Sunday, October 30, 2011

Naughty Minds

No matter how hard I try, I have a filthy mind.  In fact, a group of high school kids figured it out.  They'd tell naughty jokes and speak in double entendres just to see what I'd do.  Usually, I'd choke back a snicker and reply, "That's not school appropriate!"  Chortle, chortle.

My brain works against me, too.  Whenever I misread or misunderstand, my brain automatically slips dirty words into song lyrics and books.  For example:

Oh, it doesn't show signs of stopping,
and I brought some corn for popping...

Turned into:

Oh, it doesn't show signs of stopping,
and I brought some porn for copping.... (A feel?)

I accidentally did that into a microphone at our elementary school's Christmas sing-along.  It was a good thing many of them were dyslexic because no one noticed.

So, yesterday I watched the Conan: The Musical video and got a pretty bad case of the giggles.  Shortly after, my husband and I read bedtime stories to our song.  My little boy chose a Little Einstein book about things Violet sees outside in the snow.

My boy wanted Mommy to read.  Bad choice.  What it was supposed to say was:

What does Violet see?
She sees her boot prints in the snow.  

What Mommy said was:

What does Violet see?
She sees her boob prints in the snow.

I was already a little hysterical from "Da lamentations of da women..."  I burst into a fit of snorting giggles and passed the book to my husband.  "You read, I can't!" I choked out.

He read the next line.

They were deep and hollow.

More snorting, then a cackle.

The next line:

Then Violet took a picture.

That particular mental image sent me careening off my son's bed with gales of laughter.  Thank you, Conan, for ruining any chance I could ever read that book again without sniggering.

UPDATE:  Apparently I'm not the only one.

My second graders were practicing their Lewis and Clark-themed Christmas play last Thursday.  The boy playing York was supposed to say, "Look!  Native people!"

What came out was, "Look!  Naked people!"

You do me proud, kid.

Da Lamentations of Da Women....

I came across this YouTube video.  It elicited the rare chortle/cackle/snort that annoys anyone within a 10-mile radius.

After viewing the video, my husband mentioned that he'd never seen it, though I'd watched it a lot as a kid. We pulled it up on Netflix, and I soon came to two conclusions.

First, I shouldn't have watched it as a kid. I suspect a few of the scenes were censored by my brother.  The servile, naked women made me want to gag, though that hadn't bothered me when I was younger.  Second, I hadn't realized how old school the filmography had been.  It felt more like a movie from the 50's or 60's. I'll be interested to see how the new movie turns out.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Write for The Author's Resource Pool

We've all had it happen before.  You're watching a movie, a TV show, or reading a book, and you see something very, very wrong.  A non-flammable chemical explodes.  A doctor uses a goofy term.  Arnold Schwarzenegger fires nineteen rounds from a five-round shotgun without reloading.

Everyone's always telling us to write what we know, but the truth is that writers often have write what they don't know.  Getting the details right creates a sense of realism, but slugging through the mounds of research that doesn't apply can be time consuming.

I'm putting together a section of my blog aimed specifically at helping authors cut to the chase, get the information they need, and get it right.  Maybe you know guns.  Maybe you're a master chef.  Perhaps you tinker with software programming.  Let's pool our resources to make it easier for authors everywhere.

  • Focus on helping others understand the system behind the details.
  • Show ways that writers can apply your information in their writing.
  • Provide links to good places to find the details.
I'll be doing contributions for agriculture and sociology, and I'll include my posts on psychopathy.  Email me at scootercarlyle at gmail dot com.  Tell me what you'd like to include and where you got your expertise.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Authors! Want to Impress Book Bloggers? Don't Do This.

Most self-pubbed authors realize that platform is important and therefore establish a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and their own website.  Though I want to be a published author myself, I'm writing this post from the perspective of a book blogger.  I often visit authors' websites to gather information to include in my reviews, and I'm starting so see problems in their websites that make my job much harder.

  • Have clear contact information on your website.
  • Have a clean, uncluttered appearance.
  • Have good graphics.  Our culture is moving more and more toward the visual sense.  Consequently, my toddler can operate an iPad with a considerable degree of skill.
  • Use professional and ethical language.  It's nearly impossible to rebuild burned bridges.  
  • Include a professional headshot, not a cutsie pose in front of your webcam.
  • Invest in decent cover art.
  • Spend time writing a good pitch line.  You're pitching directly to the public, but the rules are about the same as pitching to agents.  There is a ton of information out there for developing a good pitch.  
  • Make references to how famous you're going to be.
  • Include rave reviews that are really from your mom.
  • Include a "FAQ" section unless you really have been asked the same questions frequently.  Even then, limit it to questions like, "Where are your books available?"  I've seen several authors use the "FAQ" section to massage their egos.  One author included the question, "How do you think you wrote women?"  The author's answer?  "Good question; don't think I've done too badly.  What do you think?"  Truthfully, his portrayal of women ticked me off.
  • Others may disagree with me, but I hate it when authors compare their books to other bestsellers.  One author compared hers to a bestseller I felt was very weak.  Consequently, her book contained the exact same things that bothered me about the bestseller, plus a myriad of other problems.
  • Fluff your site with things that really don't matter.  We can tell if you're trying to make yourself look important.  
  • Never brag about your Amazon rankings.  Victoria Strauss points out that Amazon rankings are not a measure of success.  
I think most of the silly things on author websites stem from insecurities, egos, or both.  If you haven't got any credentials, impress us with your content.  That's the only way to snag and keep readers in a market flooded with half-hearted attempts at fiction.

