On Writing…technique

The other day I received, unsolicited, a Kindle copy of a book currently available through Amazon.com.  The reason the author (or his representatives) sent out the book to me was not because he/they knew I was an author but because I reviewed a book on Amazon that they thought was similar enough to their book that it would appeal to me.  They were hoping I’d read and write a review for their book and post it to the book’s listing on Amazon.

I can understand the reasons for him/them sending me the book.  The more reviews a book has, and especially if the reviews are positive, the more “popular” it appears to the casual book buyer and, hopefully, the better the chance more people will purchase said book.

I looked at the offered book but found it not all that interesting to me.  There was nothing wrong with the book’s plot, per se, its just that the story wasn’t my proverbial “cup of tea”.  I checked its listing on Amazon and sure enough it had quite a few reviews and, for the most part, they were positive.  I must admit, sending out copies of your book to people who have offered written reviews is something to consider and may well be helpful in getting a boost on your review numbers (By the way, thus far I’ve gotten more reviews on Goodreads than through Amazon.  The six books in my Corrosive Knights series are currently clocking in at -and I’m very proud of this fact- 4 stars out of 5).

Anyway, out of politeness to the author I decided to give the first chapter of this book a try.  Alas, it solidified the fact that this book wasn’t for me.  Further, having written as much as I have, certain technical aspects of the author’s work stuck out…negatively.

Out of deference to the author, I will neither name him or the book he was writing but I will provide some examples of things I found bothersome.

To begin, the book is advertised as a James Patterson-like thriller.  In reading the first chapter, which is a setup for what follows, the author presented an action scenario that took place in a famous location and one he took pains in describing.  Some authors like to do this.  If a book is set, say, in a particular neighborhood in London an author may go out of their way to provide readers a detailed geography of the land.  To some this may be quite fun but to me there is a fine line between offering this type of information and getting a little too focused on geography to the point where one loses the steam an exciting action scene should have.

While this author didn’t go overboard with descriptions he got, IMHO, awfully close.  Again, this is a matter of personal opinion: I like my stories to move and I don’t like to dwell too much on ancillary things or too much description.

When writing, one of the things I’ve learned is that you should constantly be focusing on telling the story as best as you can.  Each sentence and, indeed, word builds your story because every word counts.

Let me offer one sentence from this first chapter of the book and offer a critique of it.  Please note the sentence is just one sentence and does not represent the bulk of hte chapter I read (though to be fair, there were other things I found to be bothersome here and there).  Finally, this sentence is NOT presented completely verbatum as, again, I’m keeping the author and the novel secret.  Nonetheless, the below sentence is very, very close to an actual sentence in the book:

“Stop or we’ll be forced to use stronger measures!” yelled the senior officer in Spanish, who sported a five-o’clock shadow on his chiseled face.

This sentence, as written, is very clunky.  A better way to state the same information is:

“Stop or we’ll be forced to use stronger measures!” the senior officer, who sported a five-o’clock shadow on his chiseled face, yelled in Spanish.

While better this sentence is still not all that good.  By the time we read this passage, we already knows the country this part of the story takes place in and therefore should know the language spoken by the “senior officer”.  Thus, in the interests of brevity, the sentence could have gone like this:

“Stop of we’ll be forced to use stronger measures!” the senior officer, who sported a five-o’clock shadow on his chiseled face, yelled.

Better yet still not great.  I strongly suspect the “senior officer” presented here is a very small character whose only appearance in this novel is right here (I can only suspect this because I haven’t read the rest of the novel).  I know and can appreciate the author wanting to give this small character some kind of “life” in this brief appearance but the “five o’clock shadow” and “chiseled face” is at best a rather obvious descriptor and at worst a very cliched one.

Given the likelihood this is the only appearance of this character, his facial description isn’t as important as his purpose, which is to be a menace to the one he’s shouting at.  That being the case, instead of focusing on the character’s face perhaps it would have be better to focus on the threat he conveys.  How about this:

“Stop or we’ll use stronger measures!” the senior officer shouted as his right hand reached for and gripped the gun strapped to his side.

