Audiobooks and your writing.

Note: I wrote a version of this on my Facebook page a week or so ago. I realize that not everyone who reads me here reads my yammerings over there, and perhaps someone here might glean a bit of useful info from what follows. Or, you just want to chime in with favorite audiobooks or audiobook readers. Whatever. It’s all good. We’re pretty chill here in the Fog.

I’ve tweaked this one a bit, using comments I made in response to others posting their own thoughts on the Facebook post. Having let this one linger in the back of my little monkey brain for a week, I think this is a nice little nugget of advice for those of you who just be starting out with your own writing. We can talk about that down in the comments, too.

Now, without further ado….


Icon made by Good Ware from www.flaticon.com

Some of you know that I take regular walks around the lakes in our neighborhood. I usually have a route that’s four miles and change, though on days where I have a light schedule I might opt to stretch that if I’m in the mood. I almost always listen to an audiobook during these walks, and if I’m really into the story that might well play into how long or how far I extend said walks.

During a few walks over the course of the past week, I was listening to Killing Floor, Lee Child’s first “Jack Reacher” novel, which was not meeting the above criteria. 😁

It had nothing to do with the book itself, you understand. I’ve read a handful of Reacher books over the years so I generally know what I’m getting, but I’d never read the first one and I try to mix up the audiobooks I listen to on these walks so I don’t fall into a rut. Sometimes, I just want a snappy little thriller and Mr. Child has delivered for me in the past. Let’s face it: There’s a reason the Reacher books are a best-selling, award-winning series and spawned a couple of movies. They’re fun and Killing Floor delivered an entertaining listen, at least for the most part. This post is not at all intended as a review — good or bad — of the book itself.

(Aside: You can tell I’m at best a casual fan of these books, because until I started listening to Killing Floor I had no idea it was written in the first person. The previous Reacher novels I’d picked up at airports or other leisure reading destinations were written in third person. I find this infonugget rather fascinating, at least so far as within the framework of an ongoing novel series.)

One of the things I noticed as I listened to the bulk of Killing Floor over a handful of days is how it almost certainly was not written with an audio adaptation in mind. In fact, I’d need to check to see whether an audiobook edition was even released at the same time the novel was originally published. As for this audio edition, the narrator does a decent job giving personalities to the various characters, but the prose is pretty straightforward and almost regimented in its delivery, especially with the dialogue:

“__ <insert dialogue> __,” I said.

“__ <insert reply> __,” other character said.

“__ <dialogue> __,” I said. “__ <more dialogue> __.”

“__ <even more dialogue> __,” other character said.

And so on.

Now to be fair, when you’re reading this sort of thing in a regular print edition, you might not notice such things, and if you do there’s an even chance you won’t care. However, to your ears it can come off in a completely different way.

If audiobooks were around in the 1950s, he’d have been listening to one. Prove me wrong.

In the last few years, I’ve become very conscious of how my novels may and will sound when read aloud. There’s an old writer’s trick that suggests you read your manuscript aloud while editing, because your ears can and will pick up things your eyes miss. I absolutely believe that’s true and this tactic has helped me on more than one occasion. With the resurgence of audiobook popularity and now that my own novels are getting audio editions, I’ve been trying to pay even greater attention to such things.

My big example is how I’ve been teaching myself to structure things to rely less and less on dialogue tags like “said,” “asked,” “replied,” and so on. Fewer of these, used in the right spots, work to tighten the narrative. I’m also more conscious of eliminating unnecessary descriptors while varying sentence length and complexity, creating a cadence I hope won’t leave the narrator fumbling for a rhythm or gasping for breath because I just tossed them sixteen 75-word sentences in a row, or whatever.

(Another aside: The right narrator can make even a so-so story a cracking listen. The wrong narrator can utterly torpedo what should be an engrossing story. That shit is hard, and bless those who do it well.)

I have to believe considering and employing such new knowledge can only help me improve as a writer. I haven’t read (or listened to) any of the more recent Reacher novels, but I’m willing to bet Mr. Child has applied similar “lessons learned” as his writing has evolved over the years. I don’t think you get to the level he’s attained and attracted the loyal readership he possesses by failing to examine yourself and your craft or never taking the opportunity to improve your skill set. I’ve certainly noticed it in the works of other writers I’ve read on a more regular basis over a period of many years. I’ve already made a note to conduct an informal experiment about this the next time I opt for another Jack Reacher audiobook to accompany me on some future walk.

