Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Completely Apropos of Nothing

So, I can find no way to work this link into writing or reading, but I found it so extraordinary that I had to post it (here). I don't do it often, but this one seemed worth it. Personally I had no idea that this type of thing existed.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Uh Oh, This Could Be Indicative of a Mistake

I read so many bad reviews of thrillers that I wanted to read that I decided to branch out and try something new. The first line/passage below made me worried that it was a poor purchase. Thankfully, having read up to chapter 16 now, I was wrong. It isn't' as bad as I feared.

"Three small boats skipped over the water on an intercept course with the colossal freighter looming in the afternoon haze. Coal black and sinewy Somalis and cream-coffee Arabian Yemenis, sixteen men in all, leaned into the wind, watched the ship grow on the horizon, and fingered their Kalashnikov rifles. None of the sixteen were new at this. They were all experienced pirates."

Dalton Fury - Black Site

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Rec of a Brother

My brother recommended Metzger's Dog by Thomas Perry so much to me that he bought it for me and sent it to me. Despite my almost missing the book when it went directly to Spam in my email account, the book was great and I couldn't put it down.

According to my brother he read this when he was in high school. It obviously clouded his thinking if only because he plagiarized his thoughts when he told me about a great thriller about how terrorists could follow-up September 11th. A few dedicated souls with machine guns on freeways he thought would make people to scared to drive to work and help shut down the economy. This is described in great detail in Metzger's Dog but they go several times better than my brother's plot. My brother is one of my primary thriller plot providers (here for instance, this is one of his ideas), makes me worried that I need to read a few more of his recommendations before I decide to take any of them on.

I marked two passages, the first:
"Porterfield entered the committee room and classified the problem at a glance. There were no junior people scurrying in and out with earnest expressions, which meant the problem hadn't yet reached the moment when nothing could be done about it - the great flurry of pointless activity hadn't begun."

When I was in the Ranger's we called that flurry of activity "pinging." We said it along the lines of "He needs to quit pinging!" It made me smile to think about it in these terms and hearing Porterfields cynicism about it was clarifying and fun to read.

The second passage:
"The fact that he appeared to be a fool was part of his protection as an operative; the fact that he was a genuine fool meant the disguises was impenetrable"

Also an elucidative passage regarding Porterfield. Other Dr. Henry Metzger (a focal point of the first line (here)) and Metzger's dog, Porterfield was my favorite character.

I look forward to reading more by Perry if this opening salvo is any indication of the fun inherent in his writing.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I Like the Sub-Heading Better

The article Digging Up the Depths of Desire by Ellis Avery (here) in Saturday's WSJ was worth reading, although I liked the secondary title more; Motivated Characters Motivate Readers. I love this section of the Weekend Journal. I look for it and read it each week. Sometimes I don't care for the advice, but most of the times I do. Today's was a positive.

Ellis Avery says that it's important to point out to readers the characters motivation to make the reader care and continue to read. I agree and for the most part I've tried to do that in my novel Toe the Line. I haven't done that enough in On the Edge so it's a good thing I read this article prior to my second edit. It gives me something to add in and will definitely add to the story. It's not that there isn't any motivation, it's just a tad disjoint and disparate. I need to fine tune it a bit. As she says:

"Finally, because it will keep you from getting stuck with a two-dimensional character, give him or her a stack of desires, and reveal those desires one at a time. Before the grandmother begs The Misfit for her life (in Flannery O'Connor's story A Good Man Is Hard to Find), she wants to impress him with her perspicacity; she wants to find a beloved old plantation house; she wants to smuggle her cat on a car trip."

I have a stack of desires for my main character, I just need to shine a bit brighter light on them and make them a tad more prescient.

Like I stated above, the Weekend Journal always has an article on writing, usually they are pretty good, they're always worth a once over.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday's Vocabulary

Not much going on with my writing or publishing so I thought I'd share a couple of words I ran across that I liked. I like running across new words and analogies in my reading and used to keep a bookmark with new words on it so I could look them up later. One reason I like the Kindle so much is that I get an instant definition whenever I want. I have to do something with all these words, ergo this post and new series of posts.

Charles Dickens - Oliver Twist comes:

Antimonial - containing or made of or resembling or characteristic of a metal; "a metallic compound"; "metallic luster"; "the strange metallic note of the meadow lark, suggesting the clash of vibrant blades"- Ambrose Bierce

- I've never heard this word before, but I sure look forward to using it.

Nankeen - a hard-wearing buff-coloured cotton fabric
- This one I had heard before and probably in my high school senior vocabulary book. Makes me think that Chino's are nankeen.

Alex Berenson - The Faithful Spy comes:

Chicane - To trick; deceive.

