Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Writers’ blogs and op-ed…

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

Recently (Sat, 8/26), the N.Y. Times published an op-ed about how to write an op-ed. My definition of op-ed is a bit more general than theirs. (I wrote a previous post about op-eds. I swear, sometimes I think someone at the Times is reading my blog. The other day they used my Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde metaphor to describe Trump, which I’m sure I used a while ago—maybe on Facebook?).

I consider my posts commenting on current events op-eds; I also consider many of my posts on writing and the publishing business op-eds. Some of the Times’ op-ed about writing them applies to blog posts. Most of it doesn’t. For example, one of their columnist’s points was that the op-ed writer has to always bow to an editor’s wishes—the editor is always right. My blog is a personal blog, so there are no editors. Better said, I’m the editor, so I’m always right.

Another point was not to use long sentences. My sentences sometimes stretch on a bit. Unlike a journalist only reporting on facts, a blog writer has to pack a lot into a single sentence because a blog post has to be short yet much pithier than any op-ed column in a newspaper.

And that leads me to the main point (which the Times’ columnist, who obviously doesn’t believe in segues, says I should have already made): op-ed or blog writers differ from journalists. They wear different hats. While I try to verify the facts, my main purpose is to comment on them. (And that’s why the pundits at Fox News and MSNBC aren’t really journalists.)

While I recommend a journalism degree over an MFA if you think you need academic prep to be a novel writer, precisely because the former better prepares a person to be a minimalist writer, a collection of really short sentences in prose can be as boring as one with very long sentences. A mix between short and long maintains a more interesting pace.

There are many news websites that are really blogs and the posts are more newsy and written in a journalistic style. That’s fine, but it doesn’t work for writers’ blogs. So, dear author, let me give you my list of suggestions for writing your blog:

Don’t focus on writing per se. Most readers of your blog won’t care about POV, characterization, and so forth—the techniques of writing fiction. They care about writers and their stories—that means you and your stories too.

Don’t focus only on your stories. Your articles shouldn’t appear to be an ad orgy. Actually, this also holds true for discussion groups you contribute to. I’m reluctant to post a comment on Goodreads, for example, that mentions my books, although I know them well and they often provide good examples. There I use the subtopics allotted for marketing and promotion that almost every Goodreads discussion group has. Harping about your books can be tiring for readers who already experience a deluge of marketing every time they go online.

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Do you get your money’s worth?

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

Readers and writers alike see those expensive ads for a book. Video trailers, full-page ads in the NY Times, and huge ads in that paper’s book section every Sunday. You also have Kirkus Reviews, little more than ads themselves because they’re paid for by Big Five publishers.

You also have ad agencies and marketing experts who make a huge amount of money as the proverbial “middle men.” A Big Five publisher doesn’t usually design the ad or run the marketing campaign, after all. Someone is hired to do that.

Are these efforts worth the money? I suppose some readers respond to the hype. Marketing people working for Big Five publishers aim their big guns at those readers, of course. As a reader, I guess I’m old-fashioned. I don’t pay much attention to hype beyond being annoyed by it, especially when superstar author X endorses Y’s book. That’s similar to Henry Winkler or Mike Ditka selling insurance. Moreover, it’s dangerous for Y, because I might hate X’s writing.

To be honest, most of the big-bang marketing hype is for the Big Five’s stable of winning stallions and mares. You’ll rarely see a huge marketing campaign for a new author. If you’re an author spoiled by the Big Five, you don’t worry about PR and marketing very much either, so whatever they do is probably OK. If you’re not, the question becomes: Do you get your money’s worth?

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Looking for a publisher?

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

I don’t have much experience with this, but let me quote UK’s The Guardian: “These days, it is minimally staffed and funded firms who invest in new authors. The giants avoid such risk, only picking the writers once their names are made….” “The giants…” refers to the Big Five publishing conglomerates, of course. A contract with one of their subsidiary publishing houses might please most authors, so how are we to explain The Guardian’s comment?

