Reviews

NOT SETTING THE PUBLISHING WORLD ON FIRE

Almost every month, Amazon informs sends me a bit of money from sales of my book. The amounts are enough to get a cup of coffee and a doughnut at Dunkin Donuts, but not enough for a cappuccino or anything at Starbucks. I’m always tickled that someone bought a copy. I’ve set the Kindle price as low as they will allow, so I don’t exactly make a killing on royalties.

The_12-Foot_Teepee_Cover_for_Kindle

I wrote the book in 2007. Publication date is officially September 27, 2007, though it really didn’t “hit the market” so to speak until 2008. I did lots of “author things.” Television interviews on local cable, radio interviews. I got a bit of nice local press.

I arranged book signings. They were fun, though turnouts were small. I got to meet other local authors, some of whom have become friends.

I sold a few hundred books. Not bad for a self-published book. For a while, I got royalty checks that were large enough for a cheap dinner for two at a local fast food joint. I briefly thought Teepee would be a minor straight to DVD movie, but financing failed. So much for Hollywood.

It’s difficult to successfully market a self-published book. Like all new authors, I had dreams of glory. I dreamed of Hollywood and best-seller lists. I was deluded.

A highly personal book largely based on life experiences will sell only if written by a celebrity. Even celebrity tell-all books don’t do well, moving from display in the front of the store to the discount bargain bin faster than you can say “I didn’t know he/she wrote a book …”

Recently, I got to read a lot of books deemed “the best fiction of the year.” I have no idea on what basis these books were determined to be the best of anything. The overall quality is pathetic. Most of them are uninspired, derivative, and trite. Boring at best, unreadable at worst. Many will cause you gastric distress and lead to a burning need to read something involving wizards, vampires, and time travel.

Every now and again I bump into a winner … an author who can really tell a story, and a story that transports me to another place. I live for those moments. It’s too rare.

Which brings me back to my book. It is not deathless literature, but it’s better than most of the books designated as the best of the year’s fiction. My book has characters, humor, and the semblance of a plot as well as a good-faith attempt by the author (me) to make a point. At the very least, you will learn how to build a tepee (perhaps how not to build a teepee). You might not love my book, but I’m pretty sure it won’t bore you into a stupor.

These days, books that sell are mostly cops and courtrooms, whodunits, thrillers, terrorists, fantasy, and the supernatural. Is the real world too dull to write about? Are we that boring?

If you are interested, you can buy the paperback here and the Kindle edition here. If you belong to Amazon Prime, you can borrow it for free.

I worry about the state of publishing. I am sure more good writers can’t find a publisher than can.

Why not publish more books? E-books cost nothing but storage space . Books like mine, published as “print to order”, don’t exist until after they are bought and paid for. It’s risk free and would be good for everyone.

I fear how many authors are ruined by their inability to play the marketing game. Writing a book is easy compared to marketing it. The race by publishers to put out only best-sellers doesn’t work anyhow. Most books flop, just as they always have.

As far as I can tell, most acquisitions editors wouldn’t know a great book if it bit them on the ass. It’s not that I’m so great and couldn’t get a reading, a publisher, or an agent. It’s that what does get published is so dreadful.

AFTER THE END COMES RENEWAL: EARTH ABIDES

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

I first read this book 40 years ago. It wasn’t new then having been written in 1949, yet it has stuck with me, despite having read thousands of books since.

Earth Abides is sometimes referred to as “the original disaster” story, but it isn’t a disaster story at all. It is, as the title suggests, a book of renewal and hope.

Although events are set in motion by a disaster — a plague that starts somewhere, no one is sure where — and kills off most of the population, that’s only the beginning of the story. A few people are naturally immune to the disease. Also, anyone who was ever bitten by a poisonous snake and survived is immune.

The remnants of humanity find each other and form groups, then tribes.  They repopulate the earth, creating a new society that has bits and pieces of what had gone before, without much of the baggage of the past.

The book was re-released in a 60th anniversary edition a few years ago, including a newly recorded audio version that has an introduction by Connie Willis.

Cover of the 1949 Random House hardcover editi...

