Thursday, June 26, 2014

Midnight in Europe, A Novel by Alan Furst

Tomorrow evening (June 27th) at Book Passage in Corte Madera Alan Furst is talking about and signing his latest per-World World II novel, Midnight in Europe: A Novel. I have a great fondness for Mr. Furst’s work, he has written thirteen novels whose stories tell of people living in a Europe that know that soon their lives will be thrown in the abattoir of a war that can not be stopped. Each character plays their part, in some small way, hoping to prevent what they know to be inevitable – Hitler’s fascist war against the peoples of Europe.

In Midnight in Europe Furst tells the story of one year in the life of attorney Cristián Ferrar, a Spanish émigré living in Paris, and his involvement in helping to provide arms to a collapsing Republican Army in Spain. As a member of an international law firm Ferrar travels from New York to Paris to Poland and Odessa in an attempt to facilitate the movement of heavy arms and ammunition from eastern European countries across the enemy lands to ports where these armaments can reach the communists in Spain desperately fighting Franco and the Nationalists.

It is a story of changing alliances, intrigues, and for Ferrar numerous assignations, romances, and potential betrayals. Most characters in the story don’t trust oe belive their associates and while the battle is between the communists and the fascists we begin to understand through Mr. Furst’s pen, that a Spanish Communist is very different than a Russian or Parisian communist. Their political desires are very different and often are at cross-purposes. As Mr. Ferrar and his associate and arms merchant Max de Lyon, travel through Germany to complete an arms arrangement they are stopped at the border at a Gestapo checkpoint and interviewed by thick necked officer with colorless hair, a Major Schwalbe. He inquires about their reasons for traveling in Germany. De Lyon answers quickly with their prepared story; they are there to take photographs for their magazine and its special issue of Nudism in the Reich. This puts the officer off his focus especially when he’s offered sample copies. Such is the craft of Alan Furst.

The novel is a series of interconnected vignettes that tell of people, simple working people, caught up in the growing conflict that would eventually lead to war. A ship’s captain surviving from port to port hauling illegal arms, a station master forced into facilitating the movement of weapons in box cars through enemy controlled lands, and most sadly the tale of Castillo in Madrid who paid ultimately to save the life of a beautiful woman – and spy.

The book is thick with detail and nuance, as are all of Mr. Furst’s novels. They are the stories of one person trapped on a single page of a war’s brutal endless manuscript where nothing is as it seems and conclusions never come.

As with most of Alan Furst’s books it is short by today’s novel standards at 272 pages, but is rich with color and depth.

I highly recommend it.

More Later . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

To Live and Die by the Sword

I’m a fine one to give advice. I have for years ranted on this blog about backing up your work, get it on separate thumb drives, backup drives, Dropbox or some other cloud related storage facility. And do it often. Today is not soon enough.

Well, I did not follow my advice. The last time I backed up my documents and images was about May 15. And of course Monday my hard drive failed. It’s very disheartening to call Apple Care (they picked up within ten seconds – now that’s service) and then go through the motions to try and resuscitate the beast (27” iMac – my second love) but to no avail. Then, after getting an appointment at the Genius Bar (obviously this does not apply to me), I drove the twenty miles to the closest store with an opening. I then carried the computer (maybe forty pounds or so) through the mall (a thousand eyes watched without pity) and quietly and patiently sat in the waiting area knowing that all the others sitting there had the same thought – “Why didn’t I backup yesterday?”

When my name was called (this is so doctor’s office-ish) I whispered my sad story. “It whirled excessively last week, really slow, I read all the posts about the problem on-line. Maybe I should have tried to do a backup then.” The gentleman (actually a kid who could have been my grandson) understandingly shook his head and then brought out a bundle of cables and hooked her up to some in-house software that would hopefully and miraculously give me few minutes more. It is quite shocking when across the screen in red letters two inches high the word the FAILED appears.

He quietly asked if I would like the old hard drive (i.e. heart) after the transplant. I considered what would happen if I took it: I would spend hours chasing down a tech guy who would promise to retrieve my data, I would then more waste hours waiting, then find out that nothing could be saved or worse it would be a mess and I would then take more hours to try and retrieve/fix the files. I opted not to accept the drive; my time would be better spent rebuilding the new covers for the summer release of the old O’Mara books and redoing the last edit of my newest book, Diamonds for Death (due out in October). I also hoped that the wedding pictures are still on the mail server.

