and sign up. I’m a proponent.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wordle

I went to a a new writing site (Publishing Online) and there was a link to another site that generated images of words used in writing (wordle).

So, following the instructions, I pasted in my manuscript and it generated the following image.


Mostly I see character names. I thought about that last post I wrote about the critiquer who found so many redundant words in my manuscripts. Sounds like a great application for him.

More On Critique Groups

For the title of this post I was trying to find a way to use the quip: "If you don't have less on you have ???? critique groups" but I couldn't figure out a way to do so without completely disparaging my critique group. Guess I'm not as talented a writer as I thought. Either that or I'm less abrasive than I think.

So, just a day after writing about how much I enjoy my critique group I received another round of edits for my next manuscript. I like them even more now.

I enjoy the fact that there is a degree of detachment. It's so much harder to take and give criticism when in the presence of the author or editor. I get my critiques online and have never met these editors. It's nice that way. They can be more liberal with their edits, I can read them at my leisure. Yet another reason to enjoy the online critique group.

Secondly, I'm already seeing how these critiquers focus on different aspects of my writing. One critiquer likes to point out how poor my manuscript formatting and punctuation is. I'll admit, there are times when I use a comma instead of a period, but once or twice (even thrice) in a chapter, . . . I guess she's right . . . I'll work on it. Another fellow likes to point out redundant word use. I've read these suckers several times before I submit them. I never see these redundancies. He does. Good to have that fellow around.

Finally, I think it's funny when someone will edit something and be completely wrong. I wrote the word "preternatural" at one point in the story. The critique wrote, "What is this? I think you mean supernatural." Actually I didn't. Preternatural, according to M-W.com, means: existing outside of nature, exceeding what is natural or regular and inexplicable by ordinary means. That was exactly what I meant. Sadly, I can't go back and tell the critiquer what I meant. Another? I wrote that the character's one "sop" to comfort was his chair. Sop, again according to M-W.com means: a conciliatory or propitiatory bribe, gift, or gesture. The critiquer wrote: "Sop? You mean Standard Operating Procedure?" Actually, no. That makes less sense than supernatural for preternatural. The process isn't infallible.

So, long and short. Love the group even more, despite the fact that I can't clarify when I need to. For anyone hoping to join, find the critique group here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Critique Groups

I went to a writing class here in Houston in 2001 that morphed into a critique group. This was my first experience with a critique group. I saw the advantages, chapter edits, new viewpoints and ideas, a mentor's leadership, but I also saw the disadvantages. The local Sugar Land critique group has been less advantageous than that first one. I've found that this is due primarily to the modus operandi of the group.

For that first group, we students were asked to read one another's work and come prepared to discuss our edits and ideas with the author of the work and the rest of the group. It was a lot of work. Not just the reading, but also producing a new short story for the group each week. The Sugar Land critique group hosts a less strenuous atmosphere. The entire group reads chapters or stories each week and the manuscript is discussed and debated right then. In terms of homework, the second group is easier. Sadly, it offers far less in terms of expert edits and good ideas. I would gladly trade some of my free time for this group to change its methods and require that the group do some homework. Additionally, who wants to give up five hours on a Saturday morning to a bunch of fellow writers whose edits and suggestions are well thought out or worthwhile. Naturally, I don't go to the Sugar Land group anymore.

I found an online group a few months ago and I am extremely pleased with it. Members are asked to download, edit, critique three stories by other members in exchange for uploading one of their own. It's been tough sometimes to keep up the pace of reading and keep track of the administrative duties involved in the little online group, but I'm finally seeing the same advantages that I'd hoped to find from my local group. I've discovered that the edits I'm receiving are well thought out and constructive, conversely, the other writers have written to tell me that they appreciate my own edits and ideas on their work. The only thing missing is a mentor to help guide the work and provide a firm, stabilizing presence. But, I'll take that over the quick edits of the Sugar Land group.

In Stephen King's book On Writing that I read last month, King discussed critique groups. He feels that they are wholly unnecessary. He has beta readers and friends and family who help him write and edit, but as far as a group of contemporaries who help him mold and craft his stories, there aint one, and he didn't necessarily advocate having one in his book. I'm happy that I've finally found a critique group that combines many of the advantages of the first critique group with the ease and simplicity that I was looking for.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Novel Marketing

One thing that came up when I was sending out queries last year, and came up with my interview with Nicholas Croce this past Saturday, was the idea of how marketable Toe the Line is. I wonder if marketability trumps voice and writing style or the other way around. No matter how good the writing, if there aint no audience, there won't be much selling.

