Category Archives: Brett Battles

One of My Favorite Times of Year

by Brett Battles

One of my favorite times of year has always been the fall. Not because of the weather and beautiful colors (though I LOVE them), and not because it’s football season (go 9ers, despite the slow start). It’s because it’s the start of the new network television season.

Now, things have been changing for a while on the television front. There was a time when there was just the three big networks (CBS, NBC, and ABC), and they would go ALL OUT to get viewers attention for their fall lineups. They’d do huge image campaigns, use catch jingles (often based on older song…anyone remember “Still the One” for ABC?), and otherwise pull out all the stops. This kind of all out blitzkrieg marketing pretty much stopped sometime in the late 90s. I actually worked on one of the last ones for ABC…it was the one where we had these giant As, Bs & Cs that the cast members of the various new and returning shows could play on and we filmed them. It was fun, but, honestly, there’ve been better campaigns and worse.

Anyway, campaigns weren’t what I wanted to talk about, the point I was trying to make was that the disappearance of campaign happened because the networks were no longer the only game in town, and the networks fall lineups lost some of their luster because there were so many other choices out there.

Why? Cable, of course. At first channels like FX and TNT and SY FY (then SCI FI) were just places for old movies and network returns, but then cable channels started branching out and running first run programs on their own. And they did this with zero regard to the usual show launch season.

The Fall.

That really changed things.

Nowadays shows are launched year round – January, May, June, whenever a show is ready to go (that’s not completely true, but close enough).  

But while the networks might have lost some of their edge, they have hung on to their fall tradition (admittedly with some spring shows thrown in and an emerging summer season). And since this still represents a majority of new show debuts, I still look forward to it.

You see, to me, there are few things on television more interesting than the pilot episode of a series. This is the episode that sets everything that follows up. And, quite honestly, is often the worst episode of the whole run. That said, I love to watch pilots. I love to see how the show’s creators set up their worlds, how they introduce their characters, how they set the tone and pace for the series.

I think watching these is a great exercise for writers no matter what genre or type of writing you might do. It’s a quick way to see multiple creative efforts to bring new realities to life in a relatively short period.

More times than not these newly created realities fail quickly and are yanked from the schedule. But even for the ones that do succeed, often it’s despite pretty sucky pilots.

But, as they say, you sometimes learn more from the bad than the good. So pay attention and take notes because a bad pilot is likely to have any or all of the following: cliché characters, cliché settings, cliché set-ups, and, well, just clichés, also story logic issues, undervaluation of view intelligence, poor casting choices, and just plain bad dialogue. What’s not to learn from that? (I was kidding about the taking notes part. Well, half-kidding, anyway.)

Perhaps the show pilots that have the hardest are the ones for series where each episode is basically a one-off story. In other words, what happened last week has no baring on what’s happening this week. In those cases, show producers (or, most likely, network executives) feel the necessity of establishing the ground rules of the series (who, what, where, when and why…with the occasional how thrown in) right in that very first episode. That means their shoehorning in a TON of information they seem to think you need to have now.

Sitcoms, in particular, are subject to this. And when you shoehorn something in, something else has to go. And when you shoehorn in a lot of somethings there is little room left for the show to be what its creators had envisioned. Don’t believe me? Choose a favorite series, then go back and watch the very first episode and you’re likely to see what I mean. Everything that comes after is more natural, because the show is able to breath.

Perhaps the pilots that have it easiest are the ones for series that have continuing stories, so that they don’t feel pressured to get everything out right away. In fact, some of my favorite pilots are in this category: LOST, Twin Peaks, Arrested Development, Band of Brothers…just to name a few.

But no matter how good or bad, I love pilots. They’re just…interesting to me. If you’re a writer, or just a fan of how stories are put together, I urge to watch as many of these pilots as you can. In other words, I give you permission to watch TV all week.

So, what’s your take on the first episode of a new series? Have you watched any of the ones this fall? Any loves or hates so far? And what have you learned?

Where do I work? Hmmm…That’s a good question

By Brett Battles

I don’t mind saying I’ve been a little nervous about this post since we here at Murderati decided to do a workspace theme (two) week(s). See the answer to what’s your workplace like, is not exactly a straight forward one for me. Let’s start with where, first. The simple answer to that is this is where:


(I’m talking about the world, not the wall where my map is hanging. And, yes, I also keep all my lanyards.) Okay, perhaps that’s a little over stating, and I’m certainly not trying to be flippant or snobby. But the truth is, I tend to work away from home more than I work at home. And if I’m traveling I might work in my hotel room, at the coffee shop on the corner, on the train, at a bar…wherever. Also I’m doing a lot of research while I’m traveling…taking notes, pictures, movies…getting impressions of where I’m at, etc.

But let’s stick to the actual writing process. If I’m being completely honest I do most of it when I’m not traveling. Still, there is the question of where. To answer that I need to break down my process into four parts: plotting/synopsizing, writing the book, rewriting 1 (editor’s notes, light passes), rewriting 2 (copy edits, read through, heavy rewrites).

These four parts are basically done in one of two different places: home or away from home. Plotting/synopsizing and rewriting 2 (the heavy stuff) are almost always done at home. I do a lot of talking to myself in these phases, and also some pacing and the like, so the privacy works out for me. At home, I work at my small dining room table.


Trust me, it’s usually not that clean. As you can see, I face a nice view of a green courtyard. Very soothing.