Cover of the 1949 Random House hardcover edition of Earth Abides. Cover illustration by H. Lawrence Hoffman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I cannot count the number of copies of this book I’ve owned. I buy copies of it and lend it to people. It’s theoretically on loan, but the books are never returned, so i buy another copy.

The book is a bit preachy, but George Stewart is a lot less preachy than Anne Rice and I agree with him.

And, what seems ordinary today was revolutionary 63 years ago.

The book holds up well. Technology has moved on, but because technology is insupportable on a depopulated earth, it makes no difference what had or had not been invented. It is all useless without supporting infrastructure.

You can’t drive cars without gasoline, use phones without service. Our satellites might continue to circle the earth, but who would send or receive their signals? After our batteries go flat, it’s over for technology.

The world ends, the world begins. Earth abides.

Ish and Emma are the “mother” and “father” of the new tribe. Ish, in Hebrew, means “man” and “Eema” means “mother” which I am sure is not coincidental. It’s a wonderful story that suggests the human race has the ability to not only survive, but reinvent the world and be better than we are.

If you haven’t read this book, read it. It’s available on paper, for Kindle, and from Audible – an excellent recording with a fine narrator. I recommend it.

I love this book. I read a lot of science fiction, or used to … but I’m finding most of the new offerings in the genre bleak, to say the least. Hope is as scarce in recent science fiction as the visions of the future are barren and grim. Everything seems set in some version of an ugly, dystopian future emphasizing the worst traits of human nature. Granted we are flawed and there is much evil amongst us, but I don’t necessarily want to dwell in that wasteland.

Earth Abides is exactly the opposite. It is timeless — and rich with hope.

A POPPY IN REMEMBRANCE

World War I (WWI) officially began on July 28, 1914, though its real beginnings were rooted in events beginning decades, even centuries earlier. An ugly, devastating war consisting of 4 years of slaughter ending on November 11, 1918, they day we celebrate today.

The official number of military casualties is 22,477,500 killed, wounded, or missing in action. The combined number of military and civilian casualties is more than 37 million. If, as I do, you consider World War II as chapter two of the same conflict, the number of dead becomes even more incomprehensible.

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has celebrates Veteran’s Day each year, usually by inviting historians and military people to do introductions and closing comments on war films. General Wesley Clark has been doing TCM’s commentaries, most recently for Oh! What a Lovely War.

He referred to the movie as a musical comedy. While it has amusing moments, calling it a musical comedy doesn’t cut it. If comedy can be dark, this is totally black. It’s also surprisingly informative. I can date my interest in World War I and modern American history to having seen this movie when it was released in 1969.

In his closing comments following the movie, General Clark said he hoped we had learned our lesson from this and all the other wars of the past century. I turned to Garry and said, “And what lesson, exactly, might that be?”

“Obviously,” said my husband, making a sour face, “We have learned nothing.”

I agree. Well, we did learn a few things, though nothing good. We learned to build more lethal weapons. We can kill more people faster than we did 100 years ago. Much of our military technology emerged during and post-WWI.

I don’t see this as progress. If you want to know why I’m so cynical, why I have trouble believing in a benign deity, look at the casualty figures from the collective wars of the past century.

I love this movie. Not only because of its historical veracity — it’s accurate — but because the music is wonderful. The cast includes everyone who was anyone in British cinema at the time — Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Dirk Bogarde, Ralph Richardson and more, all having a great time.

I’ve seen this many times and I guess so has Garry since we can both know the words to all the songs. Very catchy.


OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR

Directed by Richard Attenborough (his directorial début)

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR

Until I saw this movie, I didn’t get the connection between poppies and World War I.

All I knew was that veterans organizations gave red poppies to people when they donated money, but I had no idea why. After you see this movie, you will never forget why.

I originally saw “Oh! What a Lovely War” when it was released in 1969. It’s World War I — in song, dance and irony. Its catchy score sticks in your brain.

The songs were sung by the troops and the cast includes everyone who was anyone in British stage or screen in the 1960s. The credits are a who’s-who of English actors.

World War I is hard to understand. Its causes are rooted in old world grudges that make no sense to Americans. So many ancient hatreds — thousands of years of scores to be settled.

My mother summed it: “Everyone was armed to the teeth. They wanted war. They just needed an excuse. Europe was a giant bomb waiting for someone to light a match.”

