Saturday, October 29, 2011

Genres or Authors

Do you read genres, or authors? I've always followed authors. If I find a story I like, I'll check out whatever else they've written, regardless of genre.

Admittedly, I read few new authors. I'm speaking of folks such as G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, William Heyliger, L. M. Montgomery, and George MacDonald. In their case, I consider the author to be the genre, in which no one else can write. My attitude is, "Surprise me!" Sometimes reading their lesser-known works can be disappointing, but often it's not.

Finding that kind of author is a pleasure, and I'm hoping to be that kind of author.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


I've recently come to a conclusion regarding romance in my novels. I want to describe the friendship, camaraderie, and unity that exists in a true romance, not at the physical layer, but at the personal.

Sex sells, of course, but it's also been done. I can think of far fewer examples of romantic camaraderie. One such example is the Thin Man movie series, starring Myrna Loy and William Powell. They had a romance that was already "happily ever after". It wasn't the problem to be solved. And the banter and just plain fun between the two was a highlight of the series.

At the time, Hollywood was under strict guidelines about including sex in movies, and that restriction resulted in the classic screwball comedies. Writers had to rely on something other than sex, and romantic comedies became a thing of exceedingly enjoyable repartee between the actors (such as in His Girl Friday).

The dialogue made those movies, and I'm hoping to do the same. Of course, I won't have Cary Grant delivering my lines...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Chapter Titles

Folks may judge books by their covers, but I also judge a book by its chapter titles. As a young fellow, I'd look at the cover, of course, but we collected old books, many of which didn't have dust jackets or pictures on the binding. The title, frontispiece, and chapter titles were sometimes the only way to quickly judge a book by an unknown author. Good chapter titles drew me, but merely numeric chapters were an obstacle.

For example, consider the Messenger of the Black Prince, published by Thomas Mawhinney in 1928. Besides having a good story title, it boasted intriguing chapter titles such as these:

The King's Fool
I Am Attacked in the Woods
A Trickster
We Hunt the Wild Boar
The Silver-Hafted Dagger
The Highwayman of Tours
I Find a Companion
The Three Crows Inn
The Scrivener Disappears
The Scrivener Turns Traitor
The Defense of the Cave
The Abbot of Chalonnes
The Black Prince Again

And, of course, no classic juvenile fiction would be complete without at least one chapter title such as "Trapped!", "Escape!", "Pursued", or "Besieged".

The book did not disappoint.

In my own books, I hope to have equally interesting chapter titles. Perhaps they will be good advertising through ebook previews (since the table of contents will be visible for free). But even if they aren't, I still want to be able to read my chapter titles, and find the same indication of a good story I did as a young reader.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Pen and Parchment

I've added a new link, to the Pen and Parchment blog. It's by Nichole White, and like me, she's a new author writing Christian speculative fiction (scifi, fantasy, etc.). The projects she's working on are intriguing, and I'm looking forward to seeing the finished books.

I've only seen a few folks writing in this vein, by the way, and I'd like to see more.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Progress Report

Currently I'm working on four projects: SmorgaSword (a collection of sci-fi/fantasy short stories); Soft Stuff for Sysadmins (a technical pocket guide); Quest of the Incorruptible (a Christian commentary); and Beastlord of Underrim (a fantasy novel).

SmorgaSword is waiting on the cover art, which is nearly done; the Soft Stuff for Sysadmins is in the final editing phase; a working draft of the Quest of the Incorruptible is being reviewed; and I've completed a draft of the Beastlord of Underrim.

Here are the current sizes of the projects:

SmorgaSword: 26900 words;
Soft Stuff for Sysadmins: 1700 words;
Quest of the Incorruptible: 7700 words;
Beastlord of Underrim: 49000 words.

I've been working on one project for a while and then switching to another. Going back to something after leaving it alone for a while has helped.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Judy Bolton vs. Nancy Drew

Most folks I talk to about juvenile series have heard of Nancy Drew, the spunky girl detective who travels the world solving mysteries with George and Bess. I've only read the classic stories, but I enjoyed those.

