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 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, 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.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I finished reading Frankenstein last night. I am amazed that Mary Shelley was only 19 when she wrote it in 1816. Looking at her book with fresh 'author' eyes, I see a tragic tale defined not so much by circumstance but by characters.

Victor, Henry, Elizabeth, and even Victor's creation are all at first conveyed as innocents. Their purity sets the stage for the diabolical acts that follow. I could go endlessly on, but I've secured my lesson learned. Not all stories mandate an evil villain.

It reminds me of the preacher who tells a joke on Sunday morning. He always garners a response. Often times, the lively response elicited isn't from the content so much as the humor wasn't anticipated in a church service.

Sometimes the scariest of stories need that same offsetting base. The horrible seems worse because we first tasted the goodness, a clearing of the pallet. Mary Shelley gives that in Frankenstein with her goodly characters and to a lesser extent, serene settings.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Padraic Colum

A lifelong friend of James Joyce, Padraic Colum lived from 1881-1972. He was a poet and leader of the Irish Renaissance and retold several of the Greek myths, including "The Golden Fleece," which I read last week.

Publisher's Weekly once wrote that Mr. Colum's "stirring telling of the Greek epics is still unequaled as an introduction to the classic myths for young readers." Their endorsement still graces his book's paperback cover.

I noticed it after I finished "The Golden Fleece." While I am targeting an adult audience with PHAIAKIA, my own Greek epic, I couldn't help but be impressed by Publisher Weekly's statement. I'm pinning it on my bulletin board as inspiration for my ongoing work.

One can dream, right? D.A. Riser's "stirring telling of the Greek epics is unequaled as an introduction to the classic myths."

Sunday, February 22, 2009


The first sentence in Monte Cristo that we looked at on Friday stretched two or three lines in length. It obviously worked well for Dumas and I truthfully did like it, but it did seem rather too long. Today, I awoke thinking about the converse – short sentences.

“Go.” It’s the shortest complete sentence in the English language. I suppose if you want to require two words that you could upgrade to “I am.” Neither of these have ever been used to open any books that I can recall. The shortest sentence I’ve read (and can readily recollect) to open a book is Moby Dick’s “Call me Ishmael.”

It’s easily the most famous opening in English literature, so it’s hard to argue against Melville’s using it. Personally, I can’t see using a short sentence to open my book. Critics and fans alike would see it and think it was done for effect or imitation.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mount Rushmore

After further reflecting on yesterday’s exercise, I’m reminded of the writing precept: “Thou shall be intentional.” Let us now ponder Mount Rushmore …

Rushmore was a New York lawyer (of all things!) who led a prospecting expedition to the Black Hills region in 1885. It wasn’t until 1923, however, that a historian conceived the idea of a monument at the site as a way to increase tourism in South Dakota. Congress actually commissioned his idea and approved a million dollars’ budget. President Coolidge then approved the idea after insisting that two Republicans be shown next to George Washington, leaving room for only one Democrat. Some pushed to add Susan B. Anthony but she missed the ‘cut’ because of funding.

Mount Rushmore ended up with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. Now, here’s the point – those 60 foot carvings were sculpted into granite using dynamite. Each blast had to be well thought out and carefully planned, utilizing a process known as “honey-combing.” One unintentional mistake would ruin the entire masterpiece.

Returning to yesterday, I have to think that Dumas intentionally included such detail as the date and exact places into his opening sentence. He stuck each one where he did so as to precisely deliver the intents we discussed. I’ve heard it said that every word of every sentence of every chapter and so on should be chosen with care. Borglum, Rushmore’s sculptor, certainly used such care in blasting away two million tons of granite. I suppose I could exercise at least some of the same intentional degree of caution when crafting my next PHAIAKIA novel.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Monte Cristo's Opening

“On the 24th of February 1815, the lookout at Notre-Dame de la Garde signaled the three-master, the Pharaon from Smyrna, Trieste and Naples.”

The above sentence represents the opening to “The Count of Monte Cristo,” which we’ve been examining lately. Our goal: glean knowledge from my favorite story.
At first glance, this seems like a terribly uninspiring first sentence. It’s way too complicated and filled with unfamiliar places. The Pharaon, incidentally, is the name of the hero’s ship, and “three-master” refers to the Pharaon having three masts. The Notre-Dame de la Garde is a basilica Neo-Byzantine church in Marseille, France (pictured above courtesy of Wiki).

