Posts Tagged ‘Jim Owen; Author’

Review: The Dark Tower (2017 Film)

August 8, 2017

On Saturday, my wife and I went to see The Dark Tower, the long-awaited adaptation of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, specifically The Gunslinger.  I’d read a lot of negative things about the movie, and was worried that the movie would devolve into one of those characteristic “1/4 plot, 3/4 fight scene” movies that seem to have infiltrated all of my favorite genres and franchises.  The short run time had me doubly concerned.  Nevertheless, I didn’t come away from the movie feeling particularly cheated.  In fact, I think that the movie was good for what it was.  At least, it didn’t try and fail to remain faithful to any one book.  Instead, it was the spiritual successor to The Gunslinger with a little bit of everything else thrown in for good measure.

I may not be doing my job as a long-time Stephen King aficionado, as I am not absolutely gushing over the movie.  Still, I showed up in my favorite Megan Lara shirt — probably the only one in the theater to do so, and ignored everything I’d read to that point.  I would have expected a full house on this first weekend, and was amazed that our local screening still had plenty of empty space.  We sat next to a few stoner teens.  We didn’t need to ask those teens whether they were fans, as they were chattering about their confusion pretty much as soon as they sat down.  It didn’t matter to me.  This was the weekend that I’d circled on my calendar months ago, and nothing was going to stand in the way of me getting a sense for the overall film.

First thing’s first: I’d recommend going to the film, if only to see how thousands of pages can be condensed into 95 minutes.  At the same time, I’d warn any Dark Tower reader that there’s things that you’ll enjoy, and things that will bother you a bit.  I’ve come up with five positive aspects and six negative aspects to consider if you’re on the fence.

As some of these deal with the climax or end of the film, or deal with novels outside of The Gunslinger, I’ll have to slap one big SPOILER ALERT to everything that you read below.  If you’re the type of person who hates spoilers, then this is what I recommend: read the bold text and then go see the movie.  You can get back to this later.

Things The Dark Tower Did Right:

1.) Continuity Nods: Granted, I probably didn’t catch everything, as it might take a few stop frames to do so, but the production crew certainly put in a few details that are nods to other books in the series or other Stephen King books.  the number 19 comes up several times. As does 1408, a nod to a Stephen King short story.  We don’t hear about “the beam” in quite the same way, but we get to see a beam of light attack the tower.  They refer to “the shine” more than they do in the books, which is a nod to The Shining and Dr. Sleep.  Finally, there’s a small discussion in which Roland draws a wheel with the Dark Tower at its hub, evoking a favorite saying about “Ka,” his world’s answer to fate.

2.) Casting Idris Elba as Roland Deschain: I’ll get grilled for this one in certain circles.  Yes, Roland was supposed to be a skinny, tall dude with piercing blue eyes.  Elba is at least tall, scraping the skies at 6’3″.  He’s not exactly skeletal, and it looks like the man could handle himself at the weight bench.  I think that the thing that really makes Elba stand out is his gravitas.  Yes, you could get someone like Keanu Reeves out there to play the role of the solemn hero, but Elba lends power behind his solemnity.  The only thing that I didn’t like about his characterization is the implication that this would have for a future conflict between Roland and Detta Walker. My wife would also mention that Roland smiles too much (i.e., at all).

3.) Streamlined characterization: Considering that they’ve pulled five books into one film, they did a great deal to make the movie less complex.  There’s no Eddie, no Odetta or Detta or Susannah, and no Susan Delgado, either.  As far as Roland goes, there is no love interest — or any real interaction with women.  Jake makes eyes at a young girl, but the story relegates most characters, outside of Roland, Jake, and “Walter” to the third string.  The only “second stringers” are Jake’s mother and (maybe) Sayre.   Considering how much they’ve condensed, it’s surprising that none of Roland’s other ka-tet is even mentioned.

4.) Shift in Focus: Do you want to make a movie with mass appeal? Put a kid in it.  Yes, The Gunslinger included Jake.  However, Jake doesn’t appear until the waystation.  He becomes important to the story, and to Roland’s characterization, as Roland nears The Man in Black, but that’s it.  The Dark Tower movie focuses on Jake, and starts with Jake’s experience, wherein he sees things that are not of his world.  Jake’s quotation from the book “there are other worlds than these” does not appear in the film (except on the promotional poster), but it is reflected within the movie — just in the reverse of what one might expect.

Ultimately, this aids in making viewers relate to the movie.  By the time they’ve seen the film, viewers have either been a teenage boy or have met one.  They have not met an otherworldly gunslinger.  Some purists may hate this switch, but I understand it.  One stoned-off-his-gourd guy sitting near me quipped that the movie was like Harry Potter.  I can understand this; the tropisms are evocative of Harry Potter, for all of the right reasons.

5.) Left It Open Ended: If this is all that we get of The Dark Tower, then at least we’ve seen a little of everything.  However, this movie is like a new series Dr. Who episode in the sense that the story resolves the main plot, but leaves with the characters ready to go on another adventure.  In this way, the movie does something that we don’t always see in individual books within the series — it ties together everything that needs to be tied together.

Things The Dark Tower Movie Did Wrong:

1.) Run time: I like long books.  I also like long movies.  I’m not talking about Lawrence of Arabia long, but 90 minute run-times are usually reserved for comedies, not epic action-fantasies.  Heck, Superbad was 1h 53 minutes, that’s 18 minutes longer than The Dark Tower.  Eighteen minutes would have been just enough time to add some backstory about how Roland knows The Man in Black, or why Stephen Deschain and Walter were at odds.  Eighteen minutes could have been enough time to show The Man in Black hold greater dominion over his underlings, or create an extended fight scene between Roland and The Man in Black.  1 hour 35 minutes was just a bit too short for the genre.

2.) Fight Scene Rather than Palaver:  In The Gunslinger, Roland’s interactions with the Man in Black are less about the fight than they are about the testing of wits.  As much as Roland’s struggle is a physical journey, it is also a psychological challenge.  In the book, Roland kills everybody in Tull after The Man in Black has poisoned their minds, but he only has a brief physical fight with The Man in Black, everything else is verbal.   In the movie, Walter’s silver tongue is nothing compared to his telekinesis.  Yes, he uses the power of suggestion multiple times for some important scenes, but the last scene is only a fight of the mind in the sense that Walter’s telekinesis is moving things with his mind.

3.) Condensed Narrative: It was clear that the writers were trying to get as many nods in to the book series as they could before their run-time was over.  After all, if this is all that we, Dark Tower fans, get, then it might as well have a little bit of everything.  We didn’t get Shardik, the giant bear, but we did get some forest predator.  We didn’t get Roland slipping into the mind of Jack Mort, but we did get him raiding a gun store.  We didn’t get his reunion with Sheemie, but we did get a look at the psionic blasts directed at the Dark Tower.  With items spanning five books, The Dark Tower series may need to reshuffle some material, or bring in new material entirely, in order to help frame any future installments.

4.) Too Much New York: Yes, New York has a few vital scenes in the series, but there isn’t anything except a little backstory until The Drawing of the Three.  Before Roland meets Eddie, he doesn’t spend any time in New York.  During this iteration, much of the action takes place in New York.

5.) Too Little Backstory: Aside from the encounter in Tull, one of the major omissions from the movie is Roland sharing what life was like in Gilead before the fall.  There is no mention of Roland’s mother, nor of Roland’s ability to outsmart Cort.  We get much more about Jake’s background, something that we only briefly glimpsed in the novel, than we get of Roland.  This, in part, works to the movie’s great benefit, but I think it comes as a great detriment to Roland’s characterization.

6.) No Oy! For everything that The Dark Tower introduces out of sequence, the one thing that bothered me the most was not the inclusion of the house, or too much time spent outside of Mid-World, it was the ommission of a little billy-bumbler named Oy.  The creature, which is like a domesticated raccoon, is the mascot, if not an important character, for Roland and his cadre of travelers.

Website Tour: Gillian Flynn

July 14, 2017

Apologies for the delay, folks!  A few late nights at work have thrown my writing schedule off!  I am back with another website tour.  As you now know, I’ve discussed some of the best practices for author websites.  Along the way, I’ve taken a sampling of author websites and identified what works and what does not work about their sites.  The latest stop on the tour is acclaimed thriller author Gillian Flynn.

