Easy As Burgers

A comparison, restaurant and book:

1. Lake District, England.

A restaurant with a water view–in town, in a charming building.

The customers–hungry for lunch, fresh off a hike.

The interior–hip and inviting.

The menu–simple enough, burgers and quesadillas.

Wait time–none.

Staff–friendly but…?

 

2. My local library.

A thriller–famous name, bestseller status.

The reader–eager for knowledge and comparison.

The cover–jazzy, dark, thriller-worthy.

The menu–predictable enough, violence and espionage.

Wait time–ostensibly, none.

The writing–should be great, but…

An owl-art decoration from a cafe in Bowness-on-Windermere, UK.

Easy Money

Okay, these two examples represent, in my view, idiot-proof things. Automatic satisfaction, success had easily. Give us the grub (or story), you get your money. Yet both were screwed up.

In the restaurant (1), we ordered our food. Despite there being only two other parties (with at least 6 staff in sight) our burgers and quesadillas took an hour to arrive. (Without being a trained chef, I could’ve whipped this order up in 15 minutes.) Irritation is trying to explain to a nine-year-old, over-and-over, what could be taking so long when there’s no reason for the wait. (They were not slaughtering the cow on-site, after all.)

The likely culprit: Putting teenagers in charge of a restaurant. (I have one myself, so I recognize the M.O.) In other words, laziness.

 

In the book (2), I started with the opening page. The book begins with a seven-line sentence about, say, the virtues of one sniper bullet (skull-puncturing force at a premium) over another. A paragraph-length run-on sentence–an editor’s nightmare. Not art. Not describing some nuance of the human condition. No, a round of ammunition (for a villain who likely wouldn’t last past the 3rd chapter).

Book closed. No wisdom to be had.

The likely culprit: A publisher saying, after 20 bestsellers, “This guy doesn’t need any editing or proofreading.” In other words, laziness.

 

The End Result

Call me old-fashioned, but I feel that it’s my job to present the best-possible product (novel) I can. No run-on sentences or typos or glaring errors (a few small ones can’t be helped, I guess). Someone always needs to be minding the store. Things won’t just take care of themselves. Nothing truly is idiot-proof.

So, maybe after 20 novels, I’m lazy enough to hash out a long-winded chunk of schlock and it gets past a few sets of eyes? Then it’s time to hang up my pen, or shutter the restaurant. Do the job right or don’t do it at all. Restaurants are always hungry for money (they still have a whopping failure rate). A bestseller author has plenty of money. In either case, the drive for more cash shouldn’t fall prey to minimal effort.

Laziness reflects poorly on everyone.

Faith in Technology

I could imagine it, the yellow-lit, windowless world of a G.A.S. ship’s engineering section. The jarring crash of a foreign thing–the bulkhead before me split by a cone-tipped warhead. A half-moment of panic before the thing flashed…

     -Endgame

In modern America (and, increasingly, the rest of the world) faith in technology is certainly something we are guilty of. If your iPhone goes on the fritz (or into a body of water) schedules and contact info are thrown into digital chaos. Most cars or trucks can be shut down by a software glitch. If our ballot-casting machines aren’t protected from cyber attack–which likely happened in the 2016 election–how do we weigh a tainted democratic process?

A Look at the Future

In Endgame, the Mitasterites commit an overwhelming force (five Global Assault Ships, around 150,000 soldiers) to the assault on P-75. They need their precious fuel (a rare crystal unique to the frozen world). Success depends on their sabotaging the opposing T.U.’s primary defense–the Cecelia rockets. (These 150-foot monsters carry enough explosives and metal fragments to eradicate most any threat–provided they can reach them.) Enter cyber warfare.

The technology of one computer transmitting code to hijack another computer is beyond me. (The closest I’ve come to grasping code was a class in JavaScript.) But, just as we have the weapon of cyber attack today, we can see the folly of it not working. The Mitasterites (a young, industrious empire) are cursed with arrogance and cockiness. Why wouldn’t their cyber sabotage work?

Clearly, that means not enough of the right people asked, ‘What happens if the cyber attack fails? Or if the system senses an error and reboots itself after seven hours? Won’t our ships be in danger?’

My heart jumped. Raising my own scope to the sky, I imagined a great flowery burst in space.

Could this be the Mitasterites’ Titanic moment? Will they learn? Unlikely.

Lessons Yet-to-be Learned

To heroine June Vereeth and the other T.U. soldiers, the Mitasterites squander grotesque amounts of men and materials on a gamble. They lose P-75–their first defeat brought by a cataclysmic no-win blast, the fuel dump detonated by the T.U. base chief. Losing two Global Assault Ships (and many thousands of crewmen) is a huge black eye in the aftermath. Failing to grasp the tactical error of a cyber assault, they try it again in Destruction. The Cecelia rockets are delayed, not defeated. Ships are put in peril. Men are squandered.

One can assume that only sorrow and stupidity would be on display when observing chunks of starship tumble through the atmosphere. Enlisted soldiers most often pay for their commanders’ decisions. One can hope the general populace learns something from this.

“We won’t get fooled again,” The Who famously sang.

Of course we won’t.

