Thursday, May 28, 2009

POV & Edgar Allen Poe

THE WRITING GREEK apologizes for the ongoing technical difficulties ... and excuses … err, uh, general lack of May blogging. In truth, I’ve decided to cut back on blogging as it is rather addicting and time consuming. Fear not, blog friends, I still love you and will visit you – just not every moment of every day. It’s not that my writing dream has been derailed. In fact, in pursuit of more literary smarts, I’ve been tackling GRAPES OF WRATH and OVID and have even mixed in THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE while on blog hiatus the past couple of weeks.

On to business (correction – writing!) -- One of the books I’m currently reading is a 2008 book by Alicia Rasley titled, POINT OF VIEW. Ms. Rasley studied Edgar Allen Poe’s POV for her thesis and talks about him in the book’s opening. She asks the question, “How did he make a narrator’s voice sound both rational and insane? <…> When did the narrator start lying to the reader?”

Ms. Rasley goes on to say that few critics understand Poe’s POV approach and that these few were writers themselves. She includes Dostoyevsky in this bunch. There’s lots to glean from my last couple of sentences, but the main thrust is that: (1) above average POV authors spend time studying the best and (2) these folks don’t limit their character to their own experiences.
Anyone have any authors that they’d recommend studying for POV?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

J.McCulley's CURSE OF CAPISTRANO

“Old California, in a bygone era of sprawling haciendas and haughty caballeros, suffers beneath the whip-lash of oppression. Missions are pillaged, native peasants are abused, and innocent men and women are persecuted by the corrupt governor and his army. But a champion of freedom rides the highways. His identity hidden behind a mask, the laughing outlaw Zorro defies the tyrant's might. First published in 1919, Zorro has inspired countless films and television adventures.”

That lengthy opening is the publisher’s blurb for THE CURSE OF CAPISTRANO. As with every first Monday of the month, welcome to another edition of the Book Review Club. And, being that we’re The Writing Greek, Zeus’ immortal Olympians have agreed to again assist us. Hades actually contacted me earlier this month as soon as he heard I was doing Zorro. I didn’t realize Hades and Zorro had much in common, but apparently, Hades is a big Zorro fan. He also mentioned something about justice and punishing evil doers.

Side note – Hades wanted me to fly to L.A. (where he lives and Zorro is set), but I bravely told the Lord of the Underworld that I have to work on Wednesdays. Hopefully, he’s not mad at me. That’d be bad, right? Okay, here’s a recap of our conference call:

Me: Hello, Mr. Hades. Did you enjoy THE CURSE OF CAPISTRANO? I loved it.

Hades: Does your opinion matter? Look, mortal, Johnston McCulley’s novella sold over 50 million copies. 50 million. FIVE-OH. Bob Kane based Batman on THE CURSE OF CAPISTRANO’s main character. As a tribute, Kane’s original comic even has Bruce Wayne’s parents returning from seeing a Zorro movie when they are attacked by robbers. Yes, Zorro is practically mythical.

Me: Novella? Batman?

Hades: Yes, and before Zorro was put into a novella, it came out in five issues of “All-Story Weekly,” a pulp magazine. In fact, Johnston invented several other characters over the years, eventually totaling over a thousand stories. These included Thubway Tham (the lisping comic pickpocket), Black Star (a "gentleman criminal"), and the Crimson Clown (who carried a gas gun).

Me: I’ve never heard of Thubway Tham (really??) or the other two. How come Zorro to make it big?

Hades: The (ah-hem) immortal Douglas Fairbanks came across the novella while on his honeymoon. He brought it to Charlie Chaplin and his other co-investors. Together, they released “The Mark of Zorro” as the first movie for their new company, United Artists. Zorro proved immensely popular and spawned additional books and films.

Me: No doubt McCulley selling the rights to Disney in the 50’s is what led to THE CURSE OF CAPISTRANO having been bought by 50 million people. I mean, do you think it sold that many on its literary merit? Zorro owes its popularity more to those Guy Williams’ TV movies, right?

Hades: Insolent mortal! Listen as I read an excerpt from Zorro’s excellent first chapter –

Outside, the wind shrieked and the rain dashed against the ground in a solid sheet. It was a typical February storm for southern California. At the missions the frailes had cared for the stock and had closed the buildings for the night. At every great hacienda big fires were burning in the houses. The timid natives kept to their little adobe huts, glad for shelter.

And here in the little pueblo of Reina de Los Angeles, where, in years to come, a great city would grow, the tavern on one side of the plaza housed for the time being men who would sprawl before the fire until the dawn rather than face the beating rain.

Sergeant Pedro Gonzales, by virtue of his rank and size, hogged the fireplace, and a corporal and three soldiers from the presidio sat at table a little in back of him, drinking their thin wine and playing at cards. An Indian servant crouched on his heels in one corner, no neophyte who had accepted the religion of the frailes, but a gentile and renegade.

For this was in the day of the decadence of the missions, and there was little peace between the robed Franciscans who followed in the footsteps of the sainted Junipero Serra, who had founded the first mission at San Diego de Alcála, and thus made possible an empire, and those who followed the politicians and had high places in the army.

[I cut Hades off]

Me: That’s a long –

[Hades cuts me off]

Hades: That, mortal, is only the book’s beginning. Well written, THE CURSE OF CAPISTRANO gets only better as it goes along. Set in Spanish California, the military mistreats the poor while the wealthy dons do nothing to uphold justice.

Me: I read the book, Mr. Hades. Luckily, Zorro defends the poor.

Hades: Ah, but the book also deals with the most idle of the young dons, Diego. Diego’s fiery father, Don Alejandro, orders him to marry. Diego approaches Don Carlos’ daughter, Lolita, but his wimpy demeanor and lack of romantic spirit leave Lolita wishing for more from her suitor.

Me: If I recall right, that villainous Captain Ramon and then Zorro also begin courting Lolita. Lolita favors Zorro and even tells him, "It is not as if you were an ordinary thief. I know why you have stolen - to avenge the helpless, to punish cruel politicians, to aid the oppressed. I know that you have given what you have stolen to the poor."

Hades: That’s fine to say, but don’t give away anything more. People need to read the book for themselves. Look here, mortal, my cell phone minutes are about to run out. I must leave you. Farewell. Persephone will be waiting for me, you know.

[End of call]

Uh, not really. But, well, Hades just up and hung up. Immortals – hmpf. I suppose that’s a sign we should close out. Before going, I have to mention that it is not until the CURSE OF CAPISTRANO’s end that Zorro’s true identity is revealed. Lolita decides who she really loves. I won’t say anything more for fear of spoiling the great ending for any that have not seen the movies.

A couple of housecleaning items:

(1) Check out the superb Nostalgia League for an e-copy of the book as well as some nifty Zorro trivia (it’s where I learned about Thubway Tham).
(2) Special thanks to Barrie Summy for hosting the Book Review Club. Click on the logo off and up to the left for more reviews.

Alright, I’m signing off, singing as I go – “Out of the night, when the full moon is bright, comes a horseman known as Zorro …”

Friday, May 1, 2009

THE EMERALD TABLET Saves the Week

First, I dug out a weblink for you that I had spotted last week while perusing the paper copy of the Wall Street Journal -- “How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write.” In it, author Steven Johnson outlines a future with more books, more distractions -- and the end of reading alone. Sounds grim, but it’s an interesting read.

Next, I happily announce that CANDIDE is dead, err …, uh, finished… oops, I mean, read (at last). After sludging through that time-honored classic, I couldn’t wait for something light-hearted and entertaining. Plus, I needed something fun after a rough, busy past couple of weeks. I wasn’t disappointed with my choice. Using my birthday B&N gift card, I had eagerly (after seemingly months of waiting) ordered blogging friend PJ Hoover’s young adult book, THE EMERALD TABLET. It arrived on Monday, which as PJ informed the blog world, is her birthday. That has to count for something, right?

THE EMERALD TABLET dropped me right in the midst of a charming, but not so typical, Virginia family. A mirror talks and young twins play with flying cars! Poor Benjamin immediately learns that he’s not human. Worse, his mom tells him that Lemurian teens (think Atlantis) must attend Lemurian summer school. Summer school? Poor guy. Benjamin begs not to go but undergoes a change of heart upon arriving. Fans of HARRY POTTER and PERCY JACKSON will enjoy reading thirteen year old Benjamin’s exploits. He discovers more about his true Lemurian identity and tackles a secret quest that will literally determine the world’s fate.

From telekinesis to tele—'this' and tele—'that', the EMERALD TABLET immerses you in a world where two super races are at odds. Benjamin and his “alliance” of likeable young teen friends must rely on one another to fulfill an ancient prophesy. At the same time, they still must pass their summer school exams and navigate an unfamiliar world and tackle typical teen troubles.

Fun facts and trivia fill THE EMERALD TABLET where floors are named after i squared and the Greek eternity symbol decorates the page numbers. I loved it all, finishing it in two after-work evening sittings. Like Benjamin, I was sad to see summer school conclude as it meant that he had to return to Virginia, but like him, I was comforted in knowing that he’d be back next summer.

I’m now a big believer in Benjamin and can’t wait to see how he fares in Book 2 (NAVEL OF THE WORLD), which, incidentally, can already be pre-ordered. Based on its Delphi title, the Writing Greek looks especially forward to it. Anyhow, congratulations to PJ Hoover on a fabulous debut book!

Next week, I’ll share with you the other book I ordered from Barnes & Noble. Hint: think “Z”. Any guesses?

