Book Review: “The President Is Missing”

So, I haven’t posted a book review on this blog in a while–been meaning to–but today I’m doing just that with Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s novel, The President is Missing. At the same time, I’m debuting a new feature for Drinking Cafe Latte at 1pm that probably should’ve been introduced a long time ago: a recommended latte at 1pm! Or, just coffee, really. Or, some other lunch or beverage item to enjoy while reading this blog. Depends on the day. Let me know if you like this feature in the comments below. Hope you’re hungry.

Today’s 1pm Food and Drink Item:

Roast turkey on panini (grilled bread), with a slice of provolone (cheese), some lettuce, black olives, mayonnaise, mustard, and oregano, served with a dill pickle. Enjoy with a hot medium (or Grande) cup of chai tea latte. Let me know if this works for you.

Today’s 1pm Book Review:

Title: The President Is Missing

Authors: Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company and Knopf; First Edition (June 4, 2018)

Pages: 528

Review: (5 out of 5 stars, with caveats)

Note: This review is cross-posted from Goodreads.

Okay, I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but here it goes: In spite of my enjoying a good, page-turning thriller by a popular novelist, and in spite of James Patterson owning about five percent of the real estate in every American bookstore, I still haven’t read any of his novels. Sure, I’ve had opportunities to get some of them, including one set in my hometown, and I’ve even seen a couple of movies based on his work. Heck, if that’s not ridiculous enough, I have at least one friend who doesn’t read fiction who has read a James Patterson novel. But, not me. Maybe I’ve rebelled. Maybe I believe in giving the little guy a chance. The fact is, I just never got around to sitting down and reading his books for myself. Until now…

Or did I?

So, as it turns out, The President is Missing is actually President Bill Clinton’s first novel, with James Patterson taking co-author credit (I’ve read somewhere that he usually takes over pacing and editing duties when he co-authors with someone, in effect leaving the main story in the other author’s hands, which I’m sure is the case here), so comparing this to other James Patterson novels is a nonstarter for me. I don’t know how much of his hand has touched how much of this book, or how this final version compares to his other novels. What I do know is that our former president has a decent command of the traditional political thriller while infusing potential real-world scenarios and potentially threatening situations into a terrifying warning about what could happen if we don’t guard our every door.

Before I go any further, I want to alert readers to potential spoilers ahead. They’ll be minor and hopefully not that spoiled, but you may want to duck out in a moment if you want to be completely surprised by the story. If you don’t want to risk figuring out the story ahead of time, then I don’t want you to find out that the butler did it in the ballroom with the candlestick here.

Oops. Sorry.

Okay, if you’re still reading, then you don’t mind a couple of possible spoilers. (They won’t be too bad.) So, I’d expect a novel like this, written from the voice of a former president, to speak a truth to the crisis situation he presents. Because the story’s plot focuses on an issue that I’ve personally worried about for years (again, this story comes from the mind of a former president), I find it especially unsettling how realistic the crisis presented as the obstacle could be. Sure, the event this focuses on is probably not going to happen. But, it could, and that’s what makes the novel frightening. Again, coming from the source, it makes me wonder if there was ever a time in reality when we were close to experiencing the catastrophe-in-the-making presented in this novel. I kind of doubt it, but still, I think it adds to the suspense not knowing if the threat was ever real. Coming from an authentic voice, the specter of speculation is constantly hovering over the reader’s mind.

This authenticity, of course, has a negative side effect. It’s hard to separate the main character (POTUS, Jonathan Duncan) from the author (POTUS, Bill Clinton) enough to disbelieve that the two are uniquely separate. This is especially true when you consider that Duncan refers to former presidents, like Kennedy, Carter, and Reagan (but not Clinton, I’ve noticed–I was waiting for that one). So, the story follows a weird parallel universe situation where basically Duncan is elected instead of Trump, but for some reason has to deal with almost all of the same real-life issues (read the book to discover just how timely it is), not unlike the world-building in the televised thriller 24, starring Kiefer Sutherland (who I suspect would play Duncan in the movie, if a movie ever happens because why not?). Duncan is his own person, though, complete with his own unique backstory (here’s where the separation between Duncan and Clinton are evident–they definitely do not share personal histories), so we still get a story here and not just a political football in novel form. This president, it seems, has some problems. So, there’s that.

Yet, there’s this underlying perfection happening in our hero that makes me wonder whether the president is ever truly flawed. Yes, he has external issues that plague him and his presidency, independent of the crisis at hand. But, internally, he seems to have it all together. Well, no, not internally in the emotional sense–he’s a wreck there–but internally in the intellectual sense. He’s ahead of everybody else, which makes the reader wonder if he really needs anybody in his corner. Like Sherlock Holmes or Scooby Doo, he seems to know what’s going on through his own cunning before even his best people know. Either that, or the narrator’s hand is so sleight that we aren’t given the chance to see his cunning in action until after he explains why he’s cunning. So, yeah, if there’s anything about the book I don’t like, and keep in mind the five-star rating (a begrudging five stars), it’s that the president, while justly knowing a lot, seems to out-think everyone at every turn, and at some point I no longer want to buy his character (again, considering the source). There’s something of an uber-righteousness to him that we want him to have, yet we have a difficult time believing is infallible, as his politics are too perfect, and nobody’s politics are perfect. It’s almost as if this character embodies every positive talking point from both the right and the left to form this political savior who may be a grade above the majority of leaders we elect. I appreciate the idealism coming out, but it turns a tense thriller into something kind of hokey. Also, the villain’s motivation is weak. Like I said, I give this book five stars begrudgingly. It’s entertaining, but there are also those drawn-out moments where I feel like the politician is trying to sell me on his politics. I think the story could’ve ended 30 or 40 pages sooner, and I’d be more satisfied with it. The truth is, as compelling as President Duncan’s speech at the end may be, I still prefer President Bill Pullman’s speech from Independence Day over it (which was delivered in 1996, during President Bill Clinton’s first term).