From a positive standpoint, we learn the scene’s setting. The definitiveness of the places likely helped Dumas’ French readers identify visual images and preconceptions. They would have known this was Marseille.
My thoughts return to the details. Initially, I thought these overly done and a detraction. On further study, I recollect other authors’ use of vague places. Vagueness denotes (to me) a lack of confidence.
By asserting that the lookout is at Notre-Dame de la Garde and that the ship hails from Smyrna, Dumas sends his readers a message that their storyteller controls all facets of his story. He is not an amateur but rather, a knowing, meticulous professional who will treat them to a vivid and well thought out tale. Writing and reading historical fiction and fantasy, I run across vagueness often. It’s much easier to reference a country than research (or for fantasy, fabricate) a specific city.

In addition to establishing the setting, Dumas also sets the narrator’s tone. Our storyteller will be straightforward and factual and knowledgeable of many things. I find myself sinking into his story just reflecting further on this first sentence. I can hear one of those rich-voiced audio book narrators saying the words even as I type.

I’ll conclude. Here’s how a less specific version might have read: “In early 1815, the city’s lookout signaled Edmond Dante’s ship coming from Italy.” This simplified version reads easier, but I prefer Dumas’ choice. What about you?

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Has anyone visited Scribd? I saw a write up on it yesterday over at Galley Cat, which led me to check it out. Scribd claims to have over 50 million visitors a month. How did I miss that much traffic?

Browsing briefly, I didn't see anything of interest. Apparently, you can post your writings on the site, but the browser viewing window didn't seem to quite fit to me. Anyone have a different experience? Am I missing something?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ms. Snark's First Victim

I'm not feeling too well today. That said, pardon me for re-directing you, but if you're looking for a site to improve your writing acumen, skip over to Ms. Snark's First Victim. The Authoress has been hosting a wonderful critique of 60 aspiring authors overseen by a secret agent, now revealed as Kristin Nelson. It's extremely insightful.

Let me know if you've been following it all along. I didn't learn about it until today in Pub Rants. Alas, I've some catch up reading to do!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Walt Whitman

Mr. Walt Whitman was born in 1819 in Long Island. He only received 6 years schooling before tackling the following vocations: printer, carpenter, teacher, clerk, and reporter.

Like with Shelley, I study him to become better at seeing the world around me. Poetry, I think, helps one develop an eye for description. Here’s part of Mr. Whitman’s poem, “After the Sea-Ship,” that I studied tonight:

After the sea-ship, after the whistling winds,
After the white-gray sails taut to their spars and ropes,
Below, a myriad waves hastening, lifting up their necks,
Tending in ceaseless flow toward the track of the ship,
Waves of the ocean bubbling and gurgling, blithely prying,
Waves, undulating waves, liquid, uneven, emulous waves,
Toward that whirling current, laughing and buoyant, with curves,
Where the great vessel sailing and tacking displaced the surface …

I chose this poem because the Phaiakians in my novel are a race of sailors. That being the case, I have a few ocean scenes. I might be smart enough to describe the ocean as undulating, but I failed to ever describe water as “blithely prying” or “laughing and buoyant, with curves.”

The imagery employed by Mr. Whitman brings the ocean to life. I’ve found this detail to be particularly helpful when trying to heighten a scene. Often these instances are when danger abounds. I need suspense, which works best when the book’s pace and description increase. I can’t just say the hero’s ship is sinking. No, I must describe the turbulent, frowning waves reaching to snatch the ship.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Feel the Rhythm

I can attest that anyone, even those without musical talent, can master a musical instrument. At one time, I could play the trumpet remarkably well. No matter how hard I tried, however, I was never going to be great. I was good (for my age), but no amount of practicing would make me great.

Amidst cooking dinner and chasing after Son #2 last night, I tried reading more of Linda Seger’s book on creating characters. One thing she said that struck me was that writers must “feel the rhythm.” Ms. Seger referred to dialogue. She believes great dialogue writing is innate, but that good dialogue writing can be acquired.

Trumpet players learn the keys for each note, how to breath, etc. Like with playing the trumpet, the secret to being a decent author is to know dialogue writing’s proper techniques. Ms. Seger instructs writers to remove all fluff, limit each character to two or at most three sentences, and utilize conflict.

Ms. Seger hasn’t yet said anything about how to hone those techniques she mentions, but I already know the secret to becoming better. I recall the answer from my trumpet playing days. Those of us who don’t readily “feel the rhythm” have to practice and practice and practice.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Dumas' Dantes

Today, we conduct a study in character:

“He was a fine, tall, slim young fellow of eighteen or twenty, with black eyes, and hair as dark as a raven’s wing; and his whole appearance bespoke that calmness and resolution peculiar to men accustomed from their cradle to contend with danger.”

“Ah, is it you, Dantes? <…> Why have you such an air of sadness aboard?”

