Friday, December 19, 2008

The End of the Line

Can you feel the heat of 2009 approaching? I can - no my house isn't on fire. I just think the New Year will be great news, a breath of fresh air. I see Wall Street moguls dangling in the breeze in their Versace suits. Wool smells so bad when you’re burning at the stake. How dare they place bets with our money and laugh in our faces when the pot was lost by cavalier, foolish action. I really hope the attorney generals order their troops to line them up and show no mercy.

Well, that’s behind us now. How about the writing? I strayed away from traditional publishing once again. The torture of dealing with yet another insider controlled conglomerate situation produced a sour taste in the back of my throat, so I self-published my fourth book.

This is the one I talked about last summer, the one set in India. It seems to me many things are drawing us to that great massive country and its endless history and intrigue. I was so impressed just placing word after word with olfactory imagination filled with curry aromas. The brilliant cotton colors, the soaring Himalaya, how could you not be excited about telling a story in this setting.

What’s a story without a murder? This one is a mystery, because everyone surrounding the victims are puzzled as to who it could have been, even those that were scheming to swindle money. You can’t get blood from a turnip or a dead man. Yes, I said victims - the last relative of one of the wealthiest rajahs in Indian history and her half-brother, at least the legends about him would say he was very rich. The one about the alabaster queen and the cursed crystal of beryl that held secret messages in its dark veins running throughout an otherwise perfect gemstone is the legend that this story unfolds. This story is so old it spans the breadth of a continent from Kashmir to Xian, China - the other end of the Silk Road.

Camel trails that crossed forbidding desert are now spanned by little turboprop airplanes, a shiny white with Chinese characters on the tail that say White Dragon. The intentions are the same - seek out the wealth and take it for your own glory. The cunning plans of a gypsy people stand to protect the legend and the history of their cult. A young man and his sister discover they are in the middle of the legend. Now can they survive the competing greed to take from them the only chance to hold on to the legend and avenge their family’s great loss?

It takes a team of two sleuths that have the skills to unravel the mystery and connect the dots from London to New Delhi, from Kashgar to China. One Rupert Donaldson and his buddy James Hathaway. Put your traveling shoes on and hold on to the seat. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The After Trash of the Election

Wow, what an event a couple of days ago. America is back in the saddle again - hope is the watchword, but what about all those political candidate signs. Most are made of plastic and metal, so burning is out of the picture. Is there a recycle center for political signs? It matters not, someone will find a way to recycle them.

I've been so consumed by the burden of watching the issues and sliding down my own slippery slope of personal finances that doing any writing has come to a halt. Then Adobe announced a new product - Flex. Keep a careful eye on this Nerd revolution. Web based apps that can be built by the average guy and placed on your desktop that run in Flash - the browser plugin with horsepower.

There are so many RSS feeds out there with gobs of data, you can find out about anything, but how do you display it so it is fun to watch. One can write a program in Flex, push it through its companion program called AIR (both open source software) and pick up feeds and display them in any number of ways with style and grace. The whole thing boils down to a Flash file that the browser opens, but it's not a movie, it's every button pushing, snappy interactive thing that's ever been on the Internet. Way cool.

So what's that got to do with writing? Nothing, but it is so cool that I've wasted two months learning about it and all nighters trying to write code. I think my next novel will just be code. Why not. It tells a story and it's antimated.

Go Nerds.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Someone Stopped Me on the Street...

Publishing is really the business of making a person famous enough to sell pulp to the unsuspecting. The fact that it's your baby is of slight concern to the world of business.

You have to approach this with an open mind and realize upfront that YOU are the marketing plan, YOUR bucks float the promo, sales, and YOU have to generate the buzz for your book when you self-publish. Bottom line.

Traditional publishing is the optimum situation if you can get the attention of an agent and they are in thick with major publishers to hawk your book to. The only downside is it is so competitive you might die before the world ever sees your book.

The upside of self-publishing is you have a beautiful bound volume in your hands in a few weeks, no questions asked. Now, the question is how much are you willing to spend to promote it?

