Saturday, August 20, 2011

Change of address

The blog has moved to a new url address, new name, some new features, same old me. An intention to broaden the scope of the posts, note the use of the word 'intention.' If you're currently following this blog, or subscribing, you'll need to sign your life away (again) at the new location
the new url is -

click here to redirect

Hope you can join me for the latest post, 'A fraction too much fiction.'


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Every story deserves an ending

Michael Ende's classic fantasy novel, published in 1979 and adapted several times since in film and TV productions, is titled 'The Neverending Story,' but it does, in fact, have an ending.

A beginning. A middle. Plot and subplot. A terrific cast of characters. Exotic otherworldly locations.

And an ending.

Call me a traditionalist, but I believe every story should have one. I doubt there's a reader or a film goer out there who would disagree.

Imagine watching the DVD of 'Die Hard 4.0' and, as Bruce Willis dangles from a wire midair, surrounded by explosions, terrorists and swooping helicopters, the movie abruptly ends and the credits roll.

Not a good look.

Imagine reading Robert Ludlum's 'The Bourne Identity' - the amnesiac main character, still not knowing who he is or why so many heavy duty killers are on his trail, blasts his way out of one tight corner, only to face yet another. And that's the last page. The story isn't finished but there's no more leaves in the book and no sequel.

Not on.

You may not like a story's ending. It may or may not satisfy you, nor be what you were hoping for, there may be aspects to it that are open-ended (after all, life's like that)- but there should at least be an intended ending, one that completes the journey that the reader or viewer invested in with the first chapter or the first reel or the first episode.

We wouldn't accept a novel or a short story if it was cut off mid-sentence, wouldn't accept a movie if it faded to black without explanation, and publishers and filmmakers wouldn't expect it of us.

So why do TV networks believe they can do this with an ongoing TV series, and why do we put up with it?

This isn't just an occasional thing. It's chronic and it shows complete disrespect for the audiences that the very same TV networks need in order to survive. Talk about biting the hand that feeds...

Here's just a few recent examples:

Persons Unknown: a group of people from different walks of life are kidnapped and wake up prisoners in a small, deserted town. The town is surrounded by an invisible force field. There are thirteen emotionally-charged episodes with twists and turns as these people try to escape. The finale delivers quite a few answers but also sets up ongoing mysteries for a second season. No second season. No ending. 2.8 million U.S followers of the series are left in the dark.

Flash Forward: everyone in the world loses consciousness simultaneously for 137 seconds, during which they "experience' 137 seconds of their future, from six months forward in time. A group of FBI agents leads an investigation in to what, how and why this happened - and what it all means. The network cancelled the series after its 22 episode first series run, without a conclusion.

'The Event,' 'Jericho,' and 'Sons and Daughters' are just another three of the many recent series canned without tying up loose ends, mysteries and plot developments.

No-one expects the networks to run unprofitable businesses, or to not cancel a series that is not achieving the results being sought. Nevertheless, there are still some in the world who endorse the principles of ethics in business, and loyalty to your customers.

Flash Forward had an average audience of 8.5 million in the U.S and more around the world. They liked the program and invested their time and their interest in the characters. The audience deserved a finale that completed the tale. The story deserved an ending.

Writers, directors and producers all want to complete telling the stories that they have created.

When a network decides to cancel a series, it could do so allowing the producers the timing to script and shoot episodes that take the storyline to the finishing line. This was done in recent years with 'Smallville,' 'Prison Break,' and '24.' Or run a two hour telemovie "special" that concludes the series properly.

When the original tv version of spy series 'La Femme Nikita' was to be cancelled after its fourth season, a decision was made to produce a mini fifth season of just eight episodes to deliver a big finish.

It can, and should, be done.

A big finale, properly promoted, can also deliver extra ratings.

An audience is placing faith in the media that it will deliver a beginning, a middle, and a fitting conclusion to its fictional products.

