Tuesday, March 31, 2015

It Didn't Help Me Wade Into the Book

In terms of first lines I like what Kathryn Guare wrote in her piece on Writing Craft: The Challenge of Writing An Opening Line of Staggering Genius on the Alliance of Independent Authors Blog (see here) back in 2013.

Concluding pep talk to myself: the first sentence of a novel is exactly that—nothing more, and nothing less. It is the building block and the foundation from which to build everything else. It needs to work, but it does not need to be a work of art onto itself. If you like it yourself, then stop obsessing over it.

I like what she says. This is exactly the sentiment that I try to imbue to my series on first lines (see here). It's not the end all beat all of the novel, it's merely the first line the reader happens to run into. If anything I think the last line should be more important for that's the image you will be leaving the reader with (see here).

All that being said, the last line I read in Flashman and the Mountain of Light, the book I'm currently reading, it barely had enough oomph to make me want to read the second line, and Oh Brother! that second through tenth line almost had me closing the book. If anything this sample emphasizes how important a really intriguing first line is. If not for the history I have with Flashman (see here), this one would have gone back on the shelf.

“Now, my dear Sir Harry, I must tell you,” says her majesty, with that stubborn little duck of her head that always made Palmerston think she was going to butt him in the guts, “I am quite determined to learn Hindoostanee.” 

This at the age of sixty-seven, mark you. I almost asked her what the devil for, at her time of life, but fortunately my idiot wife got in first, clapping her hands and exclaiming that it was a most splendid idea, since nothing so Improved the Mind and Broadened the Outlook as acquaintance with a Foreign Tongue, is that not so, my love? (Elspeth, I may tell you, speaks only English – well, Scotch, if you like – and enough nursery French to get her through Customs and bullyrag waiters, but anything the Queen said, however wild, always sent her into transports of approval.) 

Fraser, George MacDonald - Flashman and the Mountain of Light

What does the learning of a foreign language by the Queen of England have to do with the novel? Very little actually. It's a stepping stone to the real mystery, but phew, like I said, made we want to give up quick.

Monday, March 30, 2015

I'm the Maggot in the Metaphor

Last week, for the first in this series, I wrote about how writing a novel is alot like a long hard road march (see here). Then I followed that up by discussing how it's not glamorous or fun (see here). And although both of these things are true, today I'm going to write about how all of that leads to the finished product.

I bought a composter a year or so ago to replace my homemade composter that I built years ago. The model shown in the pciture above is the very type that I have. I bought it (and borrowed the above picture) from The Gardener's Supply Company. (Best place on the web to go get gardening gear). Nevertheless, although I use the hell outta that sucker I never use a shiny new pail, nor wear my gardening clogs, nor smile quite so heartily as the fellow in the image above.

Instead, I fill that sucker up regularly. Banana peels galore, coffee grounds almost everyday, used G&T lemon wedges, cilantro stems from the night before's dinner, pumpkins that turned into jack-o-lantern's then turned into moldy, stumpy, rotted messes that sit on the porch too long after Halloween (these are actually the coolest things to throw into that sucker).

Over and over, for weeks and weeks, months and months I keep cramming stuff into that left side of the composter and I tumble it around. Then after about six months I switch to the right side and leave the left alone except for the occasional tumble. All the while the bugs are inside and making babies and turning that kitchen waste into fertile soil. After 6 months or more of sitting alone and steaming, that compost is ready to be put into my garden, now rich and ready to grow things.

Here's the simile so pay attention.

First, writing is a lot like using that composter. I write a ton of stuff and most of it is trash. It's not till I've tumbled it around in my brain and written a bit more and revised and edited and rewritten that it becomes at all worthwhile. When I'm putting it in it's like that rotting pumpkin. Usually, hopefully, when I put it into book form it comes out as something worthwhile.

Simile number two . . . I leave lots of my stuff on the shelve to age. Just like my composter allows me to leave my garbage alone just to tumble and age, I leave my writing to the same. I leave it alone and write on something else then I come back to it and fine tune it.

I'm working on my third novel now. Tentatively titled Vapor Trail, it is a follow up to On the Edge (see here and below cover image) and I'm hoping to release it this fall. I'm rewriting it for the final time right now and I'm stunned by how different it is from that first trash I put in. Characters names and types are changes. The plot is different. The setting has changed twice. It's a completely different story than the one I started. This is what got me thinking about that composter. I used that composted soil in my herb garden the other day and it was completely broken down. That's the way this story is now that I've tumbled it around and lead it age.


It used to bother me how much writing and rewriting was necessary to produce a finished work, but now I see that it's just a necessary part of the process. If I just threw the trash I wrote out on the web it would be exactly that (and truthfully, there's already a bit too much trash out on the Internets right now). It takes time to get it just right. Vapor Trail is in the tumble phase and the maggots are squirming around in it now turning it into something epic. The only problem as I see it is that I'm the maggot in that metaphor.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Not Normal (for this blog or decent society)

I don't normally post things like this, but this one just had to be shared. It is a post of "The Weirdest Children's Books Ever" (see here).

