Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bloodlines by Carl J Franklin

Amazon Description:

Join Kyle Montana, reserved humanitarian, on his journey through tribulations of his tumultuous life through self exploration and the seeking of acceptance in a loathsome society, in this eye opening self narrative novel. Being a man of several talents and touching the lives of many, Kyle struggles to find solace from nearly everything life throws at him. He stares death straight in the eye, faces rejection from every direction he turns, and bears witness to several wicked measures.  Kyle moves on to further successes after living through abhorrent conditions and finds reasoning with his life’s true purpose. This is a tender story of epic morals not only intended for simple reading pleasure, but also a profound view of real-life scenarios.

Review:  Is it better to live your life with love and compassion, or pursue morality within the strictest confines of religion?

Bloodlines, by Carl Franklin, begins with a glimpse at the end, quite literally.  In fact, the prologue describes the death of the main character, Kyle Skye Montana.  It was a shocking entry into the story, but it stood up to the rest of the novella, which chronicled the trials of its hero as he seeks his own happiness.

Kyle is a gay man living in a family that abhors his sexuality.  After his mother's death, his father and extended family make it known that they can not tolerate his preference despite the fact that he is reserved in his behavior and lives his life with love and compassion.  On top of it all, he's dealing with physical pain and trouble at work.  As a result, he becomes increasingly alienated and depressed, but all the while, he works to keep a positive attitude and a smile on his face.  One bad thing after another hits him, but he keeps on moving toward his goal of making it to Hollywood and becoming a screenwriter.

For a first effort by a self-published author, Bloodlines was a good story with potential.  However, there were a few areas that I felt were lacking and negatively affected my reading experience.

1. The language used was stilted and formal when it didn't need to be.  In some cases, the word choice pulled me so far out of the story that it was hard to keep reading.  It almost felt like the author picked up a dictionary or thesaurus and was trying to use the biggest, most formal choice possible.  While I don't think this was actually the case, I do think that further editing of the language would have benefited the story.

2. Kyle Montana lives in Colorado, and says that he's lived there most of his life, yet his dialogue is littered with British colloquialisms like "bloody hell", "posh", "sodding", and so on.  It made it extremely difficult to make a real connection with the hero, since I couldn't figure out where he was actually supposed to be from!  Not only that, the dialogue was weak in general, and didn't flow like a normal conversation, often providing way more detail than was actually necessary for the story. 

3. For a commentary on morality and what it means to find happiness, Kyle's final successes were far too focused on the material things he had acquired rather than the love of his family and final acceptance achieved.  I didn't care that he was wearing a Dolce & Gabbana shirt or that he was worth $240 million.  I didn't care that he drove an Escalade or lived in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills.  The redemption of the story should have focused on the life he had built and the relationships that were the foundation of his happiness, not the material wealth he had acquired.  It undermined the underlying meaning to all the pain he had been through.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

If you want a quick read that explores some real issues, this story is a pretty good one.  At $4 on Amazon, it's not going to break the bank, and it will support an aspiring author as well as a worthwhile charity (more on that later). 

Stay Tuned!
In a future post I will be interviewing the author, Carl Franklin, and learning more about his background, writing process, and the charity he's supporting with the sales of this book. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Reading outside my genre

Last week I took a trip to London for work.  Thanks to long waits and longer flights, I actually had time to get some reading done.  I finished Ariel a few weeks ago and needed something new, so I went on my Kindle and downloaded a bunch of samples.  I ended up buying The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks

Nicholas Sparks is well-outside my normal genre.  However, some writers and publishers advise reading outside your genre to learn new voice techniques, writing styles, character development, and world building techniques.  Since I've been reading science fiction and fantasy almost exclusively for the last ten years or so, I decided to branch out on this trip and try something new, hopefully learning a thing or two in the process.

Since my novel is told in multiple first person, I wanted to learn how to avoid confusing the reader in regards to which character is speaking.  The Last Song is written in multiple third person, so I thought it might be a good choice.  Granted, being told in third person instead of first makes it easier for the reader to remember who's speaking, but Mr. Sparks does a wonderful job of changing the tone of voice depending on the character that is being followed. Each character is distinct.  You can tell from the language used that the father is older, while the daughter is in the midst of teenage angst.  However, as she grows and matures through the course of the novel, so does her voice.  Word choice is critical, helping to develop the character while also engaging the reader.

As is typical of a novel by Nicholas Sparks, the ending was a tear-jerker. I even cried a little.  I'm going to re-read some of the novel to try to understand how and when I became so emotionally involved with the characters.  I want to learn how to create that same emotional tie between my characters and the readers.  I'm sure there's an element of innate ability, but I hope I can learn more from a master by reading his books.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Reader's choice publishing

"Even great books can be overlooked. And authors with great potential often struggle to connect with the larger audience they deserve to reach. We’re fortunate at Amazon.com to have customers who know a good book when they read one, so we've introduced AmazonEncore to help connect authors and their books with more readers."

The publishing industry is at a crossroads.  Everyone is talking about it.  It's the new revolution.  Change is in the air.  And it's not just affecting the traditional publishers.  The career path of an author is changing along with the industry, but even more important, the reader experience will change.  They will be able to more easily connect with an author, find the books they want to read, and ultimately participate in the publishing process.

That's right, I believe readers will be participating in the publishing process in the not so distant future.

