Daring Dexter

I was a latecomer to the Dexter series and, curiosity piqued, I read what I thought was a series of seven books. Turns out to be eight, and I needed to wait a short while for the publication of the last. Annoying to a reader who read seven consecutively all the way through, but an interesting exercise in comparing the books to the show. At the same time, I continued to watch the series and kudos has to go to the writer, the producers, and Michael C.Hall for creating what should be a despicable character and making him likeable. Michael’s portrayal is outstanding as a great deal of feeling for Dexter Morgan comes from his performance. Not that I’m forgetting the supporting characters cast equally well.

There are differences between the books and series—and I had no reason to worry about reading and watching simultaneously as aside from the first title the books approach a different tangent. There are as many similarities as there are differences, and someone can enjoy both without interfering with the other.

Having said all that, I will add something I rarely say. I prefer the series. This is not to belittle the books or the writer. Usually, I’d chose a book over a filmed adaptation or like them equally, but the series lasted for so long it explored Dexter’s personality to a greater depth and questioned many more issues. The books are lighter, although the series portrays a serial killer who delivers a quicker and cleaner death. The books aren’t explicit but delivers a far different scenario—the Dexter of the books likes to play a little. What I disliked most from the books was the paranormal aspects added to one story and the suggested evolution of the ‘Dark Passenger’. This appeared to provide an excuse and a pardon for every killer’s behaviour. I also disliked Dexter the most in book seven and in a way I’ve never disliked the character on screen. Television Dexter developed, became far more multi-layered than the book version. What’s not to prefer? Still, as always there would be no series without the books, without the writer. It’s too easy to watch television forgetting without the writer there is nothing.

My current dilemma is, owning both the series and the novels, and attempting to be more ruthless with what I keep…do I abandon the books to the charity pile? I guess maybe…though perhaps not yet. Should I want to write an anti-hero sometime, Dexter is a character worth more examination.

The Ritual and The Silence

Comparing books with other books, and films with other films I find dubious. But what of a film adapted from a written work? Here I’m not comparing the books or the films but adaptations of two novels.

The Ritual, by Adam Nevill is the story of a reunion trip gone wrong when one of the party of friends becomes injured and they choose the shortcut everyone knows is heading for trouble. More than they can prepare for when they find themselves hunted and the family of ‘crazies’ living in the woods turns out to be the least of their problems.

The book is two halves. I so wanted to give it 5 stars, but I preferred the first half of the book to the second, and, although I’m unsure what might be a better conclusion, the end felt abrupt. What I love in this book is the atmosphere the author creates capturing my interest in a way many books of this type fail to and making the author one whose works I want to read more. I imagine several readers may say they’d prefer to know the characters a little more, which occurred to me on some level, but in a horror story it’s not always necessary to know these men are little more than regular guys doing their best to get by in their average lives and who don’t deserve the situation thrust upon them. A wonderfully atmospheric lost in the woods horror story.

The film has sequences not present in the book and though well worked in confused me initially. Likewise, as is often the case with a novel to film adaptations, the ending is not quite the same. All the story is present on the screen and the film has a good cast, yet none of the actors presented, for me, the characters as I perceived them, although a good point of the film is that they come across as average people leaving viewers with the sense anyone could fall into the same predicament. The film lacks the creepiness of the novel and feels rushed.

The Silence, Tim Lebbon. When explorers discover a new breed of a flying bat type creature, existance for every living animal on Earth comes under threat. An excellent apocalyptic thriller, well plotted and disturbing, tugging the heartstrings in all the right places. The simple writing does nothing to reduce the tension but makes this accessible for most ages from young adult to adult in part because two main protagonists of father and daugther tell the story. As a side note the film based on the book does not do the novel justice.

