Thursday, July 24, 2014

I Think I've Heard That Before . . .

I’ve heard his music. Such as this:

And this.
And this.
And this.
And this.

It’s funny how we listen to the music but don’t often go beyond that to find out who it is who wrote it – especially when the person responsible is responsible for gems like this too. Thank you, Mr. Leroy Anderson, for your wonderful music.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Funny I Should Ask . . .

One of my faithful beta readers saw my post from yesterday and emailed me the following:

I am currently on CH 8. Before I continue reading I need to offer some feedback. I feel like I'm still waiting for the story to begin. In CH 5 when you tell Jarrod's story, you catch me and I feel engaged, but then I get kicked right back out when the narration starts back up later in the chapter.

It feels like much of this is backstory. I see the important plot pieces you are trying to incorporate, and how they will be essential later, but I don't know if narrating it is your best vehicle to do that. 

Having said that, it could just be that I'm not much for that style. I will continue to read and send feedback. But for now, my suggestion is to ditch the narration and go with action. Or start with a short, essential narration that kicks us into a backstory like Jarrod's and then pick back up in current time with more action. Weave that essential backstory information into the action rather than giving it to the reader in narration. 

I know how many times you have re-written this story. I hesitated to even give you this feedback. But I also wanted to be completely honest. It's a good story. Don't give up on it.

Reaction One: I’m so depressed. This book sucks far more than I ever imagined.

Reaction Two: Wait a minute. It’s not like I didn’t expect this. I know the first several chapters of this book are weak sauce and block the reader from getting to the action.

Reaction Three: Is this really an action book?

Reaction Four: Well, aren’t ALL books action books? I mean, not explosions and such, but something does tend to happen to characters in a book, right?

Reaction Five: I need to analyze this.

So this is what I came up with (this is only part of the book). A full PDF (still a work in progress) is here, but I think you get the gist. The most important part comes in Column D, where I analyze whether what’s in each individual chapter is advancing the plot or not.

There’s lots of red. That’s stuff that’s slowing the book down. And orange and yellow ain’t necessarily good either.

Sage green and true green are better – I’m heartened to see the portions of the book I’ve always liked are in this area. Though there are parts I like in the danger zone as well.

(You might ask, didn’t I just break one of my DO NOT DO’s from yesterday’s post? Yeah, a little. But a quick analysis of what my beta reader said and what I’d already been thinking in my head is going to help the process along, so forgive me.)

So I ask myself: Is the book bad?

No. It still needs more thought and editing, that’s all. Maybe some deft rearranging of parts will salvage little bits. Cutting will certainly help – as will adding. But this is what beta reading is supposed to do: Help the author see the flaws. And any author who respects his or her beta readers will take what they say at face value and believe it. And then act on it.

To my beta readers: This is what Doleful Creatures needs. Honesty. A critical look. Because I want this to be a good book, not just a book I think is good.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What to do When the Beta Readers are Reading

I’ve got a good handful of readers busily reading DOLEFUL CREATURES right now (I won’t say no to more, however, so let me know if you’re interested).

I’m a little nervous. Fundamentally, I’ve asked my readers to tell me if what I’ve got is worth pursuing, or if I should take up a new hobby, like gardening. I think I’ve got something good going in those 75,000 words. I’ve read enough books in the same genre, aimed toward the same audience, to think maybe I’ve got a chance of entertaining someone.

But the chance is always there: I’ll get it back from readers who write, in big bold letters across the top of the first page: I DON’T GET IT.

So what do you do when the beta readers are reading?

  1. Stay away from the book. I’m not reading it again, or editing it again. It’s just going to sit there. I know it’s got flaws. I don’t need to read it right now and cringe thinking what my readers will think when they get to that awkward bit in the plot.
  2. Work on another project. Little ideas for THE HERMIT OF IAPETUS keep nibbling at me. I’ve been writing them down. It’s probably time to pull the manuscript out for that one.
  3. Prepare for NaNoWriMo 2014. There’s no question I’m going to do it again this year. I’ve done it for the past three years, and had a ball. I’ve got a few ideas in mind for the next book.
  4. Read. I’ve been reading a lot lately, deconstructing books to see how they work. Or how they don’t work for me at least. It’s educational.
  5. Listen to Tom Lehrer. Enough said.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Flame Will Reveal . . . Weird Lyrics

This blog post may be unique to the Internet, for it contains the lyrics (at least what I could interpret) of the song "Daydreamin'" from the Scooby Doo episode featuring The Creeper.

You know, this guy:

Why am I taking down the lyrics to "Daydreamin'"? I don't really know. Something brought me here. I think I wanted to hear that typical Scooby Doo "run in a freakin' panic" music, but it's featured only lightly in this chase. Then the song caught my ear, and I was hooked.

The visuals help, of course. Very Hollywood, this:

The old "Running under a haystack" gag! Classic!

So here are the lyrics:

Daydreaming, heads in the sand.
Daydreaming, gee but it’s grand.

I’m in love with an ostrich
All the neighbors complainin’ you see.
But she loves me, can’t help it
if they don’t understand it.

It’s fun to be in love with an ostrich
And if you haven’t tried it, don’t deny it my friend.
‘Cause it’s so much fun to go out in the sun, forget the rest of the world
With your head in the sand.

