Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mission Success

If the mission of a first line was to establish a sense of foreboding and intrigue then I'd have to say that Tom Clancy achieved that mission with his first line way back in 1986.

They moved swiftly, silently, with purpose, under a crystalline, star-filled night in western Siberia. 

The passage only continue to up the tension as it continues.

They moved swiftly, silently, with purpose, under a crystalline, star-filled night in western Siberia. They were Muslims, though one could scarcely have known it from their speech, which was Russian, though inflected with the singsong Azerbaijani accent that wrongly struck the senior members of the engineering staff as entertaining. The three of them had just completed a complex task in the truck and train yards, the opening of hundreds of loading valves. Ibrahim Tolkaze was their leader, though he was not in front. Rasul was in front, the massive former sergeant in the MVD who had already killed six men this cold night— three with a pistol hidden under his coat and three with his hands alone. No one had heard them. An oil refinery is a noisy place. The bodies were left in shadows, and the three men entered Tolkaze’s car for the next part of their task.

Clancy, Tom - Red Storm Rising

Pretty good stuff if you ask me. I've been looking forward to reading this for some time. Now, after trying a couple of first time novelist's fare (a mixed bag) I would have to say it's nice to come back to some familiar territory.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Next First Line Leaves Me Looking Forward . . .

This next first line leaves me looking forward to my next next first line. It's just not compelling, but as a period novel, I suppose it's apropos.

Stepping into the back alleyway, Lianna took a deep invigorating breath and closed her eyes. How she loved these warm moonlit nights stirred by the cool sea breeze. Even behind the Black Dog Tavern, in this dank corner of the wretched port with its nauseous smells and filthy streets, she couldn't help but feel a sense of serenity.

Bray-Weber, Jennifer - Blood and Treasure

I wish that the author had come up with a less trite name than the Black Dog Tavern. That smacks of caricature.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Depressing First Line

Despite what turned out to be a terrific book, I thought the first line was wanting.

The Raccoon River runs through a 631-acre park in the city of West Des Moines, Iowa. During the Great Flood of 1993, the river flooded the water treatment facility of Des Moines, shutting off the city’s supply of drinking water. This time, it only flooded the south end of the park, in sum, almost 200 acres: a far cry from the damage it had incurred nearly two decades before.

Conner, Aimee -. Scrapbook

It's like sitting down to listen to a symphony orchestra and when they play that first note, one or two folks miss they beat and come in at just the wrong time. Thankfully most musicians are good enough to catch back up. Miss Conner caught up as well (here).

Monday, May 28, 2012

Review for a First Timer

I read a first-time novelists first novel and boy do I feel intimidated and under-prepared for my own writing life. I found Scrapbook (here) through the author at a site for authors called Book Blogs (here). It's a decent site with an overwhelming number of YA authors on it. Scrapbook is definitely not YA.

Couldn't put it down. This is my four word review. What did I like most? Edge of your seat writing, short, pithy, engaging. Both the tight writing and quick chapters made it impossible to stop. It's like a roller coaster ride where the train pulls into the station and instead of getting off you ask the attendant if you can keep going around for the next chapter.

It was reminiscent of Silence of the Lambs. I remember when I first read that book and I was stunned by how gritty and visceral it was, Scrapbook was much the same. Having never read any of Miss Conner's works before I found her writing to have terrific pacing, fun characters, gruesome and real description that came at just the right time, with squeamishness in small doses that wasn't so over the top that I wanted to give up on it. It's well worth the time and money and I'll be recommending it to all of my reading friends.

I look forward to Miss Conner's next works.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Everywhere I Look I See Creative Writing

I ran across this link today (here) which lists the ten most painful insect stings as listed by Robert T. Gonzalez in  iO9. Ho-hum you are thinking, I didn't come to a great blog like Publish or Perish to talk about pabulum like insect stings. Except, what I like about it are the descriptions that the author presents of what the sting feels like. He pokes fun at the way wine tasters write and give some clarifications. My favorite is the description of the Paper Wasp sting.

Animal: Paper wasp
Schmidt Index: 3.0
Description: Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.

Very clever. Made me take a second look and I feel confident anyone savvy enough to visit this blog will be have their curiosity piqued enough to click the link. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Bananas Foster Astray Sandwich

So, in an effort to promote my work and to hopefully find new reviewers I joined a group called Book Blogs. Today I posted my banner ad for Toe the Line and a short "elevator pitch" in their Promote Your Book forum (here).

I am now sandwiched between two works. One is Banana's Foster by Sandra Murphy. I haven't read anything about the book yet, but the title alone makes me want to know more.

