Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Road Goes Ever On

It's a dangerous business, going out your door!
How long is too long for a book?

That’s going to depend on a lot of factors, but before we go citing famous books that are lengthy, let’s keep in mind that they’re often famous for a reason.  If you’re an author who isn’t published, or (like me) isn’t known, then your ability to vary outside certain guidelines is somewhat limited.

Does that mean you should compromise your art?  Not at all.

It means you have choices that you need to keep in mind.

For example, let’s take the grandmaster of fantasy himself, J.R.R. Tolkien.

Tolkien’s seminal, epic work The Lord of the Rings is a massive tome at just over 455,000 words.  But we need to keep in mind that it wasn’t meant to be a standalone story.  Tolkien had one out of the park in 1937 with The Hobbit (just over 95k).  The good professor was widely acclaimed for the story, was awarded a prize from the New York Herald Tribune for best juvenile fiction and nominated for a Carnegie Medal.

Naturally, with all that, the publisher wanted a sequel, and that’s exactly how The Lord of the Rings began.  Tolkien originally intended for it to be one volume of a two-volume set to include The Silmarillion.  Can you even imagine the shelf-space such a tome would take up?  Well, of course you can, because single volumes now exist just as Tolkien intended.  At the time the publisher balked completely at the idea and for other economic reasons, the single book was broken into three more manageable (but still massive) parts:

The Fellowship of the Ring—over 180,000 words
The Two Towers—over 156,000 words
Return of the King—over 137,000 words

My god, it's full of elf-stars!
So yeah, longer works can definitely make the grade, but it helps if you have a hit already and your publisher is willing to give you some leeway!

Also, the science fiction/fantasy genre is far more forgiving about story length than some other genres, where average book length will vary.  Remember, these are averages for informational purposes only:

Contemporary Fiction—80k to 90k
Westerns—50k to 80k
Memoirs—70k to 90k
Young Adult—70k to 90k
Middle Grade—40k to 55k
Scifi/Fantasy—90k to 125k

As you can see, the averages provide quite a bit of range.  Safe bets start around 85,000 words for novels and around 35,000 words for novellas.  If you start to stray too far outside of those figures, you may find that instead of one book, you actually have two or three in a complete series—just like Tolkien!

By far, though, the best advice is to write the story until it’s complete.  Word count is a thing that publishers and agents look at for sound economic reasons, so they’re a thing that writers need to be aware of as well.  But if you’ve got a good story and it’s well-told the rest will follow.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Gone Country

Does anything better say "small hands"?
While I certainly grew up in rural areas of Nevada and Utah, I’ve never been a “country boy”.  My idea of roughing it, is limited cable selection and no room service.  Despite that, I’m a fairly tall guy, and most vehicles are not built for me.  I don’t so much get into a sedan, or a mid-size car (much less a compact) as I fall into them with some measure of control and then sort out the bits afterward so I can close the door.

I’ve always preferred to at least step into, if not up onto, my vehicles.  Generally, this means an SUV or a truck of some kind.

Boots and hat not included.
Now, I am definitely a truck kind of guy.  This might have something to do with my rural upbringing, where all the “cool” kids and most assuredly the “coolest” had trucks.  Not just any trucks, but 4X4 vehicles jacked up to the sky with exposed shocks and chrome and giant tires that can crush a herd of cattle.  I’ve never understood low-riders, but a truck with a six-inch lift kit and tires to book just makes sense. 

Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m still a “city boy” and I prefer it that way.  Living in SoCal, where you can drive three hours in any direction and not run out of city, doesn’t exactly lend me any country cred.  That said, I don’t just own a truck because I’m a tall guy and it fits better.  That’s the biggest reason, but not the only reason.  On the weekends I haul boys, equipment, and often have to bring in supplies for my eternal battle with sprinklers.

Once in a while, I even haul something that makes my truck look like it’s fresh from the ranch.  This past weekend, that was eight bales of three-string straw.  Not exactly a crushing load.  Also, the straw was purely for decorative purposes, but still, it made the bed look, for a few short hours, like I should be in well-worn boots, and have a sweat-stained cowboy hat hanging from my gun rack.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Nanas and Papas and Scarecrows

My parents moved out here and took over our old house about two months ago.  It’s been one of the greatest things ever.  For starters, it meant that we weren’t really “renting” our house anymore.  Don’t get me wrong, we lucked into some really great renters—but they were still renters.  Little things that broke or needed to be fixed weren’t reported, and the house itself was regarded as temporary, so the upkeep was minimal.
Do you have a moment to talk about King Candy Corn?
 Parents are different—or at least mine are.  A lot of stuff we didn’t even know needed to be repaired has been identified and already fixed!  I keep trying to throw money at my parents for these items, and, like all good parents, they keep saying it’s already paid done.

Then, of course, there’s a free babysitting.  Nothing has even come close to how awesome this is.  The boys have always loved their Nana and Papa.  Having my parents this close also means that the boys can “help” as Papa works on my ailing/failing sprinkler system or other little tidbits.  They’ve already had two sleepovers and learned that Nana’s house means “treats” almost the moment they walk in the door.

