Thursday, December 19, 2013

Generous 5-Star Review of CANALS

I admit I don’t visit Goodreads often enough. Sometimes not for months. But, when I do, I like to see if any new reviews have been posted for my novels. 

I found one today. Here’s the link in case you want to see the original review.

Here’s the text of the review:
Canals starts off as a typical crime thriller as Detective Daniel Lawless comes to the scene of a dismembered body by a canal in California. Everett Powers then develops a wonderful story written in the style of a good police drama. Every character the reader meets is given a full introduction, it is not a case of "this is John, a 20 year old man" - you get to know each character as a real person. This character development is true for everyone, whether they continue to the end of this novel or meet a violent death.
Detective Daniel Lawless is a different type of policeman and has a quirky character. He likes opera and has a collection of 82 pairs of shoes giving him the nickname of shoe boy when he was at school. Before he can solve this death by the canal, another death occurs along a nearby canal. Something is going on around the canal network but can Danny solve the case before more people are killed?
Slowly the reader finds that this is not your typical crime thriller. Little bits of information are drip fed into the story to make you think that something nasty may be lurking in the canals. Bit by bit this story becomes a science fiction novel.
Everett Powers develops a wonderful plot that bit by bit becomes a race for Daniel Lawless to save the day. The reader along with Daniel begins to understand just what is going on along the canals and we begin to get the bigger picture.
Canals is a very entertaining read. I like the way it moved from a crime thriller to a thought provoking science fiction story. The message at the end is very moving and forces you to consider real life global issues.
I can find nothing wrong with Canals. It is a great story that was told with precision and detail. The writing is top quality and it was a joy to read. I enjoy walking my dog along canals and now I will always wonder what may be in the water. I vote this book the top score of 5 stars. Canals is available as a 609 KB Amazon Kindle eBook and was written in 2011.
CANALS was the first novel I completed and my only horror/sci-fi novel. The Grant Starr novels are thrillers.

CANALS can be purchased for 99 cents right now at your favorite ebook retailer. 

I noticed Amazon is selling the quality paperback for $14.39, though I don’t know why. I never lowered the price from $15.99 and it’s sold only on Amazon.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Finished 1st Draft of The Mighty T Screenplay

I finished the first draft of my adaptation of The Mighty T to the silver screen. It weighs in at 120 pages, about 20 above my goal.

I was advised that new screenwriters shouldn't turn in scripts longer than 90-105 pages, but when I looked at the winning scripts for the recent Nicholl competition, they were all about 120 pages. We'll see how it looks after edits.

Some nuts-and-bolts stuff about my process.

1.  The screenplay resides in Scrivener for Mac at the moment and will until it's ready for submission. Scrivener has a screenwriting mode, which makes it easy to format while you write.

2.  I have Scrivener sync the screenplay onto Dropbox in Fountain format. That way I can work on it on either my iPad or, as I did yesterday, on a PC. Edited documents synced perfectly the next time I load Scrivener. I tried typing a new document using Fountain syntax but Scrivener put it in a trash folder when it synced. I'm not sure why. I copy and pasted the new doc into Scrivener but had to format it line by line. Kind of a hassle.

3.  I wrote with iA Writer on the iPad and Word on the PC. I've used a Mac since March and it was a bit rough going back to a PC. It didn't help that it had a cheap keyboard with poor tactile feedback.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Adapting a Novel to the Screen - Part 1

Page 1, The Mighty T Screenplay

While waiting for feedback from some excellent readers who are reading SUNSET HILL, I decided to try my hand at adapting one of my novels to film; i.e., write a screenplay. I thought, I've written four novels, how hard could it be to write a screenplay for one?

Little did I know...

Screenplays and novels are not alike in the least. Novels can be 350 pages of prose while a screenplay should come in at about 100 pages. And no prose. They must consist of mostly action and dialogue with very little description. If a character must be described, it should be no longer than one sentence.

Peter Stone was the screenwriter for the original The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (1976) (Stone passed away on 2003.) He's an Oscar, Tony, and Emmy winning writer. He talked about the differences between writing a screenplay and a novel in the commentary feature on the Charade DVD.
“When I couldn’t sell the original screenplay (for Charade) I was advised by my wife, and my agent concurred, to turn it into a novel. I had never written a novel and it was in the course of writing the novel that I came to realized that I had no ability for writing novels at all. It’s a different set of muscles. There are very, very few people who can write dramatic material and narrative prose. Very few. Chekhov could do it. There are some today who can do it. Richard Price can do it. Crichton. They just call on a different set of muscles. One is descriptive and uses language in a way that dramatic material does not.
Dramatic material—everything has to be revealed through behavior, that’s all you have to reveal it with. And description plays such a small part in it. It’s just a different set of muscles at work and I don’t have them, or I never developed them, or I wasn’t interested in them or something. But I sure discovered it immediately. So it was a rotten novel.” (Emphasis added.)
"A different set of muscles." That's exactly what it feels like to me.

I've decided to adapt The Mighty T for film.

I Googled screenwriting, found a bunch of good information, and talked to a writer I met on Twitter, Katherine Bennet, who is a screenwriter. Alright. Ready to write that screenplay. After I reread the book. It'd been a while.

When I stopped to come up for air, I was 45 pages in. Unfortunately, I was on page 37 of the novel. Yeah, that won't cut it. At that pace I'd end up with a 500 page screenplay, enough for five movies.

Back to the drawing board.

Katherine strongly suggested using Chris Soth's Mini Movie Method: Organize the screenplay into eight "mini movies," each 12-15 pages long. It is supposedly the format Hollywood is looking for in a screenplay. I just couldn't wrap my brain around that format, though. Not for The Mighty T, at least. And, I'm very impressed by the movies coming out of Hollywood these days. Most are terrible.

So, instead, I decided to use the three acts format, with act 2 broken into two parts. I've organized the novel thusly:

Act I - the killing of the utility GMs
Act II, Part 1 - blowing up the Jones Pumping Plant
Act II, Part 2 - blowing up the O'Shaughnessy Dam
Act III - the attack on the Don Pedro Dam

Each act gets about 25 pages. 

The task then becomes, what to cut from the novel? Obviously, much has to be cut. In fact, most of the novel has to be cut. And that hasn't been easy. I've had to cut scenes I really like. It's been a little like having a family of 50 but only being able to take 10 with you on vacation. 

I'm currently into Act II, Part 2, with 54 pages written. (According to Scrivener's page count.) I'm writing the draft for screenplay in Scrivener, because I love it and already own it, but will have to get a dedicated piece of software for the finished product.

I'll post more on the process.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Excerpt from SUNSET HILL

My next Grant Starr thriller, SUNSET HILL, is with the beta readers. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 8.

Grant and Detective Ira Utter of the Seattle Police Department are in Utter’s car heading for a woman’s prison in Gig Harbor where they will interview a convicted killer. Grant is going to try and get the killer to give them the name of her accomplice, who’s started killing again.