I make absolutely no pretenses about literary mastery here and acknowledge what I wrote ain’t quite Shakespeare or Hemingway but on the other hand this sentence is better at getting to the heart of what this character’s purpose is:  To impart a sense of threat/danger to the character he’s yelling at.

Writing a story, whether it be short or long or massive involves an incredible amount of thought on the part of the author.  Every word counts and you should try to maximize what you write.

This is not an easy task!

I’ve mentioned before that it took me 12 drafts before I was happy enough with my last two novels to release them.  The reason for these drafts is because I too struggle with making sure what I’m writing is as good as is possible.

I took great pains to not point out who this author is or what book he’s promoting and the reason for that is because it is unfair to do so.  I’m just as guilty as he is, perhaps even more so, of writing clunky sentences or not focusing on elements that should be focused on as I made an example of above.

Not every time you go to bat do you hit a home run.  Sometimes, you’re lucky to just get to first base without striking out.

Corrosive Knights, a 2/27/17 Update

It’s been a little while since I’ve provided an update on the Corrosive Knights series and, specifically, book #7 in the series.  This book concludes the main story line (though there will be a book #8, an epilogue, to the series).

So, what’s the news?

What you’re seeing in this photograph and lying underneath the previous 6 books in the Corrosive Knights series is the finished first draft of Book #7.  On Friday, February 24, I finished that first draft and printed it out so that I could get to work on the second draft.

Mind you, the first draft of this novel, as big an accomplishment as it is, is nonetheless still far from the finished work.  I’ve mentioned before how my two previous novels, Ghost of the Argus and Foundry of the Gods, required 12 drafts before I was happy with the overall product and deemed it good enough to be released.

However, let’s not rain on this particular parade: The fact that I’ve gotten to the point where I’m happy enough to print out this first draft, and it is as complete as it is, fills me with optimism that this novel will not take quite as long to finish as those last two books.  Bear in mind I started this novel in mid-November, worked through roughly half of December (vacations and kids coming home inevitably meant less work being done), then January and February.

To get a first draft of a novel done in what amounts to approximately three months -give or take- is extraordinary and bodes well for the book’s eventual completion and release.

Of course there are still plenty of things needed to be done.  The first draft clocks in at approximately 66,000 words yet I’m certain when all I get to that final draft this novel will be north of 110,000 words.  This means there are maybe 50,000 more words left to write.  Where will the bulk of these to-be-written parts come from?  From a subplot I decided to sketch out while sticking to the novel’s main plot in this draft.

Regardless, I’m incredibly excited by the book’s progress and intend to hit the gas hard in the coming months.  Will I get the novel done before the year is over?

Hard to say as I’m still so early in the book’s process but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope so.

Wish me luck!

Bill Paxton, R.I.P.

Yesterday came the shocking news that actor/director/writer Bill Paxton had passed away at the age of 61.  The cause of death, as listed to date, was “complications from surgery”.  You can read an article about Mr. Paxton’s passing by Holly Yan and Amanda Jackson over at CNN:

Bill Paxton, actor in Twister and Aliens dies at 61

First, my condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Paxton.  Last year my aunt passed away and the cause of her death was also “complications from surgery”.  That descriptive statement, at least with regards to what happened to her, sounds a whole lot nicer than the hell she -and her immediate family- went through.  I very much hope Mr. Paxton and family didn’t go through anything similar to what she did.

The passing of Mr. Paxton does, inevitably, lead one to reflect on the man’s career.  One can check out his list of credits on IMDB:

Bill Paxton

As is the case with actors whose careers span many decades, there are plenty of works they were involved in which, over time, were by and large forgotten.  In the case of people like Mr. Paxton, there were highlights which were incredibly, incredibly memorable.

I suspect if you were to focus on one role Mr. Paxton is best known for, it has to be Private Hudson from the seminal film Aliens.  While many love to quote the “Game over, man” line, the knife scene, to me, was a highlight.  Here audiences quickly realize Hudson’s bravado isn’t all its cracked up to be…yet we cannot hate the man because how else would anyone react to this?

