Review ~ The Simple Truth: BP’s Macondo Blowout

“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.” ~ Monty Python

“Nobody expects a novel about the Deepwater Horizon explosion to be reviewed on a vampire-themed blog.” ~ Daven Anderson

Amazon ~ The Simple Truth: BP’s Macondo Blowout

April 15, 1912: The Titanic
April 20, 2010: The Deepwater Horizon.

Two infamous sea disasters that we must keep in our collective consciousness, and from which we must study the lessons, to insure the safety of future generations yet unborn.

When James Cameron set forth to make the R.M.S. Titanic’s tale come alive on the screen, he chose “faction”, a fact-based fiction approach. Cameron’s fictional characters Jack and Rose were always in the “right place at the right time” (more so than any real individual survivors of the Titanic) to tell the most complete story possible about the ill-fated vessel and the hundreds of souls aboard.

In this book, John Turley takes the same approach. Mr. Turley is a retired petroleum engineer with many years of oil-rig experience, so he knew how to create fictional characters who would be in the right place, at the right time, asking the right questions. Specifically, Jessica Pherma, the rig’s geologist. Jessica is the “Rose” asking Thomas Andrews about the lifeboat capacity, only more so. Jessica has access to the highest levels of the rig’s administration, yet she can logically ask the same questions you, the general reader, would ask. Jessica, and all of her experiences in the story, perfectly illustrate Turley’s masterful command of blending fact and fiction into “faction”.

One paragraph in this novel brilliantly illustrated all the reasons why Jessica chose a career in geology, only to find all of those reasons being negated by her presence on the Deepwater Horizon on that fateful evening. This paragraph was a stunning insight into the basic character of what shapes our humanity, never mind that it’s “fiction”.

Make no mistake, this story can get a bit technical at times. Fortunately, Mr. Turley went to great effort to insure that you can choose how far you wish to delve into the technology behind the story. Extensive footnotes and diagrams allow you to dive in as deep as you wish, or you can skip them and stay with the main story. Accessing the supplementary material is in fact easier on the Kindle than it is in the paper book.

Movie producers, take note. If anyone wishes to make a film about the Deepwater Horizon, you should use this book as the base. We all know how successful Cameron’s “right place at the right time” characters Jack and Rose were in making the story of the Titanic come alive for the audience. Turley’s composite characters Jessica, Barry, Tanker, and Daylight succeed as much (or more so) than Jack and Rose did in making the events of a large-scale marine disaster accessible, immediate and moving to the general audience.

John Turley has succeeded in telling the story of the Deepwater Horizon in a dramatic style that will appeal to readers of general fiction, while simultaneously giving you access to the essential, simple truths behind the oversights and general arrogance that led to this disaster. Imagine what a book about the Titanic would have been like if it had been written by the Captain of the Olympic. For the Deepwater Horizon, you don’t have to imagine such a novel. It’s right here, on this Amazon page.

The world needs more people like John Turley, to record for posterity the simple truths behind the large-scale disasters, and present them in a fashion people can enjoy reading while they learn those important lessons.

***

review by Daven Anderson, author of Vampire Syndrome

amusing spam comment (click to enlarge)

Write Naked

One of the most fun things about attending a writer’s conference is taking a class with an instructor who approaches writing in the exact opposite way that you do.

Sunday, 8 am. There I was in Anne Randolph’s “Write Naked” class.
My mere presence in her class was the opposite of my usual method.
Those who write paranormal stories usually favor writing at night.
(who would have thought?)

The reason why she wanted us there in the morning is because our “filters” are off.
Her approach: Put a pen to paper, and off you go. Write something. Don’t think, don’t plan, just write.

I’m one of the most methodical, analytical writers you will ever meet.
I plan out my course of action before I type a word.
Hell, I even “edit” myself when I talk to people. I’m not disposed to brief snips of chit-chat (or I’d be on Twitter!)
When I say something, it’s deliberate. And I’ll use more than 140 characters to do it. 😈

The prime motivation of Anne’s class is to motivate those writers who are stuck in their progress. Free your mind. Get going. Write something. Every day.

I’m not one who is “stuck”, mind you. One day, I write. The other, I don’t. And I must say I somewhat disagree with one of her key points, that you should write every day, just to stay fresh. Yes, you have to learn the art of writing. By doing. But when you learn skills, the point is to retain them. Writing is like riding a bicycle. Once you get to a certain skill level, you are changed on a fundamental level.

Like work. I know my job so well, I can take a month off, then go back to work as if I’d never left. Hell, I could take a year off, and jump right back in. I kid you not.

So why in the world was I in her class?
To challenge my usual modus operandi (method of operation).
Could I just go in there, early Sunday morning, and bang out something straight from the dark recesses of my mind?

