Friday, March 28, 2008

Mary Doria Russell Coming to Houston

I received my newsletter from Blue Willow Book Shop this week and was happy to learn that Mary Doria Russell is coming to Houston next month.

My first and, to date, only encounter with Russell is via her book, The Sparrow. It is a literate SF novel of first contact. I know that there is a sequel but I have too much to read. Loved that first book and am looking forward to seeing her.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Writing Process: To Outline or Not To Outline

With my first book, Treason at Hanford, I outlined the entire novel, scene by scene, on 4x6 index cards. In fact, at one point, when my fellow writer/reviewers pointed out a discrepancy in the book, I stopped writing completely, filled in the gaps with a new outline, and then, only then, started writing again.

This book is different. I've been living with it, off and on, for nearly two years. I have given myself a 1 June 2008 deadline for completing the novel. This one is a modern crime story/mystery set in Houston, post-Katrina. I have a general outline in my head of where the story starts and where I *think* it's going to end. However, whenever I sit down with index cards to map out the story, my brain freezes. It's telling me that this time, just write and let your characters tell the story. It's a bit scary, what with my deadline approaching about 9 weeks away. But it's also kind of liberating. I'm just the tour guide for this story. And I'm the first reader.

P.s., something happened last night that bodes well. I am currently reading Allan Guthrie's entry to Hard Case Crime: Kiss Her Goodbye. Normally, I read a chapter before bedtime. Last night, I was more interested in my own characters. I wanted to know what happened next. That's my first step to making my own book my current can't-put-down book. It's a good feeling.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"Lost" Gets an 80s Theme Song

I'm still laughing...

Who says cliches are not true?

Go here and watch.

This video is done so well, it's a wonder I didn't remember watching this show back in college. Or did I?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama and History

When I started this blog, I decided to keep politics out of it. However, something happened today. Senator Barack Obama, reacting to recent criticism of his former preacher, Jeremiah Wright, made a speech today. This speech was delivered in Philadelphia. As a student of history, I was intrigued by the location. I missed the speech live, so I read the prepared text. I am one of those kind of people who actually annotates books, newspapers, and other things. As such, I printed out the text of his prepared speech, picked up my pen, and read the speech.

In short, I loved the speech. I like that the first words he spoke were "we the people, in order to form a more perfect union." the founding fathers gave us our mission statement... and this is it. Senator Obama has taken up that mission, and strives to move us forward, to move our history forward, to the next phase. most news organizations and news websites have his speech. Here's one place. Read it. Think about it. Then make your decision.

(note: this blog entry was compared using MacSpeech Dictate. I hope it is the first of many.)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Book Review: Naked in Death

Call me bi-curious. No, not in that way. I’m talking in the way of romance books.

I’m a red-blooded American male. I write mysteries, I read mysteries, SF, thrillers, history, food tomes, almost everything but romance books. Up until now, I’ve always thought of romance books as trite throwaways that contain a couple of good sex scenes. Read those and forget about the rest of the book.

But something happened about a month ago: I actually noticed, really, for the first time, how many romance books there actually are in a bookstore. Hundreds. Thousands? And, for the first time, my countenance faltered. I realized that I might actually be up to read a romance. But which one? I asked a fellow writer who she liked and, among the names was Nora Roberts. I know Nora Roberts just like people who don’t read horror stories knows Stephen King. I went the local library, picked up a few Nora Roberts books, but none of them really caught my attention.

Then I remembered J.D. Robb. I knew that Roberts wrote stories as Robb so I checked them out. And I found my beachhead in the field of romance books. Lead character is a police detective. I’m writing a book about a female lead detective. Stories take place in 2059. Hmm, that sounds like SF. I like SF. The books are characterized as romantic suspense. I like suspense. My first novel was a suspense novel. And I’m a romantic. What’s not to like? I verified which book was the first in the series, Naked in Death, checked out the audiobook from the library, and inserted the CD.

The first disc was not even halfway through before I was hooked. And not just mild interest but hook, line, and sinker. I was all in. The book has a nice pace, not slow at all. Since the book was written in 1995, it is interesting to note some of the futuristic discrepancies but just as cool to note the stuff Roberts got right. Eve Dallas, the lead character, carries around a device that will surely be what the iPhone is going to be: the all-in-one gadget that basically does everything. I also appreciated the more mundane aspects of 2059 NYC: cars that don’t fly. Sure, I want my flying car. Who doesn’t? But we’re probably not going to get there in 50 years.