If there’s a constructive takeaway I can offer from this bit of rambling, it’s this: If you want to be a writer and enjoy any sort of long-term success, keep in mind that you never stop being a student. There’s always something new to learn, and there’s always homework, even when you least expect it.

Until you die.

#AmWriting
#WritingLife

Thoughts? Hit me up in the comments.

Tied Up With Tie-Ins: The “No-Frills” Books!

Last year, I started an irregular feature here on the blog: offering a nostalgic look at a favorite series of movie or TV tie-in books. So far, we’ve revisited novels based on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, Planet of the Apes, V, and Space: 1999. The feature ended up being far more irregular than I’d originally envisioned and as you can see with a simple glance at the calendar I’m not doing all that well with it this year, either. However, I figured it was time to give it another go.

This time I have a brief look back at a very quirky collection of tomes: the “No-Frills Books.”

GenericBeerPublished in 1981, this series of four “books” (each really not much more than a very long short story or perhaps a lean novella) were exactly what they purported to be: a generic, no-frills tale written for the specified genre. I only vaguely remember seeing them here and there in places like Waldenbooks or the book/magazine section of the local grocery store, which made sense because at that time such stores were really leaning into the idea of cheaper “generic” products for store shelves. I recall entire sections of aisles and coolers in the frozen food section devoted to this stuff, just as I remember my father opting to try out a six-pack of generic beer and lamenting it tasted like diluted monkey piss.

(How he might know what undiluted, full-strength monkey piss could taste like was one of those questions I opted to let go unasked.)

Anyway, books. “No-Frills Books,” as it were.

Continue reading “Tied Up With Tie-Ins: The “No-Frills” Books!”

I’m having way too much fun with Zoom backgrounds.

So, yeah.

The new normal is that those of us fortunate enough not to be furloughed or laid off during the current insanity communicate with our co-workers using email, texting, Skype, and…of course, Zoom.

Indeed, more and more of us are diving into the app and using it as a sort of virtual conference room, despite stories of hackers and other ne’er do wells crashing such environments for their own amusement as well as the numerous warnings that Zoom’s security features are about as helpful as a fishnet condom. Some of the warnings are legit and – at least as they’re telling it – the folks behind Zoom are doing their best to address and improve the various security concerns.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are just Zooming away, thrilled with the ability to project a professional image from the waist up while everything below the camera level is an unfiltered party zone filled with chicks and guns and fire trucks and hookers and drugs and booze!

Okay, so maybe that sort of thing isn’t happening with everyone. Your mileage may vary.

In and around all of this, I’ve been having a bit of fun with one of Zoom’s personalization features, the “virtual background.” Rather than broadcast a video feed of me sitting at my desk with my whiteboard on the wall behind me – which may or not contain various sensitive scribblings about projects in progress and so on and so forth – I can just insert myself into any real or imagined place in the universe. I hinted a bit about this the other day in a piece I wrote about working from home, but since then? Yeah, it’s gotten worse.

I mean, sure. At first it was the usual sort of thing you’d probably expect from me:

Zoom-Enterprise Bridge(Taken during our 2017 trip to the Star Trek Original Series Set Tour in Ticonderoga, NY)

And why have just any starfield as a backdrop when you can have one from the animated Star Trek series?

Zoom-Trek-TAS-Starfield

NOTE: Click any of these to biggie size, by the way.

From there, I started playing. It was innocent enough, at first going from the Best Care Anywhere…
Zoom-Mash-Compound

…to a place where there’s no air anywhere.

Zoom-Moon
But before I knew it I was offering fellow Zoomers sneak peeks into other, heretofore unseen areas of stately Ward Manor….

ZoomBackground-HallOfJustice
Zoom-Batcave
Then I decided a virtual background deserved a window into an actual…you know…virtual world. So, I took the red pill and freed my mind.

Zoom-Matrix

That was before I decided I needed something a little more retro, which led me to my current favorite. It’s one that should be immediately recognizable to anyone with at least one foot standing deep in 1980s nostalgia:

Zoom-MaxHeadroom
Of course, no sooner did I sit down to write this piece and find a few sites boasting nice collections of backgrounds so you too can add a little extra zip to your Zoom sessions than I found this:

Zoom-JohnWick01

Uh huh.

Now, I’m by no means revolutionary in this regard. Indeed, there are a number of sites which have already posted collections of backgrounds you can use to spruce up your own little virtual presence. Check out the offerings at these sites to list just a few:

Pocket-lint.com

CNET.com

GoodHousekeeping.com

Star Trek via DailyStarTrekNews.com

Nerdist.com

That should be enough to get you started, right? Have at it, fellow Zoomers.

