Friday, December 21, 2012

How Much I Liked Jackdaws


Even though I disparaged the final lines of the book I loved Jackdaws by Ken Follett. It was just as good as all of his other thrillers and better than a few. Interesting side note but the most viewed page of this blog comes from Ken Follett, it is the review of Eye of the Needle. More visitors to this site click on that review than any other post. I wonder, since Jackdaws was marginally better than Eye of the Needle if this post will outstrip that post.



I made several notes and marks while reading this book, this first one is a description of the main characters husband. Can you guess why I liked it?

He was still the sexiest man she had ever met. He was tall, and he dressed with careless elegance in rumpled suits and faded blue shirts. His hair was always a little too long. He had a come-to-bed voice and an intense blue-eyed gaze that made a girl feel she was the only woman in the world.

I love that line, “He had a come-to-bed voice.” As someone who has “come-to-bed” characteristics, I can appreciate that descriptor.

I also loved this little snippet:

The vast, sooty bulk of the cathedral loomed over the center of Reims like a divine reproach.

My brother I think would agree with the sentiment expressed in this passage:

“I’m an existentialist. War enables people to be what they really are: the sadists become torturers, the psychopaths make brave front-line troops, the bullies and the victims alike have scope to play their roles to the hilt, and the whores are always busy.”

It was this passage, that I read several times, which I really liked. What a wonderful way to introduce a character, even a minor one.

As a small boy in Sunday school, Paul had been vexed by a theological problem. He had noticed that in Arlington, Virginia, where he was living with his parents, most of the children of his age went to bed at the same time, seven-thirty. That meant they were saying their prayers simultaneously. With all those voices rising to heaven, how could God hear what he, Paul, was saying? He was not satisfied with the answer of the pastor, who just said that God could do anything. Little Paul knew that was an evasion. The question troubled him for years. 

If he could have seen Grendon Underwood, he would have understood. 

Like God, the Special Operations Executive had to listen to innumerable messages, and it often happened that scores of them came in at the same time. Secret agents in their hideaways were all tapping their Morse keys simultaneously, like the nine-year-olds of Arlington kneeling at their bedsides at half past seven. SOE heard them all.

There are lots of scenes of torture, not as ghastly though as most, but I liked the way he described the torturers mental preparations.

Now he imagined himself closing doors in his soul, shutting his emotions away in cupboards. He thought of the two women as pieces of machinery that would disgorge information as soon as he figured out how to switch them on. He felt a familiar coldness settle over him like a blanket of snow, and he knew he was ready.

All in all I loved this book. Ken Follett has established himself firmly in my mind as a solid go to writer. When I need a good thriller, here’s the place to turn. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Straight to the Point

Maybe not the best representative of this string of posts on how authors love to describe the morning, but this one found it's way into Jackdaws by Ken Follett.




Dawn broke as the fast car sped through the Hertfordshire villages of Stevenage and Knebworth.

Follett, Ken - Jackdaws


See, pretty thin description of the morning. But, even thin, quick or short it's representative of how the author ties it into the story.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Rarely but Sometimes

It's rare, but there are times when I re-post from other blogs, today is one of those days.

I dig this list from The Kill Zone by P.J. Parrish, particularly the one that gives me permission to write badly. Didn't need permission, . . . already doing it.

My favorites other than that:

#6. A week off.
#10. The clarity to recognize the seed of inspiration in the smallest things.

The whole list is worth reading for any other writers so I've linked it here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Didn't Know What to Think

I didn't know what to think when my wife told me I should read War at Home by Kris Nelscott. At first I was dubious. A female author, white, writing from the point of view of a black male in the 1960's. From my perspective this was filled with potential problems. Add to this that rarely have my wife and I agreed on what makes an intriguing and what makes a poor book. However, I was surprised by how much  I liked War at Home.



First, her protagonist, Smokey Dalton, despite having a somewhat silly name, is an inspirational and intriguing character. Secondly, her major plot in this book, and the over-riding plot of the series, which revolves around a young boy having witnessed a mystery regarding the assassination of Martin Luther King, are both really well done.

I was amazed by the fact that she was able to get me into the head of Smokey Dalton so well. There were many instances where I found myself empathizing with him and having a greater understanding of not just his challenges in the U.S. during the 1960's but also with the African-American culture.

I highlighted two lines. The first is creepy and a bit disconcertingly cringe worthy, but it stopped me as I read it cause it was so well described.


Joel moved his hand away from his face. I didn’t think I’d ever seen anyone whose skin was so white. The veins were outlined in blue, like a river of little bruises running through him. 


This second one I liked cause there have been so many times when I've wanted to write the same thing but was never able to find the right words.

“I don’t make the rules,” I said with a verbal shrug.


What's a verbal shrug? I don't know, but I understood it when I read it.




Did it start slow? Yep. Was I upset with my wife for the first fifty to one hundred pages? You betcha. Was I ultimately happy that she had recommended War at Home? Indubitably.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Horrid Last Line

Although I loved this book I thought this was a horrible, horrible last line. Nice-ish last scene, rotten last few lines though. Put a damper on the whole magilla.




Flick’s ma was there in a hat she had bought in 1938. She cried, even though it was the second time she had seen her daughter married. 

The last person in the small congregation to kiss Flick was her brother, Mark. 

There was one more thing Flick needed to make her happiness perfect. With her arm still around Mark, she turned to her mother, who had not spoken to him for five years. “Look, Ma,” she said. “Here’s Mark.” 

Mark looked terrified. Ma hesitated for a long moment. Then she opened her arms and said, “Hello, Mark.” 

“Oh, Ma,” he said, and he hugged her. 

After that, they all walked out into the sunshine.

Follett, Ken (2002-11-26). Jackdaws (p. 595). Signet. Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Current First

If you don't know almost immediately where this first line is from I suggest running off to your nearest bookstore.




"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o'clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously."

Dickens, Charles - David Copperfield

Personally I think it is only beaten by the first line of A Tale of Two Cities.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

As Adept as Agatha Christie

I read with great verve this article by Tom Nolan in the Wall Street Journal called In Brief: Mystery that discussed the works of a AnneZouraoudi’s The Mysteries of the Greek Detective.



I don’t usually glom onto new detective series, but having read quite a few Agatha Christie’s works, and having come to the useful end of her full length novels, and not looking forward to reading more plays and short stories, I look for authors who are described as “adept as Agatha Christie in diverting the reader's attention.” Yes, that descriptor would have been more exciting had it not been followed with the last five words, but still I think it’s worth adding to the “to be read list.”

As soon as I finish David Copperfield it looks like I’ll be moving onto another, more modern, British author.

Monday, December 10, 2012

High Noon, High Character


There is a great article on High Noon today in the WSJ called To Live in Hadleyville by Henry Allen. I know, I know, usually you (few though you may be) come to this blog to read about writing or first lines, etc. Why should I waste time on a article about an old, black and white western? The reason is easy to understand if you read my post about character being all that matters.



Any of you reading this who have not seen High Noon should take a moment to do so. It’s a movie you will only have to see once. Once you’ve seen it you will remember it forever. Plus, once you’ve seen it you will realize how it is the nexus of so many other movies, western or not.

Also it’s a terrific movie to highlight what I was discussing in my previous post on the importance of character. Throughout the movie the audience comes closer and closer to identifying with the Marshall without, as the article points out, ever understanding why. The plot is insanely simple. Four assassins coming back for revenge, the Marshall has to fight them alone. But, despite the plot, the characterization is deep. 


