Thursday, June 30, 2011

Slow and Steady

E2 is progressing, even if most of my posts talk about BoTS.

I’ve “completed” two chapters, so far, and started on a third one this morning. That word is in quotes because I'll eventually return to revise and edit. That's a given.

I've long ago realized that it’s always more difficult to begin than to end these sections. As detailed as my notes are, I rarely sit down and map out the exact dialogue or tone. My research is mainly for background, scenery, and those outside forces that affect my characters environment.

But their personalities and moods? I leave that up to the actual writing.

So, in the beginning, it’s a lot of stop and go. I write a page, then reread it. Sometimes I like. Sometimes I hate. But always I end up refining and rewriting. I’ll spend a hour or so on the first three pages to get it right, so I can move on from there. It’s exhausting in many ways. I’ve never been a writer who can pour over my manuscripts for hours. Too much for me. Too many thoughts bouncing in my head.

I cannot imagine what it must be like to write something so perfect as to never have to make major changes. What must that feel like to put the words on paper and then say, “Well, I guess that’s that.”  Never gonna happen to me.

I do what I have to do. And each day, gaining a little, improving some more, by the end I hope to have something special. No way to know right now.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sneak Preview: BoTS cover blurb

The writing I hate the most? The damn cover blurb that's supposed to describe my book interestingly enough to make strangers pick it up and spend money.

How can I sum up something that took years to write in 400 characters or less? I struggle more with this short paragraph than any other writing I ever have to do.

Well, after some head-banging, this is what I've come up with:

"Part One: family and childhood from the outside looking in" is the first installment of a four-part series that asks the question: Can anyone ever truly be more than the sum of his experiences? These 14 memories are simply mere reflections of a lifetime ... an attempt to construct the whole of a man from fragments of his past.

Part Two: love and hate and the stuff in between

Part Three: strangers in other places, other times

Part Four: death and dying and other unknowns               

Sneak Preview: Cover for BoTS P2 - First Draft

Here's the preliminary cover for Part Two of BoTS.

Same design as Part One but with different photo. At first go-round, I like it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Editorial Slippage

The collection of books I’m reading this summer are all digital. I’ve grown to really enjoy my iPad in this way, as it allows me to adjust the print size, the background light, and lets me even look up words in the built-in dictionary. Sweet.

However, ebooks are nascent. And that means there are some minor bugs that pop up even in main stream releases.

Examples found in my copy of Don DiLillo’s Underworld were:

1. “Pd” instead of “I’d”

2. misplaced hyphenization, like “move-ment” in the middle of a sentence

3. misplaced line breaks, truncating a sentence before the edge of the paragraph

These mistakes are found more in older books, like pre-2000. The reason why is that each page is scanned from an original paper-printed copy. The scanned text is then converted to a digital file, which can be formatted for ereaders. However, as good as this text scanning has become, it’s not perfect. Thus, whatever formatting the original book had, it is kept. And sometimes, certain words are misrecognized.

I don’t like it. Yeah, it doesn’t really affect the novel, per se. But it’s sloppy. It's hard to ignore. It shows a laziness. A lack of quality. All so these older novels can be converted. It rips you out of the story. And frankly, it’s unprofessional.

[Note: an abbreviated version of this post was used by myself as a review posted in iBooks.]

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Smarter Than Me

Question: Can an author create a character that is smarter than the writer himself?

Easy answer: Yes.

Writers have a variety of tricks in making their characters seem whip smart. Tricks? you say. Yes. Tricks.

As an example, let’s take one of the most well known bad ass genius characters of all time: Sherlock Holmes. This character is perfect to show how writers cheat.

The Tricks of Sherlock Holmes:

1. Begin with a “conclusion” and then backtrack by adding subtle clues. So while the writer moves backwards, the reader must read forwards. Therefore those tiny hints all seem to add up amazingly to one certain truth.

