Monday, August 29, 2011

Author Websites

A while back I started to hash out a website. Agents like to see that you've atleast put some thought into marketing, or so I've heard. Ergo I snatched a website with my name, through some content together and started building. Based on this website I read the other day (here) I've still got a long way to go.

First, I need to add links to my favorite authors and books. That might prove difficult. One thing I also wanted to do was to incorporate an app that would show what I've been reading lately. Sounds awesome. Haven't made it work yet. On my to-do list.

Second, regular updates is a bit weak for my site. What do I update? I haven't done much yet. I mean, sure I could say some things, but would anyone really care? Isn't that why I have a blog? I'll continue to mull over this one.

Finally, feeds? What the heck are they? How do I incorporate them. Most of what I see on twitter is inane. What the heck. Definitely need some more research into this point.

All in all a great 12 point website review. Well worth the read.

Book Review: The Profession

I just finished reading The Profession. I found that it was a phenomenal book in many ways. It was phenomenally gripping yet phenomenally minimalist. I like Pressfield’s novels. I read Gates of Fire while on guard in Oregon during one deployment. I read The Afghan Campaign at the behest of my friend Wheeler who said that it was almost an exact depiction of what he had to deal with when he was deployed there. The Profession is a break from these historical fiction accounts of battles and wars.

I liked The Profession firstly because it deals with a time frame that I think is little utilized. Like Stephenson’s Snowcrash (also a mind blower) it deals with the near-future, the 2030’s. A world where mercenary armies become the reigning power in the Middle East. The run up to that take over is incredibly powerful. In fact I will say that for raw military descriptions that shape new thoughts and imagery, the only book that is better is The Devil’s Brigade.

What didn’t impress me? The writing was minimalist at best. Conversations are one sentence, two sentence then done. It makes Hemingway look verbose and loquacious. There were times that I wanted him to take a bit more time. The pacing is like a roller coaster that never stops or takes a pause. I also felt that he could have ended the book halfway through and I would have been perfectly happy. He delves into politics by the end of the book and it’s a bit of a yawn compared to the first few sections of the book.

The best part about the book was that he looped around to include the prologue in the ending. It seemed perfectly natural and understandable.

Some of my favorite lines are below.

At one point the story takes the hero to a memory of a battle in Africa. I didn’t find much about this description of the local militia until the simile at the end.

They went from friendly to lethal in two seconds with no visible sign or warning. They were as nodded out as junkies and as murderous as a riverful of piranha.

He continues to describe the culture in Africa, after the battle has been won, and their Marine commanding officer is in charge:

In East Africa, no public act can be taken in the capital without report of it flying on wings to every village and crossroads of the interior. A wise judgment is commended. Two in a row are acclaimed. Three and they’re writing songs about you.

I think the description of the commanding officer is interesting, again the end is the best part:

But when I’d run into Salter in the field – by 2024 I was working these merc gigs myself – he looked lean and hard and even more charismatic as a privateer than he had been as a USMC three-star. He was a man on a mission, Chutes said once, though none of us could say exactly what the mission was. Salter moved like a deposed heavyweight champ, who trains and trains in his private camp in the mountains, waiting for a return shot at the title, which he knows will come again and which, this time, he’ll be ready for.

Pressfield describes a terrific interchange between a mercenary and the protagonist before a battle:

Coombs says he’d rather be in Afghanistan, which at least possesses aesthetic integrity, if only of impoverishment. “Look down there. That’s not third world, it’s fourth!” Our ex-SAS captain declares that he despises all isms, “ideologies that are based on some lunatic intellectual concept like the perfectibility of man or the efficiency of free markets. Give me a bleedin’ break. This is what it comes to. Look at this place!”
I love a guy who knows how to bitch. Any moron can gripe about chow or rotations, but someone who can get exercised over architecture is my kind of dude.

All in all a great book with a lot to recommend about it. A bit rushed, could use some more polish, but whose book couldn’t.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Another from the Word Wiz

Growing up one of my favorite words that a youngster created was a substitute for the television remote control. What we called "The Channeler" became "The Flipper-Bipper" once we heard my cousins use that term.

In that same vein, my son came up with a new word for spatula while we were making french toast this morning.

"Dad! Where's the flipper-flopper?"

You can't beat that. I knew exactly what he meant.

Friday, August 26, 2011

I Give Up

I give up on Book Clubs.

