Friday, March 30, 2012

Fabulously Fun Friday--Cartoons

A few nights ago, in the interests of trying to understand our young grandson's obession with something called Phineas and Ferb, I tried sitting down and actually watching what passes for cartoons on TV these days. After ninety minutes, I gave it up as a lost cause. Maybe it's my age (approaching sixty at warp speed) but to quote the Bard, it was all "sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Not that I begrudge a good frenetic cartoon--I'm a fan of anything Tex Avery--but a 'toon needs more than garish colors, "bwannggg" sound effects, and characters with loud voices; plots would be nice. But sometimes a plot can ruin a cartoon: case in point, a little bit of a late 1939 nihilistic doomfest called Peace on Earth, AKA the Darkest. Grimmest. Cartoon. EVER. Look it up. See if I'm right.

It was buried in a DVD of public domain cartoons we bought years ago for the grandkidlits, with the idea of giving them some good ol' fashioned Christmas Eve family fun. But once I hit "play," I knew we were in trouble. All the 'toons were muddy and/or scratchy ... except for Peace on Earth. That one was as pristine as the day it was struck.

The story starts off simply enough: grandpa rabbit is telling his little ones about Christmas. But thirty seconds in, the thing leaves the rails as you realize it's a dystopian future tale, with the emphasis on "dystopian." Old Long-ears begins by telling his cute as buttons bunnies of the "humans and war," and as he speaks we're treated to scenes of tanks rolling, machine guns firing, gas and flamethrower attacks, and unidentified soldiers from both sides dying by the hundreds. It goes on, and on, and on, in a Waiting for Godot tediousness, ending at last with house-to-house fighting in a siege of Leningrad-type scenario, and the story is capped with the final two soldiers on earth killing each other on Christmas Eve.

And now all that's left is the animals, you see.

As my wife and I sat watching it we both were seized with a type of aghast paralysis. As it approached its climax I recall thinking, "this one isn't going to end well." And I was right. At its On the Beach conclusion, both little grandsons burst into tears, and we had a hob of a time getting them calmed down. "Look kids, we have more eggnog! You like eggnog, right??"

Sheesh. Maybe Phineas and Ferb aren't so bad.

God bless us all, every one. *G*
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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dancing with the Words

I love Dancing with the Stars. It's one of my guilty pleasures. Watching the couples elegantly dip and sway, spin and turn, and glide across the floor--or gyrate across the floor, doing things I couldn't do even when I was young enough to do them--fascinates me. It makes me whimsical and wistful with the longing to dance like they do.

But it isn't just the beautiful, effortless dancing that draws me in. It's the behind-the-scenes clips of the work involved in making the dance beautiful and effortless.

In some room somewhere, with windows along one wall, and a barre mounted to a mirror along the other, these men and women sweat, fall, curse, cry, get up and start all over again. They're dressed in their scrubbiest clothes, sometimes in their dance shoes, sometimes in street shoes. The women don't have makeup on and their hair is usually pulled carelessly out of the way.

And they work. Do the same steps over and over until they get them right. String the steps together into the components of the choreography, stream those components into the dance itself, and practice. And practice, and practice.

Often, sixty hours a week go into making one three-minute performance look easy, like anyone can jump from the sofa and dip and sway and gyrate, just like they do on TV.

But of course, they can't.

Any form of art takes work and practice, which is why it always strikes me as funny when someone says they're going to sit down and write a book and "become a famous author!"

A lot of work goes on behind the scenes. In some room somewhere, with or without windows, with or without a mirror, authors study and write and edit and rewrite. All so the book the reader holds in his hands can seem like an effortless flow of words into a gripping story--like anyone can jump up from the sofa and write a story just like it.

The more I've learned about what goes into "good" writing, the harder it has become. Whenever I feel I've mastered some aspect, I'm challenged with another. What goes into writing a novel is no easier than what goes into that Monday night performance. They both take work.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Need an Editor?