So, yes, in spite of a few lame character issues, and in spite of what amounts to a mostly predictable outline of events (save for a few instances where plots are foiled at weird times), The President is Missing is a good read, and even an important read, as it presents a crisis that could happen, and outlines the consequences we would face if it ever did happen. It’s scary, but also informative. So, even though it’s cheesy at times, it’s still a valuable addition to the reader’s library, and one that serves a valuable reminder that we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in a single basket. Good job, Mr. President. Your first novel lands on both feet. I expect the next, hopefully less diplomatically-filtered novel, to be just as important to read.

(End Review)

Let me know if you want to read more reviews like this one. I have a few cued up already. I read books from a variety of publishing dates, so some books may have been out for a while, but I think a late review is better than no review.

How’s the sandwich and chai?

Cover Image: Pixabay

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Quality Products and Ethical Practices

Every so often I like to visit The Book Designer to find out what’s new in the world of indie publishing because trends change, people change, yet books are forever, except for when they’re banned, and it’s important to keep up with it all. It is through this channel that I discover not only ways to maximize my social media outreach, but also how to avoid or address problems like predator publishers, “Cockygate,” or anything that convinces me that no one is looking out for my best interest.

Yesterday, I read an article through The Book Designer’s weekly wrap-up about Amazon’s new terms on content-stuffing, or the practice of packing e-books with “bonus materials” that equate to having multiple books in one in an effort to game Kindle Unlimited’s system that pays according to pages read, a practice which may ultimately result in “authors” directing readers to click to the end of the digital brick for some kind of bonus item (and force Amazon to pay the author as much as $15 for the click1, per the policies on pages read, or credited as read, and subsequent payment), and it left me with some opinions. In short, it’s a smart system for lazy people, and one can hardly fault the scammers who figured that out, but it’s also a harmful system for those who are actually trying to make a living on their art. The end result is that Amazon has finally banned this practice, after numerous complaints2, as it is unfair to other, more legitimate authors who want to make an honest buck.

Of course, I doubt fairness is the real reason they banned the practice. At best, responding in fairness may be counted as a positive side effect to the solution to a greater business problem. No, we’re talking about Amazon here. Prevention of bad practices, it seems, stems first from a loss, and losing authors is not the sort of thing Amazon would ever need to worry about. I have a feeling the change in Amazon’s Terms of Service for Kindle products is related more to money than to author servicing, and, in this case, authors are there to make them money (while trying to also make themselves money, which is admittedly harder to do). How well authors make Amazon money is the topic of another discussion, and, well, money in general is the topic of another discussion. What I do want to talk about, however, is service, and, in this case, the product is the service.

When we buy a book, we usually buy it to read it. Sometimes we’ll buy a paperback because we need something for the bus or the beach, and sometimes we’ll buy a hardcover because we need something to keep the door open. But, we buy electronic books, or e-books, because we need something to occupy our time without taking up much of our space. And, Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s exclusive subscription site for indie authors and readers, is a purveyor of electronic books large and small (more large than small) that readers can consume quickly and cheaply without any bookshelf clutter whatsoever, and it provides these books on an exclusive basis, exclusive in the sense that these books are available only on the Kindle platform. For readers who don’t mind reading books by unknowns for a monthly fee (so, not exactly free but close to it), Kindle Unlimited is a great platform. For authors whom these readers read, Kindle Unlimited is an okay platform (if they don’t mind getting paid by the page read, which can be very, very little3).

I understand why someone would want to game a pay-by-pages-read system. It changes the value of the book from a standard cost of purchase regardless of quality to cost of purchase or borrow (and worth) based on quality. Not everyone will have that book that everyone will want to read until the end, as much as we may want to believe the opposite. For me, I’m the type of reader who will generally read a bad book to the end to find out if it gets any better, and because I paid for it, I’m gonna finish what I paid for, dangit. But, if I’m not paying anything but a monthly service, then I’m much more likely to abandon a bad book in favor of searching for a better book, and if I get a bad book for free, well, I’m not reading that one, either. So, if I’ve written a bad book, it doesn’t change the fact that I’ve spent precious time writing that bad book, and I’d still want to get paid for it. Gaming the system to get something for that book is certainly tempting.

But, it’s not ethical, especially if the money is coming out of a pool4 set aside for all authors enrolled in the KU program, especially if those authors are writing good books that deserve to be read and deserve adequate compensation for each page read. If we were to consider the proverb, “Do unto others as we’d do onto ourselves,” then we shouldn’t even be tempted by this practice of tricking readers to click to the end of the overstuffed book, especially if the book is larger than The Lord of the Rings Trilogy because it includes content that can also be bought separately from the tome in question. But, apparently some fake authors haven’t gotten that memo.

