Archive for October, 2008

Local Boy’s Second Set

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

For awhile now I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to integrate some of Local Boy’s songs into these blog posts.  Amazon links, Apple iMixes, and Last.fm journals were used in the past.  Recently I discovered a new service called 8tracks that seemed worth a try, especially considering that Local Boy’s first album came out in the 8 Track format…

You can listen to a mix featuring original and cover versions from Local Boy’s second performance here:

Enjoy!

Recent Praise

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

My favorite part about having Timely Persuasion out in the world is reading various reactions to it.  A few weeks ago we talked about a negative review in a post that spawned a good dialogue with the reviewer in the comments.  Now it’s time for the other side of the coin.

Below are some excerpts from positive reviews by recent readers:

Timely Persuasion is filled with amazing musical references.  The main character is an ex-writer for a musical magazine and regularly speaks in lyrics, at one point causing his father to say ‘Don’t blasphemy’ when he quotes Simon and Garfunkel.” – Scott on ScottSchnaars.com

“The idea of covering songs that had not even been written yet, was always something that I thought I’d do if I could go back in time. I would write all the hits.” – Darren on Lulu.com

“When I was told about the book, I wasn’t sure how I was going to like it because of the whole time travel concept…I couldn’t put it down once I started!” – Shannon on Lulu.com

“I found myself hooked. I was quickly flipping through the book especially toward the end: the pace is quick enough and the situation intriguing enough that you get sucked into that “what’s going to happen?” question, which is the hallmark of a good read.” – Bryan on Lulu.com

“I’m not one for sci fi books but the musicology and focus on the interpersonal relationships of the protagonist had me intrigued.” – Anonymous on Lulu.com

“I really enjoy books that convey an intelligence where it is clear the author isn’t trying to be intelligent. It is just natural with the writing. I also enjoy that aspect even more when an author can be intelligent but within the same novel not be afraid to attempt wit and a humor that is, how do I say this, like buddies chatting in a bar.” – Brad on Lulu.com

A running list of links to all reviews – good, bad, average or unique – appears on the right hand side of this blog.

The Story Behind The Story

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

As I’ve said before, I’m a better writer than I am a marketer.  That’s not to say I’m necessarily a brilliant writer, just that one skill outshines the other.

On the Timely Persuasion website, I periodically play around with “The Story” section at the top in an attempt to get the best mix of marketing bang plus factual synopsis.  At one point a few months ago I had a late night inspiration and tried a long, rambly, semi in-character and semi as-author version.  Days later I took it down and revised in a simpler direction.

In the interest of a complete permanent record, here’s that longer aborted version:

One early reviewer hit the nail on the head when they said the story of Timely Persuasion has “a premise that is very difficult to summarize in a review.”  That said, I’ll give it a shot below:

Timely Persuasion follows an anonymous music critic on a quest to save his sister from the relationship that ended her life. After a chance encounter at a bowling alley leaves him with the ability to travel in time, our hero uses his musical knowledge to “blink” through the years attempting to keep the couple apart by any means necessary. But is her husband Nelson really to blame?

Along the way he accidentally restructures his family tree, kick-starts his sagging love life, launches a new rock star, and crosses paths with the likes of Huey Lewis, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, and Billy Joel. Reliving past events through the eyes of his younger selves, he soon finds that correlation and causation are not always what they seem.

This story of death, life, love, and rock and roll defies genre conventions while paying tribute to the classic time travel tales that came before it. Fans of Quantum Leap or Back To The Future will love Timely Persuasion.

Another reviewer read a version of the above synopsis and had this to say:

“To be blunt, Timely Persuasion‘s misleading plot blurb makes a fun novel sound absolutely cheesy. Happily, Timely Persuasion absolutely does not go down this road [and] ends up being much more enjoyable than the the above description had led me to expect.”

So we’ve learned that I’m a better author than I am a marketer.  Let’s try this synopsis thing again:

Theorizing that his sister’s death was the fault of her husband, an anonymous music critic drank too much at a bowling alley….and vanished.

He awoke to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that omit him and driven by a guilty conscience to change history for the better.

His only guides on this journey are song lyrics, cryptic messages linking past and future that only he can see and hear.

And so our hero finds himself blinking from year to year, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next blink will find his sister safe at home.

