A case of hummingbirds

For the past few days, my wife and I spent a lot of time photographing hummingbirds around the house. These beautiful, little birds can be mesmerizing and it is often surprising to watch just how inquisitive they are. Some of them are truly quite fearless.

Hummingbird

Since we’re using camera flashes in order to properly highlight the birds against the background, it was very interesting to see that some of the birds were actually attracted by the flash. More than one of them flew straight for the camera to take a closer look what that thing is and where the light comes from.

These birds are also very territorial. You can notice that one bird often “owns” a feeder and whenever another hummingbird tries to approach it, the owner will bully the new arrival away with loud chirps and chatter, as well as physical violence if need be, chasing the intruder away.

Hummingbird

At one point my wife decided that we should try to photograph the birds from a different angle, and, perhaps, a little more exposed to the natural sunlight so that the flash would not flatten out the colors too much. We lowered the feeder about 15 inches, set up the camera and waited with remote release in hand.

Interestingly, the birds first flew to the exact spot where the feeder used to hang. Seemingly perplexed that it was no longer there, you could see them hover around for a moment before noticing that it was simply hanging a little lower. I found this very surprising.

As humans, we would take in the bigger picture from a distance, see the feeder and directly home in on it, regardless of its change of position. Not so these birds. Obviously they are a lot more hard-wired. They seem to remember locations in a more dimensional space, it would suggest, as if driven by an internal GPS. Sight seems to come only second to that.

Hummingbird

I found this behavior incredibly interesting, though if you’re asking me why I am telling you all of this, I can understand that, too. As I was thinking about the birds’ behavior some more, I realized that I could actually use this in a book at some point. No, I am not planning to pit my Victorian era occult detective Jason Dark against a hummingbird from hell, but this behavioral pattern could be used to solve a mystery. If, for example, the crime scene were moved and the perpetrator were lured to it, showing up at the wrong place would clearly be an admission of guilt. I mean, that’s what Columbo would have done, right? And he always got his man.

HummingbirdIt’s a pretty good idea, I think, thank you very much. But don’t send me fan mail just yet, I still have to create a plot around it and write the story.

On the subject of hummingbirds, you may also be interested that my wife released a children’s picture book a little while ago, called Growing up Hummingbird, which shows the first two weeks in a hummingbirds life, as experienced and photographed by her early this spring in our backyard.

You can get a copy of the book at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Kobo and in the Apple iBookstore.

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I am a huge fan of the Kindle. Always been. I owned a first-generation Kindle and in my mind, the Kindle was every bit as revolutionary a product as the iPhone. A game changer.

However, as great as it is, even the Kindle is not perfect. I am not talking here about buttons being too small or somesuch thing. I am talking about the software implementation in the device.

Over the past two years I have formatted hundreds of e-books, as I’m sure you know. I have formatted books for NYT best-selling authors, for publishing houses, midlist authors and indies alike, and I have been able to study many of the idiosyncrasies of the ebook readers in the market close up.

The Kindle has a number of firmware bugs that have unfortunately not been corrected in its three-year lifespan or its three platform generations. At first I was always willing to admit that it was easy to forget that Amazon is simply not a software company but a retailer. So the experience pool is simply not there and mistakes happen.

As the competition mounts we can no longer be so forgiving, I suppose. Apple shows everyone how it is done with an ePub implementation on their iBooks platforms that not only lives up to spec for the most part, but extends it with significant improvements. Apple may drop the ball entirely on the store side of iBooks, but that’s a different story for another blog post.

I think, however, that Amazon can no longer afford to let things like these firmware bugs slide and should take steps to address them properly. Not only in the current or upcoming platform generations, but backwards also, to make sure all Kindle users enjoy the proper, highest quality e-book experience they are looking for.

Here is my list of 10 Things that Amazon should correct in the Kindle.

  1. Let’s start with a simple one. Image transparency. The Kindle supports PNG images but not the format’s transparency settings. Instead it renders the background white. This would be a simple software fix to correct the issue and could be done in a few minutes. In fact, it is surprising that this bug exists at all because PNG transparency is one of the image format’s most basic features.

