October 28, 2010

After You With The Pistol **

** After You With The Pistol, Kyril Bonfiglioli, 1974

And more in the Books Sent By The Learned One series. More clever writing, even less of a coherent story line. The action is driven by the wife telling Mortdecai to do all these random things like assassinate the Queen of England and make a heroin delivery from Kwonloon to London. While talking like Bertie Wooster. Amusing, but not riveting.

October 25, 2010

Bridge of Sighs ***

*** Bridge of Sighs, Richard Russo, 2007

In the first few chapters I thought, oh no, Russo has finally lost it. And it does start of slowly, overburdened with back story. The first half of the book is told from two points of view, Lou and Noonan. Lou's narrative dominates in page count but Noonan's is by far the most interesting. It took several chapters before I was really invested in the story. The thing is, Russo is good enough to keep a reader engaged from the first page, like he did in Straight Man, so it's disappointing when he takes longer to do so.

He adds Sarah's POV about halfway through the story, and it becomes even more interesting. B then, Lou's perspective has finally kicked in, so it's a great ride to the finish and a good read.

As usual, highly recommended.

October 21, 2010

Don't Point That Thing At Me ***

*** Don't Point That Thing At Me, Kyril Bonfiglioli, 1972

Another in the series of books sent to me by The Learned One. Imagine if PG Wodehouse wrote about a corrupt art dealer in London in the 1970s, with raw stuff like torture and assassination and sex scenes, but all in the flippant Bertie Wooster tone. Only also imagine that Wodehouse lost all his complex story construction skills and instead things just kind of happened as they went along.

That would be Don't Point That Thing At Me. Clever writing, amusing voice, train-wreck of a story. The ending suddenly changes tone, gets very serious and brutally realistic and then disintegrates into delirium. Very strange.

Worth reading, but not for the prudish.

October 18, 2010

Plot & Structure ***

*** Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell, 2004

I read Bell's Writer's Digest books in reverse order of publication date. Not on purpose, just what happened. I don't think it matters what order you read them, as long as you read them. Assuming you want to develop the craft of writing of course. Otherwise, read the book of your choice.

Plot & Structure is a comprehensive work on building the framework of a good story. It's filled with tons of practical tips for developing a storie and getting past dead ends and blocks. Good stuff. Also check out Revision & Self-Editing, The Art of War for Writers.

October 14, 2010

The Island of the Day Before *

* The Island of the Day Before, Umberto Eco, 1994

It really, really, and I mean really, pains me to give this book one star. I loved his first two novels, The Name of the Rose (1983) and the resulting movie with Sean Connery and Matthew Broderick, and the ultimate consipracy theory novel, Foucalt's Pedulum (1989).

I snagged this monstrous 500+ page volume years ago and have hauled it around on various moves. I finally broke down and subjected it to the Elliptical Test. It failed miserably.

The issue is that there is no plot. Eco is a brilliant writer, but not even he can sustain my interest for 513 pages without a plot. I read to page 257 and skimmed the rest to verify my suspicion. It's a sad day in Mudville.

October 11, 2010

Freezer Burn **

** Freezer Burn, Joe R Lansdale, 1999

I picked up a couple more Lansdale books to continue my exploration of his writing. This one was not a whodunit in the Hap and Leonard series. It's rife with the trademark Lansdale trenchant phrases, dissolute characters, and graphic language/sex/whatnot.

It was a fascinating read with great promise for one such as I, a sucker for a story of redemption. Alas, despite a classic setup of transcendent good vs inherent evil and the everyman caught in the middle, it was not to be. Transcendent good is exposed as naivete and everyman as sucker. Both lose out to inherent evil. A great story with an unsatisfying ending for this possibly naive reader.

But filled with great similes and turns of phrase, such as these.

Opening line: Bill Roberts decided to rob the firecracker stand on account he didn’t have a job and not a nickel’s worth of money and his mother was dead and kind of freeze-dried in her bedroom.

P 6. She smelled like a sixteen-year-old boy on his way to this first date.

P. 18. “He ain’t got a prayer and a sandwich, now.”

P 18. The moon’s image lay full and huge on the swampy water, as if God had dropped a greasy dinner plate.

P 24. It felt odd now not to be bossed about by an overbearing woman. He had grown so accustomed to it, he thought it was natural, like trips to the bathroom.

