Category Archives: Brett Battles

Yeah, I’ve been there…kind of…

By Brett Battles

 

I’m writing this blog from 35,000 feet, in aisle 9, seat A of a Southwest flight from Chicago to Las Vegas (where I’ll transfer to a flight to Burbank and home). Sleeping in aisle 9, seat B is our own Robert Gregory Browne. No snoring as of yet, thankfully. It’s Tuesday, two days ago.

We are returning from a week long trip back east, first to Columbus, Ohio, to the RT Booklover’s Conference, and then a couple days in Chicago where we visited good friends Tasha Alexander and Andrew Grant, and had lunch with the wonderful Dana Litoff.

I’m wiped, really and truly wiped. Conferences have a way of doing that to me. They are fun, entertaining, educational, etc., etc., etc. But they can also drain every last ounce of strength from me. I know that going in. I expect it, and yet I’m always surprised by just how tired I feel afterward.

This was my first time at RT, and I have to say it will not be my last. It was an excellent conference, and I got a look at a part of the book world I hadn’t been exposed to before.

Like most conferences, I seldom left the event location. And to make things even easier, the Columbus Conference center is connected directly to the conference hotel, so I seldom even stepped outside.

Sorry, Columbus, my only view of you was basically from the window of my taxi to and from the airport. You looked like a nice place to visit, but I really can’t say that I was there.  If I did, it wouldn’t be fair to you. You’re conference center is nice, though. Good job!

I guess that might be my problem with a lot of conferences. Change the name on the airport, and the building on the ride to the hotel, but otherwise it’s the same location-wise.

Don’t get me wrong I love conferences. I’ll continue going to them. But as a diehard traveler, I like to get to know the places I go. Usually this means wandering around the city, and soaking it in. Unfortunately, conferences take up most of an attendee’s time, and even if there are a few hours here and there, you want that time to rest up, or, as I was forced to do on this past trip, sneak away to your room to get a few hours in on your revisions.

Yeah, I know. I could come in a day or two early, but, often, that would probably be cutting into my writing schedule. And, like it or not, I have deadlines I have to meet. (I like it.) Staying a few days after is not an option as all I would want to do is stay in my room and sleep. (Yeah, I know I stopped off in Chicago this time on the way home, but you can ask the others…we all did a lot of sitting around talking and watching Firefly…which was about all I could handle and exactly what I needed…FYI, I love Firefly…LOVE. IT.)

I’m not complaining. What I’m actually trying to do is apologize to cities like Columbus and Baltimore and Madison and even Chicago. Wish I knew you better, and maybe someday I will. And to all those future conference cities, a little I’m-sorry-ahead-of-time because chances are I’m not going to get to know you either.

Okay, the flight attendants are bringing out the free drinks, and, believe it or not, I need to put in a little mid-air time on my revisions, so I’ll leave you with this image:

 

 Nighty-night, Rob!

 

Let’s do a little game of travel ranking: 

A) Favorite/least favorite airline.

B) Best/worst trip you’ve ever taken.

C) Dream vacation spot.

 

I’ll start –

Airline Favorites: Cathay Pacific, Thai Airways, and domestically I’m going to have to give a nod to Southwest strictly on the no fees for check bag thing alone.

Airline Not-so-favorites: Most of the other U.S. domestic airlines 

Best Trip: Five months traveling around Europe when I was twenty. Outstanding.

Worst: Hmmm…I tend to find something to enjoy on most of my trips…so I don’t actually know.

Dream vacation spot: Phi Phi Islands in Thailand. No cars, no real motor vehicles at all. Just beach and laid-back hotels and open air bars. Bliss.

INDEPENDENT LOVE

By Brett Battles

 

Am I talking about the freedom to love who or what you want?

No…well, yes, but no.

The freedom to love yourself.

Ah, no.

The freedom to love the Independent Party?

…shaking head…no. A thousand times no.

I mean, you’re free to love all those things, but I’m talking about true independent love. The love of the independent bookstore.

I kind of think of independent bookstore like good Irish pubs. You can go into any and feel at home. But you always have your local, the one right around the corner, where they know you so well that you can just drop in for a chat and not even buy a drink, or a book…though buying is always appreciated.

My local is the wonderful Mystery Bookstore in West Los Angeles, California. It’s probably no more than five or six miles from my place, but due to the particulars of my fair city (ah, traffic, and stop lights…how I love thee), it’s about a twenty minute drive (fifteen if I’m really, really lucky…and am not stopped for speeding.)

Confession: I never visited the store before I’d become a soon to be published author.

Now it was not because I had no interest, rather it was because I didn’t know the place existed. (I blame my own ignorance.) But once I did know I made it a point to drop in and say hello. My first visit was either on December 30th, 2006 or January 2nd, 2007. I remember because it was definitely right around New Year’s Day, and just six months prior to when my first novel was to debut.

I met the incredible Bobby McCue that day. He’s the manager of the store. I also met the absolutely wonderful Linda Brown, the assistant manager. (Both of whom have helped me above and beyond on numerous occasions since.) I introduced myself, told them about my book coming out, and said that I was also local. They took me under their wing immediately, and I’ve been returning over and over again since.

