Friday, March 30, 2012

Not a Great First Line . . . But She's on Best Seller Seventeen So What Do I Know

After all the "thick" stuff I've been reading lately, dropping down a gear or two to a Janet Evanovich mystery seemed apropos. To that end I bought Smokin Seventeen and the first line I saw was:

"MY GRANDMA MAZUR called me early this morning."

Not much there to sink ones teeth into, but that's what I wanted. The following passage seems typical of Evanovich. A sense of flair, whimsy and absurd all in one.

“I had a dream,” Grandma said. “There was this big horse, and it could fly. It didn’t have wings. It just could fly. And the horse flew over top of you, and started dropping road apples, and you were running around trying to get out of the way of the road apples. And the funny thing was you didn’t have any clothes on except a red lace thong kind of underpants. Anyways, next thing a rhinoceros flew over you, and he was sort of hovering over top your head. And then I woke up. I got a feeling it means something.”

Evanovich, Janet - Smokin' Seventeen: A Stephanie Plum Novel

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Love the Story, Not So the Writing

When I was in Business School we had to complete a project that focused on the role that technology plays in shaping our culture, specifically business culture. I don't recall exactly what our subject was, but I remember making an allusion to my younger brother and his generation, Generation Y I think.

I believe I wrote something like, "My brother will be more comfortable using email than conventional mail, and following generations may have no concept that thank you letters or other types of personal correspondences were ever sent via the conventional post." I think the point of the passages were to highlight the changing perspective.

It was perspective that I was thinking of when I read this book review by Blaine Harden in the WSJ (here). The book, Escape From Camp 14, details the life of Shin Dong-hyuk in a forced labor camp in North Korea. Regular readers already know of my fascination with North Korea, and this quick look into that culture only served to feed that fascination.

Unlike The Orphan Master's Son (here), Mr. Shin was born and spent most of his young life in a prison camp. His perspective was so off that when he first heard about money and luxury of any type it was difficult to comprehend. His escape, even as it is described in this little review and excerpt, is compelling. Sadly, the excerpt also shows a less than compelling writing style that might just lead me to avoid the book.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

An Issue of Clarity

At the moment I am travelling around the US trying to help all of my company's locations get on the same page in terms of billing. One way we do this is by finding common terms and enforcing common terminology so communication across the different locations and business lines is not so convoluted and confused. I thought of this task as I read this email sent to me by a reader.

"Thanks for the call and attempts to contact me. I walked to your office hoping you would not be in the office. Not to alert you, but to not stand still so I limited the ability to overhear me. I have some things I am going to email you tonight, but nothing spectacular. It was if you are there and I am not the phone, then I will tell you. If you are there and I am on the phone, I walk on. If you are not there and I am on the phone, it looks like I am waiting to talk to you."

I've read this several times and still can't make heads or tails of it. The sad part? The person writing this is a native English speaker. I wish I could find a way to include this in my training.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Second One and I'm Still Hooked

Although it's only my second Colin Dexter novel, and although I didn't find it as compelling as the first one I read (Death is Now My Neighbor, which evidently I failed to log in this space), I look forward with great verve and anticipation to reading another Dexter novel.

Those regular readers of this blog will well remember the posts I've already written about this Jewel That Was Ours (here, here, here, here and here) and will understand why I enjoy reading Dexter novels. He includes such light-heartedness into what could otherwise be dry and rote mysteries. They are reminiscent of Agatha Christie stories and are even more fun to read after one has seen the Inspector Lewis Series on Masterpiece Mysteries on PBS (go here for more info).

Just like his other novel, Dexter has included a well stocked pantry of interesting
vocabulary (which will be posted soon) and several eye-catching passages that I've already linked to. I particularly liked the one referring to the traditional English breakfast. It does drag a bit every now and then, but whose work doesn't? Would I recommend it? Yep. Would I read it again? Yep. Will I? Not for a bit. Will I read another? Sure will and looking forward to it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

England Is Not Normal

The book on tape I'm listening to is The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I didn't even think about that when I downloaded Ken Follet's Eye Of The Needle. I guess I should have. I could very soon start suffering from Nazi overload. Then again, I do get to see the war from several different angles.

That being said, here is the first line and first passage from that book.

