Sunday, November 30, 2008

Reading Update #8a and Book Hunting!

Another incomplete reading update. Since the last update I did what I normally don't do and read the same book every time I had a chance to read, no matter the location. This way I finished Ceres Storm by David Herter and I got to page 285 in A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain. There it said END OF VOL. I. So, I've decided to put it aside for now and read VOL II, the second half of the book, at a later date.

As threatened, on our drive to Asheville to visit the in-laws we listened to A History of the English Language by Michael Drout. We only made it half way through the fourth lesson (of 14) but everyone is enjoying it. I missed the beginning of this conversation, so I don't know how it came up, but it was gratifying to hear my seven year old son explain to his grand father that the Japanese use three alphabets. So he is picking some of this up as well.

We arrived in Asheville Tuesday evening. After eating out we were driving back to house when my father in-law took some back roads that brought us into the back entrance of a shopping center. This shopping center had a book store that was not here the last time we visited. I had not planned on doing any book shopping until Friday, but it was about 8:15 and book store was open. I had them drop me off and leave me there (which, believe me, seemed perfectly normal to everyone). After taking everyone else back to the house my father in-law had to run back out to get something and then he picked me up at 9:00. Luckily the store is only about a mile from their house.

The store in question is Mr. K's. For those of you who have book shopped in Nashville, Knoxville or Chattanooga, TN, this store is remarkably like the McKay's you have there, just smaller. I didn't find very much that I was actively looking for, but I did buy: The Grand Wheel by Barrington J. Bayley, Brand of the Werewolf and Lost Oasis (Doc Savage books 4 and 5), Orbital Decay by Allen Steele and Lost Continents: The Atlantis Theme in History, Science and Literature by L. Sprague de Camp.

On Friday I made it to the Holy Grail of book stores in Asheville, Downtown Books & News. I love this store because paperbacks are 1/2 cover price, even the old 35 cent paperbacks. I bought The Triumph of Time by James Blish and Station in Space by James Gunn, both for 18 cents. Doctor to the Stars by Murray Leinster for 20 cents and Bettyann by Chris Nevile for 38 cents. Bette Farmer was good friends with Chris' wife Lil, and she has asked me a few times over the years if I had ever read anything by him. Now I'll get the chance. I also bought a trade paperback of Off the Wall at Callahans's by Spider Robinson. This is a collection of quotes from the series and might just be the perfect bathroom book. I also bought a trade paperback of The Anubis Gate by Tim Powers, which comes highly recommended by Win Scott Eckert.

My next stop was Books by Linda. I've been here before and didn't have high hopes as it has a very small science fiction section (a fraction of the size of the romance section) but I did get lucky and find Earth Invader by Randall Garrett. I've only read his Lord Darcy series and the short story collection, The Best of Randall Garrett but he is an old friend of Phil Farmer's (he actually lived with them for a while) and I'm always looking for his older books.

Overall the book hunting was ok. Having been through the same stores around Atlanta over and over I was really looking forward to visiting stores I haven't been to in a couple of years. If I'm lucky there is another store or two that we might hit on the way back to Atlanta this afternoon.

Which of these will I start reading when I get back home? I have three slots to fill and no idea where I'm going to start. It might not even be any of these as I still have plenty of books at home I can't wait to read.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Reading Update #8

As you know if you've been here before, I like to read more than one book at a time, keeping books in different locations instead of carrying one book around with me everywhere. Sometimes however, books I start reading in one place get moved to another location so I can read them more quickly.

In the downstairs bathroom: I'm switching up the order here because I finished The Forest of Peldain by Barrington J. Bayley so I moved Ceres Storm by David Herter downstairs. I started them at about the same time but got through the shorter Bayley book much more quickly.

In his recommendation of Barrington J. Bayley, Rhys Hughes said, "Popular writers of fantastical fiction give the reading public one or two 'ideas' per book. We are comfortable with such paucity because it doesn't challenge us. We can't really stand what Bayley offered -- dozens of ultra-clever original high level IDEAS per chapter -- though we always claim that's exactly what we want! Bayley was a high concept writer who worked out his amazing conceits in the guise of hardish science fiction."

I don't think this book fits his description very well. First it was more fantasy than hard science fiction. While it did have a lot of interesting ideas or inventions, for the most part they were extensions of the same idea. However it did surprise me more often that the typical fantasy novel, even those that turn out to have scientific underpinnings instead of magical. There were many places I knew something was coming, but I was never able to accurately guess what it was.

Despite this book not living up to my expectations I rather enjoyed it and I look forward to reading more by Bayley. Now, I really wish I could find some Rhys Hughes at the local bookstore.

In the bedroom: As I mentioned above, I was reading Ceres Storm by David Herter here but I shifted it downstairs where I seem to have more reading time. So far I have only averaged about a dozen pages a day over the last two weeks. I can't say if I'm not finding it compelling because I'm reading it so slow, or if I'm reading it so slow because I can't get into it. As I said last week, the author doesn't give you a lot of information as he goes along. Sometimes you read something that tells you what happened twenty pages before. Only when you were reading twenty pages back, you had no idea you missed something.

I'm not sure what to make of this book. One thing is for sure, I never have any idea what is going to happen next. Not the slimmest clue what I'll find on the next page. It is just completely alien. Which, if you think about it, science fiction should be. This book is set in our far distant future, things should be hard to grasp. I'm assuming it will pay off in the end, I will let you know.

I haven't decided what I'm reading upstairs next. I have dozens of books near the top of my "read next" list and I'm hoping some others will arrive in the mail today.

At the office: I'm still reading A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain. I'm going to bring this home next week and take it with me when we go to Asheville for five days over Thanksgiving. I haven't been to Asheville in a few years but they have a number of really good bookstores. I've been hording my cash and updating the list of authors I am hunting for and hope to leave a lot of cash behind me up there. I'll let you know in my next update.

In the car: I finished Super Crunchers : Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart by Ian Ayres but I was not hit with any further inspirations, either work related or story related. The book did make me want to read and/or listen to more books that are math related.

Yesterday I picked up A Way with Words: Writing, Rhetoric, and the Art of Persuasion by Michael Drout. I'll start this tomorrow but I don't think I'll finish it before we leave town. The plan for the nearly four hour drive is to listen to A History of the English Language also by Michael Drout. I just finished it last week but I really want my wife and kids to listen to it.

These are both part of the Modern Scholar series of college lectures on cd. If you have access to these through your library (and not just Michael Drout's) I can't recommend them enough. Especially if you have kids. Let your 8th grader get a taste of what a really good college professor can do.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Reading Update #7a

I'm calling this update #7a instead of #8 because, even though it has been a week, I haven't finished anything I was reading at this time last week! I'm still reading Ceres Storm by David Herter upstairs, The Forest of Peldain by Barrington J. Bayley downstairs and A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain at work.

I did however finish A History of the English Language by Michael Drout, in the car. As I said before I'm going to listen to this again when we drive to Asheville for Thanksgiving as I think my wife and daughter will get even more out of it than I did.

Since then I've been listening to Super Crunchers : Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart by Ian Ayres. The neat thing about listening to this book is that while I am coming up with ideas for the company I work for on how we can use our customer data more effectively; more importantly I am getting ideas for stories!

