Favorite Book of 2016

In 2016 I read some fantasy novels, historical fiction, historical non-fiction, and a couple of teamwork books.  I don’t count all the online reading I do for research.  I’ve always been a history buff, and have recently been into historical fiction more than any other genre.

I like to go to used book stores and thrift stores and rummage through the stacks.  You never know what you’ll find on those musty shelves.  This year I found The Fencing Master by Arturo Pérez – Reverte at the local Goodwill store.

the-fencing-master

The Fencing Master is set in Madrid in 1868 during the Spanish Revolution that disposed Queen Isabella II.  While the politics taking place in Madrid are a strong backdrop to the story, it really centers around the fencing master Don Jaime and his adherence to the older social structure of honor and fencing.  This way of life has been all but displaced by the rise of firearms and a more liberal political order.  The story is a clash between the old and the new and much of the tension is internal to Don Jaime.

The narrative does drag a bit when it focuses too much on the politics, but makes up for it in the characterization of Don Jaime and the focus on fencing.  This book gives the reader a good understanding of the fencing culture of the Early Modern Period in Europe, just like Moby Dick did for the American whaling culture of the 19th century.

I enjoyed the story because of the strong character of Don Jaime, the historical backdrop of the Spanish Revolution, and the fencing content.  It captured the essence of the fencing era from an interesting retrospective viewpoint.

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My Latest Favorite Protagonist

My new favorite protagonist is Cullen Bohannan from the Television show Hell on Wheels.  I just finished watching the show on Netflix.

Wow, great writing, and great acting by Anson Mount.  The character is flawed, and yet you can’t help but cheer him on.  Throughout the show, the complexity of his character is revealed in measured doses, and the growth from a single-minded killer to a more complex character, but still a killer, is awesome.

I was planning to go into detail and talk about archetypes and flawed protagonists, and such, but decided that it is better to just recommend the show.  Why try to explain when seeing it would put my words to shame anyway?  Can I say “wow” again?

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How Many O’s are in Oxymoron?

I consider myself a change proponent.  I think change is necessary for growth.  Who wants to live the same day over and over again?  Still, this year has been a bit of a roller coaster at work.  My job changed in May when I moved to a new division—same title and basic job duties but different boss, group of coworkers, and work assignments.  To be fair, I asked for the change.  I work with power plants, and a new plant was opening close to where I live.  I asked to be moved to the new division to support that plant.

I really didn’t fully settle into the new spot when my company decided to restructure.  So now here at the end of the year, I have another new boss, new group of coworkers, and, this time, a new title and job duties.  Still the same company though.

Whew, it’s been one of those years.  I can’t say either change was a bad thing for me.  I’m actually looking forward to the challenge of my new position.  Even though I think the changes have been good, it is still stressful.  I am a routine sort of guy. (I know a routine loving change proponent is a bit of an oxymoron, but, to be fair, my wife just leaves off the oxy part when she addresses me on the subject.)

When work is changing so drastically, I find it hard to focus on anything important in my home life.  So, I haven’t posted much here, or read many books this year, or finished the writing projects I had planned to complete.  Change at work is my excuse.  I wanted to whine about it, but I’m anti-whine.  I planned to just get over it and get busy, but I’m a professional procrastinator.  So instead of doing anything truly productive this year, I played games on my PlayStation, and binge-watched Netflix, and ate too much junk food.  Luckily, my pants still (kind of) fit, but my brain feels a bit mushy around the edges.

At this point, I think I’m supposed to make a resolution to get myself back in gear, but it’s the holidays.  Instead, I resolve to lay off the junk food (The fact that we are out of Halloween candy and Christmas cookies has nothing to do with it!) and revisit this whole resolution thing in January like a true procrastinator.  Well, maybe February, because, you know, I’m a non-conformist too.

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Cliff Hanger or Cheap Trick?

cliff-hanger

 

A couple of recent season finales have made me think about how to do a cliffhanger right.  To be honest, the last season finale of The Walking Dead pissed me off enough to stop watching the show, and it made me think about how they did it wrong.

To do a cliffhanger correctly, you have to entice your audience to want to see the next scene without pissing them off.  It is about building anticipation in the audience to the right degree that they will come back for more.  It is also a way to build tension in your story.  This is often done through some type of revelation or twist to the storyline that happens as part of the cliffhanger or at the beginning of the next scene.