    Transparency error
    Notice how the background of the image is white against the sepia paper color, while it should be transparent.
    Click on the image for a larger view
  2. Em-spacing. As a book formatter em-spacing is the key to all good formatting, because it allows for proportional scaling of the content, which is key for applications in which text is free flowing – such as e-books.?Currently the Kindle miscalculates the size of em entirely, making it about 4 times larger than it should be. Proper formatting using em-spacing is therefore problematic on the Kindle and I am sure everyone agrees that spacing in pixels is unacceptable in a world where display sizes range from the tiniest cell phone to the largest tables and desktop screens.
  3. Margins are also a sore topic on the Kindle. Not only are margins calculated incorrectly as a result of the em-spacing error mentioned above, the Kindle completely ignores all margin-right settings. To make matters worse it ignores all padding-right information also. As a result it is impossible to space text properly in various occasions.
  4. Border properties are also ignored in many cases. Depending on your Kindle generation or software you may or may not see borders that have been created using the border style attributes in the e-book.
  5. One of the biggest issues, perhaps, is text justification. The Kindle does not properly justify text. Every few lines or so it will suddenly create a ragged line, throwing off the formatting. This is clearly a software bug that should have been addressed long ago but for some reason it hasn’t been addressed even though it is at the heart of the most basic function of the Kindle, the actual flow of text paragraphs.

    Justification error
    Notice how the lines in the top paragraph are ragged when, in fact, they should be fully justified.
    Click on the image for a larger view

  6. Going along with this issue is the lack of hyphenation. While the Kindle software reader software support hyphenation, the Kindle devices do not. Now, I can understand that perhaps the dictionaries necessary to do proper hyphenation may be too large to fit on a Kindle or may be too processing intensive – though I honestly doubt it, giving modern software technologies – the fact that the Kindle does not even support HTML’s soft-hyphenation is really a disappointment. Hyphenation is integral part of text flowing and I am not sure why it has been so overlooked for all this time.
  7. Early generations of the Kindle also do not support tables. When at first the Kindle arrived and was used for novels mostly, this was perfectly fine, but as the acceptance of e-book readers grows, so does the diversity of the books, and, let’s face it, text and reference books need tables. There is always a need to be able to tabulate content, something the Kindle makes impossible. While the current Kindle generation supports tables, it is a feature that cannot be used because legacy readers do not. This feature should be introduced to the Kindle 1 retroactively with a firmware upgrade also to ensure uniformity across all generations.
  8. Another point of contention is object floating. The float property is not part of the mobi e-book specifications, but let’s face it, these specs are older than your last computer. Amazon has bought the company that developed the mobi e-book file format but sadly the development and extension of the format has completely seized, making the Kindle the only e-book reader with a completely outdated e-book format. Before you tell me that Amazon also allows ePub submissions at this point, let me remind you that Amazon converts these ePub files into mobi files before delivering them to users, stripping the e-books of all ePub specific features.?The float properties would allow text to float around images, giving us not only the opportunity to insert images into the text, but they would also make graphical drop caps a possibility at last.
  9. What is also missing from the Kindle is a way to properly deep link to other books in the Kindle store. Sure you can use a link to Amazon’s website and insert it into your e-books, but did you ever look what happens? The Kindle tries to display the Amazon website on its screen, rendering it garbled and virtually unreadable. Why not give Kindle authors the chance to link to page that has been optimized for the Kindle like the one the Kindle pulls up when you search and purchase a book directly on the device.?I cannot tell you how many emails I have exchanged with Amazon on this subject but for some reason the support staff does neither seem to understand the issue, nor care much about it. I was continually referred to use either regular Amazon web links or some XML links that the Kindle could not even interpret properly.?Since upselling more books would be in Amazon’s interest every bit as much as in the authors’, I am flabbergasted at Amazon’s disinterest in providing such a specialized deep link.

