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Category Archives: Reading

Rabbit holes, unlike their makers, are not cute…or to be trifled with

I have friends who are always going on about getting lost down a rabbit hole on the internet.

This post is for them, assuming you stumble across it in your online queries.

Be careful about rabbit holes. They are dangerous.

Just as an example of the type of peril you may face, take my recent foray into the topic of “rabbit holes” on Wikipedia.

Reading about the warren of twisty little passages, all alike, soon reminded me about Watership Down.

Watership Down is a book (and a subsequent animated movie) about rabbits. Well, it’s about people and society and government, but dressed up in cute fuzzy cotton tail bodies. I saw the movie first, probably around the age of eight or nine.

My parents, with a desperate gleam in their eyes, said, “We need a break from you, even for just an hour and a half. There’s a movie about rabbits on the telly. That’ll be fun, yes?” Which seemed like a good idea all round until the fate of the first warren is revealed.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t. The stuff of nightmares. For young children and, shortly thereafter, the parents who have to deal with those children.

I read the book a few years later, 7th or 8th grade. And loved it. Amazing book. So good I tore through it at a considerably faster pace than the teacher expected us to. Which meant I was so far past the point she would quiz us on every Friday (to prove we’d been reading it) that I failed each and every test.

This of course leads me to the movie Se7en.

Like the book Watership Down, it’s a great movie, amazing. Fincher is one of my favorite directors. Right up there with Wes Anderson.

Like the movie Watership Down, I will never watch it again. Grueling. Soul-crushing. The non-rabbit stuff of nightmares.

Fincher also directed Alien 3, which was maligned at the time by the Alien fans, but which I think is actually the best movie of the bunch. Yes, it had problems: budget overruns, studio interference, and (surprising in a Fincher movie) really bad CGI. But the story is the kind of dark-humored, grisly horror that doesn’t involve a stomach-churning ending with a box that I can get behind.

Speaking of unexpected deliveries, Amazon shipped us an Amazon Fire TV stick with a tablet we bought. We didn’t order it, didn’t really want it, but assumed it was some sort of promotion. Fast forward a couple of years. We decide to use it. Except after considerable effort to set it up, we discover we can’t log in.

Contact Amazon tech support.

What’s the serial number on the box it came in?” Um, don’t have the box any more.

What’s the order number from when you bought it?” Um, we didn’t. You sent it to us for free, with a tablet. Here’s that order #.

Amazon never has, and never will ship Amazon Fire TV sticks for free.” And then, the implication that we’re thieves so thick we can detect it in the chat text, “What is the serial number or order number?

The conversation ended with “You might as well just throw it away.

But aren’t our landfills full enough already? Especially with e-waste? How is that being a responsible steward of the economy, Amazon? China’s not taking that crap any more, so it’s just gonna start piling up and at some point, if we aren’t careful, it’s gonna crush a rabbit warren and wipe out a whole community of cute little bunnies.

So you see what I mean? Rabbit holes aren’t just dangerous…they are downright deadly!

 
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Posted by on 2 September 2019 in Angst, Life, Reading, Technopocalypse, Writing

 

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Balloons of the Apocalypse Cover Reveal

Everything looks to be on track for the release of Balloons of the Apocalypse, the third book in the Marlowe and the Spacewoman series.

(That’s e-book, mind you, I have more work to do before the paperback is available. Say another month?)

And now, with minimal further ado, the cover!

Just one minor ado. Release date.

30 August 2014.

That’s this Saturday.

I’ll post links, but you’ll find it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. And, if all goes well, Smashwords.

Shudder.

I hate the Smashwords meatgrinder, but I like their distribution reach.

And I sell more books there than on Barnes and Noble.

Sad, that.

OK, done with the ado. Here’s the cover.

You know how it goes. Girl meets boy. Boy joins a classical music worshipping cult. Girl never sees boy again, until years later when she stumbles across a street orchestra playing for food, and there he is. But she's happily married now, and he smells really, really bad.

As always, only Marlowe, spacewoman Nina, and a sham wedding can stop a dangerous Beethoven cult bent on world domination.

Artwork done by the same artist who did the previous two covers, smokewithoutmirrors. She does fantastic work. I highly recommend her to anyone looking for a book cover.

Or a vanity portrait. I printed mine out to wall size.

Scares the crap out of the dog.

Along with the cover, I thought I’d ramble a bit about the editing process, since I learned something new this time.

Well, maybe not new. Just something I wasn’t conscious of before.

When I write a book, it takes forever to get it done. Quite literally years.

OK, that I was conscious of. Everyone who knows me is conscious of that!

