Mark Terry

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Your blog as music

February 27, 2010
I've got to run out to help at a fundraiser pancake breakfast, so I didn't get to play around with this much, but it's fun. Type in your website URL and it turns it into a piece of music.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Different Likes

February 25, 2010
Ever met someone who only reads one type of book? I imagine you have. They only like cozy mysteries or they only like chaste romances or they only read military sci-fi. I think that's a little crazy, but whatever, to each his/her own.

My own reading tends to be all over the board. For several years it got narrower, focusing primarily on mysteries and thrillers, and the edgier ones tended to be more to my taste. My favorites are probably fast-paced, action-oriented, somewhat heroic in nature.

Hey, go figure. How would I describe the Derek Stillwater novels? Fast-paced. Action-oriented. Heroic in nature.

Not everybody likes those kinds of books. As mentioned a couple days ago, the book reviewer for Publishers Weekly didn't seem to like those kinds of books. A gentleman writer who read it in manuscript format thought the writing was good, but felt that Derek Stillwater operated at too high a level given the abuse he undergoes in The Fallen, ala Jack Bauer from "24," or Jason Bourne or Bruce Willis's character in the Die Hard movies.

Ultimately, I don't feel a real need to justify my books on that basis. I could, I suppose. I could point out that it was a Special Forces (or was it a Navy SEAL?) that founded the first Iron Man triathlon--swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles followed by a 26.2 mile run, all back-to-back without rest, and the winning times tend to be in the 12-15 hour timeframes. I could point out that if you read, for instance, Doug Stanton's HORSE SOLDIERS, about the first Special Forces soldiers into Afghanistan after 9/11, one of the stories (and there many of this type) was of a soldier who rode a horse all day long on a wooden saddle in excruciating pain, was unable to get off the horse by himself at the end of the day... and it turned out that he had ruptured a disk in his back, but kept on going.

Derek Stillwater is a character who is routinely pushed to his physical, mental, and emotional limits. Hence: thriller.

But there's no real point to defending those sorts of things any more than a writer of cozy mysteries should bother defending how their suburban housewife is constantly solving mysteries that the police can't solve, book after book after book.

Certain types of books have certain types of conventions and along with those conventions, certain types of readers.

I no longer care for a steady diet of one type of book. David Hewson, who writes slow, layered, meticulous, detailed police procedurals set in Italy has argued in his blog that there's no need for supermen in crime fiction. Well, that's David's taste in books and it reflects in his own writing. And David's books are wonderful, even though I wish he'd move things along a little bit faster.

Jodi Picoult-type books with their lengthy interior monologues drive me crazy. It's not a slam on her books or her readers. It's just not my cup of tea.

Some readers don't like first-person, some don't like third. Some don't like multiple viewpoints. (Want to frustrate me as a reader? Write it in present tense. Drives me crazy). Hell, some people don't like fiction or don't like reading at all.

When you develop a readership--and I guess I might be slowly doing so--you start to get a sense of who your readers are and what they like. Here's one thing I know about the readers who like my books the most--they're men. That isn't to say women don't like them, because I know women do. But the reader most likely to say, "Man, that book was awesome!" to me, is a man. Maybe Derek Stillwater is our heroic alter ego the same way Spenser is or James Bond is or Jason Bourne is. Maybe what men want as a reading diversion is fast-pace and high adventure. That's really too broad a statement, I don't like to stereotype readers by gender or any other way, but I do wonder.

In terms of writing, I think it's worthwhile to pay attention to what you MOST respond to in reading. It's a good chance that that is what will work best in your own writing. Not exclusively, perhaps, but if you respond to books with witty dialogue and lots of action, why in hell would you try to write slow, layered, inner-monologue laden novels? If it doesn't appeal to you, why would it appeal to someone else?

Maybe the answer actually is: because you want a change of pace. Or your own taste in reading is shifting. Or you wanted a challenge.

All good reasons, I think, to try a different approach. Use another tool from your toolbox. Shake things up a bit.

Just remember, a lot of times, different types of books appeal to different types of readers.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Book Pricing For Dummies

February 23, 2010
There's been some furor and backlash and general whining about the latest stink between MacMillan and Amazon over the price of e-books. I was interested to get a grip on how much it actually costs to publish a book, and although there are a fair number of articles about it, the numbers vary. So I'm going to add to the mix with some information as well, which we might call "Hardcover Pricing From 20,000 Feet."

