I meant to do this a while back, but every time I would get on here to say something, I’d say something else. After all, why wouldn’t I have a few comments on the biggest publishing phenomenon since Harry Potter?

Let me begin by saying that, to date, I’ve only read the first book of the series. I have New Moon at home waiting for me to finish what I’m currently reading, but I’ve read enough to justify a few opinions.

Overall, I think the first book was decent. It’s certainly no feast for the mind, but it’s serviceable. I particularly appreciate why teenage girls have lost their collective minds over it–plain girl chosen and seduced by ultra-sexy, ultra-bad boy. Still, I have two major beefs with the book.

First of all, Bella is boring. A ready-made victim, she goes against every heroine out there right now in urban fantasy–she’s weak, she’s clumsy, and she’s incompetent. The only edge she has is that Edward can’t read her thoughts. Otherwise, she’s a complete opposite of the strong female leads I prefer to read about in such books.

Second, and more of a detail point, is that Stephanie Meyer has a serious problem with the word “said”, particularly in dialogue attribution. Every bit of dialogue, it seems, has some jumped-up verb attached to it. “Blah blah,” he laughed. “Blah blah,” she sighed. “Blah blah,” he smiled. “Blah blah,” she screamed. If the writer is doing his/her job, then these verbs are not necessary and only serve to distract the reader. Some people argue that said becomes boring, but I disagree. I believe, when done properly, it becomes invisible, allowing the reader to pay more attention to what is being said that how the author thinks it should be said. As Elmore Leonard says, “The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in.” I agree with this, although I chalk this particular problem to our educational system. I’ve know several English teachers who encourage their students to pump the attribution verb full of hot air just to show off that writer’s vocabulary. I say, if you want to show off your vocabulary, do the Word Power section of the Reader’s Digest. Leave it out of your writing unless it’s absolutely necessary to the story.

Aside from those things, it’s hard to argue against a book that’s done that well in the market. That’s what it’s all about really, although I think a lot of people forget that. Some people believe a book should be judged solely on it’s literary merit rather than how well it sells. This is bullshit. If a book sells, it’s a good book. If a book doesn’t, it’s not necessarily a bad book, but the only number you really need to look at is how many copies it sold, not how high the percentage of polysyllabic words is. Anyone who argues that a best-selling book is bad because it has not literary merit, nothing to last through the generations, probably has an oft-rejected manuscript sitting at home they don’t want to discuss. It’s about money, people, and it’s ALWAYS about money.

A funny sidenote about the book, however, is that two of the names given to the vampires in the book are names that I chose for my vampires in Dead and Dying, names I picked out over a year before I read this book. Maybe it’s true that great minds think alike.

Now, all of that aside, I’m continuing with edits on Project Superhero, which I have tentatively titled Gifts of the Hirakee. I’m not sold on this title, though, and am anxious to see what my proofreaders come up with.

I had intended to give a full rundown on our trip to the Memphis Zoo, complete with Pics, but my camera died just as we entered the front gate. Still, here’s some thoughts on the trip:

–If you can find a nice day in January to go to the zoo, take advantage of it. There may have been two dozen other people there, so there were certainly no jostling crowds to contend with. There were a few animals we didn’t see that we would have like to have seen (like elephants), but we did see a lot more than we saw last year when we were there in weather so cold, even the polar bears were not allowed outside.

–Kindness is apparently a weird thing my family does. We received free tickets thanks to our debacle of a visit last year–five of them, in fact–and we used four of them today. The fifth my wife gave to another family that was walking up to the gate at the same time we were. They looked at it, and us, as though they didn’t understand what was going on. Are random acts of kindness so rare that people don’t know how to react to them?

–Children complain a lot less when there are zebras and giraffes around. Despite the rather cool temperatures today, my two younger children did not complain at all. Instead, they kept warm by eagerly running from exhibit to exhibit. Amy and I did the same.

–Two words: reticulated python. Three More Words: Big Ass Snake

After the zoo trip, we drove downtown to Le Bonheur Hospital to see a sick child from our church who has been in and out of various medical facilities for months. Everything he ingests, even water, comes right back up the emergency elevator. New doctors are getting involved this week, so hopefully they’ll have a name for Brady’s condition soon as, so far, they’ve all been stumped. If anyone out there knows any excellent pediatric gastroenterologists, send them our way.

Anyway, that’s all for today.

Following the Titans game this afternoon, I stayed at the neighbors’ for several hours watching some of those in attendance play Rock Band. After a long while of refusals, they finally wore me down enough for me to attempt the drums.

