Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Happy Channukah!

Happy Solstice!

Happy Yule!

Happy Christmas!

Happy Kwanza!

Happy! Happy! Happy! New Year!

May all your goals and dreams come true.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Maintaining The Momentum

My son recommended a fantasy trilogy to me. With some misgivings as I haven't had a lot of luck finding enjoyable books in the fantasy section of the bookstore, I bought the boxed set.

The first book was great. I stayed up all night reading it until I finished it. I was all set to come on here and rave about the great new author that I found, then I read the second book. And it didn't hold my interest the way the first one did; I kept putting it down for awhile and then going back to it. Then I started reading the third book; I'm halfway through and I haven't picked it up in several days.

Being the analytical person that I am, I analyzed my experience.

The reason I had trouble sitting and reading the second book was because one plotline was too intense. The main character of that plotline was in mortal danger with no hope of rescue or getting himself out of the situation. The one who was going to rescue him was mucking around totally oblivious to the danger his friend is in. So the story flipped back and forth between him in mortal danger and his friend skipping around having a jolly good time. I felt like shouting "Would someone in this story please go tell him to rescue his friend!" He finally does, but jeez Louise until he does the tension was more than I could stand.

Tension in a story is good. It keeps the reader reading the book, but too much tension and they will put the book down. But how much tension is too much tension is going to vary with the reader. For me, it is too much when there is no hope or hint of rescue.

The bad guy was defeated in the second book. So in the third book, the major players in that conflict are heading off in different directions. There are seven plotlines in the book and I have no idea what the overall story is. It looks to me like they are unrelated. I have no idea where the story is going or how it all fits together.

But what made me set the book down the last time is that one of the characters that I really sympathize with is going to die. It's a character that really doesn't deserve to die. The injustice of that on top of not knowing where the story is going is what made me set the book down. I could handle an innocent dieing if I could see that it made sense in the big picture of the story, but since I can't see the big picture it doesn't make sense for her to die.

I don't know if I'll finish reading the book. And I don't know if I'll buy another one of this author's books. I'll probably borrow it from the library.

If you're wondering, it's Brent Weeks' Night Angel Trilogy.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Silk For Moisture, Mud for Shine by Amanda C. Davis

Silk for Moisture, Mud for Shine by Amanda C. Davis was in the Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror Special Edition of Emerald Tales: Follow the Butterflies. It is now published by Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine Episode 116. So if you missed it when Emerald Tales was in print, now is your chance to listen to it. You can find it here.

Off on a tangent, I think I was the first to publish a short story written by Aubrie Dionne and yesterday she had a book signing in Barnes and Noble for her first novel Paradise 21. (If I am wrong about this Aubrie, mea culpa) And Jason Flum who I know I published his first short stories has an agent. And as I see these wonderful things happening for the newbies that I published, I can't help but smile. It's a great feeling to see you all go on to bigger and better things. I feel the way a first grade teacher must feel when one of her students wins the Nobel Prize or become President of the USA.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Don't take my word for it

This is not a religious post, though I am going to use something the Buddha said as a springboard. You don't have to be a Buddhist to use it.

One of the things Buddha told his first disciples is do not accept what I say because I said it. Check it out for yourself. If it makes sense to you, then keep it. If it does not make sense to you, then do not adopt it.

This approach not only to religion, but all other aspects of one's life as well is very good advice to follow.

Sticking just with publishing, if one of the top agents suggests something but it doesn't sound right to you, then check it out. If after thorough examination you still don't agree with what they said, then set it aside. The same goes for any industry bigwig or those advertising themselves as experts. Check them out. Thoroughly.

We're all human. We all have our blind spots, pet peeves, and personal crusades. We can be right about one thing, but absolutely wrong about another. From the top of the publishing food chain to the bottom, you will find people who know what they are talking about most of the time but not all of the time.

This includes me. Don't accept what I say here because I have a small publishing company or because I state my opinions rather strongly. Check it out. If what I say doesn't make sense to you or your don't agree with me, then don't take my opinion on as one of your own. Because I could be wrong or I might not have been clear trying to express my thoughts.

Be a skeptic.

Monday, October 31, 2011

An Analogy: The Blair Witch Project

Back in 1999 the horror film The Blair Witch Project was released. Even though it was all shot with amateur video cameras, it had phenomenal success. One of the things that I remember reading at the time was that it was the death of the movie industry. Aspiring filmmakers could use amateur cameras to bring their movies to fruition and the internet to market their films. The film companies would be no more, fallen under the onslaught of aspiring filmmakers with cinematic vision but no connections or money.

It didn't happen. The big film production companies are still here and making movies. One look at some of the amateur videos on youtube and it is easy to understand why. It takes more than access to a cheap camera and the internet to make a good movie that people want to watch. It takes talent and skill and luck.

And so here we are with Kindle Direct Publishing. It's going to revolutionize the publishing industry. The publishing industry has been democratized. It's a death knell for the big six. They're going to die under the onslaught of those with artistic vision who have been denied publication by the gatekeepers...

It takes more to become a successful author than access to a computer and uploading your story to Kindle Direct. It takes talent and skill and luck.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lightening things up

Wow, I've been way too serious lately. It's time to lighten things up around here with Hilarious Muppet Bloopers. Especially watch to around the 2 minute mark. (Seriously, you'll be glad that you did.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mirror Thinking

I came across this concept, mirror thinking, while reading a thriller written by W.E.B. Griffin. Mirror thinking is when you think a person will react to a situation the same way that you would. And in the intelligence field it is a very dangerous way to think, because it does not take into consideration a wide range of differences in the way humans react to the same situation.

I find it a rather interesting concept. I have noticed it in my interactions with others; I just never had a name for the phenomena. I've noticed it primarily when I have someone squawking at me about something I supposedly did that leaves me wondering WTF they're talking about. Further reflection usually leads to the conclusion that it's either what they would do in that situation or they're imposing their experience onto my world. (A rather dangerous exercise as there are many days that I wonder what planet I come from. It doesn't seem to be Earth.)

This kind of thinking can give a writer trouble. If their characters respond the way they would respond in a given situation, then they're not going to end up with a rich diversity of characters in their stories. The characters will all be some version or aspect of the writer or the way the writer would like to be.

Something to think about.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Literary vs. Bestselling Fiction

One thing that I have noticed over these past few years is the snark coming from both sides of the literary (Bestsellers are hackneyed drivel that I can't bear to read) vs. bestseller (Literary fiction is suckitudunous fiction) divide. I will confess that I was in the literary fiction sucks camp for awhile, but after contemplation on the subject I've changed my stance. It's interesting because both sides are right and both sides are wrong.

Bestselling fiction tends to be short, sweet, and to the point. Literary fiction tends to let the story unfold with a bit more exposition and exploration of words and expressions. Bestselling fiction focuses more on what is said and literary fiction on how it is said. Where the reader's interest lays determines which kind they will prefer.

People read and think differently. Some people need more words in an explanation. Some people need fewer words in an explanation. Some people would prefer a picture to a verbal explanation. And because of that, they're preference in reading will lean more towards one than the other. Here are a couple of examples from my personal experience to illustrate this point.

Years ago I worked in a research lab. Among my other duties was data collection and analysis. I would take the data and draw these beautiful graphs for the research papers which my boss was writing. To me, it was obvious what the graphs meant. I had everything labeled. There were no ambiguities in the presentation. I would take them in and lay them on the edge of my boss's desk while she was working. I would not get to the door, before she was calling after me: "Diana, get back here and explain these to me." Needless to say she wasn't a "math" person. She wasn't stupid either as she went to an Ivy League Medical School.

More recently in a discussion with my brother, he interrupted me and went tearing off on a tangent. I stopped him with, "You know what I meant." He stopped, thought about it for a minute, then said, "No, I don't know what you meant." See, he needed more words in my explanation. I think one of the reasons we get frustrated with each other when having a conversation is because I think he's too long-winded and apparently, I don't explain things well enough for him. Even though it is my job as his sister to tell him when he says something stupid, he really isn't. He's actually quite brilliant when it comes to law and politics.

So three different people, three different ways of taking in information. Intelligence has nothing to do with it. It's personal preference and inclination.

I have come to the following conclusions:

If you want to write bestselling fiction, then get beta-readers and editors who prefer reading bestselling fiction. They're going to tell you where the story lags, where it's too fast, where they got lost, and all the other marks of bestselling fiction.