My new novel, THE FALLEN, is priced at $25.95 in hardcover. First, let me say that I am pleased to be published in hardcover, and I had ZERO, let me repeat, ZERO, say in pricing (or what format it was published in).

These are very, very, very general breakdowns based on my reading about book breakdowns. That doesn't mean they necessarily apply to THE FALLEN or to any books from Oceanview Publishing or any other publisher in terms of specifics, but generally, these are in range. And I'll try to, in business-speak, drill down and give you some granularity, as well.

$25.95--book price minus any retail discounts. For instance, should I suddenly become a New York Times bestseller (oy vey, my lips to God's ears!), the chain stores will start discounting the book by anywhere from 20-40%. But it seems likely that if you should trot into your local Borders, B&N, or into your favorite indie bookstore, THE FALLEN will cost you $25.95 plus tax.

Author royalties typically range from 8 to 15%, depending on format (e-books are a different animal), how big a name you are, and how many books you actually sell. But for a hardcover, a 10% royalty is fairly typical and an easy enough figure to work with.

$25.95 (list price)
-$2.595 (10% author royalty)
= $23.355

Distributors, that is to say, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and all the others, take about 10%.

$23.355 (list price - author royalty)
-$2.595 (10% for distributor)
= $20.76

Retailers, so I'm told, take about 40% off the list price. That is, if they're not discounting your book by 10-40%. In fact, it makes one raise the ol' eyebrows trying to figure out how Borders et al. makes a profit on a bestselling novel they discount by 40%. This piece also will not break down retailer expenses, such as shipping, returns, overhead, etc.

$20.76 (list price-author royalty-distributor)
-$10.38 (40% for retailers without discounts)
= $10.38

Book publishers typically claim 40-50% of a book's price on costs. For this we'll say 40%.

$10.38 (list price-author royalty-distributor-retailer)
-$10.38 (40% for publisher costs)
= $0

Okay, now. For a little bit of granularity, let's look at a publisher's costs. We're going to work some numbers out of that $10.38, which is 40% of a retailers cost per book. These are really, really fuzzy numbers. The percentages come out of the $25.95 list price, but I'll be subtracting them from the $10.38 figure, which is 40% of the list price.

$10.38 (40% of list price, or publishers cut of the list price)

Preproduction costs, which I assume means editing and layout and maybe even cover art, book design, etc., is around 12.7%. 12.7% of $25.95 is $3.29565 (and no, I'm not rounding).

$10.38 (publisher's 40%)
-$3.29565 (pre-production costs, or 12.7% of list price)
=$7.08435 (or, about $7.08 per copy of the book)

Printing costs around about 10.125%, or $2.6274375

$7.08435 (publisher's costs-pre-production costs)
-$2.6274375 (printing costs, or 10.125%)
= $4.4569125 ( or about $4.46 per book)

Marketing. I love this figure, because I bet it varies all over the board. If you're a big author, it's higher. If you're a nobody, it's practically zero. But from my sourcing, let's say 7.15%, which is $1.85857.

$4.4569125 (publisher's costs-pre-prod-printing)
-$1.85857 (marketing costs)
= $2.5983425 (or $2.60 per book is left over and might be considered publisher's profit)

Okay. Let's just say, on a $25.95 book, the author gets $2.60 per copy sold.

So, if the book sells 1000 copies, author gets $2600. (If you have an agent, the agent gets 15% of that, and the government gets about 30% of what's left over, but that's a different article for a different day). If your book goes totally stratospheric and sells 100,000 copies in hardcover, the author gets $260,000. I'm not doing the breakdown for a million copies sold in hardcover, that's so rare as to be in the Winning The Lottery category. Even 100,000 copies in hardcover is unusual. (And if you're in mass market paperback, and your book sells for $7.99 and your royalty is 8%, and you sell 100,000, you get $63,920, minus agent's 15% and the government's 30%, etc.).

Now, I wish I had more granularity here, because it's not clear to me where things like warehousing books falls. Is that part of the 10% for printing, distribution, or does it come out of the publisher's profits. I don't know. What about shipping? This is a hairball for bookstores and publishers, and the only winner that I can see is UPS. The books get shipped from a warehouse (run by a distributor?) to the bookstore. The bookstore presumably pays for that out of their so-called 40% profit. If they don't sell all the books, they can return them to the publisher (ie., distributor) and I don't know how that breaks down. Who pays for the UPS return shipping? If it's paperbacks, at least mass market, usually the covers are returned but the books are dumped in the trash. If it's hardcovers, the books are returned and the retailer presumably loses at least a little bit of money on the deal (although I don't know), but somebody gets hosed.

