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5 Mens Lit books every Man should read

Catch 22
The plotline follows the airmen of the 256th Squadron while in action over Italy, and their repeated attempts to avoid combat missions that appear to lead to certain death. Their attempts are almost always comical: when an officer refers to the string on a map representing the front line and states that they won’t be able to fly if it moves beyond the target, the airmen begin watching the string obsessively until Yossarian secretly moves the string and the mission is canceled. The officer is not amused and assigns them a particularly dangerous mission. The ultimate escape is to have oneself declared mentally unfit for duty, but the Army has made this impossible through the eponymous Catch-22. In spite of their best efforts, most of the airmen are killed over the span of the novel. The development of the novel can be split into segments. The first (chapters 1–11) broadly follows the story fragmented between characters, but in a single chronological time in 1944. The second (chapters 12–20) flashes back to focus primarily on the “Great Big Siege of Bologna” before once again jumping to the chronological ‘present’ of 1944 in the third part (chapter 21–25). The fourth (chapters 26–28) flashes back to the origins and growth of Milo’s syndicate, with the fifth part (chapter 28–32) returning again to the narrative present but keeping to the same tone of the previous four. The sixth and final part (chapter 32 on) remains in the story’s present, but takes a much darker turn and spends the remaining chapters focusing on the serious and brutal nature of war and life in general.

Crime and Punishment
Raskolnikov, a conflicted former student, lives in a tiny, rented room in Saint Petersburg. He refuses all help, even from his friend Razumikhin, and devises a plan to murder and rob an elderly pawn-broker and money-lender, Alyona Ivanovna. His motivation comes from the overwhelming sense that he is predetermined to kill the old woman by some power outside of himself. While still considering the plan, Raskolnikov makes the acquaintance of Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov, a drunkard who recently squandered his family’s little wealth. Raskolnikov also receives a letter from his sister and mother, speaking of their coming visit to Saint Petersburg, and his sister’s sudden marriage plans which they plan to discuss upon their arrival.

Don Quixote
In the course of their travels, the protagonists meet innkeepers, prostitutes, goatherders, soldiers, priests, escaped convicts and scorned lovers. The aforementioned characters sometimes tell tales that incorporate events from the real world, like the conquest of the Kingdom of Maynila or battles in the Eighty Years’ War. Their encounters are magnified by Don Quixote’s imagination into chivalrous quests. Don Quixote’s tendency to intervene violently in matters irrelevant to himself, and his habit of not paying debts, result in privations, injuries and humiliations (with Sancho often the victim). Finally, Don Quixote is persuaded to return to his home village. The narrator hints that there was a third quest, but says that records of it have been lost.

Wall Street
In 1985, Bud Fox is working as a junior stockbroker in New York City at Jackson Steinem & Co. He wants to work with his hero, Gordon Gekko, a legendary Wall Street player. After calling Gekko’s office 59 days in a row trying to land an appointment, Bud visits Gekko on his birthday with a box of Gekko’s favorite, contraband Cuban cigars. Impressed at his sheer boldness, Gekko grants Bud an interview. Bud pitches him stocks, but Gekko is unimpressed. Desperate, Bud provides him some inside information about Bluestar Airlines, which Bud learned in a casual conversation from his father, Carl, the union leader for the company’s maintenance workers. Intrigued, Gekko tells Bud he will think about it, but also that he “[looks] at a hundred deals a day,” but “[chooses] one.” A dejected Bud returns to his office. However, Gekko places an order for Bluestar stock and becomes one of Bud’s clients. Gekko gives Bud some capital to manage, but the other stocks Bud selects lose money.

Feudal Japan in 1600 is in a precarious peace. The heir to the Taiko (Regent) is too young to rule, and the most powerful five overlords of the land hold power as a Council of Regents. Portugal, with its vast sea power, and the Catholic Church mainly through the Order of the Jesuits, have gained a foothold in Japan and seek to extend their power. But Japanese society is insular and xenophobic. Guns and Europe’s modern military capabilities are still a novelty and despised as a threat to Japan’s traditional Samurai warrior culture.

John Blackthorne, an English pilot, serving on the Dutch warship Erasmus, is the first English pilot to reach Japan. England (and Holland) seek to disrupt Portuguese (and Catholic) relations with Japan and establish ties of their own through trade and military alliances.