"IT WAS THE COLDEST WINTER FOR FORTY-FIVE YEARS. Villages in the English countryside were cut off by the snow and the Thames froze over. One day in January the Glasgow-London train arrived at Euston twenty-four hours late. The snow and the blackout combined to make motoring perilous; road accidents doubled, and people told jokes about how it was more risky to drive an Austin Seven along Piccadilly at night than to take a tank across the Siegfried Line."

Follett, Ken - Eye Of The Needle

I like the way he tells the reader that things are not normal without immediately talking about The Blitz. It's other things around England that are not normal as well, then later the reader hears about the war. As is usual, the book continues to get better with each page.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

From an Unlikely Source

I found an interesting article about mysteries, British mysteries, and using novel plots in real life (here). It is a post called Murder She Read? by John O'Sullivan and it was posted on the conservative website for National Review, The Corner.

The allusions to George Orwell and the evolution of the British Mystery make this post worthwhile to read from a literary standpoint, but it's not till this passage that the reader understands why this is posted in The Corner:

"One result of the decline of the English (and American) murder is that murders today have to be made interesting by being made technically complex. That is far easier to ensure in a thriller than in real life. It is impossible to imagine, for instance, a real-life murderer planning the convoluted crime in Scott Turow’s novel, Presumed Innocent, in which an angry wife tries to get her husband blamed for the murder of his mistress by injecting his semen into her vagina. Such things just don’t . . ."

It is at this intersection that the post takes a dynamic and rather gruesome turn. Apparently a woman in Spain tried out the Turow plot on her own (read more here).

How often does this occur? Using a plot device in a book to stage a real life murder? Probably not as often as the opposite, using a real life murder to concoct a fictional murder plot I'd say.

End With the Main Character

I seem to recall Agatha Christie does this often. The endings of her books will focus on Poirot, but not on his thoughts, but usually on how someone else sees him, usually Hastings or the murderer. Colin Dexter did the same thing at the end of Jewel That Was Ours.

"At the Trout Inn, the frogmen had given it four days, then called off the search for the Wolvercote Tongue. Sensibly so, as Eddie Stratton (now facing charges of perjury and perverting the course of justice) could have told them from the beginning. It had been a sort of back-up insurance, really—prising out that single remaining ruby, and hiding it privily beneath the white-silk lining of Laura’s coffin. In New York his plans had been thwarted, but the jewel would still be there, would it not? Whenever, wherever they finally buried her. Was anyone ever likely to suspect such duplicity, such ghoulish duplicity? Surely not. Surely not, reflected Stratton. Yet he found himself remembering the man who had been in charge of things. Yes, just the one man, perhaps …"

Colin Dexter - Jewel That Was Ours

At the first reading I don't like it. Once I re-read it, copy it and paste it in the blog, I do. Give that reader a reason to want to come back and read more. Just as he keeps the policy to provide a slight cliff-hanger at the end of every chapter, why not do the same at the end of the book. A bit of intrigue, a mote of mystery, an aire of awe to compel the reader to want to know more, but more importantly to buy that next book.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Good or Bad

At first I wasn't even going to open the link in my inbox that said, "How do I know if a book I don't like is really bad, or if it's just me?" (here). Seriously? Doesn't seem like a very good vector from which to write an article. I was wrong. Although there were no epiphanies, there were two passages that caught my eye and made me think.

The first speaks to me if only cause I'm worried that my own novels might be classified as " a construction, an arbitrary, lifeless invention that moves ploddingly and clumsily, like the puppets of a mediocre puppet master whose threads, manipulated by their creator, are in full sight, exposing them as caricatures of living beings." a quote from Mario Vargas Llosa in "Letters to a Young Novelist" that is quoted in the article.

The second passage I noted encapsulated my own thoughts precisely. I thought that The Great Gatsby is over-rated too.

The American Book Review has a series of short essays on bad books by 40 writers that cover everything from The Da Vinci Code" ("formulaic knockoff") to "The Great Gatsby" ("the worst novel in American literature"). Here I learned that Donald Barthelme called bad books "buckets of peanut butter with a layer of whipped cream on top" and that D.H. Lawrence's "Women in Love" struck one scholar as what would have happened if "someone put a gun to Nietzsche's head and made him write a Harlequin romance." I liked "The Great Gatsby" so I don't advocate trying to regulate fiction as a Mrs. L.H. Harris did in 1906. "Every novelist should be required to hold a license certifying to decency of imagination and a sense of moral responsibility," Mrs. Harris wrote.