As I said, I do a lot of plotting here. So I thought I’d show you some of the tools I use:


Let’s start on that back wall…my famous giant post-its are a big help. Each page tears off and I can stick them to other walls around my place. Then there’s the dry erase board. What I do there is once I’ve filled it, I’ll take a digital photo of it then erase it and start again. On the table left to right, back row first: dry erase pens and cleaner, my MacBook, my iPad with keyboard dock (used for research, and typing when traveling), my iPhone in front of that which allows me to work away from home but not be out of touch, and one of my two digital cameras – the one shown is water proof. (I also have an HD video camera, but I tend to use the video on my digital cameras more often.) Front row from left: pad of grid paper for making building layouts and maps, set of color pencils, regular ruler and drafting ruler, my work tracking booklet where I keep track of what I do daily (word counts, what project I’m on, any significant events), digital card adaptors for iPad and computer to transfer photos, my docking cord for phone and iPad, stack of note books each for a separate project that I take with me as needed, colored index cards, and, finally, colored sharpies.

As an example of how my process is continually changing, the index cards are a recent addition, used with the new book I’ve just started writing.

Okay, so that’s my home workspace, and tools. What about those other two parts of my process – writing and rewriting 1? Those I do for the most part away from home. Why? Because for some reason when I’m creating new material the distractions at my house (TV, books, bed for napping) tear my attention away. So I go to coffee shops or cafes. For the past year and a half, I’ve found one specific place I go to most of the time. It’s the Novel Café in Santa Monica.


There are actually several Novel Cafes. Our own Mr. Schwartz turned me onto them. Only the one he exposed me to is now known as 212 Pier. I stopped going there when they shut it down for renovations when the new owners took over, and ended up going to the Novel that’s only about four blocks away. It’s newer and not quite as quirky, but I like it, and so I’ve stayed. It’s about a 20 minute drive from my place, and makes me feel like I’m going to an office…in a good way. It gets my brain focused in the right direction. Plus the cafe is set up for people to work there all day. Free wi-fi, plenty of tables and plugs, and a full kitchen. You can stay from opening to closing and they won’t kick you out. In fact, there are a lot of regulars who, like me, use it as their office, too. Web designers, screenwriters, other media professionals, and even a few other novelist (which is good since that’s the name of the shop.) I often run into my friend and mega-talented author Tim Hallinan there. We’ll end up spending a few hours writing at adjacent tables…well, writing, talking, writing…talking.

Here’s a shot of my favorite table looking out at the rest of the café:


It’s tucked into a little nook for those who want a little more privacy. This table is at the edge of that area, so I get some privacy, but also can watch what’s going on everywhere else. And as a good thriller writer, I can see the front door, so I know who’s entering in case I need to make a quick getaway out the back. (Hasn’t happened yet.)

And a reverse angle of the table:


Yeah, you’re not seeing things. Those are surfboards. A surf school operates out of a room in the back of the café. Oh, and that area just behind my table, with the open, black curtain? That’s home to a clairvoyant who keeps really odd hours and I hardly ever see her. But I’m hoping some of her psychic vibes are wafting over me as I write. 

Anywho…those are my workspaces. At least for now. My process is always in a state of transformation.

A RECOMMENDATION OR TWO (OR 3) IF YOU’LL PERMIT ME

by Brett Battles

I’m not very good at writing reviews, mainly because I find it impossible to recap a story. Not because I can’t, but because I’m always afraid of telling too much, and I really want others to go into a book or a film with as little foreknowledge as possible.

That said…

Boy do I have a film recommendation for you. It’s a Swedish film that you can stream on Netflix right now. And though THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO is Swedish, and available to stream on Netflix (and also highly recommended by me), that’s not the film I’m talking about.

The film I have in mind is a thriller, but not the typical kind of thriller I would usually see. In fact, it’s actually the kind of film I would usually avoid. Why?

Because it’s a vampire film.

Yep, a vampire film. And no, we’re not talking a vampire film in the vein of the Twilight Series (and just to be up front, I’m not making a judgment about those one way or other as I haven’t seen them.) In fact it’s been a while since I’ve seen any vampire film, but there was a time… That said, of the vampire films I have seen over the years, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is one of the best of the genre I have ever watched.

I’m sure some of you have heard of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. Hollywood sure has. They’re currently making an English language version right now, retitled as LET ME IN. But let me implore you, see the Swedish version first. See it soon. Hell, if you have Netflix on your computer, stream it now! I’m sure the English language version will be fine, but the Swedish version is fantastic.

I don’t know what’s going on in Sweden these days, but they are pumping out some great actors. Just like with Noomi Rapace in DRAGON TATTOO, RIGHT ONE boasts some truly remarkable performances. (And we all know what I thought of Noomi’s work as Lisbeth Slander!) Okay, maybe the performances are not quite to Noomi’s level of awesomeness, but they are excellent nonetheless. This time the standouts are two kids who were probably around 12 when the movie was made. I’m resisting saying anything more about them because, like I said above, I think it’s best you discover their performances along with the film as a whole yourself.

Another aspect of the film that I loved was the cinematography. The movie was shot simply, but beautifully, highlighting the wintery starkness and splendor of the cold, white Swedish winter. Truly amazing.

Bonus: the movie is based on the book by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay.

