I write like
Jack London

I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Sick Days for a Writer

I had plans for this morning. I was going to get up with DH and GK this morning. They've been getting up extra early since the new year started. GK is taking Honors Chemistry this year, which is also home room, and the entire class arrives fifteen minutes before school's official start time so the teacher can get through the bureaucratic stuff first and actually spend the rest of the period on instruction and labs. After dropping off GK, DH and I were going out for breakfast. Then I was going to tackle editing on Zombie Goddess.

Except in less than a week since school started, GK brought new pets home. Unfortunately not from biology class.

Luckily, it's just a mild summer cold. For him.

Unluckily for me, even a mild cold knocks me down with my compromised immune system. I slept nearly thirteen hours last night. I have some mild joint and muscle pain. On the plus side, I can breath. But so much for getting a couple thousand words in this morning before lunch. I'll ease my way this afternoon through editing and proofing that needs to be done.

And I'll probably collapse in front of the TV later tonight when I can't focus on the words anymore.

The rough part is that I don't get paid sick time. If DH gets this cold and takes a day off, we don't have to worry about making the rent or the car payment.

If I get really sick, like the flu from hell last April, I'm not making money. Not writing. Not editing. Nothing.

I'm grateful to have someone in my life who can pull the household load when I'm can't. There's a lot of writers who don't, and it freaks them out when something like this happens. Especially if they have a deadline with a publisher.

Yes, I'm lucky. And I know it.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Monday Movie Mania - Ghostbusters (2016)

I actually saw the new Ghostbusters about a month ago. Frankly, I put off writing a review about it, partly from disappointment, partly because Tarzan and Suicide Squad were much more fun movies.

Unfortunately, Ghostbusters highlighted all the problems with a remake, along with a ton of the sexism in our society, long before cameras started rolling on the project.


* * *


SPOILERS


* * *


PROS
1) The writers didn't try to force-fit the personalities of the original characters into the new ones. Kristen Wiig playing the straight-woman physicist seeking tenure against Melissa McCarthy's too-passionate, non-conventional scientist in a realistic way. These two ladies worked just as well together here as they did in Bridesmaids.

2) Leslie Jones as the non-scientist, common-sensical member of the group was a delight. Her character jumped into a new world with both feet, taking command of her life instead of being dragged into it out of desperation for a pay check.

3) The writers poked fun at the token-opposite-gender, dumb-blond secretary memes, and Chris Hemsworth ran with it.

4) Kate McKinnon was my personal favorite as Dr. Holtzmann, the team's insane engineer. I was never quite sure what she'd do next.

5) The cameos of the surviving cast members of the original Ghostbusters totally rocked, especially Sigourney Weaver's turn as Holtzmann's mentor.


CONS
1) The writing was uneven. The humor was dead-on when it came to the satire of the university system or gender roles. But there was a tone-deaf attitude toward the paranormal aspects. Also, the pacing of the first half was incredibly slo-o-o-ow.

2) The editing left something to be desired as well. There were scenes essentially left hanging in the first half of the movie. With no context, they made no sense. On the other hand, the last half of the movie was tightly woven, both in writing and editing. It's almost like the two writers and two editors literally divided the movie instead of collaborating.

3) The killing of Bill Murray's character, Martin Heiss, a debunker of psychic/paranormal phenomenon a la James Randi, was unnecessary. While I understand the writers' aim to convery the seriousness of the threat to the protagonists, the incident wasn't funny and totally not in keeping with the light-hearted tone of the movie.

4) I missed Rick Moranis, the only original cast member to decline a cameo. I totally understand his reasoning (he semi-retired from acting after the death of his wife in order to raise their children), but it wasn't quite the same without him.


To me, the sad part is this could have been a kick-ass movie. It was decent for a remake. What's worse is a few male friends saw the same flaws in the movie that I did, but they feel they cannot say anything without being labeled as misogynist. Ironically, they wanted the reboot to work far more than I did. It's a damn shame that we've come to this in American society.

