Friday, October 28, 2005

Rats, he's gone

I couldn't pass this one up, it's too delicious. New Zealand scientists tried to discover why rats are so difficult to eradicate by dumping a single rat on a deserted island then trying to catch it. Him, I should say, because the darn rat showed almost human intelligence. He evaded traps, baits, and other nasties for four months, then was finally found on another island 400 meters from the island he was dropped on. On top of it, the rat had a radio collar!
"After 10 weeks on the island the rodent decided it had had enough. It swam 400 meters, the longest distance recorded for a rat across open sea, to another rat-free island where it was eventually captured in a trap baited with penguin meat several weeks later."
Huh. Talk about survival of the fittest.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

It's in the BAG

I've been increasingly enjoying the BAGnewsNotes entries, which are political commentaries based daily media pictures. Michael Shaw is a clinical psychologist whose research "involves the psychology of character and the everyday presentation of self. His research has dealt primarily with symbolic expression, the process of visual narrative, and the psychological function of metaphor."

This bent is evident in his analyses. They are incisive, sometimes funny, often quirky. Well worth a visit.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Cliché Finder

Cat got your tongue? Do you work day and night not to use clichés? The truth is out there, in the form of the Cliché Finder. Just pop in a word, click the search button and voilà! It's a sad sack who can't use it to do a clean sweep of these overdone expressions. This is the work of Morgan Friedman, who looks like a very busy man.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

It's so easy to write

Ink Slinger again, but this time his website. Paul Guyot has an interesting take on why people think it's easy to write:
"There are two reasons, actually. The first is what I call the Summer Vacation syndrome. Every person has, at one time, had to write something. In elementary school it was the "How I spent my summer vacation" essay. In high school it was the "Analysis of manuscript," formerly known as a book report. In college it was the "Thesis."
I hadn't thought about it in that particular way, but it struck me as quite true. Everyone in school had to write some kind of essay or story, and were graded on it. If you got an A, doesn't that mean that you're good? That it's easy to write?

To paraphrase Lawrence Block, many writers want to have been published. They want the hardcover with their names on it in Chapters, or Barnes and Noble, or on amazon. That is the accomplishment. Never mind having to spend time perfecting the craft. I'm not talking about spelling and grammar, although both are necessary basics. I'm talking about mastering character motivation, structure, description, style, tone, setting, conflict, action, suspense.

Plot? Sure, that's important, too, but these days there are too many good stories badly written. Case in point, The Da Vinci Code, which has been on the best seller lists (but we know about these, now, don't we?) for months and is a badly written book.

This seems to reinforce the idea that it's okay not to know how to write well, as long as the story is sensational enough. And of course, if you're a celebrity, then even the story itself doesn't count. They're selling their names, not the content of the book.

Doesn't matter. I'll continue to try to perfect my craft because, even though I'm not a literary writer and never will be, it's important to me to give my readers the best experience possible. I want them to say, at the end of the book, that words flowed so well they couldn't put it down.

Monday, October 24, 2005


An interesting informal survey at Ink Slinger on the importance of a striking book cover. People do judge books by their cover.

A revealing article at Independent Publisher on bestseller lists and book returns. Those lists are not what they seem. The article also mentions the Book Standard's "real" bestseller list, based on numbers of books sold rather than numbers of books ordered by bookstores.

In Wired News, an article on businesses blocking blog sites at work.

Why I love my Library

Last week I went to a book sale that benefited the Friends of my local library. They advertised 8 miles of books at up to 80% discount, and they delivered. I admit it, I went into a feeding frenzy and came out with $70 worth of books. Most of them unknown authors (to me anyway), except for a Salman Rushdie and a Nora Roberts I intend to give away.

Well, the authors were unknown (to me anyway) for a reason. The books are crap. The writing is crap. The stories are crap. Sigh. And I paid good money for them.

Then, last week again, I picked up Squeeze Play from R. J. Kaiser at my local library. It looked interesting. Wrong. The writing was crap. The story was crap. I stopped reading after 80 pages. The difference? Reading that book didn't cost me a penny.

