Tag Archive for authors

Choose Your Own Adventure Comes To An End

Cave_of_timePublisher and author R.A. Montgomery passed away this week. His name isn’t familiar to millions of young readers since the late 1970’s (despite being the J.K. Rowling of his generation with 250 million copies sold in 20 years), but his “Choose Your Own Adventure” books are well-remembered. You read the first few pages, make a decision at the end, go to a different page number, read a few more pages, and make another decision. Some decisions cause the story to end sooner than expected.

As a preteen, finding patterns fascinated me.

My parents got me the Coleco Quiz Wiz electronic trivia game for my 10th birthday in 1979. The booklet had 1,001 trivia questions and an electronic device that told you if your answer was right or wrong. The electronic device plugged into other booklets sold separately. I went through a half-dozen booklets before I discovered the pattern with the electronic device: the correct answer for a given question number was the same for every booklet.

Having written down the correct sequence for 1,001 questions, I could answer any booklet correctly on the first pass without reading any questions or answers in 15 minutes. Once I discovered the pattern, the magic of learning new trivia with Quiz Wiz was forever lost. I’ll see the question number and look at the correct number on the booklet page, as I have memorized the correct sequence.

A few years later, I would get an Atari 2600 video game console and the “Adventure” cartridge, a graphical version of the text adventure game known as “Colossal Cave Adventure” that was popular in university computer labs. It took a long time to discover the pattern to defeat the red, yellow and green dragons, as resolving the various quests required going back and forth in the game world. Once memorized I could replay the game in significantly less time than before, a useful skill 20 years later when I worked as a video game tester for six years.

After the home video game revolution in the early 1980’s went kablooey from the Atari E.T. cartridge scandal, I got serious about reading books. My parents had no problem with me spending my weekly allowance on video games, but became distressed when I bought paperback books (they didn’t read for enjoyment). On the bright side, I wasn’t doing drugs like everyone else. Reading was my drug. As my mother crawled into the bottle of alcohol abuse, I needed to escape from reality.

I came across the CYOA books at a game store. Most bookstores kept the books hidden away in the children department. With a college-level reading comprehension in the eighth grade, I wasn’t looking for books in the children department. After reading a dozen CYOA books, I used a pencil to mark the pages read and decisions made. Later I tried to map out the decision tree from each book, a useful skill for computer programming many years later. With the older books in series having 40 possible endings, I never did find a pattern among the different stories.

Boycott The Movie Because The Author Is An Anti-Gay Bigot?

Ender's Game Movie PosterI’ve never read “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. I read one short story that I found in an anthology, and “The Elements of Fiction Writing: Characters & Viewpoints” from Writer’s Digest Books, as a teenager in the 1980’s. He never caught my attention as a “must read” author since I preferred horror over science fiction. The trailer for Ender’s Game: The Movie surprised me, as was learning that Card supported the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 in California.

Not surprisingly, a gay rights group wants people to boycott the movie.

As a moderate conservative and a Christian kicked out of a nondenominational church over eight years ago, I have no interest in re-fighting the culture wars that dominates the political discourse of the United State. If gays want to embrace marriage—and the consequences of marriage, say, a messy divorce when things don’t work out—I don’t have a problem with that. Politicians, especially those god-fearing politicians who keep their homosexuality in a locked closet, need to focus on the economy and not where people stick their yank at bedtime.

My friend and I debated whether or not to see the movie. While we’re both sympathetic in not wanting to support an anti-gay bigot, this was a Harrison Ford movie. While Card wasn’t a “must read” author, Ford was a “must see” actor. We watched Ford make his rounds on the late night shows, explaining how the 1985 novel predicted the Internet, how warfare would become a video game, and his role in the featured clip from the movie. The boycott got mentioned only briefly.

