Thursday, May 7, 2015

Good Hair, Good Poetry, Good Title

Thriller guy is about to head out on some adventure. I saw him dusting off his desert boots and muttering something about ISIS, which might give a clue to where he’s heading. Really, he’s getting too old for this sort of thing. I blame the government for giving him weapons.

Continuing our last entry about finding a good title for your novel, and the difficulties therein, I’d like to point out how much I’ve always admired W. B. Yeats’s hair and…

Thriller Guy. What the hell? I leave you alone with the blog for one day and you’re going on about some poet’s hair?

A.A. Oh, TG, I thought you’d left already.

T.G. My flight leaves in two hours. Hair? You’re supposed to be talking about titles. What the hell is this blog coming to? For God’s sake, stick to the plan. Do I have to hire someone to come in and keep an eye on you every time I go out of town?

A.A. No. Sorry.

T.G. Jesus. And don’t forget to feed the cat.

A.A. Ahem. So I was reading an interesting article by Nick Tabor in the Paris Review the other day about Yeats’s poem, The Second Coming, and how it been the source of (possibly) more book titles than any other poem. This linked up nicely with my last entry about how when I need a title I pull down my many volumes of world poetry and start looking for something that resonates. Let me give you Yeats’s poem and you’ll see what I mean.

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Pretty amazing, huh? You can’t read more than a line or two before stumbling over a famous book title. Slouching Toward Bethlehem; The Widening Gyre; Things Fall Apart; The Center Cannot Hold; A Blood-Dimmed Tide The Second Coming; Spiritus Mundi; What Rough Beast are just a few of the many variations of titles that have been mined from this one poem. So if you’re having trouble coming up with a title, just…

(Sound of door closing)

A.A. (Shouting) “So long, TG, see you in a couple of weeks! Have a good trip!”

(Silence) OK, let’s get back to W. B. Yeats’s hair. Really, has any author ever had such a good-looking head of hair? If you have any personal author favorites, haircutwise, send them along in the comments. But try to get them here in the next couple of weeks, before TG gets back from his trip. Here are some other pictures of Yeats and his fabulous hair.

Hold the presses! Here's Rupert Brooke, another poet with fabulous hair.

Man, I hope TG doesn't see this post when he gets back.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Title, Come Hither

The New Pastmaster book!

Thriller Guy is still exhausted after his three part rant against literary snobs and the publishing industry in general, so he’s going to let Allen Appel take the podium today.

Thank you, TG. I’m sure the writing community joins me in hoping that you’ll get some much needed rest and be back in fine fettle as soon as possible, ready and able to take on the book world’s injustices. (Of course I had to stop and look up the derivation of “fine fettle.” It’s kind of obscure, but it’s British in origin and seems to have something to do with fettle meaning fixing things up, putting them in order.)

For those of you who have no interest in the trials and tribulations of the writing process, you’re excused to go back to doing something more productive than reading this blog. This entry falls in the category of “too inside baseball” as my wife always says. But for those of you in the business, or trying to be in the business, read on.

Why the weird title for this entry? I was reading a review of a Lewis Begley book in the Washington Post a few days ago. The book  -- the review isn’t important here – was titled Killer, Come Hither, and my immediate thought was, what a stupid title.

Titles have been on my mind recently. I just finished the sixth entry in my time travel, Pastmaster, series and have been casting about for a good title. As readers can obviously see on my Amazon sales page for all of these fine novels, the word Time is in every one: Time After Time, Till the Endof Time, Twice Upon a Time, The Sea of Time, In Time of War, and the new one, The Test of Time. I had kicked around a number of other Time worded titles before settling on Test; One More Time was the working title for a long time ( no word play intended there) and after asking friends who had little interest in the discussion, the majority went for The Test of Time as the best of all the options. It sounds simple enough, but finding these few words did not come easily, nor did the titles of all the others.