Yes, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is disturbing. Yes, it is, at times, violent. Yes, you will see blood. But, surprisingly, I found it also moving, and touching, and, well, brilliant.

As you can see, I can’t recommend this movie enough. Do yourself a favor, see it.

TV Quickie: At the beginning of the month RUBICON premiered on AMC with the first two episodes of the series. Because of other conflicts, I haven’t been able to see any of the episodes since…(which I plan on rectifying)…but I will say those first two episodes really grabbed me. Conspiracies, shadow governments, great writing, excellent cast…lots of upside. Perhaps it’s fallen flat on its face since then, but I’m betting not. And since it’s on AMC, I’m sure they are going to be rerunning older episodes multiple times. It reminds me a bit of THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (the book was SIX DAYS OF THE CONDOR), and the BBC version of TINKER, TAILER, SOLIDER, SPY. Worth checking out if that’s your kind of thing.

Graphic Novel Quickie: If you’re into young adult angst, love, and slackerness, like video games and struggling rock bands, and don’t hate Canada, the SCOTT PILGRIM VS. series (6 books, all now out) is a ton of fun. Haven’t seen the movie yet, so don’t know how it compares. But the books were definitely entertaining, if the subject matter works for you. 

 

 

 

 

That’s it on the recommendations for now. So, seen any good movies lately? Or TV shows? Or graphic novels? Or…?

Apologies once again. I’m on a plane today, so I won’t get to the comments until later tonight.

 

 

 

LET ME INTRODUCE YOU TO ONE OF MY FAVORITE AUTHORS

By Brett Battles

I seldom do interviews here at Murderati. Okay, that’s a lie. I have never done an interview here yet that I can remember. But when I looked at the calendar and saw that a book I really love by a very good friend of mine was coming out this month, I contacted him and asked if he’d like to share some time with us. So today I bring you the immensely talented Tim Hallinan.

Tim writes a series of thrillers set in Bangkok. His main character is Poke Rafferty, a travel writer who has created a new life with a patched together family that have come to mean the world to him. Rose, a former bar girl, is the love of his life, and Miaow, a girl who spent her first several years on the street, is the adopted daughter he will do anything to protect. If you have not picked up one of this books (A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART, THE FOURTH WATCHER, BREATHING WATER), you need to do so now. They are, quite simply, outstanding.

Tim’s latest is THE QUEEN OF PATPONG, and it is…well, you’ll quickly see what I think about it. Let’s get started:

THE QUEEN OF PATPONG has just been released. First, congratulations! Now down to business. The book is a very ambitious work in which you’ve done something that many writers would have balked at even trying. The fact that you not only pulled it off, but pulled it off in a way that has helped you create one of the best books of the year (my opinion) is an amazing achievement. Did you ever have any doubts as you were writing this story?  How did you overcome them?

Well, thanks for being so nice about the book, and thanks also for the great blurb. 

 

It’s easy to blurb a book that I love. So…doubts?

 

I was all doubts.  My doubts were so deep-seated that when I turned the book into William Morrow I more than half-expected them to reject it. 

I was worried about two things.  First, and less of an issue, was the way I was screwing with the thriller form.  The first 30,000 words set up a thriller in an efficient way.  Probably gives the reader the expectation that he or she is in for a fast-moving, tightly focused wham-bam story.  A nightmare figure from Rose’s life as a bar girl suddenly materializes, placing the family under physical threat and also revealing up all sorts of emotional fault lines among them: Rose has lied about her past; Miaow, on the verge of becoming a good little bourgois in her fancy school, is horrified that her mother’s life as a prostitute is reasserting itself; and Poke is finding that there are some secrets he may not be able to accept.  So the action intensifies and the emotional conflict comes to a boil and just the family is on the verge of flying apart, Rose sits them down and says she’ll tell them what happened. 

And the reader turns the page expecting the story to continue and instead finds himself or herself in a dusty little Thai village a dozen years or so earlier as an awkwardly tall, tremendously shy teenager named Kwan, which means “Spirit,” spends her last hour in the life she knows, because she’s just about to learn that her father has contracted to sell her into prostitution.  That’s the beginning of the longest section of the book, almost 45,000 words, as Kwan runs away to Bangkok, goes to work in a bar, is befriended and betrayed, and gradually reassembles herself as Rose, the worldly woman whom Poke fell in love with and married, and who quit the bars to be with him and Miaow.  When this section is over, we’ve learned where Rose came from and why she is what she is.

 

That was definitely taking a chance, but it worked out beautifully. In fact, I could have read even more of Rose’s story. And your second worry?

 

In one word, women.  This part of the book takes place in a world of women, and I’ve always been nervous about writing women.  I wrote eight published novels before I had the nerve to put two women in a room without a man present, and that scene was as short as I could possibly make it.  And there I was in QUEEN, not only writing women all over the place, but women at an intimate juncture of their lives.  It’s a story about female friendship and enmity and trials.  The men in the story are mostly customers, faceless, like walking ATMs.  They’re just shadows – the characters are all women.  Scared me to death.  I can’t tell you how many times I almost junked the whole book.

It’s funny.  When I started that section I had no idea how to tell the story – and then, out of nowhere, one character threw a sapphire earring to another.  And the whole story of those earrings came to me as a single piece, and it helped me lead Kwan into this strange new world where she would be merchandise and where everything has a price and where there’s no way to tell what’s real and what’s an imitation.  Writing is the single most interesting process I know of.

