Category Archives: Reviews

The place to find out what I think about things in pop culture.

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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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.

Book Review Blitz Coming

So, I had a power outage yesterday while I was in the middle of typing something on Scrivener, and when ten seconds later the power returned and I rebooted my computer to resume work, I found that I couldn’t reopen the file I had been working on. This was discouraging because I had been working out of this file since last June, and now, well…

More on that tomorrow.

Because my momentum was essentially drained out of me for the day, I decided to abandon ship and go back to reading a book I had started two or three weeks ago, called Railsea by China Miéville, and made it to the end (a fact made meta by its story line, but more on that later), much to my delight and sadness (again, more on that later). Thinking about the book, and thinking about its underlying theme, and thinking about what a movie in its world, directed by Guillermo Del Toro (the only person who should ever dare touch this book if cinema is ever considered, even though I hesitate given his most recent film is about a woman and a sea creature and, well, I don’t care to see it, so I won’t speculate on the plot, but it’s my understanding that there are themes, and…well, I probably shouldn’t speculate on a movie I haven’t seen) would look like, and I daresay it would look awesome and depressing at the same time, I started pondering on the fact that it’s time to start writing and posting book reviews again, as I have read many, many books in the last few years, yet I’ve posted very few reviews, and I’m sure the authors of these books would like my reviews, and I’m sure potential readers of these books would like to know if these books are worth reading.

So, I’m making it my goal to write a bunch of reviews this week and start posting them soon, with duplicates posted to Goodreads. While I’m at it, I need to revamp my author central page at Goodreads, as some of my books are either out of date or linking to nowhere. Not sure how much I can fix, but I need to do something to improve it.

Anyway, if you’re looking for some great reads, or even just good reads, please be sure to subscribe to this blog, or at the very least come back soon. I’ll be posting reviews in the coming week.

Oh, and I dedicate this article to my close friend who never reads fiction, but decided to pick up a James Patterson book recently. I feel like the horizon has just gotten bigger. 2018 is certainly full of surprises.

Cover: Pixabay

Friday Update #6: The Branding Betrayal and Other Briefs

I haven’t posted to the Friday Updates in a couple of weeks, mainly because I haven’t had much to say since my last post, but also because I’ve had other commitments and time got away from me. More on that later.

In Support of Branding

I wanted to kick off this post with a slight nitpick. As some of you may know (if you know me personally), I’m a fan of movies. I enjoy a good movie as much if not more than a good book. I enjoy them for the stories, sure, but I especially enjoy them for the experience they provide. And I’m especially a fan of movie franchises, as I can continue to reenter the worlds of my favorite characters and experience something new while hanging on the edge of my seat to the exploits of people old (but not necessarily those of old people, except for maybe Clint Eastwood, and only if he does another Dirty Harry, which I guess would be hard to watch nowadays given that he’s the same age as my grandmother, who just recently passed away—more on that later).

However, one of the things I depend on in my movie experiences is continuity, and that’s especially true of those that actually continue into sequels and more sequels. Franchises like James Bond can get away with actor changes because there are so many of them that eventually the actors will get too old to play the part, like Sean Connery, who’s the same age as my grandmother, who just recently passed away—still, more on that later). The only thing we really must have in a James Bond movie consistently is the tracking gun barrel sequence at the start of each movie, and the opening credits sequence with the dramatic song and the nearly naked women superimposing the movie’s weapon of choice. There are story points that must be addressed, too, but those are related more to the genre than to the franchise itself. At any rate, James Bond has a specific brand we expect each film to adopt, and those are the things we expect—oh, and of course the James Bond theme song by Monty Norman. Other movie franchises like Mission: Impossible also have an expected brand, with the lit fuse marching toward an explosion and the classic theme by Lalo Schifrin (I almost mixed the two composers up—I’ve watched these franchises so many times that they sometimes run together on details like that). It’s also well-known for its anti-brand of style by changing directors and storylines so much that each movie barely resembles the one before it, and really only has Tom Cruise and the opening fuse to bind all five together. Weirdly, this works out great for that series.

