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Sunday, January 30, 2011

CHARACTER TRAITS


Now, before you ask, no, I don’t base my characters on people I know. Well, not exactly. I might pull a characteristic or two, but no full characters are based on any one person and many of the traits I give my characters are pulled from my imagination. That said, I come from a fairly large family and occasionally I snag a character trait (or two) from them.

Say, for example, I need to think of something a crazy father-figure would do. Well, I needn’t look too far for inspiration. My dad once flew a hang-glider that my brother purchased at a garage sale. No, neither one of them had any prior experience with such things—unless you count flying kites, which apparently they did. I can’t recall how long he was airborne but I do remember the crash and the weeks thereafter that he nursed a broken arm. Regrettably, this happened pre-YouTube, otherwise that video would’ve gone viral in seconds.


A couple of my books have sibling rivalry worked into the plot, and so occasionally I need examples of what older siblings might do to younger siblings. For that I draw on personal experiences (being a younger sibling myself).

My brothers aren't Sumo Wrestlers, but if they were, the inverted kid in the picture would've been me.

Have you ever been shoved half-naked into a sleeping bag, zipped up and then tossed into a snow bank? I have! Have you ever been placed on a bed between the box-spring and a mattress as though you were playing the “pea” in a very disturbing version of the Princess and the Pea? Yep, that happened to me, too ... often. It’s not just older brothers either. My sisters once turned me into a human doll, complete with dress and makeup! I could go on but my psychiatrist warned me not to dwell.

Hmmm, the more I think about it, perhaps the key to coming up with good characters isn’t so much the imagination at all, it’s being raised in an environment that provides future material. I guess I should thank my brother for the time he put a spider in my cornflakes.

Nah!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

WORD COUNT AND READABILITY

Just a quick tip to all the readers out there! (A tip you may already know).

Reading can be a challenge for a lot of kids (and adults too for that matter). To address that issue, many publishers have books that are written specifically for reluctant readers (sometimes called Hi/Lo books –High concept / Low readability). These books are generally shorter, but the subject matter is such that it appeals to, and engages older children.

Now, books labeled “Hi/Lo” aren’t the only options for this readership. In fact, there are loads of books that aren’t specifically written for reluctant readers which are highly accessible. If you shop online, it can be a bit of a challenge to identify which books fit the bill. But there are tools that not everyone is aware of that can make finding these kinds of books easier.

Amazon.com, for example, has a “Look Inside” feature for many of their titles which, as most everyone knows, enables you to read the first few pages of a book much the same as you would in a bookstore. BUT, and here comes the tip, reading the first few pages is only part of the “Look Inside” feature. Another part is called “TEXT STATS” which, if clicked revels a page that breaks down the readability and complexity of the book. It looks like this:



Those numbers might not mean a great deal to the average person, but just hit the “learn more” links and those terms and numbers are explained in detail.

The TEXT STATS are only available for books that have the “Look Inside” feature, but occasionally I run across a book that has the “Look Inside” option but doesn’t have Text Stats. I can’t seem to detect any rhyme or reason for it, so I’ve emailed Amazon to ask and if I get a reply I’ll be sure to throw in an update.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

WHAT'S IN A NAME?



(points if you can guess the movie/book the above name tag is referencing)


When I name characters I don’t really stress about it. I consider the basic stuff: Are the names phonetically difficult? Do they require some kind of special knowledge to pronounce properly? Do I want a common name? Or, do I want something unique? But I don’t obsess.

But now that I have a child on the way and I’m considering baby names, I’m approaching it another way entirely. “Over thinking” would be a gross understatement for what I’m doing. I’ve formed a partnership with GOOGLE (my wife doesn’t know it yet), and together we’re working to make sure the name we pick for my son or daughter (No, we don’t know) will not be one that has already been spoiled by others.

“Spoiled?” you ask. “How can a name be spoiled?”

Well, for some inexplicable reason, I’ve become obsessed with making sure my child won’t have to share a name with an axe-murder or other less-crazy, but similarly disappointing character.

Guess what? There are some pretty good names out there that are ruined by people who just didn’t do right by them. My top choices are gone: Thanks a lot, “Mussolini,” way to ruin it for the rest of us. You too, Kim Jung Il, way to go buddy (I was going to hyphenate it). I have several nieces and nephews with good names, but since they’re a bunch of hooligans who should probably be locked away in an underground juvenile detention center of some kind, their names, or even variations of them, are off the list!

You might be thinking, “C’mon, every name has a bad person associated with it.” Well, believe it or not, there are a few parents out there who’ve managed to pull it off!

Movie star, Nicolas Cage managed it. I imagine Mr. Cage wanted a name that was strong and reflected the kind of person he hoped his kid would emulate. Well, he might have overshot a bit but I applaud his effort. He named his son “Kal-el.” For those of you who are not comic book nerds, or fans of all things Superman, Kal El is the Kryptonian first and last name of Clark Kent.

