NO GREAT MISCHIEF | Alistair MacLeod

As I begin to tell this, it is the golden month of September in southwestern Ontario.

MacLeod's opening line had me straight away. I trust him. Like his fellow Canadian, Farley Mowat, he tells it simply. His truth isn't simple; it is complex, nuanced, seasoned over time to a depth and richness that calls to us in our unguarded moments.  And MacLeod's voice is authentic, like the family myths that knit our experience to the lives of our parents, their Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 9.19.56 PMparents and those who preceeded them.

He continues in an observant and responsive son-sibling-nephew voice that dutifully cares for imperfect elders without judgement. He cares for his family members and his past, yet never drifts into sentimentality. He doesn't question his role. He accepts his responsibility to his inherited DNA, his red hair and innate talent for epic songs. He embraces his obligation to his living relations. And he contentedly shoulders his obligations to the future of his clan Chalum Ruaidh.

This novel celebrates writing and one of North America's and Scotland's hardy family histories. It will endure.

Call of the Writing

Imagine how rewarding it could be to have a tradition of sharing the day's pages with a few fellow writers around the fire as Jack London did early last century at Wolf's Lair. He'd read aloud what he had written that day and get real-time reactions from friends.  If Buck's howl resonated in the imaginations of his listeners, then the passage succeeded.  Buck's extraordinary connection with his canine ancestors as he dreamt of freer days in the pages of the manuscript that would become Call of the Wild (published 1903) came alive in the flickering darkness and Jack knew that what compelled him had found its voice; his pen had touched truth that morning.  When that happened, imagine his excitement.  He had penetrated the universal heart and borrowed a pulse or two of Life.

First Edition

That arrangement among fellow writers was unusual back then. In today's publishing market where only 'finished' manuscripts are read by agents or editors, much less published, it may be vital to a writer's survival.

 

The Bird Artist: A Novel | Howard Norman

Fabian Vas is a young man with talent and a passion for sketching and painting birds in turn-of-the-century coastal Newfoundland.Bird Artist

His powers of observation are so finely tuned that he rarely needs to describe events.  He simply lives them and, in so doing, brings every scene alive.  A complex achievement skillfully executed by Howard Norman.

It is written in a stripped-down style that inspires colorful notions and emotions.  The characters are vivid, flawed and fun to know.

National Book Award Finalist

The Bird Artist: A Novel

Voyager Rewrites What We Know About the Universe

Like a good blog thread, the Voyager 1 spacecraft keeps surprising us with startling new insights that help us navigate the universe. Scientists at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA announced today that Voyager I has left our solar system and continues to send data about its discoveries back to us. The spacecraft was launched from Earth 36 years ago. Voyager 1

Voyager 1 spacecraft

Jet Propulsion Laboratory   Voyager 1 File

 

Voyaer 1 Large

 

BEYOND THESE WOODS | Mark Roger Bailey

It is a pleasure to announce the release of my new novel and an exciting new character: Beyond These Woods -- featuring epidemiologist and rogue scientific gadfly, Dr. Lotte Keene.

Beyond These Woods

Lotte has fought and won many virus battles, yet after witnessing the death of her closest friend, Charley, in a horrific Brazilian disease outbreak, she has put the Centers for Disease Control and her high stakes war against pathogens in dangerous hot zones behind her.

Her skeptical relationship with authority and inconvenient habit of being right have stunted her career and undermined her professional reputation. Now, as she struggles to come to terms with life without Charley, she glimpses a telltale repetition of the symptomology of Charley’s sudden death … this time in California’s High Sierra Thunder Peak Wilderness. This clue to the cause of her greatest loss ignites an obsessive need to eradicate the killer. She breaks protocol and goes to Longwood, CA on a mission to confront her darkest fear.

To the CDC, Lotte’s breach of protocol is insubordination. To the environmental activist, Gabriel Fox, she is a complication of his master plan. For America’s elite intelligence apparatus, she is a threat to the nation’s security. For Longwood doctor Ben McCandle, Lotte challenges everything he thinks he knows about medical science.

Lotte Keene must identify the killer in the Sierra old-growth forest, determine if the ‘Ahwahnee Stroke’, as locals call it, is a corruption of Natural Law or a criminal act, and she must stop it before it spreads beyond the Thunder Peak Wilderness. Local suspicions of her motives mount, calculating corporate interests grow more sinister, dark operatives from Washington move against her work… and time is running out.

Dr. Lotte Keene is about to rewrite the rules of biogenetic science and cross the thin red, white and blue line between American principle and power.