One other thing that scared me about this section was that I had to do it right – it couldn’t cheapen what the women go through.  I’m part of a small group that tries to keep at least some girls out of the sex trade by paying their families to maintain them in school rather than selling them down to Bangkok.  The very day I started to write the Rose section, I got a long e-mail with a picture of a 16-year-old girl whose grandmother had been going to sell her until the local school teacher got wind of it and called one of the other people in the group.  And they went up north and had a sort of intervention, and grandma accepted the offer, and the girl is still in school.  The photo broke my heart, and the intervention went straight into the book, where it happens to Rose (or Kwan, as she’s called then).  Knowing what that little girl was almost  put through made it extra-important for me to try to get things right.  And I kept remembering a quote from David Sedaris: “Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize it’s just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff into it.”  So I decided that if anyone was going to read this book looking for titillation, I was going to make it very difficult for them to find it.

Anyway, after the long section/novella about Rose, we’re suddenly jolted back into the present and the world of the thriller, through a long action scene that I will say with complete immodesty is the best action scene I ever wrote.

 

This is your forth Poke Rafferty novel – and in my opinion, the best so far (which I seem to have gotten into the habit of saying after each book you finish) – is there anything you set up at the start about Poke, Rose, Miaow and the others that you wish you’d done differently now? If yes, what?

 

No.  In my first series, the Simeon Grist PI mysteries, I wrote Book One, and three weeks later I had a three-book contract.  I was stuck with everything in the first book, including some unsatisfactory relationships and a few crappy ideas.  That series lasted for six books and I kicked myself a dozen times, every time I wrote a new one, about the decisions I’d made in the first.

So before I did anything with the Poke series I wrote a whole novel, Bangkok Tango, just to make sure I’d asked myself all the questions that seem so obvious later.  The mistakes I made in Bangkok Tango surfaced in the second book, A Nail Through the Heart, which was the first one I submitted for publication, and I was able to fix them as they arose.  If I ever write another series, which I doubt I will, I’ll write another “drawer book” first to get the kinks out.

And I’ve cannibalized Bangkok Tango for everything that was good in it.  I feel like one of those guys who rips copper wiring and wooden molding and hardwood flooring out of old buildings.  Poor old Bangkok Tango has been stripped pretty bare. 


Well, it served its purpose. Don’t know if I could write a book knowing ahead of time that it was just going to go into the drawer. But what a great idea. So is there anything you did set up in the books that did come out that has paid off unexpectedly in later novels?

 

You know how it is.  Everything pays off eventually.  Probably most conspicuous is the street kid named Superman who took care of Miaow before the books begin and who’s a main character in the first book, A Nail Through the Heart.   I got hundreds of e-mails asking what happened to him after the end of Nail, and two books later, in Breathing Water, when Poke came up against the most powerful people in Thailand and I wanted to show the other end of the scale – the most powerless people – there Superman was with his army of street kids.  And in The Fourth Watcher, a very shady former CIA guy, Arnold Prettyman, takes Poke to a bar where old spies hang out.  A bunch of those superannuated spooks will be Poke’s main allies in The Fear Artist, which might be the next book. 

Sooner or later, everything seems to come back.


So I guess that semi-answers the what’s next for Poke question…well, sort of. But that brings up a larger view question…since this is a series, I’m wondering if you have an end point in mind? Not so much as the plot of the last novel, but an idea where Poke, Rose and Miaow end up when you’re done. Is this something that you think about? Or maybe you haven’t even let your mind go there yet.

 

I’d like to write this family until Miaow gets married.  And then, who knows?  Maybe I’ll write a much older Poke and Rose, enduring the perils of thrillers and empty-nest syndrome at the same time.  Maybe they’ll split up and Poke will have to deal with being alone.  I have no idea, but I want to stay with them.

One thing I hadn’t realized about the series until I got to the third book was how much attention Miaow was going to require.  Children change all the time.   In four books she’s gone from being a former street child who still can’t believe she has more than one pair of shoes to a burgeoning teen who’s desperate to leave her old identity behind and  be more like the kids in her semi-snotty school.  My God, she’s got a budding boyfriend now, a stuffy little Vietnamese 12-year-old who has no idea what he’s getting into.  As much as I’ve loved everything about writing these books, Miaow has been a total gift of the universe, a joy to write from start to finish.

 

In addition to THE QUEEN OF PATPONG, I understand there are some exciting things happening with your first series, the Simeon Grist books. First can you give those of use who are not familiar with them the quick low-down on what they’re about, and then share what’s going on?

 

Odd you should ask.  This hardly looks prearranged at all. 

Simeon Grist is a Los Angeles private eye with a useless string of UCLA diplomas; he stayed in college because he knew how they graded people in college but he wasn’t so sure how it worked in the outside world.  He finds his vocation by accident when someone throws a friend of his then-girlfriend, Eleanor Chan, off the roof of one of the UCLA residence halls and Simeon solves the case.

There are six books in the series, which one critic called “One of the great lost series of the 90s,” which I guess is a compliment.  They qualified for cult status by getting great reviews and zero sales. 

The first two books series, The Four Last Things and Everything But the Squeal, are now available on Kindle for the – are you sitting down? – amazing price of $2.99.  That’s practically cheaper than free.  And I’m writing Simeon again right now, for the first time in fifteen years, but in a book that’s very different from the first six. 