When I  saw this was another Netflix adaption, I was…not excited but interested. Netflix make excellent series and films. This was a letdown of the highest order, mediocre. I felt no connection to the characters, not caring whether they lived. The only one I cared for was the dog. The reverend comes across as a cliche in a way he didn’t in the book. And while such a threat of a unknown species might kill thousands before humanity got to grips with a solution, in part owing to the slow reaction and internal politics of various authorities, these creatures were not impossible to overcome. Mentions of this being A Quiet Place wannabe or clone are unfounded as the book came out prior. However, in both cases the one thing that makes humans vulnerable to them — sound — would likely be their downfall. Create noise and draw them to a place where an ambush can take place (though one might claim the same for any zombie threat). The addition of the wood chipper in the film of The Silence, was ludicrous. Many films work better with additions, subtractions, or scenes shuffled, but not when doing so creates a fundamental flaw.

In both cases I read the books before watching the films so wondered if my reaction was biased. My husband read The Ritual before seeing the film, but read the book of The Silence after watching the adaptation. In both cases he felt the same as I. The film of The Ritual would have enticed me to check out the book but the film of The Silence would not and so damages the book. Whilst both films lack the depth of the books, the Ritual does a better job of presenting the story.

One Bad Apple

I should be able to spot a bad apple when I see one. I’ve used apples many times in my writing. It’s the ultimate symbol of temptation. As Markis asks Uly in the short promo story I wrote for the Swithin series, “Bite?” Here, I decline the taste of spoiled fruit.

If you’re wondering what I’m talking about head over to Dear Author and read their comments on a bad apple a.k.a. a bad book in this 2009 post. Though old it’s a prime example. I’m not suggesting you read the plethora of comments but I have to agree with those who feel sorry for the writer. This book and this author weren’t ready for publication and the publisher who put out the work harmed the person, their reputation, ebooks, and the writing industry. They did done no one any favours.

I imagine the ‘writer’ was thrilled. An acceptance is what every wannabe dreams of; that unequivocal yes, the vindication. Not only must she have felt devastated as a ‘writer’ but there’s no way such comments cannot be taken personally. Even if they didn’t heap praise on this poor unsuspecting person, the writer must deal with the flack now aimed at her. Maybe it’s justified but it shouldn’t have happened. She shouldn’t have to go through this.

Despite the poor writing there is a hint in the review that the writer had a unique concept. It doesn’t sound like one that would interest me but it happens.  A story can be good but the writing poor. The writing can be good but the story poor. If I look back at what I produced when I first put pen to paper (and back then those were the only tools I had at my disposal, but that’s another blog right there), I was a poor writer. However, reading my long ago work I can see I was always a storyteller. With the right nurturing and guidance many poor writers can achieve their potential so I will not aim a personal attack at this unfortunate person. I can’t, however, call her a writer. She hasn’t been given the opportunity. As brutal as a rejection can be, sometimes honesty can be more helpful than politeness. If I were an editor and came across a story which I believed had a hint of talent, I would advise that person to go away, learn how to write, do a course if need be, and then try again. One major mistake many amateur writers make is that they don’t study the books they read. They have little concept of punctuation or grammar, or how to plot stories. Can someone be taught to write? I would say no, BUT one can be taught the mechanics. The storytelling is something more instinctual.

Alas, it’s instances such as this that lead to one bad apple spoiling it for the rest. Some may not know that epublishing has always carried a certain stigma, a bad reputation. Some liken it to little more than vanity press (companies who will publish anything at the writer’s expense and reap profits for doing no work) and it’s a valid argument. It’s valid because like any industry there are those who jumped on the bandwagon. They opened their doors with little intention of being much more than a vanity publisher, or they opened with the right intentions but no business practices behind them. Some were and are run by authors and that’s fine. Authors and editors have run small press for years and produced excellent work and launched many famous careers. Stephen King started in small press and even wrote horror stories for porn magazines.

The trouble arises when anyone opens a press with the mistaken belief it will be ‘easy’, that it won’t be as difficult — even more difficult — than running a normal business. Many were opportunistic, and it’s the good publishers and writers who suffer.

