Wednesday, June 30, 2010
William Gibson - Neuromancer
I've always enjoyed metaphors that are modern. He could have so easily said that it was the color of glacial ice or as grey as a dark sky before a hurricane. In either case he could have set the same foreboding mood. Considering the genre, sci-fi, the "dead channel" seems to invoke perfectly both the description of the sky, the impending doom or depression, as well as hit on the fact that what the reader is about to read is fresh, modern and out of the ordinary.
Monday, June 28, 2010
My indispensible brother has sent along a link to a press release about a new update for Kindle for iPad and iPod. His question: Why aren't Kindle owner more upset about the fact that Kindle is producing a more powerful operating system for platforms other than the Kindle. In short, if I buy and iPad and load the Kindle application, I will get the benefit of embedded video and audio clips that I would otherwise not be able to get from my Kindle.
He has a point. I was discussing this with my dispensable friend, Bill this weekend when he had a chance to look at my Kindle. The iPod touch his son was holding seemed to him to be more powerful, sleek and useful then the Kindle. He's right. The Kindle is very utilitarian. Are there some things I wish I could do with it, like access maps appropriate to the book I'm reading (see my Book Review on Shogun) or have music appropriate to the story played while I read it, sure, but that's not what I bought. I bought a reader. That's it. It's like buying a base model car. You get to read with it. Now, it's not like having a car with no AC in Houston, good lord it's a tad better than that, but for the price, you get a tablet to read on.
I will say this for Kindle, with the wireless on, reading it each day, I don't have to charge for a week. Wireless off….two weeks and still going strong. I love that aspect. I can download five books, turn off the wireless, and probably won't need to recharge until I'm done with them. I'd like to see the iPad manage that.
Secondly, I have no problem with Kindle leveraging Apples platform. I suspect that soon enough a more advanced Kindle model will come out and the kinks in the operating system will be all fleshed out by a bunch of Apple dopes.
"I accepted a commission that had been turned down by four other writers, but I was hungry at the time."
Dick Francis – Longshot
One of the things I like to do when I edit a book is to read books as similar as possible to the one I'm editing. I'm currently editing (hopefully for the last time) my novel Toe the Line. I felt it was worthwhile for me to read a book from one of my favorite authors while I did so. Ironically, I've been told that I need to spice up my opening chapter and engage the reader more. Longshot is not a big help in this endeavor.
Although this first sentence makes the reader wonder, "Why is the protagonist hungry?" and "Why did four other writers turn down the commission?" Those questions are eclipsed by the larger question of "Why do I care?"
What's more sad? The most intriguing aspect of the first chapter is wondering what a chicken and chutney sandwich that the main character eats in his agent's office tastes like. Not a good sign for my own novel. Although I will say, my opening few pages look outstanding in comparison!
Friday, June 25, 2010
Anyone who reads this blog religiously will know that last year I went query crazy. I sent out queries to agents as if my life depended on it. I tallied that I had a 5% success rate. Lower than most published authors feel is acceptable. I have sense completely changed my query process and dynamic.
Although I have not completely accepted the advice of JA Konrath on queries (his advice found here) I am closer to it than last summer. Konrath advices not sending a SASE, they just make it easier to be rejected and do nothing for the author's self-esteem, and he believes that it is necessary to differentiate submissions from the pack. His query packet was stylized printed and shipped like a book jacket with an author blurb, review, front jacket intro etc. As I said, I'm not as keen as he in casting off the cloak of conventional structure, but I'm moving that way.
Secondly, my query letter has changed significantly. I posted the query here last year and since then it has evolved into a much shorter much more pithy missive. Still have the word count, still have the genre, but I read a Writer's Digest article about successful queries that truly hit home. Whet the agent's appetite, it said, and leave them wanting more. Just give them enough to know that you're professional, polished, have a finished manuscript, and are in the genre they represent.
