Monday, April 30, 2012


I've read a couple of her books and though I found her " . . . in Death" series a tad prosaic and jejune (see here), there is definitely something to be said for Nora Robert's prolific writing.

This article (here) Keeping the Noraholics Happy by Alexandra Alter that I read and then had forwarded to me by a former employer speaks to that astounding prolificness. The first few paragraphs say it all:

Romance writer Nora Roberts didn't bother to celebrate when she finished her 200th book, "The Witness."
"I don't really count," says Ms. Roberts, a 61-year-old grandmother with red hair and a gravelly smoker's voice.
She took a couple of days off to catch up on chores and gardening. Then she launched into her 201st, "Celebrity in Death," the next installment of a futuristic romantic suspense series that she writes under the pen name J.D. Robb. She's since finished her 202nd, a romance novel set near her home in Maryland, and her 203rd, "Delusion in Death," another J.D. Robb book. She's now writing her 204th, "Whiskey Beach," a romantic suspense novel set in coastal Massachusetts.

The passage that I like, and I've always enjoyed passages like this, speaks to how she got started. Sort of like the J.K. Rowling, sitting at home making up stories for her children story line. 

Ms. Roberts was raised in an Irish Catholic family in Maryland. She began writing one day in 1979 during a blizzard, when she was stuck home with her two young sons. Silhouette, a romance imprint, published her debut novel, "Irish Thoroughbred," in 1981. Over the next three years, she published more than 20 novels. Her books broke traditional romance conventions: They featured non-virginal, flawed heroines, ensemble casts and snappy dialogue tinged with sarcasm, and were occasionally written from the hero's point of view. Her unconventional stories helped transform the genre, which has exploded into a $1.4 billion industry.

Its alot like Janet Evanovich just on an even grander scale. Probably not the best writing, but it appeals to so many you have to be awed by it. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Can't We All Just Get Along

I don't understand why they can't both exist. What am I talking about? This article in the WSJ Opinion page (here) by L. Gordon Crovitz just about has me regretting my previous blogs on this subject about Apple's agency model. Why should an app and a book be different. Basically, they shouldn't be. It's a good key theme within this article.

Whether it's news, games, apps or books, Apple's position is the same. The market determines the price, and Apple gets 30%. The Justice Department fails to acknowledge anywhere in its 36-page complaint against Apple and book publishers that this is the standard approach. (Indeed, the government complaint inaccurately refers to "30% margins" for Apple. Operating margins are very different from sales commissions.) The government says this "agency model" is inherently wrong ("per se" wrong, in legalese) and "would not have occurred without the conspiracy among the defendants."

I'm not quite all the way there yet, not all the way to completely agreeing with this next statement, but I'm close.

Pricing flexibility for publishers is necessary to allow innovation. Why shouldn't some e-books cost 99 cents and others that come with video and hardcover editions be $49.95? Why not give people the option to pay 10% more to access an e-book on all e-readers? Consumers should decide, not Amazon or the Antitrust Division.

 Perhaps I'm feeling open to the argument because it appeared directly below the article about Argentina coming one step closer to nationalizing Respol for their own means (here). When compared to that the agency model seems like chicken feed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Perfectly Decent First Line

The last two books I've read had a young girl kidnapped and held hostage and a curse being leveled on the main character. It's good to come back to something a tad more prosaic and staid, something like that which I read from Clavell's Tai-Pan.

Dirk Struan came up onto the quarterdeck of the flagship H.M.S. Vengeance, and strode for the gangway. The 74-gun ship of the line was anchored half a mile off the island. Surrounding her were the rest of the fleet’s warships, the troopships of the expeditionary force, and the merchantmen and opium clippers of the China traders. It was dawn—a drab, chill Tuesday—January 26th, 1841.

Clavell, James - Tai-Pan

Yep, that's enough to make me want to read on.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

To Be Read

Right now I'm reading a book on how to develop characters by Orson Scott Card. It's pretty thick and it's taking me quite a bit of time to chew through it, when I do I think I'll move on to this one (here).

The article states:

"Hit Lit" focuses on a murderer's row of commercial best sellers from the past couple of decades: Tom Clancy's "The Hunt for Red October" (1984), John Grisham's "The Firm" (1991), Robert James Waller's "The Bridges of Madison County" (1992) and Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" (2003). It looks back at earlier sensations, too: Stephen King's "The Dead Zone" (1979), Peter Benchley's "Jaws" (1974), William Peter Blatty's "The Exorcist" (1971), Mario Puzo's "The Godfather" (1969), Jacqueline Susann's "Valley of the Dolls" (1966), Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1960), Grace Metalious's "Peyton Place" (1956) and Martha Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind" (1936). These literary cash cows may tell us something about prevailing tastes, and they certainly share many features that wannabe blockbuster writers might keep in mind while going for the gold.