    Store page
    This is what a deep link to the Amazon store looks like on the device. Not very useful, is it? Most of it is not at all readable.
    Click on the image for a larger view
  10. Last, but not least, Amazon should spend some time to make sure the software versions of their readers are actually representative of the devices. They do have the best software readers out there — don’t get me started on the Nook software reader that can’t even center text and will crash in 9 out of 10 times — but the way a book looks in the reader is not representative of the device at all? Why is that? Just use the same fonts, the same firmware routines and things should look identical. It is called code portability and I’ve done it for 10 years on cell phone games, making games look the same on hundreds of different phones.

As you can see, these are some basic flaws and it is surprising that they have been sliding by for so long. The things in question are not tied to hardware issues at all. They are all simple software bugs that can be addressed without too much of a hassle. It is really not rocket science. All it requires is a little discipline.

If you agree with me, maybe you would join me in telling Amazon about these issues and reminding them that in order to remain the market leader, they will have to make sure they continue to deliver a superior experience.

Send them an email at kdp-support@amazon.com. Send them a link to this bog post or pick your favorite flaw and ask if they could please fix it. Maybe together we can direct Amazon’s attention towards these software errors that truly deserve to be fixed.

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Only now I realized that, despite posting about the preparations for the launch, I have never actually informed you that my middle-grade chapter book “Kitt Pirate: Snaggletooth’s Treasure” has actually been released.

Kitt Pirate cover
As I mentioned before, I have settled on the pen name Ben Oliver for this release, to create a bit of separation between the horror books I’ve been writing before, and this children’s book. It seems the sensible thing to do to me, although it does create a lot more work and can cause a bit of confusion here and there. Who am I today? Guido Henkel or Ben Oliver?

For those of you with kids somewhere between 7 and 10 years, you may want t to give the book a closer look. It is available as an e-book for $2.99 in all major distribution outlets, and it is also available as a paperback for only $5.99 on Amazon and Barnes&Noble. So, whichever format suits you best, feel free to support my efforts and my work and grab a copy for yourself. It is — I think — a fun adventure read with a great main character and it features a couple of cool pencil illustrations by my friend Juan F. Garcia, who also created the cover.

Here are some quick access links for you to find the book.

Amazon Kindle
Amazon Paperback
Barnes&Noble Nookbook
Barnes&Noble Paperback
Apple iBookstore

And, while we’re on the subject of children’s books, I also want to let you know about two other e-books that have originated in our household. My wife has released two picture books for toddlers. Although available as e-books only, they have been designed specifically for larger display e-book readers, such as tablets and laptop computers.

Hummingbird cover
The first book is “Growing up Hummingbird,” a wonderful look at the first two weeks in the life of a hummingbird. From the moment the eggs were laid to the day the little birds were fledging and leaving the nest for good, my wife has captured the key moments with her camera and put them together in a kid-friendly picture book for toddlers to experience.

Amazon Kindle
Barnes&Noble Nookbook
Apple iBookstore
Kobo

Beach cover
Down the same lines, she released “At the Beach,” a collection of photos from the beach. Colorful and complemented by simple first words, the book will easily grab a toddler’s attention and keep him or her occupied or quite a while.

Amazon Kindle
Barnes&Noble Nookbook
Apple iBookstore

Both books are available for only 99 cents on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Apple iBookstore and Kobo. Feel free to grab copies and see if your toddler enjoys these colorful picture books.

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The Table of Contents in the digital age

Oftentimes when I send out a finished e-book to a client after I completed the formatting for them, I get an email that asks me, “Why is the Table of Contents in the back?”

The more I thought about it, the more I felt it is something I should probably talk about here on my blog, because there are a number of reasons why placing the Table of Contents — or TOC — at the end of an e-book makes a lot of sense.

Traditionally, in print books that is, the TOC served for readers to orient themselves within a book. You would simply crack the book open, go to the TOC, look for the chapter of interest and then go from there until you got to the chapter you were looking for. We all know where to find a TOC in a print book — in the front — and through years of practice we have learned to use our eye to estimate a position of a certain page number within the whole of a book.

In an e-book things look a little different, however, because if the TOC is in the front, and you are currently reading on page 560, you will have to do a lot of paging to do in order to get to that Table of Contents. Hundreds of button presses are in order… That doesn’t sound cool, does it? No, instead e-book readers have a button that takes you to the TOC, so that a simple button press takes you to a menu from which you have direct access to the table of contents. From anywhere in the book. And you won’t even lose your current reading position.