Readers will find that new authors publish in various ways—with a major publisher; a smaller, independent one; or by going indie. The first two are considered traditional publishing. In spite of some readers’ beliefs and those of many professionals in the field, none of these has much to do with the quality of the book. You can have great books in all three; you can also have bombs in all three.

Full DIY (complete indie) isn’t very satisfying if you’re a new author looking for a bit more interaction with people who know the book business. A service like Draft2Digital can be helpful to the newbie and great for the seasoned author as well (my relationship with Carrick Publishing is similar, although probably more interactive in a pleasant way, and began before Draft2Digital was even born). Using reasonably priced PR and marketing services can always be useful even for most traditionally published authors (traditional contracts aren’t known to be much help there).

As is often the case, the bigger the traditional publisher, the more an author becomes a lost soul in a huge purgatory or hell of lost authors. This what The Guardian means. You won’t develop many personal relationships or receive much personal attention from a huge publishing house unless you’re one of their superstars. In either case, traditional or indie, you might be lucky enough to have a personal relationship with an agent, but that’s iffy too. And agents come and go from the agencies, so you might find yourself soon looking for another agent.

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Waiting for Hollywood?

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

If you read this blog regularly, you know I see quite a few movies—some blockbusters, others more artistic films that don’t draw crowds. In spite of Hollywood’s attempts to halt its influence, my favorite review site is Rotten Tomatoes, but to be honest, I don’t put much stock in either book or movie reviews, except my own, of course. That’s not being smug; it’s simply a recognition that anyone’s opinion of a book or film is subjective.

As an author, though, I can’t help wondering how my many novels would fare on the silver screen. I’ve been asked that a lot. I’d like to include m short stories and novellas for consideration too. Phillip K. Dick probably holds the Guinness record for the number of stories that became movies, and many of these weren’t novels. Short fiction is probably better matched to a two-hour movie.

Most authors are just happy to have a successful book, however that’s defined. Hollywood has two sources for its screenplays: popular stories and original screenplays. The second are often weak in plot and overloaded with sex, violence, and action, especially if they’re of the blockbuster type. The plots are often non-existent. The first, if they’re novels, are often too complex and Hollywood dumbs them down and misses most of the plot, characterization, themes, settings, and dialogue that the fiction author worked so hard on.

My novels tend to be complex; I don’t do simple. I’m almost certain that Hollywood wouldn’t know what to do with them. In Rembrandt’s Angel, I even provided a cast of main characters, more because some of their names are also complicated and hard to remember (Bastiann van Coevorden, the Dutch Interpol agent, is an example). That might help the reader with the complex plot too. Maybe the George Bernard Shaw quotes introducing the theme of each part of the novel could help as well.

The next question I sometimes get is: Who should play character X? Because I’ve never expected Hollywood to make a movie based on one of my stories, this is always a tough question. I don’t imagine an actor and mold my character to that person. Actors really don’t have personalities—they portray different ones. The question is really about which actor looks like my character. Taken in that way, the question is better suited to a casting professional. I’m not that person, although I could have fun imagining the actor who plays one of my characters…or working with a casting professional to find one.

These questions are common but probably wasted on most novelists. Maybe a movie based on one of their books will bring them more fame and income, but they shouldn’t be sad when it doesn’t happen. In fact, it might be a good thing.

***

Rembrandt’s Angel (a mystery/thriller from Penmore Press). To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by the Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more, as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. See the review and interview at Feathered Quill. This book is available in ebook format at Amazon and at Smashwords and its affiliate retailers. It’s available as a print version at Amazon, B&N, or your favorite bookstore (if not there, ask for it).

In libris libertas….

 

Go out of your comfort zone…

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

Many writers are introverts. That’s a nice way to say we’re nerdy. People say I talk funny, use big words, and derive pleasure from unusual activities. Guilty as charged.

