”If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.”
First, I’ll blame Michael. He got me interested in Bruins Nation, a sports blog for the UCLA Bruins, which is where he gets his Bruins sports trivia. I subscribed to their RSS feed (I’m not cool enough for a twitter feed), and that got me to thinking … how about my alma mater? Surely there is a sports blog dedicated to the University of Missouri? My Tigers???
Indeed there is: Rock M Nation. I began to read, and I am now awash in sports trivia for the two colleges’ teams I follow: Mizzou, where I went to school, and UCLA, where my money went.
One post on Rock M Nation pointed me towards a novel that was set at Mizzou. It’s written by Michael Atchison, an alum that knows the guys at Rock M … come to find out, he’s a sports journalist who wrote a novel about music. And growing up. And being disappointed. In Missouri.
I’m in. There’s an excerpt you can read, here.
Meanwhile, back at the computer, I decided to upgrade my music consumption with one of those new fangled iPod thingies. The lovely Velda gave me one for Christmas. Perfect! I had a business trip coming up in January to northern Iowa (the high was 11* while I was there), so I could use the iPod on the trip.
I proceeded to rip the soundtrack of my life.
I believe in purchasing music, by the way. I have CDs and more CDs. I do not steal music. Haven’t purchased digital downloads, as I 1) had no place to put them and 2) I don’t like their inferior audio quality.
I’m an audio snob. Get over it.
So I made digital copies of music from Carly Simon, Jethro Tull, Tom Russell, Bread, Eastmountainsouth, Chicago, The Beatles, The Stones, Michael Jackson, Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones, Madonna, Hank Williams, Orleans, Martina McBride, Rosie Flores, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Church, Nikka Costa, Pure Prairie League, Clint Black, Nicolette Larson, The Wailin’ Jennys, Frank Sinatra, Wylie & The Wild West, Barbra Streisand, Led Zeppelin, Zac Brown Band, James Taylor, Danni Leigh, Amy Grant and Lady Antebellum. To name a few. I got on the plane with 11,000 songs. It was heaven.
My iPod, my noise cancellation headphones, and my kindle. Three illegal items when the plane is taking off or landing, but, oh, when we were soaring … I was soaring.
I pulled up my nascent playlists. Funk. Mellow. Western. Hits. ’70s. Country Stars. Yum.
I had not had this level of aural control of my environment since I stopped regularly visiting my woodshop … where I have a great CD changer + sound system set up (OK, OK, my garage. But it IS my woodshop.). Unfortunately, my last woodworking projects were last spring, and life took some different terms since then. All good … but I now had my music back, and it was wonderful.
On my way to Iowa, I finished my Poul Anderson series of 7 novels that collected the eon-spanning story that went from the Psychotechnic League to Domininc Landry into the Long Night that followed. Great space opera, classic, award-winning science fiction, but I struggled a bit to finish it. The series has been compared to the James Bond series (Ian Fleming introduced 007 to the world 2 years later). Same dashing hero, same damsel-in-distress conquests. Good stories, really, but not great literature. I was glad to be done.
On my trip home, I didn’t know what I wanted to read. I had about 25 novels on the kindle … and I’d forgotten what XL was about. I needed a change of pace, though, and this unknown author looked like just the ticket.
The music was a collection of favorites. I jumped around from mellow to party to western to country. But every tune, every tune, was a favorite. It was transcendent.
And then the novel took me back, just as the music was taking me back, to the beginning of my college journey in Columbia, MO. In 1974, I found a creative release like never before … just as David Hankins did in XL. He met the love of his life, as did I. He had his dream yanked from him, as did I. His story might be more compelling than mine, but with my music in my ears, and his story in my heart, I was having a wonderful, wonderful trip.
And then the book turned sentimental, with a character that believed in David dying, and then using his funeral to give even more support back to David.
I sobbed. In the plane. Me. Sobbed. In public.