Monday, April 27, 2009

CANDIDE, A Rusty Medal

It’s rather hard to believe that I’m still on CANDIDE. Voltaire’s work, I fear, has taken a turn for the worse. Well, actually, it hasn’t taken any sort of turn which is why it and its predictable nature has grown tiresome as I come to its end. I did want to share an excerpt from Chapter 25 with you.

Let me first mention that for the past year, I’ve been trying to read several of the “classics.” Admittedly, some have been more enjoyable than others. With each, I sought to learn some tidbit to improve my writing. A few great works, admittedly, bordered on the tedious. Despite its outstanding start, I now lump Candide (written in 1759) into this latter category, which is why I find this particular excerpt so amusing. In it, young Candide has asked the noble Venetian, Pococurante, about his vast library. Pococurante criticizes all the “classic” works such as those by Milton, Cicero, and Virgil. Anyway, here’s what Pococurante says about my esteemed Greek poet:

"Homer is no favorite of mine," answered Pococurante, coolly, "I was made to believe once that I took a pleasure in reading him; but his continual repetitions of battles have all such a resemblance with each other; his gods that are forever in haste and bustle, without ever doing anything; his Helen, who is the cause of the war, and yet hardly acts in the whole performance; his Troy, that holds out so long, without being taken: in short, all these things together make the poem very insipid to me.

I have asked some learned men, whether they are not in reality as much tired as myself with reading this poet: those who spoke ingenuously, assured me that he had made them fall asleep, and yet that they could not well avoid giving him a place in their libraries; but that it was merely as they would do an antique, or those rusty medals which are kept only for curiosity, and are of no manner of use in commerce."


Some of you will probably give a hearty amen to Seignor Pococurante’s appraisal of Homer, one of my favorites. In fact, no one on this blog will hold that against you (wink, wink). As for me, I laughed when reading the second paragraph, if only because I wonder what Voltaire would think if he had known that the same would be said about his satire 250 years later?

Do you have some books that are just sitting in your library for show? Perhaps, these form our literary, rusty ‘badges of honor.’ We proudly set these conquered trophies aside in a place of honor on our bookshelf to let everyone know that we did, in fact, survive reading Voltaire, Milton, etc.

Monday, April 20, 2009

More on Chapter Headings

The boys of the family (2 grandfathers, 2 uncles, and 2 kids) braved ominous black skies this past weekend to tackle the first ever annual manly man family camping trip. We lucked out with the storms all passing over and leaving behind 70 degree, perfect camp weather.





Tossing rocks into Lake Ray Roberts highlighted the trip for my two nephews. The photo above shows me teaching the two little guys a thing or two about rock throwing. Personally, I loved the campfire – making it, the cooking, and (authors will appreciate this) storytelling.

As the night turned late (i.e., past nine o’clock), we played the story game where everyone takes turns saying a sentence. Let’s just say that I’m glad I didn’t have to follow my 5 year old nephew. His storytelling strength definitely lies with the ability to change the pace. Every story needs a cheetah that appears and punches a dragon in the nose, right? Well, feel free to use that in your WIP.

In other news, I really enjoyed reading everyone’s comments on the last post, especially since chapter titles are something I’d not considered before. I like what PJ and David expressed. In short, the chapter titles need to suit the book.

Both Voltaire and Rick Riordan use titles that matched the voice of their overall story. Good titles not only do this but also usually serve a purpose in that they heighten the anticipation, building suspense and foreshadowing what is to come.

Please, no snide remarks on my own modest blog posting title today. After all, I’m still recovering from the weekend camping trip.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Chapter Headings

Do you put any thought into your story’s chapter headings? Some authors prefer to just use numbers with no heading. I do like chapter titles, but mine tend to happen rather haphazardly. Usually, each one comes about during the WIP with just enough brief description for me to remember during editing what went where so that I can find what I’m trying to fix.

If you’ve read any of Rick Riordan’s PERCY JACKSON books, you know that Mr. Riordan puts some thought into his chapter headings. For instance, the first chapter in his first book of the series is titled, “I Accidentally Vaporize My Math Teacher.” Enough said, right? Well, all his chapter titles are that clever.

Perhaps, Voltaire inspired Mr. Riordan. What? Although, not quite as outlandish, Voltaire does make use of the lengthy chapter title. Check out the first six chapters:

Chapter I: How Candide Was Brought Up In a Magnificent Castle and How He Was Driven Thence.
Chapter II: What Befell Candide Among the Bulgarians.
Chapter III: How Candide Escaped From the Bulgarians, and What Befell Him Afterwards.
Chapter IV: How Candide Found His Old Master Pangloss Again and What Happened to Him.
Chapter V: A Tempest, a Shipwreck, an Earthquake; and What Else Befell Dr. Pangloss, Candide, and James the Anabaptist.
Chapter VI: How the Portuguese Made a Superb Auto-da-fé to Prevent Any Future Earthquakes, and How Candide Underwent Public Flagellation.

That last one seems as long as the chapter! In other news, I’m taking two of my nephews (age 5 and 7) camping tomorrow at a nearby state park. It should be fun as neither one has ventured into the great outdoors before. We’ll hopefully get a good campfire and load up on s’mores. The younger nephew is the one I took to the zoo last weekend. Pray that he overcomes his concern (i.e., sincerely terrified fear) that a bear is going to get him, or I’ll be faced with a sleepless night.

More on titles next week. Have a good weekend!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Music John

The last post ended with the KISS acronym – Keep It Simple Stupid.

“Simple is better,” they say.

It reminds me of my friend, Music John, making me listen to the CD he’d produced after graduating from a well known music school and explaining to me all the intricacies of this and that musical feat that he had wrangled into it and him bitterly complaining that it was much more musical than the simple songs that played on the radio, that trash. I did think he had a pretty song, but it wasn’t anything catchy or something I’d listen to again.

Where am I going with this analogy? Writing for the masses (not the critics) is like this -- the untrained brute puts together a coarse, poorly written novel stated in simple terms because that is all he knows. It stinks and its poor quality is apparent to all. The well-schooled but equally ignorant writer employs techniques and forms and grammar and uses every effort to comprise a novel, honing each technique into place. Alas, it’s unwieldy and fails.

The master author takes effort, too, but having honed his writing skills, employs ‘writing techniques’ so that they appear seamless to the reader. These are never noticed and because of that everything appears simple. It’s like the song on the radio – sure it sounds simple and only uses 3 chords but that’s the real beauty of it. All apologies to Music John. K-I-S-S.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

More Voltaire

Happy Tax Day! I hope a refund is on its way to you. If Tax Day doesn’t do it for you, April 15 also marks the day that Major League Baseball honors Jackie Robinson. Players can wear his #42 and every team sets aside time for a ceremony.

Onward to writing -- Yesterday I briefed you on some of what I had learned about the French philosopher, Voltaire. Let us now return to his most famous work, CANDIDE.

I find CANDIDE a very simply stated, straightforward, short satire that avoids the long drawn out opinions that infest other 18th century works. I’m not yet completely through it, but I will go ahead and say that CANDIDE’s timelessness likely rests on the fact that Voltaire conveys his political and religious criticisms through a book that mostly reads like a child’s fable.

Stated another way, Voltaire knows what he wants to say and says it in the simplest terms. Doing so isn’t an accident. Voltaire had a fine education and knew Latin, Spanish, and English as well as his native French. I’m sure he could have impressed us by stating his complex philosophies in equally sophisticated terminology and plot.

So, as I ask myself what I can learn from Voltaire, one of the ‘authorly’ lessons I’ll take away is another example of KISS -- Keep It Simple, Stupid. Oh, and be intentional about it. Sometimes the best and most beautiful things are those whose masters left them simply crafted. Incidentally, by simple, I mean simple in appearance to the reader, seamless if you will. Thus, even if my story contains hidden meaning and plot twists and complex characters, I must take the extra effort to think through the ‘simplest’ way to present these elements within my story.

Do you agree? I do think there is an equally enticing other side of writing, whose extended complexities create its attractiveness, but we’ll blog on that in a later post. Unlike taxes, I can put that off to another day. ;-)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Taxes, the Zoo, & Voltaire

First, my condolences to all tax procrastinators. My sympathies as I’ve been there before.


Next, I want to report a successful zoo trip. It’s been years since I went to the zoo. I can’t speak for the kids, but I had a blast. If you visit DFW, definitely plan on going to the Fort Worth Zoo. I think the only zoo in the country that is supposed to top it is the San Diego Zoo, which I’m excited to say, LW and I may see next month on a vacation (more on that in a later post)! Anyhow, the pic shows LW and #2 son admiring a giraffe.




Onward to business – First, for those new to the blog, I’m in the process of tackling all of literature’s classics in hopes of bettering my writing skills. At the moment, I’m most of the way through Voltaire’s 18th century work, CANDIDE. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t ever recall having been coerced into reading it in high school, and I had anticipated a painful, difficult read. My paltry recollection of Voltaire centered around him being a French philosopher. I envisioned pages of meaningless tangents and needless listings of monarchies and lengthy descriptions of items such as divans. Nothing could be further from the truth.


A little history – Voltaire is a pen name for François-Marie Arouet who appears to have been a prolific writer, having over 2,000 books/pamphlets published. Born in 1694, this Frenchman argued for social reform, occasionally landing in prison or exile for his work. His father wanted him to be a lawyer, but Voltaire felt writing better suited him.
Get this – it said that his 1752 work, MICROMEGAS, might well be the first sci-fi book. Hmm … apparently, alien ambassadors visit earth. Who’d have thunk it? My appreciation for Voltaire deepens.