We're all blind to our own mistakes, and a fresh pair of eyes can do wonders for our manuscripts. Even an editor needs an editor if she's also a writer, as I've discovered. Here are a few who have worked with me in the past:

Suzanne Hartmann, of Write this Way, is the author of a new Christian suspense novel called Peril, a terrific page turner set in the world of NASCAR. Suzanne is also one of my fellow editors on staff at Port Yonder Press. She worked with me on Give the Lady a Ride, and excelled at sentence structure evaluation. Her critique offerings center around polishing style, sentence structure, and flow.

Lisa Lickel (with a blog bearing her name) is a multi-published, award-winning author of Christian romance and devotionals. Her newest, The Map Quilt, debuts April 27, 2012, a novel that combines mystery and history to come up with a stunning reading adventure. She too is an editor on staff with Port Yonder Press and has a keen eye for logistics--things in the plot itself that contradict or don't work.

Canadian editor Cathi-Lyn Dyck, of Scienda Editorial, is not currently a published author, but she is, however, the editor of two award-winning novels, not to mention novels that have finaled in some pretty impressive contests in the Christian industry--like the Christy, for instance. She recently worked with me on my newest, The Cat Lady's Secret. Cathi-Lyn's editorial work is comprehensive and superlative, and she excels at discovering structural issues, especially those based on the genre you write. She doesn't work on romance, but will work on submissions for the ABA market as long as they're family friendly.

Each of these editors are excellent at their jobs, each charge different prices for their services. Some are more comprehensive in their offerings than others. If you've finished your manuscript and are ready to see if it will be competitive in today's market, you should consider a professional edit--and these women are among the best to choose from.
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Friday, March 23, 2012

FFF: Welcome to IT

The BBC show, The IT Crowd, is the funniest show I have ever seen. Yes, I am a geek. And sometimes a nerd.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review of Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips for Writers by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is well known among writers for her helpful book The Frugal Book Promoter, and she continues to encourage and guide writers through her many other projects, including this fast read (56 pages), which she advertises as a supplement to her book The Frugal Editor. After opening with an intro, reminding authors of the importance of crossing our T’s and dotting our I’s in both our queries and our published works, she launches into the meat of the book: page after page of handy references for spotting and fixing tricky word pairs.

Organized alphabetically with word pairs separated by slashes (e.g., “bereft / bereaved”), the book makes it easy to look up definitions and identify which word should be used in specific circumstances. Although the book’s diminutive length prevents it from anywhere close to exhaustive, it’s a good starting place and can easily be backed up with the more complete list in The Frugal Book Editor.

Priced reasonably (especially the Kindle version) and packed with lots of writerly wit and humor, the book makes for both an enjoyable read and a worthwhile reference manual.
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Monday, March 19, 2012

Interview - Saladin Ahmed

Johne, here. Every so often, a debut novel will make such a splash that the buzz grows from a whisper to a roar apparently over night. That happened last summer for me with the release of Ernest Cline's Ready Player One. It happened again this February with Throne of the Crescent Moon, an exotic, original novel which takes place in a Fantasy world with an Arabian flair and an unconventional cast. It burst on the scene and suddenly, everybody was raving about it. (And by 'everybody,' I include Patrick Rothfuss, who has a larger-than-life persona.) The author carved out some time in his crazy post-release schedule to spend some time with us. Please welcome poet and Fantasy author Saladin Ahmed.

Authorculture: Welcome to the Authorculture blog! Geeky fanboy question — how cool was it to see your name on the cover of a physical novel with cover art by the great Jason Chan?

Honestly, I didn't know Jason's work until DAW hired him for my cover. But once I saw his approach, I was pretty excited. He's like a 21st c. Larry Elmore or Keith Parkinson!

AC: It's funny what sticks with you. When I was growing up, my parents had this series of classic stories, including one of my favorites, The Lance of Kanana, a story about a shrewd young Arabian hero noted for his nobility, cunning, and self-sacrifice. I never forgot it. Your main character strays a bit from that template. He's an aging magician with an attitude and a belly, on the brink of retirement and relational commitment. Where did Doctor Adoulla Makhslood come from? He doesn't strike me as remotely angsty or sparkly.

Hah! Indeeed, gas-passing Adoulla's pretty much the opposite of sparkly. He's a kind of Van Helsing + Falstaff + Sallah from Indiana Jones + Bruce Willis' character in Pulp Fiction + Dashiell Hammett's The Continetal Op + smartass old Arab guys I grew up with.

