Monday, January 31, 2011
Sunday, January 30, 2011
The Bronx is up and the Battery's down. The people ride in a hole in the ground. – Betty Comden and Adolph Green, On the Town
Saturday, January 29, 2011
We have all seen movies on television where key scenes are deleted or language altered--often comically when they try to make the word fit the actor's lip movements, or change "you Mother F*cker!" to "you silly nut" --that we are accustomed to it. The other night I was watching one of the new shows (Harry's Law maybe)and one character called another an asshole. Did the censors stop working at the networks and go to work on Disney cartoons?
You know I like realism and I've got a cast-iron gut, but I was stunned last night watching BONES. This "Gravedigger", a red-headed female serial killer, ex-prosecuting attorney in an orange jump suit stepped from a paddy wagon and was walking to the courthouse door when her head vaporized in a red wet cloud. Most realistic head blowing up I've ever seen and it was so seamless that, had I not known how illegal it is, I would have sworn they killed an actress (you know who was about to die of some dread disease anyway) for the shot. Then they showed closeups of people being washed with gore. It friggin looked like the special effects guy tossed a giant slurpee glass full of blood and brain tissue into the actor's face and shirt. I was so startled I laughed. That was followed by the slow panning of the corpse, whose head was just not there, a cluttered pool of blood. This wasn't HBO, this was Fox (I think). I've always thought of BONES as a light-weight drama. Those days are over.
I think some things are best shown ...well, maybe less graphically. The parts of the exploded head were given a close up as the lab team prepared to reconstruct the skull on a lazy susan. Why the hell put it together? Identification to check what amount of her head actually evaporated? The shot made what was left look like a meat-lovers pizza special where the a drunk chef used half a side of beef on it. I'm talking chunks the size of toddler fists with teeth, with features and some with tufts of red hair. Man-o-man. Actually, woman-o-woman. Then they showed a corpse in a tub of lye. Everything below the waterline was bone sticking through mushy tissue... And then they had a scene with that corpse on a table in the lab. Ugggghhh!
Did I mention that my four-year-old grandson saw it? I'm sure his mind will never be the same. He was at the table behind me, and when I laughed he looked up from his coloring book. "Dotz, I want to see it again." I changed the channel to Sponge Bob, after pressing the record button, and I had to explain special effects just like I have explained to him that Jurassic Park doesn't have actual dinosaurs, or that there are no Transformers demolishing buildings and so forth.
So here's my point. Do you think audiences have become so desensitized as to accept these radical changes involving what is on the tube. Where do we go from here? When is reality too real? Have I finally become as old fuddy duddy? Well, I didn't think I was. Truth is I know the next steps and how close we are to leaving NOTHING to the imagination. That, I find truly sad.
I feel for kids. We had Roy Rogers and six guns that shot dozens of rounds if the cowboys were in a running fight. Our kids have bullets exploding heads. I'm going to start wearing a raincoat when I watch TV, just in case blood splashes through the screen.
Friday, January 28, 2011
My first two published novels, Nathan’s Run and At All Costs, are out of print, and the rights reverted to me several years ago. Thanks to the somewhat startling success of the first two books in the Jonathan Grave series—No Mercy and Hostage Zero—Kensington Publishing purchased the reprint rights, and both will reappear on the shelves in 2011, first as eBooks and then as pBooks.
They’ll be published in reverse order, however, with At All Costs scheduled for a May release and Nathan’s Run coming out in August. The rationale here is all about practicality: At All Costs introduces FBI Agent Irene Rivers, a secondary yet pivotal character in the Grave books. With the latest Grave book, Threat Warning, coming out in late June, the reverse order seems like an attractive marketing platform. I guess we’ll see.
Enough shameless self-promotion for now.
It’s an interesting exercise to revisit stories I wrote thirteen and fifteen years ago. I have the opportunity to change anything I want—whether to merely put on a fresh coat of paint, or to pull down the Sheetrock and move the walls. I tell you that it’s tempting. If I were to write either of those books today, telling the same story, they’d be structured a lot differently. I’m startled by the degree to which my storytelling instincts have evolved.
But I’m going to resist the temptation—mostly. Fact is, I’m still very proud of both books, and I still think they’re well-written, even if I would write them differently today. They are, in fact, the books I wrote at the time, and the purist in me wants them to remain blazes on the trail I walked in the 1990s. They reflect the sensibilities and the world view of a young father with a small child, written at a time that was in so many ways different than today.
But I can’t leave them alone entirely. In fact, I think I’d be foolish to leave some elements untouched. For example, there’s one scene in At All Costs that I put in specifically under pressure from my editor at the time. I never liked it, and after the book was published, I cringed that it was there. Well, it’s not anymore. It wasn’t mine to begin with, so I don’t apologize for taking it out.