I read the article, and it was a great article. I was able to reminisce over much of the film’s point, the final shoot out, the moment when Amy comes back to help. But even without the article, the moments that most come to mind when I consider High Noon are those that involve the Marshall asking for help from his friends and co-workers and getting nothing but demurs and denials.

I have always wanted to write a book called The Reluctant Hero. In my mind its about a fellow who doesn’t want to be a hero but is constantly being shoved into situations where he has to step up. As an aside, part of this character’s challenges would be that he constantly loses fights but just keeps getting up and plodding on. Nevertheless, High Noon might find its way into the book. It could be told from the perspective of the reluctant hero, that friend, the one guy who takes pity on the Marshall and steps up to help him.

Anyway, that’s what stands out in my mind about High Noon, the fact that no one would help this guy. He was left on an island to live or die by himself. Great movie. Go watch it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Been a while since I wrote a last line entry thanks in great part to NaNo, but I finished Kris Nelscott's War at Home just a week into the project and have forgotten to include the last line for some time now. To remedy that I offer this.


He looked at me then. His dark eyes were more open than I had ever seen them. “You’re the one who always talks about living up to your responsibilities, no matter how tough they are. That’s all I’m going to do. I can’t live with myself otherwise.” 

He had turned my own words on me. I didn’t like how it felt. But I didn’t try to argue with him anymore. He knew the risks, and he was taking them. It was his life to live, his choice to make. 

I simply wished I could keep him from it — and I was smart enough to know that I couldn’t. 

We were silent much of the rest of the trip. But Jimmy grew happier and happier the closer we got to Chicago. He didn’t realize how much had changed. 

I was feeling nothing. I was empty, just like I had when I returned from Korea. Dislocated, distant, at a loss without really knowing why. 

I was returning from a different war and, like the first, I didn’t entirely comprehend it. 

The only thing I knew was that in some very fundamental ways, we had all lost.

Nelscott, Kris - War at Home

It was a good book and the that line "I was feeling nothing . . . " is a nice one. The way that Jimmy comes around by the end is also a good secondary plot in the book. I'll have more next week when I post a review. Not a bad last few lines.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

More Words

Here's one that the Word Smither wished he would have come up with (if you are unfamiliar with the Word Smither series, click that link back there to catch up or see the label to the right).

I was talking to my co-worker about an aspect of our jobs. He told me that what I was working on was "futile" but he said it as fu-dal (like feudal) not fu-tile (with a long "i" sound). This made us start discussing the pronunciation of the two words and reminded him of a vendor at a jazz festival who told him:

"Sure I could give you ice but it will be fruital."

He had to assume that it was a combination of "fruitless" and "futile." I have to assume that this will be a word I use a lot in the future.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Hot Rock

Prior to starting NaNo this year I read two novels, one was Donald Westlake's The Hot Rock. Just like the other Dortmunder Novels that I've read I thoroughly enjoyed this one.


I have my favorite Dortmunder Novels, specifically Drowned Hopes ranks near the top, but this one might just have surpassed it. It is simple, yes, it if fun though and although predictable, it's a nice light-hearted novel that doesn't disappoint if you like this genre.

Only one note was made by me in the text:


A wavering thin ribbon of smoke extended up from the smoldering Camel, as though tiny Cherokees had set up a campfire in the ashtray.

I liked that. The way Westlake write about the tiny Cherokees. A good way to describe that ribbon of smoke.

I look forward to the next Dortmunder novel and I'm going to go try and find this movie.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

One Minute Before the Explosion


It’s been so long since I posted a first line it almost feels out of character. But, as soon as I finished the NaNo I immediately downloaded a new book. This is the third of fourth Ken Follett book I’ve read. It starts off well.

One minute before the explosion, the square at Sainte-Cécile was at peace. The evening was warm, and a layer of still air covered the town like a blanket. The church bell tolled a lazy beat, calling worshipers to the service with little enthusiasm. To Felicity Clairet it sounded like a countdown.

Follett, Ken - Jackdaws

Really I could have left out the second half of the passage and it would have been just as good a first line “One minute before the explosion, the square at Sainte- Cécile was at peace.” That’s pretty good first line stuff right there.

Monday, December 3, 2012

NaNoWriMo Version 7.0 - A Review

So success has been achieved. Once again, another NaNo done. I was right too, I had the least amount of time to work on it this year than in years past. I was also right that since this is my sixth (?) maybe seventh one that it was the easiest.


As I was coming across the winner's tape I wondered to myself if NaNo is really worth it anymore. The 50K number is so arbitrary and is painfully less than I need for a full novel. Toe the Line is about 75K and it's shorter than the second one due out in June, On the Edge, which is 92K.

Secondly, working on editing and re-writing last years entry, Vapor Trail, has shown me that the amount of revising and rewriting is a gargantuan undertaking where whole chapters are sometimes thrown out and completely redone.

All that being said, NaNo does do one thing positive and that is that it gives me a goal and a time limit. The last time I undertook writing a novel without NaNo I came away with a story that might have had more polished writing but had far far less substance. Additionally it petered out and I lost interest after about 25K words. NaNo doesn't let the author peter out and quit as easily.

There were several instances in this NaNo go round when I thought that the story was such a mess that I should stop altogether  I didn't. I'm glad I didn't. The writing might be rough and many of the sub-plots and avenues I'd hoped to explore didn't get fleshed out properly, but the main storyline actually came through okay. It wasn't what I expected it to be when I started but I feel confident that with some massaging I could have something good.

Also, I found that the last 500 words or so were just notes to myself about sub-plots I wanted to include but didn't get the time to, and notes on characters where I thought of ways to make them more engaging or intriguing. There was a lot more that came up over the course of writing that I hadn't expected and didn't have time to include. All positive I think.

It's a good exercise, NaNoWriMo in that now I have five or so (extremely) rough drafts in my novel library that with some hard work can (hopefully) become much better.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Set for Success

Four thousand measly words is all that separates me from total and complete NaNoWriMo success!



Can I bang out another four thousand words today? I think so. But, now that I think about it . . . all I really get if I complete it is a "winner button" on my NaNoWriMo webpage and an email that says good job. Hardly seems worth it.

On a positive note I'll have one more rough draft novel to add to the other six I have stored somewhere on my computer. Still, it does seem to get easier each year.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Almost There

I'm worried that with the dead line looming, Friday, that it's going to take a marathon session to reach 50K before the weekend. I've made some fairly decent moves in the past couple of days and am now a little over 10K away from the finish line.



However when I look at the graph, I can only think of this snippet from my sons new favorite movie, Star Wars, where the rebel pilot keeps up the mantra "Almost there . . ." over and over.


Savvy Star Wars fans will note that Jon "Dutch" Vander  was unsuccessful in his mission. Let's hope that I don't follow suit.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Snowman to Bandit, You Got Your Ears On?

Gotta long way to go and short time to get there based on the graph below. I'd like to say that I've been eschewing updating this blog to work on my novel, sadly the evidence doesn't support that.



Will I make it? I think so. I have a week left and 20K words to go. I'm going to power through these next few days and make a big dent in this sucker. The problem? I'm not sure how the mystery ends yet. That's never a good thing. The good news? The characters seem intriguing  I'd rather have compelling characters and a weak idea of the plot than the alternative.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hanging On By a Thread

Well, I reached my goal but I don't think I was aggressive enough when I made it. I actually hit the goal during the plane ride Monday. The rest was done on today's plane ride and over the course of the last two days.



I should be at 25K (halfway) by the end of the week and be ahead of schedule.