Daydreaming, heads in the sand.
Daydreaming, gee but it’s grand.

Walkin’ down the street with my ostrich
All the people stare but I don’t care what they say.
She never says a word, she’s an agreeable bird
She takes my worries away.

If you find somebody who loves you
Why are you complainin’ they’re my friends anyway
Just go out in the sun ‘cause it’s so much fun.
Forget the rest of the world
With your head in the sand.

Daydreaming, heads in the sand.
Daydreaming, gee but it’s grand.

Daydreaming, heads in the sand.
Daydreaming, gee but it’s grand.

Daydreaming, heads in the sand.
Daydreaming, gee but it’s grand.

Daydreaming, heads in the sand.
Daydreaming, gee but it’s grand.

Yes, it seems very important to repeat the refrain four times at the end as you fade into the background and the gang regroups to figure out the enigmatic riddle the guard gave them in addition to this paper he gave them.

Here's the song, in all its glory. I'm not sure I appreciated Scooby Doo music as much when I was a kid.

The incidental (or underscore) music in the old Scooby Doo episodes were written by Ted Nichols, son of Greek immigrants, and born in Missoula, Montana, in 1928.

I don't know if he wrote the groovy chase songs in each episode, but I kind of hope he did. Some rather loving but terrible synth versions of his Scooby Doo music here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Social Media is Winning the Breaking News War

On July 15, an intense rainstorm dropping nearly two inches of rain battered Rexburg, Idaho.

And bar none, the best on-the-spot reporting done on the flooding in town and on the campus of BYU-Idaho was done by individuals with social media accounts and cell phone cameras.

Witness this video:

(This video is of particular interest to me, as it shows the neighborhood where we used to own a home. I’m certain if it were still there – the house was demolished for student housing – the basement would be waterlogged.)

Here’s another video from the same individual who posted the first, this time showing flooding in a BYU-Idaho building:

More raw video – with a request from ABC News to use the YouTube footage.

Now is this the who-what-when-where-why reporting that represents the best of journalism? No, it’s not. There are no damage estimates backed up by any authority, there is no accounting for the weather that caused the flooding.

But they’re on the spot. They’re eyes and ears and cameras on the ground. And with Facebook and YouTube to distribute the content, they’ve got their audience. No one needs traditional news organizations any more.

Oh, they do if they want the gritty details.

But guess what’s getting disseminated?

Here’s the Idaho Statesman’s coverage. Note nothing from any news outlet – just the raw video provided by that well-recognized news organization, the BYU-Idaho Department of Music.

Here’s coverage from the Deseret News. They went with the bitty story from the local newspaper (more on that later) but relied very heavily on social media coverage of the breaking story for the best on-the-spot reporting.

Here’s TV coverage from Boise. This is all social media coverage, not local news coverage.

Here's one of our local TV station's coverage. And here. And here. And here. And here.

Here’s the local newspaper’s web coverage.

It’s sad. Two static images (fairly small ones at that) and nothing beyond a little who-what-where in the brief text treatment of what’s probably the biggest news event so far in Rexburg in 2014.

I can understand the restraint, however. In breaking news situations, situations fluctuate. Eyewitnesses give inaccurate information. One of our local TV stations had good coverage, balancing news gathering with social media video. Some of their news, however, was out of date as the events unfolded last night (power never was shut off, contrary to what the report says).

Still, the local paper could have done better. A lot better.

I’m not taking a look at print presentations of the news. I’m looking at the breaking news presentation. This kind of event is what screams for instant coverage, without the high-handed hand-wringing of “we can’t verify a rumor.” We’re not asking for rumors. We want to see these videos and hear from the folks reacting to the news as it happens, not a day later. By that time, we’ve seen all the videos. You can fill in the whys and there wherefores and address the rumors and officialdom then, and that works just fine. But it’s clear social media is winning the breaking news competition, hands down.

Even the big guys are stumbling.

To take a quote from Alan D. Mutter’s “Reflections of  A Newsosaur” blog, “Newspapers can’t merely dabble at digital.”

Nutter’s post discusses an internal New York Times report (leaked by BuzzFeed) detailing how the paper is failing at digital distribution of its news products. Nutter says: 

In one painful example, a Huffington Post editor told the Times team that their newspaper was “crushed” by the amount of traffic captured by his site when it repurposed NYT coverage of the death of Nelson Mandela. “I was queasy watching the numbers,” said the unidentified editor quoted in the report. “I’m not proud of this. But this is your competition. You should defend the digital pickpockets from stealing your stuff with better headlines, better social.”

In another example of digital tone-deafness cited in the report, the author of the sprawling Dasani series on a homeless family trapped in horrific public housing did not get around to tweeting about her own story until two days after the first installment ran. Curiously, noted the report, the newsroom controls the Twitter account but the “business side” runs the Facebook page.

On this Rexburg flood story, most news media was outfoxed by students or university employees with digital cameras and access to YouTube or Facebook. And here’s the thing: I’m sure none of them set out thinking “I’m going to beat the local news by covering this event.” They were merely recording what they saw and distributing it using tools any fool can use. News outlets, with access to those same tools, got beaten to the punch – because no one has yet figured out how to make money off such coverage. Which is, of course, the bottom line in the business, and why it’s getting screwed by ordinary folks with an Internet account and a camera.