Think of everything after the book file is in the computer as marketing and positioning. Your book will be on Amazon - that's part of the deal, which is a good thing. Many self-publishing houses do that nicely, others have schemes to deal with it. Amazon has a hidden charge of about $25 a year if you go to them directly. Of course, their marketing gimmick is to get you to publish with BookSurge, their group, to avoid the fee. To get into the big box stores requires registering with Ingram (and others), which is a service all the self-publishing houses offer. This transfers a copy of your digital file over to their database where they print it out for places like Barnes & Noble, etc. That's just way the system works. Don't ask, but what about... They aren't listening.

Websites, blogs, radio spots, TV interview slots, or any other methods of letting the public know that you exist is the main game. Since traditional publishing has screened its authors via agents and they have decided that your product has a chance on the market, they will do two big things for you 1) have nationwide distribution poised for sales behind a small prime-the-pump run of x-number of books; 2) They will provide some level of promo. That might be a series of signings scheduled, interviews, but unless you're already famous, it will be limited. Then we all sit back and see if it flies. Yes - great. No, don't come back to us, please.

Most new authors don't realize just writings a book of whatever is going to be received by the public with open arms. Get that notion out of your head or you will spend fortune and be ready to jump off a ledge.

Go to some conferences, talk to local authors, join some newsletters that track publishing like Dan Poynter. Get the facts. Shooting in the dark won't work. You'll just shoot yourself in the foot.

OR you can try some poems out on the folks of Fox&Quill, my little website for authors... I think one piece of advice that always plays is start locally and become know as a poet, etc. Do readings. Let people know you are a player. Then, if you self-publish you have people that are most likely going to buy standing around when your first box of books arrives to sell to. If you sell a lot, then the major publishers ears perk up. There is no shame in proving your work can sell and then launching into a deal with a major publisher.

If you just get a book printed, there it sits. What do you really want to see happen? Ask yourself the tough questions. If you are a serious writer, then always be on the lookout for an agent. It only makes sense. If you really want a book in hand to test the water, then spend the $500 and impress your friends, but don't expect a lot of sales. How far can you throw one of your books, is about the size of the sales region we're talking about here.

If your brother runs a chain of major bookstores, then forget everything I said and go that route. It's all about can you draw in sales - that's it. What you write, whether Nobel Prize worthy or how to clean a bicycle is irrelevant. That's the part you personally pine over, but books are like pies, how many can you sell and keep selling??

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Beauty, Debate, and the Cost of Stupidity

This has been a confusing recent past. Sarah Palin, in like a lioness and now... just another pretty face. Presidential debates... ho hum, and the financial world-class dive in the ring. Where to start?

I was so impressed with Lady Sarah, not so much anymore. She’s still a hockey mom. The debates left me thinking Obama stole second and third base with the news McCain suspended his campaign - can you do that? - to run off to Washington and sit on the sidelines and do nothing, because he didn’t want to be stuck with the label of causing the next Great Depression. In fact, both the Democrats and Republicans did things that accelerated the demise of American banking. The Republicans deregulated the banking industry and took the restraints off crazy entrepreneurs to go wild. But the Democrats gave us the CRA ruling that bribed banks into lending to people who couldn’t afford loans. Duh, what could go wrong here?

We now know Mr. McCain is a liar. He told David Letterman he had to cancel his appearance on his show (an hour before airing) to get to Washington to bail out America, but instead, he goes across the street to do an interview with Katie Couric. When he gets to Washington the next day, he backs into the shadows - not very leader-like.

Then Wall Street explodes. This is nuts. Seven hundred billion dollars to patch a hole in a sinking ship - give me a break. The Treasury could give every person in foreclosure in the country a tax-free check for a million dollars and they could all pay off their mortgages. How many is that? About 700,000 families. If you refine the math to actual mortages, which would probably be less than a million dollars, the Feds could bailout a bunch more. Or, if that many people aren't affected, the 700 billion number could come down considerably. But the bailout would be focused on the those that need the relief and not another maybe-it-will trickle-down policy that doesn't have a good track record. Looking at it more realistically, if the bailout reduced the debt owed for all the foreclosure loans to a figure where the families could actually pay their monthly bills, the overall cost of this bailout would be minimized.