Here are a couple things I know. I know that the guy who did the cover art for THE FALLEN is a freelancer and if his rates on his website are accurate, the cover art costs my publisher about $3000-$3500.

My publisher did not spend much money on the author advance.

Although I don't believe they've actually told me this, they have said in at least one article I read about my publisher, that they keep aside $3000 for marketing. That number, of course, will vary greatly from publisher to publisher.

But you can see right from the start, that for my book, initial expenses before layout, printing, editing, mailings, catalogue, etc., is somewhere in the range of $7000-$8000.

How many copies will THE FALLEN need to sell to earn back just those initial costs? Well, go back to the $2.60 figure as profit and say 3,076 copies sold to earn back $8,000.

Okay, that's not quite right, is it. Go back to 40% figure, which is $10.38. About 770 copies, a very modest figure. But that's just to break even on initial costs.

Of course, I spent a couple hundred hours writing the thing, so what's my hourly rate? Oh, let's not even go there.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Fallen--reviews

February 22, 2010
I can just imagine my publisher screaming and saying, "No, Mark, don't!"

To-date I've had three reviews for The Fallen, two stellar. Here are highlights:

"Readers who love the high paced thrillers that provide an adrenaline rush of a read are in for a treat with the latest Mark Terry novel, THE FALLEN.... For thriller junkies, it's a book destined to please."--Christine Zibas, for Helium Arts & Humanities

"The Fallen is a singularly entertaining read....Engagingly written, THE FALLEN is a real page-turner, everything a first-rate thriller should be."--Lawrence Kane for ForeWord Reviews

Ah, now, in the interest of full disclosure and because, frankly, after The Serpent's Kiss getting almost no reviews anywhere, I'm delighted... well, okay, not delighted, but I'm pleased that Publishers Weekly has seen fit to review The Fallen at all. Here goes:

The Fallen Mark Terry. Oceanview (Midpoint, dist.), $25.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-933515-75-5

Fans of TV's Jack Bauer who place a premium on action may enjoy Terry's third novel featuring superhuman intelligence operative Derek Stillwater (after The Serpent's Kiss), but those who like plausibility in their thrillers had better look elsewhere. Stillwater is working undercover as a maintenance employee at Cheyenne Hills, a resort near Colorado Springs, Colo., which is hosting the G8 summit. The Fallen Angels, a terrorist group whose members are “all recruited from the highest levels of the world's intelligence agencies,” easily manage to take control of the resort. Stillwater and an attractive food service worker, plucky Maria Sanchez, who proves surprisingly lethal, are the world's best hope for preventing an international disaster. Less than logical prose (e.g., “for reasons we don't completely understand, [the terrorists] have proven to be very resistant to our interrogations”) doesn't help the Die Hard plot line. (Apr.)

* * *

Ah well. What can I say...."Fans of TV's Jack Bauer who place a premium on action may enjoy ... The Fallen's... surprisingly lethal Die Hard plot line."

Really, after my last novel's critical silence, I'm fairly pleased just to be reviewed at all.

And as Ricky Nelson famously sang, "But it's all right now, I learned my lesson well. You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself."

Oh, I know!!!!!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ooooohhhh & Aaaahhhhh

February 19, 2010
Okay. It never really gets old, I don't think. Got my author copies of THE FALLEN today.

Taking Control

February 19, 2010
I've been slowly reading Dean Wesley Smith's posts on Killing The Sacred Cows of Publishing. I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, but I think it's fairly interesting. Also, sometimes you have to think about the things he says and how they might apply to you.

For instance, Dean, who's published a ton of books, apparently does his own book marketing, although he gets an agent and/or literary attorney to negotiate contracts.

I'm sure I could write for hundreds of pages about my often ambivalent thoughts about that, but instead, I'll tell you what I did today.

I tracked down the contact information for a couple of editors and sent them queries regarding a novel I wrote called Hot Money.

Why didn't I have my agent do this?

That's complicated. She's marketed to editors she knows or whatever the hell it is she does. I was recently frustrated a lot because this manuscript has been at a publisher for months and months and months and when I ask her about it she'll email the editor and ask. As far as I can tell, he doesn't respond to her.

