Sunday, May 23, 2010

A visit with a futzy uncle

Imagine spending the afternoon with a slightly eccentric foreign uncle. He's amusing in a doty, understated, dry-British-humor sort of way. His puns and set ups are deliberate. Not a rock-concert, or a frat party, but you enjoy yourself all the same. This is what reading an Alexander McCall Smith book is like for me.

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, as the second Smith book that I've read (the first being Portugese Irregular Verbs). He's much better known for his #1 ladies detective club books, and I keep meaning to pick one of those up... AMS is an academic, born in Africa but Sottish.

tULoS is an episodic novel that revolves around the lives of a small cadre of characters that live in and around #44 Scotland street in Edinburgh. The characters are all for the most part well drawn and it seems a bit like a Seinfeld episode if reimagined with a larger cast and more elaborate problems by a BBC writer with a slight 'comedy of manners' bent and a desire to make social commentary. I think it's the fourth or fifth in the series and there may be merit to starting at the beginning, but I think it stands by itself as well. (But to be honest I enjoyed Portugese Verbs more).

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Manly Books

It's pretty well accepted in the publishing industry that women read much more fiction than men. Go to any book store or stop by the rack of books by the magazines at the grocery store and you can clearly see this in the available selections. Honestly, how many guys do you know that belong to reading clubs? A bunch of manly men sitting around discussing enduring themes and how a novel made them 'feel', while balancing a plate of finger sandwiches and sipping green tea. Seriously. I can't even conjure an image.

My coworkers in the office have a monthly book club, and when I asked if I could join, I was scoffed at. Openly. "Your a 'manly-man', why would you join?" one Lady asked. And this after they had chosen Neil Gaimon's Graveyard Book as their selection. "Did you at least note the structure of said novel (short story-like), or the parallels to Kiplings works?" I asked. Nope. But they did invite me to sit with them on their next selection, Reading Lolita in Tehran...

Pa-shaw. Not manly enough.

Honour This Day by Alexander Kent is a manly book. Douglas Reeman (the real name for the author) is a World War II British Navy veteran. As Kent, he writes the story of Richard Bolitho, a British Navy Officer set from the end of the US revolutionary war through the Napoleonic Wars. Great stuff, but alas, never to be seen in a women's reading circle...

And why exactly? I think there is action, certainly (and Reeman does an excellent job of making you feel like you are there, with a host of details you would only think to include if you had actually served in the Navy and been to sea in war- think Horatio Hornblower only better). But the plots are also fairly linear. There aren't a lot of twists and turns, they're there, but not so much so that they detract from telling a great story. Or maybe those twists make it more suitable for the reading circles?

Most of his books are out of print, and he is one of the first authors I look for when I hit a used book store. (I know you can find these on amazon, but I like the thrill of the hunt). The aspect of the writing that I really don't much like is his shifting POV. Most authors use 3rd person, where you describe a person (as opposed to first person where the writer uses 'I'), but Reeman will liberally shift POV through 3 or 4 people in one short scene. A little hard to follow at times.

HTD was my most recent Kent novel, and I loved it. When Reeman is detailing the seamanship, the battle sequences, how leaders and men in war interact, he does so flawlessly. (And I can say this with some authority as I was a leader of men in war). The romantic aspects (there is a love interest, a point of honour, an affair) not so well played. But then, this is not meant to be filed in the stacks with the Romance novels, this is high adventure. No lace doilies and finger sandwiches here!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Book Trailer

A new trend in Book Publishing is the book trailer. Sort of like the little snippets of movies, but as the name implies, made for books. Check out the trailer I put together (with extensive technical assistance from my son- kids and technology) for STG.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Succumbing to Gravity- update

As I sat to type out this post I heard a tapping at the window. When I turned, there was nothing at the glass. Then a tapping, turn, nothing.

The third time I turned I saw the culprit...a mockingbird, a-tap-tap-tapping on the glass. Not so ominous as Poe's Raven, to be sure, but I wonder what the little bird could want in here? I looked square in those (little flakes of black marble) eyes of his and he flew away.


Well, the novel has a new cover image with a proposed release date this summer. Exactly when this summer, I'm unsure. But let's hope sooner than later. I like it much better than the previous one. But I wonder what people will think when they see it?

I had the same thought when I finished the first draft (which was really about the third or fourth draft, with all the futzing around) of STG. I was pretty sure I'd said the things I wanted to say, that I had conveyed the messages and theme I'd meant to. I was curious to see how my small cadre of first readers and critique group members would see it. Funny the things people pulled out of the book that I hadn't intended. Whether my unconscious inclusion or the reader's projection; unexpected results.

Probably the same thing with that mockingbird. He saw his reflection in the glass and pecked at it, while I pondered the significance of his actions to my own life. Were he able to talk he probably would have said something like, "What are you looking at?"