For the movie itself, I'd give it a 5 out of 10 stars.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Writers and the Dunning-Kruger Effect - Part 1

Mars isn't in retrograde, nor is it the full moon, so maybe this is just one of those incredibly bizarre weeks.

Why do I say this?

- Alter Ego was berated (again) for writing about married couples who have interesting and fun sex lives. According to this person, married people only have sex when (1) procreating or (2) the wife is satisfying her marital duties. (Um, sorry, sweetie, but there ARE married couples who love having sex with each other. I have too many readers who tell me their personal shit to think otherwise.)

- The Passive Voice posted a screed from a writer that essentially non-disabled people shouldn't write disabled characters because they aren't doing it right. (Damn, I guess I need to stop writing A Modicum of Truth right now! I can't see in the infrared range and I'm not missing a foot so I can't possible know what those conditions are like!)

- One of my books had a review where the reviewer claimed a certain type of firearm doesn't exist (it does) and another type of firearm can't hurt a person (it can, especially in point-blank proximity).

You'd think I'd get used to other people's peccadillos or lack of knowledge. Around a decade ago, one writing judge counted points off my entry, stating there was no such thing as constables in the U.S. (Um, I've received tickets by constables in the Justice Precinct in Texas to which they were duly appointed. I'm pretty the men and their guns were not figments of my imagination.)

Why do people assume their knowledge of a particular subject is superior to the writer's? Or the writer didn't do the appropriate research?

It all goes back to a bank robber.

In 1995, a bunch of Cornell scientists read about a guy named McArthur Wheel. Wheel had learned that lemon juice had been used by spies as invisible ink. He figured if he covered his face in lemon juice, then the security cameras wouldn't pick up his face, and he couldn't be blamed for the bank robberies.

Hell, Wheel even tested his theory by taking a selfie with Polaroid. (Either the film or the camera was defective because Wheel thought his idea had worked.)

Needless to say, the Pittsburgh police asked the local TV stations to run the very clear picture of the bank robber from the security cameras on the eleven o'clock news. By midnight, a tip had been called in and Wheel, to his utter amazement, was arrested.

Wheel's case triggered a series of studies at Cornell University, which resulted in the identification of a condition that is now called the Dunning-Kruger effect. However, this "effect" has been known for millennia. In fact, William Shakespeare said it best in As You Like It:

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.

So if you did your research, then you did your job as a writer. You just need to keep reminding yourself not to respond to criticisms that you know are invalid. Like the mantra, I've been repeating all week:

Don't respond to reviews! Don't respond to reviews!


For additional incentive, repeat the phrase to yourself in the same railroad car rhythm as Dr. Sheldon Cooper's "You forgot your flashdrive."

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Gems from the Past

A relatively new channel was added to our cable package recently, the Heroes and Icons Channel, H&I for short. It has a lot of action adventure shows from the '70's, '80's, and '90's. Kung Fu. Hercules. Renegade.

Last month though, H&I started running all five live-action Star Trek series on Sundays and weeknights. (It makes me sad that Roddenberry declared the animated version of the original series isn't canon because it had some damn, fine episodes.)

All five.

While we have the complete sets of TOS and TNG, we don't have the other three. In fact, we haven't seen Enterprise is its entirety because Genius Kid was walking by the time it debuted. (I missed a lot of my favorite TV shows during the Toddler Years.)

I hadn't seen DS9 since it ended its first run while I was pregnant. I'd forgotten how much I loved the show.

However, I'm not sure if my visceral reaction to Vedek Winn the other night is memory or the current rise of extremist religious groups in our reality.

But an article in the AV Club last week reminded me that in many ways, DS9 was the "trekkiest of the Treks." None of the characters were perfect. They made mistakes, but they always tried to do the right thing. And they had some fun along the way.

Even more amazing were the comments after the article. Readers had a general discussion of DS9, the other Trek series, and comedy versus drama. No one was rude or insulting. It was rather refreshing compared to the plethora of trolls you find on other websites these days. A cooperative, entertaining, and thought-provoking view of the universe.