Ok. That wasn’t much better since I just parodied the intro to Quantum Leap.  But it is a decent summary, and both QL and Back To the Future were heavy influences that the story pays respectful homage to.  One more try:

On the simplest level, this book is about music and bowling and beer and regrets and relationships and time travel.  It’s a love letter to a misspent youth, peppered with a soundtrack for the ages.  Contained in these pages you’ll find references and allusions to the music of (in rough order of appearance): Huey Lewis, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Harry Chapin, The Beatles, Blur, Carter USM, Cast, Supergrass, Black Grape, Oasis, James, Kula Shaker, The Wonder Stuff, Nirvana, Bob Dylan, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, Possum Dixon, Pearl Jam, The Offspring, Rodan, Hole, Beck, Reverend Horton Heat, Butthole Surfers, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, 311, Jonathan Edwards, Soul Coughing, Metallica, G. Love & Special Sauce, Paul McCartney, Anthrax, Mary’s Danish, The Mr. T Experience, Bryan Adams, John Waite, Dinosaur Jr., The Moody Blues, Billy Idol, Paula Abdul, Britney Spears, Afghan Whigs, Guns N Roses, Jimi Hendrix, Don McLean, Pantera, Megadeth, Janice Joplin, Jim Morrison, Wilco and more.

Better?  Summarizing seems almost harder than writing the book was.  It’ll make a heck of a lot more sense once you’ve read it.  Let’s finish up by going back to something else that first reviewer said:

“Think Back to the Future.  Think The Butterfly Effect.  Think…oh just read the book already.  It’s pretty good.”

Sounds more like a blog post than a proper story synopsis, eh?

The Quantum Leap Connection

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

I pointed out a few times in the commentary posts that Quantum Leap was a big influence of mine.  It’s even specifically referred to in the book more than once.  What I haven’t talked about in depth is how Quantum Leap (and more specifically, Al the holographic observer) served as the genesis for the time travel mechanics I utilized in Timely Persuasion.

I’ve always felt that Al Calavicci had the sweetest time travel deal of any character.  He had all of the excitement and wonder, but as a hologram he didn’t have any of the danger.  No risk of injury, no risk of paradox, no risk of being stranded (though that did happen once…).  Virtually everything that could go wrong was accounted for.

Since I had given this a lot of thought over the years, and since it was never fully explored on the show, I decided this would be a good starting point for how my hero’s time travel “science” would work.  The problem lied in the fact that only allowing someone to observe but not interact made for a fairly boring story as a whole.  You could learn some valuable things just by watching, but there wouldn’t really be any way to “act” on what you learned in the past.  (Conversely, if you were able to “observe” the future you could act on what you learned upon returning to the present.  But I’ve never been a big fan of future travel in time travel tales.)  So I had a basis, but some modification was necessary.

Al’s rules did have a couple of notable exceptions.  Animals and young children could see and hear him.  I didn’t want to outright copy this, though giving the narrator some sort of interaction was necessary to move the story forward.  Then I remembered one of the most common “rules” of time travel fiction:  Avoid contact with your past self at all costs.  Sometimes this rule is implied but never explored, sometimes it results in an end of the world paradox, and sometimes it serves as a red herring to deliver a twist ending.  But generally speaking, every author (and scientist) tends to call it out as something you shouldn’t do.  And that’s when it hit me.

What if the only person you could interact with while time traveling was yourself?

It was a unique premise I hadn’t seen explored before.  It would nicely set up some tribute scenes in a Sam & Al interactive style.  It allowed the ability to change a timeline, but generally provided protection from paradox so long as you didn’t manage to get your other self killed.  Plus it fit logically with the “subconscious message from your future self” concept I had been kicking around and wasn’t quite ready to abandon.

It was perfect.

A Negative Review

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

It was bound to happen eventually.

215 days after Timely Persuasion was released, a critic has emerged who didn’t like it and felt strongly enough to write about it.  His name is Gavin Williams, and in the interest of honesty and full disclosure I’m posting it here:

Unfortunately, I don’t need more persuasion…

I’ve always felt that I’d learn more from a bad review than a good one.  So let’s break this down and see what can be learned.

Mr. Williams biggest issue appears to be his distaste for internal monologue and my subsequent violation of the oft-quoted “show, don’t tell” rule that such a style brings.

To the first point I admit I’m guilty as charged.  TP is told almost exclusively as the internal monologue of the protagonist, and if that type of storytelling isn’t your cup of tea it’s probably not the book for you.  One of the learnings I took out of the experience of writing this novel is that I probably won’t use the first person next time around, as it ends up being more constrictive than third person omniscient and can serve to paint an author into a corner at times.  But in my eyes this particular story required a first person perspective to be told effectively.  You only know what the narrator knows (or thinks he knows), and the book follows his train of thought through his experiences and ultimate revelations.

To the second point regarding “show, don’t tell” I have a slightly different retort.  The prologue definitely contains a lot of “telling.”  This continues to a lesser degree in the early chapters, but later what you were told about how things are and how things came to be is challenged and turned around once we get into the meat of the time travel mission in later chapters.  Mr. Williams states in his review that he’s only “5 chapters in,” so he didn’t stick around long enough to comment on whether I succeeded or failed in my attempts to play with the “show, don’t tell” rule via an easily excited but ultimately unreliable narrator.  I find it curious that someone would write a review based on a partial read rather than a full one, but that’s a subject for a different time.