If you want to write literary fiction, then get beta-readers who prefer reading literary fiction. They'll tell you where the writing is "hackneyed", where there is a preponderance of purple prose, what needs more explanation, and all the other characteristics of literary fiction.

What brought this one was a post by K C Shaw linking to this blog post by Harry Connolly about the cancellation of his series Twenty Palaces. Specifically the section where he talks about the reviews he got from readers who bought his books. Based on those reviews, I would guess that there weren't many people who prefer reading bestsellers in the review and editing chain for his books. If there had been, then they would have caught those things and he could have edited the stories into a bestseller.

His blog post is heartbreaking to read, and I think it could have been prevented with editing and review from people who prefer reading bestsellers.

ETA: Many of the traditionally published fantasy novels tend to be more literary in style than bestselling. While technically they aren't literary novels, in style they fit more in the literary camp than the bestselling camp.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Steal This Idea

I got this great idea the other day, toyed with it a bit, realized that I don't want to do it, but it is still a great idea, so I'm sharing it with you. It's not a story idea, so feel free to steal it and make it your own.

A SELF-PUBLISHING CO-OP

A group of writers who want to self-publish their work form a cooperative to do all the other work that needs to be done to self-publish. So a few people edit the books, someone does the marketing for all the books, someone does all the bookcover designs, someone does all the proofreading, etc. Then a small percent comes out of every books sales and goes to the coop which is then divided equally amongst the members.

It's becoming easier and more acceptable to self-publish one's work. The drawback for the writer is the amount of time and money that must be spent in editing, marketing, cover design, etc. If you ask Amanda Hocking, she'll tell you that it is a lot of work. But if you got a group together and pooled your talents and resources, then it wouldn't be so much work.

If you think this is a great idea, then feel free to steal it and take it to your friends for discussions. And if you do form a co-op, let me know and I'll talk it up here or let you talk it up here in a guest post.

Monday, October 10, 2011

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

Back in the 1970's and 1980's Virginia Slims had an ad campaign pointing out how far woman had come in their fight for equal rights. This is an ad from 1980:



We've come even farther since then. Recently I've read a couple of books which were written in the 1970's; Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey and a couple of early books by Clive Cussler. I find it rather interesting to read them now as they do reflect the times we lived in back when they were written.

Take Dragonsong, the story is about Menolly, a musical genius, who wants to be harper, but is told by everyone that she can't. "Girls can't be harpers." "Don't get above yourself doing a man's work." "We're embarrassed and ashamed that we had to let a girl take over the teaching duties." And other absolute nonsense that only a troglodyte would believe. What makes this interesting to me is that at the time it was written, there were a lot of people who were like Menolly's parents. Who firmly believed that women were stupid and couldn't be doctors or lawyers or engineers. If you want to get a glimpse of what those days were like from a female's point of view, then this book shows it.

From the male point of view, we have Clive Cussler. Now I have to say that his Dirk Pitt character of recent vintage and his other male characters have seen the light and don't treat women like simpleton's. But in his earliest novels of Dirk Pitt, Dirk drinks like a fish, smokes like a chimney, and is such a male chauvinist pig that I want to reach into the book and slap some sense into him. In one scene, Dirk actually patted the Admiral's secretary on the butt and told her to be a good girl. Can you say sexual harassment lawsuit? ... But I wouldn't ask Clive Cussler to revise the story and make it more politically correct, because it shows the prevalent male attitude towards women at the point in time.

Back in January of this year, they released a cleaned up version of "The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain. They removed the "n-word" (<--- see we can't even say the word to talk about it. It's become so taboo.) At the time that this happened, there was some outrage and discussion but I didn't say anything.

But now having reread these other books, I think it is wrong to change a book just to make it more palatable to a politically correct audience. Because they show not tell the reader what it was like at the time the book was written. And that I think is valuable.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

This book, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, has been out for ten years so you may have heard of it, even if you haven't read it. I highly recommend at least borrowing a copy from the library and reading it.

Maass is a literary agent. What he has done is analyze bestselling books, compare them to the rest, and come up with the differences between what makes a bestselling novel and not. His insights are especially useful if you have a completed novel that you're editing. In fact, many of the exercises in his book assume you have a completed manuscript. There's a workbook that you can also purchase if you decide to follow his advice.

The vast majority of my favorite authors are bestselling authors. When I read through Writing the Breakout Novel, I could pull examples from bestsellers that I had read and see the truth of what he discovered. If part of your goal is to write a bestseller, then I think this book would be valuable to you in your quest.

If after reading the book, you decide that it doesn't work for you or your story, that's okay. At least you're coming from a position of choice and not ignorance.

(I think I'm supposed to put a disclaimer here whenever I recommend a book or product. Any book that I recommend here was either personally purchased by me or borrowed from the library. I don't receive any renumeration from the authors.)

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Perfection Monster

I drew a picture of the Perfection Monster. I was going to post it here so you could print it out and throw things at it when it showed up at your door and start throwing monkey wrenches into your creative endeavors, but alas, the picture isn't perfect...

I'm sure you've met the Perfection Monster before. He comes and sits on your shoulder while you are writing or creating something and says helpful things like:
"That's stupid."
"You stink as a writer. Just give up now."
"That's not going to work."
hahahahahahahahahahaha ... "You can't be serious" *snort* *guffaw*
"Bleah, what a lame idea."

The Perfection Monster is a valuable friend to have during the editing phase of writing. But during the creative phase, I tell him to shut up and go sit in the corner until I have finished the first draft, otherwise I would never get it done.

Some one suggested that I should be nicer to him and tell him to go have a beer or two until I'm done. But mine is mean and contrary. He requires a strong, no nonsense attitude to keep him quiet.

The Perfection Monster: Can't create with him, can't edit without him.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Two Dogs Dining

The monkeys got things straightened out on youtube so I can now share this with you.

Two Dogs Dining



Is that cool or what? :)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

*Insert Witty Title Here*

So. This past year has been spent reflecting on what I want to do next in my life. Last December I took a break from all forums, facebook, and twitter. It took a month or so for my creativity to start coming back, but it did. Now my mind is racing with new ideas for stories, for drawings, for paintings, for crafty things, for new adventures. YeeHaw! What impossible dream do I want to pursue next?

As I stood here poised for my next big adventure in life, I realized that I needed to tie up a few loose ends.

With Emerald Tales and Crystal Codices, I achieved what I set out to achieve. I published stories and poetry that I thought should be published, and I gave a boost to a few writers who had never been published before. Making money was never my goal for those publications.

Then Amazon launched its Kindle Direct Publishing which is a much better way to publish those longer short stories than I was doing. If you can't find a market for your short stories then I highly recommend that you consider Kindle Direct Publishing.

Being a publisher is not something that I always had a burning ambition to do. It was an idea that I had about five years ago, and I made that idea a reality. Mission accomplished, but do I want to continue? The answer to that question was no. There are aspects of publishing that I really don't enjoy. And I suck at marketing.

So with the contracts almost all expired, I've decided to permanently close to all submissions. I'm not closing the company, yet. I still have Mette Pesonen's The Annals of Hypnosia in print until next April. And maybe I'll take it off in a different direction down the road.

As for this blog, I'll still post random musings about writing and funny videos when I find them.


I was going to post a youtube video of two dogs dining, but I got an error message. I'm wondering if the drunk monkeys in the previous video are involved as I got the following error message:
500 Internal Server Error

Sorry, something went wrong.

A team of highly trained monkeys has been dispatched to deal with this situation.

If you see them, show them this information:
lyanjFHp7u7cznRGW3_ZMrfPSrndv_dq7k5AtggT89Gv_gxXcOQ1H9trwV8F
... a thousand more letters redacted

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Post-it Note Wars

I saw this on CNN dot com: Post-it Note Wars Rage in Paris

At the beginning of August, employees of Ubisoft, a French computer gaming company, put up an image from Space Invaders in their office window. The next day, BNP the largest bank in France and across the street from Ubisoft put up a Pacman in their window. And now across Paris, office windows are decorated with images created with Post-It notes.

They have a website of photos taken of the windows. You can find it at www.postitwar.com Some of the images are amazing.

My personal favorite is this one. It's in Amsterdam not Paris. The juxtaposition of classic European architecture with post-it images in the windows just tickles my funny bone.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Because caring is sharing

If you were wondering why I sometimes post things that are way off the topic of writing and publishing like elephant polo and led sheep, it's because a story idea popped into my head when I saw it. Since caring is sharing, I share them here with you. If it gets the creative juices flowing, then my work is done. If all you do is smile, then my work is also done. :)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Landfall in Norway?

