December 31, 2010

Champagne for the Soul ***

*** Champagne for the Soul, Mike Mason, 2003

This is what I'm talking about. Vintage Mason. It takes a few pages to get going, but there's real gold in here. The subject is rediscovering joy. Highly recommended for those having trouble finding joy.

December 30, 2010

Publishing your first draft

Yo, writers out there, would you publish the first draft of your novel?

That's what multi-published author Adam Palmer is doing, via Twitter, during 2011.

I assumed he would write something first and then publish it in tweet-sized bites. Nope. He's composing in Twitter. It will be compiled (and edited) for a more conventional book in 2012. He posted his self-imposed rules for the project here.

In my humble (but completely accurate and independently verified) opinion, Adam is stark-raving mad. [You say that like it's a bad thing.]

For me, the thought of putting my first draft out there for public consumption is mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly, spirit-suckingly, gonad-witheringly horrific. I'd rather pose nekkid for Field & Stream.

And yes, I'm already following on @AdamAuthor.

Zany things from Marcher Lord Press, who are not averse to batshit crazy stuff, evidently.

December 29, 2010

Writing dialog

Here's an overheard conversation between brothers, 4 and 5, in bed in the dark. I wish I could write dialog like this.

J: Remember when we were driving back from Papa and Grandma's after opening presents?
C: Yeah
J: You fell asleep and I saw Santa. He was going back to Papa and Grandma's house. But they don't have a chimney! And no one can unlock the chimney, not even Santa.
C: But God can unlock the chimney, cause he's special.
C: I wish it was gonna be day in 3 minutes.
J: Me, too.
C: I wish it was always daytime.
J: When we go to heaven, it will always be daytime.
C: And we can't even bring our house up to heaven. Not even our furniture.
J: And not even our guns. There won't be anyone to fight in heaven.
C: Yeah...but we can hit Daddy.
J: I can jump off the roof of our house.

December 27, 2010

The Lost Hero ***

*** The Lost Hero, Rick Riordan, 2010

The first book in the Heroes of Olympus series opens with three new heroes in the lead and a several familiar faces in supporting roles. Riordan has a way of finding new ways of engaging the gods, demigods and monsters of mythical times. But this time, the Roman counterparts come to the fore.

December 23, 2010

The Sign of the Book **

** The Sign of the Book, John Dunning, 2005

I hate to say it, but this Cliff Janeway didn't stand up to the rest of the franchise. At least not for the first 150 pages. Cheesy on-the-nose dialog, tedious exposition-laden backstory with cheap emotion, and utilitarian scenes that tell us what we already know or drag on too long dominated the first quarter of the book.

It finally took off when Janeway staked out the house on the mountain and followed the guys he found there, but it lacks the sophisication of his earlier efforts. If you're going to read the Janeway novels, and I suggest you start at the beginning.

December 20, 2010

Inbound Marketing ***

*** Inbound Marketing, Halligan and Shah, 2009

If you're looking to use social media for marketing, this is the book to read about it. Otherwise, never mind.

December 16, 2010

The White Tiger ***

*** The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga, 2008

Another book recommended by The Learned One, this time by a guy from India. It's kind of Slumdog Millionaire meets Horatio Alger. I was not a fan at first, but it grew on me. The chapters of his youth in The Darkness are a bit slow, but it picks up when he gets to Delhi.

Worth reading.

December 13, 2010

Blood Work ***

*** Blood Work, Michael Connelly, 1998

I rewatched the movie Clint Eastwood made of this, with Jeff Daniels and Angelica Huston, before I read the novel. I found the movie unsatisfying, largely because of the poor casting, particularly of Daniels, who was OK in the first two acts, but couldn't carry act three, and because of other cardboard, two-dimensional portrayals. However, comparing the screenplay to the novel, the screenplay was a nice, tight storyline, very integrated, collapsing characters and plot points into a neat package, right up to the climax scene, which unfortunately descended into a Hollywood cliche' showdown action set piece complete with villain monologue and in my humble but accurate view blew whatever goodwill the story had built to that point.

As far as the novel goes, it's my least favorite Connelly to this point chronologically in the canon. It's still worth reading, but it doesn't have the brooding texture that I've come to love in a Bosch story and it lacks the every-chapter high-voltage tension that characterizes the first six Connelly novels. It gets bogged down in the middle in procedural investigation. There are seeming rabbit trails that feel tedious and eventually tie in, but seem gratuitous. (However, this might be a by-product of having experienced the streamlined screenplay story first. YMMV.)

However, Connelly definitely upped the stakes on this one, beyond my expectations from the movie, so good-on-ya-mate for that one. Even if you watch the movie, you're in for some surprises in the second half when you read the novel, which is a nice discovery. The final 130 pages or so were quite satisfying, enough so to bring the read back into the three star realm.

In this project of reading the entire Connelly canon extant, there are only two or three volumes I haven't read, so I can say with some confidence that you can pick up any Connelly novel and be assured of a satisfying read, and most of the time a great read.

