Posts Tagged ‘ramblings’

Website Wednesday: Paula Hawkins

September 6, 2017

Hello, Friends.  Not much new to report here, except that I’m back with another Website Wednesday entry.  This little diversion, started in May 2017, has helped me learn a lot about author websites as I think about my own.  As mentioned in past entries, I’ve compiled this from a list of Amazon Best Sellers.  Obviously, this list changes over time, and it may be time to refresh the list.  If you have any author sites that you’d like me to discuss, or would like me to critique your own, please feel free to comment below.  Until next time, happy writing and happy reading!

Paula Hawkins

It may seem like Paula Hawkins, the next on the author website tour, came out of nowhere with her overwhelming ‘debut’ novel, The Girl on the Train.  It would be even more impressive if this was indeed her debut novel—but it wasn’t.  After four successful romantic comedies under the nom de plume Amy Silver, Hawkins transitioned to the thriller genre with 2015’s The Girl on the Train.  The novel spent thirteen consecutive weeks (about three months) at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller’s list, and sold more than three million copies in its first six months after release. Sales surged after the 2016 film adaptation, starring Emily Blunt, and total sales are now north of 15 million copies.

In many ways, Hawkins does not epitomize the New York Times Best Seller. Not only did she transition genres and come out from behind a pen name, she also has transitioned from non-fiction to fiction, including a financial advice book.  Ms. Hawkins is of British-extraction, but was educated in Zimbabwe until she went on to her sixth-form college (much like a post-secondary prep school stateside).

Ms. Hawkins has a visually stunning website, designed by Cal Poly-educated web designer Ilsa Brink.  It transitions across two background themes; at the moment, these both apparently tie in to Hawkins’ current novel Into the Water.  The novel has a basic format across the top, with seven text buttons below the banner.  Two of these highlight her most recent books, but there is no reference to her “past life” as Amy Silver; indeed, if you go on to Ms. Hawkins’ Amazon page, there is no reference to her as Amy Silver, and vice versa.

The Good:

If you’re looking for a modern website with some pop, look no further than Paula Hawkins’ website.  It doesn’t do anything unusual, but it provides well-designed, strong visual cues, including pictures of the beautiful artwork on her book covers.  Due to the need for visual appeal, the website does a great deal to keep writing sparse.  With the exception of “Events,” there aren’t many items that are heavy with text above the fold.

The text, where present, is persuasive.  Not only does she include the copy that one would typically find on the jacket or on the back-cover, she also includes a copious amount of positive reviews.  It seems to come from the philosophy ‘if 9 out of 10 reviewers agree, you must read this book.’

One of the first items below the fold (for each respective book) is a button for a reading guide.  I’ve seen this on a few other sites.  I like the reading guide as a means of continuing the conversation, and of allowing readers to take ownership over some of the concepts in the book.  Many reading guides offer open-ended, judgement based questions, as well as some questions that require higher level speculation; Hawkins’ guides are particularly strong in the former.

The Bad:

I’ve said it several times before, but it bears repeating. Yes, you are using a website to sell your books, but you don’t need to make it so painstakingly obvious.  Hawkins’ homepage goes directly to the books.  Right after you see the covers, you see buttons “Order US/UK/CA.”  Before you know anything about the books (aside from what you brought with you when you decided to visit the site), you’re already asked to order.  There’s a little slugline about Hawkins’ credentials, but not much else in terms of telling you what to expect with the book.

Overall:

The site is beautifully designed.  Beyond this, if I became a Hawkins groupie, I would know where to find her on any given night.  I can’t fault the designer or the author for this site, as they are doing much of what they’re supposed to do.  I guess the problem I’ve seen is that there’s not much to draw me to this site if I’ve already bought the book.  Whereas some authors include games, notes, and other interactive items on their websites, this website does not hide the fact that it is there to sell books.

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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.

