Thursday, September 27, 2012

Character is all that Matters

I think that these Reality Shows that are so pervasive on the television these days are the ultimate illustration that character is all that matters.

Some time ago someone told me that it's not the story that matters, it not the plot or the setting or anything else, all that matters is character. Make the reader care about the characters and they'll keep reading.
Look at these new Reality Shows on television. Flipping Out, Keeping up with the Kardashians, Dancing with the Stars, it's all about promoting the characters. Those that don't are now defunct. Why am I thinking about this? Cause among the shows about Duck Hunting, Critter Wrangling, and all the others is a new reality show that focuses on farmers.

Farmers? Yep, farmers. It's not a stretch really if you consider that it's all about character. I bet there are plenty of colorful, characterful, farmers out there. If a producer can run into a compelling enough farmer character, it doesn't matter what the subject matter is.

There Has to Be a Story in This

Actually I think there is a great story here.

Everyone who reads this blog knows that I use it for my own personal filing cabinet as well as to communicate to readers. First I put my book reviews here so I can remember what I have read. Also I put my Story Ideas in here so I can remember I want to write something. Here's one for the Story Ideas file.

I like to read the conservative National Review every now and then. This story, linked here by Jonah Goldberg, would make a terrific thriller. Tracking down and confronting a hostile reader and finding out it's the 17 year old son of your best friend. That's awesome thriller plot stuff there!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Despite It All, . . . I'll Do It Again

Armageddon by Leon Uris . . . my first Uris book, and I liked it. Liked it more than I thought. When I started it I was a underwhelmed. It was a slow start and really the first quarter of the book was slow to start. It's a novel about Berlin, yet Berlin doesn't come up until the second half of the book.

That being said, I had no idea I wanted to read about the Berlin Airlift. Here I was thinking I was going to read about World War II instead I read about the nascent days of the Cold War. Who knew that the Berlin Airlift was so interesting? I was enthralled and engrossed once that sucker got off the ground. As long as the reader as the patience to wade through the politics that Uris describes, in somewhat agonizing detail, then the payoff is worthwhile.

It reminded me of Red Storm Rising. There is a huge cast of characters, one of whom is a main character, but who is not always a part of the central storyline. There is a war, political intrigue and lots and lots of detail. The problem? . . . Like my problems with Michener . . . I hate fiction that takes place in the real world. There's a fine line between writing historical fiction, history and fiction. I never knew what to believe in when I read a Michener book. That's the same way I felt with Uris. It wasn't historical fiction so much that it was true fiction. I don't like not knowing which parts are actual events verses which are completely made up.

I highlighted a description of the morning . . . it happens in every book.

DAWN CAME WITH A crispness that gave a new life to the wet misery of the soldiers; and it brought the news that during the night a battalion of infantry had crossed the Landau in rubber boats and now held the south bank.

This next one is a long one, but I loved this description of Russian soldiers.

“Russians are like a pack of animals on the attack and otherwise. The pack strikes best in numbers. And ... like the animal ... he is most vicious when he is cornered. 

“Like the animal, the Russian blends into the natural backgrounds of the landscape and he knows how to use terrain for protection. Like the animal, the Russian is able to endure cold and hunger ... better than any soldier in the world. No Russian soldier would think of surrendering to the enemy merely because he is starving. He can disappear into the land like a fawn. He can survive from roots and herbs. For a Russian soldier to get frostbite is considered a crime by his superiors. And ... like the animal ... his instincts are sharper and his courage greater under the cover of night. He is a superb night fighter. 

“Although this Russian soldier is a resourceful animal he does not exist as an individual for he is a conditioned and controlled animal. All the thinking is done for him from above. He is never asked or expected to make a decision on his own. 

Then there was this, a description of Leningrad.

In the last days of April Russian victories were counted in inches, casualties in tens of thousands. No siege, this; batter it out foot by foot, room by room; isolate it house by house, street by street, section by section; reduce it to shambles. Artillery and tanks fired down great streets at point-blank and walls grotesquely buckled and crashed. Human fodder, bearing bayonets and flamethrowers, gutted and gored its way forward. Rivers of blood spilled into the gutters. The back of the Nazi was being broken by unstoppable sledge-hammer blows. 

All things considered, despite my aversion to Michener-esque writing, I'd be willing to give another Uris a try.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A More Compelling Start for Fiction

After Uris commitment book (review to come soon) I've gone trashy and short. Another Evanovich novel. It's like eating junk food. Tasty and quick, but fun at while you're doing it. This one . . . Hot Six.