The reason I bring all this up is that as I peruse publishing blogs, I'm amazed by the number of queries that agents get. Reading about Janet Reid on her blog, Nathan Bransford and Jessica Faust, I realize that my even getting a 5% success rate was pretty spectacular. Jessica Faust's post this morning mentions that she has over 360 new email in her inbox, all of them queries. She posts this about every two or three weeks. She plows through them in that same amount of time then a new batch comes in. In my office if I get 36 emails I'm extremely busy, 360 is mind numbing. The same dynamic is common for all the other agents.
What's the point? In the famous words of Jesse Jackson on SNL, the point is moot. There is no point. I'm just amazed that my queries got picked up at all. Like Colonel Cathcart would say, "it's a real feather in my cap." Then again, I'm still not published so "that's a real black eye."
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Ayn Rand - The Fountainhead
I know that most people prefer Atlas Shrugged with it's repetitive "Who is John Galt?" but I am a far bigger fan of The Fountainhead.
The first line piques my curiosity, but the rest of the paragraph is what really gets your mind ensnared.
"He stood naked at the edge of a cliff. The lake lay far below him. A frozen explosion of granite burst in flight to the sky over motionless water. The water seemed immovable, the stone flowing. The stone had the stillness of one brief moment in battle when thrust and the currents are held in a pause more dynamic than motion. The stone glowed, wet with sunrays."
Even with that great description, the writing and story just keep getting better from there.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
It wasn’t until I read this line “Yossarian shook his head and explained that déjà vu was just a momentary infinitesimal lag in the operation of two coactive sensory nerve centers that commonly function simultaneously” that I remembered when I first read Catch 22.
When I lived in Belgium as a foreign exchange student I lived across the street from the little village library. For a year I plowed through every English book they had. Catch 22 was one of them. How can I be so sure? I had a diary . . .a daily journal. After reading the line above about déjà vu I cracked open that journal and lo and behold, back in the fall of 92 I wrote that same line down in my euro fountain pen.
I find it cosmically titillating that a line about déjà vu would spark a memory of reading that same line in 1992. What’s worse . . .I actually have that sucker memorized and had forgotten the source from which I lifted it until now. Mystery solved.
The iPad has now completely differentiated itself from the others and now rarely is mentioned in articles about eReaders except as the bar to which all others should aspire. The color screen, the other functions and features; the iPad costs hundreds of dollars more than the others and shows no signs of discounting it's price, nor any need to. The others? The hoi polloi of the eReading world? Those that tried to be a player by first to market? They are struggling for the scraps and this move to drop the prices for their readers is the first move in a chess match which is going to leave us with one preeminent eReader, the iPad, and one other.
I was most intrigued by this line, "A price war for low-end e-readers could force Barnes & Noble and Amazon to rely more heavily on their profit from selling e-books. Under so-called agency sales agreements with many top publishers, e-bookstores keep about 30% of the sale price of e-books. Booksellers are actually making money off of e-books now. That was not the case when they built their business plans and set their original prices for these devices." This quote opens up some interesting thoughts regarding how publishers and booksellers will position themselves for the future. Most other articles have concentrated on how worried publishers were about the digital reading revolution, how they will be left in the cold with no position to occupy. I wonder in what ways publishers will not let that happen? How will their job positions change as the delivery of their material changes?
What I find the most worrisome is that the Kindle and other dedicated eReaders are now considered second tier to a multi-purpose computer like the iPad. At some point Amazon must have decided to not expand the functionality of the Kindle and instead focus completely on delivering the best eReader and content delivery system they could. Why is that worrisome? On a personal level my own company has decided to do the same thing in the mobile video recording world. So far, thankfully, the gamble has paid off for us, it remains to be seen if the Kindle will survive the up and coming price wars.