The above text appears on the first page of Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo.” It’s the first glimpse we see of the story’s main character, Edmond Dantes. Let’s review it to see what we learn from Dumas’ approach.

The narrator conveys the physical appearance of Dantes in a rather offhand manner. Dumas takes the approach of a distant observer. He could have cited his exact age but instead only mentions that Dantes is “eighteen or twenty.” Rather than call him a man or youth, Dantes is described in the rather vague term of “fellow.”

How deliberate was Dumas in making these choices? I surmise that Dumas chose such an indifferent tone to add some degree of credibility to the narrator. We trust this chap telling us the story because he is clearly not attached to Dantes. Even this choice of the narrator’s prejudices influences the perception the reader immediately forms of Dantes.

By calling him a “fine, tall, slim young fellow,” we see that Dantes is a decent sort. The positive connotations of these choices then help us to identify Dantes as the hero. Danglars, the villain, receives a contrasting description two pages later, in part being described as having an “unprepossessing countenance.”

I do find it interesting that Dumas immediately follows these positive attributes for Dantes by describing him as having black eyes and “hair as dark as a raven’s wing.” A raven is sometimes seen as a symbol of knowledge. Dantes later accumulates knowledge of all things. To me, these components of Dantes’ physical description gives a hint of foreshadowing and even foreboding to Dantes’ character. It shows that Dantes possesses a dark side. He is “fine” and “slim” but his soul, perhaps, is “dark as a raven’s wing.”

Am I reading too much into it? Possibly, but most authors are fairly deliberate with their opening pages and the Count is a complex character.

Early in the book, Dantes comes across as innocent and trusting. I was surprised then to consider in fuller thought Dumas’ mention here on page one that Dantes was accustomed from the “cradle to contend with danger.” Why, I wonder, does Dumas throw in this seemingly inconsistent fact along with the other information we at first learn about Dantes?

I can only surmise that it must again be foreshadowing. Dumas hints that the fates have always intended a different life for Dantes. Despite this ominous ending to the above excerpt, its beginning did start rather optimistically. Furthermore, Dantes is viewed only paragraphs later in a positive light by the ship’s owner who praises his actions. If naïve, Dantes is at least shown as competent.

The other words used to describe Dantes are “calmness” and “resolution.” Once more, I love this because it goes completely against my impression that I usually form of Dantes when beginning the book. However, as someone who has read “Monte Cristo” numerous times, I greatly appreciate these once overlooked clues. “Calm” and “resolute” are the very things that Dantes becomes.

Dumas amazingly integrates his later character developments into a description on the first page that works. In a way, these things do fit young Dantes, and each helps establish the character and the opening, but by book’s end, we see that this very opening description also completely offered us a glimpse into who Dantes becomes.

Before going, let me add that I also like the follow up sentence to the BRIEF description of Dantes. Morrell, who figures heavily later in the story calls out to ask Dantes why the ship seems so sad. Rather than the narrator telling us a sad atmosphere exists, we are being shown through dialogue. A technique all writers ought employ.

The subtleties taken to convey and foreshadow the book elevate Dumas’ writing. I am inspired. After this little exercise, I’m determined to work harder to integrate such things into my character descriptions.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Long Awaited Day

February 14 is a glorious day. One which I've been looking forward to since October, eagerly awaiting. I can't say that I've bought a gift or done anything special to prepare for it, but trust me, I definitely knew this day was coming. It has, of course, been on my calendar. Granted, I had to handwrite it in.

Ah, February 14, the glorious day when my Texas Rangers' pitchers and catchers report for spring training baseball, the beginning of the proverbial next year. What, you didn't think I was talking about something else, did you? Right ... well, I want everyone to know that LW will be very well taken care of today. I'd tell you the scoop, but it's a secret (LW might read the blog before tonight!).

Since it's the weekend, I'll spare you my latest writing analogy. Don't worry, though, it'll resurface next week. Anyhow, in way of inspiration, if you've a second, CNN has a great story out on a young man named Daniel Tammet who recites pi to 22,514 decimal places, speaks 12 languages, and has written 2 books. Has anyone read either of his books?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Mary Shelley

So if you’ve followed the blog awhile, you probably know that I am a fan of the English poet, Percy Shelley. Did you know that he was married to Mary Shelley? “Well sure,” you say. “They have the same last name and all. Uh, so?”

For the longest time, I never realized that THE Mary Shelley who wrote Frankenstein was Percy Shelley’s wife. Interesting fact but her life is even more of a story. Yes, authors, truth is stranger than fiction. First, it hardly gets more bizarre than Mary’s mother’s maiden name, Wollestonecraft. If that’s your last name, I’m not saying it is bad, just that it’s a little unusual and long.