Maybe Gene Roddenberry has been right all along.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Monday Movie Mania - Jason Bourne

Let me start off by saying I loved the original Bourne trilogy. Absolutely LOVED it.

I also love Matt Damon. Whether he's playing a good guy (Good Will Hunting), a bad guy (Interstellar), or a crazy-ass Angel of Death (Dogma), Damon can make me believe. In fact, I had hoped he'd be chosen to play James T. Kirk when Paramount rebooted the Star Trek movie franchise.

But the latest Bourne/Damon makes the worst faux pas a film can make. It was boring as hell. As in, I nearly fell asleep while watching it in the theater.

Oh, there's lots of flash and bang and fights and car chases.

And I've seen it all before in the previous three films.

I didn't even bother to put my normal SPOILERS warning in this review because THERE'S NOTHING TO SPOIL!

If you've seen the first three movies, all this is a montage of the crappy bits. Not even Tommy Lee Jones, as the primary villain, can redeem the retread writing or the stiff acting. And, dammit, this is the man who could redeem the hot mess that was Men in Black II.

So if you're a completest, and you really need to see this, wait until it hits Netflix for Amazon Prime Video. Seriously, don't waste your money.

Overall, I have to give Jason Bourne a 3 out of 10 stars.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Friday, August 19, 2016

Barnes & Noble Swirling the Drain

I hate seeing a book retailer falling. I hate hearing the whistling whine a business makes as gravity takes over. I hate the smell of the trash compactor as books are stripped and crushed rather than shipping them back to the distributor.

The Barnes & Noble board fired their latest CEO. This was the guy from Sears Canada, a company that also made the same whistling whine right before it hit the ground.

Hard.

This was the same CEO who wanted to put restaurants and wine bars in Barnes & Noble. Chairman Len Riggio is taking over temporarily as CEO. When the board finds a replacement, the new CEO will be B&N's fifth CEO in four years.

*sigh*

I wish I could say I was surprised. After the late payments in May and the conflicting payment statements in June, I decided to cut my losses. I pulled the Suzan Harden books in June, and the Alter Ego books in July. I really didn't feel like giving B&N my money anymore.

Funny enough, they are still sending me coupons though I quit their frequent buyer program in 2013. In fact, I have been receiving more coupons from B&N over the last six months than I ever did in the eight years I was a frequent buyer club member. And the closest B&N to me is an hour away, which makes the multitude of coupons even sadder.

The saddest thing of all is that B&N was the closest to compete with Amazon for the e-book market, but then they gave up. They had the first color tablet on the market, but they failed to provide other media besides books. Then they locked the tablet, dropped the PC app, and made it nearly impossible to download from their store, much less find the books people wanted.

You can't save a company that's already given up.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Trad Vs. Hybrid Vs. Indie

It's been a little over five years since I jumped into the indie pool. I don't regret a minute of it. I've made some mistakes, and learned from them. I've had some successes, and learned from those too.

Five or six years ago, author Bob Mayer coined the term "hybrid" to signify a writer with one foot in the indie world and one foot in traditional publishing. He still champions that duel path. As I was reading his blog yesterday, my first thought was "I'll NEVER go traditional--"

And the realization hit me like the proverbial brick between the eyes. I was WELL AND TRULY a hybrid writer.

I'd been sending out two short stories a year to various publishers for the last five years, more for the practice of writing blurbs than actually expecting a sale. This year, both shorts were picked up by the first anthologies I submitted to. That makes a total of four sales in three years.

However, the sales have been to small publishers where I get my exclusive right backs in three to six months and they aren't asking for the whole hog. Would I submit to one of the big five house any time soon? Probably not with the way their contracts are written these days.

On the other hand, the first short I sold three years ago ended up launching a new series.

Will I keep submitting short stories? Probably, as long as the contracts aren't too onerous. In the end, the decision comes down to what I want as a career path.

Your mileage may vary.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Monday Movie Mania - Suicide Squad

This is one of those times that I totally disagree with critics and fandom. I loved this movie!