Erasmus is blown ashore on the Japanese coast at the village of Anjiro during a storm. Blackthorne and the few survivors of his crew are taken captive by local samurai, Kasigi Omi, until his daimyō (feudal lord) and uncle, Kasigi Yabu, arrives. Yabu puts Blackthorne and his crew on trial as pirates, using a Jesuit priest to interpret for Blackthorne. Losing the trial, Blackthorne attacks the Jesuit, rips off his crucifix, and stamps it into the dust to show the daimyō that the priest is his enemy. The Japanese, who know only the Catholic version of Christianity, are shocked by the gesture. Yabu sentences Blackthorne and his crew to death. However, Omi, who is quickly proving himself as a clever adviser, convinces Yabu to spare them to learn more about European ways.

John Lee on Method Writing

You’ve probably heard the term ‘method acting’ on TV or in interviews with actors. It’s where an actor gets into their role by becoming their character for a while.
Heath Ledger is a famous example, staying in character for his role as The Joker in The Dark Knight even when the cameras weren’t rolling. His portrayal of the mad Joker is praised by critics as one of cinema’s most authentic characters. Sadly, Heath’s personal problems cut short his contribution to the world of cinema, but it highlights how interesting, and sometimes dangerous method acting can be.

John Lee is the only method writer I know. He not only researches his characters, but will take on the role of one of the them to research character interactions. He is able to glean subtle nuances and opinions about the characters that most other writers will struggle to find.

In preparation for SuperModel, Lee became a fashion photographer for a year and worked with hundreds of up-and-coming models in the fashion industry. I asked him how it affected his writing style…

CS: “How does method writing help the writing process?”
JWL: “Method writing, or perhaps immersive writing, tells me more about the people around me than I can imagine. When I started writing Supermodel I knew I was out of my depth when it came to the psyche of the teenage girl, so I worked with models to find out what they wanted in life, what they struggled with. I learned what it was like to be a girl, really, very different from being a guy.”

CS: “You became a fashion photographer to study for this book. Would you have been able to write the book without immersing yourself in the characters?”
JWL: “It would not have been the same book. A lot of the anecdotes in Supermodel are based on real events, things that happened to models. When I started out I had this naive impression of models having this easy job anyone could do, but let me tell you, it’s a lot tougher than it looks. You have to have nerves of steel.”

CS: “So there is some truth in what you write about the experience of models?”
JWL: “What surprised me is how many models have the same stories. How many are asked by almost every photographer, male or female, to get naked. How many agents just wanted their registration money, and then forgot about them. A lot of models are bought and sold between agencies like slaves. It blew my mind. All those cliche’s are not really cliche’s, they’re quite real. It’s really tough being a model, you get taken advantage of at every turn. These are things normal models don’t talk about to regular guys, I think because it’s embarrassing, but when you’re in the industry they open up.”
CS: “Your character, Amanda, is a shorter model. Is it that hard for shorter models to become successful models?”
JWL: “I made an effort to work with shorter models, to find out if it was harder for them. And, oh yes, I mean for runway shows the clothes are made months in advance, so you can understand it there. But for photoshoots, who cares how tall the models are? There is a type of racism in the modelling industry against shorter, or rather, normal sized people. It’s more than just practical size.”

CS:”What would you tell your lead character if you met her, knowing what you know now?”
“JWL: “Good question. I’d tell her sometimes you have to shovel shit for a living, and that’s okay. And don’t let people change you. If you become something else, well, then you’re living a dream, not a life.”

CS: “Will you be method-writing again for your next book?”
JWL: “To a degree. The next one, Blood Games, is pretty much a horror story. I want to find out why people are fascinated with horror, without becoming that myself.”

CS: “Do you recommend method-writing to other writers? Has it helped you write better?”
JWL: “It has helped me understand people better, and to bring things into my writing that are more interesting than me, us writers are pretty boring and solitary creatures. Acting classes and doing something like method-writing is a real rich source to draw from. All of us writers need help with structure and language and so on, but what we really need are those insights into minds we don’t understand.”

It was an absolute joy chatting with John Lee about method-writing. Look out for his Novel, Supermodel, published by Swann Books, in December.