My argument goes beyond the ethical issue, however. In fact, I shouldn’t have to explain why this behavior is unethical, or justify any time spent discussing it. The facts speak for themselves. Cheating legitimate authors out of fair compensation by tricking readers to click on a link that takes them to something else lame is just bad all around. No, my issue is with these fake authors’ unwillingness to present a quality book, both in appearance and in content. That’s the real crime. Well, it’s kind of a crime. The fraudulent practice of gaming a system for money is still the worst. But a bad book…that’s nothing to slouch at.

As a consumer of literature, both fiction and nonfiction alike, I want to enjoy the experience of reading as much as I want to enjoy the story itself. This means I want to appreciate the feel of the book in my hands (so, no crappy paper textures, please). I want to find the textual layout pleasing to the eye. Even the typography should leave me with a positive feeling. I’m a fan of the Garamond font, just as I’m a fan of matte covers and embossed titles. I like chapter headings that punctuate the story. I even like chapters that add something extra, like famous quotes, illustrations, or even in the case of The Impossible Fortress, lines of computer code that not only combine to make a functional game but also summarize the plot points of the chapter for a truly complex approach to storytelling. As a reader, I want to like the book I’m reading. As a writer, this means I want to deliver a positive customer experience, too.

When I wrote The Computer Nerd three years ago, I had what I thought were three great ideas: A homemade cover featuring my real-life desk and coffee cup, a computer-based font for the title and chapter headings, and a “post-credits scene” to give voracious readers a special surprise for reading the entire book. As it turned out, my cover was too dark for print and a bit out of standard for a thriller, and the font was way out of standard for a thriller. And that last scene? I never did get feedback on it, which makes me wonder if anyone ever saw it. My first review, most likely from a reader looking for a book on programming, not a marital thriller, came back with a single star. It was nearly the reason why I rethought the story’s entire premise and every “wise” decision I thought I had made about it. The stuff I learned afterward is what convinced me to rewrite the book under the title Gone from the Happy Place. I thought it was time to brand it as a new product. I even want to change the publishing elements to match the professionals closer. I care about my books. I care about my products. I want readers to like them as much as I do, and I want to like them, too. I rushed The Computer Nerd out the door, and the quality, while not awful, still kinda shows. I definitely would’ve done things differently in retrospect. It’s the reason that Gone from the Happy Place is even in-production.

Personally, I think these book-stuffers and Kindle-gamers are hacks. These are not the kinds of people who care about products. They’re driven by the money, but they don’t realize that the money is only as good as the customers’ tastes, and a bad product will lose the customer. It’s too bad that e-books don’t come with return policies, especially in Kindle Unlimited, because return policies force proper customer targeting and the creation of competitive products. This isn’t to say that I like return policies for my products, and I certainly don’t love the idea of including one, but I still think they’re necessary for all content producers, as return policies keep us accountable to our work. If enough people return my books, I’d know there’s a problem with them. Either that, or readers think a store is a library and are basically jerks, too. But, I wouldn’t expect that from my readers. My readers are good people, wink wink.

To get notifications on more articles like this one, please hit the blue “follow” button at the bottom of this page. I try to post a new article at least once a year. Maybe twice in a leap year, if there’s also a full moon.

Cover Image: Pixabay

Footnotes:

1. Nate Hoffelder. “Amazon Updates KDP Rules to Discourage Book-Stuffing.The Digital Reader. July 12, 2018.

2. This is a guess, but probably true, as it wouldn’t be much of a story otherwise.

3. Derek Haines. “Is Kindle Unlimited Pay Per Page Read Fair For Authors?Just Publishing Advice. June 21, 2018.

4. Nate Hoffelder. “Kindle Unlimited Per-Page Rate, Funding Pool Up in September 2017.” The Digital Reader. October 15, 2017.

Social Media Stage Fright

I don’t get stage fright. Not usually. If I’m standing in front of a group of strangers to give some information about a service they could use or learn from (an occasional side function of my job in education), I typically turn off the part of my brain that cares what they think about me and just deliver them the info I came to deliver. Unless I’m coughing up a storm while my zipper is down, two things I tend to get under control prior to arrival at my speaking destination, usually, I don’t worry about how I’m received. The audience either cares or it doesn’t. Doesn’t affect me either way.

Yet, the reverse seems to be true about my online presence. It’s usually more appropriate to answer questions in an unbuttoned pair of jeans (especially after a big lunch or dinner) online than it is in front of a live crowd, depending on the topic, I suppose, but the words I deliver online last much, much longer than what I deliver in person, and that can be scary when the words or information matters. In front of real people in real time, most of my audience will remember less than 10% of what I say, and if they remember me at all, they’ll likely remember me as “some guy who came to my classroom to tell me about grammar or something.” I’m not threatened by that. But, when I send a message on Facebook or a tweet on Twitter, suddenly my words are permanent and have scrutiny appeal.

Frightening!