This list is definitely worth a look see. Some of the illustrations are just odd to say the least and deliberately suggestive at best. I have a couple of favorites.

First is this page, probably from a Pinocchio coloring book, but when read out of context, man does that sound odd.

(Quick aside, one of my favorite memories was picking out a coloring book for my son at the local store. We took it home and found about half of the pages had been expertly colored in. Someone had bought it, painstakingly colored half the pages, then returned the book to the shelf. I thought that was awesome. . . my son was less enchanted, instead he felt cheated out of half a book.)

The other favorite is this one. Just the strangest image I've seen in a long while.

I think I'll add to this list with one I found from a book my youngest son got for his birthday, Little Blue Truck. In the middle of the book when the little blue truck is saving the dump truck it says, "Head to head, rump to rump, they all pushed Blue who pushed the Dump."

The illustration does very little to help smooth the awkwardness of that phrasing.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Review: The Fourth Deadly Sin or Makes Me Wish I Was Older in '86

I just finished Lawrence Sanders' The Fourth Deadly Sin, and basically I loved it as much or more than his other works. I enjoy talking and writing about the books I've read and have a whole series of em on this site (see here), but this one takes a bit of a different turn in that the cover design plays a significant part.

 I've never hidden my love for Sanders' writing (see here). I'm a McNally fanatic (though I don't do Lardo), and I'm really enjoying going back and reading Sanders' older stuff (see here and here). The Fourth Deadly Sin was published in 1986 which makes me with I'd been a better reader when he was producing these things.

The first I heard about Sanders was back in the early 2000's when my Uncle told me about him. I started reading the McNally series, if only because it was the easiest to find at the half price book place. I still remember that first McNally book I read and how I thought Archie was such a fun character. Sure, I've since found out he's a bit of a rip off from Rex Stout's Archie Goodwin from the Nero Wolf books, but Sanders brings his own flair to Archy McNally. Who can't love a fellow who wears a puce beret to go investigate.

Still, as much as I liked the McNally books, I think I like this earlier stuff first. After my first, and so far only trip to New York City this past fall, reading bout 1970's and early 80's New York is fun. Secondly I enjoy the fact that each book has a new character and a new angle. Recently so many authors and series are only considered if there's a viable character for multiple books. I enjoy the fact that Dick Francis and Sanders didn't conform in that way. Naturally I'm trying to emulate them with my books (see here and here).

The Fourth Deadly Sin was just as good as Sanders' other earlier works and makes me want to read more. That being said I did have one difficulty. Why is this cover decorated with a claw hammer? The murder takes place, Sanders makes a big point of this, with a ball-peen hammer, not a claw hammer. Having just finished a foray into cover design, successfully I believe (see here and above), didn't the cover designer care about accuracy? Or is a claw hammer just a bit more murderous looking than a ball-peen? Then again are covers that feature a couple of people running particularly murderous looking?

Regardless, if that's my primary complaints, Sanders should be quite happy.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ran Across this Blog Called "The Self-Made Writer"

I found this blog through Google Plus and a couple of writer's links that I'm a part of. This one come via Deb Vanasse and her blog The Self-Made Writer. This is Ten Truths You Need to Know about Publishing, No Matter How You Do It (see here).

It's a good looking blog and I look forward to tooling around and finding out more about it, but this post intrigued me and I read it through. Some of the stats were a tad tough to hear, but based on her accompanying image that says "Better to be slapped with the truth than kissed with a lie" I'm thinking she knew some of the numbers would be startling to most writers. Still, some great nuggets of information for the aspiring author. My favorites?

There’s a content flood, and it’s not going to recede anytime soon. As reported by author William Dietrich in a piece published by the Huffington Post, an estimated 130 million books have been published throughout human history. That number is growing by the minute—and with e-books, titles stay in print forever. Bottom line: the supply of books far exceeds the demand.

This bullet goes hand-in-hand with some of the stats she comments on in other bullets. I'm stunned when I go online to find a book to read every now and then. The number of books out there is staggering. If you don't know what you're looking for you're going to get lost. I love the line; "The supply of books far exceeds the demands."

Wonderful books are overlooked, and some that aren’t so wonderful sell more than anyone could have predicted. As they say, there’s no accounting for taste. But if sales are steady, and if a title stays in print long enough and is popular within a niche market, it may in the end outsell certain flash-and-burn bestsellers.