Buy Supermodel by John Lee

An interview with Hsien W Lou, author of Sparked

Sparked is an otherworldly Epic of Vampires and the Undead, Hsien W. Lou’s debut novel tells the tale of Ner Relc Alcott, the immortal son of Death, sent to Earth to capture undead beings. The undead are stealing Sparks from people on Earth to extend their own lives.

Hsien, what motivated you to become an author?
I have always had an interest in writing and wanting to express personal, interesting and strange tales. I hope that people would be able to relate and find them interesting and fun.

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Writing is enjoyable, creating a whole universe with unique, simple characters and placing them in interesting, puzzling situations and finding how they solve them is great fun, at times it seems like the characters begin to write themselves.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes, it was about two children. A boy and a girl. The boy was trapped in another world that was linked to the girl’s mirror. So one day the mirror in her bedroom cracked and she entered the world to save the boy but she ended up trapped there too. It was a horror tale, it did not end well.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
I spend it working as an environmental consultant, volunteering at church, reading, spending time with family and most importantly sleeping.
What is your writing process?
My writing process begins with a strong storyline. I like to create original storylines and once this is done it is quite easy to follow through because it tends to place a foundation and you continue to flow from there.

When did you first start writing?
It seems like I have been writing forever but I do recall starting with poetry and then deciding to write short stories and now novels.
What are you working on next?
I am working on three new books, the sequel to sparked, a romance novel and a fantasy book about a mage. I realised I really like writing fantasy, when I write the story, it flows out easily.
What’s the story behind your latest book?
It’s about a lazy thirteen year old mage whose parents are the most powerful mages in the universe but he has no powers at all. He witnesses the culprit who kidnaps a few of his classmates at school and goes on a journey to save them and in the process finds his powers.

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in a small town and a close knit family. And since my family is a big supporting factor and most of the time we get a long fairly well, I always want all the characters in my book to have happy endings but it is almost never the case.

Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I think Terry Pratchett’s Mort had a big impact on me, I love his writing so humorous and interesting. He can really liven up his words and characters.

Describe your desk
My desk is a mess, there are random papers and sticky notes and different coloured pens scattered everywhere. My laptop is placed on top of the papers, I don’t think you can see the colour of the desk any more, instead of brown I think the appropriate name is paper desk.

What do you read for pleasure?
I read fantasy books, I am currently reading Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance. It is a great read, especially the main character Kaladin, I enjoy the way he is overcoming his personal challenges.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
My loud alarm clock.

What do your fans mean to you?
They mean a lot, I do hope they find an interest in the books and I believe it is important to gain their opinions of the story and characters. I think it is important as fans/ readers assist you to improve so I do value them and their opinions.

How do you discover the books you read?
Sometimes I will randomly pick a book in the fantasy section of the bookstore and read it. I find appealing storylines that attract me and also inspire me to write.

Who are your favourite authors?
Terry Pratchett, C. S. Lewis, Victor Hugo, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Dickens, Julia Quinn, Lewis Caroll, Mark Lawrence

Thank you, Hsien, and best of luck with your novel, Sparked!

Sparked is scheduled for release Dec 2014/Jan 2015, so look out for it in all your favourite places, like

Buy Sparked Online

How long should my book be?

Swann Books embraces digital publishing and paperback novels.
Historically, a novel would need to be 80,000 words to hit the maximum profit margin versus printing, transport and storage cost. That is no longer the case. Now, a story can be as long or as short as it needs to be and still be published.

Swann Books publishes everything from Flash Fiction, short stories, to novellas and novels.

Flash Fiction, poetry or prose
Less than 2,000 words.
Will be published as part of an anthology with 20 other Flash Fiction stories.

Short Story
2,000-20,000 words.
Will be published with 2 or 3 other short stories.

20,000-40,000 words
Can be published on its own at a reduced price. These are popular ‘bus and train books’ as they can be printed in a smaller format than regular novels.

40,000-150,000 words

Novels longer than 150,000 words should probably be split into multiple books.

It is highly recommended for new writers to start with Flash Fiction and work their way into writing epic novels. When working with shorter stories you are forced to trim all the fat from your novel and find the shortest turn of phrase, making it a cleaner experience for your readers.

Top 10 Tips for Better Writing

All writers make mistakes, even best-selling authors.