Breaking the Shell: Sharing my Work in Public (Again)

March 27, 2017

Writing takes time.  Good writing takes even longer.  If you do any writing for leisure, you can consider yourself a writer.  My grandfather often points to me, out of his eight grandchildren, as the writer in the family, because I write novels in my spare time.  He writes memoirs, and these are a gift to his grandchildren every Christmas.  He may not think of himself as such, but he is a writer, too.  Of course, there are certain aspects of the craft that he might not do as much as a typical fiction writer, such as editing or fretting over word choice, but he certainly can write.  His memoirs are frequently entirely in capital letters, but that’s a different story altogether.  He is a writer because he shares insights about a world that are lost to people of my generation; he has a tale to tell, and he uses the written word to tell it.

In this way, my grandfather is much more of a writer than I am.  I have written fiction for many years.  Many of the short stories that I’ve written are lost due to the burnt silicon of years past, and other works are still floating around my hard drive, looking for an ending.  I have two completed novels, one that has been edited, and one that is in need of a 33% reduction in length.  I also have enough incomplete novels to keep me busy for years. Outside of me, my wife, and a number of beta readers, I have not leaked any of these projects out to the public.  In fact, not counting the time I read a portion of my current work-in-progress to some fellow writers in a crowded restaurant, I hadn’t publicly shared any portion of my writing projects for about five years — that is, until yesterday.  For the first time since college, I’ve joined a writing group that has a regular meeting schedule, established rules, and a consistent following.  Yesterday, while most of the poets in the group were likely attending a festival called “The Celebration of the Muse,” I stood up in front of a sparse crowd of memoir writers and poets and shared my current work in progress, tentatively titled “Their Sharpest Thorns.”

I was one of the last readers of the day.  Considering how much others had shared, and how much free time we had, I could have read much more, but I kept myself true to the group’s designated time limit of 5 to 8 minutes.  As the new guy, I stuck as close as I could to the five minute mark.

Before I go on about my own writing, I’d like to share some thoughts about what I’d previously heard.  Before I got up to the podium, I’d heard one woman describe living in abject poverty in the midst of Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl era, another woman described learning to drive on one of the most treacherous roads in the region with her three siblings in the back seat, and a third described having her wallet stolen from her hostel on the first morning in a strange land.   These are three experiences that I have no real grounds for understanding.  California, and particularly the Bay Area, was booming throughout my childhood. I learned to drive on an empty country road, and waited months before I drove down Highways 5  and 99 for my first long trip by car.  I’ve never been out of the country on my own, and never spent the night in a hostel.  I’ve heard several people state this, but there is an entire generation that has never experienced war of the magnitude of WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.  There is still a lack of social justice in the World, but the fight is different than what the world “we” saw in the 1960s, even if it is the same fight, but a different venue.  Sharing those differences, whether it is a difference of time, socioeconomic status, gender, race, or anything else that makes you unique is one way of providing others with a perspective of what it means to be you.

As for my experience, it’s a little different.  When I write, I attempt to convey stories and illustrate characters.  On Saturday, I was the lone fiction writer, and my reading was nestled between two expressive and enthralling poets.  These two men, like most of the others in this group, are each at least twice my age.  They lived through the Summer of Love, and they saw friends and neighbors go off to fight battles on foreign soil.

The man immediately preceding me has a wry and capricious wit.  The other poet jokingly categorized his friend’s work as almost pornographic.  I wouldn’t go that far, but it was something that my parents wouldn’t have wanted me to hear when I was a child.  That said, it was very clever, and his use of wordplay, and the absurd personification of an MP3 player, was a treat.  “Ike,” or whatever his actual name might have been, served as a gentle reminder prior to my own presentation of the power of timeliness in wording.

After Ike presented, I stood up.  I was already talking, sharing a little bit about myself before I made it to the lectern.  This, is a presentation no-no, as a pregnant pause at the lectern reminds people that the chatter has ended and the presentation is about to begin.  It reminds you that your time as the audience has ended and that it is now your time to shine.  I forgot that, and needed a gentle reminder, after the fact, that I needed to do this in order to have better command over the room.

