Tuesday, December 4, 2012

I've Migrated My Blog to Wordpress

        All of my posts have been transferred to the new location.

Please click here to go to my Maine Larry Crane blog on Wordpress:


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Crikey! Acorn's calling for new plays again!

It happens every year.  Acorn Productions in Westbrook, Maine announces a call for new plays, and dozens of playwright hearts flutter. In April of 2013, the 12th Annual Playwrights Festival will showcase monologues, 2-minute plays, 10 minute plays, one-act plays and full length scripts. They are "looking for the best new plays by Maine-based playwrights."

There have been a couple of those years when I didn't think I had anything worthy of submitting, but I'm usually sending in at least one entry.  This year, my mind is occupied with following up the publication of my thriller A Bridge to Treachery with another novel, but I know that I won't be able to sit by and watch this deadline pass without submitting something.

This is one of the attractions of writing plays, the thrill of seeing your characters live onstage. In the case of short plays, the relatively short time frame from gestation to production can be irresistible. Writers who have worked on pieces that haven't come together satisfactorily for them yet, can start rummaging around in the drawer with a new incentive to try breathing life into them.  I'll be posting my own progress toward meeting the December deadline.                                               

Monday, September 10, 2012

It's not your father's Army...

...nor his country either. I've just returned from grandson Derek's Army Infantry "Turning Blue" and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) graduation exercises at Fort Benning, Georgia. It's been fifty years since I was last there doing a little training of my own, and I'm here to tell you that the place and the people are nothing like they were back in the day. Is there one enduring image that captures it all?  Sure.  How about several hundred moms, dads, siblings, and girlfriends around the perimeter cheering wildly as the newly minted Infantrymen galloped out of the barracks to 'form up' for the ceremony? The Army of today is definitely paying attention to the need to emphasize public relations in everything they do, as well they should.

Only four decades ago, such a scene would have been inconceivable.  We all know the reasons for that fact, or if we don't know, we should. Suffice it to say that Derek has now joined the 1% of his generation that has or ever will have any direct knowledge of military life, and he soon will also know something about service and sacrifice that the other 99% will never know.

On the way home from Georgia, I talked to another grandson, Henry, who is going to finish up at Amherst this December, and will probably be entering law school in September 2013. We talked about Derek's Infantry training and his ambitions relative to the Army.  Henry plays soccer at Amherst and is no stranger to strenuous exertion, so he shares an understanding of 'sucking it up' when your body's telling you to knock it off already. Henry and I talked about Derek's exposure to working side by side with contemporaries from all walks of life, about having to comply with anything his Drill Sergeant required of him whether it made any sense to him or not, and about the feeling of being a part of something bigger than yourself.

Then Henry said: "I'm not going to be doing anything between December and September.  You don't suppose I could go to Basic, do you?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

How to Participate in Amazon's Discussion Forums

I'm very pleased to welcome novelist and blogger Jeri Walker-Bickett to Learning Curve in my first ever Guest Post! 
Jeri's motto "Let's Learn Together" is an apt theme for her blog: Jeri WB What do I know? (http://jeriwb.com) as it never fails to engage and inform her readers and followers in a variety of interesting subject matter ranging from book reviews, art, author advice, video clip commentary on book adaptations, interviews, and notes on craft.

Jeri is working hard on her forthcoming novel, Lost Girl Road, a ghost story set in the woods of northwest Montana. A July 4th prank leads to a series of shocking and regrettable events when a 13-year-old girl goes missing and her remains are never found. Nearly 30 years later, cousins spin campfire stories about a mountain man, Bigfoot, and the girl’s charm bracelet. Her restless spirit lingers. What does she want? Who’s to blame?

At the same time that Jeri's Guest Post is appearing here, Jeri's review of my thriller goes up on her blog.  Thank you, Jeri.


