Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Couldn't Not Start

So, I've already started National Novel Writing Month. I just couldn't not start. Monday, on a flight, all that time to write, I had to get started. Now, sitting in the airport, waiting for the next flight, this one home, I am writing again.

Is it wrong to start early. Emphatically no. There's no prize. There's no real rules. They're more like guidelines. Besides, like I said, who could pass up the chance to write for three hours on the way to Minnesota and on the way back to Texas. That's some prime writing time.

The worst part is, I am having so many second thoughts and I'm only a few thousand words in. I'm second guessing the tense, the plot, the characterization. I remember these doubts and second thoughts from all the previous Novembers. This time I'm determined to press on despite those nagging doubts and thoughts.

I know some of my followers are National Novel Writers, how are you guys prepping? Anyone else cheated?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

This One Draws the Reader In

When one reads about having a dynamic, explosive, and gripping first sentence, this should be what one thinks about:

The blast shoved me backward. I tumbled down the steps and hit the wall on the third floor with such force that my breath left my body. I slid down and landed, feet out. 

Clouds of dust gathered around me. I was covered in dirt, bits of door, and blood. 

I hadn’t expected this. Anger, a gun, maybe, but not a bomb. The air was white with plaster dust. I was coughing, which hurt my ribs. I couldn’t see anything ahead of me. My eyes were dry and chalky, and the inside of my mouth tasted like paint. I closed it, and my teeth ground against chunks of plaster.

Nelscott, Kris  - War at Home: A Smokey Dalton Novel

Have never read anything by Kris Nelscott. The first few pages sure pulled me in.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Last of the Hot Rock

Just finished The Hot Rock by Donald Westlake. The last line:

The Ambassador gave a rueful smile. “They would not treat the Major well in Talabwo,” he said, “if he paid two hundred thousand dollars for a piece of green glass.” 

“That’s what I kind of thought.” 

Still smiling, the Ambassador shook his head and said, “I must make a memo to myself never to try to cheat you.” 

Dortmunder said, “Is it a deal?” 

“Of course it’s a deal,” said the Ambassador. “Aside from having the emerald back, aside from anything else at all, it’s a deal because I’ve waited years to give the Major one in the eye. I could tell some stories of my own, you know. Are you sure you won’t have some coffee cake?” 

“Maybe just a little slice,” Dortmunder said. 

“And some coffee. I insist.” The Ambassador glanced over at the rain-smeared window. 

“Isn’t it a beautiful day,” he said. 

“Beautiful,” said Dortmunder.

Westlake, Donald E - The Hot Rock

Like I said before, a solid effort, fun the whole way through. Looking forward to the next one . . . good thing Westlake has a bibliography of over a hundred novels to choose from.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Book Review: Hot Six

What can I say about Hot Six by Janet Evanovich. It was as fun as all the others. Just as good if not better than all the rest. I can't say better actually cause they're all great, but this one just continued the excellence and fun that I've come to expect. You know what you're getting with Evanovich's Stephanie Plumb series of books, and she doesn't disappoint.

A few weeks ago I read an article in the WSJ by Danny Heitman called A Personal Trove of Prose about commonplace books. I've had a commonplace books for years, but never knew that's what I was supposed to call them.  Now days I consider this blog my commonplace book. This is where I put snippets of sentences that I want to remember, of the books that I want to remember having read. As I've said before, I use these book reviews for my own purposes more to help anyone make a decision about reading it.

It's a good thing this is just to remind me that I read Hot Six, I read it in traditional book format, not e-book on Kindle. When I read on Kindle I tend to highlight alot. I didn't highlight anything in the traditional book. Still, liked it all.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

From Short to Long

I took a class from Inprint Writing Workshops years ago on short story writing. I remember that the professor said that short stories are harder to write than novels. With novels the writer can take his time to set things up, they can use long, flowing passages that seem to go nowhere. With short stories it has to be punchy and quick.

When I took a class on novel writing at Rice's School of Continuing Education on Novel Writing the instructor told me the opposite. It's important to keep the reader's interest by moving quickly from action to action. If it doesn't move the plot along succinctly, it shouldn't be in the novel, they said.

Anyone who needs to understand what that last bit of advice meant should read The Hot Rock by Donald Westlake. Westlake moves the action along briskly . . . boom . . . boom . . . boom . . . the reader flies along with the action. There are stages of planning in many of the "capers" that I would love to read about, but nope, Westlake jumps to the next action scene and makes up for what was missed.

