Friday, March 29, 2013

Today's Last Line

I just finished the Last Assassin by Barry Eisler. It was good, but I hesitate to say that it was as good as the other novels in the John Rain series. A review will be coming, but in the mean time here is the last line(s):




But why think about all that now, on my way to see Delilah? Barcelona had been an interlude before. It could be one again. 

No, that wasn’t quite right, I realized. Barcelona hadn’t been an interlude. It had been… anarmistice. 

But that was all right, too. An armistice wasn’t so bad. 

It was better than being at war. And if I could find a way to another armistice, and then another, maybe I could string them all together, and one day they’d actually add up to peace. 

One day.

Eisler, Barry - The Last Assassin

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Who Knew It Did So Well

I read with a great degree of surprise in a WSJ article entitled Oh, My! That Dirty Book Has Sold 70 Million Copies by Jeffery A Trachtenberg that Fifty Shades of Grey was the fastest selling trilogy ever. That's pretty impressive. I can think of many books and series that should be up there as well, Game of Thrones, Hunger Games, among others, but wouldn't have necessarily guessed that Fifty Shades of Grey beat them all out. According to the article, the numbers are pretty stellar.



E.L. James's "Fifty Shades" erotic trilogy sold more than 70 million copies in print, audio and e-book editions in English, German and Spanish from March through December, according to Bertelsmann SE & Co., parent of the books' publisher Random House. 

Then this:

For a sense of scale, Random House's second biggest selling North American title last year—Gillian Flynn's thriller "Gone Girl," which has been a national best-seller for 41 weeks—sold more than two million copies in the U.S. and Canada in all formats, between June and December.

Not a direct comparison mind you, English, German and Spanish and March through December compared to U.S. and Canada and June and December, but still that's a stunning spread! What's more stunning is not the fact that I bought it and started it, but that I had to put it down after just a few paragraphs. Mayhaps I need to try.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Taking a Note From Murder Lab

Based on my post yesterday, and Kristine's bullet points about teasers, . . . and as I feel I am about 60 day's shy of releasing novel number two, On the Edge, here is a teaser for the reader.

Those who have read this blog for some time might remember this banner ad from last year when I was promoting Toe the Line.



60 days hence I hope to upload this one as a banner ad to this site.


There is a bit of a theme at play here. There's one in the writing too. We'll see if this campaign is more successful than the last toe dip in the waters.

**Nota Bene, I've had to shrink the size of the ads a tad. The text will be more legible when they are placed at the top of this page. - Thanks for the concern.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Planning

There are a lot of little nuggets here at Murder Lab a blog I found through Book Blogs. Kristen Elise has written a pretty well rounded bullet list of things an aspiring author can do prior to and after release of their works. Some of the suggestions I like and plan to do:


    • Read and comment on other people's blogs
    • Write guest posts for other bloggers
    • Participate in blog hops and giveaways
    • Retweet!
    • Join a book club 
    • Join a critique group
    • Attend conventions

There's more and I recommend that any aspiring author reading this should hit the link to Murder Lab and see it for themselves. It gave me a moment's pause and reflection. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Yep . . . Hated It

Trite, unimaginative, predictable . . . those are the words I would use to describe Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. So sad too. The first in the series, the Hunger Games, was fun, inventive and well worth reading (see here). This one, continued the downhill slide of the series since that first one.


I don't know if I can put my finger on one specific thing, I just didn't like it. I thought it was completely and utterly predictable and that by itself seems to have been enough to kill my enthusiasm for the series. The second in the series, Catching Fire (see here), wasn't as good as the first but still offered some potential for Miss Collins to "pull it out," sadly, she failed.

Nuff said I say.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Newest First Line

I'm back to reading a Barry Eisler novel. I have loved these in the past (see here) and based on the fact that not even a quarter of the way in I've already run across the word "vertiginous" I'm willing to bet I like this one too.