To be fair, I do realize that you need to hook a reader early.  Thus if Gavin was ready to give up after five chapters it reflects poorly on my plot construction in that regard.  Maybe I should have dropped the extended Cobain subplot and cut to the chase after all.  On one hand it sets up the rules (and was fun to explore), but on the other it is essentially just an extended prologue before the main plot gears up in earnest midway through chapter seven.

Another interesting point lies in where the reviewer correctly interpreted my intent but viewed it as a negative in regards to the early part of the story.  Three examples:

…in the first chapter, there’s not one line of dialogue, nor does the author show a scene of action between characters.

This was a specific stylistic choice to open with a single line of dialogue and then have the entire Prologue be “told” in a stream of consciousness to set the stage for what’s to come.  At least for Mr. Williams, this strategy backfired and may have carried over into his first impression of the subsequent opening chapters.

“…the protagonist’s complaints about the boyfriends equally apply to his own flaky personality.”

Bingo – that’s the exact connection that a reader should make.

…the driving force of the protagonist’s journey through time is supposed to be his sister’s death.  But, in the early going anyway, it doesn’t seem like he cares all that much, making it hard for a reader to connect to the espoused purpose of the story.

Bingo again.  Early on it’s just “hey, cool, I can travel in time.”  Only later does the greater good start to come forward (in a slightly self-serving manner), which once again makes me ponder how I might have more closely tied the time travel “discovery” phase to the actual sister plot, or at least tightened them up to keep things moving.  On the bright side it reinforces my decision to have excised the baseball chapter.

I guess this goes to show that you can’t please everyone, but you can still learn from constructive criticisms.  My thanks go out to Gavin Williams for taking the time to share his honest thoughts on the first five chapters.  I hope he’ll reconsider reading the rest, as I’d love to hear if a view of the work as a whole alters his opinion for better or for worse.

Revisiting Replay (Part 4)

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

This is the final post in a series of chapter by chapter commentaries on the novel Replay by Ken Grimwood.  To start at the beginning, check out Part 1.

Note: If you haven’t read Replay, the following may will contain spoilers.

Chapters Eighteen to Twenty

  • Pamela returns in 1975 this time; next time Jeff’s replay begins in 1976.  It’s interesting to note how Jeff & Pamela seem to be one cycle off in the time-skews they experience in each successive replay even though both have had the same number of cycles.  I always thought it would have made more sense for Pamela to have actually had one extra replay cycle to account for this.
  • Skipping ahead a bit, Jeff’s final replay starts in 1985.  Not knowing what to do for the last three years of his life without Pamela, he decides he needs to see her again even if it’s not the same version of her he’s spent so many years and so many lives with.  He tracks her down to an art museum and follows her around.
  • I had conceived but never actually wrote a section of Timely Persuasion where the narrator invisibly stalks the redheaded girl after she leaves the bar just to see what her mysterious life away from him was like.  This section of Replay always reminds me of that up until the point where Pamela unexpectedly engages Jeff in conversation.  From that point on it seems to echo the surprise of TP’s narrator’s first interaction with his father, albeit purely through coincidental hindsight.

Chapter Twenty-One

  • I don’t want to outright spoil it for people who haven’t read the book, so I’ll just say that this chapter was in my head while writing the “green black green black green black green black green black green black green” sections of TP.  The correlation is subtle, but I think it will make sense in comparison.

Epilogue

  • In a curious and interesting twist, the Epilogue has nothing to do with Jeff or Pamela.  Instead it’s just a single page detailing the realization of a Norwegian man that he’s replaying the years 1988-2017.  A great ending that illustrates the phenomenon will continue with others while still leaving the core questions of why and how open ended.

One final related note:  Ken Grimwood died of a sudden heart attack in 2003, eerily similar to the deaths of Jeff Winston.  A strange case of life imitating art that almost makes you wonder…

At the time of his death he was working on a sequel to Replay.  In my head the sequel picks up with the new character introduced in the original book’s epilogue and has him crossing paths with Jeff & Pamela — both of whom are now replaying the second half of their long lives from 1988-2017.  Unfortunately we’ll probably never know.

I was going to include an overarching “in memorial” type of closing here, but decided I couldn’t top this one:

Remembering Ken Grimwood

In anycase, I hope I did this amazing book justice without totally spoiling it and provided inspiration for you to read it (or, for that matter, Timely Persuasion) for either the first or the fiftieth time.