The first one he hand feeds the listener. He talks about how the IRS has so much information about us that if they decided to start super crunching and then providing that data to us, they could become the Information & Revenue Service. Imagine getting a letter in the mail from them telling you that couples with your income and your amount of consumer debt are 57% more likely to get divorce in the next two years than couples with no debt. The possibilities are endless. Or perhaps a story where the government secretly compiles all this data and uses it to finally figure out how to effectively govern. I'm sure I can find a moral dilemma or two in there somewhere.

I wrote about a story idea before, with computers predicting the future (just not in real time so far) but as they get more data, and faster processors they get better and better at it until they can see the future completely. Things in this book have been tickling at the edges of that story idea. Whether it's just providing some of the details along the way, or actually changing the story remains, to be seen.

Unfortunately listening to this in the car means I didn't write down a couple of germs of ideas it gave me. Hopefully they will come back to me as I listen to the rest of the book.

Not surprisingly I get most of my ideas for science fiction stories, when I read about science, not when I read fiction. You'd think I would read more science books because of this...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Taking book recommendations and reading update #7

While I love talking about books with anyone and everyone, and I'm always recommending books to people, I'm often surprised when they recommend them to me. My first reaction is usually to think, "Wait, you're telling me what I should read? You're confused, that's not why we're here." I try to catch myself and get my head of out my, um library, when I do this, but its funny how often it happens.

Not to say I do this with everyone. Mostly it happens with people who come to my house, see all the books and have an appropriate look of awe on their face. There are many people who recommend books to me and I eagerly follow their advice. I mention this today because a lot of my reading at the moment is based on recommendations.

In the bedroom: I finished The Last Colony by John Scalzi. At first I wasn't overly impressed with this third book in the Old Man's War series. But then he pulls the rug out from under you and things get very interesting. You know how you're reading a book, or watching a movie, and you think, "Why doesn't he/she just tell so and so this or that, then it will all work out!" But they never do? I was thinking along those lines in this book...and then they did! I was rather surprised. Its not every day I read a book and it ends the way I would have ended it. In fact that almost never happens, to me anyway. As you will see below, I think I'm enjoying Scalzi so much because he thinks like I do.

I've since started reading Ceres Storm by David Herter. This author comes highly recommended by Christopher Paul Carey. Although not the titles he specifically recommended, Ceres Storm is one book I happened to find while trolling used book stores last week. I haven't gotten deep into the book yet, but so far the only thing I have noticed is that he is very understated. I find myself learning something in a scene that tells me I have to go back in fill in the blanks in a previous scene because something happened there that I didn't realize.

In the downstairs bathroom: Two Fridays ago (I think), Your Hate Mail will be Graded arrived in the mail from Subterranean Press. I finished it yesterday. This is a random selection of posts from John's ten year-old blog, Whatever. I enjoyed the vast majority of the book, only skimming over several entries, while amazingly finding myself agreeing with John's opinions on the majority of them. Its almost like he is what I would be like with a better vocabulary and an extroverted personality.

I just started another book that comes to me via an author recommendation. This time it comes from Rhys Hughes about Barrington J. Bayley, an author I had never even heard before he passed away a couple of weeks ago. The Forest of Peldain was the only other book I found while out book hunting last week (along with Ceres Storm), so I decided to take it as a sign and read both of them. I don't read two science fiction books at the same time if I think there is any chance I will get them confused because of similarities. I don't think I need to worry about it in this case, but I'll let you know. I'm still hunting for The Anubis Gate by Tim Powers, a recent recommendation, through this blog, by Win Scott Eckert.

At the office: I'm still reading A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain. I may be reading this for a while as I've only made it into the office two days a week lately (working from home the other five days of the week). Although I may shift this book to another location if this continues. I'd rather not take two months to read anything.

In the car: I'm currently listening to A History of the English Language by Michael Drout. This is part of the Modern Scholar series of books on cd I have mentioned before. I am enjoying this so much I am going to listen to it again over Thanksgiving when my wife and kids and I drive up to Asheville North Carolina. I know that my wife will grasp much more of it than I have since she is much better at spelling, grammar, etc... I think my 13 year old daughter will pick up enough from it to have an impact on her English courses through the rest of high school. Hopefully my seven year old son won't go too insane with boredom. Although he may enjoy the third and fourth lectures on Phonetics and Phonology. Who knows, listening to a college course while he's in the first grade might have an impact on him as well.

Drout has three other Modern Scholar lectures I am looking forward to listening too:
A Way with Words: Writing, Rhetoric, and the Art of Persuasion
A Way with Words II: Approaches to Literature
A Way with Words III: Understanding Grammar for Powerful Communication

While the Heath Ledger movie, A Knight's Tale is one of my all time favorites, I can't promise that I will listen to Drout's: Bard of the Middle Ages: The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. I'll probably start it, but I can't say I'm optimistic about finishing it.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Listening to books

First, I am thinking about renaming this blog "Mike is thinking about books but he's too busy to blog about it." But since my original blog title was already a bit too long I guess I'll refrain. I am disappointed I only managed four blogs through the entire month of October, and none in the second half. Let's see if November is any better.

I listened to two books on cd this past month that drove home a point I already knew. There are three types of audio book readers:

1. The author

2. A professional reader

3. A celebrity, usually an actor

And that is the order of preference. Believe me. It doesn't matter how bad, how unmelodious, nasally, gravelly or shrill, an author's voice is, no one will read their book better than they do.

For example, one of the first audio books I ever did was an abridged* version of Foundation by Isaac Asimov. At first I couldn't believe what I was hearing. A stereotypical Brooklyn Jewish accent was not setting the tone for far future galactic empires. Then I flipped the case over and saw it was Asimov himself doing the reading. Ok, fine, I thought, but he really isn't any good.

When I finished the tape I went back and got the next book in the series. This was read by a professional reader. Ah, good I thought, this is much better. For about five minutes, then I missed Asimov! As good as the reading was, it was just flat and emotionless compared to what Isaac brought to it.

Here's a more recent example. Last month I listened to Sex, Drug & Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman, read by the author. As you will see if you listen to this sample excerpt, your first thought won't be "wow, what a great voice." But listen to the stress he puts on words like "completely," "vaguely," "feels," and "ever" in that short passage. Listen to the longer pauses, where I'm pretty sure you will find commas instead of periods of you were reading this. No professional would read it exactly the same as Chuck did and he's the one who knows how it supposed to sound!

Here are two examples from the other end of the spectrum, celebrity readers. With all due respect to John Ritter, Rip Torn and too many others to list, if you are not a regular audio book listener and you recognize the name of the person reading the book, skip it. Assuming its not the author of course.

I did a Dave Barry collection one time, read by Dave Barry himself and it was hilarious. Several months later I found another Dave Barry collection but this one was read by John Ritter. As it turns out there were a few articles that appeared in both books, so I could really compare apples to apples. There was one about some guys who participate in parades as a group on their riding lawn mowers. When Dave read this it was funny, certainly funnier than if you just read it yourself. When John Ritter read it, it was actually unfunny. And not just because I'd heard it before and I knew the punch lines. In fact there was one particular line I was waiting for, perfectly timed and delivered by Dave, that Ritter read straight through like he was trying to finish the paragraph in one breath.

And that is the essence of my next complaint. I mentioned recently that I listened to A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut, read by Norman Dietz--more on him in a minute. I just tried to listen to Armageddon in Retrospect, also by Vonnegut. This however was read by Rip Torn. A fine actor, but he sure seemed to be in a hurry while reading this. I'm guessing he was paid a flat fee and not by the hour. I just had the feeling he was trying to get the whole thing done as fast as possible or they offered him a bonus if they could fit it on four cds and save money in production. I actually gave up on it and couldn't finish it.

