Friday Smiles

Proofing Distances, I’ve also been referring at times naturally to the first two volumes: Passports and Frontiers. When you write a series, continuity issues become huge. After all, as an author you don’t want to make even one silly mistake.

Because, of all that you write, you KNOW someone will pick up on any error. ;-) By now, there are A LOT of characters – parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, college chums, girlfriends, boyfriends…. and they are all distinct people. And there are varied settings, happenings and other background that must not be “misremembered” either.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a yellow smiley face.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a yellow smiley face.

Amidst all of it, there are lighthearted moments. Life isn’t always “heavy.” I thought I’d pull some excerpts from Passports and Frontiers and (in no particular order) “rapid fire” share them here. Something a bit different. I hope you enjoy them!:

Excerpt from
Excerpt from “Passports,” on the iPad app for Kindle. Click to expand.

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Future Academics Will Find Lots Less Paper

Good morning. This might be called PART II to yesterdays’s post:

Screen capture of title of yesterday's post.
Screen capture of title of yesterday’s post.

That retired English literature professor’s disdain for “social media” embraced by “young people” led me to thinking. How much has changed in novel writing over the last few generations. One aspect of such change has zero to do with annoying kids insisting on using Twitter on holiday when, AS WE ALL KNOW, they should be sitting on Bournemouth Beach immersed in The Great Gatsby.

“The Great Gatsby” first edition cover, 1925. From Wikipedia.

I don’t write my novels longhand. True, there is nothing new in someone doing that of course. We know typing has been around for over a century.

But a typewriter is just another form of physical writing. What’s changed in the last two generations is increasingly everything is on computers. And those computers are becoming ever more sophisticated.

As you may know, I’ve been proofing the Distances manuscript using a Word file emailed to my Kindle. (The last part of that sentence would’ve totally baffled F. Scott Fitzgerald.) I’m not inking out lines and words and scribbling in planned changes above them or in the margins and handing those changes to my devoted secretary…. who is invariably a lovely, ever-helpful woman who works for close to nothing because I can barely pay her, and she can type, because, being a man, as you know I’m a pathetic typist….

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“You kids….and get off my lawn too!”

In a world full of young adult fiction readers who are also “social media” users, who could seriously argue the likes of Twitter are destroying novel reading among the young? For the two streams of entertainment aren’t mutually exclusive: reading a novel is one thing, while networking and socializing is another. Most people can walk and chew gum at the same time.

However, this retired English literature professor lumps them together:

Screen capture of the Daily Mail.
Screen capture of the Daily Mail.

His summation of novels in single tweets is amusing. However, his tweets are obviously not replacements for reading the full novels themselves. That said, I’ve also never seen the issue positioned before in that thrown back on itself manner.

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Our Distinctive Writing “Voice”

The net is wonderful in so many ways. It brings together those of us who otherwise would never have known each other. It allows us to share so much with others who may be equally enthusiastic about…. whatever it is we’re enthusiastic about.

I’ve read quite a lot of Thomas Jefferson over the years. You may know the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, U.S. diplomat in France from 1784-89 (a period of his life that, you may not be shocked to learn, has always been of particular interest to me), first Secretary of State, Vice President, and finally 3rd President, even gets casual mentions in my novels. That’s because, unsurprisingly perhaps based on my real-life interest, I’ve made “James” something of a “fan” too – and by this 3rd novel it’s well-known among other characters, who sometimes have some fun with it:

"Distances" back cover character quotes. [Original photography by me, 1995.]
“Distances” back cover character quotes. [Original photography by me, 1995.]

So when I saw this quote on Twitter a few days ago, I’d thought: How interesting? Hmm. I’ve never seen that before?:

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Land Of The Free, Home Of The Sweatpants

What one learns. Did you know that dressing like a rumpled mess is a sign of “freedom” and a declaration of one’s “Americanness?” Neither did I until now:

Screen capture of Time.
Screen capture of Time.

The writer states she doesn’t see dressing “casual” as being the opposite of “formal.” Rather, it’s the opposite of “confined.” She also asserts:

To dress casual is quintessentially to dress as an American and to live, or to dream of living, fast and loose and carefree.

Observing that is supposed to be, presumably, suitably – no pun intended – patriotic?

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Ten Years On: The Day’s A Blur

July 7, 2005 was like any other normal day. A few days a week I took public transportation – either overground train, or tube – to my university office in north London where I then worked. Other days I drove. I liked to vary the commute.

That day, I’d pre-booked the car in with a dealer for a routine service, so drove to work a bit early. Being near the college, they would send someone over to my office, collect it, work on it, and return it by the end of the workday. Ho hum.

As usual, by 8:30 they’d picked up the car and taken it away. I think it was on my desktop sometime around 9:30 when I first saw the BBC web site update: there were rumors of electrical fires/ explosions in a couple of tube stations.

Very odd stuff, to say the least. I remember colleagues shaking their heads.

Screen capture of BBC web site.
Screen capture of BBC web site.

And I remember one – the first one to suggest it – saying these sounded like bombings.

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The Appropriate “Grade Level” For Your Novel Is…

The other day Kindle sent out a note suggesting we authors optionally “age rate” our books. I thought I’d share it. I’ve removed the superfluous and “personal” parts and screen captured the core of it:

Edited message from Kindle.
Edited message from Kindle.

Kindle sends out lots of stuff – some useful, some not. But this just seems a sloppy tech issue from their end. There’s a straightforward reason I haven’t chosen an under-18s level for my novels and Kindle knows it already.

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Bluntly Tweeting

Singer James Blunt has been in the “non-musical” news here in Britain in recent days. He got into a dust up with a Labour MP over that politician’s assertion that artists from elite educational backgrounds disproportionately dominate the U.K. entertainment scene. Many onlookers have sided with Blunt.

