Monday, April 30, 2012

Always the bridesmaid

It is comical to see how Microsoft always plays catch up to the trends that 'catch them by surprise' on an unerringly common basis. Whether they can turn around their rudderless boat is anyone's guess but I do hope they do (I do love a multi-Billion dollar underdog).

After having a pretty good lead in the smart phone market, Microsoft had squandered their market share and now are playing catch up (once again) to attempt to squeeze out a single-percent share of the market with their new Windows Phone. This reactionary strategy involved going into partnership with an ailing phone company that had also squandered their market share through a lack of innovation and forward movement. To sweeten the deal, Microsoft paid Nokia more than $1 Billion for exclusivity.

Now, as part of their strategy to react to a burgeoning ebook market, they have gone into business with Barnes & Noble who are presently playing second fiddle to Amazon and has paid approximately 300 million for the privilege. Whether two average companies makes one competent one is anyone's guess, but it would be good for there to be at least two major players to keep the other from gouging the authors, publishers and consumers. Well, here's to competition - cheers!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

I kid you not

So we took a trip up to LA, Hollywood and Beverly Hills. It was fun to see how the other half live ... and also see a multitude of supercars within the space of about thirty minutes. But that wasn't the highlight of the trip. 

We headed out to Venice Beach and took in the sights and sounds of quite a diverse and varied set of people. I'm not sure whether the 'medicinal marijuana' depots had anything to do with it but I was tripping out. We decided to have a few drinks at one of the few bars on the strip and entertain ourselves by watching the people go by. And that was about the time things got weird. The light was shining in my eyes and, if I looked off into the distance, the distant hills melted into the bright sunlight such that it took on a semi-surreal visage. This was complemented with the introduction of a pretty good three-piece band that was catnip for crazies.

Within a very short period I could see a shirtless wino/acid tripper wearing his bike as a hat, a devil carrying a full-sized crucifixion cross, a Nick Nolte-esque homeless guy and a 'Man, the 70's, man ... yeah' guy on blades all grooving along with each other while I was laughing hysterically. The wino was holding the devils' tail and the devil was creating dance moves with his cross while the 70's guy just smiled and sang along to the song while blading in circles and Nolte shook his arms and tried to keep the beat. Oh, and, I almost forgot; there was a fake clergyman with a fake bible attempting to exorcise the fake devil while all this was going one.

All I can say is, who needs drugs when reality is such a trip?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Review: Soldier Hill

Today I am reviewing Soldier Hill by Phil Rossi. A book about a bunch of skater kids that decide to do the right thing when an unofficial war memorial is in jeopardy of being destroyed.

In a nutshell:
Twitter summary: "Stoked meets Degrassi meets Platoon"
Length: Novella (~76 pages)
Target Audience: Teen and Up
Genre: Fictional drama
Swearing: Mild (a few naughty words)
Violence: Mild
Skater dialogue: High

The novel's blurb is:
    "When a local soldier is killed in the vietnam war, a memorial was created to honor his sacrific. Years later, the memorial faces removal and demolition. Two High School buddies devise a scheme to preserve the memorial. Will the Boys summon the courage to break the law?"
My plot summary would be a little different: to me it reads like a snapshot into Teenage Americana during the 80's while living in the lingering aftermath of the ongoing Vietnam war. For the large majority of the book there are references to the soldiers and Vietnam but most of the story focuses on the lives of Eddie Higgins and his pal Dave.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Learning from the best #2

Well, it's that time again to peruse the New York Times Best Sellers and see whether the top sellers have learned to sell from their cover. On first glance, I would say no, but I'll humour my readers by reviewing each one even so. The same rules apply: I'm not reviewing the book; I'm not reviewing based on the synopsis. The only thing I review is the cover and determine whether you can judge a book by its cover.

So, the #1 Best Seller is Calico Joe by John Grisham and I am not impressed. No offence to Indie Writers (with me being one of them), but it looks like something I could whip up in about 5 minutes in Photoshop. Note the swoosh on a ball not being hit out of the park (the ball looks to have started its flight from outside the park). The font looks a little cheesy and if I didn't know that John Grisham was a revered author, would have thought this was his first indie novel. I like the subtitle: A Novel. Just in case you were wondering what that strange item was in your hands.
2/5 for teh photoshop skillz and because I like Baseball.

The #2 is called Guilty Wives by JAMES PATTERSON ... and David Ellis. I think David might have a complex about being relegated to the ankles of the trussed up heroine. I have a feeling that James Patterson came in and wrote a paragraph or so while David wrote the rest (a good ploy for getting Ellis' name out into the public). I cannot help thinking of Desperate Housewives when I see the title or maybe When Animals Attack! My spider senses tell me this can only be a comedy but the mini blurb sort of takes on a 'What happens in Vegas ...' vibe. Except that in this it looks like murder is the raison d'etre for this story.
4/5 for the comedic lowest common denominator story that I imagine in my head.