Ok, back to Norman Deitz. Let me just say right here that Recorded Books needs to do the world a service and hire him to read every single word Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut have ever written. If you listen to this sample of Huckleberry Finn or this sample of Tom Sawyer you'll see what I mean. He isn't just reading the book, he's performing the book. And performing it brilliantly.

There are some exceptions, there are a few professional readers that I just can't listen to. But there are many readers who are so good that I'll get a book just because they are reading it, even if the book itself didn't look that interesting at first. Besides the aforementioned Mr. Dietz here are some strong recommendations: Michael Pritchard (especially reading Rex Stout and Clive Cussler), Simon Prebble (Dick Francis), Frederick Davidson (P.G. Wodehouse), Mark Hammer (the only way to do Faulkner), Barbara Rosenblat (Dorothy Gilman) & George Guidall (too many to list!).

I know I am leaving many out others, I will try and compile a more comprehensive list in the near future. In fact, talking about audio books was one of the first reasons I ever thought about doing a blog. I also wanted to talk about something else I'm currently listening to, but I guess I'll save that for Thursday.

*Note: abridged books are a travesty and should be illegal. I only listened to them at first because I didn't know any better and I was paying for them; the longer the book, the more it cost. This was before I discovered our local library system has more audio books than the store that was renting them.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Reading Update #7

In the bedroom: I'm about half way through The Last Colony by John Scalzi. I've been doing a lot of yard work this week, several hours at a time, which usually results in me falling asleep pretty quickly and not staying up until 2:00am to read no matter how much I want to.

In the downstairs bathroom: I'm reading AD INFINITVM: A Biography of Latin. So far it is pretty interesting, but not compelling enough to keep me sitting there reading until my legs go numb. So after almost a week I'm only up to page 46. If I don't pick up the pace, or shift the book to another location (as I sometimes do), I probably won't get all the way through it.

At the office: I started A Tramp Abroad on Monday. Even though I've only been in the office one day this week, so far (I'll be there tomorrow), I've gotten further in this book than in AD INFINITVM: A Biography of Latin. Of course the pages are smaller and the font is larger. And despite the small number laugh-out-loud passages encountered so far, I do find myself sitting there until my legs start to go numb.

In the car: While still waiting for A History of the English Language by Michael Drout I browsed the library over the weekend picked up, Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman, Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut (which I'm sure I haven't listened to before) and The Google Story by David A. Vise. The first two are pretty short so I'm starting with them. So far I am enjoying Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs immensely, even if I don't really agree with Chuck Klosterman on many of his points.

In fact, Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs is one of those books I read (or listen to) that cause me to realize, again, I will never be a writer. Besides having skill at writing I believe a writer also needs to have something to say; something they feel strongly about, as Chuck clearly does. Typically I find myself either with no strong opinion one way or the other about things, or if I do have a strong opinion, I'd rather not share it. This makes for a very dull writer. I find this trait even affecting my attempts at writing fiction as I often feel that if a character says or does something, people will assume that is something I want to say or do. Or have already done or said. I don't think this when I read someone else's work, I'm pretty sure Stephen King's basement isn't full of dead bodies, but for some reason I find it uncomfortable to do myself.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Reading Update #6 and Story Idea #5

Another Thursday deadline missed, but this past week I hit a perfect storm of deadlines; between updating, finishing Farmerphile #14 and oh yea, some actual work related projects. "Mike is thinking about books" got pushed to the bottom of the list.

In the bedroom: This last week I read The Long Loud Silence by Wilson Tucker. For some reason I seem to go a year or so between reading his books and I'm always a little surprised how good they are and how much I enjoy them. I finished that book on Thursday and then started The Last Colony by John Scalzi. The danger of reading Scalzi, for me anyway, is staying up past 2:00am reading because I can't put the book down.

In the downstairs bathroom: My wife and I were talking to our 8th grade daughter about what foreign language she wants to take in high school, her choices being Spanish, French, German or Latin. Being practical minded she is leaning towards Spanish but my wife and I think she should consider Latin, especially since she (for now) says she wants to be a teacher. So, I went to the library and found AD INFINITVM: A Biography of Latin. I'm reading this hoping I will find something interesting enough, to get her to read, to perhaps pique her curiosity. However, I am a math geek with an engineering degree who always struggled in English and Grammar classes, so the chances of me finishing this book are 50/50.

At the office: I finished Wetware by Rudy Rucker on Friday. I can't imagine what reading his books stoned would be like, but straight they are quite a trip. Earlier this year I bought a 24 volume set of the complete works of Mark Twain. I had already read, or listened to, ten of them before I bought the set, and this is the first time I've had a chance to read one of these. I am taking A Tramp Abroad to the office on Monday. I hope it is even half as good as The Innocents Abroad which is my favorite Twain.

In the car: I wasn't too far into A Man without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut, when I realized I had listened to it before. That's ok, I happily listened to it again. While I was searching the library's database for books on Latin I came across A History of the English Language by Michael Drout. This is part of the Modern Scholar series of college lectures on cd I have talked about before. I put it on hold but since there is a wait I will need to find something else to listen to in the meantime.

Story Idea #5

Reading The Long Loud Silence reminded me of an idea I had a few years ago for an "End of the World" science fiction novel. It starts out with the main character, an unmarried loner, being in the hospital getting an MRI. He is in the machine surrounded by a strong magnetic field and, it being early in the morning, he falls asleep. Outside a meteor passes by very close to the earth and within a few hours nearly every single person and animal on the planet drops dead. Our hero finally wakes up, and after getting no replies to his question about how much longer this is going to take, he eventually slides himself out of the machine. He discovers the technicians on the other side of the glass wall slumped forward on their desks dead.

As he leaves the hospital he finds dead people sitting and lying everywhere. He has a hard time driving home because of all the car accidents which leads him to believe that everyone just dropped dead suddenly. Sometimes he has to get out and move a car or two in order to clear a path but he eventually makes it home.

(I thought about contacting the power company to ask them, if something like this happened, how long would electricity keep flowing? Would it be hours, days, weeks or months before the system shut down because someone didn't flip a switch somewhere. But, this being not that long after 9/11, I decided perhaps that wasn't a prudent idea. Although I am still curious about this.)

Our still freaked out hero goes through the usual steps of going to the nearest grocery store and loading up the biggest vehicle he can find and driving it home to store all the food that won't spoil. He gets a lot of frozen food crossing his fingers that he'll have electricity for a while. He posts messages on the internet hoping any other survivors will reply (again, I need to know how long he'll have electricity). After a few weeks of not finding any sign of other survivors and going out of his mind with boredom, he decides to explore his neighbors' houses for more canned goods. In one of the first few he finds a really nice book collection. This spurs him on to search the whole neighborhood for books and he finds several houses with large collections and some others with, if not large quantities, books he would have at one time considered valuable.

He keeps thinking about these books and eventually he lugs them back to his house. Then he starts widening his search and he finds more and more books until he gets to the point where he empties one of his neighbor's houses of furniture except for the book cases. Then adds more cases which he takes from all the other houses and in some instances builds himself. After a year or two he has a house full of science fiction, another full of mysteries, one of mainstream fiction, one of history, one of science, one of any other non-fiction... He plans longer and longer trips away from home to leave the suburbs and go to stores he knows of in the city. Though only twenty miles away these trips take days because he has to constantly move cars out of the way to get through the tangle of accidents.