Gillian Flynn

You may have heard of Gillian Flynn.  Her Gone Girl book is just one of several critically acclaimed novels, and is her first work to be adapted into a motion picture.  Two of her other books have also been optioned into visual media, with Dark Places reaching theaters in 2015.  In 2016, Ms. Flynn released The Grownup; this was on Amazon’s bestseller list when I started my website critiques about a month ago, and is the next stop on this author website tour.

Ms. Flynn’s website opens under a large banner, one that takes up half of the screen.  Below that Flynn has a number of basic buttons and pulldown menus, followed by the image of her book, a brief list of its accolades, and her picture.  Her pull-down menus include a few interesting tidbits: a section titled “For Readers” and a button for contact information.  The remaining buttons / pulldowns, including “Home,” “Books,” “About Gillian,” and “News & Events” are everything I’ve come to expect from an author site.

The Good:

The “For Readers” section is a riot, regardless of whether she is trying to be sarcastic or trying to be serious. The section includes a short blog post that introduces her.  It’s riotously funny, and makes Ms. Flynn out to be someone that you wouldn’t want to invite into your home — or would you? She tells some personal details that some might find offensive, but she does it with a point.  If nothing else, it illustrates her sharp wit and frankness.

The other item of interest is a little box at the side, which includes book club questions for her first three novels. I love this idea, as Ms. Flynn has made the effort to help extend the conversation surrounding her book.  Some of these questions are softball questions, yes, but some of them are the type of questions that you would find in any undergraduate literature course – particularly the literary analysis courses. Here, you find a variety of reader response questions, but also questions about symbolism, themes, and other open-ended questions.  In essence, Ms. Flynn is doing what you see in a lot of websites for other disciplines: she’s supplementing her product (the book) with questions that help extend the book beyond the words on the page.

The Bad:

There’s not much to hate with this site.  It centers upon the books, helps you form a “relationship” with the author, and is generally pleasant in its aesthetics. There are two things that I don’t like, and they both relate to what you see above the fold.

First, the only description we get about her most recent novel, The Grownup, is just a list of Ms. Flynn’s other books and accolades.  The same can be said for information about her other books – at least eight bullet points each about sales figures and accolades, but nothing to tell you about the books themselves, unless you click on the books to go to the books’ separate pages.  As a sub-point to this, the only other information we receive about the book is a list of websites and brick-and-mortar stores where one can buy The Grownup. At least she’s fairly subtle about it, but it is still very much verboten in my mind.

The other item I don’t care for is the size of the banner. This is splitting hairs, yes, but the banner takes up a little less than half of what you see above the fold.  From the perspective of aesthetics, this makes the page itself less busy, but it also means that not much information exists on the page’s first screen.

The Verdict: With a few minor flaws, Gillian Flynn’s website does exactly what it is supposed to do.  There are a few nice additions, including the humorous essay and the series of questions for reading groups, but the website does what it sets out to do well.  It isn’t the kind of site that will knock you out with visuals or with features, but both form and function meet an author website’s needs.

To visit Ms. Flynn’s website, click here.

Mr. Owen Ventures into Podcasting

July 9, 2017

Author’s Note: Apologies for the delay.  The July 4th holiday (America’s Independence Day) has fouled up my schedule, and I am trying to get back on track.  This coming week is going to be very busy for me, but I hope to post another author website feature on Wednesday.

Jim “James” Owen’s podcast appeared on Wednesday, July 5, 2017.  To hear it, click here.

Four months ago, I answered a post on Nanowrimo about being part of a podcast.  A few missed connections later, I was moving forward with my first foray into voice media since I was broadcasting basketball games at my college’s radio station.  I was on my way toward being a guest on The Modern Meltdown (For more about the Modern Meltdown, click here), an entertainment website that has scores of podcasts about everything from books and movies to video games.

It was not necessarily an easy process, as The Modern Meltdown is Australian, and Holly Hunt, the host of the Beyond the Words (click here) podcast, resides in Canberra. Canberra is seventeen hours ahead of the Bay Area, my stomping grounds.  Thus, 12:05AM Thursday here is 5:05PM Friday there, and 7AM here is 2AM the next day there, and so on.  Due to this significant time difference, and the fact that we both work more or less regular hours, either a Skype call or a phone interview would be out of the question.  I had to get creative, as I was looking forward to this opportunity, and I wasn’t about to let a time difference get in the way.  Thus, I had to make my own recording studio.

My Makeshift Recording Studio

Over the years, I have also done some recording for my company’s webinars.  Through this process, I’ve grown accustomed to using Audacity.  Audacity (click here) is a free, open source digital audio recording software package that has editing capabilities.  Designed and released in 2000, this package may not have great aesthetics, but basic capabilities are easy to find and intuitive to use.  All I needed was a microphone.

One of the problems that I’ve noted is that a lot of computer microphones don’t pick up bass nearly as much as they pick up higher registers, which makes my voice sound nasally.  When I was working on the webinars, the best microphone I’d used was a lavalier microphone that we’d simply used as a computer microphone.  Somewhere, I also have a wand microphone, but I haven’t bothered to look for that in years.  The microphone on my laptop picks up too much sound from my fan, and my phone?  Ha ha ha, that’s a good one!  I had a few other workarounds that I couldn’t get working, so I was left with a few interesting alternatives.  By using the microphone on my camera (very good quality sound), and capturing myself on video, I was able to pick up a broader register of sound.  I used another program (Lightworks) to separate the audio from the video by converting an .MP4 file to an MP3, and then used Audacity to clean up the audio.

This still left me with the issue of where to get the optimal sound.  While working on the webinars, our recording studio is an office with paned-glass doors and windows.  No matter where I sat in the room, the audio would pick up the sound of my voice bouncing off of the glass, giving everything a slight echo (or, if not, then the sensation that I was recording in a tunnel or a bathroom stall).  Luckily, my home office has two small windows and a great deal of solid wall.  Thus, while recording, the only things I needed to worry about were my voice, the content, and my cadence.

I was tasked with addressing the very beginning of a story.  How do I construct an opening?  Well, that’s a long story for me, but Holly Hunt (click here), a fellow author, was kind enough to provide me with a few questions so that we could play off of each other.

For my podcast debut with the host, Holly Hunt, please click here.

What I’ve Learned

Through this process, I noticed a few things:

  1. Mapping this out allowed me to be much more succinct with my answers, and (hopefully) more informative.

2. It’s hard to sound like an authority when the item over which I have authority, my book, is not even published yet.

3. I had a bit of trouble anticipating my audience, as my only experience with Aussies has been discussing basketball video games (as well as a few web comics I’ve followed over the years).  Was I over-explaining a little by describing The Scarlet Letter as if they’d never heard of it? I don’t know.

4. I think there was some broken communication about the intent of the questions, and a few questions were not as I remembered them (funny thing, memory).

5. Ultimately, Holly Hunt was great to work with, and I feel like she did a great job of putting together the final product.  It was an experience that I’d definitely take on again.

I listen to a few podcasts, and one thing that I notice in those podcasts is sound quality, but another is the amount of energy that the participants bring to the table.  If they bring too little, it makes me feel a little bored, but if they bring too much, it’s like listening to monster truck commercials for half an hour.  I think that both Holly and I brought the appropriate amount of energy, and I’m fairly certain that our Audacity-augmented process helped.  What do you think?  Did we do well?  Is there anything else you’d like to know surrounding getting started with a novel?  Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Did you miss that link for my turn on Holly Hunt’s Beyond the Words?  Click here.

About Holly Hunt:

Ms. Hunt, host of Beyond the Words on The Modern Meltdown, is a Canberra, Australia, -based author.  She has published a dozen graphic and written word novels spanning the fantasy and horror genres.  In July 2017, Ms. Hunt published The Devil’s Wife (Click here), a print novel in which Lucifer is alive and roaming the streets of New York City.

