Tag Archives: ready player one

Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun (Part 1): The Importance of Literature

“The Importance of Literature”

Writing has been my passion since I was 13 years old, and I started not because I had some lofty ambition to become a best-seller, or even publicly known, but because I had an active imagination that was best expressed in words. I didn’t know how to make video games at the time, and my toys, which I was outgrowing, did not inherently create the explosions I had seen in my mind, or any “automated,” interactive, constructive, or destructive scenarios I wanted to play out. Because I wanted to tell stories somehow, I figured writing was the best way to go, if not the only way.

And the crazy thing about that is, at the time, I didn’t particularly enjoy reading.

Whether it deserves it or not, I blame the education system for the latter issue. In junior high and high school (actually, my junior high had become an official middle school the year I reached eighth grade, so I’ll say middle school and high school for this point), I was forced to read books that were written decades earlier, addressing topics I had neither knowledge nor interest in learning about. One in particular, The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, I had to read twice, once in eighth grade and once in ninth. I didn’t enjoy it either time, and was notably upset when I was told to read it a second time. In tenth grade, I had to read Nectar in the Sieve, which bored me so much that I never finished it, even for a grade. Granted, I’m sure I would appreciate both books more today, now that I’m a 40-year-old adult who doesn’t need explosions to enjoy a story (even though it still helps), but I still would never automatically gravitate toward either.

The stuff I read in high school that I could read again and enjoy today include The Great Gatsby, which I believe is the book I’ve read more times than any other and will probably read again because it’s so freaking good (I honestly need to read all of Fitzgerald’s works to truly appreciate his genius, I think), The Catcher in the Rye, which was my favorite at the time, but has since been supplanted by Mr. Gatsby and friends, and To Kill a Mockingbird, which was just a brilliant piece of writing through and through. Each of these books had an important place in 1990s high school literature, establishing a foundation for society and whatnot, but none of them had ever turned me on to reading.

It took Alex Garland’s The Beach to get me to see that novels could actually take place in the modern world, present universal truths relevant to today and tomorrow, and still be interesting, and ultimately to get me interested in reading more books.

It was not an easy thing for me to become a regular reader of present-day fiction. It took me months to finish reading The Beach, and the only reason I bought it was because I had flipped to a page where the main character was talking about Super Mario Bros. I was impressed that someone had thought to bring pop culture into fiction, and I wanted to support any book that considered me its ideal reader. Kamala Markandaya, the author of Nectar in a Sieve, clearly wasn’t aiming to capture a 15-year-old boy who still watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Saturday mornings. I’m sure Markandaya had a compulsive urge to write the novel and knew that there was an audience for it. Maybe it was unfortunate that some educator believed I was that ideal audience. But, for as much as I appreciated the effort, The Beach didn’t captivate me the way it probably wanted to. Well, it did at first, so that’s not a fair statement. But it lost momentum for me when I realized I was basically reading Lord of the Flies (another classic) in a modern skin, which ultimately didn’t appeal to me. If I were to read it again today, now that I’ve built up my reading experience to sustainable levels, I might enjoy it much more. Might.

However, what it did accomplish initially was to break the wall that Nectar in a Sieve and required reading like it forced before me. Even though it wasn’t the book that turned me into an avid reader, it did give me cause to explore other titles. I think it was Tunnel Vision by Keith Lowe that finally got me to take reading seriously (even though MTV published that book, and I don’t believe it was ever one to be taken seriously), and that encouraged me to look up the author who wrote the book that the John Cusack movie I had seen in college a couple of years earlier was based on, even though I didn’t like the movie as much as I’d wanted to but was curious about the book that inspired it, since I knew it was based on a book, and that, of course, was High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, who became one of my favorite authors, as About a Boy is in my Top 10 favorite novels of all time (up there with The Great Gatsby and Syrup by Max Barry), and definitely the right one to discover, even if his latest, Funny Girl, isn’t particularly great.

I write all of this to express the importance of not just of reading, but to love it, and to find works that allow you to love it. By finding and reading books we love, we can develop a healthy reading habit that can carry us through the rest of our lives, and teach us things along the way. Right now, I’m reading The Martian by Andy Weir, and even though I lost my taste for science fiction back in the ‘90s, this book reminds me why I don’t have to eschew it completely. It’s so good, and I daresay its goodness has much to do with its relevance to what I know and understand and enjoy. Ready Player One is another one that straddles the lines of sci-fi, pop culture, adventure, and pure entertainment, a book that I absolutely loved and absolutely would’ve missed out on had I not refined my taste for reading years earlier, in spite of the damage that high school literature had caused me during my formative reading years.