- I know, I know, this one is so oft used, particularly in terms of chicanery that it shouldn't be on the list. I like it if only because it was used in a manner which is so little used.

Agatha Christie - The Mysterious Affair at Styles:

Benignantly - 1. Favorable; beneficial. 2. Kind and gracious.
- Like the word above, this one is used a great deal, particularly in regards to tumors, that it shouldn't make the list. But having seen it used outside the medical field makes me think I might want to consider using it. How bout a passive character named Ben Ignant?

And from that same book I found this great description. A good one to end this post on:
"She hesitated, and suddenly there swept across her face a strange expression, old as the hills, yet with something eternally young about it. So might some Egyptian sphinx have smiled."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Uh Oh, Will It Always Be This Easy?

Will the ease of publishing through Amazon always be so easy? This article Amazon Pulls Publishing Group's Titles by Jeffery A. Trachtenberg (here) suggests that things will get tougher and that they ease of getting stuff out there has peaked.

Don't get me wrong, there are other avenues than Amazon, there are still a ton of ways to get a message (or novel) out to the market, but Amazon's market is so large, it's a tad disheartening to see them being more aggressive it their limitations.

"The move reflects an increasingly fractious book-selling landscape, where retailers are showing a willingness to flex their muscles by dropping certain titles. Last month Barnes & Noble Inc., unhappy about Amazon's attempts to sign exclusive deals with publishers and authors, said it would not sell in its stores any books published by Amazon."

Still as a hopeful author I think I'll be good to go and still have my sights on Amazon and Smashwords in the very near future.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Death of Night

Whilst writing about the morning in one of my novels I realized how often I'd read the same or similar descriptions of mornings from my favorite authors. Writing about a new day beginning happens quite often once you look for it. I have a whole string of posts on this subject (here) and although I have not been as diligent in this as I have in my First Lines (here) or Last Lines (here) posts, I think I shall rededicate myself to the effort if only because of pearls like the one below.

"Morning drew on apace. The air become more sharp and piercing, as its first dull hue--the death of night, rather than the birth of day--glimmered faintly in the sky. The objects which had looked dim and terrible in the darkness, grew more and more defined, and gradually resolved into their familiar shapes. The rain came down, thick and fast, and pattered noisily among the leafless bushes. But, Oliver felt it not, as it beat against him; for he still lay stretched, helpless and unconscious, on his bed of clay."

Charles Dickens - Oliver Twist

I love the fact that he wrote "the death of night, rather than the birth of day."

Monday, February 20, 2012

Although No Epiphanies Were Brought About . . .

Although I felt no epiphanies after reading this article by Lisa Lutz in the WSJ (here) it did have one or two gems.

The first line echoes the title, Rule 1: Ignore Rules. The first line is "The first rule of writing is that there are no rules." Sounds a bit like fight club, "The first rule of Fight Club is you don't talk about Fight Club," at least it doesn't get repetitive after that first rule as Fight Club does, "The second rule of Fight Club is you don't talk about Fight Club."

Following this Miss Lutz takes apart my perennial New Year's Resolution. Each year I give myself a task to read one book on writing craft for each three or four novels I read. Actually this year the ratio is 1 to 5. Miss Lutz's response, "I have never read a book on writing, nor do I intend to. Though I have many writer friends who are strong proponents of studying their craft, I remain steadfastly against the how-to genre."

Her take down of my resolution notwithstanding, the article is short and worth a quick read through as she does provide some great advice, particularly about the importance of making your novel a page-turner and finding a distinct voice for dialogue. It was her last line though that stuck with me: "I suppose the biggest rule I've broken along the way is ignoring the strictures of genre. I write novels about private investigations that have no murder and barely any mystery. But every book I've written opens with an unanswered question. Readers are a curious lot; they want answers. Give them a really good question and they'll keep turning the page."

Friday, February 17, 2012

Finally Publishers Think of Ways to Profit Off of E-Books

This is the first article I've read that makes it sound like publishers are finding ways to make e-books work for them rather than work against them. A Sneak Preview-For Books by Alexandra Alter (here) discusses some new concepts for marketing books through the use of prequels in the e-book arena. Books that are coming out will have teasers on e-books to help generate buzz. At 99 cents they thing readers will grab them up and then want to buy the hard back version (or full price e-book version) when that is released. Pretty smart if you ask me. Surprised it took them this long to think of it.
It's my intention, full time readers of this blog are well aware, to self- or e-publish my novel in the next few months. Guess who intends to use this space to provide needed excitement prior to the release. Can we call it excitement in the case of Toe the Line? Perhaps fervor or hullabaloo is more apropos. Nevertheless, expect some upcoming marketing for my novel!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Panning In or the Most Recent First Line

"Among the other public building in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter."