Hold on a minute, doesn’t that mean…? Yes, it does. The word menu means that the TOC does no longer have to be in the front of the book, because no matter where it is, the e-book reader always finds it for us and displays it in its Contents menu. In fact, it does not have to be part of the actual book text itself at all anymore.

Yeah, but you’re traditional-minded, right? Like, you never thought you’d be using a digital thingie-ma-whatsit to read books on anyway, because you like the feel of a bound book. And because you are a traditionalist, you want your TOC in the front nonetheless, just for tradition’s sake.

Well, not only have you obviously made the switch to digital despite your traditional preference of the printed book, but take it from me, you also want to adapt to modern TOC usage. There is a very good reason why you would not want your TOC in the front of the book.

Apart from the fact that it can potentially give away major plot points through chapter titles, which would be the first thing people see when they open your e-book, the main reason is a thing called reading samples. How does that make sense? Well, think of it this way. When Amazon creates an excerpt of the first 20% of your book to allow people to sample it for free, they take it from where in the book? The front, that’s where.

So, instead of using that exceedingly valuable space to hook your potential future readers and clue them into the premise, your style and the story of your masterpiece, you are boring them to death with a Table of Contents that contains — at its worst — nothing but a three-page list of the numbers 1 to 85. Perhaps you also threw in about five pages of legalese and credits and acknowledgments and such.

Honestly? I don’t think that’s a particularly good way to win over potential readers, let away convince them to give you their hard-earned money for the effort. Therefore, it makes sense to put non-essential things, such as a Table of Contents, in the back of the book where people can reach it but are not forced to sit through it and most importantly, where they are not bored by it when they first open your e-book or reading sample. First impressions are vital — never forget that.

This is no longer the world of print books. Things have evolved and the Table of Contents has evolved with it. Not only has its placement in the book become irrelevant, it has become interactive and therefore deserves special treatment in every possible way.

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The Kitt Pirate cover got another rework

Last week I told you about my upcoming middle-grade book, Kitt Pirate and also showed you the cover artwork for the book. Well, as these things go so often, we actually made a number of change to the cover because there were a few things that Juan, my wife and I felt could still be improved.

So, Juan had another go at the cover and added some more detail. The result is an incredible cover artwork, I feel, that is definitely stronger than the one I showed you last week. More fleshed out, it hits the nail perfectly on the head in my opinion and if a solid cover were any guarantee for stellar sales, I am sure that Kitt Pirate would have to become an instant bestseller when it is released. Naturally, things are not all that easy, but hey, one can dream, right?

Preliminary Kitt Pirate Cover

You may also notice from the cover that I have settled upon a pen name for the book. After much deliberation I have decided upon the name Ben Oliver. My wife and I felt that the name has a certain playful quality and a good ring, so we thought for children’s book it may be a good choice. So, there you have it. Let me know what you think of both, the improved cover and the name.

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The scoop on my middle-grade book

Some of you may recall that I mentioned before that I have been working on a middle-grade book for some time. Well, the book is essentially finished and almost ready to be published and I thought I’d give a quick heads-up, as to what it actually is.

Please meet Kitt Pirate!

Kitt Pirate Logo

As the title suggests, this is the story of a young pirate. A young lad who is captain of a bunch of salty pirates as they sail across the Caribbean in search for treasure and plunder. But they’re not the kind of bunch who will slaughter and kill just about anyone.

Kitt and his gang have a mission. they have decided to take the money from the rich and put it to use to help the poor – of which there are many. Under the oppression of the Spanish, the French and the English, no one in the Caribbean is safe from these greedy, gold-hoarding invaders, and Kitt feels it is only apropos for him to return the favor.

The book I wrote is called “Kitt Pirate: Snaggletooth’s Treasure.” Kitt has come across a treasure map that promises unfathomable riches and for months he and his crew have been sailing across the cerulean seas in search for the elusive island where the treasure is rumored to be buried. When at last it surfaces on the horizon, nothing can stop them… or so they thought.