By the time Aliens reaches its climax and Hudson meets his fate, we’re squarely in his corner and lament his passing.

Hudson was perhaps the quintessential Bill Paxton character:  At times loud and obnoxious yet very much someone we ultimately root for…even if we know they’re doomed.  That’s not to say all his roles were like that.  Mr. Paxton’s career included appearances in classic films like The Terminator, Near Dark (where he reunited with two of his fellow Aliens cast-members and played a very fearsome villain), Tombstone, Apollo 13, and Titanic, to name a few.  He also directed and had a small role in Frailty, a film that deserves a second look.

Another critically successful film he starred in is One False Move.  This movie, ironically enough, may have fallen victim to having a little too much good early word of mouth.

I say this regarding One False Move because, if memory serves, the film was originally supposed to be released straight to video but the critics and audiences who saw it early loved what they saw and this encouraged the studios to give it a full theatrical release.  By the time the film made its theatrical release, the early word of mouth was so good that I suspect many people went into the film expecting to see filmic nirvana and wound up being disappointed the film didn’t quite literally blow their socks off.

One False Move is a damned good film but there was no way it could live up to the ultra-high expectations that swirled around it.

As for me, I’ll always remember Mr. Paxton primarily as Hudson in Aliens.  I suppose its inevitable.  I’ll miss his work and miss the at times wicked charisma he brought to the screen.

Before I go, a trailer to one last film of Mr. Paxton’s I really enjoyed.  Trespass, released in 1992, was perhaps director Walter Hill’s last really good film.  In many ways it was a typical Walter Hill “B” movie, gritty and action/testosterone filled.  This movie also featured a cast that today is very well known.  There’s Mr. Paxton, of course, but also William Sadler and the duo of Ice-T and Ice Cube.

It’s a good, gritty little action film and worth catching, provided you can find it…

Rest in Peace, Mr. Paxton.  At the very least you’ve left behind a wonderful legacy in film, something many actors today hope they can, too.

Back….to the Future!!!

When I was (much) younger, there were two major ways to own music: Either through vinyl records or cassette tapes.  Yeah, for a brief moment there you could buy 8-Track Tapes and there were reel-to-reel tapes (a rarity), but this, my friends, was it:

Image result for vinyl records

Image result for cassette tape

Then came the CD…

Image result for cd

The CD pretty much spelled the end, and in a fairly short period of time, for Vinyl and Cassette tapes.

Why?  Because it was the proverbial better mouse-trap.  You could store more music on a single CD versus Vinyl albums and many cassettes.  CDs were also small enough that you could take them anywhere, including -very importantly!- to your car to play them on a CD player.  But the most important thing CDs provided, in my humble opinion, was durability.  Unlike Vinyl albums or cassette tapes, CDs didn’t degrade.  They appeared to last forever.

Then came the MP3 file.

Suddenly, you didn’t need to have actual physical media but rather some kind of memory device and, almost overnight, the CD became an afterthought.

This past weekend I wandered around a Best Buy and was not all that shocked to see their CD section has shrunk down to perhaps 1/5th the size it used to be.  Now there were only two shelves worth of material available, though a sign put up nearby helpfully stated customers could order “Thousands” of CDs through Best Buy’s website.

Thus, music is exclusively a digital media now, right?

As many of you know, not quite.

For years there have been vocal proponents of the vinyl album.  Those proponents insisted -and continue to insist- there is a big difference between hearing music via vinyl album versus through digital means.

Personally, I dunno.

Yet the vinyl album, something at least I thought was all but obsolete, is instead making a rather strong comeback.  So much so that musician Jack White has invested in a vinyl company, as reported in this article by Adam Graham for The Detroit News…

Jack White makes vinyl beautiful at Third Man Pressing

Obviously there are those who swear by Vinyl.  I like music quite a bit and have a very large collection amassed over many years yet hardly consider myself a music connoisseur.  I’ve listened to vinyl in my younger days and, at least to me, I don’t find a significant difference between the formats.