Excuse me?!

I came right out and told her that there was this great invention called the P-H-O-N-E and she should try it some time. She said that was a great idea, she'd do it...

Did she? I don't know. Which is why I'm taking control. You see, in my nonfiction business, if I think people are ignoring me or blowing me off, I either don't work for them or I bug the shit out of them until I get an answer. As an editor, it's practically my stock-in-trade.

Am I firing my agent? No. Going around her?

Hey, I know where we are in the submission process, so no, I'm not. Besides, I don't work for her, she works for me.

Will these publishers tell me to have her submit them? (I told them in the query that she represented me). Maybe. Or maybe not. One reason I might actually be able to pull this off is because I have a track record. It can be a different story if you don't have any novels published.

Just one more example here, though. In late 2008 I was hired to collaborate with two physicians on a book proposal. I wrote the proposal, then I got an agent who handled nonfiction. She marketed it to a dozen or so publishers, most of whom didn't even want to look at the proposal (which brings up all sorts of other questions), then said she was done. So after giving it some thought, I did some research and sent out some queries on my own. And pretty soon we had a book contract offer.

There's a lot more to that story, but I'm working on the book now and it's scheduled for sometime in 2011.

The point? The point is it's YOUR writing career. And sometimes we're too dependent on other people--agents, editors, whomever--and their timelines. Not to mention their work habits and agendas.

Here's what I can say about sending out some queries today.

It felt pretty good. Taking control often does.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Open Pimpery

February 18, 2010
Before I get on with this, you MUST go to Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog today and read her post about Goals and Dreams. MUST!

Second, I announce that today is Open Pimpery Day on this blog. Got a book coming out? Had some good news? Know someone who has? Maybe you've got an event you're pushing? Hey, maybe your kid did something cool.

Announce it here. I'm taking moderation of.


THE FALLEN comes out in hardcover from Oceanview Publishing on April 5, 2010.

There will be a launch part on March 20 at 1:30 PM at Aunt Agatha's Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan. If you're in the area, come on by, have a piece of cake and pick up a signed copy of THE FALLEN. Thriller novelist Craig McDonald will be co-signing/presenting.

Your turn.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ungodly breaking balls

February 17, 2010
Sorry for going all baseball on you today, must mean I'm hoping for spring. And when I start going all baseball, it usually means Bull Durham. And I'm not even going to talk about the part toward the end where Crash introduces Nuke to a friend who had a huge career in the minor leagues and Nuke shrugs it off as if being great in the minor leagues was nothing.

Nope. Today we're going to talk about fast balls.

There's a scene

about how in The Show (major leagues) the pitchers "throw ungodly breaking stuff."

I was thinking about this scene in the context of writing (and spring training). For want of any other metaphor, a novelist's skill--let's call it craft--and the techniques they use are all those pitches a great pitcher can bring to his game--a fast ball, a curve ball, a slider, an exploding slider, a spitball, etc. (I once talked to a woman who played some fairly competitive softball and she played against a college pitcher who went on to play in the olympics and she commented that the pitcher, because of the fast underhand pitch, had a rising curveball that was almost impossible to hit because, hell, who expects a ball to suddenly rise after traveling all that distance?).

But here's the thing. I don't think most bestselling novelists use all that many pitches. I think they can. I know that John Sandford has a lot of techniques and he uses them. I think Jonathan Kellerman does, too. Lee Child, yeah.

But really, I'm not sure they use them that much.

I suspect that bestsellers are fastball pitchers. I really do. I think for a novel to really break out it's probably got to be ripping across the plate. No real surprises, just a strong, powerful story that catches everybody by surprise. Yeah, to get technical, it probably will have some movement on it.

And to extend this metaphor a little further, I wonder if the reason so many midlist authors get so cranky about bestsellers is they themselves have all the skills of a successful pitcher--they can throw a curve, a slider, etc. But God didn't reach down and give them a lightning bolt for an arm. They find it hard to throw the fastball.

I don't mean to pick on Dan Brown. But he came to mind just a moment ago. This is a guy that seems to be throwing fastballs. I'm not really sure he's got that many types of pitches in his repertoire, though; or if he is, he doesn't use them much.