Charles Dickens - Oliver Twist.

I'm reading a Charles Dickens novel, Oliver Twist as an homage to his 200th birthday.

I like this first line first because it is so expansive and deep. So many colons, semi-colons and commas, it keeps going on and on and on. It pulls the reader in with it. Secondly I can almost feel the camera zooming in on this workhouse, dark streets of a 19th century village, the narrator speaking in a deep bass voice, then the view twisting and turning into the workhouse until the image stops the the eyes fall on a baby, Oliver.

The next passage keeps the intrigue going.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Character Names

One of my more devoted readers asked a question the other day and prompted this post on character names. Presently I'm reading a book on the craft of writing characters by Orson Scott Card (here) and although I've not yet gotten to a chapter on names, I can tell folks what I do.

Basically, I don't let it bother me. I throw in a place holder name and drive on with the writing. I file that sucker in the back of my mind for later and keep on working the story. Invariably my mind back dwells on and chews on that name until it spits out something more useful and hopefully better. When it does it is always an ephiphany.

The other thing I've done is to peruse the baby name generators (my favorite is here ) and look at clever names that might be coming back into fashion. Additionally, foreign language dictionaries are good sources. Find a characteristic that you want to emphasize in your character, find that word in a foreign language and see if it makes a decent name. Kind of a nefarious way of telling the reader of its import.

I will see if Mr. Card agrees with my methods in the upcoming chapters, but so far it's worked for me.

The Orphan Master's Son - Or Seemed a Bit Lost but Came Around in the End

I enjoyed The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson (here) although at times I thought it needed a bit more polishing. The whole time I was reading it I kept thinking about Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle. Both kind of sweep the reader along in a disparate somewhat chaotic world, and that's exactly what happens in The Orphan Master's Son.

There were times when I thought the story could have been a bit more put together and streamlined. It was a bit rushed, perhaps because they wanted to publish it as soon after Kim Jong Il's death as possible. The story is broken into two distinct parts, the first with Jun Do and his rising through the Army's ranks, the second when he assumes the persona of Commander Ga. There are links between the two, but ostensibly they could have been two different books. That was a tad hard to get used to.

Secondly I loved the propaganda chapters. The second half of the book, the Commander Ga portions, started with propaganda posts followed by chapters with a description of the actual events. They were fun and made the reading more lighthearted. I wonder though just how realistic Johnson's descriptions are, what is his history, what are his bona fides? The life he describes is similar to accounts I have read, but even so I wonder how much artistic license he used. I hope quite a bit if only because the society seems so horrendous. It sure makes me want to read some non-fiction books about North Korea.

I've already highlighted a couple of passages (here), (here) and on Twitter (here), so everyone reading this has probably seen and read all of them.

All in all I'm glad I read it and look forward to more by Johnson.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Almost as Good as Pepe Silvia

I've posted before about the importance of first lines. How all the writing and craft of the written word tomes are filled with telling the readers of its import. So, now I always make a post of first lines (here) and last (here). At the moment I'm reading a book my brother gifted to me through Kindle (a process I found a tad maddening, but as it is not the subject of this post I shall press on). This novel, although lacking a great first line has names in it that are almost as good as It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Pepe Silvia.

"Chinese Gordon was fully awake."

Thomas Perry and Carl Hiaasen - Metzger's Dog: A Novel

The name by itself made me give it a second look. The intrigue factor however is quite low. Given just a few more sentences the intrigue ramps up.

"Chinese Gordon was fully awake. He’d heard the clinking noise again, and now there was no question the cat was listening too. The cat, Doctor Henry Metzger, had assumed the loaf-of-bread position on Gordon’s blanket, his ears straight up like a pair of spoons to catch the sound and lock onto it."

You know that if it's a novel by Hiaasen with names like Chinese Gordon and Doctor Henry Metzger (the cat) you are in for a pretty fun ride.

Most Recent Last Line

So the last line from the novel I just finished is pretty thick but for the purposes of consistency it is:

"When one Glorious Leader hands you to the next, citizens, you truly live forever. This how an average man becomes a hero, a martyr, and inspiration to all. So do not weep, citizens, for look: a bronze bust of Commander Ga is already being placed in the Revolutionary Martyrs' Cemetery! Dry your eyes, comrades, for generations of orphans to come will now be blessed with the name of both a hero and a martyr. Forever, Commander Ga Chol Chun. In this way, you'll live forever."

Without the benefit of having read the novel alot of that might be lost. The fact that the main character was an orphan, the fact that this is a propaganda broadcast in North Korea, etc, etc.

