Thursday, July 28, 2011

Borders Closing

This Borders closed some months ago


What can I say?  The Borders bookstores are closing.  Earlier this year, people in the know said they were in a death spiral. 

Barnes & Noble may get a temporary bump from this, but the book industry could be in the middle of fundamental restructuring. 

Judging from my previous experience with the closing of a large Borders, you’ll have to wait a couple more weeks to get the really cheap deals.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What the gods demand

Below is an excerpt from my historical fantasy manuscript, Virgin Unknown.  Iphi is telling a young girl what happened to her as a child.  Remember what it takes to win the favor of the gods -- sacrifice.  


            “Then the soldiers came.” 
            The girl stirred beside her and looked up.  “You were raided?  By sea people?” 
            “They were sent by my father.  The soldiers took me to a city called Aulis.  There, the fleet was assembled to rescue my Aunt Helen from Troy.  But the winds wouldn’t let them leave.  My father Agamemnon, head of the fleet, had ordered me brought there.  That’s what I overhead the soldiers saying on the ship we sailed. 
            “The soldiers weren’t cruel -- I was a king’s daughter.  Looking back on it, they knew what would happen, but only the king’s hands could do it. 
            “It was the most glorious sight my childish eyes had ever seen.  The pathway ended at the altar, which was on a cliff overlooking the sea.  The ships!  A thousand ships, floating in the water.  Their sails weren’t filled, but still, to see the greatest fleet in the history of our people!  I can still see them today, when I close my eyes.” 
            “This story isn’t going to end well, is it?” 
            Iphi sighed again.  Now she did close her eyes, but what she saw in her memory chilled her. 
            “The soldiers set me on the stone pavement surrounding the altar, then walked quickly away, their duty over.  My father stood there, alone.  He was in his gleaming bronze armor.  The light shone on his shoulders, as if twin suns rested there.  I squealed with delight. 
            “His face was odd.  I couldn’t see his eyes.  They were normally bright and alert, but it was like they were sunken within his eyelids.  His cheeks were sallow.  And the whole left side of his face twitched.  Know these as the signs of madness. 
            “He lifted me with my baby cloak onto the altar with his strong hands.  He spoke gently, told me how he loved me.  Then he tied my wrists to that hard surface.  He kissed my forehead.  His face twitched again. 
            “Then he picked up an axe.  He hefted it in his hands, getting ready to strike.  That’s how I remember him:  Insane, eyes hidden, axe in his hands.  I was scared.  My own father.”  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

When Trophy Wives Attack

Rupert Murdoch's third wife Wendi is a former volleyball player.  Keep that in mind as you watch what happens when someone tries to throw a pie in his face while he was testifying to a committee of Parliament.  You mostly see Rupert's son looking helpless, then on the left of the screen you see Wendi slap the guy on the head!  Good choice, Rupert!  

Monday, July 18, 2011

Vicious Half-Truth #3: Show, Don't Tell


The constant mantra out there among writers is “show, don't tell.”   That is, don't just tell the reader that a spaceship feels cramped, show it in the narrative by the crew members ducking to avoid overhead power lines, stepping carefully to avoid stairway alcoves, and almost colliding with each other.  Don’t tell us that a man is almost drowning on the coast of the Ionian Sea, show him hanging on to a jagged half-submerged rock, and then the pounding roar of the surf headed towards him.  And above all, don’t tell us that a character is smart, brave, pious, seductive, etc., but show us by the character’s actions and how others respond.  This makes the writer give vivid descriptions that the reader will find convincing. 

Unfortunately, this is a vicious half-truth. 

The advantage of books over TV or movies is we can describe what the characters think and feel.  And the way to do this is to tell the reader.  I've tried to show thoughts and feelings by action, which doesn't work.  For instance, I tried to show the desperation of the man in the Ionian Sea by his getting weaker as the rough surf pounded him.  And I thought I was showing how ingenious he was in his how he acted to save himself.  The criticism I received from online critiques indicated I didn’t show his thoughts or feelings. 

Tell the reader what the character is thinking, what the character is feeling.  Hopefully, you can avoid trite phrases such as “He thought,” or “He felt.”  There has to be good cause and effect, linked to the physical world.  The character may observe a certain detail, which leads her to think she’s being used as bait, or more explicitly, Using me as . . . bait.  Or the character’s feelings may be linked to a clenched stomach or tense shoulders, or suspicion that his eyelid is twitching. 

Show the reader your character and surroundings by showing, not telling.  But plunge your reader into your character’s thoughts and feelings by telling what they are.  

Friday, July 8, 2011

The CSI Effect

I have cleverly inked out the name of the defendant and shown only part of her face, so you cannot possibly guess whom I am referring to. 


At a science fiction convention, I heard two CSI speakers describe their craft in great detail.  The session was packed, and we were fascinated at the techniques that can bring murderers and other criminals to justice.  But one part of it was disturbing:  What they call the CSI effect. 

Jurors nowadays have watched television dramas like the multiple CSI series, Bones, or other shows that dramatize the use of forensic evidence gathered at crime scenes.  The problem is, juries often expect that same sort of evidence when they sit in a courtroom.  As these experts said, there was a case where a criminal’s presence was proved by his fingerprints.  A juror voted not guilty.  She reasoned that since no DNA evidence was shown, the criminal’s presence was not really proved. 

These CSI type of shows have barely possible scenarios, in which they find a strand of hair, and their analysis then shows the assailant was left-handed and used a monkey wrench to kill the victim while Colonel Mustard was standing ten feet to the right.  By the end of the episode, they can show by animation, holographic imagery, or blurry imagination with lots of screaming exactly how the murder took place.  And jurors expect that.  They want to know the exact method of the murder, at exactly what angle the victim was struck, and the exact movements of the murderer before, during, and after the act. 