Finding the right title is the second most difficult part of writing a novel, after coming up with an original concept in the first place. I have known many fine writers who thrash around, wailing and moaning, while they try and figure out a good one. Really, it drives some folks mad. And editors and agents aren’t much help. You’d think they’d be good at it, but my experiences, and what I’ve heard from writer pals, says that they aren’t. They’re very quick to shoot down all the titles you come up with, but are spectacularly bad about offering any alternatives.

Some people are better at it than others. My writer pal Frank is able to bang out great titles for his short stories. I’m pretty good at thinking up titles for my friend’s books, but not so good for my own.

The first thing a writer must do is make a list of possibilities. Then he must turn to his friends, family, people walking down the street, anyone, to try them out on. My go-to source for possibilities is the shelf of poetry books I have in my office. For example, when titling my Civil War book, In Time of War, I read the complete poems of Walt Whitman. I love reading Whitman, but I didn’t find anything that struck me as relevant. Delving into editions of compilations of Japanese poetry, Chinese poetry, American poetry and other weighty collections didn’t get me any further. Eventually I decided to turn to the bible, the third chapter of Ecclesiastes, that I had been resisting simply because it seemed too easy. Everyone knows at least a chunk of this passage from the famous Pete Segar song, Turn, Turn, Turn. I look at the entire quotation will show that I have enough titles here to write many more books than I’ll ever turn out in my lifetime:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

See what I mean? A veritable embarrassment of riches of time travel titles.

I’m running a little long here, so I’ll save the second half of this discussion for the next entry.

By the way, the new book, The Test of Time, is, at present, only available to the fine people who donated on Kickstarter to encouraged me to write it. It will be available to the public sometime in the future. I can't say exactly when at this point, but I can promise you it will be before George R. R. Martin finishes the next Game of Thrones novel.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Fifty Shades of Who Gives a Shit

Do you know how hard it is to keep a good rant going? It’s not easy. Thank God there’s gin to fuel the fires of righteous indignation. TG has been getting mail of the -- “Well, TG, I didn’t think you were the type of guy who would love a book like The Fifty Shades of Grey” – variety. These people don’t seem to understand the thinking behind this ongoing rant, so TG will briefly explain it one more time. Try to stay with him…

TG did not love Shades. It was perfectly fine and hit all the buttons that a hundred million women wanted hit. (Which says a lot about the state of the average American male and his inability to give women what they are looking for. But that’s another rant.) What upsets TG, is handing literary book reviewers the job of reviewing the Fifty Shades book, and the movie, almost all of whom pronounced the results as “terrible.” Fortunately, this method of assigning reviews is not a normal practice. Magazines and periodicals and websites don’t usually assign literary critics to review popular fiction. But once a book becomes a phenomenon, in this case by selling a hundred million copies, everyone feels the need to weigh in. And when weighing in they usually assume a superior attitude and proceed to point out the many failings that we, the  unwashed are prey to because of our taste in popular fiction. This is what TG objects to: the unfair opinions that we are inferior and they, with their literary tastes, are superior.

Example. Here’s that pompous ass Harold Bloom on Stephen King. “That [the National Book Foundation] could believe that there is any literary value [in King’s body of work] or any aesthetic accomplishment or signs of an inventive human intelligence is simply a testimony to their own idiocy.”

TG had a long list of items like the above Bloom quote that he was going to put in this entry: definitions of different types of fiction, lists of popular novels that had earned a hundred million readers over the years, much shorter lists of successful literary novels, but, as always, he’s lost all of these various pieces of info and he’s too damned lazy to look it all up again. So he’s going to go straight to the genesis of the rant, which is…

The Honey Badger.

Because, my friends, the Honey Badger Just Don’t Give a Shit.

If you don’t know what TG is talking about, go here and watch the short Honey Badger video.

Here’s the point: popular entertainment, be it books, films, music, art or any other form of popular culture, is the Honey Badger. Fifty Shades of Grey, 100 million women strong, is the Honey Badger. Stephen King is the Honey Badger. So to the high minded, the superior, those that feel the need to tell the rest of us how we are small-minded and our tastes inferior, be aware of the following.

We are the Honey Badger.