About James (call me Jim) Owen:

Mr. Owen, a native of Santa Cruz, California, is an author who is looking to take flight.  Absconded by Sin, his first novel, is currently in closed beta.  A graduate of St. Mary’s College of California (with another stop at UCSC), Mr. Owen has spent the past 6+ years in market research.  Prior to that, he taught high school English… and lived to tell the tale.

Writing, Basketball, and Other Things

June 26, 2017

Author’s Note: For those of you looking for another website tour, don’t worry! One will come.  I will continue my website tour on Wednesday, as I evaluate the website of author Suzanne Collins, writer of the famed Hunger Games trilogy.

As writers, we are so fortunate.  We get to share our thoughts with the World.  The format doesn’t matter so much. Poetry, songs, prose; blogs, flash fiction, novels.  They’re all what we get to do.  Often times, they are what we must do.

On Saturday, poet Stephen Kessler (link here) shared his poetry with us at the Santa Cruz Community Writers monthly meeting.  He shared the circumstances of his poems (a nice glass of pinot noir, if you go for such a thing), the places that inspired his poems (the San Lorenzo River, the Kuumbwa Jazz Center) and the feelings that he had that inspired his poems.  He is one of those authors who likes to write in crowded places, and he would bring his notebook to Kuumbwa to write before, during, and after concerts.  He gets to write in the places that inspire him.

I’ve enjoyed blogging, as I get to share my thoughts with you.  I’ve also enjoyed sharing my work with the Santa Cruz Community Writers, a group that I am beginning to feel comfortable calling my own.  I am also learning, time and time again, that I need to work on my skills as an orator.  When I read my work, I often go too fast.  I just need to remember the lyrics to “Feelin’ Groovy.”  I need to record myself in order to better understand my pace and my diction.  It’s the easiest way of overcoming my chronic speed-speech.

At some point, I will share my fiction with you, dear readers, so please be on the lookout for when that time comes.  Right now, my work is in beta, with another work still months away from reaching my alpha reader.  I am glad that I get to share my fiction with friends, and greatly anticipate the day that I can share these with the wider world.

I don’t have a long, semi-connected diatribe to share with you today, but I thought I’d share a few thoughts about things going on in and around my life.

Editing

I’ve been editing my latest work, Their Sharpest Thorns.  It has not been as consistent as I’ve anticipated, and I might not finish this editing effort until the Fall.  Nevertheless, I have a few long weekends in front of me, so I might be able to carve out more than i think I can.

New Projects

I’ve begun work on an untitled project that is classic horror, with particular emphasis on body horror.  I’m thinking of making it more comical.  My primary focus right now is world-building.

Podcast

I will be featured on an upcoming episode of The Modern Meltdown’s Beyond the Words, and would like to thank Holly Hunt for putting this all together!  I will provide a link in a bonus post this week, once it hits the Internet!

Camp NanoWrimo July 2017

I’ve toyed with the notion of completing another Camp Nanowrimo next month.  Given the season, and the fact that I have a lot of other projects going on, I don’t think that I will participate in July’s event, even if I can manage a sizable word count.

The NBA Draft

If you came here for the writing, then I’ll bid you farewell until next time, because the rest of this is all basketball!

Ever since I was young, the NBA Draft was like Christmas in June.  When I was at the height of my basketball fanaticism, I watched easily 60+ Warriors games per year (I’d say more, but let’s play it conservative).  I awaited the NBA season, wondering if Antawn Jamison would go for 50 again, wondering if Adonal Foyle would find a bigger role in the offense, and wondering if Donyell Marshall would put it all together.  I rejoiced when the Warriors added names like Tony Delk and Muggsy Bogues, and lamented the trade that sent Jamison, Fortson, Mills, and Welsch to Dallas for Van Exel, Popeye, and cap relief.  Whether the Warriors were rumored to draft Todd Fuller or take a flyer on Chris Porter, I was inspired by all of the potential that these young men held.

Many professional basketball players come from dire circumstances.  They do not come from the suburbs, or even those penthouse apartments overlooking the Embarcadero, they come from the projects, the rural country bunkhouses, and the oppressive city.  Regardless of race, religion, or national origin, these players often come from places where they have to live in fear of the bullet, the switchblade, or the needle.  They have friends, brothers, and neighbors that have succumbed to addiction, joined gangs, or been gunned down in a case of mistaken identity.  It’s not all bad for these players, as many come from loving families, with dedicated mothers and fathers, but it can get so much better for those who click in professional basketball, either in the NBA, or the many esteemed overseas leagues.  Players sometimes find their niche in places like Iran, where they use basketball to overcome prejudice and preconceptions, and live within a society that many of us might consider hostile to Americans.  Even if players do not “make it” in the NBA, they OFTEN get to make it somewhere else, and get to spend ten years out of their lives doing something that they love for a living.

I didn’t have much of a horse in this race for the 2017 NBA Draft.  My cheering interests didn’t have many NBA-bound players, and my teams didn’t have many (or any) picks.  There’s a few players that I really wanted to see go to certain teams, and certain teams that I really wanted to see do well.  Here’s a few quick hits:

  • I feel like both the Celtics and the Sixers got what they needed out of the trade of top picks, and that the Sixers have really hit a home run.  They’ll be exciting for years to come, provided they’re all healthy.  If the Sixers are healthy, they should be a playoff team this year.  If the Celtics are healthy, they might take down Cleveland this year.
  • I’m happy to see the Suns get a star.  I have a feeling that Josh Jackson will be the best player out of this draft.
  • De’Aaron Fox and Jonathan Isaac went to the exact two teams that I wanted them to go to.  I have a feeling they’ll be great fits, and I’m glad that the Kings got a high character guy.
  • Speaking of the Kings, I think that they have two immediate starters that come out of this draft, and two more that will eventually become major contributors in the NBA. I’m just not exactly sure who that second immediate starter will be.
  • Thank you, Philadelphia, for breaking the streak of players that I’ve heard about all year long. Anzejs Pasecniks, I hope to one day pronounce your name correctly.
  • Jordan Bell!!!! Jordan Bell!!! With the Warriors getting Bell and signing Chris Boucher, I think that they’ve come out as real winners in a draft where they didn’t even have a pick!
  • Nigel Williams-Goss and Jabari Bird were vastly underrated.

Ruminations on Fathers Day

June 19, 2017

Author’s Note: I plan to extend my tour through other author’s websites on Wednesday, but until that time, I have a few spare thoughts about writing that came up through my reflections yesterday: Father’s Day.  The following is a whimsical and meandering, and maybe sometimes philosophical, look at fatherhood from the perspective of an outsider – and novel-writing from the perspective of a “nervous first-time dad.”

Ruminations on Father’s Day and Fathers in General

If necessity is the mother of invention, then what is the father of invention?  Yesterday was Father’s Day, a worldwide holiday in which we honor our forebears, specifically our fathers, with offerings of novelty ties with US presidents; authentic, old-fashioned shaving kits that we made in China last week; truly unique, only four more like them at Sears, grills for the upcoming feast; collections of beers from around the corner; and the burgers to go with those beers.

There are certain ironies in the stereotypical gifts that we pass along to our fathers on this day, particularly for me.  For example, my father dislikes wearing ties so much that he takes his off for his lunch breaks; he prefers the inexpensive razors because he doesn’t have to worry about throwing them out when they break down; he doesn’t drink (neither do I); he’s pretty much vegan; and he doesn’t like grills due to the carcinogens that they produce (after taking an applied chemistry class that discussed carcinogens at length, I don’t blame him).  To top it all off, my father is notoriously hard to shop for; it’s not that he doesn’t express gratitude; it’s that he doesn’t ever express a need for anything beyond what he has.  It’s an enviable place to be, and an enviable outlook on life.

I am not a father.  I hope to be there one day, but my two ‘children’ are a pair of felines.  Yes, they’re like children.  They’re constantly bickering, with the big brother picking on his little sister – a sister who happens to be roughly three times his age, but that’s beside the point.