Monday, November 12, 2012

This Has the Potential to Get Out of Hand

The past few NaNo's I've kept up by working on a daily basis and grinding out 1600 or so words a day. This is the first NaNo where I've been working in fits and starts. Could be due to the family, could be due to my travel schedule, could be lots of things, but looking at the chart on my dashboard it looks grim for our hero.



But, I'm off to San Jose again. I have some prime writing time starting right now and ending on Wednesday. The goal is 20K by Wednesday.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Keeping Up?

I'm barely keeping up if I look at that little line that supposed to show the pace I should be meeting and the little bars that show my writing.



Still what's really important are the words not the numbers. The words are . . . I'm happy to say . . . are not too bad. They're coming together to form plots I hadn't thought of, characters that are somewhat intriguing  and a story that was somewhat planned but still spontaneous. I have to go to California again next week, I'm hoping that that helps me break this novels back and get past 25K.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Still Behind But Made My Goal

Hard going in novel writing land so I was depressed until about two minutes ago. The other day I wrote that my goal by the end of this trip was to get to 10K. I looked down at my word count just moments ago and saw that yep, I was over 10K.

So eventhough I'm still behind the pace I'm hanging in there. Maybe with a few solid days of writing and a couple more trips I can get in front of the pack.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Behind the Power Curve

There are a few "widgets" out there that I could potentially put on this blog, in the margins or at the bottom, that will automatically show how I am doing in my quest for 50K words, but not only do I not like the look of them (a tad clunky and 1970's looking) but I've always had trouble adding them. Ergo, I'll do the same thing I did last year, and Just add pictures of my progress.



I'm a tad behind the pace, but I'm still tracking. My story has already gone through several iterations, and I'm   on basically my third main character. It's fun to see how things change so quickly in the rough draft phase. Even more interesting how much it changes from this draft to the end.

More updates will follow as events merit.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Couldn't Not Start

So, I've already started National Novel Writing Month. I just couldn't not start. Monday, on a flight, all that time to write, I had to get started. Now, sitting in the airport, waiting for the next flight, this one home, I am writing again.

Is it wrong to start early. Emphatically no. There's no prize. There's no real rules. They're more like guidelines. Besides, like I said, who could pass up the chance to write for three hours on the way to Minnesota and on the way back to Texas. That's some prime writing time.

The worst part is, I am having so many second thoughts and I'm only a few thousand words in. I'm second guessing the tense, the plot, the characterization. I remember these doubts and second thoughts from all the previous Novembers. This time I'm determined to press on despite those nagging doubts and thoughts.

I know some of my followers are National Novel Writers, how are you guys prepping? Anyone else cheated?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

This One Draws the Reader In

When one reads about having a dynamic, explosive, and gripping first sentence, this should be what one thinks about:


The blast shoved me backward. I tumbled down the steps and hit the wall on the third floor with such force that my breath left my body. I slid down and landed, feet out. 

Clouds of dust gathered around me. I was covered in dirt, bits of door, and blood. 

I hadn’t expected this. Anger, a gun, maybe, but not a bomb. The air was white with plaster dust. I was coughing, which hurt my ribs. I couldn’t see anything ahead of me. My eyes were dry and chalky, and the inside of my mouth tasted like paint. I closed it, and my teeth ground against chunks of plaster.

Nelscott, Kris  - War at Home: A Smokey Dalton Novel

Have never read anything by Kris Nelscott. The first few pages sure pulled me in.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Last of the Hot Rock

Just finished The Hot Rock by Donald Westlake. The last line:


The Ambassador gave a rueful smile. “They would not treat the Major well in Talabwo,” he said, “if he paid two hundred thousand dollars for a piece of green glass.” 

“That’s what I kind of thought.” 

Still smiling, the Ambassador shook his head and said, “I must make a memo to myself never to try to cheat you.” 

Dortmunder said, “Is it a deal?” 

“Of course it’s a deal,” said the Ambassador. “Aside from having the emerald back, aside from anything else at all, it’s a deal because I’ve waited years to give the Major one in the eye. I could tell some stories of my own, you know. Are you sure you won’t have some coffee cake?” 

“Maybe just a little slice,” Dortmunder said. 

“And some coffee. I insist.” The Ambassador glanced over at the rain-smeared window. 

“Isn’t it a beautiful day,” he said. 

“Beautiful,” said Dortmunder.

Westlake, Donald E - The Hot Rock

Like I said before, a solid effort, fun the whole way through. Looking forward to the next one . . . good thing Westlake has a bibliography of over a hundred novels to choose from.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Book Review: Hot Six

What can I say about Hot Six by Janet Evanovich. It was as fun as all the others. Just as good if not better than all the rest. I can't say better actually cause they're all great, but this one just continued the excellence and fun that I've come to expect. You know what you're getting with Evanovich's Stephanie Plumb series of books, and she doesn't disappoint.


A few weeks ago I read an article in the WSJ by Danny Heitman called A Personal Trove of Prose about commonplace books. I've had a commonplace books for years, but never knew that's what I was supposed to call them.  Now days I consider this blog my commonplace book. This is where I put snippets of sentences that I want to remember, of the books that I want to remember having read. As I've said before, I use these book reviews for my own purposes more to help anyone make a decision about reading it.

It's a good thing this is just to remind me that I read Hot Six, I read it in traditional book format, not e-book on Kindle. When I read on Kindle I tend to highlight alot. I didn't highlight anything in the traditional book. Still, liked it all.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

From Short to Long

I took a class from Inprint Writing Workshops years ago on short story writing. I remember that the professor said that short stories are harder to write than novels. With novels the writer can take his time to set things up, they can use long, flowing passages that seem to go nowhere. With short stories it has to be punchy and quick.

When I took a class on novel writing at Rice's School of Continuing Education on Novel Writing the instructor told me the opposite. It's important to keep the reader's interest by moving quickly from action to action. If it doesn't move the plot along succinctly, it shouldn't be in the novel, they said.

Anyone who needs to understand what that last bit of advice meant should read The Hot Rock by Donald Westlake. Westlake moves the action along briskly . . . boom . . . boom . . . boom . . . the reader flies along with the action. There are stages of planning in many of the "capers" that I would love to read about, but nope, Westlake jumps to the next action scene and makes up for what was missed.

Nice to read, especially for less than four bucks.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Not the Best Line, But the Passage Makes it Better


I like Donald Westlake's Dortmunder series of novels, that being said, his first line of his first one, The Hot Rock was somewhat less than inspiring. By itself it does little to make me want to read on, BUT I've added the entire passage. With the rest of the passage the reader gets to see some of the humor, and a bit more of the set up.

DORTMUNDER blew his nose. “Warden,” he said, “you don’t know how much I appreciate the personal attention you been paying me.” There wasn’t anything for him to do with the Kleenex, so he just held it balled up in his fist. 

Warden Outes gave him a brisk smile, got up from behind his desk, walked around to Dortmunder’s side, patted him on the arm, and said, “It’s the ones I can save that give me the most pleasure.” He was a latter-day Civil Service type—college-trained, athletic, energetic, reformistic, idealisitc, and chummy. Dortmunder hated him. 

The warden said, “I’ll walk you to the gate, Dortmunder.” 

“You don’t have to do that, Warden,” Dortmunder said. The Kleenex was cold and gooey against his palm. 

“But it will give me pleasure,” the warden said. “To see you walk out that gate, and know you’ll never slip again, you’ll never be inside these walls again, and to know I had some small part in your rehabilitation, you can’t imagine how much pleasure that will give me.” 

Dortmunder was feeling no pleasure at all. He’d sold his cell for three hundred bucks—having a hot water faucet that worked and a tunnel to the dispensary made it a bargain at the price—and the money was supposed to be passed to him on his way out. He couldn’t have taken it before then or it would have been found in the final shakedown. But how could it be delivered with the warden standing right next to him? 