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

True blood

When people find out that you like to write short stories (and novels) about monsters, they often give a puzzled half smile. And then they search through their experiences to try to make a connection; "Oh, like (insert name)" or "You must like (insert name)".

With the increased popularity of monsters in a certain cross-over genre...we'll call it...I don't know, horror how about paranormal romance.. well with the increased popularity of tortured vampire love interests (from Anne Rice's Lestadt to Stephanie Meyer's Edward) the 'insert name' name is less likely to be Steven King or Dean Koontz and more likely to be someone writing about tortured vampire lovers.

Well, one I've been asked about more frequently (especially after the HBO show True Blood came out) is Charlaine Harris. So, I finally knuckled under and gave one of her books a read. Or, in this case a listen (audio book). I picked up her collection of short stories A Touch of Dead.

Clearly not my cup of tea. But it wasn't bad. Paranormal, southern romance with a chick-litty chatiness. The character, Sookie Stackhouse, was believably likable, there was a chatty understated quality to her dialogue. It certainly didn't take itself too seriously and was fun. But she did disconcertingly dump every trope of supernatural horror and urban fantasy and swirl them around. And I just went through the 5 short stories. Vampires, elves, trolls, were creatures...telepaths, witches..even catahoula hunting dogs! My head hurt.

I would recommend with a qualified 'if you like that sort of thing'. And many many people do, as she spends a lot of time on the NY Times lists. Certainly smarter than...egads, Twighlight...but a bit of stretch otherwise. I wouldn't turn my nose up, but I'm not running out to buy the next book either.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

STG the Novel

Succumbing to Gravity was a short story that I wrote for Nossa Morte. This was the first paying market that paid 'real semi pro' rates and allowed me to apply for affiliate (semi-pro category) membership to the Horror Writers Association.

STG is also my first novel. (Actually my second, the first was a practice novel that I will probably never discuss in an open forum). I floated it past forty agents and had 8 partial requests and 5 requests to read the entire manuscript. They all ended up passing and then I started in on the direct submissions to publishers.

And yay, the gentlemen at Reliquary Press requested the partial, the full, some revisions and tada, they bought it. I'm expecting a mid-summer release as they have a few others in the queue ahead of STG. I'll keep you all apprised as it gets closer and I've posted one of the early cover ideas, because I thought it was pretty cool. A little busy for me, but cool all the same. And making the publishing of my own first novel a little more real.

The image comes for the statue of the fallen angel in Retiro Park, Madrid, Spain.

Hard Boiled Crime/Mystery

I finished Split Image by Robert B Parker, the ninth and last Jesse Stone novel. It's also the last novel that features his other successful series character, Sunny Randall.

Last I'll see either character because Dr. Parker passed away last January. A terrible loss for his family to be sure, but to the genre and his large fan base as well. I know I was sad when I heard.

I recommend all Parker's novels as a matter of course. I love them for their crisp elegance. My favorite Parker books are, I must admit, his Virgil Cole westerns, but his most famous character is of course Spenser (39 novels from 1973 to 2010- a pretty good run). Like in the Spenser books, here there is humor, there is an adept insight into psychiatry, there is competent writing with mostly complete characters and snappy dialogue. Unlike the Spenser books, Jess Stone is very much a flawed character (so is Sunny Randall which I suppose makes them a good match). But Jesse struggles with obsessive behaviors and alcohol.

Well, the novel. Again a novel very much like the other Jesse Stone Novels (Oh and Tom Selleck comes off as a much older and grittier version than I imagine the book version of Jesse to be in the TV specials) without being overly repetitive. Or worse yet, being derivative! The novel follows Jesse, and to a lesser extent Sunny, as they try to solve crimes. Jesse struggles with his inner demons and goes on a bender, spending much of the rest of the novel trying to understand what set him off. A quick read. Dr. Parker left the ends rather well tied for me to believe these two characters may have a future.

The only real criticism I have, and it's really something I've seen in many of the books, is that the characters all get each other. What I mean is that there is a sort of ironic-self depricating-sarcasm to the humor one character will express to another. And for the most part all of the other characters 'get it' and have the same sort of snappy comebacks. Except for the criminals who all seem to exhibit the banality one would expect of a thug.

("It looks like it was hard to get into those pants' says Jesse; 'For who' retorts Sunny. That sort of stuff).

Something to keep in mind, most people come at conversations from different angles and don't always see irony or sarcasm as funny. Being an ironic-self depricating and sarcastic person myself, I feel that I can say with authority that not everyone 'gets it'. And even if they do get it, that doesn't mean everyone thinks it's funny. Well, me anyway. But then, I don't have such a skilled and experienced writer putting my material together.