My prediction . . . we'll begin to see a greater ability to share content across the different platforms. In much the same way that I can use MSWord on my Mac, I believe I'll be able to get books from multiple sources for the Kindle. We're already seeing that capability creep up, Kindle for my computer, Kindle for my iPhone, Kindle for my Droid.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Charles Portis - True Grit
To most the movie is quite well known especially for the image of an older John Wayne, reins in his teeth, charging at a group of bad guys lead by Robert Duvall, shooting with is six shooters. What is sad is that the book is not more well known.
I remember in school being told how precise, simple and effective Hemingway's prose are. Portis takes that to the extreme. Reading True Grit is spectacular if only cause it seems like there are no wasted words. I'm sorry that it isn't read in grade schools the same way that books like The Old Man and the Sea are.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
He picked to discuss children’s books, Alice in Wonderland, the Lorax, since “they're among the first to cleverly exploit the iPad's capabilities and their rich illustrations can look great on the iPad's color screen.” This made me wonder if the next “big” push and response will come from the comic book community. Naturally there will be people who “poo-poo” this idea. (By the way, I’ve been trying to integrate the awkward word “poo-poo” into my work and home life at least once a day for the past few weeks, it’s driving my co-workers and my wife batty.) I’m sure that the same people who don’t agree that the comic book will be the most natural benefactor of the iPad capabilities were the same ones who thought that Hollywood making Spiderman movies a few years ago was a silly idea. Go check out Marvel's stock since that first Spiderman movie. It increases dramatically with each new production, Spiderman’s 2 and 3, Ironmans 1 and 2, both Fantastic Fours (Daredevil being a notable exception, but who couldn’t see that a wooden Affleck would be a horrible Daredevil).
Wingfiled writes,” I believe it's a matter of if, not when, the great book apps for iPad will show up. I wager the good book apps will be original works, rather than adaptations of existing books, with an electronic version built from the ground up that will take advantage of the device.” This statement is so eerily similar to what I’ve been trying to write in this blog that I have to wonder if he isn’t a tall, dazzlingly good-looking, red-haired man with a regal nose. As we share the same mind, it seems only fitting that we share the same body.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
This might turn out to be a long, tangential post, but in terms of the writing process it could be interesting. (Talk about an uninspiring first line!)
A few weeks ago my cell phone broke. It crashed on the golf course and I don't really blame it. I was involved in a sales event for work, a tournament that lasted over 6 hours. By the 18th hole I actually envied my cell phone's death.
It was my intention, prior to its passing, to wait until Verizon started carrying the iPhone before buying a new phone. The demise of "old faithful" forced my hand and I lost the luxury of choosing my own schedule for phone replacement. So, naturally, the iPhone not being an option, I went and bought a new fangled DROID phone. I like it. It's pretty handy to have around, and soon it should double as a Kindle eReader. Presently it lacks that eReading application, but I have made great use of another feature.
Years ago, during my long commutes from Halliburton up by the airport to my house down in Sugar Land (Houstonians will audibly groan when they read about that commute), I played with the idea of using a voice recorder to write my stories orally. It's hard not to think of ways to wisely use commuting time when you have over an hour of it each way. Despite a year of driving that commute to work, I never followed through with any of my voice recording plans.
Then, with my grandmother Muzzie needing help on her memoir, oral story-telling once again raised its head. For months I traipsed over to Muzzie's to record her stories into my computer. At home I would transcribe then edit her words and despite her critique, I think I gave her stories a pretty good home in a pseudo-memoir.
Now, thanks to the voice recording capability on my new DROID phone, I am once again finding the benefits of oral story-telling. My commute time is far less, only about 15 minutes, but that is just enough time for me to speak out a few pages of text. So far I like what I see. I tend to be far more succinct when I talk a story than when I type one. I felt I was bogging down in the details of the race described in "Off the Edge", the novel I'm in the midst of writing. I felt like I was mired in things that didn't matter. Speaking the story off the top of my head into the recorder tends to keep me on track.
Although I've only kept at it for a few days, to this point I'm impressed with the changes I'm seeing. I'm far more pithy and concise when I have to speak the story. If only I could do something about that awkward sounding voice. Perhaps a nose job will provide me with a more attractive timbre.
