Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

Today I finished reading The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff.

I read this novel because I had recently seen the movie The Eagle and I wanted to compare the movie and the book.  Both were good.  The movie used its unique ability to portray action excelently.  The book served as a point of departure for the movie.  Both were good but as is often the case they didn't tell the same story exactly.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

Today I read The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton.

I read this 2011 Edgar Best Novel Award winner as a part of my learn to write by reading project.

This is a fascinating read.  It is written in first person.  The story is told entirely as flashbacks.  A bold technique. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Today I finished reading The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.

Survivors are different.  Surviving changed them.  Randy Pausch was a professor who fell victim to pancreatic cancer, a death sentence.  The book is inspiring.

I've spent the last five months surviving.  The book hit very close to home for me.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Blood Trust by Eric Van Lustbader

Today I finished reading Blood Trust by Eric Van Lustbader.

I read this book as a part of my learn to write by reading program.  And, because I read every thing Lustbader writes.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Out of Range by C. J. Box

Today I finished reading Out of Range by C. J. Box.

I read this book as a part of my learn to write by reading program.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child

Today I finished reading Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child.

I read this book as a part of my learn to write by reading project.

                                            Reacher Rocks !!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

Today I finished reading A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin.

This was a hospital bed read.

I enjoyed Game of Thrones so much I decided to tackle the 1,000 page sequel, A Clash of Kings.  It was very entertaining.  Martin is a master story teller.  Now I'll have to take a deep breath and read the third book of the series.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

Today I finished reading Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin.

This was a hospital bed read.

I had watched the HBO Game of Thrones series.   And had enjoyed it thoroughly.  I asked for this book for my birthday because I wanted to see how true to the book the TV program had been.  I was suprised.  Martin has an extensive background as a screenwriter.  The book is written as a model screenplay and HBO followed it 90% of the time.  It's a long book (perfect for a hospital bed) but well worth the time.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Judge by Steve Martini

Today I finished reading The Judge by Steve Martini.

This was a hospital bed read.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Isle of Dogs by Patricia Cornwell

Today I finished reading Isle of Dogs by Patricia Cornwell.

This was a hospital bed read.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ordinary Heroes by Scott Turow

Today I finished reading Ordinary Heroes by Scott Turow.

This book was a hospital stay read.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos

Today I finished The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos.

This was a hospital bed read.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Bourne Sanction by Eric Van Lustbader

Today I finished reading The Bourne Sanction by Eric Van Lustbader.

I read this book because I love the Jason Bourne character created by Robert Ludlum.  Ludlum wrote twenty-six novels and I have thoroughly enjoyed twenty-five of them.   The best of the lot were the Bourne trilogy.

After Ludlum died, his estate began having Eric Van Lustbader write stories using the Jason Bourne character.  This is the third novel in that extension series. 

I love Lustbader.  I discovered him years ago when he was writing ninja stories.  I have read nineteen of the twenty-two novels that he has written.  The others are out of print and I haven't found them or I would have read them too.

The first two Lustbader Bourne novels Legacy and Betrayal were really good.  This one not so much.  This one is dying for some character arc.  Something to change.  Something new to care about.  It's just too much of the same thing happening over and over again.

Then, on the last page some guy named Willard tells Bourne he's the ultimate warrior.  And that doesn't bode well for the future Bourne novels Lustbader has written that I haven't read.  I loved Bourne because I didn't know how good he was.  He seemed like 'everyman'.  Now he's going to be perfectly ultimate.  Borrrrring.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Are You Afraid?

The doctor examining his eyes backed away from the scope she had been looking through and asked, "Are you afraid?"  She was referring to the surgery he was undergoing in five days.


"No, not afraid." he replied.  "But it makes you think about your mortality."


Eleven years before he faced death and the possibility of a shortened lifespan.  He had gotten a fish bowl and filled it with marbles.  He put in a marble for every week he hoped to live.  One thousand and forty marbles.  The plan was to take a marble out of the bowl every week and throw it away.  It would be a reminder that if he got to thow all of the marbles away he had lived the full life he hoped for.


Throwing away marbles each week went the way of other "good" habits like eating smaller portions and drinking eight glasses of water a day.  While he stopped throwing the marbles away, he kept the bowl full of marbles.


He looked at the bowl holding the remaining marbles.  "How many more will I be able to throw away?"

Sunday, July 3, 2011

One Shot by Lee Child

Today I finished reading One Shot by Lee Child.

I read this book as a part of my learn to write by reading program.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Today I finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

I read it because Larry Brooks was undertaking an analysis if the structure of The Help on his blog StoryFix.  I was aware that the book had been immensely successful but had put it in the category of Chick Lit and wasn't about to be caught dead seen reading it.  (Bad for the macho image don't you know.)

I was an Air Force Brat.  My parents and grandparents were from Texas and I visited frequently.  But I did not grow up in the South.  I came back to the States after I graduated from high school in 1962.  I attended Baylor in Waco, Texas.  I saw segregation in action at that time and it was very different from my totally integrated life on a military base.  I was interested in other things and didn't think about segregation much. 

I was at Baylor when the first "colored" student enrolled.  It was during summer school and he was a music major.  He could play the piano like nothing I had ever heard before.  There was a grand piano in the lobby in front of the cafeteria and he would play the piano as we stood in line for lunch.  I didn't think much of it other than he really can play that piano.  I didn't notice that white students were upset.  As I think back, they may have not known he was a student.  They may have thought he was the day's entertainment.

I married above my station.  My wife's family were not wealthy but were well off.  They had a maid to clean their house.  So after we married and moved to Shreveport, my wife had a maid to clean our house and I had a yardman to mow.  The maid came and cleaned for a couple of hours every day.  At the time our child was born we began having a maid every day, all day and full-time maids were a part of our household for the next thirty years.  I think the Seventies must have been years of further change as I did not observe the abuses detailed in The Help.  When I talked with my wife about this, she said I was wrong, that there were still people who treated their maids terribly.

