Wednesday, April 27, 2011

RIP Typewriters?

The Internet was all atwitter yesterday when news broke that the last factory still producing typewriters was shutting down and halting production.  The time-honored machine, which, needless to say, produced most of the literary classics that we all know and love, had finally met its end at the hands of computer keyboards.  Just as video killed the radio star, it's been obvious for some time that the computer age had killed the "typewriter star," but yesterday it became official.

Except the typewriter isn't quite dead.  It turns out the plant featured in the above referenced news stories wasn't the only one still making typewriters.  Swintec, for one, is still producing them (they have factories in China, Japan, and Indonesia) and apparently doesn't plan on stopping in the near future.

It's been some time since I've used a typewriter, but I still have my old Smith Corona electronic model upstairs somewhere collecting dust.  It was a Christmas present from my parents when I was about 13 or 14, and it was one of my favorite gifts ever.  I find myself with a sudden urge to get it out, dust it off, and try typing up a story the old-fashioned way.

Of course, I'd still have to get said story digitalized... how else would I e-mail it to a magazine or upload it for the Kindle?

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Undertakers: Rise of the Corpses by Ty Drago

When I first heard of THE UNDERTAKERS: RISE OF THE CORPSES, a new YA novel by Ty Drago, it sounded like something right up my son's alley.  Teens and pre-teens forming an underground organization to battle zombie-like creatures?  What twelve-year-old wouldn't enjoy that?

Well, it turns out I enjoyed it quite a bit, too.  I wanted to read it to be able to discuss it with my son once he'd read it, but I found myself drawn into the story very quickly.  Yes, it's a Young Adult novel, but I've read "big boy" novels which left me with less of a feeling of that essential human connection than UNDERTAKERS.  Who among us, after all, can't relate to being twelve years old?  Who among us didn't have fantasies of being important or saving the world at that age?

Drago's writing is clear and fast-paced.  The concept, which seems familiar at first glance, is anything but.  Will Ritter, the twelve-year-old main character, wakes up one morning and suddenly begins seeing some of his neighbors and teachers as their true selves -- walking dead people.  He's soon whisked away by the Undertakers, a group of other kids who can also see these "corpses."  With one important exception, no adult is able to see the monsters as they really are, so it's up to this group of teens and pre-teens to save their city and, eventually, the world.

I would highly recommend UNDERTAKERS to anyone who has a child in middle school, especially if said child struggles to actually, you know, read.  As I mentioned earlier, though, anyone who enjoys a fast-paced story with a unique take on a familiar concept will find a lot to like in this book, no matter their age.

You can view the book trailer for UNDERTAKERS here, and purchase it by clicking the link above.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

An old friend

I'm not the most prolific writer in the world.  Sometimes my lack of output really depresses me, making me feel like a failure and making me write even less.  And I've noticed a cycle in my writing.  I'll work on short stories for awhile, chip away at a couple of different novels, and then I'll always come back to my oldest (original) story but never actually finish it.

It's a pretty classic soft science fiction story about the end of the world and what happens afterwards.  It's been "finished" several times since it first made itself known to me, at around 12 years of age, but as I grow as a writer I always find ways to make it "better," to expand upon the original story and subsequent versions, and so it's never really been finished.

That needs to change.  I know most writers can relate to the idea of a piece of work never truly being finished, but I need to get this story out there.  I feel like I need to set it free in order to be able to move past it.

I'm still working on putting together the previously mentioned Kindle short story collection, but my old friend needs me so that's where my primary focus is going to be for awhile.  Until it's done.  And I mean it this time.

Oh, and I have a new article up at Yahoo's Associated Content:  Skills for Effective Careers in Management.  May as well put all those years of retail management experience to use somehow. :)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ebook formating issues

As I mentioned yesterday, I have a good assortment of stories to include in my upcoming Kindle short story collection.  I've even narrowed down my choices so that the overall collection has a fairly consistent theme.  One of the hardest things I'll need to do, I've realized, is learn the ins and outs of formatting for the Kindle (and potentially other ebook readers, down the road).

It's not actually that learning to format for the Kindle is difficult; it's not, really.  The hard part comes from the pressure to get it just right.  Even though the good thing about ebook publishing is that anyone can do it, the bad thing is also that anyone can do it, and this leads to a lot of poorly written work being put out there.  Whether my work is "good" or not is something I'll leave up to the readers, but making sure it looks good on an ebook reader is something that's almost entirely up to me.

One thing that's at the same time scary and exciting about self-publishing is that the author has complete control over the presentation of his or her work. When you're published by a traditional publishing house, most (if not all) of the editing and formatting is handled by them.  With self-publishing, not only do you have to create compelling stories, but you also have to make it as error-free as possible.  The more errors you allow to creep into your finished product (whether grammatical or formatting), the harder you're making it for yourself to be taken seriously as an author.

I realized how hard it must be to ensure a perfect translation to the Kindle format while reading Stephen King's UNDER THE DOME.  There were a few places when the formatting went a little wonky, where a return or a line break appeared to have been inserted in the middle of a paragraph.  It didn't cause more than a momentary distraction, but I admit feeling a small amount of trepidation that even a Stephen King book could contain errors on the Kindle.  On one hand, it could reduce the pressure to get things just right, but on the other hand, I'm no Stephen King.

As the ebook and self-publishing platforms grow, it'll be even more important to get presentation just right.  Authors who can both craft good stories and create good presentations will be the ones who win out in this exciting new era of publishing.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Importance of theme

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm putting together a short story collection that will be available for the Kindle.  I've got plenty of stories ready to go, more than enough to "fill" a collection that I'd feel comfortable selling for 99 cents (the price point I'm thinking of going with for this collection).  One problem I'm having, though, is that I tend to genre-hop a fair amount.  Granted, my favorite genre is the sort of character-focused soft science fiction that Orson Scott Card primarily writes, but I've got a good amount of fantasy and urban fantasy stories as well.  I don't want to just throw a bunch of unrelated work into a collection just for the sake of filling up pages.

Most of what I consider my best work tends to feature characters that aren't your typical hero-type.  My main characters tend to have a dark side, and maybe shouldn't even be someone you should root for.  I'm thinking my first collection will focus on these types of characters and stories, and be mostly (if not entirely) science fiction.  Now to come up with a name for it...

April Fools' Day

I love April Fools' Day.  I don't typically play many pranks myself, but I love journeying through the Internet every April 1st to see what various game and media companies are doing to commemorate this special "holiday."

Blizzard Entertainment, producer of World of Warcraft, never fails to disappoint.  Each year they issue announcements about upcoming features for their games, some of which are so well-crafted that many players are taken unawares and actually believe them.  One year, they announced that a new race for an upcoming expansion was the Wisp, and would feature permanent death (i.e., if you were defeated in battle, your character was permanently dead with no hope of coming back to life).  This year, they've announced a couple of new "features" for WoW, as well as a new way to play StarCraft and an app for Diablo that may cause demonic possession and athlete's foot.

Google usually gets in on the fun, too.  This year they've announced Gmail Motion, a new way to use Gmail dependent on body movements.  Seems the whole full-body experience is all the rage these days when it comes to computing.  The mouse and keyboard are getting up there in years, after all.  Funny or Die, last year taken over by Justin Bieber, this year pays homage to Rebecca Black, she of that awful, horrible Friday song that's gotten over 70 million hits on YouTube.

It's gonna be a fun day. :)