It’s a strange paradox to be sure. We all talk about how social media can mask our identities when necessary, giving room for transparency in our thoughts, especially if our name is “Anonymous” or “Some Dude,” and suddenly we’re titanium. We see it as license to spout off all sorts of nonsense because who’s going to associate it with our faces if they can’t see them? In fact, I find it especially paradoxical in the dating world (something I gave up on a long time ago), where approaching strangers for the intention of getting a date is somehow easier through a comment on a profile page and a follow-up wink (or maybe it’s vice versa—I’ve never been great at the dating thing) than it is in real life where the person of interest has to watch me stumble out the words she may never take seriously face-to-face. It’s strange how these same vehicles of delivery can suddenly flip the perception I have of people and vice-versa, depending on the topic. But masking identity isn’t always useful. In person, my audience gets to see my face. In personal relationships, that should be a perk. Hopefully. But online, what I look like doesn’t matter. What I say does, and now they have the option to not only hear my words, but to remember them. In person, I have the freedom to flub my statements. Online, I better get it right, and I better get it right the first time because they can go back and check, check, and check again, and they can fault me if they see the mistakes or inconsistencies in thought, or whatever. As a writer, it’s embarrassing if I mess that up, especially if what I say is in of itself embarrassing (or simply unimportant). Online, I have plenty of places and opportunities in which that embarrassing thing can surface.

So, social media suddenly becomes a scary thing because that Facebook post about what I had for dinner isn’t just a Facebook post anymore. It’s an admission of guilt (even though I might see it as an attempt to engage an audience). Sure, I had a salad tonight. But I also had baked fish and mashed potatoes. And a sweet roll! To anyone who thinks I should be on a diet, I may have just incriminated myself. Sweet rolls have melted sugar on top, and that’s not healthy! How dare you promote bad health? And what of Twitter and its hashtags (also not healthy)? Is it possible for anyone to use Twitter without stirring up a string of controversies? Even with 27 followers and most of them being marketing robots, the risks of shooting myself in the foot are present if not inevitable. If I confess I had a sweet roll to a live crowd, they can at least watch me wink in jest as I deliver the truth. “Yeah, I had a sweet roll last night, and how sweet it was,” I say, as I pat my belly and gesture at how much of it is now sugar. (Note: What I eat for dinner isn’t actually anyone’s business.) Online, they may not even read that far.

As a writer, I’m told I need to master social media if I want to get followers. Okay. It’s also suggested that I post regularly to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+, MySpace, Hotmail, AOL, AOL Instant Messenger, Reddit, AltaVista, Match.com, Yahoo, Wazoo, Kazoo, and other things I’m probably just making up now, oh, and my blog!, and it’s too much to keep up with, yet posting builds an audience of readers, and I want to be read, right??? And everything I say must be timely, yet accurate, and interesting, yet short, and if I mess it up, I’ll lose the people, but don’t worry about that because even with ten different ways to shoot myself in the head, I only have to do it once to lose them, so don’t worry about it and just enjoy the process, as even players of Russian Roulette can be successful at times!

I’m tired, and that’s just from writing the names of these platforms.

As I read about new platforms I can use to expand my readership, something I’m desperate for, as getting readers is the hardest part of the writing process, and I’d probably have an easier time running for public office based on the experience I’ve had doing this (getting a date is still tougher for some reason, though I have no idea why, as I’m smart, handsome, idea-driven, rich—no, the opposite of that, sorry—funny…okay, this post isn’t about that), I suddenly feel intimidated all over again because here’s one more service I should sign up for to give my readers even more options for staying connected with me, even though they have enough information overload from everybody else who wants their attention, and the only way any of this matters is if they really, really want to hear from me. If the students I speak to are of any barometer, I’d think even those who need to hear from me probably don’t want to hear from me. They’re probably too busy thinking about their Facebook posts, and Instagram photos, and whether anyone will like them to worry about liking me.

So, what can I say to convince them to listen? I suppose the keyword is “free money.” But, I don’t know. Social media already seems to fit that bill. If everything is free, then nothing is valuable. Including time. I value my time. And, I value my words.

To be clear, I don’t actually mind social media. I see it as a great way to find out where people I used to hang out with ten years ago are vacationing. I’m not there with them, but I can feel like I’m there with them. It’s almost as good, right? At some point, though, I want new things to talk about, and I can’t vacation every weekend or devote hours of every day sending out social media alerts to the few people who might see it to feel some kind of connection to them. At some point, it’s time to meet face to face again. Real relationships are frightening, too, but they’re real, and they feel real. That adds to their value.

The fact is, I read all the time about how important value is to people, and it’s almost scary how much that’s true. I’m not sure how valuable social media really is. My words are permanent, but are they being read? Here’s a picture of a moose you can look at while you contemplate the answer to that question.

bull-386742_1280.jpg

If you’ve read this far and want to keep reading this far, please remember to hit the “follow” button down there at the bottom of this page. And, don’t forget to leave a comment if you’d be so kind. It’ll stay online forever!

Cover image: Pixabay

New Update: Gutter Child

gutter child cover alt 4
Cover Image for “Gutter Child”

Hello Drinking Cafe Latte at 1pm readers, visitors, lurkers, and boycotters! (I don’t suppose the last group is paying much attention.) I’m sending out a quick announcement that my novella Gutter Child has received a major update this weekend and is now live at most retailers (e-book only). This will be the definitive version of the novella. If the story receives another update (beyond typos or grammatical issues that may surface in spite of my thorough checks for both), it will do so as a novel under a different name and a different A plot. I don’t foresee that happening too soon, so if you want to read the story of a young man trying to solve the mystery of his heritage while attending the worst university in the country and filtering out lies along the way, then give Gutter Child a try today. It currently stands at 40,000 words (about 160 pages) and retails for $2.99. From July 1 – July 31, it will also be available at Smashwords for 50% off the retail price.