Shreveport, LA and Jackson, MS are interchangeable.  In the Sixties life was the same in both cities.  The same kinds of people doing the same kinds of things for the same reasons based on the same heritage.  The Help could have been set in Shreveport as easily as it was in Jackson.  And for this reason alone it was an interesting book - a trip back in time.

The only exception from Shreveport I found was that I know the "mature" leaders of Shreveport's Junior League would have never let an 'early twenties' Hilly be the League's President.  My wife was in the League and I've known a number of the Presidents.  They were competent leaders and strove for many years to attain the top leadership position.  They would not have given it to a relatively new member. I suspect that the ladies of Jackson wouldn't have either.   Otherwise I found the story 'spot on'.   And I don't begrudge the author for the stretch since it made the story better.

I read thrillers, mysteries, spy, westerns, and private eye novels.  I want twisty plots, action, violence and a little sex thrown in for good measure.  The Help didn't have a single page of these requirements.   I don't read character driven novels like The Help.  So, I was surprised by how the book's characters captured me.  Yes, I knew people like all of the characters in the book but that wasn't it.  Stockett made me want to know more about these characters.  She made me care.

I'm still trying to figure out exactly how she did it.  But, I recognize this is really good storytelling!

Monday, June 13, 2011

HRPT - Home Sweet Home in Alabama

Home Sweet Home!
We made it home on Monday. The first 900 miles coming home were high speed and trouble free interstate driving. But, our epic journey wouldn't have been complete without another adrenaline jolt. So just as we got to Pensacola, FL, the front brakes started making a terrible clunking noise and then the engine died when we were caught up in slow moving traffic.


We crept back into Gulf Shores the final 40 miles trying to apply the brakes as infrequently as possible. We thought the engine dying was related to over heating so we turned off the air conditioning everytime we slowed down. It was really HOT without a/c.


Yesterday, Harold and I met at the shop to check out the brakes. It turned out the problem was that a bolt holding the caliper had come loose. (The same problem we had to fix on Steve's car back in Indianapolis.) The good news was that we could fix it at the shop where we had the needed tool. A tool we did not have on the trip.


We also replaced the thermostat with a cooler rated one, replaced the temperature sender, and the fan clutch. We're hoping that this will cure the problems of running too hot. If this doesn't fix the problem, the next step will be to switch the oil we are using to Royal Purple. The circle track boys swear by it to reduce engine temperatures. I don't want to think of what we'll have to do if that doesn't fix the problem.


We had a great time and are already planning to make next year's HRPT. We think "Bobbie Sue" deserves a third chance. She is an awesome car to drive. With almost 500 horsepower waiting to leap, a comfortable ride, and excellent handling she is all fun. But before she's ready, we're going to repair the alternator, add some insulation to the inside of the car, swap out the transmission, and switch from hydrostatic power brakes to vacuum power brakes so she'll stop as well as she goes.


Next year's Hot Rod Power Tour will run from Detroit to Dallas. Look for us to come by on a road near you.


Tom

Saturday, June 11, 2011

HRPT Day 8 - Milford

This morning there was a special meeting at the General Motors Milford Proving Ground for the long haulers. I counted the number of cars on a row and the number of rows. I estimate that there were about 1,100 cars at the venue. Many people didn’t stay for today’s meeting. We probably had a total of 1,500 long haulers.
Milford was the industry's first dedicated automobile testing facility when it opened in 1924. It covers 4,000 acres and has 132 mi of roads representative of conditions found on public roadways and other specialty surfaces for vehicle testing. 
Our venue today was the VDTA ("Vehicle Dynamics Test Area"), also known as "Black Lake", a 67-acre pad of blacktop for vehicle dynamics testing. Waterfowl have been known to try to land on this "lake" of asphalt. At the ends of the VDTA are two semicircle tracks used for accelerating vehicles up to high speed before entering the pad. A controlled low-friction area made of ceramic tiles is on one side of the pad. Another area is coated with the asphalt sealant Jennite and can be watered down to produce a low friction surface. They had an airplane fly over and take a group photo of all of our cars. And they handed out posters, a sign for the garage wall, several $ off coupons, etc.
The very best part was when they let us drive on parts of the test track. Our driving tour lasted for more than 20 minutes and included many different segments of the track. GM had the good sense to not let us on the big, high speed oval. We probably would have killed each other showing off. But, we did get up to speed in other areas. The super banked turns were a blast. Other segments were like a sports car race track with hills and blind curves, lots of curves.
They gave away a 2011 Camaro SS Convertible. I didn’t win it.
Tonight we are in Springboro, OH. Only 800 miles to my very own bed and pillow.
Tom

Friday, June 10, 2011

HRPT Day 7 - Muskegon to Detroit

Today we drove from Muskegon, MI to Detroit in the rain. 
The temperature was 58 degrees so Harold broke out the jacket we teased him about when it was in the upper 90s. At our morning gas stop, they had two pallets of impulse items beside the pumps. One pallet contained firewood and the other contained salt pellets to melt ice. Harold looked at me and said, "We need to go back South."
When we got to Steve's motel, his car wouldn't start. So we broke out the golf umbrellas and proceeded to un-stick a choke and jump start him.
The Detroit venue was at a pretty park on lake St. Claire. The lake is between the US and Canada. It's either the littlest Great Lake or it's a not so Great Lake.
Tom

Thursday, June 9, 2011

HRPT Day 6 - Indiana and Michigan Are Pretty. The Locals Friendly.

Indiana and Michigan Are Pretty. The Locals Friendly.

This morning we left Indianapolis for Muskegon. It was 65 outside and we drove with the windows down.

They have the prettiest grass; there is no drought in Indiana or Michigan. The grass is a beautiful shade of green and as we drove past fields where hay was being cut it was a delightful smell. The funny part was it smelled like a freshly cut watermelon.