Father’s Day is a day of appreciation, and a day of understanding everything that a man has done to contribute to your existence and who you are as a person.  (Cats already do that whenever you give them wet food)  In many ways, a man or a woman is a reflection of their father, for better or for worse.  For instance, my father-in-law is notoriously industrious; he will leave work in the afternoon and move on to his second job, coming home only to eat dinner and go to sleep.  My wife is equally as industrious, and is a whirlwind of productivity when she comes home.  I don’t know what my cats may have inherited from me, but I’m not sure that they care.

Fathers in Fiction

Fathers have historically been essential in much more than how one is reared.  For instance, numerous ancient texts, including some of the first texts that have been distinctly English, have discussed patriarchs, and patrilineal significance in great detail.  We see a little of this in Beowulf, a turn of the first millennium text that is one of the earliest surviving examples of English fiction.  Beowulf is the son of Ecgtheow, a victorious warrior who was exiled to Geatland (from Daneland) as part of a political power play.  Thus, when Beowulf brings up his father, he’s also establishing a bit of his own credibility as a warrior. This tradition carried on to stories such as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, where introductions sometimes involve more than a century’s worth of family histories.  Gimli, Son of Glóin, Son of Gróin, son of Farin, and so on.  By following the patterns of some of these pedigrees, I’d be Jim, Son of J the athlete, Son of H the aviator, Son of M the carpenter.  By the time I’ve hit that third antecedent, I’m already discussing two family migrations and a story that began more than 130 years ago.  Nevertheless, this type of pedigree is often important in high fantasy, science fiction, and even historical fiction, and the role of the father carries on again and again through fiction.

Writing is like Fatherhood

Over the past few weeks, I’ve put a little thought into how writing is like fatherhood, and hence the introduction, “necessity is the mother of invention,” which has appeared in many forms, and may be a bastardization of Plato’s The Republic (c.380 BCE).  If necessity is the mother of invention, then imagination is the father of fiction.  I’ve seen it many times before that a good writer must also be a good reader, but I don’t think I’m taking too much of a leap to say that there’s more to it than that.  A good reader can only write what they’ve already seen in their own reading.  A good writer must use their own imagination to expand upon and deviate from what they’ve read.  Similarly, a father is someone who has learned about fatherhood because they’ve experienced the opposite side of it as a son.  However, a good father must use their own intuition and their own imagination in order to build a strong relationship with their own children.  Just as my grandfather had a different relationship with his children than his father had with him, my father has had a different relationship with my sister and me than his father had with him.  In part, this is the natural order and the progression of time, but it is also the result of a man’s ability to create relationships.

But I think that the analogy of novelist:novels::parent:children extends further than this, and is also why we are similarly so careful with our novels that they may seem like our children.  Children form over time; even though there aren’t any complete rewrites, child-rearing is much like novel writing (and editing) in the sense that you want to put both in the best possible situation for success.  Despite our best efforts, there will be shortfalls, and none will turn out perfect (would it be in poor taste to include a Todd Marinovich joke here?), but they all must face the world at some point, and they will all be perfect in their own way.  There are ways in which novel-writing is like motherhood, in the sense that they both have a gestation period that starts at conception, and ends with them being introduced to the World.  However, regardless of the gender of the writer or of the parent, the product is ultimately a reflection of its creators.

Thus, as I’m working through another editing process, and awaiting another round of beta readers, I realize that a large part of why I haven’t published my works yet is due to a common concern for both authors and fathers: that their children must be ready for the World.

Futurists aside, we cannot adequately predict what the World will be like as our works have time to mature.  What will the critics say about our novels when we publish them?  Will they survive for five years?  Will they survive for a hundred years?  It shouldn’t matter to us, but I think that there is a visceral desire to see the lives of our creative works exceed our own.  Today, with self-publishing, ebooks, and a seemingly endless amount of digital storage, we do not need to be Shakespeare or Byron, or Shelley or Harper Lee.  Our works – whether critical hits or monumental flops – can extend far beyond our own lives.  It’s a grandiose idea, yes, but think about how difficult it was for people to get their own copy of Chaucer’s work in his own time!  Think about what it was like for the little guy that we haven’t

Despite its popularity, The Canterbury Tales wasn’t “mass” produced until nearly eighty years after Chaucer’s death.  Why?  Because Chaucer predated the printing press!  Even then, William Caxton’s printing press of ~1480 (the original press for Chaucer’s work) was one of just a handful west of Germany.  Even 500 years later, by which time the technology had upgraded many times, the types of presses that print fiction were still limited in the sense that only a few companies were capable of true mass publication.  Today, anybody can publish through Amazon CreateSpace, Lulu, Barnes & Noble, and dozens of other publication services and digital storefronts.  We don’t need thousands of square feet to house all of the books in our local libraries (at least, not to the same extent we once did), as today’s libraries can house literally (and yes, the correct use of the word) millions of ebooks on a relatively inexpensive server.  So, what does this mean?

This means that you, Alan Smithee, Author of Awesome Book and its three sequels, may not live on as author of the “Universally Beloved Awesome Book series,” but your work may be on some server (either in the AWS data center, your local library’s server, or some infrastructure supporting the Cloud), long after you have retired your keyboard and taken up permanent residence with the worms.  Whether your book burns up the Kirkus Review, or the Kirkus Review tells readers to burn your book, your book will live on!

Until next time, this is the father of several books that are still in incubation, reminding you, in the words of the imitable Ralph Kiner “It [was] Father’s Day [yesterday] at Shea, so to all of you fathers out there, happy [belated] birthday!”

Author Sites: Content

June 12, 2017

Last week, I began a long post about author websites.  This all stems from my investigations into creating my own author website, and focuses on the real meat of the developer website: content.  If you’re interested in the visual aspect of an author website, please click here to review my previous post.

Odds are, if you’re following me on Twitter, you’re a fellow writer.  You’ve read through my rants and raves about writing, about sharing my writing in public, and about my efforts to drum up interest for, publish, and market my books.  You’ve probably scoffed at the bare bones nature of my blog, and wondered why I don’t include photos, artwork, or even buttons.  These are all baby steps; they will come, but let’s first point to the first thing an author website should do. If you said “sell my books,” then please take your seat at the back of the class.  In my last blog, I mentioned that most people don’t like to be marketed to (or sold to).  Yes, you create a website with “sell my books” as one desired outcome, but the first thing that the author site should do is introduce your writing to your potential reader.  By extension, you’re also introducing yourself, but the writing is the thing (with apologies to Hamlet)!  There’s a subtle difference between marketing to an audience and informing an audience.  This may sound like talking from both sides of my mouth, but both can be accomplished through a simple advertisement; the only difference is the content of that advertisement.

Yes, up and coming works are a focal point for many websites, but providing an “Order Now” page at the front and center of your website only works if you have hundreds of thousands of adoring fans and you know that you’ll sell out your first edition — maybe even on pre-order.  If you look at Dean Koontz’s site, for instance, you see that he is advertising The Silent Corner.  However, when you click the “Learn More” button, you see two things — one, a brief (and far too marketing-speak) introduction to the book, and two, a brief synopsis.  It isn’t until you get below the fold where you find “Advance Praise for The Silent Corner,” as well as where you can pre-order his book.  Yes, the marketing is there, as are the “sales” links, but Mr. Koontz does not treat his website like the ear piercing booth at your local mall.  No, he saves the sale for somewhere else.

Last week, I promised some opinions on what CONTENT should be included in the typical author’s website.  I’d discussed a little about this when I discussed individual book pages, so please refer back to that for a bit more detail.  However, here are eight (or, would you believe, thirteen) more things that you should consider when you are creating content for your author website.