Nice to read, especially for less than four bucks.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Not the Best Line, But the Passage Makes it Better

I like Donald Westlake's Dortmunder series of novels, that being said, his first line of his first one, The Hot Rock was somewhat less than inspiring. By itself it does little to make me want to read on, BUT I've added the entire passage. With the rest of the passage the reader gets to see some of the humor, and a bit more of the set up.

DORTMUNDER blew his nose. “Warden,” he said, “you don’t know how much I appreciate the personal attention you been paying me.” There wasn’t anything for him to do with the Kleenex, so he just held it balled up in his fist. 

Warden Outes gave him a brisk smile, got up from behind his desk, walked around to Dortmunder’s side, patted him on the arm, and said, “It’s the ones I can save that give me the most pleasure.” He was a latter-day Civil Service type—college-trained, athletic, energetic, reformistic, idealisitc, and chummy. Dortmunder hated him. 

The warden said, “I’ll walk you to the gate, Dortmunder.” 

“You don’t have to do that, Warden,” Dortmunder said. The Kleenex was cold and gooey against his palm. 

“But it will give me pleasure,” the warden said. “To see you walk out that gate, and know you’ll never slip again, you’ll never be inside these walls again, and to know I had some small part in your rehabilitation, you can’t imagine how much pleasure that will give me.” 

Dortmunder was feeling no pleasure at all. He’d sold his cell for three hundred bucks—having a hot water faucet that worked and a tunnel to the dispensary made it a bargain at the price—and the money was supposed to be passed to him on his way out. He couldn’t have taken it before then or it would have been found in the final shakedown. But how could it be delivered with the warden standing right next to him? 

He said, playing a little desperation ball, “Warden, it’s in this office that I’ve always seen you, in this office that I’ve listened to your—” 

“Come along, Dortmunder,” the warden said. “We can talk on our way to the gate.”

Westlake, Donald E - The Hot Rock

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

So Little Time Left

With just a few weeks left before the start of NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) I've had to quickly come up with a story idea. I've thrown about the military ideas, considered the Soul Food sci-fi story, and a couple others, but the one I've settled on this idea, the one about the man who mysteriously died in a tank in California.

I hadn't planned to continue the theme of adventure racing mysteries, but this one lend itself to that theme so naturally I feel compelled to write it.

Secondly, I've lived it. I've actually driven around that place and seen where the man was found. I have seen the distances between where his car was discovered and where his body was found. I've been through the safety classes and hung out with other workers. It's a genuine mystery and I'm hoping that will help me write it.

Lastly, I've got a ton going on now days. You may have noticed that I've been less than religious in my posting on this blog. You can blame my boss for this. Working, working, working. Whilst at home it's concentration on the kiddos. The two year old takes up quite a bit of time . . . who knew? I'm a tad worried that I won't be able to finish the novel this year. Thankfully, each year it gets easier to throw down 50,000 words.

Let's hope I'm setting myself up for success by picking this story.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Who Knew

Who knew there were so many others who thought the same way that I do. I gave up on Close to Home years ago. I gave it a try. I truly did. I tried to read and like it. I am a Far Side fan and was upset when it left the comics pages. I too had hopes that Close to Home would fill that void. I gave up on it after about a year and now rarely give it a thought.

This article, A Very Bad Comic Strip: John McPherson’s Close To Home  by Tom Pappalardo that my older brother sent me makes some frustratingly terrific points. Frustrating? Yep, they are frustrating cause Mr. Pappalardo has put into words things that are so simple and easy to see that it makes me wonder why I didn't write this. I have seen the same horrible sketches, the same incredibly bad perspective, the same lame jokes. I wish I had the same anger and drive to expose patheticsim that Mr. Pappalardo has.

One thing that Mr. Pappalardo does not harp on is the fact that Close to Home is a waste of precious comic page real estate. This has been a pet peeve of mine for years. There are probably hundreds of thousands of comic strips out in the world that have more potential than Close to Home but don't get the chance cause Close to Home is taking up that space. This is why I refuse to read "re-run" strips. Why are the Peanuts still printed in my newspaper? Why are they re-printing For Better or For Worse? Go let a new up and comer try and claim that space. Peanuts and For Better of For Worse fans can go buy a treasury.

What's funny, now  I'm back to reading Close to Home just so I can see the problems that are illustrated in the article, just like Mr. Pappalardo does.

"I look forward to reading it with great relish every morning. Because I hate it so so much. Because it perfectly encapsulates everything that is wrong and bad about newspaper comic strip writing. Because it is so poorly executed, I usually spend more time trying to comprehend what I’m looking at than I do not laughing at the punchline."

Now I notice more and enjoy laughing with Mr. Pappalardo when I see these problems.