When I started, I blew through introducing myself and introducing my work so quickly that I was easily ten seconds ahead of when I’d timed myself earlier.  I was stumbling over words that I’d read several times (out loud to my wife, out loud to my cat, and in my head multiple times).  I knew that I needed to slow down.  I think I gained a little more command of the piece as I went through, but the nerves and “rust” were slow to slough away. By the time I’d run out of words to say, I felt spent.  I think the only adverb that I could use to describe my amble back to my seat would be “drunken.”  I was humbled as I took my seat in the midst of the seasoned vets, but their applause and comments were very supportive, and I knew that I hadn’t completely swayed from my intent.

After I sat down, the moderator, poet Keith Emmons, had a few kind words, and began reading from his own work.  As a spoken word poet, Mr. Emmons is enthralling, and it reminded me of how a talented rhapsode can evoke such interest in their words based solely on their delivery.  Through his poetry, as well as his delivery, he shared the essence of what it is to live the bohemian life in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  He was also there to pitch his book of poetry, Moondrifter Reverie.  I have heard Keith speak several times, enough to become familiar with his style.  I was happy to order his book.  I’m not a poetry critic, but I may share some of my findings once I receive my copy.

Moondrifter Reverie is available from Red Mountain Press of Santa Fe, NM.

—-

You may be curious about what I’ve shared.  At this point, I’ll just leave you with a synopsis of this scene from “Their Sharpest Thorns”:

An aging small-town sheriff is faced with his first major case in years; several people have died due to particularly grisly, ritual murders in his town.  He has just come from the scene of the first murder, where he recovered the body of a backpacker.  He already has another backpacker in his custody.  Is she the killer? He sincerely hopes that the answer is no.

—-

On a somewhat unrelated note, my company is hosting a conference this week.  For this reason, I may not be able to get to comments or follow-up posts until later this week. Wednesday’s blog post may be delayed. I hope that this conference will generate some useful tidbits that will cut from my career to my passion.  We’ll have to see.   I will announce my next blog publication through the appropriate channels as soon as it occurs.

Photo courtesy of Congerdesign via Pixabay. Creative Commons license.

Endearing Characters

February 1, 2012

Today, I conducted my first job interview. I was part of a gauntlet of employees interviewing candidates for an open position within my company. I cannot speak to how this one candidate did it, but I am fairly certain that we were all impressed. We each had our takeaways of positives and negatives, and the odd thing is one person’s perception of this candidate was very different from the next, in large part because we were all looking for how this candidate would impact our sphere of influence. During our debriefing, the entire episode had me thinking about endearing characters. What makes a character endearing? I’d have to say that the creation of endearing characters is one of high risk, high reward. Yet again, I will call upon a couple of old standbys to describe characterization.
The subsequent tangent leaves me thinking about what I should read next, as well as how I can improve my characterization.

As a reader, I value books that are epic in scope. I love ensemble casts, and enjoy imagining Gary Sinise in one role and James Roday in another. Two of my favorite books in recent memory have been Stephen King’s The Stand and Robert McCammon’s Swan Song, not only because of their similar subject matter (the end of the Earth as we know it), but because of the ways in which they handle characters. I’ve come to realize that many of the characters that are so endearing in these books are endearing because of similar traits; they’re all loners or only trusting of a select few, they all have some uniqueness about them that goes beyond their personality, and they don’t need to be rocket scientists or wonder women to be heroic.

Both King and McCammon include characters who may seem inarticulate—or even flat out dumb—but who are, in fact, men of high moral fiber; the latter, Josh Hutchins, is a pariah and plays the heel in his wrestling career, while the former, Tom Cullen, is illiterate, slow-witted, and just as likely to end up in Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as he is in The Stand. Both make mistakes that cause them to become social pariahs—Hutchins accidentally injures another wrestler, while Cullen (on a much smaller level), rebukes the lust-driven Julie Lawry. At that same time, both also have a strong sense of protecting what is good and innocent; Hutchins protects Sue Wanda (Swan) after her mother dies, while Tom protects Nick Andros and Stu Redman. Though they may not be aware of why they do what they do—especially so in the case of Tom Cullen—they protect those who treat them well; ultimately, those who are the backbone of the story.