Here are some very important tips:
  • Always backup your data - daily.
  • Keep the backups in a number of places (sticks, thumb drive, small external hard drives, the cloud).
  • Create a chart or process that insures that you follow up daily with backups and also know where it is.
  • When you are finished reading this blog (and thank you very much) go and backup your data – do it now!
For all of us in the writing profession the computer is both a boon and a bust. We get very complacent with the technology and do not respect the simple fact that it is inherently fussy and will stab you in the back. So we talk softly around it knowing they have ears and will, if mistreated, screw you over.

So … lovingly kiss your PC or Mac this morning, maybe with a soft cloth clean the screen, and check the cables, but when you look at the reflection of yourself on that fingerprint free screen remember - you have met the enemy and it is you.

More Later . . . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Book Trailers

Book trailers have always been an enigma for writers, especially self-publishers. The question comes down to time and are they worth the effort? The purpose is to obviously help to hawk the novel and tease the viewer into buying the book. For all intents it is a commercial. And the best trailers are effective communication devices that help the buyer make a decision to buy. That’s it.

My book trailers are in the left column.

Clockwork Prince – Cassandra Clare

Moody, well acted, places the viewer and potential reader in the era of the story, and complimented by the music. This is a professionally made trailer by Simon & Schuster.

Glamorous Illusions – Lisa T. Bergren (Book One Grand Tour Series)

Amazingly simple, teases you, and the music compliments the visual effects.

The School for Good and Evil – Soman Chainani

Delightful graphics enhance this professionally produced video for this young adult fantasy novel. Music is quite good as well.

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters – Quirk Books

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

Simple and professional, great graphics, does get your interest.

And a couple of Michael Connelly’s book trailers:

The Black Box (shory tease)

Echo Park (fairly awful)

Do they work? Do they sell books? I haven’t a clue, but they can be fun to produce.

More later . . . . . .  . . .

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Abused and Overused

Every author is eventually confronted with the task of editing their books (prior to having the work seriously edited by a paid third party prior to publication). We each approach the task like the demolition expert wrapped in thick padding probing a shoebox with a stick. Will this be the one that explodes?

Editing is just one of the stages of the book’s progress from concept to reality. It must be done; there are no short cuts, no tricks, no easy path. In past blogs I’ve written about my process which is very similar to those mentioned in dozens of books about self-editing. Each author finds a process they are comfortable with and then continues to modify the methodology. But the simple truth is that some type of editing must be done.

There are three basic levels of editing: story editing, copyediting, and technical editing. Some may quibble over these levels but by the time the manuscript is substantially done much of the story is set. If not you aren’t faced with editing – you are facing a rewrite. That’s a big difference. Rewriting and editing are not the same.

Copyediting is about language and sentence structure. This is the art and voice of the author. As you reread the manuscript (I do this out loud), the timing and alliteration of the words and sentences is measured. Adjustments are made; the author’s voice becomes stronger. This is when you ask yourself: “Does it work, does it sing?”

The technical side is relatively simple, commas, periods, and em dashes and all that other stuff that makes it easier to read and understand the manuscript. I have a shelf full of references that help when I run into a problem (and to be honest my biggest is commas – I tend to put in more than I need or should). And don’t ask about em dashes and/or the plain old variety, I still don’t have a clue. And parenthesis and brackets – for years I thought they were the same.

At the technical stage there are some tricks (and software) I use that help immeasurably. Like broadcasting there are words we shouldn’t use in books. Of course we overuse all the naughty words, our books are questionably richer by their use. It shows we’re hip, cool, earthy, and can’t be cowed. No, the these words are those that contribute little to the MS, they're lazy words. Sure we need them but their use must be seriously restricted.

I use a good piece of software that breaks down the whole MS into chewable chunks that are dispassionately displayed allowing me to look at words in every instance they are used. It also lists adverbs, clichés, and how often a word or phrase appears. The software, Bad Wolf’s SmartEdit, is getting better and better but unfortunately is still only available for Windows based computers (a partitioned Mac with Windows is one way to go or a PC).

Here are a couple of dozen words that seldom add to the MS. They have some value but we tend to use them too much. I ignore them when I’m writing the first drafts but become more aware of their cheap and tawdry behavior as I hone the writing. With or without the SmartEdit software you can hunt and find these posers – they must be cut out (or find a better way of saying what you mean).

In no particular order they are:
Used to
Have got

More Later . . . . . . . . . . . .