I’m not commenting on this publisher and cannot even take a guess as to their reasons for letting this work go to press. It only harms their business. I calmly crossed them off my list of possibles. I’m sorry if there is anyone out there that has had a great experience with them. If that’s the case, speak up in their defence. Let someone come forward to explain why such a poorly edited work made it into the public domain.

Epublishers aren’t the only ones to blame. Poor books by larger presses make it to print so ‘bad books’ aren’t restricted to digital formats by any means. Sometimes what constitutes a bad book is open to interpretation. It’s a lamentable fact that gives publishing a bad name, it gives certain genres a bad name, and it demoralises the writers. I am pleased to say there ARE good epublishers out there, every bit as dedicated as some who specialise in print. Many print publishers now border that gap having eased into the new technology. The sad truth behind epublishing was that to entice a readership to embracing this original reading material, they had to offer something different. This was the reason for the influx of erotic romance publishers. In time greater opportunities came about for those in epublishing. In the early days I didn’t want to be one of those who said CDs would never take off to replace records, though vinyl has made a modest comeback and it appears printed books are regaining their popularity. Still, I’ve always believed people should have a choice and I’m happy to hear of people reading no matter what the format.

I have always tried to choose my publishers with care. Does that mean I’ve loved every book ever produced by the companies I write for? No it doesn’t, just as I may not love every book put out by even my favourite authors. You can’t please everyone all the time, or even try to, but try to do the best job possible and scrutinise your work. I cannot guarantee my work will never go out without a typo, but I’ve spotted many a typo in books by greater authors than I ever hope to be; I detest seeing errors in any book of mine and always do my utmost not to write substandard. I don’t expect everyone to love everything I write. I write too varied for that to be possible. I just try to tell a great story and check and check and check my work until it drives me to distraction in the right way. I will always do my best not to hand over a bad apple. Please please please don’t throw away a whole barrel. There are genuine publishers out there and there are some fine authors in unexpected places.

Update April 2018

OUT AND ABOUT:
Got out to a knitting and wool fest, amazed by the number of people there but worth going if only to see the giant knitted dragon — not one I think I can add to my collection.

TELEVISION:
Dirk Gently has to be one of the strangest programmes we’ve watched but as they’re based on books by Douglas Adams, we had to look. He didn’t write as much as his success would have many believe and now, I must check out the books.

The last season of Game of Thrones began and we’re having to keep avoiding spoilers.

READING:
The Searching Dead, Ramsey Campbell
First in a trilogy I’m working my way through. More of a slower pace than many modern day novels plus the protagonist is a teenager, unusual in a horror story though some may like to call this more supernatural than horror. It’s certainly not horrific, more creepy with some touches of sadness — the older generations do not seem to fair well, from Mrs Norris missing her deceased husband, to Mr Noble’s father and his dark memories of war. While I would have liked to discover more about the strange haunting presences (can’t say more without giving too much away), this is the foundation for a hoped-for deeper story. The setting makes for a nostalgic read, both good and bad, and I particularly felt the helplessness of being young and having no one believe or even listen to fears unfounded or otherwise.

Born to the Dark, Ramsey Campbell
In the best sense this book is an exercise in frustration. Carrying on the story begun in The Searching Dead but now several years in the future when the protagonist is now an adult encountering the strange Christian Noble again. The threat, now largely aimed at his son, Dom is still unable to shake off the vexation of having no one believe him, least of all his wife. With more of insight to the great overall peril, a deeper mystery dragging Dom and his family and his friends into an impossible darkness…I hope the third book in this trilogy has the payoff the series deserves.

The Way of the Worm, Ramsey Campbell

First, I have to draw attention to the cover on this one. The more one delves into the story the more I realised how well suited the cover design is. The eyes grew creepier the more I progressed with the plot. Where the first of this trilogy portrayed the protagonist, Dominic Sheldrake, as a teenage, the second an adult, the third instalment enters his twilight years, which reflects the semidarkness that has plagued his life. His son is now an adult, but this only exacerbates both Dominic’s fears and the frustration the reader shares. The result convenes on a colossal scale and, if any parts of the tale come across as vague, or dreamlike, or illusory this fits with the tale we’ve followed, the half-truths and semi-falsehoods Dominic continues to battle. This reads as a modern Lovecraftian tale of a warped universe and fragile dimensions of tenuous existence. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the disquieting subtle horror.