BEYOND THESE WOODS is currently available for the Amazon Kindle and desktops, laptops, tablets, iPhone, Android and all handheld devices with the Kindle App available free from your favorite App Store.

Amazon KINDLE

gadfly -- a person who upsets the status quo by posing upsetting or novel questions.

The term 'gadfly' was used by Plato in the Apology[2] to describe Socrates' relationship of uncomfortable goad to the Athenian political scene, which he compared to a slow and dimwitted horse. (source: Wikipedia)

 

 

Mission: The Best Reading Experience

Recently, I learned that the edition of SAINT available on-line at Amazon contained formatting errors that diminished the quality experience I strive to achieve for every reader. In response, I have thoroughly reviewed SAINT's .mobi file, resolved formatting issues and added new features to enhance your reading experience.

New Features

  • Formatting refinements
  • Table of Contents
  • Improved chapter layouts
  • Titles

Thank you for your patience and enthusiasm for this novel. Please check out the newly improved SAINT (v1.1) at:

      Saint - Mark Bailey      

IT'S FINE BY ME | Per Petterson

True, Lonely, and Uplifting

Rare is the author or his/her work that I can order sight unseen and know. Know that the book will be a permanent presence on my shelf of quality literature, revisited and reread often. Per Petterson's novels are among the rarest for me.

I promised myself that I would understate these observations about Petterson's third book, the novel, IT'S FINE BY ME (1992), but I've failed already.It's Fine By Me

With the exceptions for love and great ambition, restraint is a desirable quality in most things. Writing, in particular. Petterson's mastery of restraint shows in his spare use of adjectives, and his refusal to embellish any description of setting or action. He simply writes what is, what happens, period. It's up to us to figure out the why of it. Just like life. And he does this without affectation or apparent effort, which reinforces his credibility with the reader and simultaneously sets the stage for profound, moving and often tender human insight.

Audun Sletten is Petterson's 13-year old protagonist in IT'S FINE BY ME, a working-class teen who identifies with Jack London and Ernest Hemingway, and is annoyed by adult hypocrisies, and his sister's choice of her James Dean wannabe boyfriend. He has outgrown the rules of childhood and is experiencing the contradictions of adulthood as he strives to understand his emerging identity, which is being defined as he responds to the messes that parents, sisters, friends, strangers and co-workers create for themselves. The culture of adulthood is a strange and chaotic bazaar of public selves and private rules that his elders seem to have accommodated in their own failed personal dreams of freedom and success. In this world seen through Audun's adolescent senses, adulthood is life lived under a succession of truces in which the line between what might be and what is shifts and morphs like light under water.

Previous Reviews of Per Petterson's works:

IN THE WAKE 

OUT STEALING HORSES

A trained librarian, Petterson worked as a bookstore clerk, translator and literary critic before he became a full-time writer. He cites Knut Hamsun and Raymond Carver among his influences.

Readers Rule

...if the writer has the energy, determination and persistence to develop more stories, and is open to learning and perfecting his or her craft, then s/he can offer another story, and maybe get a second date, and a third, and perhaps become a couple. How great is that?

Read More

Chip Kidd | Master Book Designer at TED 2012

If you aren't aware of Chip Kidd's contribution to the art, science and intellect of design that illuminates bookstore shelved and influences bookstore window displays, not to mention airport bookstores and newsstand displays, it's time you got acquainted with this leading book designer. If you know of his work, take a few minutes to appreciate this rare appearance by a designer who has asserted his forceful intelligence on every writer and reader in America. Many of us may not have been published by Knopf yet, but the lure of allying with the house that published Carl HiaasenJack LondonThomas MannGabriel García MárquezCormac McCarthyH. L. MenckenToni MorrisonAlice Munro,Haruki MurakamiP. D. OuspenskyEzra PoundAnne RiceAnne TylerJohn Updike, and Edmund White is powerful incentive to keep writing, to persist in crafting stories that entertain, engage, and develop lasting relationships with our readers.

Chip Kidd doesn’t judge books by their cover, he creates covers that embody the book -- and he does it with a wicked sense of humor. In one of the funniest talks from TED2012, he shows the art and deep thought of his cover designs.

[From The Design Studio session at TED2012, guest-curated by Chee Pearlman and David Rockwell.]

Here is Chip Kidd's amusing take on designing book jackets in his 2012 TED Talk. Enjoy.

Thanks to Laura Trombley, president of Pitzer College and biographer of the compelling Mark Twain's Other Woman: The Hidden Story of His Final Years, who shared this link.