As I was thinking about the slow building of the book collection and listing the finds he would make and the journeys he would take it finally dawned on me that there was no real conflict. After the shock of the all the dead bodies and figuring out how to store food and learning how to grow some vegetables, where was the problem? My title for the story was going to be "The Last Book Collector," but once I realized this was more of a fantasy than just an idea for a story...I decided to drop it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Does your whole family read?

While certainly not true in every case, that seems to be how it goes in most families; either everyone reads, or no one does.

In my family my wife reads even more than I do. She reads a lot faster and has more time. Luckily she is not also a book collector or we'd have less money and room than we already do (or don't). She is perfectly happy to read library books and give them back when she is done. Yup, women are strange. This is not to say she doesn't have any valuable books. She does have signed first editions of some of her favorites. But since they were all Christmas or birthday presents from me...I guess that does defeat the point of mentioning them.

We used to read a lot of the same books, but she doesn't read nearly as much science fiction as she used to and I don't read very much fantasy anymore. And if I do it's most likely a 200 page paperback from the 70s (Michael Moorcock's Elrick series or Charles R. Saunders' Imaro series for example) instead of the flood of 500+ page hardcovers that seem to come out every week. She also reads a lot of mysteries, (I do too but usually not the same ones) and non-fiction (again mostly not the same non-fiction I'm reading).

Since they were very young I have been trying to instill a love of reading, and of science fiction, in my children. I have only been half successful with both of them.

My 13 year-old daughter loves to read. But, even though she enjoyed I, Robot very much (when I read it to her) she has no interest in reading any more Asimov. I thought for sure the Heinlein juveniles would work, but they do nothing for her. While she does enjoy the likes of Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, Eragon, and some other newer teen fantasy series, they comprise a small portion of her reading. The rest of it is all teenage girly stuff, that I suppose is probably more relevant to her life than reading about teenage boys in the 40s who build their own rocket from surplus parts and fly to the moon.

With my 7 year-old son things have gone completely the opposite. While he is reading above his grade level, he says he does not like to read. But he loves science fiction. He loves all six of the Star Wars movies. In fact, he even likes the newer ones better than the originals. I haven't given up on the reading yet though. He is fascinated by the book Splinter of the Mind's Eye, but I won't read it to him, I keep telling him he's going to have to do it himself.

I did have a breakthrough with my wife recently. I kept talking about how great John Scalzi's Old Man's War is and then I got a little devious and had her read this entry from his blog. She immediately warmed to him and picked up OMW, then Ghost Brigades, and now she is reading The Last Colony. She zipped past me and got to it before I did.

Notes on writing. I tried to just write the above without doing any self-editing along the way, now I am going to go back and make some changes which I will detail below.

Changed: She reads a lot faster and she has a lot more time
to: She reads a lot faster and has more time.

Changed: Luckily for us she is not also a book collector or we'd have less money and less room in the house than we already do (or don't).
to: Luckily she is not also a book collector or we'd have less money and room than we already do (or don't).

Changed: She is perfectly happy to get books from the library and give them back when she is done.
to: She is perfectly happy to read library books and give them back when she is done.

Changed: I do too but for the most part not the same ones
to: I do too but usually not the same ones

My problem, which didn't manifest itself very much today and I can't think of any examples of, seems to be strings of short words. Just like with the word "that" I find myself looking for "to" and "of" and the words around them to see if they are necessary or not.

Not that I am all that happy with today's blog. The third paragraph is a mess, but I don't have time today to play with it any more.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Reading Update #5

As I admitted on Sunday, I missed my last Thursday deadline for talking about what I am currently reading. I was hoping this blog would put pressure on me to not only keep up my reading at a good clip but to think about writing more. It worked for a little while but lately it hasn't been a strong enough force to overcome the other things in my life which keep me from reading and writing. It is still helping some and I hope it will get better.

In the bedroom: I'm nearly done with Ragamuffin by Tobias Buckell. To quote someone on Toby's blog, "That Pepper is a badass." When I finish it in the next day or two I'm going to read The Last Colony by John Scalzi, if my wife (who reads at least twice as fast as I do) is done with it. If not then I'll read The Long Loud Silence by Wilson Tucker. As usual, this is subject to change.

In the downstairs bathroom: For the time being I have stopped reading the collection of short stories about my favorite comic duo so I can get in the mood to start on Story Idea #1. Doing it a little at a time isn't getting me anywhere. Instead I need to read nothing but that for a while and really sink into it before I get the feel for the characters and dialog enough to try and emulate it.
I am still reading Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey. I would probably be done with it if I didn't spend most of my reading time in there playing a stupid, yet oddly addictive, Bubble Breaking game on my cell phone.

At the office: I'm about a third of the way through Wetware by Rudy Rucker. I am normally in the office three or more times a week, but this is the third straight week I will only make it in twice so I'm not getting much reading done there.

In the car: I have started A Man without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut, but with there being some compelling things in the news lately, I have been listening to the radio more than usual.

A thought on writing. A coworker of mine who has done a lot of freelance writing for small newspapers read one of my monthly updates to a few years ago and offered this observation: nine times out of ten, the word "that" can be eliminated. I reread the entry and realized he was correct, nine of the ten "thats" on the page could be removed.

Removing most "thats" from what I write has become a habit, but as I reread these posts before I publish them I usually notice a word or two I use too often.

(I started to type the last sentence as "...I usually notice a word or two that I use too often." At first it may sound a little abrupt to me without "that" but I bet no one reading the sentence the first time thought it was missing. (I just did it again, I had to remove "that" from "...but I bet that no one reading the sentence the first time thought it was missing."))

Today I used the word "actually" four times. I took them all out.

I've also noticed when I edit these blogs I often go back and make sentences simpler. I will try to provide examples of this on my next blog. (Perhaps needless to say, I originally typed the previous sentence, "I've also noticed that when I edit these blogs..." Maybe its just me, maybe I'm the only one with a that problem.)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Story Idea #4

Well, I missed my self-imposed Thursday deadline for updating my "What I'm Reading List" for the first time. There wasn't much to report as my reading time took a dip this week. I'll get caught up next Thursday.

Here is another idea I have for a story. There are two reasons I haven't actually tried to write this one. The first is I need to go back and find the two books one tape that gave me the ideas, and the second is that I could never exactly figure the ending. The story would be called "The History of the Future" or "The History of Time Travel" or something along those lines. Neither one of them gets it exactly right though.

One of the books I listened to (I have no idea what it was) had to do with the history of science. There I learned that business men were among the first to make good use of Galileo's telescope. Ships coming back to port would raise different colored flags to indicate what kind of cargo they were carrying. They were so far from shore that these flags could only been through a telescope. So these business men would know a day or two ahead of time what commodities were about to be plentiful and they would make money on this information. Apparently that was the equivalent of knowing the final score of a football game before it started.

I'm think the other book I listened to was Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick. The book talked about chaos theory and how with computers scientists are beginning to predict the future; just not exactly in real time. For example they would record data about cloud formations and movements and be able to predict what the clouds would do next. The problem is that it took several days to predict what the clouds would do over the next couple of minutes. So while they were getting accurate results, "predicting" something that happened two days ago isn't very useful.