Another odd fact – a month before his death in 1778, he apprenticed himself to the visiting Benjamin Franklin as a Freemason. Then, when he did die, and maybe somebody can explain this to me, but according to Wiki, Voltaire’s heart and brain were embalmed separately from his body.


Voltaire certainly seems an interesting fellow, huh? I’ll talk more about my impressions of CANDIDE on the next post. Stay tuned! In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you if you’ve read any of Voltaire’s work or if you had similar misgivings.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Going to the Zoo

I’ve the day off today, and if the weather cooperates, we plan on taking our 15 month old son and our recently turned 5 year old nephew to the Fort Worth Zoo today. I’ll let you know how we fare. Has anyone seen the news about all the wildfires in North Texas? I hope we can still go. Yesterday, the sky turned gray and a burnt smell permeated the air.

Switching topics, have you ever wondered why Easter falls on different calendar dates? I knew it had to do with the moons, but I wasn’t entirely certain exactly why. Here’s an excerpt from Wiki (feel free to skip the next 2 paragraphs if such useless trivia bores you):

Good Friday is the Friday before Easter, which is calculated differently in Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity (see Computus for details). Easter falls on the first Sunday following the Paschal Full Moon, the full moon on or after 21 March, taken to be the date of the vernal equinox. The Western calculation uses the Gregorian calendar, while the Eastern calculation uses the Julian calendar, whose 21 March now corresponds to the Gregorian calendar's 3 April. The calculations for identifying the date of the full moon also differ. See Easter Dating Method (Astronomical Society of South Australia).

Because Easter in Western Christianity can fall between March 22 and April 25 on the Gregorian calendar, Good Friday can fall between March 20 and April 23, inclusive. In Eastern Christianity, Easter can fall between March 22 and April 25 on Julian Calendar (thus between April 4 and May 8 in terms of the Gregorian calendar, during the period 1900 and 2099), so Good Friday can fall between March 20 and April 23, inclusive (or between April 2 and May 6 in terms of the Gregorian calendar). (See Easter.)


Quite a mouthful, huh? Anyway, I am thankful to be off work today and to have some time to reflect on the sacrifice made on mankind’s behalf so long ago on this day. Enjoy your Easter weekend!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

TT: R.Harris' POMPEII

The end of POMPEII’S first page reads:

Already he could feel the heat of the morning beginning to build, the promise of another day without rain.

POMPEII is the first book I’ve read by Robert Harris, though I recently purchased IMPERIUM. As you might surmise, POMPEII deals with the infamous volcano that erupted in the year 79 AD. I like the above sentence because it sets a nice tone and foreshadows the volcanic eruption. Preceding it, the main character has just finished fixing an aqueduct two hours before dawn.

In honor of another Thesaurus Thursday, let’s see how else the excerpt might be stated. My effort:

A stifling heat already suffocated the dark fields ahead, signaling another hot, rainless day.

Anyone else want to try? Feel free to critique my sentence or the one Robert Harris wrote. It’s a good exercise I use to hone my writing skills.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Prologues

Blogging agent Nathan Bransford published a post a couple days back on prologues that I found interesting. He doesn’t object to stories that use prologues, but I’ve seen where other agents vehemently object to material beginning with a prologue. In fact, I even axed my prologue in writing my first work simply because I didn’t want to hoist a red flag to any prologue hating readers.

Most of the time, the prologue opponents’ logic includes statements such as, “If it’s relevant to the book then it can go in chapter 1.” Seemingly, some agents think a prologue amateurish, as though it should be beneath a ‘real’ writer. Oh my!

I suppose prologues follow the authoring rule that is not a rule: If you write well, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t, then it does. I actually enjoy a good prologue, will likely write a book in the future containing one, and I’ll even confess to LOVING the leisurely, over-informant epilogue. What about you?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Interesting Links

I finally plowed through my backlogged Google Reader after being out of town over the weekend. I came across a few interesting links to share with you.

Need more willpower to finish writing your story? Try brushing your teeth with your other hand, courtesy of Life Hacker.

Fast Company has a list of 5 noteworthy figures’ favorite kid books. There's a couple in there I hadn't read before that I'll have to find for #1 son.

Paula over at Writer’s Edge has a post up about the top 10 best books on writing. Can you tell that I love any sort of post involving book lists?

I found this interesting: GalleyCat conveyed an NPR story that attractive authors have a better chance of getting a book review. I suppose I won't just set the timer for my author photo. Well, a little Photoshop can go a long ways. ;-)

Last, being that I work with Excel practically everyday doing my day job, I love that GalleyCat also passed along a story about a guy who wrote a story on an Excel spreadsheet and has had it downloaded 10,000 times.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Opening Day



The United States Army 4th Infantry Division Band from Fort Hood ushered in the 2009 baseball season at 1:05 PM in Arlington, Texas with the national anthem, interrupted by the early arrival of two sensational looking (and loud) B-1 bombers flying overhead. Former President and past Ranger owner George W. Bush threw out the ceremonial first pitch – a great looking high fastball across the plate.



Everything looked set for a great afternoon, and the game didn’t disappoint. LW had bought us two upper deck tickets a couple months back for my birthday. It was blustery cold, but we were there, and we enjoyed every moment.

The Rangers pitched well, played solid defense, and made key hits, including this one: 20 year old phenom Elvis Andrus hits a double in his first big league at bat. Look close. You can see the ball flying off the bat.



The Rangers posted a 9 to 1 win over the Cleveland Indians. Let baseball season begin!


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Amazing Grace

I’m posting this entry retroactively. I’ve been unexpectedly out of town the past 4 days and without internet. Did you notice I finally missed a day of posting? I think it’s my first absence. I’m no Cal Ripken, I suppose.

I did miss reading everyone’s posts and hearing from you and will do my best to catch up. We all love Google Reader.

Alas, I found out early Thursday morning that my grandmother passed away. She lived in Tennessee, so LW and I, along with our 15 month old son, basically spent Thursday through Sunday driving there and back. It wasn’t the happiest occasion to have to make a trip, but I did feel really blessed to attend the service. Grandmother led an exemplary life, living as a model of Christian faith and cheer to all those around her. Her family and friends that came Saturday to the services testified to that. She would have turned 95 this year. I’ll miss her, but it is times like these when having a faith gives you a joy you wouldn’t otherwise have.

I’m not sad. Strange as it may sound, I’m happy for her. The opening song they sang in the tiny country church she attended sums up my feelings for me. The song? Amazing Grace. The best line goes, “I once was blind, but now I see …” It’s talking about spiritual truth, but I couldn’t help thinking that my grandmother now resides in a better place, and, yes, she can again see.
Grandmother lost her sight a few years back and knowing that she went to Heaven lifted my spirit, but so did knowing that she’s a new body, one not marred by the physical ailments that had gotten her, nor the blindness that took her sight. Thank you Lord for your amazing grace! And, thank you, Grandmother for the wonderful life you lived and the example that you set.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Phrase Counter

I haven't had the opportunity to try this out, but I saw it yesterday out in blog world and thought it the perfect tool for writers. I'll let you know once I get around to using it. Or, beat me to it and let us know what you think.

Ever wonder if you say a certain phrase too many times when writing? Can't recall what you wrote last night, much less last month? The Life Hacker blog posted an entry that apparently identifies how many times a Word document contains certain words or phrases. Cool, huh?

Here's the address:
http://lifehacker.com/5190716/primitive-word-counter-analyzes-word-and-phrase-frequency

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

W. Smith's THE SEVENTH SCROLL

Alert, alert! No April fooling, it’s the first Wednesday of the month, time to participate in Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club! Click the nifty Book Review Club widget to visit other reviews. First, however, stay tuned as I recount my lunch date with Zeus and a review of Wilbur Smith’s THE SEVENTH SCROLL.



As you might recall from my previous book reviews, I usually ask the immortals to meet me at work. This time, however, Zeus had a meeting with his attorney in Dallas. Those familiar with downtown will probably find this humorous, but Zeus insisted we eat at the Record Grill, his favorite joint. I didn’t complain as I ended up paying, and you can get a full plate for under $5.



ME: Hi, Mr. Zeus. Thanks for meeting. Did you enjoy Wilbur Smith’s THE SEVENTH SCROLL?


ZEUS: Hmpf. If one can enjoy mortals hunting for treasure and Egyptian history, then I suppose so. Romance and adventure and all. I prefer Greek stories. Willie’s earned the right to mention himself in the book. He’s written 27 bestsellers and sold 110 million books in 26 languages. What are you asking, Da? Of course, I enjoyed it.


ME: It is D.A., not Da. Yes, well, did you know that Stephen King calls Wilbur Smith the best historical novelist?


ZEUS: I know everything. That King fellow isn’t a king, for one. I’m king, the immortal god who commands the Heavens and who [DR – Note, I edited paragraphs of self-praise out]. What you probably didn’t know Da is that Willie was born in Zambia. He wanted to do journalism after graduating and did for a time, but his father’s advice to get a real job prompted him to become a tax accountant.


ME: You’re kidding?? Ha! That’s funny. A tax accountant? I suppose I know a thing or two about tax accountants. Well, Dickens was a lawyer. Have you been reading Wikipedia again? Let’s get on to reviewing the book.


ZEUS: Ah, yes, I am an expert book reviewer. Consider how beautifully the book begins. It reminds me of the Greek bards of old:

The dusk crept in from the desert, and shaded the dunes with purple. Like a thick velvet cloak it muted all sounds, so that the evening was tranquil and hushed.