Their staff is also wonderful, and is always welcoming when someone they know shows up. The funny thing is, they’re just as welcoming when someone they don’t know walks through the door for the first time.

Last year, the store came under the new ownership of Pam Woods and Kirk Pasich, and the only thing that seemed to change was that the place got even better.

I’ve chosen this moment to talk about them because this is the BIG WEEKEND. The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is Saturday and Sunday within walking distance of the Mystery Bookstore on the UCLA campus. As always, the store has a PRIME location for their booth (#411), and an outstanding schedule of signings. (Me…I’m signing on Saturday at 2 p.m. with T. Jefferson Parker, Robert Crais, Gregg Hurwitz, Ed Decter, and my good friend and Murderati compadre Robert Gregory Browne…a signing group you don’t want to miss!)

But wait! That’s not all!

Every year on the Friday evening before the festival, the Mystery Bookstore throws a huge party. I’m sure upwards to two hundred people show up throughout the evening. My guess would be that 75% of the attendees are authors, and the rest are lovers of the genre. It’s a ton of fun with people who think like we think, and enjoy the things that we enjoy. In other words our friends, whether we’ve met them before or not.

Most parties, you’ll either find me along the wall just observing or not even there. Not this party, this one is like coming home.

In fact, that’s what going to the Mystery Bookstore is like everyday. Coming home.

If you’re in the area, coming to the party. If you’re not, try to make it next year! You won’t regret it.

 

Tell us about your “local” or favorite independent bookstore. And are you coming to the festival this weekend?

(Apologies for potential lack of responses as I’ll be traveling a good part of the day and unable to check the internet. But I promise to read everything, and, hopefully, see many of you this weekend!)

Have you ever read…..?

By Brett Battles

Every time someone asks me that question, I know the answer is probably going to be no. I cringe sometimes, wondering what author’s name they are going to throw out at me, and how stupid I’m going to look when that “no” slips from my lips. It’s inevitable.

See, not only are there just too many books to read ‘em all, but, personally, I have some gigantic holes in my reading history.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve pretty much been reading solidly since about fifth grade. At different points in my life I’d read a couple books a week. (I realize there are some of you out there who read almost a book a day. Wow. That has never been me.) There have also been points in my life – mainly during particularly stressful periods when I had a day job – where I was lucky to read a book a month. But no matter what, I always have a book I’m reading.

Thanks to my father, I started my reading life in the world of sci-fi. He was, and continues to be, a huge fan of the genre. I ripped through Asimov’s FOUNDATION series (trilogy at the time I started), through various books by Arthur C. Clarke, and nearly everything by Robert Heinlein. I read James White, a few by Phillip K. Dick, and bits and pieces of all sorts of others.

For a while the only thing I would let myself read was sci-fi. I remember one birthday my mother giving me a Western novel. I’m sure I said, “Thanks,” but I never read it. I was a purest. And, by definition an idiot.

Eventually my horizons broadened, and I started reading thrillers and adventure stories – almost everything by Alistair MacLean, THE EAGLE HAS LANDED by Jack Higgins, BLACK SUNDAY by Thomas Harris, and then, of course, the works of Robert Ludlum.

And as I grew older still, I’ve come to enjoy books of many different genres, but those holes remain. For example, because of my sci-fi fanaticism in my teens, I missed out on the whole pulp crime/intrigue world of fiction. Why? Because a) I just didn’t even know about it, and b) if I had I probably would have said, “Where’s the spaceship?”

By missing that chunk of our collective history, I had missed some of the greatest writers of our time. I know, I know. I should be taken out and shot. But before you pull that trigger, know that all of that has been changing over the last decade. Slowly at first, but really picking up speed now.

And thanks to the 31st Vintage Paperback Collectors Show & Sale here in L.A. held a few weeks ago, I’m moving into light speed catch up mode! If you’ve never gone to a classic paperback show, you should. They are unbelievable! Thousands of old crime and thriller and adventure novels. And –tapping into that old first love of mine – tons of vintage sci-fi stuff, too!

I left the show with 138 books. That’s right. 138.

Now, admittedly, that number is cheating a little. I met up with someone who had offered to give me a box of books they didn’t want any more. Turned out to be a total of 100 books, most of where were part of the Edward S. Aarons’ ASSIGNMENT: series. There are 48 books in the series, I am now the proud owner of 44 them, with duplicates of most. Couldn’t be happier.

But beyond this wonderful gift (thank you, Michael & Jodi!), I purchased 38 more. One goal was to fill out missing parts of the MATT HELM series I didn’t own. Got some, still need more (but that means more happy searching in the future). Other finds were: THE MAN WITH MY FACE by Samuel W. Taylor, PERRY MASON THE CASE OF THE HESITANT HOSTESS by Erle Stanely Gardner, RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP by Edward L. Beach, THE SINGAPORE EXILE MURDERS by Van Wyck Mason, and LOVERS ARE LOSERS by E. Howard Hunt (yeah, that E. Howard Hunt.)