So my idea for a story would start with cavemen and show an example of one of them realizing that the animals always came to same place to get water, so they could wait for them there instead of always chasing them. Then I'd come up with some examples of people predicting something about the near future before most of the people around them figured it out. Then jump to the telescope, then a few more examples, then onto chaos theory. With chaos theory I look at the impact of faster computers and additional data and how predicting the future of seemingly random things gets faster and more accurate. Then projecting that forward to a time in the future when our brains are all directly connected to the internet and essentially all the information in the world is available. And the computing power gets greater and greater and faster and faster until one day someone runs a program across the internet to predict the future and ...

Not really sure what happens next. Does time lose its meaning if everyone can see any point in the future? And of course knowing the future would have an impact on the future, so perhaps after a few brilliant seconds of clarity it crashes. But if so what crashes, just the program or the internet itself? And what impact does this have on our minds after its shut off?

I guess I've gone into more detail in this outline because I'm probably never going to write this one so I don't care if someone steals it. Then again, I had this idea over five years ago so chances are someone has already written something similar.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Updating the PJF website

As I mentioned in the PJF Newsletter sent out last week, I want your feedback on how to improve

For starters I'm still using the same html from 2001 when the site became Phil's "official" website. And I don't think the html changed much then from the original "unofficial" site I started in 1996. So the website needs to look and feel "updated." Phil Farmer's grandson Torin has volunteered to help with this.

Can you point to features, designs, styles, gadgets or other bells & whistles on other websites you think we should adopt?

I also need to redo most of the descriptions of the books, stories, articles, etc. But is there any other "content" you feel should be added to the site?

Hoping for a lot of feedback here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Reading Update #4

I was going to add a fifth category to this list this week, but I didn't get quite as much reading done like this as I'd hoped. Maybe next week.

In the bedroom: Despite the fact that I have a ton of books at home that I want to read (see the note below), the last time I went to the library to drop off a dozen books on science fair ideas (for my daughter, not me), I looked in the science fiction section and came home with Ragamuffin by Tobias Buckell. This is the sequel to Crystal Rain, which I just finished a few days ago.

In the downstairs bathroom: Here I'm splitting my reading between the collection of short stories about my favorite comic duo so I can prime the pump and start on Story Idea #1. Which I've really been skimming more than reading as I'm looking for certain scenes. At some point when I'm really ready to write I will buckle down and read nothing but this, everywhere, for a week or so. The other book I'm reading is Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey. My wife and I are taking his class and so I get my assigned reading for the week done with him first before getting back to J (oops I almost said it).

At the office: Monday I started Wetware by Rudy Rucker. Wow, imagine Philip K. Dick crossed with, I don't know, Carl Sagan or Stephen Hawking. Serious hardcore science crossed with really mind bending ideas.

In the car: Judaism, Christianity and Islam: The Monotheists. This dry sounding title is in the fantastic Modern Scholar series of audio books. I'm on lecture 8 of 14. I've made some notes but I haven't really found anything likely to spur me onto write the religious story I talked about in the Story Idea #2 blog.

The Note Below. I did some work organizing my library over the last couple of days. This consisted of shifting one or two books from shelf one to shelf two in order to make room for books I had bought over the last several months. Of course shelf two was already full so I had to shift a couple of books from it to shelf three to make room, plus one or two more for the new books that need to go on number two. All this just to keep them in alphabetical order by author. This continued across the wall and by the time I got to the 16th shelf (and keep in mind this is just my non-Farmer science fiction paperbacks), I had 28 books added to the last shelf. If this sounds like a complaint it isn't. I actually can't think of a much more fun way to spend an evening.

But, the interesting thing is how many books I came across that I bought with the intention of reading "next" or at least "really soon." These are the books that are now back near the top of my "reading next" list: The Long Loud Silence by Wilson Tucker, Earthman Go Home by Harlan Ellison, three books by Stanislaw Lem, a half dozen non-Calahan novels and short story collections by Spider Robinson, the last few Elric novels and several other books by Michael Moorcock, nearly a dozen books by Somtow Sucharitkul but I refuse to read any of them until I find the next two Aquilia books and all five Road to Science Fiction anthologies edited by James Gunn. And I just know I've left some items off this list.

The good news is that I will never run out of things to read...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I'm judging this book by its cover.

Ok, this is just to prove to myself that I can write a blog and keep it under 500 words.

I'm probably wrong about this, but I don't think I have ever purchased a book just based on the cover. This statement excludes my Phil Farmer collection where I make it a point of buying a book because it has cover art that I don't have, even if I already have a dozen editions of the book. I'm talking about buying a book that I know nothing about, just because I like the cover.

I can't explain why, but I love the cover J.K. Potter did for the Subterranean Press edition of Last Call by Tim Powers. Unfortunately it is part of a trilogy, the books are $75 each and I have never read anything by Mr. Powers. So it seems unlike that I would buy the book, but I just think the cover is fantastic.

Have you ever bought a totally unknown book based just on the cover art?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Story Idea #3

I'm getting a bit personal with this one. First I'm not sure if this idea would be a long story or a novel. Well actually I'm not sure if it would be novel or a biography. Embarrassingly I can't think of any examples off the top of my head, but have you ever read a book, written in the first person (usually), where the title character has the same name as the author? So whether advertised or not as biography you read it as such; it feels like non-fiction. And then clearly fictitious events occur, making your head swim? Anyway, with this idea I haven't decided if I would write about my actual life, or a more interesting version of it.

Here's the prologue, and this did actually happen, as far as you know anyway. My parents separated when I was four. My mom and I moved around a lot and ended up in Manchester, Connecticut, when I was in the 6th grade. Incidentally, that was the 10th house I had lived in and the 7th school I had attended. One day after school a kid in my grade cranked up his boom box and I heard:

da da dada dum dadadum dadadum dadadum dadadum dadadum dadadum
da da dada dum dadadum dadadum dadadum dadadum dadadum dadadum
(don't worry I can never figure out what tune someone means when they do that either)

You need coolin, baby, Im not foolin,
I'm gonna send you back to schoolin,
Way down inside honey you need it,
I'm gonna give you my love,
I'm gonna give you my love.

Wanna whole lotta love? ...

I instantly thought of my father, something I didn't normally do. Since he had moved out I think I had only seen him three times in the previous seven years. The first was when my mother had to sign the commitment papers because he had fried his brain to the point he couldn't take care of himself. I actually visited him in the mental hospital, but because no one told me that's the kind of hospital it was, I didn't find this out until years later. The second time, when I was in third grade, he came by with the divorce papers for my mother to sign. The third time was when I was in fourth grade. He had heard somehow that my mother's job at Pratt & Whitney had been transferred to Florida and we were moving. He drove down with a friend from upstate New York to say goodbye, which struck me as rather odd and pointless since I saw him so rarely anyway.

While hearing this song I had a vivid picture of my father sitting at the kitchen table teaching me how to de-seed pot in the top of a Monopoly box; me being four years old, this was a contributing factor to my parents splitting up to be sure.

A year or so later I started to discover Led Zeppelin for myself (I may do a separate blog later about music and other discoveries in junior high school--hell I just wrote half of it and decided it was too much of a tangent and chopped it out). In 9th grade he came to town and stayed with my aunt for a few days and I saw him again. We talked about music and I told him Led Zeppelin and The Doors were my favorite bands. He told me that Zeppelin was his and "Whole Lotta Love" was his favorite song. CLICK. Wow, I now jumped back to that day in 6th grade and I realized why hearing that song made me think of him.

My father died a few years after that. From that point forward, whenever I heard "Whole Lotta Love," I would think of him. Since he would be in my thoughts, and I would sort of feel a connection to him, I started half thinking that when the song was on, he could see me. And that gave me an idea for a book...

