May 26, 2011

Little Green Men **

** Little Green Men, Christopher Buckley, 1999

My Buckley source told me that Little Green Men was the best. I finally picked up a copy and found that I must respectfully disagree. Like other Buckley novels, it is zany and erudite, but I felt like I never got below the surface on any of the characters, not even the protagonist. A lot of the character reactions seemed contrived or obvious, as if Buckley was taking the easy way out, almost phoning it in.

Also, I found one mistake. A UFO convention is set in Austin and the protagonist looks down from his high-rise hotel across Lake Austin. The problem is that the portion of the Colorado River that runs through town was called Town Lake at the time. Now it's called Ladybird Lake. Lake Austin is further west.

May 20, 2011

Regarding experts

An excerpt from a Francis Chan video:

In Romans 9, God compares me to clay. He says, “You’re like a piece of clay and I’m the potter.”

I thought ,“Wow, that means I’m like a piece of clay trying to explain to other pieces of clay what the potter is like.”

Think about that for a second. It shows the silliness for any of us to think we’re an expert on God.

May 19, 2011

Blue Hotel ***

Blue Hotel, JT Conroe, 2011

Last year, after a three-year sojourn in the wilderness of screenwriting, I returned to my homeland, the novel. I've got three works in progress and plan to release the first one, Muffin Man, in early 2012. So, for all you Fred Book fans out there who have been wanting something new from the Whittington pen, your day is coming.

I said all that to get to the point of the fact that I've swapped my screenwriting critique group for a novel-writing critique group. It's been great fun, reading stuff and savaging it. Heh, heh. Last month one of the writers released Blue Hotel on Amazon as a Kindle book for the felicitous price of $2.99 and I snatched it up. (By the way, if you haven't already, drop by my post on e-book prices and give me your thoughts.)

Now you might be thinking, "I'll skip this review because I don't have a Kindle." And you would be wrong, because you can download a free Kindle viewer for your computer, so that matters not. And this is a book worth getting the viewer for, or even a Kindle, as you can get one for $114 these days.

I'll admit that I didn't have high hopes for Blue Hotel when I bought it. Nothing against the author, who is a great guy, but it's just the odds. I know a lot of great guys who are not very good writers, even some who are traditionally published. It's surprisingly hard to write a good novel, even if you're a reasonably good writer, and often even very good writers fail to pull it off. But I was willing to take a stab at it for a brother-in-arms.

By the time I was halfway into Chapter 1, it was no longer a labor of obligation. It moved like a freight train and I hung on for the ride. I read the first third of the book in once sitting and forced myself to stop because it was two a. m. and I figured it might be nice to get some sleep for the day job the next day. I read another third the next night, and finished it the next. And I'm still thinking about some of the scenes and characters a week later.

The novel is set in and around the location of a Stephen Crane short story, "The Blue Hotel." You don't have to read the short story to enjoy the book, but it is interesting to do so, anyway.

May 14, 2011

E-books vs. P-books

Two established authors have a long (two part) conversation on many aspects of e-books vs traditional publishing. If this is the kind of thing you like to read about, you'll like this one. Very informative. They discuss it from the perspective of established authors, mid-list authors, and unpublished authors. A good pricing discusison toward the end of the second part.

Barb and Jenny on E-Publishing, Part 1

Barb and Jenny on E-Publishing, Part 2

May 12, 2011

Six books and the day job

I've done a bit of reading for the day job. You probably won't care for the topic, but I find it interesting and it pays the bills, so hey.

The All-New Real Estate Foreclosure Short-Selling Underwater Property Auction Positive Cash Flow Book, Chantal Howell Carey and Bill Carey, 2009

This is the print equvalent of the informercial about how to become a millionaire with no cash down. Some good information mixed in with sensational hooraw. They do work out the math for you on every example, which is nice if you get lost in the numbers. but they gloss over a lot of things, like, "The buyer defaults on the first and second mortgages. You foreclose on your second mortgage. No one outbids your opening credit bid at the foreclosure sale. You get the property back subject to the first mortgage." Yes, it's just that simple, folks!

Buying Real Estate Foreclosures, Melissa S. Kollen-Rice, 2003

Very thorough, with a lot of focus on property management and a gzillion types of loans. This a very good book with lots of checklists, forms, examples, etc. However, a book from 2003 on this topic is only half useful. Most of the preforeclosure advice (short sales, etc.) were examples where owners had equity. These days to negotiate a short sale, you have to convince the lender to take less than the due amount of the loan. I got suckered on this one. I saw there was a 2008 third edition, clicked on it, and saw it was paperback. I clicked the link for the Kindle Version and bought it without realizing it was for the 2003 version. I'd like to see what the 2008 version says, but I'm not interested in getting a paper version to find out.

How to Buy Foreclosed Real Estate for a Fraction of its Value, Theodore J. Dallow, Don Ayer and Dick Pas, 2008

Good opening chapters on how we got to the point we were in 2008. Level-headed information and advice. This is probably the best so far, but even a book only three years old is bordering on obsolete in our current circumstances. The mechanics of process and laws haven't changed significantly, but strategies have. The recent announcement that the Obama administration is looking to shut down or phase out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is a good example.