December 12, 2010

Quotes from Stuff I Like: Davies Part 3

As Calvin said that mankind was divided between the Elect, chosen to be saved, and the Reprobate Remainder of mankind, so it seemed to be with knowledge; there were those who were born to it, and those who struggled to acquire it. With the Scholarly Elect one seems not so much to be teaching them as reminding them of something they already know. -The Rebel Angels, p. 46

It is easy to find eccentrics in universities if your notion of an eccentric is simply a fellow with some odd habits. But the true eccentric, the man who stands apart from the fashionable scholarship of his day and who may be the begetter of notable scholarship in the future, is a rarer bird. These are seldom the most popular figures, because they derive their energy from a source not understood by their contemporaries. But the more spectacular eccentrics, the Species Dingbaticus, as I had heard students call them, were attractive to me; I love a mounteback. -The Rebel Angels, p. 47

People are said to be drifting away from religion, but few of them drift so far that when they die there is not a call for some kind of religious ceremony. Is it because mankind is naturally religious, or simply because mankind is naturally cautions? -The Rebel Angels, p. 84

As for energy, only those who have never tried it for a week or two can suppose that the pursuit of knowledge does not demand a strength and determination, a resolve not to be beaten, that is a special kind of energy, and those who lack it or have it only in small store will never be scholars or teachers, because real teaching demands energy as well. To instruct calls for energy, and to remain almost silent, but watchful and helpful, while students instruct themselves, calls for even greater energy. To see someone fall (which will teach him not to fall again) when a word from you would keep him on his feet but ignorant of an important danger, is one of the tasks of the teacher that calls for special energy, because holding in is more demanding than crying out. -The Rebel Angels, p. 87

"Odd about skepticism, you know, Simon. I've known a few skeptical philosophers and with the exception of Parlabane they have all been quite ordinary people in the normal dealings of life. They pay their debts, have mortgages, educate their kids, google over their grandchildren, try to scrape together a competence precisely like the rest of the middle class. They come to terms with life. How do they square it with what they profess?"

"Horse sense, Clem, horse sense. It's the saving of us all who live by the mind. We make a deal between what we can comprehend intellectually and what we are in the world as we encounter it. Only the geniuses and people with a kink try to escape, and even the geniuses often live by a thoroughly bourgeois morality. Why? Because it simplifies all the unessential things. One can't always be improvising and seeing every triviality afresh. But Parlabane is a man with a kink." -The Rebel Angels, pp. 99-100

December 11, 2010

Quotes from Stuff I Like: Davies Part 2

"Very nice, I grant you," said Cobbler, "but I agree with your wife. The Vambrace girl has something very special. Mind you, I don't mind 'em a bit tousled," said he, and grinned raffishly at Miss Vyner, who was, above all things, clean and neat, though she tended to smell rather like a neglected ash-tray, because of smoking so much. "This business of good grooming can be carried too far. For real attraction, a girls' clothes should have that lived-in look."

"I supposed you really like them dirty," said Miss Vyner.

"That's it. Dirty and full of divine mystery," said Cobbler, rolling his eyes and kissing his fingers. "Sheer connoisseurship, I confess, but I've always preferred a bit of ripened cheese to a scientifically packaged breakfast food." -Leaven of Malice

"Music is like wine, Bridgetower," he had said; "the less people know about it, the sweeter they like it." -A Mixture of Frailties

During the first day or two she attempted to get on with War and Peace, but found it depressing, and as time wore on she suffered from that sense of unworthiness which attacks sensitive people who have been rebuffed by a classic. -A Mixture of Frailties

He was conscious also, and for the first time, of why Domdaniel was regarded as a great man in the world of music. He conducted admirably, of course, marshaling the singers and players, succoring the weak and subduing the too-strong, but all that was to be expected. It was in his capacity to demand more of his musicians than might have been thought prudent, or even possible(to insist that people excel themselves, and to help them to do it (that his greatness appeared. With a certainty that was itself modest (for there was nothing of "spurring on the ranks" about it) he took upon himself the task of making this undistinguished choir give a performance of the Passion which was worthy of a great university. It was not technically of the first order, but the spirit was right. He had been a great man to Monica, for he could open new windows for her, letting splendid light into her life; but now she saw that he could do so for all these clever people, who thought themselves lucky to be allowed to hang on the end of his stick. Without being in the least a showy or self-absorbed conductor he was an imperious, irresistible and masterful one. -A Mixture of Frailties

His reply had that clarity, objectivity and reasonableness which is possible only to advisors who have completely missed the point. -A Mixture of Frailties

Moral judgments belong to God, and it is part of God's mercy that we do not have to undertake that heavy part of His work, even when the judgment concerns ourselves. -A Mixture of Frailties

But the character of the music emphasized the tale as allegory (humorous, poignant, humane allegory(disclosing the metamorphosis of life itself, in which man moves from confident inexperience through the bitterness of experience, toward the rueful wisdom of self-knowledge. -A Mixture of Frailties