This article by Dave Shiflett on Hit Lit by James W. Hall seems like it would be just up my alley, no . . . not because I'm looking for all the right boxes to check in order to write a well-rounded and best selling novel, but because it seems like it would be a terrific sequel to Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel (here) which is my favorite book on writing.

Each book on writing that I read is more dry than the last and none of them as the excitement (what excitement that there can be in a book on writing) of Writing the Breakout Novel. Hit Lit just might be the one. It's on the "To Be Read List!"

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Girl Who Played With Fire

So now I know what there was such fanfare for Steig Larson a few years back. These are genuinely engrossing books. This second book, The Girl Who Played With Fire (here) was just as good as his first book The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo (here). The characters were just as intriguing and the story just as if not more compelling.

I liked the fact that more characters were introduced in this novel, and that much of the action took place not in small villages on the coast. It's easier for me to imagine a city setting rather than small sleepy Swedish villages. I also enjoyed some of the villains more in this book than the first. They were far more colorful and fun to follow.

What I didn't like was that it dealt more with the internal histories of the main characters, particularly of Lisbeth. The first novel had a degree of that with Blomqvist's past playing a part, but in this book it was primarily about Lisbeth's past. That makes me worry about the next book. Will it just be a continuation of that same story? I hope not.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Certainly Leaves a Fellow Wanting More

I just finished The Girl Who Played with Fire, the last line certainly leaves one looking forward to the next in the series.

"For a moment he stood as if petrified, staring at her mangled body. He noticed that she was holding a pistol in her hand, which hung loosely off the edge of the bench. He went to her side and sank to his knees. He thought about how he had found Svensson and Johansson and thought that she was dead too. Then he saw a slight movement in her chest and heard a feeble, wheezing breath. He reached out his hand and carefully loosened the gun from her grip. Suddenly her fist tightened around its butt. She opened her eyes to two narrow slits and stared at him for many long seconds. Her eyes were unfocused. Then he heard her mutter in such a low voice that he could only with difficulty catch the words. Kalle Fucking Blomkvist. She closed her eyes and let go of the gun. He put it on the floor, took out his mobile, and dialled the number for emergency services."

Larsson, Stieg - The Girl Who Played with Fire

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Last Lines Again

I'm not sure why I keep trying to kick this dead horse, but I'm sure some gems will come out of this endeavor. So in that light, I'm trying this "last lines" thread again:

"Can we be sure of this man?” the aide asked.

“Absolutely.” Hitler turned and walked across the room to a chair.

His movements were stiff and he seemed in pain. “He is a loyal German. I know him. I know his family—”

“But your instinct—”

“Ach…I said I would trust this man’s report, and I shall.”

He made a gesture of dismissal. “Tell Rommel and Rundstedt they can’t have their panzers. And send in that damned doctor.”

Puttkamer saluted again and went out to relay the orders.

Follett, Ken - Eye Of The Needle

Nope . . . nothing Earth shaking there. I'll keep trying though.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Book Review of Smokin' Seventeen

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I enjoy Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. Those of you who are new to the blog and thought I was a hard core, ex-military, no-nonsense, thriller writer . . . it was nice knowing you. Hope you come back one day.

Yes, yes . . . every now and then I enjoy reading a Stephanie Plum novel. They're fun, they're light, they're especially funny, and the bad-ass, heart-throb in the books is a former Ranger. What's not to like. This most recent one, Smokin' Seventeen is just as good as its predecessors. Unlike the others this one doesn't have much mystery in it. The further down the list one reads, the less mystery is involved, but I guess it doesn't matter cause if you are reading number seventeen you obviously like the characters, so Evanovich provides alot of that.

My favorite character (other than the aforementioned bad ass) is Lula. Read one of the books and you'll see what I mean. Reading about what Lula eats and wears is about as much fun as reading about what Archie McNally wears in Lawrence Sanders' series (here).

I highlighted only one passage, but it's a doozy.

"Lula and I walked around the side of the building and found Melanie sitting on a beer keg, smoking. The first delicious rush of nicotine was behind her, and she was mechanically working her way through the remainder of her cigarette."

First, I think she describes the scene quickly and succinctly. The reader knows that it is gritty, depressed, and grimy. I love the combination of "first delicious rush of nicotine" and I like that it "was behind her" and now the mechanical nature of the habit kicks in. I don't know why, but that could be top of my list for great descriptions.

