Optimism is NOT Arrogance

Arrogance is the belief that you are BETTER than others. Optimism is the belief that you have the same CHANCE as others. We all have the chance to achieve our dreams. Don't ever let anyone tell you differently.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

E-Picture Books - The Future?

Happy Pre-emptive New Year everyone!

Yes, the holidays are nearly over, and hopefully everyone got what they wanted for Christmas (or Kevmas as we say in my house - no disrespect to Jesus at all...)

It was a joyous occasion for me - and that was a horrific cliche, wasn't it?  Anyway, got many new books which I have no time to read but will start not reading them immediately!  Actually I lied - I did start one - EARTH by Jon Stewart and the writers at The Daily Show.  If you want to chuckle - A LOT - pick this book up.  It's hysterical.

Also got a couple of reference books for the next book in The Timepiece Chronicles about the Civil War, so that should come in handy.

But I wanted to talk about a book my son got (ok, I bought it for me on his brand new iPad).  It's "The Monster at the End of this Book", the old Grover stand by written by Jon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smolin.

This was one of my favorites growing up, and I read it to my kids and it became my son's favorite.  But the real reason I mention it is because it's not a book for the iPad like on Kindle.  It's an app - an interactive picture book for kids.

And I think this is the future.

No, I don't think the written page is dead or going away, but as touchpads like the iPad continue to increase in popularity, I could easily see my grandkids toting them around for textbooks, novels, and non-fiction reference books all in one device.  And that'd be awesome, because my kids carry about 15-20 pounds of books in a backpack every day at school.

But back to picture books.  First of all, for all you illustrators out there, breathe deep - computer graphics won't overtake the hand-drawn picture, in my mind.  Yes, computer animation is the norm now, but in art houses all over the world, hand-drawn animation rules.  So I think it will be with animated picture books.  You may use a computer stylus and pad to draw, but draw you will, and children will still love it.

Secondly, for you writers - picture books will ALWAYS need to be written.  The medium may change, but if anything, the lower cost of producing picture book apps will mean more opportunities as publishers expand from printing houses to app developers.  Writers will ALWAYS be needed.  Trust me on that.

We are all story tellers.  We've evolved from the campfire to the proscenium to the written page to the computer.  But stories have never, EVER dramatically changed.  Nor do I think they ever will.

So if you get a chance, check out the Monster app.  I love it as much as I love the book.  It's interactive, I can hear Grover's voice, and I'm engaged.

Next I'll present the flip side - the downside to all this?  The atrophy of imagination...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Greatest Christmas Story

Well ok, it may not be the GREATEST Christmas story, but it is kinda cute...

My mom was having Christmas dinner when the REAL labor pains hit.  Being her fourth, this time around there was no sudden panic or rushing to the hospital at the first sign of labor.  She went to her mother-in-laws house, helped set the table, waddled around to her seat, and enjoyed a wonderful, albeit periodically painful, Christmas dinner.  

At seven o'clock on the 25th of December, the pains got worse, and she knew it was time to go to the hospital.  Calmly packing up the presents, leaving three other kids at the in-laws to spend the night, she and her husband drove the ten miles across Detroit to have another baby.  

After they arrived, this being 1967, they took my mother to the back while my dad stayed in the lobby with the other fathers.  Not much pacing, as this was becoming routine, my dad just sat with the other guys and talked football.

An hour and a half later, the doors to the waiting room burst open, and a nurse announced to my father that my mother had a son.  The second boy after a girl, then boy then another girl.  

Soon he was able to stop by and say hi to his newest addition, and for reasons never fully divulged to me other than the fact that there had never been one before, they decided to name me Kevin.

Yes, a birthday on Christmas is special and it sucks.  It's cool to be born on such a universally meaningful day, and yes the lights and carols are especially appreciated.  I wasn't born in a manger, and I didn't have livestock attending my birth.  I don't even remember my size, 'cause at the time I couldn't quite write it down.  But still, whenever someone asks "why don't you celebrate your birthday in June or something" I always say "Because I wasn't born in June."  It's my birthday, I'll stick with it.

It does suck because the presents were always combined, so I'd get a larger present but fewer of them.  And it sucks never having a birthday party at school, or trying to have a party even NEAR your birthday because everyone's all hyped up about getting presents for others.  But the worst part?  The absolutely, unquestionably, without a doubt worst part of being born on December 25?

December 26. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Express yourself!

Here's a healthy tip for anyone feeling really frustrated with life, their current situation, anything.


Sounds simple, I know, but not everyone does it.  "I can't write!" or "I'm no good at writing" come up a lot.  But here's the thing: writing can get out of you everything that's festering and making you insane.