An example of a good cliffhanger was the end of the season 5 of The Game of Thrones.  Jon Snow is stabbed multiple times, and the season ends with him lying in the snow, but is Jon Snow really “dead” dead?  The way the scene ends with Jon lying alone in the snow leaves the option open that he survives.  Also, there were enough hints in the story to that point (people brought back to life) that he could possibly be revived from the dead.  This is enough to leave the audience guessing and to build the tension for the next season without alienating the audience through the use of a “cheap trick.”  The reveal comes later, early in season 6, when the audience finds out if Jon Snow lives.

In contrast, the end of season 6 of The Walking Dead was a cheap trick.  The Walking Dead crew is lined up on their knees with no possibility of escape.  Negan is counting out with his nasty baseball bat, and the audience knows one of their beloved characters is going to die—then the scene ends and the audience has to wait until next season to find out who gets it.  Yes, there is tension.  Yes, there is anticipation for what comes next.  But unfortunately, the audience is left gnashing their teeth in frustration.  I call this artificial tension, where the writer withholds information to create tension with the audience.  Unfortunately, this type of tension creation causes the audience to feel like they are being tricked somehow.

To me this is a cheap trick that turns me off from a story.  The Walking Dead is one of those shows that goes hot and cold from season to season as it is.  This artificial tension season finale was the last straw to make me lose interest in the story.  It was not the zombies or the characters that killed the most popular zombie show for me—it was the writing, and the improper use of a cliffhanger.

 

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Oranges Anyone?

orange-tree

I purchased an orange tree, lemon tree, and lime tree about two years ago.  They are miniature trees and I grow them in pots and put them in the garage for the winter.  The lemon and lime trees both produced fruit the second year, but the orange tree was a bit different.  The first year, all the leaves fell off of it and I thought it might be dead.  I did some checking and figured out my pot didn’t drain and the tree’s root were water bound.  I pulled the leave-less tree out of the pot and drilled my drain holes bigger.  In year two, the leaves came back but the tree did not produce.

This year I have lemons, limes, and oranges.  I’m excited about the oranges and tried one today. It was better than what we can find in the local market.  The lemon and lime crop was better this year than last, and I’m hoping the oranges follow suit next year.  This year it produced seven oranges, so here’s hoping for more in the coming years.

After I figured out what I was doing, growing citrus was not too hard.  Water everyday in the summer months and fertilize every other month.  In the winter (in the garage) I water about once a week.  I also cut them back in the winter to prepare for the next year’s growth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How Many Drafts does it Take?

Tootsie owl

I’m working on the 3rd draft of my latest project. I still don’t have a good title for it, right now I’m calling it Wolf Book 3. As I was sifting through reader feedback, I wondered how many drafts it normally takes for me to get that completed feeling.

I looked back at the last couple of novel projects to see how many drafts I wrote and the magic number is 5. Here’s the breakdown:

Draft 1 — This is the true first draft, where I write it and let it sit for a bit. I typically like to wait at least a month before draft 2.

Draft 2 — Here is the first rewrite. In the past my 1st drafts were pretty bare bones, and I would add quite a bit of detail in the 2nd draft, but lately I’ve had to cut stuff out instead. After this draft, I send the manuscript out for reader comments and/or to a critique group.

Draft 3 — This is the draft where I incorporate feedback that I receive from readers/critiquers. I typically make changes based upon the feedback but don’t dive into a total rewrite.

Draft 4 — After I let the reader feedback percolate a bit, I come back and do my final re-write. This is where I print it out, read it aloud, and re-write until I can’t anymore. After this draft it goes to the editor.

Draft 5 — I make changes based upon editor’s comments and do a final proofread.

We all know that there is no correct way to do this stuff, but this is the way that seems to work for me. How about you?

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Editing Anyone?

I finished the UCSD Copyediting certificate program.  The program consisted of four quarterly classes: Grammar Lab, Copyediting I, II, and II.  The editing project for the last class was pretty challenging.  I recommend this to anyone who is looking to improve their grammar skills and who wants to learn how to use copyediting marks, style sheets, and all that other editor stuff.

This is just one step forward for improving my own writing and helping my fellow writers.  Eventually (sooner rather than later) I plan to dive into the editing side of the business.  In the meantime, I would like to practice the skills I learned.

Any writers out there looking for an edit?  I prefer to start with smaller works.  I would rather look at short stories or essays than a novel at this point.  Yes, this is a freebie, but I am not adverse to trading edits.  I have a few short stories that could use some feedback.

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Filed under Editing, Writing