Monday, September 28, 2009

Easy Come, Easy Go.

So I had a great week two weeks ago. Woke up on time. Worked out early in the morning. Wrote on my blog, did research for the outline of my novel. Even had plenty of time to rip through a few books that I'd been wanting to read.

Life has a way of changing on a dime, and unless you are always on the ball and don't make excuses from events around you, it's very easy to fall into The Trap. I'm not one of those, life hands my lemons, I throw my hands up in the air and decide to play video games instead of make the lemonade.

Last week was a big Trap for me. Work got busy and made me stay late each day, insomnia crept in, my wife had some things to do at night so I took over homework and bedtime responsibilities. It's amazing how quickly you can go from great to horrible overnight.

I woke up (late again) on Thursday realizing that I'd only done the rough draft of my blog post. I sat down mumbling to myself about it and decided that I was just going to skip it. Well, skipping it turned into a all-weekend long thing.

So here it is, late Sunday night, finally sitting down to get back into the swing of things. Life loves to spice things up and last week was just too spicy. The great thing about weeks however, is you can restart them over and over, so here goes.

Let's get back into the game!

Monday, September 21, 2009


Ahh the typewriter, something my children already know as an antique. I wonder if the keyboard will be as antiquated by the time they are explaining it to their jacked-in Matrix-style children? Technology moves fast, but sometimes old standbys work well.

It really is hard to beat pen and paper. Sure we might not have to kill animals for hides or use chisels for cutting stone anymore, but the basic premise of a writing tool manually used by human hands to permanently mar a writing surface have served mankind for thousands of years. 

The printing press helped bring the printed word to the masses, but I don’t think the writing scene really changed till the typewriter was introduced in the 1800’s. Now we’ve taken the next step, to computers, and I doubt we’ll ever look back. 

Nowadays entire books can be sent from country to country in mere seconds. Print on Demand devices like the Espresso can have an entire trade paperback in you hands in just a few minutes. Printed, glued, cut, and bound. 

While the ability to get words to print has been streamlined, I struggle sometimes with getting thoughts to words in the first place. If I’m walking down the road or in the shower when an idea comes to me, it’s hard to jump on a keyboard and get those ideas down before I lose them. I still find pen and paper invaluable for those spontaneous outbursts of muse. 

That’s why I still strive to keep around pen and paper. Not everywhere, mind you, but anywhere I might spend a lot of time; the car, office, bed-stand; you’ll find ye-olde writing utensils, ready for me to jot something down.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Book Review: The Host: A Novel

Dear Reader:

If I ever ever think about reading another Stephenie Meyer book, please take my Kindle away.

I told myself I was done with the Twilight series but no! I had to trust Amazon's "top 10" lists and throw caution to the wind.

The Host, touted as a sci-fi novel, is the tale of a Soul (alien) that is implanted into a human here on earth and takes over her body. As cool as this possible alien invasion sounds, the book was a romance novel. Course the entire Twilight  series was as well, so there is little doubt that my daughter would love this book just as much.

I just can't take the selfless female hell-bent on making others happy at the expense of causing herself pain and anguish. No more. I wouldn't put up with it in my life.

Now don't get me wrong, it was a pretty good novel. I have to hand it to Stephenie for coming up with unique ways of bringing vampires and aliens to life. I just don't like her genre.

Despite my self-loathing (it's rubbing off on me apparently) for reading yet-another book by her, Stephenie came up with a pretty darn good tale. She's quite imaginative. Phoenix isn't brought up in many books, and it's pretty neat seeing my home-town in a story. I appreciate the localization.