We saw the movie last week. No protesters stood in front of the theater. We got there early to watch the theater fill up. If there was a boycott, these people haven’t heard about it. As for the movie itself, it was okay. I really didn’t want to like the movie at first. The idea of training young children to become military leaders in a far-flung war should offend the sensibilities of people. That’s a war crime in today’s world.

My perception didn’t change until Ender tried to avoid a confrontation with his bullying superior officer, who ends up with an accidental head injury that sends him home from the war, and showed remorse because that wasn’t the outcome he wanted. Caught between the desires to have his fellow students like him, doing his best despite what other people may think of him, and being pushed to become harden soldier without compassion for the alien enemy, he must navigate this obstacle course while keeping his humanity intact.

I later read that Ender’s Game was the beginning of a new young adult movie franchise like The Hunger Games, if the movie does well. Ender’s Game did well for the opening weekend, but dropped 60% this weekend as Thor: The Dark World dominated the weekend. Another Ender’s movie is unlikely, but a TV series might happen. With or without a boycott, I’m not sure if I’ll watch that.

The Stephen King Playboy Interview eBook

My father kept his porno magazines underneath the bathroom sink, which wasn’t the most ideal hiding spot from an angry wife and a hormone-raging teenager in the late 1980’s. The June 1983 issue of Playboy caught my attention with the Stephen King interview, joining my collection of pilfered porno magazines in my closet. I read the interview from beginning to end, backwards and sideways to divine the secrets of being a successful writer. Something I desperately wanted as a teenager but it didn’t happen until 25 years later.

After I became a Christian and moved into a five-bedroom Victorian in downtown San Jose with a dozen campus brothers in 1992, several brothers helped move my stuff out of my parents’ place. When I opened the bedroom closet door, a three-foot stack of Playboy magazines fell forward in slow motion on to the hardwood floor before our feet. Needless to say, my sin was quite obvious. We tossed all those magazines away as they weren’t part of my new life.

The Stephen King interview has never appeared in the hardback collections of “The Playboy Interviews,” or even online after the Internet became popular with the masses. Familiar passages from the interview got quoted directly or indirectly by various biographers. As a published writer, I’ve always wanted a copy for my own personal collection.

Six months ago I bought a mint copy of Playboy, June 1983, for five bucks on eBay. This satisfied my quarter-century desire to re-read the Stephen King interview in its entirety.

While browsing for new releases on Amazon, I discovered “Stephen King: The Playboy Interview” as a 99-cent ebook. One of many interviews published as standalone ebooks to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Playboy magazine. An ebook is a more convenient format than reading than a 30-year-old magazine with a slight “under the bathroom sink” smell.

Have You Written Your Best Work Years Ago?

The Present Sign PostWhile watching Joan Jett at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga three weeks ago, she announced that she will play songs from her new album, “Unvarnished,” and, with some hesitation, the classic songs we all know and love. I saw the bittersweet moment on her face that she knew that her fans will always remember her for the songs she wrote years ago. A dilemma many creative people will face sooner or later.

Jett could have joined many other classic bands in touring around the nation to play the hit songs from her early career without ever writing a new song or recording another album. That’s not her style. After 37 record labels rejected her first solo album in 1980, she created her own record label and pushed the boundaries for what a female musician can do. She writes new songs and makes new albums that may never ever earn the same level of fan appreciation as her earlier hits.

So many fans regarded Stephen King’s “The Stand” as his magnun opus that he could have died after its publication in 1978 and be content with that, ignoring his many other novels and “The Dark Tower” series and that came afterward. J.K. Rowlings may never write anything that surpasses the Harry Potter novels, but she keeps writing new novels under her name and a pen name. The easy way out would be to pull a JD Salinger by not publishing anything more and cashing in the royalty checks.

If my ebook sales are any indication, I’ve written my best work years ago.