The Silence, Tim Lebbon
An excellent apocalyptic thriller, well plotted and disturbing, tugging the heartstrings in all the right places. The simple writing does nothing to reduce the tension but makes this accessible for most ages from young adult to adult in part because the story is told by two main protagonists, father and daughter. The Netflix film based on the book does not do the book any justice.

WRITING:

Finished editing Cosmic but needs a lot more work if I’m ever to salvage it. Undecided as of this moment. Edited more short work.

You’d have to spare 10 minutes for this but this video dealing with information for writers on promotion goes a long way to explain what it takes to be successful these days. Though aimed at self-publishing the same applies for any writer.

Let Yourself Fly

Usually the mere mention of Tim Burton will put me in a cinema seat, but with the release of the live-action version of Disney’s ‘Dumbo’*, I hear that the film lacks the heart of the original so I’m thinking ‘not this time’. I’ll watch but likely wait until it comes to television in some form.

*(An oxymoron considering much of it is CGI, but so was Jungle Book and that was enjoyable.)

However, what it did was recall a memory I thought to share with you. Many years ago I worked with a woman who had a six-year-old girl. If I say watching films at home on VHS was still quite a novelty and DVDs were still to be invented for consumer use, I’m likely aging myself, but Dumbo had been released on tape and ‘owning a Disney film’ created quite a stir in those days. Many no doubt paid more for the privilege than the often 2 for 1 deals for these films today. Yet I’m talking about another historical event — If memory serves me correctly, this was the first showing of Dumbo on British television. Many of us rushed to set our VHS recorders.

The week after this big event I was talking to my colleague and asked what her daughter thought of the film.

“Oh that,” my colleague said. “I turned it off.”

Confused I asked, “What? Why?”

“She started crying.”

Even more perplexed I said, “So? At which part?”

“The bit with the mother swinging him in her trunk. I told her, so silly to cry over a cartoon.”

“But… But… But…” I stuttered. “I cry at that part too.” This earned me an incredulous look of derision. “It’s sad,” I defended my position.  “And besides, now she doesn’t know there was a happy ending.”

As we all know, the whole point of Dumbo is to show having faith in yourself and taking chances can lead to magical outcomes, maybe not as enchanting as learning to fly, but had I not pushed through adversity I wouldn’t be writing. And I hope, wherever she is now, my friend’s daughter at long last saw the end of Dumbo, went on to great things, and maybe one day sat down to watch Dumbo with children of her own, all having a good cry. I hope you all do, and one way or another, let yourself fly.

So many books, so few stars

We’ve all seen it. A book we’ve loved that may have good reviews, but the reviewer hasn’t awarded many stars, which to the writer is confusing. Perhaps this is a question of personal semantics. I have my marking system for books. Five stars is for an outstanding read. It’s one of those I wish I had written myself. Four stars is for a book I’ve found exceptional. It could have been something about a character or the plot, but something in the book has made me remember it. I usually say it’s haunting. Then, where most people would think three stars is a mediocre title, I apply it to all the other good books I’ve read; the books I’ve truly loved and that will stay in my house, and I think worth anybody’s time of day. A three star review can feel like a letdown but truly it’s a decent rating. Two stars is for something I may keep but probably never read again. It’s one of those ‘if you’ve nothing better to do’ categories. One star I seldom apply because if a book is that unsatisfying I’ll likely never mention it.

Some sites, like Goodreads, have a recommended meaning for their ratings (there three stars is a perfectly decent score), and that can help, but I believe we all mark books based on personal expectations. This means the ‘score’ may not accurately reflect content.

