Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Word Smither Jr.

So, if you've kept up with this blog you'll know that my son, a natural word smith, has created some doozies (here).

Apparently the gene is hereditary as his younger brother is already coming up with even more mot juste, and he's not yet two years old.

Today my wife said to the youngster, "Who's the baby?" We expected "I'm the baby" or more simply "me". Instead he effortlessly and quickly combined the two answers into a far more efficient turn of phrase.

Mom: "Who's the baby"

Baby: "Meby"

It's quick, easy, exact and efficient. He's already taking after his pop!

Monday, January 30, 2012

On the Make or Not as Good as Ross

I read On the Make by John D. MacDonald as a result of a screw up. I meant to purchase a Ross MacDonald pulp mystery but accidentally bought On the Make. Who knew there were two Mac Donald's who were pulp detective fiction well knowns.

I read the Ross MacDonald first (here) but I have to say, where Ross was pithy and fun, John D. was more laconic and thick. I liked them both, I liked the Ross more.

One of the aspects I liked about both of them was that it was like watching an old Alfred Hitchcock story on the black and white television. Each moved with that pace and you could just about imagine the 1950's cars, the fedoras and the trench coats. Fun, fun, fun. Worth a read and worth finding another by John D. MacDonald. But, as I said in the previous paragraph I'll probably read another Ross first.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Not a Great Start, But Seems Like It Will Be A Fun Book

I've just started the Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson and I just have to say that it's a good thing I read a good review of it (here) if only cause the first line didn't thrill me into wanting more.

"Citizens, gather round your loudspeakers, for we bring important updates! In your kitchens, in your offices, on your factory floors-wherever your loudspeaker is located, turn up the volume!"

Now, the second paragraph is where he starts the appetite whetting both for Kim Jong Il propaganda and some humor.

"In local news, our Dear Leader Kim Jong Il was seen offering on-the-spot guidance to the engineers deepening the Taedong River channel. While the Dear Leader lectured to the dredge operators, many doves were seen to spontaneously flock above him, hovering to provide our Revered General some much needed shade on a hot day. Also to report is a request from Pyongyang's Minister of Public Safety, who asks that while pigeon snaring season is in full swing, trip wires and snatch loops be placed out of reach of our youngest comrades. And don't forget citizens: the ban on stargazing is still in effect."

Who could crack a smile at the doves hovering to provide shade.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Almost 600 Reasons to be Embarrassed

I re-read Toe the Line again, this time with an aim toward making this my final edit. I used the Kindle, which is great for reading my little novel, and used it to make notes, which is not great for transcribing edits back to the text. Based on what Amazon told me there is no way to transfer content and notes from the Kindle reader back to a computer. So now I have the Kindle propped on my desk and I'm transcribing from the reader to the text on the computer. Long and arduous doesn't begin to describe it.

Also making this an overwhelming task is the number of edits I made. There are almost 600 notes and corrections in this sucker. I feel sorry for my beta readers. I'm completely embarrassed. 600 notes to transcribe from Reader to Mac. Not fun. I'm up to 10. Gonna be a long few weeks.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

My wife never ceases to amaze me. She read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in under 48 hours. Well, that could be incorrect, if you include the time she slept as non-reading time, she really finished it in under 24 hours. Why do I mention this? It should prove to any reader what a compelling novel it is.

I remember when I first read Jurassic Park I was so drawn in that I finished it at 2AM in my bed cause I couldn't put it down. Despite my wifey's intensity, it took me longer to finish The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but I still liked it quite a bit.

I think it was a bit slow in starting. If I hadn't heard so many great reviews I might even have given up a quarter of the way through. During much of the first half of the book one thing that is a bit off-putting and also intriguing is trying to figure out how Stieg Larsson is going to get the two main characters together. Eventually they do come together and completing the book is worthwhile overall.