As I sat across from Mr. Croce I could almost see his brain firing away on whether or not my book was marketable. I mentioned to him that in the past two decades the focus on health and fitness has intensified in our society. This industry has gained a foothold in non-fiction books, periodicals, television media and other materials. That Toe the Line, and other manuscripts I have outlined, developed and written weave this aspect into a mystery in order to bring a more compelling and fresh look at this type of lifestyle. Not just for fitness enthusiasts to read but also for their wives, husbands, parents and others to help them relate to the sport. To provide a glimpse into this world for those not commonly associated with it. My only data to back this rise in interest was the fact that when I raced in triathlons in college or the Army, they weren't as packed as they are now. Now it is common for the organizers to have to limit the number of entries. I doubt that was as true in the 90's. At one point Mr. Croce mentioned that many of the people who would do this type of racing would be wealthier with more disposable income for buying books. Like I said, it was fun to see him start marketing off the cuff.

What's the take away? I need to do some research. It would behoove me to find out more about the marketing potential behind every book I write. It just might be as important as or more important than the writing itself.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Three Minute Vs Hint

I spoke to a contemporary at the writer's conference, an engaging and intriguing play write from Katy. We talked about short fiction. She told me about a "three minute fiction" segment that she heard about on NPR. I countered by talking about "Hint Fiction." See below for more:

HOUSE HUNTING by Gary A. Braunbeck
The fence is tall. Good. The mother is typical white-trash, too loud. But the kids … they seem frightened and quiet. Good. Easier that way.

DEPARTURE by Donora Hillard
The terminal is unkind. You watch me go through security. In six months, you’ll say “Tell me about the nightmare,” and I promise I will.

PROGRESS by Joe Schreiber
After seventeen days she finally broke down and called him “daddy.”

PEANUT BUTTER by Camille Esses
He was allergic. She pretended not to know.

THE MALL by Robley Wilson
What he liked best about the affair was not the shopping, but parting the tissue wrap to remove the clothing that had first enticed her.

A SNAP DECISION by Jamie Felton
Her finger tapped against her teeth, “I don’t think it’s going to work.” He sank slowly underneath the surface. She could still see his eyelashes.

Hullabalog

Have written a couple of articles for a blog run by Aggies (Link). The next one I expect will be about the importance of flexibility in a changing market place. Example, the e-readers impact in the publishing world.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Writer’s Conference (or Snoozerfest 2010)

The writer's conference was exactly what I expected as it was pretty much the same as the last two times I went. In fact, the key note speaker this year spoke at both of previous conference and was just as unimpressive at this one as she was at the other two. This time she brought a pie as a visual aid. The pie was the best part of the speech and even it didn't look that good.

But, this post is not going to turn into a compendium of aspects of the writer's conference that I felt were lacking, instead I will accentuate the positives, eliminate the negatives and not mess with the in between (thank you Johnny Mercer).

I got to speak with Nicholas Croce of The Croce Agency. Naturally I performed a bit of due diligence and checked out their website. Due to what I felt was an under-representation of my genre on their webpage, I approached Mr. Croce with some consternation and a distinct lack of confidence. Surprisingly he asked me to send him a synopsis and first 50 pages. First, I was stunned. A 5 to 10% hit rate with agents via queries equaled a one-to-one success rate with Mr. Croce. Kinda says something about the efficacy of meeting someone in person. Secondly, I'm a realist enough to know that probably each of the two hundred people who got to meet with him (and I told him I was impressed by his stamina) probably got the same reception, but it's better to be in the positive response group than in the negative.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Running’s Not a Plan, Valentine.

Anyone who has seen Tremors will appreciate the title of this post. Those who have not should see it. Worthwhile the first time. Even the second.

A reader of this blog, not my mother, has asked when I'm going to actually publish my tome. Here's the plan.

I'm working toward a December release of my manuscript, Toe the Line on Smashwords. In order to make this happen I'm releasing a website to help publicize it as well as trying to get reputable authors in the same genre to review it and post their reviews. Why December? Why not do all this right now? Cause I still am holding out hope that the writer's conference I'm attending this weekend will bear some fruit. I would still much rather publish or perish conventionally. It seems like it would be a bit more fun. E-publishing or e-perishing is a last resort.