That being said, this is the first line:


I’VE NEVER LIKED doing a job in a new place. You don’t know how to get in and out undetected, you don’t know what tools you’ll need to access the target, you don’t know where you’ll stick out and where you’ll be able to fade into the background or disappear in a crowd. 

Eisler, Barry - The Last Assassin (Onyx Novel)

Not a great or thrilling first line, but if you know that you're reading about an assassin it does make one think about some of that person's needs, characteristics and desires.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

One Might Think

An avid reader of both this blog and the WSJ might think that I would choose to discuss and link to the articles that appeared this weekend in the Review Section, specifically this article on life after death for dictator's corpses (here), or this article about the quick and sudden, and lonely success of The Lost Weekend (here) or this one (which I've only just run across) about novels set in Napa (here) or this article that discusses the screenplay being a terrific tool for teach "show don't tell" writing (here).



With all of these wonderful articles about fascinating subjects or about writing, a savvy reader would not think I'd take on yacht building, but I have.

A Hole in the Water You Fill With Money by Patrick Cooke is really quite interesting. The article itself is intriguing and depressing all at the same time and makes the book that it is written about, Grand Ambition by G. Bruce Knect, seem like it would be more of that. Is it off-kilter that I genuinely want to read this when Mr. Cooke writes:

From the living room of his $18.5 million duplex in New York's Time Warner Center, Mr. Von Allmen and his wife alternately cajole and torment Lady Linda's patient yacht designer, Evan Marshall, with questions that may strike the reader as strictly the problems of the idle rich. Should the yacht have built into it one garage or two for storing smaller craft? (Securing speedboats and wave runners on deck is viewed by the yachting community as déclassé and a sign that the owner can't afford a garage.) How will guests in the sky lounge be able to view underwater scenes sent from video cameras mounted beneath the yacht's hull? And what is the best way to air-condition the outdoor decks during those sweltering Mediterranean cruises?

or

Mr. Knecht, without being in any way judgmental, catalogs the jaw-dropping excesses. One owner has a room onboard that makes snow. Another built a concert hall large enough to fit a 50-member orchestra. Yet another has an onboard runway where models show off the newest fashions in a room with only two seats. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's 414-foot Octopus boasts a basketball court and a commercial-quality recording studio. No one, however, goes over the top like the Russians, the "oligarch-yachtsmen," as the author calls them. Roman Abramovich, the owner of Britain's Chelsea football club, also owns the Eclipse. At 533 feet, she is nearly as long as two football fields. Stored below decks is a submarine protected by a missile-defense system.

It was the last passage that really grabbed me, when the new yacht owner tours his purchase. This just smacks of being a character in a novel.

There is a scene toward the end of "Grand Ambition" where the author accompanies Mr. Von Allmen on a tour of Lady Linda. The owner is in a rotten mood. As he glumly surveys each luxurious deck, "there was not a flicker of excitement." He looks instead like a man staring down into a hole in the water that just swallowed a fortune.

As I'm all thriller this year, I'm guessing that this will be my next Audible.com book, but I bet I will find it fun and entertaining anyway.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Last Line of the Series

I just finished Mockingjay, and yet by have finished the last book in the Hunger Games series, and like the first line, the book as a whole was unimpressive.  I will a more full review in a future post, but for now there is this:


In addition, the last line of the epilogue says "But there are much worse games to play". What exactly does that mean?

It's better than the first line, infact the second half is better than the first, sadly I can't say the about the series. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

20% Aint Bad

I don't know many published local authors. I know several "wanna be" published local authors, but none with books out in print that are being schlepped. The Houston Chronicle shared a list of ten in Monday's edition.

Of the ten books, based solely on the summaries, I feel compelled to read only two. These snippets come from the Chronicle's  Bookish blog with Maggie Galehouse.