This is a screenshot that I pulled from the National Hurricane Center. It shows the potential track of Hurricane Katia.



If the storm does as it is predicted to, then it will bypass the US, brush Scotland and make landfall in Norway. And while it will be called a posttropical cyclone, the strength of the wind will be the same as for a category one hurricane.

With all the extreme weather that we've had this year, I thought that we would have something extreme in the hurricane season. Hurricane Irene causing so much destruction in Vermont was strange enough, but this possible landfall in Norway (Norway ?!? WTF?!?) takes the cake.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Extreme Sheep Art

Mix a flock of sheep, LED lights, some shepherds, and a camera, and you get this:

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Tough Guide to FantasyLand by Diana Wynne Jones

I heard about this book several years ago as a must have for anyone writing fantasy. I finally borrowed a copy from the library several months ago. It was so funny that I ordered a copy from the bookstore.

Even if your only knowledge of fantasy is The Lord of the Rings movie, I think you'll find this book really funny to read. And that is a bit odd because it is organized like a dictionary, but I read it front to back occassionally stopping because I couldn't breathe as I was laughing so hard.

A small taste of what's inside:

CLOTHING. Although this varies from place to place, there are two absolute rules:
1. Apart from ROBES, no garment thicker than a SHIRT ever has sleeves.
2. No one ever wears SOCKS.
See also CLOAKS, COSTUME, and KNITTING.


The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones; put it on your books to buy list.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Plot or Sequence of Events?

Recently I read a bit of historical fiction set during World War II. One of the subplots of the book got me to thinking about plot and the difference between plot and a sequence of events.

To summarize it, two pairs of nazi spies sneak into Jacksonville, Fl then proceed to create chaos by blowing things up. One pair heads west blowing things up until one of them screws up the timer. The bomb goes off early killing that pair. The other pair heads north blowing things up until one of them gets involved with a mob prostitute. An altercation with her mob boss ends up with the pair of spies being killed. Game over.

The thing is even though the bad guys end up dead and thus stopped from creating further chaos, the telling of it doesn't feel satisfying to me. There was no one actively trying to catch them. Those who were looking into the bombings dismissed it as not being the work of nazi spies. These spies did not have a goal that they were trying to achieve other than wander around the continental US and blow things up. And they encountered no real obstacles, in terms of local law enforcement, blowing up their targets. If these guys hadn't run into misfortune, they would still be running around blowing things up today with no one having a clue that they were doing so.

So what this really is is the telling of a sequence of events like one would read in a history book and not a plot or a story. And what turns a sequence of events into a plot or a story is having a goal and having obstacles to that goal. Otherwise what you get is they went here, they went there, they did this, they did that; all of it without purpose and no reason to keep reading unless one finds a recounting of events fascinating.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Tour de Turtles

Tour de Turtles: It's a sea turtle marathon race. "Created by Sea Turtle Conservancy, with help from sponsors and partners, this event follows the marathon migration of sea turtles, representing different species, from their nesting beaches to their foraging grounds. 2011 is the fourth year of the TdT and will follow the migration of 15 sea turtles, representing four different species."

If you have kids or know someone who has kids or if you're a kid at heart, this is pretty cool. You can find out all about it here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

"Your Life is Never Going to be the Same Again"

Watch this video of Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr's audition for America's Got Talent:



Surprising, isn't it? Not at all what you expect when you hit play. Even though we've seen it before with Susan Boyle and then the Korean man a few weeks ago, we still don't expect to hear that quality of voice. They come out of obscurity and blow you away with their talent.

As Howie said here, "Your life is never going to be the same again."

I guess I admire them because they didn't give up hope. How many people in similar situations to theirs have given up their dreams and their hope for a better life?

Don't give up. Never give up on your dreams.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Crows on the Beach

Hopefully, you can see this. Four crows on the beach.




What is odd about this is that crows are not shorebirds. They usually live in trees and are scavangers. Normally, you'll see them in parking lots where people have dumped trash on the ground.

But these guys are mutant crows. Not only are they hanging out on the beach, but they are eating coquina, a tiny bivalve sort of like a clam. They must have learned how to do this by watching the plovers or sandpipers, because they run out when the water recedes, grab a coquina, then somehow manage to crack it open with their beak.

They're rather amusing to watch, because they don't like getting their feet wet. If they don't pay attention and a wave rolls in around their feet, they launch themselves into the air. You can almost hear them saying, "Ack! Wet feet! Wet feet!"

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Book Country

A few days ago on the Do Some Damage blog there was a guest post about a new site called Book Country.

Penguin launched the website. It is intended to help unpublished writers of genre fiction hone their skills. It's worth a look. You can find it here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Attitude

I've been thinking about Lesli's response to my previous post. Particularly the part about the difficulty in starting a conversation with someone about art, books, poetry, etc. and hearing "No, because I'm just too stupid/uncultured/ignorant for that sort of thing!"

There is an insidious pervasive attitude in our culture to tear down and sneer at anything that is popular or light. My six year old nephew would say, "They got an attitude." It's cool to sneer at Twilight, Rowling, bestselling authors, Britney Spears, Celine Dion, pop music, Disney, etc.

If you're like me one of those uncool people who happens to enjoy those things, then when someone asks you about books, art, poetry, you're going to say, "No, because I'm just too stupid/uncultured/ignorant for that sort of thing!" Because who wants to get sneered at?

A few days ago, I met my brother's new girlfriend. At one point, we were both sitting on the couch reading (me a book. her her kindle.) So I asked her about the kindle. And then we started talking about books we liked. And at the beginning it was like two cats cautiously circling each other waiting for the other one to pounce, because we both like popular books, the ones you find on the bestseller lists, and we were waiting to see if the other one was going to sneer. Once we figured out that we had similar taste in books and authors and that the other one wasn't going to sneer at what we liked, we had a great conversation about books.

And you know what? Lesli is right. It is damn hard to start a conversation about books. That was the first time in a very long time that I had had a decent conversation about books. And even if it had turned out that we didn't like the same kind of books, I think we would have had a good conversation anyway, because neither one of us was going to sneer at the other.

Those that sneer at what others like cut themselves off from hearing what those others might have to say. If we're going to have good conversations with an exchange of ideas, then the sneering has to stop.

If someone wants to play around with alternative art forms, pushing the edge of the envelope, that's fine. And if you enjoy that kind of thing, that's fine. Just don't get an attitude about it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Emporer's New Painting: Clarification of previous post

My last post about the seven year old winning a prestigious art contest probably felt like it came out of left field to most of you, but it is something that I've been thinking about for the past several months. What has happened in the world of literature is similar to what has happened in the world of art.

Up until the 20th century, anyone could look at a painting, fresco, sculpture, etc. and tell whether what they were looking at was done by a master artist or a student. Monet, Surat, Michaelangelo, Leonardo, Reynolds, etc. are master artists. No one has to tell you that, all you have to do is look at what they did and tell it was art.

Then we got into the 20th century and artists slapped their names on urinals and called it art. Or they laid out huge canvases, swung paint cans around slinging paint onto the canvas, and called it art. And now we have to have art connoisseurs, gallery owners, and art museum curators to tell us which contemporary artists are great and which are not. With the added bonus that you're an idiot if you can't tell how great these contemporary artists are. And if you like the work of Thomas Kincade or Christian Reise Lassen, then you're an ignorant slob with no taste or style.

I'm sorry. If I look at a painting and it looks like a drunk monkey was handed a paint brush, then it isn't great art. While Leilah Poulain's painting of a penguin is really good for a six year old, it belongs on her mom's refrigerator not hanging in a prestigious art gallery. This is a wake up call to the leaders of the art world: I hope they answer it.

As for how this relates to the literary world, a similar thing has happened in literature. Prior to the 20th century, you could tell whether you were reading a good story or poem.

Now we have fiction with no plot, no theme, no characters, no point... Existential, stream of consciousness brain barf that we're told is brilliant. If you can't tell how brilliant it is, then you're an ignorant, illiterate slob with no style or taste.

"And how dare the bookstores put my great literary masterpiece on the same shelf as bestselling novels written by talentless hacks."