Utter is a new character, naturally because he’s in Seattle, Washington, and the other two Grant Starr novels were set in Central California. I didn’t like him much at first because he’s so straight-laced and kind of boring. And, frankly, I didn’t like typing out his name much. But he grew on me and I came to appreciate him, and understand him. His character is in large part his attempt to separate himself from what he was: a drunk.

Grant’s sure the killer they’re looking for is Mindy, who escaped an intense police dragnet after the failed attempt to blow up the Don Pedro Dam in La Grange.

Utter and Grant got into Utter’s department-issued Chevy Impala, and Grant asked Utter, “An Impala, huh? How’d Seattle PD end up with Impalas? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cop driving one.”
“It’s a long story. The short of it is, Chief Dunston’s brother owns a Chevy dealership. They’re not bad cars.”
“I heard they suck.”
“Well ... okay. They do suck. Fortunately, there’s little call for a Seattle detective to engage a suspect in a high-speed chase. We have highway patrol Dodge Chargers for that.”
Grant laughed. “You call in the HP for all car chases?”
“Not all, just the ones where you suspect you might need to go more than eighty. The Impala starts to shimmy at eighty.”
Grant laughed again and said, “How’d the media thing go?”
“Okay. I remembered not to frown.”
“Kept a poker face?”
“Well, it wasn’t like I was being grilled by Mike Wallace or anything. Keely Wolfe asked about you and the others, who you were and why you were here. I said you were consulting because there might a tie-in with a cold case of yours. I hope you don’t mind.”
“I don’t see any harm in it. If you didn’t tell them who we were, they’d think we were feds. That I would’ve been pissed about.”
They swapped stories for thirty minutes until Utter said, “I Googled you this morning. 1970 Ferrari Daytona, huh? From trading stocks?”
“Nah. Short-selling stocks. But I’m out of the game now.”
“Sounds like it was lucrative. And a lot safer than hunting killers. Why not retire and do the stock thing?”
“Because I’d go nuts. Short-selling gave me something to do at night while I dried up. I’d wake up at two or three and flip the computer on, run the numbers instead of reaching for a beer.”
“How long did you drink?”
“Started in high school and didn’t quit until I was twenty-six. Too long, but I know guys who still drink like they did in college, and they’re fifty now.”
“Why’d you quit? If you don’t mind me asking.”
“I don’t mind. I had a woman walk out on me. I thought she was the one, but ... turns out she didn’t like angry drunks. Who can blame her? Hell, I don’t like angry drunks.”
“You in AA?”
“Nope.” Grant turned to look at Utter. “Her leaving was enough of a shock that I just quit. Didn’t feel like I needed any help. You sound like you have a story. You in AA?”
Utter nodded and said, “I’m an alcoholic. A recovering alcoholic, as they teach us to say. Unlike you, I can’t touch a drop. Just smelling a beer makes me break out in a sweat.”
“How long you been sober?”
“Five years, sixty-two days.”
“Still go to meetings?”
“Oh yeah. Probably will the rest of my life, or until I’m too old to drive myself there.”
“I guess your marriage survived. Or is this wife number two?”
“No, Lacey hung in there. Probably for the kids’ sake. I think she’ll leave after they move out.”
“Why do you say that? The worst is over, man.”
“The damage has been done, you know? Say you tell someone you hate them and suggest they jump off the Space Needle. You can apologize the next day, but you can’t take the words back. They’ll always be there, floating somewhere in time and space. Some things can’t be undone.”
“Ah, time can heal most wounds, Ira. She’s stuck with you this long, she’s probably gonna hang in for the long haul.”
Utter was quiet for a few moments, then he said, “I think she’s having an affair. In fact, I’m almost positive she is.”
“Ah man, sorry to hear that. You think it’s a revenge thing? Getting back at you for the years of drinking?”
“Could be. I’m thinking about confronting her about it. What do you think?”
Grant blew out a breath, and thought through his answer. “I hate to think I’ll ever have to deal with that, but if I do, I’ll confront her for sure. There are few things worse than someone you love sneaking around behind your back.”
They were quiet for a while, then Utter said, “Did I tell you she wears makeup to Zumba? Who wears makeup to Zumba?”
“Women care about their appearance more than men, even at the gym. In fact, when I used to go to a public gym, most of the women there had makeup on.”
“Zumba lasts an hour, but she’s usually gone two hours. Sometimes three.”
“Ah man...”

The Washington Corrections Center for Women was tucked into a corner of McCormick Forest Park, off Washington State Route 16. Utter exited at the Burnham Interchange, wound down Sehmel Drive, then hooked a left on Bujacich Drive, which cut through the park as it led to the prison.
“Sure is pretty country,” Grant said. “Is it always this green?”
“It’s why we’re called the Evergreen State,” Utter said. “This side of the Cascades is always like this. It turns white when it snows, but otherwise is green year round. I assume you’ve got a plan for interviewing Sorrentino? Is there anything you want me to do? Keep my trap shut? Play good-cop bad-cop with you?” He smiled.
“I’ve got a plan, but nothing elaborate. Feel free to jump in if you think you have something to add.”
When they pulled into the prison parking lot, Utter said, “Is there anything you want to ask me about Sorrentino before we go in?”
“I think I got all I need from the files.”

Monday, July 22, 2013

Busy with my paper edit

I've been busy lately with my paper edit. I blogged about this before here.

I edit three different ways:

1) On-screen

2) On paper

3) On an eReader, in my case an iPad

I finished the on-screen editing a couple of weeks ago and am in the 12th chapter of my paper edit. Sunset Hill will have 14 chapters, so I'm almost done. I'll probably do a second paper edit on chapters 12–14. They're the most recently written chapters and so haven't been gone through as much as the others, and they're the most important because... You'll have to wait and see.

I'm pleased I'm finding very few actual typos or incorrect word usages. The most common error to pop up, 3 or 4 times, has been "there're" instead of "they're". And I've changed a lot of "in"s into "into"s.

I write and print manuscripts in Courier, size 11. 12 is too big and 10 is too small. 11 allows for just the right about of text on a line. The paragraphs are 1½-spaced, not double-spaced. I don't need them to be double-spaced.

I'm using a Nakami Vanishing Point fountain pen for editing, with a fine nib. The nib size is just right, allowing me to write more than you'd think between the lines and in the margins. I don't use the plastic cartridges but rather fill it from an ink bottle. The pen is very easy to fill. I use the Delta brand ink, at Bert's recommendation.

The pen looks just like this:

The nib appears when you push the button at the other end of the pen. Otherwise it's safely nestled inside the body of the pen where it won't cause a mess. The pen finds nicely in a shirt pocket and is rather large; perfect for my big hands.

You can buy the pen at Bert's Inkwell, if you like. Don't forget to get a bottle of the Delta Ink. I use blue ink because it's easily seen on a black and white page and is appropriate for all other writing uses. Other colors such as red would be more visible on the page, but you shouldn't write on checks or sign important documents with colors like red. Blue is universal.