**I need to note that I've reviewed several self-published books, but I've only posted one.  I sent my comments to the other authors via email because of major quality issues.  I no longer do that.  All reviews are now posted.

Review: "Grace Awakening," by Shawn Bird

Most teens would find Grace's dilemma enviable.  She's got a smokin' band geek and a sexy rebel without a cause hot on her tail.  Too bad she can't enjoy it.  Attempts on her life, random fainting spells, and the furtive skulking of those she trusts have a way of putting a damper on things.

Grace Awakening is Shawn Bird's first book, published by Lintusen Press in July of 2011.  She has scheduled the next book in the series, Awakening Power, for release in November.  Bird's book is the first for the new publisher.  ***

I have to say that Grace Awakening has been the best self-pubbed title I've reviewed.  The others I reviewed were in such poor shape that I returned them to the authors with comments.  Enough of the good showed through the problems to make it a fairly easy read.  Several romantic scenes were compelling.  It was quite refreshing to read something without major sentence structure issues.  The prose was clear, with one or two exceptions, and had very good copy editing.

That praise is loaded with a lot of howevers, though.  Reading the story was like watching a movie without my glasses.  I could tell from the dialogue and the indistinct images approximately what was going on, but it the fuzziness of the picture kept me from being pulled into the story.

Telling, Not Showing

The prose consisted entirely of Grace's thoughts and perceptions, as it should be in first-person perspective, but it relied heavily on Grace asking herself questions to move the plot along.  Having a protagonist ask him or herself a question is OK every once in a while, but Grace is completely loaded with questions like the one above.  We need to see everything through a protagonist's eyes, not hear her every thought.  In addition to the constant questions that interrupted the flow of the text, exposition tended to bury important moments and lessen their impact.

Bird glosses over details that would make her setting and characters come alive, which is what lead to the fuzzy picture I described earlier.  Two areas needed to be much clearer:  the medical situations and the high school setting.  At one point the author has a kid unconscious from cracked ribs.  Cracked ribs are exceedingly painful and can compromise ventilation, but they do not usually cause unconsciousness unless pieces of the ribs puncture the lung or blood vessels.  The lack of detail in the high school is a mystery to me because the author teaches high school English.  

I know the book is YA and is aimed at younger readers, but I don't believe that makes it OK to skip technical details because the author assumes that either the readers won't care or they won't understand.  The ready availability of information, music, and fiction over the Internet has turned my kids into savvy consumers.  They can't always tell you why, but they can spot fiction and music that is lackluster.

Character Delineation

The other factor contributing to the fuzzy picture was the lack of depth in the secondary characters, especially the high school students.

The students spoke with perfect grammar.  There were mentions of different cliques, but no scenes that showed clear conflicts between them.  Everybody just talked about everyone else, and said exactly what was on their minds.  The word "evil" was overused to describe the bitchy antagonists, and the way in which they were portrayed was often melodramatic.  Much of the story revolves around the band room, but readers don't get the feeling of that "bandie" culture that usually springs up in a successful band program.

More importantly, the main protagonist, Grace, had nothing that drew me in.  She wasn't particularly clever, resourceful, or compelling.  That's really, really not good in a story told from a first person perspective.  Only one character had real depth and subtlety, and that was Josh.  His dialogue sounded different from everyone else.  His speech and posture had a rakish tone, and I quite liked him.

Though I don't teach high school anymore, I still have close contact with the older kids.   Our school is tiny and my husband teaches the high school music classes.  (I still think of them as my kids.  I've had them since they were little.)  They slaughter grammar, often with hilarious results.  Even though we're in a very rural school, the kids emulate the slang they hear on T.V.  Modern kids are very passive aggressive, especially the girls, and they tend to fight via text messages, Facebook, and the rumor mill.  The things that drove us all nuts in high school were completely absent.

Plot Problems

Bird interspersed glimpses of the Greek Gods plotting.  That could have been a very good thing, but there wasn't good enough character development to make it fly.  As a result, most of the weight of the plot fell to Grace's shoulders, who also was not a deep enough character to carry it.  The only Grace ever really did was get rescued by a hottie.  I think it was unintentional, but the lack of deep stakes makes the book appear to be about how important it is to have a boyfriend.

To me, great fiction speaks truth, especially truth that isn't readily apparent.  Everything else falls flat, and boy problems really don't do it for me.  Grace Awakening had potential, but doesn't live up to it.

***I had initially thought that Bird created the company to publish her book, but have since been informed that it is a new publisher.  The blog post has been changed to reflect the new information.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How Not to Make Internet Comments

Internet Trolls Beware:  If you see yourself in the people in the sketch, perhaps you can see why people hate you. 

Side Note:  This made me laugh.  Hard.

Saturday Night Live - Internet Comments Talk Show - Video -

Sunday, October 2, 2011

More Clarkesworld

My latest review for The Portal is up:  Clarkesworld, July through September.  It includes comments on a great dystopian steampunk story.  Never thought those two words would go together.