Most telling of all happened last night/early this morning.  For once, my youngest didn’t wake up and start screaming.  Instead, he came down the stairs and started calling out for Nana.  There was fear and panic in his voice, so I immediately rushed out to find him.

“Where’s Nana?” he asked me.  He was wrapped up in his ducky blanket.

“She’s at home.”

I scooped him up and we sat down on the couch.

“Ok.  I had a scary dream.”

“It’s ok.”

“There were scarecrows,” he told me.  “And they were scary and they had green eyes.”

“That does sound like something Nana could help with.”

We sat on the couch, with him in my lap, and I sang him a song.  He quickly went back to sleep and I carried him back upstairs to his bed.

The update to the scarecrows came this morning.  He bounced down the stairs all wide grins and bright eyes.

“Daddy, when I went back to sleep I got a team with Papa and we fought the scarecrows!”

Thanks Nana!  Thanks Papa!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

High School for Me!

High school, BAYBAY!
Here are the instructions I received:

“Tell us about your SENIOR year of high school! The longer ago it was, the more fun the answers will be!”

I’m not certain why “longer ago” equates to “more fun” but I’m a giver, so here we go.

The year was: 1992

1. Did you know your spouse?

Nope.  Although, we were in the same state at the time.

2. Did you car pool?

Yes, sometimes with my buddy Dennis, especially when my car wasn’t running so great.  Dennis owned a Chevy C10,

3. What kind of car did you have?

I had a1964 International Scout.  My dad and I had rebuilt the engine and I believe this is when the transmission started having trouble.  I remember taking it out and putting it back in several times.

4. Friday night football?

I’m sure we had a team, but I knew nothing about it.  I’m not even certain if I knew anyone who played.

5. What kind of job did you have?

I worked for a brief time at a micro-sprinkler assembly line.  We put the parts into the plastic boxes and whatnot for shipping to stores.  We were terrible at it.

6. Were you a party animal!

I played a lot of basketball and “ward ball” but I didn’t even know there were parties.

7. Were you considered a jock?

Never.  Even when I played on several sports teams in Battle Mountain, I was a pretty well-established as a nerd.  When we moved to Bountiful I didn’t go out for any sports.  I did, somehow, manage to be on the speech/debate team.

8. Were you in band, orchestra, or choir?


9. Were you nerd?

As much as those things actually existed in my high school, yes.  Cliches at Bountiful High weren’t nearly as pervasive as they had been in Battle Mountain.  I wasn’t cool, but no one really bothered me about who I was.

10. Did you get suspended or expelled?

Never.  I did get called into a vice-principals office for my number of absences.  They wanted me to attend some kind of weekend school.  My dad went in with me, and pointed out that he had no problem with me attending the class, but he wasn’t going to pay for it, especially when I was an honor student.  The vice-principal agreed and I didn’t have to attend.

11. Can you sing the fight song?

If we had one, I didn’t know it.

12. Where did you eat lunch?

It would depend.  We had an open campus, so I could go anywhere with anyone during lunch.  A lot of times I would just go home.  I arranged my schedule so that my lunch and a “free period” were back-to-back, which meant I could watch TV, do homework, etc. for about two hours of lunch.  Sometimes, I would just grab a Dr Pepper and a Grandma’s Cookies for lunch and eat it in the library.

13. What was your full school name?

Bountiful High School.

14. What was your school mascot?

I had to look it up to be certain.  We were the “Bountiful Braves” so our mascot was “Braves”.  Sorry about that.

15. If you could go back and do it again would you?

Oh yeah.  Moving back to Bountiful was one of the best things that my parents ever did for me.  It was secondary, as we were moving for a job, but going back was great.  I was able to get into Advanced Placement and honors courses, things that didn’t exist in Battle Mountain, and I took my first speech/debate class which pretty much warped the rest of my life.

16. Did you have fun at Senior prom?

It was ok.  I wasn’t dating anyone, and didn’t really know how to date.  I took one of the smartest girls in the school, and we had a decent time, but we didn’t click.  We started the evening going to a screening of “Casablanca”, my favorite movie, which was awesome for me.  I think she enjoyed it too.  Mostly, we just talked about stuff, danced a few times, but there was nothing there.

17. Do you still talk to the person you went to prom with?

No.  High school was all we had in common.

18. Are you planning on going to your next high school reunion?

Yes, but probably not the Bountiful one.  I was invited to the 20 year for Battle Mountain high.  Even though I didn’t graduate there, I have more in common with those folk.  I wasn’t able to attend for scheduling reasons, but my good friend Ed did, and had a great time.

19. Are you still in contact with people from high school?

A few.  Facebook has allowed me to be in touch with some of them, and some have actually sought me out (which is always a good feeling).