I've also used a Pilot Precise V rolling ball pen for editing. (Pilot makes the Nakami Vanishing Point pen as well.) It has a very fine writing point and displays how much ink is left so you know when you're about to run out. But, a fountain pen has so much more class than an ordinary rolling ball pen, and I like to use my expensive purchases when I can.

As for printing the drafts, Scrivener makes it easy. Chapters are set up as folders in Scrivener's Binder display. Each scene is a text file in a chapter folder. In scrivenings mode, where the scenes of a chapter appear as a continuous stream of text, I click File, Print Current Document. On my Mac, the print screen tells me how many pages are in the chapter so I can be sure I have enough paper in my old LaserJet 1320. I buy Georgia Pacific multipurpose paper from Walmart for about $3.50 or so a ream, the 92 brightness paper.

Back to editing.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wrap-Up Chapters and First Edits

Did Papa really say that?
I finished the first draft of SUNSET HILL a couple of Saturdays ago. I had originally set a goal of 100,000 words, but it came in long at 119K. I'm okay with that; CANALS was 150K, THE MIGHTY T 105K, and DEATH OF A MATADOR about 125K. As I wrote here, 125K is a good length. For comparison, King's UNDER THE DOME has about 335K words.
The word count will likely grow by the time I finish with edits. I feel like it needs a short chapter to wrap-up loose ends, but I have mixed feelings about that. I tend to overdo wrap-up chapters.
Wrap-Up Chapters
CANALS had a fairly long epitaph where I wrote a follow-up on the church the monsters had done their worst work in, and a long follow-up on Lawless and Baskill. I thought the Baskill thing worked, but some readers said it should've been left out.
In THE MIGHTY T, I wrote a lengthy follow-up on the restoration of the Hetch Hetchy Valley, or what I guessed might happen should the O'Shaughnessy Dam be removed. I received a little criticism for that, too. That novel has quite an exciting ending and some readers thought I should've left well enough alone.
DEATH OF A MATADOR originally ended with the capture of ______ (no spoilers—you'll have to read it to learn who was captured and who got away). One beta reader complained the ending was too abrupt so I wrote a few pages of wrap-up. It was brief.
I think most readers want to know what happens to at least the main characters, but in particular they want to be reassured the bad guys didn't get away with it. Even though in real life they often do.
Editing The First Draft
Most editing done on the first draft is mundane work. I like to use real street names, real business names, real landmarks, etc. Often, when I'm working on a first draft, I don't want to stop writing to look back in the text for the correct street or business name because it can break my rhythm. I'll put an *asterisk by whatever I choose to write, which lets me know it needs to be looked up when I'm editing. Or I'll put something in parentheses.
I rarely make big story changes when editing the first draft. I try and make sure I've thought through logistical issues when penning a first draft so I'm not bothered with them later.
For instance, in SUNSET HILL I've got a bad guy with a cop's iPhone. iPhones have GPS functions and are fairly easy to track, if the phone is left on. Cops would know this yet I had the cops not thinking of it. Cops wouldn't normally bother with tracking a phone that's been stolen, but they would if the thief is a cop killer. I had to rewrite several scenes where I had the bad guy actually get rid of the phone.
If I don't catch stuff like this while writing the first draft, I'll catch it during the first edit.
The first edit is done electronically, meaning I either edit on-screen or on my iPad. I have Scrivener sync the manuscript with Dropbox and use Storyist for the iPad to edit the .rtf files in the draft. Storyist doesn't save the file to the same directory in Dropbox, which gives me a layer of security.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Thoughts on Novel Length

Yesterday I topped 100K words in the novel I'm writing. It got me thinking about novel length. These days, the general consensus seems to be most readers enjoy novels in about the 80K area, give or take 10K words. I gleaned this from reading various blog posts and opinion pieces on the great big Internet.

I like a novel that's a bit longer than that, 100-125K, or 325-400 printed pages, but that preference has evolved. Back in the day, I used to like long novels like those written by Stephen King and Tom Clancy. How many novels have those authors published that pushed or topped 1,000 pages? King, several. Clancy, maybe in the 700-900 page range.

CANALS came in at 200K words at first and was trimmed down to about 150K, or about 425 pages (I think). THE MIGHTY T weighs in at a little over 100K and about 325 pages. DEATH OF A MATADOR was in between: about 125K words and in the upper 300s pages. (If I was writing this at home I could look on the shelf at the page counts, but I'm not. I'm in my office-away-from-home: the local Starbucks.)

I'm currently reading UNDER THE DOME by King, and I'm generally loving it. But I think it's too long. I have the ePub version I'm reading on Marvin for iPad, and Marvin tells me DOME had 336K words. If King was a young author trying to get a publisher interested in his manuscript, and he sent in a 336K manuscript, it would've been sent directly to the recycle pile. No passing GO, no collecting $200. By contrast, SILKEN PREY by John Sandford, which I recently read, weighs in at 109K, according to Marvin. DOME is three time longer than SILKEN PREY, and it feels it.

DOME is a great story with delicious characters. I'm 70% into the book now and find I'm reading faster, because I want to see how things turn out. I want the main bad guy to get what's coming to him, and I want him to suffer. I'm anxious to see how the "good guys" take the Dome down (see, I'm capitalizing Dome, too). I understand the main good guy, or supporting good guys, might die in coming pages, and I'm okay with that. But I'll be disappointed if Rennie doesn't get it in the end. King wrote him very well: a delectable bad guy.

Written in Writer in my iPad.

Friday, May 31, 2013

5-Star Review for CANALS

I recently received a 5-star review for my horror novel, CANALS. It now has an average of 4.6 stars over 10 reviews. The review is brief so I've copied and pasted it in its entirety.

"This book kept me on the edge of my seat and made my heart race! I grew up in Modesto and it was interesting reading about places I am actually familiar with. I highly recommend this to anyone looking to really get involved in a great thriller! I got this book for a low price of .99 cents, but had I pay $10 it would definitely have been worth it and I would not have been disappointed! Awesome!"

Now, I admit it might look like I know this person. Let me assure you I don't. She purchased the eBook for 99 cents, read it, and left a review of her own accord.

I had hoped, when writing CANALS, that it would appeal to Modesto-area residents. The locals who've read the book have said they enjoyed reading about local sites and businesses, but it hasn't yet caught on big. I'd imagined throngs of citizens gobbling it up... A goal for the future.

CANALS remains on sale for 99 cents.

Friday, May 10, 2013

I'm Interviewed by Eden Baylee

Eden Baylee
I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by author Eden Baylee. I've done several of these interviews and while I've enjoyed them all, I really enjoyed this one because Eden asked some of the toughest questions.

For example, how would you answer "What is your idea of perfect happiness?" Perfect happiness? Sheesh. I had to work on that answer alone for a month.

Thanks to Eden for asking the tough questions and featuring me on her blog.