I also gave into that sci-fi boy inside and got about a dozen or so 50s era sci-fi novels.

Kid in a candy shop? Yeah, that’s me. 

But the best part is once I get through all of these, then when someone asks me “Have you ever read…?” I won’t tense as much waiting for the name. Sure, the answer is still going to end up being “no” more often than not, but the percentage will be less. And I’m working on tilting the scale the other way!

So, holes in your reading history? Are you doing something about it? And who have you read, but wish you had read sooner?

THE GIRL WHO SHOULD BE NOMINATED

by Brett Battles

I declare the race for the Academy Award for best performance by a female actor at next year’s Oscar ceremony over.

It’s done. Everyone else can go home.

I’m sorry Meryl, that little bio pic where you entirely transform into someone else? Not going to work this time. And Sandra, you got yours last year. Julia, Helen, Helena, Kate and all you other fantastic actresses, feel free to take the year off. This is one fight you don’t want to take on because you will lose.

Okay, you might have one little out. Defeat or victory will, unfortunately, hinge on Academy eligibility requirements. If nominations are based on a film’s release date in the US, then all is well. But if they are based on when the film was first released in whatever country it was made, then – no disrespect to Sandra Bullock – the Academy has already made a fatal error.

And not just a “Oh, I took a wrong turn” error. More of a “There’s never been a bigger mistake in the history of the Academy” type error.

Last Saturday I saw what was quite possibly the best performance by any actor that I have ever seen. Seriously. I’m not joking.

And the Oscar goes to:

Noomi Rapace

That’s right. Noomi Rapace.

If you haven’t read Stieg Larsson’s book THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, or either of the sequels (yes, I know, the third book isn’t out in the U.S. yet), then get on it! And if you have a chance to see the Swedish film version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO go. (Don’t wait for the English version, it’ll suck in comparison anyway.)

I mean right now. Stop reading this, head to the theater, and see it. I’ll wait until you come back.

Noomi (if you’ll allow me to call her by her first name) plays Lisbeth Salander, an emotionally damaged social outcast with more than a little skill at solving mysteries. If you had asked me after I read the book who could play the part, I would have had no answer. In fact, I probably would have said, “I doubt anyone could really pull Lisbeth off.” I mean Lisbeth goes through some pretty serious stuff. I mean brutal, cringe-worthy stuff.

And guess what? I would have been completely and utterly wrong. In the words of the popculturenerd on twitter the other day: Noomi Rapace IS Lisbeth.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Noomi’s performance is so compelling and captivation and, above all else, so brave your eyes are riveted to the screen every moment she is there.

It happens rarely where an actor and a part fit so well together that you can’t even imagine for a split second anyone else playing the role, but this is one of those times. And it’s not just a perfect fit. Noomi’s performance is so mesmerizing that I’m still thinking about it days and days after seeing it.

The only problem I see with my crusade to nominate Noomi (which I alluded to above) is that while TATOO just came out here in the States, it was released in Sweden LAST year. So does that mean she should have been nominated for this last ceremony? If so, the Academy completely screwed up. (Again, no disrespect to Ms. Bullock. She’s a fine actress whose performances I’ve enjoyed immensely over the years. But I’m sure if she saw THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO she’d think the same thing.)

You know what? I don’t care what the Academy rules are. Noomi Rapace should be nominated, and win, next year. And if the Academy has a problem with that? Fine. Then just nominate her for THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE which comes out soon, or even THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST which I don’t even know if they made yet (according to imdb.com, they have). Noomi’s performance demands it. And I’m not going to stop telling people that. (UPDATE: A little web research and I would have learned all three movies are already done – great work there, Sherlock – but the NEW NEWS is info on when those will be released in the US. The answer is soon! Link here.)

So make it happen, Academy, or feel my wrath!

You can read Roger Ebert’s review of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO here.

You can read popculturenerd’s review here.

And read more about the film here.

And just a final thought for the director and producers of the American version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, instead of “going safe” and picking an American actress (rumors are out there that Kristen Stewart is up for the role), why not get Noomi Rapace to play the part again? She would TAKE THE U.S. BY STORM if she did. She would become a mega-star. And if the “but she’s Swedish and probably can’t speak English well” thing worries you, that’s just ignorant bullshit. Check this video out and tell me she can’t speak English well (thanks pcn for the link.)

So Hollywood, I swear to God, if you screw this up, I’m coming after you. I know where you are. I’m just a ten minute drive away, and I know how to make bodies disappear…okay, fictionally, but you get the idea. 

 

 

SOMETIMES YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN

By Brett Battles

 

(First off, today’s the first day of Left Coast Crime right here in my town of Los Angeles, California. If you’re attending, make sure you stay hi when you see me!)

 

Today I thought I’d share a story about living the writer’s life. Hope you enjoy it.

I grew up in a community of about 25,000. It’s actually two communities that basically operate as one. China Lake is a military base, and Ridgecrest is the town that surrounds it.

To get anywhere of comparable size you had to drive over an hour though empty desert. And if you wanted to go to the big city – in our case Los Angeles – it was at least 2 1/2 hours, and usually more if you hit traffic.