That said, the books that reached me did so because they touched on a point of personal identity that other books like The Good Earth could not do. This isn’t to say that I think The Good Earth is a bad book. Not at all. It’s a classic for a reason. I’d even consider it a valuable resource if I ever wanted to familiarize myself with early 20th century Chinese dynasties. But, as of now, as it was back in high school, it’s not my thing.

However, families are relevant, and family sagas are universal, and that’s what The Good Earth ultimately is written to be, so there’s probably much to glean from it that’s relevant to all of us, and I just didn’t know how to appreciate that as a 14-year-old who looked forward to watching whatever was popular on Saturday mornings back in 1990.

I started writing my first major story, City Walker, the same school year I had to read The Good Earth the first time (1989-1990). It was an action-packed random events story about a man looking for a television repair shop. If I had been well-read, even as a 13-year-old, I would’ve realized that I was writing a meandering story that had no sustainable plot line. But I was watching a lot of television in those days, and I knew what made a story worthwhile, even then, and I knew as I was writing it that what I was writing wasn’t anything particularly good. Even when my English teacher offered to read it whenever I’d finish it, I knew in my heart that I wouldn’t show her. Thinking about it all these years later, knowing all that I know about story now, I can safely say that what I had written over the course of two years was not a story, but a series of pointless events. But they were pointless events that allowed me to get my worst ideas out of my system. They also allowed me to develop a cast of characters that I actually did like, and wanted to see more of. This lead to me writing an updated version of the story as a screenplay a few years later. It still wasn’t good, but it was better.

Literature didn’t teach me structure, not as I understand it today, but it did teach me value. I knew from the books I didn’t enjoy that the story I was having fun writing was not great. Perhaps that slaps the face of anyone who has ever said, “If it feels good, do it.” No, you really shouldn’t, not unless you’re going to learn from it, and sometimes what you’ll learn is that you shouldn’t do it, even if it feels good. I didn’t enjoy The Good Earth when I read it, and come to think of it, I don’t recall enjoying The Great Gatsby the first time I read it, either (the fact that I love it now tells me that I should reacquaint myself with the classics, now that I’m at a point in my life that I can appreciate them). But it did teach me the idea of scope. It did teach me that actions have consequence, and that even characters we don’t like can still be memorable. I don’t remember a lot of the things I’ve read in my life, but I can still remember vividly how poorly Wang Lung treats his wife, and how creepy it is that the grandfather wants the warmth of the baby to help him sleep at night, and how systematic O-Lan’s birthing ends up being each time her water breaks and she heads into the bathroom to deal with it. Oh, and the fact that I remember these characters’ names also says something about it. I didn’t like it. But I sure as heck remember it. I vaguely remember the characters in Anonymous Rex by Eric Garcia (they’re dinosaur detectives disguised as human, if I recall), but I don’t remember much about the story itself. Bits and pieces. Of course, weirdly, I enjoyed Anonymous Rex far more than I did The Good Earth. I wonder if I did simply because it was unconventional and not at all the kind of book my Honors English teacher would’ve assigned me in eleventh grade English. Or, maybe because I didn’t have to read it, I decided that I wanted to read it. All a bunch of maybes.

Ultimately, if we want to write, we need to read. In the years I wrote stories without reading other people’s published stories, I had a lot of fun, but I also wrote a lot of crap and didn’t learn anything. These days, I learn plenty. More on that next time.

Next Week: “The Importance of Experimentation and Ignoring Fear

“The Computer Nerd” One More Day until Release

October 19, 2015

The Computer Nerd Cover Image
The Computer Nerd Cover Image

So, with tomorrow marking the release of my first attempt at selling a book I’ve written (no longer just the freebies on an ambiguous marketplace where anything and everything shares space), I must admit that the uncertainties of success are mounting. Will it succeed? Will it fail? Will anyone even notice?

The scary thing about putting my work on the Internet for all to see is that some people might actually check it out, and those same people will undoubtedly have an opinion. Whether that opinion is positive or negative can greatly influence the future the work has with the rest of its audience. The more people who praise it (or, realistically, if the first person to comment is one who praises it), the better chance it has at winning respect and additional readers, maybe even fans. If the majority, or even the first to comment, shows a tendency toward dislike, then the question is begged if the story, and its author, has a chance to find a more successful audience elsewhere. It’s a nerve-racking thing to think about.

This doesn’t make me as nervous when I send out freebies, like the six books that are already available (check the right sidebar for those titles). The only risk in reading a free story is that you can’t get those ten seconds back (the ones you invested to find out you’re not a fan of this thing you just downloaded). It’s a bit more of a nail-biter when people actually shell out their hard earned dollars for your work.