Yeah. Right. I can't wait for the literati to get its wake-up call.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Looks Like Something a Six Year Old Painted

When I was a teenager, my family took a trip to Washington DC. My dad and my brother snickered and chuckled throughout the Smithsonian Museum of Modern Art. Personally, I agreed with their assessment, but I wasn't so lacking in decorum as to let anyone know how "unsophisticated" I am.

I love art. But looking at what the hip-cool-with-it art connoisseurs gush about has me biting my lip so as not to giggle. Because quite frankly a lot of it looks like a drunk monkey was handed a paint brush.

At last, I have validation that those hip-cool-with-it art snobs are out of touch with reality: "Seven Year Old Girl's Painting in Top Art Gallery"

I'm really not surprised.

It shouldn't be too long before a seven year old receives a Pulitzer prize for literature.

Korea's Got Talent

This is subtitled, but worth watching.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Mother Nature

Is it just me or has Mother Nature been throwing a temper tantrum?

Record snowfall, earthquake in New Zealand, earthquake and tsunami in Japan, record flooding, record tornadoes, record heat wave. And jeez a tornado in Massachusetts?!?

Wednesday was June 1st and the beginning of hurricane season and what did we have? A tropical disturbance that formed off the coast of North Carolina and then made a beeline southwest to Florida, the exact opposite direction that hurricanes usually track.

And while the rest of the eastern US is melting in 90 plus degree weather, down here on the Space Coast we're having lovely weather in the 80's. Warm enough for this native Floridian to go swimming but not so hot that you sweat when you're standing still in the shade.

Does anyone know any rituals for pacifying Mother Nature?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Troubles for the Obama Motorcade in Ireland

This is too funny not to share:

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Eighty Years Ago

Today is my mom's 80th birthday. It's amazing how much different the world is today compared to the day she was born.

She was born in "the front room" of the house not in a hospital. The house did not have electricity, running water, or indoor plumbing. They cooked on a woodburning stove. Their source of heat in the winter was a fireplace. Water came from a well.

My grandfather was a tenant farmer. He had a mule that he used for plowing the cotton fields. They grew or raised almost all of their food.

They didn't have a car, so they walked almost everywhere they wanted to go. If the distance was too far to walk, then they rode the bus between towns.

No telephone. No television. No internet. No microwave oven. No air conditioning. No washer and dryer. No vacuum cleaner. No computers. No video games. Nothing that requires electricity to run.

For entertainment they read books, so it wasn't all bad.

Technology is changing the world so rapidly. I wonder what it will be like when I reach my 80th birthday. Personally, I'm hoping they get the Star Trek transporter thing figured out. Wouldn't it be cool to beam over to Paris for dinner or down to the Caribbean to go snorkeling? :)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Princess Goes Grocery Shopping

Yesterday, the Huffington Post reported the earth-shattering, world changing news that Prince William's new wife went grocery shopping on Thursday. They picked up the report from The Daily Mail. I'm rather disappointed that the irrelevant news coming out of Pakistan took up so much space that they couldn't print an inventory of her shopping cart... Sigh... And so it begins...

I think most women would jump at the chance to marry a real prince or at least into a royal family, but I think the reality of Kate's experience would be that some aspects of it sucks rotten, royal bananas.

Think about it.

All you want to do is run out to the grocery store and pick up a few things. If you're a regular person like me, you just grab your car keys and go. If you're Princess Kate, you got to put on stylish clothes, fix your hair, do your makeup, and round up the bodyguards just to go to the grocery store and pickup some Diet Coke. A quick trip becomes a major expedition. Sheesh

And what if you need to make a trip down the feminine products aisle... with bodyguard in tow... EEK!

I'm not sure the perks would be worth the aggravation.

But aren't you glad that The Daily Mail and The Huffington Post are working night and day to bring us important news events such as this?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Story a Day Writing Challenge

Short story writers, May is Story a Day writing challenge month. The rules are simple. Write a finished story every day in May. You can read the details here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pacing

I've been thinking about pacing in a story and what effects the pace of a story. Here are my thoughts:

Sentence Structure
Short sentences are fast.
Long sentences with many many adjectives, adverbs, and other additional words can be slower than brown molasses in a cold, wet January to read, so that by the time that you get to the end of the long and convoluted sentence, you've completely lost the thought that the sentence was trying to convey to you and you have to go back and read the sentence again to figure out just what the author was trying to say. Where was I?

Passive versus Active voice
I was writing this blog post reads slower than I wrote this blog post.

Description
A catalogue of descriptors reads slower than descriptors which move and act.

She sat on a soft, blue chair in the living room. The living room was lined with bookshelves. A television, dvd player, and VCR sat on top of one of the bookshelves. The window had sheer curtains. The carpet was brown. The walls were white.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ... yawn ... where was I?

In the living room, she lounged on a soft, blue chair. Books marched with military precision across the shelves lining one white wall. Sheer curtains fluttered in the breeze while the TV, DVD player, and VCR perched precariously on top of the bookshelves. A good stiff wind would knock them to the brown carpet waiting below.

Bah! That was crap, too, but I think you get the picture.

Backstory

Similar to description, backstory which catalogues past events is slower than backstory which is active in the narrative.

Tension

This can be tension between two characters anywhere from a friendly debate between two friends to having Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in the same room.

Tension can also come from the environment. Dorothy following the yellow brick road is not as tense as Dorothy in the spooky forest. (Though horror writers can follow the butterflies on a bright and sunny day and have the reader hiding under the bed in fright.)

If nothing is happening and there is no hint that something could happen at any moment, then there is no tension. (Previously mentioned horror writers usually have some hint that things are not as it should be while following the butterflies on a bright and sunny day.)

Putting it all together

If you want to speed things up, then use shorter sentences with active verbs, ratchet up the tension, leave the backstory out, and make your descriptors move.

If you want to slow things down, then take the reader on a long and convoluted journey following butterflies on a bright and sunny day while passively cataloguing everything in the environment and the entire backstory of one of the minor characters.

Did I miss anything which effects pacing?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hoppy Easter!

Hoppy Easter!

For your Easter Sunday entertainment: US Marines Lip sync to Britney Spears "Hold it Against me" :)



And don't forget tomorrow all the left over chocolate easter bunnies and marshmallow peeps will be on sale. A good time for chocoholics to stock up.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Battle With Inertia

The last installment in The Annals of Hypnosia, Battle With Inertia, is now up.

Something is wrong in the land of Hypnosia. It's too quiet. Join Serafyr as he investigates the cause of this disturbing phenomena here.

If you missed previous installments in The Annals of Hypnosia, then go here.

I hope you've enjoyed reading The Annals of Hypnosia as much as I have enjoyed bringing them to you.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Traffic Jams on the Information Superhighway

I've been using the internet almost since its inception. Way back in 1995, the internet was really cool. I could spend hours and hours surfing the net finding really interesting stuff and boatloads of good information. Yahoo had a directory of really good websites. If you were searching for information on a topic, you could find it quickly and easily.

Then the internet went public and anyone who knew HTML could put up a website. The internet was flooded with hobbyist websites of dubious information, pornography, and storefronts. Searching for information became an exercise in frustration, university websites became my places to go for good information in addition to the directories.

Then Yahoo morphed into something other than a directory listing and Google began focusing on its search functions. The Universities realized that students were plagiarizing their webcontent for term papers and locked it away behind a gatekeeper. The professional journals also slammed the door shut on non-academics.

The internet has become a nightmare to navigate if you're looking for information on a scholarly subject like Medieval history. The road is filled with the potholes of amateur misinformation, storefronts selling you a book on the topic, and content farms. We crawl along connecting with our nearest and dearest seven billion friends on facebook and twitter. Spammers and hackers are having a field day getting into people's email accounts, facebook, twitter, etc. They even spam blogger.

AND NOW, NOW! they have figured out a way to spam the Kindle store.

Sigh.

It was only a matter of time before someone figured out a way to game the system.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Day Made of Glass

I saw this video last week over on someone else's blog. It's called a Day Made of Glass. It's produced by Corning and shows what the future may look like.



While I admit some of the technologies look rather cool, a couple of them left me feeling horrified.

The cell phone that lets you see who you are talking to and them to see you: Noooooo. With one of those, no more schlepping around the house in my sleep clothes.

The TV and internet interface in the bathroom mirror: Oh dog, no. The bathroom is the only place in the house where a mom can have five seconds of peace and quiet, and they're suggesting a TV and internet interface. My son may be grown and living on his own, but some things will always stay sacred spaces of peace and quiet.