The other book is by someone who seems to be quite prolific (at least on the Book Blogs site) whose name is Carlos King. He listed two of his books beneath mine, Prey and Astray. Those I doubt I will read unless they come with a strong recommendation. Still, fun to try and put some stuff out there and see what sticks.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Catching Fire

I finished the second in Suzanne Collins' series. I liked the first one. I read it in about three days. I liked this one as well. They are lively and quick and fun to read. It was as good as the first. Not the most literary novel, but fun to read and spirited. A good escape for a short time. 

One thing I noticed in this novel that I didn't notice in the first one is that Collins moves things along quite clunkily. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I don't particularly care for her endings, but now I'm finding her zips through time, where she writes a catch all phrase like "Gale and I practiced a lot over the next few months" a tad off putting. I'm the type of Joe who wants to know what that practicing was like. I suspect an editor told Miss Collins that the reader would be bored and she had to get to the games. Not this reader sister!

One last thing about this book. I love my Kindle because I can make notes and marks so easily. I see a fancy, five dollar, vocabulary word, I mark it. I notice a striking analogy, I highlight it. I like going back after the fact and selecting "See My Notes and Marks" and remembering these details after the fact. I clicked that feature for Catching Fire . . . nothing. No notes. No marks. Nuff said.

Fun fun fun! But that's about it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Most of Writing is Re-Writing

Recently I exchanged emails with an author (truly, someone making a living with the written fiction word . . . living the dream I say!) and they agreed that most of writing is re-writing. It's stunning how much re-writing goes into a novel. I'm withholding reading from myself until I finish the second round of edits on my second novel On the Edge. I'm hoping I'm just a week from being done.

Nevertheless, the only thing I am allowing myself to read is books on the craft of writing and even then I only read it when "all electronics must be turned off" for take offs or landings.

To that end I'm trying to keep these things in mind (here). These are tips on why why my story might stink. Worth a look see if you are a writer. My favorite? Poo-poo Plot.

Monday, May 21, 2012

First the Beginning, . . . Now the End

Since my last post was on Catching Fire's first line, and I got such a phenomenal response . . . why not do it again?

“She’s alive. So is your mother. I got them out in time,” he says. 
“They’re not in District Twelve?” I ask. 
“After the Games, they sent in planes. Dropped firebombs.” He hesitates. “Well, you know what happened to the Hob.”
 I do know. I saw it go up. That old warehouse embedded with coal dust. The whole district’s covered with the stuff. A new kind of horror begins to rise up inside me as I imagine firebombs hitting the Seam. 
“They’re not in District Twelve?” I repeat. As if saying it will somehow fend off the truth.
“Katniss,” Gale says softly. I recognize that voice. It’s the same one he uses to approach wounded animals before he delivers a deathblow. 
I instinctively raise my hand to block his words but he catches it and holds on tightly. 
“Don’t,” I whisper. 
But Gale is not one to keep secrets from me. 
“Katniss, there is no District Twelve.”

Collins, Suzanne - Catching Fire

As I said, Collins is all about the "drop ending." Leaving the story off in what seems like mid-sentence in the hope that the reader will try the next in the series. This is no different. A tad better than the end of The Hunger Games, but still, leaves me hanging.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

First Line: Catching Fire

I clasp the flask between my hands even though the warmth from the tea has long since leached into the frozen air. My muscles are clenched tight against the cold. If a pack of wild dogs were to appear at this moment, the odds of scaling a tree before they attacked are not in my favor. I should get up, move around, and work the stiffness from my limbs. But instead I sit, as motionless as the rock beneath me, while the dawn begins to lighten the woods. I can’t fight the sun. I can only watch helplessly as it drags me into a day that I’ve been dreading for months.

Collins, Suzanne -Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games)


Even as I read it, expecting alot since Miss Collins has the tendency to let novels end abruptly, naturally I was expecting a quick, punchy beginning, I thought, "that's not that great a first line or passage.

Thankfully, the rest of the book was more engrossing than the first line, but more on that later.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Always Amazed

Whenever I open my email and see the Editors I know that some silly question has been asked of Cynthia Crossen (see here, here and here). Despite my always being disappointed by the question I always read the article and I always come away glad that I did.

This time the question is about what books the writer's daughter should read at camp (here). I've read a few books about the wilderness, but only one of mine made the list. I will say though that my "to be read" list is now much longer thanks to this article. Among the new books on the list:

Another remarkable story of a nervy woman on a long camping trip is Robyn Davidson's "Tracks," a memoir of the author's hike across 1,700 miles of Australian desert with her dog and four camels. 

I also admired and enjoyed Cheryl Strayed's recent backpacking memoir, "Wild," for her hard-earned epiphanies about which sporting goods people actually need to survive a 1,100-mile solo hike. In some ways, "Wild" reminded me of Bill Bryson's very funny "A Walk in the Woods," but Ms. Strayed's account of her journey is rawer and riskier.