It rained on us for a couple of hours. Eventually the convertible top leaked a little where the top sealed against the windshield. We pulled out a towel and laid it in our laps and enjoyed the rain cooled day.  

At one gas stop we ran across a grandfather and his young grandson enjoying a wet drive in this "interesting" rod.  We lent them some Rain-X to help with the lack of wipers.

The venue today was in downtown Muskegon. Four thousand cars and one thousand parking places. Not pretty.

Tonight we opted for something besides burgers and pizza. We went to the local KFC for fried chicken. The chicken was ordinary. I said hi to an elderly gentleman as I passed where he was eating. On his way to his car he stopped at our table and sat with us while we ate. His name was Leon. He's 88. Buried two wives. Used to be in the grocery store business. He took us on the grand tour of Grand Haven, MI which included the beach at Lake Michigan at sunset, an overlook of the town from a large hill, a beautifully restored downtown area and finally back to our motel. He drove an immaculate '82 Mercedes coupe with 80,000 miles.

Tom

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

HRPT Day 5 - Rolling on the Bricks

Rolling on the Bricks
Yesterday we drove 290 miles from Nashville to Indianapolis. My car behaved and nothing broke.
We are driving with Steve Weeks of Hope Hull, AL. Steve is driving a 1972 Dodge Demon. He bought the car when he was in college in 1972 and has held on to it all these years. He restored it about 4 years ago. We met him at Bowling Green last year and he was one of the people who helped us home last year when we broke down in Birmingham. Anyway, yesterday his brakes began making a terrible clunking sound when he applied them. So last night we did surgery on his front brakes in the parking lot of the hotel. One of two bolts holding the driver's front brake caliper in position on the rotor had fallen out and the other one was loose. After 5 auto parts stores we went to Lowes and found a bolt that will work until he can get it home and get the right bolt. We then double checked the other side and found both bolts loose; we worked on his car until 11pm.
The big deal at this venue was to drive your car around the track at the Indy Speedway. We signed up for the drive. But, wound up playing parking lot mechanics instead.
Today we drive to Muskegon, MI. USA Today's weather map shows it will only be in the upper 70s. That is wonderful news.
Tom

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

HRPT Day 4 - A Day With All Sunshine Is Hot!

A Day With All Sunshine Is Hot!
Today's update is boring. Nothing broke. In the evenings tour participants walk around the motel parking lot looking at the the cars and telling lies about how fast their cars are. The consensus of parking lot wisdom is that I have a defective temperature sending sensor and that that is causing a false temperature gauge reading. The gauge ran pegged on Hot all day today but the car displayed none of the symptoms of a Hot motor. So, I'm more comfortable. Except for one time today when I glanced at the gauge and panicked. I had forgotten momentarily about the gauge problem.
We drove 310 miles today. We must have driven through 20 places on the highway in Alabama where tornados tore up the trees back in April. They've been cleaning up the damage, but it still looks bad.
Our venue today was the parking lot of the Tennessee Titan's football stadium. According to the TV weather tonight, Nashville set a new record high temperature of 96 this afternoon. It felt like 126 on the asphalt parking lot. The venue highlight was an Autocross course where tour participants did their best to drive very quickly around a circuit marked with orange cones. It was great fun to watch.
Tomorrow morning we're off for Indianapolis. As of tonight, we've driven 1600 miles since last Wednesday.

Tom

Monday, June 6, 2011

HRPT Day 3 - It Just Keeps Getting Better.

It Just Keeps Getting Better.
Last night we went to bed without 1st and 2nd gears. The plan was to get up this morning at daybreak and head for Gulf Shores and swap cars.
When I turned the ignition switch this morning, nothing happened. Upon closer examination we found that the back of the original 1951 switch had separated from the part the key slips into. Inside the switch are three contacts which are supported by small springs. Apparently, one of the springs had burned up from the heat of the electricity passing through the switch. 

Since I am traveling with McGiver, this was no big problem. After an hour, Harold "McGiver" had carved a metal post from an electrical butt splice part and substituted it for the missing part. Bobbie Sue cranked and we began a day of driving without 1st or second gear. Which is pretty good except when you have to start from a stop at a light or stop sign. I confess the rolling Hollywood style stop was used many times.
We made it to Gulf Shores and discovered that the belt squeal we had heard intermittently for the last couple of hours wasn't the power steering pump as we had guessed. It was our alternator on its last legs. We probably couldn't have driven another 50 miles before it locked up.
At the shop, we prepped the '84 Mustang GT350, "Sally John", for the road. She had not been driven on the road in a year so her air conditioner had to be charged and the fluids checked.
While we were in the process of charging the air conditioner, the Mustang stopped starting. After 30 minutes we found a broken wire to the coil. We re-attached it and now it starts just fine. We are now scratching our heads and wondering if this is cause of the intermittent starting problem we've seen over the past couple of years. We were really glad to find this at the shop before we hit the road. The shop is air conditioned and working on a car in the cool is much better than on the side of the road in the heat.
This trip is a shakedown trip for the Mustang. Although its restoration was completed more than four years ago. Its longest previous trip was less than 100 miles. Today we stopped along the way and added more Freon. It's finally cooling tburn up the engine? Is it just a gauge problem?he interior like it should. We're hoping that the temperature gauge is not working properly. It pegged Hot most of the trip. But, the radiator was cool enough you could put your hand on the cap and the burp jug did not indicate that any coolant was boiling over. I'm worried. Harold says don't worry. Its just a sick gauge. The suspense continues. Will we burn the motor up?