AC: As a reader, one of my great blind discoveries occurred in 1987 when I ran across George Alec Effinger's When Gravity Fails, the tale of future detective Marid Audran chasing a personality-shifting killer roaming the culturally rich but practically lethal Arab ghetto called the Budayeen. Reading that prompted fond memories of other great, exotic cities: Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar, P.C Hodgell's Tai Tastigon, and (more recently) Scott Lynch’s Camarr. What was it like world-building your own great city, Dhamsawaat?

A lot of work! I grew up in a working-class Arab neighbourhood outside Detroit, so Effinger's cityscape rang pretty true to me when I read it. And Lankhmar (and its wonderful D&D ripoff Waterdeep) has been a massive influence on me. So I relied on my spec fic influences, my own memories, and travel experience to 'build' Dhamsawaat. But I also did a ton of reading/research. Old monographs on the topography of medieval Baghdad, the wonderful book Daily Life in the Medieval Islamic world, etc., etc.

AC: You seem to relish challenging the assumptions readers bring to adventure fantasy. It strikes me there’s a fine line between wild creativity / trope-smashing and craven mainstream success. As an author, how much liberty do you allow yourself to have? Do you find yourself tempering yourself to create something more marketable, or do you write the best-crafted story you can and let the market find you? How much do you worry about marketability / salability when crafting your stories?

The writerly answer here is supposed to be 'I don't think about that, it's all about the story.' But that's BS. I know a lot of pro novelists, and 90% of them think about marketing/accessibility quite a lot. I personally like thinking about what readers want. It makes the whole enterprise less isolating. But of course, if one isn't careful, that can slide into pure pandering. What can we as writers do except to aim not to cross that line?

AC: The face of publishing has changed so quickly, so much. Promotion seems so different today than it was even five years ago. What’s the single most important thing a writer needs to do to promote his book?

1)   Write a good book.
2)   In Connie Willis' immortal words: “Don't be a shit.”

AC: Historically, Science Fiction and secular humanism largely go hand-in-hand, but Fantasy seems to afford an author more liberty when it comes to writing about a variety of religious faiths in various cultures. Your characters display a neat matter-of-fact spirituality without being preachy about it. How have your readers accepted that facet of life? What have you learned about writing a culture and individual characters with strong religious elements?

Thanks for noticing! I actually think most fantasy is also full of more-or-less secular humanist characters. And this often feels deeply anachronistic to me since most fantasy takes place in a preindustrial, polytheistic world.

This is probably the element of THRONE that has elicited the widest range of reactions. Some have found the characters' religiosity to be off-putting while others have felt that religion was underexplored in the book. YMMV, as the kids say...

AC: Like many veterans of NaNoWriMo, I possess a raw 50k+ word swashbuckling adventure first draft. You own and operate a respected novel critique service on the side. As a professional novel editor, what are the most common errors that come across your desk from NaNoWriMo writers?

Writers are such a diverse lot that I don't actually think there's such a thing as 'common beginner mistakes.' I treat each manuscript I edit as its own beast. And it helps that those who hire me have already learned one of the almost-universal truths of writing a professional-quality manuscript: Other, well-read people should critique your manuscript - and you should revise it in response to those critiques - before you even think about querying agents or publishers.
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Friday, March 16, 2012

Fabulously Fun Friday: Gotta Love English Professors

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Illustrate Character Through His Possessions

The items on which we choose to spend our hard-earned money tell a lot about us. The possessions with which we surround ourselves in our homes, leave inside our vehicles, and pack into our office spaces often present an interesting view of our personalities and values. When we view someone else’s possessions, we instantly and unconsciously form an opinion about them—and the same holds true for the characters in our books.

As authors, it pays for us to give special attention to our characters’ personal spaces. Their homes, cars, and cubicles all have the power to reveal much about their inner landscapes, if only we spend a few extra minutes dabbing in the details. Daphne du Maurier gives us a fine example of this in her delightful historical novel Jamaica Inn, in which she deftly shows us the sinister side of the albino vicar through a few simple items in the parsonage: ominous paintings with their faces turned to the wall and, hidden in his desk, a rough caricature of his parish as a herd of sheep and himself as the wolf.