Now, I’m not a walking puddle of emotions like Velda. Her profound leaking of tears at Christopher and Alley’s wedding became the stuff of legend. She’s probably still dehydrated, 5 years later. I am an emotional sort, and I’ve been known to shed a tear now and again. But in public, in the company of strangers, while reading a book? Not so much.
Until I played my soundtrack, and read XL, and it was simply pitch perfect.
XL’s about many things, but the engine that drives the book is music. The author says on his website that there are 209 bands & musicians discussed in the book. It’s about the music, and Hankins has the music in him. It’s a great read.
You’ll meet David Hankins as he studies journalism at the University of Missouri. There were a few landmarks in the book that made me feel at home … but the novel could begin at any college, really. And when David went into the ’80s Goth underground club scene in Columbia I didn’t know if Atchison was kidding or serious. I mean … Columbia? A counter-culture? Really? Maybe it was there. I was so straight in the ’70s, I wouldn’t have known a counter-culture if it hit me in the face … which it did a couple of times, come to think of it.
I finished the book after I returned home, and it did not disappoint. I wholeheartedly recommend it to you, whether you know Mizzou or not. In the end, the book is just about a guy, that loves a girl. They both love their family … and his music.
This is Michael Atchison’s first novel, but I look forward to his next. Hope to see you around the Quad, Michael!
It’s tempting to say this is a triumph of new media. And it is … but it’s really a triumph of a very good book. That’s not a new media story — that’s a classic story. Good products win; good marketing only helps them win faster. And such is the case here.
Hugh Howey has successfully created a community that loves his writing. That is not done easily, and he has done it independently.
He was a part-time writer and book store employee struggling to find his way. He wrote a novella called Wool, which began to find an audience. He marketed it as a e-book on Amazon.com. As people began to find it, they became invested in his success.
They encouraged him to keep writing. He published more parts of the Wool story. Remember, this sort of episodic publishing is not new — authors have serialized their stories since soon after the printing press was published.
His readers volunteered to help with proof reading, and they helped correct Wool’s errors.
They submitted cover artwork.
And he kept writing. Howey recently gathered the first 5 Wool “books” into a single omnibus edition which is what I read. It’s a fabulous book, and worth your time. The movie rights to Wool were just sold to Sir Ridley Scott. You’ve seen his stuff: Thelma & Louise. Alien. Blade Runner. Gladiator. And he’s the executive producer of the best show on CBS: “The Good Wife.” Here’s hoping he can do something wonderful with Wool!
Today, some established authors have decried the lack of quality found among the independent authors that are self-publishing. Sue Grafton famously talked about the “wannabes” of independent publishing in this article published in August. It’s illuminating to note a few facts comparing Grafton’s latest novel, V is for Vengeance, with Howey’s Wool Omnibus.
V: 343 Amazon reviews averaging a 4.1 rating. $14.99 for the kindle edition.
Wool: 1,908 Amazon reviews averaging a 4.8 rating. $1.99 for the kindle edition TODAY … it’s Today’s Daily Deal!
I’ve read much of Grafton’s alphabet series; I have enjoyed following Kinsey Millhone, her private investigator that lives in the fictional southern California city of Santa Teresa. I certainly appreciate the professional presentation of her traditionally published novels. Who doesn’t appreciate good proof reading? On the other hand, even her deep catalog on the kindle is still $5.99 each. It seems traditional publishers expect readers to pay for that proof reading. Handsomely.
Howey has succeeded in tapping into his audience in a way that old-school authors like the 72-year old Grafton just can’t emulate. Check out my favorite part of Howey’s website, his chart of how many words he’s written for each of his ongoing projects. His readers know exactly where he is and what he’s working on.
But back to Wool.
Great opening line: “The children were playing while Holston climbed to his death; he could hear them squealing as only happy children do.”
Life has gotten very small in this post-apocalyptic story. The exterior world is deadly; the living world is limited to the inside of a giant buried silo that holds everyone and everything. The only view of the exterior world is limited by the cleanliness of the sensors mounted above ground at the top of the structure. When a silo resident goes outside to clean those sensors, they die.