So read it if you must. If you liked Twilight, you will probably like The Host. If, like me, you wanted to slap Bella into next week partway through New Moon, don't' say I didn't warn you.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

How I spend my time writing. Part Five: Research

Oh research, how you like to wile away my time! I love research, Jennifer doesn't. When it comes time to figure out what new mattress we should buy, or the best price/performance ratio for a new TV, I’m all over that. I could spend hours (and have) doing nothing but researching. Some might call it surfing the web, but I prefer to call it research.
So how important is research for novels? Depends. I always imagined Dan Brown or Tom Clancy doing copious amounts of research to weave such an intricate tale into modern or recent history. Finding obscure references from ancient texts or linking ancient masonic symbols into the latest thriller novel seems like it’s something you definitely need research for. Or you could just make shit up. It works for many authors, like Stephen King, who wrote stories about places he'd never visited.
Which sorts of things should I research? I say research what you need in order to make the story come alive. In reading the Twilight series, I wondered if Stephenie Meyer ever visited Forks, or if it was just a made up town. Turns out it’s a real town, and their official website is capitalizing on her novels. Regardless of wether she visited the town or not, Stephenie needed to understand enough about the town so that she could represent it well enough in her books to make it come alive. Things like how long it takes Bella to drive from her home to high school or La Push help bring the story alive to the reader. Things that we can relate to, like driving distances or falling down on the ice after living in Phoenix your whole life give us relatable experiences that draw in your reader. 
How much time should I dedicate to research? You probably can’t research a topic too much. But I’m also (ahem) a newbie writer and will probably redact that statement as time goes on. I say it from a standpoint of a writer who’s still working on getting into the groove. Some might say it’s hampering my creativity, but it makes me feel more comfortable when I know more about a topic. Not all that research should make it into the story, only the parts that you need to convey to the reader. The more I know about a topic, the more minute details I can convey to the reader without having to give the bigger picture. It makes me seem smarter than I really am, knowing those details.
As for finding the time, good luck on that one. I can literally spend all day surfing the…I mean researching things. The trick I use is to keep a list (long list for me) of topics I need to research and when I find 10 minutes here and there I snag those, grab the topic at the top and start. A smartphone with internet connectivity comes in handy here if you’re on the go a lot. I count reading in your genre as research.
How do I do it? My favorite tool is an RSS reader. I also use Wikipedia and of course my favorite Professor of all, Google.
What am I working on right now? Well I recently pulled up a small town in Vermont on Google Maps that I’m finding pictures of so that I can incorporate those into my story. Google Maps, or the more robust Google Earth is great because it incorporates pictures that users have uploaded from that area. Now I can see exactly how that lake looks, or the pipeline that hangs 14 feet over the dirt road. Those are details I can incorporate into my story to make my characters (and the reader) seem like they know the area.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Book Review: The Lost Symbol

The Lost Symbol
by Dan Brown

I read this book on my Kindle, so it was already downloaded by the time I woke up yesterday. Read for an hour during lunchtime and I knew I was hooked. Started reading again after work and don't even remember eating. Finished around midnight. I've loved Robert Langdon in his previous two books and this one was another great read. Dan Brown mixes ancient texts and real-life locations with made-up people. I couldn't stop reading.

Reading the book is like listening to a lecture on history, science, religion, and architecture. But while the instructor is talking to you he is juggling a live grenade, chainsaw, and a feral cat at the same time. You know something is going to go bad, you just don't know which item at which point.

That is until the end. The feral cat and the grenade has gone off, the chainsaw's out of gas, but the instructor didn't get through all of his material, so he info dumps the last bit on you as the bell is ringing and you are pining to get out the door and go to lunch.

That's what reading the book is like. I loved the book, don't get me wrong, I just felt like it was too much like college. You can get past the lecturing as long as there is a grenade in the room. Other than the last 5% of the book and Dan's serious push about God in the book, I liked The Lost Symbol. I was a little dissapointed in what the symbol actually was, but well you'll just have to read the book :-)