Showing your character living in a rickety trailer house is good, but don’t stop there. If he’s a man obsessed with straight lines, who sees the world through a black and white viewfinder, perhaps you could illustrate this by exemplifying his neatnik tendencies inside his house. Don’t go overboard: adding descriptive details just for the sake of description is rarely a good idea. But by putting a little extra thought into the places your characters live and the things they choose to own, you can give readers extra insight into the personalities that fill your pages.
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Monday, March 12, 2012

Writing Tips ~ Backing up Your Data

Just before Christmas 2011, the unthinkable happened... we left our house for just over an hour and when we got home, someone had broken in and stolen several things - one of which was my laptop with all my writing related information on it.

Here's the thing. I backed up my data periodically. But after this incident I can tell you, I didn't back it up often enough.

At that time I was bearing down on the finish line of a novel and I hadn't backed it up for about a week - I lost several thousand words. Other things I lost that I hadn't even considered backing up were: emails, contacts, and pictures.

So do yourself a favor and don't be like me. Prepare now for the worst.

I now have a program called SyncBack that I use. This nifty little program allows me to use my website (where I already had a significant amount of storage space) as a back up of certain folders on my computer. I've set it up so it runs once a day at a certain time. At least if something like this happens to me again I will only lose at the most 24 hours of work.

There are also lots of options out there of paid back-up services. Some of those are: Carbonite, Live Drive, Storage Guardian, MyPCBackup, and Mozy. (Note, I don't use any of these, so please use caution and check them out before deciding which one to use.)

Where do you start?

  1. Make a list of all the information on your computer that you would simply hate to lose if the unimaginable happened. Be thorough.
  2. Decide which back-up method is right for you. It should be an automated solution, not one that is performed by you, because life happens and backing up our computers isn't always on the top of our priority list.
  3. Set it up and forget about it - well, for the most part - it's good to check in on it every once in awhile to make sure your automations are actually doing what you've told them to do. 

I hope you'll never have to use this, but if you do, you'll be so glad you set it up ahead of time. It will save you lots of hassle!

What are your backup solutions? Any other programs I didn't mention above that you use and are pleased with?
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Friday, March 9, 2012

Calvin and Hobbes on Writing & Creativity ~ Fabulously Fun Friday

This gave me a good chuckle. As writers we get a lot of rules thrown at us. Try not to let them put a damper on your creativity! Enjoy your weekend, everyone!
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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Genre Talk

Today for a genre, I'd like to talk a little about a subject near and dear to my heart: Southern writing. Now, the eggheads among us dismiss it, stating anyone can do it ("just write like a hillbilly"). Nothing could be further from the truth. Real Southern writing is as multilayered as a country quilt (Flannery O'Connor, anyone?), and contains phrases and terms that, like jalapeno peppers in cornbread, can add deeper texture to something that's already good.

So in honor of Southern writing; I'd to present just a few turns of phrase I grew up with, with their citified definitions. Some you may know, some not, but see if you don't agree they're tasty!