What's the word at the Reliable Narrative blog?

  See what I have been writing about - M. R. Bailey

Here is a great way to see what you're writing about from a high altitude cloud perspective. Wordles are 'word clouds' that emphasize words in proportion to their frequency of use in text. Here’s a Wordle of mrbailey.net taken on April 16, 2012. Though more generic terms rise to the top, there is a diverse array of topics over recent months.

Wordle.net

 

Your Brain on Fiction

NeuroFiction

An article in the New York Times published on Saint Patrick’s Day caught my attention for its premise: fiction improves our minds. I believe this to be true, but haven’t looked too deeply into the science of it. Science author Annie Murphy Paul has. Her article confirms my personal experience of the effect of reading fiction on mental, social and life skills.

AMID the squawks and pings of our digital devices, the old-fashioned virtues of reading novels can seem faded, even futile. But new support for the value of fiction is arriving from an unexpected quarter: neuroscience.

This got my neural processors firing away in anticipation of a good intellectual workout. Paul makes a compelling case for the power of the novel to engage, exercise and improve the brain.

The brain, the article reminds us, does not distinguish between imagining an experience as we read about it and actually experiencing it in real life. To the brain, one is as real as the other. This is a key principle of achieving excellence in any endeavor, practicing it in our minds so thoroughly that our mind cannot accept less than the perfect execution.  High performance athletes understand this. Just as jet fighter pilots, high steel workers, leading corporate innovators, and neurosurgeons do. The fact that a good novel engages our mind and thrusts us into the heart of risk, danger, adventure, romance, achievement functions the way it does because our minds understand sensory details, evocative metaphors, and stimulating situations with such rich and complex experiences of reality that we discover and learn much as if we actually travelled, trained and risked as the novel’s characters do.

According to two scientific studies cited in the article, our experience of a novel hones our real-life social skills. The more we read fiction, the better we are able to understand other people, empathize with their challenges, and credibly see the world from their perspective.

Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined.

Previously I held this truth to be self-evident. Now, I have proof that my preference for the novel literary form is pragmatic and has a basis in science.

Related Links

The Neuroscience of Your Brain on Fiction by Annie Murphy Paul, NY Times, March 17, 2012

Annie Murphy Paul | Science Author  -  TED     Nov. 2011

 

 

 

WOLVES EAT DOGS | Martin Cruz Smith

In the shadow of the devastated Chernobyl nuclear power plant near Pripyat, Ukraine, nature is reclaiming the wreckage of humankind's worst nuclear accident. Outlaws and corrupt militia co-exist in the toxic detritus that is left in the wake of the government-ordered evacuation years earlier. Scientists come to conduct pure research. Surviving residents with nowhere to go wait for the end that never comes. Weary, they attempt to live with the terrible knowledge of their doom. One telling detail of their reduced circumstances: they cannot have pet dogs because the wolves in the surrounding forests eat dogs. This is not a cliché. It is a living Darwinian metaphor. Arkady Renko, the iconic detective from GORKY PARK, is challenged by his most baffling and enigmatic case yet: the death of an oligarch, by suicide perhaps, but Renko is certain it is the result of a murderous plot.

Smith's prose is deceptively elegant. It seems straightforward like Renko's description of action, yet it is always painted in shades of light, color, and tone. This and Renko's cynical, quietly subversive, brilliantly analytical, melancholy character keeps the mind turning - amused and utterly engaged.

Amazon - Wolves Eat Dogs

Wikipedia - Wolves Eat Dogs

 

Birds In Fall | Brad Kessler

Life is Fragile as Flight

This novel is one of those surprise discoveries. My wife brought it home for me on a whim with some journals. I read the opening sentence and sensed immediately that my priorities for the weekend had shifted.Birds In Fall by Brad Kessler

It’s true: a few of us slept through the entire ordeal, but others sensed something wrong right away.

I was hooked. Wished I’d written it. The voice possessed a sense of moment, a texture of imminent tragedy that gripped me and wouldn’t let me go. The first chapter transported me to far away Nova Scotia and continues to resonate in unexpected ways after the final page of the novel 238 pages later.

BIRDS IN FALL was a critical and popular success. An excerpt was published in The Kenyon Review in the spring of 2006. It won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. And the Los Angeles Times named it one of the ten best books of 2006.

A Novel for Novelists

The story begins aboard a transatlantic flight from New York City bound for Amsterdam. The style is contemporary, spare in setting, and emphasizes action.  It is told in the first person voice of Russell, Ana’s husband. The action is carefully and effectively modulated as he takes up conversation with the woman seated next to him, a concert cellist who is stressed by the airplane’s bumpy ride through increasingly violent stormy night skies.