Hers may be as good an answer as any other. When the war began, it was the old world. The crowned heads of Europe ruled. When it finally ground to a halt in 1918, the world had changed beyond recognition. The European monarchies were gone. A generation of men had been slaughtered. The death toll was beyond belief. The callous indifference to loss of life by those in command remains incomprehensible.

More than 9 million men were killed in battle. This does not include collateral damage to non-combatants and death by disease or starvation. It paved the way for major political upheaval throughout the world.

Says the movie at the beginning: “The principal statements made by the historical characters in this film are based on documentary evidence, and the words of the songs are those sung by the troops during the First World War.”

The first World War could be called an orchestrated, organized international effort to murder a generation of men. They did a good job.

The statements of the historical characters — all lodged a safe distance from the fighting — are ludicrous. General Haig, looking at the staggering loss of life on both sides, really said: “in the end, the Germans will have 5,000 men and we will have 10,000, so we will have won.”? He said it. And meant it.

The arrival of the Americans and their takeover of the endless war — bringing it to a conclusion while there was still something left to save — is a great cinematic moment. I wonder how long it would have gone on without American involvement? Would Europe exist or would it all be a wasteland?

The war is told with music and dancing. Songs mixed with pithy comments from generals, kings, Kaisers and soldiers. It’s a long movie — 144 minutes — and I can promise you that you will have a far better and more visceral understanding of this war and what those little red poppies the Veterans organizations give out (do they still do that?) to commemorate the war to end all wars. Until the next war. And the one after that.

The music is ghastly, funny, catchy. The movie is out of print. It was only in print for a couple of months. I had been looking for it for a long time and was thrilled to snag a copy. A few copies are still available through Amazon. If you are a history buff and love great movies, grab one.

Great directing, biting sarcastic humor, terrific music and informative, this movie is in a category all by itself. It was unavailable for more than 20 years. You won’t be disappointed and you won’t forget it. In the 45 years since I first saw it, I haven’t forgotten it.

If you are willing to pay an exorbitant price, Amazon has a few copies here.

ALL TECHNOLOGY IS MAGIC — WALDO AND MAGIC, INC.

waldo and magic incI’m astonished how many people have read these two novellas and miss the point. Some readers apparently can’t see any connection between the two stories. They think these novellas are in a single volume by a fluke or “to fill up space.” Either they didn’t really read them or they are conceptually challenged, unable to make a logical leap between two related ideas without a flow chart.

The point is that technology is a based on our belief it will work. As long as we believe in it, it functions. If or when we stop believing, it won’t. It’s all magic.

When we lose faith in technology, magic jumps in and becomes the new technology. The difference between one and the other is functionally negligible. The stories’ plots are irrelevant. It’s the concept that counts.

I read these books about 50 years ago. I haven’t read them since, but remember them. Meanwhile, I can’t remember the plot of whatever book I read last week. These were original concepts when first introduced in the 1940s, was still original 25 years later when I read it. Probably still original today, more than 60 years after the stories were first published.

The best science fiction is concept-driven rather than character or plot-driven. These two have stuck with me for a lifetime. Both novellas are based on a unified concept: We believe in what works — and what works is what we believe.

Nothing is certain anymore. Nothing. Chaos is king and magic is loose in the world.

Available on Kindle, in paperback and from Audible.com.

THE AMBIVALENCE OF A NEW COMPUTER

We all want cool toys. The latest (hugest) iPhone. The hot sports car. We want all of it. Now, please. For this, the credit card was invented. I believe after the world ends and only cockroaches remain, Visa will still be sending threatening letters to cardholders.  The price tag is part of my ambivalence even though I […]

THE END OF THE ROAD FOR WINDOWS AND ME

Summary: Windows 10 will build in standards-based two-factor authentication to every device, effectively neutering most phishing attacks and password database breaches. The company also announced new features aimed at securing corporate machines from malware attacks and data leaks.

screenshot-www.zdnet.com 2014-10-23 12-39-55

The summary of Ed Bott’s column on the upcoming Windows 10 appalled me. Sickened me. Frightened me. The rest of the article confirmed my worst fears. I’m walking the final piece of road with Microsoft. The end of the road for me and Windows.