Gotta love the library. Go get some books, people. Encourage your local library.

Friday, October 21, 2005

How many have you read?

And having seen the movie doesn't count. Chapters Indigo has come out with its Top 100 Readers' Choice. Here they are, from first to one-hundreth:
  • The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown
  • Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  • To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  • The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Anne of Green Gables
  • Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
  • A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J. K. Rowling
  • Angels and Demons, Dan Brown
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J. K. Rowling
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
  • Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone, J. K. Rowling
  • Fall on Your Knees, Ann-Marie MacDonald
  • The Stand, Stephen King
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J. K. Rowling
  • Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
  • The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger
  • Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
  • The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold
  • Life of Pi, Yann Martel
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
  • Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis
  • East of Eden, John Steinbeck
  • Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom
  • Dune, Frank Herbert
  • The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks
  • Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
  • 1984, George Orwell
  • The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follet
  • The Power of One, Bryce Courtenay
  • I Know this Much is True, Wally Lamb
  • The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
  • The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
  • The Clan of the Cave Bear, Jean M. Auel
  • The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
  • Confessions of a Shopaholic, Sophie Kinsella
  • The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom
  • Gift and award Bible NIV, Various
  • Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  • The Cound of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
  • Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt
  • The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
  • She's Come Undone, Wally Lamb
  • The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
  • A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
  • Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
  • Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Stone Angel, Margaret Laurence
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J. K. Rowling
  • The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough
  • The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
  • The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
  • Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
  • War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
  • Interview with the Vampire, Ann Rice
  • Fifth Business, Robertson Davies
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Ann Brashares
  • Catch-22, Joseph Heller
  • Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
  • The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  • Bridget Jones' Diary, Helen Fielding
  • Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Shogun, James Clavell
  • The English Patient, Michael Oondatje
  • The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  • The World According to Garp, John Irving
  • The Diviners, Margaret Laurence
  • Charlotte's Web, E. B. White
  • Mot wanted on the Voyage, Timothy Findley
  • Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
  • Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
  • Wizard's First Rule, Terry Goodkind
  • Emma, Jane Austen
  • Watership Down, Richard Adams
  • Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  • The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields
  • Blindness, Jose Saramago
  • Kane and Abel, Jeffrey Archer
  • In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Oondatje
  • Lord of the Flies, William Golding
  • The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck
  • The Secret Life of Bees
  • The Bourne Identity, Robert Ludlum
  • Th Outsiders, S. E. Hinton
  • White Oleander, Janet Fitch
  • A Woman of Substance, Barbara Taylor Bradford
  • The Celestine Prophecy, James Redfield
  • Ulysses, James Joyce

In cases like this, thank God for libraries.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Currently Reading...

Under the Duvet: Shoes, Reviews, Having the Blues, Builders, Babies, Families and Other Calamities, by Marian Keyes.

In Under the Duvet, Keyes talks about her (somewhat dysfunctional) life in a series of essays, most of which were published in the Tatler. From her loathing of gardening to her dark days with alcohol abuse, she unveils her thoughts and feelings about the terrors and bliss of living, in a very Irish way. It's not only the language that's different (crisps instead of chips, boot instead of trunk, etc.), it's the mindset of being a woman in Ireland. Typically, the women in the essays are more fleshed out than the men, which makes the poor men always sound dense and unenlightened, while the women put up with it because that's just the way it is. Despite the cultural differences, it's easy to relate to many situations she's gone through: learning to drive, going through house renovations, spending Christmas with your family (when you'd rather be elsewhere, like in Groenland).

Okay, Under the Duvet is not literature. But it's fun, and a touch of levity in life has never hurt anyone.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Random Title Generator

"Silent Sparks." "The Bare Hunter." "Dreams in the Stones." "Storms of Silence."

Pretty good stuff, which was created by the Random Title Generator, which is part of a derivative fiction --or fanfic-- site.