What I liked about having my wife read it, things that took a long while to complete for me took only moments for her. Where the time it took me to get from point A to point B might be three or four days, my wife will ask me about point A and then thirty minutes later will talk about B. If I had to do it over, I'd have done it her way and knocked it out all at once.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The last book I read, The Mysterious Affair at Style by Agatha Christie, was not quite as good as some of the other Christie's I've read. That being said, even a bad novel by Agatha Christie is a monumentally good read.

Why do I like her books so much I wonder? I answer: becasue they are so concise, contain vivid and a limited number of characters/suspects, and they are pointedly narrow in scope and field. What do I mean by that I wonder? I mean that I like the fact that its as if it's a novel that was built for being performed on a stage.

Personally, I don't really like Poirot. I like the idea of Poirot, particularly when he was played by Ustinoff in Evil Under the Sun, but sadly, Pete was not the prototypical Poirot (note please the alliteration). I hate, and in fact I shudder just a bit whenever Christie describes Poirot for the reader if only cause she always does so by describing him as having an "egg-shaped head." What a horrible way to describe someone. Completely off-putting. Still, its always fun to read about him, if not to think about him.

Nevertheless, it was a fun book to read and still makes me want to read another. Mission Success Miss Christie!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Journal Man Will Clarke

I met a fellow last week name Will Clarke (his blog here) who gave me some wonderful advice on how to write and get published. One book he encouraged me to read was Putting Your Passion into Print by Sterry and Eckstut.

I thought about that this morning as I read this article (here). The reason I liked the article, I remember telling Will how much I disliked On Writing by Stephen King (my review here) and how much I did like Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel.

Sadly Will did not share my dislike for On Writing and had not read Maass' book. Apparently Will and WSJ are of like minds. Among the many books on writing that Miss Crossen cites as worthies for writers, Maass' book is not found. Guess whose is.

Despite that there is a nice list of future books I can read and this quote from W. Somerset Maugham, which she shares enticed a smile.

"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

From an Avid Reader

Got this fun little rant and article (here) from an "Avid Reader" (doubtful). The gist of the article is that Amazon has the publishing industry in their sites. It's a good point. The money line?

"My hope is disgruntled publishing executives like the one above will quit their comfortable jobs at dysfunctional prehistoric companies and start innovating on the model. I don’t believe the public only wants books written by over-tanned drunks who go clubbing anymore than blog readers only want slideshows and posts on Apple. Someone will build the next great publishing imprint out of these ashes. And as a reader and an author, I can’t wait."

There is a long snippet taken from an anonymous publisher who rails about how he sees the war taking shape as Amazon continually redefines book pricing. This brought to mind the article in the WSJ a few weeks ago about how publishers are pricing some best sellers at hard bound book price levels because they say that the portability, and other advantages of e-book reading make up for the lack of printing and shipping expenses. This was driving folks find new authors with 99 cent titles.

I don't agree with the article. Conventional publishers are killing themselves. Amazon might be helping them hold the gun, but they're sticking the barrel in their own collective mouths and pulling their own triggers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Book Review – Way Behind here

I think I’ve read two or three books since I finished The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson. This book was recommended to me by a fellow National Noveler and I’m glad she did so. It is a thriller in every since of the word. Sadly, like my own first novel, this thriller screams, “This is my first novel!”

I don’t think there was a single vocabulary word underlined throughout the course of the novel, but I did like a few passages, again, not enough to underline them.
The plot was riveting. Who wouldn’t want to read about CIA agent thrown into Al Queda before September 11th, trying to make amends to his handlers and his family for having missed the clues that would have helped him alert the US about the attack. Secondly, having planned a couple of terrorist attacks of my own for thriller writing purposes, Berenson’s idea is really quite interesting and keeps the reader on edge.

I look forward to reading his second effort and I hope it does scream, “I’m better, I’m a second novel.”

Friday, January 13, 2012

Avid Readers

An avid reader of this blog, yes they do exist, although they are a rare breed, sent me a creative writing prompts link (here). I'm not usually a big fan of prompts, not anymore. When I was in the Inprint and Rice writing classes I was a huge prompter. Now though, my prompt for writing is a bit of free time. As soon as I see I have some free time from kid duty the free flow of writing starts automatically.