She was born in 1797 to a feminist and a radical anarchist philosopher. I wonder how the IRS would feel if I had listed that as my occupation on my 1040 yesterday? Needless to say, I suspect that her home growing up didn’t quite fit into the norm. Even if things were normal, she apparently did not receive much schooling.

Mary must not have cared for her home too much because at age 16, she eloped to Percy against her family’s wishes. Alas, Percy abandoned his wife, Harriett, for them to do so. Harriett then committed suicide killing not only herself but an unborn child. Mary’s father, William Godwin, disowned Mary, or he did until he needed a loan (true – anarchy doesn’t always pay well).

Mary and Percy had a child which died shortly after birth. Percy then drowned. Mary was only 24 and a widow.

Percy had told Mary to write. She and Percy lived in Switzerland for a time next to Lord Byron. What a neighborhood, huh? Anyway, they all sat around one evening composing ghost stories. Mary grew inspired and wrote Frankenstein that very night.

Mary never remarried despite numerous marriage proposals. When asked about it, she said, “I want to be Mary Shelley on my tombstone.” She died in 1851.

I’m sure you can wiki all sorts of extra facts. I gleaned most of this from the introduction found on my old Bantam Classic paperback of Frankenstein.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Talking Heads

At church on Sunday, LW and I listened to an older couple share some secrets on their long marriage. Communication it turns out is, of course, the key to successful marital bliss. I’m sure we authoring types like to think that we have an advantage in that area. What? We can’t write all that we want to say? Uh-oh!

All sorts of clever anecdotal tidbits were offered to illustrate various points on communication, and at one point, the husband mentioned that not all communication is verbalized. In fact, if I’m remembering correctly, he said studies show that people only digest 7% of the words they hear. I suppose we forget the other 93%. No, it’s just that people form the rest of their impressions based on nonverbal cues.

As I pondered that 7% statistic, I was reminded of THS, Talking Head Syndrome. THS happens when your book reads more like a play than a novel. In other words, you’ve all dialogue and no descriptions accompanying your quotes. Readers finish a passage dazed, wondering what the setting is and were the characters standing, etc. The dialogue failed.

Successful dialogue entails much more than conversation. Unlike THS, it involves characters moving and interacting with each other and their surroundings. Consider it this way -- if in real life we’re only taking in 7% of the words spoken, how much of your book do you want based strictly on dialogue?

Eliminate TMS. Utilize nonverbal communication within your novel. Go ahead, add in those sentences about your character sneezing, stomping their foot, rattling their sword, etc. Sometimes, the nonverbal communications your characters give may be much more important than what they are saying. This adds extra depth to your book. Oh, and on a personal note, try to up that 7% when listening to your spouse. It turns out nonverbal communication adds to your marriage as well. ;-)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I did my taxes last night. Now, I have to decide if I should mail/email in my return now or wait. Congress may approve changes that would cause me to re-file, but since I’m in line for a refund, I think I’ll take my chances.

Have you ever considered the reams of paper that the IRS produces? Can you imagine if the IRS had to adhere to a word count? I’m sure someone could write a clever satire on the concept. The instructions and tax code and all the regulations must stretch well over 10 million words. Alas, I’m probably even being conservative.

This concludes my paltry and brief 2008 calendar year tax tribute. I think I’ll see about securing that refund.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mrs. Pollifax Teaches Suspense

One of the books I have going at the moment is Dorothy Gilman’s “Mrs. Pollifax, Innocent Tourist.” I don’t know if you’ve read any of the series or seen the Angela Lansbury TV movie, but the Pollifax books revolve around a grandmotherly ‘Garden Club’ lady who likes wearing hats and who just happens to do side work for the CIA. Part of why I’m reading Mrs. Pollifax is to glean how Dorothy Gilman manages to maintain suspense amidst detailed setting descriptions.

Part of the charm of the Mrs. Pollifax series is its often leisurely pace amidst authentically described foreign countries. For example, in the “Innocent Tourist,” the chapter I finished last night spent several paragraphs describing a Jordan castle. I love this sort of thing, but I kept thinking as I read it that such detail would never survive one of my stories.

How does Gilman do it? I concluded that she gets away with such elaborate descriptions because of the strength of Mrs. Pollifax’s character. As a reader, we are curiously drawn to Mrs. Pollifax’s well-being. I keep wondering what will this quaint little lady say or do in these exotic settings? Will she be okay? Or, will she make some funny comment?

In addition to character, the other technique Gilman utilizes to keep her books moving along is that she inevitably pitches some small unknown out just ahead of her reader. During the “Innocent Tourist” castle scene, readers don’t know when a rendezvous will occur. This missing information leaves us with just enough of a lure to sift through long setting descriptions.