He said, playing a little desperation ball, “Warden, it’s in this office that I’ve always seen you, in this office that I’ve listened to your—” 

“Come along, Dortmunder,” the warden said. “We can talk on our way to the gate.”

Westlake, Donald E - The Hot Rock

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

So Little Time Left

With just a few weeks left before the start of NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) I've had to quickly come up with a story idea. I've thrown about the military ideas, considered the Soul Food sci-fi story, and a couple others, but the one I've settled on this idea, the one about the man who mysteriously died in a tank in California.

I hadn't planned to continue the theme of adventure racing mysteries, but this one lend itself to that theme so naturally I feel compelled to write it.

Secondly, I've lived it. I've actually driven around that place and seen where the man was found. I have seen the distances between where his car was discovered and where his body was found. I've been through the safety classes and hung out with other workers. It's a genuine mystery and I'm hoping that will help me write it.

Lastly, I've got a ton going on now days. You may have noticed that I've been less than religious in my posting on this blog. You can blame my boss for this. Working, working, working. Whilst at home it's concentration on the kiddos. The two year old takes up quite a bit of time . . . who knew? I'm a tad worried that I won't be able to finish the novel this year. Thankfully, each year it gets easier to throw down 50,000 words.

Let's hope I'm setting myself up for success by picking this story.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Who Knew

Who knew there were so many others who thought the same way that I do. I gave up on Close to Home years ago. I gave it a try. I truly did. I tried to read and like it. I am a Far Side fan and was upset when it left the comics pages. I too had hopes that Close to Home would fill that void. I gave up on it after about a year and now rarely give it a thought.

This article, A Very Bad Comic Strip: John McPherson’s Close To Home  by Tom Pappalardo that my older brother sent me makes some frustratingly terrific points. Frustrating? Yep, they are frustrating cause Mr. Pappalardo has put into words things that are so simple and easy to see that it makes me wonder why I didn't write this. I have seen the same horrible sketches, the same incredibly bad perspective, the same lame jokes. I wish I had the same anger and drive to expose patheticsim that Mr. Pappalardo has.

One thing that Mr. Pappalardo does not harp on is the fact that Close to Home is a waste of precious comic page real estate. This has been a pet peeve of mine for years. There are probably hundreds of thousands of comic strips out in the world that have more potential than Close to Home but don't get the chance cause Close to Home is taking up that space. This is why I refuse to read "re-run" strips. Why are the Peanuts still printed in my newspaper? Why are they re-printing For Better or For Worse? Go let a new up and comer try and claim that space. Peanuts and For Better of For Worse fans can go buy a treasury.

What's funny, now  I'm back to reading Close to Home just so I can see the problems that are illustrated in the article, just like Mr. Pappalardo does.

"I look forward to reading it with great relish every morning. Because I hate it so so much. Because it perfectly encapsulates everything that is wrong and bad about newspaper comic strip writing. Because it is so poorly executed, I usually spend more time trying to comprehend what I’m looking at than I do not laughing at the punchline."

Now I notice more and enjoy laughing with Mr. Pappalardo when I see these problems.

This is my suspicion: I don’t think John McPherson knows how to sketch. I think he has his idea and just starts inking it directly into a pre-printed rectangle. And hey, if something doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. No big deal! On a daily basis, this comic strip provides the worst composition I see from a professional published artist.

The problem . . . I might just become a fan of Close to Home thanks to Mr. Pappalardo's article. Irony can be pretty ironic at times.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Novel; a Sublime Anachronism?


I stole a portion of that title from the WSJ review of Mark Helprin’s In Sunlight and Shadow which is referenced in this article by Gordon Crovitz called How the Internet Saved the Novel, but it’s fitting based on the substance of that article. Generally I enjoy articles by Gordon Crovitz, this one . . . not so much. In the article Mr. Crovitz begins by quoting Verne’s prediction that the novel would fall out of favor then makes the case that the exact opposite has occurred.

“The death of the novel has often been declared over the years. In 1902, Jules Verne predicted novels "will be supplanted altogether by the daily newspaper," which would "color everyday events" so that readers wouldn't need well-crafted fiction to fire their imaginations. But a century later the form endures.”

Next Crovitz quotes Helprin’s book at great length, so much so that this reader started to wonder just how much Helprin paid Crovitz for this homage. Beyond the quotes was this passage which gets back to the meat that I wanted to dine on.

“Engaging with a novel written like this—whether through print or e-book—requires rare focus in our information-snacking lives.”

There is a significant difference between reading a novel and reading the daily texts, messages, emails, articles and other detritus that crowd our daily lives around computers and tablets. It requires more thought and dedication to be sure, but also more resilience. It's a great point, but I found that mixing the quotes from Helprin's novel, which require a certain type of reading, with the point-making that usually goes into an article like this was off-putting but provided a perfect demonstration of the point Crovitz was making.

“The more time people spend tracking fleeting pixels on digital screens, the more they seem to yearn for something else. The well-crafted novel is more alive than ever.”

I was eager to read this article when I saw the title, sadly Mr. Crovitz left a lot on the table in lieu of praise for Helprin’s book which based on the review I saw last week will remain on my “Probably Aint Going to Read List.”

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Like an Old Friend

As I wrote, it's been a while since I read a Rex Stout novel, and having read this passage, it makes me wish I hadn't taken so long to re-visit him.


Though the name of Naylor-Kerr, Inc., was vaguely familiar to me, it was not a household word, and I lifted the brows when I learned from the lobby directory that it paid the rent for three whole floors. The executive offices were on the thirty-sixth, so up I went. The atmosphere up there was of thick carpets, wood panels and plenty of space, but as for the receptionist, though she was not really miscast she was way past the deadline, having reached the age when it is more blessed to receive than to give.

Stout, Rex - Too Many Women

I love the fact that he writes "I lifted the brows," such a wonderful way to turn a phrase and grab the readers attention just a tad.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pabulum? Perhaps

Some might say that its not worth my time or effort to read Vince Flynn or Evanovich puff. I disagree. These are highly readable and best selling authors. When I post the first and last posts of their stuff it might come off as unreadable nonsense, but it's gripping unreadable nonsense when one is involved in the story.


Rapp stood in the surf with his gun in his hand and counted. He got to a hundred, thought of his wife, thought of the baby, and smiled. It was the first genuine smile he’d had in over nine months. He glanced down at the gun and then tossed it up in the air, catching it by its thick black silencer. Rapp hesitated for a moment, and then threw the weapon end over end into the ocean.

Flynn, Vince - Consent to Kill

Monday, October 8, 2012

Back on Track

My work-a-day life has overwhelmed my writing life . . . thankfully my reading life remains untouched. I can still post first lines, last lines and book reviews. Here's the most recent first line:


IT WAS THE same old rigmarole. Sometimes I found it amusing; sometimes it only bored me; sometimes it gave me a pronounced pain, especially when I had had more of Wolfe than was good for either of us.

Stout, Rex - Too Many Women

Been a while since I read a Rex Stout, based on this first line, I've waited too long. Sounds like a good start to a good read.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Bad Rapp


To kill a man is a relatively easy thing— especially the average unsuspecting man. To kill a man like Mitch Rapp, however, would be an entirely different matter. It would take a great deal of planning and a very talented assassin, or more likely a team, who were either brave enough or crazy enough to accept the job. In fact, any sane man by definition would have the sense to walk away.