December 10, 2010

Quotes from Stuff I Like: Davies Part 1

It seems quaint to those whose own personalities are not strongly marked and whose intellects are infrequently replenished. -Tempest-Tost

The Forresters, as they told everyone they met, had "neither chick nor child". Their failure to have a chick never provoked surprise, but it was odd that they were childless; they had not sought that condition. -Tempest-Tost

He had allowed his daughters to use his library without restraint, and nothing is more fatal to maidenly delicacy of speech than the run of a good library. -Tempest-Tost

The thought which was uppermost in his mind, when at last Griselda stopped and turned to him, was that his mother never went to sleep until he had come home and that her displeasure and concern, issue from her rather as the haze of ectoplasm issues from a spiritualist medium, filled the house whenever he came home late. -Tempest-Tost

His key seemed to make a shattering noise in the lock. And when he entered the hall, which was in darkness, maternal solicitude and pique embraced him like the smell of cooking cabbage. -Tempest-Tost

And because he had been born to this lot, he accepted it without question; as children always do, and as some adults continue to do, he invented reasons why he should be as he was, instead of seeking for means by which he might be delivered from his fate. -Tempest-Tost

The borborygmy, or rumbling of the stomach, has not received the attention from either art or science which it deserves. It is as characteristic of each individual as the tone of the voice. It can be vehement, plaintive, ejaculatory, conversational, humorous(its variety is boundless. But there are few who are prepared to give it an understanding ear; it is dismissed too often with embarrassment or low wit. -Tempest-Tost

December 9, 2010

Robertson Davies: Man of Myth ***

*** Robertson Davies: Man of Myth, Judith Skelton Grant, 1994

This sucker has been on my bookshelf for years, travelling around the globe from TX to AZ to CO to HI and finally back to TX. Then it sat on my elliptical trainer for months as I worked my way through it. At 654 pages of biography and another 130+ of end notes, it garners a BLCS rating of rat, and possibly cat.

I discovered Davies in the early 90s and he quickly replaced Graham Greene as my favorite author. I've been saving a few other Davies gems to savor because they're not making new Davies stories anymore and I've read almost everything.

The biography was instructive and entertaining, but I doubt anyone but the most avid Davies fan would take the trouble to read the monster.

Instead, for the next three days you can read some quotes from four of his novels that I read in the 90s.

December 7, 2010

Do The Math

The Value Proposition: Movie vs Book.

Let's be honest. When it comes down to it, most decisions are about the bang for the buck.

Most people don't think twice about throwing down admission price for the latest blockbuster movie of their flavor of choice. In my area, that's $10 a head for prime time. Of course, the movie experience isn't complete without some kind of concessions, soda, popcorn, candy, hot dog, whatever, at loan-shark prices. Now you're up to around $20 for 2 hours of entertainment, or $10 per hour.

Now let's take a novel. The Passage has been hot this year.It's $16 in hardcover at Amazon.com right now, running at 784 pages. Let's say you read a page a minute (which is pretty fast). That's 13 hours of entertainment, or $1.23 per hour. A movie costs eight times more per hour. Eight times. You can get The Passage in paperback or Kindle at $10, running you $0.77 per hour. A movie costs thirteen times more per hour. Are you getting this?

You can have 2 hours of movie and only get half of Deathly Hallows for $10 plus rapaciously-priced popcorn in a chair next to a stranger who hogs the arm rest, or have 13 hours of book and get all of Deathly Hallows for $7 plus any food your heart desires at sane prices in the most comfortable chair in your home.

Here's the funny thing, the psychology of it. At the movies, you step up to the window and the girl says, "Ten dollars," and you don't blink. At the bookstore, you pick up a book, you see the $16 price tag, and you think, "Really? Sixteen dollars?" and you put it back down.

Does anybody else think that's weird?

December 6, 2010

Trunk Music ***

*** Trunk Music, Michael Connelly, 1997

Back to to Bosch and some interesting twists. Although I did see the first twist from a long way away. But Connelly is still the king of maintaining tension. I wonder if he gets tired of making Bosch always choose the adolescent, self-destructive way of dealing with things. I kind of felt that when he does something particularly juvenile and his new boss, Billets, asked him "Why don't you grow up and quit these little pissing wars?"

But still good stuff.

December 2, 2010

The Road **

** The Road, Cormac McCarthy, 2006

As you know, this book won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction in 2006.In 2010 the London Times ranked The Road first on its list of the 100 best fiction and non-fiction books of the past 10 years.

That's nice and everything, but I never really got McCarthy. I read All the Pretty Horses in the 90s and didn't get it, either. I guess I'm not sophisticated enough for critically acclaimed stuff. He's often compared to Faulkner, who I also don't get.

The writing was good, but the story didn't grab me. Well, it did, at first, but after a couple hundred pages of a man and a boy walking through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, looking for food and encountering 3 or 4 other humans during that span, I had gotten enough to last me for the next decade.

If you're the type who loves McCarthy, great. Enjoy it. I'll enjoy something else.