Tonight we are in Prattville, AL. We are two tired puppies. We've been on the road or swapping cars for over 13 hours today. We never made it to the venue site which was a drag racing track on the outskirts of Montgomery. We're off again tomorrow. The destination is Nashville.
Tom

Sunday, June 5, 2011

HRPT Day 2 - Drive Till It Breaks Redux

Sunday, 5 June, Hot Rod Power Tour 2011 - “Drive Till It Breaks Redux” - We've been having a blast driving my ’51 Chevrolet. It has a really choppy exhaust and we've been running it unmuffled through the side pipes. I sounds awesome, like an 8 cylinder Harley. It is a favorite with the crowds; so Harold and I spend a lot of time grinning. The a/c went on the blink on the way to FL. Then we got it working again so we weren't dying in the heat. The Cocoa Beach, FL venue was great, lots of good seafood. 
Today, we stopped twice on the way to Valdosta, GA to help others who had broken down. We're carrying enough tools for a small garage. They didn't have the right tools.
Then at the last exit of the day, I reached for 1st gear on the off ramp and it wasn't there. I grabbed for 2nd and it wasn't there either. We jacked the '51 Chevy up in the parking lot, crawled under and checked for a broken shift linkage. But, the problem is inside the 4 Speed Muncie. So as we go to bed tonight we’ve driven 800 miles and have reverse, 3rd & 4th gears. L
We can't make it to Detroit with only 3rd and 4th so we're up at daybreak tomorrow taking Bobbie Sue back to the garage and swap for my '84 Mustang - "Sally John". Then we are driving to Montgomery, AL to rejoin the Power Tour. J
I hope Detroit or Bust is just a slogan.
Tom

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Glamour of Grammar by Roy P. Clark

Today I finished reading The Glamour of Grammar by Roy P. Clark.

Nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections.  Period, comma, semi-colon, colon, dash, ellipse, parentheses, apostrophe, quotation mark, exclamation point, and question mark.  Dangling participle, and split infinitive.  Restrictive clause, non-restrictive clause.  Indicative mood, subjunctive mood, and interrogative mood.  Active and passive verbs.  Present, past and future tenses.  Sentence fragments, and simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences.  Run-on sentences and comma splices.  So many rules.  So little memory.

I was never good at grammar.  My teachers recognized it.  When I was a freshman at Baylor, I tested into a Honors English program.  It was mostly luck.  The placement exam include an essay.  One of the topics we could write on was "Americans abroad ugly or beautiful?"  This was about the time that the novel The Ugly American was a best seller.  I had read the novel, and  I had lived in Japan the previous year.  I wrote an inspired essay drawing upon my personal knowledge.  They let me skip the basic, freshman English 101 and enroll in the Honors English 102 class.  Their mistake.  My professor, Mrs. Caskey, was a tough task master.  She demanded excellence.  One day in frustration she called me to her office and gave me her personal copy of a grammar book.  I don't remember its name but there was a drawing of Shakespeare on the front cover.  I used that book and made it through the course.  But the rules didn't stick.

The book is more than just rules.  It also speaks to what makes good writing and reading.

One of my favorite passages: "Writers must always remember that the sounds of language precede the symbols we use to represent those sounds on the page."

Clark's message to me is loud and clear.  Learning to write means more than premise, structure, characters and settings.  It's also means learning about the art of composing words, sentences and paragraphs.  Using language to make spoken music on paper.  I've got a very long way to go on this journey.

This is a good book.  I needed it.  I give the book three stars.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

Today I read Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane.

I read this book as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.

I like reading Lehane.  He does a really good job blending narrative and dialogue.  He has a sense of humor, quirky characters and some unexpected twists.  Moonlight Mile is a good read.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Out Out Damned Plot!

Today I finished a week's worth of developing an outline for Bob Lee Rankin, the new official Bon Secour Protagonist and weaving it into the existing storylines of Matt Frazier, the new official Antagonist.

In my original story, Bob Lee was simply the most evil villain I could imagine.  Unfortunately, for Matt, my original protatonist, he was too much fun.  So, out went Matt's story and in comes Bob Lee's.  This involved creating fictive world for Bob Lee not just an interesting backstory.

Bob Lee's "A" story was fairly easy if his goal is to become a prosperous and powerful from smuggling.  The challenge was to come up with the obstacles that would prevent him from attaining his goal too easily.

Bob Lee's "B" story is the story of his fatal flaw.  His denial of culpability.  Something that will not be too difficult to show.

Bob Lee's relationship "C" story has been the most fun to develop.  I got as much fun twisting this storyline up as I did creating his "evil" character earlier.  The readers of Bon Secour are going to love this "C" story.

And with the adoption of my new theme and an effort to make Matt less boring, drastic changes were required in Matt's "C" relationship story and a new "B" internal (fatal flaw) story was created.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Writers Group Redux

Today, I took Chapters 2, 3 and 4 to the CITE Writers Group for critique.

I have really been motivated to write and since last week's meeting.  I finished drafting the next three chapters since last week's meeting.

We never got to my new chapters.  Instead, the Group wanted to work on Chapter 1 again. 

During the past week I had asked my friend, Jim, who is currently working in Iraq as a contractor, for help with a couple of military speak questions.  My edit of Chapter 1 incorporated those ideas and I shared the revised Chapter 1 with the Group. 

Jim also told me in response to a question that he wasn't hooked until the action on page two.  So, the Group told me to cut the first page of the story and start where Jim was hooked.

I lost my fantastic first paragraph at last week's meeting.  This week I lost the rest of the first page.  If they critique Chapter 1 again next week, I'll probably lose the first chapter.  Good grief! 

My problem is that I still don't like my opening hook, but, I don't know how to make it better.

The remainder of the group's comments and suggestions were excellent.  I am learning a lot from their input.  They just may make a writer out of me yet.

I am writing with very short sentences.  One of their suggestions involves combining short sentences to create longer more complicated sentences.  And they talked about literary techniques I've never heard or read of.  I complained that they were going to have me writing a literary thriller.  They responded what's wrong with that.  What did you mean to write?

I just wanted to write a thriller.  Period.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Woods by Harlan Coben

Today I read The Woods by Harlan Coben.

I read this book as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.

I am so glad I found Harlan Coben.  Plots don't come any twistier than his.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

It's Sunny Today

A novel without a theme is like a day with no sunshine.  It's sunny today.  There is joy in Mudville.  Bon Secour has a theme.