I have been working with an old friend of mine, Juan Fernando Garcia, to provide me with interior illustrations for the book, as well as the cover artwork. I’ve worked with Juan before, as he was one of the artists on one of the game projects I was producing for Squaresoft, and I knew his style would be perfect. not only is he a killer pencil artist, but he has also branched out into other areas and has recently worked on comic books as well as — I am not kidding you — candy packaging for kids. So, clearly, he was the perfect man for the job, and as you can see from the cover artwork below, it shows.

Preliminary Kitt Pirate Cover

For the past few days I’ve been formatting the book for its digital release and I’ve been tweaking the cover and I am now at the point where I could theoretically upload the book to distribution channels.

There’s only one snag, which keeps me thinking. My name…

I know it sounds weird, but I am seriously considering publishing this book under a pen name. Why would I do that? The main reason in my mind is that it would allow me to separate my horror books from this children’s book. While my Jason Dark mysteries are not overly explicit most of the time, I think they are definitely not suitable for fourth or fifth-graders, at which I am targeting Kitt Pirate. The last thing I’d want is for them to google my name because they liked the book and ending up reading some of my horror fiction. I am sure every parent can appreciate that sentiment — I know, I do.

So, that raises the question, what pen name should or could I use, and that’s what’s holding me up right now. A pen name is something, I feel, I need to take seriously. Not only does it allow me to project something into that name — hopefully an exciting sense of adventure for children — but it is something that will stay with me for a long time, as books do not really outmode. I am sure I will come up with a name I find suitable soon enough, and then it’s off to the races!

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The Predatory Kind might be for you!

Today I have more exciting news for you. Like Gord Rollo and Gene O’Neill, I met Joe McKinney during the World Horror Convention in Austin a few months ago, and I was also immediately struck not only by his warm personality, which was particularly evident also during the reading Gene and he held on one of the days.
For those of you, who are not familiar with Joe McKinney’s works, let me tell you that he is for zombie books, what George A. Romero is for zombie movies — a guiding light with sweeping ideas and a knack for great storytelling.

You can find his zombie books on the shelves of any book store in the country — if there’s any left in your corner, that is — but like many traditionally published authors, Joe was reluctant to enter the digital playing field.

While his zombie novels were published as e-books by the respective publishers, he did have the rights to some of his other books, including the e-book rights to his latest book, The Red Empire — more on that later.

To make a long story short, I suggested to Joe to work with me to get his books out on e-books and he soon came back to me with a book called The Predatory Kind. Together we’ve prepared it to be released in all e-book formats and I am proud to let you know that today is the official release date for the book! Yay!

What you have here, is a collection of ten short stories, penned by some of the greatest horror writers of or time, including the likes of Joe McKinney, Scott Nicholson, Joe Nassise, Kealan Patrick Burke, Lisa Morton, Nate Kenyon and others. To say that this book is a heavy weight is an understatement, really, because not only do these incredibly talented and renowned authors lend a hefty amount of credibility to the project, but the stories they deliver in this collection are nothing to sneeze at either.

Exploring scenarios to show that our world is not as safe and secure as we may believe, The Predatory Kind contains supernatural stories about the hunters out there, watching us, stalking us, waiting for their moment to strike. They are the predatory kind!

The Predatory Kind is available now at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and Kobo or only $2.99.

While it may not feature the human flesh-eating zombies we’ve come to know — and perhaps expect — from Joe McKinney, this book offers up about 300 pages of unbridled suspense and terror, so make sure you take a closer look and grab a copy. If the launch of this title will be successful, we will also bring out The Red Empire as an e-book soon, and that is also a book you don’t want to miss — a magnificent throwback at 50’s-style Jack Arnold-inspired science fiction, where a secret government project goes wrong and a wave of flesh-eating red ants sweeps the countryside. Awesome!

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Check out the “Mean Streets”

During the World Horror Convention in Austin earlier this year I had the chance to spend some quality time with horror authors Gord Rollo and Gene O’Neill. Both of them are established and traditionally published authors in the horror genre, that many of you may be familiar with as they’ve published a number of fascinating books.