Zoom-Dayton

A Superman “mystery?”

I don’t typically advertise when I’m away on vacation, preferring instead to surprise readers after I’m back and let you know that HEY! I was on vacation last week.

So, HEY! I was on vacation last week.

It was an epic road trip in which Clan Ward joined forces with two other families with whom we’ve become good friends since our move to Ward Manor 2.0 in 2014. Our kids all go to the same schools, participate in the neighborhood swim team and other local activities, and my wife along with one of the other wives actually works for the third wife, so we find ourselves together in all sorts of weather and circumstances. 😀

This time, it was a 2,100-or so mile excursion: first to Nashville, Tennessee, where we spent mine and Michi’s 28th anniversary and St. Patrick’s Day. We followed that with a jaunt to Destin, Florida for a few days lounging on the beach, checking out local sites, and eating all manner of things plundered from the ocean that was RIGHT THERE. The last couple of days were spent in Hot Springs, Arkansas at the historic Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa, located right in the heart of the action directly across the street from Hot Springs National Park, Bathhouse Row, and all sorts of local coolness.

It was this past Saturday afternoon, as Michi and the girls were availing themselves of the hotel’s embedded Starbucks cafe when the barista started making small talk, which brings us to the reason for this latest blog posting and its title. As she prepared the girls’ triple latte double caff whatevers, the barista pointed to a building across the street and casually mentioned, “They used it for the Daily Planet building in the old Superman TV series.”

Continue reading “A Superman “mystery?””

Star Trek: “Mesin Waktu Mr. Spock”

“Excuse me?”

TrekVM-01

TrekVM-05Old school Star Trek fans likely know that View-Master, the wonderful company which has been offering since 1939 all sorts of photographic and (later) stereoscopic imagery goodness for education and entertainment, has not forgotten the Final Frontier.

View-Master dipped its toes into the Star Trek pond no fewer than five times, with packets of stereoscopic “3D” images showcasing the original series episode “The Omega Glory” and the animated episode “Yesteryear” (packaged as “Mr. Spock’s Time Trek”) along with Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Finally, the second-season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “A Matter of Honor.”

Of these, the “Yesteryear” adaptation is the most interesting. Rather than rely on set or publicity photography as was the case with its live-action counterparts, “Mr. Spock’s Time Trek” benefits from Filmation’s having rendered special recreations of the selected images designed for use with the View-Master format.

Way back when, the resulting packets of three “card wheels,” each featuring 7 images (2-each, working together to achieve the intended 3D effect), was accompanied by a booklet summarizing the story being told. The text was partnered with illustrations, which in this case are different from those depicted in the images. View-Master actually issued this in two versions: the “regular” edition, and one with a soundtrack narrating the text from the booklet.

You’d think that would be enough glomming onto one bit of Trek lore, right?

Wrong.

A few weeks ago, friend Rich Handley alerted me to the existence of a book he’d never seen in all his travels as a researcher of all things obscure Star Trek. He came across it while searching for rare copies of Indonesian and other foreign language Trek comics, at which time he asked if I was interested in it.

Hell yeah. I love this quirky stuff. So, what did I end up with?

MesinWaktuSpock01

Published in 1979, “Mesin Waktu Mr. Spock” (loosely translating to “Mr. Spock’s Time Machine”) appears to be exactly what it looked like when I first saw it: an Indonesian adaptation not of the “Yesteryear” episode,” but indeed the View-Master presentation of that same episode.

It contains almost but not all of the images from the original reels, accompanied by text which – so far as I can tell – is far more detailed than the story summary provided with the original View-Master booklet. Hardcore Trekkies will grind their teeth and clench their jaws upon realizing that every single image is flipped/reversed/inverted/wrong. Personally, I think it’s hilarious:

And so it was that yet another bit of oddball Star Trek publishing weirdness found its way to my disturbingly large library.

Many thanks to Rich for turning me onto this little nugget of nostalgia. It makes me want to start digging to see what else is out there.

Pondering AbeBooks’ “Most Searched for Out-of-Print Books of 2016” list.

Because it’s the sort of weird thing I do, from time to time.

I’m a frequent shopper/user of the AbeBooks.com portal, forever using it to hunt for books I’m wanting to add to my library. It’s a great resource for finding affordable copies of older and out of print books, like old tie-in novels or entries in the various pulp fiction/men’s adventure series for which I confess to having a nerdy fondness.

