Friday, September 4, 2015

Virtual Reality Jump

I recently had the opportunity to attend VRLA, a conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center focusing on virtual reality technology. I had attended a much smaller demo event created by the Producer's Guild of America last November, but this was the first full-scale industry conference.

VRLA focused primarily on accessible technology - viewers and experiences that can be accessed by the general public at minimal investment. Samsung GEAR VR, a product that works with the Galaxy Note smartphone, was available to demo - I swam with sharks - but more common across the floor was Google cardboard - a simple no-to-low cost VR viewer that works with a number of difference smartphones including iPhone and Android products. Google was giving away these viewers free, and variations were available at a number of other booths. By downloading free or low cost apps from Apple's App Store, or the equivalent, it's now easy for anyone to experience immersive VR, and likely build interest for the higher-resolution, dedicated (and much higher cost) hardware just over the horizon.

Most VR software is in its infancy - more short demos than fully implemented programs. Once you've experienced this world, however, you will be stunned by the potential. I've shared my experience with dozens of people over the last week, from eleven years old to seventy-two. No one came away unimpressed. Apps vary in resolution and interactivity, but this is clearly only the beginning.

Here are just a few of the apps that have most impressed me as I've explored the VR landscape over the past week. Most experiences won't last longer than a few minutes. Make sure to put on your headphones!

DinoTrek VR
Always my first choice when introducing VR, this program offers a journey through a landscape of fully animated dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes - flying, fighting and caring for their young. Make sure to look over your shoulder - a T-Rex might be right behind you. More scenes will be added later.

InMind VR
You'll shrink down and journey through the human brain to conquer depression by destroying red neurons. How do you fire your weapon? Just stare! A great example of the potential educational games in the VR arena.

The beginnings of a VR ghost story. You're sitting on a sofa in a creepy old parlor. A doll lies on a shelf behind you. The television shows static. Things start happening.  Though just one scene so far, this is a great indication of just how scary VR horror will be...

Expanse VR
In this promo for an upcoming series on the SyFy channel, you're floating in space by a gigantic ship as it rockets past Saturn. Inspiring!

An App offering numerous downloadable VR experiences. Make sure to try Walking New York, a VR documentary about the making of a recent cover of the New York Times Magazine. Another must-look is Evolution of Verse, a CGI work of art that also manages to be emotionally immersive.

I'll explore more titles in the future - but these definitely include the "wow" factor! Let me know what you find!

Search "Google Cardboard" on Amazon to purchase a low-cost (starting at $10) viewer and learn about which phones are compatible.

It's worth your time - go for it!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

First Words of Popular Books: Science Fiction

This week, I continue my exploration of first words in fiction with a look at popular science fiction. 

Compared to last week's look at current Young Adult bestsellers, I found this selection much more intriguing and/or thought provoking. What do you think?

Here they are, in no particular order:

Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury):
“It was a pleasure to Burn”

Foundation (Isaac Asimov): 
“Hari Seldon - ...born in the 11,988th year of the Galactic Era; died 12,069.”

Dune (Frank Herbert): 
“A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.”

Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card): 
“I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.”

The Stars My Destination (Alfred Bester):  
“This was a Golden Age, a time of  high adventure, rich living, and hard dying...but nobody thought so.”

2001: A Space Odyssey (Arthur C. Clarke): 
“The drought had lasted now for ten million years, and the reign of the terrible lizards had long since ended.”

1984 (George Orwell):
 “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams): 
“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”

Snow Crash  (Neal Stephenson): 
“The Deliverator belongs to an elite order, a hallowed subcategory.”

Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein):  
“I always get the shakes before I drop.”

Next week, I'll take a look at the first words of some classic novels.

Monday, August 10, 2015

First Words of Popular Books: Young Adult Novels

What makes a good book? A good story, of course. Engaging characters, an intriguing plot and perhaps just the right setting.

But what really brings you in? What catches your attention? Is the first line really that important?

Here's a list of the top ten New York Times Young Adult bestsellers, along with their very first opening sentences.

  1. Paper Towns (John Green): "The longest day of my life began tardily."
  2. Looking for Alaska (John Green):  "The week before I left my family and Florida and the rest of my minor life to go to boarding school in Alabama, my mother insisted on throwing me a going-away party."
  3. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Jesse Andrews): "I have no idea how to write this stupid book."
  4. The Book Thief (Markus Zusak): "First the Colors."
  5. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Ransom Riggs): "I had just come to expect that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen."
  6. The Fault in Our Stars (John Green): "Late in the summer of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently and devoted quite a bit of my free time to thinking about death."
  7. An Abundance of Katherines (John Green): "The morning after noted child prodigy Colin Singleton graduated from high school and got dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine, he took a bath.
  8. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie): "I was born with water on the brain."
  9. Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell): "He'd stopped trying to bring her back."
  10. Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher): "A shoebox-sized package is propped up against the front door at an angle."
These are some of the most popular contemporary novels - do their first words match their reputation?

Next time: Science Fiction Classics!

    Thursday, May 28, 2015

    Interviewed by a Pro: What Did I Learn?