ME: If folks only heard that passage, they’d think Mr. Smith’s book was poetry. Why, that’s the slowest two lines in the entire story. Mr. Smith has recounted elsewhere that his very first publisher and agent (Charles Pick) told him to write for himself and upon what he knew best. It’s clear he does that in THE SEVENTH SCROLL as it’s a thoroughly enjoyable adventure story out of Africa, touched with a smidge of romance. The book begins Royan Al Simma’s archeologist husband murdered just as they prepare to decipher 4,000 year old instructions to the greatest Egyptian treasure tomb since King Tut. Determined to continue, Royan hires a good ol’ Englishman explorer and collector, the daring Sir Nicholas Quenton-Harper to guide her into Africa.


ZEUS: Fine. You’ve made your point. Only don’t forget to consider who killed Royan’s husband and the obstacles she’ll face, not to mention one of the most exotic and vividly described settings you’ll see in a book. It’s even more enticing than its precursor, the bestselling RIVER GOD.


[Zeus and I have to scoot down on the counter to accommodate a judge and two construction workers who just entered. The Record Grill only holds about fifteen customers at most.]


ME: I’d agree. In fact, I unwittingly read THE SEVENTH SCROLL first. Sequels aren’t unusual these days, only none of the others I’ve read pick up the story 4,000 years later like Mr. Smith does!


[DR – Note, the original book, RIVER GOD, told the story of the Egyptians who buried the treasure. It’s an equally good read, but it is more historical fiction than thriller.]


ZEUS: Enough with those Egyptians. I want to talk about the villains. The main one [DR – Villain’s name omitted to preserve the plot] makes Hades look charitable. He wants and he gets. Actually, that sounds like me. Ah.


ME: Personally, I loved the setting that you mentioned earlier. Here’s one passage I found:
“Then the gorge of the Dandera River was too deep and steep to follow any longer, as sheer cliffs dropped into dark pools. So they left the river and followed the track that squirmed like a dying snake amongst eroded hills and tall red stone bluffs. […] The dangling lianas swept the surface and tree moss brushed their heads as they passed, straggling and unkempt as the beard of the old priest at [the monastery].”


ZEUS: That’s fine to like the setting. I said it was good. Normally, I like squabbling mortals, but I’ll say that the camaraderie in this book made the characters for me. They’re mostly predictable. So what, I say. It’s part of the charm.


At this point, two police officers entered needing a seat. Zeus has great respect for law enforcement, so having finished, we left. I hope you enjoyed our review of Wilbur Smith’s THE SEVENTH SCROLL as much as I enjoyed reading the book. FYI, there are a couple of R-rated scenes that keep this one from being kid friendly, which is a shame.


In closing, Wilbur Smith writes in a league of his own. His success proves that, and I think anyone that has enjoyed Clive Cussler or James Rollins will love THE SEVENTH SCROLL. Don’t forget to visit Barrie and browse the rest of the books reviewed today. Have fun!



Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Predictable Characters

Just as a reminder, be sure to check back tomorrow as it’ll be time for another edition of Barrie Summy’s First Wednesday of the Month Book Review Club. Anyhow, as I researched for my book review tomorrow, I found a couple of website criticizing my pick (I’ll reveal my choice tomorrow).

Their complaint stemmed from the fact that the characters’ predictability. I see their point, and I know what they mean – the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad. But, nearly every great story to survive the ages has the same “fault.” Is it really bad that the hero be a good guy?

It reminds me of DC Comics’ latest twirl with the Batman movies. Today’s audience wants a grim, brooding hero. Batman must be full of faults. Bruce Wayne can’t just be a successful businessman. No, we must emphasize his inner demons, etc.

Call me overly wholesome, but every now and then I think it refreshing to see the good guy win. Am I alone on feeling that way? Do you disagree?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Dawn of Empire

I’m reading Sam Barone’s DAWN OF EMPIRE at the moment. One thing I thought interesting was Mr. Barone’s decision to start the book with a fairly lengthy prologue told through the villain’s perspective. I’m 2/3 through the book, and I don’t think we’ve returned but maybe (?) once to the villain character.

This technique enables readers to immediately form a distaste for the Alur Meriki, the villainous barbarian tribe of invaders serving as the book’s antagonists; however, I can’t help but think this a risky strategy. I had already paid for the book (an online purchase), but I wonder would I have kept going had I been browsing in a book store?

What do you think? Would you risk starting with a villain?

UPDATE -- By the way, I do like Mr. Barone's book so far and am glad that I kept reading.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fall of Kings - D.Gemmell

My dad gave me David Gemmell’s FALL OF KINGS yesterday to read. I’m thrilled! It’s the last part of Mr. Gemmell's Troy trilogy. If you aren’t familiar with Mr. Gemmell, you might recognize his name as the author of LEGEND. He passed away before writing the ending to FALL OF KINGS. Thankfully, his widow finished it. It’s been out awhile, but I just haven’t had the money to pick up a copy. Alas, that my public library doesn’t carry any of his books.

Anyhow, in the previous book, SHIELD OF THUNDER, the battle for Troy had begun. Here’s an excerpt of Priam speaking to Hecuba from before when the Greeks attack:

‘We were the mighty,’ he said aloud. ‘But now you are gone from me, and the wolves are gathering.’

I love it! Now, as a caveat, I will say that Mr. Gemmell’s rendition takes certain artistic liberties and that he emphasizes the violence and sex of ancient Greece more than I would prefer. Still, the Troy series is an artful retelling in that he follows in the spirit of Homer. Homer, a bard, entertained. Homer altered history to fit his story, so I can hardly hold it against David Gemmell from doing the same. Regardless, I certainly look forward to finishing this trilogy. It’s the most fun/exciting/entertaining recount of Troy that I’ve come across. I’ll report more on it once I finish the book.

Happy March 29!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Artemis Fowl on Platform

I started reading the popular ARTEMIS FOWL books this past week. Not too many books offer a twelve year old boy international criminal as a main character. It’s entertaining.

I was thinking about my experience reading it after having perused yesterday’s discussion on platform. Platform gives authors a launching pad of sorts for success. It also helps establish future readers’ expectations.

Whether a platform consists of university lectures or a modest blog, platform offers a glimpse into one’s writing. Well, possibly, anyway – what I am trying to say is that platform generally precedes publication, and platform sets expectations.

For instance, if you flip the back of a historical fiction book and read that the author served as a history professor, you expect credibility, possibly some scholarly tangents, etc. All I knew was that kids loved ARTEMIS FOWL and that it sold well. I didn’t know much else nor had I read any of Eoin Colfer’s other works.

As we talked about yesterday, a well written book trumps platform. I’d say my experience with ARTEMIS FOWL didn’t require an author’s platform. A kid told me I should read it, and I did. That’s the best sale, right?

I’ll close with this early morning Saturday thought – as good as having a platform is for an author, there is something delightful as a reader in reading a book (like me with ARTEMIS FOWL) where you have no preconceptions (i.e., no idea what is going to happen nor how an author likes to treat his/her characters and endings and so on … I’m certainly enthralled by the young Artemis Fowl.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Platform

Rachelle Gardner (an insightful agent) re-posted a previous blog entry yesterday on the necessity of a platform for fiction writers. She believes platform will become more critical for fiction writers because of increasing competition. It makes sense. The more you do to distinguish yourself, the better you fare.

Her post included excerpts from authors regarding their feelings on platform. They mention things like public speaking, sending copies of your book out, and even blogging. Basically, they focus on ways to garner a following. Having a good story makes one author’s list.

I realize non-fiction writers need a platform as a means of credentials or authority for supporting the statements within their product; however, a fiction writers’ product speaks for itself and its quality can be judged by its readers. Is it platform enough? I at first thought it was.

After some thought, I say that with the upheaval in the publishing industry, the economic downturn, and dwindling marketing budgets, Ms. Gardner makes a good point in reminding us to build our platform. New authors like new bands or any other mass media hopeful must make distinguish themselves. I'm sure everyone has probably heard a local band sound better than one on the radio. They just hadn't been in the right place at the right time. Platform, then, is about making enough opportunities to put yourself in the right place at the right time. It only takes one "right" person.

Incidentally, I look at my bookshelf and see books I’ve bought due to blogs. Ah, the blog platform at work! What about you? Do you think fiction writers need a platform?

UPDATE - Jessica at BookEnds just (~7AM) posted on "What Authors Can Do to Sell Books" -- a very similar topic if you want another good read.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fabulous!






I found out yesterday that Meghan at Ancient Musings has awarded The Writing Greek the Fabulous Blog Award. How fun is that? Recipients have to first name five things they are obsessed with, and then name five other blogs they think are fabulous.


After hasty consideration, my 5 obsessions:

  1. Travel – I love new places and just get the urge to go on occasion
  2. Reading and writing and all things books
  3. No weeds – if they land in my yard, they’re exterminated!
  4. Texas Rangers – someday they’ll win a playoff series …
  5. Photos – landscape and wildlife are my favorites


My obsessions aside, today, I salute the following fabulous blogs:

  1. Dark Star Discovery – Marty writes Greek stories and poetry. Fabulous!

  2. Magical Musings – Different authors, each with different voices and clever analogies. Fabulous!

  3. Sarah Lawrence – I always look forward to the photos accompanying Sarah’s posts. Fabulous!

  4. Barrie Summy – Full of witty posts, she already garnered the award, but I can’t resist: Barrie also hosts the monthly Book Club. Fabulous!