Both had not made the transition to the digital realm yet at the time, in part because of rights issues, in part because they simply weren’t all that familiar with the process. I therefore offered my help and suggested to take one book and make it a test-balloon of sorts. I would turn the book into an e-book and publish it through my distribution channels under my Thunder Peak Publishing imprint. My hope was that I could convert Gord and Gene to digital believers so that they would get off the traditional balls-to-the-wall, no-future traditional publishing rails.

In the weeks following the convention, Gord and Gene refurbished a short story collection that had been published years. Originally titled “When the City Sleeps,” the book had been out of print for almost just as long and it made a perfect candidate to be turned into an e-book. Ever the professionals, Gord and Gene didn’t just want to put out shovelware and decided to include new material in the e-book. They sat down and wrote two completely new sort stories to be included in the book.

Mean Streets CoverThe result is “Mean Streets,” a collection of seven urban tales of terror, and I can tell you this is signature Rollo and O’Neill material! Sure, I may be biased, but when I read the stories, they really pulled me in and surprised me with interesting twists. In particular “Lord Rat,” one of the new stories, is a real showpiece of smart short story writing. It never fails to intrigue and unsettle, and it takes place in O’Neill’s favorite haunt, the San Francisco Tenderloin district.

But I also enjoyed “Breath of an Angel / Touch of the Devil” very much, which reads like a who-dunnit in a dark, seedy urban setting. Very cool stuff, I can tell you, and definitely worth the read.

“Mean Streets” is now available on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Kobo and Apple’s iBookstore for only $2.99. Maybe you can do me a favor and support the effort. Show Gord and Gene some love — they definitely deserve it — and buy the book,if only to show them that the e-book market is alive and thriving. If this turns out right, both will be more than happy to release more of their work in the digital marketplace.

So, grab a copy and enjoy the urban terrors their wicked minds have thought up. I promise, you will enjoy it!

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Meta-data… what are they good for?

As people tackle the subject of e-book formatting, every once in a while I receive an email with the question, what meta-data in an e-book are actually used for. Since you will have to re-upload your book description, the ISBN and the keyword tags on every distribution channel’s portal again and again, the question clearly becomes, why am I entering it in Calibre in the first place, if it isn’t being put to use?

First, let me say that it is possible to create e-books without most of the meta-data. Things such as the product description, keywords, ISBN identifier, publisher and so forth are not mandatory, so if you feel lazy, you can leave them out.

However… you knew there would be some kind of catch didn’t you? So, however, if you think they are not being used, you are mistaken. Meta-data are being put to use in a number of places, but the most important one for you as a reader is probably the device itself.

Meta Data Example

When you load your book onto your Kindle or Nook, you see a listing of titles in your library. Depending on your settings and your device, you will also see a small thumbnail of the book’s cover. Do you have any inkling, where that comes from? The meta-data you provided, naturally.

But that’s not all. Many devices allow you to sort books by author, again, using the e-books’ meta-data to dictate the sorting. If the library software on your device is a bit more sophisticated it will allow you to categorize books by genres and keywords, using the “keyword” meta-data you have provided in your e-book.

And so it goes, on and on. While I can’t think of any platform that currently makes use of it, it is also easily possible to think of software that allows you to take a quick preview of the book by printing the product description — culled from the book’s meta-data, of course.

It may feel like you are duplicating information over and over again as you prepare your e-books and upload them to distribution portals, and in fact, you are. I, for example, would love for Amazon to retrieve the necessary data from my e-book file by default, for example, saving me the time it takes to enter all that duplicate stuff, but ultimately it is of no relevance. The process is easy and fast enough as it is, so I have no real complaints here.

What is important, though, is to understand that a book’s meta-data are being put to use over and over again, silently, in the background, to make sure your readers will get the most out of the book and their e-book readers. In fact, I would not be surprised to see meta-data expanded upon in the future to include proper library categorization, author biography and cross references to other books by the same author or titles in a series. These additions may just be around the corner, as Apple is already requesting that sort of information when you upload your book to the iBookstore. Hilariously, though, it makes absolutely no use of the information at this time, it seems, as the iBookstore search engine is about as dumb as a piece of bread. But hey, you can’t have everything…

So, is it a good idea to skimp on your meta-data? Probably not, even though it may seem like redundant information.

