Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Reading List - Rough Edges

To continue the theme from the last couple of days I offer, Rough Edges by James E Rogan (here).

I wrote this down on a piece of paper and have since forgotten why I wrote it down. Rogan was a congressman from California and a Superior Court Judge. I seem to recall that his childhood and teen years were quite, spectacularly checkered and that he came up from all that with aplomb.

Still in all it makes the list. If someone recommended it enough to me to write it down, I must have had a good reason, right?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Reading List - The Wrong War

I've been looking forward to reading The Wrong War by Bing West for several months now. I read an article about it and it only re-ignited the fire that I felt to read it. The author Andrew Exum writes:

"First, the grit. "The Wrong War" contains some of the most compelling descriptions of small-unit combat that I have ever read. Mr. West has argued in the past that the U.S. armed forces have lost their "warrior ethos" and calls them here "a gigantic Peace Corps." But these claims in no way square with what he depicts."

Who wouldn't want to read a ware that has the most compelling descriptions of small-unit combat?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Reading List - Before I Go to Sleep

I read about a new book by a new author in the WSJ today (here). At first I was not intrigued, seriously, who wants to read about a woman who’s losing her mind. I don’t need to read about it, I’m living with it (just kidding sweety). But the more I read about the book, the more inspired I was to read it. As I have so many books on my plate that I want to read, and as I already have a series of posts on books I’ve read, I can’t imagine a better place to compile a list of books I want to read than here.
To begin with, Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson.

Why do I want to read this? Firstly because so many have said it is a good, well written thriller. Secondly though, I want to read this, because so many people thought for so long that the author of the book had to be a female, when in fact it was a dude.

Miss Alter says in her article about the book, A Daily Breakfast of Amnesia:
"The author's agent and publisher have been cultivating an air of mystery around the book by forgoing a book-jacket photo and using the initials "S.J." Many early readers of the novel found the female narrator so convincing that they assumed Mr. Watson (S stands for Steve) was a woman, says Clare Conville, Mr. Watson's literary agent. Some foreign publishers even demanded photographic proof once they learned his identity, Mr. Watson says."

""Ninety percent of the publishers and 90% of the people who read it think he's a woman," Ms. Conville says."

For so long people have told me, don’t try and write from the point of view of a female, and I’ve heeded that advice. I want to see how Watson handles it and does it so convincingly.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Always on the Lookout

As I'm always on the lookout for fresh, interesting ways of writing, this came up today and makes the list (here).

CORUSCANT — Obi-Wan Kenobi, the mastermind of some of the most devastating attacks on the Galactic Empire and the most hunted man in the galaxy, was killed in a firefight with Imperial forces near Alderaan, Darth Vader announced on Sunday.

In a late-night appearance in the East Room of the Imperial Palace, Lord Vader declared that “justice has been done” as he disclosed that agents of the Imperial Army and stormtroopers of the 501st Legion had finally cornered Kenobi, one of the leaders of the Jedi rebellion, who had eluded the Empire for nearly two decades. Imperial officials said Kenobi resisted and was cut down by Lord Vader’s own lightsaber. He was later dumped out of an airlock.

The news touched off an extraordinary outpouring of emotion as crowds gathered in the Senate District and outside the Imperial Palace, waving imperial flags, cheering, shouting, laughing and chanting, “Hail to the Emperor! Hail Lord Vader!” In the alien protection zone, crowds sang “The Ten Thousand Year Empire.” Throughout the Sah’c district, airspeeder drivers honked horns deep into the night.

“For over two decades, Kenobi has been the Jedi rebellion’s leader and symbol,” the Lord of the Sith said in a statement broadcast across the galaxy via HoloNet. “The death of Kenobi marks the most significant achievement to date in our empire’s effort to defeat the rebel alliance. But his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that the rebellion will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad.”

Obi-Wan Kenobi ’s demise is a defining moment in the stormtrooper-led fight against terrorism, a symbolic stroke affirming the relentlessness of the pursuit of those who turned against the Empire at the end of the Clone Wars. What remains to be seen, however, is whether it galvanizes Kenobi’s followers by turning him into a martyr or serves as a turning of the page in the war against the Rebel Alliance and gives further impetus to Emperor Palpatine to step up Stormtrooper recruitment.