I came up with a tale about a suicidal Twilight fan touring Forks, who wants to die in the upstairs bedroom of the “Cullen house” (with all the attendant “Edward watching in the window” fantasies), and the tour bus driver is trying to talk her out of it.

I challenged myself, and succeeded. The above story is an intriguing and unique premise. Yes, I could invert my regular M.O. and still create.

Thank you, Anne Randolph, for allowing me to see the creative process from the “opposite side” of my usual method.

Music Soothes the Savage Characters

Music Soothes the Savage Characters
©April 6, 2011 by Daven Anderson

I’ve been using music (and song lyrics) for my “character building” exercises. Choose three songs that you think represent a particular character. The songs you pick can give you insights into your characters (and even yourself! ) that would not be obvious from any other approach.

Here’s a sample lyric from Devo’s Peek-A-Boo (©1982 Casale/Mothersbaugh), a song I picked for my character Jack:

If you cannot see it, you think it’s not there. It doesn’t work that way.

Jack is a vampire. When you consider that vampires are “hidden” from the normal world, this ostensibly simple lyric takes on a whole new relevance. Jack has become something the normal world “cannot see” and thinks is “not there.” Thus, the quoted lyric has far more meaning to Jack (and his kindred) than to the normal people Devo was admonishing for their lack of vision.

The 1973 Fleetwood Mac song Hypnotized (©1973 Bob Welch) would seem an obvious choice to represent my character Gl’Ag, who is of extraterrestrial descent.

Now it’s not a meaningless question to ask if they’ve been and gone
I remember a talk about North Carolina and a strange, strange pond
You see the sides were like glass, in the thick of a forest without a road
And if any man’s ever made that land, then I think it would’ve showed.

The readers’ perceptions of the character, the novel, and even the author can be dramatically widened by tying in the right song. The lyrical theme of Hypnotized is an obvious “tie-in” for an extraterrestrial-descent character. But the possible interpretations run much deeper. Does the author imply that Gl’Ag’s kind are responsible for the anomalous pond in the woods near Winston-Salem? Are their kind hiding in the “place down in Mexico, where a man can fly over mountains and hills?” Is their mothership the “something” that “flies by their window . . . out on that lawn . . . which is wide, at least half of a playing field?” Are his kind’s hypnotic powers why “what matters most is the feeling you get when you’re hypnotized”?

Connect the right song to your character, and you will find out what Aristotle meant when he said, “The whole is more than the sum of its parts.”

There’s a tendency for authors to view their choices in music as nothing of importance. Something to put on in the background as you type. A song quoted in your pages to spice up your story, at best. This couldn’t be more wrong. Are their choices obscure? Popular? Hackneyed (such as banjo music for a backwoods thriller)? Or do they even bother with music at all? Each of these reflect very different mind sets for both the authors and their stories.

The content of this post should make it clear that each of the songs on my playlist (in my novel’s appendix) is an exercise in character development and character building. Each song I selected says something important about a particular character and makes a comment about the character’s place in my story’s universe.

My writing is intended for those who look for the hidden truths and ask the deeper questions. Yes, I’m aware this is a heavily philosophical approach for a grocery store cashier writing a vampire book. 😉

Readers of my novel who research the lyrics and songs on my playlist will be rewarded with a unique insight into my characters and the novel’s universe. If I’m lucky, a reader or two will be able to make a connection to something I missed. I dream of the time when I can make one of my readers proud at my book signing when I tell them, “You are the first person who got my intended meaning.”

Of course, novels have to stand on their own merits. The connection with music outside the novel is intended for readers who wish to expand their understanding of my novel’s characters and universe. Which leads to my all-time favorite movie quote:

Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.
Lex Luthor in “Superman” (1978)

Your novel has to stand on its own enough to satisfy those who take it simply for what it is. However, great novels should offer a universe of hidden meanings for the readers who wish to dig deeper.

Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as “too much description”

Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as “too much description”
©April 26, 2011 By: Daven Anderson

As writers, we are always told (pun intended) to “show, not tell.” We are supposed to give lavish, detailed descriptions of each and every detail of our characters’ surroundings.

Let me compose an example for you:

My thumb snapped the dry, ancient flint wheel of my tarnished, weather-beaten sterling silver vintage Zippo. The cascading sparks caressed the hissing jet of lighter fluid, setting off a deep blue flame that quickly transformed to a yellow glow matching the bulbs of the streetlights glimmering above. I drew the flame closer to the tiny tobacco leaves in my hand-rolled cigarette, watching them ignite to life in a multitude of burning red hues, ready to render the exquisite pleasure and satisfaction that can only come from inhaling nicotine.

