Tuesday, April 22, 2014

W.B.'s Book Report: The Book Thief

And there it was, as the Kindle told me I was passing 95%, a rare and welcome surge of sadness, not because the book is coming to a sad ending, but simply because it is coming to an ending. The author earns the tears with his characters and storytelling, but the tears are also from the ache of a beloved journey reaching its destination.

The lyricism of Markus Zusak’s words, and the turns of his remarkable story, are hard to let go. Zusak pulls us gently into the story of Liesel Meminger and makes us love her, along with her adopted and extended family. The Book Thief, I suspect, will be remembered as one of the greatest works of early 21st-century literature, but if my suspicions are wrong, it will still be a book that lingers with me personally until its narrator comes to visit me.

I watched the wonderful film that has been made of The Book Thief after I’d finished about a quarter of the novel, and I was struck by how well the movie honors the book while ably transforming the story from one medium to another. Inevitably, the book is a deeper and richer experience, but the film is worth the investment of time as well.

The decision to buy and read this book came after a reader I respect said she would rank it with To Kill A Mockingbird among the best she’d ever read – the highest of praise. I knew little more about the story, and for those who want to discover the book as I did, I’ll leave it at that. Highly, highly recommended. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"Every Breathe You Take" by Alex Preston

There's completely misinterpreting the meaning of a song, and then there's purposefully reinventing a song in a way that forces you to hear it again anew. Alex Preston accomplished the latter Wednesday night, and my mind is still boggling.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

W.B.'s Book Report: Start With Why

The introduction of most products does not go down in history, even if they changed the world. Few people have seen the first advertisement for Coca-Cola or the first cellphone commercial.

But you probably remember (or have now seen) the first ad for the Macintosh computer: A dreary gray room full of gray drones, watching a large viewscreen where a man is giving a pep talk about – well, he’s so boring no one is sure what he’s talking about. It’s a scene straight out of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.

A woman in color – orange track shorts – runs up the aisle ignored by the gray drones, but pursued by gray guards, until she stops and heaves a sledge hammer at the screen, which explodes in bright light. Over the blinding sight, a narrator explains that the Macintosh is about to be introduced to the world and “You’ll see why 1984 will not be like 1984.”

The ad established that the Macintosh was going to be a revolutionary product, and it was – before then there were no windows on computers, and no mouses. It also reinforced the reason why Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple Inc. – to start revolutions, to make interaction with technology easier for individuals, to put the power in the hands of each person.

All of Apple’s products have been revolutionary – before the Macintosh, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, the world was a very different place. The success of the company depends on remembering why its founders started the brand.

I’ve just finished a book called Start With Why by Simon Sinek, and the Apple story is one of the best examples of the author’s theme: The greatest successes occur when you are in touch with why you are doing them, and the greatest harmony occurs when your actions are in tune with that “why.”

Competence and a knowledge of what needs to be done – the “how” and the “what” of things – are also essential, and you can be successful mastering just those two parts of the puzzle. But the greatest fulfillment and the most long-lasting success, Sinek argues, happens when the “how” and the “what” are driven by a clear understanding of the “why.”

The genius of the 1984 ad, which ran over the air just once, during that January’s Super Bowl, was that it sprang from Apple’s desire to put the power of computing into everyone’s hands. They didn’t start out wanting to build a great personal computer; they understood why having such a powerful tool on each individual’s desk could make the world better.

I encountered Sinek’s idea in a talk by Michael Victorson, former president of the board of the United Way of Dane County, during United Way Worldwide’s Great Rivers Conference in Milwaukee this February. In part he was saying you can have a successful United Way that determines what it wants to do and creates a great plan how to get there, but if you start by communicating a clear vision of why you’re doing all this, you’ll inspire people to really get behind the effort.

I think that’s true in any human endeavor. We get caught up in the everyday details of the what and the how, and we neglect the basic motivation: Why are we doing this? And that overlooks the basic fact of human nature that we need to have a purpose.