2. Surround the character with “normal” people. The more befuddled the supporting cast, the smarter the main character appears. There’s a reason Dr. Watson is narrating the stories.

3. Heap on the praise. Writers reinforce the perception of intelligence by making sure numerous characters comment in astonishment just how damn smart that main character is.

4. Carefully select the scope. Writers make their characters “geniuses” in areas of expertise that no one else really excels. Holmes is great at deducing facts from minor clues. Can anyone in the real world be declared an expert in that? Not the majority of us, therefore we merely accept this gift as part of his super intelligence.

5. Confront the character with another “super genius” villain. Holmes has Professor Moriaty. Moriaty is referred to (again and again) as incredibly intelligent (though evil). Using the same tricks to make him seem smart, once Holmes triumphs that makes our hero seem even better than before.


Now, don’t get me wrong. Doyle does an obviously great job at masking all these tricks. There are good reasons Holmes is a classic character. Nothing wrong with that.

But my question relates to a problem I face with E2. In my novel, all of my characters are super intelligent. Therefore that automatically eliminates Cheats #2 and #3 above. I have no super villains, so there goes #5. This is not a mystery where I can drop clues like bread crumbs. Out with #1.

Ah, so now I’m left with #4, which does fit perfectly with my characters. They are math geniuses. Logical whizzes. Linguists. History majors. Astronomers. Navigators. I mean, imagine an 8 year old girl who can calculate immense probabilities for incidents, like chance of impact with an asteroid or chance of all of our reality being only a dream. She can plug in the formula and Poof! out comes the answer. All done in her head.

Yeah, that’s not me.

So, the only real choice I have if I want my novel to be believable is to dazzle the reader with info that he/she won’t completely understand. You know, all smoke and mirrors. Abracadabra!

Fine. But that doesn’t avoid the problem I face: Somehow I have to write like I know what I’m talking about.

Question: Can a author create something that is smarter than he is?

Hard answer: It takes a helluva lotta research and planning and … well, smarts.

What I (Couldn't) Finish Reading: Underworld

Déjà vu!

That’s my reaction to Don DiLillo's Underworld, and unfortunately it’s not good. About 100 pages into the novel the slowly building realization finally hits home: I’ve read this before.

It’s true. Maybe 12 or more years ago, I read this novel and do not remember the slightest character, plot, image, scene, or dialogue. Only when I reread certain sections do I begin to admit “Oh yeah, this sounds vaguely familiar.”

What a sad commentary to read a book and remember nothing. Is that a reflection of the book or of me?

This Time It’s Personal

I’m in the midst of editing/rewriting BoTS: Part Two. The theme this time is love and hate and the stuff in between.  Ouch!

Trying to treat these shorts objectively is difficult. Okay, downright horrific at times. Some of it cuts way too close to the bone – which by the way, doesn’t really make sense. Why would cutting too close to the bone be any less painful than just cutting. Ah, anyway, I’m doing my best to just focus on the words in front of me and stop my mind from awandering.

So far, I only work on a story or two at a time and then have to run screaming from the laptop.

But hey, this is not semi-autobiographical. Really. It’s not.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What I've Finished Reading: Blood Meridian

A few short words on Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian:

brutal

stark

brilliant (at times)

nonsensical (at times, maybe due to it being so brilliant)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The 99¢ Masterpiece

Pricing is based on two choices:

        1. Price it according to other similar books in length and genre.

        2. Price it low enough to allow doubters to take the plunge.

Traditionally, old-school style, pricing was always the domain of the publisher. Taking into account the cost of printing, advertising, editing and other services, the publisher than sets a price to recoup all costs and give the author enough for whiskey and bread. The more renown the author, the higher the initial price of the hardcover could be. The newer the author, then lower the price and sometimes only a paperback printing. However, for print copies, the prices rarely drop below $5-8 dollars, unless your book ends up in the bargain bin after a year of slow sales.