One of Blunt’s statements in his very public reply published in The Guardian:

….I got signed in America, where they don’t give a stuff about, or even understand what you mean by me and “my ilk”, you prejudiced wazzock, and I worked my arse off. What you teach is the politics of jealousy. Rather than celebrating success and figuring out how we can all exploit it further as the Americans do, you instead talk about how we can hobble that success and “level the playing field”….

The politician came back at him immediately and condescendingly….

Stop being so blooming precious….

Thus perhaps another difference been the U.S. and U.K. In America, I believe a politician would have instead at that point sought to “tone it down” and “make nice.” Advisors would have been nervously at him, warning, “Don’t alienate his fans! They’re potential voters!”

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“Viewed You Today”

As you may recall, I signed up for About.me a few weeks ago. Based on my initial impressions, I like it. It strikes me as a kinda Linked-in that’s more entertaining, artistic, and driven by “people” and “interests” – including, but not overwhelmingly, career interests. I certainly see where it could prove useful in a networking sense.

In just these first couple of weeks, I’ve had something around 4,000 visits to “view me.” I suppose that’s flattering. But I have no idea yet what those “views” really mean.

I have also spotted certain careers and “interests” predominating among those who are stopping by to “view” me, “add” me to a list, or even to “compliment” me. There are lots of IT, marketing, and other business professionals. Some have extraordinary educations and skills sets. For instance, one who “viewed me” the other day was a Turkish graduate of MIT, and she also plays classical piano. (Good grief. When I discovered that, talk about suddenly feeling yourself inadequate!)

There are journalists. There are entertainers. There are regular international travelers. There are quite a few academics and students. Some people don’t display “amazing” bios, but seem merely friendly and interested in following others as on other social media. All appear to be something of a cross-section of our world; it’s astonishing how diverse the site is. And thankfully, so far, weirdoes and – insofar as I can tell – sp@mmers mercifully seem at a minimum.

A screen capture from within my About.me yesterday.
A screen capture from within my About.me yesterday.

Now something of a downer. I’m also seeing quite a few authors – certainly enough to have caught my attention – have a book cover as their photograph. Meaning literally they have a cover of their latest novel as “their picture.”

My gut reaction: that’s misunderstanding the site. Why? Even as an author myself, my take is the site’s used as a platform to present oneself as a unique individual. It’s about getting to know each other as people. Ultimately, it is about building relationships – business and otherwise.

For example, a market research specialist doesn’t usually represent her/himself with a photograph of the cover of a recent research report. It’s far more likely to be a Hi-Res photograph of her/himself climbing a mountain, or snorkeling, or gardening, or standing on the Great Wall of China. He/she aims to make him/herself “memorable” and – above all – “human” to you, thus leading you to want to know more about them.

Hence the site’s name?: “About.me?”

As an author, it seems fine to note one’s book titles and why you write. A writer’s works and motivations are part of what being a writer is. In that regard, they are no different from anyone else in terms of explaining their occupation, career aspirations, and listing former employers on their CV.

But to me you must never lose sight of the fact that it’s supposed to be about you as “a person.” It’s not first and foremost about your novel(s). Social media – to me, anyway – is about sharing yourself.

Too many authors appear to think “building relationships” and “interacting” on social media is about pushing their book(s). That, to me, is exactly backwards. On social media, your works flow from you as the person who created them.

If upon discovering you someone wants to read your book(s), he/she certainly will. However the “bells and whistles” approach we often see employed by authors on social media is close to “sp@mmer-like” and, frankly, just annoying. It has never led me once – not ever, not anywhere, not anytime – to want to buy a book.

But, then again, maybe I’m the one who has it all wrong? Well, even if I do, I don’t care. Just my take.

Have a good FRIDAY…. wherever you are in the world. :-)

Oh, I just thought of this. I’ve never played piano. However, I think I may have to pull out my old guitar from the closet, practice a bit, and add that to my About.me bio. Hey, don’t laugh: as a teenager, I used to play lots of Beatles’ songs fairly well. ;-)

“Americans now get soccer”

As we all know – and as the #johnbrooksforpresident Twitter hashtag reminds us – the U.S. had a big, surprise win over Ghana at the World Cup on Monday courtesy of John Brooks’s dramatic goal as the game was ending. Reading Americans’ reactions to Brooks’s unexpected, last second header heroics, my [English] wife joked, “Americans now get soccer.”

During World Cups, inevitably this question arises: Why isn’t soccer (football) even bigger among U.S. sports? And Americans are lectured (for the umpteenth time) that although it is not the top sport in the U.S., all the rest of the world is obsessed with it.

Technically, though, “all the rest of the world” isn’t: that’s always been an exaggeration. True, soccer is nearly a religion in Europe, Latin America, and parts of Africa. But it is often overlooked that it is far less important not only in Canada, but also in much of Asia and Australia/ New Zealand. Indeed the billion person Indian subcontinent is definitely not soccer-crazed: its passion is cricket.

image

That said, U.S. soccer has come a long way in the last two decades – particularly the women’s game. The U.S. women’s soccer team has been far more successful than the men’s team: it is one of the best globally. Yet an interesting question is this: is it possible the “rise” of soccer within the last generation is a flip-side to the “decline” in the fortunes of U.S. professional tennis?

image

I recall tennis was pretty popular when I was in high school back in, uh, the Middle Ages 1980s. However, soccer was well down the sports preferences list. For both women and men.

Yet when we consider how there is no U.S. man currently in the tennis “Top Ten,” and realize, the Williams sisters aside, among women only Sloane Stephens is in the “Top 40,” one wonders if many excellent American athletes who might in the past have played professional tennis – especially women – have instead taken up soccer?