Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Movies to books/Books to movies

Can words make you visualize this?
                                                              (Mesa Verde)

Many, or perhaps most, readers form a inward  impression of the characters and setting as we wend our way through a novel.    The author has likely provided some detail which our mental image may adhere to but if you asked a half dozen readers for detailed descriptions of the main characters I suspect they would differ.   The main character's most intimate thoughts and feelings are divulged for us to identify with.  The image is personal to you.  

When the story is transformed on film and watched in a theatre, the characters may not appear or even act in the way you envisioned.   Those little individual features, the mannerisms and nuances may not reflect your expectation.   The setting may bear little resemblance to the location and details you have created.  Even the plot may diverge and follow the director's view of what was important, not yours.    You may leave the theatre vaguely dissatisfied or even outraged.

But could all this have been avoided if you had deferred reading the novel?

In the theatre the story unfolds large and colourful on the screen.    Perhaps it can be said that the movie version requires less effort from the audience than reading, even if the latter is sub-conscious effort.   With the film version you don't need to create a mental image--it is provided for you.   If the actors are skilled, their emotions are apparent.   The authentic details in the setting are likely beyond your personal knowledge to even anticipate or envision.  Does seeing the movie inspire you to read the book?

Books are often read in chunks.   We've all had the occasional experience of staying up half the night to finish a spell-binding novel but often we  ready a few chapters one day and another few the next or even several days later.  A different kind of experience but one that unfolds at a slower pace.   Is that like leaving to go to the restroom in the middle of a movie?   Is the tension released as reality of the concession stand re-orients you to your real life?  

When you've already seen the movie, Is it boring or meaningless when you read the novel and know how the story ends?   Do you find yourself skipping the description and dialogue to get to the action?  Does reading the book make you want to see the movie?

Movie first or book?   It's your choice.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Does Spelling Matter?


I've always been a good speller.   (Don't let me know if you've found an error somewhere in one of my posts--it's possible!)    Or perhaps, as I tell students, I was just checking to see if you were paying attention.  Spelling used to be an important subject but now it is almost an afterthought.   After all, there's spellcheck.  Who needs to excel at spelling?   

Some time ago I read the anecdote of an employer inundated with applications for a lower level managerial position, but one with advancement possibilities.   He decided to sort the applications according to those that had spelling errors and those that did not.   His rationale was that attention to correct spelling demonstrated an attention to detail, a necessary part of the job description to his mind.   The result eliminated a lot of applications.  Perhaps also an excellent candidate but that would never be known.

Spelling is maligned as a lesser skill.   It isn't creative--there is usually only one correct spelling--and creativity is highly regarded today.  It isn't original.   The writer is following what someone else has determined, someone staid and boring with a name like Webster.

Just tonight I was following a link to Huffington Post, an on-line newsmagazine, and there it was in the heading:   As E-books Rise, Publishing Still Waivers You caught it, right?   A waiver is a known right or privilege that  a person relinquishes voluntarily in exchange for some other benefit.  Waver (to move back and forth unsteadily) is what the column author meant.

Errors like that just jump out at me--the sign of a small mind some might say and one that isn't looking at the big picture.  I don't agree but in any event, this small, or not so small, talent comes in handy for editing purposes.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


People who don't know me very well may wonder why I have chosen self-publishing, at least so far.   Those who are better acquainted usually understand my reasons.    Like most things in life, there are some advantages and some disadvantages.
The Advantages of Self-Publishing:
1.  The buck stops with me.   I make the decisions and  I also have to bear responsibility for the consequences.    I can choose to have some aspects done by others--for example, covers-- but those people work under my direction.  Traditionally published authors may have input on title and cover but they do not decide.

2.   I decide the pace at which I proceed and when a book is published.  It can be published faster or slower but it is to my schedule.  I don't have to wait for someone to give their approval or decide that my book fits into their plans.

3. The amount of profit from each book is greater.  That is, the profit to me as opposed to the publishing company or agent.   When I read in an article that a traditionally published author, the person who made the entire book possible, received 5% of the cover price in payment, I cringe.

The Disadvantages of Self-Publishing:
1.  Formatting!  Actually, I am better at this now, I think but there's no doubt that my technical expertise is sometimes shaky.   There was a time when I didn't know what dpi was and I
still cannot embed fronts.

2. Promotion.   I must freely admit I don't have a lot of skill, talent or desire to pursue self-promotion.   I hope word of mouth will continue to provide sales.

3.  My books will rarely be in a bookstore.   Publishers pay for preferential placement in stores.   Books need to have returnability.  That means that the store can return unsold books to the publisher within a specified time, usually a year at the outside for a full refund, less a re-stocking fee.  This practice has been around for decades but I can't think of another retail product where this is possible.   

4.   Sometimes it would be helpful to have advice from someone who has a lot of experience.  Instead I rely on the internet and other writers, in addition to my own perspective and analysis, of course.    Members of my family will share their point of view or provide critique.

5.   There are a lot of books out there, ergo a lot of competition for readers.

So as the saying goes:  You pays your money and you takes your choice!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

What about adoption?