If you’re paying attention, then you’ve noticed that I’ve addressed two of the top three blockbuster spy movie franchises currently running. The third franchise, the Bourne series, also has a brand, with each film taking the exact title from the book that corresponds with its entry number (The Bourne Identity is the name of the first book and movie, The Bourne Supremacy the second, and so on through The Bourne Legacy, which changes the lead character but stays firmly in the established cinematic universe), and this keeps them all in the same family.

Or, at least this is true of the first four films.

Now, I just saw the latest Bourne film, Jason Bourne, on Wednesday, and even though I enjoyed it, there are a few things about it that annoyed me. And it all has to do with its branding.

Movies like this remind me why branding in a series is so important. On the outside, novels in a series establish brands by having similar covers and similar fonts from one installment to the next. Their internal content can also establish brands, with recurring themes and recurring popular characters populating them. But they also form brands by the titles they use. Novels do this. Movies do this. Even the names of television episodes (something many audiences will never even see) do this. The show Scrubs, for example, would title each episode as “My [Something].” That puts every episode into a family. My favorite show, Community, would title each episode after a fake and ridiculous course title (“Advanced Complaining,” for example, was never a Community title, but it could’ve been because each episode was titled something like that). I think branding among titles is a good idea, but keeping a continuity among titles to establish that brand is vital if the series has three or more installments and the first two are of the same style.

Before I saw Jason Bourne, I watched the Honest Trailer for the original Bourne film trilogy, and I think it does a fine job highlighting many of the trilogy’s repeat items, enough for me to recognize them when I see them in new installments. I must also say that plenty of elements within the newest movie match those of the older films (the use of the word asset, for example) quite faithfully. And I was pleased to see that the end title song, “Extreme Ways” by Moby, makes its fifth appearance in the series, over the usual hi-tech background graphic where the credits flash, with its expected differences in style from its previous incarnations. And, of course, the story is basically the same as it is in the first four movies. Even though it brings nothing new, it’s still most everything I expect from a Bourne film. Well, almost everything.

Going back to the title, there are two expectations that people like me will have whenever a new entry into the series is released: 1. The title will be The Bourne [Something]. This is how it’s lain out in the previous four films. It’s how the fifth movie should’ve been presented. It’s what we expect when we set up our DVDs and Blu-rays beside each other on the franchises shelf. 2. The title should coincide with the book that matches its installment number. In this case, the fifth book is called The Bourne Betrayal, so the movie should’ve been called The Bourne Betrayal. Even its IMDB entry mentions this inconsistency in the trivia section. What’s worse is that the movie’s plot actually supports this title.

So why change the name? I don’t know. I suspect that the studio dipped its hand where it shouldn’t have, as it often does, and decided that it would make more money or be more appealing to feature the main character’s name instead of what audiences actually expect. I mean, it worked for Jack Reacher, right?

Here’s the thing. The movie is the same regardless of what title it’s given. My complaint is about as OCD and nit-picky as OCD and nit-picky get. But I also think this inconsistency is as annoying as snot. Just give it the expected title. As long as it has the name Bourne in the title, we’ll know it belongs to that franchise. The title change has single-handedly taken a franchise I love and made it into something I love a little less. It just feels like a detached entry now. Being that it takes place 12 years after the previous three just isolates it even more.

Now, if the next Bourne movie is called Jason Bourne 6, and not The Bourne Sanction (the sixth book’s title, and the sixth title to maintain consistency), then I’ll have to stop caring what decisions the studio makes for this franchise. Seeing as how they aren’t changing the formula a lick from movie to movie, either, I’m guessing the series has had its heyday and is ready to take another long nap. I don’t know. Makes me sad, though. This really was one of my favorites for the longest time.