A little trickier are the changes I plan for the ending of Nathan’s Run. My original manuscript ended with a wrap-up chapter—a coda, if you will, much like the codas that end most of my later books. I took it out under pressure from everyone in my publishing food chain—from my then-agent’s assistant, through my editor and beyond. Since then, I have received hundreds of letters and emails from readers who wanted to know precisely the information that I had originally included in my manuscript. I’m putting it back.
Because it’s the ending, though—literally the last images of the story—this change makes me nervous. Part of me wants to put in some kind of note that says, “This used to be the end of the story,” but the rest of me acknowledges that it’s a mistake to interrupt the reading experience. I’ve got three weeks to figure this out, so there’s room for advice (hint, hint).
Most appropriate to threads that have been discussed here in the Killzone is my plan to largely defuckify both books.
Now, before any of you start slinging accusations of hypocrisy, let’s make this clear from the beginning: I told the publisher I wanted to do this, not the other way around. In fact, defuckification vastly complicates things for Kensington.
Again, my rationale is simple and practical: Hundreds (and hundreds) of letters and emails from fans telling me that they loved the books and believed that their children/mother/father/sister/brother would love it, too, if only they could share it. The language was the dealbreaker.
And you know what? They’re right. There’s a lot of gratuitous profanity in those books. In Nathan’s Run—a book with a twelve-year-old protagonist—there’s a passage that rhymes with “you trucking punt.” The story doesn’t need that. Perhaps no story needs that. (For the record, when I wrote that passage in 1994, I don’t think the C-word was as loaded as it is now. And, for the record, the epithet is directed from one male character to another male character.)
By way of full disclosure, a few F-bombs will remain, but in each case, I feel that they’re essential to the scene. In each case, I test-drove the scene sans F-bomb and they didn’t work.
My question to Killzoners is this: Is it okay for authors to “improve” upon their work when given a second chance, or should the first go-around live on forever?
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
The popularity of the anti-hero (man or woman) continues to be a strong trend in literature and in pop culture. With their moral complexity, they seem more realistic because of their human frailties. They are far from perfect. They tend to question authority and they definitely make their own rules, allowing us all to step into their world and vicariously imagine how empowering that might feel.
Some classic literary anti-heroes that are personal favorites of mine are:
Holden Caulfield in the Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, Roland Deschain in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, Lestat in Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, Hannibal Lecter (as Clarice’s white knight) in Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs, Heathcliff in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, and even Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.
And here is a short list of noteworthy anti-heroes from the small screen:
On the TV show, HOUSE, Dr. Greg House is addicted to pain meds, a by-product of his damaged leg. He’s also obnoxious, abrasive, brutally honest, and definitely politically incorrect in how he deals with patients, but he’s damned good at what he does—saving lives. His public face appears to be a detached man who ridicules any real human emotion, yet he’s fascinated by true emotion too. It’s as if he’s an outsider looking in, an observer of the whole human experience. We never quite know if he really cares about his patients or is merely obsessed with being right as he puzzles out the reasons for the illnesses.
On the cable show, DEXTER, the strange anti-hero, Dexter Morgan, is a serial killer with a goal. He hunts serial killers and satisfies his blood lust by killing them. He’s got peculiar values and loyalties with a dark sense of humor. And he’s absolutely fascinating to watch.
On the new show HUMAN TARGET, Christopher Chance has a dark history. He’s a do-it-all anti-hero, former assassin turned bodyguard, who is a security expert and a protector for hire. He works with an unusual and diverse team. His business partner, Winston, is a straight and narrow, good guy while his dark friend, Guerrero, is a man who isn’t burdened by ethics or morality. Each of these men has very different feelings about what it takes to get the job done, but they’ve found common ground to work together. And their differences make for a fun character study. (My favorite character is Guerrero and I wish his character had more airtime.)
I’ve put together a list of writing tips that can add depth to your villain or make your anti-hero/heroine more sympathetic, but let me know if you have other tried and true methods. I’d love to hear them.
1.) Cut the reader some slack by clueing them in early. Your Anti-Hero/Heroine has a very good reason for being the way they are.
2.) Make them human. Give them a code to live by and/or loyalties the reader can understand and empathize with.
3.) Make them sympathetic by giving them a pet or a soft spot for a child. Write the darkest character and match them up with something soft and you’ve got a winning combination that a reader may find endearing.
4.) Show the admiration or respect others have for them.
5.) Give your villain and anti-hero similar motivations for doing what they do. Maybe both of them are trying to protect their family, even though they’re on opposing sides.
6.) Give your villain or anti-hero a shot at redemption. What choice would they make?
7.) Understand your villain’s backstory. It’s just as important as your protagonist’s.
8.) Pepper in a backstory that makes your anti-hero vulnerable.
9.) Give them a weakness. Force them to battle with their deepest fears.