So, when thinking about how to work in a needed setting description, follow Dorothy Gilman’s lead and mix in a lovable character with a little suspense. As Mrs. Pollifax would likely say, “I don’t mind if I do, please.”

Monday, February 9, 2009

Pulling Teeth

To the left shows Buster Dog (aka, #1 son) enjoying Dog Night at the Texas Rangers baseball game last August. He's wearing his favorite ballplayer's jersey, Hank Barks-a-lot. Buster barked when they played "Who Let the Dogs Out" and when the Rangers did something good. He and the other 800 dogs there had a blast, but Buster's favorite part was probably eating a hot dog and an ice cream cone. Yup, he was living the good life back then.

Alas, no more sweets for Buster. Buster had to get a tooth pulled Friday. $200 at the vet later, he's still as cheery as ever, so I suppose all is well. Did I mention that he's part goat? Yeah, ignore that I call him Buster Dog. It's really Buster Goat. The vet said Buster probably loosened the tooth biting a rock. A rock?

So, as Buster can attest, there are worst things than Monday mornings. Uh, tooth pulling, for one. The old saying, 'painful as a root canal' (or whatever variation) made me consider this weekend what I felt was painful about authoring. Granted, I'm unpublished, so I'm sure a whole new set of experiences await me. My top three so far: (3) being stumped on a word choice and wasting time trying to fix a sentence, (2) revising a draft to the point that I can't tell whether it's any good, and (1) receiving limited feedback.

What about you? Just remember, it can't be worse than a Monday morning or a tooth pulling.
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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Wait and Hope

I’m still stuck on Alexandre Dumas, particularly “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Intrigue, betrayal, revenge, justice, romance – the book covers it all, which is probably why it’s one of my favorites.

The book’s last line ranks as one of the greatest ending quotes of all time. Morrell laments that he shall never see the count again. Valentine consoles him saying, “Has not the count just told us that all human wisdom is summed up in two words? – ‘Wait and hope.’

No, Dumas isn’t referring to that query letter you sent in last month. However, as I read through author blog-land, it seems we writers do a great deal of waiting and hoping. I’d say that might speak of our collective wisdom, but unfortunately, many of us put all our hopes in our writing. For some, it ties to self worth. Whether or not one’s book makes it dictates some writer’s contentment and that’s not quite what Dumas would have meant by his words.

In the above passage, the count encourages his young friends to trust in Providence as he had learned to. Why? Well, we could blog all eternity long about the count's belief that God is in control, but the other less evident reason that I'd like to point out is that looking to Providence also helps us take our focus off of ourselves.

So, on this “churchy” Sunday morning, that is my encouragement to those who write. First, keep writing (taking action), but don’t put your faith in what your own hands provide (or write). Do your best but recall that there’s more to life than writing. Oh, and do wait and hope for that acceptance letter.

Enjoy the last of your weekend!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Alexandre Dumas

Today, we pay tribute on The Writing Greek to Alexandre Dumas. In fact, I’ll likely do a couple of more blogs on him in the days to come as aspiring writers can learn a great deal from Mr. Dumas.

First, a brief introduction:
Dumas’ grandmother was a slave, and though his father had at one time been a French general, he fell from Napoleon’s favor and left Dumas with an impoverished childhood. Dumas originally made his own fame and fortune writing plays. Dumas must have been the John Grisham of his day because in a 3 year time period (1844-1846), he wrote "The Count of Monte Cristo," “The Three Musketeers,” “The Nutcracker” (updating a previously morbid version by E. Hoffman), and by my count, about 9 other lesser known works. Later in life, he also compiled a cookbook encyclopedia of sorts that wasn’t published until his death. Alas, he followed his father's footsteps and died broke, having spent all his money on women and a chateau that he named the Monte Cristo.

For more scoop on Dumas, purchase the unabridged Wordsworth Classics version of "The Count of Monte Cristo" as it has a nice footnoted introduction on him. Or, if you must, you can always rely on Wikipedia. Onward we go ...

In the 1840’s, literary works were often published in the newspaper or a magazine, and what you may not realize is that Dumas’ publisher originally intended for him to instead write a series of historical travelogues instead of "The Count of Monte Cristo." Fortunately for us, a rival paper ran a series called, “The Mysteries of Paris,” and Dumas was pressed to write something as equally as entertaining, which at last brings us to the main focus of today’s blog.

Ahem … [Dan coughs and clears his throat, very distinguishedly (new word!)] … Some fourteen years later, in an 1858 writing (“The Companions of Jehu”), Dumas wrote, “I have a twin goal, to educate and to entertain: and I place education first, because for me entertainment has only ever been a way to disguise education.”