Okay, maybe not. I haven’t written a magnun opus for my fans to declare their undying devotion. My earliest short story ebooks sell better than my recent short story ebooks, leaving my “mid-list” ebooks to sag in the middle. I’ve had nagging doubts about the quality of my writing over the last few years, a constant tug of war between double checking the old stuff and writing the new stuff. The only way to side-step the doubts is to plunge myself into writing something new, get into the creative moment and go with the flow. The mobile office has been a great help in writing a handful of new flash stories for the summer. With renewed confidence, my best work is yet to come.

On a related musical note, Victor Willis, the original police officer in the 1970’s Village People disco band (which played at the Mountain Winery the following week after Joan Jett), regains the copyrights to his classic songs like “YMCA” and “In The Navy” after signing them away years ago by invoking an obscure provision of the 1978 copyright law. That’s heartening. Since I’m signing away my copyrights into an intellectual properties holding company (IPHC) to keep them separate from my publishing business and myself as an individual, I might run into this situation if I ever lose control of the IPHC.

Scarlett Johansson Sues The Author Of Her Literary Doppelganger

Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson

According to the Hollywood Reporter (via The Passive Voice), Scarlett Johansson is suing the author of her literary doppelgänger that appears in a French novel.

In the novel The First Thing We Look At [by Gregoire Delacourt], a woman shows up at the door of a mechanic in the northern village of Somme seeking help. At first the mechanic believes she is ‘Scarlett Johansson,’ though sixty pages later it is revealed she is not the actress but simply a doppelganger named Jeanine Foucaprez.

Maybe the publisher forgot to include this legal boilerplate:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Of course, it really depends on how the author wrote the character.

  • A passing reference to a character that physically looks similar to Ms. Johansson wouldn’t invite legal scrutiny, whether coincidental or not.
  • A character that is a precise clone in description, mannerism and history that readers can readily identify as Ms. Johansson would invite an accusation of trading off her name.

Ms. Johansson has personality rights on how her public image is use, which is halfway between a private citizen who expects privacy and a politician who gives up privacy. (With the recent spying revelations, no one has any real privacy.) If a character believes that another character was Ms. Johansson for 60 pages in a novel, Ms. Johansson has a winnable case.

From another paragraph in the Hollywood Reporter article, the author admitted that he compared his other characters to Ryan Gosling and Gene Hackman. If you need to invoke the names of famous people to prop up the description of your characters, you’re not a very good writer.

How I Slept My Way Through Kevin Pollak’s Book Signing

Kevin Pollak At Barnes & Noble San Jose

Kevin Pollak was at Barnes & Noble for his new book, “How I Slept My Way To The Middle.” I never heard of him. According to my roommate, Pollak’s has the best impersonation of William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk. Ho-hum. Stand up comedians put me asleep. When Pollak mentioned Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise and Arnold Schwarzenegger in one breath, I woke up to realize that he wasn’t only a stand up comedian.

The staff at Barnes & Noble, for whatever reason, set Pollak up on the storytelling stage inside the children department. Not the most appropriate place for an adult to read an adult book full of adult words about working in Hollywood. He did his best to hem-and-haw his way through the various cuss words as parents and children drifted in and out of hearing range. I’m sure some parents didn’t want to explain to their young ones what the letters D, F and S really meant when not brought to you by a Sesame Street character.

Pollak told several stories about working in Hollywood, including a few he read out of the book.

My favorite story was Pollak working on the set of “A Few Good Men” with Tom Cruise, who had a $500 pen from a New York City specialty store to write notes in the script. After he tried out the pen and commented how nice it was, Tom Cruise gave him a $500 pen as a present. He couldn’t use the pen since it was really nice and he might lose it. Tom Cruise sent him another $500 pen with a note to use that pen. The same pen he took out to sign the books.

A ghost writer helped Pollak write the book in a rather unorthodox way: they had 15 two-hour Skype (online video) sessions recorded that the ghost writer transcribed and printed out for him to edit into finished form. This worked will for him since he didn’t have to write anything and the transcriptions caught his storytelling voice that he uses for his stand up comedy.