Flynn, Vince - Consent to Kill

Despite being one of the more hokey first passages, I'm a third of the way through the book and it's not as bad as these first lines make it seem.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Character is all that Matters


I think that these Reality Shows that are so pervasive on the television these days are the ultimate illustration that character is all that matters.

Some time ago someone told me that it's not the story that matters, it not the plot or the setting or anything else, all that matters is character. Make the reader care about the characters and they'll keep reading.
Look at these new Reality Shows on television. Flipping Out, Keeping up with the Kardashians, Dancing with the Stars, it's all about promoting the characters. Those that don't are now defunct. Why am I thinking about this? Cause among the shows about Duck Hunting, Critter Wrangling, and all the others is a new reality show that focuses on farmers.

Farmers? Yep, farmers. It's not a stretch really if you consider that it's all about character. I bet there are plenty of colorful, characterful, farmers out there. If a producer can run into a compelling enough farmer character, it doesn't matter what the subject matter is.

There Has to Be a Story in This

Actually I think there is a great story here.

Everyone who reads this blog knows that I use it for my own personal filing cabinet as well as to communicate to readers. First I put my book reviews here so I can remember what I have read. Also I put my Story Ideas in here so I can remember I want to write something. Here's one for the Story Ideas file.

I like to read the conservative National Review every now and then. This story, linked here by Jonah Goldberg, would make a terrific thriller. Tracking down and confronting a hostile reader and finding out it's the 17 year old son of your best friend. That's awesome thriller plot stuff there!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Despite It All, . . . I'll Do It Again


Armageddon by Leon Uris . . . my first Uris book, and I liked it. Liked it more than I thought. When I started it I was a underwhelmed. It was a slow start and really the first quarter of the book was slow to start. It's a novel about Berlin, yet Berlin doesn't come up until the second half of the book.



That being said, I had no idea I wanted to read about the Berlin Airlift. Here I was thinking I was going to read about World War II instead I read about the nascent days of the Cold War. Who knew that the Berlin Airlift was so interesting? I was enthralled and engrossed once that sucker got off the ground. As long as the reader as the patience to wade through the politics that Uris describes, in somewhat agonizing detail, then the payoff is worthwhile.

It reminded me of Red Storm Rising. There is a huge cast of characters, one of whom is a main character, but who is not always a part of the central storyline. There is a war, political intrigue and lots and lots of detail. The problem? . . . Like my problems with Michener . . . I hate fiction that takes place in the real world. There's a fine line between writing historical fiction, history and fiction. I never knew what to believe in when I read a Michener book. That's the same way I felt with Uris. It wasn't historical fiction so much that it was true fiction. I don't like not knowing which parts are actual events verses which are completely made up.

I highlighted a description of the morning . . . it happens in every book.

DAWN CAME WITH A crispness that gave a new life to the wet misery of the soldiers; and it brought the news that during the night a battalion of infantry had crossed the Landau in rubber boats and now held the south bank.

This next one is a long one, but I loved this description of Russian soldiers.

“Russians are like a pack of animals on the attack and otherwise. The pack strikes best in numbers. And ... like the animal ... he is most vicious when he is cornered. 

“Like the animal, the Russian blends into the natural backgrounds of the landscape and he knows how to use terrain for protection. Like the animal, the Russian is able to endure cold and hunger ... better than any soldier in the world. No Russian soldier would think of surrendering to the enemy merely because he is starving. He can disappear into the land like a fawn. He can survive from roots and herbs. For a Russian soldier to get frostbite is considered a crime by his superiors. And ... like the animal ... his instincts are sharper and his courage greater under the cover of night. He is a superb night fighter. 

“Although this Russian soldier is a resourceful animal he does not exist as an individual for he is a conditioned and controlled animal. All the thinking is done for him from above. He is never asked or expected to make a decision on his own. 

Then there was this, a description of Leningrad.

In the last days of April Russian victories were counted in inches, casualties in tens of thousands. No siege, this; batter it out foot by foot, room by room; isolate it house by house, street by street, section by section; reduce it to shambles. Artillery and tanks fired down great streets at point-blank and walls grotesquely buckled and crashed. Human fodder, bearing bayonets and flamethrowers, gutted and gored its way forward. Rivers of blood spilled into the gutters. The back of the Nazi was being broken by unstoppable sledge-hammer blows. 

All things considered, despite my aversion to Michener-esque writing, I'd be willing to give another Uris a try.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A More Compelling Start for Fiction

After Uris commitment book (review to come soon) I've gone trashy and short. Another Evanovich novel. It's like eating junk food. Tasty and quick, but fun at while you're doing it. This one . . . Hot Six.

Okay, so here's the thing. My mother's worst fear has come true. I'm a nymphomaniac.

Janet Evanovich - Hot Six

It's got me hooked.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Compelling Start for Nonfiction

I'm currently reading a nonfiction book recommended to me by both my wife and NPR. I heard about The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg about six months ago while listening to NPR one morning. I thought it sounded intriguing, but not being an avid nonfiction reader, I didn't pursue it beyond mentioning it to a co-worker. The other day my wife said that I should read a book she was reading. Guess which book it was.


She was the scientists’ favorite participant.

Lisa Allen, according to her file, was thirty-four years old, had started smoking and drinking when she was sixteen, and had struggled with obesity for most of her life. At one point, in her mid-twenties, collection agencies were hounding her to recover $ 10,000 in debts. An old résumé listed her longest job as lasting less than a year. 

The woman in front of the researchers today, however, was lean and vibrant, with the toned legs of a runner. She looked a decade younger than the photos in her chart and like she could out-exercise anyone in the room. According to the most recent report in her file, Lisa had no outstanding debts, didn’t drink, and was in her thirty-ninth month at a graphic design firm.

Duhigg, Charles - The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

I don't know about you, but those first passages were enough to grab me.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Last Line of my Latest Commitment

Finished the commitment book, Armageddon by Leon Uris. Here's the last line. I was surprised by the reasons I didn't like it. More surprised by the reasons that I did.


Past the gate she was on the field. In her haste she did not see the American Army colonel coming in her direction. 

They bumped together. The packages in Hilde’s arms tumbled to the ground and they both knelt instinctively to pick them up. 

“I beg your pardon, fraulein,” Sean said. 

“I am clumsy, it was my fault,” Hilde answered. 

“Please let me help you.” He fitted the packages into her arms. 

He put his fingers to his cap in a salute. “Aufwiedersehen, fraulein,” he said.

“Aufwiedersehen,” she answered. 

The two of them went their separate ways.

Uris, Leon - Armageddon: A Novel of Berlin

Monday, September 17, 2012

Ramping Up for NaNo

So, as I am in the planning stages for National Novel Writing Month as evidenced by this last post, I am continuing to catalog my ideas so that I can select the very best one. This next one is a bit of a re-post, but as I didn't select it for last year, it's still a viable option.

I have wanted to write Soul Food for years. I see it as a Sci-Fi novel about an astronaut who bungles a mission in space, falls into a coma, and wakes up twenty years later. He sees the changes happening on Earth all around him and realizes that they are a product of something he saw on his final space walk. Just prior to his slipping into his coma he sees an alien force or being. He realizes that he has seen the reason for all the negative changes that have occurred in society and culture during the 20 years he was asleep.

As an astronaut his projects were all about "off Earth" living, but after his coma he sees that surface dwelling capabilities have exploded, religiosity is a new, overwhelming fad, and there have been great leaps forward made in ensuring contentment in old age as well as longer living. It is only because 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 prefer the taste of human souls, particularly older souls, thus the advancements in senior living, senior medical care, etc) in a manner similar to human's like kobe beef is still a bit of a problem in my outline.)