So, anyone wondering, you will be able to download Toe the Line for reading on iPad, Kindle, or most other e-reader devices or order a copy through Smashwords come December 20th. Just in time for Christmas. Also, during that same time frame you'll be able to link, forward and gush about my new website. Just FYI.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Recent First Line

"Jeeves – my man, you know – is really a most extraordinary chap."

P.G. Wodehouse – My Man Jeeves

I've had the pleasure of reading My Man Jeeves at least once before, again, while living in Belgium. Loved it then, still do. Wodehouse gives his narrator such a great voice and tone. Turns out that Jeeves was not a common "man's man" name prior to the publication of Wodehouse's stories. It was Wodehouse that provided the popularity for the name being used. I find that remarkable. I'd love to be so popular that one of my character names becomes a part of the lexicon.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Weekend Workshop

This weekend I get to go to my third Houston area writer's conference.

The first writer's conference I went to I was sorely unimpressed. It featured a writer of historical romance, a lady from whom I had once taken a novel writing class. I left the class in mid-term. I should have left the conference in mid-stream.

The next writer's conference I attended was better. The featured speaker was David Liss, writer of historical mysteries. Much better presenter. Still, I wasn't too impressed. If not for Liss I would have counted it as 8 hours of wasted time.

Based on my past experiences I wasn't going to attend this Fall's conference, but there will be agents there. Thanks to my judging the local novel writing contest I have a free meeting with one of these agents. I've read that meeting an agent in person offers a far greater chance of success than query writing alone. I'm looking forward to it for this reason alone.

I'm sorry to say that if the agent meeting doesn't live up to its billing, I might just give up on conferences. The track record thus far is woeful.

Monday, October 4, 2010

FOUND: Interesting Article, 5 Columns, Approx 500 words

I read a couple of great articles this weekend in the paper. One was an interview with Phillip Roth. I expected to really like this article, so I was surprised that I didn't. The second article, about writing, I only read on a lark, I was happy to discover that this article stimulated the old grey cells far more than the Roth article.

Two facets of the article stood out. First, a quote from The Great Gatsby.

I've said as much to my own students, in the course of asking them, say, to describe a lawn. They shrug. Blink. "It's green," one of them invariably says. "Grassy." Here's how Fitzgerald describes one: "The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens—finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run."

The lawn ran? The lawn jumped? Is it an ill-tended lawn? Obviously not, because it's so sleek and swift, in such a well-groomed hurry to dash over every obstacle and splash itself festively against the bricks. Burning gardens? Why not be specific and tell us what flowers grow there, or vegetables perhaps, the colors and so forth? Well, because the lawn is moving too fast and can only glance—whoosh—as it passes: burning!

This is writing that makes us see the world afresh—the kind of writing that is better than actual living. Or rather it makes us want to live better, in every way. I cannot read about Gatsby's parties without wanting to drop everything, go for a swim, get plastered and dance the Charleston.

Why did I key in on this paragraph? I have written before, most recently about Catch-22, that I think too much editing tends to ruin prose. I feel certain that had I written that a lawn ran, my editor would have noted it and said something along the lines of "lawn can't run." Nota bene to self, don't trust your editor too much.

Secondly, I read this at first and was confounded momentarily. Once I read on I found that is the best description of the maxim that writers hear so often "show don't tell" I have ever heard.

"Action is character," Fitzgerald wrote in his notes while working on his unfinished novel, "The Last Tycoon." Many times I've written the same motto on my chalkboard, in the same emphatic capitals, and said to my students: If one of our greatest writers had to exhort himself with that phrase, right up to the end, it must be pretty important.

Don't, therefore, simply tell us that a character is "arrogant" or "blasé" or whatever; show her reclining on a divan "with her chin raised a little, as if she were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall," as Fitzgerald gives us Jordan Baker in "Gatsby," or show her "revolving on a noisy, creaking pivot through the smoky air," as one will forever remember the vulgar Myrtle Wilson.

Action will suggest the most salient qualities, along with myriad ineffable others, until finally you've earned the right to pronounce explicit judgment—and thus the moral implications of "Action is Character": "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."

I love being pleasantly surprised by an article. Went into expected nothing, came out with two nuggets of info I'd previously not had.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Remind Me Again, Is It Step 12 That Is Acceptance?

Long front page article in the WSJ today about e-Books and authors (Here). For anyone who reads this blog, this is a "no duh" article. It is all about the small advances that authors are seeing for print book publishing, the fewer and fewer numbers of first time authors being published and the expected future of large publishing houses as they contend with the e-book.