More From Penguin

Sadly, I find this discussion with the CEO of Penguin Books (here) amazing. I say sadly cause I doubt if I have the "je ne sais quoi" to pull off a review that will make a reader want to go read it. So, I'll excerpt what I found amazing and hope that suffices.

WSJ: Will there come a time when physical books are no longer published?

Mr. Makinson: No, I really don't think so. There is a growing distinction between the book reader and the book owner. The book reader just wants the experience of reading the book, and that person is a natural digital consumer: Instead of a disposable mass market book, they buy a digital book. The book owner wants to give, share and shelve books. They love the experience. As we add value to the physical product, particularly the trade paperback and hardcover, the consumer will pay a little more for the better experience. I looked the other day into the sales of public-domain classics in 2009, when all those books were available for free. What I found was that our sales had risen by 30% that year. The reason is that we were starting to sell hardcover editions—more expensive editions—that people were prepared to pay for. There will always be a market for physical books, just as I think there will always be bookstores.

I can empathize with both parties mentioned here. There are many books that I will e-read, then afterward I'll wish I'd bought the book so that I could have it on my shelf. Usually I'll go to the half-price book store and buy it there. The same has happened in reverse as well. I've bought several books that I want on my shelf that I haven't read cause they aren't on the ole Kindle. It's a vicious circle. I guess based on the excerpt I'm experiencing an indentity crisis.

WSJ: What is the most significant challenge facing booksellers at a time when there are millions of physical titles for sale online and e-books are doubling in revenue?

Mr. Makinson: There is a future in book retailing. A lot of the issue is not just that there are too many bookstores, but that they are too big. How do you diversify the offerings to consumers in order to make productive use of space without losing the experience of being in a bookstore?

I've written about this before. I don't hold out much hope. See more (here). I always think about Cactus Records on Shepherd Drive. My brother and I would always swing by there when our folks went to the neighboring BookStop. First it was all records and tapes. Then, with CD's, they had to adapt. They tried (and failed) to keep the place open. Now, it's a novelty store several blocks down that is back to selling records. Gone full circle. I have high hopes for Half-Price Book Stores, not so much for the Borders and Barnes and Noble's.

Last excerpt, I promise.

WSJ: The Amazon Kindle best-seller list is dominated by cheap, self-published titles, often priced at $2.99 or less. How much of a threat to traditional publishers are these self-published works?

Mr. Makinson: This is a new market that can't exist economically in print. You can't manufacture, ship and store a book at those prices. But we as publishers probably need to participate.

We'll look at new content that maybe we can popularize in different ways. We'll also look at our backlist. Maybe there are customers for westerns at $1.99. What we need to be really careful of is ensuring that this new market doesn't compromise the sales of Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, Patricia Cornwell and Ken Follett.

I think he's being a bit too blaize about it. I believe that the cheap $2.99'ers are are serious threat to even large publishing houses like Penguin. Having absolutely no data to back that up, I don't take myself or my threats too seriously.

Still, an intrigueing article. A nice follow up to this one from last year (here)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Steampunk, is it Erudite to Me?

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, or perhaps I’m misinterpreting the article, finally, mayhaps I just have the wrong definition in my mind (much like those three years where I thought erudite was pronounced with a long “e” sound . . . irony can be pretty ironic and embarrassing at cocktail parties) but I’ve always thought of the model of steampunk and cyperpunk genres as different than that which is defined in this WSJ article Why Steampunk’s Time Has Come by Tom Shippey (here).

I planned to start this post with the admission that I like steampunk as a genre and idea. This would not have been surprising if the reader considers this post wherein I reference Neil Stephenson’s Snowcrash (here) that I wrote sometime in the past two years. But I decided against it as it seems I have the wrong idea about the genre.

Other than Snowcrash, I think of the Terry Gilliam movie Brazil as the best or most accurate visualization of steampunk. Computers that work like adding machines, monitors that are seen through a large lens, tubes, gears and other oddities used with gusto throughout the society. Each scene is fun to look at and imagine for these details. Other than Snowcrash (again, questionable based on ones definition) I haven’t read much steampunk. For a while I toyed with the idea of reading Android Karenina by Ben Winters (here), a re-telling of Anna Karenina through a steampunk lens, but gave up on the idea sometime last year. This WSJ article may have re-invigorated the drive in me. Tom Shippey makes Robert Jackson Bennett's The Company Man and Stephen Hunt's The Rise of the Iron Moon seem imminently interesting and readable. More on this tomorrow.