Eden writes erotica and has published several books. HERE is her book page with buy links.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Review of "The Rose Hotel" by Rahimeh Andalibian

I recently finished reading a book titled "The Rose Hotel" by Rahimeh Andalibian. It's worthy of a review and post. 
The story begins in Iran shortly before the Islamic Revolution in the late-1970s and follows a family who owned a hotel called, you guessed it, The Rose Hotel, into the present time. Much has been written about Islam by both friends and foes since 9/11 and I thought this book might give me some insight into the life of an Islamic family unaffiliated with terrorism, or with what I think of as "militant" Islamic beliefs. It did and I'm glad I read it.
The family is thrown into turmoil when the oldest boy is arrested after the revolution and is sentenced to death for crimes he didn't commit. He's only sixteen. The grief and remorse his death causes traumatizes the family for a generation. 
The book details the family's journeys to England and the United States, how the parents face the challenge of their children becoming westernized, how the children deal with what happened to their older brother, and how they eventually realize they must face what happened together if they wanted to survive as a family.
At first I was a little annoyed that everything in this family's life revolved around the oldest boy, I mean everything. The mother nearly killed herself with grief and I am, frankly, surprised the parent's marriage survived considering the depth of her grief and the depth of the father's guilt. I would like to think that, God forbid, if something so tragic happened to my family we would find a way to move on quicker than the family in this book moved on. It nearly destroyed the parents marriage, drove one brother to drugs and another to reckless financial behavior, and caused many years of grief and, likely, illness, as chronic stress usually leads to illness.
But, I've never walked in their shoes and have no idea what it would be like to lose a child or loved one like that. He was taken from them unjustly and condemned by people who should have been honest and upheld the law.
If this sounds like your cup of tea, the eBook can be found on Amazon HERE, as can the paperback, which, oddly, if you don't mind a used copy, can cost less than the eBook.
I rate the book four stars out of five.

Friday, April 26, 2013

“Seven Dwarf Stories” Released!

I was privileged to be involved in an anthology for Twisted Core Press called "Seven Dwarf Stories"; a grown-up take on the 7 Dwarfs. I chose to write a character named “Medicus,” a twist on Doc.

It was an excellent mental exercise for me as I’ve never written anything in what I would call Old English (or what I hope was Old English).

It’s a terrific anthology with terrific authors. Take a minute to check it out! At least download the sample and give it a read.

In case you missed the link above:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Why I Bought a 27" iMac


As I wrote in my last post, there was a time years ago when I considered getting one of those tiny Macintosh computers. The one with about a 9"-screen. (Here's one, supposedly still working!)
I was attracted to the machine because, I suppose, they were trendy. I was attending professional college in Sunnyvale, a couple of miles down Highway 280 from Apple Computer's home in Palo Alto, so I was right near the heart of Silicon Valley. It also fulfilled my fantasy of owning a portable computer. It wasn't a laptop, of course, but it looked light enough to pick up and carry to school. And there was that WYSWYG. Pretty cool stuff back then.
But practicality led me to buying what was called a "PC clone" back then. A no-name desktop computer put together in a rented storage room. This was followed by many years of buying new Windows machines when the old one no longer served our needs, or when I had the money and wanted to upgrade.
I've been a self-published writer for two years now and have written on Windows desktops, laptops, and an iPad. Drafts were printed on my trusty HP LaserJet 1320. I'm on my second 1320. After the first broke I bought a refurbished model for $120, with credit for the broken one I traded in. It's fast, reliable, and will print duplex.
I wrote my first two novels in Word 2003. Print versions were set in an old version of MicroSoft Publisher. I got my first iPad, an iPad 1, in early 2011. On the iPad I wrote mostly in iA Writer, which writes in .txt format only.

 I started my third novel in 2011 but didn't publish it until October 2012. By then I was working in Scrivener for Windows and no longer used Word except for uploading to some publishing sites. DEATH OF A MATADOR was written entirely in Scrivener for Windows. The ebooks were prepared using Scrivener, and turned out very nice. So nice that I went back and reformatted CANALS and THE MIGHTY T in Scrivener. 
Fast forward to March, 2013. I sold the license for an expensive piece of medical software, and because I didn't like the Dell laptop I'd bought in October 2012, I included that in the sale. (The software runs on Windows machines, not Mac.) Finding myself without a modern computer, I decided to get a Mac.
You'd think that a writer who enjoys writing in different settings, like cafes and libraries, would get one of the great Mac laptops, wouldn't you? But, I had gotten so used to hooking up an old Acer 22" monitor to my laptop that I couldn't bear going back to working solely on a tiny 15" screen.
I did my research online before making a trip up to the Apple Store in Murray, a fifty-minute drive to the north of us. I chose a 27" iMac. Here's why.

The new iMacs are gorgeous machines. So are Apple's lineup of laptops. Once you see one, and you've got the cash, you want one. I thought the 21" unit would be big enough for me, and it would have. I was already used to working on a 22" monitor. But the "little" iMac has two limitations I couldn't live with.
One, it's not possible for the average user to upgrade the RAM themselves. It comes with 8GB, which is okay for now, but two or three years down the road it might be barely okay. I keep my computers as long as I can. I could've ordered a 16GB model from Apple but it would've taken a couple of weeks to get it. Maybe longer. I was pretty sure I didn't have that kind of patience.
Two, it comes standard with a hard drive that spins at 5,400 rpm. It's a hard drive meant to be used in a laptop, not a sleek new desktop computer. I'll skip the discussion about the fusion drive Apple offers because it would have meant waiting two weeks.
The 27" iMac has user-upgradable RAM (I've already upgraded the RAM to 24GB) and a faster hard drive. Instead of fretting whether my old-fashion "spinning" hard drive is fast enough, I have enough RAM that I simply leave all the apps I use in memory, ready for instant use. 
It took a few weeks to get used to the huge screen. Menus on some programs have text so small I have some difficult reading it. Some programs can be customized, but most can't. 
I purchased Scriveners for Mac, which is a year or two ahead of their Windows version. I also downloaded and installed Bean as my general word processor. 
Scriveners for Mac will sync files in Dropbox, and will sync them as .rtf or .txt. This means I can use iA Writer, which will sync with Dropbox, on my iPad. Or I can use an editor that writes in .rtf, like Storyist. Storyist also syncs with Dropbox. 
Since I bought the big iMac, however, I haven't done any writing on the iPad. It's hard to tear myself away from the big gorgeous screen!