I would like to thank Larry Crane for the chance to write a guest post for his blog. I made his acquaintance after deciding to post a review of his novel A Bridge to Treachery on my blog. He proposed the topic of Amazon Discussion Forums as an area in need of helpful information. The time it took to research and write this post certainly enlightened me and I hope it will do the same for you as well. Let’s learn together! 

Numerous forums on Amazon buzz with customer discussion and feedback. Such activity presents a great way for authors to connect with potential readers and reviewers in their genre. However, access to the boards is not a straight-forward affair as Amazon’s main page does not contain a link to its forum (which lacks a homepage).  

How do I find Amazon’s discussion forums?
Chances are you’ve stumbled across forums while visiting product pages where related discussion appears at the bottom. Or perhaps you’ve commented directly on a product review. In reality, most consumers would prefer to browse topic lists to find interesting threads to participate.

The original discussion board can be found at http://bit.ly/Q6TFQL and it functions as the home page which Amazon’s current forum lacks. It provides a search box for all topics as well as a link to Amazon’s guidelines for discussion participation. The affiliated Facebook group “Amazon Reviewers” can be found here: http://on.fb.me/Rl7PZ5.

A Google search on “Amazon Discussion Forums” will bring up links to the most popular boards. The Kindle discussion boards are undoubtedly a solid starting place for authors and readers to connect: http://www.amazon.com/forum/kindle

How to search forums?
The default option listed on the side of the discussion screen is to search only within that forum, but the box can be unchecked to enable a search of all customer discussions. A few tips to get better search results:
·         Use double quotes around words to search for phrases: “fiction writers”
·         Place a plus sign (+) in front of words that MUST appear in your results: Top 100 Books +Steinbeck
·         Place a minus sign (-) in front of words that MUST NOT appear in your results: Top 100 Books -Free 

How to follow discussions?
Discussions can be tracked through email or RSS feed. Subscribing via email to an extremely active feed will result in an overflow of email to your inbox. A better way is to subscribe via the topic’s RSS Feed. If you are unfamiliar with using RSS Readers, I’ve written a post I wrote on the topic:  http://bit.ly/PCqJPz

Who can post?
While all visitors to Amazon can read posts in the discussion forums, only actual customers can make comments so long as their account is in good-standing.

What can and can’t be posted?
It should go without saying, but using Amazon’s discussion boards to try to sell your book or otherwise promote yourself in blatant ways goes against their guidelines. Take the opportunity to connect with others based on your common interests and expertise. 

Follow this link to their Customer Discussion Guidelineshttp://amzn.to/OP3lvu

Share the blog love and share this on your favorite social media websites!
This post is only the tip of the iceberg as far as participating in Amazon’s discussion boards is concerned.

As my knowledge grows, I might someday post a related series on my blog: JeriWB What do I know? (http://jeriwb.com).


My Author Interview on Chompasaurus Reviews Blog

Random Effects of Ratings on eBook Sales. What's luck got to do with it?

Well... the answer may well be: a lot! This fact emerged from experiments carried out by sociologists Duncan J. Watts, Mathew Sagalnik and Peter Dodds which Watts described in his 2011 book, “Everything is Obvious* (*Once You Know the Answer)”. Their work focuses on online markets. This post of mine is based on Robert H. Frank’s article on this subject that appeared in The New York Times of August 5, 2012.

Franks describes the researchers experiments thus: They invited subjects to a temporary web site called Music Lab.  The site listed 48 recordings by little-known indie bands. The subjects could download any of the songs free if they agreed to give a quality rating after listening. The average of these ratings for each song then became a proxy for the song’s quality in the rest of the experiment. Importantly, since each subject saw no information other than the name of the bands and the songs, their ratings of each were completely independent of reactions of other subjects.

What does this have to do with marketing your book on say---Amazon?
Think of song ratings in this experiment as the rating that readers give to your book newly added to Amazon.

The result of the first phase of the experiment was that the independent ratings were extremely variable. Some songs got mostly high marks or mostly low marks, but a substantially larger number received distinctly mixed reviews.