I finished reading Inside Story by Dara Marks two months ago.   Since then, I've read it two more times.  This is an awesome book showing how the best structure is driven by the theme.  How all action is derived from theme.  I've been writing extensive notes, and, I've struggling to develop a theme for Bon Secour

It hasn't been an easy path.  I've probably explored and rejected a half a dozen themes.  And what I have may wiggle a little more in the future.

One of the difficulties involved the decision to make the villain the Protagonist and the everyman the Antagonist.  This switch, suggested by my Writers Group, turned everything upside down from my original idea.  If I were to tell the story of their conflict equally, then my theme for each character had to be same because as Marks teaches, you can only have one theme in a story.

Multiple themes, one for the Protagonist and one for the Antagonist, were relatively easy.  Fitting them into the same theme was more difficult.  My resulting theme isn't profound, but I think it is universally accepted.

Ta Ta, the theme for Bon Secour is:

You can have anything you want if you are willing to pay the price for it.

  • Bob Lee's (the Protagonist) "A" story is the quest to become wealthy and powerful as a succesful drug smuggler.
  • Matt's (the Antagonist) "A" story is to rescue his sister from the drug smuggler (Bob Lee).
  • Bob Lee's "B" story (fatal flaw) is that he cannot see anything wrong in what he does.  Bob Lee must accept his good side and become complete if he is to attain his success.
  • Matt's "B" story (fatal flaw) is that he cannot forgive himself of past actions and behavior.  Matt must accept his bad side and become complete if he is to overcome his obstacles.
  • Bob Lee and Matt share similar "C" stories.  Each is unable to connect with others.  Ultimately, this isn't working for either of them.  Matt changes and is able to open his heart.  Bob Lee rejects change and clings to his fatal flaw and rejects love.
Twelve sentences.  Doesn't look like much, but, it's the culmination of two months serious thinking and two full days of trying to get it on paper. 

Themes are so much easier to read about than to actually do.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Switcheroo

I've been thinking about what my Writers Group said about making my villain the Protagonist.  They are right.  He is the driving force of the story.  Everyone else is reacting to him. 

So, I'm biting the bullet.  Bob Lee Rankin is the official Protagonist of Bon Secour.

Now, I've got to go develop complete external ("A"), internal ("B") and relationship ("C") story lines for Bob Lee.

And that will be fun.  He is twisted and I love dreaming up his fictive world.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Progress!!

Today, I took Chapter 1 of Bon Secour to the CITE Writers Group for critique.

I was afraid to let anyone read what I had written.

They were fair in their criticisms.  My violent story opening may not have been their cup of tea, but, they said they liked how I wrote action.

Don't you just love it when someone says something nice to you.  God Bless Them!

Wish I could learn how to be more diplomatic and not so blunt in my own criticism. 

I appreciate that I got better than I give.

They didn't like my carefully crafted opening sentence and paragraph.  I thought it was genius.  They thought, 'not so much.'

I still think I need to re-work the first paragraph.  For now I will wait for the muse to inspire me.

Now I'm fired up to have another chapter ready for critique next week.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Bone Collector by Jeffrey Deaver

Today I finished reading The Bone Collector by Jeffrey Deaver.

I read this book as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.

What an imagination, a quadriplegic investigator.  This is a fascinating read.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Drawing the Line by Leonard Critcher

Today I finished reading Drawing The Line by Leonard Critcher.  This is Leonard's debut novel. And I think what I read is the second draft.  It is a randy coming-of-age novel set in the early sixties. 

Leonard moved to Texas and I moved to the Alabama coast.  We haven't seen each other in a while.  Through the modern miracle of FaceBook we found each other and found out we were both writing novels.  He got his ready for critique before me.  I salute his perseverance.

I thank Leonard for the opportunity to read and critique.  I learned so much about writing from the process.  And I set myself up to not make the same mistakes I called to his attention.  To do so would be to serve up a big fat lob and be prepared to have it smashed down my throat when he critiques my w-i-p Bon Secour.  Leonard and I have been friends for more than thirty-five years.  He beat me unmercifully at tennis too many times to count over those years.  He's a competitor with a capital "C".  I'll pay for being hard on him when it comes time for him to critique.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Enemy by Lee Child

Today I finished reading The Enemy by Lee Child.

I read this book as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.

The highest complement for a thriller is to say you couldn't do anything else until you finished the book.  The Enemy is that kind of book.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Art & Craft of Fiction, A Practitioner's Manual

Today I read The Art  & Craft of Fiction, A Practitioner's Manual by Victoria Mixon.

Recently I've been working on incorporating a known theme into Bon Secour and developing my "B" and "C" stories to also incorporate the theme.  Doing this work pointed out that my plot planning was not as complete as I thought it was.  A recent post in Victoria Mixon's blog, A. Victoria Mixon, Editor, introduced me to the idea of developmental editing.  And since I am as insecure as they come, I started thinking, "Do I need an developmental edit?"  And, if I do, is she the editor for me

I don't know how much a development edit costs.  But, the book is probably cheaper than the edit.  And if you don't like what she has to say about writing, you can cross her off the list of possible editors.  So, I bought the book to find out if I wanted her as an editor.

Well, I do like what she had to say.  I also like her sense of humor which might help when the deserved criticism comes rolling in. 

I have so much work to do before I would submit to a development audit.  If, in fact, I ever do.  After all it's like cleaning your house before the cleaning service comes to do the job.  You don't want them to see how messy you really are.  I've got to get my story in the best possible shape I can before I would let anyone see it.  Especially someone who is going to look in every corner and closet and find out how messy my house really is.

     "Writers who regularly attempt to plot and write at the same time are the ones who wind up drunks.
     So you mull it over for a long time, you think it all out, you make sure every plot point is necessary.  Every scene has a hook, development, and climax, every incident caused the next effect, every single twist teaches the reader something they didn't already know about life.
     Then you sit down and write your scenes, (or re-write, if you've done your planning in 72,000 words of prose), entertaining yourself mightily as you go."