If you accept this stereotypical description of a writer (many stereotypes are over-generalized and over-extrapolated statements based on limited data sets), do you accept the premise that PR and marketing is hard for writers? I find it difficult, and I’d rather be writing. Even these serious blog articles (OK, some aren’t so serious) are more fun than PR and marketing. The main benefits derived from my fiction writing are found in the actual storytelling and the pleasure obtained from entertaining at least a few people who read my stories. That comes my way whether I’m successful at PR and marketing or not (that success is hard to measure in general because it doesn’t guarantee a wildly successful book).

But I’m also a type-A personality, so I do try new things, however reluctantly. While teaching in Colombia, South America, we had to experiment with large lecture classes, common in the U.S. but not so much in Latin America. Our small department was facing a crisis because it had to teach an increasingly large population of engineering students. Imagine a nerdy prof getting up in front of 200+ kids and essentially pulling off a one-man theater shtick three times per week. That’s called going out of your comfort zone.

Book marketing is like that. It’s something every author must do nowadays, if only to organize a marketing campaign and hire the people necessary to do the job. For your stereotypical nerdy author, any of that means going out of her or his comfort zone. I’ve found it can be rewarding, though, because it often involves meeting new people and doing new things.

An experience I had last year illustrates my point. I was the only author hawking his books at the Holly Berry Show, a traditional holiday arts and crafts event run by the Upper Montclair Women’s Club. Mind you, a bit of time and money was invested in preparing for this show. The rewards included selling quite a few books, but the biggest ones corresponded to meeting complete strangers and talking about writing, books, and the book business with them. And some of my writer’s stereotypes were shattered too as I met elderly people interested in sci-fi and tweens interested in mysteries. (I was selling both The Midas Bomb, a mystery/thriller, and Rogue Planet, a sci-fi novel.) Besides these pleasant interchanges, I also got to know quite a few vendors, all artists just like me, although their creative talents and efforts weren’t dedicated to writing fiction.

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Mysteries and thrillers…

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

The standard explanation of the difference between these two genres is perhaps familiar. A mystery is a story about a crime that’s committed and some sleuth(s), pro or amateur, figure how it was done and who did it, given clues, suspects, and witnesses. A thriller is a story about a villain or conspiracy that must be stopped; the reader generally knows who the bad guys (or gals) are planning the dirty deed.

Those words cover the standard explanation, but most readers know they’re often limited. First, the crime in the mystery might be perpetrated by a villain or conspiracy, and in the thriller the good guys (or gals) might have to stop the perps from doing some crime again.

That caveat is segue to number two: the two genres often merge or overlap, which is why books are often catalogued as “mystery, thriller, and suspense.” We can argue whether a book is a mystery or thriller, or whether it’s more mystery than thriller or vice versa (suspense describes both, of course). Genres are just labels designed for the convenience of book vendors who have to display their wares on shelves. (My new book Rembrandt’s Angel was found in the art section of one store, though, and maybe a reasonable mistake made by the vendor.) But both readers and writers have to realize the story is what’s important. Read the blurb and use “peek inside” to determine whether you’re interested in a book and forget about the genre classifications.

Third, nowadays there are many crossover stories. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Many sci-fi books are also thrillers, and some are even mysteries. For example. Asimov’s Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun are sci-fi mysteries about human and android sleuths partnering up to solve two murder cases; they set the bar high for any sci-fi mystery. I enjoyed these stories as a young lad, which is one of the reasons why I write sci-fi, mysteries, and thrillers, sometimes mixing these genres in my storytelling. Sometimes the mix is subtle: Detectives Chen and Castilblanco use smartphones that have many special PDA and video capabilities not yet available, and they have to drive eco-friendly cars as members of a futuristic NYPD.