What should have been the last line, if only for amusement's sake? This one from a page or two before, about Kim Jong Il on the attack:

"Marshaling his military training, the Dear Leader sprinted into action, chasing the cowards who had stolen our national treasure. Into the onslaught of gunfire, the Dear Leader ran. Dove after dove flew into the path of bullets, each bursting with the downy glow of patriotic sacrifice!"

Anyone who saw pictures of the nehrued, dumpy, Kim Jong Il, then thought about him hard charging at a group of American diplomats with guns, being protected by doves would have to smile at that last line.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Everyone reading this should know that I could have just as easily titled this post "Upward Revenue Stream Dynamics" or "Product Intergorrtion" by thinking of the Jack-tor episode of 30 Rock.

This Pos-Mens is easy to make though, if only cause I have used this product and both me and my two sons (both word wizards) love them.

The Big Kids Educational videos (here) were terrific and I can't imagine that I won't be ordering Hard Working Wheels quite soon. Those of you readers with young kiddos, those of you who were fans of the educational videos vis-a-vis those seen on Seasame Street, Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, or even the Canadian try How Stuff Works then this is the spot for you to go to add to your library. I've done it and I don't regret it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Rare Radio Re-Post

I heard a decent report on Charles Dickens on NPR this morning (here).

I like Dickens. I like reading his works quite a bit. I'm no Prescott McNally who is oft described by Sanders as reading Dickens late into the night, but on average I read about one Dickens tome a year. I even took a senior seminar course on Dickens. Granted it was at Texas A&M so probably lacked some of the gravitas that might have been present at a college with a greater emphasis on the liberal arts.

That being said, one thing I missed in that seminar class, or is highlighted now that I'm in the throes of my own editing and rewriting, is that Dickens wrote his chapters with little or no chance to rewrite or edit. Most everyone knows that these stories were released as serials, with chapters going out every few weeks. I did not know he was given such little chance to rewrite. I shudder to think what crumby writing would be provided to the public if I was allowed no rewrite. Knowing this little fact makes me more impressed than I was even before. It also makes some of the less than perfect writing understandable.

Secondly, this link is worth a listen if only cause the reporter describes how Dickens' stories are so relatable to today's stories and plots seen on TV (makes this link - here - far more relevant). Where the story has a major plot device that has several dozen subsidiary or sub plots tangential to it. Think The Wire, Southland, etc.

Worth a listen and probably worth moving my next Dicken's book up a few notches on my reading wish list.

Monday, February 6, 2012

E-Publishing Checklist

As I start to wander further and further toward e-publishing for my little novel, I find myself perusing sites like this one (here) which offers a decent primer on how to wade into e-publishing.

A few months ago the WSJ posted an article (here) on self-publishing and then there was this one (here) that I linked.

Although I don't expect much from following this route, I do think if I didn't try and see what happened, decades from now I will look back on these years and say to myself, "Why didn't I try that when I had the opportunity?"

Not Sure Who Created It

I'm not sure who created this so I can't give them their due for a great poster, but I saw this and thought I'd repost it.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Focus Not on Who They Are, Rather Think About Who They Can Become

I read a short article in last month's Writer's Digest about how to make write more engaging and intriguing protagonists. The article was titled Craft Your Character's Transformations and it was written by Jeff Gerke. Not a bad article, far better than the preceding article which I stopped reading after just the second sentence, 4 Rules for Sci-Fi & Fantasy Protagonists (seriously, how many werewolf stories can there be?), but one line caught my eye and stuck with me.

Included in the final few passages, after describing how protagonists should go through an inner journey that takes them from an Initial Condition (or knot) through Inciting Event, Escalation, Moment of Truth to Final State, he writes how a writer should think about their characters.

"When you're concepting your character, you might be tempted to think only about who a character is. But to keep your characters interesting you must also think about what your character can become. Given this starting point, this temperament, and these layers, how will this character respond when shown she's wrong or dysfunctional in some way and offered a better alternative. People don't like to change. It's so much easier to stay as we are, even if it's hurting us. In fiction, as in life, people resist change."

Notwithstanding the fact that he used a word like "concepting" to describe creating a character, the author writes something quite poignant in those first two sentences. There is a change similar to the "Inner Journey" I outlined above for my character in the novel I'm currently completing, On the Edge. How much more exciting might that inner journey have been had I started with the idea of who my character can become rather than who he is. Something to remember for my editing.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Junkyard Throwup

I read a simile several years ago that is easily one of my favorites. I was reminded of it last night when I, somewhat regretfully, watched Transformers 2. Joe Morgenstern in his review of the movie in the WSJ said, "Their appearance looks like junkyard throwup."

Sadly I did not realize just how perfectly that described the robots in the movie till I saw it.