Endgame cover by Greg Simanson Designs. Cover shows characters, rockets and a woman's eye against a green-ice background and twin suns, orange lettering. "The war begins" is added at the top.

LP2

At the neighboring gate, #40, sits a huge jet.
All loaded, doors closed, faces by windows. Happy ones.
Silvery, muted colors in pre-dawn light.
Massive engines, intake fans spinning smoothly.
Designed to go far—stays aloft for a long time.
Sumptuous curvature.
It looks comfortable, too.

Check my boarding pass again.
Scheduled departure in 15 minutes.
No plane.
How long have I been here?

Others are waiting, too. A full flight?
Checking phones, paperwork, others’ faces.
Nervous talking, though no one seems familiar—to me, to each other.
The jetway door yawns, unlit.
Every other gate has a plane—boarding or pulling away.

“Excuse me,” I say to the agent, proffering my pass.
A raised eyebrow—recognition.
“Your flight isn’t here, sir.”
I spy another plane landing—wrong airline.
“I don’t understand. Do you know why?”
“Afraid I don’t,” the agent says.
“Can you call someone?”
“Not permitted,” she returns. “I don’t make the rules.”

Her bittersweet smile dismisses me.

Ticket in hand, I return to waiting.
Watching.
Waiting.
Hoping.
Waiting.
Pacing.
Waiting…

Fog rolls in.
No plane.
Clocks—frozen in place.

Planes at gates at sunrise, SeaTac International Airport.

 

Science Fiction and Invention

Yesterday, on my professional site’s blog, I wrote on the importance of science fiction as a way to introduce new ideas (yes, including a couple of my own for my Woman at War series).

You can read it here:

The Beautiful Drawing Board

 

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Author Justin Edison dabbles in politics, helping out Dr. Kim Schrier for WA's 8th District

Regards,

Justin

The Door Into a Story, pt. 1

You’ve got an amazing tale. Sterling characters. Brilliant details. Rich language. Action and tension crackling on every page…

And you enter the story via an unimportant childhood moment.

This palm-to-face moment is brought to you by the bestseller I’m reading right now. In the interests of not sabotaging my own writing career (in case I meet this author) I cannot divulge name or title. Let it be summarized as this: The first half of the book is an episodic series of cliches plus one beat-down–and little more.

Why?

 

Where do we enter?

The place to begin a story was a contentious mystery for fellow writers back in my college days, and it still is. Do you tell the whole story as a flashback? Do you start when your heroine is just a wee lass of 9 years? If so, how come?

Teachers urged us to make it interesting–focus on the heart of the tale–and that’s what I’ve always aspired to do. (Yup, I’ve made some colossal mistakes along the way.) Entering a story can seem like the proverbial dartboard toss, with your best guess held up to plenty of scrutiny. It isn’t only writers block which fills the wastebasket with crumpled tries.

So, I’ve tried. In The Churning and Tempest Road, the heroes are already in a lot of trouble on the first page. Movie versions would open differently–Why can’t we see the abduction in grainy glory?–to spare most audience members a head-scratching moment.

In Endgame (Woman at War 1) we start in a battle. The war has begun. The belligerent Mitasterites have already displayed despicable behavior (sending unarmed teen-aged soldiers out to be sniper fodder). Heroine June Vereeth is about to take one of many important shots. Bam, you’re dropped right in it! Attempts at diplomacy or appeasement exist as fragments of wishful thinking in the past. I didn’t want to spend pages on them. (And with an entire world to build over the span of the novel, too much backstory would become uninteresting mud.)

The second in the series, Destruction, opens with our heroine’s boots dangling 3,000 feet over a fog-shrouded rock wasteland. Climbing ropes and old-school projectile weapons (when you read it, you’ll understand) and a ridiculously challenging mission. And bad guys. And an unforeseen menace. Sure, there’s plenty to tell about Vereeth’s adventure between P-75 (Endgame) and this mountain-climbing nightmare, but why lead with any of that?

 

Openings I Love

So, as this post is about the tricky waters of where to enter a story, let me list a few of my favorites (before I get to those no-nos).

Something Wicked This Way Comes.” Two innocent teenage boys are approached by a lightning-rod salesman. Within hours, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has arrived to take over the sleepy Midwestern town. The carefree boys will never be the same.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” With the story told from “Chief” Bromden’s point of view, Kesey gives us just enough of the asylum’s machinery and insanity to set the scene. Enter the all-consuming R.P. McMurphy and we’re off to the races. The book could not have ended correctly any other way than the way it was writen. Brilliant.

The Lovely Bones.” Susie Salmon, our narrator, is dead. While we experience some of the fear and hesitation of her young life’s moments, there is no tease of possibility that this good, likeable little girl escapes death. Now let’s get on with the story.

The Art of Racing in the Rain.” Enzo, our immensely likeable narrator, is a dog. Garth Stein’s most famous work to date may be a bit of a gimmick, but it’s a beautifully written tale of the challenges of modern life and man’s best friend. And the first page (no spoiler alert) ends with a line that hits you like a hammer.

 

to be continued…

Justin Edison's books on a shelf

Three of Justin Edison’s books on a shelf