But if I have a message here, it’s that everyone in the world will approach life differently – be taller, happier, better looking, richer, more popular, sexier, and more like the person in the world they most idolize – if they buy and read The Queen of Patpong.  And I can say that completely impartially.

_____

 

Thanks so much, Tim, for stopping by! Just wanted to tell all of you again how fantastic Tim’s new book is. Seriously, it is stunning, and, as far as I’m concerned, a must read. Tim mentioned above that I provided him a blurb for the book. Here’s what I said:

Queen of Patpong is simply outstanding. Compelling, heart-wrenching, and oh so satisfying. I didn’t think there was any way Tim Hallinan’s Bangkok Thriller series could get any better, but it has. Hallinan has once again proved to me why he is one of my all time favorite authors.

I meant every word of that.

If you have anything you’d like Tim or any comments you’d like to make, go for it! I’m traveling today, so I’ll check in when I can, but Tim will be in and out. Otherwise you can learn more at Tim’s website.

A LITTLE BIT OF THIS, A LITTLE BIT OF THAT

Boy do I have a blog post (multiple actually) for you! The unfortunately thing is I probably need to wait until 2012 or later before I actually post them. Curious? Wish I could write them now, but sometimes you just gotta wait.

The problem is, the subject of these potential posts have been occupying much of my mind this summer, and, even more so, the past couple of weeks. So coming up with a topic for today has been difficult to say the least.

So this is going to be a bit of a scatter shot of things, hope you don’t mind.

1. I’ve never been to COMIC CON in San Diego (hope to one day), but a few weeks ago I did get to go to the Anime Expo in downtown Los Angeles with my daughters. To those unfamiliar with Anime, it is basically the Japanese form of film and television animation, and Manga (also part of the expo) is the Japanese form of comic books. Think Speed Racer and Pokemon, though there are TONS of other, darker examples. Like what I’ve heard about COMIC CON, many of the attendees at Anime Expo dressed up in their favorite character outfits. There were ninjas and school girls, and pokemon characters, and characters from Shugo Chara just to name a few. It was…fascinating. My youngest daughter is totally into anime (she dressed up in a school girl outfit.) She’s so into it, in fact, that she wants to go to Japan and work as an anime artist when she grows up. So to say she was in her element would be an understatement. My other daughter came along because otherwise she’d have to spend a boring day at home. Anime and Manga are decidedly NOT her element. It was humorous watching her reactions to all the costumed people. Did I say humorous? I meant hilarious. Anyway, tons of fun.

2. Having your transmission go kaput on the freeway 20 miles from home is not fun. Finding out how much it will cost to replace it, even less fun.

3. Walking around Las Vegas people watching (with very little money in your pocket…see item #2) is at times even more entertaining that attending the Anime Expo.

4. If you’re ever in L.A. in the summer, you MUST make time to spend an evening at the Hollywood Bowl. Even the cheap seats are fine. Bring your wine and something to eat, and you’ll be in heaven.

5. I’m now at the beginning again. Time to start writing a new book. For me, this is often the hardest part. I have that opening which I wrote months ago, and now I have to get back into that frame of mind. At the moment, I’m looking for the rhythm. In fact, I had planned on writing all day, but when I woke up this morning, I was still not feeling it completely. I’ve written enough books now to know that it’s ok if I give in to that feeling. What I need is more stimulus…maybe catch a movie (did you all see INCEPTION? Awesome), or read a book (current read THE GODFATHER OF KATHMANDU by John Burdett, so far excellent), or watch TV (reruns Perry Mason play on a local channel here at noon everyday, I’ve grown a whole new appreciation for the series) or…who knows?

 

So what’s going on with you this summer?

SPACE OUT

By Brett Battles

Pari’s post on Monday and a question I was asked by a friend last week got me thinking about writing rules. Not the ones that Pari talked about, but the more mundane rules, the technical rules.

The question I was asked (and Steve was on the email, too, as it was from an old college friend of ours) was to settle a bet our friend had with her daughter. Her daughter had come home from school after getting a report back with a note from her teacher that said it was unnecessary for her to put two spaces after periods. My friend found this odd. She clearly remembered learning back when she was in school that you always put two spaces after the period. So she wanted to know who was right, and hence the question to Steve and I.

I remember that rule, too. Probably the most important – and impactful – class I took during my junior high experience (though I didn’t know it at the time) was a summer school typing class.  I went from a hunt and peck typist to a touch typist, and have never looked back. As someone who writes everyday, that’s been HUGE in my life. It has allowed me to write tons faster than I would have the old way. Along with learning to type without looking, I also learned the two spaces after a period rule.

For well after I got out of college I would dutifully double tap the space bar before I’d start a new sentence. That is until one day a co-worker said to me, “You don’t have to do that anymore.” At first I didn’t believe her, but she then explained to me why, and from that point forward, only a single tap for me.

You see, in today’s modern computerized world, you don’t have to double space after a period. Why? Well, in the typewriter/typesetting days (think everything pre-late 80s) type was pretty exclusively what is called mono-type. That is each letter takes up the same amount of space as the others. In other words a W would occupy a similar sized area as an I. In the monotype world, putting two spaces after a period helps readers know when a new sentence starts. There are still a few monotypes used on computers. The most common being Courier.