These articles always make me think about my Harry Potter hating friend Bill. He discounts Harry Potter even as a bridge book to a more reading. I don't go that far. I see value even in bad writing, what I don't like is when no one can tell me what they specifically like about it and why it's good.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Opening With Quotes

Colin Dexter commonly opens chapters with quotes from other authors. In many cases I read them then forget them. Then there are those that resonate. Those I store for later. This is a new one. One that makes fun of himself, somewhat dryly, and makes the reader smile a bit.

During a particularly slow few chapters in this Inspector Morse novel, when the action was slowing, Dexter inserted this gem at the beginning of his next chapter.

"In the police-procedural, a fair degree of realism is possible, but it cannot be pushed too far for fear that the book might be as dull as the actual days of a policeman (Julian Symons, Bloody Murder)

Colin Dexter - Jewel That Was Ours

That sure made me smile.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Kindle Edition

For those of you Kindlecrats out there who want the Kindle edition of the Toe the Line novel (surprisingly I actually had an email asking about it . . . who knew?) it is now posted via (here).

Again, not the last time I'll use this space to market, expect a more well planned marketing campaign in the upcoming weeks and months. Hope you enjoy it.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Giving It a Try

So, anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I intended to give epublishing a try (should change the name of the blog to "ePublish or ePerish") and to that end I have given Smashwords a try.

So, if you want to read a decent first novel written by yours truly go ahead and download it from Smashwords (here) and if you like it (and this is key) give it a review and recommend it to a friend. I plan on organizing a marketing campaign for this in the very near future, so don't be concerned, this won't be the last you read about this in this forum.

Updated Heller with a Gun or Why Haven't I Read This Before Now

Last week I finished my first Lee Child novel, Die Trying (here), his second novel in his Reacher series. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's astounding to me how many wonderful novels and novelists are out there that I don't know about! I don't mean to suggest that I should be the arbiter of novels, a clearing house before they hit the shelves, as if if I don't know about it then it shouldn't exist, but here's a book which I simply loved reading and it's been out there for over twelve years. I have some catching up to do.

As a teenager I spent summers with my grandfather at his bed and breakfast in the country. We took a weekly pilgrimage to the local half price book store to pick up books for the week and for a time I chewed through the stores selection of westerns. All of these resale book shelves have what seem like the same shelves, racks upon racks of Louis L'Amour books, usually several copies of each title. They were cheap, easy to read, and plainly written with bold, black and white characters. Die Trying reminded me of reading updated versions of those books. Jack Reacher is similar to any number of Louis L'Amour characters from Bowdrie to the Sackett's to Heller with a Gun. Drifters who have a past that includes deep experience, and steadfast morals. Instead of six shooters and horses Child has Jack Reacher use the latest military equipment including Barretts and Blackhawks.

Is it something that will make you look at the world differently? No. Is it fun and light? Yep. And I look forward to the next.

Been a While . . . and I Don't Know If This is Worth the Wait

Sorry for the delay in posting, I've been out of pocket in Louisiana. Reading tons, writing not much. One thing I did read which caught my eye was Colin Dexter's description of the English Breakfast.

Few English families living in England have much direct contact with the English Breakfast. It is therefore fortunate that such an endangered institution is perpetuated by the efforts of the kitchen staff in guest houses, B & Bs, transport cafés, and other no-starred and variously starred hotels. This breakfast comprises (at its best): a milkily-opaque fried egg; two rashers of non-brittle, rindless bacon; a tomato grilled to a point where the core is no longer a hard white nodule to be operated upon by the knife; a sturdy sausage, deeply and evenly browned; and a slice of fried bread, golden-brown, and only just crisp, with sufficient fat not excessively to dismay any meddlesome dietitian. That is the definitive English Breakfast. And that is what the French, the Germans, the Italians, the Japanese, the Russians, the Turks … and the English, also, with their diurnal diet of Corn Flakes and a toasted slice of Mother’s Pride—that is what they all enjoy as much as almost anything about a holiday. The Americans, too, though there are always exceptions.

Colin Dexter - Jewel That Was Ours

I don't know what it is about Dexter, but I enjoy his writing probably more than most others. It generally requires more concentration, but the rewards are worthwhile.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Tweed Jacket Author

It feels like throwing on your favorite jacket and going out when you read another Colin Dexter novel, well maybe a tweed jacket. His first line and subsequent passage gets a reader stimulated, if not intrigued.