Monday, September 14, 2009

How I spend my time writing. Part Four: Actually Writing

I try to write every day. I don’t meet that goal, but I try. Writing on a daily basis helps keep my mind focused on my goal of finishing a novel next year. 
So how do I find time to write? It was easy. I cut back on video games, TV and movies. Three things that I certainly enjoyed, but were low on the priority list when I need more time to devote to certain tasks. I still sit down and watch a movie with the family every couple weeks, and I can’t avoid 30 Rock, but cutting back on the hours was the easy part. The hard part is actually doing something with those available hours.
What time I’ve gained does not translate directly to hours writing. Once I sit down at the computer there are a myriad of things to distract me. Facebook needs checking, see who is listed on instant messenger, my RSS reader has 14 new articles, should I check my email just in case someone sent me something important? 
To help me combat this deluge of distractions, I created a second login on my computer just for writing. I removed all the icons from the desktop, I cleaned up as much as I could. Black and white desktop background, only the most essential programs available from the dock that I need to write. This certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s better. I still have access to the internet, I could get distracted nearly as easy, but it helps, and it’s enough to keep me focused on my task at hand.
My writing schedule isn’t set in stone. I’m working on trying to find the optimum time for me to write. Some days I do it right after work, but that doesn’t always work that well for me as I’m generally too wound up to get into the mood. That’s right, the old headache excuse, it works for guys too ya know.
Writing once the kids are in bed has it’s merits, but it’s also the only time I have in a day to spend time with my wife, so I’m torn. Plus if I’m too wound up from writing, I’ll have a hard time falling asleep and I’ve been working really hard to get my sleep patterns better the last few months.
The morning would work but living in the Phoenix area means the only good time I can go walking outside is early in the morning, so right now that’s out. Till I figure it out better, I’ll just find time in my day and make sure I write. 
Regardless of what time I work on my novel, the blog is still priority for now. So it gets the available slot in the mornings before work. Blogging helps me organize my thoughts and I have a surprising number of ideas that pop into my head while I’m working on my blog. The idea I had while I was writing this was how my book is being influenced by His Dark Materials series…that’s something I’ll have to make sure I tone down. Then again that series is one of my favorites, maybe I’ll leave it in!
So with all those thoughts down, I’ll close down this blog entry and actually get some writing done. My next blog entry will be on research, something I’ll be doing a lot of in the coming weeks.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Book Review: His Dark Materials

His Dark Materials
by Philip Pullman

Story of Lyra who is swept up into one of the most epic battles between good and evil.

I just finished the trilogy tonight. Wow what a rush. Pullman knows how to tell a good story. I also appreciated his ability to make up vast worlds and the creatures within them is amazing. I hope that I can learn to describe in my book half as well as him. Now I should re-watch the movie!

Prior to this I'd only made it halfway through the entire series, it was great to finally finish all three books. Not sure if this series is in my top ten, I'd have to sit down and make a top 10 list first...maybe for a future posting.

Sorry so short, but this is the first one I've done and I'm not sure about how I want to format these reviews. Mainly I just want to document my reading and hopefully pass on any good book ideas to my readers.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Eight Years - a special 9/11 tribute post.

Eight Years. Four Planes. 3017 Lives Lost.
My employer allowed us to take the day off. Most of us did that day, no work getting done regardless. The hours huddled in front of the television that night with my wife and small children, wondering what the future would hold.
Ever since that day, we have been a nation divided. Two elections that have polarized the left and the right. Two wars that may provide more questions than answers. Two Presidents with very differing views on how to run our great country. 
Laws have been passed. Citizen’s rights have been revoked. Racial profiling has occurred. The government has much more access into our personal lives. Sons have been taken from mothers.
Has much changed? Some wonder if we’ll ever get past it as a nation. Sometimes I wonder if we’ve already forgotten. Plenty has changed however. The question is do we even notice?  How many keep close in their minds the events of that day? How many of us barely pay it a thought? Do we get irritated as we’re taking our shoes off at the airport? How much security do we really have? Is it keeping the terrorists out or is it keeping the citizens in? How do we honor our dead properly while still having business space on some of the most expensive real estate in the world?
I watch as my children get dressed and head off to school. Today is special. Today is Tribute to America Day. Teachers and faculty don’t speak to them about the events of that day, they only speak of how great our nation is. The schools treat it like another 4th of July, when it should be treated like another Pearl Harbor. How can we belittle the dead like that? What do we hope to accomplish by not being honest and open with our children?
I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in God, I believe in people. I believe in our nation. I believe that we can rise above the divisions that have been weighing us down for so long. I believe that we as a nation are still strong, that we will fight for our freedoms, and not be bogged down in tyranny. I believe that we can overcome and triumph and become better people.
Regardless of your religious, political, or moral views, I hope that we as a nation can set those aside today to properly honor our dead. I hope that we can be a nation indivisible, as our founding fathers hoped we would be.  I hope that we present a strong front and an even stronger foundation. 
I will not forget.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