Part of this is my fear that people will hate my work, and so I revise and revise and revise, trying to present the first copy to beta readers as a fait accompli.

It never is.

I’m getting better. Marlowe and the Spacewoman went through ten revisions (I think, maybe eleven) before I published it. It also took me close to ten years from first draft to published.

The second book (short story, really) actually took longer, but I started it before the first book.

Don’t ask. It’s complicated. And I abandoned it for a large part of that period.

I started this book five years ago? Four or five.

Either way, an improvement.

And considering I had kids in the middle of all that, kinda impressive.

What I discovered this time around is that taking my time really does work wonders.

Because I finish a draft and let it lie fallow.

I don’t read it for ages and ages.

And by the time I get around to it again, it’s fresh and new and not in my head. So I can read it with a clear eye.

This helps me see problems. Typos, grammar goofs, misused words.

But not well enough to forgo other readers.

Beta readers are essential, because some biases are so ingrained that you are blinded to the problems they cause.

No matter how long you wait between reads.

I went about a year between penultimate read-through and ultimate read-through. And found lots of the above-mentioned, typical goofs.

And the blind bias stuff? My betas found a heartbreaking number of problems, which they dutifully reported back to me.

I think, with their help, I addressed the worst of that.

But I did have a couple of big surprises.

After I started the last read-through, I found myself thinking about the book a lot.

Usually when I was trying to fall asleep.

Annoying, that. Especially on a work night.

But that’s not the surprising part. I always obsess over current projects.

It was the couple of major plot holes I discovered. Things that happened (or didn’t happen) which simply made no sense.

The sorts of things, that, when I see them in other books, make me go, “Man, this author is lazy. He didn’t bother to think things through. Shame on him. I will find out where he lives and burn his house to the ground.”

I was stunned to discover them in my book. I’m not lazy, but I certainly hadn’t caught them in previous read-throughs.

More alarming, neither had any of my beta readers.

Actually, the fact that they missed them too makes me feel a little better.

Fortunately, I was able to patch the holes pretty easily, once I applied myself.

I also struggled with how to open the book. I tried three different openings.

The final one? Came to me while I worried about it.

In bed.

Trying to fall asleep.

So that’s my process:

Crank out a first draft, wait approximately one earth orbital period, and edit it.

Worry about it in bed.

Repeat until I have enough confidence to share with beta readers.

Worry about it in bed.

Stare at their feedback emails for several days before working up the nerve to open them.

Worry about it in bed.

Marvel in the description of issues I wouldn’t have detected if they’d come up to me, kicked me in the family jewels, and said, “Oh, pardon me, I didn’t mean to do that.”

(My issues are very polite.)

Worry about it in bed.

Edit again.

Worry about it in bed.

And again (the editing, that is. Oh, and the worrying too.)

Then, just maybe, I’m ready to publish.

There is only one drawback to my approach.

OK, two if you count sleep deprivation.

After several read-throughs of one of my books, it starts to feel old.

Not fresh.

Done before.

(Because, well, it has. In the previous drafts.)

So by the time I’m ready to publish, I don’t feel a lot of excitement.

This is bad, because publication time is when you’re supposed to promote it.

So now I have to promote and rah-rah-rah a book that, for me, feels tired and worked over.

And worry that everyone else will feel the same way.

I don’t think I’m going to be sleeping well for the next few nights.

 

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Reruns, Or Why Society Is Doomed If We Don’t Stop Them At The Source

The following is an encore presentation of a previously published blog post.

When your friends can only be found in syndication, you really need help

Funny, they don’t look like the sort of people to be undermining Civilization as we know it.

I hate reruns.

Can’t stand them.

With most television programs, it’s hard enough to sit through them the first time, let alone endure them again, usually in no particular order, for several months before finding out how that cliffhanger ending is resolved.

To add insult to injury, the commercials aren’t reruns at this point – they’re all new. And yet still just as annoying as their predecessors.

Screw you, television.

I find it strange, though, that this disdain for seeing the same material is largely limited to television.

Books, for the most part, are exempt from this phenomena.

I have books I love to re-read. I’ve even gone out of my way to buy rare editions of some books, which I tuck away in a safe location, along with ‘throw away’ copies that I use for actual reading purposes.

So clearly I am not suffering from some inherent inability to enjoy being immersed in the same material multiple times.

This suggests the problem lies elsewhere.

So what is it about TV that makes me hate reruns?

Or is that the right question? Maybe I should be asking a different question.

What is it about books that make me love them enough to read them again?

And again? And again? And again?

I suspect the two questions together provide the answer. The explanation lies in the mediums themselves.

The short answer is that TV is crap and books aren’t.