"The red-seal Brut Imperial Moët & Chandon stood empty on the top of the bedside table to her left; empty like the champagne glass next to it, and like the champagne glass on the table at the other side of the bed. Everything seemed empty. Beside her, supine and still, hands behind his head, lay a lean, light-boned man in his early forties, a few years older than herself. His eyes were closed, and remained closed as she folded back her own side of the floral-patterned duvet, rose quickly, put her feet into fur-lined slippers, drew a pink silk dressing gown around a figure in which breasts, stomach, thighs, were all a little over-ripe perhaps—and stepped over to peer through the closed curtains."

Colin Dexter - Jewel That Was Ours

Friday, March 9, 2012

Not Much Vocabulary . . . other than Abatises

Sadly there just aint that much compelling vocabulary in Lee Childs' Die Trying. Thankfully there is a very compelling plot and story line. That being said there were several great analogies and one word I had no idea existed.

Abatis - a line of defense consisting of a barrier of felled or live trees with branches (sharpened or with barbed wire entwined) pointed toward the enemy.

I've seen these, hell, I've even improvised one of these. Never knew that's what it was called.

These two I read, and then re-read cause I liked them so much. Just as much as I liked the train analogy from several days ago (here), I liked this one too.

"There was nothing happening. The whole place was deserted and silent. Quieter than silent. It had that total absence of sound that gets left behind when a busy place is abandoned. The natural sounds were long gone. The swaying trees cleared, the rushing streams diverted, the rustling vegetation burned off, replaced by clattering machines and shouting men. Then when the men and the machines leave, there is nothing left behind to replace their noise. Reacher strained his ears, but heard nothing at all. Silent as the moon."

Child, Lee - Die Trying

Then there was this one. I could just about see the prison door swinging shut in my mind's eye.

"He had learned a long time ago that to smoke while in hiding was not a smart thing to do. The smell drifts, and a keen nose can detect it. So he leaned on the tree and stared down in frustration. Stared at his shoes. They were ruined from the scramble up the north face of the ravine. He had jabbed them hard into the rocky slope and they were scratched to pieces. He stared at the ruined toe caps and instantly knew he had been betrayed. Panic rose in his throat. His chest seized hard. It hit him like a prison door swinging gently shut. It swung soundlessly inward on greased hinges and clanged shut right in his face.

Child, Lee - Die Trying

If you've never tried one of his books, they are worth a read. Remind me of a modern day western. I felt like I was fourteen again reading a Louis L'Amour novel.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Will Prices Go Back Down?

Great article today on the front page of the (printed) WSJ (here) about the suspected of collusion of Apple and other publishers in the world of e-publishing as it regards pricing of e-books. The article by Thomas Catan and Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg titled U.S. Warns Apple, Publishers Justice Department Threatens Lawsuits, Alleging Collusion Over E-Book Pricing is pretty compelling reading for anyone thinking of e-publishing. Some of the passages that stuck with me:

"To build its early lead in e-books, Amazon Inc. sold many new best sellers at $9.99 to encourage consumers to buy its Kindle electronic readers. But publishers deeply disliked the strategy, fearing consumers would grow accustomed to inexpensive e-books and limit publishers' ability to sell pricier titles. Publishers also worried that retailers such as Barnes & Noble Inc. would be unable to compete with Amazon's steep discounting, leaving just one big buyer able to dictate prices in the industry. In essence, they feared suffering the same fate as record companies at Apple's hands, when the computer maker's iTunes service became the dominant player by selling songs for 99 cents."

Smacks of "what's being good for the goose is good for the gander." Isn't what they are describing they feared from Amazon the very thing they had hoped to do themselves? I think they were just beaten to the punch.

I remember that my brother told me about a snippet he read in Steve Job's biography about how Jobs felt that text books were the next big frontier in publishing. How he hoped to break that behemoth and make it more affordable. I think it's telling that Apple alternately wants to make things more free while at other times make them more regulated and restrictive depending on when they gets involved.

"The Justice Department believes that Apple and the publishers acted in concert to raise prices across the industry, and is prepared to sue them for violating federal antitrust laws, the people familiar with the matter said."

Despite the action, I doubt much headway will be made to return to the free for all that occurred just a few years ago. Still, it encourages me to hurry up and get my little novel published. And, I have to say I love my new iPad. It makes editing a joy.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Name Not Withstanding. . .

Not withstanding the name of the author, Dalton Fury's Black Site wasn't half bad (here). After finishing a book like Oliver Twist (here) I will sometimes "go native" and resort to my roots, or my lowest common denominator. I like cheap, throw-away, thrillers and I always have. Dalton Fury's Black Site was right up that alley.