Every story deserves an ending.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Every picture tells a story

On his breakthrough 1971 solo album, Every Picture Tells A Story, Rod Stewart sang, 'Every picture tells a story, don't it?' I remember way back then, whenever I heard the song, I wanted to sing back, 'Yes, Rod, it does.' And I still get that same urge even now when I hear it on those golden oldie classic rock radio playlists.

I'm no singer, rapper or TV voice-over guy, so I tend not to sing, rap or speak it. I just think it (Yes, Rod, it does), which spares me those strange looks I've mentioned before.

Every picture tells a story, or more to the point a fragment of one, as there can be a whole fleshed-out story, themes, characters and sub-plots behind that picture just waiting to be told. Which means every picture can also be an inspiration for writers.

I was reminded of that this past fortnight when, in the midst of riots in Vancouver, a photo was snapped of a young couple lying in the middle of the road, kissing, while conflict and fires raged in the background.

That photo went viral on the internet, and made the print and broadcast news all over the world.

Yes, that photo was worth a thousand words, and yes, it told us a story of love and tenderness in the midst of chaos. It was also a whole lot more than that. The whole world was intrigued enough to want to know the full story behind that "moment" captured by camera.

The police had moved in after angry mobs went wild, burning and looting after their team lost an ice hockey final. (That's got to be a whole other story, doesn't it?)

When Alexandra Thomas was accidentally caught up in the melee, and reportedly beaten with a shield and knocked to the ground, her boyfriend, Scott Jones, held her in his arms and soothed her shock and hysteria with a kiss, a moment snapped by freelance photographer Richard Lam.

The story "told' by a picture can be depicted differently by the differing perceptions of all who see it. To an imaginative storyteller, a picture - any picture - can suggest a variety of different scenarios, complete with a beginning, middle and end.

Perhaps it was a real-life portrait that partly inspired Oscar Wilde to write 'The Picture Of Dorian Gray'?

There were many famous photos throughout the last century that inspired debate, intrigue and various possibilities of the "story" behind them, one of the best known being another kiss - this one of a young French couple on the streets of Paris in 1950. Who were they? What became of them? Their identities remained a mystery until 1993 when the photographer Robert Doisneau revealed that the kiss had been staged, using two models. Doisneau was forced to reveal the secret in defence of a court action by a woman claiming to have been the girl in the picture. There's a whole other true-life story there, very different to the one in the photo.

The 1989 photo of a lone student, standing in front of communist tanks in Tiananmen Square in China, tells a story of oppression and the resolve of the human spirit. It's a picture that tells a powerful story, a picture that can ignite plot lines, both real and fictional, of the thousands caught up in that struggle, and of the tragedy of the massacre that followed.

Every picture tells a story. And every picture can suggest a mix of characters, plots, locations and emotions to authors, screenwriters, composers and songwriters.

Yes, Rod, it does.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A storyteller's best friend

This week I have a Guest Author spot on book blogger site 'CMash Loves To Read.'

An invite as guest to one of the blogs or websites that reviews books/interviews authors/hosts guest posts - is, for me, like an invite to a really cool party, but without the booze, the amateur dancing or the hassle of getting home in the middle of the night. And without waking up the next morning with a mouth like the bottom of a bird cage or a head doing an excellent impersonation of a jackhammer on a building site.

There are 2 free copies of the paperback edition of 'The Delta Chain' being offered in CMash's Giveaway Competition. There's also some general background info, and my guest post-
"A storyteller's best friend."

A storyteller's best friend might not be an idea or a character or a whopping advance or a shiny new laptop.

It might just be a question... (you can read the rest of the guest post and check out the site at CMash Loves To Read.)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Even action heroes can teach us something new

The action hero/thriller genre has grown in leaps and bounds (no pun intended but I guess it's there anyway), propelled by popular authors such as Lee Child, Matt Hilton, Matthew Reilly, Clive Cussler and others.