I seldom give bad reviews for two reasons. One, I know how I would feel if it were me and two, I’m always aware that what I dislike someone else may well love. It’s all opinion. As a writer, I think sometimes it’s best to be careful what you say, but we all know there are some deplorable books out. Many on bestseller lists. I’m sorry to say publishing (especially in digital form) has opened doors for many good writers who may not otherwise have a chance, but many unscrupulous individuals have also seized the opportunity to set up as publishers and will take any standard of work to market.

This isn’t always the fault of the inexperienced author. Whether a person has the ability to write or not, without the right guidance they may never realise the difference between genuine talent and a gift that needs nurturing, though the truth is all writers need cultivating. An unscrupulous publisher will heap praise on the unsuspecting where it’s not warranted, and how is the writer to know? Please, as a reader or writer, one bad experience must not discourage, deter, or dishearten. There are reputable publishers out there, and there are excellent authors. Many of these books are as good as anything in print, maybe better. The format doesn’t change the quality of the work. Only the publisher does. When I give a review, I seldom award stars unless it’s where I must. I say what I think of a book and why.

Word Count

I’ve received this query before so thought it makes a good topic. What is my word count? Do I strive for a daily figure?

A spinoff from that is to ask whether there’s a wrong or right way to do this thing called writing. Most courses and advice books will tell the writer to write ‘every day’. I believe this instruction is erroneous. Truth is, most writers work more than anybody. Many have day jobs, family, friends, need to do the washing, get food in, and clean the house same as everybody, but they write and see to those necessities that. Once you’re a writer, and once you’re serious, there’s no such thing as having ‘spare’ time.

I think writers need to make time. I’ve promised myself to be productive, but also to take time off…a subject on which I could fill another blog as I live in the vain hope of doing so. The point I’m making is that writers get sick, they get beyond tired, and can get exhausted. They get tired, annoyed, frustrated. Everyone gets time off — why not the writer?

Mostly because it’s difficult to stop our brains from ticking along. We can take a holiday and get ideas every day we’re away. Fine. Jot them down, just try not to begin the project. What these courses should say, and often mean, is that a writer needs to write regularly. For many writers this means a daily word count.

What that word count should be varies. I’ve known writers for whom 500 words feels like a huge number. Many settle for 1000, but for me 1000-1500 words feels as if I’ve barely got started. Stories often come as if I’m reading, the only difference is that the ‘book’ I’m reading from is inside my head. I need to ‘fall into’ the story the same way I do when I’m reading, forget time, block out everything around me. I often write from A – Z, page one to infinity.

At around 2000 words, I feel as I’ve put in a good day’s work. I aim for 2000 words a day, five times a week. Many have told me that’s a huge amount, but let me add that I’m a fast touch-typist. If the story flows (a big IF), it’s surprising how fast I can put 2000 words on the page. An average document in an office can be longer than that, and it wouldn’t take a professional typist long to transfer. If I have the time and the story is streaming, I have written more.

The most I’ve ever written in a day was around 10,000 words. I was on holiday, and I woke up one morning with a story fully formed in my head. I spent 8 hours typing, scurrying to grab drinks and a sandwich and taking bathroom breaks only when necessary, but I don’t recommend it, found it exhausting, mentally, emotionally, and worse of all, physically. Not a good idea to spend those hours sitting in a chair. Still, I have managed 4000-4500 words on a sunny afternoon feeling nothing other than accomplished. That makes up for the days when I’m unable to write.

It happens to most every writer. There are days I can stare at a blank page on the screen, and I’ll be lucky to write a sentence. James Joyce apparently once said if he wrote a couple of sentences in a day, it was a good day. So I may say I’m aiming for 2000 words a day, five times in a week, but if I get a day where nothing comes I seldom try to catch up. Sometimes I catch up naturally — a day of high-productivity can follow a torturous one — but I never push for it, because it feels too much like forcing the story. That’s not the same thing as trying to force oneself through a block. Sometimes the write must insist on sitting in that seat with fingers on the keyboard and lump it. That is often the contrast between a wannabe writer and one who has any hope of making a career of their writing.