Thursday, December 30, 2010

Shadow Scholars

Enjoy writing? Enjoy making a living from it? Here is a story about the seamier side of writing. It details the life of a “shadow scholar” – someone who, for the right money, writes essays for college students. He has also written dissertations for graduate students. I always suspected something like this must happen in college occasionally. I just didn’t know it had evolved into such a big-time business. As someone who wrote my own Ph.D. thesis, I found the story disturbing on many levels. Tell me what you think.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Merry Christmas

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas. Ours was good, although my wife and I didn’t get as much sleep as we would have liked. First of all, I was in a writing groove on Christmas Eve and didn’t stop writing until 1:45 in the morning. And the only reason I quit was because I knew my eight year old son had set his alarm for 2:15 so that he could sneak downstairs with his flashlight and check whether there were any presents under the tree. We had given him permission to do this (fools that we were); with the proviso that he not wake us if he found anything.

Of course, he was so excited by the presents he couldn’t go back to sleep and, of course, he had to wake us up in order to inform us of this fact. Eventually he ended up in bed with us, but he was still too excited to fall asleep for another two hours, which meant neither my wife nor I got much sleep either. Never again.

Again, Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Winter Writing

For me, winter is a wonderful time to write. There are fewer distractions, you’re stuck inside a lot, and the kids go to bed earlier, which leaves you with more free time in the evening. (Unfortunately, dark nights and a colder house make me want to go to bed earlier too, so that last benefit is usually a wash.) But in my case, when you are writing a book about magic and mysteries and castles full of dark secrets, doing it when the evenings are dark adds to the overall ambience, especially when I turn the lights down in my office.

Despite the usual holiday distractions, I am finding this holiday season to be particularly inspirational for working on my book. Following the format developed by JKK Rowling, my story takes place over the course of a school year and right now I’m up to December. And to me, it feels much better to be writing about events in December when it really is December. (Sign of a novice?) I had promised myself that I would finish the December chapters before the end of the year, but I’m no longer very hopeful of fulfilling that promise. Too many distractions! That doesn’t mean I’m giving up all hope, however. I only have three more days left at my day job this year, which means I’ll have a lot of late night writing time available to me in the next week and a half. Will I take advantage of this time or will I go to bed early and grouse about the lack of writing time the next morning?

I’ll let you know what happens.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Nook Color Review

I ran across a review of the Nook Color e-reader over at Ars Technica and thought I’d pass along the link. The reviewer compares it with the Kindle and lists the pros and cons of each. Long story short, the Nook is great if you want to use its web apps in addition to its ability to display books, but if all you want to do is just read books, you may be happier with the Kindle.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Finals Week is Over!

Today marks the last day of Finals Week at the college where I teach an evening course in chemistry. I’m sure the students are relieved it is all over, but I suspect many of the instructors are having exactly the same thoughts. Count me as one of them. I enjoyed teaching the class, but it could be a lot of work at times and I’m glad for the break. I met many interesting students during the course and I would like to thank them for making my job that much easier. Last night was the final exam for my class and it saddened me to think that I probably won’t see any of my students again.

But I’m sure I’ll get over it.


Anyway, here are two miscellaneous links that I thought I’d share with you.

First, MarketingHackz has a list of ten amusing advertising/marketing goofs where translation problems foiled the attempts of companies trying to expand into foreign markets. Classic!

Second, a link to more pictures of Liu Bolin, the artist who hides in plain sight.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Creative Writing During a Blizzard

Some of my best creative thinking comes during my 55 minute commute to and from work every day. It’s almost all highway driving, with only light traffic, so I’m free to let my mind wander about in whichever chapter interests me at the moment. Many of my best ideas have come during this commute. The trick is to remember them long enough so I can commit them to paper at the end of the drive. I keep a small voice recorder in the car for just such purposes along with a pad of paper for those times I’m stuck at traffic lights.

The last two days have not been very creative. Instead, I’ve been concentrating on just keeping the car on the road. I live in the Detroit area and many of you are probably aware we had some snow up here on Sunday night. Only 4 inches or so, not nearly as much as some other states received, but still enough to snarl up traffic for a day or two. Unfortunately, despite the two hour commute to work on Monday, not a single creative thought popped into my head. At least none having to do with the story. Here’s a partial list of the things I was thinking about instead.