When Amazon.com opened its metaphorical doors, it changed everything, and now it's poised to do the same again.  Amazon gave readers access to a practically endless supply of books.  With the Kindle, readers can now buy these books for a (usually) lower cost and have them downloaded in 60 seconds, available to read immediately without taking a trip to a physical store.  Then those same readers can post comments and reviews about the book, giving Amazon (and everyone else) a fantastic insight into which books are worth reading (or not). Now Amazon is getting into the publishing business with AmazonEncore, helping under-appreciated authors reach a wider audience.

Traditionally, publishing companies are the gatekeepers.  They decide which books have market value and which don't.  They make guesses about which books will sell, and then count on the fact that the blockbuster novels will make up for those that fizzle out in the market.  In the past this service was necessary because books were expensive to produce.  Publishers helped ensure that only high-quality books were sent out into the world so that readers didn't waste their time, money, and shelf space on books that didn't warrant it.  But with modern technology today, when books can be published quickly and easily in an electronic format, do we still need gatekeepers?  

I believe that modern society craves customization, individualization and connection.  We don't want people telling us what to like or how to do something.  We want to share our ideas, contribute to the wider world.  We want options.

I found this blog post not too long ago that sums up where I think the publishing industry might be moving.  The author (switch11) posits the following:

"New Publishing = More Efficient Publishing

  1. In the new model of publishing, anyone can publish, and you can publish as many books as you like.
  2. Actual end users vote for books, with their hard earned money, and decide which books succeed.
  3. In the new model of publishing, you can scale up the quality of the product, and the number of copies printed, at any time."
This new model for publishing makes a lot of sense when authors and publishers have virtually instant feedback about the book.  Readers suddenly have the power to decide what's worthwhile for themselves and then share that information with their personal network.  With modern technology, this data is easily captured and relatively quickly identifies the popular titles that are going viral online.

Once a title has built up some sales, a publisher may offer to work with the author to distribute the novel through additional book formats and improve the marketing.  At that point, the agent has the ability to negotiate rates and services, giving the author exactly what they need to make their book a real success.  Meanwhile, the publisher also benefits because they have a better understanding of the market and can pretty much guarantee their own profit on each book. 

In this new publishing world, should it come to fruition, readers participate in the decision-making process by voting with their pockets, authors choose how and where their books are published, and publishers provide real value-added while still making plenty of profit.  It's a win-win-win situation.


Word count on the novel: 38,027

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The end

First of all - I have to apologize for taking so long to post.  I was trying for a two-post-a-week regimen, but work, as in that thing I get paid to do, has taken over my life!  Well, that and I went to Napa for my 3rd Anniversary over Memorial Day weekend (pics up on Facebook for my Facebook friends). 

I have not fallen off the planet and I have not abandoned my blog.  Promise.

On to bigger and better discussion topics.

Today I'd like to talk about endings.  In particular, bad endings.

I just finished reading a book that I had read somewhere was a classic contemporary fantasy novel.  The premise sounded interesting, if a little odd, and it was cheap on the Amazon Kindle.  So I bought it.  The book is called "Ariel" and was written by Steve Boyett, published in 1983.

The novel is set on Earth after a cataclysmic change; a change that altered the laws of physics and brought magic to the world, including mythical creatures like unicorns and griffins.  Technology no longer works,  not even bicycles (which I thought was a little weird considering bicycles are powered by human movement, not any kind of fuel combustion, but supposedly no modern technology could function under the new laws of physics.  Bows and arrows were fine.  Gravity functions as you would expect it to.  Just nothing with a gear or engine I guess.  Anyway...)

The story follows a sixteen year old boy named Pete who's caught at school at the time of the change.  He walks the several miles home to find his house being invaded by a policeman-turned-thug (in less than 24 hours mind you), his friend is raped and killed, he's beat up and left for dead, but survives by the skin of his teeth or some other miracle.  So life on Earth is turned upside down.  A few years later he is bathing in a lake when a unicorn walks out of the bushes.  The unicorn can talk.  Her name is Ariel.  They become friends and go-a-wandering.

All right, there's the set-up.  Why did I choose this book, you ask?  I thought it might be educational.  It's considered by some to be a classic.  So I read it.  It took me awhile to make it all the way through, but I did.  I regret it.

Unfortunately, the story ended on a sour note, at least for me.  A lot of the primary supporting characters end up dead, Ariel runs away from Pete despite the fact that he's just saved her from an evil sorcerer who wants her horn, Pete (who's 21 at this point) runs after her but is seduced by a woman who knows that if he has sex he won't be able to touch Ariel ever again (unicorns can only be touched by someone who is "pure".)  So the story ends with Ariel crying and leaving forever, Pete angry with himself and depressed at losing his "familiar", and the woman who took his virginity living with him even though he mostly ignores and mistreats her.

The ending to this novel has haunted me since I finished it almost a week ago.  For whatever reason, I just can't let it go.  Someone should have been happy at the end.  I understand that it's a coming of age tale and Pete had to have sex at some point, so there was going to come a time when he couldn't stay with Ariel anymore, but did have to end with everyone depressed?  What's the point of becoming an adult if there's nothing to look forward to?  Why does taking on responsibility have to mean that you lose what you love?  It left a bad taste in my mouth.

So what's the lesson here?  People in your story can die.  Sometimes they should die.  Bad things can happen, and your hero doesn't have to be (probably shouldn't be) perfect with everything turning out all right.  But the story can't end on a down note.  There has to be hope.  There has to be love or loyalty or some other redeeming quality.  There has to be something to look forward to.  Without any of those elements, who's going to want to read the sequel?

Current word count on the novel: 35,024