And it doesn't have to be a "Dear Diary" thing, either.  I once wrote a hundred page script in one night after I got in an argument with my wife.  I took it all out on some poor bastard who was captured by blood drinkers (not vampires - this was way before vampires were cool).  It was a great script, one I'm very proud of, and it poured out the anger I was feeling.

In fiction, screenplays, whatever, you can take out all the aggression and anger you feel and its perfectly legal.  Hell, if you're Stephen King it even pays well.  But it doesn't have to make sense, be published, or even read by anyone.  It's just for you.  And when it's fiction, boy, you can make anything happen.  had a rough day at work with indecisive bosses who blame you for the delays they caused?  Write about a brilliant CEO (modeled after you, of course), who turns around a failing company by finding secrets about all the evil doers in the company (modeled after your boss, of course).  And throw in some mafia coming after the hero or something, and BOOM, you've got a story and a healthy little fantasy that alleviates your stress.

It's great.  It works, and it's a lot cheaper than a gym monthly fee, and better for you than peppermint stick ice cream...which I love...

Try it out and let me know how it goes.

Write on!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

In the meantime...

Whilst I wait for Caitlin to review the latest manuscript, and thus (hopefully) sending it off to the publishers for the massive bidding war (it is OPTIMISM abounds, right?) I thought I'd just wax philosophic here before I start the second book.

Topic:  Equality

Given that today Congress has repealed the Don't Ask Don't Tell law, I thought this an appropriate topic.  And a great day it is for equality.  We seem to be in the midst of a civil rights movement not unlike the sixties, when so much progress was made for our African American brothers and sisters.  Now we just have to make the same progress with those of different sexual persuasion.

But really, this is a blow to those who sought to oppress others whose views and lifestyles didn't match theirs - those whose lifestyles they didn't and could never understand.

Look, I'm married with three kids.  I could never in my life imagine myself kissing another fuzzy faced bristly guy on the lips.  Just ain't gonna happen.  But that's me.  And ya know what?  There are six billion other people on the planet who are all different from me.  If some of them are physically attracted to members of the same sex, I have no business even caring.  Personally, I look at the underlying benefit of such a relationship:  love.  And that, my friends, is something the world could DEFINITELY use a lot more of.

Now I understand some concerns from folks about sharing the shower stalls and sleeping quarters with men or women who might be attracted to you.  It's an uncomfortable feeling; ask any woman who's been oogled by men.  BUT, they have sexual harassment laws for that, and they apply regardless of the sexual preferences of the perpetrator.  The rare instances of that happening haven't prevented us from enlisting women, nor should it prevent us from allowing homosexuals to enlist.

The bottom line is this:  we are all equal because the one consistent aspect to every single human being is that we're all different.  Our unique characteristics define us as humans, and thus no one person more or less deserving of our honor and respect than another.  If a thousand men act a certain way, you can't say for sure the 1,001 man will act the same way.  So it is true with every person you meet.   Their characteristics, their mannerisms, their beliefs and their core spirit is not evident upon the first glance.  People can and will surprise you, if given the opportunity to do so.

We now have the ability to have gay men and women serve in the military proudly and without discrimination.  They bring a wealth of knowledge, skills and pride to the American military.  This is a great day for the advancement of the human race.  A great day for us all.

Write on!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Book Review Time! "Shutter Island" By Dennis Lehane

Great book.  Go read it.

That was easy!

Ok, seriously, if you saw the movie but didn't read the book, this is still a great work of thrilling fiction.  The story centers around a federal marshall trying to investigate the disappearance of a "patient" at an insane asylum.  A home for the very very violent.  He's also trying to learn more about his past, and come to grips with the person that killed his wife.

It's quick, with well-rounded characters and a writing style that can throw you off at times, just like being in an insane asylum would.  One stylistic choice Lehane makes often is the use of a run-on sentence, something your teachers told you never to do.

In some paragraphs he can have a sentence of thirty, forty words all connected by the word "and".  Why?  Because that's his style for demonstrating high action - things moving around and characters making decisions and objects falling while people are running at them and throwing things and then the character slips on the rocks and falls, etc. etc.  It's a useful tool, and one that comes across well when used sparingly. By bringing it out during those intense sense, Lehane wraps you in the frenetic movement of the scene, and you become as engrossed in the action as any other book I've read.

It's also a great example of foreshadowing, but not in obvious ways.  The attitude of the staff while the main character is investigating a disappearance portends to a wild ending, but you would never even think that until you get to the ending.  You know, some books drop hints that smack you in the face and you think, "Well obviously they're going to hook up in the end" or something.  You feel you've figured it out way too early.  Here, like the great mystery writers of old, Lehane doesn't give you a friggin' clue about the disappearance of the patient, and in fact detracts you from the main cause so well that you almost forget someone's disappeared.  Only when it all comes together do you have that "wow" moment.