If you get your copy, please leave a review at your preferred retailer and/or on Goodreads. You may also comment your feedback here or on the book’s dedicated hub page for additional support.

Thanks and enjoy.

–Jeremy

Note: Updated version contains a mix of new and rewritten scenes, better balanced emotional arcs, improved descriptions, fixes to overlooked typos and errors, and a new section for Readers’ Group Discussion Questions. Changes to story amount to roughly 8000 new words.

The Number 42

Hi Kids,

Today’s blog is brought to you by caramel coffee, Domino’s pizza, and the indubitable number 42. Please consume each responsibly.

On this day, we should read notable fiction by Douglas Adams, perhaps from the legendary Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and focus maybe on the third book in the five-part trilogy, Life, the Universe, and Everything, where the answer to life, the universe, and everything is 42 (even though we don’t yet know the question).

Or, if that’s not of our interest, we can read the new future bestselling thriller The President is Missing, about a president who goes missing, from acclaimed writers James Patterson and Bill Clinton (aka 42).

Or, we can go the sporting route and watch the biography of Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodger, baseball hall-of-famer, and MLB-wide retiree of the number 42, in the titular film 42.

Or, we can watch Kiefer Sutherland as CTU field super agent Jack Bauer in the real-time political thriller series 24, where he stops terrorists in a single day, but watch it in reverse.

Or, we can…

Well, I don’t need to tell you what to do. Just remember that today’s number is 42. Celebrate accordingly. I may do so with candles and a chocolate cake.

Until next time.

Cover by Pixabay

Quick Social Media Test

#socialmediatest, #blogblitz, #funexperiment

My blog is remotely linked to Facebook and Twitter, which I use to share news to my wide array of narrow masses. I also have other options I could link to, like LinkedIn, that I’m not yet connected to, but should probably look into and link to at some point, so that my blogs cry out rather than whisper to an audience of many, like you and other friends I could link to, to share links and other matters of shared interest, to keep the social media family growing even if we’re all technically isolated from real human connection.

So, I want to see if I can tweet #hashtags from my blog’s log line to create and connect to a wider web of wisdom and wishes, which can in turn be linked to through LinkedIn and  other go-tos, Facebook and Twitter being my current coexisting content curators, and potentially procure plentiful portions of ravenous readers, and maintain a social media pathway that includes apps like Path and Google Plus, plus whatever other crazy things that they may link to, not including Instagram or Pinterest, both of which have interest in instant images, not to be confused with instant messages, which are another form of social media not supported by this blog, along with Pinterest and Instagram, which are also, sadly, not supported by this blog.

If this test works, please tweet me on #Facebook, or message me on Twitter to let me know if you like this link and consider subscribing to support content like this, even if you don’t know why you’re still reading it.

Cover Image: Pixabay

Have You Forgotten About Your Control of Information?

In two days, the European Union will be updating its privacy laws for marketers, content providers, e-commerce sites, etc. to its new GDPR standards (short for General Data Protection Regulation), and said marketers, content providers, etc. need to be up-to-date with the standards. On a quick mental scan, I don’t think I fall into any of these categories in a way that would violate the EU’s new terms, but just to be sure, I want to remind all of my subscribers that you can choose to receive updates via the “follow” button at the bottom of this page (so that it says “Following Drinking Cafe Latte at 1pm”), just as you can stop receiving updates by clicking it again (so that “following” turns to “follow”). You control your information influx, and the dial for that control is at the bottom of this page.

Just so we’re clear, I don’t share your information, nor would I know how to, and that little green lock to the left of the URL is the proof that this site is secure, even if your information does somehow find its way here, which I’m pretty sure it doesn’t–not in any way that I’ve discovered.

That said, I hope you’ll continue to follow this blog, as I occasionally have awesome things to share, when I have anything to share, and I’d hate for you to miss out on important announcements, like the fact that the European Union is updating its privacy laws and heavy fines apply to any business (in Europe or abroad) that does not comply by its rules.

So, yay for information!

Just a reminder, you can follow Drinking Cafe Latte at 1pm by clicking on the blue button at the bottom of this page (or unfollow if you’re already following and you decide you no longer want cool blogs like this one). Likewise, you can continue to follow this blog by doing nothing if you’re already following it.

Oh, while we’re at it, are there things I could be writing about that I’m not writing enough about that you’d like for me to write more about? For example, would you like to see more chapter excerpts from novels I’m writing? I haven’t done those in a while. I’m curious what you actually want to read about because the comments on this blog are notoriously silent and I don’t actually know what people are interested in when they find their way here. The more I know…

Anyway, I like your readership, and I welcome your feedback, so feel free to hang out here with your 1pm cafe latte if you’d like.

Image: Pixabay

Newton vs. the Machine

“To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction.” –Isaac Newton

Deus Ex Machina: “A person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

At Drinking Café Latte at 1pm, I discuss a range of topics that are interesting to me, but I spend most of my energy writing about writing, or stories, or the tools that make either one easier on me. Today, I want to discuss a matter that addresses a little of everything.

As a periodic novelist, meaning I binge write between periods of general inactivity thanks to the juggling of large projects that require extensive amounts of my time, thought process, and dedicated memory (the lattermost of which I’m usually on short supply these days), I care about telling good stories, and that means I care about understanding what it takes to make a story good—no, great!