Did I say empty desert? I guess that really depends on how you look at it. There were times in my life I noticed all the mountain peaks and dry river washes and odd rock formations, and there times when I thought it was just one big, endless expanse of brown.

I moved away a good twenty-five years ago, and my parents moved less than five years after that. Which meant I no longer had family there, so return visits became fewer and farther between, until it became an every five of six years kind of thing.

But even with my infrequent visits, and even though I’ve been a big city guy for the last quarter century, Ridgecrest has always been with me because it’s my hometown.

Why am I bringing this up now? Two reasons: 1) my next book NO RETURN is set entirely in the Ridgecrest/China Lake area, and 2) [the thing most forefront in my mind at the moment] last week I returned there because I’d been Invited to talk to the local branch of the California Writers Club.

The invitation came early last December, and I immediately accepted. I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to returning. I’ve been hoping to go back to speak at an event for a long time. So it was with more than just a little bit of excitement that I drove up last week.

I got in town about three hours before I was to meet with the group’s leaders for dinner prior to the meeting. I spent two of those hours just driving around and taking in the old and the new. It’s a small town, so that meant I made several circuits before I finally stopped at Starbucks and read a book for an hour. So much was the same, and so much was different. It was, as I think I posted on Facebook at the time, surreal.

Dinner was very nice. One of the leaders of the group was actually the mother of an old friend I’d gone to school with since at least junior high, if not before. I remember actually going to her house for a birthday sleepover party for her son. It was nice talking to all of them and hearing about life there, which really wasn’t that different from when I lived there.

As I drove from the restaurant to the place where the talk was to take place, I started to get nervous, which was odd. I don’t get nervous before speaking to crowds. Ten people, a hundred, a thousand, more…it doesn’t matter. (THANK YOU high school drama club!) But this time I did get nervous. See, there’d been a feature article the local paper about me speaking…think “hometown boy makes good.” I knew there might be a lot of people there I knew from my past, so I guess I was worried about screw up in front of them…and, I think, also a little concerned no one I knew would show up.

Turns out I didn’t have to worry about anything. There were old high school friends, parents of old high school friends (including the father of the girl I dated junior year at high school), and even friends of my parents. And as soon as I started greeting them before the talk began, I realized it didn’t matter if I screwed up or not, we were all just happy to see each other.

There ended up being between 40 and 50 people there. I was told it was one of the larger meetings the writers group has had…they even had to bring in a lot of extra chairs from elsewhere in the building.

It felt so good being there, and talking to my hometown friends. I even did something I’ve never done at a talk before. I read from one of my books…actually from the book that will be out next year, the one set in Ridgecrest.

And after the meeting, I was able to go out for a drink with a friend I’d probably first met in third grade. It was great catching up with him. He’s had an eventful life to say the least, but still has a smile on his face and a positive attitude about life.

The next morning, after being interview on the local FM station, I headed back home to Los Angeles, thinking how much I enjoyed the visit, and looking forward to the next time. And there will be a next time.

Alright, Murderati…many of you have probably moved away from the hometown you grew up in. Love to hear what it’s like for you when you return to your old stomping grounds.

Please excuse the lack of responses today from me as I’ll be at the conference trying (not to hard) to avoid the allure of the bar.

Perhaps I should be drinking this: (via i09.com) Scientists Have Discovered Booze That Won’t Give You A Hangover!

THE REALITY OF REALITY

by Brett Battles

Okay, first a huge thanks to all those who made comments and suggestions on my last post. I gotta say I’m still digesting a lot of it, and will be mining it for topics in upcoming entries. Simply awesome.

What I’m writing about today was inspired by a suggestion in one of those comments. Nancy Laughlin posed several questions, but one jumped out at me when I reread it this morning: Is it better to make up a city or use a real one in a book?

That got me thinking about two of my favorite things: locations and setting. As many of you know, locations play a big part in my stories. In fact locations are basically characters for me. In THE CLEANER both Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Berlin, Germany, play large parts. In THE DECEIVED it’s Washington, D.C., and Singapore. And in SHADOW OF BETRAYAL (THE UNWANTED in the UK) it’s Africa, Ireland, and California. But it doesn’t stop there. In my upcoming standalone, NO RETURN (out early 2011), the action all takes place near a navy base in the high desert of California, and in THE SILENCED (the next Quinn novel, title not necessarily final, and tentatively out later in 2011), London, Paris, and northern Minnesota play big parts.

I guess what I’m trying to establish here is my location cred. Hopefully I’ve done that. If not, ugh…but I’m moving on anyway.

When I write about specific locations, it’s important to me to give the reader an accurate feel for the city or place. I try to get roads right, and directions, and local landmarks that you wouldn’t just find fishing around the internet. The reason for this is so that the reader feels like they’ve been somewhere when they read those particular scenes.

But I’ll let you in on a secret, giving a reader an accurate feel for a city or place doesn’t necessarily mean describing those places accurately. What? Heresy!! Someone muzzle him before he says anything more!!