1) BOOKS – As mentioned before, the books are the things that are really drawing people to your site, and they are also the items that you should be discussing the most.  There are layers to what you can provide on your author website.  Some of the content that I envision for my own book page include:

a) A Brief Synopsis – No, I’m not going to give away the plot twist in the third act, but I will provide something a little more substantial than what I would put on the back of a book jacket. This might include more detail about the plot itself, or more information about the principal characters.

b) Character lists – who are the people in your novel? Who do people need to remember? If you’re a part of a book club, or a lit teacher, you know that people are doing this already as a means of understanding and staying connected with the book.  However, it does help to do a little of the work for them.   I haven’t done character lists of other writers’ books before, except for when I needed to do them for coursework.  That being said, imagine somebody who comes back to a book somewhat infrequently, to the point that they have to remind themselves every time about that Daenarys and Jon Snow don’t really know each other, or have trouble identifying the various other characters that may have some familial relationship to each other.

c) Maps – Another item that comes to mind is a map. I’ve already seen enough maps of Westeros to know that they’re out there, but what about the map of the Harry Potter world? What about a map that identifies the various locations of District Six and where they come from, as opposed to the characters of District Two?

d) Glossaries – If you’re into high fantasy or science fiction, there may also need to be a glossary. Particularly if you’re dealing with technical real-world stuff (or even technical, fictitious stuff, people aren’t going to necessarily know the difference between a jump drive and an FTL drive, even if they’re the same thing in your universe. They might know that a Halfling is approximately half the size of something, but what is it half the size of – are the “humans” in your world really like the humans that you would see in Times Square?  Your universe has its own rules, and it may be difficult for people to remember those rules and how they may be any different from Tolkien’s or Alastair Reynolds’ or Burroughs’ Barsoom.  I sometimes need them for real-world books, even when the only thing I’m trying to figure out is what the difference is between a vicar and a priest.  If you’re prone to reading American books, you better be well prepared for understanding that a fanny is a polite word for somebody’s bottom, and that rooting for something is not vulgar in the slightest (and probably not what you Aussies think it means).   Sometimes, this comes down to very common words or tropisms.  Wizard, witch, and warlock — what does that mean to you?  In some of the fantasy books of my childhood, a warlock was simply a male witch.  In Rowling, a male witch is a wizard.

e) Backgrounds – As for other odds and ends about the book itself, remember that people will be approaching your book for all different purposes. If you’ve written a historical fiction / period piece, you might need some collateral to explain to the modern reader why Thermopylae was an important battle in Greek history, or where the ancient Troas (Troy) was in relation to Crete.  You might need to explain the importance of neck rings in Dinka culture, or why some parts of China would engage in foot-binding.

There may be many other items that relate to an individual book that you’d like to put on your author website.  As mentioned, I’ve discussed a few here.  However, there are many other items that may not directly relate to your books, but rather to you as an author.

2) News – There are several ways of putting out news on websites. Having no headlines to drum up myself, I tend to append my news to the end of these blog posts.  If I had news of more substance, I would have a separate place for all of it.  If you’re generating a lot of news-worthy items (and I mean a lot), you might think about a monthly or bi-monthly newsletter.  I wouldn’t recommend much more than 26 per year (and even that may be a lot).  As much as fanboys might love a given author, even the New York Times Bestsellers don’t have that much news in a given week.  Even if you are the type of author that generates a lot of news, it may be worthwhile to put out the news as it happens.  If you’re releasing a new short story on Smashwords, why wait two weeks until your next newsletter?

3) Blog – Well, of course I would point to this.  After all, you’re reading my blog.  However, a blog is a useful, less formal means of keeping in touch with your readers, your friends, and other writers.  I try to blog about twice per week, but I wouldn’t blog nearly as much if I knew that I was under deadline for some great opportunity.  A few of the authors that I’ve examined over time put out a blog 1 to 2 times per month, but many of those authors are also of the sort where writing is their full-time profession, and they hardly need to build their audience.

4) Reviews – This can go both ways.  It is useful to put up reviews of your own books, particularly if they’re thorough.  It may also be useful to put up reviews of books that you’ve enjoyed.  At the same time, if reviews are too detailed, they might give away too much information, and you don’t want to be on record as absolutely slamming another author – no matter how much you think they might deserve it.

5) Appearances – Are you the errant author?  Will you be in Seattle one weekend and San Diego the next?  Are you doing book signings at your neighborhood bookseller, or having a reading at your local library?  If the answer is yes to any of these questions, you will want to share this with your audience.  If you’re the type of writer that is speaking at a charity function, add that, too, even if it has nothing to do with your books. If you have a following, they will want to see you in the flesh, and they will be wondering why your Awesome Book: Volume IV remains in the development stage.  (By the way, I’d laugh so hard I’d cry if I saw Awesome Book: Volume III on a book rack!)

6) FAQs – There’s a reason why you’ll see FAQs on numerous websites.  If there are stock questions that you always get asked, you might want to address them all at once on your website.  At the same time, you need to be careful.  Not all questions deserved to be answered, and some of them fall into the realm of personally identifiable information (PII) or “password questions.”  Sorry, nobody needs to know your mother’s maiden name, unless you’re Melanie Griffith (her mother is Tippi Hedren of The Birds).  If you’re Melanie Griffith, you might want to share your pedigree with the World.

7) Bio – As much as that website might say AntonioSaavedra.com or AngelinavanHeusen.com, the website is not about you, it’s about your writing.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a little something about you in store for the reader.  Many of the top authors that I’ve researched have little bios.  These bios are much like what you’d see on the back of a book, but some get into a bit more depth, discussing former professors, other occupations held, inspirations for writing, and other life details.  My own bio is very sparse, which is probably just a force of habit.  It isn’t as if you’re not getting enough about me through this blog!

8) Contact Information – Keep this brief, and don’t give away the whole enchilada.  I have some thoughts about why you might not want to share much, but there are a few items that you might want to share: Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram accounts are useful, as they are not nearly as personal as Facebook.  If you have a P.O. Box for fan mail and the like, this is also useful.  I wouldn’t provide a street address, for obvious reasons.  If you’re from a small town (like Jenner, CA), you might not even want to use a P.O. Box at your closest post office.  Instead, as is the case with Jenner, you might want to have a P.O. Box in Bodega Bay or Guerneville – they are not exactly the big city, but they’re both ten miles further away from where you sleep at night.  If you have a little bit more time, then creating email forms can be useful.  These allow people to quickly and conveniently contact you, but do not give away your email address.

Thanks for tagging along for this whopper of a post. Expect another post later this week, but I can’t promise the timing!

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Is there anything that I missed? Please feel free to add it in the comments below.

Photo Attribution: Unsplash on Pexels. Creative Common 0 License

Author Sites: Aesthetics

June 9, 2017

Get out your color wheels, design fans; it’s time to talk about website design!  This was initially intended as a single post, with smaller follow-ups, but the information has since exploded, and I had to segment this off into two posts.  Check in soon for the second part, where I talk about content!

But first, let’s talk about the beauty of website design (as it relates to author sites)!

Just so we’re on the level, I should be one to talk — this is my website: plain, simple, and as of June 2017 black text on a white background with a blue band across the top.  This is a basic template for WordPress, and it has served me well over the past several years since I started blogging under the “jowenenglish” banner.  It isn’t intended as a complete site, and I will update this someday.  In fact, this post (and, now, at least one more post in the series) has come out of some of my research into creating my own website.

I’ve learned a lot from my colleague, David, on the matter, and I wanted to share some of the thoughts that have crossed my mind as I not only research other authors’ websites, but also research websites as part of my day job.  At some point, I might apply this knowledge and build out my own site, but it’s fun to take a look at what I’ve seen.

Aesthetics (or Can You Judge a Website by its Cover?)

1) Orientation

How many of you have gotten frustrated with a website because you still can’t find what you’re looking for?  Worse yet, you’re scrolling through something that has so many graphics and individual pages that you get the feeling that you’re being sucked into a click-bait site.  The orientation of a website is important.  I won’t go into mobile sites, as I generally prefer full sites, and many website building tools allow you to have responsive design with the so-called hamburger menus off to one side.

2) Pull-down Menus / Hamburger Menus

Pull-down menus, or those buttons that appear below the banner, are important.  As far as I can tell, there is no sure-fire combination as to what should appear in a menu, and in what configuration, but there are three basics that I generally see within author websites: My Books, About Me, and Contact Me.  Some authors have much more, and having a few more items works, as long as the main items do not get lost in the clutter.  Pull-down menus are among those aspects of a website that fit into both the aesthetics category and the features category, as pull-down menus ultimately show you what yo need in a palatable format.