One of my consistent challenges with every story I write is figuring out its inciting incident, the moment of opportunity that kicks off the drama, why it should play as the opening gong to a crazy tale of intrigue, revenge, or ridiculousness (for example), and what to do once that action is in motion.

The concept of inciting story through an event should be straightforward. If you think about the movie The Terminator, for example, you may say that the inciting event is the moment when the hero, Kyle Reese, transports to 1984 Los Angeles from a bleak 2029 future, where the robots have already taken over (which given Boston Dynamics’s running and jumping robots, and Google’s new AI hair appointment scheduler, and, well, robots that run for public office, we may still be on track for this bleak robot-ruled future—yay!), to locate and protect the mother of the future resistance, Sarah Connor.

What follows is a series of dramatic events that leads Kyle to Sarah, leads the Terminator to Sarah, leads the characters to all sorts of conflicts and romance (the romantic part involving Kyle and Sarah, not either one and the Terminator—that would be a different kind of story), all toward a blistering conclusion where Sarah must protect Kyle from the Terminator and ultimately defeat it. Did I mention she’s just a waitress when the movie begins? By the end, she’s serving robot destruction on a platter and then rides off into the stormy sunset with the future leader of the resistance in her belly. If you haven’t seen it, you should, even though I just spoiled the whole thing. Spoiler Alert! Never mind. You’ve had nearly 35 years to catch up.

For a more recent example, I’ve finally started watching Game of Thrones late last year, after everyone I know has basically told me the whole plot in one form or another (and I will probably read the books at some point), and I’m currently reaching the end of Season 2, the final episode being the one episode I’ve already seen, back when it was still new, and clearly didn’t understand because I hadn’t seen any of the ones before it, so I’m essentially already caught up through that season. Even though I wasn’t much of a fan in the beginning (and I’m still kind of above meh about it if I’m being honest), the dramatic turns it takes is beginning to grow on me, enough for me to start thinking about how all of the chaos in Westeros begins. Now, we know that the story actually begins in the ages prior to the start of what we see (or read), as any story would, but the really crazy stuff begins with the invitation Ned Stark receives from his best friend, King Robert Baratheon, to serve as his Hand, or more specifically, when Ned accepts the invitation.

Ah, there it is: the inciting incident. Even though a lot is happening in this first part of the story, the real drama throughout the series kicks off with Ned’s decision to move down to King’s Landing to serve as the king’s Hand (an important position if you’re not keeping score), a decision that, while noble, through many actions and reactions becomes the undoing of him and his family.

And, it’s these actions and reactions that keep the momentum of the story moving. Eddard Stark (Ned) makes a series of righteous decisions, but in the depraved world of Westeros, and specifically in the depraved House Lannister, the righteous are punished, and so, too, is Ned. By the end of the second season (and the book, I believe), House Stark is fractured so horribly that the kids are long separated from safety, and their home turf, Winterfell, is vulnerable to sieges, the latter of which would never happen under Ned Stark’s watch, had he refused the invitation. His righteous loyalty to his best friend, the king, is a noble choice that, through action and reaction, also proves a deadly one.

That’s interesting, right?

What makes the story more interesting is the fact that the family is scattered because Ned Stark is foolish enough to remain loyal to his best friend, Robert Baratheon, the king, even after Robert dies, leaving his son, Joffrey (the brattiest and most disturbed kid on television), king. By doing the right thing (which is the wrong thing in the Lannisters’ eyes), Ned is given the ultimate punishment, and his family, by proxy, is upended.

Now, Ned is the hero of the opening act (the whole first season of the show, and I believe the whole first book, called A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1), and any author who wants to keep his hero ahead of the villains will construct the story in such a way that Ned gets out of his predicament with the new king, Joffrey, in some clever or fantastical way. But George R.R. Martin doesn’t do that. Rather than pull a genie out of a hat, the deus ex machina way, producing an earthquake or a meteor or something to disrupt the public execution that Ned finds himself faced with, giving him a chance to escape with his family to “safety”—in the world of Game of Thrones, there no such place as safety—Martin lets his protagonist die. Yep. Axe, chop, dead. Action and reaction. The hero finds himself in an unwinnable situation, thanks to the polar shifts of positive and negative in each scene, and succumbs to his failure in the climactic event. The story’s not over, of course, far from it, but Ned’s part in the story ends via the chain reaction he ignites by accepting his role as Hand of the King.

According to Robert McKee, author of Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, a story works according to how well its scenes shift in polarity. In other words, a story moves according to whether the scene ends in a different place from where it begins: a positive becomes a negative or a double-positive; a negative becomes a positive or a double-negative (not to be confused with a double negative in grammar, which I can’t not recommend you use in writing). It also depends on the narrative arc of each scene—inciting incident, rising action, etc.—but I’ll save that discussion for another time. What matters here is that every action in story has an equal and opposite reaction.

Deus ex machina ignores that structure, and that’s why readers hate it. It breaks the story.

You may be a writer; or not. I think this discussion is important, however, because it helps to know why stories work, even if you have no interest in writing one. Sometimes we see a movie or read a book and we know we don’t enjoy it, even though we can’t figure out why. We often say, “It’s okay,” or “It’s lame,” or “I’d rather go fishing in a sewer pipe than watch that garbage again,” but we don’t know what about the story drives us to think that way.