However, as a new author publishing an ebook, I have the option of setting my own price. My overhead costs are simply the hours I’ve put in, without any concern for printing, editing, etc. The good news is that greatly reduces the price pressure for new authors. So, instead of trying to convince strangers to part with $12.95 of their hard earned cash, ebook authors can slash prices to pennies. Some even offer their book for free.

All things considered for Based on a True Story – 12,000 words, unknown author, limited appeal (it’s not a romance novel or a thriller), and zero marketing (so far) –  I’ve decided to offer my collection for the exciting low low cost of … well, you’ve read the title of this post.

99¢ offers a window of opportunity. Even those only slightly curious about my work will have little trouble dolling out a buck on a whim. Do I think my effort is worth more than that? Really, at this point, after multiple edits and readings, I have no idea. Anyway, I’m not looking to sell a million copies. I simply want to set a price that opens up the possibility for as many readers I can get.

As I’ve said before in this blog and elsewhere, I write to be read.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Copout?

I’m a mere couple of hours away from uploading BoTS (part one).

And yet, I’m wondering if sidestepping the traditional publishing route – research, submissions, cover letters, vetting, rejection, acceptance, waiting – is the right move.

Here’s the underlying question: Is self-publishing an ebook an admission of a lack of talent?

Or more bluntly: Oh, he has to self-publish because no respected editor/publisher would dare print this poorly written drivel.

Yeah, I suppose that’s possible. There’s an awful lot of awful out there in the ebook world. Anyone (and everyone!) can upload a file and say, “Look! I’m published! I know. I’ve been researching this for a few months.”

So, I may very well be self-publishing as a form of surrender, after 3 decades of on-again off-again writing. Is this my personal “I give up!” to the publishing industry?

Maybe.

But then again, I take the craft of writing serious. I’ve always hated the business side of this profession. Even in my mild successes, the time and energy I spent to weave through the outdated maze of the publishing industry was amazing. All that is changing now. Authors, hard-working and determined, can now sidestep that filter and offer works directly to readers. At a fraction of the cost.

In many aspects, this is an experiment. My writing is a little unconventional anyway. So it only makes sense for me to take a slightly offbeat route to gain exposure and readers. Because in the end, for me, it’s all about reaching people.

I write to be read.

Sneak Preview: Cover Artwork Final Edition

Instead of updating the old post, I've decided to go ahead and repost the final edition of my cover art for Based on a True Story - part one.

Overall, the changes are only minor. Considering that most will see the cover as a thumbnail, I enlarged the title and my name. The picture is the same.

Here it is:

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rhythm and Voice

I spent the last hour and a half reading aloud Based on a True Story (Part 1). To myself. As I paced back and forth in my den.

It’s a technique I learned years ago. Reading aloud forces me to slow down, to actually look at the words, and (of course) to hear them. When said out loud, the words become alive with a flow and rhythm. Any snags or falsehoods are evident in the way the words click together in a string of sentences.

This final edit is slow frustrating work. And terrifying. Now and then, after hours of writing and editing, I still stumble across silly, tiny mistakes: “wees” instead of “weeds” or “further” instead of “farther.” Yet it’s all part of the process. Sharpening the focus. Attention to detail. Take care of the small stuff and the rest takes care of itself.

For me, the ultimate goal is all about the “voice” of the story. Can you hear the character in your head? Do the words form a recognizable seamless pattern? I want that voice to have a natural rhythm. Something you feel without even recognizing it.

The end result is supposed to be storytelling, right? Our written words are simply an extension of the art of the village memory. Instead of the community sitting around the fire hearing of a past shared history, I imagine a small group of people sitting in a candlelit room. It’s no longer their history, but the shared human experience. They absorb what’s said and done and how it connects to their own lives. To accomplish this, the story must seem natural. It must read as if it’s meant to be spoken.

Maybe all this sounds too arty? Too much of  a poser? Except that’s really the way I feel.