In the computer world, most typefaces are what’s called proportional type or fonts. In these the W and I do NOT take up the same space. They take the proportional space they need. Times and Helvetica and any number of others are examples of these.

With proportional type you do not, and should not, double space after the period. In addition, even in this computer age, it’s basically unnecessary to double space even when using Courier. Of course, if you’re still using a typewriter, tap-tap.

Most of you probably already knew this, but perhaps didn’t know the reason. Or perhaps you did. Either way, it was on my mind and I though would be a good idea to throw out there.

A few other manuscript guidelines…I won’t say rules because I’m sure there are variations…that may or may not be helpful:

• Make your margins one inch all the way around

• Double space your manuscript. (There are exceptions I allow myself, such as when I’m mimicking a newspaper article or emails or the like.)

• Start each chapter at least a quarter of the way down on the page. Nothing in stone on this one.

• Number your pages either in the footer or header. I use the upper right of the header, but I know others who use the middle of the footer…no hard/fast rule here.

• Don’t put THE END at the end. You’re reader will know.

There are exceptions to everything

 

So what do you think? Got any guidelines you’d like to share?

 

A little PR: I was interviewed on BlogTalkRadio earlier this week. It was a lot of fun, and if you’re interested in listening to it, click here. Let me know what you think!

The 21st Century Newspaper

by Brett Battles

Let’s face it. Newspapers in their current, printed form aren’t long for this planet. I’m talking about the mainstream, pay-per-issue kind. I think the free versions, such as LA Weekly here in Los Angeles and similar papers around the country, might be able to hold on. But those papers we grew up with, me the L.A. Times, won’t be there in a few years.

Why? Because the only people buying them are people over fifty-five, and even they aren’t buying them as much. Okay, there are probably some people under fifty-five purchasing a paper, but the statistics are pretty clear that the majority of customers are in the older bracket. This is the pre-computer on every lap generation. They grew up with papers, and they continue to read them. My parents, for instance, have a subscription to their local paper, and I have to tell you, each time I visit, that daily paper is thinner and thinner. Sure, my generation was mostly pre-computer on every lap also, but we were enough on the cusp that most of us have taken pretty readily to the digital age. I should say my parents have taken to the digital age, too, as have many of their friends. They email, surf the web, and play games on their laptops, but even though they do, they still like their paper.

We all know the papers are going away because of this switch to a computer driven society. Information is now at our fingertips. If we want to know something, we just check our laptops or smart phones or netbooks or iPads.

Sure, a lot of the traditional newspapers have websites now, and that might be how they figure out to stay relevant. There are also other news sites: CNN, Yahoo, BBC World just to name a few. These are all great, but for me, the opportunity is there for something more personal. Thankfully, the Interwebs have created ways for me to satisfy what I’m looking for.

In effect, I have my very own newspaper that I check everyday. The Brett Times, I guess, or the Brett Herald-Examiner. (I actually haven’t given it a name, but maybe I should think about it.) I’ll bet that most of you have one, too, these days.

What I’m talking about is using an RSS feed reader. Basically this is a web-based tool that gathers the latest posts from all the blogs I’m interested in reading, and presents them to me whenever I want. There are many of these readers out there. I use Google Reader. Though I’m sure there are better ones, I’m just too lazy to check around.

What is great about this new newspaper, and what makes it so much better than any of the printed papers I used to read growing up, is that it’s completely tailored to my tastes. I chose the blogs I want, I divide them into sections, and voila, the Brett Times.

I have a sports section completely focused on sports I’m interested in and my specific team (Go Angels!). I have a publishing section which includes Sarah Weinman’s blog, Ali Karim’s blog, some book marketing blogs, etc. I have a writing section which includes an interesting one I’ve heard of called Murderati. I have a Pop Culture section that has a wide breath of material from gossip, to film reviews, to humor, to Sci-Fi related things. I also have a Los Angles section where I get feeds from several Los Angeles based blogs. This last one’s great for not just my local news, but also for letting me know when there are shows and festivals around that I might want to attend.

The thing is, though the traditional newspaper might be on the way out, an even more personal, and (in my mind) useful digital paper has taken its place.

Okay, I’m not going to getting to the quality of reporting and that whole argument. Yes, I know there are some problems there that need to be figured out. But for the stuff I’m interested in, the info I’m getting is fine. And if I need more, I can go to the more traditionally based blogs.

So I thought I’d share a few links to some of the blogs I follow and enjoy, in case you wanted to follow them, too):

 

From my Apple Section (yeah, I’m one of those):

Apple Insider 

The Unofficial Apple Weblog 

 

From my Baseball Section:

MLB Trade Rumors  

 

From my Inspire Section:

Drawn! The Illustration and Cartooning Blog 

Pixdaus – Nature Photography 

 

From my Los Angeles Section:

LAist 

 

From my Music Section:

The Daily Swarm 

 

And, finally, several from my Pop Culture Section:

Pop Culture Nerd 

io9 

L.A. Noir 

Cinematical 

Letters of Note 

TVSquad 

Further Dispatches (Hurley from LOST’s Blog) 

 

That’s just a sampling. I actually follow more than fifty blogs this way. It might even be close to one hundred.

So, computer literate people (which you all are), what are some of the blog that are part of (or would be part of) your personal newspaper?