But that’s not the complete answer. Oh, to be sure, there is a lot of crap television out there. Mostly reality TV, but not limited solely to that genre.

And there are definitely horrible books out there, books that should never have been published, books that, by their very existence on shelves at the bookstore (or on Amazon), and by the number of people who have read them and recommended them, make me wonder what I’m doing wrong with my own books, which by any empirical examination are just as good as, if not better, than these popular abominations.

I offer, as examples, anything written by Stephenie Meyer and that fanfic Frankenstein of a book, 50 Shades of Grey.

And therein lies the true answer.

People.

People are why I don’t like reruns.

More specifically, idiots. The lazy people who glom onto a popular trend and crank something out to mesh with it so quickly they don’t have time to give the concept depth or heart. People who use the shortcuts of previously established characters, stereotypes, or a glamorized version of themselves to build a plot around.

Television seems more prone to this for some reason. Perhaps because of the commercial interests that fund the programs, forces that, in the interests of making as much money as possible in as short a time as possible, quash the writer’s creative control.

Because what writer, for television or books, who truly loves his or her characters, wants to have short, interchangeable story arcs for those characters? But to do otherwise is anathema to the network execs who want one-off episodes that can be run in any order once they reach syndication.

The profit-centric nature of television dooms most programs to be nothing more than flash-in-the-pan, wham-bam-thank-you-viewing-public short-term investments.

This is not to say that books don’t have commercial interests influencing them as well. The ‘gatekeepers,’ as they are sometimes called, who review potential books for both quality and salability.

That’s right, quality and salability. Some quality books don’t get picked up, or have a hard time finding an agent or publisher, because they aren’t considered commercially viable.

So yes, money does have influence when it comes to books.

But writing a book is an intensely personally endeavor, and in general, is done before the author seeks the approval of an agent or publisher. If the writer is good, the quality is there before the bean counters can step in and pervert the author’s vision in order to maximize profits.

Yes, editors will make suggestions and point out problems to fix. Yes, authors need editors to see the issues the writer is too close to perceive. But once your work has made it to the attention of a publishing house’s editor, it has already run the gauntlet, has pretty much passed the point of heavy interference by corporate accountants, and been found worthy enough in its current state to move forward.

Television writing can be like that, but rarely is. Because while books certainly aren’t cheap to make, television shows are profoundly expensive to produce in comparison. So all the stakeholders, including the bankrollers, insist on having a seat at the table.

This is an important distinction, in case you didn’t catch it:

Books are written.

Television shows are produced.

Which is a shame, because I think that leads to a lot of bland television programming designed not to offend or make viewers think too hard so they’ll have more mass appeal.

That’s not something you can say about books. At least, not yet.

The day all books are ‘produced’ is the day civilization as we know it, a culture striving to expand our wisdom and better ourselves, is over.

But perhaps that’s the direction we’re headed?

Up until now, if someone bought a book, they bought it for the intellectual exercise of reading it. They bought it to be challenged, enthralled, exposed to something new, to think about what they’ve just been exposed to.

That’s the noble nature of books.

Except erotica; most of that is written to get the reader off. While I won’t pass judgment on that final goal, I will say it is definitely, if the direction and flow of blood is taken into account, not intended to make the reader think.

But if people stop buying books for these noble reasons, if they just want the trendy titles on their coffee table so they fit in, or they’re hoping the visible spine of some profound novel on their bookshelf will seal the deal with that intellectual Liberal Arts major they brought home, then we’re already well down the path of produced books.

In which case, people are better off watching television.

Or reading erotica. At least erotica, if well-written, offers the promise of a happy ending.

And now, a word from our sponsor: me!
 
My books are now available!
 
Marlowe and the Spacewoman:
 

Marlowe and the Spacewoman

Kleencut (FREE!):

So bad it won a Voidy for the next THREE consecutive years (would have been FOUR, but 2012 was a leap year)

 
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Posted by on 6 June 2012 in Fanfic, Other Blogs, Reading

 

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How Many Bloody Rabbits Do I Need To Kill To Get You To Stop?

Curse my friends. Especially the ones who are sisters of each other.

I’ve found the heavy burden of not breaking yet another chain letter internet meme thrust upon me by the most inconsiderate Audrey Goshorn.

She did this despite my dire explanation about the consequences of breaking chain letters.

Families torn apart.

Civilizations collapsing.

Alien overlords landing.

Mayan prophecies, no matter how objectively stupid, coming true.

I don’t need that kind of responsibility right now. I’m several episodes behind on Awake and Castle, dammit.