The #3 is called The Lost Years by Mary Higgins Clark. Well, it looks like it's a story about an attractive female attempting to spy on something from behind some giant ratty old pieces of paper. There appears to be a religious connotation (the cross replacing the T of lost). I see no text on the torn paper so I'm pretty sure this is not the sacrilegious result of tearing up a Bible. The cover doesn't grab me but at least it has higher production values than the #1. Again, there is a need to emphasise that this is a novel (could this be 'the magic' my novel is missing?).

3/5 for the mystery and slightly comical stalking pose of the heroine.

And so, once again, I would say that something other than the cover is motivating people to read these books. It's interesting that The Lost Years is #3 with only 27 reviews to its credit (and a 3-star average). Assuming that there's a 20% hit rate on reviews / ratings, that would mean that this book was bought 135 times. Not exactly a bestseller but maybe her readers don't like reviewing her book?  Does that mean that if I get 19 more reviews I would somehow steal the #3 spot? Food for thought, indeed.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Making the list

I cannot help thinking of this when I read Amanda Hocking's post about becoming a notable item on the New York Times Bestsellers. For her it meant nothing to be popular and I can understand this. Maybe not the popularity but the understanding that it means nothing to be successful. It takes time for the realisation that being successful is only a stepping stone. You now have the pressure for your next novel to somehow rekindle the same magic of the previous book. You are no longer an unknown, you can no longer write what you feel. You have been segregated to a genre. You are the vampire girl or the zombie guy (say). You no longer have the free will to write what you wish ... but only if you have a publisher.

I think not being dictated by a publisher or some sort of media analyst is a good thing. You should never become complacent and believe that you can only write YA fiction or love triangles. You should never believe that you need to satisfy your fans' wishes. If they are true fans they will be willing to follow your journey where you wish to travel. They should be happy to enjoy something that might not be what they expected. There is nothing worse than being pigeon-holed and I will do everything within my power to never be that way.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Of mice and men

I think I understand America now. I think I understand why they would come to believe that their country is the best in the world. When it comes to the sport, the spectacle and the overall production of orchestrating thousands of spectators, food and excitement, they are second to none. I cannot help being impressed by the adrenaline and thrill when the local team scores a goal / home run / power play. At those moments it all makes sense.

Now that I am situated in California, I headed out to Disneyland for a day. Embarrassing fact: I didn't even realise that it existed until my colleague pointed it out to me. Even though I'm almost 34, I still have managed to retain my child-like wonder (some would say immaturity) so I relished the opportunity to go on all the rides and rekindle my childhood once more.

The first ride we went on was a boat ride through the 'dangerous waters' of Africa ... which translated to a few poor man's animatronics and little else. We were accompanied by a tour guide who had probably done this ride a few thousand times. He was probably one of the most grizzled, cynical and near-suicidal hosts I've ever come across. And he couldn't have been funnier. He brought a deeply sarcastic and well-worn Bill Murray impression to the Groundhog day-like proceedings. For every twist and turn he had been given a few thousand takes to perfect his stand up. I am unsure whether Disney would agree but I thought he was brilliant.

The final shows for Disneyland were amazing: synchronised audio, music, story, lighting, fireworks. So outside of the basic premise of watching a collection of explosions, a story had somehow been interwoven (themed by various Disney stories). Pretty amazing. This was followed by the show at the Disney's California Adventure (opposite Disneyland) that was a water show, with various streams of water synchronised to music - Bellagio eat your heart out. It also had various elements seamlessly woven together to produce one coherent experience.

And so, from the grizzled host to the impressive final shows, they showed an amazing ability to surpass simply showing off fireworks, water spouts or cheap animatronics. They were able to transcend their basic mediums so the basic elements became meta to what they actually wanted to show: the human spirit and the desire to do more.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

#random: The Tantrum

"That's icky and I will not eat it," she emphasises the last few words with a stamping of her feet. What drama. I sigh and search through the mental tricks I will need to employ to coerce my spawn into eating what I have provided. When I was her age, I loved pureed asparagus - kids these days ...

I cannot help thinking that I must be a bad father; that I have somehow failed as a parent; that I have somehow spoiled my child to a point where she acts up at the slightest provocation. I have a new-found respect for my parents as I realise now that I was a hell-raiser. I thought I was just having fun but now I realise I wasn't the picture of cuteness and adulation that I once believed.

I think back to the time when I decided to paint the walls with the spaghetti I didn't want to finish. I was having fun, smearing the walls and making a collage that my parents were sure to appreciate ... which reminds me: it's probably wise to keep the food out of reach in case my daughter decides to follow in my footsteps.

I try the Jedi mind trick: "You know you like asparagus - it's yummy." Her mind does not budge - the force is strong with this one. I start making choo-choo noises and transform the plastic spoon into a carriage holding its precious cargo that is (hopefully) destined for her firmly-closed mouth. No luck - it appears she doesn't like trains and has no intention of becoming a depot. I employ rainbow ponies, frolicking in the meadows and chowing down on the delicious taste of pureed asparagus. "You want to be a rainbow pony, don't you?" I am drawing at straws ...