10.) Have them see life through personal experiences that we can only imagine but they have lived through. They must be much more vulnerable than they are cynical to deserve the kind of significant other that it takes to open them up to love.
11.) Make them real. To be real, they must have honest emotions.
If you have favorite anti-heroes you’d love to share, I would love to hear from you. And tell us why you like them so much. I’d also like to know if you have any other writer tips to share on creating anti-heroes. Creating them can be a challenge worth taking. Editors sure seem to love them too.
By Joe Moore
There is a title sought after by all writers, fiction and non-fiction. Having it behind your name means you’ve made it, you’ve reached the highest level of skill in the publishing industry. It adds legitimacy and validation to your claim to be a writer, and it’s prestigious and honored by all. You get to place it after your name when, for example, you make a public comment and are quoted or you contribute a blurb to a fellow author. It’s a badge to be worn with pride. And once you’ve achieved it, you keep it for life.
It’s the title: New York Times bestselling author.
Sure, there are other bestselling lists. But none has that crystal clear ring of authority and accomplishment like the NYT list.
For those who have garnered that title, congratulations. Quite a few have made it onto the list. For everyone else, keep trying by writing the best book you can. Who knows, someday your name might be there, too.
But there’s actually one more level of achievement to that title, one very few manage to obtain. It’s the most prestigious of all.
#1 New York Times bestselling author.
There’s nothing higher. There’s no better. I’ve never seen a writer claim to have been #6 New York Times bestselling author. Being #1 is like being the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Sure all those other generals and admirals are members of the Joint Chiefs. But there’s only one Chairman. And there’s only one #1 on the NYT list.
I was chatting with a few fellow authors the other day and a couple of hypothetical questions came up. If you become a #1 New York Times bestselling author, what would you try to do next? Go for a Nobel? Maybe a Pulitzer? Oprah Book Club? If your next book also reached #1, would it be considered better than the first one? What if it only got to #20 or didn’t make the list at all. Would that mean that it was not as good? Or that you’ve failed somehow?
In answering the questions, we all agreed that as writers we would still keep writing. That’s a given. But in our minds and in our hearts, what would be that next sought-after goal? One author suggested he would write his next book under a pseudonym and try to achieve the #1 status again. Another stated that after achieving that title, nothing else mattered in the area of prestige.
So lets have some fun in a non-scientific survey. If you became a #1 New York Times bestselling author, what would you strive or hope for next? How would you top being #1?
THE PHOENIX APOSTLES, coming June 8, 2011.
”The Phoenix Apostles demands to be read in one sitting. – James Rollins
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
In an experiment, scientists measured the brain activity of jazz musicians as they performed a memorized piece of music, and then measured it again when the musicians did an improvised piece. Different brain regions lit up, according to the type of performance being given. During the improvisation, the medial prefrontal cortex--the part of the brain that allows self-expression--was more active. During the memorized piece, the dorsolateral prefrontal and lateral orbital regions--the brain areas that monitor and correct performance--were more active.
In other words, in order to be creative, we've got to silence our brain's inner critic.
For a writer, it's not always easy to silence an internal critic. Take me, for example. I'm perfectly capable of stalling for days over a single paragraph, even a particular sentence. I'll rewrite and rethink, tweak and prune, until I'm practically clawing at the walls of our house.
But Harpy is a sly, cunning opponent, always scheming to get the better of me. She keeps changing tactics. Recently she's tried to convince me that my medical issues have done a Flowers For Algernon number on the creative parts of my brain, rendering it incapable of producing decent prose. The only way I've been able to reassure myself is by going to my critique group. My group members don't know anything about Harpy--they just tell it like it is about my prose. And so far, everything seems normal. I'm not like Charlie, regressing to a creative IQ of 68. I'm okay (at least as far as the writing is concerned). I can tell Harpy to take a hike.
What about you? Do you ever have to wrangle with a harsh internal critic? How have you put a muzzle on it?
UPDATE: In honor of some of the suggestions in our comments today, I am adding a picture of the Lamisil Monster as a candidate for the Inner Critic...lol.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Saturday, January 22, 2011
The earliest book that I can remember my mother reading to me is Rudy Kazootie, Detective. The title is all that I can recall about the book; googling images for that title brings up an unfamiliar cover, pictures of Rudy Giuliani and Prince, and, uh, some other reproductions of a more mature and scatological nature. It struck a chord in me somewhere, however, opening up some channels in the brain that never closed. I subsequently learned to read on my own at the tender age of four by reading the Harvey run of Dick Tracy comics, purchased from the Tremont Pharmacy in Upper Arlington, Ohio, which always seemed to have a new issue of the book each time I went there. When I reached grade school, my dad, probably alarmed to some extent by my taste in literature, came home with some hardbound books in what were known as the “All About” series, featuring such titles as All About Archaeology by Roy Chapman Andrews, among others. He would sit between my bed and my brothers and read to us for fifteen minutes or so; after the lights went out, the flashlights went on and the reading continued. All About Archeology eventually gave way to Sax Rohmer and Fu Manchu; Dick Tracy never gave way to anything --- I still read those strips, to this day --- but shared space and time with the Hardy Boys, when I discovered that the serial off something called The Tower Treasure on The Mickey Mouse Club was part of a long-running series that had some thirty-odd volumes at that point in time (1960 or so). I read every one I could get my hands on before I happened to take a good look at the paperbacks displayed on the revolving wire racks at the drug stores and made the acquaintance of a gentleman named Shell Scott, whose knowing leer promised a peek into territories which I had yet to chart and am, alas, still exploring.