And although Deliverance was the only camping/wilderness story that I knew before this article, it only made Crossen's list because of the horror aspect. (BTW, if you haven't read it, do so, it's lyrical).

There's no better setting for ghost stories than camp, and here Dad could throw in a classic: Henry James's "The Turn of the Screw." Edith Wharton has a collection of ghost stories, and Susan Hill's "The Woman in Black" offers a macabre chill. So does James Dickey's 1970 novel "Deliverance," but that's probably going too far on the wilderness-as-setting-for-horror spectrum. The campfire story that scared me sleepless was "The Hookman," which is folklore.

Once again, glad I read it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ideas Generator

I marvel at from where ideas spring. Usually some of the most interesting ideas come from my brother (here and here). Some of the even better more fleshed out one come from my own dreams (here). My two novels have just sprung up during writing. This post in the Corner on National Review posted by Jonah Goldberg however (here) brings some very interesting ideas to mind. He quotes his own linked article as saying:

Kodak may be going under, but apparently they could have started their own nuclear war if they wanted, just six years ago. Down in a basement in Rochester, NY, they had a nuclear reactor loaded with 3.5 pounds of enriched uranium—the same kind they use in atomic warheads.

Imagine a novel about the closing of a huge technology plant and the disenchanted workers using that opportunity to loot the company for his own ends. He hijacks a moving truck which no one really cares too much about cause it's all going to the dump, and unloads it in his garage. Years later his son or grandson is digging through the junk and runs across a nuclear reactor. Sounds like NaNoWriMo 2013 is ready to go. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Book Review: Tai Pan

I finished Tai-Pan by James Clavell the other day. I loved Shogun and had high hopes for Tai Pan. Then, whilst boarding a flight from St. Louis to Houston the other day a fellow traveler saw the book on my iPad and said "Great Book." All in all it is an apt review.

I already made a comment or two about a couple of passages in the book (here and here) and for the most part there wasn't too much that I stopped to highlight as I plowed through the novel. There were a couple, and I present them here:

I think it's so hard to write "out of body experiences" or showing when a character is confused or dazed. Clavell does a great job of that in this passage.
“I think Father is the Devil.” An involuntary shudder ran through Robb.
“That’s stupid, lad. Stupid. You’re just overwrought. We all are. The bullion and—well, the excitement of the moment. Nothing to worry about. Of course he’ll understand when …” Robb’s words trailed off. Then he hurried after his brother.
Culum was finding it very difficult to focus. Sounds seemed to be stronger than before, but voices more distant, colors and people bizarre. His eyes saw Mary Sinclair and her brother in the distance. Suddenly they were talking to him. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t hear you.”

One of the characters is found dead and Straun describes the sight and the torture in a grissly way.

Struan went below and tried to sleep. But sleep would not come. Scragger’s end had sickened him. He knew it was a favorite torture of Wu Fang Choi, Wu Kwok’s father and little Wu Pak’s grandfather. The victim who was to be dismembered was given three days’ time to choose which limb was to come off first. And on the third night a friend of the man would be sent to him secretly to whisper that help was on the way. So the man chose the limb he felt he could most do without until help came. After the tar had healed the stump, the man was forced to choose yet another limb, and again there was the promise of imminent help which would never come. Only the very strong could survive two amputations.

It was fun to read another Clavell novel, but I'm concerned. None of his others might be as good as Shogun. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ups and Downs of Reading an Article

I read the question in my email that spurned the article Is the Novel Dead? by Cynthia Crossen in the WSJ yesterday (here). The question was: Occasionally I read about the "death of the novel." It doesn't look like the novel is dead to me. Does it to you?

Ho hum was my immediate reaction. Kind of a silly question don't you think? But then I thought to myself, so many of the questions that are used to generate articles seem silly at first . . . I'll go give it a try. So I did. I saw the graphic that showed a 1950's era poster for an H.G. Well's novel and my heart rate quickened. It slowed the further I read.

The article was about as ho hum as the article generating question, but it did provide fodder for this article. After reading it I thought about a class I had my freshman year of college, The 20th Century Novel. It wasn't a bad class. Not great, but not bad. When the professor asked us what we would do for future classes I thought it would be interesting to breakup the topic into subjects.

Subjects such as: 20th Century Romances, 20th Century Novels on War, Mystery Novels through the 20th Century, Sci-Fi Novels in the 20th Century, etc. I think any of these would make for a far more interesting class than just 20th Century novels.

By my senior year I found myself in a Charles Dickens class. lt was fun. Bleak House, Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist and more. Still, I think my idea had legs and wonder if some Aggie (or Maggie) isn't right now sitting in a Sci-Fi Novels in the 20th Century class and writing about the similarities between Vernor Vinge and Isaac Asimov. What fun!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Policing Literallys is my Forte

Whilst reading a fun little article about Vice President Joe Biden called Big &#%!ing Joker (here) in National Review by Jonah Goldberg I ran across a couple of passages that seemed apropos for this blog.