Interesting Trivia from 1992: Bush and Yeltsin proclaim a formal end to the Cold War (Feb. 1). Czechoslovak Parliament approves separation into two nations (Nov. 25).  Four officers acquitted in Los Angeles beating of Rodney King; violence erupts in Los Angeles (April 29 et seq.).

Top Music of 1992: “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot, “Jump” by Kris Kross, “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton” and “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men.

Top Movies of 1992: “Aladdin”, “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York”, “Batman Returns”, “Lethal Weapon 3” and “A Few Good Men”.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Tired and Sick (Again)

Sorry folks, I’ve been a bit under the weather.  However, here’s a video of really cute puppies playing in leaves.  If you don’t awe, you have no soul—and I’d like to know how much you got for it!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Fall Traditions—Pumpkin Patch

Soul? No thanks.  I'll take your wallet!
Since I moved out to SoCal, my wife and I have had the same tradition around this time of going to a U-Pick pumpkin patch for (obviously) pumpkins, and then on up into the mountain to an apple orchard for (again, obviously) apples and cider.  The pumpkin patch, Live OakCanyon Pumpkin Patch, has grown more popular and theme-parky over the years.  But this past weekend it went over the top.

In the past, the Pumpkin Patch was a quaint, almost side-of-the-road afterthought affair.  The fields were mowed down, it was a walk through muddy ground, and the best they offered were wheelbarrows to carry out your spoils.  It was cold, dirty, fun work.

It apparently caught on, because they expanded the parking lot into what had been their Christmas Tree groves, and started putting up out buildings.  Some temporary games and rides came into being—mostly jumpy-house type affairs.  For a buck or two, the kiddies could go play.  A few years ago they added a corn maze, which was nice.  A bit pricey to wander through, but still fun.  The kicker is that you have to find animal signs throughout the maze to get a code for the door out.

This was the only one of twelve cars actually working.
This year, however, is the first year they’ve actually charged us admission to come onto the property to spend our money.  We had to wait in line for the privilege of coming in.  The only upshot I could see is they’ve adopted Disneyland-style parking guides to direct you to a spot.  A smart move to get the people to spend their money just through the front door.  They also have a more boardwalk type area with rides and games.  They get you by making you buy tickets (about $1 each) and then the rides run between 3 and 8 tickets.  With my three sons, I was spending between $9 and $24 to get them on a ride.  We’re now talking almost Disneyland-style prices!

The boys had a great time, went on some fun rides and bouncy houses.  When we were down to our last scattering of tickets, not enough for all the boys, I made the executive decision to shoot at the archery booth.  It was a nice choice, although I haven’t pulled a bowstring in a couple years.  I managed to only flub one arrow (the attendant chided me to make certain it was properly seated on the nock) and then made a nice grouping before I planted three in the bullseye.

But I’m torn.

I get that they want to make money.  I’m all for making money.  I’d like to make some myself someday.  It seems like it makes life easier.  I’m not certainly I can embrace the over-commercialization of a U-Pick pumpkin patch simply for the sake of tradition.  I haven’t fully decided, but I’m certainly torn between what I experienced a decade ago, and the small amusement park that is now the Live Oak Canyon Pumpkin Patch.


Monday, October 10, 2016

Nock by Scott McGlasson

It's a zombie book.  It's an archery book!
It's both!
Scott McGlasson’s novella Nock does more than just build on the zombie mythos.  He creates life-like characters that reflect the real-world stresses of living in a world rife with the undead.  Even if you’re not a zombie or post-apocalypse reader, McGlasson has you covered with a father-daughter story that will actually warm your heart and make you smile.

McGlasson uses a visceral, engaging style of prose to tell the story of Stace, a young girl who has grown up in the After—after the zombie apocalypse—who wants to be a Ranger like her father.  First, she has to prove she’s capable, which means she has to hunt down one of the “ferals” which roam the valley her people have tried to make safe.  The only problem is that her father, Rob, is one of the best Rangers.  Living up to his standards isn’t easy, and if she fails, it means a lifetime of toil on the farm, rather than running free among the woods as Stace dreams.

Of course, if it was simple as nocking an arrow to a bowstring and loosing it into the wasted flesh of a zombie’s head, life would be easy.  McGlasson ensures that life is in the After is never simple or easy.  When things start to go the wrong way, they quickly escalate to the point where Stace has more than her father’s big shoes and long shadow to worry about, and maybe she’ll learn that her father isn’t some granite rock, but a flawed person just like her.
Zombie archer book?  Not quite, Rob!

McGlasson creates characters with very real insecurities balanced against a world that is both familiar and wholly alien.  Even though Stace was was born in the Before, she has almost no memories of that time, and only the stories the older generation still tells.  This lends a hard reality to both the world Stace finds herself in, and a poignant sense of loss to the reader—perfect for the feel of the story.

In Nock, McGlasson crafts a thrilling, heart-pounding adventure around two very real characters.  He subtly plays up the father-daughter relationship, up to and through the climax of the story.  As with any good novella, McGlasson tells a complete tale, but his craftsmanship is right on target, and will leave readers wanting more stories from this world.