Okay, so here's the thing. My mother's worst fear has come true. I'm a nymphomaniac.

Janet Evanovich - Hot Six

It's got me hooked.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Compelling Start for Nonfiction

I'm currently reading a nonfiction book recommended to me by both my wife and NPR. I heard about The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg about six months ago while listening to NPR one morning. I thought it sounded intriguing, but not being an avid nonfiction reader, I didn't pursue it beyond mentioning it to a co-worker. The other day my wife said that I should read a book she was reading. Guess which book it was.

She was the scientists’ favorite participant.

Lisa Allen, according to her file, was thirty-four years old, had started smoking and drinking when she was sixteen, and had struggled with obesity for most of her life. At one point, in her mid-twenties, collection agencies were hounding her to recover $ 10,000 in debts. An old résumé listed her longest job as lasting less than a year. 

The woman in front of the researchers today, however, was lean and vibrant, with the toned legs of a runner. She looked a decade younger than the photos in her chart and like she could out-exercise anyone in the room. According to the most recent report in her file, Lisa had no outstanding debts, didn’t drink, and was in her thirty-ninth month at a graphic design firm.

Duhigg, Charles - The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

I don't know about you, but those first passages were enough to grab me.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Last Line of my Latest Commitment

Finished the commitment book, Armageddon by Leon Uris. Here's the last line. I was surprised by the reasons I didn't like it. More surprised by the reasons that I did.

Past the gate she was on the field. In her haste she did not see the American Army colonel coming in her direction. 

They bumped together. The packages in Hilde’s arms tumbled to the ground and they both knelt instinctively to pick them up. 

“I beg your pardon, fraulein,” Sean said. 

“I am clumsy, it was my fault,” Hilde answered. 

“Please let me help you.” He fitted the packages into her arms. 

He put his fingers to his cap in a salute. “Aufwiedersehen, fraulein,” he said.

“Aufwiedersehen,” she answered. 

The two of them went their separate ways.

Uris, Leon - Armageddon: A Novel of Berlin

Monday, September 17, 2012

Ramping Up for NaNo

So, as I am in the planning stages for National Novel Writing Month as evidenced by this last post, I am continuing to catalog my ideas so that I can select the very best one. This next one is a bit of a re-post, but as I didn't select it for last year, it's still a viable option.

I have wanted to write Soul Food for years. I see it as a Sci-Fi novel about an astronaut who bungles a mission in space, falls into a coma, and wakes up twenty years later. He sees the changes happening on Earth all around him and realizes that they are a product of something he saw on his final space walk. Just prior to his slipping into his coma he sees an alien force or being. He realizes that he has seen the reason for all the negative changes that have occurred in society and culture during the 20 years he was asleep.

As an astronaut his projects were all about "off Earth" living, but after his coma he sees that surface dwelling capabilities have exploded, religiosity is a new, overwhelming fad, and there have been great leaps forward made in ensuring contentment in old age as well as longer living. It is only because he has as an alternate perspective due to his coma that he begins to see that all of these advancements are a product of the alien entity and he surmises that the alien is harvesting human souls for food. (How the hero discovers that Aliens prefer the taste of human souls, particularly older souls, thus the advancements in senior living, senior medical care, etc) in a manner similar to human's like kobe beef is still a bit of a problem in my outline.)

The original title was Soul Ranch. Soul Food is more tongue in cheek but far more catchy. Could be a comedy in the vein of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but sadly I have no comedy writing experience. It's a pretty nebulous topic for a novel. Hard to write believably. Plus, what would the ending be? I know I've butchered the synopsis above, but that just tends to make my argument for me that this would be a tough one to tackle. But there are so many fun themes, the Rip Van Winkle-ism of the character's life, religion keeping the herd docile, the ability to increase population in a manner similar to a cattle ranch being taken over by new ownership and being turned around. All fun, but tough stuff to get across easily.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pumped for NaNoWriMo

I'm sorry but the word NaNoWriMo just doesn't thrill me. It's hard to get pumped for something with that name. They originators should have gone with just NaNo. Nevertheless, just like the last few years (here and here) I'm getting ready for National Novel Writing Month and starting to think of stories. I ran into one today.

I got a tour of a very large refinery near San Francisco and heard about a death that occurred there last year. Hearing about someone dying at a refinery isn't that remarkable. It's dangerous work. I had to take an 8 hour class just to get access. My company had someone die on the job just last year. It happens, it sucks, we drive on. The article I found on this particular death leans toward a fitness related death.

