Archive | November 2012

Running Interference

I have this theory of the universe that states, if you are in a certain place and you see something bad happening, you’re there to interfere.

For instance, if I’m walking my dog and I see an exasperated father putting up Christmas decorations saying to his young son, “Stop crying. You want a whomp sandwich?” I will purposefully pause and let my dog sniff around while I admire the display.

The presence of stranger is often enough shake most people to their senses. I need not say a thing to change the situation.  Being there, being witness, affords the moment of interference, the second of disconnect that is needed to separate the momentarily angry man and his anger and force him to remember himself, and his love for his son.

Sometimes more active interference is required. A well done swoon at a party between two squabbling people is very helpful — the man will usually catch you. Hiccups are a great humorous interference in a store aisle near a vexed parent and her crying child. A gestalt scream, outdoors at the park, will certainly stop someone about to hit a dog or throw a rock at a squirrel or set something on fire.

I interfere in other ways too. I’ll stop and pick up the dying wild rabbit that was just hit by a car right in front of my eyes, and I’ll wrap it in my scarf and give it a loving passing. Or if I see an injured orphan bird or kitten that’s in need of rescue, I figure that’s something that needs my help or maybe I’m supposed to adopt it.

I’d be an awful wildlife documentary maker, because I’d rarely let “nature run its course.” I’m not against wild animals killing each other. But if I saw a lion cub with a broken back, dragging i’s back legs, struggling after its mother and I saw that mother leave it to die, I would certainly collect the lion, take it to a vet, and see if it could be saved and released back into the wild.

Even though I’m a writer, there’s simply no such thing as “observer status” in my world. Like Schrödinger and his famous Cat , I am a part of the great experiment. There’s no avoiding it. And if there’s no avoiding it, I might as well go the whole nine yards and change the situation for the better.

I’m afraid no one will ever convince me running interference is anything but a respectable and necessary pastime. So, if you see me running your way . . . trust me, you want to let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

The Page Count Perk / Pitfall

One of the best perks and worst pitfalls in being a famous author (or self-published) is that your books can be just as long as you want them to be and your publishing house will never call you on it.

  •  Harry Potter: Book 1 is 128 pgs; Book 7 is 784 pgs. Out of control, exponential growth of over 500%.
  • Twilight increased over 35%. However, there were fewer books in the series and the first book was larger to begin with. Book 1 : 544 pgs; Book 4: 768 pages.
  • Shades of Grey increased only 10% over the 3 book series. Book1 : 524 pgs; Book 3 : 592 pgs.

Famous authors get trapped in marketing, merchandising and making a buck by having their books turned into movies. It’s not surprising. People write to make a living. I certainly don’t object to that! Self-published authors get into trouble because no one tells them stop. Most don’t have editors. Few friends who might read it in advance will bring the hammer down.

Still, it’s a sad when a good book gets picked up by a big six publishing house (which does have editors!) and turned into a series, which is then sold to Hollywood. It means the author is now going to expound (at great length, unimpeded) on a topic over the course of X number of books and in a way that’s going to make for a good movie.

I don’t mind big individuals book — James Michener, Margaret Mitchell, MM Kaye, Tolstoy, James Clavell — I’ve read them all. Or a hefty series — although even John Jakes’s largest series (which began with The Bastard)  and ran to 9 books only grew 50% (topping out at Book 9 — 817 pgs), which was hardly enormous considering the series was relating a detailed history of the US!  But, I have to admit, for me, these days size matters.

I just don’t bother to read a book over 300 pages anymore and I prefer my books to be 125 to 250 pages — even if the books are part of a series. In that past, this wasn’t a problem. Agatha Christie wrote book after book, most of them part of a series (Miss Marple; Poirot), but she never wrote a long book. She never allowed her fame to make her forget her readers and, too, I think her publisher made sure all her works got a good editing and were kept at a manageable size for readers.

I can understand a modest increase  in page count over a long series covering complex material. Often times with a series there are more details to wrap up, as well I know. Book 1 of my Sarsfield Hexology is 226 pages, Book 6 is 271. However, 20% growth over 6 books is not bad when the maximum page count is still only 271! All the books are of a size that’s easy to read over a weekend or holiday, because I considered that in the writing of them.

Anyway, I think if I could wish any gift upon a writer, especially a truly famous one (or a self-published one), it would be the gift of an honest, fearless editor. That alone would save the world from so many enormous wild turkeys!

Good Me, Bad Me . . . E’gad, Me.

This is good me.

And let’s be clear, even good me is not very good.

This is me rolling my eyes toward heaven and thinking something along the lines of “hmm, do I write him back and say I’m breaking it off (because he’s just not intellectual enough), or do I just string him along for the holidays because I’ve nothing better on and I hate going to holiday parties without an escort.”

Like I said, good me, still not very good.

But bad me? Oh so very bad.

On any given day, you might meet either me, or even both mes. Some days even I don’t know which I am, so I can’t make you any promises. But I try to keep the balance tipped slightly to the good. It’s easy to do because good me has a great sense of humor that, once deployed, can override almost any deviltry bad me can concoct.

I think on balance I’m rather normal. Except, I tend to enjoy my life more than most because I’m not terribly introspective. Introspection is such a buzz kill. Live your life, don’t analyze it.

People hate this about me, my joie de vivre. Or they do until they realize it’s something they can have too.  You can love life every day, even when people die, or your home is swept away, or your life’s work goes up in flames, or . . . .

Loving life is about loving being alive. Now.

Wow. That’s starting to sound introspective. I’d better stop.

Good Me needs to write a letter; Bad Me needs to find a winter fling.

Congrats to the Goodreads’ winners!

Congrats to the two winners from Goodreads, who each won a copy of my latest book (Lily Does Sweden) — beating out over 630 other discerning gentlefolk.

Your personally inscribed, autographed books are on their way!

And, to those of you that didn’t win . . . I’ve put up another Goodreads giveaway  for this month, so feel free to hazard a chance for the next 2 copies of Lily Does Sweden.

If Steve Jobs Wrote a Book

Lots of things have been written about Steve Jobs, but it’s interesting to note that Steve never wrote a book. I’m guessing that’s because of his production philosophy.

Jobs always advocated releasing a product he knew had flaws, letting people complain, and then letting those people fixing things.

He got consumers to buy a flawed product, tell him what was wrong (testing) with his product (for free), and then figure out the fixes (R&D) for his product (for free), which fixes he then perfected (paid work), patented, and sold to those consumers again.

Brilliant? Maybe. But in theory not the sort of thing you can do with a book.

If you turn out a flawed book, there’s no do over. People don’t keep using the book, tell you where the errors are, and then re-buy the book after you fix them.  Well, not in the past anyways. Today however, things are somewhat different.

If you sell ebooks and discover a flaw, you can immediately correct it and re-upload it for free, so that the next purchaser has a better experience. You still might get bad buzz (on quality from the first few buyers), but it’s a situation a book can recover from rather quickly.

I have to admit to releasing flawed things. Partly it’s dyslexia and lack of stereoscopic vision, I really cannot see the flaw. Partly it’s rethinking things over time. I just re-did my ebook and physical book this week to get rid of errors and correct a few things.

I used to stress out about releasing flawed books, but I don’t anymore. I figure, if someone buys an early flawed edition of a print book, it’s not going to be on the market long, so they get rare first edition.

Less guilt, more happiness. Thanks, Steve! Love you, man!