Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Reading Elimination Tournament Begins - Preview of Round 1

DSC_0052Don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying if a book doesn't make it past the first round that it isn't a good book.  That might be the case, but a publisher somewhere decided to take a chance on it, so it probably isn't too bad...  It just might not be the book for me... and some of these books have been sitting on my bookshelf for almost 20 years.  Either I'm going to read it soon, or not at all... and if I'm not going to read it, I need to pass these books on.  They've been here too long.

Here are the criteria that I'm using to determine if a book goes on to the second round:
  • Whether the first five pages grab and hold my attention making me interested in continuing to read the book.
  • The summary on the back of the book.
  • The blurbs and critical acclaim on the inside of the book.
  • The design of the book cover. You all know that you do it... such a cliche, but we do all judge a book by its cover.
  • The author's name and reputation. This might not seem fair, but all publishers (and most readers too) evaluate the writer's name recognition, sales of past books, awards won, and respect of their peers.
I then will divide these into 8 groups of 8 books and write up what I liked about them, what I didn't like and why it passes to the next round or fails. I may also place some of the books in a "maybe" pile where I'll evaluate them against the other maybes if I need to do so.

Without further ado, here is the list of 64 books:

  • The Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad – Minister Faust (2004)
  • The Risk Pool – Richard Russo  (1986)
  • 100 Years of Solitude – Gabriela Garcia Marquez (1992)
  • @expectations – Kit Reed (2000)
  • If I Don't Six – Elwood Reid (1998)
  • LA Woman – Cathy Yardley (2002)
  • Lonesome Dove – Larry McMurtry  (1985)
  • Freezing – Penelope Evans (1997)
  • A Slipping Down Life – and Tyler (1970)
  • The Outlaws of Sherwood – Robin McKinley (1988)
  • The Businessmen – Thomas M. Disch (1984)
  • The Dead Zone – Stephen King (1979)
  • The Hollow Man – Dan Simmons (1992)
  • The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman (1995)
  • Life After God – Douglas Copeland (1994)
  • Silicon Follies – Thomas Scoville (2001)
  • Black Water – Joyce Carol Oates (1992)
  • Saigon, Illinois – Paul Hoover (1988)
  • A Firing Offense – George P. Pellicano's (1992)
  • A Home at the End of the World – Michael Cunningham (1990)
  • About the Author – John Colapinto (2001)
  • Outlaw School – Rebecca Ore (2000)
  • Music for Torching – A.M. Homes (1999)
  • Farm Fatale – Wendy Holden (2001)
  • The Sweet Hereafter – Russell Banks (1991)
  • Tokyo Sucker Punch – Isaac Adamson (2000)
  • Layover - Lisa Zeidner (1999)
  • Lying Awake – Mark Salzman (2000)
  • A Bigamist's Daughter – Alice McDermott (1982)
  • Treason – Orson Scott card (1979)
  • The Grid – Philip Kerr (1995)
  • The Difference Engine – William Gibson and Bruce sterling (1991)
  • Stronghold: Dragonstar Book 1 – Melanie Rawn (1990)
  • Manifold Time – Stephen Baxter (2000)
  • Lord Foul's Bane – Stephen R Donaldson (1977)
  • Downbelow Station – C. J. Cherryh (1981)
  • Night Duty – Melitta Breznik (1999)
  • Love Invents Us – Amy Bloom (1997)
  • Salem Falls – Jodi Picoult (2001)
  • elsewhere – Gabrielle Zevon (2005)
  • The Feast of Love – Charles Baxter (2000)
  • Seven Types of Ambiguity – Elliot Perlman (2003)
  • Skipped Parts – Tim Sandlin (1991)
  • 21 – Jeremy Iversen (2005)
  • The Silence – Jim Krause (2004)
  • A Regular Guy – Mona Simpson (1996)
  • The Man of the House – Stephen McCauley (1996)
  • Man Crazy – Joyce Carol Oates (1997)
  • Jack – A.M. Homes (1989)
  • Paris Trout – Pete Dexter (1988)
  • The Sportswriter – Richard Ford (1986)
  • The Book of Joe – Jonathan Tropper (2004)
  • The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint – Brady Udall (2001)
  • Being Alexander – Nancy Sparling (2002)
  • Crossing to Safety – Wallace Stegner (1987)
  • The Stone Diaries – Carol Shields (1993)
  • The Love Letter – Cathleen Schine (1995)
  • Ceremony – Leslie Marmon Silko (1977)
  • The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy (1997)
  • John Henry Days – Colson Whitehead (2001)
  • Vicious Spring – Hollis Hampton Jones (2003)
  • Geek Love – Katherine Dunn (1983)
  • Strawberry Tattoo – Lauren Henderson (1999)
  • Turn-of-the-Century – Kurt Anderson (1999)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Reading Elimination Tournament -- 64 Books, So Little Time