It is a somewhat tenuous and tortured trail, indeed from Rudy Kazootie on my mother’s lap and to Shell Scott and…well, never mind. But Buchwald’s premise holds true. I read every Golden Book I could get my hands on to my sons, both of whom somehow went from Bert and Ernie to Elmore (Leonard) and Vince (Flynn). And my younger daughter, to whom my wife read for hours each night, has been reading Vonnegut and Bradbury since she was eleven. And the pattern continues. My older son, who never wanted children but who has become the best father I know, reads to his daughter on a nightly basis. Maybe some day, one day, you will read something by her to your children.
Friday, January 21, 2011
I’m embarrassed to admit that we are a ten-television family. It’s even more embarrassing that we are a household of two—just my wife and I, effective tomorrow when my baby boy moves into his own apartment. (Technically, since he’s still in the house today, we are an eleven-television family.)
The MOAT (Mother Of All Televisions) is in our movie room. It’s a 106-inch hi-def front projection wonder with a sound system that could do structural damage to the house if I cranked it up loudly enough. It’s the ultimate man-cave that all too often is pressed into service for the screening of chick flicks. Hey, a deal’s a deal. When I consider what I no longer pay to go to a theater, I figure the movie room might just pay for itself one day.
While there’s a certain utility to the MOAT, the pure luxury of a television is the little flat screen we have mounted in the master bathroom. Make fun if you’d like, but it’s nice to do the morning chores with the morning news in the background.
Ours is a three-bedroom house, and we enjoy entertaining guests, so it only makes sense that each bedroom would have its own television. Then there’s one in my office and the one in my wife’s office. It’s nice to watch TV while cooking and cleaning, so there’s a tiny TV in the kitchen, as well.
When we built the house, our son was still in high school, so we wanted to have a place for him and his friends to hang out, so there’s a television in the downstairs family room. When all is said and done, though, the upstairs family room television gets the most use for routine weeknight viewings of network shows.
See how quickly it adds up? You’d think that that Mars/Venus tug of war on program selection would be a snap. Lord knows we have a lot of options. So, when I want to watch Military Channel and Joy wants to watch HGTV, there should be no controversy. She should watch her programs on one TV and I should watch mine on another.
That logic ignores the complication that after 26 years of marriage, we still like each other and prefer to be together instead of being in different parts of the house. Given our day jobs and my night job of writing books, we spend enough time apart, thank you very much. It’s nice to snuggle up on the couch to watch TV together.
Unless . . .
Well, there’s the rub. The unlesses, I mean. At the deepest levels of my soul, I give not a flying fig what Kate is doing with her Eight, and I’d rather put a fork in my eye than watch another episode of any hospital drama ever to be produced between now and the end of the millennium. Ditto Joy’s feelings toward R. Lee Ermy (one of my top five picks of people I’d like to have dinner with), the latest design of weaponry or colorized footage of World War Two battles.
The good news is that the dark days of choices are behind us now that it’s January and some of our shared favorites have returned. Here are our shared favorites, in no particular order:
The Big Bang Theory
Two and a Half Men (though this one is kind of on probation; it might have outlived its storyline)
American Pickers (I’m less an enthusiast than she)
Castle (also on probation, though getting better)
So You Think You Can Dance (okay, technically this is not on yet, but it’s essentially a continuum with American Idol)
I’m sure there are more, but those are the biggies.
How about you, Killzoners? What programs do you and your significant other share as favorites to be watched together?
Thursday, January 20, 2011
So I've once again hit my least favorite part of the manuscript: approximately 50,000 words down, 50,000 to go.
This is always the point where sitting down at the keyboard seems to thrust me into another dimension, one where time eases to a standstill and no matter how many hours I log, the word count fights me, barely inching upward. Oh, the saggy middle. How I loathe it. My writing pace slows. Plot points that seemed brilliant 20,000 words ago are now, clearly, just dead wrong. It sometimes feels like I'll never pull all the disparate elements together into something coherent that readers will actually pay for. These are the days when I dread opening that .doc file, when I'm tempted to do almost anything else (including laundry and cleaning my oven).
