Dog Ear
The best possible cargo (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 20 July 2017 00:00

m currently reading a recent SciFi tale, The Outback Stars, by Sandra McDonald. Yes, it’s part of a series (or so I figure, given the main character’s backstory) (or maybe not – I just checked and nothing is listed) but I’m not mired trying to imagine what took place before. Everything is pretty certain so it stands alone. That’s good. Nothing like coming in on the second act and not know who anyone is (or that Chekhov's gun is sitting on the mantelpiece). Yes, a good read so far – watch for the review in a week or so.

But it got me thinking – the ships in this tale are gigantic, cities for the most part with “towers” added on, all fulla cargo and colonists. And this made me think of a game a friend and I wrote, Solar Trader, available HERE. Same thing on a smaller scale – freighters haul “pods” across the solar system, the ships not much more than a bridge, engine, landing gear. The pods being self-contained and interchangeable. Quick loads, quick unloads.

So that’s the idea. A spaceship is the vehicle that does the transporting. The cargo and passengers are contained in “towers” or “pods”.

I’m sure that you’ll agree that when colonies were founded in the new world, the colonists didn’t sit down to build ships to transport their tobacco and furs back to the homeland. They didn’t muck in the woods and laboriously cut down trees, fussing them into planks, into frameworks, doing all that just to ship a cargo home. No, they’d wait for the next ship and fill its cargo hold with their goods. Why expend a great deal of labor on something that already exists and can service you? Focus on the goods to ship, not the method of shipment.

Writing is like this. Too often, writers think they are reinventing what a book is. In 999,999 times out of a million (and I’m generous here) they are not. They are relying on one of the seven known plot types. Nothing new under the sun. Rather than thinking that their book is unique, they should focus more on its actual cargo. To wit:

Are the words expressive and imaginative and metaphoric?

Are the characters suitable (and perhaps exotic) for the story?

Is the situation interesting enough for the reader to follow?

As a writer, you should be focused on the detail of your tale, maintaining a uniform air and pace for the tale you tell. Don’t think about taking the literary world by storm or coming up with the Great American Novel. Decide what it is you are going to write, how you are going to write it (voice, pace, tone, etc) and write it.

The ships, in the form of plots, publishing avenues and physical form (paper vs ereaders) – all that is done and out there. You just have to have the best possible cargo to ship.


Last Updated on Thursday, 13 July 2017 10:40
Carrying your pet book (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 13 July 2017 00:00

y wife and I have a little ritual. Every Sunday at about 11:30am we walk a quarter mile (through quiet neighborhoods) to the little reborn strip mall. There, amid eclectic CD shops, yoga dens and cutesy boutiques, we slip into the seats at Juniors, an old throwback place with booths and even counter stools. And there, over omelets (with tabasco sauce) we’ll read our books.

Yeah, it’s just our shared quiet time. We’ll talk about things on the walk over, and talk (generally) about our books on the way home. It’s just our freaky couples thing.

But it struck me on the walk home today (with the new books I’d bough at the CD shop) how I carry a book.

First, I’ll carry it spine down (carefully!) in the curl of my fingers. This way, my finger-sweat won't stain the pages (it can get to 100+ degrees in the places where there aren’t trees (plant more trees, people!)). But with the open side up, my bookmark stays in place, the pages don’t get damp or bent, and everything is fine. But on older hardcovers, one most carry the book gently, new-baby gently, so as not to break its spine (perhaps not the best metaphor, in retrospect).

But what if it’s drizzling? If it rains, we’ll wait. If it drizzles, we’ll walk home. But if it picks up (and we hide under one of those too-scarce trees) or it’s just spitting then I reverse the book in my hand, spine-up, pages-down. This way I won’t get water into the pages. Very important.

And bookmarks. A lot of people give me bookmarks and I try to preserve them as long as possible (since I always have books and bookmarks, the latter wear out pretty frequently). In this, care must be taken not to knock the end of the book into tables, bending the bookmark. Tossing the book into the back of the car? No. Setting it on end? No. All these damage bookmarks. Be very careful with them. Damaged bookmarks might make you look scholarly but it is disrespectful to your noble placeholders.