As a consequence of my book fetish, I’m on their mailing list and therefore get their various newsletters and other odd articles. The latest of these newsletters brought with it a link to an interesting article:

AbeBooks.com: Most Searched For Out-of-Print Books of 2016

Prompted by an apparent surge in interest for Michael Crichton’s 1973 book Westworld – which presented his screenplay for the film released that same year – thanks to last year’s HBO series based on the premise, AbeBooks compiled a list of the 30 out-of-print books that apparently were the biggest targets of would-be book buyers. Crichton’s Westworld topped the resulting list, which is an eclectic mix of non-fiction and fiction across several genres and topics.

I’m not going to put the whole list here (go read the article. It’s good!), but a few of the hunted titles amused or intrigued me for different reasons. For example:

#2: Sex by Madonna, 1992 – I remember the uproar accompanying this book’s publication. It caused a lot of pearl clutching in the little Georgia city were I was living at the time, and the Waldenbooks at the mall (THE mall. The only mall.) kept their copies behind the counter. This was a town where you couldn’t even buy a Playboy at the bookstore, at least back then. I’ve thumbed through a copy, but I never felt any real urge to add it to my library. Even when it comes to smut, I guess I’m still pretty demanding.

#5: Encyclopedia of Pierced Quilt Patterns by Barbara Brackman, 1993. I’ve got nuthin.

#8: Fast Times at Ridgemont High by Cameron Crowe, 1981. This book is, of course, the basis for the 1982 film. We’ve all seen the movie (“All right, Hamilton!”), and I’ve read the excerpts included in a 1981 issue of Playboy, but the book itself is one that’s eluded me for decades. It seems like an obvious candidate for republication, but so far no luck, and copies can go for a couple of hundred bucks on the secondary market. C’mon, Cameron! Help us out, here.

#19: Portrait of A Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed by Patricia Cornwell, 2002. I had a copy of this book, and somewhere along the line it got itself purged from my library. Shit!

#24: Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by James Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger, 1994. The firsthand account of the fateful lunar flight, as told by the mission commander himself. I was surprised to find this one listed as OOP, but I guess that’s the way it goes, sometimes. The book was re-issued in 1995 with the title Apollo 13 as a tie-in to the Ron Howard film. Of course I have a copy, but it’s the original edition.

#25: The Making of Star Trek by Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry, 1968. Pretty much what the title indicates. This tome was written while the original series was in production, and offers a detailed behind the scenes look at how it all came together. One of my very favorite Star Trek books, it was reprinted about a million times over the years, and I’ve had a copy since childhood. Now I have (at least) four different versions, but it’s only in the last couple of years that I finally acquired a mint first edition.

oop-books

Though none of my out-of-print titles made the Top 30 (go figure), the rest of the list is as interestingly varied as the ones I cherry-picked here. You’ll find things like The Essential Woodworker, Stephen King’s novel Rage, a couple of sports biographies, and the novelization of the 1978 film Halloween. There are also links to lists from previous years. I checked the 2015 list, for example, and noted several of the titles from the 2016 edition appear to be perennial favorites. I also saw Martin Caidin’s Cyborg (basis for TV’s The Six Million Dollar Man) held the #25 spot in 2015. Heh.

Anyway, definitely go and check out the entire article.

Oh, and if you have a copy of Fast Times, call me.

“Twas A Die Hard Christmas.”

What does one do when one’s TV and internet access was compromised for the bulk of the day?

I can’t speak for anybody else, but me? I make up shit.

It wasn’t a completely off day, of course. For one thing, I’m in the middle of finishing up an outline for what I hope is a novel project I’ll be able to tackle in 2017. No sooner is that one done then I’ll be turning my attention to another outline for a book I will be writing beginning early in the new year.

I’ve also got a cover blurb to polish, so that I can deliver it to the editor who requested it. Doing these is harder than it looks, and boiling down everything I want to say about this particular book has actually been pretty tough, because I’m definitely a fan of the work and want to do it justice. But, I’ve got what I want to say down, now, and I just need to buff it up a bit.

Oh, and then there was that period earlier this afternoon where I just started going off the rails a bit, because a goofy idea took hold and wouldn’t let go until I did something about it……

diehardchristmas-logo

Continue reading ““Twas A Die Hard Christmas.””

ReWard: “The ONLY canon Star Trek book.”

I found myself involved in two separate conversations on Facebook today, both relating in some manner to one of my favorite topics in the history of ever, “the Star Trek canon.”

