Tuesday, September 28, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thank You Brad Thor

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

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

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book Review – Three for the Chair

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

A made some notes, of course.

Archie Goodwin describing a lady he is watching says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only two interesting vocabulary words.

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

Larrupe - give a spanking to; subject to a spanking

All in all, fun to read, as always.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Through with the Judging

I finished my contest entries for the Houston Writer's Guild Fall Novel Contest. I don't really like doing this bit of volunteer work, but I get a free pass to the writer's conference and it's interesting to see how my contemporaries write. I don't like it because I never know what to say. Am I really in a position to offer advice to my fellow writers?

I was a judge for the Spring Novel Contest and I was surprised by the number of novels about vampires, hobgoblins and witches; an offshoot of Harry Potter I'm sure. This Fall was different. This time the strangest entries were about bringing to live strange inanimate objects.

I read one novel about a young girl whose best friend was the clock tower in the town square. I had to read that sentence twice. I wanted to ask the author why he/she said "best friend?" Why not have the main character intrigued by the clock tower? Fascinated by the clock tower? Best friend? Really?

Another double take occurred when I read a story about the illeagal drug trade. This was intriguing based on my reading of the synopsis. Several different views of what goes into making, selling, interdicting ecstasy in London. It seemed to me that it would be a fun book to read, sort of like Crash or the Red Violin. Several points of view following drugs through the pipeline. Nope. It was told from the point of view of the Ecstasy pill. Uh oh. Note to future writers, anthropomorphizing an Ecstasy pill is a silly idea.

Doing the same to a raindrop is even worse. The worst entry I read was about a raindrop, who a few hours after birth, is struck by lightning in its crib and given super powers. Due to the lightning strike, the raindrops parents decide that the storm cloud they live in is too dangerous and they decide to fall to Earth and live in the ocean. During the move, the baby raindrop is separated from its parents and is subsequently taken in and raised by a teacher at the local high school. While at school the raindrop is victimized by a bully in the school hallways and his super powers come to the fore. The raindrop has the ability to "flame on" so to speak. Become firey. A human torch of raindrops. I stopped reading on page three. Had it been intended as a comedy I would have read further. It was not.

Since I only had about 50 entries to read, this chore was not quite as laborious as last Spring when I had 100. But, it was fun to see what my fellow writers consider good writing.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Kindling on the iPad

For the most part I wasn't going to write too much more about e-readers. I figure that the revolution has transformed into a cold war with the dominant three parties, Apple's iPad, Amazon's Kindle, and B&N's Nook, all settling in. But, there was a great article from Walt Mossberg today that discussed e-reading apps for the iPad (Link).

As he states, this article doesn't discuss e-readers, but rather e-reader applications on iPad. He says that they all have good and bad points, but one thing he did say about Amazon's Kindle reading application for iPad caught my eye.

"(The Application) synchronizes the last page read, your bookmarks and notes with the Kindle hardware reader and Kindle apps on Windows PCs, Macs, and BlackBerry and Android devices." This is something I've loved about my Kindle. But, that wasn't the key, this was, "The Kindle app also lets you see popular highlighted passages selected by other users."

And I thought my Kindle was broken. I've seen these highlights while reading and wondered what the hell it was. I knew I hadn't highlighted anything. Now I know. How keen! I can't wait to find the next one and see what other readers are highlighting in the books I read. It's like getting a text book in school and having all the notes in the margin already.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Great Line from Lion's Game

I'm listening to Lion's Game, so no Book Review is imminent, BUT I heard a great line,

"Nash stayed as aloof and inscrutable as a Tibetan monk on quaaludes."

I thought it was a bit plebeian at first blush, but on the second read, I loved it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Using My Undeniably Useful Links

I'm girding myself up for this year's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which is coming up in November. I've successfully written through four NaNoWriMo's. I was thinking of foregoing this year's contest, but have since decided that it's a worthwhile exercise that I should take advantage of. In preparing for November, I've been assessing and in many cases discarding potential story lines and ideas. I think I've hit on the one I want to try.

My indespensible brother, Dave told me about an idea for a military cum espionage story idea that I thought might be a worthwhile project. I've just recently read a Barry Eisler and a Vince Flynn novel to put me in the right frame of mind. I think another military style book is in order. In order to find this next book I used the handy-dandy link on the right of this page that says "Literature Map". Immediately, dozens of similar authors popped up.

If you are reading this blog and you like to read, I encourage you to scroll to the right and click on that "Literature Map" link and type in an author. Really quite useful.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Acute Disappointments

Seems only fitting that a series of poor decisions the other day should lead to a series of acute disappointments today. In my reading world, two (perhaps not so acute) disappointments have arisen.