3) Banners

One of the main things that has held me back from building out my site is the lack of visual appeal.  Whether it’s the banner itself or just below the banner, I don’t have the right images to entice the reader.  This has a bit to do with a lack of Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator skills, and a bit to do with everything else being up in the air. However, I have observed a number of websites that work in this respect, and the items that work are typically the items that make the website itself unique.  Cover art, such as the full cover art that would fit on your dust jacket, sans writing, is one way of going about this, but some authors (or, presumably their design teams) tailor this even further.  I think what this art entails is very genre specific.  The stark and hard-boiled look might work for a mystery writer, but it won’t work for writers in other genres, or for the literary fiction crowd.

And then there’s the rest of the bunch…

Within an author website, there are generally seven items that I look for in terms of aesthetic or visuals.  I’ve already discussed a little about the orientation, the banner, and the pull-down menus.  The other four are what appears “above the fold,” the visuals that represent the books themselves, the author photo, and the text.  These aren’t nearly as appealing to discuss.  There’s definitely meat to them, and some people can fill up pages just talking about the physical appeal of fonts themselves.  I’m not one of them, but I do have my opinions on the matter.

Above the Fold

Many times, the only thing people will see about a new website, unless they’re very interested, is what occurs above the fold.  The term (sometimes called “above the crease”) comes from the newspaper industry, and refers to any item that you can see when you unroll the newspaper and see the stories that appear immediately above or below the banner.  Websites have this, too.  If people do not need to scroll up or down to see the content, it is considered “above the fold.”

When it comes to what appears above the fold, I think about this as an orientation consideration, a visual appeal consideration, and –most importantly — a content consideration.  Yes, it is great to have an appealing visual above the fold, but readers who base their book choice on beautiful visuals are bound to be disappointed.  You can judge a book by its cover, but only to a point.  If your site does not have much appeal except for a brilliant visual above the fold, then readers will not be as compelled to dig into the rest of the site.  Having buttons to show them other site features (book synopses, character charts, interviews, readings, or whatever you would like to offer) is essential to your site’s success as an informational vehicle.

5) Visual Representations for Books

Okay, so you’ve published your novel, what image do you use to represent this on your site, and how do you share that?  Amazon does one thing well in this regard, as they have a simple image of the book’s front cover on the left, and then a synopsis or blurb on the right.  If you click onto the cover, you usually get a few sample pages.  I prefer this physical orientation, and prefer the book cover rather than some other related image.  When it comes to what that visual representation does, the “button” format is fine, but I would recommend that you go a step further.  Use that book as a mouse-over button, if you can, and include a list of numerous features that supplement the book.  I’ve mentioned a few of these above, and I generally think that these forms of collateral are a good place to start.  You might also have essays that you’ve written about your book and what it means to you, and these would be perfect for your book site, but aren’t necessarily a top-level item.  Another item that comes to mind is information for book clubs or educators.  You might think it is presumptuous, but these items can pave the way for broader discussion of your novel, and help the readers approach your book with all of the right tools in hand.

6.) Author Photo

The author photo is an important consideration, but don’t think too long about it.  We’ve all seen the glamour shots at the back of popular trade paperbacks.  These are fine, and professional glamour shots are probably preferable if you want to be taken seriously as a writer.  However, if being good looking was the a prerequisite for selling books, then many of the great writers of our time wouldn’t be making much money at all.  Your professional photo should be subtle; even if you’re as arrogant as they come, you don’t want someone to look at the back of your book and think “wow, that guy probably never passes up a chance to look at his own reflection.”

7.) Font 

Finally, the last item I’ll talk about in terms of aesthetic is font.  Generally, font size doesn’t matter, as people can adjust as needed.  However, I wouldn’t venture too far off of the defaults that come with your given tool (unless you’re going straight from the CSS — if that’s the case, huzzah!  I generally don’t pay much attention to fonts.  My preference is for serif fonts in print media, however the prevailing wisdom is that sans-serif fonts are easily readable because they are less visually complex.  The fonts that I’ve heard bandied about most often are Verdana, Arial, and Helvetica.  Experts in visual design will wax poetic about the benefits of one over another.  I’m a writer, not a type-setter, so I don’t particularly care as long as I can read it.  Comic Sans might be the exception.

I’d love to hear your opinions on font, but I plan on leaving these considerations to typesetters and designers.

Content is King! (But I’ll Save This for Another Blog)

I initially didn’t think that I would have much to say about aesthetics in the more abstract sense, but I soon realized that this post is getting pretty lengthy.  This will cap out at over 1,500 words, and I don’t want to bury the topic of content under that volume of words.  I will say this, before I provide a few more updates: first, the most brilliant aesthetics will hide a lack of content, but they cannot entirely overcome a lack of content.  Content is at the heart of your author site, but even the most brilliant content will disappear if you’re mired in poor aesthetics.

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Writer’s Update: I don’t feel like I’m busy, but it seems like I always have something to do.  Right now, I have a checklist that’s about twenty items long, and many of these are time consuming projects. On top of it all, this doesn’t include work duties.  In recent weeks, my supervisor has been leaning on me to get a lot of writing projects done.  The hours spent agonizing over reports has made for a few late nights.  I have been better at getting home before dark lately, but that isn’t saying much as we approach the solstice.

Their Sharpest Thorns is still in early edits.  I’ve worked through about a quarter of the book already, but I’m primarily taking a postmortem of where my story deviates from my notes, and attempting to correct any inconsistencies.  There’s still a good month’s worth of work in editing, and it is likely that I will not have enough to call this a “complete” draft until late summer.

Thanks for tagging along for this doozy of a post.  In my next post, I’ll discuss the content of an author site, and hopefully have a few more updates along the way!

 

Putting Together a Web Page / Blog Post for Your Book

June 5, 2017

Over the past several years, and particularly the past several months, I’ve shared my writing journey and my thoughts on writing, with you.  Over this time, I’ve discussed a little but about my process, my search for publication, and my various misadventures.  Today, I wanted to share something about other processes.  As you have no doubt seen from this blog, I’ve been working on this blog as a means of building a community and “marketing” myself.  I hate that word, marketing… even though that’s part of what I investigate for my daytime job.  Of course, there are benefits to marketing, if you approach it from the right way.  If you don’t “market” yourself, then nobody will know about who you are, how great you are, and the stories that you have to tell.

One of the easiest ways to share something about yourself today is via a website. The only thing you’ve seen from my website so far is my blog. That’s because I have one major thing holding me back from putting together a fuller site: visuals. I’m working on that, but I spend a lot of time researching websites through my primary employment, so I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do in order to get a successful website in place.  I was thinking about sharing some of that with you, but I decided that I should start a little smaller.  What do I need to do in order to successfully put together a blog post or a web page that specifically markets my book?  For this, I thought I’d share a process that David, my colleague, has shared with me and with our many clients.

My employer frequently shares what it would take to sell development tools to clients, so this isn’t exactly what we explain to clients (and we usually show an idea rather than tell it), but there’s a lot of crossover here.

Before we start, let’s take an example. Michael Wallace’s Quill Gordon Mysteries, because he is already doing a lot right when he introduces “The McHenry Inheritance.

Introduction

The first thing you want to do is introduce your book.  He does this with a slugline “It’s scary, and so wrong,” and then goes into the content that you’d find on the back cover.  This introduces the stakes and a few of the main characters. Mr. Wallace gives about two paragraphs of content, mostly summarizing the content of the book.  What he’s given is good.  The only thing that I might change is spending a bit more time toward the end taking a more distant view of the book.  “This is a mystery in the vein of [comparable author].” or “The McHenry Inheritance takes you on a ride through the sordid underbelly of Harperville, wherein everybody has reason to be suspicious of outsiders.”  This isn’t the best means of pulling away from the stakes, but it does leave a little more to the imagination.

If this is your only book, then it might be useful to share a little bit about you, but this is probably better left fro a dedicated “About the Author” page.  You’ll have plenty of places to share who you are, anyway.

Short Reviews

Okay, so you’re probably low on reviews if you’ve just recently released your book.  There’s ways around this.  You can ask your beta readers for some kind words (but, by all means, don’t give away their identities unless they want you to do so!).   You can wait for some positive reviews on Amazon, and then ask for permission for those.  Mr. Wallace has a review off in the corner.  It is a solid review, but he only needs a sentence or two from that review to let visitors know that his book is a worthwhile read.