IN WITH THE NEW

The handwriting has been on my wall for a while.

Since April, my primary computer has been my Dell XPS 15 laptop. It has a fast motherboard, 8 GB RAM, 750 GB at 7500 HD, a backlit keyboard, high def monitor, a DVD that plays Blu-Ray, and a 9-cell battery. It weighs like a cannonball.

I use a lap desk with two fans to cool it. I treat it well, keep it clean. It’s never been dropped.

WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

Glad you asked. The graphics card is inadequate. It’s a card with both sound and graphics on it, so I can’t listen to anything while I work in Photoshop. And even so, it locks. It used to recover and knowing the source of the problem, (insufficient video RAM), I rebooted frequently. Mostly, it was okay. Lately, it has stopped recovering. It goes down, stays down. Hard crashes and blue screens of death.

Last week, it gave me a black screen — fatal error — which told me it did not recognize its power source. It was plugged into an AC outlet, so I suspect the battery is starting to go.

For months now, it has refused to install Microsoft updates, except antivirus. I figured I didn’t really need the updates, but I’d have to be stupid to not see the warnings. My faithful laptop is getting tired. Some day soon, it’s going to quit.

SO WHAT DID YOU ORDER? TELL ALL, PLEASE!

Possibly for the first time, I got enough computer to do what I need to do. It’s a gaming laptop, Alienware 14. It has 16 gigs of RAM, a dedicated 2 gig video card. DVD reader/writer. High definition graphics. Heavier than I’d like at 6 pounds, but nothing lighter had all the features I want.

Alienware14-laptops

It looks like my new computer will be my last Windows machine. It’s the most powerful Alienware computer I could configure — based on Windows 7. It had better last a long time because I’ve tried using Windows 8 on Microsoft’s tablets (1 running RT and the other running Windows 8.1). I’ve also put in some time using my friend’s Windows 8.1 desktop.

I hated it. From Mr. Bott’s description, the worst of the problems of Windows 8 will become “the features” of Windows 10 or whatever they decide to call it. This is not a new approach in the high-tech world, mind you. It’s a classic, the “smoke and mirrors” approach.

“OH NO, that isn’t a bug … IT’S A FEATURE!”

You heard me right. It isn’t that Microsoft has made it impossible to run non-Microsoft products on that computer you bought. They are protecting you from the big, bad, world. Nor are they are providing you with a viable alternative to the way you used to work. They are requiring you play in their ballpark. A tiny world that has limited tools and applications to do whatever it is you do. If you want to do other things and they don’t have what you need? Gee … I guess that’s too bad. Microsoft figures it can set the rules. They own you. All you zombies will march in step and pay them money for the privilege.

Not this zombie. And not a whole lot of my fellow zombies. Mind you I am no great fan of Mac, either. I have a heavy investment in windows-based software, which is how come I have put up with all this crap so far … but there is a line over which you cannot push me. You cannot tell me I have to live in your universe to the exclusion of all others “for my own safety.” If my mother couldn’t do it, Microsoft definitely cannot.

No matter what you believe, it’s MY world. MY computer. MY money. MY investment, work, effort, and creativity. You will not force me to do it your way. This is not happening. Thanks for warning me, though. I’ll start saving now for the huge investment I will have to make in the future to change to a different system. And shame on all you tech authors for trying to sell this as a good thing. For not saying that the obvious end result of this shill game is the end of freedom of choice for anyone who buys into Microsoft’s new operating systems.

And so, Mr. Bott, you who wrote this article for ZDnet — Whatever happened to your journalistic ethics? Did they pay you to dump them or merely make it clear you have to tow the party line or else? I can’t believe you actually believe the drivel you’re writing. When I started in the high-tech biz as a writer, we limited the shilling for sponsored products to the “new products” columns and didn’t feature the lies. We were encouraged to use judgment and commonsense when writing lead articles because we still thought our subscribers were the people to whom we answered.

I’m embarrassed to be a member of the same profession. Ashamed. You should be too.


In conjunction with today’s Daily Prompt – Ready, Set, Done – free writing exercise. I think this may have taken more than 10 minutes (but not much more) and it is I have to say.