First, the other day I wrote that I wished I'd read Nelson DeMille's Lion's Game instead of listening to it via audio book. Then I retracted the statement with a blog post about how what seemed like an expansive and far ranging plot and idea had now boiled down to a more (too) focused and limited plot. Now, I'm regretted ever thinking I wanted to read the book. It's not that DeMille's writing is bad, it's that it takes so damn long to get anywhere. It's taken about two hours of audio book reading time to move just fifteen minutes in the book's time line. DeMille goes into such detailed and specific introspection on the part of each character that any decision a character makes is parsed and dissected to the nth degree that the reader ceases to care. What seems like an intriguing plot has been complete squashed by the plodding and pedantic pace. Add to this the fact that the book switches from first person POV to third person and had I not paid so much for the book, I would have ditched it by now.

A perfect seque to Cut Shot, A Jack Austin PGA Tour Mystery. I have stopped reading this. I'm halfway through and I've given up. I initially downloaded this because it would be similar in scope to my manuscript Toe the Line. Where John Corrigan has a mystery among golfers with a professional golfer being the sleuth, I have a mystery centered around triathloning. I hope that my readers aren't as disappointed in my story as I was in this one. The plot was far fetched, the characters motivations were complete nonsense, and the characters were formulaic and poorly fleshed out. Sorry, Corrigan, I'm not impressed.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Breakout Novel

The more I read and write, the more I understand a bit more what Donald Maass was saying in his book Writing the Breakout Novel.

Yesterday I wrote about how much I was enjoying Lion's Game. What a difference a day makes. It's become far more shallow in just that one day. I'm hoping that DeMille is able to change this, but it has since become quite narrow and focused instead of sweeping and expansive as I'd hoped when I began listening to it. Re-reading my next manuscript I see the same thing happening. This all got me thinking about the books I have read recently. All of them seem to be like watching a single character through a camera's view finder. They're all quite limited in scope and field.

Donald Maass' book was about broadening that field. Some of the books that come to mind when I think about Maass' book are Lonesome Dove, Shogun and (although he didn't mention this book, I think about it) A Deepness in the Sky. All of these are expansive books, almost overwhelming in their scope. The author may concentrate on character; Augustus, Laurie, Call, Jake in Lonesome Dove for example, but there is a far more sweeping theme and scope to the book.

I'm hoping that identifying this in my own writing, quite easy to do, will help me begin crafting my own breakout novel. What's the first step in the 12-Step program . . . acknowledging that you have the problem. Wonder when I'll hit step 2? Understanding that a Power greater than me will restore me to sanity. Better call my friend Bill.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bad Decision Wednesday

Today has consisted of a series of incredibly bad decisions. What's worse, none of the decision had to be made, much less be made poorly. Only one of them is relevant to my writing and reading world.

I started listening to Nelson DeMille's Lion's Game. It's a book I've always seen on bookshelves at the bookstore, at the Half Price Books, at Amazon, and each time I gloss by it and remind myself that soon I need to read it. Another book that is in that same category . . . The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I keep meaning to read it, will I? Probably not.

The bad decision about Lion's Game is that I down loaded it through Audible.com in order to listen to it in the car. I've always been an audible book listener. In highschool I would go to the local library and check out books to listen to. I think my first experience with Dick Francis was through an audio version of one of his books, listed to while in the parking lot of highschool prior to the ringing of the first bell. I've been a subscriber of Audible.com off and on for several years. I'm "on" now thanks to On Writing by King. Why listen to sports or political talk shows while driving when I can fine tune my ability to write?

Lion's Game is very good. I usually don't like books that switch POV as this one does, but he does it well. It's immediately engaging and already, just a few minutes into the book, I have heard several lines I wish I had read on the Kindle so I could highlight them and share them hear. So, . . . big mistake in not reading it. Not the biggest I made today though.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Beta Reader

Gave my manuscript, Toe the Line to a new reader. She reads tons, many of the same books I like. PLUS....she's a librarian. She can't help but be a great beta reader. I expect to hear back in a few weeks. In the mean time I'm investigating Smashwords.com so far I like what I see.

Monday, September 6, 2010

It's the Second Line I Like

"Nero Wolfe, behind his desk, sat glaring at the caller in the red leather chair."

Rex Stout - Three for the Chair

Not a great first line. Not that surprising that Wolfe is glaring. It's the second line that makes the reader smile a bit and establishes the tone that fans of Nero Wolfe novels come to expect.

"I was swiveled with my back to my desk, ready with my notebook, not glaring."

Book Review: Executive Orders (or the first book where in I did not find a single line worth mentioning)

Uh oh. Note the title. This is not good. There are two reasons I write these book reviews. First so I can remember what I read. The second reason. . . whenever I find what I believe is a well written line, a worthwhile analogy, or a clever turn of phrase, I like to share it with you and write it down for future reference. Executive Orders by Vince Flynn had none of those aspects that would fulfill reason two.