Joseph Heller - Catch 22
For whatever reason I just don't find the first line that intriguing. I wouldn't necessarily not read the book based on it, but it's no where near as good as some of the other first lines I've posted, nor is it as good as some of the lines Heller could have used. He could have used Snowden's death, any of the bombing runs, or Yossarian walking up to General Dreedle naked to have his medal presented. I think any of these would make a much better opening line.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
It's an interesting series. Konrath's main advice to new authors (through his blog A Newbies Guide to Publishing) is to always have conflict. Every page, every paragraph, every sentence should be brimming over with conflict. If not, get rid of that sentence, paragraph or page. He follows his own advice. His stories are big on conflict. They are also some of the most disturbing stories ever. Think Silence of the Lambs meets Stephanie Plum. One of the villains in this story is heavy into masochism, and at one point the reader is treated to the disgusting act of the primary villain flaying a victim alive.
When I was a teenager I had a book called "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way." In this book on comic drawing, Stan Lee wrote something about how artists should let their minds go wild when they create villains. Go look at the villains in a comic book; huge heads, swords for hands, skulls instead of faces. Konrath took Stan Lee's advice and ran with it. His villains have to be the creepiest in the business.
Despite the fact that his stories, spilling over with conflict, have little room for deep character development, they do have flashes of well written passages and metaphor. One that I marked made me take notice, the kicker is the last line.
"I had no doubts Bud Kork was insane. But there was more to it than that. Sitting this close to him, I felt a deep sense of revulsion- the same kind of feeling I had when I watched a nature program on TV that showed a spider catching a fly. Bud Kork radiated a very real feeling of harm, of fear and decay and death. Talking to him made me want to take a hot shower and brush my teeth until my gums hurt."
Sadly, I bought this book at the Half Price Book Store and did not read it on Kindle, therefore I made few notes. One thing I've found I enjoy about the Kindle is it's ability to store and keep my notes. It's a habit I enjoy and one I have never developed in conventional book reading. Nevertheless, Rusty Nail was as good as Whiskey Sour and Fuzzy Navel, and in terms of the villainy, much better. Stan Lee would be proud....disgusted but proud.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Max Shulman - Sleep till Noon
Firstly, I think this is a fantastic title for a book. Secondly, the fact that the author is able to sound so conversational is inspiring. It is reminiscent of an Archie McNally mystery. I've always been impressed by Sanders' ability to sound like your best friend is speaking to you. That best friend you've always had but who you constantly learn new things about.
Friday, June 11, 2010
No, this is not a post on great video games of the past; instead this is a story about stories in video games. Last year I interviewed at a video game production company for a job as a project manager. Sadly, I didn't pass muster. It may have had something to do with my calling HALO overblown. Not that I don't recognize the achievements inspired by HALO, but downgrading HALO to a company whose premiere game is basically a copy of HALO without as good a story was a poor strategy.
During this interview I tried to play up my writing credentials and tried to pique the interviewer's interest in my abilities to add a more well developed story line to his future games. I told him that although many games try to add story, many of them are one dimensional. Some games have tried and succeeded in breaking through this one-dimensionality, Max Payne, Grand Theft Auto among others, but in many cases even spectacular games hint at a story and try to follow a story line, but it's like reading a dime store novel; a bit hollow, not as well fleshed out as they could be.
This was one of the elements mentioned in a review I read this morning on Tom Bissell's book Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter. It sounds like a fun to book to read. The mere fact that Bissel has bought four X Box 360s cause he keeps trying to end his addiction to games and gives them away, is enough to make me want to read more. But beyond that, I think that like the iPad and other eReaders, we are seeing a transformation in writing and reading that will branch into games. The new format and style of writing that digital platforms provide will naturally cross over into games as well.