If you've seen the movie you know what I mean, but still, I recommend you reading it.  Knowing the ending won't tarnish the read, it'll just make you more aware of how brilliantly Lehane hides that ending.  If you haven't seen or read the book, go to it!  Either one was enjoyable, but as usual, the book is better than the movie.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A guy walks into a bar...he says "ouch". What's funny?

Two guys are at a bar, and the one guy turns to the other and says "I slept with your mother!"  No reaction.  He turns again and says "I SLEPT WITH YOUR MOTHER!"  Second guy says "Go home Dad, you're drunk."

How do you write comedy?  How do you make people laugh?  And more importantly, sustain that throughout an entire novel?


....no friggin' clue...

In fact, the more I think about it, the less I am inclined to believe anyone can tell someone how to be funny.  You just can't learn it.  Imagine a class, the teacher stands up and says, "ok.  Be funny.  Ready?  Go!"

I think it's a natural state of being.  An outcrop of being happy.  Of recognizing ridiculous situations or statements and making them seem perfectly normal.  Of making the absurd a part of the norm.

I love Monty Python.  No really, I do!  And I find them to be hysterical because they can do the most absurd, out-of-the-blue things with a straight face.  As if it's just the way it is.  I think stories can be hysterical that way too.

Read "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy".  My personal favorite.  Adams throws in so many subtle absurdities that you almost have to re-read the sentence to make sure you just read what you think you read.

But I do believe this:  funny can't be forced.  Even stand-up comics, as rehearsed and prepared as they are, find their humor in the everyday.  They're constantly writing down jokes based on things they've seen, or heard.  If you write a character that tries to be funny, they'll come across as that annoying guy who makes loud jokes and then laughs just as loudly at them, looking around to see who else is laughing.  A funny character isn't obnoxious, or if they are, that's what makes them funny.

At least in my opinion.

But really, who does know?  Like Bruno Kirby said in "Good Morning Vietnam":

"I know funny."  Which is funny, because clearly his character didn't.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Book is Going Out soon!!!

Woot Woot Woot!  Just heard from Caitlin that she definitely wants to get the book out to the publishers in January.  Here's her exact words:

"Yes, I definitely want it to go out in January.  Nobody submits this month--the holidays are too distracting and most houses close between Christmas and New Years."

So take that to heart, fellow writers.  If you're submitting to publishers, avoid December - it's a dead month in the publishing world.

Meantime, I'll wait for Caitlin's notes (probably) and push to get this done quick so we can start hitting the streets!  As my wife said, "Look out 2011!  Here we come!"

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Writing Environment...

The new manuscript is away!  Let's hope Caitlin approves it for shopping around...can't wait!

Sorry for not writing more frequently, but when you're in revision mode, it's either all or nothing - when you sink yourself into it, you have to go all out...

So anyway, today's topic - the writing environment.  In this I'm focusing on a question someone posed to me:  do you write with music?


I love writing to good music.  I'm a bit of a movie fan (if you haven't guessed), and writing fiction to music makes the movie come alive in my head.  It's gotta fit, of course, but when it does, hoo boy, I can do 5-10,000 words in one sitting!  And when it's REALLY good, I look up and an hour or two has magically passed without me ever knowing it.

Here are some of my favorite songs to write to:

Iona - The Book of Kells - Matthew-The Man.  11 minutes of dynamic, theme-changing music.  Awesome.
Harry Gregson-Williams - The Chronicles of Narnia - The Battle.  Awesome for any fight scene.  Same with the next two:
Hans Zimmer - Gladiator - The Battle
Trevor Jones - Excalibur Soundtrack - Carmin Burana
Disney's Reflections of Earth from their Tapestry of Dreams CD.  Very regal and intense
Anything from V for Vendetta (except for the two vocal songs)
Symphony #1 in C Minor by Brahms.
Dvorak's 9th - New World Symphony.  Two classics for intensity and drama.
James Horner - Glory Soundtrack - Charging Fort Wagner.  Hopelessness, heart, desire, facing death.
The Braveheart Soundtrack.  Terrific melody for sadness, but also some great battle music.

Give these a listen and you'll see what I mean.  Forget the movies, (even better if you've never seen them), but just picture your story in the background.  If it fits.

Sometimes these orchestral pieces won't fit.  If I'm writing YA, I'll listen to whatever kids are listening to today.  Not to be hip, but because most of what's written today is the soundtrack to these teens lives.  You can engross yourself in their world that way.

Anyway, the work environment is totally personal, so take my advice only if it fits.  Just thought I'd throw out some examples.

Write on!

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