One main character in Soldiers of God, Caitlin Murphy, is a futuristic FBI agent trying to solve a vicious murder. It’s a standard mystery in the sense that it begins with this crime, but it also has thriller elements. Even The Midas Bomb, first book in my detective series, was set in the future when I wrote it (it now has a second edition, and 2014 has long passed). All books in the “Clones and Mutants Trilogy” can be considered sci-fi thrillers, but they also have mystery elements.

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An interview with Scotland Yard Inspector George Langston…

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

Steve (in a whisper reminiscent of an announcer at a Scottish golf tournament): I’ve traveled to London to interview Mr. George Langston, the Scotland Yard inspector who runs the Art and Antiques Division. He has written a chronicle about a few of Inspector Esther Brookstone’s cases. You’ll find them contained in Rembrandt’s Angel. (Louder) How are you today, George?

George: A bit weary of being called Esther’s Dr. John Watson for her Sherlock Holmes. Esther works for me. Watson and Holmes had a different relationship.

Steve: You took upon yourself to chronicle some of her cases, though. What was your motivation?

George: I hope all your questions will be as easy to answer. I admire Esther. As the chronicle shows, she is much more than a sleuth, although she does good work in the division.

Steve: Yes, for a woman in her sixties, she seems to be a twenty-first century Miss Marple. And her good friend, Interpol agent Bastiann van Coevorden, seems to be a twenty-first century Monsieur Poirot. George: Neither likes those comparisons, especially when they are uttered behind their backs by gossips in their respective workplaces. I personally find them complimentary, but you know how office gossips can be.

Steve: One person’s compliment can be turned into another’s criticism. I’m familiar with the phenomenon. You’re Esther Brookstone’s boss in Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Division. You also wrote this first chronicle about a few of her cases. Which role do you think is more important?

George: You could say that the first enables the second, but I probably would be writing about her cases even without that first relationship. It does permit me to peek inside her personnel file from time to time. We are also good friends, so there are also many things I know that embellish her personnel records.

Steve: Esther obviously told you something about her previous involvement in Britain’s security services. Any chance that story will become another chronicle about her?

George: I would have to do some more sleuthing myself to write about previous events before her time at the Yard. I am certain that learning about them would explain many of her current skills that go beyond the usual ones for an inspector in the Metropolitan Police, especially ones you see among personnel in the Art and Antiques Division.

Steve: It might explain how she and Bastiann could thwart that neo-Nazi threat, right?

George: That was a close thing. I would rather she be a bit more careful.

Steve: She seems to have become obsessed with that painting, “An Angel with Titus’ Features.” That’s a real painting, right? Not your literary embellishment?

George: The black-and-white photograph of the painting is freely available on the internet. But yes, Esther became a bit obsessed with it. That obsession added danger to her pursuit of the case. Recovering stolen artwork or thwarting its sale can be dangerous, though. The scoundrels who work in that dirty gray world, and even the buyers, can become violent when one of our inspectors closes in. These cases can resemble more ubiquitous cases of robbery and murder, although the criminals tend to be more knowledgeable about art.

Steve: But there’s not often so much danger.

George: Yes, the principal case in my chronicle was much more dangerous than the usual one we consider. You have to remember, though, that there was much more to it as Esther and Bastiann pursued the illegal art dealers. I believe both MI5 and MI6 are still in cleanup mode.

Steve: Is anyone still looking to recover the painting?

George: Our division and van Coevorden’s Interpol are still interested in doing so. The French and German authorities are too, but all these security forces breathed sighs of relief when the miscreants’ plans were discovered and stopped.

Steve: That was an interesting consequence of Esther’s obsession.

George: Perhaps. Again, it put her in danger. Bastiann too.

Steve: Do you have plans for more chronicles?

George: If I can uncover a bit of her history in our intelligence services, I will write that. Esther and Bastiann are recovering now at her Scottish castle. I hope she returns soon. Our caseload has increased during her absence. Who knows if one of those cases will be featured in a future chronicle?