The second phase of the experiment differed from the first phase in that two new pieces of information were added to each band and song title: 1) how many times each song had been downloaded by others, and 2) the average rating it had received so far. Eight separate sessions followed this protocol.

This phase is exactly what happens when readers consider whether or not to buy a book on Amazon based on early reviewer ratings.

The result of this second phase was that this social feedback caused a sharply higher inequality in song ratings and download frequencies. The most popular songs were a lot more popular, and the least popular songs were a lot less popular than the same songs rated in Phase 1. Also, each of the eight sessions which involved discrete subsets of subjects, displayed enormous variability in popularity rankings. An example cited in Frank’s article highlighted the results for a song called “Lockdown” by the band 52 Metro. “Lockdown” was ranked 26th out of 48 songs by the subjects who rated songs in the first phase without any information other than the name of the song and the band. But in the second phase which added the ratings given by other subjects in the group, “Lockdown” achieved a ranking of #1 in one of the eight groups, and #40 in another!

This is the crux of the issue when a potential buyer considers the ratings given by earlier reviewers and sees nothing but 3's or less for example. What are the chances that s/he will buy?

So, if “Lockdown” (in the middle of the objective ranks of quality produced in Phase 1) happened to experience the dynamics of the group that ranked it #1 with the social feedback information added it would have been miraculously transformed into the best song of the lot.  If it experienced the dynamics of the group that ranked it #40, it would be the worst.  Presumedly, sales is much affected by perceived quality. What dynamics, you may say? Well, the dynamics of the sequencing of the ratings, that is, do the early ratings reflect favorably, unfavorably or neither, for instance. If the sequence of ratings is completely random, a big if, it means that luck is everything.

So, if early reviewers are ecstatic about your book, you have a much better chance of making the sale when subsequent potential buyers consider it based on these high rankings. Nothing new about this.

As Frank points out, “the most striking finding was that if a few early listeners disliked the song, that usually spelled its doom.  But if a few early listeners happened to like the same song, it often went on to succeed. In their experiments, the sociologist researchers showed how feedback could be a vitally important random effect. Any random differences in the early feedback we receive tend to be amplified as we share our reactions with others. Early success —even if unearned — breeds further success, and early failure breeds further failure. The upshot is that the fate of products in general– but especially of those in the intermediate-quality range – often entails an enormous element of luck.  Chance elements in the information flows that promote success are sometimes the most important random factors of all.”

The lesson here would seem to be that independent of how good your book is, it's fate in the Amazon market place is determined largely by lots of early ratings that just might be extraordinarily bad for no other reason than the fact that of all the ratings your book will receive, the early bad ones begot more bad ones. Of course, the opposite could happen too; good early ratings that inflate the perceived quality of your book.


Querying Bloggers

Anne R. Allen's Blog: How to Query a Book Review Blogger—and Combat Paid-Review Mills

My Review

VenceremosVenceremos by Howard Waxman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I discovered Venceremos in the Book Section of the Portland Press Herald.  Howard Waxman is from Bath, a neighboring town. Most of all though, I was attracted to the novel because of its subject matter - the late 60's early 70's years when young men had a lot to think about with respect to the turmoil surrounding our involvement in Southeast Asia, a subject that will always be stuck in my craw. The protagonist, Jay Cardinale, who I assume bears at least some resemblance to Waxman is a character whose experiences and decisions couldn't be much farther from my own.
Jay Cardinale is a wounded Vietnam vet at home in the 1970s recovering when he deserts the Army and flees to Vancouver where he gets involved with the antiwar movement. The complications of his life multiply rapidly as he gets involved with militants like the Weathermen as well as the flower children. Soon he finds himself in Cuba cutting cane as a member of the anti-imperialist Venceremos Brigade, and secretly plotting to kill someone in order to earn clemency and a ticket back to America.

Waxman relates the story with a first person POV and a wry, smartass tone. The writing is spare, and the tale moves along smartly with a mountain of twists and turns at the end. The first person POV often seems to get in the way of a richer descriptive rendering of locations in the Cuban countryside and in Havana and other places, as well as of people in general. The few details revealed of Jay's war experience in Vietnam strain credibility. Nevertheless, Venceremos is an entertaining tale sprinkled with humor and tastefully done sex.