P 27. Bill’s lips were swollen and his face wasn’t feeling all that good either. It seemed as if his skin was a sack of light bulbs someone had stepped on.

P 31. He was weak and hungry and hot and his head hurt all over from the mosquito bites. He felt as if he had been beat in the face with a rake.

P 37. It was slightly warmer away from the riverbank, and Bill could see the late evening sun hanging low in the sky like a cracked fertile egg, leaking gold and yellow and blood-red chicken all over the horizon, seeping through the trees.

P 39. He rolled his head to the side and smelled the drying grass, and from that angle he could see the last of the sunlight hanging between the trees, as if a giant with an inflamed hemorrhoid was mooning him.

P 45. When he awoke it was dark in the room except for one light that was by the door, and it was a weak light. It made a pool on the floor like dirty melted cheese.

P 84. Her gold hair held the moonlight and it fell butter smooth over her skin, delighted to be there.

P 85. He had less grease on his hair than Phil, but he certainly had enough up there to do him and still deep-fry a chicken.

P 106. It was hot with a constant savage wind blowing, the air so brittle a wave of your hand might knock a crack in it.

P 106. Conrad would be sleeping, as content as a baby in a wind-up swing.

P 107. The whole thing made Bill lonely as the last pig in a slaughterhouse line.

P 109. A woman like that, like Eve, like Gidget, she could make you set fire to an old folks home and beat the survivors over the head with a shovel as they ran out. A woman like that damn sure wouldn’t have to do much to get some guy to steal an apple.

P147. He felt he had truly become friends with Conrad, and he liked the feeling. He had never had a real friend before, just people he could do small crimes with.

P 150. Gidget looked at Bill as if she had just discovered his head had been hollowed out with a spoon.

P 180. There was a crescent moon. It was like a single cat eye, partially open, waiting for a mouse.

October 10, 2010

Muffin Man Research

Took a little road trip this weekend to check out county courthouses, jails and sheriff departments for my work in progress, Muffin Man. We spent Friday night in San Antonio. On Saturday we hit five small county seats:

  • Hondo, Medina County
  • Uvalde, Uvalde County
  • Leakey, Real County
  • Bandera, Bandera County
  • Kerrville, Kerr County

We had lunch in Utopia due to my conversation last month with Karen Valby, author of Welcome to Utopia. We capped the day off in Fredericksburg at the Lincoln Street Wine Market for wine, cheese, fruit, a cigar and live music. Highly recommended.

Then a late night drive home to sleep in our own bed. Over 300 miles in 15 hours on Friday, with stops to take photos and such. Over 400 miles in 30 hours for the whole trip. Check out the map to see where we went. View Muffin Man Road Trip Oct 2010 in a larger map

October 7, 2010

The Scene of the Crime ***

*** The Scene of the Crime: a writer's guide to crime-scene investigations, Anne Windgate, Ph.D, 1992

From the Writer's Digest Howdunit Series, dated, but good. I picked this up in a used bookstore years ago when I was toying with the idea of writing whodunits. I got over it, but never ditched the book. Lots of solid content in here, but if you're writing in this area, you'll need a more current reference book.

Writer's Digest Books are typically very good, like Jim's books on craft, and most of the Howdunit Series books. A book I read a few years ago, Malicious Intent, was a notable exception. So notable that even now, years later, I remember how horrific it was/is, as the reviews at the link show. Fortunately, it's a one-off. He hasn't come out with a series of rantings and unsubstantiated opinions presented as facts. I'd like to hear the story of how that one slipped past the Writer's Digest Books editors.

October 4, 2010

Mohawk ***

*** Mohawk, Richard Russo, 1986

This is Russo's first novel and it's a clear indicator of themes reflected in his novels. Not as accomplished as his later work, but how often does an author write their best work first?

One thing that intrigued me was the switching between present and past tense. I didn't detect a pattern, such as certain tenses for certain characters or settings or time frames, but there might be one. I didn't study it that closely, as I was more interested in following the story.

There were lots of characters, like twenty, but it easy to keep track of them, which is a good trick to learn how to do. There was only one time when I wondered, "What, who was that person?" for a minor character who was absent for a long stretch, which is not bad for 400+ pages.

If you haven't read any Russo, you need to. Here are links to my reviews of Empire Falls and Straight Man, and some quotes from The Risk Pool.