Thursday, August 30, 2007

To Jim Miller

Jim Miller appeared at the writers' group, bringing with him a notebook and a look of nervous anticipation. He had taken a class in writing at Macomb County Community College and decided that he wanted to be creative in a way that his current job with a large advertising wouldn't allow him to be.

"What did you bring?" asked Jon.

"I really..." he said, shuffling some papers.

"No, go ahead. Did you bring something?"

"I don't feel comfortable reading..."

"We're interested," said Jon. Jon tends to be more nurturing than I. I think I might have just asked him his blood type.

That was well over a year ago. Since then Jim has quit his job, moved to Florida with his family, and entered the Masters program to try for a degree in Creative Writing.

Jim is driven. He is often soft-spoken, quick to smile, and studies his environment with a keen eye. He is a smart man who enjoys discovery. He has a wry sense of wit.

The one thing about getting to know Jim which was most frustrating for me was that just as he and I were settling into a comfortable friendship, he moved. I miss him.

So visit his site. Read his work. Here's to Jim. I hope I kill him in fantasy football.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Heading Back



Summer is drawing to a close, and with it my freedom. It also means I'll have to leave the Tigers and let them just figure things out in the bullpen. I know Leyland will be devastated, but if they had listened to me in the first place and done something in the off season about the pitching squad and not just picked up Jose Mesa, or picked up a fresh arm before the trade deadline at the end of July, they wouldn't be so upset about seeing me head off to school.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Halo 3, World of Warcraft, and Fantasy Football

Halo 3 is coming out in a week and yet I still do not own an XBOX360.

You're going to hear a lot about this game. It will receive the same media blitz as a big feature motion picture. Of course it probably doesn't need a such massive promotion; it's already presold a million copies. For a game, that is astonishing. It's likely that Microsoft's Halo 3 will challenge several records. To put it in perspective, "Spiderman 3" made 150 million in its first weekend. Microsoft is hoping to make 155 million in one day's sales.

Is it worth it? I can't review Halo 3, but I can tell you that based on the first two games, yeah..it probably will be. The first was astonishing. It had amazing graphics, magnificent gameplay, and a story that unrolled to envelop the gamer, building to a wonderful climax. The second game was as exciting graphically, but the story stuttered a little and just as it built to a climax in what should have been an ultimate battle, Microsoft cheated and left gamers hanging. A cliffhanger wouldn't have been too horrible if the game hadn't been too short.

The third in the series promises to utilize the XBOX's amazing processor as well as deliver a more compelling story than the second title. I want this game. But I'll probably hold off on buying an XBOX360 for a few more months.

In the meantime? Need you ask? World of Warcraft? Well maybe ... but as September approaches so does fantasy football. And in a year where I have a lineup of Eli Manning, Larry Johnson, Javon Walker, Clinton Portis, Braylon Edwards, The Chargers' Defense and David Akers kicking, let's just say I'm hoping to be competitive.

So that's it...the gaming continues, but I promise that with the school year approaching, I'll be gaming less and less.

It's probably a good thing I don't own that XBOX360

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

ASSIGNMENT: LEARNING CURVE

In the last few weeks I've made numerous postings about writing, mostly dealing with business prospects. Maybe it's time for something a little interactive.

With the coming of September, this blog will take on a more regular posting schedule. To get that underway and to return to the purpose of this blog, to force me to keep focused on the mechanics of writing as well as the business aspects of craft, I am setting up a writing assignment for myself. Of course, this means that anyone who wishes to join along is welcome to send along a link via email to an entry on their website and I will post it on Tuesday, August 28 so people can read, enjoy, critique, comment and what have you.

The assignment? Education, of course. Whether it is an essay, an anecdote, a short story, or a poem..it should deal with the experience of learning. If you're doing a short story, then the suggested title: Learning Curve.

(picture from strangecosmos.com)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Staying Inside The Lines

Small children will sit in front of a television and watch the same show over and over again. Parents complain, maddened at having to sit through "The Lion King" or "Cars" for the fiftieth time. But are the adults so different from the children?

Someone recently said to me: "People like the familiar. They don't mind twists on the familiar, but they want something comfortable." Writing is like that. When a reader picks up a spy novel, they want a spy novel. And there are rules that writer is supposed to follow within that subgenre. When people read a vampire story or a zombie tale, they expect the author will work within their expectations or else have a strong reason why they are coloring outside the lines.

Strange that we spend so much energy exalting the "original" and the "creative". I'm not condemning, just observing.

I think that the brilliance of some writing is the ability of the author to take the familiar and present it in such a manner as to strike deeply resonating chords within the reader. Whether the author does that by deliberately following a Campbell model of archetypes, or by following an intuitive bend, success is measured by reader response.

Reader response.

I've been critical of writers who create without consideration of readership. I've scoffed at those who are acclaimed great writers for producing books nearly indecipherable. Is originality an illusion, or a matter of timing and perspective?

Stephen King, a writer with whom I have a love/hate relationship (I just recently gave up on trying to make it through "The Gunslinger") is a master at playing to that part of the human psyche that sits on the floor cross-legged, smiling dreamily while proclaiming: "Tell me that story again. Tell me again the part with the old man."

King stays colors within the lines. It's his genius to do so. Giving the public what they want may not win a person literary praise by ivy league critics, but it improves chances of publication.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mr. Cronin's Book

If you want to find out how many cds sell, if you want to find out how a certain film does in terms of box office receipts, this information is fairly available. Yet why is it that if you want to know how many copies of a certain book title passed through retail, the information becomes a bit more difficult to obtain.

Don't believe me? Go ahead and try and do a search of a particular title to see how many copies were sold. You can ask the publisher, but that's no guarantee that information is going to be forthcoming.