How did people get into this situation? Why can’t they get out of it? What IS out there?
Read the book. You need to read this book. Buy it today for your kindle; only $1.99 on Amazon.com!
Me, I just bought Wool 6, which is a prequel. And since Wool 7 is already 60% done … can’t wait!
I’ve always been a reader. My folks always had money for me to buy books in elementary school — and money was precious. Reading, though, was important.
And I became a reader.
A few years ago, I decided to step up my game. I was reading a lot of novels — mainly political thrillers, police procedurals and hard sci-fi.
I discovered the Easton Press, and subscribed to a couple of their series: The 100 Greatest Books Ever Written, and The Masterpieces of Science Fiction (which Easton has since canceled). Every month, I get a classic book in the mail, and one result is a great office environment for me.
Since I’ve already received a petition to leave this accumulation to someone in my will, I know my passion for good reads in attractive packages is shared.
I’ve supplemented the library with non-redundant selections from another canceled series, The 100 Greatest Books of All Time, published by Franklin Library. You put it all together, and you’ve got a very fine and far-reaching collection of literature. The authors range from Orson Scott Card to Franz Kafka, from Virgil to Shakespeare, from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., to Petronius.
What’s it take to become a classic? Perhaps having the best opening line, and the best closing line … in the same book! Such duality is the case in A Tale of Two Cities.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
From that beginning, Dickens takes you on a journey through Victorian England and revolutionary France. You get unique perspectives on human compassion, love, dedication to your profession and revenge. It’s also a heady brew of human misery.
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
You need to read this book.
Some of the books are difficult reads, frankly. I typically read in dribs and drabs … several minutes over weekday lunches, and perhaps an hour in the evening. I’m often multi-tasking, with a sandwich in my hand or waiting for a computer program to install. I’ve found I have difficulty appreciating poetry with that backdrop. I also don’t like reading plays — ironic, given my passion in college was theater. Perhaps that’s simply I love doing theater, not reading the literature.
Some books are true surprises: loved the Count of Monte Cristo. Really haven’t liked any of Jules Verne; it’s just too dated for me. Thoreau’s Walden hasn’t improved with age (I liked it when I read it years ago; was totally non-plussed this time through). Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None was fabulous, as was Zola’s Nana. And many more!
Your mileage will vary, of course. And isn’t that discovery really the fun part?
The LA Times said today that Apple’s illegal acts to conspire with publishers to fix the price of e-books was “a sign of an industry grappling with disruptive change.” Hogwash.
Here’s what it is: an illegal act by our country’s highest valued business. Apple decided that it couldn’t compete legally with Amazon.com’s Kindle, so it conspired with 5 leading book publishers to fix prices at what these unlawful actors decided was “a fair price.” I don’t know about you, but any time a bunch of fat cat bureaucrats have secret meetings to decide what they think is a fair price, I’m offended. I am always offended by illegal activity.
Apple was on the other side of the problem when it helped bring an end to the old school music industry. I was more than a passive consumer in this process: Apple’s mandate that they would sell recorded music at 99 cents for a single was one of the signposts on the highway that lead to the closing of the business that employed me for 22 years. Apple was in the right then … they told fat cat record label execs that they would not allow iTunes to support the bloated CD prices of the day. Remember paying $17.99 for a CD? Remember CDs being more expensive that hit movie DVDs? Thankfully, those days are gone.
Apple’s 99 cent singles were very low priced — but remember the context. When the iPod was released in 2001, seemingly every high school and college student was stealing their music with downloads from illegal sites like Kazaa or Napster. Some people are still illegally downloading, and many court cases are still in process. Those thieves should be punished. I am always offended by illegal activity.
Understand, I’m a big fan of free enterprise. If music retailers can get you to pay $17.99 for a CD, then I’m all for it. On the other hand, it would be illegal for retailers & music labels to collude with each other to ensure that those CD prices were always $17.99. That’s criminal conspiracy — which is exactly what the book publishers did with Apple.