My 27" iMac
As you can see, I opted for the wired keyboard with the ten-key keypad (I already have a wireless Apple keyboard) and the Magic Trackpad instead of Apple's mouse. Using the trackpad all the time was giving me a nasty case of tendonitis so I plugged in my cheap MicroSoft USB mouse. The scrolling is awful on the mouse, the trackpad does great there, but it's much easier to edit pictures and click on tiny on-screen buttons with the mouse.
Am I happy I switched to Mac? So far I am. The iMac works seamlessly with my iPhone and iPad everything I've plugged into so far has worked without having to download a new driver. Windows XP was a hassle when it came to plugging in a new device. 7 was a little better, but not as easy as the iMac.
Now that I'm fairly used to my new computer, I've got to stop fiddling with it and get back to work writing and promoting my work!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Man I've had a lot of computers

I remember when I got my first computer, a Texas Instrument 99/4A. My dad got it for me for Christmas (I was a poor student then) for about $125 when TI was getting out of the computer business. It must have been in 1982 or 1983. Here’s a picture:

As you can see, it’s just a CPU with an attached-keyboard. I hooked it up to a 10-inch black and white TV and a standard tape recorder, so I could save stuff, and bought an Advanced C programing cartridge that plugged into the port on the upper right of the computer.
Learning to program on that little computer became my hobby. I wrote a program that simulated a basketball game. I bought a book that listed basketball statistics for the prior year, plugged the data into the program, and played ball. I had a blast but my wife didn't like it because I spent so much time on it.
But, that wasnt my first experience with computers. While attending junior college in 1976 I took a computer programming” class. All I can remember is lining up punch cards that got fed into a "computer." Ancient of days.

Then, in professional school, around 1984, I bought a PC with a twenty megabyte hard. Yes, you read that right. Megabyte, not gigabyte. I paid for it with student loan money and as I recall it cost about $1,200. I might be wrong. I remember debating getting the PC or a Mac. The Mac was cool looking but cost too much for my student budget and had only like an eight-inch screen. I bought the PC from a guy who put them together in a storage locker. Here’s what the IBM PCs looked like back then (mine was nowhere as fancy):

It had a 5¼-inch floppy disc drive and an amber monitor, which sat atop the gray metal box that held the computer’s guts. I had to have a printer, of course, so I picked up a Panasonic dot matrix printer with a box of pin-feed paper. It might have looked a little like this one, except I don’t remember it having so many buttons on the front:

The computer ran on DOS but I remember when my brother-in-law gave me a copy of Windows, I think version 1.2, on a floppy disc. I was fascinated by the graphical OS but it ran so slow it was useless to me. 
I used that computer until I went into practice for myself. When I started making a little money, I updated my own computer as well as the billing computer. The next computer I got was a Packard Bell, from Costco, which had just opened up in town. That was about 1991. I used the PB until it broke.
Next up was an all-in-one computer from a local store, in 1998. I needed something portable but didnt want to shell out for the still-high price of a decent laptop. It had an LCD screen and ran Windows 95, and was one of the most reliable computers Ive ever owned. It was fast, for those days, portable enough to take on the road when I did out-of-town treatments, and even had a USB port. I just barely threw that computer away.
The company I bought it from offered lifetime free labor. And they came through. They actually replaced my hard drive two years after I had bought the computer, a year out of warranty, for free. The guy who owned the store ran a bang-up business. He sold out to a guy who looted the business’s assets before fleeing to China.
Next was a Dell desktop I still own, running Windows XP. The fan has gotten loud but it’s served me well. I love the Dell keyboard from that time, about 2004. It has a nice click feeling.
After the Dell was an Acer laptop. I wrote most of my second book, THE MIGHTY T, on that computer. I still have it but havent turned it on for a few months. The WiFi hardly works and I somehow damaged the V key. 
I purchased a Dell laptop running Windows 7 from Costco last October because the Acer doesnt have enough horsepower to run my new testing software. And, there was the broken V key. I liked Windows 7, though I thought XP is easier to use. Probably because I used it for years. I sold that laptop with my testing hardware and software to an acupuncturist this month.
And now I have a 27" iMac. Yes, Im now a Mac guy. And Im loving it.

Its been fun, this trip down memory lane, but it has to come to a close now. On my next post Ill write about my current computer and writing setup.

Monday, March 18, 2013

eReader Review: Marvin for iPad

Marvin for iPad

This is the third in my series of eReader reviews. I first reviewed Amazon’s Kindle app, then the Bluefire app. Both are good apps, with strengths and weaknesses. The Kindle app is necessary if you want to read MOBI books on your mobile device and the Bluefire app will read eBooks locked with DRM (provided you open a free account with Adobe).

The last eReader app I’ll review is my newest: Marvin. Marvin reads ePub 2.0 eBooks like no other eReader can.

Marvin has too many features to list so I’’ll mention a few of my favorites.

Important Features of Marvin

1) Marvin is fully customizable. Especially important to me are font size, typeface, margin size, line spacing, indentation, hyphenation, and justification controls.

- I like to read paragraphs with a little more space between lines, and Marvin lets me do that.

- I also don’t care for huge paragraph indents; they’re so ugly and interfere with reading.

- There are many typefaces to choose from and you can display titles in different faces than the
text. My favorite text face is Lora while I leave the titles displayed in Open Dyslexic. Although I use Open Dyslexic because I like how it looks, it turns out it helps assist users with dyslexia.

2) There are three fully-customizable themes. I only use two: night and normal. Night mode has a black background, of course, with white letters. In normal mode I like a beige background so I have it set for Old Lace.

3) Marvin lets you export your notes, highlights, name lists, and summaries to formats compatible with most word processors. This is a boon for members of book clubs who discuss what they read in depth and to authors with beta readers. Authors can format their manuscripts in ePub and send them to beta readers. Beta readers can make extensive notes, if they like, which they can email to the author.

4) eBooks can be emailed to friends from within the program. Now authors, before you jump up and down and risk straining a muscle in your buttocks, this is no different than lending a print book to a neighbor, or that woman at work you’’ve been trying to impress.

5) Marvin not only has up-and-down swiping for screen brightness, it also lets you control the warmth of the screen. There are smart-snapping gestures I’ve yet to explore, DropBox linking, a reading timer, multi-colored bookmarks, and it’ll correct incomplete or missing table of contents. Not real important for fiction, in my opinion, but would be useful for non-fiction.

There are many, many more features to Marvin. Check out their website for complete details.

Not Quite Perfect

I have a couple of gripes with Marvin. It lacks a mono-spaced typeface like Courier for those times when I want to read in Courier. I especially like to do this when editing one of my drafts.

When I turn my iPad sideways and two-column reading is initiating, there’’s far too much space between the columns of text. Very visually unappealing. I have to go into the menu to adjust the margins. Kindle handles this much better, leaving just the right amount of space between columns.

Both Marvin and Bluefire read ePubs but only Bluefire will read DRM-encoded eBooks. When I have the choice, I choose Marvin over Bluefire every time.

Marvin is a midget in a land of giants. Most readers buy books from companies with dedicated reading devices or eReader apps. Books purchased from these sites pretty much have to be read on their dedicated devices or apps. You can get around this by connecting your device to your computer and dragging and dropping books here and there, but most people don’t bother.

It’s a shame because Marvin gives a more satisfying reading experience. At least it does to me.

Being in the business of converting manuscripts to ebooks, I like having different apps I can check my work out on. I use them all, even the reading apps on my phone. Gotta be sure my products look good on whatever device my customers’’ readers choose to view their books.