I read a spy/thriller novel every now and then. They're fun to read, and my indispensable brother Dave has given me several great miltary thriller ideas that I hope to one day write. I've read most of Vince Flynn's books. They fall into a category I like to call neo-con porn. The hero Mitch Rapp is an caricature of a CIA assassin and the politics that Flynn describes are complete fantasy. But, fun to read.

Disappointing in that i believe I now like Barry Eisler's books more (keep in mind I've only read one from Eisler). Where Flynn has a broader scope that include world-wide movements and plot developments, Eisler focuses on the main character more and the locales are more manageable.

The one redeeming part about Executive Orders was the description of the hostage rescue operation in the Philippines. The jungle, the rain storm, the misery, all served to remind me of our Ranger operations in Panama. My question . . . what with all the man love for SEALs. Fun to read but I'm glad it only took me two days to finish.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Book Review: Wild Horses

Just finished reading Wild Horses by Dick Francis. I’ve read this book, three times? It might be one of my favorites but if you asked me, what did you think about Wild Horses, I wouldn’t know it by name. I always remember it the second I read the first page. The story begins with a man dying next to the protagonist, Thomas Lyon, and telling Thomas about his greatest sin. The rest of the book is spent with Thomas uncovering that sin. It’s an interesting story in that it attacks the mystery from two different angles. There is the past mystery, and the mystery going on around Thomas as he films a movie about horse racing. Whenever I read it I think about a large rake or boom being dragged along the muddy bottom of a lake revealing things best left covered.

I tagged a few of my favorite lines:

I liked this first passage for its simplicity. It’s just one line, but it describes so much about what Thomas’ intentions are and why he is doing the things he does in the book.
“Conjurors never explained their tricks. The gasp of surprise was their best reward.”

The first part of this line isn’t anything to shake a stick at, but the last four words grabbed me.
“More people came, apparently plain-clothes policemen. Betty and I retreated to Dorothea’s sitting room where again, comprehensive chaos paralyzed thought.”

Loved this description of one of the suspects. Who wouldn’t want to be a person happy with little?
There was an obvious self-contentment in his whole personality. He had the weathered complexion and thread-venied cheeks of an outdoors man, his eyebrows dramatically blond against the tanned skin. Blue eyes held no guile. His teeth looked naturally good, even and white. No tension showed in his long limbs or sturdy neck. I thought him no great brain, but one of nature’s lucky accidents, a person who could be happy with little.

Some might think this description of a sun rise a bit ham-handed, but Francis inserts this into his usually utilitarian prose and it makes it more interesting.
“Faint horizontal threads of clouds were growing a fiercer red against the still gray sky and as he busied himself with camera speed and focus, the streaks intensified to scarlet and to orange and to gold, until the whole sky was a breath-gripping symphony of sizzling color, the prelude to the earth’s daily sping toward the empowerment of life.”

Thought this description of this aging professor and his room remarkable, particularly the length of that first sentence and the last line of that sentence . . . “and a brass Roman-numeraled clock ticking away the remains of a life.”
I was becoming accustomed to him and to his crowded room, aware now of the walls of bookshelves, so like Valentine’s, and of his cluttered old antique walnut desk, of the single brass lamp with green metal shade throwing inadequate light, of rusty green velvet curtains hanging from great brown rings on a pole, of an incongruously modern television set beside a worn old typewriter, of dried faded hydrangeas in a cloisonné vase and a brass Roman-numeraled clock ticking away the remains of a life. The room, neat and orderly, smelled of old books, of old leather, of old coffee, of old pipe smoke, of old man.

Francis throws in some ideas about his belief in having a strong fantasy life, a positive thing in his view.
“A good strong fantasy life, I’d guess, saves countless people from boredom and depression. It gives them a feeling of being individual.”

I’m biased I know, but I’d read this again in a heartbeat and will. Great hook, great plot, great story lines.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Finally Done with my Final Edit

So I finished the last read through and last edit of my manuscript. Now what? Well, first I'm going to ask several more people to read it for me. Stephen King inspired me. This was part of his advice. I even know the folks I want to read it. Mystery lovers. Already picked em out, have one of them on the hook. Won't make the same mistake I made with the edit.

What mistake? Having an editor who did not read mysteries edit my book. When I read my manuscript this last time I did so while reading a Dick Francis novel. It helped me get in the right frame of mind. I believe I've written here before that I was encouraged when I saw that my editor had a Dick Francis book on his shelf when I took him my manuscript. I was discouraged to find out that he'd never read it.

I think I've made the decision to go ahead and e-publish the book. First I want to look into several successful marketing campaigns that have accompanied an e-book release from relative unknowns and try to mimic them.