Friday, May 6, 2011

More P-Norm Vocab

Just tonight my 4 year old son whipped out a new phrase ...he was playing outside with the hose and was beginning to shiver so be said:

I need to go inside and warm off a little.

Kinda a combination of warm up and cool off I suppose.

Looking For DVDs?

I remember as a child that I loved watching the segments on Sesame Street where raw materials would be shown moving through a manufacturing plant until they became a product and were ultimately delivered to consumers. The most memorable of these for me is the one about milk. First the cows are shown being herded into the barn, then they’re milked, on and on and on until at the end of the snippet a little boy picks up the bottle of milk from his doorstep where it’s been delivered, pours a glass and drinks it. I always loved these. Along these same lines were the videos showing construction sites, cranes, bull-dozers and other accoutrements of daily life that tykes find engrossing. I’ve not completely grown out of it either. Ever seen Ultimate Factories on the National Geographic Channel? Same concept, but built for grownups. Same with Dirty Jobs, or the myriad of History Channel and Discovery Channel shows out there.

Last week my two young sons were given about six DVDs distributed by BigKids.com (here). My four year old has already watched several of them. When asked on Saturday morning which movie he wanted to watch, he chose to have a second showing of the DVD on the Osh Kosh Air Show. This is high praise as he only gets one show a day on Saturdays and Sundays, and none on weekdays. I don’t believe he understands the particulars of the air show DVD, particularly when they describe the physics behind lift, but as he watches it I see him taking it all in. He’s so attentive that he is immobilized throughout the entire screening. Not quite so when we watched the DVD on the Blue Angels. This might have been a bit too dry for him. Although he loved seeing the F-18 fighters fly in formation, a particular aspect of flying he’d never before imagined, the scenes showing the pilots planning the missions left him yawning.

I did notice that unlike Dirty Jobs or Ultimate Factories, shows I have to coax him to watch, the BigKids.com DVDs were narrated by kids. This aspect of it, having a voice that he could relate to, seemed to draw him in a manner that the adult shows lacked. For example, we watched an Ultimate Factories episode on the process of building a John Deere Combine. It was like pulling teeth to get the boy to watch it even though he is a huge fan of tractors. Seems a bit arbitrary to me as he’s a city kid, but who am I to judge. Nevertheless, the BigKids.com videos, due to the narration and the lack of commercials I suspect, yielded the complete opposite reaction.

I know that many of the readers of this blog have kiddos the same age as my own. If you’re looking for a series of engrossing and educational videos, go check out BigKids.com. It’s well worth the investment.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Great (Somewhat Expected) Line

I'm in the midst of Great Expectations and ran across what I feel is a fantastic passage.

Pip and Biddy are walking together back to their house when Orlick confronts them. Orlick says he'll "be jiggered" if he doesn't walk back with them. Pip thinks to himself the following:

"This penalty of being jiggered was a favorite supposititious case of his. He attached no definite meaning to the word that I am aware of, but used it, like his own pretended Christian name, to affront mankind, and convey an idea of something savagely damaging. When I was younger, I had a general belief that if he had jiggered me personally, he would have done it with a sharp and twisted hook."

Delving into the light, sardonic mind of Pip is one of the best parts about the book.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Great Article on Story Planning

Although I've never read any of his books, his article makes me want to. This article (here) Facing the Hard Questions Before Chapter One by Len Deighton I thought was a fantastic and inspirational primer on writing novels. The novels I've written have been anything but planned. I hope to change all this. This article might be the catalyst.

In the past I've worked the Nano way; throwing anything and everything down on the paper as quickly as I can. This has lead to seven extrememly rough drafts and 1.5 finished novels. I'm thinking that I need to try and slow down and follow the advice of Mr. Deighton and Robert W. Walker advocated in Dead On Writing (The How-To Book to Die For). His writing style was a "wave style" as he called it. He would write chapter 1 then he'd go back, edit it, and continue on to chapter 2. Then he'd go back to Chapter 1, edit Chapters 1 and 2 and then writer 3. He'd advance by going back first, editing the chapters before, then writing the next.

I think I'll use the advice of both these two and see if I can't make a bigger dent in #2, On Edge.