I'm reading Jeff Abbott's "Adrenaline" and it's one of the best - the first in a series featuring Sam Capra, CIA agent who loses everything dear to him in one horrifying moment; finds himself framed for a terrorist act and on the run; then working for a mysterious international organisation against an equally-as-mysterious and powerful enemy.

In the electrifying opening scene, told in the first-person, lead character Capra gives a blow-by-blow description as he runs through a deserted carpark and building site, up and down gangways, across rooftops, every spin and bounce and landing like a jolt to the senses of the reader.

Capra gives the term "Parkour" to this breathtaking exercise regime. I have to admit I had never heard of it. Well, I have now.

The action in this opening scene sounded to me like something I had heard of - freerunning. Most of us have heard about- and seen - freerunning. Who could forget that opening in the movie "Casino Royale"? Daniel Craig (as James Bond) pursuing a freerunner across an urban landscape.

But what was "Parkour"?

I googled Parkour and learned instantly that it is the original term applied to a free-form, non-competitive discipline, French in origin, in which participants run along a route, navigating obstacles by jumping, climbing, vaulting, rolling, swinging and wall-scaling, mostly practiced at high speed in dense urban areas.

Sebastien Foucan, one of the co-founders of Parkour - (and he's the guy doing that running in the Casino Royale movie) - disagreed with the other originators of Parkour. He wanted to evolve it to include visual "tricks" such as spins and aerial rotations, and for it to become a competitive sport. It was this "breakaway" movement that become known as "freerunning."

Fiction is elevated to a whole new level when it introduces us to something we didn't know, and encourages us to find out more.

There are many and varied examples of this, and just one is Howard Gordon's newly published action novel, 'Gideon's War,' in which the "24" producer-turned-novelist shows us aspects of the construction, layout and operations of a state-of-the-art oil rig, deftly woven into the fast-moving plot. Another example: John J Nance's avaiation thrillers, which take us into the cockpit and behind the controls of major aircraft, and just two of which are 'Pandora's Clock," and 'Medusa's Child."

Back to Jeff Abbott's "Adrenaline." I found myself seeking out articles on Parkour, tracing its origins back to World War 1 naval officer Georges Hebert who, inspired by the flexible movements of tribesmen in Africa, was prompted to develop sports and training regimens that encouraged individual physical skills and dexterity.

Fast forward 80-90 years and you have the development of Parkour and freerunning. There are film doco's like 'Jump," featuring Sebastien Foucan in full flight, and there are articles telling the stories of contemporary runners, such as Johnny Budden. He has trained the Royal Marines in freerunning skills, and advised film producers who have featured the sport.

As for me, I won't be going out any time soon performing aerial spins, jumps and vaults, but like most people I could watch it for hours. Tracking down videos of freerunners on YouTube delivers some fascinating viewing. And the history of this skill, and the stories of the young- and not-so-young - who perform it, is so engrossing it is like a whole collection of fictional tales that have morphed into real life.

Jeff Abbott's electrifying prose brings the sport of Parkour to life on the page. He makes it just as exciting to read about, and intriguing enough to want to learn more.

Even action heroes can teach us something new, and thriller fiction has a whole new dimension added to it when it gives us a glimpse of a fascinating new subject.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A world that is stranger than any of its fictions

In the space of just four days in late April/early May, we saw a romantic fairytale wedding between a prince and his princess, in which horse-drawn carriages carrying people in regal outfits depicting another era, was watched "live' on 21st Century television by an estimated third of the world's population.

Just three days later, on every news media around the globe, came reports of the killing of the earth's most wanted terrorist leader, a man who led a network responsible for one of the worst mass-killings in recent history.

To enjoy the reading or watching of fictional works, particularly in the romance and thriller genres, usually requires the suspension of disbelief. That is what we are told. And yet...

The real world around us is often stranger than any of the fictions created by mankind. That's what I've always thought.

Fiction has to make sense to the reader. The real world often does not.

When armed forces raided the terrorist leader's secret compound in Pakistan, the US President and White House officials watched the operation "live" on screen from Washington. The images were being relayed from mini-cams in the helmets of the military personnel.