This bullet made me think of a conversation I had with my neighbors on our back patio after a dinner party. It was about the time that 50 Shades of Grey the movie had just come out. Turns out several of us tried to read the book and among the four that tried, not any of us got through the first few pages and wanted to read on. Yet, that was a very successful book. Key words "popular within a niche market." It's finding that niche then development the foot hold into something more that's the goal.

Write what you love and make each book the best it can be. That’s the one aspect of publishing over which you have complete control.

Finally, and this goes directly against what I wrote a few years ago about why I writer (see here). Just write what you want and do it as well as you can. Be proud of what you wrote and hope that others enjoy it as much as you do.

Deb has some good points and despite being slapped with the truth, it's good stuff to know and helps to accentuate the positives. I look forward to more posts from her.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Bit of Humor at the End

I got to the end of The Fourth Deadly Sin and actually finished a chapter too early. When I read the below line I thought sure that was the end. It goes so perfectly in my series for "last lines."

He looked up suddenly, and beyond the city’s glow saw the stars whirling their ascending courses . So small, he thought. All the poor, scrabbling people on earth caught up in a life we never made, breaking ourselves trying to manage. 

Philosophers said you could laugh or you could weep. Delaney preferred to think there was a middle ground, an amused struggle in which you recognized the odds and knew you’d never beat them. Which was no reason to stop trying. Las Vegas did all right. 

When he came to his brownstone, the lights were on, the Christmas wreath still on the door. And inside was the companionship of a loving woman, a tot of brandy, a good cigar. And later, a warm bed and blessed sleep. 

“Thank you, God,” he said aloud, and started up the steps.

But no, that's not it. There's a whole chapter more. And instead of ending with Delaney looking up at the stars, contemplating God and his life, he leaves the reader with a note of humor.

“Well, right now I’m in Sylvia Otherton’s apartment and we’ve been working on the Ouija board. You read about that in my previous reports, didn’t you, sir?” 

“Oh, yes,” Delaney said, rolling his eyes upward. “I read about the Ouija board.” 

“Well, the first question we asked, weeks ago, was who killed him. And the board spelled out ‘Blind .’ B-L -I-N-D. Then, the second time, we asked if it was a stranger who killed him, and the board spelled out ‘Ni.’ N-I.” 

“Yes, I recall,” Delaney said patiently. “Very interesting. But what does it mean?” 

“Well, get this, sir …” Estrella said. “Tonight we asked the spirit of Simon Ellerbee whether it was a man or a woman who killed him, and the Ouija board spelled out ‘Wiman.’ W-I-M-A-N. Now that didn’t make much sense at first. But then I realized this board has a slight glitch and is pointing to ‘I’ when it means ‘O.’ If you follow that, you’ll see that the killer was blond, not blind. And the board meant to say ‘No’ instead of ‘Ni’ when we asked if the murderer was a stranger. And the final answer should have been ‘Woman’ instead of ‘Wiman.’ So as I see it, sir, the person we’re looking for is a blond woman who was not a stranger to the victim.”

“Thank you very much,” Delaney said gravely.

Sanders, Lawrence - The Fourth Deadly Sin

Although I liked the ending about the stars much more, I think it's clever that Sanders finds for his readers a Ouija Board that has a problem with O's and I's. Who would have thought of that?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Shimmering Like a Butterfly's Wing

I love the morning series (here) . . . anyone who reads this site must know that by now. Heck, I'm even thinking about making a book that is nothing more than a compendium of morning quotes from novels.

Nevertheless, there was a second morning description in The Fourth Deadly Sin by Lawrence Sanders to go along with this one (here). In fact it was after I read this one that I realized that Sanders starts many of his chapters with descriptions of the morning. The man just loved mornings I guess.

The next morning Delaney felt equally optimistic as he and Monica set out with the Boones for Diane Ellerbee’s country home. “Looks like a splendid day,” Delaney gloated. And so it was. 

A blue sky shimmered like a butterfly’s wing. The sun was a hot plate and there, to the east, one could see a faint smudge of white moon. The sharp air bit like ether, and the whole world seemed scrubbed and polished.

Sanders, Lawrence - The Fourth Deadly Sin

Then a few pages later there was this one:

He lumbered over to Samuelson’s office at 79th Street and Madison Avenue. It was a harshly cold morning, the air still but the temperature in the teens. Delaney was thankful for his flannel muffler, vested suit, and balbriggan underwear. He thrust his gloved hands into his overcoat pockets, but he felt the cold in his feet, a numbing chill from the frozen pavement.

Sanders, Lawrence - The Fourth Deadly Sin

This second one occurs when the detective is on the way to confront the murderer. I like that he uses the morning as a springboard to give insight into the characters mood as well as his demeanor, and one other truly Sanderian aspect of characterization: the characters wardrobe.

Count me in the column of those who like it. He's got a way with words, why not lend that capability to descriptions of mornings.

In the upcoming book I predict Sanders may have a whole chapter to himself.