Steve: Thank you for your time, Inspector.

George: I have no problem discussing Esther and her adventures. She is a bit hard to control at times, but no one can deny her success. I am honored to have her in our division.

***

Just posted: a new review of Rembrandt’s Angel. “a thrilling, globetrotting adventure that provides readers a glance into the world of art forgery, Neo-Nazi conspiracies and even links to ISIS. The duo of Brookstone and van Coevorden can be favorably compared with utmost respect to Agatha Christie’s classic characters, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Esther is a strong, well-liked character with a saucy disposition, while Bastiann, though he plays costar and lover to Esther, is able to hold his own with regards to likability…

…Steven M. Moore’s novel should be read by fans of the mystery genre particularly because the author has a keen ability to weave a great storyline that is not only filled with suspense, but captures a reader’s attention. A few quotes stood out as quite descriptive and remained with this reader well after the book was completely read, for example, “In the ice cream shop of crime, there are many flavors” and “A committee of clouds enjoyed a private meeting over the manor. …the character Esther Brookstone provides readers with an unusual female protagonist who is more than just a senior Scotland Yard Inspector. She is a memorable and tenacious dame who readers will undoubtedly enjoy throughout the novel and will look forward to reading any of her possible future exploits.

Rembrandt’s Angel is a complex thriller with several plots intertwined throughout the story. It is recommended for serious mystery fans who are looking for not only a challenging read, but also one that allows readers to become an armchair adventurist and detective, along with Brookstone and van Coevorden, spanning many different parts of the globe.”—Lynette Latzko, Feathered Quill Book Reviews

For the full review, visit Feathered Quill. To learn more about saucy Esther Brookstone, see Rembrandt’s Angel (Penmore Press), now available as an ebook on Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple, and as a print book on Amazon, B&N,  or at your local bookstore through Ingram (ask for it if they don’t have it). Don’t miss it. It’s great summer reading.

In libris libertas!

 

 

 

 

Authors and characters…

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

Some readers and reviewers try to identify an author’s characters with the author or some alter-ego of the author. FYI: writing fiction is NOT the same as writing an autobiography. In fact, because characters are fictional creations, they usually have no relationship to the author.

Consider the antagonist, the villain. Your average author isn’t a psychotic serial killer, mad scientist, or a sociopathic business person. You wouldn’t expect an author even to aspire to be one of these. But a good mystery, thriller, or sci-fi story can’t exist without a good villain.

Vladimir Kalinin AKA Rupert Snyder AKA Sergio Battaglia appears and reappears in various novels of mine, from The Midas Bomb to Soldiers of God (that implies a timeline; it’s contained in a PDF free for the asking). He’s a sociopath with occasional good qualities (most notably in No Amber Waves of Grain). As far as I know, I have no mental aberrations beyond being a fiction writer, and my elementary knowledge of Russian has all but disappeared, so I’m not Vladimir Kalinin and shouldn’t be confuse with him.

Consider an ET character. While it’s hard to write a sci-fi story containing a completely alien character and her or his culture, I’ve done so in the Singer and the Swarm, two ET “characters” with collective intelligences found in Sing a Samba Galactica (Swarm makes an encore in the third novel of the “Chaos Chronicles Trilogy”). These characters are the strangest I’ve imagined, but the Rangers (humans’ first contact with them is also described in Sing a Samba Galactica) are almost as strange, but they become good friends of human beings.

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Book review of The Three-Body Problem…

Friday, July 28th, 2017

(Cixin Liu, The Three-Body Problem, Tor, 2006)

I’ll admit it: I struggled through this Hugo Award winner. It’s a cross between a physics textbook; a historical account of China, including the Cultural Revolution; and a story about first contact.