People of America wake up. The Ponzi schemes are running amuck in Washington. Why give a pirate more booty, a sharp sword, and a free out-of-jail card all in one haul. Start with the people of America not the slickies that are constantly looking for another dull Senator to bribe into yet another self-serving get-rich scheme off tax payer’s dollars.

I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, close Washington and make it a museum and move the seat of government to Denver and flush the 545 seats that make up our union and conscript people to replace them that have a talent for running large organizations.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Go Fly a Skype

Skype is a super concept for contacting people at a great distance. I had a student in California that checked in with his sponsor in China every day, etc. But, my point concerns the undercutting of the PSTN, better known as the phone company, which supports much of the long distance digital traffic via their lines. Why? Because they own the right-of-way across those great distances and charge ISP providers for its use. At some point the two costs converge and you bite the hand that feeds you. The question is, where is that point, and can we pass it and still save money? If your ISP provider raises rates to pay the PSTN increases, the value of Skype sinks. But, I must conclude that we will all probably be better off.

There is still a gorilla in the room that we are ignoring, and this is the real threat. One of the reasons phone rates are high and confusing is the government taxes the piss out of landline telecommunication companies, the PSTN. They always have, so it is something the PSTN can't get away from, except to pass it on to you. If future revenues are threatened by systems like Skype, how will the government react to this trend? After all, their paycheck comes from your tax dollars.

One of things government has regretted ever since they unleashed the Internet and let it run away is not setting up a tax structure for its use on day one. The overwhelming backlash every time they try to slip in a tax keeps them at bay. But if the PSTN cries foul competition pressure, due to cheap undercutting of their business using Internet tactics, they could get their day in court, which is a government agency in itself. This could open a door to get back into the concept of taxing the Internet.

I would like to hear from savvy ISP CEOs about this issue. What are the facts and how can we as users avoid triggering a government interdiction mission? Here in California, the State government is trying for a second time to railroad in a bill to tax downloads from the Internet. Yes, there is a backlash, but people have to pay attention and write their representatives. It seems politicians are more frequently using our right to vote against us by writing up deceptive propositions, hoping to get one voted in. Then you get the big surprise when they tell you, “Yes, you did vote to have your Internet service taxed, see.” They hold up the proposition tally and smile.

John Wolf
JohnWolfBooks.com
FoxandQuill.com

Monday, September 15, 2008

Books about Nothing

The bookstores are awash in books about politics. It is surprising that so much money is spent by the public to become informed on issues that do nothing about.

I have to assume that eventually, when the couch needs replacing that we are lounging on, we will, as a people, spots and all, get up and let the cat out. The best way to get the ruling class to do something is stop buying the things we don't need, ease up on travel, and stop voting in huge spending bonds. Because when we do that, tax revenues dry up. That will bring panic to any plump politician. Be a no-tax bitch about everything and vote out old taxes. That is like invading their personal stock of Cuban cigars. They will have to come out of their caves and face us. Then maybe we can deal the issues that affect the people.

The diversity lily pads shouldn't be a problem, and I'm not talking about racial diversity, I'm talking about vested interests by whatever the mix of individuals that oppose the American standards set by the forefathers. We harbor groups that hate the mainstream, don't like little villages with picked fences, because they came here to get rich and modify the plan.

We have home grown Neo Nazis, we have street gangstas, rap-sters, urban gorillas that isolate and conquer with drugs. Our legal system doesn't have a law against them. They form tyranny groups from within, which is exactly what Thomas Jefferson foresaw as the only threat to our future. But we tolerate it. We have nations within our nation. If any one or more of these groups gain power, they will take action, breaking the country down.

We also have the not-so-rich, but have a wealth of attitude. The government owes me, I want MY share, the freeloader that has been tolerated for years, taking money out of our pockets from taxes to keep them happy. We share a mermaid of services with these folks, but they don’t pay. They demand to go to the front of the line. I'm waiting for the pendulum to swing the other way. I'll be applauding from the sidelines.

What makes me disgusted is it seems to be on every street corner now. Years ago it was in someone else's backyard. Now, I have to drive around it, step over it just to get to the grocery store. The employers aren't helping much either. Why not provide a retirement fund to help people in their old age? Why not want to provide healthcare so the employee can stay working? These things can be planned into big companies to where it doesn't affect their bottom line. But you can't do it when the CEOs take all they can get.