A Father’s Pride Not Just in His Son

By Brett Battles

When I went to grade school back in the seventies, things were different. I’m not talking about funding or how I was taught the basics or even the relationship between students and teachers…sure, to a greater or lesser degree, aspects of all of those are different these days. But what I’m talking about today is something else, something that’s a lot more personal for me since the birth of my son fourteen years ago.

When I went to school, it was the very rare day when we would see any kids with disabilities. These kids were kept separate from the “general” population. In fact, they may have been kept on a completely separate campus…I’m not even sure. So when we did see a kid with autism or cerebral palsy or Down syndrome we’d, quite naturally for kids our age, stare. Even away from school you’d seldom see a special needs child. I did have a neighbor for one year whose brother was mentally handicapped but he was hardly ever out of the house, and when he was when didn’t know how to interact with him. He was just odd, and, in fact, many of us would just go home. That’s the way kids are.

I find that sad now, thinking back. It was a missed opportunity, not just for my neighbor’s brother and the other special needs kids, but for us. The problem was we had very little exposure to the disabled, so they were foreign to us, even scary because we just couldn’t understand them. I remember times people would joke about them and make fun of these kids behaviors. It was, perhaps unintentionally, mean. But more than anything it was simply ignorant.

All this comes to mind because my son, Ronan, just graduated from junior high. You see, he has Down syndrome. For those familiar with Downs you might have noticed there are many levels to the condition from high functioning to extremely low. Ronan falls somewhere in the high side of the middle, if that makes sense.

Unlike when I was in school, he spends part of his school days in classes with the non-special needs kids. It isn’t to really learn what they were learning, that’s not something he can do, it’s more for the socialization, not just for him but for the other students. In fact, I would actually argue that it is almost more important in the long run for “regular” kids than for my son. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great for him, too.

When Ronan went to junior high, where kids now had to go to a different classroom every hour for a new subject, he did have his special needs classroom, but for most of the day he was in the regular classes. But he didn’t go alone. They have this great program at his school where kids can become buddies for a special needs kid. They help their buddies to get to class and spend time with them and become their friends.

At graduation, I met the parents of Ronan’s buddy. The boy’s father was so surprised by how his son had taken to the program. He told me his son has patience for no one, but with Ronan he has become incredibly patient. He also said that his son was always talking about Ronan, so they made a special effort to meet him that morning. But their son isn’t Ronan’s only non-special needs friend.

At some point in the past two years, Ronan had become friends with two other boys, boys who weren’t necessarily the best students in the school nor always the most discipline, but they had taken to my son, and for both years of junior high, they would hang out with him. They even asked for special permission from the school for Ronan (alphabetically at the other end from them) to walk with them in the graduation ceremony. I watched as these two boys made sure he knew where he was going, guiding him to his seat, then leading him up to the stage when it was their turn. I admit I got a tear in my eye watching this.

Then after the ceremony was over (when I met my son’s buddy’s parents), I was surprised by how many of the other students made it a point of saying hi to Ronan. And you know what? Not one child there stared at him. He was just someone they were used to seeing.

And thought he was exactly they same as he has always been, he was also…normal.

Education has been under a lot of attacks over the years. They’ve been forced to do more with less. Sometimes they succeed. Sometimes they don’t, through no fault of their own. But in this area of demystifying the disabled, they’re doing a great job.

Things aren’t perfect. But they are certainly headed in the right direction.

The disabled are people, too. They just need a little more time and patience and understanding. They can’t help how they are. They, like all of us, are just living the best they can. The good thing is more and more people are realizing this. Someday, maybe everyone will. Given what I’ve seen of my son’s friends, I believe it will.

 

SHADOW OF BETRAYAL

By Brett Battles

I share my very good friend Rob’s reluctance toward self-promotion. But, unlike him, I do not have a wonderful wife reminding me that I should do it anyway. So I hope he doesn’t mind (and you all don’t either) but I’m going to borrow the spirit of his wife and do a little (brief) BSP today. 

On the same day Rob’s new book DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN came out last week, the mass paperback edition of my last book, SHADOW OF BETRAYAL, also arrived here in the states. Here’s a little teaser:

The meeting place was carefully chosen: an abandoned church in rural Ireland just after dark. For Jonathan Quinn—a freelance operative and professional “cleaner”—the job was only to observe. If his cleanup skills were needed, it would mean things had gone horribly wrong. But an assassin hidden in a tree assured just that. And suddenly Quinn had four dead bodies to dispose of and one astounding clue—to a mystery that is about to spin wildly out of control.

There are a couple of things I incorporated into SHADOW OF BETRAYAL that are personal to me. One would be most of the California locations. For the most part I tried to use places I frequent now or did in the past, and places that have special meaning for me. Also, there is a special child that is a central character in this book, a little girl named Iris who happens to have Down Syndrome. Down Syndrome, as some of you know, is a big part of my life as my son (who is just a week away from graduating Junior High) was born with it. These are some of the most wonderful, loving children in the world, and I hope I’ve been able to show that affectively with Iris.

So if you get a chance please visit your local independent bookstore or wherever you prefer to shop and pick up a copy. My pretend wife wants me to tell you that you’ll definitely enjoy it!


One last thing for any UK fans out there. In the UK, SHADOW OF BETRAYAL is called THE UNWANTED. The paperback edition for THE UNWANTED will be out October 14th, but a little treat here as I’ve just received the new paperback cover!

Thanks for indulging me, folks. Little to no more BSP from me until Apirl!