If I didn't love my present job so much, I just might call up that game company again and try and resell myself, but this time I'd sell myself as a Story Editor and most likely exalt Halo.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
The Luck of the Bodkins - P. G. Wodehouse
Fabulous way to start a book, insult an entire nation, particularly when that nation is one which is fun to put down. It's like a french man starting a book by discussing the culinary ability of the English. But, when you continue to look at the sentence, you realize that in truth, he's attacking his own countrymen!
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Read an interesting article today about O Henry. I've always liked O Henry's stories, and remember fondly the compilation of short stories I read in High School. I was so inspired by the Gift of the Magi that I read all of his other works. The article primarily discussed the little known fact that O Henry spent some time in jail before becoming a successful writer. This fact was not even known to his daughter until after his death. Secondly, I suspected this, most of his stories were written quickly and rarely went through a thorough editing. Most of the time he only wrote the stories due to a fast approaching deadline. The Gift of the Magi, apparently, was written in a couple of hours.
But it was this story that caught the lion's share of my attention this morning. It discusses famous literary and movie characters and their psychological diagnoses. This caught my eye due to the fact that I'm having such a hard time writing my next novel. The main character is trying to overcome a case of agoraphobia and it has been exceedingly difficult to write. I'm thinking of giving it up all together. Not the idea of a fatal flaw for my protagonist, mind you, but I'm thinking of finding a different problem altogether. I'm hoping that the article may have spurred my creative juices into doing a better job of fully fleshing out the character, or finding a new problem to focus on.
Sadly, I didn't perform very well on the quiz, took me 23 tries. I have some homework to do.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Sadly, this book was not quite as insiteful as Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel, but I did get a snippet or two of advice. This book is really a compilation of dozens, perhaps hundreds of questions that Evanovich has gotten over the years from her fans. It’s even very lightly edited such that it looks like a Q & A article out of a writing magazine.
As I said, I didn’t get much out of it and the fact that she illustrated many of the techniques she discussed using excerpts from her books rather bothered me. What did I get out it? I found out that prior to Evanovich becoming even moderately popular, she was a romance writer for many years. Then, it took her ten years just to get that first book off the ground! Ten years! Here I am complaining about 1 year. I’ve set a new deadline for myself, it’s 10 years. It’s similar to the goals I used to make on significantly long road marches in the army. Whenever road marches got hard I looked ahead at the Rangers in front of me and decided that if they could make it to that point where I saw them, then so could I. When I got to that point . . . I looked up and made it to the next point. So in that spirit . . .I’m looking ahead to Evanovich. If she can have the determination to out last 10 years, then so can I.
Of course, I neglected to write that the goal setting method I used in the Ranger’s only worked when you weren’t leading the way. But in this case, I’m not, so it should work for me.
Friday, June 4, 2010
"There's something a little over-composed about a plate of sushi or a lunchtime bento box—an uptight, sort of OCD cuisine, with everything arranged just so and nothing touching. Whoever invented it must have had a hard time leaving the house without checking the stove 76 times."
Rob Long - Why Fancy Cakes Can Taste So Crummy
Personlly I thought the title should be spelled "Crumby" rather than "Crummy" to make use of that double entendre in, but what do I know.
The second, I've posted as a paean to the Celtics and Lakers NBA Finals of last night:
"he 31-year-old Mr. Bryant might not be the acrobatic dynamo of his youth, but he has no peer when it matters—and in assessing greatness, that's what should count the most. He's also as lovable as a tire puncture on the interstate, which is surely part of the reason people are reluctant to unleash the big superlatives."
Jason Gay - Not Your Father's Celtics-Lakers
Hard not to love being able to relate a guys personality to a flat tire on the interstate. Sums it up perfectly.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Other than the fact that this was a long, front page, WSJ article on the topic of e-publishing and e-books, the article raised just two points that I found intrigueing. First, this quote:
The market is likely to shift into two tiers, "branded/high-quality" and "cheap/good enough," predicts author and lecturer Seth Godin.