These expectations pretty much belong to the realm of fantasy land. 

In the case I referenced, pundits on the news have said the prosecution must know the method of death in order to convict the accused mother.  Not true.  The standard of proving the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt does not include knowing the method of death.  Look it up.  Taken to a ridiculous extreme, you could have a videotape of the mother throwing her little girl, wrapped in blanket but with duct tape on the face, into a swamp.  If you do not know if the baby died before being thrown in, you would have to find the mother not guilty, by that reasoning. 

Another silly argument is that there is no DNA on the duct tape that was on the baby’s face that could link it to the mother.  Again, the term DNA is not included in the concept of the prosecution having to prove a charge beyond a reasonable doubt.  Such evidence helps, but is not necessary.  The baby and the duct tape had been in the swamp long enough (and had probably been in the trunk of a car for a long time before then), so that no DNA could be recovered.  Other reasoning comes into play.  The mother did not report the child as missing for about a month.  Whenever a dead child is found with duct tape over his or her mouth, it is always a homicide.  No one else could have a reasonable motive for putting duct tape on the child.  You do not have to have a videotape of the mother throwing the child into the swamp or DNA evidence from her on the duct tape. 

The particulars of that case are more detailed, of course.  But the problem is that jurors expect a mountain of forensic evidence that shows exactly how the crime occurred and showing the accused’s DNA right there at the scene.  Going back to the workshop, there was one case where in previous years the defendant would have been found guilty by a typical jury.  But one juror expected the whole show as far as esoteric evidence.  The juror said that since the prosecution did not present such evidence, they must have known the accused was not really guilty. 

The standard is that an ordinary person using common sense must find the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  The doubt must be reasonable, not just any possible scenario.  Circumstantial evidence has the same weight in court as direct evidence.  The incredible evidence that CSI teams can produce is a help, but not always necessary.  Jurors are expecting court cases to look like TV shows.  I have been on jury duty at least six times, possibly more.  The real system of justice does not look like a TV show.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Why Zombies?


Maybe we're in a dead zone

As promised in my previous post, here’s my entry on why zombies have become so popular.  Obviously, the ‘70s had their zombie movies that appealed to a limited audience, along with their weak spinoffs and imitators.  But for about the last ten years, zombie movies and novels became popular enough to attract mainstream attention, and their quality increased to match.  We even have a major television series, The Walking Dead, with amazing production values, that show zombie hordes in control of cities and suburbs, chasing the beleaguered survivors.  Why the interest in zombies? 

Thoughtful observers have noticed this trend began after the 9/11 attack.  Since that time, we have had the explosion of stories of unreasoning hordes attacking us in wave after wave.  We cannot communicate with them.  We cannot reason with them.  Their motives are not easily understood, and their way of life is totally foreign to us.  They only wish our death. 

Some who like zombie stories would reject this, saying, “I would never characterize those who happen to attack us in this stage of history as resembling zombies.”  Okay.  But the observation is that the analogy to real fears in our contemporary world is not done on a conscious level.  Neither the writers nor the readers or viewers realized these stories were metaphors.  These stories were compelling to mainstream audiences at a subconscious level. 

Am I saying that every movie or novel has a one-to-one correspondence with a fear of a past or present attack on our homeland?  No.  But that fear lies behind the growth in this industry.  If you catch episode 2 of The Walking Dead and see Deputy Grimes ride into Atlanta and get swarmed by zombies, you’ll see a glimpse of the fear that Western civilization will fall to irrational hordes who wish to destroy us.  

Dude, what's a metaphor?

[Permission granted to use either photo on this post, so long as it is labeled “Photo by Mark Murata”]

Monday, July 4, 2011

Seattle Zombie Walk

Nothing hurts a zombie
like a recession

On Saturday, I went to the Seattle 2011 Zombie Walk, which ended up breaking the world record for people dressed up like zombies.  Some people spent a long time on painstaking make up, others just put a bit of fake blood on their faces.  It was interesting to be in an alley and hear someone say, "Hey Al, do you have any spare blood?"  

Their initial gathering place seemed more like a street fair than anything else.  There were food booths and mobile food vans, along with the Sobe people giving out free bottles of their vitamin water, which I appreciated.  Instead of art booths where sparkles and face paint would be applied to children, they had serious make up booths where people who didn't feel zombied-up enough could get anything from a little smear of fake blood to an elaborate ghoulish look.  

For those of you who are curious, the zombies mostly didn't act in character, unless they were asked to pose for pictures.  They chatted with friends, ate hot sliders, or relaxed in beer gardens. It didn't look like a family-friendly event, but some people did bring their children, with fake blood or not.  Afterwards, the thousands of participants did their zombie walk, in which they were more likely to do their zombie poses for amused fellow pedestrians.  

Why zombies?  Well, this was in Fremont, a Seattle neighborhood that prides itself in its artsy flair and is more likely to celebrate the solstice than Christmas.  Instead of doing a Disney walk or a pirate walk, their joie de vivre comes from acting out in a way that shocks middle America.  But why zombies in general?  Why have there been so many zombie movies and books over the past decade?  For that, you'll have to read my next post.  

I want your next post!

[Permission granted to use either photo on this post, so long as it is labeled “Photo by Mark Murata”]

Friday, July 1, 2011

eBooks vs. Paper Books

Rachel Brooks has an interesting blog post on whether eBooks will replace paper books.  She came to a similar conclusion as my June 7 post, but for different reasons.  Her post was so interesting, I tore a page off and pasted it here.


See what you think.  Do you agree with her?  

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