Yet I will not discount those who swear by that particular medium and, further, wish them all the luck in the world that what they find enjoyment out of continues to not only survive, but thrive.

I also suspect the artists who create music must also be thrilled.  Vinyl albums, because of their fragile nature, wear out.  I strongly suspect this fact contributed to some “classic” albums, like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, to sell so incredibly well over many years.  If your vinyl copy of that album, or any other favorite, develops a nasty pop/hiss or *gasp* skips, you are willing to shell out the money to buy a new copy of the vinyl album and replace the now defective one.

Good business for artists, good business for the vinyl companies.

The fact that Vinyl has made such a strong comeback after being on the edge of extinction is certainly a surprise.

Perhaps one day soon we’ll see Record Stores returning?

One can always dream…

Alien: Covenant “Prologue”

Yesterday this clip was released to the internet…

This clip, listed as a “Prologue” to Alien: Covenant, was supposedly not directed by Ridley Scott (who made the original Alien, Prometheus, and this film) but rather his son Luke Scott.  The clip, obviously, is intended to get potential audiences interested in the upcoming film and will likely NOT be in the film itself.  This clip features no blood, no guts, no “horror” but subtly references the original Alien.

IMHO, it is a freaking bore.

Sorry, but nearly five minutes of seeing these uninteresting people -and one robot- talking (for the most part) nonsense before giving us a little hint toward the horror that one imagines is to come didn’t work for me.

Worst, it reinforced another fear I have: That Alien: Covenant is a subtle remake of the original Alien.

Yeah, the cast is larger and the effects are better and instead of “space truckers” we’ve got colonists going to the mystery planet, but otherwise it looks essentially the same.  Check out the movie’s actual trailer:

Let’s see…we got a disparate cast of “regular” people who go down into a planet (at night, with rain/bad weather, another original Alien element), they explore, they find a crashed ship with an “egg”, one of them apparently gets the face hugger, and all hell obviously breaks loose and an Alien creature has a target rich environment in which to operate.


To be fair, there are other things here, one of which is hinted at it the movie’s trailer.  The bug that heads for the man’s ear, for example, may be some kind of permutation of the alien creature as well, though given its size its also quite possible this is something else.

There is also the question of the movie’s relationship with Prometheus and, more specifically, actress Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw.  IMDB revealed she is in the film and I can’t help but wonder just how big a role her character has in this, especially when this is the plot description Twentieth Century Fox provides for this movie:

Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, the crew of the colony ship Covenant discover what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world, whose sole inhabitant is the synthetic David, survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition.

Is Elizabeth Shaw dead?  Will we see her only in video and/or flashbacks?  That would be a shame given the way Prometheus ended.  Now, I’m not a huge fan of Prometheus (one of the more beautiful nonsensical sci-fi films I’ve seen in recent years), but in Elizabeth Shaw we had a survivor.  A woman who faced incredible horror, including being impregnated by the alien creature yet managing to rid herself of it, before leaving the plague planet in search of answers to the questions of related to the Aliens and those who created them.

It would be a big shame, again IMHO, if it turns out her character is dead.

Anyway, I’ll be a damned liar if I said based on what I’ve seen so far -which, again, is rather disappointing- is so disappointing I plan to miss the film.

I caught Prometheus in theaters and even though I thought it wasn’t all that good, I do not regret going to see it.  I was just too curious to see Ridley Scott take on the universe he started so brilliantly with Alien.

Yes, I will catch Alien: Covenant, most likely at some point during the first week of its release.  Unlike Prometheus, I’m going into this film with far more guarded optimism.

Surprise me, Mr. Scott.


Uber’s self-driving cars…

I’ve noted many times before my fascination with what I feel is the inevitable future of transportation: Self-driving cars.

When this happens (and it will), there’s going to be a domino effect that will cause considerable benefits for many and economic hardship for others.  To begin, when self-driving vehicles become a reality, why would anyone own a car?  If a fleet of self-driving vehicles becomes a reality and its as easy as summoning one to pick you up with an app and pay a minimal amount to take you where you need to go, then pick you up afterwards to take you back, then why have your own car?  Why spend money on fuel, insurance, and service?