One of my Jaswinder Mystery Series books, Death at Table 15, has a sub-plot dealing with the topic of adoption, particularly foreign adoption.   It is difficult to adopt an infant or pre-school child in North America so many people turn to foreign adoption.   This can be a sensitive subject.   If you google the topic foreign adoption scam you can easily find some frightening real-life stores.   I haven't had any personal experience with this but information and stories are available.

I spoke to an acquaintance recently who adopted an infant/toddler from a foreign country that I won't name.   It was an onerous two year period during which time the child languished in an orphanage under less than ideal conditions.   The cost to the adoptive parent--a single female teacher  in her early forties-- ended up being in excess of $30,000.   On the final trip to pick up the child and bring her back to Canada, the teacher was frankly told to bring lots of cash as everyone along every step of the process would expect a pay-off.    Her cost is typical and probably ends up excluding potential parents for financial reasons alone.

I was in Tanzania almost three years ago, volunteering in an orphanage and school for a short time.   There are many orphans in Africa, mostly due to the AIDS epidemic.   A recent article placed the number of orphans in the millions but most African nations place almost insurmountable obstacles in the way of prospective adopters including Tanzania's requirement that the individuals reside in the country for three consecutive years.   I  can't help but wonder at the reason for the requirement.   It must be acknowledged that the parents' financial status will be negatively affected yet, no doubt, one of the things that must be shown is their ability to provide for the child.

There are no shortage of websites and agencies that advertise on the internet purporting to assist prospective parents.   They remind me of ads for assisted publishing agencies that charge excessive fees but promise to take care of everything for the new author.   'No Wait Adoption' was the headline on one.    It is sad to see the profit motive so present in a child's life.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Saturn's dynamic auroras - NASA

   I've always been a bit of a Trekkie (you remember?   Star Trek!)   I haven't gone to any conventions and I don't wear a Starfleet uniform, no, not even on Halloween but I've enjoyed the shows and movies.    One of the programs came to mind when I was contemplating what it is that makes a fictional character unique.  But  this could apply to an actual person as well.

There was an episode where a superior  alien species kidnapped Captain Picard and three other individuals from diverse humanoid planets in the galaxy.  On his starship, to ensure his absence would not be noted, a carefully conceived and executed double was put in his place.

On the the Starship Enterprise, at first all was well, but gradually small anomalies and character differences were noticed.   Singularly, one aspect might have passed but in combination they lead the crew to the inescapable conclusion that that there had been a switch.   At the end of the show the rescued Captain Picard enquired of his first officer as to how the excellent and detailed deception was uncovered.   The punchline was, "I find it hard to believe you're that good a singer."   Of course, the Captain was not the type of man to sing with his crew on any occasion and had never done so, unlike the doppelganger who had  launched into a bar room chorus of a seaside shanty.

One thing that makes characters and people unique is their flaws.   Nothing too drastic in my books--no axe murderers allowed--but  human quirks and failings.  Cartoon characters, like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty have no flaws.   (Okay, they are passive and wimpy but that no doubt reflects the perceptions of female perfection  held by their male creators in the 1940's or 50's)

I guess this means we should celebrate and be proud of our small failings--they make us unique.

Saturday, January 12, 2013



I recently read that e-book sales have levelled off and are now about 25% of book sales.   On the other hand, Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, a publishing competitor to Amazon, recently predicted that e-book sales would reach 45% in 2013.  There are still a lot of people who prefer the physical book.   Print on Demand publisher, Createspace, charges a price based on the number of pages  and it is impossible for a print book to be less than an e-book, in fact, the price needs to be about double to allow for the same profit for the author.   This price difference would be a purchasing factor for some people.

In on-line discussions of the merits of e-books vs. print books some people hold strong views on the merits of each.   There is the smell, the heft, the feel of a real book in your hands, some say.  On the other hand,  there is the ability to control font size and to save on storage and living space not to mention suitcase or backpack space when travelling.

Some people are used to sharing books, trading books or re-selling them to a used book store to recoup some of their costs of purchasing the book.   This is only possible with a physical book.   Many people use libraries and although some libraries make it possible to borrow e-books, I suspect most people enjoy browsing the aisles and shelves of the physical space.

I just finished reading a short novel which I downloaded from Amazon to my computer.   A couple of points on this topic came to mind as I was reading it.   Firstly, the page changes come often and can be distracting.  There are only a couple of paragraphs before you must click to go to the next page.   When you turn the pages of a physical book you will have two pages to read and each page will probably contain more text that one page on your e-reader.   Secondly, it is cumbersome to try to find particular detail.   At one point I forgot who a certain character was and spent more time trying to find the place where the person was introduced than I would have with a physical book.   I'm not sure why that is but it seems easier to scan and locate a particular place in a story with the actual book.

Formatting issues can be difficult to resolve in e-books.   I don't know how this particular book was put into e-book format but it had the disconcerting feature of hyphens between syllables of words every few pages, but not at the end of the line.   I suspect that in the physical book these words were hyphenated due to being at the end of the line but in the e-book format the words had different placement, but the hyphens remained.  For example,  'exper-ience'.  Probably the author/editor should have picked up on this.   Yet, I know myself how easily little errors can slip into text.