Spelling and grammar are important, but some problems are harder to find until you’re aware of them. Try these top 10 tips – they will help you write better.

Tip #1 – Filtering
New writers often want the reader to know that their character is thinking, looking, or realizing, without describing what they are doing. For example, “Jack looked over at Jill who was also climbing up the hill.” This distances the reader from the action, the animation. Filter words are words that remove the reader from the story and focus on unnecessary details.
He looked at. He felt that. She realized that.
A reader is part of the story, not just one character. Rather write “Jack and Jill went up the hill.”
The narrator is a separate character in the story. They have a unique personality and opinion about the events, and it is usually the narrator’s opinion that makes the story entertaining.

Tip #2 – Write once, Edit twice.
Edit structure boldly. Are you able to delete an entire page without flinching? If the story needs it, it must be done. Does the story make sense? Are the events clear and well illustrated? Get your story flowing and fix up paragraphs that skip important details. Fix events that are out of sequence.
Don’t waste time polishing details until the story, the backbone, is strong. The typical book is about slowly elevating the mood to a central climax, with a brief denouement, or final resolution.

Tip #3 – Show, don’t tell – Use your reader’s imagination
A book is not just a collection of events, it is a doorway into a different world. A dream.
Imagine you are an observer in the scene. What do you see, hear, smell?
Don’t explain what your characters are thinking. Rather describe their body language, their actions, and words.
Don’t tell the reader about something before it has revealed itself in the story. If you don’t have something to say, don’t fill up the space with unimportant words. Come back to it later.

There was no one in the road so he went to the window and opened the blinds. He looked out of the window and aimed the gun. He shot four people.
can become
He pried open the old blinds, dust falling everywhere. Standing out of sight he leaned forward until he could make out the road below. Satisfied that no one was looking his way he perched his rifle on the window sill, breathed in, and squeezed the trigger. Four shots. Four muffled echoes. Four people lying crumpled on the wet grass.

Get our of your character’s mind. Don’t explain what they are feeling, rather give the reader clues. Let the reader figure it out for themselves. Don’t tell the reader what is right or wrong, let them decide based on the events and dialogue.

I ate the ice cream. I loved it.
can become
The cold ice cream melted in my mouth. I closed my eyes and smiled.
Here the reader could imagine what you want them to feel, and perhaps feel it too.

Tip #4 Avoid cliches like the plague
Avoid starting your story with
-the character waking up or having a dream.
-running away from something.
-a weather report (unless it is relevant)
-looking in a mirror and describing themselves.
Avoid wizard/elf/mutant/vampire/werewolf stories. You have the power to create a new world, use it! Fan fiction has its place, but don’t expect success based on someone else’s world. You may also end up in hot legal trouble if you infringe on someone else’s lore, even if they based it on other lore.
Avoid making your lead character perfect. Give them interesting conflicts we can relate to.
Avoid prophecies – we may as well just skip the story and read the last page. If there is a prophecy, create some doubt, so that the end is a surprise.

Tip #5 – Talk to me
Has it been five pages since someone spoke?
The reader might be getting lonely and bored. Entertain them. When characters talk the reader feels like they are in the room. Keep the reader in the room. What do your characters do when they talk?
The danger here is your characters talking about things just to pass the time. If a dialogue isn’t helping the story or your character, delete it.
You character should have a distinct personality when they speak, they should choose their own set of words. If all the characters sound the same it may sound hollow.

Tip #6 – Unpack your bags
Reveal the nuances of your characters and locations through their actions.
Is your character a bit quirky? Use this to move the story forward. Let your character’s unique traits be important, it’s better than simply telling the reader your character is quirky for no reason.

Tip #7 Silence the passive voice
Passive sentences sound like they are being read out by an accountant.
Passive: He was driven to the house by the cab driver and then the car door was opened by him.
(something was done by something)
Not very interesting, it’s a shopping list of events, not an animated image.
Active: The cabby took the money and grunted a thank you. Harriet grabbed her patched-up case and stepped into the rain.
someone did something)

Tip #8 Trim the fat
You don’t need to write every movement and direction unless it reveals character or plot.
Fat words are words that don’t add anything to the sentence.
If cutting them out makes no difference, cut them out.
Adjectives are like jewelry – Adding a few is stylish, but don’t overdo it!