And if that becomes the case, think about how many businesses will be impacted.  If people don’t have their own cars, there will be less and less need for gas stations (that’s already happening to some degree with electric powered vehicles), car insurance (the companies and all they employ), and car dealerships (ditto).

Anyway, Uber’s thinking is clearly along my own, as the following article by Andrew J. Hawkins for theverge.com, demonstrates:

Uber’s Self-Driving Cars Are Now Picking Up Passengers in Arizona

If this experiment proves successful, it is but another step on the way toward having a fully autonomous vehicle industry.

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr together…again?

Just read this article by Ed Mazza for Huffington Post…

Surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr Reunite for Recording Session

There are some neat photographs there so I suggest you check out the article…which I will now spoil for you:

Ringo Starr is working on a new album and its another of his “all star” affairs which feature many other musicians.  Paul McCartney, of course, is the pre-eminent one to join in and whether he is featured on one song or more of the upcoming album, its nice to see he and Ringo remain cordial enough to help each other out.

A little help from a friend, so to speak, no?

Now You See Me 2 (2016) a (mildly) belated review

Back in 2013 the movie Now You See Me was released and became, at least to my mind, something of a surprise hit.  My daughter saw it and recommended it and, while I haven’t seen the full movie, I caught most of it one day on cable and found it an entertaining diversion…though just about everything that happened within the film would have been impossible for a group of four magicians to accomplish without some major cash and an army of assistants.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Now You See Me was about four magicians (played by Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, and Isla Fisher) who are engaged in a “Mission: Impossible” type …uh… mission and use their skills to expose nefarious deeds perpetrated by the film’s villain(s).

If my plot description sounds rather vague, this is on purpose.  I don’t want to get into too many details for those who haven’t seen the film and are curious to do so as there are plenty of revelations along the way and not everyone is who you think they are.

Again, what I saw of that film (roughly the last 2/3rds) was enjoyable.  Further, the film did well enough at the box office to merit a sequel.

2016’s Now You See Me 2 brings the whole gang back minus Isla Fisher’s Henley Reeves character.  She is replaced by Lizzy Caplan as Lula, who plays another highly skilled female magician.

If you liked the original film, Now You See Me 2 will probably appeal to you as well though this time around the revelations and surprises aren’t quite as “big” as they were in the first film.  Given what happened in the first film, I suspect there was no way they could be.

Yet the film, as directed by Jon M. Chu (taking over for the original’s Louis Letterrier), is a slick concoction that moves moves moves along at a heart-racing pace and is enjoyable enough…though it lacks the freshness of that first film.

In a piece of sly casting, everyone’s favorite wizard Daniel Radcliffe joins these proceedings as the movie’s main villain and he’s decent in a role that doesn’t ask all that much of him except to be the bad guy.

Is the film worth seeing?

If you have the free time, it is but the fact is that as slick as this movie is, and as neat as some of the sequences are (there’s one involving a card which is very slick indeed), this film is the definition of disposable entertainment.  What you have in Now You See Me 2 is a sugary concoction that won’t make you hate the fact that you gave a little over two hours  of your time watching it yet it won’t linger all that long in your head.  If it does, the only things you’ll think about are the movie’s many impossibilities.

Still, you could do far worse than spend time watching this film, though if you haven’t seen either it or the original I’d recommend seeing the first one and, depending on how much you like it, only then giving the second a try.

Which is my long winded way of saying I give Now You See Me 2 a mild recommendation.  Brainless, slick fun that you will enjoy…provided you don’t take it too seriously.

They didn’t say no so that means…yes?!

I love Pink Floyd.

Love them.

I distinctly recall first listening to their seminal album, The Dark Side of the Moon, while in High School (I wasn’t in the U.S. for most of the 1970’s and therefore didn’t catch the latest/not so latest music of the times until I started High School).  The album, to say the least, blew me away.  It was lyrical, haunting, emotional, beautiful, and, above all else, a musical work of art.