Dumas’ statement speaks for itself. It’s rather well put, isn’t it?

It leads me to consider my own writing. I want to entertain, but I also try to educate as well. Since I write historical fantasy, plenty of opportunities exist. The trick, of course, is to make those educational ‘nuggets’ entertaining, an art at which Dumas excelled.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Meyer v. King

Well, since everyone else is weighing in on Stephen King’s attack on Stephenie Meyer, I thought I’d throw in my two cents worth. Alas though, while I can testify to King’s genius (notwithstanding the tasty tidbit of previous criticism pointed out against King by agent Nathan Bradsford in his blog), I have not read any of the Twilight books. At LW’s encouragement (nigh, urging), I began last night.

The first book reads well enough to me. It isn’t as big a deal with today’s gaming systems, but does anyone recall how when the second wave of video games (Nintendo/Sega) came out that they really fell into two categories? The games either excelled in playability (Nintendo) or design (Sega). By design, I mean that the game came loaded with pretty pictures, and while often not as fun to play, looking at all the pretty graphics offset the otherwise lackluster experience.

Gamers either gravitated toward one type or the other. Most people preferred games with high playability. Ah, personal preference – each type had its shortcomings. Looking back at it, however, what gets all the nostalgic praise? It’s not the games with the pretty pictures. The games with high playability rule the day.

See where I’m going with this? Literary critics may detest both Meyer and King, but the numbers don’t lie (excepting, Mr. Madoff’s firm). People like Twilight because it’s readable. If it were a video game, it’d have high playability. Literary works are like those old games that overloaded their playing system with too much graphics. Both make for something pretty to admire. Playing or reading, though? Forget it.

Sorry, Mr. King, but I think you’re fighting a losing battle on this one. Most people don’t buy a book to stare at the flowery prose and pretty words. They buy books they’ll enjoy, and it appears Ms. Meyer can weave quite an entertaining tale. Granted, I’m only at the beginning. More in the days to come …

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Wednesday’s blog heralded my first ever attempt at book reviewing. I survived unscathed. Truthfully, I enjoyed it. Kudos to Barrie Summy for organizing the monthly Book Review Club. Click the typewriter widget on the left to check it out. I counted 23 of us, and I read all 23 of the reviews. This took awhile, but seeing everyone’s different blogs and blog-talking with many of the bloggers made this time well-spent. I already look forward to next time (March 4).

Amidst all my book reviewing, Magical Musing’s Michelle Diener shared the rule of ELLE yesterday.

Enter Late Leave Early

No, I’m not talking about when you go should come and go from work. ELLE helps authors remember that scenes cut to the point. Moreover, they don’t linger (or worse, trail into nothingness).

Hearing about ELLE made me think about Tuesday’s blog on thinking cinematic. In fact, Michelle mentions that Law & Order works off of the ELLE principle. I mention cinematic and a TV show because that’s what the modern reader is accustomed to experiencing. And, people buy (and read) what they are used to seeing. Marketing 101 – the term is ‘branding’.

We’ve all heard enough about branding these days, but it is true. Despite that natural authoring urge to unfurl endless flowery prose, authors must realize that we are all used to action. Old books ease into their stories. New ones don’t, not on their first book to be published, especially.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009


I’ve hijacked today’s regular blog content to participate in Barrie Summy’s monthly Book Review Club. You can find your way to others participating in the book review via Barrie’s snazzy typewriter logo on the left. Confession time – I chose, not one book, but my favorite new (almost five part) series for today’s review, Rick Riordan’s PERCY JACKSON books.

The Olympians meddle with the plot in my book PHAIAKIA and cause all sorts of havoc to my heroes, so I asked Zeus (the head immortal Olympian hombre) if he could do me a favor. Now, in case you’re wondering why he’s so eager to help, Zeus is under the impression that he’ll be shown in a positive light in PHAIAKIA. It’s amazing how vain these immortals can be, but that’s another story. Let’s start the review.

NOTE FOR BLOG READERS: I’ve gone back and bolded the gods’ highpoints as most of them think so highly of their own opinion that they tend to be rather verbose. If you’re in a hurry, just scan the bold text.

ME: First, Mr. Zeus, thank you for setting this up with your, umm … , fellow immortals. I didn’t realize that you were all such avid readers.

ZEUS: I am the greatest of the gods. You’ve written about that, of course. It’s no problem, Da. I’m glad you’ve the smarts to see to it to have me interviewed first.

ME: Actually, it is D.A., and yes, I’ve portrayed you quite favorably. Your thoughts on Rick Riordan’s series?