So in lieu of more whining, I've come up with some tips for surviving the midpoint (or, really, any writing lows):
1. Walk away
This can be accomplished literally: by turning off the computer, heading out the door and walking around the block a few times. Sometimes engaging in real-life activities, like dinner with friends or a movie, actually provides a new perspective on a particularly tricky plot point.
Or figuratively: closing the manuscript file and starting a new document. Writing a short story, or starting the first chapter of a different book. Sometimes to jar things loose, I'll embark on a completely different project. Lately during breaks from the manuscript I've been working on a screenplay. In some ways that flexes a different part of my brain. Then when I return to the manuscript, the well has been replenished.
2. Engage in some positive reinforcement
If I'm really starting to feel as though my writing has taken a nosedive, I dig up some of my earlier work and re-read the stronger passages. Reminding myself that once upon a time I managed to write intelligible sentences is always heartening. It also helps me remember that I've been in this position before, and in the end I managed to finish the book, more or less on time.
3. Spend some time with a master
If re-reading my own work isn't motivating enough, I turn to authors whose writing always blows me away. For instance, I was struggling with a love scene. The prose was painfully purple, the dialogue cliched, I was beyond frustrated with it. So I went back to a bookmarked passage in Tana French's last book FAITHFUL PLACE, where a love scene was rendered so painfully well, reading it almost felt intrusive and voyeuristic. Seeing how she accomplished that was inspirational.
There's simply no getting around it: this part of the writing process is always a monotonous, painful slog. It's like a train inching up a mountain, the going always gets toughest right before hitting the peak, then it's a race down the other side.
If you have any tips/coping mechanisms for getting through these next 25,000 words, I'd love to hear them.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
We attended the American Idol Experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for the first time last weekend. I’d only tuned in once or twice to the show so I wasn’t overly familiar with the format. However, I do appreciate talent shows for finding the stars of tomorrow, and I understand how wildly popular this program is to its fans. Contestants at Disney have auditions during the morning, and then there are five shows during the rest of the day, with three competitors each. The audience votes on the winners, so in the Final Show, all those with top scores from earlier performances compete against each other.
Whoever wins this final daily competition gets a “golden ticket”, a chance to audition at the front of the line, so to speak, for the real American Idol. At least this is how I understood the process; I won’t vouch for it 100%. Anyway, three judges participate in the show, and each contestant sings a song of their choice from a given list. You can see their hopes and dreams in their faces. The experience was fun, and I’d go again.
Then I came home and checked my email and found a message from my agent. We’d gotten a rejection for one of my submissions. My hopes for that project plummeted. I felt like the losers in American Idol, with disappointment washing away my dreams. It was a close call, too, because the editor liked my work very much but they were publishing something similar.
We go through this all the time as writers, and yet those who stick to their guns are the ones who succeed in this biz. Look, it took me six practice books before I sold my first novel. Now fifteen published books later, I am still getting rejections. The publishing market has always been tough, and these days it’s even tighter. But we have to go on stage just like the singers in American Idol, throw ourselves into the performance body and soul, and wait with bated breath for the audience results. Do we move on to the next stage, i.e. a contract and copy edits, or do we step back and regroup before trying a different tack?
Truly I sympathized with those contestants during their vocal performances and the subsequent judging. Maybe editors can’t see our faces or hear us sing when they read our work, but our words sing for us. And if we don’t make the cut, well, there’s always the next show.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
The next time you’re feeling a need to ramp up those creative juices, or simply feel the need to create clarity in your world, try building a Vision Board. Vision Boards are a great way to revisit your inspiration and purpose as a creative being.
Vision Boards offer an opportunity to step out of time for a while--to ruminate, dream, create, and to spend time re-discovering you. I originally adopted this process to enhance the writing process, but no matter what your personal calling, Vision Boards help you to cement your goals. You can do this activity alone, or with friends. (It’s great fun with others.) The goal is to create a Vision Board specifically describing you---your world as an author, parent, career person, planet dweller. The mantra in the movie, Field of Dreams, promised, “If you build it, they will come.” I say, “Build your Vision Board. Success will come.”
Building a Vision Board is simple and requires easy supplies:
1. A board. Construction paper or poster board works. I use Vellum Bristol art paper. (Great for framing.) Or a cork board if you're going to use pins and change out visions/goals as they are achieved. If really ambitious, use the back of a door!
2. Scissors and glue sticks.
3. A pile of your favorite magazines and/or personal photos.
4. Book flats, if you're published, and if you choose to add them.
Peruse the magazines, cut out phrases and pictures that trigger an immediate reaction of your self-image, your dreams and aspirations. Be outrageous in your choices to show the mega-person you are! Then, paste/pin them on your board. Not only is the process fun, you'll be surprised at how the activity focuses your intentions and creates a powerful, visual image of yourself. Best of all, feedback from vision board creators confirms that the goals and visions posted on their boards actually come to pass.