  5. Roots in Myth – PJ takes time to post pics along with her posts, and more importantly, she confessed on her blog to having owned the same Swingline stapler for 32 years. Nuff said. Fabulous!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pruning

Sometimes, I reach the end of a story and realize that it’s grown too long. Offshoots and tangents distract from my plot. Lacking focus, a believed to be exciting tale instead branches into unexplained, different directions.

I thought about that yesterday evening after work as I pruned the backyard’s flowers. The Confederate Jasmine that I’ve trained to wind its way up and over the pergola needed all sorts of attention after an isolated winter. I snipped here and there, trying to give it back its natural look. Needless to say, this vine would have looked much better had I done a little at a time. It would have taken less time to fix, too.

Stories are the same way. Just like with a plant, you have to know how you want it to look before you start shaping it. Remember in KARATE KID, Mr. Miyagi carefully trimming his bonsai tree, slowly shaping it as it grew? The end result of any carefully groomed plant will be a prettier plant that looks much more natural. Authors want the same with their stories. It just takes a little foresight and a little grooming as you go.

Now, if only I had kept up with the Confederate Jasmine this winter …

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dorian Gray

I recently finished THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY by Oscar Wilde. It ends abruptly, which I found annoying. I suppose it’s rather unauthorly of me to not appreciate this or the tragic nature of the story and its poetic elements, but I’ll confess that I found the book tiresome. Mr. Wilde drones on for pages at times promoting anything from his hedonistic lifestyle to political views.

The book debuted in 1891, so I don’t hold this against it as wordiness seems to have been a selling point for that time period. I thought throughout that the author must have been a withered old man to capture the moanings of old age as he did. Nope, it seems Mr. Wilde was in his early forties. He clearly must have, however, spent a great deal of time in thought and in reckless living, reminding me of the Ecclesiastes’ author. If I had to guess, Mr. Wilde felt like he had done everything and that everything under the sun is old and in vain. At least, this is how his characters come across in the book.

The concept of young, innocent Dorian Gray making a rash promise and inadvertently tying his soul to a portrait intrigued me. This and that lovely, tidy 19th century dialogue sustained me. Mr. Wilde’s characters, especially the devilish Lord Henry, has a quick tongue and sharp wit. I suspect he embodies a great deal of how Mr. Wilde viewed himself.

Reflecting on what I learned from this classic – First, I vow to always give my readers a pleasing ending. Artsy ending aside, Mr. Wilde could have made a great end of DORIAN GRAY. It doesn’t have to be happy, but my endings will strive to at least equal the rest of the text. Does anyone enjoy these critically acclaimed endings? I’ll admit, it’s a great ending, just not an enjoyable one or one deserving enough for the story’s depth.

Second, I mentioned the dialogue earlier. It’s my other takeaway. Reading a poet like Oscar Wilde helps me view the world through an author’s eyes. He masterfully brings the mundane to life. I love how he describes people and objects in terms of flowers and jewels.

Ever since seeing the character in the movie, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN some years ago, I wanted to read about this fascinating character, Dorian Gray. The book didn’t quite measure up to what I had hoped, so I’ll end by quoting a passage from chapter 7 of the book, “You used to stir my imagination. Now you don't even stir my curiosity. You simply produce no effect.” That sums up how I feel about Mr. Wilde’s only novel, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Keep Trying

Back when I first decided to try my hand at authoring, one of the things that surprised me most was the abysmal success rate and overwhelming competition. It takes substantial effort to write a story, more effort to find an agent, even more effort to get published, and then even hundreds time more effort to become a best seller. In fact, the odds appear daunting.

I’m not worried. Let me share with you why. I downloaded the latest version of ACDSee (a photo organizer) two weeks or so ago. After numerous attempts, I finally converted my prior version’s database this weekend so that I will be able to make use of it. Make fun of me if you will, but I love organizing my photos.

As I set all the new features up, I was reminded of one thing I’ve always said about my photography hobby. If you take enough pictures you’re bound to get a few good ones. Modesty aside, I’ve some outstanding photos. Granted, I’ve over 13,000 so even a 0.1% success rate can get a fellow you somewhere.

One secret that successful authors share is to write and to keep writing. “Don’t get stuck and don’t give up,” they urge. I’m sure seasoned authors would agree with me that you have to remember why you write. You do it because you love it. Some say they write because they have to write – it’s who they are. I’d say the same is true of my photography.

If I ever make any money photographing, that would be a treat. I’m not counting on it, though. I take photos because I enjoy it.

Not all my stories will sell for millions. Ha! Will any? One can hope. Regardless, I do enjoy writing them, and I’m determined to write a great many tales. Who knows, if I write enough, I’m bound to land a crowd pleaser at some point. Right? ;-)

I guess I’ll keep on writing. You do the same …

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Monologue

Plays often utilize soliloquies where a character muses their inner thoughts to the audience. Writers refer to a character’s thoughts as interior monologue. Movies, however, rarely make use of this technique, and those that do usually get berated for being cheesy.

Accomplished fiction writers, however, do make transitions in and out of monologues so smoothly that readers forget to even notice that they were just ”inside” a character’s head. Revealing these interior monologues draws readers closer to a book’s character. A character’s thoughts offer an unfiltered lens for the reader to learn not only the character’s motives but their voice. Too, authors can offer access to motives and information that otherwise would be difficult to convey.

I picked a book at random from my shelf, Wilbur Smith’s thriller, THE SEVENTH SCROLL. Flipping through it, I came to this example of interior monologue where Royan (the heroine) has just been listening to Nicholas (the hero) tell about his prior trip to Africa:

She stared at him with a feeling of awe. He had actually rafted the Abbay. It was as though she had been led to him by some strange fate. Duraid was right. There was probably no man in the world better qualified for the work in hand.

Mr. Smith consistently does an excellent job of transitioning viewpoints between Nicholas and Royan in the middle of chapters and amidst heavy dialogue. As a reader, it’s all seamless. This comes with writing practice and comfort with the direction of scenes and characters. For instance, notice that Mr. Smith didn’t find it necessary to lead off with “she thinks.”

Instead, the jump occurs from what Royan sees (i.e., “she stared”). The reader then knows subconsciously without thought to follow Royan’s perspective. So, even though the next sentence begins with “he,” the reader still knows it is Royan’s thoughts about Nicholas. As a reader, you don’t even stop to think about it, but as a writer, you have to be very conscience of this technique (at first, anyway) so that you don’t overuse it.

Keep in mind that characters’ dialogues should stand on their own as should the gestures and body language of each. In other words, don’t duplicate or rather, reiterate, what was just accomplished in dialogue by following up the same point via an interior monologue. An example:

“You stink,” Joe said. Joe glared at his son’s messy shirt. Tommy smelled bad.

Use either the dialogue or the internal monologue but not both. A reader can tell from either sentence that Tommy smells. Trust the reader. Oddly enough, they’ll follow your thoughts.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spades

Today's topic: items called after a certain dirt digging device

I've been reading Oscar Wilde's THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. One of the book's chief characters, Lord Henry declares, "a man who could call a spade a spade should be compelled to use one."

Yikes, that serves as motivation for this writer. Although, my flower beds do need work. Oh my. I'd probably be just as maligned by Lord Henry for calling the thing a shovel, huh? The witty spade quote, of course, makes a great line for writers to use in deriding one another, but Spades also happens to be the name of one of my favorite card games.

So, not only did I read that quote yesterday, but I then later played the card game, Spades (and, no it wasn't even at my suggestion). That's enough to merit a Saturday blog entry, I'm sure, which leads me to the useless information drop for the week.

I remember several years ago my grandfather telling me that while crossing the Pacific to go fight in the Philippines during WWII that he and his fellow soldiers would sit on the deck of the ship and play Spades. This made me think the game had been around long before then, but according to Joe Andrews at Mind Zine, Spades came about in Cincinnati in 1937.

Mr. Andrews further writes, "From there, it spread to other cities in the general region and eventually into the military. Spades was played extensively during World War II as it was a fast paced game, which could be interrupted at any time – especially during battle conditions!"

Even Lord Henry would have to admire that. The article goes on to say that Spades is now the most popular partner-card game in America. Though I lost playing last night, in honor of the greatness of Spades (yes, I used the word), I salute Cincinatti, Spades, and Granddad.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Storyteller Part II

I strolled through blog land yesterday, and one of the first sites I came to was Magical Musings where Michelle had posted about the very thing I had just blogged about. What topic is that you ask? First, in case you missed it, I ended Thursday’s post by asking if anyone might identify what item, in addition to plot and conflict, makes a great story.

The third item then for making a story, which is what Michelle nailed, is characters. A good story requires good characters. Not many people can recite story plots, and even fewer will summarize a story’s conflicts for you. However, give your audience a memorable character, and most folks will let you know why they love or hate the character.

We’ll visit characters more at a later time on the blog. For now, my two cents worth: strong story characters, the ones we remember, are the characters who evoke an emotion within us.

Before going, I did want to share a couple of links.
  1. Fast Company predicts that Sony/Google will give the Kindle a run for its money. Apparently, over 500,000 pre-1923 books have already been added to Sony's book reader using Google's book library.
  2. Last, in different news, if you ever needed photos for your blog but worried about the legalities of borrowing them off a random website, check out Thursday's Life Hacker article where Kevin Purdy shares sites that compile royalty free (and legal) downloadable images.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Storytellers v. Writers

When I first started writing fiction, I fancied that it would be easy as I had always enjoyed spinning a good yarn around a campfire or during a long car ride. Truthfully, I tell stories quite often. My friends can testify that most of these tend to be painfully overdrawn, a habit I’ve been trying to rectify.