A deciding factor may be that I have no more bookshelf room and when I look at the books on it I wonder if I will be reading some of them again.  Maybe in ten years but meanwhile they occupy space and weight the next time I move.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013



I don't really care for swearing.   There, I said it.   There was a time when swearing was rarely heard or read, at least in the circles I inhabited and the books I read.    I realize that if you hit your thumb instead of the nail with your hammer, it is almost inevitable that some expletive will escape from your lips.   That's okay.   But I have had the experience on rapid transit of sitting in front of someone who uses F bombs as nouns, verbs and adjectives.  My ears feel bruised by the time I get up.   Excessive swearing has made me stop reading some books,  change seats . . . you get the idea.

I had a high school English teacher once who opined that swearing shows the lack of an adequate vocabulary.   There was a time when swearing by women was considered unladylike.    It can probably be said that whatever shock value swearing used to have, has been worn away by excessive use.  Many or most people don't even notice.   What's in a word?  If your character is one that would swear a lot in real life it would not be authentic to have him exclaim, Darn it all!  I wrote earlier about the movie, Deep Impact wherein the director had to go back and film a brief, irrelevant scene to insert one F-bomb and thereby remove the  threat of a dreaded G rating.

But before I commit myself firmly to the dinosaur age or the relic pile I thought I would browse through some comments on Amazon's  reviews and see if I am alone in the world in my position.  So here are some quotes: 

"And, I know there are many people cussing every day, but I don't know anyone that uses the "f" word so much. I'm not saying it was wrong to use, but it was OVER-used."

"[Author name Redacted]  . . .  (puts) her readers)  in a locker room of adolescent boys using stilted swearing in every conversation they have with each other. You must already be an avid fan to not find this boooring, and sometimes even uncomfortable. For me, it did little to advance the plot or give a sense of who these creatures are . . ."

"His use of foul language didn't bother me, but may put off others."

On the other hand, in a recent interview an editor at Glamour contributed this to the debate:  'Certain words have gone from being shocking to being neutered."  Since I drafted this blog article an article appeared in the New York Times business section on the topic--Fifty Shades of Vulgarity. President Obama is brought into the debate because it seems he used a swear word in his news conference about the school shootings at Sandy Hook.   This seems an unfair comparison and an exponential version of hammering your thumb.

What's your opinion?

There is some mild swearing  in A New Premise and When Bees Die  which fits the characters and situations (so consider yourself warned!) but as they as they say about movies 'nothing gratuitous'.

Saturday, January 5, 2013


This expression, I had thought, refers to writers who assist, to greater or lesser degree, celebrities and politicians to write their memoirs.    Their lives and the stories they have to tell are interesting enough to sell a lot of books but the individuals' talents do not include crafting a memoir or autobiography.   A person with this skill is brought on board to assist.   This seems reasonable to me although I hope the person in the background gets some credit for their abilities.

What I was surprised to learn recently is that best selling writers, who worked their way up to their status by acquisition of skills in addition to their native talents, are using ghost writers to augment their own production.   James Patterson, who was, I believe, the highest earning author last year cannot personally keep up with the volume of new works that could be sold and generate profits for himself and his publisher.   There are many who would purchase a new book monthly, if one was available.   The solution to this has been to bring ghost writers into the mixture.   This must be a unique skill set for not only must the person be a competent writer in their own right, but they must be able to suppress their own natural style and voice and assume that of Mr. Patterson.  Is that possible?  He describes it here:   James-Pattersons-Kentucky-fried-books

Actors, particularly talented actors like Meryl Streep, can bring characters to life in every detail.   I've read that she studies videos of the person she will be playing, for example, Margaret Thatcher, by the hour and uses voice coaches to capture the nuances of speech and accent.   But, it seems to be that a writer who can do this should be a best-selling author in their own right and under their own name, not lurking in the shadows.

I recently read that another well-known author, Wilbur Smith, admitted frankly that at age 79 he couldn't keep up with the pace of production his publisher and public would prefer.   I can sympathize with that.    He also is now using ghost writers. I suppose he and the others writers who employ this production technique review and approve all work done in their name.    That must be disconcerting; to see yourself, or at least your writing, as others see you.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


123RF Stock Photo

Today I packed away the tree,
Another Christmas gone.
I sat down with a cup of tea
And wondered what went wrong.

The presents chosen to enhance.
And wrapped with tender care
Seemed to warrant only one brief glance.
They're packed away downstairs.

A new solution must be found.
We can't go on this way.
To shop and spend the town around,
Make debts we just can't pay.

I vow next year a change there'll be
We'll all gather 'round for a chat.
And donate instead to charity,
And that will be the end of that.

                                              * * * *

My Christmas wasn't really like that; it was more about a happy coming together during a restful pause in our busy lives.   I wrote those lines in contemplation of  some aspects of excess that are well known to exist.   In my family, we draw names--one each--and buy a gift for that one person.   Except for the children, of course, who do end up with far too many.   There are many charities that do good works and I like to think that most people remember them at the holiday time of year.

I was able to spend time working on the fourth Jaswinder Mystery Novel, as yet untitled, to the extent that the first half is done!