If you have a positive review in your local paper, this is the ideal place to put it.  Not everybody will garner this attention in their early career, so if you have something here, might as well put it to good use.

Book Trailer

In an earlier post, I referred back to Mr. Wallace’s book trailer.  I think his trailer works on many levels.  It tells a little bit about Mr. Wallace himself, adding some credibility in the process; it talks about his process; it talks about the book itself; and, perhaps most importantly, it tells readers where they can pick up his book.

I think there’s a few nice balances Mr. Wallace makes here.  He keeps it simple, while still providing a glimpse at the setting.  He’s made a professional video, hiring professional videographers and video editors to make the short piece — I’m not saying you should go for pros every time, but he’s done so to good effect. Finally, he’s used original content.

This last little part, about original content, isn’t necessary — there’s plenty of content in the public domain that will work nicely — but it is important to show that he is the genuine article.  I’ve been gathering ideas for my own book trailer, and one thing that I’ve noticed from other production-quality book trailers is that they’re borrowing from movies (either stills or even short, live action sequences) that are not in the public domain.  This is very risky, as there are items that are covered by “fair use,” but taking an image of Sean Connery from Highlander may show the reader something about your book, but it also is something that others can recognize comes from somewhere else.

Passages

You don’t want to give away too much about your writing content, but it helps to give away something, so people can know what they’re getting into. If you’re nervous about this, you can always provide copyright notice.  Considering how much space these passages might take up, it wouldn’t hurt to hide them via a “spoiler” option if you have it in your given website.  It’s fairly common for BBscript, if that’s available.

If you have visual media, this is also a good place to show some artwork or whatever other pictures or charts you might have on hand.  If you’re going for the George R.R. Martin type of saga, a family tree is always helpful (provided it doesn’t give away too much about your book).

Links

In my daytime job, I’d recommend this if you have technical resources that help people see what your product can do, and how to do it.  With writing, it’s a little different. You could link to relevant items about your book within your site.  If you have full reviews, this is a great place to put them, as well.  Anything that is germane to your book can fit here.  If you’re writing a period piece about ancient Hippo (Annaba, Algeria), then perhaps a link to the Confessions of St. Augustine of Hippo would be relevant, or perhaps there’s a book, site, or society that is dedicated to ancient Hippo.

For Mike Wallace’s book, this might be something about his notes for his fictitious mountain town and some of the landmarks, such as Harry’s Tavern.  He might also provide some of the history of the quill gordon lure in fly fishing, or some other angling sites.  He has some media coverage that would fit in well here, such as this spotlight from our local Santa Cruz Sentinel.

This would also be a good place to provide links to your book in online booksellers. If you’re looking at American booksellers, Amazon has to be on there.  B&N, Lulu, and others are all important, but nothing does as much volume as Amazon.  There’s an important item to consider here: as much as you might want to feature where to find your book in bookstores, it really needs to be embedded in the rest of your post.  We, as readers, know why we’re looking for books, so it doesn’t do you any good to be pushy in getting people to buy your book.  By passing along your purchase information as just that, information, rather than overt marketing, you’ll attract more people who are on the fence.

Finally, if you haven’t attached links or widgets to your social media, then this should be at the bottom of your post.  It’s not critical to a blog / webpage dedicated to your book, but it is yet another way that you can connect with your audience.

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I haven’t been able to apply the above to my own site.  As mentioned, I’m still missing visual media, including a book trailer and any sort of cover or collateral pictures, but these are items that I’ve been considering, and items that I must take into account as I put this information together.

As if I haven’t stressed this enough earlier, the blog post or website is a means of introducing others to your book and introducing yourself to your audience.  Thus, while I do make mention of telling people where they can find your book in the usual bookstores, I didn’t mention anything about telling readers to “buy it now.”  If you use those three words, you must be very subtle, as using that phrase as a command is bound to turn others off.

A big thanks to David for the idea.

Is there anything I missed? Please feel free to add them in the comments below.

Photo Attribution: Unsplash on Pexels. Creative Common 0 License

Death: An Evocative Tropism in Written Works

May 26, 2017

I’d intended to write something about the power of music and my preferred listening when I write, but I think that will have to wait for another time.  Last night, just a few hours before I began this, I was sitting on the couch, reading an excerpt from Helene Simkin Jara’s Because I Had To, because I will likely see her this weekend.  Jara is the featured speaker at a writers group that I have attended over the past several months.  She is a free-form poet, a short-story writer, an actor, and a director, so she knows the importance of evoking emotions.  She sure did.  One of her poems, as it turns out, is about someone I once knew — or, at least, knew of — in high school.  She’d grown up with my wife, and (unfortunately) has since left corporeal existence behind her.

Death is a sensitive subject for all of us, whether we care to admit it or not.  If we have been lucky enough to have never encountered death amongst our friends and family, we are either very young, very fortunate, or very isolated.  Everything dies (except for, perhaps, some forms of hydrozoa).  Considering the universality of death, it is an important, and poignant, concept to address in fiction.  No, you don’t need to include Hamlet’s soliloquy — and please don’t, that’s been done — but killing off characters is not something to be taken lightly (unless you’re writing a comedy).

In fiction, not all deaths need to be meaningful.  Nobody cares about that lackey that gets offed in the middle of a firefight, but when meaningful characters begin dying willy-nilly, there better be a darned good reason why the character has to go.  After all, the reason why Piggy died in The Lord of the Flies is not because Golding ran out of things to do with that character.

I’ve had to kill characters in my novels, and my latest effort, Their Sharpest Thorns has a significant death count.  However, only a few deaths are meaningful, and addressing those deaths properly has been one of the challenges in trying to cap off this book.  I will venture to guess that the second and third drafts will spend a great deal of time focused on improving the death scenes, and establishing the emotional connections leading up to the meaningful scenes. I also have the challenge of differentiating the deaths that really matter from the deaths that are just a point of fact.

If I succeed in writing a death scene, then I evoke an emotional response from myself as I am writing it, just as I would in writing a scene that is funny or a scene that is heartbreaking.  I seldom do that when I write poetry — not that I have written much poetry.   When I read from Helene Simkin Jara’s excerpt, I realize that Ms. Jara must have written the poem with a heavy heart, because I have a heavy heart when I read those words.  As I scan the words, I don’t see very many big words, and there’s not that many words in the poem, at all.  However, those words that are on the page are arranged in such a way that, when read or scanned, properly represent a tragic death.

Recent Musical Finds

May 22, 2017

You never know when inspiration will strike, so I sometimes take a few nights to focus on my blog rather than on my novels.  I have a backlog of blog stubs, nothing nearly as robust as I’d like, for circumstances where I want to focus on my writing.  That backlog didn’t work out so well over the past few weeks, as I haven’t been inspired to publish any of them.  Something happened last week that inspired me to freshen up this one: Chris Cornell’s death.  Audioslave was the soundtrack to my first couple of years in college.  While my roommates and friends had albums from Collective Soul, Depeche Mode, Dashboard Confessional, and U2 blaring from their computer speakers, I picked up Audioslave from one of my closest college friends, and played that album regularly. 

I don’t think “Like a Stone” ever made it to my weekly radio show, but that’s because I focused on bands I knew and loved from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.  In music terms, I was a throwback; my musical tastes are classic rock, and are probably considered oldies by now.  I rarely picked up new albums, because I was too busy fishing through bands of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the more I listened to bands of that era, the more obscure the bands became.  Things have changed over the past year.  For the past year (at least), I’ve been listening to WKIT: The Rock of Bangor, and I’ve picked up a lot of songs that weren’t standards in my rotation.  One of those songs was Chris Cornell’s “Nearly Forgot my Broken Heart” from his 2015 album, Higher Truth.

The following includes some of my more-or-less recent finds in music.  These intentionally excluded bands and musicians I knew, such as Alice Cooper’s new band, Hollywood Vampires; David Bowie’s last album, Blackstar; or Chris Cornell’s “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart.”