I thought it was rather amusing that she had to use the GPS in her car to get to work. How is it that someone who is too stupid to remember how to get to work can get a job in the first place? Yeah, okay, the gps in the car picked up that the road was blocked and suggested alternate routes to where she was going. Still, I would think most people are intelligent to enough to know alternate routes to work without having to rely on their GPS.

But the most horrifying of all was that there wasn't a book or magazine in sight. Sigh.

If this is what's in store for the future, I think I'll buy stock in Windex.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Clueless Writer

The latest buzz on the blogosphere is the author meltdown over a review at Big Al's Books and Pals.

What I find interesting is that the comments fall into two broad categories: those laughing at her meltdown and those who are trying to help her by reasoning with her.

It's clear to me from her first comments that she does not have the emotional maturity to get it: to understand that comments about her book are not comments about her as a person. So even those who try to reason with her will be told to "fuck off."

I find it rather sad. The reviewer of the book thought that the story was good. Who knows, with a bit of editing and the willingness to listen to feedback from a critique group, she might have been able to polish it into something an agent could sell. Instead she firmly believes that "my writing is just fine", "my first book is great".

We bump into writers like this all the time. The ones who think that everything that they write is absolutely perfect and if you point out a missing comma that means you hate their story and therefore must hate them. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do or say to them that will make them see the light. Well, I've never found a way. You want to help, but the best thing to do is to keep your mouth shut and walk away.

Usually they end up self-publishing their work because traditional publishers and agents are idiots incapable of seeing the brilliance of their prose. Which is why so many traditional publishers and agents do not want to purchase or represent someone who has self-published. The probability that the writer is going to turn out to be a nightmare to work with is very high.

This is also the reason so many people do not read self-published work. For those who are serious about their writing, who have studied the craft of writing, who have gotten feedback from a crit group, and have not been able to find a publisher for their work because it doesn't quite fit with what a traditional publisher is looking for, and so have gone with self-publishing to get their work published, it makes it even more difficult to sell their work.

And what makes this really sad is that the clueless writer will. never. get. it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Elephant Polo

While looking up elephants on the internet, I came across this.

Yes, folks, it's elephant polo.

Polo played on elephants.

I can't make this stuff up.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Dialect

There are several ways of conveying a character's dialect in his speech: word choice, sentence structure, slang, phonetic spelling, and so on. I know that many writers feel the need to accurately portray their character's speech and so use phonetic spelling. The problem with doing that is that it can be very difficult for the reader to figure out what is being said.

If you make the reader work too hard to understand your character's speech, it is possible that they will get frustrated and stop reading the book.

Recently I checked out The Lady of the Loch by Elizabeth Ann Sarborough. I've read several collaborations that she has done with Anne McCaffrey so I felt fairly confident that I would enjoy one of her solo efforts.

The first chapter was very intriquing. The story is set in Scotland. It opens with a dead woman laid out for burial, then a ritual of asking her to identify her killer is performed. Which she does and so the story is off and running.

Until I got to page ten and the dialogue with the tinklers. I've taken out the non-speaking parts of this section:

Hangin's mak me unaisy jist noo.

Unless there's hawkin' amang the crowd or idle coin tae be freed frae careless pockets. I've nae use for a hangin'

I saw me fither hanget. I've nae wish tae see anither.

Mon, ye stood by me tae ca' the King's man when them ithers would hae hangit me. Will ye and yer young friend nae come wi' us?


And that's where I stopped reading. I won't finish reading the book. Fortunately, I borrowed this from the library instead of buying it from the bookstore, otherwise I would be supremely pissed at wasting US$8.

Some phonetic spelling to give the flavor of the speech is okay. Blowed if I know what "hawkin' amang the crowd" or "tae ca' the King's man" means. I'm not going to struggle for 250 more pages trying to figure out what the characters are saying. I've taken English Literature 101 and struggled through reading Beowulf and Chaucer. I'm done with that kind of reading, so back to the library it goes.

Sigh.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nocturnal Prophetic Emissions

On search for his quest, William Nonsyrname has disturbing dreams. That is disturbing to his traveling companions; he keeps waking them up. Are these prophetic dreams or not? Read NOCTURNAL PROPHETIC EMISSIONS, this month's installment in The Annals of Hypnosia to find out.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Amanda Hocking: My $0.99 on the subject

Amanda Hocking's phenomenal self-publishing through Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing has been all over the news and blogosphere. Some writers are dancing with joy at the soon to be demise of the gatekeepers and traditional publishers who are preventing the masses from reading their awesomely awesome decalogy. *cough* *eyeroll*

Before I give you my thoughts on the subject, I direct you to Amanda Hocking's blog where she talks about her success. Before you run off to self publish your work on Kindle, read it. This is the most important part (emphasis mine):

I don't think people really grasp how much work I do. I think there is this very big misconception that I was like, "Hey, paranormal is pretty hot right now," and then I spent a weekend smashing out some words, threw it up online, and woke up the next day with a million dollars in my bank account.

This is literally years of work you're seeing. And hours and hours of work each day. The amount of time and energy I put into marketing is exhausting. I am continuously overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do that isn't writing a book. I hardly have time to write anymore, which sucks and terrifies me.


Here's my $0.99 on the subject.

Self-publishing is not a new phenomena. When I went to look up self-publishing on wikipedia, I thought I would find out that it started sometime in the 1970's or 80's. Imagine my surprise to discover that the first documented self-published work was John Milton's "Areopagitica" in 1644 and quite a few classical authors started their careers self-publishing their work. The link to the wiki article is here. While some of the information in the article might not be entirely accurate, my point is that self-publishing has been around for a very long time. It hasn't toppled traditional publishing, yet. I don't think it will this time either.

We've seen this movie before.

If you've hung around writing groups for any length of time, then you'll know what I am talking about. Lord of the Rings came out, was a phenomenal hit, and writing groups saw a surge of aspiring authors writing the next Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter, ditto. Twilight, ditto. Christopher Paolini, ditto.

So what's going to happen is that there will be a surge in writers uploading their awesomely awesome decalogy thinking they're going to become millionaires like Amanda Hocking. The Kindle market will be flooded. The gems of self-published stories will be buried in a mountain of stories that should only be shown to one's mother. After being disappointed with several of those awesomely awesome stories, Kindle readers will get savvy and stop searching through the Direct Publishing offerings. Those authors who have worked just as hard as Amanda and chose to self-publish will be that much harder for a reader to find. This is not a good thing for aspiring writers.

On the other hand, after a few rejections by agents of those writers of awesomely awesome you-must-be-a-twit-for-not-seeing-how-brilliant-I-am manuscripts will flounce off the query trail and over to Kindle Direct Publishing. Which will leave a less crowded field in the query game for aspiring authors who work hard, hone their craft, and choose to pursue traditional publishing. And that is a good thing.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Ducks! In the Swimming Pool!

I was standing out on my balcony looking around and what to my wandering eyes did appear? A pair of ducks swimming in the pool.

I ran for my camera, but by the time I got back one of them had gotten out. (they're on the steps.)





I raced out of my apartment and down the stairs hoping to catch them before they got out or flew away. They were out of the water, but hadn't flown away.





While I walked softly around the pool to get a closer picture, they decided to check out the jacuzzi.




As I walked back to my apartment, I realized that I had raced out of it wearing my sleep shirt and shorts. No bra. Which is okay when you're twenty, but not when you're a little bit older than that. And the shorts are ratty and really shouldn't be seen by anyone other than close family members.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

I am Maru

I ran across this funny cat video on youtube:

I am Maru



It turns out that Maru also has a blog.

And if you look on the sidebars of the blog you will notice Maru also two books and a DVD out.

Why didn't I think of that?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Research

Currently I'm reading GWENHWYFAR by Mercedes Lackey. It's a fictional account of Guinevere, King Arthur's wife. Actually his third wife, apparently he had three wives all named Guinevere or Gwenhwyfar the Celtic spelling of her name.

The prose is compelling to read, but I keep getting tossed out of the story by little mistakes she's made in the background information. While I am quite sure that she thoroughly researched the literature about Guinevere, I am not so sure that she thoroughly researched the history of the time period. There are mistakes that I am aware of because I have studied that time period in history, circa 500 CE, the transition from Roman Rule to Anglo-Saxon rule.

But they're mistakes that most people wouldn't recognize as mistakes as they haven't studied that time period in history as much as I have. Which leaves the author in a conundrum, do you accurately portray the setting or do you use the commonly held beliefs?