An MBA is a dirty word in my book. We train executives to merge, downsize, and take all they can get. I'd rather deal with the Russian mob than a smart MBA graduate. Here's where the rubber meets the road. How do we get the society as a whole to care about each other enough to pull in the same direction?

It’s one thing to take care of those with special needs and quite another to freeload when you should be contributing. Once you hit the point of no return, where more people are living off of tax money than can be taxed, the democracy fails.

None of these fancy books by every lobbyist, media anchor, or celebrity on the block have one bit of advice on how to clear up the problems, bring the society together, or provide an alternative. It’s all blah, blah, blah.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Falling Arrows

As writers we are living in a very dynamic time. Each day I turn on the TV to another massive hurricane, flood, or earthquake. Mankind is being cornered and the arrows are in flight. Will your cozy mystery about a sleuth finding a serial killer be relevant in the wake of the real time movie playing out before us? I think not.

If you survive your tomorrow, start writing about it. You are the observer that sees beyond the sound bite. You aren’t squeezed into a two minute time slot or tethered to lamppost in a Category 5 storm commenting on the high winds. You are capable of bringing the world the human story like no other group of people. Write your hearts out and bring your critique group to tears.

If you ever were in want of a plot, a storyline or setting that would be the backdrop for your breakout novel, just stand on your toes and look around. We have the Russian Empire reemerging, monthly biblical sized disasters, social unrest, the American Dream being sold down the river by politician bent on spending for wars, families being crushed by shabby deals perpetrated by unethical loan officers, major financial centers duped by mutual funds filled with fraudulent underwriters, the African continent being dissolved into human tragedy, and who can count the greedy CEOs out competing for the longest yacht. I can’t think of a time when mankind has been more self-indulgent or self-destructive. We are even taken the planet down with us.

If you can’t find an exciting topic to write about or a human story in these times, turn your pen back in. You need to find another occupation.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Dialogue vs Narration

One of topics discussed in writers conferences and the How-To books from the staff of these events is the “show the reader, not tell the reader your story” spiel. The why is left to the virgin writer to figure out. It’s like that “obvious to the casual observer” bit that your physics prof at college used. Well, you need to know what causes the problem and how to approach the fix.

Narration dulls the spirit of any fiction. It can't be avoided entirely unless the story is only a rocket blast of dialogue, but it should be tamed so it doesn't drag the plot. Dialogue is the magic bullet in all action, thriller, or personal feeling stories. Dialogue shows the reader by opening up life and letting you participate in the protagonists struggles.

Can you imagine how quickly a story about Einstein would melt into boring documentary as a narration, although, there have been several very heart felt stories written about him in first person and third person dialogue showing you his life. Sorry, I seem to hitting on physicists in this piece.

Editors will also tell you that a story has a momentum, a pulse, a feeling of undulation that makes it more powerful. If not there, or erratic, it throws the reader off or may cause them to put down the book and do other things. To me, a lot of this is editor paranoia, the fear of low sales, but the point should be looked at as a writer and changed if you feel it too.

So, how do you control the fast pace of dialogue and the slow stretches of narration? Think about it five minutes and you can answer your own question.

By paying attention you realize the two oppose each other, therefore, balance them for effect. When you need to slow the story, use narration or internal monologue. When the story's excitement is what you are striving to achieve, use dialogue with minimum interference of attributions. Arrange scenes to minimize characters present so the dialogue can fly.

Check out any Michael Crichton novel (Jurassic Park, Prey, etc.). When the characters are being chased by beasts or bugs, the dialogue screams, rarely stops for breath, you’re on the edge of your seat and eyes bulging. But you can’t sustain that or you’d give the reader a heart attack. (I’ve actually had to stop reading and get a glass of water. His stories scar me to death.) Notice - go on, read one and see what I’m talking about - he skillfully places a narrative chunk that slows the pace by explaining things, sometimes with passive dialogue and some just narration. But it sooths the reader, and at the same time it sets up the reader for the next slap in the face action.