I've been in two formal book clubs in my life. One was with a bunch of fellows. I think we were looking for a way to get together and drink during the spring, when there were no football games to watch. It didn't go well. Our first book was promoted by an MFA graduate, the Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Sorry, I didn't like it. When I got to the point where the father is playing with his own poop on the ship I stopped. Our discussion of it was just about as insightful and invigorating as that part of the book. The second book that the club was going to read was the shank in the already failing heart of the group. It was a text book on the workings of the brain. No one read it. Not even the guy who recommended it. I don't think we made it to a third meeting.

My second book club pittled out even faster. I read the one book that the other person promoted. When it came time for me to suggest a book, my partner rejected it out of hand. Now, they're waiting around for the next book. Sorry, book clubbers, this is not a buffet where we get to pick and choose. Book club, finis.

Dick's attendance in future book clubs also finis.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

NaNo Rules and Regulations

Someone asked me what the rules are behind the NaNoWriMo. Do contestants have to write everything in that one month? What if you do any brainstorming before hand? How do you verify? Who oversees and audits the entries and approves them?

All good questions. Before I attempt to answer, let me state that the governing and creating body of the event is located in San Francisco and is called "The Office of Light and Letters". With a name like that, based out of city like SF, you have to know that the answers are going to be pretty weak, and extrememly pliable.

Yep, everything has to be written in one month. What do you win? Nothing. You get a little "winner" button on your NaNo webpage. Brainstorming before hand? Acceptable. Writing before hand? Outlining is fine, but no actual writing. No one oversees or audits.

Yes, it's a goofy event and it's shouldn't really be called a contest. But, it does work. Each year I do more writing during November than any other month. Even the novels which I think are junk, I usually go back and find something redeeming. So, is it worthwhile? Yep. Is it serious? Not really.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New Word from the Word Wiz

So my son has started kindergarten. I can only assume that he was discussing natural disasters during his second day in class (which to me seems an odd curriculum) as he came home and asked me what a "Vurricano" was.

Apparetnly, from the answer I got from him while trying to determine exactly what he was asking a "Vurricano" is a combination of Volcano, Hurricane and Tornado. Someone get Hollywood on the horn. To hell with Twister II, Vurricano HAS to be made.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Noticable, but Hardly Impactable

One of the odd things I noticed about my Kindle when I first got it was that it used "locations" instead of page numbers for books. Based on Amazon's arguments, due to the changing of text sizes and other particulars, it was difficult to use page numbers for e-books. Strangely, Apple's iPad did not have this problem.

I worked on it for a while, tried to see it from Amazon's view, but I was never able to wrap my head around this particular, rather inelegant solution. Not only that I was never able to get a handle on the location values. Were they based on paragraphs? Lines? Words? None of the above as far as I could tell. I'm not a stupid fellow, but this was beyond me.

The book I'm reading now, Stephen Pressfield's new novel, The Profession, uses page numbers not locations. Is it a big switch? No. Did I read more than a third of the book before I noticed? Yes. Am I happy they gave up on the stupidity of "locations" hell yeah.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Broken Laces

I might just read this book next.

Last year, I met a fellow over lunch at the Fort Bend Writer's Guild Writer's Conference who talked about his newest book. I think at that time I was branching out in my reading and was in the middle of The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks. This was serendipidous as this fellow, I'll call him Rodney since that is his name, likened his writing to that of Nicolas Sparks.

For the most part we hit it off as luncheon companions. He was talkative enough, I was as well. Well, the other day, in the Sugar Land Magazine I saw a local writer highlighted. If you've been paying attention to the intro of this blog post you will have guessed that the local highlighted author was none other than Rodney Walther.

I look forward to buying and reading Broken Laces ( Stay tuned to the blog for the upcoming review.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It's an Incredibly Exciting Book, Despite the First Line

I don't know what I expect, but this doesn't pull me in. Thankfully, the rest of the story does, . . . and quickly.

"My most ancient memory is of a battlefield. I don't know where. Asia maybe. North Africa. A plain between the hills and the sea."

What's worse? It has nothing to do with the rest of the story. I feel a bit used because of it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Prepping for Nano

I'm preparing for my sixth NaNowWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this November and I have to say that I've seen a decided pattern regarding the complexity of my characters. Looking over the past few tries, the complexity of both the characters and the story itself has not necessarily evolved. It has less to do with which year I wrote it in, one would expect the more I do it the better I get at it. Instead, it has far more to do with how much I edit the novel. For example, my last nano had extremely shallow characters, at least as shallow as the characters in my second nano. But I'm on my third (maybe fourth) edit of my second nanowrimo effort and the characters are becoming far more complex . . . so complex that I actually think it might be too much for the reader to take in all at once. I think I've added too many threads to the tapestry. It's going to make my next NaNoWriMo interesting. I can disregard trying to be complex and just focus on the broad strokes of the story. More on the story I plan on writing later.