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? I know I've butchered the synopsis above, but that just tends to make my argument for me that this would be a tough one to tackle. But there are so many fun themes, the Rip Van Winkle-ism of the character's life, religion keeping the herd docile, the ability to increase population in a manner similar to a cattle ranch being taken over by new ownership and being turned around. All fun, but tough stuff to get across easily.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pumped for NaNoWriMo

I'm sorry but the word NaNoWriMo just doesn't thrill me. It's hard to get pumped for something with that name. They originators should have gone with just NaNo. Nevertheless, just like the last few years (here and here) I'm getting ready for National Novel Writing Month and starting to think of stories. I ran into one today.

I got a tour of a very large refinery near San Francisco and heard about a death that occurred there last year. Hearing about someone dying at a refinery isn't that remarkable. It's dangerous work. I had to take an 8 hour class just to get access. My company had someone die on the job just last year. It happens, it sucks, we drive on. The article I found on this particular death leans toward a fitness related death.

But, this story had some oddities to it. First, it was his wife who initially reported him missing when neither his truck nor his company truck nor the man himself came home. They started a plant wide search and found his truck in the contractors parking lot, and his company truck near the lubricants unit. They couldn't find the man though.

Three days later after an extensive search they found the man dead in a tank/vessel (one of these huge gasoline tanks) that was up a large hill and almost a mile from his truck. He had no reason to go into that vessel and he would have known no contractors are allowed to go into a vessel of that type alone or without the proper precautionary measures in place.

Finally, he left his radio and his phone in his truck. I think this is the oddest part. I was just a visitor today and had my phone with me the whole time. These contractors live with their radios.

There is a lot here for a story. There's the potential for big mean oil company in the bay area against a potential whistle blower. There's death and confusion. There's so much that could be made of this story. Sad part is that it's true. I wonder what really happened.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Kindles at Takeoff and Landing

As a frequent flier I saw a point in Joshua Fruhlinger's article E-Books, I'll Miss You that made me pause. In the article he listed reasons why he would miss his e-reader and why he was going back to regular book reading. It wasn't a convincing article, but this grabbed me:

It's not really the Kindle's fault, but we couldn't be together when I needed it most: The moments on a flight just before takeoff and landing. It's then that I'm most anxious or most bored (the in-flight entertainment goes off around this time, too). The FAA was uncomfortable with our relationship and callously stood in the way.

Like I said, it wasn't convincing, particularly when he wrote he hated the battery life limits of his Kindle . . . preposterous.

This past weekend there was this article Do Our Gadgets Really Threaten Planes by  Daniel Simons and Christopher F. Chabris. There answer . . . No.

I've read this many times before and have heard rumors, but had never seen it so brazenly spelled out. Why don't the airlines just admit that there is no problem or danger? Nothing is worse than sitting in the terminal or on a long flight reading and having to shut the ole Kindle off for takeoff and landing.

I suppose the thought now is that they don't want passengers to have laptops et al out, on their laps, cluttering the aisles in case of an emergency. But what if I have a hardcopy of Lonesome Dove on my lap? That's about as big as some laptops. Why can't I have my iPhone out with Airplane Mode on.

The part of the article that I thought was the most resounding was this:


To gather some empirical evidence on this question, we recently conducted an online survey of 492 American adults who have flown in the past year. In this sample, 40% said they did not turn their phones off completely during takeoff and landing on their most recent flight; more than 7% left their phones on, with the Wi-Fi and cellular communications functions active. And 2% pulled a full Baldwin, actively using their phones when they weren't supposed to. 

Consider what these numbers imply. The odds that all 78 of the passengers who travel on an average-size U.S. domestic flight have properly turned off their phones are infinitesimal: less than one in 100 quadrillion, by our rough calculation. If personal electronics are really as dangerous as the FAA rules suggest, navigation and communication would be disrupted every day on domestic flights. But we don't see that.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Buy the Old One Instead

I took a moment to read a blog I enjoy, The Curzon Group, a blog devoted to thrillers in the mould of the old British thrillers like Forsythe's The Dogs of War. It's a fun blog to drop in on every now and then.

Today, Peter Stuart Smith writes about e-readers and the future of publishing. It's an interesting post for anyone who intends to read or write or publish in the future, but the passage I zeroed in on was this one:

So if you are thinking about buying one of the new devices principally to read books, don’t bother. Get the old-style one, and you won’t regret it for a moment. But if you really are the kind of person who wants to sit by yourself in a corner somewhere, watching a film on a screen you can cover with the palm of your hand, without a doubt the Fire will be a far better buy for you than the iPad.

As an owner of a Kindle and an iPad, anyone who has read this blog knows that I love my Kindle and can read about that in these posts. I love that the battery life is so long, I love that it synchronizes with all my other devices, and that I can take it anywhere with little or no trouble. But lately I've also read on the iPad. I don't know why he thinks a Fire would be better than an iPad. They seem pretty much the same in terms of reading, but the iPad has better or more powerful capabilities beyond just reading.

I agree with "buying the old one instead" and going with an old school Kindle for reading. But the Fire? I don't know why it would be better than the iPad.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Are Books Like Sausages?

According to Wikipedia,  Nicolas de Chamfort is attributed with originally saying: “One would risk being disgusted if one saw politics, justice, and one’s dinner in the making.”

The following few weeks I will provide a series of posts  that will put paid to the question of whether novels should be added to this list. With the upcoming release of my second novel, On the Edge, I hope to first use all of the lessons learned that I cataloged in the AAR series following my release of Toe the Line. The hope is that by following the AAR advice On the Edge can morph my hobby into a business enterprise by actually turning a profit.

That being said, an update on On the Edge is probably a good place to start. I wrote On the Edge as a part of National Novel WritingMonth (NaNoWriMo) probably in 2007. Despite the years in-between, this novel came together far more quickly than Toe the Line and is much more complex. At the moment I have completed a final rewrite of the novel and have asked my personal editor (my cousin) to read it through for obvious mistakes in the story and any spelling, grammar or other easy to recognize problems.

So for the moment I have a paper draft with a plethora of red marks and suggestions in it. The last time I dealt with this I uploaded it to my Kindle, re-read it, and made edits in that format. As I outlined in my previous post, this was a huge mistake. I shant do it again. What will I do? I will keep it in MS Word and make the edits. I plan to upload it to the iPad and reread it one final time before Step 2, which includes advance review copies.

I plan to have a post a week on this topic. To find the most recent be sure to check Self-Publishing Label in the Labels list on the right of the screen. And for goodness sake if you have some advice let me know now before I go too far down the wrong path!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Great Similes Make Me Stop

There are times when I run across such wonderful similes that I have to stop and take note. It happened a few months ago when I ran across this winner by Daniel Foster writing in National Review in an article called Ask Me About Your Volt:

Oh, and it is quiet. Ghost quiet. U-boat-full-of-mutes-in-cotton-booties-coasting-through-an-ocean-of-mineral-oil quiet.

It's impossible not to love that metaphor. it's so visual and brings to mind every WWII sub movie that you've ever seen.

I ran into one today, also from National Review. Daniel Foster again, writing in their blog, The Corner, about the drain that comes from the following the political conventions:

For the past few days I have been feeling like Super Man under a red sun. 

Again, I need no further explanation of what he means. Perhaps it's not good similes that make me stop, perhaps it's National Review similes. Then again, perhaps it's just Daniel Foster.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

As a Follow-Up

As a follow-up to the post I wrote the other day on reviews I offer this . . . or rather Richard Parker at The Curzon Group offers this:

"I'm not going to say what's already been said but I would say that this would be Amazon's best opportunity to do what I've always hoped they would and completely scrap the star rating system.  Writers, readers and publishers have all become completely obsessed by it and it would certainly be one less headache for all concerned."