How I spend my time writing. Part Three: Reading

So why is reading so important and what should you be reading? There are a number of reasons why reading is so important for writers. It helps you understand the genre in which you are writing better. Reading also helps you learn which topics to expound upon or even avoid in your own writing. Learning what other people have done before you will also help develop your own voice as a writer, The more reading you do, the easier it becomes to write because you’ve spent so much time learning the craft of writing with out even knowing you were being taught. You’re essentially taking English and creative writing classes for free while enjoying a good story. It might not be a lot, but you’ll pick up on more than you think.

If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write.
-Stephen King

So what are good things to read? First off read what you love. Reading anything is more important that not. As the venerable Mark Twain said, “
The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them.” So make sure you are reading all the time. In doing a little research on this blog post I came across a comment by a reader that said he read one book per week. Personally I find this pretty doable, but I’m a fast reader. Do what is comfortable. Do it every day.

Reading before bed is the best time for me. I have had trouble sleeping for years and the old curling up with a good book is one of the best things to help me relax, at least half of the time. The other half it ends up keeping me up till 3 am because I can’t put the book down. Oh well, at least I’m reading right?

Read books about writing. As a newbie writer who has no formal training in the craft of writing, or the English language (see previous entires on how little I learned in High School), I have a lot to teach myself. I need to re-learn grammar, punctuation, outlining, plot, characterization. Whole mess of stuff that I have to cram into this brain of mine.

I love the Dummies books. Whenever I want to learn a new topic, be it gardening, writing, philosophy or yoga, I find myself gravitating to the Dummies series of books. They are concise, funny, and I find give you a good overall knowledge on a particular topic. There is probably a reason why they’ve lasted so long and sell so well. They also give me a bibliography and usually plenty more books to put on my reading list.

Past the dummies plug however, there are many many books by authors on how to write. I’ll be posting those up in future posts as I read through them. Right now I’m reading First Draft in 30 Days by Karen Wiesner. Mid-way though writing chapter two of my novel I realized I had no idea where I was going with my story. So I stopped a week and a half ago and I’m forcing myself to not write any more until I have a solid detailed outline in front of me.

So what have I just finished reading?

I recently (finally) finished the Harry Potter Series. (Had to re-read 1-6 before I picked up 7)

I also finished the Twilight series.

I’m currently reading His Dark Materials Series again. (Pullman is one of my favorite authors. )

In the near future I have The Dark Tower series I want to read again. (Again one of my favorite series of books.)

I’ve also come across a new series called The Dark is Rising, that I’ll probably pick up after that.

I also can’t wait for Dan Brown’s new book to get released. I was a fan of Angels and Demons before Da Vinci Code hit it big. So glad he has another one being released soon.

I’ll be starting a new segment once I finish my next set of books. I’ll start posting up mini-reviews of the books that I finish. It will help me document what I’ve read and what notes I had on that book (useful for me to refer back to) plus I hope I might turn on my readers to something new.

So what are you reading? What series are your favorites? If you’ve read any of the books I’ve listed what are your thoughts on them?

Monday, September 7, 2009

How I spend my time writing. Part Two: Blog baby blog!

   I like the process as it gives me specific tasks to complete each day of the week. This keeps me coming back to the computer on a daily schedule and forces me to appease the writing side of myself every day. I believe that anyone can squeeze an hour out of their day if they truly want to accomplish something. This blog is important to me, so it's one of the first things I do early in the morning. I make it a priority and I'm sure the time I spend on it is worth it.

   The thought of spending 7 hours on a secondary pursuit that is not actually writing the novel may seem contradictory. After all, I could be spending those 7 hours a week actually writing my novel. So why do I devote so much time to blogging? Two main reasons: first it gets me thinking about writing on daily basis, and the second main reason is marketing.