Cold Blue Steel,” by Sarah Cortez. From a Houston writer with a diverse resume — active-duty police officer, corporate accountant, Latin teacher, and more — comes 50 lyric poems set in the world of the urban street cop. “The Secret” begins: “Love whatever can save/ your life. Your ballistic vest,/ your razored reflexes. The/ keys you rubber-banded/ to keep from jingling. The/ double-tied shoelaces that/ won’t come loose in a foot chase./ The short haircut a turd/ can’t grab in a scuffle/ to ream your face into concrete.” 



Tumbledown,” by Robert Boswell. Boswell shares the Cullen Chair in Creative Writing at UH with his wife, Antonya Nelson. This new novel is a sad but funny book about a therapist and his patients, sanity and insanity, and the choices we make to accommodate the failures of the rational world. 

I'm a tad surprised that I want to read a book of poems, but those seem interesting to me . . . go figure.

Sadly, as I'm in a Year Long Thriller Fest for reading, I won't be able to read either, at least not till next year.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Been a Long Time Since I Rocked a Revision

Let me start by saying that I really liked Rock Your Revisions by Cathy Yardley. I haven't read a book on the craft of writing in a while, and I'm sorry I haven't. That being said, this one is a good one.



So many books on writing can be dry and stuffy, and especially long. Strangely, somewhat ironically, they can be filled with poor writing. Rock Your Revisions was not one of these. It was focused and broke down Miss Yardley's analytical and step by step method of revising (what I consider to be the hardest part of writing). It was also extremely well written. Concise, to the point, prompt, and readable.

I liked the way she gave advice on revisions, this in-particular:


That said, you’re going to be creating some new scenes, and if you think that you not only have to change the whole dramatic action and come up with something polished, paralysis can set in. 

Personally, I’d approach this as story only.  Don’t let yourself get caught up in the polish.  That’s coming next.  Write new scenes, tinker with existing that need tweaking, and cut those that need it. 

Then, you’re going to look at each scene, examining the prose:  looking at how a reader will experience the story you’ve so carefully laid out.  Which is the next stage in the revision plan.

I'm doing this now with my third novel (tentatively titled Vapor Trail) and so far so good . . . or should I say, so far so better.


Personally I've always had trouble with setting or with setting the scene. Miss Yardley's advice:


Take the scene, and write it as if you’re writing a play. 

You can describe your character.  You can describe the setting.  You can write the dialogue and give stage directions. 

But you cannot write one word about how the character is feeling, what his/her back-story is, or what he/she is thinking about.

I look forward to Miss Yardley's other books. Next up . . . Rock Your Plot.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Not Excited for Mockingjay

I know that she's a best selling author, I know that she has a following that is a ba-jillion times bigger than mine will ever be, if mine ever be, but as a first line/passage . . . I say this stinks:


I stare down at my shoes, watching as a fine layer of ash settles on the worn leather. This is where the bed I shared with my sister, Prim, stood. Over there was the kitchen table. The bricks of the chimney, which collapsed in a charred heap, provide a point of reference for the rest of the house. How else could I orient myself in this sea of gray? 

Almost nothing remains of District 12. A month ago, the Capitol’s firebombs obliterated the poor coal miners’ houses in the Seam, the shops in the town, even the Justice Building.

Collins, Suzanne - Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)



There's a bit more to that second paragraph and I would have pasted it if it had made the whole better, it did not, so I did not.

As a fan of the series (not devoted, but a fan in passing) and having read and enjoyed the first two books, I would hope that the first few lines of the final book would inspire me to read on with verve and gusto not make me want to lay the book down.

I'll read on, but I sure hope it gets better than the first line.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Wool Again (this time in print)

Those of you who read these posts religiously, precious few I'm sure, will remember that I enjoyed Wool.  You will also know that I'm a huge fan of the WSJ and post articles I find intriguing from it often. Today those two passions have combined into this post where I post a link to this article.