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Blockbuster – where did you hide?

Every once in a while I pick up a book and as I start reading it, it turns into this revelatory, almost overwhelming, experience. Dos this happen to you, too, sometimes? You start reading and as you make your way through the book you go “How come I had never heard of this book before?” or “Why is not everyone talking about this book?” or something down the lines of “It is a shame this book is so overlooked, because it should be a best seller.”

Blockbuster coverWell, guess what? It just happened to me again and the book in question is Blockbuster by Sven Michael Davison.

The book is an incredibly witty and irreverent take on Hollywood. In essence, it is the written equivalent to something like “Die Hard” — an action story that is superbly balanced with hilarious moments, great characters, cool action and everything else that makes some of those blockbuster movies so memorable — and more.

Imagine, a group of terrorists infiltrate and take over a major Hollywood studio and take everyone hostage, from the action mega stars, the diva directors, the writers, the crew, the assistants, all of mahogany row… everyone. Can you imagine the possibilities this scenario offers? I mean, rally? Why didn’t I think of that?

What makes this book even more irresistible is the fact how it pokes fun at Hollywood, its image, lifestyle, glamor, business, the people. In every paragraph would will find a little nod at a well-known movie, actor or director, and I love the way it is always disguised a little, turning it into a fun little guessing game every time a name or movie title is being dropped.

One might suspect that I am biased when it comes to this book, because Sven and I go back some 10+ years, but I honestly do not think so. In fact, Sven and I have been working in Hollywood at the same time, and that’s how we met, because he used to be one of the head honchos creating DVDs for 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Yes, my friends, if you own any Fox DVD that was released between 1998 and 2009, you can bet your sweet bottom on it that Sven had a hand in it, if only to call up the movie’s stars and book them to record a commentary track or to film an interview featurette or documentary.

And that is just the thing. Sven knows Hollywood inside out. And it shows in his book. There is an authenticity to his story that I can fully attest to. As I said, Sven and I have worked Hollywood during the same time period and I am very familiar with the people, the biz, the lingo, the status symbols, the facade, the schmooze, and so forth.

When Sven describes the circle of assistants, each of whom is trying to get their own project off the ground, each of them using the other to serve as a front for potential investors, it reminds me of the way the game is played in Tinseltown.

When he names his assistant characters with names like “Delicious” or “Botswana,” it may sound funny at first, but interestingly enough, for some weird reason, these are exactly the kind of names you find in the front offices of movie executives.

But it goes much deeper than that in the book. The way people talk, the way they carry themselves, the self-conscious way with which they behave is all too real. Add to that the level of detail Sven puts into adding little nuances about the security guards, the layout and design of the studio lot, the made-up history of his Mogul Studios, or the love for the subject matter when his characters geek out over high-end equipment, and you get a feel for what Hollywood is really like. It may scrape off the pink dreams you may have had, but always with a wink in his eyes, Sven reminds us all that making movies is a business — nothing more and nothing less.

The thing that struck me most from the first sentence, however, was Sven’s use of language. His opening chapter describes the shoot of a blockbuster movie and like the movie itself, his vocabulary is completely over the top. It is the same popcorn-style writing. Absolutely hilarious and off the wall. Rich with adjectives and metaphors, immediately bringing to your mind images of some of the greatest action movies you’ve ever seen.

Then the style changes, as the story moves away from the set and settles into a more realistic tone that is nonetheless as energetic as a sprite, filled with pixie-dust and wonderful wordplay. I found myself relishing every sentence I read.

Anyway, before I get too carried away, as I said in opening, I was completely floored by the book. I had promised Sven to read it some time ago but it took me months to actually get around to it. Boy, do I regret that now. The book is like a fresh breeze.

Do yourself a favor, grab the reading sample on Amazon and check it out. If you are a movie buff or simply someone who enjoys movies for a little escape, you simply owe it to yourself to check Blockbuster out. I guarantee you, the first chapter will hook you completely! To me, Blockbuster was like a kick in the butt, forcing me to face the question, “Will I ever be able to write a book as cool as this?”

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