But, this story had some oddities to it. First, it was his wife who initially reported him missing when neither his truck nor his company truck nor the man himself came home. They started a plant wide search and found his truck in the contractors parking lot, and his company truck near the lubricants unit. They couldn't find the man though.

Three days later after an extensive search they found the man dead in a tank/vessel (one of these huge gasoline tanks) that was up a large hill and almost a mile from his truck. He had no reason to go into that vessel and he would have known no contractors are allowed to go into a vessel of that type alone or without the proper precautionary measures in place.

Finally, he left his radio and his phone in his truck. I think this is the oddest part. I was just a visitor today and had my phone with me the whole time. These contractors live with their radios.

There is a lot here for a story. There's the potential for big mean oil company in the bay area against a potential whistle blower. There's death and confusion. There's so much that could be made of this story. Sad part is that it's true. I wonder what really happened.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Kindles at Takeoff and Landing

As a frequent flier I saw a point in Joshua Fruhlinger's article E-Books, I'll Miss You that made me pause. In the article he listed reasons why he would miss his e-reader and why he was going back to regular book reading. It wasn't a convincing article, but this grabbed me:

It's not really the Kindle's fault, but we couldn't be together when I needed it most: The moments on a flight just before takeoff and landing. It's then that I'm most anxious or most bored (the in-flight entertainment goes off around this time, too). The FAA was uncomfortable with our relationship and callously stood in the way.

Like I said, it wasn't convincing, particularly when he wrote he hated the battery life limits of his Kindle . . . preposterous.

This past weekend there was this article Do Our Gadgets Really Threaten Planes by  Daniel Simons and Christopher F. Chabris. There answer . . . No.

I've read this many times before and have heard rumors, but had never seen it so brazenly spelled out. Why don't the airlines just admit that there is no problem or danger? Nothing is worse than sitting in the terminal or on a long flight reading and having to shut the ole Kindle off for takeoff and landing.

I suppose the thought now is that they don't want passengers to have laptops et al out, on their laps, cluttering the aisles in case of an emergency. But what if I have a hardcopy of Lonesome Dove on my lap? That's about as big as some laptops. Why can't I have my iPhone out with Airplane Mode on.

The part of the article that I thought was the most resounding was this:

To gather some empirical evidence on this question, we recently conducted an online survey of 492 American adults who have flown in the past year. In this sample, 40% said they did not turn their phones off completely during takeoff and landing on their most recent flight; more than 7% left their phones on, with the Wi-Fi and cellular communications functions active. And 2% pulled a full Baldwin, actively using their phones when they weren't supposed to. 

Consider what these numbers imply. The odds that all 78 of the passengers who travel on an average-size U.S. domestic flight have properly turned off their phones are infinitesimal: less than one in 100 quadrillion, by our rough calculation. If personal electronics are really as dangerous as the FAA rules suggest, navigation and communication would be disrupted every day on domestic flights. But we don't see that.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Buy the Old One Instead

I took a moment to read a blog I enjoy, The Curzon Group, a blog devoted to thrillers in the mould of the old British thrillers like Forsythe's The Dogs of War. It's a fun blog to drop in on every now and then.

Today, Peter Stuart Smith writes about e-readers and the future of publishing. It's an interesting post for anyone who intends to read or write or publish in the future, but the passage I zeroed in on was this one:

So if you are thinking about buying one of the new devices principally to read books, don’t bother. Get the old-style one, and you won’t regret it for a moment. But if you really are the kind of person who wants to sit by yourself in a corner somewhere, watching a film on a screen you can cover with the palm of your hand, without a doubt the Fire will be a far better buy for you than the iPad.

As an owner of a Kindle and an iPad, anyone who has read this blog knows that I love my Kindle and can read about that in these posts. I love that the battery life is so long, I love that it synchronizes with all my other devices, and that I can take it anywhere with little or no trouble. But lately I've also read on the iPad. I don't know why he thinks a Fire would be better than an iPad. They seem pretty much the same in terms of reading, but the iPad has better or more powerful capabilities beyond just reading.

I agree with "buying the old one instead" and going with an old school Kindle for reading. But the Fire? I don't know why it would be better than the iPad.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Are Books Like Sausages?

According to Wikipedia,  Nicolas de Chamfort is attributed with originally saying: “One would risk being disgusted if one saw politics, justice, and one’s dinner in the making.”