Of course, anybody who’s hung out around here for any length of time knows how I get when this particular subject comes up, mostly because people tend to dick up the conversation by confusing “canon” with “continuity,” which even when addressed doesn’t make the discussion any less taint-itching.

Anyway, during one of the conversations, a couple of blog posts I’d written a few years ago came up. One of them was this answer to an “Ask Dayton” query for the G&T Show, but you have to remember that the Dayton who answers those questions is the evil Mirror Universe Dayton, who’s really a lot like me while lacking my sense of decorum.

The other one, was a bit of goofiness in which I described the one and only canon Star Trek book. This one’s so old that it dates back to my old LiveJournal account, so I figured it was worth dusting off and dropping in here as the latest installment of my “ReWard” feature, which is really just a pretentious way of recycling some of my older shit.

So, from a post originally written on October 24th, 2010: “The ONLY canon Star Trek book.”

Continue reading “ReWard: “The ONLY canon Star Trek book.””

A proposed modification to office meeting policies.

So, this morning, I’m having a conversation on Facebook with a friend, who drops this bit of “Monday” on me: Apparently, someone in charge at his office called a meeting, and once everyone was present, confessed that he had real idea why the meeting was being held. The “in charge” person basically said, “I have no idea what I’m supposed to be asking here.”

This, of course, prompted reactions from the group that likely were variations of this:

AngryApe

I’ve been in my share of meetings where there seemed to be no defined purpose for the gathering, other than interrupting whatever work we were supposed to be doing. It’s one thing for the rank and file to be clueless when they’re called into a room (keeping your people uninformed being a pillar of modern management, and all), but if you’re the one who’s supposedly got the plan hiding among those flash cards you’re holding close to your vest, you’re expected to drop knowledge on your subordinates every so often.

People who failed at this usually irritated the shit out of me.

Therefore, I propose this modification to office meeting policy:

If you call a meeting, and once everyone is assembled you announce that you don’t see the point of the meeting or – worse – have no idea why the meeting is being called in the first place, you are then required to perform a lip synch rendition of a song from a pre-approved list. Said list is to be compiled and approved by all members of a team or group that participates in the affected meetings.

Barring the existence of such a list, or if an agreement cannot be reached so far as any options from said list, the default selection will be “The Jackal.”

Discuss.

Today is a good day to drink.

Well, really, any day is a good day to drink. I don’t necessarily do that every day, you understand. There are evenings when I just feel like having a nightcap to put a lid on a given day, and then there are the times when I really wished vodka would just stream from my kitchen faucet.

But, I sense I’m already beginning to stray a bit. Anyway….

For Star Trek fans who also fancy the occasional indulgence, today indeed is a good day to drink. Why? Because the gods of libation have seen fit to bestow upon us mere mortals yet another Trek-themed alcoholic beverage. Behold, onlookers:

bloodwine

StarTrek.com: Today Is A Good Day to Enjoy Klingon Bloodwine

This new selection comes to us from Votto Vines, the same company that has been offering wines in bottles featuring the Star Trek poster art of Juan Ortiz. According to the StarTrek.com piece, this new Klingon Bloodwine “is a medium-bodied red blend of Malbec, Syrah and Petit Verdot from the Paso Robles AVA in California.”

I have no idea what that means.

What I do understand is this part: “A 2012 vintage, it can be enjoyed with grillled meats and mature cheeses, or such traditional Klingon fare as Heart of Targ.”

I’m no expert, but I’m guessing this will be the perfect companion drink when we all gather around the fire and sing songs of our great battles. Or, roast marshmallows. You know, whatever. As for the wine, I assume it also goes well with chicken wings. Here’s hoping.

Now, I have to say that this is like the third or fourth Trekbooze-type thing I’ve missed out on. We’ve had Vulcan Ale and Klingon Warnog courtesy of the Federation of Beer, who also provided a limited edition “Orion Sindicate” Lager to the recent Destination Star Trek convention in London. I’m sure there’s something else I’m missing, and I can’t help feeling as though I’m getting pimped on this deal. Granted, I also tried the Romulan Ale and the previous Klingon Bloodwine at the late and very much lamented Star Trek: The Experience attraction in Las Vegas, but those have gone the way of the dodo.

Note to CBS Consumer Products: I’m still available for all taste-testing of themed alcoholic beverages. It’s a risky job, I know, but I’m willing to undertake such hazardous duty for the sake of all Star Trek fandom. Call me, or just authorize air drops into my AO, all right?