Which reading device or eReader app do you use?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Review of eReaders App: Bluefire

On my last post, I reviewed the Kindle app for iPad. Whether you’re a fan of Amazon or not, and many aren’t, I feel it’s a good app for reading.

However, it’s not a good app for sharing notes and marks you make in a book. Check this post out here if that’s your goal. You can get your notes and marks to sync across your own Kindle devices, but you can’t share them with others. However, if someone reads a MOBI file on Kindle for PC they can share their notes and marks. See the linked post on how to do that.

On to Bluefire.

Last year, or maybe the year before, I received a “perk” from Klout: Stephen King’s short story Mile 81, which is protected with Digital Rights Management (DRM). I needed an eReader app that would handle DRM, so I found Bluefire. I had to create a free Adobe account to crack open Mile 81. When I upgraded my iPad I had to download Bluefire again and so had to log in to Adobe again.

Let me tell you what I like best about Bluefire: if you leave it in its native mode, it displays text in the Adobe Minion typeface, one of my all-time favorite typefaces, and it automatically and correctly inserts ligatures. People complain Bluefire loads eBooks too slow. This is why, it’s applying sophisticated typesetting to your eBook.

Ligatures make text easier to read and more visually appealing. Allow me to explain how.

I had a sister-in-law (she’s no longer my sister-in-law) who couldn’t tolerate food touching on her plate. The mashed potatoes, including the gravy, couldn’t touch the roast beef or the green beans. I always thought that was dumb since it all ended up as a ball of chyme in the stomach anyway, but I kept that opinion to myself. Which is probably why I got along so well with my ex’s side of the family.

Typefaces with serifs, those little extenders at the tops, feet, and cross bars of letters, often touch in set text. Particularly, the dot of an ‘i’ will touch the downward stroke of an ‘f’ set to its left. As my former SIL would say, yuck. A ligature fixes this by combining the ‘f’ and ‘i’ into one character. The crossbar of the ‘f’ joins the top of the ‘i’ and the ‘i’ is not dotted.

All basic ligatures involve the letter ‘f’. Two ‘fs’ are joined, an ‘f’ and an ‘l’, two ‘fs’ and an ‘i’, as in “office” are joined, and two ‘fs’ and an ‘l’ are joined. Here’s an example:

(Image from I Love Typeography.)

Bluefire does this for you whether you want it or not because they know it’s for your own good. Joking aside, you likely don’t consciously notice when text is set with ligatures. But your eye appreciates the aesthetics and you likely will read a little faster and better.

Bluefire has many other options: five margins, pages numbers in the margin, many different typefaces, orientation lock (a useful feature when reading while laying on one’s side), a night mode that works, and options for different effects while flipping pages. Two of my favorite features are, you can adjust the screen brightness by swiping up or down on the screen and you can turn justified lines off and read with ragged-right lines. Refer to my post on the Kindle app for details.

A glaring missing feature is, no two-column reading when in landscape mode. For me, unless I’m sure I won’t need to read a book in landscape mode, I will load the book into Marvin.

Stay tuned for my review of Marvin, the best eReader for the iPad.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Review of eReader Apps: Kindle App

I’ve blogged before that I read a lot of eBooks on my iPad. I had an iPad 1 for almost two years, and it served me well. However, since Apple decided it would no longer support the iPad 1, meaning there would be no more software updates for it, I decided to upgrade.

I sold my 32GB iPad 1 for $250 to a local guy and bought a refurbished 16GB iPad 3 from Apple for $400, with tax. I didn’t come close to using 16GB on my iPad 1 so I opted for the 16GB model. No sense spending money for unused storage.

I’m nearsighted so I don’t need glasses to read, unless what I’m trying to read is farther than about a foot from my face. The iPad 3 has retina screen, the iPad 1 didn’t. I could read fine in day-mode but when I switched to night-mode the text became fuzzy and I had to switch to a sans-serif typeface, which are not designed for reading large amounts of text.

The retina screen makes reading easy for me. The characters are sharp and clear, even when reading in night mode—no typeface change needed.

Over the years I’ve used four eReader apps: Stanza, Kindle, Bluefire, and lately, Marvin.

I downloaded Stanza because I first published to Smashwords, which supports Stanza. Thing I liked best about Stanza was, I could read in Courier, which I like to do when I’m writing a draft or editing a manuscript set in Courier. Only one other eReader app I know of does this. Unfortunately, the Stanza app has been abandoned by its developers and has become somewhat unstable.

Kindle App

The second app I downloaded was the Kindle app. Kindle is, well, Kindle. I’ve read people complaining about the MOBI format but as an eReader, it’s always worked fine for me. And I’ve done a lot of reading on the Kindle app as most of the books I download are from Amazon.

As an eBook creator, I know Amazon’s proprietary MOBI format isn’t as flexible as ePub, but I can still make great looking MOBI books. This is a necessity for an eBook creator.

What I like about the Kindle app

It’s customizable. The Kindle app gives you three margin sizes to choose from, several good typefaces to display text in, a night mode, a screen brightness slider-bar, and the choice of displaying text in two-columns when in landscape mode. That last feature alone makes it a good app for reading. I read a lot in landscape mode and shorter lines of text are easier to read than longer lines.

It’s stable. At least it has been for me.

I can email documents to my Kindle app. This increases the app’s usefulness. You have to set this up online in your account by telling Amazon what email addresses to accept files from, but once that’s done sending Word files, PDFs, and MOBI files to your Kindle app is a breeze.

What I don’t like about the Kindle app

It displays text with lines fully justified, meaning the right side of paragraphs align. This is how print books are set, and how this paragraph is set. Having the page be a nice rectangle is pleasing to the eye and it’s fine for a screen the size of an iPad, about 10 inches diagonal. It doesn’t work so great on a screen the size of an iPhone.

Here’s the problem with justified text on smaller screens: it creates awkward line lengths and breaks. Since the Kindle app doesn’t hyphenate books, long words are often shoved onto the next line, leaving the first line too short to be stretched across the length of the screen. This creates ugly gaps in the text.

I’m not a fan of eReader-hyphenated text because the hyphens more than likely show up at incorrect locations, like between a ‘t’ and an ‘h’. But that would be preferable, to me at least, than having one line with two three words, and not justified, adjacent to lines that are fully justified and are filled with words.

The Kindle app does not allow the user to view the text in ragged-right mode. It should. Ragged-right text is easier to read because the spaces between words are equal, which helps us read faster. Ragged-right text isn’t as pretty as fully-justified text is, though.

As I wrote, I read a lot in the Kindle app and it’s a pleasant enough experience. And to my knowledge it’s your only choice if you want to read MOBI books.

In my next post I’ll review the Bluefire eReader app.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review of Prodigal Son by Dean Koontz

Prodigal Son (Dean Koontz's Frankenstein, #1)Prodigal Son by Dean Koontz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the better Koontz books, in recent years. Not quite as good as his Odd Thomas books, though. My problem with Koontz is, in the last 10 years or so, because he spends so much time telling us what's going on inside a character's head, little actually happens in the book.