The biggest surprise was to discover that Pollak was born in San Francisco, lived in San Jose as a kid, and moved down to Los Angeles. Not often do you hear about a local boy making it big down in Southern California. Despite being a local boy, only 15 people came out to the book signing. A book signing at a Barnes & Noble store in Kansas City brought out 75 people, probably because the book signing was in the front of the store and not inside the children department.

Pollak claimed he hasn’t had a REAL JOB in 20 years since he starred in “A Few Good Men” in 1992. It’s the ambition for every actor to get hired without having to audition for the part on the basis of their past work. An ambition I think every writer wants to have in regards to their work.

J.K. Rowling’s Second Novel Problem

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowlings

J.K. Rowling’s newest novel, “The Casual Vacancy,” has received mixed reviews. Mostly because it’s not a Harry Potter novel and has very naughty words that you don’t expect a children author to use. Never mind that the new novel is for adults, read by adults, and spoken by adults who tend to use very naughty words when they don’t think the kids are around (“Oh, fudgemuffian!”). The real issue is that Rowling’s has a second novel problem.

Wait a minute! Didn’t the Harry Potter series have seven books?

Yes. Seven books in one series. Obviously, Rowling got over the second novel problem in the Harry Potter series. If the second book wasn’t published, books three through seven wouldn’t exist, the movies wouldn’t be made, and we fanboys wouldn’t be ogling Emma “Hermione” Watson on the October 2012 cover of Glamour magazine.

However, if you view Harry Potter as being one massive novel, than “The Causal Vacancy” becomes the second novel. Like any author who has a wildly successful first novel, the high expectations for the second novel will determine if Rowling has a successful writing career after Harry Potter.

If the new “adult” novel sells out the two million copy print run, she can continue to write more novels and put Harry Potter on the shelf for good.

If the print run ends up on the remainder table at bookstores, she will have two options: keep writing what she wants to write but not publishing it, or return the world of Harry Potter like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did after killing off and bringing back Sherlock Holmes from the literary graveyard to satisfy popular demand.

I suspect Rowling will become the next Stephen King and write whatever she wants. God knows that King had put out a lot of fudgemuffian in between his more notable novels over the years. The forward momentum from his past successes guarantees some success for his newest novel. Even though his once formidable audience has dwindled away as he went from horror meister to literary master in honing his craft and staying fresh. A day may come when he too might continue to write but not publish.

Then again, even King went back to his Dark Tower series to add an eighth novel, “The Wind Through The Keyhole,” to his seven-novel magnum opus. Not as the sequel to the old series and the beginning of a new series, but a new story among the stories already told. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rowling does the same with Harry Potter. Someday.

The 75th Anniversary of The Hobbit

This week is the 75th anniversary of “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien. I actually had to check the Wikipedia article to confirm that the publication date for “The Hobbit” was, in fact, 1937. (“The Lord of The Rings” wasn’t published until after World War II in the early 1950’s.) Since the trailer for the new movie has been airing on the big and small screens, I also had to check to see that “The Hobbit” had 13 dwarves with so many similar names. I have read “The Hobbit” once as young child and again as a teenager, and LOTR once as a teenager, but that was 30 years ago.

As an eight-grader, I read “J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography” by Humphrey Carpenter for a book report. My Language Arts instructor warned me that it was a difficult book to read. And it was, but not because of the language. (I would later be tested that school year to have a college-level reading comprehension even though the school system had me classified as being mentally retarded and an idiot to boot.) I had no historical framework of the early 20th century to put everything into perspective. When I read the biography again a few years ago, everything fell into place as I’ve been reading extensively about history and literature in that time period. My instructor gave me an A-grade even though I only reported on the first one-third of the biography.

Would I read the books again now that they are available as ebooks? Maybe, maybe not.