He started walking to the shop. When he got there he bought a loaf of bread.
can become
He walked to the shop and bought a loaf of bread.
Readers know how walking works, you don’t need to explain it, or that it starts, unless there is a good reason.
He turned left into Picard Street, looked up and to the right, and turned right into Doris Lane.
can become
He drove down Picard Street, looked around, and stopped in Doris Lane.
Readers know how driving works. Explaining it is boring. Why did the character need to look around? Explain why or delete it.

“Hi.” he said.
“Hey.” she replied.
“Can we talk?” He asked questioningly.
“Shh. It’s Gary,” she replied and walked away.
Readers know how talking works, you don’t need to tell them. Leave out dialogue attribution (he/she said) unless it would confuse the reader. (e.g. if a character talks out of turn, or at the beginning of a paragraph)
A better attribution is to reveal more about your characters’ state of mind:
“Hi.” Jack fidgeted with his blazer, avoiding June’s gaze.
“Hey.” She pulled out her cellphone and walked to the car.
“Can we talk?”
“Shh. It’s Gary.” She walked away, giggling at something Gary was saying.

Tip #9. Write up, not down.
Readers are clever – you don’t need to ‘dumb-down’ concepts or use smaller words unless larger words obstruct the flow of the story. Find the best word. If you can’t think of the best word use a thesaurus, of course don’t overdo it and use words no one understands. You should write for yourself, until you feel each page. There is no one more interested in your story than you, so if you are not getting emotional reading it you can almost guarantee that a reader will be bored reading it.
Writing ‘up’ makes you the authority on the subject, and ironically the reader will look up to you.

Tip #10. Read it aloud
Most problems are discovered by reading aloud. Better yet, reading to a friend or another writer.
Honest friends are hard to find! Guard them with your life.
Grammar exists to help people flow through a book as if they are listening to a well-honed storyteller, anything that you struggle to read your readers will struggle to understand.
Join a writing circle.
Give a reading. Listen to a reading.

Of course, all advice is deadly. Only take advice that improves your writing and your story and never lose your unique voice!
If there was only one method to write engaging stories all writers would use it!

We’ve create a tremendously helpful piece of software called BOOKSMART that will find many problems in your writing. In fact, we use it ourselves to assist in the editing process!
BOOKSMART is available here

Top 5 Cliches Writers should Avoid

TOP 5 GROANERS Writers Should Avoid
or, How to get Rejected by a Publisher in 5 easy steps,
by Cathy Swann

You know how your story starts with your character waking up from a dream?
Where they dreamed they were running away from something symbolic?
Or you gave the reader a weather report, because the level of precipitation is very, very important to the plot even though it will never be mentioned again?
Or your character gets out of bed from their dream of being chased by a train and they go to look in the mirror and you describe what they see, and you think, I have found it, I have found a way to describe them all in one paragraph and get it out of the way so that I don’t have to think about it later, I can
You’re one bullet away from being a 
Powerpoint Presentation.

Maybe you wrote about an epic battle between a wizard/elf/mutant/vampire/werewolf and his estranged father. Even though you have the unimaginable power to create entirely new worlds… you don’t, you plagiarize someone else’s world.

Maybe your lead character is perfect and never messes up and always catches on to every ledge they jump for, after all, they are the protagonist. Your protagonist never has any conflict, never makes the wrong choice, never stops to take a shit in twelve days.

Your character, so desperate for relief, must obey a prophecy revealed in the first page of your story and now you drudge forward, knowing what will happen at the end, hoping some suicidal reader will drudge along with you. You’re plodding forward to the anti-climax like some aged donkey because you deleted all the mystery, all the wonderful unknown, all the things that made you feel something.

While you wait, your FBI agent races to find that one guy who is the world’s foremost expert in his field, haunted by his past, and together this unlikely duo must fly across the world and be given full authority over the entire US army to prevent the attack of zombies/ebola/nuclear destruction/beings from another dimension.

Your story ends at the airport, where the rebellious anti-hero runs after the general’s shy daughter and catches her just as she’s about to board the plane.

And you shoot yourself.

As you fall down in slow motion on the tiled floor, security guards rushing over to beat the shit out of you, you wonder, why 5?