I’m sure a movie star’s kid can pull it off, so good luck little Kal-el. But my kid? Nope. I’m not convinced I have the fatherly-skills to help my kid pull a name like that off. The best I could do is maybe train them to get changed in a phone booth. Now that I think of it, I’ll probably do that no matter what name I use.

Got any good ideas for names? Heard any really strange ones?

Friday, January 14, 2011

REVENGE!!!



I do read from time to time, so I thought I’d occasionally post reviews - especially when I hit something I feel really good about.

I’m going to start with my favorite book: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (published in 1840).

This 1200 page juggernaut is a story of one Edmond Dantès, a young sailor on the verge of being promoted to captain, and starting a life with his longtime love, Mercedes. Plotted against by jealous rivals, Dantès is implicated as a Bonapartist traitor and thrown in prison. Revenge ensues!

Dumas writes revenge like no one I’ve ever read. Though at times the main character seems needlessly ruthless and not particularly likeable, I just could not put this book down – well, except when it got too heavy to hold (Whew … 1200 pages is heavy!). This is a book that will remain on my bookshelf forever (though probably not one I’d read as a bed time story to a kid).

Pick it up (if you’re strong enough) and give it a go – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Now, when I’m looking for a book recommendation I tend to gravitate to the reviews that are short and sweet. So when I put reviews on my blog, they’re going to be similarly written. However, AFTER I read a book, I like to read the long reviews others write to see if my thoughts mirror theirs. If you’re like that too, I encourage you to head over to GOODREADS and take a look around.

Oh – one more thing about this book. Dumas got the idea, at least in part, from true events that he found in the memoir of one Jacques Peuchet. When you read it keep that in mind and the story will really blow you away!

Anyone read any good "revenge" books? I tend to be a fan so throw a recommendation up if you got one.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

STRANGER THAN FICTION



Since I write in the realm of urban fantasy—which is to say, fantasy in a contemporary setting—I typically don't agree with the saying ‘fact is stranger than fiction.’ I mean, if we look at some popular books on the market today, it would be this writers opinion that secret schools for wizards, sparkling vampires, and cult filled cities hidden in tunnels deep underground, are far stranger than anything I’ve seen in the news lately ... well, that WAS my opinion until the other day when I caught this article.


Wildlife officials are trying to determine what caused more than 1,000 blackbirds to die and fall from the sky over an Arkansas town.

[snip]

Commission ornithologist Karen Rowe said the birds showed physical trauma, and she speculated that "the flock could have been hit by lightning or high-altitude hail."

The commission said that New Year's Eve revelers shooting off fireworks in the area could have startled the birds from their roost and caused them to die from stress.

One thousand birds? Can you imagine how that would look? Perhaps you're going outside to collect your morning paper. Maybe you’re still in your housecoat, a glass of orange juice in hand. It takes a moment to register, but as you pan your gaze around your yard and into the adjoining areas of your neighborhood, you see ... Bird carcasses. What would you be thinking in that moment?

I’ll tell you what I’d be thinking: Two things. First, time to stop drinking the water in Arkansas. And second, *cue creepy music* AFLOCKALYPSE. No, I can’t take credit for that term. I read it HERE where other similar events are discussed.

So – the way I see it you can act one of two ways. Either you believe the scientists and researchers who insist these types of events are now, and have always been extremely common. Or, you take my advice—the advice of a self proclaimed professional liar—and find a place you can dig a hole for your underground bomb shelter, stock it with supplies, and get ready. Today birds and fish, tomorrow................

(See how I trailed off there? That was me alluding to the fact that something bad just happened to me. So bad I couldn't even finish my sentence. Of course nothing so bad that I wasn’t able to add a series of ellipses, or bad enough that I couldn’t log into my blog and paste this into a new post. I’m sure you’re terrified!)

Have any of you seen articles like this? Or similar ones that make you think fact really is stranger than fiction? Hit the comment tab - let's here em.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A PROFESSIONAL LIAR? WHA---?


I had a few people look over my blog these last few days and all of them asked the same question: 'What do you mean you're a professional liar?’ Good question, I suppose I really should have discussed this in my first post. Please, allow me to explain.

There is a standard author meme that basically says: “I’m a novelist, I tell lies for money.”  Novels are works of fiction, and as such, are lies. To take a couple examples: Stephenie Meyer lied about Vampires—we all know they don’t really sparkle (but they are dreamy). Tolkien lied, too. Hobbits aren’t nearly as fun-loving as he made them out to be—they’re vicious man-beasts and I wouldn’t approach one without a very large club. In any case, I didn’t mean to imply that in my personal life I’m a big-fat-liar, or that you shouldn’t trust a word I say. So, if you meet me in the streets and I yell, "Watch out, there's a sparkling-vampire-hobbit behind you!" you should probably run. That's not something I'd lie about!