I suppose when the traditional publishers take control of a work and the overall feedback is negative, or nonexistent, it has a greater effect on the author since that publisher may be hesitant to take on the next book. In the indie world, the next book stands on its own. Same goes with positive feedback. The more that people like a book, the better chance it has to gain a momentum in respect, in criticism, and ultimately in sales, and the more the traditional publisher will like the author. On that same note, the indie author who puts out his second book is unlikely to see an effect carry over from his first, as his next book cleans the slate, and the traditional publishers can’t prevent it from getting into readers’ hands.

Yet, a good book is a good book, and a good author will more than likely have some momentum going into his second book, if the people reading him know that he’s good.

I think the meteoric rise of a book like Ready Player One by Ernest Cline sets a strong example of the benefits of momentum. Great book, strong premise, competent writer, decent publicity, movie tie-in: no doubt the author would have a free pass for his second book. To me, as a fan of the first book, I think Cline has earned his free pass because his second book, Armada, while entertaining and worth a read, doesn’t quite hit the same marks. And that’s okay. It doesn’t have to. It’s good enough that Cline’s third book will come out with strong legs, most likely. And that’s just it. The momentum keeps going. I daresay the momentum stays fierce because Ready Player One was such a force out the gate that Cline could probably peddle his success on that book for several titles to come, even though Armada does hold its own to a lesser extent.

On a similar note, I keep thinking M. Knight Shyamalan has had three hits after The Sixth Sense before Lady in the Water crashed at the theaters. Each one was a little worse than the one before (well, I’d actually argue that Unbreakable was his best movie, but that’s me), but he still carried The Sixth Sense‘s momentum for a little while. Of course, the movies he’s done since Lady in the Water are proof that every artist must give each work his all and not trust his momentum to last forever. At some point, the talent must come back. Fortunately, it seems his newest film, The Visit, has pulled him back into form (I haven’t seen it myself, but the reviewers say he’s gone back to his old ways, which is good). Point is, now that I’m heading into a tangent if I don’t reel it in here, each work stands on its own, but momentum certainly helps.

I don’t know if I’ll gain any momentum once The Computer Nerd goes live tomorrow. The benefit of the presale is that all sales to Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, and Kobo made before tomorrow will get counted tomorrow, and the book can rank higher on the sales charts than if I had not opened it up to presale. But, I’m also choosing to release on a Tuesday, which is the greatest competition day (admittedly the reason why I chose to release on the 20th and not the 23rd–I mean, why not see how I stack against the big bosses?). A scan on Amazon shows I’m going up against John Grisham’s Rogue Lawyer. Am I going to outsell John Grisham? Not a frickin’ chance. Not even close. But, I am releasing a 99-cent book tomorrow that runs the equivalent of a little over 300 pages in a paperback. He’s releasing his 352-page book for $17.37 on Amazon ($14.99 on Kindle). In fairness, he probably has an editor telling him where all the story fat is located. I’m basically fending for myself here. But I think I held my own as a worthy author for this one.

Bottom line is that The Computer Nerd is worth every bit its price, as I’m sure Rogue Lawyer is worth every bit of its price. (As an avid collector of John Grisham hardcovers, I’ll no doubt be picking up my copy one of these days.)

Yes, I’m well aware that I just promoted John Grisham’s book for the same day that mine is coming out to the e-book market. Whatever. There’s a reason he’s popular. Again, mine is an eighth of the price and almost the same volume of story. (I can’t comment on quality because I haven’t read Rogue Lawyer. I’m sure it’s good. I believe mine is also good, though I welcome your judgment if you’re reading this.) In the great scale of weights and measures, buying The Computer Nerd on or before October 20, 2015 (basically today or tomorrow), still makes sense.

Speaking of promoting other people’s books, I’m happy to say that Larry Brooks’s Story Fix is out now, and for anyone who’s read Story Engineering or Story Physics, you’ll know that Larry Brooks is a gift to writers, and if you haven’t read his books, which you can find at the Writer’s Digest Shop, you totally should, if you’re the least bit serious about writing stories. I’ve picked up my copy this past Saturday, and even though I’m releasing The Computer Nerd tomorrow, I’ll certainly be looking forward to releasing a revised version in the near future should I learn about anything I’ve broken and didn’t bother to fix. The nice thing about publishing e-books myself is that I can do such things as that. Obviously, if I release a major update to the story (and I don’t foresee that happening because I have edited the crap out of this thing already), I’ll post about it. Once you buy it, you’re supposed to have access to all successive versions.

But again, I don’t foresee that being necessary. I’ll more than likely need Brooks’s advice for the one I’m currently updating, The Evil Clone of Michael K., which I hope to release in December (on a Friday or Saturday).