But since it is the fate of the entire world resting on my shoulders…

1. What snack (if any) do your prefer when writing?

Something I can eat without using my hands. Or having to move my eyes too far from the screen. So, grapes hand-fed to me by adoring coed interns.

The missus feels threatened by this mode of snacking, for some reason, so it has been some time since I’ve been ‘allowed’ to eat while writing, Most distressing…

2. What is your next major writing goal?

I could say, get my second Marlowe book through the last round of edits, but that would be a lie. In all honesty? My next major writing goal is to start writing again.

Life hasn’t been handing me lemons, it’s been firing them at me, with extreme prejudice, through a modified super-sonic potato cannon.

While I admit that this is extremely inconvenient, I do have to give props to Life for the off-the-charts awesome looking super-sonic potato cannon. As soon as I’m done dodging this one, I’m gonna get me one of those.

But weapons envy aside, until someone comes up with a high-speed lemonade mixer/Kevlar™ catcher’s mitt, I’m keeping my head down and my butt in the fox hole.

3. How would you feel about your book being made into a movie?

Meh. So many of my books have been made into movies.

Oh, wait, you mean movies not just in my head? I’d be bouncing off the walls, screaming my head off, and then, when I found out they didn’t cast Stephen Fry as the voice of House, I’d get very, very sullen.

Yes, I know, Hugh Laurie plays Dr. House on the TV show. My House is a different House, and in my head, he’s voiced by Hugh Lau-, er, I mean, Stephen Fry. If that confuses you, join the club!

4. What is your dream writing space?

Bomb shelter with a secret entrance, grainy black-and-white video surveillance of the outside, and wall-to-wall bookcases stuffed with survival guides.

The only source of illumination, besides my hamster-powered OLPC computer? A naked bulb swinging from a cord, flickering as I laugh maniacally at my computer screen. Flickering because it’s a mercury-infested compact fluorescent, mind you, not some energy-sapping incandescent bulb.

This is a modern writing lair.

Did I mention my chair rests on a trap door over a pit of disinterested cats? A trap door with a fidgety locking mechanism? I know, it doesn’t sound very horrible, but I’m deathly allergic to cats, so it adds a sense of drama, not to mention urgency, to my writing.

I’ve found there is no better way to keep your book’s pacing on track than the threat of plummeting into a mound of hungry yet still disinterested cats.

5. Where do you go to scope out ideas for characters and dialogue?

I go to the dark places in my mind. Sometimes I bring a flashlight, but I can never get it through my ear canal. But flashlight technology is getting smaller, so it’s only a matter of time. Until then, these trips cause major headaches.

I also go through a lot of gauze.

A lot of gauze.

Actually, I get the most interesting ideas hanging out with friends, or reading people’s twitter feeds and blogs. But I can’t act on those ideas, or the people who inspired them might get the wrong idea about me.

I’m already on thin ice with most of them, and can’t risk any more trouble.

6. What are you doing to become a better writer?

I’m trying to get back into the habit of reading an excessive amount of books per year. I’ve recently managed to claw my way up to ‘a non-zero, but still unimpressive’ number.

It would help if my kids didn’t grab at my books and eReader. Or color in the books and on my eReader.

My Nook Touch is now a Nook Touch Color. But not in the good way.

7. Do you outline before you start a novel?

Yes. I used to be a pantser, but found that writing Book 2 in my Marlowe and the Spacewoman series, Balloons of the Apocalypse, went amazingly well with an outline to guide me. The damn thing practically wrote itself.

So yeah, I’m totally an Outline Man™ now.

8. What was the last book you read?

A Princess Of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Definitely the sort of book to appeal to a teenage boy, but I still enjoyed it.

Hmm, what does that say about me? I’m young at heart?

Speaking of which, John Carter was a fun movie. More people should go see it.

9. What is your biggest distraction when you write and how do you deal with it?

The internet. And my writing groups. Especially my online writing groups. We totally don’t stay focused on writing when we meet. So far, I have not dealt with this very well because…

…as mentioned above, I haven’t been writing lately due to that lemon-hucking bastard, Life.

If I had any will power, I’d quit Humanity cold turkey, build myself a shack in the woods, and mail bombs to academics write the next twelve Great American Novels.

Scratch that, why limit myself? The next twelve Great Human Novels.

I want my books to be the ones our alien overlords read to understand us after wiping us out. I want to be the author our alien overlords point to when they tell the cloned-from-frozen-samples new humans, “This, this is why we brought your species back. Live up to these books and we will make you gods!”

Sadly, we’ll be extinct again six years later. No one can live up to my characters. Even the flawed characters.

And the aliens’ language is very complex, and the humans won’t understand the instructions.

Self-fulfilling prophecy, really.