After reading it, it was kinda a "no-duh" moment. It was an aspect that I believe most industry experts were predicting, but that I had not thought about. I think the "cheap/good enough" market, and what is considered cheap and good enough is going to change drastically.
Secondly, was the listing of all the different e-publishing choices out there. I think the smart money is on a business like Smashwords or Lulu. These are companies that publish across the spectrum of devices. If you publish to Kindle, you might miss out on Nook and iPad sales. Smashwords would be a chance to remove that problem and publish to all.
Whenever I read these articles I realize that I am way behind the power curve. The authors who really have a chance to make money at this point are those that have a large library of previoiusly published books that might be out of print. They can just release them now and reap new revenue from them. I am at the opposite end of the scale. I have no library (well, one that is currentely being edited) and won't have more for some time.
It's during these times of depression that I fall back on what Donald Maass said in his book Writing the Breakout Novel, it doesn't matter how you publish it or how much you spend marketing it, if the story is well written and engages the reader on several levels it will be a success.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Last week I finished Over My Dead Body by Nero Wolfe. At first I found myself in a deep funk, depressed by the similarities I found between Nero Wolfe's writing and that of one of my favorite authors, Lawrence Sanders. My depression turned to anger as I saw how closely so many of the similarities became. Flamboyant and smart main characters both with the name Archie, serious mysteries that are written with a fun loving (and more importantly, word loving) veil, and so many other facets. But, as I let the story sink in, I realized that Sander's might not have been copying Wolfe and his style so much as he may have been paying homage. Like a cover band that plays some of your favorite tunes, Steve Acho come to mind, but plays them as well or better than the originals.
Over My Dead Body is the first Nero Wolfe book I've ever read and I can guarantee you that it won't be my last. I was sad to learn of the passing of Sander if only cause I loved his writing so much. Any author who can have his character say "needless to say my flabber was gasted" while wearing a puce riding hat, has my esteem and interest. Wolfe does the same but with a slightly more serious tone.
Like Sanders, Wolfe enjoys talking about the food that surrounds his characters and ensures that they occupy a station in life that provides them with the best possible delicacies. I'm impressed with the proclivities with which he imbues his detective. His constant beer drinking, his never leaving the apartment to solve murders, his attention to detail and schedules. For some reason I found myself envisioning Wolfe in the form of Mr. Millet, my high school chemistry teacher.
As a huge fan of analogies, metaphors and similies, I found all of the following particularly fun.
The murder in the story takes place in a fencing gym, I thought the way he used lunge was apropos: "But he clipped off words and lunged with them . . ."
I love the way Archie describes this man and his suit, sums up perfectly the type of man Archie thinks he is, "He was about my age and size with a good pair of light-colored eyes, and a gray suit of a distinctive weave hung on him in a way that made it obvious that fit had not been managed by waving a piece of chalk at a stock job."
At one point Archie was asked by a lawyer to sign a statement. He did, with a nomme de plume, and left this post script. "I am writing to stipulate that a lawyer has a right to live, and I'm aware that even when he's dead no worm will enter his coffin because if it did, he'd make it sign some kind of paper."
Fabulous image in this one, "Twenty men went through that joint like molasses through cheese cloth."
It took me a second to figure out what he meant here, but when I did, I laughed, "I felt a lot like a hard morning at the alphabet piano, no I didn't."
The final confrontation leads with this image of Archie trying to catch the murderer, literally, "I gave it all I had then, but I couldn't catch lightning."
Secondly, I enjoyed the book for the abundance of interesting, and in some cases completely unknown words:
Persiflage - frivolous bantering talk : light raillery
Obloquy - a strongly condemnatory utterance : abusive language
Prate - to talk long and idly : chatter
Eructed - belch
Salver - a tray especially for serving food or beverages
Blatherskite - 1 : a person who blathers a lot 2 : nonsense, blather
In short, I loved the book, and I look forward to the next Nero Wolfe mystery I get to read.