I want to tell a story that does connect to your own life experience. Adds to it in some way. Is that silly? Or better yet, do I have the talent?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Quote of the Moment: Fiction vs. Reality

I think I read as a child to escape. Now I read as a sort of mental transcendence to another time or place, not so much because I hate it here, but because I think there is so much more than the world around us.

The reason I write is to help pass along the joy.

J.L. Wall complicates the idea of reality and fiction:

Fiction doesn’t present the unreal; it presents the possibly real, something balancing precariously between the real and the non. (This holds, it should be said, for fantasy, science fiction, and other “genres” as well as in realistic or literary fiction; they just go about it, as is the case in variation between individual works, in different ways.) We empathize with fictional beings not despite their unreality, but because of their possible reality.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Quote of the Moment: Apropos

In relationship to this post ... and everything else I'm feeling at the moment, I happen across this quote.

Apropos, no?

Ben Casnocha wonders why many some individuals don't work hard:
Here's a non-obvious reason: working hard is risky. If you work hard and fail, you don't enjoy the self-protection that less than 100% effort affords. If you get a C on a test in school, and you didn't study much, then it's no big deal -- you just didn't study enough. If you get a C on a test in school, and you studied really hard for it, then you must just be dumb.

Breakthrough ... for the moment

I wrote here about the snag I hit in this chapter of E2. Days of doubt had me distancing myself from the novel and eventually at a standstill. (So instead, I worked on BoTS Part1.)

Well, last night I broke through.

Oddly enough, working on BoTS Part 2 is what gave me the push I need.

It started when I dug some old 1997 graphic design projects out of my junk drawer. I had a structure problem with BoTS Part 2 (I needed one more chapter) (Yeah, I seem to be running into a lot of problems lately) and went looking for a little nudge in the right direction. Well, those old projects only solved that current problem, but suddenly jump started the neglected E2 chapter.

So, how is the new chapter?

Well, Raine just happened to text me last night when I was right in the middle, so it came pouring out to her. I don’t think she’ll mind if I use my portion of the dialogue.

Actually right now is write now. [Note: I’m always so witty!] I’ve broken through the snag in the E2 chapter and it’s brilliant. I love what I’m writing. It’s unique and energized, but true to my philosophical sci-fi theme. It’s not about where we go but who we are.

It’s exactly these sort of moments that make writing so addictive. Suffer, work endless for nothing, get depressed, and then boom: creativity!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sneak Preview: Cover Artwork

I spent some time creating my cover art today for Based on a True Story (Part 1).

I'm not sure if I'm completely finished. I think the text may be a bit too small ... it has to show up in a thumbnail for the digital stores. 

Other than that, I like the layout. Maybe. Not sure. There's something a bit amateurish about it. Maybe.

Anyway, here's a preview:
[updated June 17th]

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Does Done Mean Done?

I’ve reached a point where I seriously need to think about what’s worse: starting a project or finishing it.

Starting offers that long exhausting climb ahead and you have no idea if you’ll have the energy, time, and talent to finish it all. You have hours and hours of plugging along, revising, changing, trashing, rewriting, honing. It’s all there in front of you and it’s hard not to realize that inaction is so much easier than action.

Yet, you make it through. Somehow.

And then when you finish, comes the question: Are you really done?

It’s the fear of that one little mistake. The need for perfection drives you to read it through one more time. Even though by this time, you’re at the point where you really can’t tell anymore: Is it good? Is it bad?

Announcement: I’ve finished editing  Based on a True Story: Family and Childhood.

Well, by “finished editing” I mean it’s possibly done, but I have no idea if it’s actually done because I’m terrified that something is wrong or I’ve missed a major error or that the whole idea is idiotic to the point of being embarrassing.

I think that last outcome would be the worst case. I could live with a couple of typos – you can find those in almost any book. But what if this collection doesn’t make sense to anyone? What if my clever collection of memories that slowly fit together to create a big detailed picture is actually be a bunch of disconnected fractals that add up to nothing?