If you’d enjoy sharing your Vision Board, take a photo and send it to me at kathleenpickering @ymail.com. I’ve created a vision board page on my website. It’s brand new. I’ll post your board in the Mega-Author’s Visionary Club. You don’t have to be a writer to be a part of the club-- just the author of your own destiny.
Has anyone created a vision board already? How did it work for you?
Monday, January 17, 2011
After all the doom of bookstore closings and Australian and Brazilian floods, I was relieved to read an article that introduced a new word into my lexicon of 'authorisms'. It was in a NYT article about two French intellectuals, Bernard-Henri Levy and Michel Houellebecq, and the word is a delightful mingling of moaning and boasting - 'moasting'. One example would be: "I cannot believe the state of security at LAX. I mean I had to stand on line for an hour and nearly missed my flight back from taping my interview with Oprah. You'd really think in First Class the lines wouldn't be so bad!"
As you can imagine, the host of social networking sites - from Facebook status updates to Twitters - allow for a plethora of 'moasts' to occur - and let's face it almost all of us have been guilt of a wee bit of moasting now and again. But reading the article made me think of all the fun moasts I could inflict on my next author panel as well as some of the best 'moasts' I have heard in my time. Is there anything more despair inducing to an unpublished writer than to hear famous authors lamenting about their publicity schedules or deadlines? You know the kind of thing - "I didn't even have time for lunch between taping the Today show, being interviewed for The New Yorker and my photoshoot with Vanity Fair."
So I thought we could have a bit of fun (after all the horrors of the last week or so, I could do with some) with all this...Tell me what are some of the best/worst moasts you have heard or read? What sort of moast would you like to inflict on a particularly annoying friend or rival?
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Saturday, January 15, 2011
John Ramsey Miller
On my mind.
Films this week.
I have eagerly anticipated the Cohen Brothers' remake of TRUE GRIT. Maybe I'll see it this weekend in the majamboplex, but more likely when it comes out from Netflix. I'm sure I'll like it better than the John Wayne version. I sustained brain damage from being exposed to Glenn Campbell's acting in the original. I think Matt Damon will do some better in Glenn's role. And there was the fact that Kim Darby played a girl half her age. I know the Cohen Brothers' version will be in all ways superior, because (face it) John Wayne played pretty much John Wayne in every single movie he ever made. In every Western the Duke even wore the same Colt single action Army with the yellowed ivory grips, the same hat and vest and probably the same boots and socks. Don't get me wrong, I liked everything about John Wayne and I've seen every movie he ever made.
John Wayne was an icon in an age when men were actually men and the only feelings they admitted to were horny, hunger and thirst. He was not an actor with a great deal of range. Can you see him playing the femiguy doing the John Wayne walk in Le Cage Aux folles? But I digress. Charles Portis wrote TRUE GRIT and it appears to be in and out of print. Great book by the way. I suspect whoever has the rights to publish it now will run off a few copies for those who didn't read it originally––like 99.9 percent of American readers. I see they released it on Kindle in November of 2010. Duke won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for playing Rooster Cogburn. Had it not been for the new film, I doubt they would have rereleased it. Portis has written other books including NORWOOD and GRINGO. The latter is a slurish title that is blatantly offensive to WASPS may have to be re-released under a softer title, like THE WHITE ANGLO-SAXON PROBABLY PROTESTANT FROM NORTH OF THE US BORDER WITH MEXICO.
Back to the point. Here's the thing. Duke purists hate the fact that anybody would dare remake TRUE GRIT since HE was in it and got that Academy Award for it. That is actually more because they were to a man afraid that Glenn Campbell might return to reprise his role.
Normally I hate film remakes because I think that, while it is not often the remake is better than the original, remakes are already a property the studio doesn't have to pay for, there's already a script to go by, and the film was almost certainly successful. Remakes of foreign films into American films are another pet peeve of mine, although I would rather see a film without subtitles or a good dubbing. I think Hollywood takes the easy (and most profitable) path when they can. Imagination is so draining and threatening to the non-imagining types who think they are. And a new film has no track record.
Last week John Gilstrap blogged about the Huck Finn edition that loses the "N" word in. I thought about that one a great deal, and I can see clearly the Twain teacher guy's point and John's as well. What I wondered was if the scholar guy gets royalties from the cleansed version, since he's taken a work that clearly in the public domain and altered it using find and replace on his computer. I seem to recall that Faulkner's family actually published some of Bill's books in their original/ original form (before editing at Random House) so the family could start the clock over again. But again, I digress...