Who would have thought that Apple would have been so right with music retailing and so wrong with book retailing?
Why did Apple engage in these criminal acts? You’re going to read a lot of whining by the book publishers that they need to be able to pay authors “fairly.” That whining will include statements that Amazon’s pricing policies are “too low” and “unfair.” Hogwash.
Authors should be paid by their publishers as much as possible, given what readers are willing to pay for their books. I’ve happily paid $10.99 for a paperback. I’ve happily paid $15.99 for an e-book. If I didn’t want to pay that much, then I didn’t have to buy that book. That’s fair.
It’s certainly true book retailers are under no obligation to sell their e-books through Amazon. Amazon charges substantially for publishers to sell their books directly through their portal (typically 30% of retail). Some publishers, like Baen Books, do not use Amazon for e-books, and “force” consumers to buy electronic books exclusively through their own website, and then upload their books into your mobile device by hand. That way, Baen gets to keep 100% of the revenue … but they make uploading the books much more difficult. Their choice.
Personally, I wish that Baen didn’t do it that way. But they have authors I like to read, so I go jump through their hoops so I can read about the Liaden Universe, or get the newest sci fi by John Ringo or David Weber on my Kindle.
I am a voracious reader, and being a consumer, I don’t want to over pay for the books I read. When I got my Kindle, it literally changed the way I read. I used to carry 5 paperbacks with me on business trips, and I had to buy more at many airport bookstores. Today I only carry my Kindle (which has 27 books on it waiting to be read).
There is no doubt that the court approval of the settlement with the book publishers and Apple will change the way that books are retailed. When the music business lowered their prices, they had less money to pay new artists. If book publishers can’t illegally set high prices with Apple, then they will have fewer resources to develop new authors, and less money to buy promotional campaigns for established authors.
However, new authors will seize the opportunity to embrace their marketplace in new ways. Hugh Howey, author of Wool and the Molly Fyde saga, is an incessant promoter on Facebook. His mastery of social media is fueling his career … and his passion is not matched by the marketing methods of traditional publishers for best selling authors in your brick & mortar bookstore.
The bottom line is clear: the rule of law prevailed and punished book publishers and Apple. Consumers win. Readers win. You win.
I’m generally a stickler for being on time. I hate the anxiety associated with not being timely.
It’s with great pleasure, however, that I find that however late to the party, I found a great reading escape this summer, to the Liaden Universe.
Science Fiction has been one of my reading passions since I first discovered Isaac Asimov, Robert Silverberg and Ray Bradbury in grade school. I generally enjoy “hard sci fi” and military sci fi the best, though the space opera that is the Liaden Universe has been a delight.
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller are the authors, and they struggled mightily to bring this work to their readers beginning in 1998. They found a way for readers to fund them with online subscriptions, chapter by chapter, until they found a publisher that would help them produce the series.
The books trace Clan Korval, seemingly, from this universe to the next over the course of several generations. From a telepathic vegetable to the coming of age story that is at the center of the last 3 books, I found the ideas fresh and the emotions pure. Loved the long-lived clutch turtles with names as long as their years!
These books are true to the space opera genre: the thoughts and emotions of the characters generally take center stage; the action and technology are secondary to the people.
The work itself has been published in several overlapping, confusing formats, which made figuring it out a bit of a problem. As is often the case, Wikipedia was a big help in identifying which edition was which.
Side note: I’ve resolved to never use the resources on Amazon.com to figure out the order of an author’s work again. Amazon does not seem to understand that reading book 3 before book 4 is the best way to read a series. Amazon just doesn’t understand that their customers often need help discerning which book is which.
Here, then, are the books as available from Baen Books, which are conveniently available for reading in electronic form:
Note that Baen Books does not make their books available electronically through Amazon.com; you’ll have to purchase direct from Baen and upload to your Kindle. It’s very simple to do so with the directions on the Baen site. If you’re looking for traditional books printed on traditional paper, that’s also possible!