That being said I did have my fancy tickled by several of this reader's prompts.

"Describe the worst meal you've ever had . . ." That's easy. Valentines.

"In 200 words describe a day in the life of a valet . . ." I could make that go for much longer than 200 words.

"Make a list of the 12 worst movies of all time. . ." Top of that list . . . Triplets of Bellville.

One of the things that drew me to look around this site that the link loaner, this avid reader, said one of the prompts was to describe the person you know you would most like to send to jail and why. I looked through them all (admittedly not very well) but I never found it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Second Time I've Seen This

Twice now I've seen articles that speak of Amazon's incredible customer service. I haven't seen it, but then again, I haven't needed it. It's good to know that if I need it, it should be there.

This first article, really a blog post (here) starts out in a manner that makes the reader think it's just another screed against poor customer service. The end is as surprising to the reader as it was for the poster.

This second article (here) out of Forbes by Larry Downes, which is primarily about why the author things Best Buy will be out of business sooner rather than later, juxtaposes Best Buy customer service to Amazon's. It's an extensive article, and the best portion of it isn't the part that discusses Amazon, but this portion. It's a long passage, but not as long as the article and well worth it.

The company issued a statement that read: “Due to overwhelming demand of hot product offerings on BestBuy.com during the November and December time period, we have encountered a situation that has affected redemption of some of our customers’ online orders.”

Let’s parse that sentence for a moment. The company “encountered a situation”—that is, it was a passive victim of an external problem it couldn’t control, in this case, customers daring to order products it acknowledges were “hot” buys. This happened, inconveniently for Best Buy, during “the November and December period,” that is, the only months that matter to a retailer. For obvious reasons, the statement ties itself in knots trying to avoid mentioning that the “situation” occurred during the holidays.

The situation that Best Buy “encountered” has “affected redemption” of some orders. Best Buy doesn’t fill online orders, it seems. Rather, customers “redeem” them. So it’s the customers, not Best Buy, who have the problem. And those customers haven’t been left hanging; they’ve only been “affected” in efforts to “redeem” their orders. It’s not as if the company did anything wrong, or, indeed, anything at all.

It’s all so passive. It’s also a transparent and truly feeble pack of lies. Here’s what the honest and appropriate release would have said: “Due to poor inventory management and sales forecasting of the most popular products during our key sales season, we can’t fill orders we promised to fill weeks ago in time for Christmas.”

There’s a little more to the Best Buy’s press release: “We are very sorry for the inconvenience this has caused, and we have notified the affected customers.”

Again, note the use of the passive voice—”this” refers to the “situation” that Best Buy “encountered.” The “situation,” not Best Buy’s poor operations, “has caused” inconvenience to customers. It’s not something Best Buy did wrong. It’s like they’re reporting the weather; something utterly out of their control about which the company is a mere observer. They’ve “notified the affected customers” despite, it seems, no sense of obligation to do so, let alone to find a solution to a problem entirely of the company’s own creation. How sorry are they, do you think?

I commonly eschew any discussion of passive and active voice. This one made me want to read more.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Next Book on my List?

With the death of Kim Jong Il and the ascension of Kim Jong Eun, the world and the US seems to have become more interested in North Korea. My interest has remained steadfast. I used to comb the internets looking for interesting stories and pictures from folks who had been to North Korea and come back to tell about it. Needless to say first hand accounts are rare.

A couple of weeks back I posted a snippet of some Shock Fiction about a woman giving birth in North Korea by Linda Chavez(here). I think this book I read a review of in the WSJ today (here) called the Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson, I've decided to move it to the top of my list.

Why the immediate movement to the top of the queue? This line within the review A Parallel World Above the 38th by Sam Sacks tickled my fancy and should whet your appetite to go read the whole magilla.