I suspect for longevity you've either got to have one hell of a throwing arm or you've got to learn some new pitches, you've got to mix things up. Elmore Leonard, I think, stopped throwing fastballs a long time ago, but he's got a lot of other arrows in his quiver, to mix metaphors a bit.

Sometimes pitchers, when they get older, stop throwing fastballs and start throwing a lot more mixed pitches, using control to nibble at the corners.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Because I Can

February 15, 2010
Had a completely horrid weekend. Friday afternoon I finished off a big chunk of the huge annoying project I'm working on and sent it off to the publisher and updated the client, then, feeling exhausted, I laid down on the couch for a while. Then I dropped my car off at the garage for a repair, met my wife, came home, laid back down on the couch, feeling very tired, then around 5:30 started vomiting at approximately the speed of sound. That fun, from both ends, so to speak, didn't end until midnight or so, and then I was dead the rest of the night and much of Saturday until 4:00 AM Sunday morning when my wife started up with it. Happy Valentine's Day, honey!

So far, knock wood, the kids haven't gotten it.

And yesterday I had to do some work because I've got deadlines. That's one of the single worst aspects of being a writer. You can't even be sick and stay away from the job.

But during the, er, roller coaster fun of the weekend, I spent a fair amount of time with a glazed look on my face contemplating my writing career, sort of, and skimming through a book about making 6-figures as a freelance writer and contemplated my fiction output.

And decided, when all is said and done, that the primary reason I write and publish fiction these days is because I can.

It's clearly not for the money, although I do hope it makes more in the future than it does now.

I find it fun to write novels, but I find many things fun, like playing the guitar and biking and kayaking and lifting weights and watching movies and reading books and going out to eat. And I'm sure there are many other things out there in the wider universe that I would find fun to do, too, that wouldn't frustrate me as much as writing fiction (and it's possible some of them would be as rewarding, too).

So, I decided, I probably write and publish fiction because I can and because I want to. Maybe even need to, although that's a little strange. Need to? Well, some psychological reflexiveness, perhaps.

Anyway, how about you?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Type Casting

February 11, 2010
Espionage novelist Robert Ludlum once wrote a comic caper novel. It got published, but didn't do very well.

David Morrell's first novel was First Blood, the book that introduced John Rambo (in 1972). He followed it up with a series of books that were westerns, horror novels, etc., until his agent told him to pick a genre. He did, thrillers, and although he's occasionally dabbled in horror, he's pretty much been a thriller writer ever since.

WEB Griffin is known for huge, sprawling epic novels about World War II, by and large, but earlier in his career he wrote all sorts of things for kids under a variety of pseudonyms.

John Grisham, best known for writing legal thrillers, seems to have wandered off the reservation to write uplifting novels about family and sports.

Mitch Albom, still a sports columnist (I think) for the Detroit Free Press, started out writing books about sports before he wrote Tuesdays With Morrie to help with his former teacher's medical bills. I don't even know how to describe Albom's books--preachy, feel-good, inspirational novels and nonfiction books?

My guitar teacher and I were talking about Jimmy Buffett the other day. Buffett's songs are, by and large, wildly simple to play. Really. He never wanders much out of basic chord progressions, his riffs aren't terribly complicated. And although his mid-70s stuff feels like elevator music, his best stuff all rings of Margaritaville, a brand he's worked rather hard to protect over the years. And it's not lack of ambition that has kept him doing that, based on his empire of restaurants, beer, parrothead products, etc.

I'm often struck by how someone, writers, singers, actors, etc., hit it big in one area and then stay there. I think we often forget that Bruce Willis's big break was as a comic actor on a TV show.

Audiences, for all entertainment, generally want their entertainment to be predictable. No one seems particularly interested in Harrison Ford in a light comedy. George Clooney's efforts toward action hero--Batman, The Peacemaker--haven't been as successful as his Ocean's movies or as well-received as his more thoughtful political films (Michael Clayton is awesome, as is Goodnight and Good Luck."

Does it happen to writers?

Yeah, I think so. I've been dabbling in other things over the last couple years--middle grade and YA novels, sci-fi, slower mysteries--but my agent, my editors, and apparently the marketplace itself wants Derek Stillwater in a race-against-the-clock thriller.

Certainly Stephen King, even with variations, has delivered a "Stephen King book" time and again. We're just plain not seeing anything Mitch Albom-like or Jodi Picoult-like books out of King, although I'm sure he's capable of writing them. Hell, if you cut the ghosts out of Bag of Bones, you probably have a Jodi Picoult novel.