I was never a serious J.R.R. Tolkien fan. Perhaps the language was high-brow for my taste. I’m more of a David Eddings fan, having read “The Belgariad” six times and “The Malloreon” three times. The language in these two series are low-brow for sure, especially since I want to take a red pen to cross out all the adverbs in the early books. I like my fantasy down to earth and away from the ivory towers of academia.

Do You Have A Literary Doppelnamer?

Paper PeopeWhen I became serious about being a writer in 2006, I did an Internet search for variations of my legal name and found another “writer” using a short version of my name. (I added quotes since he haven’t published much of anything in the last six years.) The author name that I came up with was the initials of my first and middle names combined into a first name. All the search results for my author name pops right up without any competition.

The word for finding an identical or similar name as your own on the Internet, according to Carrie Kirby of the San Francisco Chronicle, is doppelnamer (a play off the German word, doppelganger).

At least [Norb] Vonnegut’s name is linked to someone [Kurt Vonnegut] with a good reputation. Not so for Michael McAfee, an Ocean Beach (San Diego County) podcast producer who had an escaped convict for a doppelnamer. Tara Murphy, a recent law school graduate and blogger in Minnesota, has been dogged by a whole pack of Tara Murphys with overdue library books, DUI arrests and sexy pictures.

The only problem that I have with my author name is that certain ebook websites don’t handle abbreviated names properly in their search results and return all the ebook listings by last name only. (My family name, Reimer, is supposedly the German equivalent to Smith in the United States.) Back in the snail mail submission days of six years ago, ebooks publishing wasn’t on my radar. If I were starting over as a writer today, I would pick a different author name without the abbreviations.

As for my legal name, I embraced all my dopplernamers—the good, the bad, and the ugly—in the search results. The dopplernamers helps preserve my secret identity as a writer from my non-writing job in Silicon Valley. But my legal name has the opposite problem when hiring companies conduct a social media search as my anonymous alter ego ceased to exist in the late 1990’s. Most computer technicians leave behind an Internet trail as wide as the debris field of a crashed airplane. By the time that a lack of Internet presence becomes a problem, I’ll be making a living as a full-time writer.

Molly Ringwald As Literary Novelist

Molly Ringwald in Greece (Wikimedia Commons)Like many teenagers in the early 1980’s, I fell in loved with Molly Ringwald in “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club”. Six years ago she appeared in “Sweet Charity” at the San Jose Center of Performing Arts, giving an excellent performance of a dance hall girl with an endless string of boyfriends. Although still working as an actress, she has a new career as a literary novelist with the recent release of her first novel, “When It Happens to You.”

Ringwald explains in an interview for The New York Times that acting and writing went hand in hand when growing up as a child. Her literary pedigree is impressive.

Q. Who are some of the writers you most admire or feel inspired or influenced by?

A. The writers that inspired me the most as a young person are the same writers that resonate with me today. I discovered Raymond Carver as a teenager, and although I don’t think you would necessarily be able to see his influence in my writing, he has always moved me and deeply inspired me as a writer — the same with Joan Didion, Philip Roth, Lorrie Moore, Toni Morrison, Leo Tolstoy, Gustave Flaubert and Georges Perec. In the past decade, I’ve come to admire Carol Shields, Doris Lessing, Jonathan Franzen, Robin Black, Lauren Groff and most recently Jami Attenberg, whose [upcoming] “The Middlesteins” is a marvel. I have always believed that the only way to be a good writer is to be a great reader.

I’m looking forward to reading her novel. I just hope it doesn’t put me to sleep, as so many literary novels tend to do. Beautiful language about ordinary life can sometimes be very boring, which is why I don’t write literary short stories. I keep the language plain and simple, but add a speculative element to spice up the ordinary life that I often find twisted and absurd.

21 August 2012 UpdateAn opinion piece in The New York Times by Ringwald, “Acting Like A Writer,” explains how acting and writing are closely related to each other. I find that interesting. I consider writing and web comics are closely related to each other in terms of production (read my review of “A Drifting Life” by Yoshihiro Tatsumi).

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