The Complete Guide to Locating, Negotiating, and Buying Real Estate Foreclosures, Frankie Orlando and Marsha Ford, 2007

This wins the award for the crappiest formatting on a Kindle book I've seen to date. The table of contents is a train wreck. There are even entries out of order, chapter 10 coming after chapter 14. Despite that, there is decent content, albeit with a heavy focus on the details of renovation. The strange thing is that when you read about the authors, neither have any experience in the real estate industry. Frankie is a freelance writer whose bio talks about her husband, daughters, cats, photo albums and Taie Kwon Do belt color. Her qualification is that she has spent the last ten years watching real estate prices double in her area. Marsha is a writer, editor, trainer and entrepreneur who has written a lot of non-fiction books and done a lot of training. Evidently neither one has ever bought anything on the courthouse steps, which is kind of an important detail if you're writing a book about how to buy foreclosures.

Foreclosure Investing for Dummies, Ralph R. Roberts with Joe Kraynak, 2007

Even better than the Dallow book in some ways. This is the only book that made no attempt to explain the real estate market, the bubble, the crash, or to analyze what happened and why and whose fault it was. In fact, it doesn't talk about the crash at all. It simply talks about foreclosure investing. Like a typical Dummies book, it uses very simple langauge and examples and lots of repetition, but does a great job of hitting all the high points and has lots of detail and anecdotes from Roberts' multi-decade career in property managment and real estate investing. Lots of checklists and sample documents. Big emphasis on building a career on integrity and genuinely trying to help people.

The Pre-Foreclosure Property Investor's Kit, Thomas J Lucier, 2005

This book focuses on one stage of foreclosure investing, preforeclosures. This is as opposed to auction investing and postforeclosure investing. It's a good book with tons of checklists and sample letters and forms, lots of online references for additional information. Of course, given its publication date, some of those links could be dead by now.

I found the organization a little funky. He starts off with a bunch of information outside of a framework of the investing process. Then 67 pages in he goes through his 14-step soup-to-nuts process for finding, acquiring, fixing and flipping properties. If you're interested in preforeclosure investing, it's a book worth getting, despite the date.

May 9, 2011

What would you pay for an ebook?

In the near future, the Fred Books will be available in various ebook formats. So I've been reading up on ebook pricing. I read a blog post by novelist Jennifer Crusie with this interesting quote.

Some readers are upset because it costs almost nothing to put the books up on the net (in their argument) so the books should be much cheaper. In this they’re missing a couple of key points–publishers have overhead no matter what format you buy, and you’re not buying paper when you buy a book, you’re buying story–but it doesn’t matter because public perception of worth becomes reality. What should be a question of “How much is this story by Jennifer Crusie worth?” becomes, “Well, I’ll pay $14.99 for Welcome to Temptation in trade paperback because that’s worth it, but I won’t pay that $9.99 for the same story in e-format because they’re ripping me off.” One’s wine in a bottle and the other is wine in a box. Same wine, but the perception of the value of that wine is different.

Funny because I also balk at paying what I see as too much for an ebook, but she really hit the meat of the matter when she said we're not buying a format, we're buying a story.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts and watch this space in the coming weeks for news of eFred at a reasonable price and some other goodies.

May 5, 2011

The Fifth Witness ***

*** The Fifth Witness, Michael Connelly, 2011

Just seconds ago I finished reading this one. Once again, a great read by Mr. C. Down to the wire I wasn't sure which way it would go, which is saying something, given I've read 20+ Connelly novels. If you like Connelly's style of stuff, you'll like this one.

However, after having watched McConaughey in The Lincoln Lawyer, it's hard to avoid seeing him as Haller, even though Connelly wrote a character of a different style. For example, in this novel we learn Haller's mother was Mexican and he looks like he should know Spanish, not something one would normally say of McConaughey.

All that being said, I had two beefs with the novel. Because of my day job, I've spent the last 18 months learning about the foreclosure crisis and the details behind it. In fact, I'm currently working on a couple of guides for investors and Realtors on opportunities in the foreclosure market. Since the premise of The Fifth Witness is based on a woman accused of murdering a banker who was foreclosing on her house, I eagerly awaited the release of this novel.

It turns out that the robo-signing scandal plays a big part in the book at the beginning and the end, with a lot of murder trial and investigation in the middle. That made it more interesting to me, but Connelly made it sound like the defendant had been illegally foreclosed on due to the whole robo-signing thing. True, fraud was perpetrated on conveyances, but that doesn't change the fact that people who quit paying their loans can legally be foreclosed on. It's just a matter of connecting the dots to who really owns the paper.

The novel had a lot of language about the poor, downtrodden masses unjustly being thrown out of their homes by money-grubbing "foreclosure mills." The reality is that the defendant was justly being thrown out of her home, perhaps by the wrong person, but for the right reasons - she hadn't made payments for a year. The soapboxing got a little old after a while.

OK, enough of that issue, which probably won't matter to most readers. The other issue is a spoiler I complained about in my review of The Brass Verdict. I won't repeat it here other than to say, sure enough, it happened again. You can click the link and read the fine print, but be forewarned, it is a spoiler. You might want to wait until you've read it before you do so.

But the ending was very intriguing. It left me wanting to read the next Haller book immediately. Which of course I can't do, since it hasn't been published, yet. Connelly's next novel due out is a Bosch story to be released in November. Dang.