Never in the history of man has there been a greater suck. Not even the W. presidency sucked as bad as those few moments of me banging away to “Enter Sandman”. The only good thing about it was that everyone else was just as bad as I was.

So, as I said before, I have zero musical ability. Were it possible to have negative musical ability (e.g. radios fail when you walk by, etc.), I would probably have that. Granted it was my first time playing, but it was not a promising beginning to my musical career.

I think I’ll stick to writing stories. I’d probably even suck at poetry. Too much like music.

I recently saw via my Query Tracker newsletter that Firebrand Literary is asking for the first chapter of an author’s novel, rather than the traditional query letter, until January 15th. They are calling this bonanza of beginnings a Query Holiday. As of the last count, the agency had received 2582 first chapters, had read 241 of those, and had requested additional pages from 21 of those.

Despite these odds not being much better than the traditional process, I applaud Firebrand for doing something a little out there. Right now, writers need something to feel positive about and, by removing the great bugaboo of the query letter, they have allowed authors who feel more comfortable writing fiction than telling someone about it to have a warm, fuzzy feeling about getting their work out. And, yes, in the spirit of full disclosure, my first chapter for Project Superhero–tentatively titled The Gifts of the Hirakee–is one of those 2582.

So, the query process for the new book has officially begun, even without a finished query letter. God bless the internet.

Here’s an example of some of the editorial comments I’ve received on the first couple of chapters of Project Superhero. Again, for any writer who cannot take even this level of feedback regarding your writing, you should think about doing something else. This proofreader is ridiculously polite and, more importantly, completely right when it comes to these recommendations.

I’m not posting these just to show off my own failings, although I’m certainly not ashamed to do so. I hope other writers can read these comments and not only find someone else who will treat their work with similar tough love and attention, but also learn to look for these things in their own writing. My goal when I edit is to avoid what you see listed below. Everything I catch is something that keeps me from looking AS stupid later on.

I should also point out that these remarks, and several more I left out, are only from the FIRST THREE CHAPTERS! Still, I agree 100% with all of them and am working hard to make the changes. Some are very specific, easily fixed, and others have required a significant amount of rewriting on my part, but that is what it takes to succeed–a desire to make the work as good as it can be and the willpower to keep the ego from getting involve.

So, that said, read and learn:

Lee, reading chapter 2, I’m wondering if you should alter or add anything else in this description of John. The fart was dead-on (he loves loud explosive things and wasn’t polite during camping, right?), but his comment about Micah & Lauren’s plate was both “vulgar” and hurtful – not quite something that made Michah (or any of the others) love him. It came as a bit of a surprise to me that John and not Seth (who you described as “abrasive”) made that comment (I’m thinking of Mindy’s reaction to Seth and John being the peace-maker in that situation).

Lee, this is really well written. I already like the characters and their relationships and am looking forward to finding out more about them.
I went over the last couple of pages numerous times and decided to put a lot of things in parentheses for you to consider. I like the dialogue between Mindy & Micah a lot, but I suggest that you take out a lot of the “stage directions” (for lack of a better term). You did a good enough job setting up the characters that your readers can easily imagine their actions during this scene without a detailed description. For example, I think you don’t need to say that Micah’s “thanks” didn’t sound thankful, or that Micah needed a moment to process Mindy’s question, or that he scrambled to come up with a reason to give Mindy, etc.
Doing dialogue – real, honest dialogue – is one of your strengths. At this point in the chapter, removing as much as the unessentials (is that a word?) really highlights this, and lets the characters speak for themselves while adding a sense of intimacy. I am not suggesting that you get rid of all of the comments I parenthesized, just that you review them and decide if some can be removed or shortened.

Lee, I’d switch positions of these two sentences (making the appropriate grammatical changes necessary). I think it explains Micah’s uneasiness better.

Right now, it is a bit confusing who the comment is about. Either say something like, “Brandon looked at Micah. From his expression alone, Micah could tell by that the comment…” or – my preference – delete that part of the sentence altogether.

…radiate from him like heat. You used this expression once in the last chapter (in reference to Mindy on page 3). You know me and repetition – I think you can find a better simile.

…he sat back down. He was already sitting down.

Stupid detail – In chapter 1 you mention that Brandon wears glasses; perhaps mention their absence or presence in this para or the next.

Lee, I know I’m being picky, but did the three tribe members carry the barrel of gunpowder with them as they took that long walk with Howling wind to the chamber? Should I just shut-up and simply suspend disbelief? (I know I’m weird — I don’t blink when a cave is sealed supernaturally, but a man-made sealing of a chamber with gunpowder I question.)