This is a really good book.  Part I: Developmental Issues is excellent.  It contained both new to me information and a better explanation of topics I've read before.  I give it three stars.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Long Lost by Harlan Coben

Today I finished reading Long Lost by Harlan Coben.

I read this book as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.

I like Harlan Coben.  This is only the second of his books that I have read.  So, I'm not sure I really understand how he writes.  But, I was fascinated by the way the use of dialogue carried this story.  It seems like there were pages and pages of wonderful dialogue with very little description.  He let the reader picture the scene from their own imagination.  I like that.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds by Michael Hauge

Today I read Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds by Michael Hauge.

I bought and read this book because I'm still under the delusion that I will actually sit my but down in the chair and write Bon Secour.  And when I do, I'll need to know how to sell it to an agent.  This book was written primarily for screenwriters but it is equally applicable to writers of novels.

"The secret of a successful 60-second pitch is to convey the most powerful elements of your story clearly, succinctly and passionately -- to get the buyer emotionally involved enough that he demands to read the script [novel]. . .   Don't try to tell your story!"  p.1

He shows you how to analyse your story and identify its most powerful elements to build your sales pitch on.  

And, if you don't have at least four of the ten elements he write about, you probably don't have a saleable story.

I give this book three stars.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Three Bags Full

He sat in his recliner journaling.  His belly was cramping.  Last night his stool was black again.  And, he pooped 'three bags full'.  He waited for the fever and the dizziness to begin.  His new surgical oncologist was out of town.  If the bleeding had to be stopped surgically, he'd rather him do it.  But for now he had to wait. 

The cramping hurt his belly and his psyche.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Dear John by Nicholas Sparks

Today I finished reading Dear John by Nicholas Sparks.

I'm a fan of movies based on Nicholas Sparks' novels.  My favorite movie based on his books was The Notebook.  I saw the movie Dear John a couple of months ago and it was still fresh in my mind.

Since there is so often a huge difference between a book and its movie, I decided to read a Nicholas Sparks book, Dear John, to see how he wrote as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.

While it wasn't a Thriller like I usually read, Sparks is a very successful writer earning millions of dollars every year per Forbes.  And, which aspiring writer wouldn't like to earn millions also.  So armed with greed and curiosity, I borrowed my fourteen year-old granddaughter's copy of Dear John and began the journey to enlightenment.

My granddaughter was right.  The book was much better than the movie. 

And now I understand why he is paid the big bucks.  He writes EMOTION.  Best I've ever read.  Plot and voice get a B- from me but writing true feelings gets an A+.

He is a master at writing the emotions you 'feel but don't speak'.  And that's what is different.  Every other writer writes about the emotions we are comfortable to speak aloud.  He tackles the hard to express ones.

When he wrote the part of the story about his Dad being weak, infirm and dying, he touched a wound I thought had been healed.  I thought, My goodness you've been hereYou've felt this too.  And he is so darn sneaky and quiet.  Sparks speaks emotion with just the right volume.

I wonder what's he's like on the inside.  If he's well adjusted with it 'all together' or if he's just a really good writer.  One thing for sure, he can (as Hemmingway advised) write a true sentence.

Oh, and after telling her she was right my granddaughter now wants me to read: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks, and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.  It seems I've opened the door.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Off To See The Doctors

Today he went to see his family doctor and then to see his new surgical oncologist.


Surgical oncologist.  Link two of the words you really don't want to hear applied to your own medical problem.


The surgeon was very helpful.  The nodules didn't look like scar tissue to the surgeon.  To him they looked like tumors.   What they are exactly won't be determined until they are out.    He said they were most likely neuro endocrine tumors, NETs.  What we used to call carcinoids.  There, a fancy, new name for my old problem.  If they were NETs, he wouldn't know if they were benign or malignant until they came out.

The surgeon said the operation would begin laproscopically and only proceed to "open everything up" with a big zipper if he couldn't get to the three nodules the CT Scan had exposed.  When asked about using a big zipper and feeling every inch of the small bowel for NETs (the way they were first found in 2000), he said, "The problem was the amount of scaring and adhesion he expected to find.  In 2000, your gut was like freshly cooked spaghetti - slippery, unstuck.  Now, he said, your gut is like spaghetti that has been in the refrigerator for a few days.  It's stuck to itself and to the anti-hernia mesh that was put in place.  I might do more damage trying to take it out and feel it than the good I might accomplish."

Then he said, "If I do it laproscopically you'll be in the hospital about seven days.  If I make a large incision, you'll be in the hospital 10 days to two weeks."

What?  Two weeks!  They send you home in two days after brain surgery these days.  I am really going to be messed up.  He thought about the lengthy time it took to recover in 2000 and his spirits sank.  The reality of his 2000 recovery came back hard and heavy.  Post-surgical depression, incontinence, pain.  He lost twenty pounds during recovery last time because he felt too bad to eat.  And for him that's saying a lot.

The surgeon explained further why you didn't want to leave the nodules to grow and prosper in your body.   Why they really needed to come out.  Now! 

Of course, in medicalese, now, means when they have an opening in their schedule.  He always thought they'd be in a hurry.  But apparently not.  In his case, 'now' means is in a month or so.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What Is Your Opinion?

He went to Shreveport to see his friends.  The Oncologist and the Colo-Rectal Surgeon who had pulled him through ten years before.  Men whose opinion, and knowledge he respected.  They knew what they were talking about.  They had proved that to him before.

"Why," he asked.  "Do I have to have these nodules cut out.  I didn't know I had them before they did the CT Scan in January.  They weren't connected to the bleeding.  And, as best I can tell they aren't bothering anything.  I don't want to be cut open just for grins.  Do I really need this surgery?"

"Yes", they replied.

"Oh Crap."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais

Today I finished reading The Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais

I read this book as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.