Waxman paints Cardinale as a very believable hapless 21 year old over his head in a pot of political intrigue. An interesting revelation is that Jay Cardinale's relations with his comrades in the anti-war movement include the fundamental feelings of kinship found in nearly all small units of the US Army Infantry.  It's a good read.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Are Readers of Fiction Like Actors in a Movie?

According to actor/novelist Molly Ringwald, they are.  In an article in the Sunday New York Times of August 19,  Molly lays out a scenario in which all the collaborators in the making of a movie - director, camera man, sound designer, lighting technician, actor, etc - all maneuver to influence the version of the film that finally appears on the neighborhood screen. Miss Ringwald extends this thought all the way to readers of fiction. 

She writes: “When I write fiction, I know exactly how the words should sound in my head, but it’s up to the readers to imagine for themselves how they sound. In a way, then, fiction readers are turned into actors.”  One imagines a wrestling match in which readers of fiction join multitudes of film collaborators grappling to inflict their particular interpretation (to the extent they can, of course) on the final product - the movie or the novel.

The wrestling is probably most intense in the case of an actor approaching a role in a film. Molly describes her need as an actor to create a complete back story for the character she was to play. She writes: “Our job, as the cast, was to find the humanity in the stereotypes that we had been assigned...  After a while though, these exercises began to feel a little incomplete. I could control only my character.  Ultimately, the character’s destiny was controlled by the writer.”  A battle for control of the story, alas.  She extends to this:  “Warren (Beatty) is another actor who became unsatisfied with only acting as a ‘gun for hire’. He found the idea of performing only in someone else’s script like squeezing into a twin bed when your body would rather unfurl in a king. That and the desire to decide exactly what a person sees is part of that control.”

Molly Ringwald, novelist, ends by describing how a friend after reading her novel presents a highly detailed description of one of the characters all the way down to the breezy hippie dresses she wore, a description that came nowhere close to Molly’s vision, I presume. She writes:  “It was at this moment that I realized that writing fiction gives you only the illusion of control. Ultimately, I believe that the true collaboration involves the audience, or in the case of the novelist, the reader.  These are the people who truly make the characters live.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Is a play script just an "information delivery system"?

In the previous post I provided a link to the book: Off Off Broadway Festival Plays 34th series. One of the short plays in the book is called
"Realer Than That" by Kitt Lavoie.  Kitt is the Artistic Director of The Cry Havoc Company, which focuses on developing new plays. www.cryhavoccompany.org

 If you follow the link you find the web page of Cry Havoc Company and the Cry Havoc Podcast, a series of recorded discussions of subjects related to developing new plays.


This is a link to an mp3 recording of a discussion of the "Elements of a Well Written Play"

It's interesting subject matter, complete with the assertion that a play script can be thought of as an information delivery system. A script is also described as a blueprint of a production, and as a skeleton - the structure of a body whose muscle, skin, hair etc. is provided by the director, actors, and other artists associated with a production of the play.

Playwrights may be more than a little taken aback by this. But it is an idea that is firmly dug into the thinking of theater people who also believe that the playwright often doesn't actually understand what his/her play is about, and it is only after the director and the cast get their hands on it and work with it that the play within the script emerges.

I wonder if David Mamet eagerly awaits the magic that a developmental theater company performs on a new script that he might hand over to them? I've also heard it said by some well known actors and directors that their sole purpose in producing a play is to serve the vision of the playwright.  What do you think?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ever Try Writing a Short Stage Play?

The Samuel French Off Off Broadway Festival which began in 1975 is one of the nations most established and highly regarded short play festivals.  In 2009, over 700 short play entries from across the nation were submitted to the competition to select the top 40.  From these 40 entries performed over a week in New York, six short plays were chosen by a panel of theater experts and emerged as the winners.  They received a fully staged production in New York, publication, and licensing contracts. Samuel French Inc. states that the festival “fosters the work of early career writers”. Since anyone can think of himself as an early career writer, why not?