It got me to thinking about the difference between telling a story and writing a story. If asked, I could recount to you one of my backpacking adventures. It’d have a few interesting points, but I doubt whether it would captivate you for more than a few minutes. Why is that?

The plot: Dan and four friends hike a week in the wilderness, see wildlife, eat bland trail food, suffer numerous near death experiences, and return safely home.

Such a plot couldn’t support a novel on its own. No, it needs something more, and I believe one of the missing items to be conflict. I can’t just tell readers that I ate bland trail food. No, I must set it up by letting my audience know that I hiked 10 hours a day, all uphill. I burned ‘x’ thousand calories, and unless I could eat a good meal, I might not make it over the final pass, etc. Each element can be similarly embellished. The story sounds more interesting already.

I’ve pointed out half of the solution to transitioning from modest storyteller to crafty novelist. Would anyone like to venture to guess what might be the other aspect of missing magic? There’s likely several good answers, but I do have one in particular in mind that I’ll share tomorrow (full credit given, of course, to whoever guesses my answer).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Break the Rules

A couple of days ago in the 3/16 blog discussion on minor characters, David Cranmer (The Education of a Pulp Writer blog) cited the example in Nero Wolfe that Archie gets more page time than the main character, Nero. This is totally contrary to the general story writing “rules.“ Hello, a main character has to be the main character!

What is it Captain Barbossa tells Elizabeth Swann? “The code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.”

Sailing along, if we only base our writing off what has been done before or what the masses popularize, we box ourselves within an area already set. As a broad generalization, in my humble yet entirely accurate opinion, nobody’s teen vampire book will top Stephanie Meyer just as no boy wizard book shall surpass Harry Potter. Authors trying to replicate those successes will likely go adrift.

Now, to be more specific, let us return to David’s example. Rex Stout broke the rules. Yet, it works beautifully, acting almost as a suspense mechanism which pulls the reader along. You read Archie’s parts at times wondering when he’ll go to Nero. Archie gets more pages, but David nailed it. Nero is undoubtedly the main character.

Writing conventions give the reader a familiar ground to stand on, which can at times be good. Mitch Wallace (Sphagnum Patch blog) and I blogged a couple of weeks ago about the standard use of past tense and the possible merits of present tense. Yesterday, over at Magical Musings, Edie Ramer wrote about how James Patterson consistently defies not only chapter lengths but also the standard 3 sentence paragraph. My goodness, we're all rule breakers!

There’s an exceptional business book sitting on my desk at work that came out about 10 years ago by Gallup called “First Break All the Rules.” It shares that the world’s best managers don’t follow the norm and goes on to identify common ways in which these managers differ.

Interesting.

I’d say the world’s best authors don’t necessarily follow the norm, either. Could that be what differentiates them from the rest of us? Can you think of some other writing rules we can break? Or, name some rule breaking authors?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Feedburner?

Does anyone using Feedburner experience delays? I switched to it last night to redirect my RSS feeds for this blog through it, but I noticed that my blog from earlier this morning still hasn't posted in my google reader.

Anyone else have a problem with such a delay? Should I get off Feedburner?

I guess I'll give it a day or so.

Portraits

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

So far this week, we've talked about the difference between main and minor characters. One of the things Ms. Seger said in her book came to my mind this morning. She likened choosing the number of characters in one's novel to a bridal portrait.

Include Buck the groom, and it can be argued that the focus remains on the bride. Add little Jennie the flower girl. Okay, your attention might still go to the bride. But, seriously, what photographer or painter would include the bride's entire extended family?

The point goes back to the question we examined earlier in the week. How many characters are truly appropriate? The point of the bridal analogy is that the focus of the portrait needs to stay upon the bride. The best way to do this is to limit the clutter surrounding the bride.

LIkewise, in writing, authors must take care not to distract the reader from the true centerpoint of the story, which is generally going to be the main character. And, yes, in some cases, it might even be a bride!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Minor Characters

We examined main characters yesterday, so how about we consider minor characters for a brief moment? Many of the different writing books I’ve studied warn about letting minor characters take over your story. ‘Keep them in control,’ the seasoned author warns. ‘Don’t let them overshadow your main character.’ Geesh, you’d think they were weeds.

I do agree that one should take care with the time apportioned for lesser roles, but I also think that the nice thing about a story’s secondary set of characters is that unlike the main hero, these folks don’t have the burden of moving the story forward. This, I feel, allows authors more liberty in their development.

All the fun quirks that just wouldn’t work on your main character can be assigned to various minor characters. For instance, I doubt readers would want to suffer through an entire story of reading about a hero with a nervous twitch, but it admittedly makes for a nifty detail on a minor character.

Do you have any guidelines to offer on minor characters? Words of warning?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Main Characters

In PHAIAKIA (my book), I’ve 3 main characters that I follow. This involved some extra work in developing a unique voice for each as I alternate telling the story though their separate perspectives. Too, I at first struggled to ensure that the audience identify and like the characters fairly equally. When I failed to do so, my early readers grew frustrated as the story alternates.

One bestselling author who seems to alternate multiple character viewpoints fairly well is Terry Goodkind. I’m not going to name any names, but I’ve also read books where this tactic came across poorly.

I recall having read that the most an author should attempt is six main characters. This sounds like a staggering figure to me. What do you think would be the most an author should attempt? Or, better yet, what is the most you would be willing to try?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Favorite Things

It was a dark and stormy … morning. Actually, it’s Saturday morning with dawn just breaking. We did sleep late – 6AM!! Wahoo for us.

I’ve always liked the song, “Favorite Things” or whatever it’s called that gets sung during Sound of Music. The lyrics, courtesy of http://www.stlyrics.com/:

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things
Cream colored ponies and crisp apple streudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things
Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver white winters that melt into springs
These are a few of my favorite things
When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad

Julie Andrews didn’t sing about writing, but one of my favorite things that I look forward to all week is getting up on Saturday morning and writing. She's right -- remembering the things you love help you make it through an otherwise rough week. On Saturday, I make a batch of coffee just for me (the dog and LW don’t drink it), huddle in front of the computer, and write.

"Nuff said," says Stan Lee.

What about you? Got a few favorite things?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mary Renault's Greek Standard

Just curious for comment land’s perspective – have you read any of Mary Renault’s Greek books? Aside from her passion for Alexander, she was highly acclaimed fifty plus years ago for taking tales such as Theseus and the Minotaur and retelling the old myths without the supernatural. In other words, she explained away all the fanciful elements.

It’s a matter of preference, I suppose, but I can’t help but think that Ms. Renault stripped out the most beautiful pieces of the old tales. The immortals and monsters embodied the rawest fears and beliefs of the ancient Greeks. It seems a shame to me to not utilize this poetic imagery into one’s story. Granted, a stigma against ‘fantasy’ prevailed back in her day.

Ms. Renault's books tend to be the standard for contemporary Greek fiction to which all new Bronze Age works are measured. Would you agree? We’ll have to talk more on Ms. Renault later.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

E.Hemingway's THE SUN ALSO RISES

It’s time for another episode of Thesaurus Thursday. As today’s contestant, we have Ernest Hemingway and THE SUN ALSO RISES. I’ve a paperback copy, and the back of it says, “Ernest Hemingway did more to change the style of English prose than any other writer in the twentieth century. <…> Hemingway wrote in short, declarative sentences, and was known for his tough, terse prose.”

So, you’d expect a short sentence for today, right? Not so much. I read this book the last time I went to Spain which has been 5+ years ago so my memory of it is somewhat sketchy. That caveat aside, I’ve turned to the opening of Chapter 4 wherein Jake is drunk in Paris and has just gotten into a cab with Brett (an attractive female). They tell the cabbie to get away from the dancing club and drive around. Here’s our sentence:

The street was torn up and men were working on the car tracks by the light of acetylene flares.

First, in case you don’t know here’s http://www.dictionary.com definition of acetylene:
A colorless gas, C2H2, having an etherlike odor, produced usually by the action of water on calcium carbide or by pyrolysis of natural gas: used esp. in metal cutting and welding, as an illuminant, and in organic synthesis.

Let’s break out the thesaurus for some grins and see how different we can make Hemingway’s sentence sound. Here’s my try:

Glaring torches revealed zombie like workers clanging away at rehabilitating the doleful street.

Go ahead, Frankenstein. You’re turn. Create. You can do better than doleful, rehabilitating zombies, right?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

More on Paradox

Yesterday we braved a discussion on incorporating a few paradoxes into our story’s characters. Let’s follow up that up with a more specific thought. How about utilizing emotions to create an interesting character?

In writing, we try to avoid directly stating that a character feels glad or mad, but we do convey their feelings through the scene. Wouldn’t it then stand to reason based on yesterday’s entry that an emotion contrary to the character’s stereotype might heighten the scene’s interest?


I’ll use an example from BATTLEFIELD EARTH since it’s my most recently finished reading. Toward the end, Sir Robert is acting as earth’s leader, which is a position of dignity. Furthermore, Sir Robert’s character to this point has been resolute and steadfast. My fear for earth’s safety thus increases tremendously when Sir Robert (who I had counted upon) grows desperate and tired in a meeting with the Galactic Bank. He fails. His emotions show that he despairs, and the scene heightens because as a reader, I know the planet’s future rests solely with what the hero, Johnny, can do.