And we really, truly, do not give a shit what you have to say.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Fifty Shades of Please Shut Up: Part Two

Thriller Guy continues his rant…

Read the last entry if you haven’t already read it. Here’s the recap for those of you who are too lazy to 
read it: TG is pissed off about movie reviewers trampling all over the Fifty Shades of Grey book instead of reviewing the movie. TG is also (still) pissed off about snooty book critics who can’t separate their feelings of elite sophistication from understanding just what general readers want in a novel. TG is also pissed off about how those same reviewers (almost all women) are saying, in effect, that two hundred million women are stupid, deluded dupes because they loved a book because of story and subject matter and characters that appealed to them instead of rejecting it because, as they say, it was terribly written.

Thriller Guy is a professional book reviewer. Most people think this means he sits on his reviewing throne and tells the world which books are bad, and which books are good. In fact, as regular readers of this blog have read before, he almost never does that.

TG reviews a book to let readers know if the book under review is the sort of book that that particular read will like. These days Thriller Guy reviews, mostly -- you guessed it -- thrillers. Which means he is telling thriller readers if the book under review is a good example of the genre and what particular characteristics make it interesting and move ahead, or fall behind other books. Some genre readers are able and like to wander out of their particular preference on occasion, but the truth is romance readers don’t usually pick up thrillers any more than thriller readers like to settle in with a good bodice ripper. The same can be said of mystery readers, cat book fanciers, science fiction and fantasy aficionados and any other genre that has its own sets of rules and regulations, no matter that the publishing industry is always trying to lure readers into crossing genre lines.

In the last blog, TG said that many bloggers wrestle with the question: What is bad writing and what is good writing? TG thinks it’s time to stop using Good and Bad as the terms that are branded on books by bloggers and reviewers, as if the book’s writer is personally evil or angelic. Here’s the deal:

Some writers are adept, and some are inept.

The lucky ones, those who are adept, often seem to be born with a facility for words. Others, the inept, have the desire but not the experience or the know-how. These folks can, in most cases, learn how to write fiction well enough to put out a book that falls into TG’s “perfectly fine” category. Here the writing gets the job done, the story told. Often all these people need is an honest editor willing to work with them and the writer’s acceptance of what the editor tells him or her. Lots of sites on the Internet offer these services, and while it’s possible to get scammed, and some editors are surely better than others, it’s really not that hard to pick one that is going to do what needs to be done to pull inept writing into the acceptable zone. There are also many book blogs that offer excellent advice. Put in “writing blogs” as your search term and you’ll have plenty of excellent material to read. TG’s writer pal Larry has a good one over at The Non-Fiction Novelist. His latest entry talks about how independent writers need to do a better job of producing quality writing. Good vs. Bad writing.  Or in TG’s terms, adept vs. inept writing.

TG has often pointed out how difficult it is to write a novel. It’s not that difficult to write, pretty much anyone can write sentences and paragraphs and make themselves understood. What’s truly difficult is to write 100,000 words and put them together in a way that makes sense, follows some simple rules of structure and follows as well simple rules of grammar and tells a compelling story at the same time, simply because that’s so many words. The sheer length is daunting. Writing a novel takes, on the average, a year of steady work. Most people can’t do it because they don’t have the strength and the determination to see the job through. Those that love the form but don’t have the strength, often become academics and/or book reviewers. Yes, that’s a cheap shot, but TG couldn’t resist, though he has noticed books by well-known book reviewers are usually duds. TG will refrain from specific examples to keep the fragile peace that exists in the reviewing community.

Perhaps that’s one reason book reviewers are so hard on novels that achieve great commercial and popular success. Because deep (or not so deep inside) is that little voice that whimpers, I could do that, that could be me, I’m a better writer than they are. And that rankles and burns and can never be admitted. So TG says, all you out there who declare the writing in Fifty Shades “terrible,” why don’t you give it a try? Maybe you’ll get yourself 100 million readers.

Nah, you won’t. You haven’t got the guts.

P.S. No, TG has not forgotten the Honey Badger. Stay tuned.