For example, as a child Gwenhwyfar lives in a stone castle. There are two private rooms off the Great Hall. She and her sisters sleep in one. Her parents sleep in the other. Nothing wrong with that, right? Except that castles weren't made of stone until the eleventh century and the private room off the Great Hall didn't come into being until the twelfth or thirteenth century. This is five to seven hundred years after the time of Arthur. But most people reading a story about King Arthur or one of the ancillary stories would expect them to live in a stone castle with private rooms for the King and his family. And I believe the literature from the eleventh and twelfth centuries have them living in such a castle.

When I started writing this post, I was firmly on the side of get it right. But now that I have had more time to think about it, I am not so sure that is the best approach. How many readers would get thrown out of the story because Gwenhwyfar lived in a Roman style villa with a bath and a courtyard?

I'm only a few chapters into the story, but I have realized that if the names of the characters were changed or if I wasn't aware that I was reading a retelling of Guinevere's story that I would enjoy the story more. All of my expectations as a reader would be gone.

What are your thoughts about this?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Borders

I've read quite a few posts about the bankruptcy reorganization of Borders. They all seem to have the same assumption that the reason for Borders financial trouble is due to the surgence of ebooks. I don't agree with that assumption. Borders sells books AND movies AND music. A loss of book sales to ebooks which is only a small percent of total book sales should not have had a catastrophic effect on their business. It makes just as much sense to only blame the record industry or the movie industry for their financial troubles.

A better assumption to make is that they are victim of the downturn in the economy from the past few years. I was out driving around earlier today and everywhere I looked there was evidence of the recent recession, closed storefronts, empty shops, weeds growing in front of the stand alone stores.

And what Borders sells, books, movies, and music, are not necessary commodities. If you have to choose between buying a new book or buying food, most people will buy food. It's really amazing that they were able to hang on for so long when other businesses went under.

They might have been able to stay in business if they had a better selection or chose to focus on one product instead of trying to be all things to all people. The last time I went into Borders, I was using a gift card that I had received. I was really disappointed in their selection of books. Even their selections for bestselling authors was pathetic.

Books-a-Million has a better selection of books than either Borders or Barnes and Noble. But they only sell books and magazines and book paraphernalia. I find this really interesting, because fifteen years ago Books-a-Million had the worst selection of books. We used to say that they had a million of the same book.

Will Barnes and Noble go the same way as Borders? If they don't do something about their selection of books, then they probably will.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Eighteen Years

That's how old my cat is. His birthday was yesterday, but the news of the earthquake in New Zealand drove the thought out of my mind.

Here's a pic of my boy.



His name is Wolverine after one of the X-men. Technically, he is my son's cat which explains his name, but he bonded with me so he lives with me.

Wolvie is very fortunate to be alive. Three years ago, he was attacked by a dog. The dog broke his jaw and I had to tube feed him for five weeks. He had some nerve damage and we weren't sure that he would ever be able to eat on his own again, but he regained enough function to eat soft food and some crunchy food. Though, he can't bite hard enough to break the skin so his squirrel and bird hunting days are over.

Anyway, happy belated birthday to Wolvie. I'm glad that he is a cat and not a kid. I don't have to worry about him drinking and driving or getting into the trouble that 18 year old boys tend to get into.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Story Ideas That Leave You Speechless

And by speechless I don't mean the idea is so tremendously awesome that you wonder "Why didn't I think of that?"

I mean the story ideas are so ridiculous that you wonder if the writer was drinking or tripping on acid when they came up with it. For example:

A stage version of the Wizard Oz using only three actors with a coatrack as the scarecrow.

E=mc^2 is the formula for happiness.

A romance where the female main character is human and the male main character is a dragon... How does THAT work?

Public Service Announcement:
Unless you're Hemingway,
Drinking and writing don't mix.
If you're going to drink, don't write.
If you're going to write, don't drink. (or do drugs)

ETA: That last bit was meant to be a joke, a riff on the don't drink and drive thing. It doesn't matter to me in the least bit if anyone drinks or does drugs while writing. :)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Writerly Wisdom on Youtube

This seems to be the week for me running across interesting youtube videos about writing and writers.

First up Four Types of Bad Writers.


Neil Gaiman on copyright, piracy and the commercial value of the web.


The opposing point of view by Harlan Ellison (warning strong language)


Though in fairness, I don't think that Ellison and Gaiman are coming from the same place. Ellison is right, an interview with him on a DVD is not going to lead people to seeking out his written work. While Gaiman giving away his work for free will get him more fans.

As my dance teacher used to say, "That'll keep you busy." :)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Annals of Hypnosia: Reunion

REUNION, the February installment in THE ANNALS OF HYPNOSIA, is now posted for your reading enjoyment!

Construction at Screaming Girl Mountain sends Falcrion to Blood Villa, because even the most stubborn of villains has their limits.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love is in the Air

It's Valentine's Day and with it the obligatory blog posts of favorite romances to watch or read. After reading through several hundred personal favorite romances on various and sundry blogs, I have come to the conclusion that the human race is doomed.

A sample of the suggestions for best romance that I have seen are: Farscape, Shaun of the Dead, The Black Tulip, Corpse Bride, The Story of O, Last Chance Harvey, Shadow of the Colossus, The Notebook, Shakespeare in Love, Wuthering Heights, Gone with the Wind, and so on.

Seriously, I didn't know whether to laugh hysterically at some of the suggestions or cry because it was so damn pathetic. To each his own.

By definition, the theme for a romance is love conquers all and the end is: "and they lived happily ever after." If it doesn't have those two things, then it isn't a romance. It might be a love story, but it isn't a romance.

These movies are good romances: Love Actually, Bridget Jones Diary, Bull Durham, Dirty Dancing, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Tin Cup, Pretty Woman, An Officer and a Gentleman, and a bunch of others.

Anyway, my valentine to you my loyal blog followers and anyone else who stops by is Hugh Grant Dancing. Hugh Grant dancing is a double treat, because 1. he's so hysterically funny to watch and 2. he's got a nice tushy.

This is from the movie Love Actually. Sorry it's a link because the embedding is disabled.

And this parody of an 80's music video: Pop Goes My Heart Embedding was also disabled on this one. But, I figured out how to open them in a new tab or window. :)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Literary vs. Genre Fiction

This post started out as a discussion of quality in novels and has morphed into a discussion of literary vs. genre fiction.

Last week there was a bit of a brouhaha regarding the quality of some self-published books. The debate mainly centered on cover art, editing, product description, etc. But during the ... uh... discussion there was some whinging about "crap like Harry Potter, Twilight, fill-in-the-blank getting published." The fallacy of personal taste being a good measure of the quality of the story.

And then there was the idea that we should be teaching our children how to identify quality fiction.

So how do you define quality in regards to fiction?

Digging around on wikipedia gives these useful gems: Quality fiction is one that has literary merit. The concept of literary merit is impossible to define. Literary fiction is serious fiction it is not romance, horror, thriller, mystery, western, science fiction, fantasy, et al... And then my brain imploded.

Interestingly enough there are ways to identify quality in genre fiction. Good genre fiction has a compelling plot, believable characters, evocative descriptions, and the like.

The more I thought about quality in literary fiction vs. quality in genre fiction the more I realized that it's not just comparing apples to oranges, it's more like comparing apples to brussel sprouts.

Literary fiction is more about style, the use of literary devices such as irony, satire, alliteration, et al. Word choice, sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, and the like are all important in literary fiction. The reader is meant to see them and can tell that they are reading something with literary merit.

Whereas in good genre fiction, all of those things are invisible to the average reader. When one reads a bestselling author of genre fiction, one is pulled into the story. The reader sees the setting, hears the dialogue, and watches the action. They aren't as concerned about how they are told a story, but that they are told a story with a compelling plot, believable characters, evocative descriptions, and the like.

Which is not to say that genre fiction can't have elements of literary fiction nor that literary fiction can't be compelling to read.

Thus genre fiction is crap using literary criteria, and literary fiction is crap using genre criteria. Which is like saying apples are disgusting because they don't taste like brussel sprouts and brussel sprouts are disgusting because they don't taste like apples.