By using an emotion contrary to what I expected of the character, Ron Hubbard (the author) greatly increased the suspense for the final chapters of BATTLEFIELD EARTH.

Well, if I wore you out with all that talk of paradoxes and you’re wishing for something simpler, I did want to leave you with a bit of fun. Check out today’s blog from Marty on Dark Star Discovery regarding the history behind the authors of CURIOUS GEORGE.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Paradox

Straight from the magic of www.dictionary.com, the definition of a paradox is: “any person, thing, or situation exhibiting an apparently contradictory nature.”

Authors generally intend for their character’s dialogue, mannerisms, etc. to remain consistent. A good writer, however, often works in a few quirks. These come in the form of a paradox, a nifty trick of the trade to spice up an otherwise dull character.

Literature, as well as life, is full of individuals with a contradictory nature. In BATTLEFIELD EARTH, the book I finished yesterday, the hero (Johnny) is basically a caveman who questions things. Later, we meet a bad guy alien thief (Ker) who has a sense of humor. The book’s true villain, Terl, is a security chief who lies and cheats. Little, unassuming gray men that drink yarb tea turn out to be the universe’s most dangerous enemy.

Every good book makes use of paradoxical elements in its characters. I’m making a note to do the same. Can you think of an example of a character paradox in something you recently read?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Battlefield Earth

Did everyone survive Daylight Savings Time? It seems so early this year! Literally.

I’ve nearly finished Ron Hubbard’s 430,000 word epic sci-fi, BATTLEFIELD EARTH. It’s long but well worth it as I draw to the end. I always enjoying finding new favorites, and this is one I’ll reread.

As a side note, did you know Mr. Hubbard also wrote westerns? I didn't, but check out David Cranmer's blog where earlier this week several of us had a good discussion around David's post on Hubbard.

Spoiler alert – don’t read ahead if you don’t want me to give away part of the ending.

So, the premise of the book has been that it’s the year 3000 and aliens have mined the earth and reduced us to cavemen, but we steal their technology and battle back. It’s great, but what I like here at the end is that just as I think humanity has overthrown its aggressors (the aptly named Psychlos), we discover that there’s an even deadlier threat – a mortgage on the planet owed to the Galaxy Bank!

Perhaps it’s the current economic times and news of Citi and all these others struggling, but I just love this twist that Hubbard has thrown his readers. Just when we think we’ve saved the planet, we forget that we need money to pay the mortgage. I hadn’t quite figured out the little gray bankers, but they seem devious (no offense to the bankers out there).

On a writing note, I’m making a note to try and give my readers a little unsuspected, ending twist in my future works. It takes some extra planning and forethought, but I always like a book with an extra surprise to it.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Evan & the Hike

Yesterday’s hike included 3 river crossings, and we only lost one ball cap (sorry, Jeremy, but you shouldn’t have seen if it’d float). Alas, lost cap aside, I’m happy to report that all kids (and sponsors!) made it back safe and sound.

The fossilized T-Rex like tracks in the river bed highlighted the outing. Those and the nice weather and being with friends and a good group of kids and all made it a fun time, but what really stood out to me was a 5th grader named Evan that I hadn’t met before. Books were everything to this kid. Once Evan found out that I, too, liked books, he spent the whole hike at my side asking me if I’d read this or that particular book. His favorites are the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books.

It was great seeing Evan’s unbridled enthusiasm for reading, and I wanted to share it with anyone authoring. Keep writing as I’m sure your work will brighten someone’s day.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

OOMO Versus MOBY DICK

Renni Browne and Dave King have a book out called SELF EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS. One of the chapters discusses voice, and to make their point, they cite two passages.

PASSAGE #1: It was the middle of a bright tropical afternoon that we made good our escape from the bay. The vessel we sought lay with her main-topsail aback about a league from the land and was the only object that broke the broad expanse of the ocean.

PASSAGE #2: Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the water part of the world.

Herman Melville wrote both of these sea-faring passages, each introducing a novel. What are the differences in the two passages? The first appeared in a book called OMOO that he penned four years prior to the second. As Browne and King point out, the OMOO passage has a bit of intrigue to it (an escape) and details a boat. It’s a great opening to a book.

The second passage, which has been practically immortalized, comes from MOBY DICK. It’s rather irresistible, and the reason is its voice. Ishmael lures us into the story.

By the time Melville wrote MOBY DICK, he’d already written three more books since OMOO. A good writer works on developing his/her storytelling voice. Sculpting a voice takes time. It’s not just us that is speaking, it is our character. Patience.

So, speaking of patience, I’m off to help take a group of grade school boys hiking at Dinosaur Valley State Park. If I survive and return, we’ll blog again tomorrow! More patience …

Friday, March 6, 2009

You're Fired!

Nope, I'm not Donald Trump nor have I been fired, thankfully. I did, however, come across an interesting bit of English trivia today that I thought you might enjoy in today's turbulent economic times. You decide if this is true or not --

The history behind saying, "you're fired," actually stems from olden times when the only way for a settlement to get rid of somebody (short of killing them) was to burn their house down.

Well, even if it may not be true, you can use it at dinner tonight to impress your friends. My sympathies are with all the folks who have been laid off of late, but I'd say that is different than being fired. Incidentally, the only history I can find as to laid off is that it came about in 1955 as a euphemism for being temporarily unemployed.

Last, if you don't already have it as a book mark, add the handy http://www.etymonline.com, an online etymology dictionary.

Happy Friday!!!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

B. Summy's Ostrich Farmer

If Microsoft Word’s thick menu bar gives you grief or if you want an all black Word workspace, check out yesterday’s LifeHacker blog. It provides tips to turn Word distraction free.

Time for a bit of Thesaurus Thursday. Today, in honor of the leader of yesterday’s Book Review Club, I’ve selected at random a sentence from Barrie Summy’s fun new mystery book, “I So Don’t Do Mysteries.”

The farmer plucks his straw hat off his head and runs his fingers through thinning, greasy hair.

This is the point in Barrie’s book where the heroine (Sherry) tracks a clue to an ostrich farm. Sherry, an 8th grade sleuth, wants to learn about one of the farm’s employees and has to cajole the facts out of this farmer. Sherry’s point of view is conveyed in the sentence.

Like last week, this is just a fun exercise that I do to help develop my writing skills. Here’s my re-draft (attempting to maintain Sherry’s POV):

The old farmer picks at his straw hat, lifts it, and reveals hair as oily as an ostrich feather.

Yikes, that was a tough one! I feel like I butchered Barrie’s beautiful sentence (sorry, Barrie!). Like with last time, type out your version in the comments section. Let’s see how many new versions we can end up with.

[Subliminal message – Order one of Barrie’s books … Do so now …]

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

C. Cussler's THE TROJAN ODYSSEY


SPECIAL ALERT – It’s the first Wednesday of the month, time for another enticing edition of Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club! Read other blogger’s book reviews by using the nifty typewriter widget on the left.

Last month, I reviewed Rick Riordan’s PERCY JACKSON series. I’ll confess upfront. Zeus and 3 immortals helped me with that review. I thought I’d be done with the Olympians after that, but they’ve returned (more from them in a moment). So, I just couldn’t resist doing another book with a Greek connection …

2005 Flashback -- I enjoyed watching SAHARA starring Matthew McConaughey. I had no idea at the time that it was one of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt novels. Then, only days later, I was browsing the bookstore looking for a Greek story and stumbled across THE TROJAN ODYSSEY. I bought it thinking I might learn more about ancient Greece to help me with my own writing. That didn’t really happen, but I loved the book and have ever since been devouring Mr. Cussler’s novels, which are every bit as clever, funny, and action-packed as the Sahara movie.

Returning to the present, allow me to recapture for you my meeting yesterday with the immortals. In case you missed last month, they enjoy meeting me at my office, which can be a bit awkward at times (e.g., Zeus nearly set the fire alarm off in February).

SIDE NOTE: Since the immortals tend to verbose, I’ve highlighted their more relevant contributions to this book review.

Me [at the receptionist’s desk]: Mr. Poseidon, Mrs. Hera! Umm … I thought just Zeus was coming today.

[Hera and Poseidon argue. Hera turns to face me.]

Hera: Stupid Zeus. He got crossed and sent me here. The oaf must’ve forgotten that he’d already told seaweed breathe here to come in his stead.

[We enter the nearest conference room.]

Me: No worries. Have you both read Clive Cussler’s THE TROJAN ODYSSEY?

Poseidon: I told you last time. Listen, we immortals read everything. We’ve ample time for that sort of thing. I took special interest in this one being that it involves a madman wanting to flood the ocean.

Hera: Look, Da, I know heroes.

Me: Excuse me, it’s actually D.A.

Hera: Nevermind that, dear, let me assure you Dirk exhibits everything a goddess likes to see in a mortal. Dirk Pitt and his sidekick, Al Giordino, use muscle some but also smarts. They’re very ingenious, just like the plot. Clive puts them against everything from a hurricane to that odious villain, Spectre.

[Poseidon waves his trident toward Hera.]

Poseidon: You’re forgetting Pitt has help from his twin children and Admiral Sandecker. They all work for NUMA [National Underwater & Marine Agency] . Curses upon NUMA! And, no, just because I’m the sea god, doesn’t mean I have to like NUMA. I like the Dirk Pitt novels, but I detest things being taken from my oceans. This Clive fellow is more than just an author. Clive founded that NUMA bunch in ‘79 and has since removed 60 of my underwater wrecks. He’s only …

Me: Mr. Poseidon, sir, we weren’t discussing Mr. Cussler. Let’s return to his book. I happen to love the characters and stumbled across this quote, which I thought captured the book’s essence as well as their appeal: “Call it luck, call it foresight or fate. Giordino’s weight and momentum striking the stern deck was the extra inducement it took to jar the boat loose. Sluggishly, inch by inch, the boat slowly slithered off the unyielding muck.”