DSC_0051I buy a lot of books.  My particular weakness, trade paperbacks in the bargain bins of Half-Price Books, at library book sales or wherever else I pick them up.  As a result, I have a huge backlog of books that I may never get too and my shelves are overflowing, so I need to get rid of some books. So here is what I'm going to do.  I'm going to take 64 books off of my shelves and I'm going to put them in an elimination tournament.  I'd love to do this as a March Madness thing, but let's face it, even following my bizarre rules, no one can possibly read 64 books in a month so here's how the process works:
  • Round #1 -- I read the first 5 pages of these 64 random books from my collection and select the 32 books that I'm most interested in continuing to read. I'm going to focus on the writing craft of these books and note what interested me (or didn't) and give you at least a brief description of why it made it (or didn't) to the next round.
  • Round #2 -- From the reading of the first five pages I will organize the remaining books into "brackets" of those that are sort of alike.  In the books that I've selected is a wide range of literary tastes: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Literary, Popular Fiction, and even some award winners and classics. I will read the first 25 pages of these books and eliminate 16 of them.
  • Round #3 -- The Sweet 16: I will read an additional 25 pages of these books (50 pages) and eliminate 8 of them... At this point I may "set aside" some of the books to finish later even if I eliminate them, but who knows.
  • Round #4 -- The Elite 8: These books I will read to the end, or until I get bored of it, and eliminate the number to the Final 4.
  • Round #5 -- Down to 2.
  • Round #6 -- Determines the Grand Champion of the 2011Reading Elimination Tournament.

How does this benefit you? Free books!  If you want a book that has been eliminated, just let me know and I'll give it to you (either in person, or ship it to you for the media mail shipping cost (probably $2.50).  Unless the books in the final rounds absolutely enthrall me, causing me to add it to my Fiction Hall of Fame, chances are that most of the "winners" will be available for you as well.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Great Writing Means Nothing If You Don't "Ship" It

I finished up Seth Godin’s Linchpin on a week ago on Friday and a couple of the concepts within the book have been with me all week. One of which is the importance of deadlines.
I have a huge problem with deadlines.  I always have. I’m not good at setting them or keeping them.  But Seth has an interesting perspective on them.  Bottom line: You can have great ideas and great products but they mean nothing if they don’t “ship.”  You have to have a deadline or a drop dead ship date in order to force yourself to get the item out the door. It is tempting to hang onto an project wanting to tweak it a bit more, make one more revision or find that perfect window when the stars align perfectly and the time is right for you to release your book.

Do you want to write a novel?  Set a deadline for completion. Feel crazy?  Tell people about that deadline. Tell a LOT of people about it. And then… remind them about it. OFTEN. 

So what have you been avoiding shipping? A novel to an agent? Submitting a short story or article to a magazine? Just getting a regular writing practice started?  Showing your work to a local writing group? Set a date. Make it a reasonable one, but make the date. Write it down somewhere where you can see it every day. Tell people about it.  And no matter what happens… you “ship” that product on that day. No matter what.  If you don’t think it is good enough, don’t worry about it.  You can always make a few revisions later. Even big publishers have made corrections before printing another edition of a book. Remember no one and nothing is perfect. Perfection is a tool of control for your Inner Critic.

I’ve had several projects in my queue for years.  I have them in various states of completion, but I never seem to push through that wall to get the product to the shipment date.
JumpStart Jar - Fantasy Sci-Fi Edition Label

Case in point:  My Fantasy Sci-Fi JumpStart Jar.  I have the supplies.  The label has been designed, finalized and printed.  The content for the jar was 90% completed when I lost my source files stored on my flash drive.  And guess what?  I never backed up the files.  This totally deflated any enthusiasm I had for the project. Essentially, I had to start over from scratch.  This happened almost 2 years ago, and I’ve worked my way back up having it about 60% complete right now. Very slowly.  I work on it for a couple of days here and there, but have not made a continuous effort to get it done. Sometimes these efforts are months apart.  With that amount of time passing you lose focus. You forget where you left off.  You forget how far along you are in the project, and it takes a lot more energy to get focused and push it forward. 

So here is my bold statement:  The Fantasy Sci-Fi JumpStart Jar will ship on June 30th.  Order it now. It will be completed and good to go on that very day. No matter what.