If that was a scene from a novel or a film from just forty years ago it would have been labelled science fiction.

Yesterday's s/f or high-tech thriller fiction is today's reality.

We call tv series such as "Survivor' and 'The Amazing Race" reality tv, but the Pakistan raid watched by a small group of leaders really was reality tv. Strange world.

If we focus on just these two areas - the British Royal family - and international terrorism - we'd find many instances where the known facts would stretch credulity if they were presented as fiction.

In 2008, Price Harry had to exit his role as a member of a cavalry regiment, fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, when his secret tour-of-duty was "revealed" to the world by a glossy celebrity magazine in Australia. The revelation put Harry's life, and the lives of the team, in potentially even greater danger. Oops.

Put that into a novel or a film and it would have been regarded as suspense turned soap opera. Kind of like "24" meets "the Bold and the Beautiful."

It's been revealed that the world's most wanted terrorist and his family had lived for several years in his million-dollar enclosed compound in Abbotobad, very near to a Pakistan military academy, and supposedly without anyone in the city or surrounding towns having any idea he was there. I have to wonder how believable that would have been in a Robert Ludlum or Frederick Forsyth novel. Too far-fetched?

When I was fairly young I recall hearing my parents express surprise at a newspaper item regarding a suicide. A man was playing cards with his family and friends and became so upset at losing, he went to his bedroom and shot himself in the head.

News reports are often taken at face value. However, if that was a scene in a movie, it just wouldn't wash with audiences.

I thought about that news report many times over the years. Why would you shoot yourself over a game of cards? I've long since realized, of course, that there were no doubt other, more serious reasons for the man's depression, and that the card game was just a catalyst for the action he took. But that's not what was presented in the news report. And it would require a giant leap to consider it credible in a work of fiction.

'Willing suspension of disbelief' has long been regarded as the means by which writers and their readers can justify non-realistic or "fantastic" elements in storytelling. It was first suggested by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, of 'Rime Of The Ancient Mariner" fame, in the early 19th Century.

Suspension of disbelief is certainly a formula required for the enjoyment of much fiction. However, I'd suggest it's not out of place in our observation of the real world around us.

Next time you're reading a book or watching a film and you think to yourself: "...that could never happen..." or perhaps, "...that was way over the top..." - don't be so sure the seemingly implausible plot event couldn't really happen. It probably has somewhere, at some time. Or maybe it just hasn't happened yet.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Rise of the Ebook

In 1989, an unpublished manuscript by classic 19th century French author Jules Verne was discovered and subsequently published in the 1990's. 'Paris In The 20th Century,' was written by Verne in 1863 and is set in the great French city 97 years in his future - in 1960.

Just one of the futuristic devices featured in the novel was a machine that could transmit the image on a piece of paper to another machine in another location. Forty four years later in Germany, Arthur Korn sent a photograph from Munich to Berlin on the first-ever inter-city fax machine.

It was another sixty years on before the streamlined, electric fax machine became a common feature in businesses around the world. And another fifty years on from that it's all but extinct in the age of the internet and the email.

The future Paris described by Verne was a city full of towering buildings - written twenty one years before the the first modern skyscraper - the 10-storey Home Insurance Building - was opened in Chicago in 1884.

Verne's novel had been rejected by his publisher who regarded it as too wildly imaginative.

Verne was good at this sort of thing.

He wrote about high-powered metallic submarines, ('20,000 Leagues Under The Sea,') long before the first one was built. He wrote about a rocket trip to the Moon, ('From The Earth To The Moon,') 104 years before Apollo 11.

Let's imagine, then, an imaginary novel written by an imaginary author named John Ferne - sixty years ago - in 1951.

It's set in 2011 and it's about a wealthy entrepreneur who launches a new invention - a hand-held device on which you can read the text of a book on a flat, non-glare screen.

The books can be transmitted to the device anywhere in the world via wireless networks from supercomputers that hold hundreds of thousands of titles.