Well, we all know that’s not going to happen, so what do I mean by this? I’ll tell you…

If you’re going to use a real-life city, it’s probably best you use one you know. You sprinkle that city with sights and locations you’re familiar with. This will help make your city more three-dimensional and “real” to your readers. And why would you want that? Simply. If a reader feels you have control and knowledge of the location you are writing about, you can then throw in things that are purely fictional.

Let me give you an example. In THE CLEANER, a large portion of the book takes place in Berlin. I used hotels and restaurants and U-Bahn stations and an open air market that all exist. My descriptions of each of those places were as accurate as they could be. But I also needed a few other locations, too. Places that weren’t really there, so I just made them up and plopped them down in the city where I needed them to be. I even made up an entire large hotel. And I’ve done similar things in all my other books, also.

I guess what I’m trying to say is if you have a handle on the place you are writing about, it’d much easier to then add in any fictional parts you may need.

Don’t get hung up on having to be 100% accurate. We are writing FICTION after all, and, therefore, have the license to create.

That brings me back to Nancy’s question… Is it better to make up a city or use a real one in a book?

My answer to that would be, Yes.

You see, whether you are making up a city or using a real one, the important thing is that readers feel you know about the place you are writing about. If they feel like you have a handle on it, then you’ve done your job. If they feel like you don’t, it’s doubtful you’ll even finish your story.

Another example from THE CLEANER. At the beginning of the book, Quinn goes to the small Colorado mountain town of Allyson. But in the real world, there is no Allyson, Colorado, at least not where I put it. But I just made it real in my mind, so when I wrote it, it was real on the page. Or at least I hope so.

So Nancy, I think the question isn’t which is better, but which does a story need?

My old writing mentor used to say – and I know he cribbed this from someone else – “Don’t let reality get in the way of telling a good story.” Now what he was referring to was when any of his students would write a scene based on something that happened in real life, and would miss an opportunity to make it better, and when he called them on it, they’d use the excuse, “But that’s not how it happened.” The thing was, it didn’t matter how it really happened, we writing stories, not history books.

So, if you’d allow me to tweak his advice just a little, in regards to today’s topic, he might have said, “Don’t let the reality of a location get in the way of telling a good story.”

Use reality. Own it. Then, when you need to, abuse it. And if reality just isn’t going to work for you, don’t be afraid to use a place pulled completely out of your mind. You are the story teller, and as such, you are creating your own reality.

So, ‘rati, how do you feel about locations in books? Do you think they need to be 100% accurate? In other words, am I full of shit? (Rob, hold your tongue.) For the writers, what’s your take on Nancy’s question? And for the readers, does how a writer handles locations make a difference to you? If so, why?

 

Now talk about reality! How about tracking your life for a whole year…check this out. A high school teacher kept track of his (2009), and this is the result:

Dan Meyer’s 2009 Annual Report from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

 

FLOUNDERING IN THE DIGITAL MORASS

By Brett Battles

 

When I started to write this blog entry, I began a piece on what I consider to be the new newspaper. Interesting? Perhaps. But I found the voice in my head going “blah, blah, blah” after a while. So maybe I’ll save that for another time. That’ll be up to you (read to the end).

Can I be honest here? I’ll pretend I’m hearing a resounding SURE.

Thanks. Okay, here goes. Sometimes trying to write a blog post sucks. All of you who blog know what I mean. Am I even saying anything anyone cares about? Is this interesting? Am I making sense?

A few years ago, I used to post multiple times a week on my own blog. Some of you reading this do that now. Again with the honesty…there’s no way in hell I could do that today. I would go CRAZY. Give me a book to write any day. But two, three or, my God, four or more posts a week? Stripping me bare and dropping me in the middle of Time Square in January would be less painful! (More humiliating, perhaps, but it’s a trade off I might be willing to make.)

The problem is I only blog every other week now and I STILL run out of ideas! Okay, that’s not completely accurate. It’s more of a I-don’t-know-what-to-write-that-people-will-find-interesting kind of thing.

There are some weeks when my Thursday is getting closer and closer, and I am starting to sweat. “Pull your head out of your ass and think of something,” I tell myself. I always do, but sometimes the gap between that doing and there being a gaping blank hole on Murderati where my post should be is a razor thin line. (And just so you don’t think I’m a complete flake, there are times when I get a post written and up ready to go a week or even more ahead of time. This week was not one of those weeks.)

But those doubts about whether I’m writing posts that people are interested in remains. That’s fueled a lot by the fact that I’m pretty sure I’m Murderati’s least commented on poster. (This is not a pity plea, just stating potential facts here…if there is anything like a “potential fact.” I guess I should go back and do a scientific survey, but…yeah…I’m not going to do that.) (I should also note that about a year ago I sent our wonderful JT an email saying I was obviously not writing the kind of things people wanted to read, and was considering leaving the blog. Among other things, she pointed out that it would be helpful if I actually commented on the other Murderati folks posts, to remind our readers I was out here, and to engage more in the general conversation. OUCH! But damn if she wasn’t right. Though I did comment on occasion, it was rare. Duly chastened, I forged on. My commenting has still be somewhat sporadic, but I’m trying. But I know me, and on the perfect/not-so-perfect scale in this area the needle of my meter will always to tend to trend to the not-so-perfect side. Sincere apologies to all my fellow Murderati contributors…I’m not giving up, though.)