For those of you who write series books or make series movies, please stick to your established brands. Changing them by even the slightest angles derails the momentum you’ve created. Don’t do it. Change the stories instead. That’s what we care about being new.

Other Non-Writing Things

So, I missed last week’s post because I was distracted. We had my grandmother’s memorial the following day, and I was mentally checked out from doing anything creative or informative in the hours leading up to it. I was also exhausted from two straight days of walking several miles on the soggy beach during the hottest time of the day, so I ended up sleeping through most of it. So, sorry if you were expecting news. But I really didn’t have any.

The week before, I was supporting a friend at a cocktail party on the 29th floor of a beachfront condo about an hour from where I live. I was tired when I got home. Plus, I didn’t have any news. I did have fun though. I don’t get invited to cocktail parties like that too often.

Smashwords Sale

For those of you who might’ve been interested in buying my e-books during the Smashwords sale, the sale is over, and everything is back to full price. But, you can still find coupons for discounts and freebies in the Promotions sections in the header, so don’t worry about it. Thanks to those of you who bought something, or will buy something.

(I just noticed that most of the existing coupons are expired or soon to expire. I’ll generate a new batch at some point soon. Keep checking back.)

And that’s it for this week. I’ve spent the last few days working on my computer game, Entrepreneur: The Beginning, and I’ve been reading a lot on the Story Grid website, catching up my knowledge on how to edit, so I haven’t been writing much lately. I will soon, though. Don’t worry. I did write a poem called “My Fading Silence” a couple of nights ago, however. You can read it in my previous post. I don’t write poetry often, so it’s a rare treat.

Oh, and I’ve officially cancelled my preorders for Teenage American Dream, Sweat of the Nomad, and Zipwood Studios until further notice. I will be reinstating them at some point, but not before I get an email list together or something substantial toward their development. I also need to figure out if I want to release their original short story versions under their existing titles and their novel versions under new titles. Check back here often for new information.

Friday Update #5: Thesauri and How to Grieve

I didn’t get much writing done this week. I’ve been spending time researching marketing, as I’ve been for the last few weeks, and thinking about more ways to better the work I have. I’ve also been spending more time on side projects, including work on a computer game I’ve been building since May 2009, called Entrepreneur: The Beginning.

Perhaps the biggest of my writing news comes from the books I bought earlier last week, The Rural Setting Thesaurus and The Urban Setting Thesaurus, which arrived at my house last Saturday. They come from the authors of The Emotion Thesaurus, The Positive Trait Thesaurus, and The Negative Trait Thesaurus, three other books I own, all of which I highly recommend if you need a quick reference on character types, character feelings, and setting details. I won’t get into the specifics in this post—let’s just say all five books are worth the investment—but I do hope to include them in my eventual writers’ books series, which I really need to launch soon. I got a raise at work this week, and the new income may make it possible to upgrade my phone in the near future to one that takes better photos, so I may wait until then to really get going. But we’ll see. I’m still reading through the introductions of each of these thesauri, but I believe they are helpful resources all in all.

The End of an Era

2016 has been a pretty awful year for me so far (and for others I care about), and not much good in general for most people it seems. Last month I lost the last of my grandparents, not an uncommon occurrence for someone who just turned 40 like me, but turning 40 is a big deal in its own right, and having to deal with both catastrophic changes in the same week is a little rough. Well, yesterday I had to say goodbye to another lifelong legend—the Schefflera tree that stood in the backyard of my family’s home and defined it since I was a small child. My grandfather had given it to my mom as a housewarming gift, and it spent the next 38 years growing strong, bringing both shade and character to the backyard. It was the bedside tree of my favorite cat, Sniffy, and companion to “Eagle Base,” the shed that my neighborhood friends and I used to use as “base” during our epic games of hide and seek. It outlasted the orange tree that I grew up climbing, and survived a number of hurricanes.

This week, my mom was told that the tree was causing problems to the drain field, so after some financial considerations (a drain field costs $5000 to replace), which included the cost of replacing the field every ten years, she decided the best course of action for the yard and the neighbors’ yards was to have someone cut it down. So, that happened in the last 24 hours.