(My personal favorite.) Lee, this is the only bit of dialogue that doesn’t seem natural. I absolutely know what Brandon is trying to say – it just seems like something that Scooby & the Gang would say. (I hope that made you smile.)

I’m not crazy about this para. It takes away the solemnity of the moment.

Lee, I really like the concept of this chapter and your creativity, but there are a couple of things I’m struggling with.

I plan to keep posting such remarks as a testament to the trust I have in my readers and my own resolve to listen to them. Again, if you can find someone who is willing to do this for you, to give you an honest assessment of what does and does not work in your writing, do whatever you can to keep them happy and give them something, in the quality of your work, to make it seem worthwhile.

I just received the first five chapters, complete with detailed comments on what works and what doesn’t, from my number one proofreader. She is always concerned that I’ll be offended by what she has to say, but if I’m going to be offended by anything, it’s the mistakes I allow myself to leave in before I send the story to her. Some of them are small–typos and such. Some of them are huge and will require significant rewrites. Still, I love them all. She, and the other proofreaders, make me better and for that I’m more grateful than they could possibly know.

The lesson in this is that if you can’t handle someone else providing a detailed commentary of what is good and, more importantly, what is bad with your writing, you should go do something else. What my readers do makes me so much better than I would be on my own and I love them all for it.

Now, I’ll cut this short so I can go fix my book.

I’ve been having the same occurring dream for the past couple of years and I’m not sure what it means. It pops up every few weeks or months, usually with a small variance from the previous ones, but keeping to the same general storyline as it changes.

I’m in a mall. This in itself is rather odd as there is not a legitimate mall within an hour of my house. Still, there I am in this mall that is mostly deserted as it is nearly time for the place to shut down. I am walking down a peripheral hall, probably a new wing of the mall, and there are very few shops. The number of open stores varies somewhat–sometimes there is a restaurant or a clothing store–but there is always a book store. It’s not a Borders, but it is designed along those lines, a small box store with tight aisles and low profile counters that allow easy sight lines across the store.

I go into the book store and look around. I realize the mall, and hence the store, is about to close, but I go in anyway. There are no other customers there, not even any staff that I can see. I am looking for something in particular, but I don’t know what it is. I keep looking, even though I know I need to leave. I can hear the roll down doors of the other stores in the mall closing, but I linger, still searching for that one particular book. Finally, I realize I am out of time and, though I have yet to see anyone attempting to close the store, I leave and try to find my way out of the mall.

Leaving the mall is sometimes easy, sometimes hard. There are times when I just leave the book store and head out through a nearby door. Sometimes I have to try several doors before I can gain the parking lot. A few times I have even gone through the restaurant–usually one of those mall-type Chinese places you find around a food court–and exited through their kitchen door to the outside. There is never anyone to help me find my way out and I keep thinking about that book store, what I was searching for, am my frustration over not being able to find it.

Like I said, there are occasional variations to this basic story. Sometimes I have one or more of my children with me. Sometimes the store is not in a mall, but in a building by itself. Regardless, I’d be happy to hear what you in readerland have to say about what the hell this all means. Feel free to comment away.

I was very dubious when I saw the advent of such games as Rock Band and Guitar Hero. My thinking was, “Here is a way for people with no talent or discipline to indulge their fantasies of being rock stars.” This point of view was enforced by my utter lack of ability on any such games.

Now, however, as I walk by my neighbor’s house in the evenings and hear the Xbox-generated music blaring from their living room, I have taken a completely opposite point of view. The mass appeal of these games has actually done a great many positive things that I overlooked in my initial take. First of all, they have awakened an interest in a lot of great music that would otherwise be overlooked by the younger generation, songs from my generation and before that were sadly falling towards obscurity. Also, the games have reawakened an interest in music as an art form and avocation. The time people young and old alike spend belting out “Freebird” or “Carry On My Wayward Son” builds that flicker of interest that, in many cases, is growing into a flame of desire for the real thing. I’ve heard many, many people tell me how they either received musical instruments or are considering buying them after building their confidence through video games. Not all of these Keith-Richardses-in-training will stick to the real instruments, but even a few more would be a great thing.

Now, if somebody would only invent a video game for writing novels like they have for playing rock and roll. Sure, we have National Novel Writing Month, but frankly the graphics on that suck and you can’t unlock bonus stories by posting a high score. Maybe they’ll work on that for next year.