Fun stuff. Look forward to eighteen as well as to reading the intervening editions that I have missed. If you're looking to read a fun book do yourself a favor and try an Evanovich (here).

Friday, April 6, 2012

Reconsidering My Views

A couple of posts back (here) I discussed a quick book review and excerpt from Escape for Camp 14, the story of an inmates escape from a North Korean prison camp. At the time I decided it might not be worthwhile to read. Although I am incredibly intrigued by the subject matter, the writing didn't really speak to me. This review (here) may have just changed my opinion.

This review has once again shown me that it might not matter whether the writing pulls me in or not, it is such an engaging subject matter, such a view of a dystopian, unbelievable society, that it might be impossible for a "Nork-o-phile" like myself to avoid it. It's not that I think his relationship with his mother, who he saw "not as a source of affection but as a competitor for the limited amount of food that was available to them," nor do I particularly want to read about how he was tortured and beaten during his interrogation after his mother and older brother tried to escape, (by the way, in what is another stunning revelation, he didn't mourn their eventual hanging, but blamed them for the pain he suffered during his interrogation). It's the fact that such places exist in the world that I find amazing. Doubly amazing . . . the fact that he eventually got out.

It's on my reading list now.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

That's . . . An Attention Getter

Yep, this first line(s) certainly grab the readers attention. The following passages continue to do so.

"She lay on her back fastened by leather straps to a narrow bed with a steel frame. The harness was tight across her rib cage. Her hands were manacled to the sides of the bed."

Larsson, Stieg - The Girl Who Played with Fire

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Book Review of Eye of the Needle

Much better than Hornet Flight and far better than The Man From St. Petersburg, that's the quick summation of Eye of the Needle.

I remember in one of the writing classes I took we discussed what makes a thriller and what makes a mystery. That instructor said that Dick Francis wrote mysteries. I've heard others say that they are thrillers. This one instructor said that Thrillers need to deal with subjects that are grand in scale and possibly Earth-shaking. The Man From St. Petersburg, Hornet Flight and The Pillars of the Earth all lacked this grandiose scale. Eye of the Needle made up for what the others lacked and made the novel better than the others if only for that reason.

Another thing that Ken Follet's books demonstrate is how great novels are based on good characterization not great plots. You can have both, but without great characters you can't have a great book. Eye of the Needle, as so many of Follet's novels, is filled with terrific characters.

I marked one passage:

"It is for places like this that the word "bleak" has been invented. The island is a J-shaped lump of rock rising sullenly out of the North Sea. It lies on the map like the top half of a broken cane, parallel with the Equator but a long, long way north; its curved handle toward Aberdeen, its broken, jagged stump pointing threateningly at distant Denmark. It is ten miles long. Around most of its coast the cliffs rise out of the cold sea without the courtesy of a beach. Angered by this rudeness the waves pound on the rock in impotent rage; a ten-thousand-year fit of bad temper that the island ignores with impunity."

I loved the book and can't wait to read another from Follet.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Who Knew Palindromists Existed

I was all set to discuss an article I read in the paper today that discussed the great job the CEO at Random House, Gina Cetrello, was doing in marketing books (here), then I saw an article that trumped that one, . . . trumped it quite easily in fact.

As a person with a palindrome last name, I thought I was fairly well attuned to the world of palindromes. Just knowing the word and what it is is usually enough to secure a firm footing in that world. Naturally I was surprised to find that not only are there true "palindromists" out there, but there is also "Palindromists Magazine" and a "World Palindrome Competition." The full article (here) goes into some but not enough detail, but does provide the highlights of the competition.

My favorite palindrome is:

"A man, a plan, a canal,... Panama!"

Who wouldn't love that. It has a purpose, a statement, historical significance, and takes a second or two to reveal itself. The winning entrant in the World Palindrome Championships is certainly no better:

"Devil Kay fixes trapeze part; sex if yak lived."

Long? Sure. Makes sense? Historical significance? Nope and nope. The winner, Mark Saltveit, said he liked his other entry more. I agree.

"I tan. I mull. In a way, Obama, I am a boy – a wan illuminati."

I think though that in terms of being relevant, the third one of Connett's is the best.

" 'Not Newt!' Ron's snort went on."

But, and the article provides only a teaser, we read what had to be the best of the bunch, "MIT Professor Nick Montfort placed fourth with a long palindromic poem about Star Wars, titled The Millennium Falcon Rescue."

Why isn't that provided in the text!