I don’t usually grieve the loss of a tree. But with my grandfather dead, Sniffy dead, and the shed known as “Eagle Base” long since destroyed, I feel like my entire youthful history is getting erased. Yes, there are pictures of all of these people and things. But my memory gets worse every year, and one day there will be no more memories of that tree, or of the ways it had served its home well.

Well, except for this:

So, that’s my update for the week. Not much to speak about in the writing circle, but sometimes it’s best just to know how things are going.

Here’s a picture of the tree for posterity.

schefflera
My Schefflera

Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

December 14, 2015

Disclaimer: I am posting this review four days before the movie comes out. So, I have not seen it. This is fake. It’s for the purpose of parody. Please do not take this review seriously. If you’re looking for a real review, check back in four days…on someone else’s blog. This one will likely spoil moments that aren’t actually in the movie. If this offends you, then you’re probably camping out in line as we speak, reading this through your Stormtrooper helmet as you eat marshmallows in your tent.

 Movie: Star Wars 7

Release Date: Friday

Runtime: I don’t know

Review: Okay, so there’s a lot of hype going into George Lucas’s abandoned child, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and let me tell you, as a fanboy, it is so worth it. It’s got stars, and it’s got wars, and it’s got lots of fighting in space, and it’s just awesome. J.J. Abrams really got this one right. It’s got Spock fighting Captain Kirk, and Yoda drinking a soda even though he’s a ghost (spoiler alert!), and Chewbacca, let’s just say, is so hairy. It’s amazing how much detail they put into these characters.

I know what you’re thinking. What about the prequels? No, they aren’t awesome. Episode III is kinda okay. But it doesn’t have enough Jar Jar. You really can’t have too much Jar Jar. Everyone who thinks Jar Jar ruins the movie ruins movies. If I can’t have my Jar Jar, then I don’t want my Star Wars.

The Force Awakens does not have Jar Jar, and it’s better for it. What it has instead is a talking Monkey named Hans. Spoiler Alert! The monkey is played by none other than Harrison Ford. They call him Hans YOLO! and he has a sweet ride. It goes so fast. In one scene, he beats Vin Diesel and the Rock to the finish line. It’s amazing. Really, you should see this movie.

Now, I can’t talk about this movie without discussing everyone’s acting abilities, but I must say, I see an Oscar in R2D2’s future. He’s really got the whole droid thing down. Come on, Academy. Stop ignoring trash cans on roller skates! It’s bad enough you’ve ignored Jim Carrey for The Truman Show and Man on the Moon. Don’t snub the R2!

So, what’s my final verdict? Star Wars: The Force Awakens is awesome! How do I know? Because I’ve seen the trailers for it, twice! Five stars (and three wars)!

The new Star Wars opens this Friday. But you already knew that because you’re yelling at me for writing this crap.

B+

Healthy Obsession…

November 4, 2015:

Okay, so last month I had a more prolific blogging period than usual. Much of that came from my “need” to promote a novel I was pushing out to the public, complete with chapter samples, launch day announcements, and the eventual cave-in to the freebie model that satisfies the growing trend of $.99 books (and pricier titles) getting ignored. That blogging series steamrolled right into the day that cinemaphiles (including myself?) have been waiting for for 30 years (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re either not a cinemaphile, or very sheltered, or grounded in reality–take your pick). And then there’s the seasonal writing push I tend to feel in October, thanks to the perpetual shots of pumpkin that blitz my system.

And all of this prolific writing leads to the inevitable issue that various viewer stats begin to spike, and with it my “need” to drive the numbers higher starts to eat at my brain. What can I write about next? What will draw the masses? Are the masses out there to be drawn? Why are so many people interested in pumpkin macchiato and hoverboards? It becomes a give and take of experimentation, acceptance, and confusion. How does one article generate more readers than all of my other articles combined? Higher numbers lead to more obsessive questions. And thus my search to answer those questions leads me to experiment with even newer ideas and loftier goals. The results often reveal that one shouldn’t mess with a working formula. But I digress.