So true crap is a story that doesn't have literary merit and/or doesn't have a compelling plot, believable characters, evocative descriptions and the like. Personal taste doesn't enter into the equation.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Friday Funny

Enough of that serious malarkey in the last post. This weekend is the Superbowl and with it the Superbowl commercials which has become an event itself. VW has released its Superbowl commercial early. Spew alert! Swallow what you're drinking!



I don't know who the kid is in the commercial but his movements are wonderfully expressive.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The F-Bomb in Blog Posts

This blog post is a discussion about the use of the f-bomb and other curse words while blogging. If you're offended by such language, this post will be filled with foul language. You have been warned.

I don't have a moral issue with cursing. I don't think a person is going to hell because they say "shit," "piss," "fuck," et al. I can swear like a sailor if the situation calls for it. They are words like any other words used to convey meaning and emotion.

However, I learned not to swear in public. In private I might call my brother a goddamn motherfucking son of a bitch, but not out in public. Because some people are offended by such language and don't want to hear it. When you swear out in public you are not giving them the option of not hearing it. And because people will judge you based on the language that you use.

A blog is public. It is more public than going out to a restaurant for dinner. Anyone in the world with access to the internet can read your blog. What you say and how you say things on your blog is out there for the world to see. It is your public persona and people will judge you based on what you put on it.

While we could get on our highhorse and demand that people not judge us because we use the word fuck or shit in our blog posts or take a tough shit stance to what we say, the reality is that people will judge you based on the language that you use.

And writers depend on their readers making that kind of judgement. A character is defined by their speech. Consider the following four statements:
"Wow! This is great!"
"Oh! I say, good job!"
"Holy guacamole! This is wonderful!"
"Fucking A, Bubba! This is the shit!"
The same information is conveyed in all four sentences, but the image of the person speaking is different.

"Fuck" is an expletive used to express anger or give emphasis to the word it modifies. When "fuck" is overused then it loses its power to express anger or to emphasize. When one talks like this: "Fuck, you won't fucking believe what that fucker fucking said to fucking me yesterday fucking morning while I was fucking driving to fucking work," the listener's brain becomes numb and stops reacting to the word "fuck." If you talk like this, you've got nowhere to go when you are really angry and want to express it.

Whereas with the person who rarely swears, if you hear them say, "fuck," you better head for the hills because they are steaming mad about something. Calling someone a "goddamn motherfucking son of a bitch" carries a whole lot more power and has a greater impact coming from someone who never swears than from someone who gives a whole new meaning to the words "potty mouth."

What prompted this post? In the past few days, I've read several blog posts with unnecessary profanity. So, for fuck's sake, think about the fucking impact your fucking words have on your fucking readers before you fucking publish your fucking blog post.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Some Useful Links

I don't know whether any of you have noticed, but I've been adding blog links to the lists over <--- there. There are now three lists, Contributor's blogs, Industry blogs (mostly agents and publishers), and Other Blogs of Interest. These are the blogs that I am following. I add to the list whenever I stumble across a good one. There are a few that I would like to draw your attention to:

Michael Hyatt's Blog He's had some really good articles about effective blogging techniques. For that alone, it's worth a look-see.

Book View Cafe Blog I stumbled across this while reading someone's blog post. You might recognize one or two of the authors who contribute.

And Slush Pile Hell is always good for a laugh. I love the latest response: "A writer with 8 novels, 91 short stories, and the inability to write a query letter."

If you know of any good blogs, that I might be interested in, leave a link in the comments section.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Theme

On more than one occassion, I have observed writers run screaming in the opposite direction when the topic of theme is introduced. They vehemently object to writing stories with a theme claiming that they just want to entertain with their stories and not send messages to their readers. It's as if theme can only apply to "literary" fiction and classical literature.

So, what is theme? It is the main idea, moral, or message of a story. It doesn't have to be a moral or a message, it can just be the idea behind the story. Another way of looking at it is what is the writer's opinion of the story or what is the writer trying to say. Some examples of theme are love conquers all, life's a bitch and then you die, good triumphs over evil, evil triumphs over good, death, racism, salvation, etc.

I think the reason that some writers vehemently object to thinking about the theme of their story is because it seems a bit arrogant as if they're putting themselves on the same footing as Shakespeare, Hemingway, Mark Twain, or Edgar Allen Poe. When in fact, all stories have a theme. Even Dr. Seuss' stories have a theme.

"The Sneeches" is about racism and prejudice. "Yertle the Turtle" is about opposing a dictator. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is about the overcommercialization of Christmas. Dr. Seuss did not write those stories to teach children a lesson or a moral. He wrote those stories to help them learn to read.

One of my favorite Beginner Books when I was a kid was "The King, the Mice, and the Cheese" by Nancy and Eric Gurney. To me, the message of the story is to think of the consequences before you act. The King loves cheese and gets infested with mice. His advisors bring in cats to get rid of the mice, then dogs to get rid of the cats, then lions to get rid of the dogs, then elephants to get rid of the lions, then mice to get rid of the elephants, and the King was right back where he started and came up with a better solution to the problem. It's an entertaining story with a simple theme and no one in their right mind would put them in the same category as Hemingway or Poe.

Theme: it's not just for great literature.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snap is a Rock

A few days ago, I was surfing youtube looking for documentaries when I stumbled upon this fan video of Severus Snape set to Simon and Garfunkles "I am a Rock."



This is remarkably well done. The chosen clips match the lyrics of the song. An exception as most fan videos seem to be a mishmash of random images and clips set to the person's favorite song resulting in a total clash between sight and sound. *shudder*

Clicking through related videos, I stumbled across a rather alarming bit of Harry Potter fan fiction: Snape and Hermione in love. There's no link as I didn't see anything worth bookmarking or sharing.

I didn't know what to think about this. My first reaction was WTF? followed by "Ewwww... No! That's sick and twisted."

So of course, I had to go google it. Googling Snape and Hermione, I got a boatload of suggested completions. My search results turned up a whole community at fanfiction.net devoted to Snape and Hermione in love. And of course, mugglenet has about seven pages or more of Snape/Hermione stories. Apparently, there are quite a few people with this fantasy in their heads.

Which got me to wondering about fanfiction and how Rowling feels about this kind of thing. It's great that people love the characters so much that they envision other stories for them, but this line of story is contrary to the characters that Rowling created. And in order for it to work, the entire ending of Deathly Hallows has to be chucked out the window. It also removes Snape's motivation for everything he does throughout the series. And disregards the Hermione/Ron subplot.

I don't know why this bothers me so much. Maybe it's because these people have taken characters that I love and twisted them to fit their fantasy which is inconsistent with the way the characters are in Rowling's stories. And I really could have done without stumbling across it.

I don't have a problem with fan fiction that keeps the characters and the plots consistent with the authors intention. But fan fiction which has the characters acting inconsistently with the authors vision or rewriting the ending of the book, I can't get behind that. I think they should write their own story with their own characters.

What are your thoughts about this?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Nathan's First Paragraph Contest

For those of you who don't follow Nathan Bransford's blog, he is having a first paragraph contest with lots of really cool prizes for the finalists and the ultimate winner. Check it out here.

Go! Write! Win!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

In the Jungle, the mighty jungle...

It occurred to me that most of my posts here are way too serious. A bleeping know it all is only a small part of my personality. I am much more like the dog in this youtube video: (If you haven't seen this before, swallow whatever you're drinking. Your keyboard will thank me.)

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Youtube won't let me imbed the code so you'll have to click the link to view it.

We now return you to your regular serious blog reading.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Potential Market For Ereaders

Nathan Bransford is always going on about how much he likes his kindle and that ereaders are the way of the future. I tend to disagree with him on that as I really don't like reading stories or articles in an electronic format. Since I've been doing it since dirt was young and dinosaurs roamed the earth, it's not a matter of just getting used to the format.

Anyway, as I was writing my comment on his blog post of December 30th, a wild thought entered my head: What if ereaders were used to increase the literacy rate? A question I have been pondering ever since.

Back in the late 90's I homeschooled my son. If ereaders had been available then and etextbooks and classics in ebook format to go along with it, I would have bought one in a heartbeat for my son and had him read all his assignments on the ereader.

What I learned from trying to teach him is that everyone has a personal preference for acquiring information and experiencing fiction. If you take the same chunk of information and put it into print, audio, video, or computer text, a person will acquire that information faster from one of those mediums than the rest. My son's preference is for audio or computer text. My preference is for print and video.