Book Review - Confederacy of Dunces

Due to the prodding of my friend (I use the term quite loosely, mayhaps I should say associate), I just read and finished Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. My immeidate impression? Loved it. Could have been better, but there were features and passages that I thought were spectacular. One aspect that tickles my funny bone is the secretary at the pants company, the secretary Trixi, continually calls Ignatius, the main character, Gloria. For some reason I find this to be the funniset part of the whole book.

While working at the pants factory, Ignatius, who prides himself on being something of a political organizer, foments a rebellion among the workers which quickly piddles out. Reading about his erzatz rebellion was worth the price of admission.

Finally, Toole does something that I've always been impressed by, but really should be. I've always loved the way writers will take seemingly disparate characters and pull them together at the end of the story in a cohesive way. The film Crash is a terrific example of this. My dream? To do this myself. Kinda setting my sights low, eh?

Some of the passages I enjoyed are listed below:

Miss Trixie drifted off toward the ladies room as if she were tacking into a gale. Miss Trixie was never perfectly vertical; she and the floor always met at an angle of less than ninety degrees.

When Ignatius takes a turn at being a Lucky Dog vendor the following takes place:

"May I select my own?" Ignatius asked, peering down over the top of the pot. In the boiling water swished and lashed like artificially colored and magnified paramecia. Ignatius filled his lungs with the pungent aroma. "I shall pretend that I am in a smart restaurant and that this is the lobster pond."
Then after he eats a couple of hot dogs, Ignatius says to the vendor something that I think is the most preceint line that sums him up.

"I am afraid that they will all have to be on the house. Or on the garage or whatever it is. My Miss Marple of a mother discovered a number of theater ticket stubs in my pockets last night and has given me only carfare today."

Ignatius describes a boy who tries to buy a hotdog from him as:

Ignatius looked sternly at the young boy who had placed himself in the wagon's path. His valve protested against the pimples, the surly face that seemed to hang from the long well-lubricated hair, the cigarette behind the ear, the aquamarine jacket, the delicate boots, the tight trousers that bulged offensively in the crotch in violation of all rules of theology and geometry.

Later in the book that same young man describes Ignatius for the reader from his own POV:

You could tell by the way that he talked, though, that he had gone to school a long time. That was probably what was wrong with him. George had been wise enough to get out school as soon as possible. He didn't want to end up like that guy.

Finally, I love this description. If I don't use it in my daily life in the near future I'll be upset with myself:

Please blow your smoke elswhere. My respiratory system, unfortunately, is below par. I suspect that I am the result of particularly weak conception on the part of my father. His sperm probably emitted in a rather offhand manner."

All in all I loved the book and I'm sorry to say that. I've been planning on reading it for years. I wish I had sooner. Reminded me a lot of a New Orleans Douglas Adams with a less celestial subject matter.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Not Particularly Compelling First Line

I think its interesting that when I go to these writing workshops, some fella they've hired to speak always says that one of the first rules of opening a novel is not to describe the character. Inevitably, a facet of each "great" book I read is that the author describes the main character. In this case, Confederacy of Dunces, Ignatius is described in the first line then the rest of the paragraph, as follows:

"A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head."

"The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs. In the shadow under the green visor of the cap Ignatius J. Reilly's supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D. H. Holmes department store, studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress. Several of teh outfits, Ignatius noticed, were new enough and expensive enough to be properly considered offenses against taste and decency. Possession of anything new or expensive only reflected a persons lack of theology and geometry; it could even cast doubts upon ones soul."

Book Review Dance with Dragons

I finished A Dance with Dragons, fifth in the Song of Ice and Fury series by George R.R. Martin.

Like most of his books in the series, it was a long slog. He writes extremely long, extremely compelling books and this was no different than the rest in that respect. He moved the major story line forward, he created some incredibly moving second or minor story lines, and threw some open ended issues into the mix to keep the reader hungry for the next installment.

That being said, there were some things I didn't like. I didn't like some of the minor characters that were involved in the story. In some cases it seemed like he was adding them just to take up space. I didn't like the constant allusions to Blood and Fire (see my previous posts for more) it seemed like in some cases he was just mailing it in.

What's worse? I didn't highlight a single passage or vocabulary word. Unlike Barry Eisler's books where I find myself highlight every third paragraph, there wasn't a single word or passage I felt needed to be remembered. Not a good showing in that regard.

Nevertheless, it was as good as the others and added to the overall story well. I look forward to the next book in the series, which if he holds true to form won't be out till 2020 or so. By then I should have been able to reread books one through 4 again though.