For those who know nothing about it other than the trash talk on the internet, this is DC's version of The Dirty Dozen. And if you haven't seen the Lee Marvin classic, well, I highly suggest that you educate yourself.

But like the WWII classic, the filmmakers don't have enough time to explore all the characters, which makes me a little sad. And it's pretty obvious who the redshirts are. But there's also depth to the characters the film team focuses on.


* * *


SPOILERS


* * *


PROS
1) Margot Robbie is picture and tone perfect as Harley Quinn. While the character's style in the movie is closer to Quinn's latest incarnation of the comics, Margot definitely channels the original Harley, Arleen Sorkin. For that alone, I love Robbie.

2) In this version, Joker and Harley have a Sid & Nancy/Natural Born Killers type of relationship. It is warped, co-dependent, and viciously entertaining.

3) The ladies control the movie. The gist of the story is the Enchantress trying to escape Amanda Waller's clutches and reunite with her brother.

4) Speaking of the ladies, Viola Davis was everything I expected out of Amanda Waller. She rocked as the SS's government organizer who's every bit as nasty and deadly as the supervillians she "recruits".

5) I didn't think Will Smith would do another superhero movie after Hancock. His Deadshot isn't as hard-bitten as the comic version, but he made it work as the alpha male of the team.

6) The music chosen for each character's introduction worked, especially "You Don't Own Me" for Harley.


CONS
1) I would have liked more Killer Croc. I don't know if the character wasn't given more, or if his scenes landed on the cutting room floor. But he seemed wasted in the movie except for the climax.

2) Key scene transitions were obviously missing, but it wasn't as bad as BvS. There's already talk of an extended cut, just like was done for BvS.


I think this is one of those things where the critics have a bug up their butts when something that's normally geek culture goes mainstream. It's okay if Hollywood does it one or two times, but heaven forbid, more movies from the geek culture come out in one year. Guess what, critics? Superhero movies aren't going away. Hollywood finally has the tools to do them right. Granted, that doesn't mean they will, i.e. the last Fantastic Four flick.

Overall though, I would still give Suicide Squad a solid 7 out of 10 stars.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

TV Shows with Cool Themes

Since I noted my joy at Enterprise's theme song, I figured let's continue this month with other shows' them music.


Friday, August 12, 2016

The Russians Are Reading! The Russians Are Reading!

Or maybe they aren't.

It's been a long week, and I'm trying not to wince as I look at my total word count since Sunday, and that's including blog words. There's been lots of running around: taking people to various appointments, back-to-school errands, etc. On the other hand, that's also NOT counting the words put in on Chapter 7 of Sacrificed since I've been working on that during some wait time for the appointments. (Did I mention Sacrificed is being written on my iPhone? New experience!)

Yet, I'm getting an abnormal number of hits here and on my main website's blog. Especially from Mother Russia.

Huh?

I'd like to believe these new people are checking out my books. I really, really would. More likely Russian hackers are taking a certain American's invitation to infiltrate American computers quite literally.

'Scuse me?  But, um, if you want state secrets, these are not the servers you're looking for.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Typos and Passive-Aggressive Readers

First of all, we all make mistakes. No human can avoid it.

Second, all writers do their damnedest to produce a quality product.

Third, it doesn't matter how many people you hire or who volunteer to proof your work, invariable one little type slips by, which takes us back to the first point.

I belong to a few readers groups and forums (the other people are well aware that I am a writer), and I do read a few reviews sometimes to determine whether I want to download a particular book. There seems to be a disturbing trend for readers to grade a book they've read, and I don't mean on the writer's storytelling skills, but their grammar and spelling.

The majority of these type of readers used to be English instructors, but there are two other types I've noticed that are on the rise. One type are people who want to be writers. The other type are ones that want to sell you services.

How do you tell the various types?

The English instructors come right out and tell you who they are. For example, they have a beef because your sentences are fragments, even though your story is written in first person with a protagonist who's drugged or injured. Or a teenager must speak in perfect sentences. Or they taught with Strunk & White while you prefer the Chicago Manual of Style. But they generally feel they must save the universe from your alleged bad writing (which consists of one "from", accidentally spelled "form").