How the mighty have fallen: forced to play out my existence with sound effects and rainbow ponies. I remember a time when I controlled my destiny but now I am brought to my knees by my own creation. It seems fitting that I would be beaten by the new version of me. Every parent wants their child to be more successful but only if they're not working against their willpower. I make airplane noises. My child is strong-willed and my will begins to break. "Alright. Have it your way."  I leave the room, trying to think of a way to get her to eat.

Mr Buggles, her bear - maybe I can coerce him into helping me in my plight. She loves that bear and takes it everywhere she goes ... that might be the trick. I start building a story where Mr Buggles is reluctant to eat the food. He cautiously tastes it and then realises he loves it. He cannot get enough of it so much so that my daughter needs to fight for a chance to share in her Asparagus puree. Perfect.

I return to the kitchen and look at my daughter. She doesn't see me although I do see, to my surprise, that she is eating her food. She is eating it with her hands, submerging her pudgy little sausages into the thick slurry and then slurping it up. I am in two minds: whether to walk over and feed her with the spoon or just let her make a mess of herself. She notices me, looks up and says, "Mr Buggles!" She keeps eating while reaching out with an asparagus-covered hand.

Your services will not be required, Mr Buggles.

Monday, April 16, 2012

From Philly to Cali

I love change.

Some people don't but I do. I hate monotony and I hate a life that is too predictable. That is why I am happy to say that I am now residing in sunny California. I posted on my personal facebook account that I was 'off to the home of bad teenage dramas, dogs in handbags, plastic surgery, nose candy and sunshine.' Little did I know that I would actually be living on the outskirts of Orange County (or The O.C. as it was known on that drab TV drama). Thankfully there is also the film called Orange County with Jack Black in it that I will now choose to associate with my present location.

Here he is - Ben McKenzie, eat your heart out.
I can say that I am enjoying my time here (two days and counting), but it's sad that I had to leave all the colleagues I had hung out with in and outside of work. Still, it's all part of growing and learning and adapting (what humans do best). And the best part is meeting new people. So, once again, all is not too shabby within the world of Stephen Herfst.

As an added bonus, the flight attendant notified us with the following upon our arrival into LAX:
"Your luggage can be picked up at carousel B as in Botox"

Welcome to California!

Friday, April 13, 2012

I am internet famous!

Well, the gods are definitely smiling on me, as I have become one of the featured novels on Booktango.

Alongside this I have been immortalised in their 'how it works' video page so I am their 'featured novel' for eternity ... or until their video is updated =D

FYI: Booktango is like smashwords but takes a smaller cut of the fee and distributes to more vendors more quickly. Definitely recommended for indie authors. Read my break-down here.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

I am a falling tree

The famous conundrum:
"If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" 

Up until recently, I would have said no, but now I would say yes! Since releasing my novel, I haven't had a huge amount of success getting the book out to the masses. I have tried really hard, blogging, posting and attempting to entice various people to read my novel. Very few of my friends were willing to read it (shame on you) and very few have provided much constructive feedback on my novel ... up until now.

It has taken the efforts of the good folks at goodreads to provide some constructive feedback on my novel and I appreciate it. To all those that have yet to read my novel, I would recommend using sites such as goodreads. They are invaluable for gaining information beyond simply a synopsis and it is also a pretty cool place to hang out and discuss the books and novels you are interested in.

To use a Tosh.0 quote: ...and for that we say thank you.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The top five of ...

Why are our brains so mesmerised by finite lists of 'great' things? Is it that at any given time you always know how many of the list remain? Is it that your brain is appeased by the fact that you will now know what a finite list of the best things is?

Your guess is as good as mine.

...and this segue way leads elegantly into one of my favourite films: High Fidelity. I went into this film not knowing what to expect but by the end of the film I didn't want it to finish (although I was happy that it did). It's funny when I didn't really enjoy the journey but enjoyed the moments and, by the time it finished, realised it was brilliant.

My twitter summary: "Sodden John Cusack reflects on top five things he hates, loves and loathes"

The story revolves around a directionless record store owner that had once aspired to be something but never quite got around to it. Quite early on in the story his girlfriend breaks up with him and he goes through the list of five best/worst break-ups (with his most recent break-up not even getting a mention).  It keeps your interest as he tracks down each of the ex-girlfriends that tore his heart in two. During this meandering introspective look into the world of John Cusack (I should have mentioned he's the protagnoist), he has two unpaid assistants that provide levity to his droll existence, including a stand-out 'debut' performance by Jack Black. This show made him and everything after this has never quite attained the level of humour of his character in this film. I love the nicely played double entendre in the title. Quite fitting and quite perfect the more you think about it.

I won't ruin the punchlines or 'twists' (there aren't any, really), other than to say: watch it to the end and then suddenly come to the realisation that you enjoyed the film.

Extra credits: Read the book this was based upon by Nick Hornby.