The article, Sci-Fi's Underground Hit by Alexandra Alter is well worth a read for anyone who is considering self- or e-publishing. Wool will soon be coming out in paperback, but unlike every previous publishing deal, the publisher will not have e-book rights. Hugh Howey kept those suckers for himself. It's the first major deal of it's kind.




In a highly unusual deal, Simon & Schuster acquired print publication rights to "Wool" while allowing Mr. Howey to keep the e-book rights himself. Mr. Howey self-published "Wool" as a serial novel in 2011, and took a rare stand by refusing to sell the digital rights. Last year, he turned down multiple seven-figure offers from publishers before reaching a mid-six-figure, print-only deal with Simon & Schuster.

"I had made seven figures on my own, so it was easy to walk away," says Mr. Howey, 37, a college dropout who worked as a yacht captain, a roofer and a bookseller before he started self-publishing. "I thought, 'How are you guys going to sell six times what I'm selling now?' "

It's a sign of how far the balance of power has shifted toward authors in the new digital publishing landscape. Self-published titles made up 25% of the top-selling books on Amazon last year. Four independent authors have sold more than a million Kindle copies of their books, and 23 have sold more than 250,000, according to Amazon.

It's a long article with a lot of great content and an expose on Mr. Howey and his "over night" success. If nothing else the article and Hugh Howey's story shows that there is still a market for short story success. He built it all off publishing one little short story that he came up with while watching the news.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Pope in the Pool


I never heard this before, but with the conclave going on, it seems apropos:



I got this term from Elizabeth George’s wonderful writing reference, Write Away.  She talks about creating scenes with an eye towards making interesting action, rather than simply a few “talking heads” getting across information through dialogue.  She uses the acronym “THAD” to describe it – a Talking Head Avoidance Device. 

A similar technique, mentioned in a more irreverent writing reference guide, is Blake Snyder’s wonderful description of the Pope in the Pool trick. He wrote about needing to have the Pope get some information in dialogue, but they didn’t want the scene to be boring – so they set the conversation in the Vatican’s pool as the Pope was swimming.  Which made everyone think whoa, I didn’t even know the Pope had a pool! What could’ve been static and stereotypical suddenly

Yardley, Cathy - Rock Your Revisions

I know that the picture is a pope off, but it's the only one close enough to merit a posting. I found it on DailyEdge. Secondly, it is a terrific way to remember that it's important to spice up the writing to keep the readers interest.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Not Very Touch Improved

When I worked at a dash-mounted video camera company, where we manufactured the hardware and software for police to use dash cams, I talked to one of our users and found out that they were using our system in a revolutionary manner.


After they mirandized their suspects they would put them in the back of one of their cruisers. Then in full view of the suspects they would switch off the screen on the dash-mounted camera system so that it looked liked they'd turned it off. They hadn't. Instead they had just turned off the screen, but the camera, the audio recording, and the system were all still on and recording.

Usually the suspects would begin planning their "defense." They would talk about what actually happened and in many cases what their "stories" would be once they were taken to the police station. Since they were already mirandized everything that the camera captured could be used in court against them.

After hearing this I spoke to my boss and we developed a "covert recording" button. A button that the officer could push that would set the system up for this type of backseat recording. In less than a month we had a differentiator from our competition.

It's because of this experience that I'm continually amazed that Amazon can't produce screen savers that are personalized. Why not have a program that would make the screen saver for the Kindle the book cover of the book that was last read. Or better yet, have a compilation of book covers of the books in that Kindle's library. And these are just off the top of my head.

I got my touch yesterday, and although I'm happy with it, compared to the older Kindles, not quite impressed compared to the iPad, this one niggling thing seems like such a loss. Not only that, this is one thing from one customer that would greatly add to the appeal of the technology, . . . think about all the other great ideas out there.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Year of the Thriller with Some Detours

Yesterday I mentioned I might have to make time for The Metamorphosis in my year despite my pledge to go all thriller all the time. There's one other genre that I'm sneaking in every few books. A couple of years ago one of my resolutions was to read a book on writing for every few books I read that were for fun. Yep, that's what I'm back into.