The folks who want to be writers like to jump on indies because there's nothing holding them back any longer from writing their Great American Novel. Paradoxical, I know, but their excuse for not writing for so long was the agent and trad publisher gatekeepers. Now, there's really nothing holding them back, but their own fear. They can't admit that fear so they lash out by complaining about other writers' style and/or typos.  These people you can tell because they usually complain about your typos in a comment that is in itself full of typos.

I've seen writers try to elicit specific information from these two types of readers, only to be met with the response, "I'm not doing your work for you!" Frankly, these are perfect examples of why you leave reviews, whether on a private blog or a retailer's site, alone.

The third folk are fairly nice about your book's need for a major edit...until you ask them specifically what they found wrong. Then they equally nicely say they will tell you...for such-and-such fee. Solicitation shouldn't be on an unaffiliated blog or retailer site, but that's my personal opinion.

Once in a while though, you'll get a reader who nicely points out a problem and tells you what that problem is. For example, one of Alter Ego's fan sent her a lovely e-mail that said Chicago is on the shore of Lake Michigan, not Detroit.

We had a pleasant discussion about typos and how writers react to criticism. This reader was quite worried I'd be upset. I was actually more embarrassed than anything, especially since I named the correct lake for Detroit everywhere else is the novel. (It's Lake St, Clair, by the way!)

I thanked the reader profusely and sent her a corrected copy of the book and an Amazon gift card.

Does that mean you should send a detailed list of problems to every writer of every book you've read?

Not necessarily. It's one thing if it's an indie published book and you think the writer will respond civilly about a typo or three. (I wouldn't send a criticism of theme, style, etc. If you didn't like it, then it simply wasn't the story for you.) But for a trad published, there's is quite literally nothing the writer can do once their book is published.

On the other hand, don't send the writer a private e-mail saying, "Hey, you f***ed up!" without being a little more specific. Otherwise, that's just troll behavior, and it doesn't help anyone in the long run.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Monday Movie Mania - The Legend of Tarzan

If you haven't read the original Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan books, you're not going to appreciate the finer points of this movie. The writers, Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, adhered closely to ERB's style while adding a few historical touches to the tale.


* * *


SPOILERS


* * *


PROS
1) For all the whining about a blond Bond, no one gave two shits about a blond Tarzan. Why? Because Alexander Skarsgard is that good! He brings the animalistic ferocity I expect from the character, but then, he already had Eric Northman down pat.

2) I've heard some bitching about Jane having a too modern sensibility. If these folks had read ERB, they know that this is almost exactly how Jane Porter Clayton acted. Margot Robbie captured her perfectly.

3) I've also heard complaints about the director, David Yates. This is the same guy who brought the last four Harry Potter movies to life. He respects the original work of an author, and the respect shows in this movie.

4) Some African history was inserted into the movie by way of Samuel L. Jackson's George Washington Williams and Christoph Waltz's Leon Rom. I strongly suggest that you read up on these two gentlemen, and their involvement in the Congo.

5) If anything, the writers and director did add a bit of realty to Tarzan. A human cannot possibly fight bare-handed with a full-grown bull gorilla, and Tarzan is severely injured in both the present timeline and in flashbacks.


CONS
1) If I can complain about anything, it's that Tarzan and Jane's son Jack/Korak was NOT born in Africa, but it was a sweet code at the end of the day.

2) Okay, maybe I have a teensy whine about the slow pace at the start of the movie, but once the action gets going, it's the proverbial rollercoaster ride.


Frankly, I loved the movie, and I'll buy it when it comes out. Tarzan earned 9 out of 10 stars.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

TV I've Been Watching Lately

The H&I Channel, aka Heroes and Icons, have started running all five Star Trek series. I don't care what anyone says, but Russell Watson's theme for Enterprise hits me right in the feels.