The following few weeks I will provide a series of posts  that will put paid to the question of whether novels should be added to this list. With the upcoming release of my second novel, On the Edge, I hope to first use all of the lessons learned that I cataloged in the AAR series following my release of Toe the Line. The hope is that by following the AAR advice On the Edge can morph my hobby into a business enterprise by actually turning a profit.

That being said, an update on On the Edge is probably a good place to start. I wrote On the Edge as a part of National Novel WritingMonth (NaNoWriMo) probably in 2007. Despite the years in-between, this novel came together far more quickly than Toe the Line and is much more complex. At the moment I have completed a final rewrite of the novel and have asked my personal editor (my cousin) to read it through for obvious mistakes in the story and any spelling, grammar or other easy to recognize problems.

So for the moment I have a paper draft with a plethora of red marks and suggestions in it. The last time I dealt with this I uploaded it to my Kindle, re-read it, and made edits in that format. As I outlined in my previous post, this was a huge mistake. I shant do it again. What will I do? I will keep it in MS Word and make the edits. I plan to upload it to the iPad and reread it one final time before Step 2, which includes advance review copies.

I plan to have a post a week on this topic. To find the most recent be sure to check Self-Publishing Label in the Labels list on the right of the screen. And for goodness sake if you have some advice let me know now before I go too far down the wrong path!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Great Similes Make Me Stop

There are times when I run across such wonderful similes that I have to stop and take note. It happened a few months ago when I ran across this winner by Daniel Foster writing in National Review in an article called Ask Me About Your Volt:

Oh, and it is quiet. Ghost quiet. U-boat-full-of-mutes-in-cotton-booties-coasting-through-an-ocean-of-mineral-oil quiet.

It's impossible not to love that metaphor. it's so visual and brings to mind every WWII sub movie that you've ever seen.

I ran into one today, also from National Review. Daniel Foster again, writing in their blog, The Corner, about the drain that comes from the following the political conventions:

For the past few days I have been feeling like Super Man under a red sun. 

Again, I need no further explanation of what he means. Perhaps it's not good similes that make me stop, perhaps it's National Review similes. Then again, perhaps it's just Daniel Foster.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

As a Follow-Up

As a follow-up to the post I wrote the other day on reviews I offer this . . . or rather Richard Parker at The Curzon Group offers this:

"I'm not going to say what's already been said but I would say that this would be Amazon's best opportunity to do what I've always hoped they would and completely scrap the star rating system.  Writers, readers and publishers have all become completely obsessed by it and it would certainly be one less headache for all concerned."

It's worth following the link if only cause he has more to say on the subject. The end result though is that I think I agree with him. I think the star rating system for the most part is rigged. Again, how many times have I written a review, much less given a star. I'd love to hear from anyone who follows this blog, who isn't a book reviewer, but just an average reader, who has given a review or a star on Amazon. Just how rigged is it I wonder.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My Library

Pre-Kindle I loved having a library of my favorite books. I had so many that my wife, once we were married, forced me to get rid of some of them. Now, with a Kindle, that library can't be in the way as the old one was. How can my wife get mad about all the space my books take up when they're all tucked away nicely in my Kindle.

I was looking at my Book Review tags and I'm up to 67. Think how much room I'm saving on my book shelves. Now, I only keep the most significant books I can, but keep all the e-books I have. So when I came across this quote at Home is Where the Book Is, it got me thinking about these two libraries:

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! -- When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” 

― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

I have two libraries ergo I must be doubly not miserable.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Reviews Are In . . . do we care?

Last week I was going to post this story I saw on Yahoo about a fellow who made 25K a year writing reviews for other folks. Apparently Todd Rutherford made a lot of money posting reviews that were either copied from previous works or were not quite as custom as he proclaimed them to be.

On the drive into work today I heard this story on NPR that discussed how the English author R.J. Ellroy was caught not only writing glowing reviews of his own work that he claimed were written by others but that also derided some of his competition.

Then today, whilst trying to determine what I should blog about today, I read this post at the Kill Zone which discussed "paid reviews on Amazon" and whether or not reviews actually affect their purchasing.

It was this last post that got my grey cells working. How many times have I read a review and used that for purchasing a book. I remember I read a review for Wool, but that was only to confirm a friends recommendation. I looked at the number of reviews for Outlander, and probably should have been more focused on reading them, particularly the ones with 1 star. Still, that's pretty rare. Most of my reading list is built by friends recommendations not reviews.

Makes me think I should spend less time trying to get reviews and more time trying to get real folks, friends and family to actually read my work.