    Recently I had the opportunity to be interviewed about my Young Adult novel, Own the Scrawny, on “Connie Martinson Talks Books,” a small but influential author interview program airing on various local stations across (and beyond) California, and on PBS in New York. This is my second appearance on the program. (You can watch it here)

    A selfie with Connie
    According to her Wikipedia entry, Connie’s program has been on the air since 1979. She’s almost a required stop on most book tours; her program has featured fiction and non-fiction authors including Maya Angelou, Ray Bradbury, Al Gore, Rosa Parks, Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel, and Joyce Carol Oates. A then-unknown Barack Obama appeared on the show in 1995.

    Connie also features relatively unknown authors, too—that’s where I come in. I happened to be working at a studio where she taped some of her shows a couple of years ago, and took the opportunity to ask her if she ever featured indie authors. I told her about my first book, My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain, and she asked me to send her a review copy. Naturally, I had one on hand and gave it to her right away. A couple of weeks later, she told me she loved the book and invited me on her program. I was ecstatic.

    Panel Discussion at the Santa Clarita Public Library
    I’ve had the opportunity to make other media appearances since publishing my first book, but “Connie Martinson Talks Books” featured my most in-depth interviews, and a great opportunities to build my audience.

    What have I learned from the experience? 

    Connie’s interviews aren’t typical media appearances; she reads the book. She knows the book. She knows character names; she knows plot lines. In fact, she even stumped me on a question or two. Connie’s not the sort of person that simply invites authors on her program to fill time—she’s interested and enthusiastic. Though I was much more relaxed the second time around, both interviews left me with one important lesson: prepare. 

    Having written the book isn’t always enough. My mind is already working on my next book; I’m not necessarily as familiar with one currently in release. Reviewing the book before an interview; perhaps even creating a cheat sheet with names, events and quotes would be helpful. It's worth considering some behind-the-scenes insights into how the book was conceived, and the sources of inspiration for characters, locations and themes.

    Helping interviewers share their enthusiasm is my prime mission during any public or media appearance. Finding champions—people who "get" my books, as Connie does— is both key to building awareness of my work as an indie author, and building my skills as an author-entrepreneur. 

    Wednesday, May 13, 2015

    Writing, Human Nature and the Art of Knowing Everything

    One of the oddest reactions I’ve received as an indie author came from another author at an event to promote local writers. I’d struck up a conversation, sharing the launch of “My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain.” When she asked me if I had children, she seemed puzzled by my answer. How was it possible, she wondered, that I could write a young adult book about a thirteen year-old hero if I didn’t have children of my own?

    I admit, I was taken aback by her question. The suggestion that an author can only write about direct experience would seem to negate most fiction. Stephen King, as far was we know, isn’t a serial killer. Ray Bradbury never traveled to Mars. Charles Dickens began publishing chapters of Oliver Twist in 1837, the same year his first child was born.

    How were these seemingly impossible feats accomplished?

    Authors of fiction explore human nature. That’s what creating relatable characters is all about. If the novelist has done her job right, a horror novel can fill you with fear; a romantic novel with longing; and an adventure novel with suspense.

    Characters that I create, regardless of age, are based first upon my personal experience as a human being struggling to get by in the world at large, and secondly on my observations and interaction with others. In the case of writing young adult fiction, I draw on resources that range from friendships I had as a boy, to teens I’ve known and/or mentored over the years.

    Nearly 2,500 years ago, Socrates complained about “modern” children, in words that adults have repeated through the centuries:  
    “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” 
    Undoubtedly, the children of his age looked upon the older generation with similar suspicion. 

    Effective writing bonds us together through time and culture, and allow us to understand those who are different from ourselves. While the toys, clothes and technology may change, human nature never does.

    Follow Rich on Twitter @Rickflix

    Wednesday, April 8, 2015

    Writing...with Rich

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    Sunday, January 11, 2015

    How NOT to Handle Trolls

    Part of the fun of writing—and I hope, readingOwn the Scrawny and My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain is delving deep into the mind of Alexander. His predicaments aren't so much a result of what happens to him, but his skewed perception of reality.

    In Food Chain, he's convinced that he's prey in a sea of predators, living his life in constant fear until he decides to confront an innocent boy he imagines is the greatest bully of all.

    In Own the Scrawny, Alexander's the unwilling star of an embarrassing viral video. Worse yet, he discovers that he's the target of online trolls, whose incessant ridicule in the video's comments section fills him with self-doubt. Instead of ignoring them, he decides that he needs to prove them wrong, and sets in motion a series of events that makes things much worse. He tries acting differently (fail); he tries dressing differently (fail); and even tries avoiding everyone and everything (fail again!).

    Trolls insult, demean, destruct and degrade others through their comments, often hiding behind anonymous profiles. They don't often know their targets, and in fact may simply be reposting the same words over and over again. Instead of ignoring them (usually a good first step), Alexander cares about what they say.

    The internet is filled with anti-troll strategies - I've collected some of them here on Pinterest. They generally suggest a few basic points:
    1. The first line of defense is simply to ignore the troll. Don’t argue with them, or respond in any way.
    2. If it’s in your power, delete their offending comment.
    3. If you must respond, logic and friendliness in the face of viciousness is a great tactic.
    4. Forget about them. Focus on those who support you; forget those who don’t.
    5. Simply respond, “Haters gotta hate!”

    Alexander takes a few detours before getting there, but eventually learns, as we all do, to keep the troll where he belongs, hidden and forgotten under the bridge.