"So the novel cunningly imagines its way into the highest echelons of the North Korean government. In real life, Kim Jong Il composed critical works on cinema and opera, and Mr. Johnson portrays him as a self-styled artist who believes that he is literally writing and directing the destinies of his people. The dictator is obsessed with a coming visit from the Texas senator, whom he plans to humiliate in ways large (by lavishly reconstructing a Texas ranch, where hundreds of child gymnasts will perform) and small (engineers are instructed to produce a .46-caliber revolver, to one-up the classic American firearm)."

A ranch full of gymnasts and a .46 caliber? Got to be worth a read.

Blase First Line

I know I'm behind the power curve in terms of producing posts, heck I'm about three book reviews behind, but I am not behind in my reading. I started the Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Chrsitie this past weekend.

"The intense insterest aroused in the public by what was known at the time as "The Styles Case" has now somewhat subsided."

Not by itself quite enough to inspire one to read on. It's about something in the past. There's a hint that it was a big deal, but as yet, as a reader, I'm not intrigued. Yet, the rest of the paragraph helps.

"Nevertheless, in view of the world-wide notoriety which attended it, I have been asked, both by my friend Poirot, and the family themselves, to write an account of the whole story. This, we trust, will effectually silence sensational rumors which still persist."

Very much like a reporter, she has Hastings lay out the case. It's typical fare for Christie readers. Not overly dramatic, but just what we expect.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Book Review - Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (here) was not bad at all. The characters were fun to read about, the situation, although not terribly original (see here), was as fresh as a stale idea can be. My one concern is that how good can the writing be if I didn't highlight a single word or sentence?

Word? I can see that. This is a Young Adult book and although I don't have the most high brow vocab, I throw out the nickel words every now and then. So, I can't ding Collins for her limiting the four syllable words. But not a sentence? That doesn't say much. Usually I identify an amazing analogy, a moving metaphor, or a stupendous simile in everything I read. Here? Not.

That being said, I read it, and like the first time I read the DaVinci Code or Jurrasic Park it drew me in so much that I didn't want to put it down. I stayed up late nights to read it. That alone says alot about the authors ability to reel in the reader. Not only that, but I'm looking forward to the follow-on novels, particularly because the ending is so aburpt and non-redeeming. But, as much as I liked it, I wish I had liked it even more.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Lottery Meets The Long Walk

I’ve started reading the Hunger Games. Not bad so far. Intrigueing, decently written, but not too, too original.

The beginning is a retelling of the famos short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson and Stephen King’s The Long Walk. If you haven’t read The Lottery (here), then you should do so, now. It takes less than five minutes. King’s story which is much longer, just as fun, is also well worth a read through (though I can’t paste a link to that text here). Take those two stories, throw in some Arnold Schwartzenegger Running Man (also a King story (here)) for fun and you have the Hunger Games.

This brings us full circle into last week’s post (here) about their being no more truly original ideas. I know I’ve lamented in the past the fact that new stories are usually retreads of older ones, and the Hunger Games (so far) offers more fodder for that argument. But, if we assume that there is nothing truly original, then all that matters is what you are able to do with it. So far the Hunger Games has done enough to keep me reading, so that’s good.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Word of Warning or Why Amazon Prime Sucks

So I wanted to read the Hunger Games. I’ve heard a lot about it, met a fellow on the airplane ride from Canton who was reading it, he said it was great. What a terrific recommendation. Naturally, I went to Amazon to buy it on my Kindle. I see that Amazon says I can get it for free if I buy a subscription to Amazon Prime.

I’ve heard about this, methinks. This is the lending library Carey was describing to me. I pay a subscription fee and get access to tons of books without paying one by one. I give it a try. Seventy-nine dollars and I’m a Prime member. I can get the Hunger Games for free.

This is when it starts to suck. I can’t get the Hunger Games via the web. I’m on Amazon but there is no “Buy it Prime” button. I have to buy it off of my Kindle. That’s not too bad I think to myself. Then I try to read it on other Kindles, or on my Blackberry. That’s a big no go. This is what I like most about the Kindle e-reading experience.

I canceled my membership to Amazon Prime and was provided the most positive aspect of it I have yet found, a full refund. I tried it, don’t do it yourself.