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Recent Finds for Music

A few months ago now, I caught myself trying to remember the lyrics to Midnight Oil’s song “Beds Are Burning.” A year ago, I had no idea this song existed.  Heck, I didn’t know that the band existed.  It’s one of those bands, much like Manic Street Preachers, where I had no idea who they were in their heyday, and it wasn’t until much later (“Bed are Burning,” for example, was a popular song in 1987), when I stumbled upon the song for the first time.

Mountain Climbing – Joe Bonamassa

How is it that I’m only now hearing about Bonamassa?  The 39 year old Bonamassa opened for B.B. King 27 years ago.

I’ll let that sink in.

As WKIT calls him, “Joey B” was only 12 when he opened for B.B. King.  When I was 12, I thought my little tan recorder was too difficult.  As a teenager, he was rubbing elbows with famous guitarists, such as Robbie Krieger of the Doors, and was playing in a band with Krieger’s son, Waylon; Miles Davis’ son, Erin; and Berry Oakley’s (of the Allman Brothers) son, Berry Duane.  Bonamassa first charted on the Billboard Blues chart as a 23 year old.

In 2016, the 38 year old Bonamassa released Blues of Desperation.  On that, he included track number 2, “Mountain Climbing.”  If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear this track was written and performed by Robert Johnson after he made a deal with the Crossroads Demon.  (Johnson, one of the original members of the “27 Club,” died in 1938).  This may be classified as a blues song, but make no mistake about it, this is a hard rocker.  It has the B.B. King sound, but it could just as easily be Jimmy Page on the guitar and Robert Plant penning the lyrics.  Bonamassa’s movement between ‘clean’ guitar work and distortion adds a unique voice to his guitar, and compliments the throaty tenor of his singing voice.

Rebel Heart – The Shelters

The Shelters owe their big break due to producer Tom Petty’s ear for talent.  Guitarists Chase Simpson and Josh Jove were studio musicians on the 2014 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album Hypnotic Eye.  After forming The Shelters in 2015, the four person band released their eponymous album in June 2016.  The first single off of that album, as well as the first track, is “Rebel Heart.”

So, what makes “Rebel Heart” special, aside from the fact that I first heard of it on WKIT?  Well, it’s a throwback.  I think that the folks at WKIT compare it to the Monkees, but I don’t see that.  It does have a poppy, ‘60s style to it, but the guitar work reminds me a little bit of the Byrds, and most particularly of Jim/Roger McGuinn’s guitar solo on “Eight Miles High.”  There are elements that remind me of a Beatles single, as well, but the vocals are decidedly from this century, as Josh Jove’s lead vocals, as well as the band’s backing vocals, are melodic without being the silky smooth harmonies that were popular in the ‘60s.  I haven’t heard any of The Shelters’ other work, but this song alone hearkens back to an era of rock that has been buried by album after album of pop and R&B.

Heartbeat Smile – Alejandro Escovedo

First, let’s talk about the man and his pedigree. Alejandro Escovedo, a first generation Mexican-American from San Antonio, started his career with San Francisco punk band “The Nuns” in the mid-‘70s.  He has been a part of the Austin music scene since the ‘80s, and has cut his own solo albums since 1992.  His family includes his niece, Sheila E, one of Prince’s frequent collaborators; his brothers Coke and Pete, one-time members of Santana’s band; his brother Mario, the frontman for the Dragons; and brother Javier, former frontman for the Zeros.  Clearly, Alejandro has both years of experience and a family bond that ties him to music.

In 2016, the 65-year-old Alejandro released Burn Something Beautiful.  The second track on that, “Heartbeat Smile,” is a catchy tune with some pleasing rock riffs.  The lyrics aren’t deep, and he’s not going to be confused with Robert Plant anytime soon, but the simple aesthetic of his lyrics lends itself to something that is a cross between sorrow and joy.

Two Stroke Machine – 7horse

A lot of people have side projects, and the same is also true of professional musicians. Joie Calio and Phil Leavitt have been members of the alternative rock band dada since 1992, where Calio is a singer and guitarist and Leavitt is a drummer.  They lose guitarist Michael Gurley when they tour as 7horse, a blues and rock duo, and Leavitt takes the lead vocals duties.  In 2016, 7horse released the album Living in a Bitch of a World, with the song “Two Stroke Machine” as one of its lead singles.

“Two Stroke Machine” isn’t the most uplifting of songs, as its full of signs of serious family dysfunction, and I like to pretend that I don’t know the lyrics when it comes on, because it is a bit of a downer. However, it is a catchy song with pace and instrumentation that’s reminiscent of old school blues and rock and roll.

When I first heard this song, I was under the impression that this was a much older song.  The lead singer reminded me of Tom Petty, only without his characteristic twang.  It surprised me to read that he (Leavitt) has made a career out of something other than lead vocals.

All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You – Halestorm

First of all, nobody quite compares to the divine Ann Wilson when it comes to vocals, just as nobody quite builds upon the almost engineer-like precision and complexity of sister Nancy’s guitars.  The only way you could improve upon Heart is by getting rid of the synth in their poppy ‘80s era and replacing it with a combination of electric and acoustic guitars.  Lzzy Hale doesn’t quite have the depth of Ann Wilson’s voice, but she manages to provide a sharper edge to Ann Wilson’s lyrics in Halestorm’s interpretation of “All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You.”

If you look at my music collection, you’ll find a lot of males: male drummers, male guitarists, male bassists, and male vocalists.  This is what I get for insisting that it must be rock.  I have looked at bands with female leads.  Yes, some of them absolutely rock, but none of them carry that sustained intensity that comes with Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who or Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith.  Halestorm is one band with a woman who rocks.  Out of Red Lion, PA, Halestorm may only have one woman, but she absolutely delivers as both a vocalist and a guitarist.  I am not as keen on their original work, but Lzzy and the band shine on some of their covers.  They’ve covered Joan Jett, AC/DC, and Soundgarden, but I think their best cover is that of Heart’s “All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You” off of their ReAniMate: The CoVeRs EP (2011).

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As mentioned, the occasion of Chris Cornell’s death wouldn’t have reminded me of this post if I hadn’t heard “Nearly Forgot my Broken Heart” recently on WKIT.  It’s funny, because before I heard this song I’d never really thought about Cornell’s vocals, his charisma, or even his guitar as what made Soundgarden and Audioslave special.  Instead, I attributed it to the ensemble of each group.  Now that I have been able to single out Cornell, I realize the gravity that Cornell’s death has with respect to the total rock scene.

I listen to music throughout the day, but I don’t always listen to music with lyrics when I write because I prefer to focus on the words on the page.  Perhaps in a future blog post, I’ll discuss what I listen to when I write.

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Update: Absconded by Sin (5/22/2017)

I am still looking into publishing Absconded by Sin.  I’ve shared bits and pieces of the novel through Facebook Live and through writers’ circles, but its publication has taken a backseat toward completing other projects.  If you’d be interested in seeing Absconded by Sin in publication, please let me know.  I’ll talk more about this in later posts, I’m sure.

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Update: Their Sharpest Thorns (5/22/2017)

Last night, I finally completed a very rough first draft of Their Sharpest Thorns.  It was very drafty, as I wanted to get most of the story on the page, and I will soon commence going through and tightening it, firming up characterization and improving overall cohesion.  The initial draft is ~92,500 words, which is a little shorter than what I anticipated.  Considering that I am already aware of areas that need more verbiage, I wouldn’t be surprised if I have 105,000 words by the end of my second or third review.

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Update: The Modern Meltdown

I’m still in the queue in terms of my debut on a podcast.  No word yet on when that might be, but it’s still at least two weeks out.  The host, Holly Hunt, publishes about twice per month, and her most recent post was on Friday.

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Do you have something that you’d like to see me discuss in my blog posts?  You can reach me through this blog, or by tweeting to me at @jowenenglish, or by connecting with me by other electronic means, if I’ve otherwise provided them to you.  Bear in mind that I’m already work full time, and I’m moonlighting as a novelist, so it might take a while before I get to blog about your topic.  That said, I’m always interested in new ideas!

Picture credit (applies to links from other sites only): Tookapic via Pexels, CC0 License.