At first there is nothing, so sounds, no sights, no feelings, just void. Then he hears his favorite song, and he sees his son, 14 years old, in a car with the stereo on talking to the driver about the party they are headed to. He watches until the song ends and then everything goes black. An unknown amount of time later he hears the song again. This time he sees his son in his room trying, rather badly, to play the drums along to the song. The song ends and everything goes black.

You get the idea. He gets to watch his son's life in snapshots of up to five minutes and thirty three seconds.

I've had this idea for years, but writing it down now for the first time, three things occur to me.

1. The way I've laid it out here, it would have to be a short story. A choppy novel in short segments like that would drive the reader insane.

2. This could make an interesting audio book, assuming the listener could handle hearing "Whole Lotta Love," in the background a hundred times in a row.

3. It seems rather self-important of me to assume that he has nothing but void except for the times he can see me. Perhaps I'll have to invent an after-life he is hanging out in when every now and then he gets a sound-tracked vision in his head. I have no ideas about that afterlife, but if I could come up with one, then perhaps this could be a novel with two story lines intertwined throughout. A very ambitious thought that I don't really think I would be able to pull off.

Coincidentally, my next story idea is in fact a biographish novel with two story lines intertwined, and this is the book I really want to write. I just need to get in a lot of practice between now and then.

You may have noticed the new blog listed on the right hand side of this page with the unlikely title of The Spoons That Are My Ears! This is the blog of Rhys Hughes, a Welsh writer and fan of Phil Farmer I recently discovered. I previously said that I don't like to read stories more than a few thousand words long on the computer screen, but for the past few days I have been reading the short stories he has online. If I keep this up I may have to add a new category to my "What I'm Reading" updates. His stories are very different than most of what I read, although "Lunarhampton" did strike me after a while as reminiscent of Stanislaw Lem.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Story Idea #2 and Reading Update #3

Reading update:

In the bedroom: Still reading Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell. As I said before, the book keeps getting better and better. I would have finished it last night for sure but I was up until 2:00am stripping wallpaper out of the bedroom closet so we can get some shelves installed today.

In the downstairs bathroom: Still reading the collection of short stories about my favorite comic duo so I can prime the pump and start on Story Idea #1.

At the office: Almost done with The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi. I should have this finished on Friday which means I need to decide today what book I should bring with me to start next. At the moment I am leaning towards Wetware by Rudy Rucker. I read the first book in this series, Software, back in June and bought the next three books in the series a couple of weeks ago.

In the car: I am on disc ten of ten of The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon. This alternate history book won the Hugo award for Best Novel this year and I'm not surprised. While it doesn't feel like a science fiction book, there is no question the world building is first rate. The writing is even better. Dauntingly so.

I need to figure out what I'm going to listen to next so I'll be hitting the library later today.

Story Idea #2:

The Yiddish Policemen's Union leads me to another story idea I have. Unfortunately as rich and detailed as Chabon's novel is, it only illustrates what I already knew about the story I want to write; I would have to do way too much research to make it worthwhile.

Here is the outline without giving too much away. Someone makes a discovery proving the existence of God. This discovery has something to do with the number three. I don't want to say what it is but basically just about everyone is now convinced there must be a God. So a new religion springs up with Christianity, Judaism and Islam as its three pillars. Eventually most of the other religions join in, as do former non-believers. The hard part for me would be studying the religions, and perhaps numerology, enough to give the story flavor and depth.

The gist of the story is that earth is now a paradise. Even though no one's old religion turned out to be correct, everyone is on board with the new one. Since everyone knows God exists, and believes he is there is watching them all the time, everyone is behaving. Its like having your mother walk in the room when you're fighting with your siblings, suddenly you start making nice.

The idea is to explain the history of the discovery, the new religion and the subsequent Golden Age of Earth through conversations between three men who are stuck in close quarters. Then of course, since this is a short story, there is a surprise ending.

The few people who have read a more detailed description of the story have liked it (or were being nice). Specifically they thought the ending worked. While I'm not sure if I could put the time into the story to do it justice, I sometimes think it might work they way Vonnegut does it. Just have one character in a novel tell another character about a story they read (by Kilgore Trout of course). So basically you get the outline of the story and then the punch line at the end. Of course in order to do that I would have to write a novel to put that conversation in...

I wrote everything above this point this morning before lunch, but I didn't have a chance to proof it and put it online. I did go to the library this evening. I spent thirty minutes slowly scanning the fiction section of audio books not finding anything I wanted to listen to. Or if I did find something interesting, it turned out to be the third or fifth book in a series, with no sign of the earlier books in evidence. I finally found something short to get me through Friday when I got to the V's and found the two and a half hour long, A Man without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut. This is read by Norman Dietz whose recordings of Mark Twain's books are an absolute joy. Then I finally reached the non-fiction section. When I saw this Modern Scholar title, the hair on the back of my neck stood up: Judaism, Christianity and Islam: The Monotheists. Oooookaaaay I'm thinking, this is an interesting bit of timing. If I can get through this lecture my excuse for not being able to write my religious story might be out the window. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Mike is thinking about publishing

One of the things I really want to do on this blog is exchange ideas about publishing. Specifically about getting more of Philip José Farmer's material back into print. Or into some other form of distribution. But, please understand that any ideas we may come up with have to of course be approved of by Phil and his wife Bette, and Phil's agent.

Several years ago some other collectors and I proposed to print a collection of Phil's rarities. Our idea, after discovering just how expensive it would be to actually print the book, was to use print on demand (POD) as means of producing the book. Phil's agent shot it down for a couple of reasons:

1. POD was new (at the time) and no one knew if these companies would actually pay and/or still be in business in 6 months.

2. While new authors might be trying POD, someone of Phil's stature shouldn't do this. If he did, traditional publishers would be less likely to reprint his books.

At the time the first objection may have been valid. POD was new and no one knew if the companies would pay or stay in business. Today, sites like seem pretty stable. The fact that amazon is trying to corner the POD market
, also seems like POD is going to be around for a while.

While there may still be a stigma attached to POD, does it really matter if Inside Outside, Tongues of the Moon, Dare, The Stone God Awakens, The Wind Whales of Ishmael and Ironcastle, which haven't been reprinted (in English anyway) since the late 70s or early 80s, are available this way? I mean it's not like any major publishers are clamoring to reprint these titles. And would these titles coming out via POD really affect the resaleability of the Riverworld series to a big publishing house?

I've also long wondered if maybe converting Phil's books to e-books wouldn't be the way to go. But since I hate reading more than several thousand words at a time on a computer screen, I haven't really pursued this idea much.

Another idea I had was to allow people to choose short stories they wanted in a collection, then make that custom book just for them. A lot like the idea you'll find here at Anthology Builder. Of course it would cost me a lot more to produce these single books than how they seem to be able to do it.

Here are some questions for you, dear reader:

If, via POD or some other method, I was able to reprint something like The Stone God Awakens, what would cause you to buy it? Since the book has only been out in paperback, would you only buy it if it was a trade paperback or a hardcover? (Perhaps that could be the angle, hardcover versions of books only available in paperback before. But, that means I'm selling an expensive product, $30 or more for a book you can buy used for $1; if you just want to read it.)

Would new cover art be enough for you to buy the book, whether in mass market or trade paperback?

Or would it take some new material to get your interest, like an introduction by a Big Name Author?

What about the other ideas? Do either e-books or custom books interest you?