Those there are those who love the bands earlier works -and I certainly won’t argue with them!- it is my opinion the band’s “golden years” started with the underappreciated album Meddle and continued through the next four albums, The Dark Side of the MoonWish You Were HereAnimals, and, finally The Wall.

An incredible run which, unfortunately, came to an end because of internal divisions within the band.

The fact of the matter is that Roger Waters, one of the band’s founders, and David Gilmour, the man who stepped in when Syd Barrett left the band for mental issues, had a falling out.  The Final Cut, the album that followed The Wall, was essentially a Roger Waters solo album and the last to feature Mr. Waters in the band.  The following “Pink Floyd” albums were, conversely, more like David Gilmour solo albums.

Anyway, the years passed and attitudes and old hurts appear to have faded with time and, while the old band could never be again (keyboardist/vocalist Richard Wright passed away in 2008), the remaining three members of the band, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, and drummer Nick Mason could, in theory, reunite one last time…

And according to this article by Ed Mazza on Huffington Post, there just might be a possibility of that happening…

Great Gig in Glastonbury: Is a Pink Floyd Reunion in the Works?

I must admit, the article’s headline certainly got me excited but reading the article itself…I dunno.

According to the article, David Gilmour considers himself “retired”.  Roger Waters is about to release a new solo album and I suspect promoting it will take up a good deal of his current time and therefore maybe doing a Pink Floyd reunion may not be on his mind.

Then again, what better way to promote your new stuff by reminding everyone where you’ve come from and what you’re best known for?

Regardless of whether this will indeed happen, what is most startling, at least to me, is the passage of time.

When I was young and just getting into Pink Floyd, it was as if I was listening to the music of the Gods themselves.  This stuff was timeless and, in my young mind, would be listened to for generations.

And then time passed and, while not forgotten, let’s face it, Pink Floyd is a band that appeals to a certain audience and I suspect there are many young folk out there who don’t appreciate it anywhere near the way my generation did/does.

I saw Pink Floyd in concert in the late 1980’s, after Roger Waters left the band, and must admit the concert was one of the best I’ve ever seen (I was never a big concert goer, but did manage in those years to see David Bowie and Fleetwood Mac as well as heavy metal acts Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer among others).

If Pink Floyd were to reunite, I suspect they’d do so on a very limited basis, perhaps a group of concerts (if that!) limited to some very big venues.

I might try to catch it, if I could.

I just might!

Yet more politics…

It’s been, astonishingly, 27 days -not yet a month- since Donald Trump became president of the United States of America (Curious how long he’s been President?  Click here).

Feels like a lifetime since then and certainly much longer than 27 days!

The news outlets like to show how the job of President “ages” the people on the job.  Someone far wiser (and clever…wish I knew who!) than me noted that this time around, the country is going to age during his term.

Giving Mr. Trump some props, he decided yesterday to have a long (77 minutes, in the end) press conference and answer many, many questions from reporters.

Again, I have to give Mr. Trump some props for doing this.  The administration has been in turmoil of late and for him to go out there and answer questions from reporters was, if nothing else, a brave thing to do.


If the press conference was intended to show Mr. Trump in charge and ease any fears people have that his government is stable…he pretty much blew it.

One of the reactions, from Stephen Collinson from Mr. Trump’s hated CNN, offers this:

Donald Trump -under fire- returns to the campaign

Others laid into his performance, like S.V. Date for Huffington Post…

Trump blames media, judges, Democrats in Chaos Theory Tour-De-Force

Also from the Huffington Post, twitter reactions…

Scarier than Psycho: Twitter erupts over Trump’s “Bat#$@” press conference

My favorite reaction, from Gary Cooper, offers the following gif and these words:

SNL writers at the moment…


Though if you think about it, the writers at SNL still have today and tomorrow to see what further madness might occur which they can find humor with.

Speaking of which, thank the Gods its Friday.  To everyone out there, have yourselves a nice, relaxing break.