Friday, August 5, 2016

Sometimes, You Just Need a Break

It's been a long week on many fronts, including personal and professional, and yesterday was simply too much. Once DH got back from soccer (he runs the time clock for the local high school) and we ate dinner, it was nine p.m. and we still had an errand to run.

We took our ancient convertible with the top down since it was a lovely summer night. After we completed the errand, we sat in the parking lot for a moment, looking at each other. He asked, "Is there anything else we have to do today?"

I said, "No, but I don't want to go home. Let's go for a drive."

He smiled. "I like that idea. But let's stop at McDonald's first."

I know that sounds weird, but we live in a small town, and I swear they literally roll up the carpets by nine p.m. When we were dating, we used to swing by the old-fashioned ice cream and soda shop, purchase a couple of milkshakes, and do for a drive on the township and county roads. Since the ice cream shop was closed, the next best thing was one of the fast food places.

And we went for a drive in the country.

And we talked.

That's probably the saddest part about being a Gen-Xer these days. We're so caught up between our children's and our parent's needs we forget to take some time for ourselves.

So we talked and drove by the township cemetery with the glowing tombstone. Past DH's grandparents' farmhouse which looks nothing like it used to.

And really saw the stars for the first time in a very long while.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

How Do You Eat an Elephant?

One bite at a time, kids. One bite at a time.

Yes, I'm mangling a quote by Creighton Abrams, but the sentiment applies to many aspects of life, including writing.

The thought was prompted when Dean Wesley Smith posted that he'd written 4.5 million words over the last three years. (No, those are not typos.) A lot of newer writers were flabbergasted by that amount.

They're looking at the entire elephant, and they're already gagging at the thought of eating such an enormous beast. And that's a self-defeating way of looking at things because Dean is looking at his total output, i.e. fiction, non-fiction, teaching, e-mails, etc.

While I won't pretend to be in Dean's league, here's an idea of what I've written in the last three days:

- 3132 fiction words. That's scattered across two novels and an Alter Ego novella. And frankly, it's negative words for Ravaged because I ripped out a chunk from Alyson's POV that wasn't working.

- 3000 e-mail words. Actually it's probably more than that because I only included the three friends I've e-mailed with the most.

- 600 blog words.

- 300 promotion words. An anthology that contains one of Alter Ego's short stories came out a few days early, so I needed to do some promotions for it yesterday that I'd planned to do today.

That's roughly 7032 words in just three days (2344 per day), and I haven't been focused on working on my fiction because of a series of family-related things.

Or in other words, if I keep that token 2344 words per day pace, in 365 days, I would have 855,560 words. And in three years, I'd have 2,566,680 words.

All those words by eating one tiny bite of the elephant at a time.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Monday Movie Mania - Central Inteliigence

Bad news: we have extended family excrement hitting the spinning turbine again. Good news: The local theater chain has reinstated their $5 Tuesday tickets. We've been catching up on summer movies this way.

With the first factor we needed a good laugh. Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart seemed like a good idea, so that's the flick we hit.


* * *


SPOILERS


* * *


PROS
1) The initial premise is sweet and poignant. Calvin (Hart) is the class star in high school. He literally could not do wrong. Robbie (Johnson) is the overweight kid everyone picked on. Of course, things seem to be reversed in adulthood, but the kicker is each man is still pretty much as he was in high school.

2) The two men basically do a George Burns-Gracie Allen with Hart oddly as the Burns side. Yet, it works.

3) The uncredited cameo by Melissa McCarthy as Robbie's high school crush is totally worth a full-price admission.


CONS
1) Unfortunately, the racial and fat jokes drag down the movie. The opposites attract along with the fish out of water elements would have served the humor quotient just fine.


The flick has a terrific high concept and incredible chemistry between the stars, but the writing tries too hard and subsequently drags the movie down. If you need a perfectly pleasant diversion after a bad day at work, this is the movie for you, but don't expect the belly laughs you'd get watching Deadpool for the umpteenth time. I have to give Central Intelligence a solid 7 out of 10 stars.