1. A Bone to Pick (someone who wants to discuss a disagreement)
2. An Axe to Grind (Someone who has a hidden motive. This phrase is said to have originated from Benjamin Franklin who told a story about a devious man who asked how a grinding wheel worked. He ended up walking away with his axe sharpened free of charge.)
3. One bad apple spoils the whole barrel (one corrupt person can cause all the others to go bad if you don't remove the bad one)
4. At sea (lost or not understanding something)
5. Bad Egg (Someone who was not a good person)
6. Barking at a knot (meaning that your efforts were as useless as a dog barking at a knot.)
7. Barking up the wrong tree (talking about something that was completely the wrong issue with the wrong person)
8. Bee in your bonnet (To have an idea that won't let loose )
9. Been through the mill (had a rough time of it)
10. Between hay and grass (Not a child or an adult)
11. Blinky (Between sweet and sour as in milk)
12. Calaboose (a jail)
13. Catawampus (Something that sits crooked such as a piece of furniture sitting at an angle.)
14. Dicker (To barter or trade)
15. Feather in Your Cap (to accomplish a goal. This came from years ago in wartime when warriors might receive a feather they would put in their cap for defeating an enemy)
16. Hold your horses (Be patient!)
17. Hoosegow ( a jail)
18. I reckon (I suppose)
19. Jawing/Jawboning (Talking or arguing)
20.Kit and caboodle (The whole thing)
21. Madder than an wet hen (really angry)
22. Needs taken down a notch or two (like notches in a belt usually a young person who thinks too highly of himself and needs a lesson)
23. No Spring Chicken (Not young anymore)
24.Persnickety (overly particular or snobbish)
25.Pert-near (short for pretty near)
26.Pretty is as pretty does (your actions are more important than your looks)
27.Red up (clean the house)
28.Scalawag (a rascal or unprincipled person)
29.Scarce as hen's teeth (something difficult to obtain)
30.Skedaddle (Get out of here quickly.)
31. Sparking (courting)
32.Straight From the Horse's Mouth (privileged information from the one concerned)33.Stringing around, gallivanting around, or piddling (Not doing anything of value)
34.Sunday go to meetin' dress (the best dress you had)
35.We wash up real fine (is another goodie)
36.Tie the Knot (to get married)
37.Too many irons in the fire (to be involved in too many things)
38.Tuckered out (tired and all worn out)
39.Under the weather (not feeling well - this term came from going below deck on ships due to sea sickness thus you go below or under the weather)
40.Wearing your 'best bib and tucker' (being all dressed up)
41. You ain't the only duck in the pond (It's not all about you.)
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Monday, March 5, 2012

Marketing The New 'John Carter / A Princess of Mars' Movie

By now, most of our Dear Readers know that I am a big genre fan, and as a genre fan, we have a huge event coming up this week, the long-awaited release of the first Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian Planetary Romance based on A Princess of Mars. This project has been in the works for literally decades, and a great many Name directors have been attached to development of the film at one time or another. The project finally found legs with Disney directed by Andrew Stanton of Pixar fame (director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E). This is his first live-action film, however, fellow Pixar director Brad Bird recently directed his first live-action film, and received wide acclaim for his efforts.

So what does all this have to do with marketing? As it happens, everything.

One definition of Marketing, boiled down to its essence, is this:
Marketing is used to identify the customer, satisfy the customer, and keep the customer.

So how does the marketing for this film make a difference? Let's start with the title. You'll notice the film is not called A Princess of Mars. Andrew Stanton explains the marketing logic that was employed to field a title he could sell to the widest audience for the first story of the franchise out of the blocks.
Here’s the real truth of it. I’d already changed it from A Princess Of Mars to John Carter Of Mars. I don’t like to get fixated on it, but I changed Princess Of Mars… because not a single boy would go.
And then the other truth is, no girl would go to see John Carter Of Mars. So I said, “I don’t won’t to do anything out of fear, I hate doing things out of fear, but I can’t ignore that truth.”
All the time we were making this big character story which just so happens to be in this big, spectacular new environment. But it’s not about the spectacle, it’s about the investment. I thought, I’ve really worked hard to make all of this an origin story. It’s about a guy becoming John Carter.
So I’m not misrepresenting what this movie is, it’s John Carter.
Mars is going to stick on any other film in the series. But by then, it won’t have a stigma to it.
So there you have it, the Marketing logic brought to bear on a venerable and long-awaited genre title. One can only hope the film will receive its full due and earn the chance to continue the Barsoom franchise (there are eleven books in total available, providing much grist for the genre mill).

One final note: the studio trailers for John Carter have been generally regarded as lacking, prompting impassioned fans to make their own trailer, which was widely hailed as more successfully catching the scope and vibe of the story. That's not the coolest thing. The coolest thing is that Andrew Stanton found out about the fan trailer, and instead of trying to stifle it, reTweeted it himself, putting his own stamp of approval on it. That is very cool.

Early buzz by film critics like Drew (Moriarty) McWeeny have been stellar.
Richly imagined, robustly performed, and directed with the evident enthusiasm of someone who's been dreaming about Barsoom his whole life, "John Carter" is a gem.
John Carter opens March 9 in the US.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Writing in Pictures

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