Now you're probably thinking: what about bestsellers lists like the New York Times' survey? You'll notice no number of books sold is detailed there.

If you want information, you have to subscribe to Nielsen. You know, the same people who magically rate your television watching. Nielsen keeps track of retail sales but you have to pay. It will cost about eighty dollars for one title, with discounts available if you want to see more. And even then, the information doesn't take into account some of the smaller presses' distributions.

Why is this important to anyone writing? Because we're basically masochistic people and the more we hear about how difficult it is to succeed in our profession, the happier we are. And also, at some point a writer needs to ask: how many copies of a book sold is a sign of success. It helps to be able to track other writers and titles and do comparisons. It helps too when writing and marketing a title. Shelf lives are short and retailers are picky about what risks they want to take with their floor space. Scratch that. Retailers don't take chances.

Except...

A story is circulating through the literary world about a bidding war that recently went down for a writer's unfinished manuscript about vampires in an apocalyptic setting. A bidding war? Who was the author? Stephen King? Anne Rice? Laurell K. Hamilton?

No.

The author's unfinished manuscript will be published under an unknown non-de-plume. And even if you did know the writer's name, chances are you haven't heard of him before nor read his prior work. The author is Jordon Ainsley (real name Justin Cronin). His prior work? A book you've probably not heard of: "Mary and O Neill", one of those literary pieces few people read which also manages to win the Pen/Hemingway Award. The what? And then there was also "The Summer Guest".

No history of genre writing. No track record with the fans.

And yet Mr. Cronin or Mr. Ainsley if you prefer, gets almost four million dollars for an unfinished manuscript in what will be the first of a vampire trilogy.

HEY!!!! FOX!!!!! If you want unfinished manuscripts and outlines, I got some for you!!! You want vampires? I'll give you vampires. If you want to read more about this go here.

The world of publishing remains a mystery to me. I guess my problem is that I see the world through left wing glasses. Maybe if I clean them and try putting on my "Capitalism Is Neat" basenball cap, it would make a little more sense.

Or not.



Monday, August 06, 2007

Reading As Writer

Someone wrote to me about two stories in a magazine, commenting that one story would be a favorite of the readers of the magazine and the other would be a favorite of the writers. I thought about this and wonder if this is a distinction worthy of exploration.

Do writers read differently than people who have no intention on spinning tales of their own?

There are many times that I read something and pick it apart, looking for construction and how character is developed and plot unveiled. Those times, I will study paragraph construction and sentence usage. As a matter of fact I've found myself doing that today while reading Stephen King's "The Gunslinger", which is the first of the "Dark Tower" series. But then, there are other works of fiction that I devour without any consideration as to form.

When I worked as a film critic, I seldom broke apart a film until after I had watched it. As I told someone: "If I am sitting there thinking about acting, direction, and editing, then something is wrong. I should be immersed in the experience."

Should the same thing be said about writing? As we read should we be enjoying the experience, or is it a failure if we find ourselves picking it apart as we go along? Or as writers do we approach the craft or art with a different perspective? There's no right or wrong answer or perspective here, it's just something to think about when reading.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Awardings

I've just finished "The Rising" by Brian Keene. It's a well written book that pulls the reader along, milking the theme of a plague of zombies for all its worth. And tomorrow, I'll probably head over to the book store and get the sequel (trust me, the way this ends, picking up the sequel is a must...and if I had known the ending ahead of time, I would have had the sequel waiting). I recommend this book. Keene's novel deserves to be read by fans of horror. But did it deserve to win the Bram Stoker First Novel award in 2003?

For those who don't know, The Bram Stoker Award (named for the author of "Dracula") is the annual award for fiction given each year by the Horror Writers of America. It's something to be coveted, or at least I used to think so. That's before I started reading the list of other novels that have won the award over the last several years. Here's a sample of winners in the Novel category and First Novel category over the last few years:

2006---Novel: Lisey's Story by Stephen King (Scribner)/First Novel: Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry (Pinnacle)

2005--Novel: (tie) Creepers by David Morrell and Dread in the Beast by Charlee Jacob/First Novel: Scarecrow Gods by Weston Ochse

2004--Novel: In the Night Room by Peter Straub/First Novel: (tie) Covenant by John Everson and Stained by Lee Thomas

2003--Novel: lost boy lost girl by Peter Straub/First Novel: The Rising by Brian Keene

(if you want a more complete list, follow this link...)


Now while I've read several of these novels on the full list and consider many well-written and entertaining, some have in no way been deserving of a Bram Stoker Award. I won't mention which, but the I'll raise the question as to whether or not some of these nominations are the result of self-serving politics.

And I'm not just picking on the Stoker Awards. I've been unable to watch an Academy Awards presentation for years without rolling my eyes and shaking my head. Can the same be said for The Edgar Allen Poe Awards, given by Mystery Writers of America; or The Hugo Award for science fiction, given by the World Science Fiction Society, or the Golden Heart Award by the Romance Writers of America.

I'll bet that most of these awards are the result of haggling and politicking between agents, editors, and publishers. That there is an enormous amount of favor promising and favor collecting going on during the process.

So, does that make these awards less important to their winners? Does it mean anything to the person who picks up a copy of a novel and sees that the author is the former recipient of a Golden Heart?

I'll tell you one advantage to the reader. More than likely, a book nominated for one of these awards is probably not going to be a total waste of time. Looking over the list of nominees for Stokers is how I found "The Rising". Do I consider it worthy of the award? No. But I'd still recommend it for purchase and for a good scare or two. So Mr. Keene, wherever you are, please don't take offense. I don't know if I'm making a comment about your novel so much as I'm commenting about my own naiveté and the world of marketing.

And hey..I still haven't gotten an award for blogging, so there's still integrity out there somewhere.