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.