ANYWAY, back to the non-parenthesis’d portion of today’s entertainment. And that would be the fact that I’m looking for your help. What I really want to do is write about things you’d be interested in reading. So far, I don’t know if I’ve hit that mark. Perhaps, but perhaps not. (Maybe what I need to do is to go off on a rant like Rob did a few weeks ago. That was HILARIOUS. But, see, I’m generally not a ranter. I’m the appeaser, the peace-maker, the Vaseline on dry skin…wait, strike that last one.) Oops…more parenthesises, sorry about that.

So back to what I was trying to say… Today, I want you to be “where I get my ideas from.” (At least, blog-wise. Story ideas, I’m good.) Parenthesises, Brett! Parenthesises! I can’t promise to address every topic suggested, but those I either have knowledge of or an option about, I will.

So tell me Murderati faithful, what do you want to read about here?

In anticipation of your suggestions, I’ve lined up a little something interesting.

It’s an idea, that, whether you think it’s good or not, you have to admit is pretty ingenious.

Via Boingboing.net I bring you part of a patent request for the latest idea in coffin technology:

(click here to see the boingboing article, and click here to see the whole patent)

 

 

DO THE RIGHT THING

By Brett Battles

I’m a strong believer in doing the right thing. From the little to the big, some times the choices we need to make aren’t necessarily the easy ones nor the ones that will benefit ourselves, but they are the right ones. We knows this deep inside.

I am, by no means, perfect at this. But I try.

I’ve been thinking a lot more about this because of several things. First, it’s a theme in my next book NO RETURN due out in early 2011. Second, the amazing response to the disaster in Haiti. And third, because of an email I received from the son of an old friend of mine. An old friend of mine’s son recently spent a month in Ghana teaching kids how to play soccer. While he was there, he saw what conditions the kids had to live and play under, that he decided to do something about it. With the help of his parents, he raise enough money to buy things for the kids they would have never had otherwise. His name is Tony Albina, and here is the letter I got from him thanking me for my donation – which was nothing compared to what he was doing…

Thank you so much for your donation to the children with whom I worked in Ghana Africa this fall.  I want to express the gratitude that I felt from the children and send you a few pictures so you can see the difference that you helped me make.  A positive difference in the lives of the children and a positive affirmation that, given an opportunity, people will help those who need it – and that the boundaries of geography, culture and politics are certainly no barrier to human compassion and generosity.

I’d like to tell you about my trip, share with you my experience and help you understand how much your gift meant to these children.  I spent a month in Ghana Africa, helping underprivileged children in the city of Accra with a non-profit organization called Projects Abroad.  I have been playing soccer since I was 4 years old and was the Captain of my varsity high school soccer team for the last two years of my high school career.  In Ghana, I would be learning soccer coaching from a semi-pro team and then using those skills to teach in the under 12 children’s program.  The city of Accra is located along the southern coast of West Africa.  

When I arrived in Accra I was greeted by the unrelenting heat, followed by a tour through the city from my placement coordinator with Projects Abroad.  When I sat down in the taxi, my coordinator turned to me and said, “Tony you may see some things that you are not used to seeing back home.  Ghana is a much different place than where you are from”, and on that note we headed off into the city.  First, we drove to the home of my host family where I would be living for the next month.  After introductions were made, we stepped back in the taxi to go see the soccer field where my placement was to be, and I use the term “field” lightly.  The pitch they play on was in the worst shape of any field I have ever seen. Instead of grass, the field was made up of a mixture of sand and clay, and was hardly flat.  There were large raises and dips all over the field. Very different from the level, lush green grass I have played on since I was a kid.  I can remember complaining about the condition of the fields in high school if mid-field was a little bare and worn down late in the season.  However, as I soon found out, the condition of this field in Accra made no difference at all to the children here.

The next day I hopped on a tro-tro, which is a glorified mini-van, held together with bailing wire, that runs on a fixed route, and headed to the field.  Riding in a tro-tro, you can never be sure that you’re actually going to make it to your destination.  To say the ride is harrowing would be an understatement! When I arrived at the pitch, I met up with the semi-professional team with whom I would be training to learn the coaching skills I would be using to train the children.  After seniors training, I headed back to my host home as the under 12 year old children’s training did not begin until the evening.  Ghanaians try to avoid the mid day heat, for which I was very thankful!  That evening I went back to the field for the kids training session.  I was expecting young kids in cleats and shin guards ready to play soccer.  I was mistaken; some kids wore cleats three times too big, and others played barefoot.  A few of the kids had half decent cleats, without too many holes – which, I found out later, were donated by past volunteers.  Most of them wore the same clothes every day and the majority of it was donated clothing that was passed down as children grew. The condition of the field, the garbage dump that bordered it, the raw sewage running in troughs through streets, the ill-fitting cleats and torn balls didn’t seem to matter to the children.  They played with the same joy and excitement of any child.  They seemed blissfully unaware of their circumstances. They were just happy to be playing soccer today.