Often we can figure it out based on how well people act and react to the narrative arcs they’re given. In The Terminator, when Sarah Connor sees the rifle in Kyle Reese’s hand as he enters the night club, she could immediately scream, kick him in the balls, and run out of there, right into the arms of the Terminator itself. Just as easily, Kyle could refuse to utter the film’s other famous line, “Come with me if you want to live,” giving Sarah no cause to trust him with her life. Sure, these things could happen (or fail to happen as the case may be), and Sarah may still somehow survive the night. But, chances are, to survive, she would need a little deus ex machina on her side, like the Terminator accidentally triggering a button that causes it to self-destruct, for example, and James Cameron, the film’s writer and director, is smarter than that. No, he writes his characters in such a way that they must do specific things in action and reaction to other specific things, in order to reach a point in the story where a specific thing can either lead the characters to victory or doom them to failure.

Fortunately, James Cameron decided to make his hero, Kyle Reese, a noble guy who does the right thing. Unfortunately, Kyle’s noble act also gets him killed.

A bit of a sidebar, but what is it with righteousness and death? That’s another discussion for another day, but certainly worth thinking about.

Anyway, next time you read or watch anything, see if each event naturally progresses from the last, and if it gets there through sensible action and reaction of its characters, or if an act of divine intervention moves it forward. For that matter, see if it happens in real life. If you ask your girlfriend to marry you, see what happens next.

Please subscribe to my blog if you want to keep hearing stories like these. You might even learn something.

P.S. It seems all of the main places and characters in Game of Thrones are so well-known that my Microsoft Word spellchecker automatically accepts them as proper spellings. Hilarious.

Interesting Article about the New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists

First off, Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who are moms. Thanks for all you do and put up with. We’d be worse off without you.

Secondly, I just read an interesting article about how books are selected for The New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists and thought I’d share. Whether you’re an author or a reader, I think you’ll find the article interesting, especially if you’ve ever bought a book based on the list and thought, “Why are people buying this garbage?”

Obviously, some books deserve to be on these lists, and sometimes we find our new favorite authors as a result of reading them. So, there’s no lesson here. Just an interesting read for your Sunday afternoon.

Note: This article was written a couple of years ago, but I’m sure it’s still relevant today.

Article: “The Truth about the New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists” by Tim Grahl

Enjoy your afternoon. Hope you’re reading this with coffee in hand. It’s raining where I am right now, so you know I’ve got mine (actually, my cup is empty, but I’m about to go for my second round).

I hope to have new and interesting content for you in the coming days.

Friday Update #12: The Tale of an Entrepreneur: The Beginning

So, here’s the first Friday Update in four months. Are you surprised? Let’s just say news often happens in chunks, not spurts. You can watch the real news to see that that’s true. But you didn’t come here for real news, did you?

With that in mind, let’s begin our semi-occasional Friday Update for this week.

Book Review Blitz

In my previous post, about two months ago (sorry!), I said I was doing a review blitz on books I’ve read in the recent past, and I had planned to launch it soon. Well, I do have reviews queued up, and I think they’re pretty ready for public reading, but I don’t have nearly as many as I’d like for the blitz, so that’s still in progress. Much of the delay is due to distraction mainly, but also to quality of life. I do things based on whether I can do them well, and whether they’ll be worth my time and yours. Even as I write about the books I’ve read, I have to wonder how many of these books you would want to read, and whether the statements I might say about them would resonate in some profound way. When I review something, I want to give more than just my opinion. I want to give feedback, in case the author should ever stumble across my site. So, I’m checking for quality, of course, but I’m also checking for impact. I want to make sure I’m not wasting my time or the time of my readers. So, it’s been going slowly.

Therefore, I want to revise my previous title, “Book Review Blitz Coming” to a new title, “Book Review Blitz Coming Sometime.” Take note.

The Avengers: Infinity War

The new Avengers movie comes out today. I want to see it. I won’t likely get to go today. Probably not tomorrow, either. But, I want to see it. So, don’t spoil it. Seriously, hush on the spoilers, people. The Internet won’t break if you hold your “aw, dang!” tongues for a little while. That is all.

Oh, and if you liked The Avengers: Infinity War, don’t forget that I still have two massive Game of Thrones sized volumes of superhero fiction available at Barnes & Noble for $6.99 each. (I won’t be putting them on Amazon until I rewrite them as individual novels.) They’re also available on Apple iBooks and Kobo.

The first is Cannonball City: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year One.

The second is Superheroes Anonymous: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Two.

The third, Alpha Red: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Three, won’t be released as an annual unless the first two get enough readers to justify me releasing it. So far, I’m nowhere near the readership that would make that decision reasonable. But that can change! It’s up to you to make that happen.

To be clear, these are e-books only. If you buy them, make sure you have a device you can read them on. Smashwords provides multiple formats if you aren’t sure what will work for you.