Back to the story: Eve Dallas must investigate the murders of a licensed companion, a prostitute, who just happens to be the granddaughter of a prominent US Senator. It was pretty interesting to read this book, with legalized prostitution, during the week NY governor Eliot Spitzer resigned for being with one. Roberts really let us readers get into Eve’s head and thoughts. I found myself being mad when she was and happy when she was. I’ll admit the POV shifts that frequent this book is not the style in which I write. It was annoying at first but then I got used to it.

The story was great. But what about the romance? This was a romance book after all. Rourke, the all-everything Irish guy who starts as a suspect and becomes Eve’s lover, is the kind of guy, I’ll admit, seems to inhabit romance books. Now, I’m saying this purely from a stereotypical standpoint. But, hey, the first romance book I read has one of “those” guys in it. How’s a regular guy supposed to compete with that? Anyway, the romantic aspects of the novel seemed even, believable. Even the sex scene—there’s one main one, with intimate details—was good and hot. I give a hat tip to Ms. Roberts in the many ways to describe sexual intercourse without using actual physical words.

The final testament to reading Naked in Death is this: I have already checked out the second book, Glory in Death, on audio. I can’t wait to start.

One of my biggest questions to see Roberts answers is how the series characters Eve and Rourke go on being together, their daily interactions, their passion. Naked in Death was the ‘getting together’ book. Those are easier. Just look at all the movies out there (and probably half the romance books). What I want to know is how the characters grow together.

Side note: when I found that list of “In Death” books, I discovered there were 25 as of March 2008. She started writing then in 1995. That’s a book a year just as “J.D. Robb,” not to mention the “Nora Roberts” books. Goodness! Where does she find the time?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Writing Process: Finding the Right Voice

It's always a reassuring thing when I read about the travails of other authors. One of the biggest problems I've had with my second novel is the voice: whose story is it and why? I did finally arrive at the answer but only after letting go of all my preconceived ideas. And I fully agree with Paolo's sentiments about his chapter one.

Here is a question/answer from Paolo Bacigalupi from Fantastic Reviews:

R: You have pretty high standards if you're feeling that way about your stories.

PB: Well, I think there is compulsion there, too. Right now, I'm working on this novel of mine, and I have a horrifying number of first chapters. And I look at those and I think, this is obviously a sign of a crazy person. You can't have this many different versions of a first chapter and see anything other than insanity at work.

But the other thing that's going on is that I'm not clear. And that's why I keep writing these versions, because I haven't come to that one that says, right, I know what I was trying to say. So I know the reason for that compulsion is I'm hunting for something that I can't quite articulate even to myself. Sometimes I'll try to mark down, these are the things I want in this. I want this element or I want this character to be able to do these things. And I know those are there, but there's something else more intangible that just says, no, that didn't quite nail it; it just doesn't quite fire on all cylinders for some reason.

Where are the short SF books?

Over at SF Signal, there was a discussion last week framed around this question: Q: Are science fiction book series a barrier to gaining new readership? Here is the extended version of the question: If you take a look around your local bookstore's SF section, you can't help but notice the preponderance of book series on the shelves, especially in the fantasy arena, which seems to specialize in doorstopper series. Inevitably, the store won't have all published books in the series, leaving the customer out of luck if they decide to buy right then. There's a great discussion including some answers from folks in the field. Go check it out.

I posted this response:

In this discussion, folks have focused on THE BIG BOOK. That is, a tome that is the size of a small brick, that a reader would have to wade through just to see if he likes it. Personally, I have not even started Jordan's Wheel of Time series for the mere fact that I'd be reading nothing else for months on end. And the more I look at bookstore shelves of SF/F, the more I see huge books.

So here's my question: what ever happened to the smaller book? The 200pp-300pp book? Is it the market that has driven smaller books away, what with $8.99+ cover prices for a paperback and north of $27.00 for a hardback?

Over in the mystery field, there's a line of books under the Hard Case Crime imprint. Those guys want to bring back old-school pulp fiction, complete with new cover art in the old style. All the books are $6.99. Almost all of them are 200-230pp long. All can be consumed quickly and carried around in my back pocket. And, for me, reading an old, formerly out-of-print book by an author like Lawrence Block or Ed McBain caused me to seek out other books by these authors.

Is there a SF/F version of this out there? I'd like to think so. And I'd like to write for and read books from an imprint like that.

Any Ideas?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Six-Word Memoirs

The writing group I'm a member of down here in Houston has an interesting little exercise: compose your memoir in six words. Here are two for me.

Son, husband, father. Nothing else matters.

Writes manuals, novels nobody reads. Yet.

How about y'all?