Even more importantly, do you have any other ideas about getting Phil's work back in print? I'd really like to do something after Farmerphile finishes its run, but I just don't see what form that next project will take. Maybe you will be the one to come up with the next great idea.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Book Hunting and What I'm Reading Update #2

First the weekly update of what I'm reading:

In the bedroom: Still reading Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell. As I get deeper into the book, it keeps getting better and/or I'm less tired when I go to bed and can read a little longer each night.

In the downstairs bathroom: I'm now reading a collection of short stories about my favorite comic duo; you know, the ones I need to read in order to write my Story Idea #1.

At the office: Still reading The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.

In the car: I finished Slan Hunter by A.E. van Vogt and Kevin J. Anderson. If you pretend it was written in the 1940s, it's great and full of surprises. I haven't started it yet, but last night I picked up The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon on cd.

One thing I haven't written about in this blog so far is one of my favorite things about books. Buying them and collecting them (I always laugh when a book store clerk asks me if I have any store credit; what you mean trade books in, never!). While the internet has made it infinitely easier to find books, sometimes you just want to enjoy the hunt, the smell of a used book store, and not having to pay shipping charges. And as often as not, you find things you didn't know you were looking for.

Wednesday afternoon when I left my office in Roswell Georgia, instead of heading east towards home I headed west to Marietta to visit several book stores I only get to a few times a year. Unfortunately I got out of the office at 4:20 instead of the planned 4:00 and by 6:00 I only made it to the first two of the stores on my carefully google-mapped route (why in the world do some book stores close at 6:00, don't these people realize that some of their customers have to work?).

Armed with a business card with the following author's names written on the back to help me remember all of the authors I am hunting for (at the moment anyway) I scoured the shelves:

Fredric Brown (one of the few authors where I love his novels but strangely haven't enjoyed his short story collections as much)
Michael Carroll (yet to find any of his books in a store)
Philip K. Dick (only a handful of books left I haven't read but chances of finding them in a store are minimal at best. Why is this? A quick search of ABE books shows almost the same number of used boosk for sale, about 10,000, as PJF, but typically all you ever find in stores is a copy of Blade Runner)
Ignatius Donnelly (just started looking)
Harlan Ellison (short story collections are great bathroom reading)
Philip José Farmer (chances of finding something I don't already have, about one in a billion, but I have to look)
Rhys Hughes (yet to find any of his books in a store)
Joe R. Lansdale (only two books found in stores to date)
Stanislaw Lem (so far none of his books I've read have been as good as the first; The Cyberiad)
Chris Roberson (just started looking)
Spider Robinson (I love this guy!)
Rudy Rucker (the only author mentioned in this Modern Scholar lesson that I wasn't familiar with)
James Sallis (yet to find any of his books in a store)
Charles R. Saunders (only one book found in store to date; Imaro!)
Somtow Sucharitkul (I keep looking but I don't think the 2nd and 3rd Aquila books actually exist)
Wilson Tucker (I've only read a couple of the books by him I already have, but I keep buying more)
Howard Waldrop (only two books found in stores to date)
Connie Willis (just start looking on a recommendation)
P.G. Wodehouse (anytime I find one for a couple of dollars or less I buy it, even if I probably already have it)

At the end of my hunt the only books I bought were Naked Came the Stranger (which was written by twenty five Newsday writers in 1969, which inspired thirteen Miami area writers to write Naked Came the Manatee in 1996, which inspired thirteen central Illinois writers to write Naked Came the Farmer in 1998). Even though he wrote the first chapter, Phil Farmer wants to assure everyone that he is not the naked Farmer in the book. And Barron's Book Notes: Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. I paid a quarter for each of them.

A disappointing conclusion to an otherwise enjoyable afternoon.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Story Idea #1

Well, I haven't finished all of the books on the reading list I posted last Thursday so I can't talk about that. Although I am leaning towards a weekly update on this topic; which will probably mean a couple of short entries (we can only hope) saying I'm still reading X, along with a longer entry or two about something new I started. Ok, that sounds like a plan. Thursday, got it. Deadlines are our friends.

I'm not ready to dive into some other subjects yet, so that leaves me with the topic of ideas I have for short stories I want to write. I'm afraid this post will be maddeningly vague and therefor unsatisfying because I don't actually want to make this first idea public until I've written the story (although I have already told several friends about it in person).

The payoff however, is that I think I will post the story here online once I've finished it. Again, one of the ideas of this blog is that putting these things out in public will force me to work on them.

Story idea #1: I've had two instances in my life where after reading several books in a row about the same characters, I've felt like I could sit down right then and there and at least write a scene about them. A scene set in their world using their mannerisms that would read just like the originals.

These instances occurred while reading about my two favorite pairs of literary characters. The first pair star in a series of humorous short stories and novels. The second pair star in a series of detective stories and novels. For the rest of this blog lets pretend these are Laurel and Hardy, and Holmes and Watson. I promise they actually aren't L&H and H&W, but just play along for a moment.

At first I wanted to write a whole novel about them interacting, but I couldn't come up with an idea to carry the story much further than the first two chapters. These first two chapters are really two first chapters. Oh, I like that, but I guess I should explain. Both of these sets of characters' adventures are written in the first person. So chapter one will be written from "Laurel's" point of view and it will hopefully "feel" just like your typical L&H story. It will end with them deciding to hire S&H and setting up a meeting. The second chapter will be from "Watson's" point of view and will read just like the first chapter of most of the H&W stories; a client arriving and explaining their problem.

Those two chapters I've envisioned for a couple of years. But I just couldn't see where to take it from there. Then I realized I could cut the story off, ending it with the third chapter and have a funny yet satisfying short story.

I even have the perfect title for the story. It blends elements from both sets of stories, enough that once you know who the characters are, the title alone will bring a smile to your face. Well, assuming you are fans of both L&H and H&W. That is another aspect of this story that will be interesting; how do different readers react to it. I would think (or at least hope) that fans of both L&W and W&H would love the story. But if you have never read either, would you find it mildly funny, or just really confusing? Probably the latter. And what if you've read L&W but not W&H, or vice-versa? So this may well turn out to be a good example of "fan fiction," where you have to be a fan to get it at all.

What I need to do now is revisit the outline, which I haven't looked at in over a year, and add in the new ideas that have come to me recently. Then, and this is the hard part, find time to read several of the L&H stories in a row then knock out the first (and probably the third) chapter. Then read several H&W stories in a row and write the second chapter.

I'll keep you posted on my progress. And I'll post more story ideas, without being quite so circumspect, in future blogs.

FYI: Here is a very cool idea, but something I promise you I will never do; a weekly video blog. This one is by science fiction author Tobias S. Buckell.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Decatur Book Festival

I have a confession to make. Even though I live right outside Atlanta, and am very involved in science fiction fandom;, Farmerphile, Farmercon...I have never been to DragonCon. The reason is my real job. Most of the year it is a normal 40 to 50 hours a week, but in football season, it is a wearying 70 hours a week, with a big chunk of them on the weekends. DragonCon falling on the opening weekend of college football is a problem.

I did however manage to get some hours off yesterday (Saturday August 30th) to go to the Decatur Book Festival. Normally I just go in the afternoon when I'm done working, but this year I wanted to see a panel with Kevin J. Anderson, John Scalzi, Tobias Buckell and Cherie Priest that started at 11:15. The panel was really well done, for seemingly being off the cuff for the most part. There were lots of laughs.