So, along those lines, and based on where I am with my most recent novel, I'm reading Rock Your Revisions by Cathy Yardley. So far I'm quite happy with it. It's had the desired effect both on me and on my draft. The book starts out strong with:


Let’s say revising a novel is like building a house.  The rough draft you’ve currently got?  That would be the building materials.  Some parts of it are more “raw” than others.  But instead of just moving things around willy-nilly, you’re going to have a systematic approach.  You don’t put in carpet before you put up walls.  You don’t put up dry wall before you put in plumbing.  And you don’t put on a roof before pouring the foundation. 

It’s all about sequence and strategy. 

In this first pass, you’re going to do a quick “inventory” and see what you’ve got, and what you need.  Then, you’re going to make sure that you do, indeed, have the right plans and you’re really building what you want.  You’ll check the foundation.  Then, you’ll build the frame.

So far so good. Rock Your Revisions might not be as mind blowing as some of the books on writing I've read in the past, but it sure has given me the kick in the pants that I needed.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Missed It in High School

For whatever reason, one that I can't remember, I was not in the advanced  or International Baccalaureate English program in high school, ergo I missed out on the assigned reading of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis. I still remember seeing the other students running around with their copies and thinking to myself that I should like to read that book. Never did. Might need to take a hiatus from my "Thriller Only" year to read that sucker, particularly after having read this little piece by A.B. Yehoshua in the WSJ entitled The Limits of Imagination.


The most compelling passage in A.B. Yehoshua's article is this one:


In every work of literature, perhaps in any work of art, we may distinguish two principal forces contending with one another. Each pulls in its own direction, and finding the right balance between them is what gives the work its unique value.

On one side is the unbridled imagination—the primal spark, the fantasy, the fresh insights, the innovations in form and language, the raw originality that entitles a book to claim the attention of the reader. On the other side is the force that constructs and connects, that imposes logic on the content, winning the reader's trust, enabling him or her to relate to unfamiliar material. As a result, the reader isn't merely impressed with the fruits of wild imagination but consumes them, internalizes and identifies with them.

That tug of war between unbridled imagination and realism. How much will the reader believe? How far will they follow the author into their imagination before they say, "eh, not worth it, not believable."

This is why I am always so humbled by writers like Vernor Vinge and Isaac Asimov. Authors like these take completely made up worlds, they provide stories that are full of imagination but provide them to the reader in such a way that it's impossible not to believe them. It's as if they dare the reader to disbelieve them. It's all a matter of how far you can push the reader.

Friday, March 1, 2013

E-Cover

Normally I have trouble finding articles to write about for this blog. Then, today, BOOM! there's three right away. I plan to write about and link to all of them, but I've decided to start with this one as it seems the most apropos to what I've been writing about lately.

This article in the WSJ by Javier Espinoza entitled Designing for Digital is all about book covers for the e-reader world. It's a good little article with some nuggets of info I already knew or could have guess at. Among them:

an e-book cover must be bolder, simpler and more legible than its print counterpart, graphic designers say.

and

For Andy Fielding, an Edinburgh-based graphic designer who works with writers self-publishing their e-books, simplicity is the key to a beautiful design that will stand out. "A print book only really has to work in your hands as an object. But when people are looking at e-book covers they are looking at them on places like Amazon, where they are very small initially—the size of a thumbnail."

I've always thought that Dick Francis' book covers were simple, colorful and yet powerful. These are the ones that I tried to channel when I came up with my own.




Yes, yes, his look better, but I feel that mine meet the requirements that are laid out by the article.




Anyway, I thought it was a great article, and was full of information for anyone planning to e-publish. I've seen several other self-published folks who have not used the advice listed in the article and I believe their sales probably are hurting because of it. Then again, my sales aint no rocket ship.