I'm not a big "literal/figurative" cop. If someone miss-uses the literal or figurative definitions in a sentence I might point it out if I have nothing better to do but I don't make a big thing. It's generally miss-used in our society I find, but with a bit of prodding one can help others get back on the right track. It's not like the problems going around with Forte. So many people say forte with the "ay" sound on the end when they actually mean, forte no "ay" sound. It's just about been changed in our lexicon in the same way that (much to my grandmother's disappointment) snuck has been accepted. I've not quite given up on "literal/figurative" as I have on "forte." Still this article was fun to read thanks to these two passages:

The word “literally” has taken a beating in the Age of Biden. He’s often proclaimed that Obama had the opportunity “literally to change the direction of the world” (which, if possible, might help fulfill that promise to lower sea levels). Biden announced that “before we arrived in the West Wing, Mr. Boehner and his party ran the economy and the middle class literally into the ground.” His speeches are “literally” festooned with “literally”s, like hundreds of tethers to the hot-air balloon that is his head. 

The standard joke is to quote the scene in The Princess Bride when Inigo Montoya tells Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” The problem is that Biden insists that he does know what it means. One of his favorite ways to emphasize his seriousness is to say, “and I mean literally, not figuratively,” as if “literally” meant “I’m really serious” and “figuratively” connoted some effeminate lack of conviction. He says JFK’s “call to service literally, not figuratively, still resounds from generation to generation.” He told students in Africa, “You are the keystone to East Africa — literally, not figuratively, you are the keystone.” “The American people are looking for us as Democrats,” he has said. “They’re looking for someone literally, not figuratively, to restore America’s place in the world.” Speaking at a rally for Senator Patty Murray, he said, “I have now gone into 110 races around the country, and everywhere I go I see ordinary people who play by the rules, get everything right, paid their mortgage, showed up in their school helping their kids, made sure that they did everything they could to save to get their kid to college, took their mom and dad in when they needed help and hoped to save a little bit of money so they wouldn’t have to rely on their own kids when the time came.” Here’s the kicker: “And all of a sudden, all of a sudden — literally, not figuratively — they were decimated.” If they were literally decimated, Biden doesn’t just see ordinary people, he sees dead people. But only one for every nine among the living.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Stunned That Struan Died

I guess other, more purposeful readers wouldn't be surprised by the Tai-Pan's death, but I was. The last lines were not as good as those that prefaced his death. The last lines focus on Culum, the Tai-Pan's son, are:

"And here.” He took out the twenty sovereigns. “Give these to Brock with my compliments. Tell him I said to buy himself a coffin.” 
The three men looked at Culum strangely. Then they said, “Yes, Tai-Pan,” and obeyed.
Clavell, James -Tai-Pan

The lines I liked most were these:

A cannonade of Supreme Winds blew the windows in on the south side and the whole building shifted as though in an earthquake. The nails in the roof screamed against an untoward pull, and then a devil gust peeled off the roof and hurled it into the sea. 
Struan felt Yin-hsi surge away into the maelstrom above. He grabbed for her, but she had vanished. 
Struan and May-may held each other tightly. “Dinna give up, Tai-tai!” 
“Never! I love you, Husband.” 
And the Supreme Winds fell on them.

I think he should have ended with that one.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Not A Team Player

Perhaps I like the idea of self-publishing so much because I am not a team player. I've never been a team player. I liked singles tennis more than doubles. I like running more than lacrosse. I would rather work alone than as a part of a team. I understand the necessity of sometimes having a team, but having read this article (here) Why It Takes So Long by Max Berry I wonder if I would have enjoyed the book publishing process.

My favorite passage, and I like it cause I felt like using the same excuse, artistic license and style, to my cousin who found a plethora of grammatical errors in my most recent work, was this one:

The editor and author begin seeking people to provide a blurb/cover quote. The first edition can’t have actual reviews on the cover, because those will be received too late. But you need someone to say “MAGNIFICENT… STUNNING,” so you have to hit up a fellow author. The copyeditor prints out the new draft and scrawls arcane markings on it by the light of tallow candles using quills. This ensures the book can no longer be shared electronically, and all subsequent changes must be done by hand. This five-hundred-page monstrosity is photocopied and e-mailed to the author. Sorry, that was a typo. I mean mailed. You know. Mailed. When they physically transport something. The author reads this by light of a virgin moon, which is the only time the unicorn ink becomes visible, and accepts some changes while giving others a jolly good stet. This can be a difficult time for the author, who must defend grammatical errors as stylistic choices in order to not look stupid.

Well worth a glance if you are a writer.