Get in touch with the why, and those everyday details make more sense – or more important, if the everyday details aren’t in line with your purpose, you understand what needs to be revised, and how. Start with why, and everything else follows. And you and your colleagues will be inspired and more motivated.

I suggest, in addition to nabbing Sinek’s book to learn more, you consider taking this approach, especially if you’re feeling stuck and uninspired: Why are you doing this? And keep asking until you find an answer that excites and empowers you. Once you tap into your “why,” you’ll be ready to start changing your world.

– Door County Advocate, April 9, 2014

Monday, April 7, 2014

Release party: The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur

Today at last, at Amazon and Kobo, you can snag a tale decades in the making – the legendary Myke Phoenix adventure, The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur.

It was a cast of a dinosaur foot that resembled the impossible cast made from a footprint of the invisible monster in the classic science fiction film Forbidden Planet. But this cast was on display in a “Dinosaurs!” exhibit at the Neville Public Museum in Green Bay, sometime in the late 1980s-early 1990s.

At the time I was tinkering with the idea of creating a superhero series, and every hero needs an arch-nemesis. Here was an ancient creature built for speed and craftiness, armed with a deadly-looking talon on its feet so formidable that the beast was given the name Deinonychus – the terrible claw.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

4 days to go - In the nick of time

It is with considerable relief that I can now announce there need be no delay in the April 7 release date for The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur, the sixth in the current 12-story series of Adventures of Myke Phoenix, protector of Astor City and super guy extraordinaire.

I will spend the next three days reviewing and preparing this story-you-must-read-if-you-read-no-other-Myke-Phoenix-story for its scheduled release Monday at Amazon and Kobo.

Thank you for your patience this past week as I suspended all other musings about the world to concentrate on wrestling the dinosaur to the ground and extracting her story to share with the world. It has been an interesting exercise that taught me a few things about what it will take to get back on schedule and complete the entire arc on time. I am a fool for asking a mere 99 cents for this amazing tale, but it is no surprise to me that I am a fool.

I certainly encourage you to take advantage of the links in the right column to introduce yourself to the legend of Myke Phoenix. I try to write these stories in such a way that you can join in at any time, but why deprive yourself of the pleasure of the entire journey?

Objective: Release The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur on April 7
This morning's output: 1,456 words, finished first draft.
Session: Approximately 2 hours.
Total words to date: 13,555 (goal 13,500)  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Talking dinosaur update 8 - 5 days to release date

© Ralf Kraft | Dreamstime.com
I have waited 20 years to say it, and only the epilogue remains to be written of the first draft and the speaking of the word: "Finished." This darkest Myke Phoenix story of deadly danger has eluded my grasp since I first conceived of the prehistoric predator who runs Astor City's underworld. I'm hoping this last desperate plunge of authorial activity will give it the punch The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur has always needed.

This story is so special, so important to the Myke mythos, that I'm going to experiment with putting out a print edition. I'm not confident it can be available Monday, when the ebook comes out, but certainly by the end of next week. So if you prefer the crispness of ink on paper to the plastic feel of e-ink, wait a few extra days.

Objective: Release The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur on April 7
This morning's output: 432 words, finished first draft of Act 5.
Session: Approximately 25 minutes.
Total words to date: 12,099 (goal 13,500) 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Talking dinosaur update 7: Still 6 days to go

Objective: Release The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur on April 7
This evening's output: 493 words, finished first draft of Act 5.
Session: Approximately 45 minutes.
Total words to date: 11,667 (goal 13,500)

Talking dinosaur update 6: And 6 days to release

There's just something about a deadline. If I could give fellow writers any advice at all, it would be to put a time and a date of completion on your project, and let no force on Earth allow you to move that deadline. It certainly appears that, even though an ailment sidetracked me Monday, The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur will be released on time.

Objective: Release The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur on April 7
This morning's output: 1,293 words, moving through Act 5.
Session: Approximately 75 minutes.
Total words to date: 11,174 (goal 13,500)