Problem: Is this a realistic train of thought for your character? Does the example above move the story forward? Does it give you any insight into your character’s thoughts?

Here’s what a real-life character would actually think: “Clicked my lighter and took a drag. Nice night for a smoke.”

How about a more realistic, less bogged-down “dramatic embellishment” supplementary suffix to the above two sentences?

Nothing like my old Zippo. Always works through thick and thin. Too bad no one rolls their own smokes anymore, like I still do. Can’t stand those chemical-tasting white coffin nails.

There. Thirty-two words in four sentences. You get the Zippo lighter, the hand-rolled cigarette and how the character feels about them. Without the ninety-word bombast of my deliberately overstated first example.

If you use an excess level of description, not only do you bog down your story’s pace, you are actually taking away elements of the story that can and should be left to the readers’ imaginations.

Too many writers endeavor to describe every last detail of their characters’ world, at the expense of other story elements. I’ve read more than a few books where excess descriptions stop the story in its tracks like a deer caught in the glare of headlights. The characters were pushed so far into the background as to be almost non-existent. If I hadn’t read previous excerpts of these authors’ works, I would have had no clues regarding any of the characters’ motivations.

Many authors seek to create a movie in your mind. The impeccably crafted prose of the books mentioned above most certainly accomplishes that goal. But, I must ask, what is the greatest advantage a novel has over a movie? Being able to get inside a character’s mind.

My readers can imagine the inside of an interrogation room, but they can’t “imagine” the inner workings of my character. This is the reason why I focus on characters’ motivations, not about the rooms they happen to be in.

33 Of The Most Hilariously Terrible First Sentences In Literature History

Update August 2014: Kristen Lamb’s post, addressing WHY there is such a thing as “too much description”

Vampire Love: Thinking Outside The Coffin

Vampire Love: Thinking Outside The Coffin
©May 12, 2011 By: Daven Anderson

Love. The vampire genre is full of “love.” Bookstore shelves are on the brink of collapsing under the weight of an army of paranormal romance titles. Servers for e-books are filled with terabytes of bodice-ripping hunks with fangs.

And therein lies the genre’s biggest problem.

Vampires are, by definition, outsiders. Thus, their experiences of love should also diverge from the normal world. Their dealings with love should be the opposite of the usual “category romance with a sprinkling of paranormal seasoning.” This ceaseless flood of cloned paranormal romance degrades Dracula, debases Bathory, ultimately creating a horde of readers that will never touch the spine of a book with the word “vampire” in the title. Can you blame them?

One of my main motivations for writing is to correct this sad situation.

My character Damien was fourteen years old when he met Lilith, an attractive redhead who appeared nineteen. She was actually a fifty-five year old vampire. Lilith did not bother to inform Damien in advance that consummating their attraction would transform him into a vampire. Even though they are soul mates, and he has remained with her for over 250 years, Damien has never forgiven her for failing to tell him what he would become. This is the reason why Damien seeks solace in the arms of his mistresses, in spite of his wife Lilith’s habit of killing them.

The reason why Lilith didn’t tell Damien is that her first husband didn’t tell her she would become a vampire, either. And Lilith didn’t mind a bit. She loves being a vampire. She sees it as empowerment and deliverance from a menial 18th-century life. Lilith doesn’t think anyone would, or should, ever object to becoming a vampire. Even if they weren’t told about it in advance.

There are way too many books where you can read about a handsome male vampire at long last finding his human female soul mate. Once again, the time is ripe for an author to think outside the (coffin) box and bring the true “outcast” spirit of the vampire back from the, ahem, dead.

What tales of love reside in my novel? Jack, a newly turned young vampire wanting the love of a family, guarded by a Gypsy vampire still mourning the loss of her loved ones. Damien, never forgiving his wife’s act of information omission, seeking comfort in mistresses. Power-hungry Lilith, killing those mistresses to regain control of the “bad boy” husband she loves.

These are not the love stories in your typical dime-a-dozen paranormal paperback. These are the love stories of outsiders.

The love stories of vampires.

The Car Thing: Words of Wisdom from a Gearhead

The Car Thing: Words of Wisdom from a Gearhead
©May 17, 2011 by Daven Anderson

I’ve noticed some readers think my stories have excess detail when I refer to cars by their specific model, even sub-model. The specific references are there to help the clarify the readers’ mental pictures of the character’s cars.

Example: How descriptive are you when you say that your character drives a “Dodge Charger?” Do you mean the muscle car two-door coupe made from 1966 to 1978, the subcompact hatchback made from 1983 to 1987, or the current four-door sports sedan made since 2006? This is a perfect example of where specifying the car’s sub-model is of great help to assist the reader in knowing which Dodge Charger you’re writing about.

