Author Archives: Christopher

Kindle Scout

I tried Kindle Scout for my latest book, Purple Legion, and would like to share my experiences with it.

If you’re not familiar with it, Kindle Scout is a program through Amazon where they will give you, if you are accepted, a $1500 advance and some nice publishing and marketing help. You get accepted by putting your book in a ‘campaign’ where people can read the first 5000 words and then nominate it for selection. This campaign lasts for 30 days and then your book is reviewed by their selection committee. It costs nothing to submit your book beyond having to wait for 30 days.

To make a long story short, my book was not accepted. During the 30 days, my book had 736 page views, spent 36 hours in the ‘hot and trending’ category and had 613 nominations. What does that mean? I haven’t any idea. And, that’s the problem with Kindle Scout. They have this process, but there is no guidance. Is 613 nominations good? Or, is it woefully shameful? And, just how much does it play into the decision process? What is the selection committee looking for? Is the number of nominations a big factor, or a small one? There is no feedback and, as an Indy author, I sure would like to receive some kind of feedback.

That is the whole problem with Kindle Scout, in my opinion. Other people have other issues and I recommend you do a search before going with it. But, I can tell you that I do not recommend it and I doubt I will be back.

Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize for Literature

So, some people are upset about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. The thought process being he isn’t ‘literature quality.’ To this, I say rubbish. I have read a number of Nobel Prize-winning authors and I am generally unimpressed. I know that is sacrilege to many, but it’s the truth. Let’s go through a list of awardees, singling out a few I’m familiar with:

I love Rudyard Kipling and have greatly enjoyed his books. His works have been a part of my life. But, I don’t find them to be enormously better than other works of literature.

William Butler Yeats. Okay, he was better than the others of his day.

George Bernard Shaw. I have never been all that impressed with his works. They’re okay, but that’s about all I can say about them.

Sinclair Lewis probably deserves to be awarded the prize due to the influence of his writing. However, they were not great works of literature.

Eugene O’Neil did, in fact, write some great works of literature. Like Yeats, he was deserving of the praise.

Pearl S. Buck. I suppose she was a great author, but she never had much of an effect on me.

T. S. Elliott. Ehh.

William Faulkner. If you like stories about the south, he’s your guy. I don’t see him as being so much better than his peers.

Bertrand Russell. Oh, wait! Russell didn’t write literature! He wrote philosophical essays. So, in fact, there is a precedent for giving the award to someone other than literature writers.

Winston Churchill. If you want to read a history of World War II, his is the one pick. A detailed account written by someone who was in the driver’s seat. But, not great literature. Oh, wait! It wasn’t literature at all. There’s two examples of the prize going to someone who didn’t write literature.

Ernest Hemingway. Every time I have read any of his work, I end up understanding why he ate the business end of a shotgun. Extremely depressing and defeatist. I suppose there are some people who consider this great literature, but I’m not one of them.

John Steinbeck. Not as depressing as Hemingway, but still pretty bad. His Grapes of Wrath is important for documenting the lives of the average person during the Dust Bowl.

There are more examples, but I think I made my point. I view Dylan’s writing (as lyrics) to be just as good as many of the works of literature on this list. And, since the prize has become more of a political statement than a statement of literary skill and quality, Dylan falls square in the middle of awardees in recent years.  And, if you want to talk about influence, can anyone deny the influence he had on American youth, and even way beyond America? So, I find no problem at all with them giving him the Nobel Prize.

Congratulations, Bob Dylan!


Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The movie The Martian is coming out on October 2. I’ve seen the trailers and it looks good. I hope it is true to the book because it is an excellent book. This is one of those rare books that can really grip you and make you stay up late because you can’t sleep while wondering about what is going to happen next. Normally, I prefer to read books before seeing the movie adaptation. The adaptation is usually so poor as to do the book an injustice, but contains enough of the story to be a spoiler to the book. My solution is to read the book before hand and then endure the inadequacies of Hollywood screen writers. This is particularly true of any kind of science-based storyline (Is there ANYONE in Hollywood who can even spell the word ‘science’?) However, the word coming out is that The Martian is pretty accurate.