This is my suspicion: I don’t think John McPherson knows how to sketch. I think he has his idea and just starts inking it directly into a pre-printed rectangle. And hey, if something doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. No big deal! On a daily basis, this comic strip provides the worst composition I see from a professional published artist.

The problem . . . I might just become a fan of Close to Home thanks to Mr. Pappalardo's article. Irony can be pretty ironic at times.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Novel; a Sublime Anachronism?

I stole a portion of that title from the WSJ review of Mark Helprin’s In Sunlight and Shadow which is referenced in this article by Gordon Crovitz called How the Internet Saved the Novel, but it’s fitting based on the substance of that article. Generally I enjoy articles by Gordon Crovitz, this one . . . not so much. In the article Mr. Crovitz begins by quoting Verne’s prediction that the novel would fall out of favor then makes the case that the exact opposite has occurred.

“The death of the novel has often been declared over the years. In 1902, Jules Verne predicted novels "will be supplanted altogether by the daily newspaper," which would "color everyday events" so that readers wouldn't need well-crafted fiction to fire their imaginations. But a century later the form endures.”

Next Crovitz quotes Helprin’s book at great length, so much so that this reader started to wonder just how much Helprin paid Crovitz for this homage. Beyond the quotes was this passage which gets back to the meat that I wanted to dine on.

“Engaging with a novel written like this—whether through print or e-book—requires rare focus in our information-snacking lives.”

There is a significant difference between reading a novel and reading the daily texts, messages, emails, articles and other detritus that crowd our daily lives around computers and tablets. It requires more thought and dedication to be sure, but also more resilience. It's a great point, but I found that mixing the quotes from Helprin's novel, which require a certain type of reading, with the point-making that usually goes into an article like this was off-putting but provided a perfect demonstration of the point Crovitz was making.

“The more time people spend tracking fleeting pixels on digital screens, the more they seem to yearn for something else. The well-crafted novel is more alive than ever.”

I was eager to read this article when I saw the title, sadly Mr. Crovitz left a lot on the table in lieu of praise for Helprin’s book which based on the review I saw last week will remain on my “Probably Aint Going to Read List.”

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Like an Old Friend

As I wrote, it's been a while since I read a Rex Stout novel, and having read this passage, it makes me wish I hadn't taken so long to re-visit him.

Though the name of Naylor-Kerr, Inc., was vaguely familiar to me, it was not a household word, and I lifted the brows when I learned from the lobby directory that it paid the rent for three whole floors. The executive offices were on the thirty-sixth, so up I went. The atmosphere up there was of thick carpets, wood panels and plenty of space, but as for the receptionist, though she was not really miscast she was way past the deadline, having reached the age when it is more blessed to receive than to give.

Stout, Rex - Too Many Women

I love the fact that he writes "I lifted the brows," such a wonderful way to turn a phrase and grab the readers attention just a tad.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pabulum? Perhaps

Some might say that its not worth my time or effort to read Vince Flynn or Evanovich puff. I disagree. These are highly readable and best selling authors. When I post the first and last posts of their stuff it might come off as unreadable nonsense, but it's gripping unreadable nonsense when one is involved in the story.

Rapp stood in the surf with his gun in his hand and counted. He got to a hundred, thought of his wife, thought of the baby, and smiled. It was the first genuine smile he’d had in over nine months. He glanced down at the gun and then tossed it up in the air, catching it by its thick black silencer. Rapp hesitated for a moment, and then threw the weapon end over end into the ocean.

Flynn, Vince - Consent to Kill

Monday, October 8, 2012

Back on Track

My work-a-day life has overwhelmed my writing life . . . thankfully my reading life remains untouched. I can still post first lines, last lines and book reviews. Here's the most recent first line:

IT WAS THE same old rigmarole. Sometimes I found it amusing; sometimes it only bored me; sometimes it gave me a pronounced pain, especially when I had had more of Wolfe than was good for either of us.

Stout, Rex - Too Many Women

Been a while since I read a Rex Stout, based on this first line, I've waited too long. Sounds like a good start to a good read.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Bad Rapp

To kill a man is a relatively easy thing— especially the average unsuspecting man. To kill a man like Mitch Rapp, however, would be an entirely different matter. It would take a great deal of planning and a very talented assassin, or more likely a team, who were either brave enough or crazy enough to accept the job. In fact, any sane man by definition would have the sense to walk away.

Flynn, Vince - Consent to Kill

Despite being one of the more hokey first passages, I'm a third of the way through the book and it's not as bad as these first lines make it seem.