Gone from the Happy Place

I’ve resumed production on Gone from the Happy Place by adding a new first chapter, and I’ll keep adding new chapters until I’m satisfied with the story I want to tell. I don’t want to spoil anything at this time, but in the new version, we’ll get to spend more time with Anston and Alice in their respective elements before the explosive moment that their lives converge, giving us more time to appreciate them as individuals, and more time to dread what may follow. If you’re a thriller reader, this should sound like a positive. To all you romance readers who somehow found my site, well, people still kiss, so…

I have no ETA on when the book will be ready for the public, but I will likely release it in this order:

  • E-book (Amazon only)
  • Drinking Café Latte at 1pm (serial)
  • Ebook (Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo)
  • Paperback (through CreateSpace and Ingram Spark)
  • Audiobook (if sales on the other formats are significant enough to warrant it)

Normally I’d want to release the title on all formats at the same time. And, in a future time when I have lots and lots of money to roll around in like Scrooge McDuck, I will. But, in my efforts to rebrand myself with an actual brand, I need to lay some new tracks to give myself the opportunity to have better launches and better IPs, so until I can claim all of the resources I need to do this right, I’ll be staggering the release through specific channels that won’t complicate things for me or the book down the road.

The thing about Amazon’s e-books is that they don’t require an ISBN, so I can upload it without compromising my brand. Later, when I have the packaging the way I want (the cover I release with, shown below, will likely be temporary until I can afford a legit cover artist), I’ll rerelease it, and I’ll do so with the other formats. By that point, I should be able to afford my own ISBNs and not have to rely on the freebies that tie my book to the identity of the distributor rather than me. I want them related to me and my company.

gone from the happy place concept 3

Once I have the means to produce the other elements properly, I’ll do so. When this happens depends on how much and how quickly the money comes in. Again, readers can help speed up this process by voting with their wallets.

Regarding the Drinking Café Latte at 1pm serial, I’ve wanted to try releasing at least one of my books as a weekly serial, to see if I can get new readers, and this will be the book I do that for.

For those who haven’t been keeping up, Gone from the Happy Place is the book that will replace The Computer Nerd as the story I want to tell about a marriage gone wacky, not the story I did tell. When I wrote and released The Computer Nerd in 2015, I was racing a self-imposed deadline, and trying to maintain a book-a-month release cycle, which really isn’t my style, and one I’d ditched by mid-2016. I’d broken rules that I generally keep for myself in order to get it to the public in a timely manner, and even though it was fine, that’s all it was. When my first review came back with one star, I knew I’d made a mistake racing it out the gate. Sometimes you do want to take your time with a project before offering it to the world, which is what I usually do with my projects. It’s the reason you haven’t seen a new release out of me since 2016 and only three updates to stories I’d released back in 2015. All indie artists should take note that patience is worth it, as long as that patience produces results.

Entrepreneur: The Beginning

Okay, so that’s not the only reason you haven’t seen a new release out of me since 2016. As some of you may know, I also have a computer game I’ve been working on, on the side, called Entrepreneur: The Beginning, and I’ve been putting a lot of work into it this past year. I may post a separate article about it soon, but the scope of my work since about this time last year has been to rewrite the handcrafted code I’d been using since 2009 to use templates and machine-thinking instead.

I’ve wanted to make my own games since I was a kid, but because I’d never learned programming properly, I had to find premade engines to help me along. The engine I use for this game, OHRRPGCE, is made by one developer, maintained by two, and in a constant state of catching up with other engines built by larger teams. I use it because the language is simple, and it is something that I, as a writer, can easily understand. However, because it’s written for accessibility, to simplify the coding process for non-programmers like me, much of the scripting language is built from the ground up and doesn’t yet include many of the conventions that proper programmers would use in their programs. This means that some of the shortcuts I’d need to build this game quickly aren’t there, and even if they were, I’d have to learn about them because I’m not a programmer, and good programming practice is something I hadn’t learned until about a year ago, eight years after I’d started the game.

So, I’ve been spending the last year trying to practice good programming etiquette, and that means rewriting all of the mess I’d made in the years before. It’s the programming equivalent of cleaning out or cleaning up a junkyard all by yourself. It takes time, patience, and a little bit of strategy. In a future article, I may talk more about the experience and how it relates to art, writing, etc., and how such practices could be adopted for all elements in life. We’ll see how that goes.

If you want to read more about this game and keep up with its progress, you can check out the series of posts I make about it here at “Entrepreneur Central.” One of these days I’ll give it a proper website with a proper online version of the journal I keep about it. Unlike this blog, I keep up with the journal, writing in it every day that I work on the game.

The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky

The novel-sized update for The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky is coming along well. The new opening sequence that takes place during Johnny’s childhood is nearly finished (or, at least the first draft is). I still have a few scenes to write for his teenage years, but I expect to have the new first act finished soon. In this section, we learn how Johnny gets the duck and why he’s so attached to it. We also get to spend time with his semi-dysfunctional family, and who doesn’t want that?

I’ll be keeping the original novelette online indefinitely, but for those who want the complete story of what happens to Johnny before and after the events in the current version, the novel should satisfy that itch.

I may post a clip from the rewrite soon. Stay tuned.

Snow in Miami

Yep, Snow in Miami is still under construction, four months after Christmas and eight months before next Christmas. It’s nearly finished though. I still expect to have it done and released by September. Did you forget I was writing it?

So, that should cover the latest updates on upcoming events and current delays. I’ll come back soon with more information as it develops. Keep reading, folks. Or start reading. Do whatever’s more relevant.

Please subscribe to my blog if you want to keep hearing stories like these. You might even learn something.

The stuff that keeps me awake at night.