Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pardon my absence, but...

this has been a busy week, and on top of all the busyness of business, I've been wrestling with another bout of crud, the same stuff that's been pestering me off and on since the beginning of December. This weekend, however, it hit with a vengeance. I will not go into minute detail, but I do not recall ever having a fever so high in my life, nor have my joints been in so much pain. Perhaps I should have gone to the hospital, but Mom would have had to come over and get me, and who wants to expose loved ones to nastiness?

It's a little after 7 a.m. on Sunday morning, and this is the best I've felt in two days. However, the harsh cough is still here, and I'm exhausted. Just guessing, but I've probably had some sort of pneumonia this entire time. I'll be checking in at the clinic on Monday, when I shouldn't be contagious, and probably long after the doctor can do any good, but he can at least tell me if I'm clear to return to work; I suspect, however, I'll need another day or two just to rest. The appetite is returning a little, though, so that's good.

If only I could work on the novel, though--that would be real progress!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

In Memoriam
Heath Ledger

April 4, 1979 - January 22, 2008

Despite all the viewers who just didn't get the joke, probably my favorite Ledger film is the funny and intelligent medieval-meets-rock A Knight's Tale, followed closely by (if not tied with) 10 Things I Hate About You, an updated and witty version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Ledger is also The Joker in the The Dark Knight, the latest Batman flick, slated to appear in theatres in July. I didn't always like nor view his choices (i.e. Brokeback Mountain), but he was among my favorite actors, and who knows where his career might have gone?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sunday Books

This being Sunday, here are a couple books I've been reading, bits at a time, over several weeks, and only on Sundays. Both are nonfiction, far from dry, and have challenged my faith and my outlook.
Let God Be God by Ray C. Stedman was originally a series of sermons on the Book of Job in the Bible. It doesn't read like a sermon at all; it's smooth, logical, and deep. This book is for anyone who has ever wondered about the story of Job and why God did what He did.
Living Beyond the Possible by Wayne Myers is a Christmas gift from my mom, and a great gift it is. About giving, and what that truly means, this little book packs a serious punch. I read chapter four this afternoon, and though I will not go into detail here, I know I will feel its impact for a great long while.

Friday, January 18, 2008

A Friend's Foray Into the Cyber Age

Dennis Price, a friend and fellow poet, has recently begun a web log (ahem! a blog): Pappy's Balderdash. Drop on over some time!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Inspiration and Truth

I seem to have lost a bit of my motivation, momentum, whatever. Having finished one manuscript and most of a second, I can't quite work up the necessary enthusiasm. As I was pondering what to do about that, I read this quote from Jack London:

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.

Ah, Jack. Liked your stuff when I was a kid. Just about wore out my paperback copy of The Call of the Wild. Still have it crammed tightly into the bookshelf to keep it together, its pages yellowing and brittle and threatening to fall out of the binding.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog entry about how fiction is often the best way to convey truth. Mark Twain has this to say on the subject:

Most writers regard truth as their most valuable possession,
and therefore are most economical in its use.

Mr. Clemens, you're a sly one. I read about Tom and Huck repeatedly until my copies literally fell to pieces. Ah, well. Huck Finn had already been well-read by my mother in her youth, so I had a little help in loving the book to death.

Gotta get back to the day job, but maybe--with a hand from Jack and Sam--I'll be ready to write like crazy when I get home tonight.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hors D'oeuvre versus Feast

How many words are too many? How many pages make a book too long?

And who sets the rules?

We all know the books about a certain boy wizard became thicker and thicker as the series progressed, and they still sold like hotcakes, even when the price for a hardcover was about $35.

The hardcover edition of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is 642 pages, price $25.95 (2005). (This is Kostova's first published novel.)

A nonfiction work of history, Empire by Default by Ivan Musicant, is 658 pages in length (excluding bibliography, notes, and index), $35 (1998).

The hardcover edition of The Once & Future King by T.H. White (copyright 1958, published some time after White's death in 1963) runs 631 pages, and lists the original price at $26.95. (I picked it a nearly pristine copy for $3 secondhand several years ago, and the colors on the cover are different--same design, though--and the copyright page is different. There is no price listed on the flap, so I can't compare that.)

I understand that a shorter book means less materials, less labor, and thus less expense, allowing the publisher to set a price that the reading public can afford. However, as a reader, I prefer fat novels that allow me to submerge into their worlds. Can't really happen with a skinny paperback that's more snack than feast.

In the past few days, I've corresponded via e-mail with a fellow writer who is also an editor, consultant, and more, and asked a few nuts-and-bolts questions about my long manuscripts, and in one message, he asked the following question: "I'd say the issue isn't where to break the massive story, but how to pull out a publishable story to get into print first, that could excite readers to want to read lots more."

In other words, toss out an hors d'oeuvre--a snack--and see if the readers will sit down for the feast.

There is the risk, of course, that in their search for a feast, they will overlook the cheese-and-cracker tray and miss my work entirely.

And God forbid that the book is printed with one of those lurid, cheesy (no pun intended) covers that are all florid color and impossible human bodies, like juvenile comic-book rejects.