 

 

 

Okay, all…I’m going to give away two copies of SHADOW OF BETRAYAL, so in the comments let me know one of your favorite places. I’ll then put everyone’s names in a digital hat and pull out two lucky winners! (I’ll post the names of the winner in the comments, too, late Thursday night. So check back. I’ll need to get your address from you!)

 

Ready. Set. Go!

THANK YOU, MRS. B

Two weeks ago I did something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time. It’s something I’ve thought about over the years. Something I NEEDED to do.

Thankfully I was added in this by the mother of a friend I grew up with. Some of you will recall that in March I went back to my home town and spoke to the writer’s group there. One of the officers of the group was said mother. She keyed into one of the things I mentioned in my talk, and not long ago, she sent me a note with the information I needed (unsolicited).

See, when I look back at my K-12 education (5 to 18 years old for those of you not familiar with the U.S. system), I can pick out a hand full of teachers who meant a lot to me. And out of that handful there are two who really stand out, and one that gets honorable mention.

Of the two standouts, one was my high school drama teacher. He treated me like an adult, and encouraged me in things I never thought I’d do. I’ve been lucky over the years to stay in contact with him, so he knows how important he’s been in my life.

But the other teacher I haven’t talked to since I left elementary school for junior high. (Another primer: elementary school here is grades K, 1-6 – basically 5 to 11 – junior high for me was grades 6 – 7, and high school grades 9 – 12.)

The person I’m talking about was my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. B. She may have been the youngest teacher at our school. And though the hormones hadn’t quite kicked in with us 10 year old, we all knew she was pretty hot. (It was amazing how many fathers who had never attended a parent-teacher meeting before always seemed to make it for ones with Mrs. B.) But what was important to me about Mrs. B. was that she was always, always encouraging.

The mother I mentioned above had a daughter a couple years older than me who had also had Mrs. B. This daughter apparently had the habit of doodling cartoons and other drawings in the margins of tests and homework. Instead of chastising her and telling her to stop it (like apparently some later teachers did), Mrs. B. complimented her on them, and even asked if she could keep some for her own collection. To this day, that girl remembers this.

My most vivid memory of Mrs. B. was that everyday after lunch she would sit us on the floor on these great carpets she had, get into her rocking chair, and read to us for a half hour. This was my favorite time of day. Hearing the stories meant so much to me. And on those few days when she couldn’t do this for us…well, those were not my favorite.

It was right about this time, in fifth grade, that I told myself, and several of my friends, that I was going to be an Author. And I know part of why I felt confident about that choice was because of Mrs. B.

All these years I’ve been wanting to tell her just how much she meant to me. To let her know that I thought of her often, and that she was one of the best teachers I’d ever had. Well, in that note from my friend’s mom was Mrs. B.’s phone number.

Because of travel, I wasn’t able to call for several weeks. In a way, I was thankful for that. I was a little nervous to call her. Would she remember me? How would she react? I think I kind of reverted to school boy.

Finally, I pulled out the number and called. No answer, just voicemail. But I wasn’t going to leave a message, so I hung up. I found excuses not to call for the rest of the day, my fear creeping up again, but then, just about 24 hours later, I redialed her number.

Now know that – as is my way when faced with similar situations – that I had played out in my head multiple ways of reintroducing myself. I was going through them again as I pressed the connect button.

But then, before the phone had even rung in my ear, someone on the other end picked up.

“Brett Battles?” a familiar, if a bit older, voice said. I could hear her smile in her voice.

It took me a second to realize that she had caller ID, and that all the intros I had practiced were unnecessary.

Of course she remembered me. I think she probably remembers most of her kids.

We talked for probably twenty minutes, me and my fifth grade teacher. It was an amazing conversation, and I got to tell her all the things that I so wanted to say. And you know what? She’s just as wonderful today as she was then.

She said she’d seen my picture in the local paper about my books, and that I hadn’t changed at all. I said I probably wasn’t shaving back then. She asked about my family, and was interested in hearing about my life. We talked about the other kids in my class. And she wanted me to call her by her first name, something I told her was just not going to happen. And finally we exchanged contact information with a promise not to loose touch, and hung up.

The purpose of calling her was because I wanted her to know the affect that she had on me, and no doubt most of her other students. I wanted her to know the truth, to get that feedback, even decades later. I’m pretty sure she felt really good at the end. And she should have. She was a fantastic teacher.

But what I didn’t expect was that I would feel so good. I rode a cloud from the moment I heard her voice until I fell asleep that night. I still rode it in the days after. It wasn’t that I felt good with myself for calling her, it was more I was reminded about how great it was that she and my other wonderful teachers had been part of my life. I am who I am today in large part because of these people. And the work they’ve done, and the goals they’ve achieved live through me, and their other students.

Thank you Mrs. B. and Mr. K. and all the others. Thank you more than I can ever express.

 

All right, Murderati peeps, time to name your favorite teacher and tells us why they mean so much to you. I expect all of you to respond to this one. We should have a boat load of comments.

Let’s share and celebrate these people who molded us and guided us and helped us on our way.

 ____________________________________________________________________________

Also I wanted to mention that next Tuesday marks the release of the third Quinn book, SHADOW OF BETRAYAL, in paperback…AND the release of Rob’s latest, DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN! Two great paperbacks, perfect for the beach or the plane or wherever you may be!

 

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