I have been spending a lot of time with my four-year-old grandson (we're best pals because we have a common enemy) and he insists we watch all three Jurassic Park movies every time he is here and not necessarily in the proper order. After I realized I could go line for line with the actors (including the grunts and squeals of the Velosciaptors). I ordered all three Toy Story DVDs and they came on a slow ship from Hong Kong. I got those today, and I'm going to buy a variety of childrens films else I will sour on Buzz Lightyear and Woody.
Last week, Rushie and I watched Ron Howard's "How The Grinch stole Christmas" Forget changing two words in Huck Finn. Ron Howard expanded the book well beyond anything Dr. Seuss imagined. I understand the author's wife liked the movie script. I'm sure she didn't mind the money either. Howard invented subplots, added characters and dialog. What would Theodore Seuss Geisel have thought about the final films? I thought the movie sucked lemons through a bird's nostril. I discovered that Grinch was voted Worst Christmas Movie Of All Time and was also a financial flop. Jim Carey and one child actor almost saved the film from being totally embarrassing. All I saw of Cary were his yellow and red eyes––all of Mr. Carey to be seen that was not latex and green.
Is it so wrong to remake a classic? If it works and exposes a new generation to movies they wouldn't normally see, especially old films in black and white. How about we remake "To Kill A Mockingbird, with either George Clooney or Tom Hanks as Atticus Finch, Denzel Washington as Tom Robinson, Billy Bob Thornton as Boo Radley. How about Scout, Jim, Dill? Give me some child actor's names.
Who would you cast in a remake of Casablanca, Jaws, Lawrence Of Arabia, The Ten Commandments?" Pick your favorite film that shalt not be touched and give me the cast.
Friday, January 14, 2011
Since its creation a decade or so ago, amazon.com has provided one of the very few sources of sales feedback for authors. At a glance, we’ve been able to tell what our sales rankings are, as determined by whatever top secret algorithm they use to determine such things. If you’re obsessive about it, you can watch your numbers fluctuate wildly, from number 3,500 in the morning to number 350,000 in the afternoon. The trick is to decipher how rankings translate into sales.
As I write this on Thursday, January 13, the Kindle sales rank for my book Hostage Zero lies at 2,007—its first foray above the 2K mark that I’m aware of. Given that there are a bajillion books out there available to be ranked, though, one would think that that still represents a fairly robust sales velocity.
By contrast, the Kindle sales rank for Tom Clancy’s new book, Dead or Alive, sits at 28. Given the distance between the rankings—and the fact that we’re talking Tom Clancy—I wonder what that translates into in terms of actual copies sold.
As luck would have it, I’ve recently stumbled upon a website called novelrank.com, which uses algorithms of its own (or maybe just old fashioned spies) to monitor Amazon sales data and translate it into useable numbers. The results are interesting.
The Kindle Store has sold 73 copies of Hostage Zero thus far in the month of January, which earned it an average January sales rank of 1,718. Clancy’s Dead or Alive, with a month-to-date average sales rank of 21, has sold 253 copies in the same period. Last month, beginning with the book’s December 14 laydown date and a debut sales rank of 6, Amazon sold 493 copies of Dead or Alive from the Kindle Store. (I don’t have December figures for my book because I didn’t trigger the tracking function until January.)
For what it’s worth, the hardcover edition of Dead or Alive saw an average sales rank in January of 75 (it’s 105 now), with 1,010 hardcovers sold.
If the results gleaned from novelrank.com are reliable—and I have no way of knowing either way—my first impression is that the gross numbers seem low, though I admittedly have no basis on which to judge such things. The spread surprises me, too, with Clancy selling only 12-15 copies more per day than I do, despite a four-figure difference in ranking. Admittedly, that all must add up to a seven-figure delta between our incomes, but I would have thought his numbers to be several times what they are.
If nothing else, novelrank.com is a fun tool. It lets you type in the title of any book, and if someone has already triggered the tracking function, you can see how it's doing. If they haven't then you can trigger it yourself. It's a shame that my friend and blogmate Michelle Gagnon is weaning herself from the Internet, or she'd be able to see how her sales are doing.
Okay, that was mean. . .
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
With Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords still clinging to life after Jared Lee Loughner attempted to assassinate her, the debate rages on in the media and in Washington DC about who is to blame for stirring up such violence. It’s become a political hot potato.
The tragedy that left 6 dead and 13 others injured has prompted many to examine the political discourse in our country. I think the debate about how we exchange political views is a valid one, but perhaps our discussion should be more than that.
We have 24 hour news coverage that demands every minute be filled, even if the ‘breaking news’ is about who is in and out of rehab, or who is breaking up with whom. And have you noticed how reporters have become the news? They give opinions meant to stir viewers into posting online comments, often focusing on emotional hot button topics, just to see who is watching them. Our society has become more malicious in its criticism, especially given the anonymity of the Internet. If no one knows your name, does that entitle you to say things online that you wouldn’t to someone's face?