For example, one of the most visually compelling moments is Russell’s presence of mind in writing his NY address on his forearm with the cellist’s Japanese Maple lipstick. He shows it to her and encourages her to do the same. Ironically, she encourages Russell to include his name in his message to his rescuers, yet he cannot bring himself to do so. This foreshadows his fate as another anonymous casualty of tragedy, vanished, forever lost at sea. Indeed, eighty minutes into its flight, the aircraft ‘enters the sea.’

From there we shift to a small community setting on Trachis Island off the coast of Nova Scotia and the events following the crash. The narrator’s voice changes to third person omniscient and never returns to Ana’s husband in any meaningful way. Despite several telling details set up in the first chapter, few are referenced later in the narrative in which bits and pieces of airplane, passengers, and luggage debris are recovered.

From chapter two onward we follow the innkeepers Kevin and Douglas on Trachis Island and Ana Gathreaux, Russell’s ornithologist wife, who travels from New York City to the inn to visit the site of the catastrophe and learn something more about Russell’s fate. Other victims’ families travel to the island from all over the world for the same purpose. Over time, they each experience punishing, withering grief, hope, frustration, abandonment, and transformation into new lives without their loved ones.

The writing improves in this second voice and occasionally soars like the migrating birds that serve as such an apt metaphor for the flight of time, events, and souls. On more than one occasion, I was reminded of Michael Ondaatje’s poetic prose. That's profound praise for how deft many of Brad Kessler’s passages are.

Recommended

Birds In Fall is remarkable. It is rich with masterful writing and compelling insights into the lives, drives, and lessons that shape us as our migrations intersect across time, place and circumstance.

 

Related Links

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brad_Kessler

 

 

Carter Bays & Craig Thomas on "How I Met Your Mother"

http://vimeo.com/35983305 Recently, I produced coverage of An Evening with Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, co-creators and co-executive producers of the television comedy, “How I Met Your Mother” (CBS) at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles. The event was hosted by Michael Roth, President of Wesleyan University, and Jeremy Zimmer, Founding Partner and Managing Director of United Talent Agency. Here is a brief highlights video, edited by Ben Travers.

Look for the Conversation video, containing insights into the success of Carter's and Craig's television comedy series, soon to be released.

Tablet and E-Reader Sales Soar

On a recent flight across the country, at least one in every 12 passengers were either reading or watching entertainment on tablets or smartphones. About 40% of these were reading books. About 1 in every 25 passengers were reading traditional books. This personal observation is anecdotal, of course, but it made an impression. That e-readers are becoming the new norm as personal digital devices become more intuitive, adaptive to personal needs, reliable and affordable is no longer news. Then, a report from Pew Research and the American Life Project was released yesterday. The take-away from the NYTimes article: tablet and e-reader sales doubled over the last year.  Adult users increased from 10% of adults in Dec 2011 to 19% of adults in December 2012.  Increased ownership of tablets is especially pronounced among highly educated users with household incomes exceeding $75,000. In fact, nearly one third of people with college degrees own tablets.

As a writer, I'm pleased to see that many people are choosing to read when they have the opportunity. How they choose to read helps inform my thinking about how my stories should read on the page vs. screen, and how to focus my efforts to improve the reader experience.

Related Article

Table and E-Reader Sales Soar  |  NYTimes

 

Read SAINT On KINDLE

The experiment 2,000 years in the making...

SAINT - The novel of intrigue - e-Book edition

 

Biogeneticist Andrew Shepard resurrects the memory of an ancient in a living human subject. Simon Peter is reborn.

For the faithful, it is a miracle. For the world’s political and spiritual leaders, it is a crisis. For humankind, it changes everything.

Peter escapes from the BioGenera lab in a desperate attempt to return to Rome and to confront the Pontiff, while being stalked by an assassin intent on silencing him once and for all.

First e-book edition

 

SAINT, my novel about the resurrection of human memory via biogenetics and neuroscience, is now available for download to the Kindle and Kindle-friendly devices including the iPhone, iPad, Mac, Droid and PC.

Read SAINT on Kindle 

 

Related Links

Kindle & The Evolution of a Writer

 

The Day We Lost 3,000 Futures

The attacks of 11 September 2001 changed the landscape of the American experience. We are scarred by the intensity of passions that swept genius into the fires, tested by the assaults on our faith in the dream, and diminished by lost opportunities. Despite these losses, we grow stronger in vision, purpose, and our hunger for a better future... together.