The book is not only an excellent book, but the story of how it came about is pretty remarkable. It is not a spoiler to tell you it is the story of an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars. This comes out in the first few paragraphs of the book. There is a large storm and the manned mission is forced to evacuate. Mark Watney is observed getting impaled by debris and swept away. Remote sensors show the pressure in his space suit going to zero and his life signs flatlining. It’s a crisis and the rest of the team has to evacuate, leaving his body behind. Unbeknownst to them, the debris that impaled him destroyed his life sensors, causing the flatline. The blood from the wound sealed the hole in his suit, keeping him alive. But, by the time he awoke he was alone. The real problem is he only had a few days of food, no way to reach NASA, and years from another mission that might rescue him. He had to find a way to survive on his own. The result is a modern day Robinson Crusoe combined with Apollo 13 and touches of MacGyver.

One of the remarkable things about the story is how valid the science is. Okay, here’s a spoiler, the storm depicted that caused the problem is not possible. The air on Mars is so thin the storm, as described, would hardly have gotten any attention from the astronauts. I read a calculation that said it would take winds of about 10,000 mph to get the effect in the book. Storms of over 100 mph are rare on Mars. After that, the science and math are very solid. Warning: There is some serious science in the book, but the author writes it in a way that it adds to the story, not detract.

Even the story of how the author, Andy Weir, got the science so accurate is a good one. He posted it as a serial novel on his webpage, one chapter at a time. This not only developed a following, he stated getting feedback from a lot of technical people pointing out areas that were weak. These included “astronauts, people in Mission Control, nuclear submarine technicians, chemists, physicists, geologists, and folks in pretty much every other scientific discipline.” He finally relented to their demands and put it on Kindle where it went to the top-five science fiction books. A book contract followed and he found himself on the New York Times’ Best Seller list. Obviously, a movie deal followed.

Not bad for his first novel.

Book Review: Merchants of Doubt

Merchants of Doubt is both an excellent book, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, and an excellent documentary, by Robert Kenner. I highly recommend both of them for anyone that has any interests in what is going on in our society today.

The book is technical with lots of science, dates, and people. It is not an easy read, nor is it a pleasant one. The history of the people involved with deliberate deception for the sake of companies and at the expense of the public is alarming and, at times, depressing. Oreskes and Conway do a thorough job of exposing these people, providing a large amount of documentation in the process. While the book reads much like a newspaper article and is very in depth, the documentary is easier to follow, but does a much more superficial job. That is to be expected – the book is 274 pages long and the documentary is 93 minutes. You could not possibly cover the same amount of material in a documentary and, to their credit, they don’t try.

Reading the book brings out a few interesting points. The first, and most obvious, is the history of deception and the success these people have had in this regard. Take a look at the list of things the public has been deceived about by the Merchants of Doubt:

  • Smoking

  • Second-hand smoke

  • The Strategic Defense Initiative

  • Acid Rain

  • CFCs and the ozone hole

  • Global warming

  • DDT

In every case, conservative groups have put the public at risk while helping industry to make a bunch of money.  What really makes it alarming is they have routinely known they were wrong. The tobacco industry knew smoking causes cancer way back in the early-1950s. The fossil fuel industry knew manmade emissions cause global warming back in the 1960s. The dangers of second-hand smoke was proven and known in the 1980s. The Strategic Defense Initiative was well known to be unfeasible, even by the people pushing it, from the very beginning. The link between the ozone hole and CFCs was never in doubt scientifically (DuPont, one of the world’s largest chemical manufacturers, realized the danger of CFCs early on and quit making them). The economic and ecological damage as a result of acid rain (and the causes) was understood all along. And, the widespread danger of insecticides and DDT is fully known, even by the people pushing them.

Why is that? Why have the conservatives become the anti-public, anti-science group? Oreskes and Conway make the convincing case that it isn’t about money, it’s about ideology. To these people pushing anti-science, anyone that opposes them is a liberal and a liberal is someone who wants to destroy the country. To them, defending these horrible things is about freedom. We need to allow coal companies to belch out massive amounts of sulfur and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in order for the country to be free. It is important people smoke so the country will be free. DDT, SDI, CFCs and every other cause of these groups is all about keeping the country free. Opposing them means you want to take freedom away from the American people.

It never seems to enter their minds that someone could be a liberal and loyal American at the same time. They accuse someone of being a ‘liberal’ the same way you accuse someone of being a murderer or rapist. To these people, ‘liberal’ means someone who wants to destroy the country and civilization. One of the terms these people use for people who oppose them is ‘watermelon’ – green on the outside but red on the inside. According to them, if you are concerned with the environment, you’re a communist, even though they know the science is correct.