It's worth following the link if only cause he has more to say on the subject. The end result though is that I think I agree with him. I think the star rating system for the most part is rigged. Again, how many times have I written a review, much less given a star. I'd love to hear from anyone who follows this blog, who isn't a book reviewer, but just an average reader, who has given a review or a star on Amazon. Just how rigged is it I wonder.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My Library

Pre-Kindle I loved having a library of my favorite books. I had so many that my wife, once we were married, forced me to get rid of some of them. Now, with a Kindle, that library can't be in the way as the old one was. How can my wife get mad about all the space my books take up when they're all tucked away nicely in my Kindle.

I was looking at my Book Review tags and I'm up to 67. Think how much room I'm saving on my book shelves. Now, I only keep the most significant books I can, but keep all the e-books I have. So when I came across this quote at Home is Where the Book Is, it got me thinking about these two libraries:


“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! -- When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” 

― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

I have two libraries ergo I must be doubly not miserable.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Reviews Are In . . . do we care?

Last week I was going to post this story I saw on Yahoo about a fellow who made 25K a year writing reviews for other folks. Apparently Todd Rutherford made a lot of money posting reviews that were either copied from previous works or were not quite as custom as he proclaimed them to be.

On the drive into work today I heard this story on NPR that discussed how the English author R.J. Ellroy was caught not only writing glowing reviews of his own work that he claimed were written by others but that also derided some of his competition.

Then today, whilst trying to determine what I should blog about today, I read this post at the Kill Zone which discussed "paid reviews on Amazon" and whether or not reviews actually affect their purchasing.

It was this last post that got my grey cells working. How many times have I read a review and used that for purchasing a book. I remember I read a review for Wool, but that was only to confirm a friends recommendation. I looked at the number of reviews for Outlander, and probably should have been more focused on reading them, particularly the ones with 1 star. Still, that's pretty rare. Most of my reading list is built by friends recommendations not reviews.

Makes me think I should spend less time trying to get reviews and more time trying to get real folks, friends and family to actually read my work.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Not My Favorite of the Bunch

I don't think it was the best of the trilogy, but I said in a previous post, it had the strongest ending. In fact I think that The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest was the weakest of the three stories. One of the things I liked about the first two, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire, was that Blomqvist and Lisbeth work independently of one another but came to the same conclusions. It's like one of those magnificent stories with intricately woven plots and sub-plots that somehow come together at the end.


The other thing I liked about the previous two novels that was absent in this one was that the reader got to watch and read about Lisbeth Salander and her terrifically anti-social ways. Not so much in this book. In this book the reader is treated to Lisbeth sitting in a hospital bed. Despite that, it was worthwhile reading and like I said I loved the ending.

I was all set to not care about what happened to Lisbeth's brother. I thought that Larsson had done a decent job of completely dropping a once major character out of the story in such a way that the reader didn't care. Then, BOOM! he brings him back and creates an incredibly compelling ending.

I already remarked about this passage and how good I thought it was, but sadly that was the only passage I marked.

Nevertheless, it is a great trilogy, it's easy to see why so many people were wrapped up in them, and it's sad to think that Larsson won't be producing more.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

2012 NaNo Idea #1

I read an article in WSJ today by Joel Queenan about the Bourne Legacy movie. It wasn't the best article I've ever read, but it made me think about this years National Novel Writing Month because of this line:

"The Bourne Legacy" excoriates a government that tries to pick winners and losers, a job best left to the free market. Who decided that a covert program training super-assassins was even worthwhile? Why would anyone think the government is best suited to implement such a program? Wouldn't it make more sense to farm this out to organized crime or battle-tested mercenaries? Those guys are really good at this stuff.

I latched onto this line because of my grandfather's business, SSI, Space Services Inc. He started it back in the late 70's or 80's as a privately owned rocket company. I've always thought his thoughts were that why leave it to the federal government to do something that private enterprise could do better and cheaper. It's very much like Steven Pressfield's The Profession, but instead of whole private mercenary armies, this story would focus on a person in the battle. 

This seems like a good idea to build on for NaNo. A corporate spy who is tasked with international corporate espionage. I could write it so that he sees something of national import, but that would counter to his task for the company and he could be torn between the loyalty to his multi-national company and his home country. Or, due to the aggressiveness of the multi-national company the CIA or other covert agencies could target him for death.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Not Bad

Started a commitment book today. This isn't the best, but it's enough to lead me on and keep me going.


CAPTAIN SEAN O’SULLIVAN LIFTED the blackout curtain. A burst of dull light grayed the room. Christ, he thought, doesn’t the sun ever shine in London. He heard planes droning overhead toward the English Channel but he could not see them through the thick fog. He wondered if his brother, Tim, was flying today.

Uris, Leon - Armageddon

I ran into a lady whilst in the airport in St. Louis. She saw that I was reading Tai-Pan, she recommended Uris. We'll see lady . . . we'll see.

Onward through commitment book!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Maybe the Best Book Ending Ever

It may not have been the best first line but it sure came together in the end. This might be the best ending to a book ever. No . . . not this passage, I mean the whole ending. I'll have a posting on the book later where I feel certain I'll discuss the ending at length. But, with that being said, this last line is pretty good too.


She looked at him for a moment and realized that she now had no feelings for him. At least not those kinds of feelings. 

He had in fact been a good friend to her over the past year. 

She trusted him. Maybe. It was troubling that one of the few people she trusted was a man she spent so much time avoiding. 

Then she made up her mind. It was absurd to pretend that he did not exist. It no longer hurt her to see him. 

She opened the door wide and let him into her life again.

Larsson, Stieg -The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Great Passage

I love the Kindle app cause when I come across something I really like, I mark it and can come back later at the touch of a button. Today I ran across something that I thought was so good I wanted to more than mark it. Sadly, Kindle does not really have a "More Than Mark" function. Wouldn't it be nice if you could mark something with degrees of interest? Why have just a flat bookmark, why not be able to mark something a 10 meaning, when you come back later this one aint that important . . . ah, but that 1 up there, that one is something you need to review right a way. Got get on it Kindle.

In the mean time, I think I would have marked this one a 2 or at least a 3.

"At 2: 30 she was led back to the interrogation cell. This time her guard was a young woman. Salander sat on a chair in the empty cell and pondered a particularly intricate equation. 

After ten minutes the door opened. “Hello, Lisbeth.” A friendly tone. It was Teleborian. 

He smiled at her, and she froze. The components of the equation she had constructed in the air before her came tumbling to the ground. She could hear the numbers and mathematical symbols bouncing and clattering as if they had physical form. 

Teleborian stood still for a minute and looked at her before he sat down on the other side of the table. She continued to stare at the same spot on the wall.


Larsson, Stieg - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest


I love that part with the numbers and symbols dropping to the ground in her mind. That's a 2 isn't it?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sounds Like a Teenage Ender


A comment from an avid reader has precipitated this post. His first line makes me think that it might have been great as the first line of the Star War's Novel, or for Ender's Game, had Ender been a bit older. 

Interstellar war was not at the top of David’s schedule as he jumped excitedly out of bed.

Roger Lawrence - Three Hoodies Save the World

Nevertheless, as a fan of sci-fi and of compelling first sentences that tend to invariably suck a reader in, I look forward to reading more.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Might Be Too Political, But . . .