After the panel there was a book signing where things seemed to be going well, since the dealer was running out of books by all of the authors (I got one of the last hardcovers of Zoe's Tale). The strangest part of the day came when I finally got to the end of the line and John Scalzi says to me, "You look familiar," and then Cherie Priest agrees with him. I suppose it could have been from me stalking them in the hallway downstairs before the panel (just kidding, but I did see them down there). But my best guess is that when I emailed John a couple of weeks ago asking if he would like to contribute an article to Farmerphile, he may have taken a few minutes to check out more of the site than just the Farmerphile page and saw the pictures from Farmercon90. I gave him a copy of issue #11, just as a way of saying thank you for getting back to me, even though he said he wasn't familiar enough with Phil's work to write a good article for me.

I then told Tobias Buckell that Chris Carey said "Hello," and gave him a copy of issue #13 which contains an interview with Chris and an excerpt from The Song of Kwasin, a novel that Phil Farmer started and Chris Carey completed. Tobias seemed glad to hear of Chris, said he was "good people" but that they hadn't really kept in touch much, although he did know Chris was working on this book.

After the signing I hit the Georgia Antiquarian Booksellers Association dealer's room, usually the best part of the weekend for me. This year however I managed to escape their clutches with my money still in my pocket. I was tempted to buy a signed copy of The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon, but it was $60 and I was pretty sure I could find it cheaper online. I did see a hardcover first printing of The Green Odyssey, but at $3000, I'll just have to keep saying hi to it each year as I've been doing for several years now. Although I think it was only $1500, four or five years ago. I also met a man who does book restoration and custom binding. I am thinking about having him redo a really beat up ex-library copy I have of The Green Odyssey.

I did buy one other book, but it was outside at one of the many dealer's tents. Most of the dealers are publishers, but this was from a local bookstore, Eagle Eye Books, which has a lot of signed stock on their shelves. I picked up a signed copy of Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox for cover price. Since Colfer lives in Ireland I figured I wouldn't come across too many of his books signed anytime soon, and my kids really like his stuff. We've done a lot of it on tape during the long car rides to my in-laws in St. Louis, to Florida, etc... He is probably my favorite YA author right now, although I don't read (or listen to) that many YA books.

Now in its third year the Decatur Book Festival keeps getting a little bigger and a little better. Being the same weekend as Dragoncon, hopefully they will continue to attract more science fiction authors who can come to town for both events.

Perhaps in answer to the Decatur Book Festival, last year Gwinnett County (where I live), launched the Gwinnett Reading Festival. It will be held in October but unfortunately all of the information currently online is from last year's event.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Oh No! Not another, "What I'm Reading List."

Yup, as I mentioned in my opening blog, keeping a blog about what books I am reading is one of the reasons I started doing this. However, this is more for my benefit than anyone else. I find that if I am tracking something like this, especially publicly, it forces me to not be so lazy (some of you may call it getting at least five hours of sleep a night) and read more. So really, you probably don't want to read any further, but if you insist on not hitting the back button...

Over the years I have found it convenient to have different books in different locations, rather than lugging one book with me everywhere I go. So yes, I read three or four, sometimes even five, different books at a time. The trick is to not read two books by the same author at the same time. This is what I'm reading now:

In the bedroom: Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell. Checked this out from the library because I hate meeting an author (even at something like a book signing) and having to admit that I have never read anything by them (see below). I am enjoying the book, but because I have been getting to bed so late I have not been able to read more than 25 pages at a time. I usually read until I fall asleep somewhere between midnight and 2:00am.

In the downstairs bathroom: I just finished Big Money by one of my favorite authors, P. G. Wodehouse. Not as much fun as a Jeeves and Wooster novel, but almost nothing in this world is. I finished that library book and had another ready to take its place; Death of a Gentle Lady by M.C. Beaton. I really enjoy her Hamish Macbeth series (can't stand Agatha Raisin though) but I have to admit that you can't read the more recent ones without reading the earlier ones. At some point she appears to have decided that anyone reading a Macbeth novel has read all of the previous ones and so are familiar with the characters. The first 20 to 30 pages fly along so fast they read more like a book report synopsis of the book. By the time Hamish has a murder to solve things settle down to a more novel-like pace.

At the office: Monday I finished reading The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw. I try to read either some non-fiction or "literature" (you know, Cervantes, Hemingway, Faulkner...that--usually pretty good--old stuff) every couple of months between all the science fiction I have piled up. I usually do these on tape though. I am now reading The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi. I devoured the first book in this series, Old Man's War, last week. I actually finished it in less than 24 hours after I got it from the library. This is something I almost never do, I just don't have time and do need a least a few hours of sleep now and then. But, I really couldn't put it down. I'm taking it easier with The Ghost Brigades. By the way, when I say I am reading a book "at the office" it pretty much means, in the bathroom at the office. I may actually read more "at the office" than anywhere else...

Another thought about reading Old Man's War in one day. Sometimes I go through periods where I read several books in a month, and sometimes I only read one book over several months (having a Kakuro book in the downstairs bathroom killed my average earlier this year). Right now I am in one of those phases where I am reading a lot. Hopefully this blog will keep me there.

In the car: For the record, books on tape (and cd) saved my life. When I was driving to work five days a week, stuck in the car for 15 or more hours a week, forced to listen to the crappy radio stations we have in Atlanta, I had a lot of stress in my life. I would come home from work in a bad mood ready to kill someone, all because of the traffic. This changed the day I started listening to books in the car. I may talk about this more later, but this blog is long enough already.

Last week I tried to listen to the Modern Scholar series' Giants of Irish Literature by George O'Brien. It started off well, the historical background information in the first (of fourteen) lessons was really interesting. I enjoyed the lessons about Oscar Wilde, but by the time we got to Yeats I found my mind wandering while listening and that was it. If a BOT can't hold my attention I'll usually finish that tape (or disc) then give up. The Modern Scholar series on the whole has been fantastic; respected college professors recording their lectures. I am grateful my library system carries so many of these.

So now I'm listening to Slan Hunter by A.E. van Vogt and Kevin J. Anderson. I mostly picked this up because Kevin Anderson, like Tobias Buckell and John Scalzi mentioned above, will be together at a panel and book signing at the Decatur Book Festival this weekend. And as I said, I hate meeting an author having not read any of their work. I'm enjoying the book as I still love "classic science fiction" but I do have one problem with it. I know it is a direct sequel to a book written in the 1940s, and the events are taking place right after the events in Slan, but I think Kevin could have done more to make book read less dated.

For example, instead of having a member of the secret police demand that a nurse give him the "carbon copies" of all the recent records, why not just ask for "copies" and let the reader fill in their own minds if these are paper, digital or something else. He could also mention the large banks of computers, which seems outdated enough in this age of miniaturization to keep the book enough like the original, without mentioning the punch cards and making the book sound really dated. Don't get me wrong, I'm enjoying Slan Hunter, I'm just not sure why he did this.

Ok, that is all I'm reading at the moment. The question now is how often do I update this? Anytime I finish one of the above books and start on something else? Or when I've finished them all? Or maybe just once a week? And perhaps more importantly, will the next blog be under 1000 words? I have the feeling that a competent writer could have conveyed the information in this blog in 1/4 the words (and without using so many parenthetical statements as I have a bad habit of doing). It also occurs to me that I could have read about 100 pages in The Ghost Brigades, or an entire Hamish Macbeth novel, in the time I have spent on my first two blog posts today.