Despite the fact that it reads like a movie script and a piece of Spec Ops propaganda designed to lure high schoolers into the military, the verisimilitude makes it worthwhile. No, there are no elite triathlete spies as you will find in Vince Flynn books, and no symbologist's a la Dan Brown, there is a flawed Delta Operator though and he, his friends, and his missions are real enough, and described in enough riveting detail to make the book enjoyable.

There was no vocabulary that I noted, not that I expected much, nor were there any analogies that warranted a second look. I will be on the look out for another Dalton Fury book. The story alone made it fun and worthwhile. From a former "Spec Ops Warrior's" perspective, I liked it. From a novel writer's perspective, a ripping good yarn. From a literary perspective . . . blah!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Train Analogy

Those devoted few readers who read this blog religiously will know that I'm a fan not just of first lines, last lines and interesting vocabulary but I also enjoy a ripping good analogy. In that vein, here is one that caught my eye.

I'm really enjoying this Lee Child novel. Sure he's a minimalist in terms of characterization and multi-dimensional plots, but I think I get him. His main character, his slight humor, everything, makes me think that Lee Child writes it all with a wry smile breaking on the edges of his lips. This analogy grabbed me when I read it and I felt compelled to share it.

"He turned his head to look at her, close up. She was worrying about him. It came as a big surprise, out of nowhere. A shock. Like being on a train, stopped next to another train in a busy railroad station. Your train begins to move. It picks up speed. And then all of a sudden it’s not your train moving. It’s the other train. Your train was stationary all the time. Your frame of reference was wrong. He thought his train was moving. She thought hers was."

Child, Lee - Die Trying

This is perfect. How many readers have experienced this same change of perspective in their lives. I haven't even ridden that many trains and it connected with me. I thought it was perfectly done.

Friday, March 2, 2012

You Know Good When You Read It

So, this first line and the following passage have me hooked, completely and quickly hooked. It's a great first line. A couple of weeks ago the WSJ had an article about Lee Child's character finally making it to the screen (here). I was inspired to buy his book. The first line made me think it was a good decision.

"NATHAN RUBIN DIED because he got brave. Not the sustained kind of thing that wins you a medal in a war, but the split-second kind of blurting outrage that gets you killed on the street."

So those are the first two lines. Mr. Child goes on and it keeps getting more intriguing.

"He left home early, as he always did, six days a week, fifty weeks a year. A cautious breakfast, appropriate to a short round man aiming to stay in shape through his forties. A long walk down the carpeted corridors of a lakeside house appropriate to a man who earned a thousand dollars on each of those three hundred days he worked. A thumb on the button of the garage-door opener and a twist of the wrist to start the silent engine of his expensive imported sedan. A CD into the player, a backward sweep into his gravel driveway, a dab on the brake, a snick of the selector, a nudge on the gas, and the last short drive of his life was under way. Six forty-nine in the morning, Monday."

Child, Lee - Die Trying

As an aspiring author it's kinda tough to read what I think is a spectacular opening, particularly when it's followed by a chapter that is a steady crescendo of intrigue and interest. I can't wait to keep reading this book.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Back to Writing and Reading

Enough with chickens in sweaters, onto Oliver Twist. I just finished reading Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist for the second (maybe third) time. It must not resonate with me till the end of the book because I only remember that I've read it before when I get to the very end. This time I read it, and just as Sikes is trying to get away, I remembered having remembered reading it before. This makes me think it is my third read through.

That being said, I still liked it. Sure it's a tad slow in the middle, par for the course for Dickens I say, but it has a far more climactic ending than many other of his novels. You can find my list of interesting vocabulary (here) and passages (here and here as well as here) in my past posts but what I think what I find funny is the importance so many readers, reviewers et al put on a moment in the book that has such throw-away level significance. The moment when Oliver, an inmate of the workhouse as a child, asks for more food (see the above cover art) is almost the one facet of the book so many folks latch onto, but in the book is little more than a one passage instance. Does it play into who Oliver becomes? Somewhat, sure but no more than some other moments. I think the hike he takes toward London is more profound, his fight with Noah are just as prescient and revealing. Funny.

Nevertheless, glad I read it again. I'll go another year I suppose before my next Dickens classic, and at that time, as this time, I'll wonder why I didn't read more sooner.