ZEUS: I figured the books were another drab retelling of Troy and were based in ancient Greece, an old ho-hummer, but Riordan surprised me. How he found out we immortals moved Olympus to Manhattan is beyond me. This mortal has true talent, a writing hero, I’d say.

ME: Is it true that the half-blood heroes have ADHD as the book says?

ZEUS: Of course, it is true. Double check next time you cross one of these mortals. Like Percy Jackson, all demigods have ADHD and dyslexia. It keeps them hardwired for battle ready mode, enhancing their lightning fast reflexes, if I do say. How it took Percy until junior high to figure this out just shows that Percy is Poseidon’s son. Learning you’re related to Poseidon would be a shock to anyone, but mortals like Percy seem to struggle most with it.

POSEIDON: Enough, brother. Percy reveals his true character in the books, all those quests and tests. True, Percy is a little brash and careless at times, but it does him favor as he contends with the rise of our villainous father, Kronos. Mortals should thank the sea, they have such a hero.

ATHENA: You two are hopeless. Were it not for Annabeth, Percy’s friend and my daughter, Percy Jackson would be overmatched. Stay focused. Mr. Riser had asked us for feedback on Mr. Riordan’s book. I am, Mr. Riser, goddess of wisdom. As such, I do appreciate a story with moral fiber. An added plus of Mr. Riordan’s series is that each instructs youth, his intended audience. Knowledge, Mr. Riser, is key. It’s clear to me that Rick Riordan was an excellent Latin teacher before he turned to writing. He certainly knows his mythology and geography.

ME: Thank you, Ms. Athena. Uh, Mr. Zeus, can you please remove that thunderbolt from Poseidon’s neck? The fire sensors here at my work are rather sensitive.

ME: Mr. Hephaistos, I see on your bio that you are god of the forge. You don’t really appear until the fourth book in the series, but what do you feel about the nature of Percy’s quests. Are they realistic?

HEPHAISTOS: Pardon me, I was fixing the wheel on this here rolling chair. Realistic? Yeah, I read all of Rick’s books. Rick even asked me for help on a part or two. I didn’t have to give much as Rick fills these PERCY JACKSON books with ingenious situations, things even a smart creator like me marvel at. Every chapter of every book puts Percy in some creative fix, and even I puzzle at how Percy Jackson will work his way out. Rick is one clever mortal. He does you credit, Athena. Is Rick one of your offspring?

ME: Alright, well, it seems to me that kids and adults alike will enjoy these books and learn lots reading them. Rick Riordan writes all of your immortal histories and such so that they rather seamlessly fit into all the different plots. Mr. Hephaistos, what are some things, besides learning more about Greek mythology, I mean your esteemed selves, that you think mortal readers will come away with after finishing the books?

ZEUS: I’ll take that question. Hephaistos has said his piece, same for you, Athena. Now, I, of course, rule all. Mortals know that so no surprise for them there. Readers do get to learn more about Olympus and some of those minor gods, but most will be surprised to learn little tidbits such as Olympus being atop the Empire State building and the entrance to Hades being in an L.A. recording studio and Daedalus’ labyrinth exiting into a Marriott basement.

POSEIDON: Quiet brother. You will ruin the story for Riordan’s readers.

ME: Thank you, Mr. Poseidon. Perhaps since Percy Jackson is your son, you could give potential readers a quick summary of the books?

POSEIDON: We immortals usually hear about the demigods after trouble at one of the mortal schools. In Percy’s case, he vaporizes his math teacher on a field trip to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. She was one of the Furies so no loss there, but the ‘accident’ results in Percy’s first visit to Camp Half-Blood. It’s over on Long Island for those that don’t know. Zeus stuck Dionysus there as the camp counselor, and all the young demigods split into their family houses for hero training. I suppose it to be a good place for them to learn, if they survive. Zeus caused quite a stir making Percy’s first summer there a bit more life threatening than usual. Percy had to roadtrip with his friends across the US.

ZEUS: Don’t blame me for Riordan’s misinterpreting my feelings in the matter. Percy Jackson has since faced more problems than my wrath. The final book, the one due in May, has the fate of the whole world resting on Percy’s shoulders as he takes on Father Kronos. He’s had to cope with more than Camp Half-Blood.

ME: I guess that does it. Thanks, Mr. Zeus and team, for participating in Barrie’s Book Review Club with me. It sounds like we are all fans of Rick Riordan’s PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS series.