I think it's interesting that success tends to breed a narrowness of career. I haven't noticed a JK Rowling follow-up to The Deathly Hallows, although she was supposedly working on a mystery. Maybe she'll surprise us. Or maybe her publishers will just dig their heels in. It's hard to say.

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

5 Years From Now...

February 11, 2010
I've been thinking about 5 years from now. Mostly because I'm working on a project that's sort of annoying me as well as sucking up most of my time and I--aside from the money--wish I was doing something else. And at least part of my brain is saying, "I really hope you don't do this kind of stuff for the rest of your career."

To be true, there's another part of my brain, the part that has less to do with what I want emotionally, but tends to be more rational, realizes that I'm doing some pretty lucrative stuff and one of the reasons it's lucrative is that it's difficult; it's also fairly lucrative because it's difficult in a particular area, and although it's sometimes hard to see the picture from inside the frame, I am pretty much an expert on this particular area and there just aren't that many of us out there with the same skill-set of writing ability, research habits, knowledge of the field, and inclination (or financial need).

Nonetheless, I reflected on the fact that 5 years ago, when I went full-time, I was mostly writing for trade journals. I still write for some trade journals, but not nearly as much as I was 5 years ago. Now it's mostly market research reports with some novel writing, some technical editing, some newsletter stuff, and ghostwriting/collaborating on a nonfiction book. Writing careers evolve.

So where do I want to be in 5 years?

I'm just superstitious enough to not want to jinx myself by saying, "I hope I never do another market research report."

Because they're interesting, they pay well, and I'm fairly good at them. And because, you know, I'm 46 and hope to continue as a freelance writer for the next 20 or 30 years or so, I see no reason to shut myself off from some types of writing. I couldn't have imagined doing this ten years ago, so who knows what I'll do in the next 5 or 10?

That said, I hope I'm doing more book writing, more ghosting, more novel-writing, and yet, making the same kind of money or better. (Better would be good).

And although the collaborating on the nonfiction book is sort of a pain because of how we worked out the financial end of things (in other words, I got paid pretty well to write the proposal, but the contract didn't really lend itself to an advance, but we more than made up for it on the back-end, or I did, anyway), I very much wanted it in my portfolio. Because being able to advertise yourself as a ghostwriter/collaborator for nonfiction books--especially in the areas of business, medicine, or both--strikes me as being a good thing to advertise. And my collaborators are already talking about a follow-up (although I keep putting the reins on them, since this book isn't anywhere near being finished).

And I want the novels to make more money, sell more copies, get more subrights, and etc., etc.

I know most of you are harnessed to the fiction wagon, so your 5-year goals probably have something to do with making a living writing novels, and I'd be pleased with that, too. You can share it with me if you want.

But mostly I think you should look at where your writing is today versus where it was 5 years ago, then think about what it might be like in 5 years.


Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Mark of the Beast

February 5, 2010
Because both of my sons were playing in the pep band, we went to the high school basketball game last night (we got beat). They were also having a spaghetti dinner fundraiser in the cafeteria, so we went early and hung out with friends. We really only caught the last half of the basketball game.

When we paid for our tickets, they stamped our hand. It's a little circle with OHS (for Oxford High School; or SHO, for Super Huge Orgasms) on it on the back of my right hand. (Super Huge Orgasms, right hand? Oh, never mind).

It's funny how things can stick with you for most of your life, isn't it? When someone reacts strangely to something, adults or kids, you never really know what's going on in their heads. Maybe that's why fiction is so attractive. It adds some form and interpretation to thoughts and behaviors.

I can't get a hand stamped without thinking of the first time it happened. I must have been about 10. My brother, who is 7 years older, had gone of to college, at the University of Michigan. I went up to spend the weekend with him in the dorm. Among the various thing we did was go see the movie Tommy (once guesses my parents, who had banned the album from the house, did not realize their oldest son was taking their 10-year-old baby to see this film). We also saw The Four Musketeers that weekend, and it's possible that the 4M was the film in question. Anyway, I had my hand stamped. And in a panic, I tried to wipe it off, smearing it all over my hand.