10. What is your favorite sentence you have ever written?

When French gourmet chefs go insane, they’re exiled to Belgium.

But that’s a short sentence, so how about one more?

Even Marlowe felt himself moved by the graceful, haunting sounds arising from Finch’s throat, rich notes that were neither words nor instruments, but something a thousand times more effective than either.

11. What should the title of my YA paranormal romance be?

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.  I’ve Only Got Poltergeist For You

No, I will not apologize for that title. You asked, so suck it up.

Time to spread the pain around. You guys wanna lob flaming lemons at me, in the form of chain letter internet memes, well, then, right back at ya!

These questions are directed at poor Marj (because I’m always hitting innocent bystanders while targeting the guilty) and Kit and Audrey and, what the heck, Anne Marie and Tamela too. Now I’ll see who reads my blog amongst you, and who doesn’t!

Muhahahaha!

1) What is your favorite color, and why?

2) How many hearts have you broken in the course of your cold, heartless life?

3) What is your favorite vacation spot, and why isn’t it the Poconos?

4) Do you buy lottery tickets? Explain the reasoning behind this choice.

5) What is the next book you want to read, and why, if it isn’t mine, isn’t it mine????

6) Favorite grade in school? (Year, not letter grade – no bragging, smarty pants!)

7) What is the best dream you remember having?

8) When in Rome, how do you act? If you’ve never been to Rome, how would you act? Penalty for going with the obvious answer.

Extreme penalty.

9) What are: your first pet’s name, your mother’s maiden name, and the last four digits of your social security number? If it helps you remember, you may provide the entire social security number.

10) What is your earliest memory of music?

11) Why?

And now, a word from our sponsor: me!
 
My book, Marlowe and the Spacewoman, is now available!
 

Marlowe and the SpacewomanClick here to learn more!


 

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What price, ebooks? Or a tale of the Rise of the Machines, available on Nook and Kindle!

I’ve been thinking about the rise of the machines.

By which I mean ebooks.

Oh, I’ve heard all the arguments in favor:

– An entire library on a tablet thinner than most paperbacks (excluding Neal Stephenson and J.R.R. Tolkien, of course).

– The ability to buy a book (or download a free one) without having to leave your home or local coffee shop.

– Now anyone can publish a book – no more insidious ‘gatekeepers’ holding back those who would redefine a genre by experimenting with language, eschewing traditional plot expectations, or wholeheartedly embracing outside-the-box characterizations.

– We get eased into acceptance of machines controlling our lives with the “Recommended Book” and/or “Readers who bought this book also bought…” functionality. It seems so convenient, so…harmless.

But then you start hearing about the consequences:

– The end of brick and mortar stores as we know it.

– Sellers able to rescind a sale and remotely delete a book from your eReader. Or worse, transfer altered versions of books to your device without your knowledge.

Do you have any idea how hard it will be for our children to cite passages from ever-changing ebooks in their book reports? The ‘A’ may become a mythical, unattainable grade!

– The introduction of bastardized, non-English words into the lexicon, such as e-book and eReader. They’re not real words, people! Fight the corruption of our language!

– Now anyone can publish a book – no more fastidious ‘gatekeepers’ making sure grammar is correct, plot discernible, characters believable.

– The disappearance of bookcases from homes.

This last one was news to me, until I heard mentioned on the radio that the rise of ebooks means that in thirty years, homes won’t have any bookcases anymore.

I heard it on NPR, so it must be true.

That one gave me pause. A home without bookcases.

I have a lot of bookcases in my home. It would look weird without them. But if they become unneeded and rare, then that means demand will dropped, production been scaled back, and those of us who still want them will have to pay more money for them.

That’s not fair. Where else am I going to put all my knickknacks? I can’t use the top of the TV since society transitioned to wall-mounted flat screens.

My curios curse the day the LCD TV was invented.

Reading Marlowe and the Spacewoman under the covers against the missus' express orders to go to bed

A generation won't destroy their eyesight trying to read in the dark - how is this sane?

And what about that time-honored childhood tradition of being curled up under the covers, hours after bedtime, reading by the fading illumination of a trusty flashlight? Are we to deprive future generations of that bookish act of rebellion?

Clearly society has not thought this out!

The only really cool thing about electronic readers is that you won’t ever have to burn books again. You can just use an electromagnetic pulse to fry the reader instead.

And if there’s one irrefutable fact, it’s that EMPs are cool. Ebooks win!

 
And now, a word from our sponsor: me!
 
My book, Marlowe and the Spacewoman, is out!
 

Marlowe and the SpacewomanClick here to learn more or order a copy!

 
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Posted by on 20 February 2012 in Reading

 

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