That concludes my first book review with Zeus and his Olympians. You will love Rick Riordan’s clever YA fantasy series with its loveable characters and continual thrills. Mr. Riordan writes these funny, fast-paced, first person narrated books with a delightful blend of myth and pop-culture that will effortlessly engage and amuse readers from ages 10 and up. Each scene always outdoes the last and the characters grow with each book. You finish without even realizing you’ve learned so much or become so attached to Percy and his friends. Just be careful as you read. Like Percy Jackson, you might start looking around you for a centaur or demigod in hiding.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Think Cinematic

With Blackberries and Tweeter and all, attention spans have to be worse now than in 1990. I read in Linda Seger’s book on characters (written in 1990) that today’s readers don’t want to start off reading a lengthy section of book concerning your character’s childhood. I suppose exceptions occur. David EddingsBelgariad series comes to mind. Ms. Seger says that while contemporary authors no longer have this luxury, 19th century authors (I’m thinking Dickens) often spent a good part of a story on their character’s childhood.

No wonder all those old classics seem so rich in detail and character. I’ll confess that I’m a sucker for Dickens and Dumas. I love getting into a character and seeing them develop and knowing what they have overcome and how they came to be. Apparently, all this still remains necessary for authors to know and write, just not in what you aspire to have published. Draft out the minute details and backstory you want about your characters, but then leave it behind. Skip straight to the action. Ms. Seger suggests that authors think cinematic.

Movies cannot afford to spend time showing their characters’ past. Those that do (I’m thinking Fantastic Four) risk making a movie that lacks an ending. Movies begin at the heart of the story. Doing so forces them, at least the good ones, anyway, to focus upon abridged character development. This usually translates to characters beginning with flaws or having circumstance quickly dictate or create a problem for the character early in the film.

Most books today have followed suit. It never dawned on me until seeing Ms. Seger’s comment why I liked the old classics more than today’s books. Still, it makes sense. Everything is in a hurry these days, even a leisure like reading must get to the point. Authors writing for an audience must give their readers what they want.

Historical fiction and fantasy writers probably struggle with the cinematic concept more than any. Oddly, it isn’t so much because of the character development, but because these authors utilize this time to construct their book’s world. The counter to this is proper planning. As I can attest, it is much easier to integrate setting details into the heart of your book during the planning phase rather than having to do so after wrestling said details from an omitted ‘character development’ section.

Think cinematic as you write and do your planning. Doing so will at least condense your story to its strongest points. Write well enough, and your characters won’t suffer. After all, I’m sure you can think of a few good movie characters.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Strange But True

I hope you enjoyed the fabulous finish to the Super Bowl’s entertaining 4th quarter yesterday. I doubt any author could have written such an ending. Isn’t it strange how real life so often outmaneuvers fiction for sheer unbelievability?

The same real life drama, of course, makes historical fiction alluring for me. I love finding true stories from the history books or what not and mulling over potential stories to write from those little overlooked hard-to-believe-but-true snippets. The premise for PHAIAKIA comes from mythology and the legendary Homer. Nonetheless, PHAIAKIA captures some history. People treat elements of the “Odyssey” as fact, right?

The truth of it is that no one would have believed it if the Cardinals had won. Reality is strange but not imposterous. Yes, I can say that as a long-suffering Texas Rangers fan. So, congratulations to the Pittsburgh Steelers on a great game. As a Cowboys fan, I’m a little envious this morning of that 6th Lombardi trophy. And, yes, I was going for the Cardinals.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Woodworking is my dad's hobby and seeing the cabinets yesterday that he's building for his bathroom reminded me of the entertainment center (pictured above) he built for LW and me a couple of years ago. Its carpentry utilizes all sorts of fancy woodworking handiwork. As I'm much more of an amateur woodworker, I'd probably miss pointing out some of the intricate, detailed work if I tried explaining its finer points. It would certainly take a carpenter to appreciate the depth of its craftsmanship. I can tell you that the entertainment center looks good. I just would be at a loss to explain exactly why.

Don't worry, you didn't stumble into a carpentry blog. What I realized today about writing does, however, relate to woodworking. My dad can glance at a piece of wooden furniture and tell you all sorts of details about it that escape me (such as the type of stain, the grain of the wood, things like the dovetails, etc.).

A trained eye for writing like that of an agent or editor possesses the same quick, discernment for a piece of literature. They don't need to spend much time looking at someone's work to tell if they know what they're doing or not.

A good carpenter doesn't leave a nail showing or a gap in his cabinetry. Just the same, an author that wants to be published doesn't commit certain sins. Learning those and weeding those from one's writing takes time, but any profession takes time to master. My dad has spent years honing his woodworking skills.

Keep the end in mind as you struggle at times writing. One day it'll be nice to look back at your finished work with pride. I'm sure your story will end up as good looking and as appreciated as my entertainment center. Keep whittling away!