I still think that publishers should look at the e-book as a proving grounds for novels. Instead of asking for past publishing credentials, which can be quite thin for first time writers, agents should ask for e-book sales. If they see a moderate buzz in the e-book community they should jump in front of it and publish that sucker, market it both electronically and conventionally, and try to make a moderate buzz into a major buzz.

But the article is written as if the authors and agents that are interviewed are just now realizing that there industry is on the cusp of a major change. WAKE UP STODGY PUBLISHING DUDES! READ MY BLOG!

Sadly for our hero, the article makes no bones about saying that being a self-supporting author be a thing of the past. I'm making no plans to leave my day job. Thank goodness I like it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thank You Brad Thor

Thank you Brad Thor for making me a strong advocate of the "try a free sample" feature at the Amazon Kindle. Thanks to my Literature Map I bought and downloaded a Brad Thor novel so that I could get in the mood to write a thriller for next week's NaNoWriMo event. Thor's writing was so bad, so base, so incredibly juvenile that I felt like I wasn't listening to a fourth grader talking about his dreams and aspirations for becoming a spy when he grew up. Phrases like "at that exact moment the Mercedes careened into the bridge" and "he felt incredibly bad about it" as well as an overuse of the pluperfect tense (tons of hads) made me feel like I was still judging novels for the Houston Writers Guild. Due to the fact that the book cost me seven dollars, I rededicated myself to it several times. "It can't be that bad," I'd say to myself. Each time I came away thinking that it was that bad.

So, I'm now pledging to always download the sample before buying any book.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book Review – Three for the Chair

I finished a series of Nero Wolfe short stories today by Rex Stout. Three for the Chair is as good as any of the other Nero Wolfe mysteries. I like these, they're like books for the "fusion" restaurant lover. My favorite fusion restaurant is a blend of Southwest, Central American, and Asian foods. Reading Nero Wolf mysteries is the fusion food equivalent of reading an Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot mystery, a Lawrence Sanders, McNally mystery and a 1950's hard-boiled detective mystery. All of these were poignant, fun to read, and wrapped the puzzle up nicely by the end, just as I expected.

A made some notes, of course.

Archie Goodwin describing a lady he is watching says:

"She stood up. Of course nurses are expected rise from a chair without commotion, but she just floated up."

Later in the same story, Archie describes a suspect succinctly and in a way that helps the reader understand Archie's tone and voice.

"I sat with my back to my deisk and took him in as an object with assorted points of interest. He was a uranium millionaire, the very newest kind. He was a chronic jaw-puncher, no matter where. He knew a good-looking nurse when he saw one, and acted accordingly. And he had been nomictaed as a candidate for the electric, chair. Quite a character for one so young. He wasn't bad-looking himself, unless you insist on the kind they use for cigarette ads. His face and hands weren't as rough and weathered as I would have expected of a man who had spent five years in the wilderness pecking at rocks, but since finding Black Elbow he had had time to smooth up some."

Archie describing Nero Wolfe shocked and surprised. I love the approximation in the description.

"Wolfe's brows went up a sixteenth of an inch."

As so much of the book includes, Archie describing Wolfe, this time as Nero Wolfe deals with a female contemporary.

"He frowned at her. Sometimes he honestly tries to speak to a woman without frowning at her, but he seldom makes it."

There was one other feature I wanted to note, but this was a running description through a mystery. There is one official that the detectives must deal with, and Archie says of him:

"Then more district attorney, a bouncy bald guy named Jasper Colvin, with rimless spectacles that he had to shove them back on his nose every time he took a step."

Throughout the rest of the story, Archie says things like:

"Colvin answered. "I did. I'm Jasper Colvin, district attorney of this county." He pushed his specs back up on his nose."

"Colvin nodded at him and down came the specs."

"Colvin cleared his throat and had to push the specs."

"Colvin pushed the specs. I'll only mention it every fourth or fifth time."

Then every few sentences dealing with this character Stout just writes, "Specs." Nothing more.

I thought that was a cunning way to bring humor and describe a major character.

Only two interesting vocabulary words.

Chimera – (modern) - a chimera is an animal that has two or more different populations of genetically distinct cells that originated in different zygotes involved with sexual reproduction – (mythological) - a monstrous fire-breathing female creature of Lycia in Asia Minor, composed of the parts of multiple animals: upon the body of a lioness with a tail that ended in a snake's head, the head of a goat arose on her back at the center of her spine. (I knew this one, but I like to refresh my memory.)

Larrupe - give a spanking to; subject to a spanking

All in all, fun to read, as always.