It's a good read but I missed the connection from the title to the book.  What raincoat?  What monkey?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How the Christians Felt

I got back tonight from attending a Writer's Group meeting at the CITE Beach Studios in Orange Beach, AL.  And I know exactly how the Christians felt when they were thrown into the arena with the lions in ancient Rome.

In my case the lions, weren't vicious.  But, my story, Bon Secour, was definitely fresh meat to be devoured.

Their comments and questions were on target.  The problem was my story was the target.  I like my story. 

They said we like my story too.  "BUT, we like your antagonist much more than your protagonist.  The villain is grrrreat but 'Bubba', your protagonist (no, he's not named Bubba), is borrrring."

Then they proceeded to brain-storm as a group how they could turn my story around and make the antagonist the protagonist.

Well they blew my mind.  And they had so much fun doing it.  In the end, they said, "This is how screenwriting is done in groups." 

I smiled weakly, said thank you and slunk away.

Yes, they are right.  My protagonist is boring.  But I wanted to tell the story of a "everyman" who is thrust into a Thrilling situation.  Apparently, it's okay to be thrust into a thrilling situation only if you have more problems than Lot.

So I went home and dreamed up more problems for my protagonist to have.  Bless his heart!  He's not boring anymore.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

101 Slightly Unpredictible Tips by Larry Brooks

Today I finished reading 101 Slightly Unpredictable Tips For Novelists and Screenwriters, Innovative Ways To Jack Your Creative Productivity and Help You With What You Write by Larry Brooks.

I love Larry Brooks.  If he wrote the instructions for an android phone, I would read him.  And, I don't even have an android phone.  But, that title.  Something shorter next time, please.

This book is a compilation of posts from his blog, StoryFix.com.  Some have been incorporated into his other eBooks or his new book, Story Engineering.  But, where duplicated they evidence information that needs to be read more than once.

I recommend Larry Brooks and StoryFix.com to you.  I aquired this book when Larry had a promotion giving this eBook away free to people who bought Story Engineering.  This is a good book.  It's worth its full price.  I give it three stars.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Inside Story by Dara Marks

Today I finished reading Inside Story, The Power of the Transformational Arc by Dara Marks.

I am stunned, inspired and afraid.

It is an awesome book outlining the path to incorporating theme into my story in such a way as to make it both enjoyable and meaningful.

It's the meaningful that is scary.  What do I have to offer that is meaningful?

The prospect that I could follow a specific methodology to develop a theme and incorporate it into Bon Secour is inspiring.

I was stunned that there was in fact a way to logically approach and develop theme.  Every how-to write book says you need theme.  No one tells you how to do it.  Most say, you will discover your theme as you write if you do everything else right.  And, what are the chances of a first time writer doing everything right?

This is way to develop theme is doable but it looks hard.  This is definitely a book I'll have to read more than once.

I give this amazing book FIVE stars.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Smart As A Front Porch Dog

Harold told me today that someone we were talking about was "as smart as a front porch dog."

I have no idea what the difference between a 'front porch dog' and a 'back porch dog' is.  Under the porch dogs I understand.  You drive up to a house in the country and here they come barking at you from under the porch.

'As smart as a front porch dog' calls to be in a story.

I love Haroldisms and Suzisms.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Crossfire by James Patterson

Today I finished reading Crossfire by James Patterson.

I read this book as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.

I have enjoyed the movies with Morgan Freeman and this character so I chose it to be the James Patterson novel I read.  And, I wanted to read a James Patterson novel because his name is always somewhere on the NYT & USA Today bestseller lists.  And, Forbes said he made FORTY million last year as a writer.  He must be doing something right.

He is very popular.  When I requested this book from my library, I was number eighty-three on the waiting list and the book had been out for months already.

Reading Crossfire was interesting.  Patterson hit the screenwriting beats within a page or two every time.  He ends every chapter with a closing sentence that poses a 'what's going to happen question.'  Each scene is a chapter.  This book has 117 chapters.  Sometimes a scene has several locations when the point of the scene is 'movement'.  His 'voice' is ordinary - nothing special like John Hart's.

Why Patterson is worth $40,000,000 a year is a mystery worth further investigation.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

How lucky do you feel?

He sat in the examination room of his Family Care Doctor with his wife.  No one said much.  She was there to make sure she got the answers she wanted to hear.  He didn't usually ask the right questions. 

The doctor arrived.  The doctor explained what nodules usually meant.  She explained what the mesinary was that the nodules sat on.  And, that the oncologists recommendation of surgery to remove the nodules was indicated.

He told her that he wanted to wait for a second opinion on the need for surgery.  He was going to Shreveport for his annual cancer doctors check ups in early April.  He wanted to ask them what they thought.  She said the decision could wait.

She said, "I won't tell you that you have to have surgery.  But, what I will say is, How lucky do you feel?"

Ya gotta luv it when your doctor thinks she's Clint Eastwood.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Back In The Saddle!

My work in progress Bon Secour has been collecting dust since December 10, 2010.  Not a keystroke since until today.

What happened?  Life.

First I got sick and spent multiple days in the hospital before Christmas.  Then Christmas, grandchildren, more medical tests.  Then my wife had day surgery that turned into a week's hospital stay.

But mostly, it was because I was intimidated.  Afraid.  Scared.  Full of fear.  The perfection demons were eating my creativity.  You only have one chance to make a first impression / you only have one chance to get your first novel right.  Etc.

I didn't like how I was writing.  I didn't like my 'Voice'.  I read that you could develop a writing voice by copying the works of authors you admire.  They suggested that you copy five or six different writers  They claimed that after you finished the project you would have your own unique voice.  But, that it would embody the best of the authors your copied.  So I've been copying scenes from John Hart's The Last Child. I was going to turn my humdrum writing into that of a voice with a golden throat.  Guess what?  I'm still not John Hart.  Still want to be.  Won't quit trying.  But, it's probably just not going to happen.  
Larry Brooks' (one of my favorite writing gurus) new book, Story Engineering, came out last week.  I had pre-ordered it on Amazon so the ink was barely dry on my copy when I started reading.