The next few weeks went on like this.  Senior training in the mornings, and under 12’s training in the afternoons.  One day I was speaking with Ramma, the captain of the senior team, about some of the under 12’s children.  He explained to me that nearly 10 of the kids were homeless and without families.  Ramma went on to tell me that he has 5 of the kids currently living at his house, and 3 live in the team’s equipment shed located near the soccer pitch.  Many of the children were abandoned at a very young age and were left in Accra with literally nothing but the shirts on their backs.  Luckily, Ramma was able to take some of them in.  These kids have gone through so much at such a young age but if you met them, you couldn’t tell that they have suffered more in 12 years than most of will in our whole lives.  They look and act like regular fun loving kids with a truly amazing passion for soccer and life!  

After learning what these kids go through, I wanted to help them somehow.  That is right about the time when my parents called me and told me that there were people who wanted to donate money for the kids.  I had no idea that friends, family and many people that I’ve never even met could be so generous!  In just a week, $1,300 dollars was donated.  I was so excited – so much could be done for the kids.  I started throwing around some ideas with the coaches and we all agreed that personalized team bags and new soccer balls would be a great help.  While they were coordinating to have the bags made, I took some of the senior players out into the market with me buy some new balls, and professional jerseys, shorts, and socks for each child to put in their bag.  The bags arrived during my final week in Ghana.  I took them back to my host family, and put the gear for each child in each of the 22 bags.  Looking down at this massive pile of bags and gear, I was amazed at how much I was able to buy for the kids.

With the money left over after purchasing all the equipment, I organized with some of the coaches, a trip for the kids to go to a professional soccer stadium.  I called a security guard that the coaches knew at the stadium and organized a tour. So the next day, I arranged for a mini-bus to pick us up and take us to the stadium.  The kids were told they had a game that day, so they thought that’s where they were headed. But when the mini-bus turned into the stadium entrance, the kids went crazy!  We met up with the security guard and he led us inside the stadium.  We went up into the VIP seating section, and he told us about the history of the stadium.  The security guard then said to everyone “Ok lets head on down to the field so you can take some pictures, then we’ll take off”, but I had different plans.  As we were walking down to the field, I asked the security guard to let the kids actually play a little on the field.  After some monetary convincing, a way of life in Ghana, he accepted my offer.  When we got down to the field, I took out a ball I had been hiding and kicked it onto the field.  “Get on the field! Go play!”, I yelled –and I didn’t have to say it twice.  The kids, in total disbelief, sprinted onto the field with huge smiles stretching across their faces.  For most of them, it was the first time they had stepped foot inside the stadium, and it was definitely the first time any of them had played on real grass!  They ran, carefree as children do, jumped, laughed and played in bare feet on the cool grass probably for the first time in their lives. I wish you could have seen their faces light up with joy.  It was a tremendous gift from you to them.

The next day was my last in Ghana. Half way through the under 12’s training session, I rounded all the kids up, and told them to follow me. Ramma came with us as well.  We got to the equipment closet where I was hiding their bags of gear, and I turned the kids and said, “As you guys know I’m leaving tomorrow.  But I have a surprise for you all.  There are a lot of generous people back home that gave me donations for you and with that I was able to get you all some gear.  Some things that will make you look more like a team.”  I pulled out the first bag and tossed it to one of the children.  He caught it with a look of astonishment on his little face, and realizing what it was, let out a shriek of joy.  I grabbed another bag, and threw it out to the group of now jumping, excited children.  Then another, and another until all the children had one.  It was joyful chaos as all of them rifled through their bags pulling out a jersey here, and a pair of socks there, some shorts waved in the air.  All of them were smiling, and cheering the whole time – happy for themselves and happy for one another.  One young boy came close and said a quiet thank you to me, and through teary eyes, I told him he was very welcome.  Ramma turned to me and said, “In all of my years working with this team, and seeing volunteers come and go – I have never seen so much generosity towards the children.  I can’t find the words to describe how happy I am right now.”  He reached out, gave me a hug and said, “Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you.”  I said, “Rama I can never give these kids what you have given them.  I gave them a jersey and shorts, you gave them food.  I gave them a bag with socks, you gave them a home.  I should be the one thanking you.”  He gave me another hug, and said, “I’m going to really miss you Tony, and I know that the kids will too.  You will never be forgotten.”  And with that, I picked up my bag, and walked away.  Tears rolling down my face, I looked back, to see all the kids waving good-bye.  I gave one final wave, then turned back around and headed for a plane that would take me home to New Hampshire.  Never to forget the little faces, the friends, the memories. I will never forget your generosity and neither will the young lives that you have touched.  Thank you.

Gratefully yours,
Tony Albina

 

I know Tony’s dad Adam must be immensely proud of his son. But I also know there are other “Tonys” out there, people who are doing the right things both big and small.

 

In the comments, feel free to share some of your stories about people doing the right thing.