This rollercoaster ride is why people are thrilled with his stories. Like great composers that work music into a constant undulation of sound and rhythm, writers must learn to do the same.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

What is your approach to Writing

My method of writing starts with a title (I used to be a songwriter, so that's natural). I have to have a premise to write a story, but that's not a problem since every day or two lightning strikes me and I write down the message from the angel in my possible stories file. I then construct a scene, some kind of place, a stage if you will, to run the characters around on. By this time the main character is apparent. I love names, so the name has to fit the character. What is happening here is a building layer-by-layer process. The burst of writing is exciting for me. I go until I hit a fork in the road at neck break speed. Diet Dr. Pepper with pomegranate juice - my idea of a health drink, fuels the process. Oh, and Snicker bars.

This fork usually has a boogieman in the woods with a bead drawn on me. I sometimes have to pause and contemplate a lot of navels to break the spell by outlining possible outcomes. By this time I'm in another world. The story has sprung a life of its own. The story owns me and I just try to hang on.

I love the computer, because of the instant access to many references. If I hit a wall and don't know what something is or the "real" definition of a word or who Mary Queen of Scot's husband was - that sort of thing. I start the Wiki-this-or-that until I have a million Notepad files of information. Probably enough for several more stories, but we must be disciplined and return to job one.

It takes me about four months to write 70,000 words and do a couple of rewrites. Six months tops. I don't go beyond that size because if you self-publish, the cost of the book gets too high.

I don't write and drive at the same time. I don't own a cell phone, and the kids in my family are gone and married off, so the distractions, are as you might say, all my own doing. The last story I put aside, since it’s not published yet, I've been sitting on it to see if something else will hatch. I have a couple of folks reading it for a reaction. It's like water witching to see if a spring can be found. This time, I got so antsy; I started another story and am about two-thirds of the way through it.

I find it a pleasurable diversion to get interrupted, because it's not healthy to spend so much time at a computer. I never worry about coming back to it later. I've even stopped in mid-sentence and come back a day later and picked up where I left off. In fact, these stories can become a neurotic issue, invading my dreams or instead of humming in the shower, I'll stand there staring at the wall in another world planning out how the next chapter is going to go. It's like a seizure.

I don’t know if this rattletrap is of any use to anyone, but it is my typical pattern. I can’t storyboard a plot and have it work. I have to let the story talk to me, like a refugee that just crossed over a wall from a war torn region, staring up in desperation - you gotta believe me. Of course I do, I amaze easy. I’ll listen to any demented muse.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Sink or Swim

With all the discussion about the elections and government in general, we have an insecurity that has developed from what we’ve seen in the past, but let’s look at what’s happening in New Orleans right now. Two million people were successfully evacuated. That’s impressive, and this time they registered them as they left so their families can find them, the levees are holding, the pumps are running, it’s all good. The hospitals evacuated early and the sandbags went in before the storm got ahead of them. Hoorah for New Orleans! The politicians and the government functioned admirably.

There is going to be destruction from this storm, no doubt, but the embarrassing lackluster performance of the past has been averted. What I am saying is maybe we should give the politicians and the big government agencies applause this time. Thanks - job well done.

John Wolf
JohnWolfBooks.com
FoxandQuill.com

Friday, August 29, 2008

Spellbound

Did you hear Sarah Palin's acceptance speech for Vice President? No? You missed a historical moment. Erase those Olympics videos, get the TiVo ready, this woman is going to be hot- well, she’s already is that, but the Republicans have pulled off a triple whammy with Sarah. Her son signed up for the Army on September 11, her husband is a oil blue collar union guy, she cleaned out corruption in Alaska, she is a oil advocate and green energy promoter, and, and she blew Hillary Clinton out of the water AND will take her women voters with her to the elections. Genius!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Oil - the ultimate slippery slope

More sadly, Georgia is just a pawn. I believe Russia will use this invasion as a lever to try to get us to remove the missile sites in Poland. At least their ego would be stroked. They suffer from penis envy and harbor the same attitudes that Germany did after WWI. They feel humiliated and would like to see the old empire put back together again. As they gain the power to be powerful, they will do as their leaders egos direct - ours did. Mr. Bush had his little war totally against all logic. Why, because he could.