It was definitely more fun to read about how to write a novel than to sit, afraid, in front of the blank screen of my story.  So, naturally, I read instead of actually writing.  I did pick up more than a few new ideas.  They inspired me to pick up Bon Secour and re-read what I had written so far.

As you would guess, it had not miraculously turned into John Hart's voice.  It was still me.  But, I found as I read it that I liked me.  Maybe no one else will.  But I like me.  Violence, sex, humor in a twisty dangerous plot.  I want to write again.

On page 257, Larry Brooks wrote in Story Engineering,
     "It takes an agent or an editor many dozen pages to determine the merits of your story.  It only takes a few pages to assess the rhythm and melody of your writing voice.  Those first pages expose the writing as that of a professional, someone who is publishable . . . . or not.  If it compels, if it flows, or doesn't overwhelm, it passes muster as acceptable.
     And that's all that is required of voice.  Any allure of a stellar writing voice beyond that point is a case study in diminishing returns.  You don't have to write like a poet to sell your story.  You simply need to write well enough to get through the door into a crowded hall full of storytellers.
     From then on, your story is what determines your fate.  At that point, once you can hang with the pros, sentence for sentence, little if nothing else matters."

I will continue to copy from time to time. I do learn a lot more from copying than reading about how an author actually writes. Actually structures his scene, paragraph and sentence.  But, I think it is more important right now that I finish fleshing out my first draft/outline than it is to spend hours each day copying someone else.Thanks, Larry.  I needed to stop worrying about voice and go back to the things I can fix.  Right now that's working on writing better scenes.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

Today, I finished reading Story Engineering, Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing by Larry Brooks.

Okay, I admit it.  I am a HUGE FAN of Larry Brooks.  I've read his books, eBooks and blog, StoryFix.com

My copy of Story Engineering is heavily highlighted and underlined.  There is at least a mark on each page.  Most pages are covered.  Only one page has no marks and that's because it is a checklist that I typed out in Word to use for Bon Secour's scenes.

Yes, Story Engineering contains a lot of material that he has previously published in eBooks or in his blog.  Story Engineering links them all together, and he adds enough new material that this book is well worth its price.  Larry Brooks does the best job of anyone I've read explaining what to do and how to do it.

BUY this book.  READ this book.  RE-READ this book.

I've only got five stars in my rankings.  This book deserves six.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

Today I finished reading The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly.

I read this book as a part of my learn to write by reading project.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Three Stations by Martin Cruz Smith

Today I read Three Stations by Martin Cruz Smith.

I read this book as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.  And because I love to read everything Smith writes.

Read it.  You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Get a Job

My new day job starts today.  I'll be attending the Mississippi Affordable Housing QAP Conference in Biloxi.

I'm going to be a client representative for a firm that provides market studies and environmental site assessments to developers of affordable housing projects.

The great part is that most of my work will be done telecommuting.  My contacts with clients will be by mail, email, and phone.  I can sit at my computer in shorts and sandals while I work with a view of the Gulf.  Isn't that great. 

I've been reading that I needed a job to support my writing hobby.  Now I have one.

I'm looking forward to the social contact aspects of working again.  Writing is lonely.

 After you turn 65, a lot of doors are closed to you.  Some should be.  I can't do manual labor anymore. (Probably never could, actually.)  But my brain is sharp and my business skills were highly developed before I let them rust these past ten years of retirement.  I know I can make someone a lot of money.  And like Zig Ziglar said, "You can have anything you want if you let enough other people have what they want."  I owe Ford and Becky a special thank you for letting me work again.  I'm going to make you some money.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Persuader by Lee Child

Today I finished reading Persuader by Lee Child.

I read this book as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.

I love a good thriller.  This is a good thriller.  Jack Reacher is a marvelous protagonist.  I wish I had thought of him first.  No wonder the ladies love Reacher.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Writing Tools by Peter Clark

Today I finished reading Writing Tools by Peter Clark

I bought this book because some How-To book author recommended it.  I'm glad they did.  It is unique on my reference shelf.  Instead of talking about structure, characters, theme, etc., this book is about how to write.  I imagine it is what a line editor would tell you about your sentence.  Most of it went over my head rapidly.  But that doesn't mean I won't be back to it for a little more after I absorb what I learned during my first pass.  There's enough meat here to keep you re-reading for years.

The book jacket describes Peter Clark as a writer who teaches and a teacher who writes.  Every one of the 50 Tools is followed by a workshop (you know - homework).  I imagine if you successfully completed all of the workshops you'd be one heck of a writer.  Not that I'm likely to complete any of the workshops any time soon.  But I'll think about it.

This is a really good How-To book.  I give it four stars.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

Today I finished Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth.

I read this book as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Athena Project by Brad Thor

Today I finished reading The Athena Project by Brad Thor.

I read this book as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.

An interesting book.  I wondered if half of the technical and special forces organizational information contained in the book was true.  I don't think it could all be true.  I wondered what was true and what wasn't.  But then it's a novel.  I guess none of it had to be true.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

True Grit by Charles Portis

Today I read True Grit by Charles Portis.

I read it as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.

The new movie is in the theater.  I remember the John Wayne movie.  I may go see the new one.  Or, maybe not.  But I will read the book.  Books are usually better than their movies.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Creating Characters by Dwight Swain

Today I finished reading Creating Characters, How to Build Story People (1990) by Dwight Swain.

This is a solid addition to my reference bookshelf.  I did not find a lot of earth shaking new information on character development.  But, the book is well written and comprehensive.

I give it three stars.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Without Fail by Lee Child

Today I finished reading Without Fail by Lee Child.

I read this book as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.

Go Reacher.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Worry?

She asked, "Do you want me to be more worried?"
"No.  Let's wait till we know what we're worried about."