The physics is a bit much for the average sci-fi reader perhaps, especially for those who think Star Wars, Star Trek, and other Hollywood gruel are real sci-fi. The history is more interesting. I feel I don’t know enough about China. Books like this one, Ludlum’s third Bourne novel (and not the third movie!), and The First Excellence by Donna Carrick, represent good ways to understand Chinese history and modern culture via fiction. First contact is overdone in the sci-fi literature (perhaps Asimov was smart to avoid ETs altogether in his Foundation series), and this book offers few novelties.

I can’t refrain from commenting on the title. The Centauri star system has achieved some notoriety lately because there’s an Earth-sized planet orbiting the red dwarf Proxima (the usual extra-solar planets are Jovian-sized). Obviously the author didn’t know about this planet when he wrote his book, but any inhabitants of that planet might be interested in exact solutions to the three-body problem because the “suns” in their sky form such a system. Beyond that, the mysticism that shrouds the three-body system in this novel is unwarranted because the Centauri three-star system has been stable for millions of years.

The end of the book leans more to Harry Potter-like fantasy than hard sci-fi. Unfolding a proton and etching integrated circuits on its surface is a story that Harry’s house dwarf might dream up (if the author knew anything about science, that is). It’s a silly extrapolation, if it can even be called that. And it’s definitely not good sci-fi.

The climax is too long coming. The description of the two camps of human thought about how to deal with the ETs is too. I’d say 70% of the book is how one woman dealt with and had her little victories against the Cultural Revolution; there’s very little sci-fi beyond the fact that she and her father were physicists. That’s about 270 pages out of 390 before the reader even gets to the point.

The usual sci-fi story elements are missing: fast-moving plot (there’s not much world-building here, so why is it so slow?); interesting characters (I don’t like any of them); strange settings (OK, there are foreign and interesting ones, but I wouldn’t call them all that strange, except for the fantasy home of the Centaurians, and you can’t tell them apart from those in a computer game); and so forth. The author also spends too much time writing about a computer game. I’m just not into them because they’re a waste of time, but this one is used to subvert and convert and recruit intellectuals to further the ambitions of the main character (hard to tell whether she’s protagonist or antagonist, by the way). Maybe you like computer games. If that’ the case, you’ll maybe like some of this book.

I kept thinking as I read, “Hey, Steve, this is a Hugo winner. It must get better.” It never did–not for me. I found it to be a slog. Maybe the Hugo judges were trying to achieve some rapprochement with China? For me, Hugo has been slipping the last two decades. This one was a major slip-up (I previously tried to read another Hugo winner, one I couldn’t even finish, so I didn’t review it).

This is the first book in a trilogy. I won’t be reading the two remaining ones. That’s my cultural revolution against Hugo as much as this author.

***

Rembrandt’s Angel (a mystery/thriller from Penmore Press). To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by the Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more, as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. This book is available in ebook format at Amazon and at Smashwords and its affiliate retailers. It’s available as a print version at Amazon, B&N, or your favorite bookstore (if not there, ask for it). Happy reading!

In libris libertas…

Information overload…

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

Maybe I’m just getting old, but every day it seems to be more difficult to process the information I look for and find. I seem to be drowning in it. I try to be selective, but the selection takes time too. Some days the selection process takes more time than processing the information I’ve received.

Information is now mined by corporations who sell what they’ve mined to other corporations. The latter are probably in the same boat I’m in. Will Corporate America come to a grinding halt when it has so much information that it can’t process it? Will I?

Some computer gurus discuss a tipping point when computer networks become sentient and human beings become superfluous. (The Terminator movies are built on this premise.) I don’t think that will happen. When information overload maxes out, computers will be turned off, AIs, robots, and androids will crazy, and civilization will end. We’ll probably return to a hunter-gather society. The only information we’ll need then is what to hunt and what to gather.

We’re already networking computers to solve problems of great complexity. But will we reach the point that the solutions to these problems are just as complex and human beings can’t begin to understand them? I can imagine a worldwide network going crazy because it has solved a complex and important problem but the solution is so complex that only another worldwide network can understand it!

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