The same can be said in the world of e-book commerce. My new e-book, The Computer Nerd, has already shot well past the number of downloads that my last two e-books have generated, in spite of their one- and two-month leads over it (Lightstorm and “The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky” respectively). But how? It’s getting ready to catch the total download count of “When Cellphones Go Crazy,” which I released back in July. And the thing has been on the market for just two weeks. Its acceleration up the graph has been relentless (ever since I made it free, but not at all when it came with a price tag), and I keep holding the planned $2.99 price at bay because I’m curious to see if it can catch the top three (“Amusement,” “Eleven Miles from Home,” and the highest downloaded title, “Shell Out,” which is ten days older than “Eleven Miles,” but a good 80 downloads ahead). The idea that it could take my whole author catalog is thrilling. But then it drives me to wonder, Should I make everything I release, ever, free? If so, how quickly can the next e-book rise? The answer to that next question, of course, will hopefully be answered on Black Friday, when I plan to release my next title, a novella called Cards in the Cloak. Given the cover, length, and category, I’m assuming it’ll have a run similar to what Lightstorm experienced. Just a hunch. But again, the question comes back to “Why?” Why did The Computer Nerd have such a lousy first two days (in viewership and sales) then take off like a rocket in spite of its views never topping the dismal first-day views? I have my theories (coming in the post-mortem I’ve been promising for the last two weeks), but the deeper question is, “Can I replicate and improve these with the next one?”*

So, these numbers become a source of obsession for me. But can we call it a healthy obsession? Besides the weirdness that a writer is even attracted to numbers–as a rule, people with degrees in English don’t mix well with anything related to math–I think a “healthy” obsession with these statistics is possible because that means I’m motivated to write something even better than the last thing and to do it soon while the fire is burning, not just in me, but in the readers who have come to find my writing stash.

And that’s really my main drive, to keep the writing coming.

As a reader, you may be wondering what this means to you. To put it simply, it means, don’t ignore what drives you (as long as it’s healthy and won’t cause you or others physical or psychological damage). That might be obvious, but there are still millions of people in the world who aren’t seeking out their dreams, or aren’t putting as much into them as they could, so I guess the message is still important, and if you’re reading this, and you’re not doing anything but dreaming, then stop driving yourself crazy and start doing what matters. Satisfying a dream is psychologically rewarding, even if it keeps you stirring in bed at night wondering if this was really such a great idea. The answer is yes. It’s such a great idea. You may hate the results, but at least you did what you’ve always told yourself you’d do, so you can stop asking all those “what if” questions, at least the starter “what if” questions–the branching “what if” questions, including “What if I had a million people reading my story about penguins in a jungle?,” may not actually stop assaulting your brain. But that’s okay. We’re humans, and we are never satisfied completely.

It also means that pumpkin coffee and hoverboards are popular subjects, way more than e-books and reading.

*To answer the above question, I think the answer is “not necessarily.” Books are like dates. You might have a successful run with one and a lousy run with another (not usually in that order), but you can’t really learn from your triumphs and failures because success comes from the other person’s experience, not yours, which means you have no control over how successful you are. You either hit the mark or you don’t. If you don’t, don’t despair. Just try again. Unlike true insanity, you probably could do the same thing the same way and have better results because the reader (or your new date) may have different needs that are more in line with what you have than the last reader (or your old date). You could also do it differently and have the same results. You just don’t know until you put yourself out there. If you do hit the mark, then congratulations, you’ve got a book that connects to people (or a follow-up date, which is also preferable).

Free for How Long Now?

