Thursday, March 31, 2011

Billy Boyle, A World War II Mystery.

Here you go: a man trap. Mystery and WWII. I love both, every man does. Together WWII and mystery must be like peanut butter and chocolate. Wait a minute, I don’t like peanut butter and chocolate. It has been determined through a careful examination of the facts; I am the only human alive who does not like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. As far as I can tell, the peanut butter cups only utility is trading for much better candy from unsuspecting children and adults. That opportunity is short-lived and only occurs in October. If while freight hopping, traveling across the country,  I was trapped in a railway car for longer than 24 hours and there were Reese’s Peanut Buttercups in boxes in the car with me, I would in fact open the boxes and eat some; Starvation being the only other alternative. Beets are another story. I can never imagine a scenario in which I might be placed which would force their consumption. With a car load of Reese’s, I would suffer for a while and relent. Of course if it were beets in those boxes, in any form, starvation would be the only alternative.
There is a “competition  of the first line”, which  occurs every year. In this competition writers compete to see who can write the best first line of the novel.  There is a commonly held notion amongst writers which argues the first line is the hardest thing to write and sets the tone for the entire book.
A better competition is held at San Jose State every year. Here is the Wikipedia reference:
“The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (BLFC) is a tongue-in-cheek contest that takes place annually and is sponsored by the English Department of San Jose State University in San Jose, California. Entrants are invited "to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels" – that is, deliberately bad. According to the official rules, the prize for winning the contest is "a pittance",[1] or $250.[2]
The contest was started in 1982 by Professor Scott E. Rice of the English Department at San Jose State University and is named for English novelist and playwright Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, author of the much-quoted first line "It was a dark and stormy night". This opening, from the 1830 novel Paul Clifford, continues floridly:
"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."
The first year of the competition attracted just three entries, but it went public the next year, received media attention, and attracted 10,000 entries.[3] There are now several subcategories, such as detective fiction, romance novels, Western novels, and purple prose. Sentences that are notable but not quite bad enough to merit the Grand Prize or a category prize are awarded Dishonorable Mentions.”

I think James R. Benn should have entered. I quote; ” I wanted to die. No actually I didn't want to die. Or live”. Technically that was three lines. I'm sure you get the point. I forged ahead anyway. The books basic premise revolved around a Boston detective, recruited in the Army, in World War II. He was sent to London because Dwight D Eisenhower was his uncle. Apparently they anticipated trouble. Sure enough within five pages, the Swedish ambassador was murdered. Detective Lt. Billy, makes a few friends and was sent into the countryside to investigate. Spoiler alert, although he didn't realize it at the time, he later found out he was chosen for the job because no one believed he would be able to solve any crimes. They hoped he would wander around aimlessly and give the appearance of trying while subterfuge persisted. In fact, that's how it turned out. As he solved the crime, he almost ruined the high commands plot to sabotage the Nazis. It was lucky he was so bad at detecting. He was surprised to learn the truth of the story.  In an unusual twist, the main heroine (spoiler alert) was brutally murdered and this gave him another murder to investigate. Of course it was the same perpetrator. The clues were all too easy. I had it figured out almost 20 pages before he did. As the entire book took place in England, there was not much of a war story. The mystery was not that mysterious: I figured out the most of it ahead of the story. There was a real twist at the end which was interesting but….I think you may want to pass on this one.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story, Jerry Weissman

MEGO. Is this a commonly known acronym? The first time I saw it was in this book. How do you get things into the daily lexicon? “Don’t tase me bro” came and went. Shock and Awe didn’t last long. Moore’s Law of transistors is said to run its course by 2010. Does MEGO have a few hours in the sun?
I have not stopped reading, even though you could not tell looking at the paucity of recent blog entries. Megan reminded me of my dilatory attention to the exploration and discovery of truth. Thanks for being interested.   As the author explains, “ the inevitable reaction of an audience to a Data Dump is not persuasion but rather the dreadful effect known as MEGO.” One of the few nuggets found in this stream. MEGO means Mine Eyes Glaze Over. Don't stop reading, this will be a short one.
I stopped writing because, after reading 5 books, none of which were particularly inspiring, I did not have the burning desire to wax poetic. Dreary may be the best descriptor of the recent attempt at expanding the mind. Much as with Lorentz’s “The Einstein Theory of Relativity”, ( see  where I hoped to finally understand travel at velocities near the speed of light,  I plowed into Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story, by  Jerry Weissman, hoping to give a better PowerPoint presentation. I had recently given a presentation which I perceived to not be well received. I was looking for a new direction. 288 pages later, I gleaned a few tips which I will share.

I cannot now sit through a PowerPoint without being very critical of others; seeing them commit the “Five Cardinal Sins” listed here:  1- NO Clear Point. 2- NO Audience Benefit (you don’t want the audience to ask” so what”)3- NO Clear flow.4- TOO Detailed (the most common and I think greatest mistake made.) 5- TOO Long. (Usually a direct result of #4) There must be a million people writing mediocre books like this one. One hears tell, it is impossible to get a publisher to look at your manuscript. (or screen play if we use a Hollywood analogy).  Weissman not only got it read, also published. The writing was uninspiring, predictable and rather obvious. The editing was poor; Way to many word contractions and if you think I am wordy or like the run on sentence, Weissman could be my mentor. Here are the rest of the nuggets.  
“The art of persuasion must be balanced by Audience Advocacy: convincing your audience that what you want will serve their interests, too.” ...“It’s never enough to present the Features of what you’re selling; every Feature must always be translated into a Benefit” ...“Every communication has as its goal to take the audience from where they are at the start of your presentation, which is Point A, and move them to you objective, which is point B”“This crucial concept of starting with the goal in mind hasn’t penetrated our thing about presentations. …What’s the point” . “In business, when the point is not crystal clear, and when the benefit to the audience is not vividly evident, the investment is declined, the sale is not made, the approval is not granted; the presentation fails.”  “The overwhelming majority of business presentations merely serve to convey data, not to persuade.”
288 pages.  Other key concepts, less is more, you are the presentation not the slides. (unless you are pitching your graphical slide making capability)

All good points. Not enough to inspire serious navel gazing or contemplations of the universe and my place in it.I did think I could do a better job of un-cluttering data on slides and focusing more on me (as the story teller) of the presentation rather than the slides.