I used to buy audiobooks for him instead of print books. He loved them. And when we were on long car trips, we played his audiobooks on the car stereo. But here's what's interesting, I could not follow the story. My mind would start wandering all over the place and when it would come back to the audiobook, I would have no idea what was going on. (I was driving so it wasn't that big of deal.) He liked Stephen King and Michael Crichton, so I know that if I had the print book to read, my mind wouldn't have wandered all over the place. It wasn't the story, it was the format that it was in.

Given that, it seems to me that we could get more people into reading and enjoying books if we got those people who "hate to read" to try reading ebooks. I'm guessing that a large number of those nonreaders will take to ebooks as they haven't print books, and that would mean more total books sales.

In other words, instead of trying to convert people who enjoy reading print books to reading ebooks, try converting nonreaders into ebook readers.

My wild thought for the day.

I wonder how I could go about testing this theory.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Feel Good Moment for Me

One of the things that I really hate doing is sending out rejection letters. For Emerald Tales it was especially hard, most of the stories that I passed on were good stories, they just didn't quite fit the theme. I had to draw the line somewhere. I tried to be supportive and encouraging with those that I passed on, but it's hard to tell whether the recipients believed me or not.

Well, I got an email from Gail Taylor, one of the writers that I had passed on, thanking me for encouraging her even though I passed on her stories. She persevered and now has a collection of short stories out, "Tornado and Other Seasons: A Collection of Short Stories", published by Punkin House.

It feels good to know that my encouragement was received as intended and acted on. :)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Stupid Female Characters

I read a lot of thrillers and romantic suspense. One of my pet peeves is the stupid female character.

Here's the scenario: Female MC is a girly girl and, for the sake of this discussion, runs an art gallery. Male MC is a manly man and is a member of special forces, a navy SEAL, or similar bad ass. They're working together to find the bad guys. So, the bad guys corner them in a dark alley. The Male MC tells female MC to stay back while he deals with the bad guys. And then... stupid female MC GETS IN BETWEEN the male MC and the bad guys in order to protect HIM and screws up the encounter. At which point, I throw the book across the room and add the author's name to my do not buy list.

The reason for her doing this is because "she is just as capable of protecting herself as a man," and "she doesn't need a man to take care of her." Seriously, is the female MC crazy or stupid? This situation has nothing to do with a woman's ability to take care of herself. It's about making sure neither one of them gets killed.

If I'm in a dark alley with Steven Segal and we're confronted by bad guys, I'm staying behind him and watching his back. He's bigger than I am. He's stronger than I am. He has a black belt in martial arts. He has skills that I don't. That doesn't make me weak nor does it mean that I have to have a man take care of me. It means I am not stupid enough to think that I am better qualified than Steven Segal to confront bad guys with guns.

If I'm in that alley with Jackie Chan, the same goes. Even though I am bigger than he is, he has more skills and is stronger. I'm watching his back.

If you put Steven Segal and Jackie Chan in a dark alley facing bad guys, one would take the lead, the other would follow. They would NOT argue over who is stronger, better skilled, or who should take the lead. They would NOT get their knickers in a twist if the other one took the lead. They would work together as a team to defeat the bad guys, then go have a beer together.

If the female MC is a police officer, CIA agent, FBI agent, etc. and/or has martial arts training and is therefore equal or almost equal in skills to the male MC, then she can take a more active role including taking the lead.

Please spare me the girly girl defending the big bad Navy SEAL against the bad guys. sheesh

Ill Met By Moonlight - The Annals of Hypnosia

Heips!*

The January 2011 installment of The Annals of Hypnosia, "Ill Met by Moonlight", is now up! William Nonsyrname is on a quest in the Concealed Valley and encounters a mythic creature or two. Enjoy!

*"heips" is "hello" in Finnish.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Copyright Infringement vs. Plagiarism

Back in November there was a case of copyright infringement that got picked up by Neil Gamain and Wil Wheaton who tweeted about it and then all hell broke loose. During the course of the brouhaha many people mistakenly called it plagiarism.

Last week, the plagiarism case against J. K. Rowling was dismissed by the US Judge in the case.

Which leads me to talk about the difference between copyright infringement and plagiarism.

Copyright infringement is when you take something someone else wrote and publish it in some format with the author's name but without the author's permission.

Plagiarism is when you take something that someone else wrote and publish it in some format with your name as the author.

The difference is in whose name is on the work. So if you published or sold the right to publish "Scribbles by the Scribbling Sea Sprite" without my permission, then you have infringed on my copyrights. If you published or sold the right to publish "Scribbles by your name", then you have plagiarised my work.

That's the basics. It gets more complicated than that and there are several books that go into it in depth: "Copyright Plain and Simple" by Cheryl Besenjak; "Literary Law Guide for Authors" by Tonya Marie Evans and Susan Borden Evans; and "The Copyright Permission and Libel Handbook" by Lloyd J. Jassin and Steven C. Schechter. I suggest purchasing those books and keeping them on your bookshelf.

What is interesting about the Cook Source's case is that recipes can not be copyrighted. The text discussing the recipe is and the name of a dish can be trademarked, but the recipe itself is not protected by copyright. If the editor had just published the recipes and written her own text, then she would have been in the clear.

As for the plagiarism case against Rowling, ideas can't be copyrighted. The execution of the story idea is copyrighted, but the idea itself is not. Why this is can be seen in Emerald Tales. Each issue has a theme or idea, and every story that I received was different from the rest. I don't have a single instance where two stories were similar enough to make me question the source of that story.

Off on a tangent because I don't want to write another post about facebook, I came across the following article about the pros and cons of facebook. The more I read about facebook, the less I like it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tension

Tension in a story is a good thing. In a book, it keeps the reader turning the page. In a movie, it keeps the audience on the edge of their seat. Can their be too much tension in a story and how do you know if you have too much. What is too much tension for one reader is just enough for another reader.

Back when I was studying the craft of writing screenplays, I learned that if you put too much tension in a movie that the audience will laugh when you cross the line into too much tension. It's like the human brain can only handle so much jeopardy for the main characters. When it gets to be too much the audience laughs to ease the tension they feel. The trick is to get to just that line and not go over it.

But what about for novels? I think that you can have too much tension, but where that magic line is can not be easily determined. Everyone has their own personal threshold for tension and fear.

I've read a few thrillers lately that I ended up flipping to the end of the book to see how it ends because I couldn't stand not knowing anymore. Most of the time, I flip back to where I was and continue reading secure in the knowledge that it will all work out in the end. In thinking about those times when I've flipped to the end, in every case all signs of hope for the main character were gone. It looked as if there was no way that the main character was going to survive. The deck was too heavily stacked against them.

But that is me. There are some readers who want to be taken to that place of hopelessness and tension.

What do you think? Can a book have too much tension in it?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Lisa Shearin

I love going to the bookstore. Since I read so fast, I am always in search of a new favorite author to add to my list. My habit is to walk... actually stroll... more like shift my weight from one foot to the other as I make my way down the aisle with eyes scanning the bookshelves until one grabs my attention. I stop, pull the book off the shelve, and read the back blurb. If it sounds interesting, I hold onto it. If not I put it back. Then continue walking... strolling... shifting from one foot to the other...

It was in this manner that I discovered Lisa Shearin three years ago. I picked up her first book, "Magic Lost, Trouble Found." I loved it. The prose was compelling to read. I couldn't put it down. The main character Raine Benares has an attitude that had me in stitches laughing. At the time, I was participating in a fantasy writers forum and raved about the book there.

Every trip to the bookstore after that included a search to see if she had published anything else. (And yes, I could have searched on Amazon or googled to find her earlier, but I like to browse in the bookstore. It doesn't take as long to go to the bookstore and walk up and down the aisles as it does to browse through the same number of books on Amazon.) At last I was rewarded with "The Trouble with Demons" which I also thoroughly enjoyed reading. I thought this was the second book she had written, but it turned out to be her third. And checking her website for this blog post, I see that she has five books out. I have "Bewitched and Betrayed". It's on my to be read pile. I'll have to order the other two.

And in the category of gee, it's a small world: when I read the acknowledgement page, her agent, Kristin Nelson, sounded familiar to me though I couldn't remember exactly why. It turns out, I've been following Kristin's blog, Pub Rants, for over a year. I didn't realize it earlier, because I've barely had time to keep up with my reading of blog posts, much less go through the links.

So, if you like reading fantasy and you like characters with attitude, then check out Lisa Shearin's "Magic Lost, Trouble Found." You can read the first two or three chapters of all of her books on her website.