At the same time a global book store has collapsed and major print publishers are considering the way forward in an uncertain business. As print sales decline, there is a sharp increase in the ereader devices. Pure fantasy.

The novel is called 'The Rise Of The Ebook,' and Ferne's tale is rejected by 1950's book editors as being too improbable, even for s/f fans.

Of course, this is a novel that was never written. (Or was it?)

However, it's 2011 now and the scenario couldn't be more real.

It's less than four years since Jeff Bezos' Amazon launched the Kindle ereader. Aptly named, for just as kindling in the forest can ignite a fire, so the Kindle has fanned the flames of an ebook revolution, with several major ereader devices and online bookstores launching. In addition there's ebook distributors such as Mark Coker's Smashwords. These 21st century outlets are offering hundreds of thousands of books, by both established publishers and by the new wave of "indie" authors/publishers.

Global bookstore chain Borders has closed most of its brick and mortar stores, while building its own online presence and its own ereader.

Welcome to the future.

And these are the most recent developments in the rise of the ebook:

The April 16, 2011 press release from the American Association of Publishers (AAP)reported that in February, digital books in the U.S showed a 202.3 % increase against the same month of February in 2010.

The Ebook was the Number One format among all categories of Trade books, including Adult and Childrens/YA hardcovers and paperbacks. That's $90.3 million in sales for the month of February. (Boy, what I could do with $90.3 million.)

The ebook now accounts for just on 30% of all U.S. book sales.

Ebook sales outside the U.S are slower, but the trend is upwards.

My research indicates that in the UK and Germany, where ereaders have been on sale for a much shorter period of time, ebooks are estimated at around 5% and growing.

The rise of the ebook has also seen the rise of the independent author.

The 'indie' artist was once the exclusive domain of the musician, particularly rock musos. Technology meant it was possible for singers/songwriters/bands to record their own material, release it on CD or download, selling it on the internet and at 'live' shows. "Indies" gained a strong foothold in the 90's.

Now technology has done the same for authors, and it's a real game-changer.

There are many thousands of "indie" authors flooding the market with their self-published works and, sadly, many will not stand out and find readers. Nevertheless, an opportunity to sell your wares and connect with an audience is there.

And from those thousands, there are many who are achieving strong sales and excellent reviews, too many to mention here, but as an example - Mel Comley, Imogen Rose, Edward Patterson, Siebel Hodge and Nick Spalding.

There's a small but growing number who have hit the Kindle Top 100 bestseller lists, including John Locke, Amanda Hocking, J R Rain, Michael R Sullivan and Debbi Mack.

Hocking and Sullivan have been approached and have also signed with established publishing houses.

John Locke, who has many titles on the bestseller list, prefers to remain "indie" but has acquired a literary agent to field movie offers and foreign rights publishing opportunities.

These authors are an example that self-published works that are well written and edited, can match the traditionally published well-known authors in finding a readership. As such, they are an inspiration, a guide and a beacon to every other writer out there who is heading along the same path.

Locke's agent, Jane Dystel, was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as saying this brave new digital publishing world was a "wild west."

Well, the U.S ought to know, having had the original Wild West back in the 1800's. Around the same time Jules Verne was imagining the fantastic inventions of the 20th century, which are themselves already ancient history to us. If Verne was writing today, we can only wonder what speculative fiction he might have written about the future of the digital age.

And what of our imaginary John Ferne novel, 'The Rise of the Ebook'?

In our fictional story, Ferne's grandchildren have discovered his manuscript and released it as an ebook. It's a Kindle Top 10 bestseller. Imaginary film studio, Dreamjobs, have bought the rights and legendary director Stephen Steelkirk will direct.

And for the role of an indie author who hits the big time, talks are underway with Josh Heart-throb and Christian Sale.

The real Hollywood recently released 'The Social Network,' a film about the rise of Facebook.

A real movie about the rise of the ebook? Who knows...