With such care given to your books (including the lowly paperback), they should last you a lifetime.

NEXT WEEK: How to deal with a houseful of books.


Last Updated on Thursday, 13 July 2017 07:32
Reading through tears (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 06 July 2017 00:00

oyal followers of this blog might have noticed I've been spotty at late with my postings. Well, it's because I've had horrible news, news that rocked me back. Our ten year old feline, Mookie, just suffered a kidney disorder. She's still alive (just) - we're having to coax food and water into her (and take her to the vet every week for hydration). And so this vivacious sleek friend, the little girl who rushed to the door to meet me after work, is now a withered thing, small and pathetic, disinterested in food.

God, this is killing me.

So today I decided to get through The Man in the Iron Mask, the conclusion of the Musketeer's epic.

Porthos, he died when his aged body failed him, his legs spasming while he was trying to hold a stone ceiling up. That was sad. But the worst was Athos, whose beloved adapted son Raoul, broken irreparably by love, has gone campaigning to Africa to die.

Athos, the morale core of the group, the fellow who kept things together, who drank the hardest and lived the best - with his son gone, he withered. I just read of him walking less every day, of not caring, of detaching from life in his aching sorrow. And I read this and had to force myself through - after all, I've got deadlines and other books to read. And I've gone 4800 pages in this saga - I had to finish. And so I read, my heart heavy in my chest, as I pushed through every declining word.

I probably shouldn't. I'm depressed enough as it is. And if you are waiting for me to come up with some sort of "on the other hand" twist, I can't. I'm depressed that my little cat is dying in mid-life, that for every little success, there comes a greater failure, and that this can only end one way.

Perhaps I am a writer because I am empathetic (I know enough writers who are not). Dumas wept after he'd killed Porthos. I feel the same way as I write this.

Sometimes writing can show up a greater purpose and higher calling. Not this time. I ache.


Mookie, in the shelter a few days before we adapted her, eight years ago


Last Updated on Saturday, 01 July 2017 15:20
Footnotes (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 21 June 2017 21:48

’m reading The Man in the Iron Mask right now (kinda spooky in that I’m also watching Versailles at the same time). But Mask is a melancholy story – like our real lives, we have such passionate loves and friendships in our early years yet in the end, everyone is allied with their duties and occupations, with friendship a distant consideration. I even realized that with my best buddy on the phone last night – good friends for thirty years but a thousand miles, five kids and two spouses apart. All those long games and movie marathons – negated.

And I’m off topic.

But the point about reading Mask is that it’s an old book, 1847, and I’m having a difficult time with it (as you will find when I get the review up – my heart, how it aches). But the style is preserved, and the editor has added a number of booknotes (asterisks that index to pages in the back of the book, explaining who this is or what this was). And this takes me back to the Flashman series done in the same style (historical tale with an fictitious editor actually played by the author) to explain things. There is a lot of interesting information one can pick up outside the story.

Which takes me to my own delayed effort, Tubitz and Mergenstein. Yes, someday I’ll pick this one back up. I’ve had a number of positive responses in the first reads of the first half. But there are things I’m not happy about – there is a lot of information about this strange and lunatic place I’ve created, backstories I feel need to be included. But how to do so? To explain about an ancient section of bridge (stuck in an urban area, with houses capping its remaining summit) is cool but brings the story to a dead halt. Sometime pacing is essential. I can’t explain about the Imperic High Seas Fleet or what, exactly, is that crazy thing a Chaos Culverin fires. Either I have to leave the story and give a quick explanation, author to reader, or I need to try to describe it at such length just to hint about what it actually is. And both those (asides and over-descriptions) are no-nos in writing.

But then it hit me – why not footnotes?

It could be fun. All this crazy side information, all these random thoughts about how things work, what districts are in a city, the clothing Mergenstein wears or the social norms he follows (and Tubitz snubs) could be handled at length in the back. So that’s another note for me in the information I’ve gathered from readers. Sure, it will take a bit of effort to pull out – I’ll need to cut out the explanations and re-plane the verse to keep things smooth and fast, then add the link (along with enough explanation to make the back-search pay-off). But I think it’s a very interesting idea, one that I’m looking forward to implementing.

After I retyre, perhaps.



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