My Sunday School Teacher at the time was very, very big on the book of Revelations and the Rapture and he was always talking about the "mark of the beast" and how the end of the world was coming and Jesus was going to physically take the saved, and if you had the mark of the beast on you--a tattoo of 666 on your forehead or, er, some sort of mark and/or tattoo on your hand--when Jesus came to take the good people to heaven, those of us with those marks would be left behind as the world went to hell. He promised all of us to never, ever let anyone tattoo a mark on our hand of forehead.

(No wonder people are so screwed up. Sometimes I think you should be licensed to interact with other human beings).

So, obviously, when I got my hand stamped for the movie, that's what I was thinking, that if Jesus came that night, RIGHT THEN!, we'd all be left behind. Yes, we were all DAMNED for being at that movie.

So although I don't flinch to have my hand stamped, that thought does always go through my head.

Don't you think we all have weird stuff like that in our heads?

Friday, February 05, 2010

Really, This Is Getting Out Of Hand

February 5, 2010
I can tell when I'm deep into a difficult project because my usually orderly desk goes to hell. And clearly, it's a sign. A sign, I tell you!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

District 9 and Me

February 4, 2010
A little backstory here. I was quite interested in seeing District 9 in the theater. So this summer, when my youngest son was elsewhere, my then-15-year-old and I went to see it. And although I never talked about this much, about 10 or 15 minutes or so in, I looked over at him and said, "Are you enjoying this?" He said, "Um, not much." So we got up, left, went down the hallway and watched Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, having missed only the first few minutes (and we'd both already seen it).

A lot of this has to do with two things. One, Ian, which is a little odd for a teenager, isn't terribly into creepy movies or horror movies. I imagine he'll go through a phase where he does--don't we all?--but he's not into them too much. Two, when they mentioned early on in the movie prostitutes servicing the aliens (prawns), I thought, "Uh-oh. This may not be the best film to see with my 15-year-old."

Anyway, because I'm a little compulsive this way, and because I could, I downloaded District 9 to my iPhone and finally got around to watching it.

In many ways, we skipped out before things got REALLY creepy. And, gee, we missed out on energy weapons that explode bodies in such a way that the blood and gore spatters on the camera lens, an un-ending stream of South African-accented profanity, and some fairly disturbing but mostly uncommented-upon racial stereotypes (more about that in a moment).

So, did I like the film? Actually, yes. The main character, Wikus Van De Merwe, (played brilliantly by Sharlto Copley), goes through a very interesting and nuanced transformation in this film. And I don't mean the transformation from a human to a prawn. I mean from a smiling, shallow, cocky moron to an angry, insightful, hopeful human being. Which presents a bit of a conflict, doesn't it, since at the very end of the film he's no longer a human being. Well, let the masters theses begin!

I thought for a moderately low-budget film, it was done in a very clever way. I'm sure a lot of producers and directors watch the film and think how smart the film makers were in their use of CGI and sets.

I thought the gritty documentary-style of filmmaking was interesting up to a point, when it later got a bit annoying.

I thought the only character in the entire film who had any kind of backstory was Wikus, which is sort of a problem. The bad guy soldier who's pursuing him is a cartoon cutout.

I thought the story arc was excellent.

I thought the gore was largely gratuitous, particularly how it was handled. How many times do I have to see blood and/or body parts splatter against the camera lens?

Oh yes, let's discuss briefly, the Nigerians. Or, for that matter, seemingly every black character in the film. The whites in the film are portrayed as the worst kind of humans (until the end, with Wikus, who only finds his humanity by being turned into a prawn), violent, bigoted, greedy, power-hungry... and the blacks. Well, the Nigerians are a bunch of violent, criminal, superstitious, crude gangsters. (To be fair, the prawns aren't portrayed positively in most cases either, with the exception of "Christopher" and his son; most of the prawns come about as depraved insects).

Well, as I thought watching it, this was a film that could probably only have been made by a South African, although I suspect that's rather limiting. The film turns apartheid on its head, or rather, turns it inside-out.

Do I recommend it?

Don't know. But it's a longshot for best picture.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Fallen--first review!

February 3, 2010
My publisher just told me of an early review for the upcoming Derek Stillwater novel, THE FALLEN.
Or, if you're pissed off at Amazon--

Here's the link.

Readers who love the high paced thrillers that provide an adrenaline rush of a read are in for a treat with the latest Mark Terry novel, “The Fallen.”--Christine Zibas for Reviewing The Evidence

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


February 2, 2010

Because, y'know, I'm kind of stressed out with too much to do and not enough hours in the day. Enjoy.