Fewer people have heard of Judy Bolton, also a classic girl detective, but I enjoyed her adventures more. Nancy Drew has been called the perennial teenager, but Judy Bolton grows older in each story. Judy even marries an FBI agent.

The Judy Bolton series ran for thirty-eight titles, during much the same time frame as the original Nancy Drew series. Unlike the Nancy Drew stories, however, one author, Margaret Sutton, wrote the Judy Bolton adventures under her own name. The series might have continued past thirty-eight, but the publishers killed it because Sutton wanted Judy to have a baby. The publishers thought it would make Judy seem too old.

Few classic juvenile detective series had the main character grow up, and I don't know of a longer running one than Judy Bolton. I doubt there was a better.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Harry Potter

When I first became acquainted with the Harry Potter stories (via the movies, not the books), I was struck by the resemblance to some of my favorite classic series. Not the Lord of the Rings, Narnia, or George MacDonald, but rather the many college series from the early twentieth century.

Those followed a young man or woman through college, and sometimes saw them past it. While the stories weren't about magic, they had eccentric professors, sports rivalries, good friendships, and in some cases, exploits against criminal elements.

For example, the Betty Wales series (written by Edith K. Dunton as Margaret Warde, published between 1904 and 1917), contained the following titles:

Betty Wales, Freshman
Betty Wales, Sophomore
Betty Wales, Junior
Betty Wales, Senior
Betty Wales, B. A.
Betty Wales & Co.
Betty Wales on the Campus
Betty Wales Decides

The books relate each year of Betty Wales' terms at college, and then for a time follow her adventures beyond college. There's no arch villain to be defeated, but the stories are still fun.

Underneath the wizarding world, the Harry Potter stories thus seem a direct descendant of the classic juvenile college series. The framework is there; J. K. Rowling just added her own magic.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Soft Stuff for Sysadmins

I'm working on another title, this time a technical book: The Soft Stuff for Sysadmins, Interpersonal Communication for the Working Geek.

On more than one occasion, I've heard an upper-level manager talk about how the technical stuff is easier; the soft stuff (that is, communication) is what's more difficult, at least for us technical types. But business communication for the sysadmin is not about presentation or psychology; it's simply about getting the required information to those who need it when they need it.

This book will describe how to accomplish that, based on my experiences as a sysadmin working at NASA.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Quest of the Incorruptible

I have a new project in the works: a non-fiction Christian book called The Quest of the Incorruptible.

The book is about humanity's struggle against death. That struggle is ultimately against entropy, because entropy is what causes everything we see to wear out and decay and die. People desparately want to overcome entropy. Many talk about ending war and poverty, for example. They want to change the world and save the planet. But war and poverty are simply manifestations of entropy, and entropy is stronger than people.

If it weren't, we could create perpetual motion machines that would provide endless energy and make everyone idle and rich. But we can't. The whole "saving the world" thing is impossible for people; we just can't do it.

The only possible hope for humanity is that there is something stronger than entropy. Since entropy and corruption are much the same thing, that something might be called the Incorruptible.

Does the Incorruptible exist? Can we find it? Will the Incorruptible save the world? And if so, how?

The book will explore all that, and more.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rick Brant

The Rick Brant Science Electronic Adventures are my favorite classic juvenile series books. The characters are exceptional:
  • Rick himself: an electronics wizard and all around nosy fellow;
  • Scotty: the husky former Marine, Rick's foremost pal;
  • Barby, Rick's sister;
  • Jan, daughter of a scientist, Barby's best friend, and Rick's crush;
  • Dismal the dog;
  • Chahda: the Hindu boy, mastermind, and good friend of Rick and Scotty;
  • Dr. Zircon: the barrel of a scientist;
  • Julius, the mathematician;
  • Steve Ames, JANIG agent;
  • Hartson Brant, chief scientist at Spindrift Island, and Rick's dad;
And there are more I can't remember. I haven't read any other series from the time period (1947 - 1969, primarily) with so many recurring, well-done characters, in such interesting stories as the Pirates of Shan (featuring a PT Boat and a cannon firing tacks), the Whispering Box Mystery (with ultrasonic weapons and countermeasures), the Ruby Ray Mystery (all about lasers, the Cold War, and the best chase scene ever), the Lost City (uranium ore and the guardians of the secret burial city of the great Khan), and more.