 

 

In Remembrance:

David Angell (Apr 10, 1946 - Sep 11, 2001)

Related Links:

9/11 Attacks

The September 11 Digital Archive

© Mark Roger Bailey 2011

2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Winners

Congratulations to the two winners of the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Winner: General Fiction:

East of Denver by Gregory Hill

Winner: Young Adult Fiction:

Spookygirl by Jill Baguchinsky

Read by Amazon Vine reviewers, Publisher's Weekly reviewers, Penguin editors, and ABNA expert panelists--and voted on by Amazon customers--the two winning authors have each been awarded a publishing contract with Penguin, which includes a $15,000 advance. The announcement was made in Seattle.

There were three finalists in each category. The other four finalists were Lucian Morgan, Phyllis T. Smith, Cara Bertrand, and Richard Larson.

Storyselling: The Query

It is time to shake off the writing routine of the last year, and turn to marketing. Storytelling to Storyselling

The discipline, focus, and skills that were so essential while writing the novel must now make way for business demands and professional responsibilities. Characters that have been present in every waking thought for so long now have competition for my attention. And so it is with sharpened senses; heightened awareness of current events, business trends, cultural tremors; and unflinching focus on the mission that I turn my attention to the all-important query.

A good query letter is a blend of copywriting, letter writing, business writing, and the finest creative brief writing, all balanced for clarity and purpose. A great query letter rises above to the level of message that ignites the imagination. This hybrid of writing craft and style is an Everest of a challenge. It must inform, establish credibility, entertain, and entice. The craft part can be fun. It is energizing to chisel away at the non-essential content in my drafts, like Michelangelo did with his block of Carrara marble 500 years ago until David stood naked in the piazza, as if he’d only been waiting for release from the stone. The art exists inside the clutter, and each bit of unnecessary verbiage that is cut away sharpens focus.

The first draft usually has a kernel of the desired power in it. There is a sense of the story's marketing potential, yet this aspect requires different intellectual tools and skills that often feel foreign to the author who has for the past year been so immersed in research, experimentation, and passionate story-weaving. My letter may have have excellence within in it, yet seen from this new perspective, more work is needed to separate the wheat from the non-essential chaff.

My approach is to aim for three paragraphs:

Hook - the unique value proposition my book offers expressed in a succinct and engaging statement that captures the big idea in a way that resonates immediately;

Core elements - my book described in three talking points; and

Credits - a relevant professional credential to reinforce the confidence instilled in the preceding two paragraphs.

The goal is to spare the reader any of the process of the book’s creation.  It should be lean and purposeful, a clarion call to the reader to engage in the book.

No one knows the winning formula for the perfect query letter.  Like any relationship, the successful query is a happy mystery. A convergence of desire, hope, stagecraft, sincerity, belief, facts, fiction, charm, shared aspiration, willing suspension of disbelief, drama, humor, strength, vulnerability, intellect, nerve, sensory awareness, risk, hunger, selflessness, selfishness, and luck. It is ethereal and elemental. Ephemera and permanence. The editor dearly wants to be surprised and yet, to open themselves to surprise, first they must trust. If the letter arrived in a quality paper envelope, the address legible, the letter intact, and the single page inside emerges into the rarefied light of their office not too dense with gray type, you have metaphorically caught your correspondent’s eye and made it across the miles to stand before them.

Now what?

Who are you?

If this is my initial contact, I go for an arresting statement of fact that captures the essence of the book. If this is my response to their request for an outline or sample chapters, I remind him/her that I am responding to his/her request. Next, a spark of light on my credits. Something about why he/she can trust my work.

Then, that lean, mean, irresistible pitch in an understated, to-the-heart-of-it flow about secrets this book reveals, and where it takes the adventurous reader.

If I feel up to risking my reader’s patience with an extra paragraph, I’ll explain how my proposed book stands apart. I’m on thin ice here, but if I have the right stuff – a reference to one of his/her client’s works to which my work has a meaningful connection, for example – I may attract enough interest to inspire a second reading, and a sense of me that resonates a day or two later.

Finally, a simple and sincere request to send them a few sample chapters. Perhaps the entire manuscript? (This alerts the reader that the manuscript is complete.) Thank you, (editor’s name HERE). I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely yours, (judge for yourself whether sincerely is on pitch). Have you established an authentic connection for which sincerely is appropriate and reinforcing? If so, then sign off sincerely. If not, leave well enough alone and end with Thank You.

Sincerely,

M.R.