   Writing on a daily basis is important. I put this novel down 15 years ago and have found enough excuses to not pick it back up again till now. I don't want to risk that again. Blogging on a daily basis keeps me focused on the writing process. I have a lot of research to do for this novel, both for inside the book and for the writing craft itself. The blog gives me a place to organize those thoughts as well as refine my skills as a writer. I have to come up with ideas, lay them out in a logical pattern, do the actual writing, then copious amounts of editing to make each post worthy of being published. By nature I'm a sloppy writer. This process every week helps me slowly pay attention to details, so that as I write my novel I'm more apt to write better, have fewer edits down the road, and thus become better overall.

   While writing the book is important, marketing the book is the other half of the coin that many people don't think about. As a new author, I'll be among thousands of book pitches out there on the market. How I present my brand (book as well as my own) is going to be important. Blogging helps me develop a sense of who I am as a writer. Hopefully when that book deal hits the shelves and I'm being interviewed by Oprah I'll have already answered all questions to myself in the blog before I do them in front of a live audience. It also gets me thinking about the mechanics of publishing and marketing early in the book’s career. I have a short window to get my book sold. Now's the time to start thinking about how that will happen, and building up the buzz for when my novel is released.

   So blogging is an integral part of the writing process, at least for me. With the change of tides in the writing and publishing industry, we’ll see how it integral it becomes in the future. At very least, all authors need to have a website, and should be keeping their fans updated on various things. I hope this blog accomplishes all that I’ve set out to do.

   How has blogging helped you in your life? Do you use it as a journal, as a marketing tool, or even as your writing method of choice? As always comments are welcome and encouraged.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Change in URL

Quick post to let everyone know I changed the URL for this blog to be The URL should have auto-updated if you got here from the previous link.

I think the URL meets the goals of this blog better and will be more of a general writing and publishing blog than the tale of a specific novel.

Please pass this url along to anyone you thing might be interested in my blog.

Many Thanks,

Tom H.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

How I spend my time writing. Part One: Time itself

Time is always on most minds these days. I don't have enough time. I need 28 hour or 36 hour days to get everything done. I hear things like this all the time (get it) and personally I think it's a bunch of crap. I'm a very reality-based person, I don't like dealing with "what-if's" if I can help it. We can't control time. Short of being on a spaceship traveling close to the speed of light, nothing we can do, nothing we read, no amount work or effort will succeed with us slowing down time or adding more hours to our day.

So what are we supposed to do if we can't change time? We can manage our own better. 

I'm always getting after my kids when they clean their room to make better use of their time. Instead of picking up piece of garbage and walking all the way to the kitchen to the trashcan, pick up 5 or 10, or better yet bring the trashcan to your room one time. Those of you that know me personally understand all the different hobbies I flitter in and out of almost on a monthly basis. I have the attention span of a 1st grader without all the cuteness. I try to be realistic about what I can and cannot do.

In getting ready for this novel I've decided to break my time up in smaller chunks. I know that I don't have the focus to sit down for 6 hours at a time and hammer on the keyboard yet. I'm just not that good.  In breaking up my writing throughout the day, it helps me stay focused on the task at hand. I'm also less likely to allow each task to take over too much of my valuable time and I can ensure each area gets some time each day. 

Going from a do-nothing guy to writing a book has been a humbling experience. I'm an avid gamer, and outside of work and family, the last 4+ years have found myself filling up  my free-time with games, mainly World of Warcraft. I've made plenty of friends there and find it quite an enjoyable use of time. However a lot of that had to change when I decided to re-start writing a novel. Not only do I need to find time to write, but I also needed to research on how to write, publish, and market my book. Don't forget spending time reading similar books from other authors in the genre. I also decided to start up this blog as somewhat of a creative/research outlet as well as a future marketing tool. This all takes time. So WoW has been put on the back burner (though I still show up to our Thursday night raids to wipe on Hodir :-)

The next few posts will focus on how I break up my writing schedule.

So how have I allotted my time? I have four main things that I do on a daily basis that have filled in all those extra gaps of time:

  • Blogging
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Research

The next four blog posts will go into more detail on these four subjects. As always, comments are welcome and encouraged.