Damn, that would suck.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What I've Finished Reading: The Last Ringbearer

          The Last Ringbearer
          by Kirill Yeskov

When I began this novel, my first thought was “Oh no, not another writer who is so devoid of ideas that he has to ‘borrow’ from famous literature!”

You see, The Last Ringbearer uses the characters and world created in the renown The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In the first 5 pages, that is obviously clear. Then the dread sets in.

Yet, I continued reading. And I’m so glad I did.

While based on Tolkien’s creation, this novel turns everything upside down. I won’t spoil any plot lines, but let me say that the main action is based on everything that occurs in Tolkien’s novels, but seen from an entirely different viewpoint. Throughout the novel, I kept remembering the saying: History is written by the victors.

This novel has a great sense of detail. It mixes realism and some magical elements with ease. It’s political. It’s extremely detailed. It’s funny. At times it reads like a documentary. Other times is an action-adventure. The mixture of these elements is blended perfectly.

Yeah, it’s great.

I highly recommend this to anyone who’s even slightly entertained by Lord of the Rings, even if it’s only watching the movies. For those super fans, this is a must read. I found it thoroughly enjoyable.

Oh, and it’s free. FREE! A pdf file has been uploaded by the author. Unbelievable.

It can be downloaded here.

Summer Reading


I think I’ve finalized my Summer Reading List 2011. -- see table below.

I also think I’ve gone insane. There's no way I’m going to read all these. Just not enough time. So, I’m sorting by what seems really great to what seems simply good.

The bad thing is that I’m sure a few more will be added to the list.

The good thing is that those which are available through iBooks (which is about 80%) have sample downloads. That means I can get into the first 20 pages or so without having to buy the book just yet. Oh, some of these I know I’ll buy. But others I have no idea. The sample lets me decide before losing the cash. Sweet!

Well, enough of this blogging. I have to start reading.

James Salter
A Sport and a Pastime
Russell Banks
Affliction
Philip Roth
American Pastoral
James Ellroy
American Tabloid
Wallace Stegner
Angle of Repose
William Boyd
Any Human Heart
Cormac McCarthy
Blood Meridian
Henry James
Bostonians Vol 1 & 2
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Brothers Karamazov
Roddy Doyle
Bullfighting
George Sanders
Civilwarland In Bad Decline
Dashiell Hammett
Continental OP
Michael Herr
Dispatches
Robert Stone
Dog Soldiers
Henry James
Europeans
Jonathan Safran Foer
Everything is Illuminated
Jonathan Safran Foer
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Amitav Ghosh
Glass Palace
Stephen Wright
Going Native
James Boice
Good and the Ghastly
Studs Terkel
Good War
David Foster Wallace
Infinite Jest
Michael Shaara
Killer Angels
Edward P. Jones
Known World
Jorge Luis Borges
Labyrinth
Kingsley Amis
Lucky Jim
Patrick O’Brian
Master and Commander
Norman Mailer
Naked and the Dead
Kent Haruf
Plainsong
Graham Greene
Power and the Glory
Neal Stephenson
Quicksilver
Patric deWitt
Sisters Brothers
Mary Doria Russell
Sparrow
John Cheever
Stories of John Cheever
Tim O’Brien
Things They Carried
Martin Amis
Time’s Arrow
Henry Miller
Tropic of Cancer
James Joyce
Ulysses
Jhumpa Lahiri
Unaccumstomed Earth
Malcolm Lowry
Under the Volcano
Don DeLillo
Underworld
Jeffrey Eugenides
Virgin Suicides
Thomas Trofimuk
Waiting for Columbus
Raymond Carver
What We Talked About When We Talk About Love
Haruki Murakami
Wind-up Bird Chronicle
Mark Helprin
Winter’s Tale
Charles Bukowski
Woman