However, I'm considering the snack. Although I cannot pull out any pieces from the current manuscripts and let them stand alone, there are more stories set in this world I've imagined. Two of them are already outlined and heavy with notes--one set generations into the future, the other generations into the past--but I don't know which of two I will choose.

Lunch time. Can't think. Too hungry. All this talk of snacks and feasts....

Friday, January 11, 2008


A few comments about Skin by Ted Dekker.

First, back in December, I found a couple brand-new hardcover copies on the bargain table at a local bookstore, so I bought them both: one for me, one for my brother, a hardcore Dekker fan. When I asked my sister-in-law if he already had that book, she said no, but that once he opened that particular present he'd probably be useless to the rest of us during the remainder of their visit.

Second, I was the one who became useless. Once I opened the book and got past the first few pages (which seemed bland and over explanatory, but that's probably the editor in me showing), I almost couldn't put the book down. I read when I should have been sleeping. I read whenever my brother's family were off visiting other relatives. If I'd not been required at work--such an interruption to one's personal life--I would have finished the book in one day. As it was, it took me at least two, maybe three.

Dekker being famous for his plot twists, I just let the story run along for a bit, but there were disturbing little details that he tossed in that set the world a little more off-kilter than it already was, and I guessed the basic truth--and the killer--long before it was made known to the characters in the story. But a couple glitches at the end--almost total surprise. One was telegraphed throughout the story, but I had assumed its source was slightly different; close, but not quite, and thus the surprise. Still, that's kinda the point of reading mysteries and any other books involving puzzles: the reader wants to try to solve it, too, not just hang around until the characters do.

I like Skin, which is an elaborate, deceptive tangle of a thriller that ends up discussing the nature of beauty, evil, and the truth. Very cool.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bolt of Lightning

As I was sitting in my office this afternoon, eating cashew chicken for lunch and playing solitaire, a startling thought zapped me: What if I've worked with kids so many years because I want to somehow undo my own childhood? Make it all better?

What if that's the reason children figure so prominently in most of my stories? Especially children who have survived traumatic events?

A few years ago, I was frustrated with a fellow author whose work always involved alcoholic law enforcement protagonists. I asked him when he was going to write something new, and he said, "When I'm done writing about this."

I totally agree that writing is great therapy, and it's free.

It's also the hardest fun work or the funnest hard work I've ever done. Wish it was my main work. However, one does need a day job to cover the addiction's expenses: electricity to run the computer, ink for the printer, food for the writer, and other such necessities.

I've been considering leaving my current job and going somewhere else. Somewhere kid-free. After all, I've been caring for children since I was a child myself; large family, lots of cousins. Maybe I'm done trying to fix the past. Maybe it's time to live forward.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Robin of Sherwood

Another entry that is not necessarily about writing, but it is about a story.

As a teenager, I watched this early 1980s British television program on PBS, late at night, after my parents had gone to bed, shaking their heads over my taste in viewing material.

Ah, well. I always did like the myths and legends, and Robin Hood was one of my favorites.

There were four two-hour episodes released on VHS here in the States, and I used to own them all, but they wore out. I'm glad the series is available on DVD (finally!), and though it may seem a little cheesy or simple to a modern audience, I have never tired of it.

The show could have descended into camp, and it came close on a couple occasions, but it stopped short of teetering over that line.

Being produced in the 80s, though, it fell prey to the "New Age" philosophy that was strong during that decade, so there are a few lines about balancing the forces of light and dark, and at least one reference to the belief that we can all become gods. Herne the Hunter is a recurring character. There are also episodes dealing with magic or sorcery, and though some characters worship pagan gods or Satan himself, darkness never prevails for long. As with all movies or television shows, viewer beware.

On the positive side, the storyline is interesting, the acting is good, several of the actors continued in excellent careers, the locations were fantastic, and the legend was pulled out of the mist and set in flesh on solid ground. And I was never bored.

At this time, I only own Season One, but look forward to owning the all-too-abruptly ended Season Two. As with many of the shows I like, this one was cancelled too soon for the fans, but at least it did get a chance to put some sort of closure to the story.

** Postscript (added January 11, 2008) **

I recently watched the special features, which are included on a separate DVD, and several times the creators of the show mentioned wanting to make this Robin new and fresh, and that's one of the reasons why the sword-and-sorcery element was added. (I was reminded of the Conan movies and other fantasy-related flicks--Dragonslayer, for instance--that were produced in the 80s.) They also wanted to include the pre-Christian religious element that would still be very much in practice at that time in parts of England, though actual rites were conjured from the creators' imaginations.

Hmm. Seems to me, they protest too much. They were definitely interested in New Age and occult matters, beyond using the elements in a purely historical sense.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

It's Done

The first novel of the cycle is finished.

There are more stories set in the same world, but their time is yet to come. They have lived in my imagination for years, in lines of dialogue or bits of description or intriguing characters. Now, a few of them get to live outside my brain.

What a way to to begin the new year.