This might be a mote too political, but whenever one of my favorite literary characters is mentioned in a blog I like to point it out. Although any reader of this blog might find it hard to believe, due to the dirth of reviews of these books in my book reviews section my favorite series of books is George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman books.

Today, the political writer for National Review, Mark Steyn, quotes from Flashman, the first novel, that is set in Afghanistan.

This I will say for the Afghan – he is a treacherous, evil brute when he wants to be, but while he is your friend he is a first-rate fellow. The point is, you must judge to a second when he is going to cease to be friendly. There is seldom any warning.

Steyn goes on to quote himself from an article he wrote a year and a half ago:

A dozen pages of a Flashman yarn has a sounder grasp of the Afghan psyche than nine years of multilateral “nation-building”. Which is why we’re going round and round in circles in an almighty Groundhogistan where a man gets sentenced to death for converting to Christianity under a court system created, funded and protected by us.

To read the whole post go here, but I recommend instead that you go buy the novel and read it immediately. Flashman has so many more things to say on the subject and really there are few books as fun to read as these.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Simply (Less Than) the Best!

Not a great first line or passage if you ask me. Actually, having read the other two books, and written about their first lines, I don't think that Stieg Larsson puts much credence in having stunning first lines.


Dr. Jonasson was woken by a nurse five minutes before the helicopter was expected to land. It was just before 1: 30 in the morning. 

“What?” he said, confused. 

“Rescue Service helicopter coming in. Two patients. An injured man and a younger woman. The woman has gunshot wounds.” 

“All right,” Jonasson said wearily. 

Although he had slept for only half an hour, he felt groggy. He was on the night shift in the ER at Sahlgrenska hospital in Göteborg. It had been a strenuous evening.

Larsson, Stieg - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

However, my knowledge of the first two books can also lead me to believe that this is less a first line of a new book as just an arbitrary break in the action between book two and three. It's as if he wrote this and The Girl Who Played with Fire at the same time and was asked by his agent to split it into two.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Just Couldn't Do It


Someone recommended a book to me the other day and I went out and bought it . . . Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. Just prior to pushing purchase in Amazon I did take a peek at the reviews, not any specific reviews, but just the number. 


The book had over 1500 reviews, most of them positive. I tried reading it and actually got 15% of the way through, then I gave up. Just way too much nonsense and detail. I felt I was living out every minute of someone else’s life. It was a good primer on not letting a story drag. It wasn’t till I was about 5% in that I looked at one of the one star reviews and saw a review by Honest Abby titled “What the Fuss?”

This book gets so much adoration and love...and I just don't get it! I completely agree with several of the other one-star reviews. This book is disturbingly violent, has a plot that meanders aimlessly, and two lead characters who are poorly characterized.

I agree. Life is too short to read huge "commitment novels" that take too long to go anywhere. Next!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Author Interviews

As I have said in previous posts, I'm thinking of using a service to organize reviews, blog tours, and author interviews. I've just received yet another review, this time from Laura Beasley out of Hong Kong.

This is the second interview I've had to do, the first being here, and I think I need to brush up on some of my answers prior to getting a company to help me. Still, I'll take another good review.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Research for Novel Three


I began Night Fall by Nelson DeMille not realizing that it played perfectly into the plot that I was using for my third novel. I’ve read one other Nelson DeMille book, The Lion’s Game. I like The Lion’s Game. I love the opening chapters where the plane lands in New York and everyone is dead. I thought that was an awesome way to start the book. As I posted in my first lines category Night Fall too started well. Sadly for both books I found the endings less than spectacular.



John Corey, the main character, who I love for his abrasive attitude, at one point said while watching a memorial service:

Empathy and sensitivity are not my strong points, but this scene of shared grief and comforting passed through my own death-hardened shell like the warm ocean breeze through a screen door.

This was a good analogy. It stopped me. But then, as I read more, I realized it wasn’t worthy of the character’s inner thoughts. This guy wouldn’t be thinking of a screen door and ocean breezes. I really liked these next few. It shows the character’s personality so well. If there was an aspect of DeMille’s writing that I would want to emulate it would be the way he allows the character to interact in a playful and false way with the reader. All of these express the “joking” attitude that Corey holds, and they all make the character much more real for the reader.

It was not yet noon, and the place was fairly empty, except for a few locals drinking what smelled like So Long tea out of bowls and chattering away in Cantonese, though the couple at the next booth was speaking Mandarin. 

I’m making this up. 

There was an exquisitely beautiful young Chinese woman waiting tables, and I watched her moving around as if she were floating on air. She floated toward me, we smiled, and she floated away to be replaced by an old crone wearing bedroom slippers. 

God, I think, plays cruel jokes on married men. I ordered coffee.

Corey is in them middle of a fight with his wife, Kate. He comes home and reports:

I got back to my apartment a little after 7 P.M., and Kate was in the kitchen wearing a tiny teddy while cooking my favorite meal of steak, real French fries, and garlic bread. My clothes, which I’d left on the living room floor, were put away, and there was a Budweiser waiting for me in an ice bucket. None of that is true, of course, except my arrival time and Kate being home. She was sitting in an armchair reading the Times.

Then there is this, Corey’s philosophy on life. It gives the reader a quick but sure peek into what makes him tick.

Life was a continuing series of compromises, disappointments, betrayals, and what-ifs. Now and then, you get it right the first time, and more rarely, you get a chance to do it over and get it right the second time. 

Was it as good as The Lion’s Game? I don’t think so. The Lion’s Game is far more original and sweeping. Even though I didn’t like the ending of The Lion’s Game, it was far better than the predictable and trite ending of Night Fall. Am I glad I read it,  . . . yep, . . . and I look forward to reading another by DeMille soon.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Baby Thundercloud Strikes Again

Whenever my youngest son gets upset he lowers his head and slits his eyes and provides anyone looking a grumpy face. We call him "Baby Thundercloud" when he does this.

He's the second in the two part team that makes up the Word Smith/Word Wiz duo that is a part of this blog. Lately we've noticed alot of bunnies outside our house. One day Price and I saw a hawk snatch a bunny just a few meters from us (later, he provided a terrifically gruesome sight for Price by eating that bunny in our front yard then leaving the carcass in our tree).

There are so many bunnies that problems like the hawks, the cars, dogs all provide quick ends to them. So, when Charlie started to take notice in them it was funny to hear his two year old voice call them. "Dabbits." Now, with all the bunnies not surviving very long it seems more apropos that he calls them "Dummy Dabbits."

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Don't Believe Me? Just Pay a Bit More Attention

It's true what Roger said, you can only call the day a ochre dying schmear so many times, but authors love to talk about mornings. Case and point. Not even 10% into the book and I hit the first. Not bad, though in terms of morning descriptions that I've cataloged.


Dawn was coming up in streaks and slashes over the foggy moor. Our destination loomed ahead, a huge bulk of dark stone outlined by the grey light.

Gabaldon, Diana - Outlander

Still it continues to amaze me that this is such obvious and almost over-used fodder in novels. It sure makes me want to describe afternoons since everyone else is so focused on mornings.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Outside the Box and Not Sure I Like It

I'm reading outside the box. This was recommended to me by a reviewer and I'm not sure if I'm going to like it. I bought it though, so I have to finish it.


It wasn’t a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance. Mrs. Baird’s was like a thousand other Highland bed-and-breakfast establishments in 1945; clean and quiet, with fading floral wallpaper, gleaming floors, and a coin-operated hot-water geyser in the lavatory. Mrs. Baird herself was squat and easygoing, and made no objection to Frank lining her tiny rose-sprigged parlor with the dozens of books and papers with which he always traveled.

Gabaldon, Diana - Outlander