GARRY ARMSTRONG’S FAVORITE MOVIES* – 2014 UPDATE

The title has an asterisk because this is an impossible post. I can’t begin to do justice to all the movies I love when limited to ten. However, a dear friend (and fellow movie maven) asked me to compile such a list for a project.

Hollywood Legends Poster

I saw my first film at age four in 1946. I recall relatives saying I talked like a grown up, spouting familiar lines. Frequently they were lines from movies.

72-Bette'sPix_05

Photo by Bette Stevens

That quirk would continue for the rest of my life right to the present.

I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with many of the legends from old Hollywood, which sometimes clouds my perspective. I become totally immersed with movies. I become part of the film, sharing the feelings of the characters. Love, hate, joy and sorrow.

And now … the movies.

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES – 1946. The first movie I saw. I was 4-years old. Mom and Dad looked like a celebrity couple. Dad, just back from active duty in World War Two, seemed 10-feet tall in his uniform. The film’s theme, GI’s readjusting to civilian life, would become a personal issue in our family.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN – 1960. If I love movies, I am passionate about westerns! I saw “The Magnificent Seven” 6 times during its first week in the theater. Steve McQueen was “the man”. The stars were so very cool. Eli Wallach was a hoot as the Mexican bandit leader. His line, “Generosity, that was my first mistake…” is my email signature.

INHERIT THE WIND – 1960. Every time it’s on, we watch it. Marilyn and I smile, anticipating the lines, waiting for the Spencer Tracy/Clarence Darrow monologues. The Tracy-Fredric March courtroom scenes are perfect. Two masters at work. Gene Kelly does his best dramatic work as the acerbic H.L. Mencken character. The film’s an excellent classroom tool for anyone unfamiliar with the Scopes trial.

THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY – 1964. If you love great script and dialogues, this may be the all-time best movie. The real star is the script and its writer, Paddy Chayefsky. James Garner’s favorite movie and best film role. Garner was brilliant! Ably supported by Julie Andrews (her first dramatic role). Hard to watch a gung-ho action war flick after viewing this one.

TOMBSTONE – 1993. I came on board after the second or third viewing of this one because of Marilyn’s love of this version of the Earp saga. It’s fast-paced, well-acted, relatively authentic and beautifully photographed. The film gives us a jolt of vicarious pleasure as the good guys mow down the bad guys. We have coördinated Tombstone tee shirts.

GIGI – 1958. I remember seeing this first run. I was 16, head over heels in love with Leslie Caron. A couple of years earlier, I’d waited outside the tiny Trans-Lux Theater in Manhattan where Caron’s Lilli had a record-breaking run. A wonderful musical. Music, sets, cast. Marilyn and I know the songs and sing along. It never gets old.

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN – 1952. Maybe best musical. Ever. So many wonderful “numbers” including Gene Kelly’s iconic (I know the word is overused) title tune sequence. Once upon a time, I used to dance to work in the rain, just singing and dancing – like Gene Kelly. I got more than a few stares.

SHANE – 1953. Marilyn and I saw this first run at the Loews Valencia in Queens, New York, but not together. The Valencia was like Radio City Musical Hall. Fantastic and huge, with a starlit ceiling. Alan Ladd’s finest performance thanks to director George Stevens. I’ve seen Shane dozens of times and still marvel at its photography and editing. The scene of “Reb’s” funeral is classic – cinematic magic.

S.O.B. – 1981. Blake Edwards scathing take on Hollywood. It didn’t endear him to tinsel town’s movers and shakers, and they tried to sabotage S.O.B.’s distribution. William Holden and Julie Andrews head a wonderful ensemble cast. Holden’s dialogue to a suicidal friend could well have been Holden’s own eulogy.

CASABLANCA – 1943. Who doesn’t love this film? I met co-writer Julius Epstein in the 70’s. He shared lots of great stories about the making of Casablanca. He said every day was crazier than the previous one, with new dialogue arriving as scenes were set up. We saw a remastered Casablanca on the big screen last year, a celebration of its 70th anniversary. Bogie and the gang were in their prime.

Ask me to name my ten favorites next month, you’ll get different answers (with a few carry-overs)! Hooray for Hollywood!

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