Hal Goodwin, under the pseudonym John Blaine, wrote most of the stories. Hal was a rocket enthusiast, and that showed up in several stories, such as the Rocket's Shadow (hitting the moon with a rocket, in 1947), the Scarlet Lake Mystery (rocket building in the desert), and the Flying Stingaree (UFOs and seafood on the east coast).

The stories are well done, and I heartily recommend them. They are mostly stand-alone, but every now and again something from a previous plot will show up.

Incidentally, the first books in the series are fairly easy to find, because so many were printed. Grosset and Dunlap kept reprinting the first ones as new volumes came out. There were few printings of the last books in the series, however. Those stories are rare and can fetch several hundred dollars (or more) if in excellent condition.

Also interesting is that the Rick Brant stories largely inspired the classic Johnny Quest cartoon adventure series, and those are a lot of fun too.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

StyleWriter 4

I just purchased an editing product called StyleWriter 4. I checked out the demo and found it excellent at pointing out weak sentence construction, wordiness, and passive verb usage, among other things. StyleWriter also makes it easy to evaluate what it finds.

I've already improved several short stories with StyleWriter, and I'm looking forward to making it a regular part of my writing.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Stratemeyer Syndicate

Ever wonder who was responsible for creating the Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys stories? The man was Edward Stratemeyer, who also created the Rover Boys, Tom Swift, and the Bobbsey twins, all very successful.

Stratemeyer's method was to create outlines of the stories, and then farm out the writing to authors for a one-time fee. In this way he was able to generate an immense number of juvenile series books. This was the Stratemeyer Syndicate, and it was exceedingly successful.

Another notable feature of the Stratemeyer syndicate was the breeder set. Generally each juvenile series would see one new book a year, but to begin a new juvenile series, several volumes would be released up front, often three (as was done with the Hardy Boys). It seems this generated interest and drew in long-term readers.

I find this interesting from the eBook perspective, as it also seems that authors who have several eBooks available do better than those with only one. It may be worth trying: get several books ready (perhaps in a series), and release them all at once.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Classic Juvenile Series

Who hasn't heard of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys? They are perhaps the most successful series books ever in terms of longevity, and they changed the face of series books for decades, so that the detective story dominated. But in the early twentieth century, many other kinds of juvenile series books were popular, and the themes reveal something about the culture of the time.

Many early series were devoted to new technologies such as movies, motorcycles, cars, and airships. Flying stories were especially popular during World Wars I and II. Scouting and other outdoor adventure stories were quite popular until the advent of the detective story. Sports series survived, however, especially those about basketball, football, and baseball. Perhaps the best of the lot, the Chip Hilton series, has been recently reprinted.

The older stories are especially intriging because they reveal little things about the time they were written. For instance, in the original Nancy Drew stories from the 1930s, Nancy has to keep an eye on the weather if she's going to be driving anywhere. Why? Not many roads were paved then, and the roads would become impassable in the rain. Running boards on cars show up frequently, and in the Rambler Club a friendly official calls speeding "scorching".

Classic series books references may be seen in Hollywood and even in modern vocabulary. For example, the word taser stands for "Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle." (The book Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle was published a hundred years ago.) In the original That Darn Cat, the supporting actress mentions "Tom Swift and His Electric Switchboard". The Rover Boys are a frequent reference in older movies.

It would be interesting to know just how much series books influenced those who read them. But if only a reflection of their time, the classic series book is certainly a significant part of Western history and culture.