Hera: I’m naming my next child, Clive.

[Poseidon and I look at her incredulously - she's serious.]

Hera: Clive keeps the action moving. He’s a master of the American thriller. Tell your blog friends, not to worry. TROJAN ODYSSEY might be the twentieth some odd book in the series, but they all read as stand alone works. Perhaps the son after Clive will be Dirk. I can hardly use Zeus Junior, can I?

Me: Yes, well, I was wondering what you thought about the book’s beginning.

Poseidon: It’s typical Clive. Clive always starts with some old myth. He’s like a fisherman that way, hooking you. This time, he retells that Trojan War. Then, like usual, you don’t really see how it relates to Dirk Pitt until halfway through the book.

Hera: It’s part of Clive’s charm, dear.

Me: I don’t want to give anything away, but what did the two of you think about the twist Mr. Cussler put on the facts surrounding the Trojan War? Is it true?

[Poseidon grins.]

Poseidon: Clive’s presentation of the Trojan War is all fact, or rather, researched theories. Didn’t we tell you last time, mortal, that we don’t like disclosing facts about locations?

Hera: Yes, leave it to the readers to form their own judgments. Either way, I know readers will be fascinated to learn more about the Trojan War. It was my doing, you know.

Me: Poor Helen and Paris. Well, on that note, I thank you for coming. Security being what it is, I’ll need to escort you out.

Poseidon: That’s right. We don’t have time for idling. I’ve books to read. Hmpf. I’ll say, though, that I certainly thought well enough of Clive’s work. It’s a thrilling adventure. One that befits the seas.

Hera: I hate to say it, as we never agree, but Poseidon is right. THE TROJAN ODYSSEY is everything a Clive Cussler fan such as myself expects from him. New readers to the series will be equally as impressed.

[Poseidon and Hera leave.]

Alright, that concludes my time with the Olympians. I think you can see that all three of us really enjoyed THE TROJAN ODYSSEY. It was published in 2003, so you can find it in paperback if looking for a bargain book. If I had to sum it up in one word, I’d choose “entertaining.” The numbers don’t lie -- as stated on http://www.numa.net/, Mr. Cussler's books are published in “more than 40 languages in more than 100 countries with a readership of more than 125 million avid fans.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Rest of the Story

First, thanks to those who expressed sympathy over my computer. Good news – I recovered my files! That said, onward to blogging …

I’ve always loved radio legend Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story.” Each show begins with an enticing event and ends with an unsuspecting twist. Yesterday, when I learned of his passing away, I reflected on Mr. Harvey and these segments. What could I learn from them as a writer?

Lesson #1: The show’s opening always snagged the audience with an interesting tidbit.
Application #1: Every chapter deserves a good hook.

Lesson #2: The audience never knew who Mr. Harvey was talking about.
Application #2: Divulge only the details necessary to keep the story moving.


Lesson #3: A commercial always broke just as your interest in the story climaxed.
Application #3: Chapter breaks and scene switches can be a good thing.

Lesson #4: I always felt satisfied at the conclusion of the segment because the surprise of the ending equaled the suspense created at the story’s opening.
Application #4: A thriller book needs a thriller ending.


And that, folks, is the rest of the story …

Monday, March 2, 2009

Conveying Your Character's Past

Here's hoping everyone had a good weekend. Welcome to Monday, folks.

My weekend highlight: pulling weeds in the front yard.

Alright, on we go to writing. I came across a slip of paper yesterday where I'd jotted down the following note for myself (apologies to the brilliant author whose name I cannot recall):

It's not important what has happened in your character's past but rather, it is how he/she feels about it.

Too many stories become overburdended with backstory. The beauty of adhering to the above-mentioned advice is that it encourages us to convey a sense of memories versus events. As an example, mention his most embarrassing adolescent moment rather than telling what high school he attended.

It sounds simple, but it requires an intentional mindset. Most people don't naturally think this way when storytelling. I'd say the ability to incorporate such subtle differences into one's writing distinguishes the master from novice.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dwight Swain

I found a new favorite book on characters. Dwight V. Swain wrote CREATING CHARACTERS: HOW TO BUILD STORY PEOPLE in 1990. I've only read the first couple of chapters so far, but Mr. Swain tackles each chapter with a relaxed conversational tone. I feel like we're chatting as I read.

For instance, the first sentence of the book says, "What's the one key element any major character must have? The ability to care." Mr. Swain then rambles along with examples and before you know it, you've learned two or three new insights.

One of the insights I jotted into my notebook: When preparing to start a new work, treat your characters as though you're a casting director. Audition and scrutinize each role and find the character that you want. Find someone that intrigues you and that you'll be excited to integrate into your story.

I'll share more insights from Mr. Swain later this week. I'm signing off because I have to go brush Buster's teeth. Remember 2 weeks ago when he got a tooth pulled? Well, the vet said we have to start brushing his teeth once a week. Oh my.



Do you think Buster suspects anything? The problem is that he insists on licking the toothpaste while I brush. Aye-ya-aye ...

Saturday, February 28, 2009

And Then There Was None

I'm in mourning today. I should wear black. I apologize for not visiting my blogging friends yesterday. The trauma was too much ...

My desktop is old and slow so the last 2 months, my laptop has been my primary computer. That was fine except that I don't have Mozy set to back it up. Que triste! Yes, God opposes the proud. I'll admit to being a snoot about backing up. I even scoffed at Galley Cat's recent story on Susan Orlean not using Word, choosing to write online. I thought I was clever for having Mozy auto back up all my files, and I was -- for my desktop! Why didn't I think to back up my laptop??? Alas!

The consensus favorite on yesterday's list was Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None." Foreshadowing? There's now none of my files left on my hard drive. It's gone. Dead. My WIP, my just finished book review, my fantasy baseball super-spreadsheet (don't smirk - I take my baseball seriously), etc. We'll see if the drive can be revived, but I'm too cheap to pay much. More to come on Monday ...

So, let me now invoke a stern warning -- Go to www.mozy.com and set it to back up your files (ah-hem, on all your computers). Mozy works great and is free up to a certain amount and then it costs you $50 a year for unlimited back up. I'm big into photography and have scanned all my 35mm pics and backed them up which means I probably have close to 100 GB stored. No procrastinating!

Friday, February 27, 2009

500 Million Don Quioxetes

I always love looking at best seller lists. Here’s one from the Quality Paperbacks Club via way of GuideLive listing the best-selling non-religious books of all-time that I thought you might enjoy:

1) Don Quixote (1605), by Miguel de Cervantes, 500 million copies
2) The Count of Monte Cristo (1844), by Alexandre Dumas, 200 million
3) And Then There Were None (a.k.a. Ten Little Indians) (1939), by Agatha Christie, 115 million
4) The Catcher in the Rye (1951), by J.D. Salinger, 65 million
5) The Da Vinci Code (2003), by Dan Brown, 64 million
6) Heidi (1880), by Johanna Spyri, 52 million


The following are all tied with around 50 milion copies sold:
* Ben Hur (1880), by Lew Wallace
* The Curse of Capistrano (a.k.a. The Mask of Zorro) (1920), by Johnston McCulley
* How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), by Dale Carnegie
* The Little Prince (1943), by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
* The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (1946), by Dr. Benjamin Spock
* The Alchemist (1988), by Paulo Coelho


I've read all these except Catcher in the Rye, How to Win Friends, The Little Prince, and the Alchemist. I'll have to get on those, but I did at least know about all of them. The one I hadn't read that I had no idea about? Zorro! My favorite! I can't wait to get my hands on this one. I love Zorro!!

Was anyone else a fan of the black and white TV show? It used to replay on Saturday mornings in the 1980's if I'm remembering correctly.

Is anyone a fan of reading Don Quioxete? I can't believe it's sold twice as many copies as my beloved Monte Cristo. Then again, it has had an extra 250 years ...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thesaurus Thursday

One of the writing exercises I do to is to take another author's sentence and then reword it. It can be fun (in an authorly sort of way). Let's see how many different versions we can make. Feel free to be verbose, succint, short or serious -- whatever.

Today's sample comes from James Rollins' action thriller, "The Judas Strain."

ORIGINAL: He spotted a glow ahead, flickering.

I'll go first. Here's my version: The man distinguished a twinkling gleam.

Welcome to Thesaurus Thursday. Incidentally, if you haven't used it yet, www.thesaurus.com is a handy online tool.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

John Updike

I’m looking forward to next Wednesday when Barrie Summy hosts the second Book Review Club installment. Last month, the Olympians helped me discuss Rick Riordan’s PERCY JACKSON series. Don’t worry, I’ve already got my people talking to Zeus’ people about a possible return.

Anyway, I wanted to share an article with my fellow reviewers from Guide Live that I stumbled across this past month. It lists John Updike’s 5 book reviewing principles:

My rules, shaped intaglio-fashion by youthful traumas at the receiving end of critical opinion, were and are:

1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.

2. Give enough direct quotation--at least one extended passage--of the book's prose so the review's reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.

3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy précis.

4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending....

5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author's oeuvre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?

To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in any ideological battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never...try to put the author "in his place," making of him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys of reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.