I find this to be very interesting. Basically, I’m quite conservative on many things. After all, I spent 35 years in military intelligence. You don’t do that and walk away with a cheery viewpoint of the world at large. And, when it comes to fiscal matters, I am a definite hawk. Believe me, my family gets quite a laugh when someone accuses me of being a liberal. And yet, I find myself on the opposite side of the fence from the conservatives on each of these issues. The reason for that is I accept the science and go where it leads me.

You can deny the science all you want, but it will keep right on doing what it does. The universe is not sentient. There is no “Mother Nature” looking out for us with a gentle hand. If you say manmade emissions won’t cause global warming, that is your right. But, those manmade emissions will continue to cause global warming. And, if you say smoking doesn’t cause cancer, that is your right. But, people will continue to get cancer from smoking. Nature doesn’t need you to agree with it. It doesn’t need your permission.

So, these Merchants of Doubt have protected the industries by causing people to question the science. And, they continue to do it. Unfortunately, as we have all seen, it is very effective. After all, the truth caught up with the tobacco industry, but it took fifty years for it to happen and millions of people died in mean time. Eventually, the truth will catch-up to the fossil fuel industry. I just wonder how many people will eventually die because of them. It’s already in the millions. And, don’t forget about the irreversible damage to the environment.

Is ideology really that important?

In summary, if you have any interest in the topic at all, I highly recommend you watch the documentary (available over the Internet) and read the book.

Book Review: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, by Bill Bryson

There is only one thing you need to know about this book – it was written by Bill Bryson. If you have never read his books consider yourself very privileged – you get to read all of them for the first time. Bryson is one of the most gifted writers today. His books are uniformly entertaining and informative at the same time. Never has learning something been so much fun. I prefer to read his books in private because I get tired of all the strange looks I get when I’m laughing out loud while reading his off beat stories and irrelevant comments.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is about growing up during the 1950s and 60s in Des Moines, Iowa. This was a magical time in the history of the U.S. (even, the world) and Des Moines represents the nearly ideal image of American life at that time. Combine that with the misguided adventures of a young boy and you get a very entertaining story.

I highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially if you feel you need something to make you laugh.

References to Moby Dick

A running theme of That Which Maddens and Torments is the insanity of obsession and there is probably no better model of that than Moby Dick. I put a number of references to that great work in story. How many can you find?

I’ll give you the first one: The title of the book comes directly from a description of Captain Ahab:

The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. … All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby-Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.

Hermann Melville, Moby Dick, Chapter 41

Post any connection you can find to comments and I will include them here.

Book Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis

If you follow science fiction, you have probably heard of Connie Willis. She has won six Nebula Awards, six Hugo awards and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Those are just a few of her achievements. She’s a heavy hitter in the world of writing. Based on that, it should be no surprise to hear To Say Nothing of the Dog is an excellent read. And, it is. It is something of a comedy of errors and coincidences, loosely based on the Jerome St. Jerome classic novel, Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), and Willis makes several references to it in her story, including one passage where they spot the actual boaters on the Thames River.

The story is about a future, time-traveling society that has somehow upset the time-continuum, but doesn’t know how or where. The team is racing to fix the continuum while at the same time working at the detailed reconstruction of the St Michel’s Cathedral in Coventry, England, which was destroyed in a blitz attack during World War II. Throw in some love interest and you have the making of a very fine story. There is a great deal of humor and intrigue in the story, as well as mystery. It is a little long (my edition had nearly 500 pages), but it moves rapidly and easily. Definitely put it on your to-read list, if you haven’t already read it.

Book Review: The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks

I went with a newer-than-classic science fiction novel for my last read. Published in 1988, it is a little old to be calling it ‘current’ or ‘modern,’ but it is too new to be calling it a classic. Given time, it will be a classic. It was that good. I have heard of Bain, but I never got around to reading any of his books. Now, I plan on reading some more of them.

The story is a little difficult to follow at first. Eventually, you learn this is happening in a civilization that has had space travel for 11,000 years, so it is taking place in the distant future. Banks includes some weird things that you might expect in a future scenario but doesn’t explain what they are. You just have to accept them as is. The more important ones explain themselves over the course of the book. Some never really did become clear, but it wasn’t important.

The story concerns Jernau Morat Gurgeh, a professional game player. He is considered to be the best player in the entire Culture (as the civilization calls itself). He gets recruited to go to a newly discovered Empire in the Magellanic Clouds, 150,000 light-years away. He was picked because this empire is built about a game – Azad. It is so engrained into the culture of this empire that it has taken the name of the game for itself – the Empire of Azad. Every “Great Year,” there is a tournament and the winner of the tournament becomes the emperor. Gurgeh is to go to the Empire and enter into the tournament. The trip will take two years to get there and he spends his time on the trip learning how to play Azad. Don’t worry, he is not permitted to win any governmental post as a result of how well he does, he does not become emperor (Bain is much more creative than that). It is merely an exhibition match for him. But, that doesn’t prevent the episode from becoming very involved and dangerous.