Prodigal Son has a lot of that going on, but not insufferably so. A lot happens in this book and the writing is, in general, outstanding. I don't care for a lot of the silly dialogue between the two lead detectives, but it wasn't too distracting.

I love the Deucalion character. Very well written. A touch of the supernatural.

This book does not have an ending but rather leads into the second Frankenstein book. I've started that one.

View all my reviews

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Fictional Characters and Chopping Up Chickens

I’ve always thought my novels were plot driven, but now I realize that’s not entirely true. A good story is critical, but a novel without good characters isn’t likely to be finished.

Where do fictional characters come from?

- From the author’s imagination: They’re made up.
- From the author’s experiences: They’re written after someone the author knew personally or knew of.
- A combination of the preceding two statements. Most characters probably fall into this category.

One of the scenes in my horror novel CANALS involves two Hispanics named Tony and Bobby, each a year out of high school. They met in fourth grade when Bobby, who was the biggest kid in school, bigger than any sixth grader (BIG!), saved Tony from an ass kicking. Bobby sat on the other kid until the bell rang, then shoved his face in the grass as he got up. The two were inseparable after that.

Until the monster ate one of them. You’ll have to read the book to learn who gets to live, though he was never quite the same after watching his buddy get munched.

Here’s a rather long, and explicit, excerpt from the book:

Tony spun an empty bottle toward the canal, watched it arch through the moon-lit night, heard the splash, and said, “Two-for-two, holmes. At this rate I’m going to take Kobe’s place on the Lakers, aye, ése?”
“Don’t call me ése, you wetback,” Bobby said. “You don’t even know how to speak Spanish, fool, and you damn sure can’t shoot like Kobe.” They were Lakers fans: Kobe Bryant was the man.
“Get your fat arm off the cooler, bitch,” Tony said, trying to get in the ice chest.
“Bitch hell. You ain’t got no bitch, bitch, unless you count that Wanda bitch at work.” Bobby laughed as he moved his arm and pulled a joint out of a plastic baggie. “Shit, you couldn’t even get in Wanda’s panties.”
“Shut up, ése. Wanda’s got back, man. I’m gonna get me some of that, you wait and see.”
Bobby laughed again. “You stupid wetback, I’ll have a gray beard down to my ass before you get with Wanda. Besides, she’s ugly. And don’t call me ése, bitch.”
 “Man, but could you do Yolanda?” Tony said, grabbing his crotch. “That bitch is fine!” He took a long pull from his bottle.
“Shit yeah, I could do Yolanda four times a day, bitch.” Bobby reached across the cooler and said, “Gimme five for Yolanda’s fine pussy.” Although neither boy had seen or touched Yolanda’s genitals, nor would they ever get close, they fived it across the beer cooler.
Bobby lit the joint and took a deep hit, holding in the potent smoke as long as his burning lungs allowed. He exhaled slowly, tilting his head up, blowing smoke at the stars.
“Gimme the smoke, ése,” Tony said, reaching across the cooler, tapping Bobby’s arm.
“I just got it started, fool. All I got was paper. Let me get some weed first, bitch. And don’t call me ése.”
“Bitch this, bitch,” Tony said, grabbing his crotch again and watching his friend hit on the joint. He tapped Bobby on the arm again. “Pass the joint, bitch!”
Bobby leaned away from his friend and sucked longer on the thin marijuana cigarette, just to piss Tony off. He fought off a cough; small wisps leaked from his nostrils as he finally passed the joint to Tony.
“See, bitch,” Tony said, as he took the joint and scowled. “You took too much, ése. Man, I don’t know why I share my weed with you. You’re a fat weed hog, bitch.”
Bobby coughed out his hit and took a pull from his Corona to douse the fire in his throat. Still coughing, he said, “Bitch, your weed? I bought this weed, bitch. And don’t call me ése, bitch.”
Tony considered that for a moment, then said, passing the joint back, “Oh yeah. That’s right, you did buy it. Bitch.”
They looked at each other and started laughing; a stoners’ laugh, hard and uncontrollable, so hard they fell out of their chairs into the sand where they rolled onto their backs and laughed at the moon and the stars until side cramps forced them to stop. Wiping tears from their bloodshot eyes, they righted their chairs and resumed their positions of importance on opposite sides of the cooler.

You might now ask yourself, where did I get those characters? Did I just make them up? Turns out, I didn’t. I worked with a real-life Bobby and Tony, and their repartee was very much like it was in the book. I worked with them on the loading dock of the Foster Farms poultry plant in Livingston, California. I know you’re dying to know the story, so...

If you live on the West Coast, or shop at Costco, you should be familiar with Foster Farms poultry products. Max and Verda Foster started Foster Farms in 1939, on an eighty-acre ranch near Modesto, California. Many years later, they bought poultry plants in Oregon and Washington, which is why you can find their chicken in every grocery store on the West Coast. I think their chicken is the best “grocery-store” chicken. I’ve eaten free-range and organic chicken only once or twice; they might be a better product, I don’t know. Foster Farms also raises turkeys—the fictional Bobby and Tony worked at the Foster Farms turkey processing plant in Turlock, California—and run a dairy. All-in-all, I’d buy their products over their competitors nine times out of ten.

I started working for Foster Farms the fall after high school. I had two roommates who worked for them on the night shift and their foreman was looking to put together a basketball team, and I was a decent basketball player, so I easily got the job. I didn’t even have to apply. The first time I walked into the part of the plant where I’d be working, I was blown away.

Foster Farms is not even close to being as big as, say, Tyson Foods, the largest meat processor in the world, but they’re the biggest on the West Coast. According to an article I found on the Internet (which of course has to be true), Foster Farms processes almost 600,000 chickens a day. That’s not a typo.

I walked into a room the size of a large warehouse, about four stories high. Huge. When the processing lines started up, there were about eight, I looked up and saw chickens coming down out of the sky by the hundreds. They’d already been plucked, eviscerated, and cleaned; they looked like the whole chickens you bring home from the grocery store.

The first line was called the “bag line,” and it ran fast because all they had to do was stuff a packet of innards into the cavity of the chicken and slip a bag up and around it. No, the neck and innards you pull out of the chicken you’re about to cook didn’t come from that chicken.

The line I was put on was a cut-up line (though we were too busy to be cut-ups while working): chickens were dismembered a piece at a time so that by the end of the line nothing but drumsticks were left. The first person on the line cut the left wing off every bird, the next got the right wing. Then came the breast guys. I was a breast guy. Each breast guy cut the breasts off every other chicken. Lastly, two people cut the thighs off. The drumsticks fell off on their own. The chicken parts were thrown or dropped onto big pieces of sheet metal in front and below us. The parts slid to the bottom of the sheet metal, where they could be grabbed and packed.