Actually, The Samuel French Festival is at the top end of the trend in the theater community at large in the US of embracing the short play.  All across the country, professional and amateur community theater companies are sponsoring short play competitions and productions. Is this because the attention span of audiences is getting shorter? Who knows? But the trend towards festivals of shorter plays is an opportunity for writers of all kinds to get more exposure than they are likely to enjoy submitting short stories for publication and waiting endlessly for a response, and all too often never getting one..

Just don’t under-estimate the level of skill required to write an effective short play. A short play is a story, no question.  But, it is a story presented almost totally in dialogue. The playwright sees the action in his/her head, provides stage directions to create the initial setting, and to lay out the character interactions as the play unfolds.  But the story is specifically designed to end up as a  live visual performance on a stage before an audience.  The audience is not privy to stage directions included in the script, nor are they provided with the thoughts and feelings of the characters except as they observe them in the actors on stage. So, writing a play involves embedding back story, exposition, and emotion in the words the characters speak, and in their physical actions on stage. The overall effect is collaborative effort involving director, actors, and the rest of the artistic team. But, it still starts with written words on a piece of paper or a computer screen. It is a story, and the techniques of the story telling craft apply.

Are stage play stories different in some fundamental way? Not really. Here are brief “reviews” of the six short plays that emerged from the winnowing process employed by the 2009 Off Off Broadway Festival: (These are sketchy descriptions of subject matter, and not meant to even approach the workings of the plays, to reveal endings or to interpret meanings.)

Drop : Mike and Ric (20-30 years old) are seated in the lead car of a roller coaster stuck at the top of a steep incline.  Ric offers reassurance to Mike who reveals that  he is afraid of heights. Jackson, apparently a repairman, appears suddenly climbing around in the scaffolding. He opines that “you gotta put yourself in danger sometimes”. Clever dialogue. A twist at the end.

The Education of Macoloco: Macoloco informs the audience that they are about to see him educated by his mother Anessa at various ages: eight, thirteen, twenty-five.  Anessa educates by requiring the boy to fire back answers to questions like: How do you know a pig is having an orgasm? The boy’s absentee father appears and speaks first in a thick german accent, then french, then russian then italian. 

Realer Than That: Jared and Colleen (both age 26) meet in an economy motel room. Colleen pounces on him and aggressively pursues sex. Back story emerges from the dialogue. They were high school lovers. She married two months after graduation.  They haven’t seen each other since. Complications ensue as Jared and Colleen reveal how the facts of their early relationship have morphed into alternate realities.

The Student: Hugh Simms (about 40) is a writing teacher and aspiring author. Burt, a 50 ish businessman is taking Hugh’s writing course in evening adult school.  Their discussion of  the story that Burt has written reveals much.  Hugh thinks of himself as a failure. Burt is taking the class not to eventually get published, but to understand himself by writing what is in his heart.

Thucydides: A soldier on his way back to Iraq meets a Princeton student in an airport. Their conversation reveals the differences in their lives and in their destinations.

Just Knots: Dennis and Patty (both 20s-40s) meet at an indoor kiosk in a mall. Dennis sells his ability to tie knots. Dennis by the end understands why Patty wants to employ him.

Seeing a play script will help in addressing questions you may have about format, or about how somebody who knows what they’re doing laid out a story.  You can buy the Off Off Broadway Festival Plays 34th Series at Amazon:


Why try to write in the short play format instead of continuing to work on your short story?