By specifying that my character drives an “SRT8″ (sub-model name), not just a “Charger” (model name), I give my readers the important clue they need to know exactly what kind of car he’s driving. Some readers will recognize what an “SRT8″ is immediately, and the rest can Google it.

I ran into the car-model problem myself one evening at our critique group. When I wrote about my character’s “Shelby GT-500″, one person at the table wrote that he loved my reference to the “classic 1960′s muscle-car.” The only problem was, I meant for the car to be the current 2011 model year Shelby GT-500. The next day, I made sure to add “2011″ to my chapter.

It’s true some readers don’t care about cars. The reverse is also true. When Stephen King’s novel Christine was released in 1983, he made numerous factual errors when describing various attributes of a 1958 Plymouth Fury. His errors were even more notorious than usual because the novel’s central character, Christine, is a (supernaturally sentient) 1958 Plymouth Fury.

Even in 1983, error after error leapt out at me from the pages of Christine, yanking me out of the story. Christine was painted “Autumn Red” color, even though the 1958 Fury was only offered in Buckskin Beige. King himself had to explain (after the book was released!) that Christine was special-ordered in red. But he never explained the “Hydramatic transmission lever” (push buttons shift the 1958 Plymouth’s Torqueflite transmission), the “Rocket V8″ air cleaner (did Christine eat an Oldsmobile?), Arnie replacing the “rear door” on a car that had no rear doors, or the non-existent door lock button clamping down as Leigh Cabot eats her burger in the drive-in. The movie’s car builders had to install fake door lock buttons in a 1958 Plymouth to replicate this scene.

The final insult was when I noticed the rear cover’s picture of Stephen King, sitting on the hood of a 1957 (not a 1958) Plymouth. A world-famous author, who could have bought a 1958 Plymouth Fury just for research purposes, or at least borrowed one. What did it say about his “research” when even a teenage reader (before the modern Internet existed!) was laughing at all his mistakes? This is why I swore back in 1983 that if I ever wrote a book, the car details would be correct. My younger self would be proud to see I kept that promise.

Writer vs. YouTube: Spin Spin Sugar

Writer Versus YouTube: Spin Spin Sugar
©June 02, 2011 by Daven Anderson

In the far corner of the ring is “Spin Spin Sugar,” a rock music video by the Sneaker Pimps.

My story is written from the point of view of the young man first seen attempting to change TV channels with the remote.

Dammit. This old piece of junk TV isn’t getting any channels. I give up. Lord, I never should have answered that personal ad. My date’s acting like a total drug addict. She’s in the bathroom. Fully clothed, sitting on the john, yelling out disjointed words.

I glance into the bathroom. My date stares lasciviously as she moans, “I’m everyone, I feel used.” What is she on? I’m the one who’s feeling used here. When a girl invites you to her motel room, you expect it to be just the two of you. Instead, her weirdo 1980′s retro-freak male friend is in the bathtub, wearing day-glow fluorescent clothes, sipping a strawberry milkshake.

She smiles at me and says, “I need you.” Oh, god.

Eighties freak boy stares at me for a second, then throws his milkshake on the bathroom mirror. Jealous, are you? Don’t be. This is the worst date I’ve ever been on in my life.

Great. Now sicko fluorescent retro-boy is licking his spilled milkshake off the mirror.

“Twist for me,” my date yells.

Uh oh. Now I get it. I think they want me for a threesome. Why didn’t she put her ad in Casual Encounters? As if these two weren’t bad enough, someone’s banging on a big African drum in the next room. This is the sleaziest hotel I’ve ever been in. I think she’s a hooker. This must be the place she takes her tricks to.

I bet glow-boy put a roofie in that milkshake. Now that freak’s dropping to the floor in agony, gripping the back of his mohawked head. I’ll be lucky if I get out of here alive and unmolested. Wonder if anyone’s hiding under the bed? I duck down and take a look. Hmm, no bodies, but a bunch of worms are crawling around under there. Gross.

“I want perfection,” my date says as she writhes on the other bed.
Honey, you’re the furthest thing from perfection.

I get up from under the bed and bang on the wall.
“Quit playing that fracking drum,” I yell.
The incessant drumming pauses for a second. I think they heard me.

What else is going on in this hell-hole? And why would some sleazebag hotel like this have a picture of Pope John Paul II on the wall? Must be covering something up. I chuck the photo aside. Aha, a peephole. I kneel down. A girl drinking wine and dancing in black light. Wish I was in that room with her.

Great. Now my date’s crawling across the floor, toward me. Leave me alone, I’d rather look at the other girl.

I gotta get out of this place.