It is a pleasant read. There are a few areas where it gets slow but, for the most part, it flows well. I give it a high recommend.

Why be a writer?

I was talking to an aspiring writer last night. This woman has her book written, but doesn’t want to make the next step. She was asking me for advice. I told her to get a whip and flog herself until she’s ready to black out. If she can do that, then she’s ready for the next step.

Alright, I told her, it may not be that bad, but it makes the point. You have to be ready to deal with the downside. You are not going to put a book out there and go marching down the red carpet. It might happen, but don’t quit your day job thinking it will. I told her she will experience rejection and disappointment and if that bothers her, she’ll have a hard time of it. I’m reminded of the guy that said he became an overnight success after eight years of hard work.

Try these numbers on for size:

  • Approximately 150,000 novels are printed in the U.S. every year. That’s a lot of competition;

  • The average book sells fewer than 250 copies;

  • 98% of all books ever written have sold fewer than 1000 copies.

I read a blog post by a woman who said she contacted 1800 agents before she got one. That is the epitome of persistence.

My most recent novel is my fourth book and I have yet to even break even on any of them.

All of this points out the grim reality of writing – it is highly unlikely you will make a living doing it. There are people that do (God bless them!), but most of us will not. So, why do it? And, the answer to that is simple:

Because its fun! I love doing it!

Besides, it’s cheaper than buying a bass boat.

So, if you are doing it because you have visions of multimillion dollar contracts and flying first class, stop while you’re ahead. But, if you are having fun – go for it.

But, there is the next level – you can’t stop yourself. I remember reading an article written by the great science fiction author, Robert Heinlein. He told the story of how he got into writing because he was kicked out of the Navy (medical) and had to support his family. He had enough success as an author to pay off the bills and was ready to move on. He told of how he was talking to a neighbor about this and the neighbor told him he wouldn’t quit writing because he now had the bug. He wrote because he had to. And, we know how that turned out.

This is something I can personally attest to. On this last novel, That Which Maddens and Torments, I was obsessed. I would wake up in the middle of the night with an idea and couldn’t get back to sleep until I got up and wrote it out. I came up with the idea for an entire chapter while at a New Year’s Eve party. I would start writing and would write all day, even skipping meals. And, you know what? I loved it! I absolutely loved it!

Now, I’m working on my next novel, Purple Legion, and it’s starting all over again and there is nothing I can do to stop myself. And, I’m doing nothing to prevent it. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.

And, that is why you write – because you have to.

Book Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

I realized recently I had never read this classic, which is very surprising due to the fact I love Gothic horror stories. So, there was nothing to do but sit down and read it and I’m glad I did. It really is a great classic. I don’t need to go into details about the story, although I’m sure you don’t know details of the actual plot (I’m not aware of any movie that has been faithful to the book), but you know the premise. Count Dracula is a vampire and makes his way from Transylvania to London where he intends to start a legion of vampires to rule the world, only to be foiled by an intrepid team of mortals. There is a lot of suspense and the storyline is excellent. It was written in 1897, so the language is a little strange, but not too much. What is more strange is the mannerisms of Victorian England as compared to what we experience today (Were they really that sexists? No need to answer, I already know.). I love the irony that Dracula (the book, not the Count) actually did spawn a legion of vampires. This is the one that started it all. From Nosferatu, to Bela Lugosi, Interview with the Vampire, Underworld, Blade, the Twilight saga, the campy Count Blacula, or the hilarious Love at First Bite, and many more movies and books – they all started here. Count Dracula only wished he could be this successful.

A little know fact about the book is Bram Stoker changed the ending. Originally, he had the castle collapse at the end, but he deleted that in the final version. The speculation is he either didn’t want to be compared to Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher or possibly, he was planning a sequel. We’ll probably never know the answer. There was also a first chapter that dealt with a vampire queen which the publisher deleted. He felt it was superfluous to the story and the book was too long. Stoker’s widow published a number of his stories after his death and one of them was ‘Dracula’s Guest,’ supposedly the removed chapter.

So, if you are looking for a good story to read in the dead of night, you found one. Still good (or evil) after all these years.

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