October 27, 2015:

So, last week I released my latest e-book, The Computer Nerd, with a modest price tag of $.99. I had set this price thinking it was a great idea. Er, no. Not only was I selling poorly on those first two days (how poorly will be covered in another blog sometime in November), with the few “sales” I was making mostly credited to free coupons I had given to a select group of people, but I had gotten a severe reduction in my normal first-day page views compared to other day-one titles (again, specifics coming in November). I was beginning to think my chances at this self-publishing game was drying up before I’d ever hit my stride. Ouch.

So, I said “screw it,” and last Wednesday night (just under 48 hours after release), I decided to make it free…temporarily.

“Sales” over the next few days spiked in a tremendous way. Let’s just say my readership value multiplied by about 2500% from that move. The Computer Nerd, as of this writing, is now ranked #51,299 at Barnes and Noble, which is not impressive to the big picture, but a personal best, and I know it’s due to my making it free…temporarily.

(As a side note, John Grisham’s The Rogue Lawyer, which I hyped in my blog post from October 19th, is ranked at #5. I’d like to think my hyping of his book has led to its impressive rank, though I’m willing to bet his name brand has had some hand in it. At any rate, it’s obvious that book readers everywhere took my advice and chose to read his book over mine, not due to quality of the read but due, again, to the name recognition. Given the average review it’s getting, that might’ve been a bad call.

Just kidding, of course. I’m not delusional. He doesn’t need my promotional help. I’m assuming.)

Anyway, I had planned on tacking the price back onto The Computer Nerd tonight, with an increase from $.99 to $2.99. But, my 2015 goal is to gain readership, not income, so I’m keeping the price free as long as the momentum continues. Once it dries up, then I’ll put the price tag back on.

What does this mean to you, the reader? It means you should snag your copy at any of the available retailers now, while it’s free without a coupon, and then tell everyone you know to get their copies so that the momentum can continue and the price can stay free. So, how long it stays free will depend on popularity. That means its freedom depends on you!

Shallow, maybe. But regardless of what the price may communicate, I care about my books, and I want people to read them because I think they do speak to people in ways that maybe they can relate. So get yours today. And read it, too, while you’re at it. It’s good. Personal opinion, of course, and you’re welcome to tell me differently if you disagree. It’s a detail I’d probably need to know. But I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

The official page has links to the stores that carry it. If you don’t have anything to read it on, you can read it on your computer. Smashwords has an online reader, and Adobe Editions and Kindle both have PC-friendly apps you can download and install to read .EPUBs and .MOBIs respectively. Kobo also has a nice reader available, if you’re interested in purchasing books from them. They actually have my favorite of the reading apps. But stick to what you love.

If you get your copy, please be kind and leave a review, either at the store you bought it from, or at Goodreads. Thanks. And feel free to comment on it here, or on the official page if you want to discuss it.

Lethal Hairdo

October 23, 2015:

Continuing with a Back to the Future theme, in a loose kind of way now, it’s time we turn to one of the greatest action movies to come out of the 1980’s, Lethal Weapon, and more importantly, to its greatest legacy left on pop culture, the mullet.

Ah, yes, the mullet, the greatest hairstyle to hit a generation since the Moe Howard bowl cut, which I guess was just a revision to the old Caesar cut, which was likely the revision to an alpaca’s hair–I’m no hair historian, so I don’t know. From the mullet we have learned a great many thing:

  • Bad guys tremble at the sight of a mullet.
  • Ladies melt at the sight of a mullet.
  • Mel Gibson was at his best in a mullet.
  • The Lethal Weapon series died with the movie that did not give us a mullet.
  • Bonus Fact: George Clooney and John Stamos gained fame under a mullet. (Not really Lethal Weapon related, but still an accurate observation born from the eighties.)

As you can see, the mullet was important to our culture and to the longevity of Lethal Weapon, Mel Gibson, and maybe the eighties?

Let us never forget the power it had on 1980’s cinema and the stars that had graced our screens.

Long live the mullet!

Want more mullet drama? Come back at 9:00 to read about the epic battle between man and his hair, told in poetry.