Hand Me That Chisel

By Brett Battles

I find myself at a similar place as I was last August or so…thinking up ideas for the next book. Unlike last time, I don’t plan on going batshit crazy and write proposals for three different, potential novels. No, this time I’ll stick to one. Or, rather, two. One for a standalone, and one for the fifth in my Jonathan Quinn series.

“But, Brett,” you may say. “You have the two standalone ideas that weren’t chosen last fall. Why not use one of those?”

Believe me, I’m tempted. One, in particular, I really like, and, who knows, I might resubmit it anyway. But the truth is, I feel another story calling me. The interesting things is that I have no idea what the story is about.

I’ve heard the analogy that writing a novel (or, maybe, an outline for a novel) is like being a sculpture standing in front of a slab of marble. You know there’s a beautiful statue inside, you just have no idea what it looks like. That’s kind of the stage I’m at right now. I’ve got this slab of marble, I just don’t know what’s inside yet.

Now to get to that interior, to that story, there are a lot of different tools I can use. I can chip away, a little at a time by taking long walks and strenuous hikes. I can let my mind wander while I’m doing nothing. I can inundate myself with other forms or creativity – books, movies, TV, magazines, music – and see if I get inspired.

These are all things I’ve done in the past, and, actually, things I’ve mostly done in the past two weeks. But there are other tools, too, specialized tools that might work for me, but not for someone else.

The past couple of days I’ve been using one of those specialized tools more heavily than I’ve done in a long time, or perhaps ever.

I’m a visual person. I was big into theater in high school, so much so I even directed the musical version of THE HOBBIT when I was a senior…bet you didn’t know there WAS a musical version of THE HOBBIT. Here’s some photographic evidence:

 

 

(That’s me kneeling in both pics…apparently that was my chosen directorial style.)

 

When I went off to college, my interests had moved to motion pictures, and I majored in film and television history. (Got to watch a LOT of movies during class. My all time favorite course was one our own Steven Schwartz and I – I think – took together…The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, or something like that. Awesome!)

Quite by chance, when I entered the working world I happened to stumble into the arena of graphic design for television, or what we called motion graphics. No, I wasn’t a designer, but I worked with designers everyday for what turned out to be almost twenty years. And when you work with graphic designers, you will find that visual stimulation is a daily event.

So it’s not surprising that the visual can be very stimulating to me.

Back in grade school (or was it junior high?), I got an assignment in an English class to create an essay/story by using only pictures found in magazines. If I remember correctly, we could add short headlines, but that was it. The pictures had to make the story. It was a great project, and, if you ask me, very forward thinking on my teacher’s part.

To this day, I still remember that project, and, in a way, am still utilizing the lesson learned.

Almost everyday I come across images on the Internet that stimulates me for some reason. Could be I just like the setting, or the face. Could be I like the atmosphere. I save these images to a folder on my desktop that I call Inspirational Pics. In the past I’ve looked through them on occasion. But this week, as I set out to cobble away at that chuck of rock that someone unceremoniously put down in front of me, I decided to try something new.

I created a new folder, then opened one with my Inspirational Pics. Slowly, I went through them, one-by-one. If one made me stop or otherwise called out to me, I put a copy of it in the new folder. By the time I was done, I had about two dozen images (out of the, literally, hundreds I’ve collected.) I then put these selected images in an order that made sense, and started to play them as a slideshow.

And you know what? There’s something there. I can feel it. I don’t know what it is completely yet, but I have discovered a main character, and I’m starting to see events – though hazy still – that take place in the story. I even wrote a couple pages that might be the beginning of the novel. The pictures really speak to me. I can feel them pulled me in. I can see them knocking off the unnecessary parts of the rock as I hunt for the story I know is there.

I know I’ve found my tool of choice on this particular project, and for the next week I will undoubtedly watch that slide show over and over, letting it reveal more of the story to me.

Yes, I know. I’m weird. But I like it that way. (I’d share the pictures, but don’t want to tip my hand.)

So, what tools do you use to get rid of the unnecessary bits that are hiding your story from you?

Thank You 2009 For….

by Brett Battles

 

…another great year with my kids

…the good health of my family

…marking the passing of my grandfather…at nearly 98, he lived a long and great life, so this is said in complete sincerity.

…my friends

…all the old friends I’d lost track of over the years and have reconnected with via the internet.

…my career

For everything, really….the good and the bad as it all helps to shape us into who were are.

 

Some requests for 2010….

 

A smooth transition as my son moves from junior high to high school (hard enough for regular kids, extra stressful for one with Down Syndrome.)

A smooth transition for my oldest daughter from sixth grade to junior high…and a wish that she’ll finally gain a love of reading.

And for my youngest daughter who does have a love of reading, a deepening of that.

As the economic improves, an improvement in book sales across the board

And, in general, happiness and health for all.

 

And, finally, big thank you not to 2009, but to all the Murderati gang, contributors and readers alike, for another wonderful year.

Enjoy the weekend, be safe, then let’s do it all again in 2010!



Page 4 of 10« First...23456...10...Last »