#1. Some of the drivers up here must have come from the southern part of the country or at least somewhere where they are not used to driving in snow.

#2. Just because you have a truck or SUV does not mean you can drive faster than everyone else on icy roads. If the roads are covered with snow, fine; but when the snow had turned into sheets of ice, you will have just as much trouble stopping as we do in a car. In many cases we will be able to stop more quickly than you. Don’t drive like an idiot.

#3. I now know where the county lines are placed. The difference in drivability between different counties was noticeable.

Back to writing!

Friday, December 10, 2010

My Writing Style

I’ve spent the last two days reworking the second chapter of the Hogwarts book. And I think I’ve finally got it.


This isn’t the first time I’ve thought I had it fixed – this is probably the fifth rewrite -- but this time I really think I’m on the right track.



The problem with this chapter is that it was written before I had any clue about writing fiction. First of all, there was waaaaay too much exposition and essentially no dialogue, so I had to go back several times and convert much of the exposition into dialogue (show, don't tell!). This resulted in the removal of large chunks of the chapter; some of which I liked very much and it was painful. Truman Capote once said something to the effect that one of the tricks to being a good writer is being able to “murder your darlings.” In other words, being able to toss the parts of your writing that just don’t fit, no matter how much you are in love with them.

The other problem with the chapter, the one I’ve been dealing with the last two days, has to do with the writing style. When I began this project a year and a half ago, all I had was a collection of short, anemic chapters based loosely on ideas that had been bouncing around inside my head ever since I finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The idea of combining them into a single story didn’t come until much later and my decision to write the book as if it was to be the next book in the series only occurred this last spring. But the second chapter didn't sound like anything JKK Rowling would have written.

If I had to describe my writing style, it would probably be a cross between Rowling and Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). Not that my skill level is anywhere close to theirs, but the tone is similar. And my second chapter sounded too much like Hitchhiker's Guide, so I needed to fix it up to match rest of the chapters in the book.

I should have it finished by the end of the weekend. I guess I can't complain. I’ve heard of writers rewriting entire books -- many times over.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Battle of the E-Books!

Back at the beginning of December, Google announced Google Editions, their foray into the e-book arena. Unlike devices like the Kindle, promoted by, Google’s approach will be cloud based. This means that when you purchase a book from Google, it won’t be stored in any one device, but somewhere on the Internet, where it can be downloaded and read from any device that has a web browser. Users of the Kindle purchase their books from the Amazon store and can only read them on the Kindle or devices that run the Kindle software.

Well, Amazon is now fighting back with Kindle for the Web,” a concept which sounds very similar to Google Editions. It remains to be seen how this will all shake out in the future, but it seems to me that anything that promotes e-books is a good thing, especially since that will most likely be the route I use to publish my stories – once I have something to publish, of course.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Affected Me

I walked into the family room the other night and discovered my family watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth movie in the Harry Potter series. There were only 15 minutes left in the movie by then, but I was still reminded of just how much that movie affected me when I saw it the first time. Without that movie, I’m probably not attempting to write a story based on Hogwarts.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the books immensely, but until that movie came along, the world of Harry Potter seemed like an imaginary place – a place which would no doubt be fun to visit, but one in which I didn’t really picture myself visiting. That all changed with the fourth movie.

In the Goblet of Fire, the director (or perhaps the producer) decided to steer the movie away from some of the earlier fantasy elements, probably in an attempt to prepare us for the darker scenes to come. (At least that’s my guess.) Many of the scenes were now shot inside or around old stone buildings and it suddenly seemed much more real to me. (I absolutely love old stone buildings – the older the better – especially castles, and especially in Britain.)

The director also spent more time having the characters talk about non-magical things, more in line with what Muggle students might talk about, and these conversations reminded me of my college days, so much so that I felt a bit depressed for weeks after the movie, wishing I had been able to attend Hogwarts instead of the University of Missouri. Not that there’s anything wrong with the University of Missouri – it’s a great school – but a chance to study magic… in a castle… in Scotland? Come on…

Anyway, when I write my next book – assuming I’m not working on the second book of this Hogwarts series – it’s going to be based around another castle.