Both Tom and Josh befriend people who are innocent and, for the most part, helpless. Tom plays the white knight to Nick Andros, who is deaf and dumb (“M-O-O-N, that spells deaf and dumb”), while Josh’s ward, Swan, is a nine year old girl who becomes an orphan when her mother succumbs to radiation poisoning. Nick Andros, perhaps my favorite character in The Stand outside of Tom Cullen (or perhaps Glen Bateman, or… or… or), is a drifter. When we first encounter Nick, he is on his way through Arkansas before he gets accosted by the local welcoming committee. Pardon the turn of phrase, but he doesn’t even hear them coming. When he finally finds a survivor and compatriot, Nick cannot even communicate with the guy because he (Tom) is illiterate. In fact, he has to count on that same sex-crazed chaos-addicted Julie Lawry for any translation whatsoever. Swan, on the other hand, is young and helpless, having transplanted herself her entire life. She has a special gift, a liveliness to her that is infectious, but she is still a child. Admittedly, Nick has left a greater impression on me than Swan, but the idea is still there. Both are unique, and double exceptional in their own respective ways.

Speaking of doubly exceptional, King’s Donald Merwin Elbert (bumpty-bumpty-bump) and McCammon’s Sister Creep are the third pairing of endearing characters. Though they are endearing because of a similar issue, they are endearing for completely different reasons. Elbert, The Trashcan Man, is a pyromaniac—a mentally ill man driven there due to his own mistakes, the constant teasing he received in grade school, and a lifetime of institutionalization/incarceration. Though the Trashcan Man appears to worship the devil (i.e. R.F.), he isn’t entirely malicious. He feels some remorse for what he did that landed him in jail in the first place. Though he often acts out of hate, the way in which it is presented is sad, yet humorous; namely, a schizoid on a rampage. However, in his muddled brain, is he really that much more malicious than McCammon’s bag lady, Sister Creep? Sister Creep, the New York bag lady who has had psychotic episodes, whose alcoholism has led to death and whose depression has led to her forgetting her own name, starts out very much like The Trashcan Man, out to get hers and drawn in by her own paranoia, but her character arc is far more heroic. Ultimately, she sides with Swan and not the Devil, though she never quite wins the reader’s trust until she’s practically all of the way to Mary’s Rest (let’s skip the plot points on this one).

As mentioned, three different sets of characters, three different facets that define these characters. Though I have not delved into why these facets have made them so endearing, I’ve provided a jumping off point. In truth, the reason for this jumping off point comes from the fact that, while these are ‘recent reads,’ I last read them about a year ago, but it also speaks to a fundamental disconnect between the seed and the tree. I’ve shown you part of the seed, and now it’s up to you to read them for yourselves to find the tree.

Connecting this affair to my personal writing, I have many characters that I want to make endearing, both in my first novel, Absconded by Sin, and in my current endeavor, Butano (tentative). However, the want and the activation are two separate things entirely. One of my beta readers identified Brooke (from Absconded by Sin) as an endearing character simply due to the way that she arrives on the scene, quibbling with a gas station attendant. Ironically, this character then floats through several sections of the novel, but that is where my beta reader gets hooked. Perhaps it’s all in the introduction, just like an interview. First impressions can be long lasting, after all.

Think back to some of the classic books or movies that you remember. Where do we first see Charlie Bucket? How about Willy Wonka? How about Nero Wolfe? If these names aren’t doing much for you, perhaps you’ve spent your down time differently, but it’s an interesting conclusion to posit (or maybe just a busy workweek doing the talking): to make a character endearing, you (read: the author) have to go back to the beginning. If you don’t endear the character to the reader immediately, then you’ll struggle to do so all the way through the last act.