So, on that note, buy John Grisham’s Rogue Lawyer tomorrow. But, if you have a leftover dollar to spare (or your regional equivalent), give The Computer Nerd a try. You can sample the first six chapters, beginning with this post, and find out more about the book on its official page. The e-book, which is approximately 80,000 words, or the equivalent of about 300 pages (in paperback), can be bought at Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, and starting tomorrow, you can also buy it at Smashwords.

If you get a chance to read it, please comment here, or leave a review on your purchased store’s website, or at The Computer Nerd page on Goodreads.

Thanks. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this story. If you start a discussion on it anywhere (for better or for worse; my skin is thick), please link it to the comments below. I’d love to see what people are saying about it.

Ready Player One: A Book Review

March 24, 2014:

The other day around lunchtime, John, my oldest and closest friend, who I’ve known since I was five, sends me a text message telling me to screw off and follows it by calling me an a**hat. I laugh because I know he’s not serious. But I understand why he’s calling me that. Three months ago, when I visited him and his family for the first time in two years, I had brought him an early birthday present, a novel I had read in 2011 called Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. It’s a book I had greatly enjoyed and something I thought would be cool to discuss. Because we’re both nerds for eighties nostalgia, I figured it would be as much up his alley as it was mine. And I was right. He told me to screw off because he had already read four chapters and it was only lunchtime.

Here’s the thing: John doesn’t usually read. For him to read anything, it has to have stats, a score sheet, and take less than five minutes to finish. In the old days it had to be bought from a rack, come with a glossy finish, and feature a dude holding a ball of some sort. Nowadays it has to be something he can read online. The last novel he read was whatever he was forced to read in high school. He does not like reading. It makes sense then that I had done something to violate his way of life. It was not as simple or quick as watching a movie.

It began innocently. He was about to sit down when he noticed the book sitting not far from him. He had a few minutes to kill, so he picked up the book to see what it was about. He got to the end of the first chapter and said, “Oh yeah, I gotta see where this is going.” So, he went on to Chapter 2. Then the third chapter. Then the fourth chapter. Then he cursed at me in a text message. Then he went on to read the next three chapters.

Over the course of just a few days, he texted me updates on what he was reading next. After he had finished reading Level Two (the book’s second act), he called to talk about it. I promised not to spoil anything. He told me his theories. He focused primarily on a sequence when the hero plays a perfect game Pac-Man. He wanted to know if the reward the hero wins has any effect later in the story (but he didn’t want me to actually tell him; he just wanted to know). A couple of days ago, he finished the book. He loved it. It was pretty much the only thing we had talked about in the last week (with just a quick mention of a PS4 peripheral that reminded him of the book).

If that’s not endorsement for Ready Player One, then I don’t know what is. If you’re a reader, and you love the eighties, and you like video games, and love adventure stories, and get a kick out of puzzles, and dig pop culture, and like movies, and like stats and score sheets (oh yeah, this book has those, too), and love suspense, and hate corporations, and love comeuppance to those who deserve it, and I could go on, then this is the book for you. If a nonreader can’t stop reading it, then you know it’s good.

Of course, I can’t end this review without mentioning a few of his criticisms, and there were criticisms.  Two chapters focus on a romantic subplot. He almost put the book down there. There’s also an atheistic diatribe early in the book that leads nowhere (meta!) that is there for no other reason than to express the author’s religious views (I assume it’s his view, for the hero never speaks of it again). It doesn’t really do anything for the story. In a particularly tragic event, the hero gives very little emotional investment to the impact it leaves. People basically die, important people, and to cope, the hero goes back to playing his video game. My friend had a hard time swallowing that. And for a book about eighties video games and general pop culture, there’s a shocking absence of Nintendo references. I pretty much felt the same way about these lingering issues, too.

But the few criticisms take little away from the overall quality and excitement of this novel. If you can’t take the word from a nonreader that this book is awesome and necessary, then you have unrealistic expectations for your literature. You should change your standards right now.

Find Ready Player One here: http://www.amazon.com/Ready-Player-One-Ernest-Cline/dp/0307887448/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395638848&sr=1-1&keywords=ready+player+one

On a related note, I had once recommended my favorite book, Syrup, by Max Barry (who was one of the author endorsements for this book), to a coworker, who in turn recommended it to another friend, who picked it up while he was waiting for his wife to finish cooking dinner, and read the first chapter, and kept reading, missed dinner, missed bedtime, and didn’t stop until the next morning when he had finished it.

Let this be a lesson to everyone: Never pick up a recommended book when you have other things to do because you might just lose track of time and find yourself reading on through your alarm clock. If your friend thinks you’ll like something, trust him on that.