I didn't realize until just recently how Russia's oil has sparked such a huge rebuilding that is parallel to Shanghai and other places in the Middle East where this oil money does amazing things. Of course, another strong motivation is the competitive nature of mankind to take advantage of the situation. As speculators shoot the price up, only those with large quantities gain. While America stands in the bog of its self-righteousness, the rest of the world really doesn't care about polar bears and spotted owls. They see the opportunity to knock the big guy off his block while the prices are high. They are more green with envy than caring about a greener world. They want it all just like we have had in the past and our dilly-dallying around with no oil reserves we are willing to use or drill for to keep the price down has given a green light to all those that have the black stuff.

We are just now starting to realize, he who has the most barrels of oil on the dock wins. Oil just doesn't fuel SUVs. It is essential in thousands of industrial processes, medicine, and plastics. It really is a stupid policy to avoid oil because it's gooey. Find ways to deal with the polluting aspect, but don't assume that pumping from someone else's backyard is keeping us clean. This short-sightedness is going to flush our standard of living down the commode.

Wealth and knowledge power nations and while we do things to devaluate our dollar and watch others take advantage of that, and at the same time, out of foolish bragging rights, taut our knowledge to the world - see what we can do - they look, listen, and use that knowledge to walk away from us. Giving away modern technology to foreign nations is equivalent to giving them the keys to Fort Knox. The value of our nation will be diluted to the backwaters of history. At some point, places like China won’t need our markets. They will have market aplenty in their own backyard.

I find it appalling that we don’t notice that country after country is taking our technology and using it to become powerful nations. It’s just not China. Japan and Korea are still hot spots. India and certainly the Middle East in countries like Dubai, not to mention Russia. It took Japan less than twenty years to go from feudal nation to a modern industrial giant. The next in line will be even faster. The lessons are already in print. The blueprints are for sale. The means to these ends are generously on display on the Internet. If you have money, you can buy power. You can even build an A-bomb from how-to books. You just need the money to build the equipment to separate the chemicals.

We pride ourselves on putting our future in the hands of God. We believe in faith, what will be will be. Balderdash, remember God made oil. If we can't see how to cleverly deal with the world, the world is not going to sit by and share its knowledge with us. It's going to run over us with it.

John Wolf
JohnWolfBooks.com
FoxandQuill.com

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Mother Russia's Abortion

I woke up this morning (15 August, 2008) to the speech by Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili defying the Russian invasion into his country. I was so impressed by a western political leader standing up for the ideals that we that are farther west are so proud of, but only give lip service. This man has balls. He points out the fact that barbarian behavior has not gone away in the world. The warrior class is still here. The sick minds that brought us misery for the last 100 years are still trying to justify their madness by forcing their will on free people. It’s time to put down the ├ęclairs and lick the chocolate from our finger tips and give this man applause.

The red, white, and blue of the Russian flag is fading back to blood red with the hammer and sickle once again, which really captures the moment doesn’t it. The hammer and sickle is not an agricultural symbol; it’s a means to maim innocent people.

Most of this aggression is fueled by honor. From Ivan the Terrible and Catherine the Great to Putin the Angry, it’s all about Mother Russia and the glory of the State. Phooey, there is no honor in arrogance, no honor in being a bully. What the West realized after WWI was honor equates to masculinity at the State level and that causing humiliation lit the fuse for WWII. Helping German rebuild after the war was probably a wise move to avoid another angry backlash in the future. Unfortunately, masculinity also equates to getting even. We need a sign.

This same day the price of oil is dropping, the value of the dollar is raising, the stock market is up, and the price of gold and silver falling. If I were an astrologer, I would see something relevant in these stars aligning.

I feel that free people everywhere can be motivated by this unlikely man in a tiny country to see that his country’s situation is really a microcosm of the world situation. Are we going to let the barbarians corner us again? I believe it is time for the West to embrace the Ukraine and all the other neighbors around Russia to send a clear message - thugs who run countries are going to be replaced.

This time America needs the world to stand up and not just let us face this monster alone. Europe has to see the long shadow forming from the east. We have our hands full with other barbarian souls in the deserts of the cradle of civilization - what a misnomer that is.

That’s my opinion - what’s yours?