The cutters stood on a steel platform, about four feet high. In front and below us were the packers, who grabbed the cut-up parts and placed them on Styrofoam trays that passed by on a fast-moving conveyor belt. The drumstick guy, or gal—lots of women worked at Foster Farms—placed six drumsticks on a tray, turning them so the round side faced upward (if they had time). The next person did the same with the thighs. The breast halves were packed three to a tray and I can’t recall how many wings a tray got. Six sounds right.

And that’s how the line went, hour after hour, for eight hours minus breaks and lunch. Being a breast guy was grueling work, especially when your knives got dull, which mine always did. I never got the hang of the second cut, where you had to run the blade down the chicken’s intercostal cartilage. I’d miss most of the time so the blade would have to be pushed through bone. After a while, the blade would become dull and I’d have to push harder to cut the breast off. And the hand that held the chicken had to be covered with a mesh glove too small for my big hand so that it was killing me by lunch. You get the picture.

One funny anecdote. Funny to me, at least. I’d be hacking away at the chicken when suddenly, but thankfully rarely, a big blob of chicken fat would flick off the end of my knife, fly down and hit the woman below me in the face. A hazard of their job, I suppose. I worked at each station of the cutting line at least once but never did the packing. I’m six-four and the line was made for people five-five, or less.

Job openings were posted on a corkboard in the break room. I was tipped off about an opening in the cooler, so I applied and got the job. Anything to get off the cutting line. Cases of packaged chicken sat in the cooler until they were loaded onto delivery trucks.

The weight room sat a floor above the cooler. Styrofoam packs of chicken, or bags of whole chicken, were weighed and priced, then packed into cases. The cases slid down a track of rollers to the cooler. The whole production was coordinated, meaning the weight room processed orders that went together so we could stack the order’s cases on the same pallet, or pallets if the order was large.

It was hard backbreaking work, when you were working. The cases of whole chickens could weigh up to sixty pounds (maybe fifty—it’s been a long time). But if the weight room had a problem, no cases dropped into the cooler and we got to kick back. We’d bundle up in our company-issued jackets, nest down on a few cases of chicken, and take a snooze.

As I recall, I was recruited for my next position: lead man on the loading dock. I was promoted ahead of guys who’d worked there many years longer than I had. Looking back, it might’ve been because I had actually graduated from high school (remember, this was the night shift) or was clearly more intelligent than my co-workers (which isn’t saying much, believe me).

The loading dock’s front office would give me sheets of orders at the beginning of the night, one sheet for each truck backed into the loading dock. I’d write cases of products onto a piece of paper and hand it to one of the hand-operated forklift guys, who’d then trundle off to the cooler in search of the products. They’d come back with a load of chicken, stop in front of my station so I could make sure they had the right products and tally up the weights. Once that was done, they’d stack the product in the truck. Several aspects to my job were important: the truck had to be loaded with the right product, I had to have the weights correct, and the truck had to be loaded in the reverse order it was to be delivered. Make sense?

Tony and Bobby were forklift guys who worked out of the older cooler, located to my right as I’d sit on my stool and stare at the back of a truck. To this day I don’t where the chickens that came out of the older cooler went. They didn’t go into any of my trucks (or I’ve forgotten they did). The chickens in the old cooler were packed into waxed cardboard boxes, were smaller than the chickens I cut up on the line, and were packed with ice. My best guess is, they either went to restaurants or were shipped far away—thus the need for the ice.

I’d see Tony and Bobby almost every day, zipping in and out of the loading dock and the cooler. As their products weren’t loaded on my loading dock, the only time I’d see them is when they wanted to gab. As in their likenesses in CANALS, they were U.S.-born Mexicans. Or Americans of Mexican heritage. Whatever term is more politically correct these days. CANALS’s Bobby-and-Tony banter was as I remembered the real Bobby and Tony, except they weren’t stoned. I take that back. They usually weren’t stoned. They were fun guys, always joking, rarely down or depressed.

Sadly, I learned years later that Bobby was killed in a car accident while driving to Los Banos on fog-shrouded roads: very dangerous in the winter. His car flipped, he was ejected, and ended up with his head submerged in a ditch. He drown.

Hmm... I may have just tipped you off as to which dies in CANALS. Oh well, you should read the book anyway. If you don’t mind being scared.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Figuring Plot Details

I'm working on my third Grant Starr novel, with a working title "Sunset Hill," which is in the northeast corner of Seattle, Washington. Grant is based in Modesto, CA, about a two-day drive. Well, maybe one day in the Ferrari. Right off the bat I bet you can see the problem: how do I get Grant involved in a case two states away? He's not some fed.

I ran through several scenarios before I hit on what I think works the best. First I thought he and Amber could be up there on a vacation. But there were several problems with that. One, that's what they were doing when "Death of a Matador" opened. They were in the Mount Shasta area of Northern California, at a B&B. Don't want to be redundant. Also, Bensen has to be in the book and I'm going to write him in as a tag-along on Grant and Amber's vacation. Although he's been curious about Grant and Amber's sex life, him being the married man and all, I don't think he'd go for being the third wheel. So I scratched that idea.

Then I thought, what if Seattle has a case similar to what Grant battled in "The Mighty T" and called him up to help. I saw a bookish detective on the case in Seattle, a guy who remembers everything. He read about the case of the terrorist Samuel Raimes III, who called himself John Lightfoot, and thought his case was so similar that Grant could surely help them. The problem with that scenario was, bah! It was a little boring and, if I may say, pretentious. Maybe if Seattle was dealing with an eco-terrorist like Raimes, but they're not. Plus, Grant would likely have to go to Seattle alone, and we couldn't have that.

Next I thought Grant, Amber, and Bensen could be in Seattle attending some kind of cop conference. I had to consult Google to see if cops had conferences like that and guess what? Not only do they, they had one in Seattle in 2012. I like realism. So, Grant, Amber, and Bensen are at the conference. I'm still thinking about letting Hanks tag along, to make it an even number so Bensen would have someone to share a room with. I still might do that. I liked Hanks limited role in Matador.

I'm almost finished writing chapter one and I'm having a little trouble figuring out a believeable way to get Grant together with the Seattle detective who's caught the murder case we're interested in, Ira Utter. Utter's not an expert at anything so I couldn't have him speaking at the conference. For that matter, Grant's not really an expert at anything, either, wo why would he be speaking?

Ah, but he has had experience in tracking down an eco-terrorist, and not many cops can say that. So, I'm gonna have him take 5-10 minutes of someone else's presentation on "Home-Grown Terrorism" and Utter's gonna be sitting in. But Utter's busy on a new case, why would he take time out to attend a boring conference, especially one meant only for "police executives"? He's there because his captain, Captain Marks, is giving the presentation and she told him he had to go so there'd be at least one person laughing at her jokes. Grant's gonna say something at the end of his breif talk that's gonna catch Utter's ear.

As I've posted about before, I don't want anyone to be able to point out big holes in my plots. I also don't want anyone saying "Hey! That couldn't happen!" So I labor at getting my plots to make sense and keep both feel planted in the real world.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my ramblings.