 Because the opportunities for exposure for your work seems to be greater these days in the theater world.  Feedback on your efforts seems to come quicker, and it is specific to the immediate effectiveness of the story whether it’s in the form of reactions of an adjudicator for a festival, by a theatre group or by just friends gathered around a table. The possibility of seeing your characters alive on stage will light your fire every time.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Anatomy of a GR Book Giveaway

On May 3, on Goodreads, I offered nine free signed paperback copies of my novel A Bridge to Treachery to anyone who wanted to read it. My motivation was to increase reader exposure to the book in hopes that this would result in increased sales and reviews. The offer was good until June 3. The cost to me was about $15 per book including shipping. I also advertised on GR at a total cost of about $65.  The offer resulted in 650 readers indicating that they would take me up on it.  About 60 readers added "Treachery" to their "to read shelf".  I shipped the books to the "winners" of the GR random selection of 9 readers out of the 650 interested on June 4.  So far, I have had one of the lucky nine post a review, and one reader from among the unlucky post a rating on GR. There is some indication that the Kindle Edition of the book got a small sales bump at Amazon, but there have been no reviews there that I can attribute to the giveaway.  I have no idea how much time I should allow before I can realistically expect to get more reviews. I will see if sales of the paperback edition got a bump when I get my next quarterly royalty check from Brighton Publishing LLC.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Five Reasons to Find the Novel in Your Full Length Play

In the first post I declared that there certainly is a novel to be found within your full length play.  But it won't be an easy job pulling it out. The effectiveness of the story told in a play depends so much on the director, the cast, the set, lighting, and sound -- all of the collaborative elements of the art form.  I'm not sure I completely agree but it's been said that a play is a 'blueprint" of a story.  Unless your name is Arthur Miller or David Mamet you probably are not going to have much to say about what takes place on stage.  Many grad schools in their MFA program teach that the playwright often does not even know what the essence of the story is. It takes the collaborative process to allow it to emerge. Now, that's another discussion altogether.  Let's get to the reasons to find your novel in your already completed full length play.

Reason One:  You've already tackled the hard parts.  In putting your play to paper you've decided on the central characters and the setting.  You've arrived at the essence of the story that you want to tell.  You decided long ago that this was a story worth telling.

Reason Two:  Chances are your novel will go farther than your play ever will. This is not exactly the golden age of the stage play with theaters all across the landscape eagerly awaiting the next new play. Professional theater has an extremely hard shell that few playwrights ever crack. Amateur theater groups in this country rarely if ever do anything new. It's an actor's medium, especially at the local level. Meanwhile, the publishing industry is undergoing radical change.  There's no need anymore to wait for publishing lightning to strike.

Reason Three:  Revision is easier and more fun.  You've developed a manuscript of 80 pages or more that contains your story. Now, it's fleshing it out, tweaking it, "opening it up".

Reason Four:  Your story's structure is in place.  You know what's at stake in the story. You've already created an arc.  You know what the climax is.

Reason Five:  Your characters already have their voice.  Probably more than anything else, you labored over a distinctive voice for each of your characters. Lots of the dialog can be lifted right off the page.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Can a novel be hiding out in your full length play?

The answer is yes, of course. But do you really want to go there? The proposition raises issues all over the place.  What issues?  A story is a story, play shmay, right?  Well, if you've written a full length play, you've spilled your blood all over the pages. You've chosen the stage as the place where your story will be told perhaps because you could not imagine a more satisfying experience as a writer than actually seeing your heroine alive and walking about before your eyes, and she's saying your words.  You will sit in a darkened theater and suspend your disbelief along with the audience as the story unfolds in three dimensions. Wow.

You crafted scenes that taken together are the essence of your story. You've implied back stories for all your characters that are revealed in their dialogue and their motivations. It's all clear to you and you have supplied stage directions for the director, cast and crew to make sure of it. But is it really crystal clear? Or have you surrendered absolute clarity to a collaborative conception? Above all else a play is a collaboration for sure. I mean, would a novelist ever leave the heroine's physical presence up to someone else's vision? That's exactly what happens when auditions and call backs for a play have been completed and your heroine is cast.

You see what I mean about issues. Do you really want to go there?

Monday, June 18, 2012

About My Blog

This a  place to talk about the process of  'getting there' in the worlds of playwriting and thrillers.