And with the Internet being in the privacy of our own homes, we have access to people, views, and images from all over the world. It has become a powerful tool and in many ways, it has made the world a much smaller, more accessible place. But has this global fishbowl made us more vulnerable, too? And with reality TV shows thriving on the open abuse of contestants and fueling our voyeuristic hunger for cruelty, is it any wonder this can have an impact on our society over the long haul?
Sure whoever pulls the trigger or detonates the bomb is ultimately to blame for that violence, but maybe it's not always that simple. In this great country of ours, we are blessed with and empowered by our right to free speech, but doesn’t that right come with some responsibility, too? I’d really love to hear your thoughts while I’m grappling with it myself.
By Joe Moore
It seems like the older I get, the more I’m aware of the lack of time available to me each day. I remember back when I was a kid my mother used to comment that as the years rolled by, the less time there was to get things done. I thought she was crazy. Back then I had all the time in the world. No crunch, no rush. The days went on forever as I grew up. Well, that’s all changed.
Now my friends and I complain that there are not enough hours in the day. Last time I checked, there were still 24, the same number I had when I was in my teens, going to college, starting my career, working, traveling, and writing. And, incidentally, the same number of hours that Donald Trump, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates get each day.
So what’s going on with time? Why is it that I never seem to feel like I have enough of it? Why do more and more things spill over into the next day? Why is summer over already when it just started? Didn’t we just celebrate Halloween? I can still taste the pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving. There’s something weird going on here. I don’t want to go so far as to say it’s an X-Files issue or a government conspiracy, but I’m losing time.
I know it’s not because I don’t prioritize. I try to figure out what’s the most important task at hand and attack it first. Then when it’s complete, I go to the next item on the list. At least most of the time.
It can’t be from interruptions. OK, so this is a big one for me. I’m easily distracted. I try to avoid being interrupted when I’m working on the highest priority tasks. Really, I do . . . hang on for a second while I check my Amazon numbers and update my FB status.
I’m sure it’s not from stress. I admit I tend to worry about everything, especially things I can’t control. I know it’s really dumb, but what if the North Koreans do have an nuclear bomb? Or something much worse. Hey, I wrote a book about that (THE 731 LEGACY), so worrying can be a good use of time. Right?
At least I can’t be accused of procrastination. Well, I do like to take the downhill road and do the easiest of the most important tasks now, leaving the harder ones for later. But that can’t be the problem.
And God knows I set achievable goals. I try to be realistic in what I want to accomplish. If Dan Brown can sell 40 million books, why can't I? It’s doable.
This time-loss thing can’t be entirely my fault. In fact, I think it would make a great premise for a show like Fringe. Maybe I’ll stop what I’m doing and send them the concept. I’ve got a few minutes to spare.
But I’m convinced there’s something strange going on, and I’ve decided to spend the better part of my day trying to prove it, starting with this blog. And in between my investigation, I’ll work on my new thriller. Should be plenty of time for that.
Anybody else think time is slip-sliding away?
THE PHOENIX APOSTLES, coming June 8, 2011.
"What do you get when you cross Indiana Jones with THE DA VINCI CODE? THE PHOENIX APOSTLES, a rollicking thrill ride." – Tess Gerritsen
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Before the study, medical professionals assumed that placebos wouldn't work if patients knew they were being given sugar pills. It turns out that assumption was wrong. In a study of patients with IBS (er, Irritable Bowel Syndrome), 60 percent of patients reported that they felt better after knowingly taking a placebo twice a day.
That day I was feeling uninspired in my writing (which probably explains why I was surfing the Internet and reading about placebo studies). So I wondered: If a placebo can cure cranky bowels, could it help me break through a minor case of writer's block?
I decided to run my own unscientific study. I didn't have any sugar pills on hand, so I reached for the next best thing: my daughter's jelly beans. I figured that labeling and ritual had to be part of the reason why placebos work, so I poured the jb's into an empty prescription container. (And I have to report that jelly beans look extremely potent when they're staring up at you from a bottle of blood thinner medication.) Then I put a nice label on it marked "Creativity."
As part of my morning ritual I started taking two "creativity pills" with my coffee. As I solemnly popped the beans, I paused to meditate for a few moments about my writing goals for the day.
And by God, it worked. I blasted right through that writer's block. I wrote four pages that day, and haven't looked back since.
The only thing is, now I'm afraid to stop taking the beans. I think I'm hooked. For my next batch I'm thinking of getting those special-order M&Ms--the ones you can order with little messages written on them. I'll get them labeled with something like, "Writing is rewriting," or whatever fits.
What about you? Do you have any silly rituals that help you get your creativity engine going?
And if you happen to be in the market for a writing pill, I can get you a great deal on a placebo.