A Review of Veneer

When it comes to reading reviews, I only ever check my author page at Amazon. How many times a day I check that page for new reviews isn’t relevant. It’s the only place I really want reviews–good and bad–because that’s where people are making the decision to buy, and for some reason, the reviews tend to be… better (?)… than the ones at Goodreads. Maybe there’s something about Goodreads that brings out the vitriol more easily than at Amazon. There are a lot of good reasons to avoid the site altogether, but we don’t have the time today.

Still, every once in a while, I’ll head over there and see if there has been any movement. Typically, there hasn’t, but today I noticed a couple of new reviews for Veneer that I hadn’t seen before. Here is my favorite:

Deborah Fruchey Review of Veneer by Daniel Verastiqui

This might be the first time someone has described one of my books as a “novel of ideas,” which I like to think is true for all of them. It’s easy to get over-excited about technology, to want to describe a future so advanced and awesome that you forget to include characters and actual conflict.

I’m not sure if I accomplished what I set out to do with Veneer, but I enjoy the book for its themes, specifically the idea that we don’t need augmented reality to hide our true motives and true selves. Take away the tech and the story could have just as easily happened in our time.

Lastly, for most of the writers I know, writing is a passion that exists outside the scope of sales, reviews, and acclaim. Not that they’re better than that, but the passion is going to be there whether the book is #10 or #100000 on Amazon’s best seller list. So when you get a favorable review on Goodreads or Amazon, take a moment to enjoy the abstract emotional connection you made with another human and then move on, the same way you’d do with a negative review.

But don’t forget to say thanks.

Thanks, Deborah.

A Review of Veneer

Wherein I Choose a Car?

As mentioned in Wherein I Go Car Shopping, I’ve been in the market for a new car after three years of driving a wonderfully capable but not overly fun Nissan Rogue. I ended the previous post with the intention of driving a couple more cars before making a decision. I got halfway through that plan before I crowned a winner, and that car is…

The 2018 Hyundai Sonata Limited 2.0t. Probably.

2018 Hyundai Sonata Limited 2.0t

At an MSRP of $33k, the Sonata was outside my budget, and honestly what got me to the dealership was the Hyundai Sport 2.0t at a much more reasonable $27k. Throughout my search, I kept running into the same problem, which is best expressed in a familiar diagram:

Fast Full-Featured Affordable

The Nissan Maxima is fast and affordable, but only at lower trims, which are sparse on features like Forward Collision Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Lane-keep Assist. If you want those, expect to pay around 42k. Meanwhile, the Mazda6 is loaded with features, is affordable at 27k, but maxes out with a four-cylinder 184-hp engine.

The Sonata is the ultimate compromise between affordability, speed, and features. It doesn’t have a V6, but the 2.0L 4cyl Turbo engine puts out 245 horsepower. The MSRP is within haggling distance of a sensible $30k, and the feature list is unmatched (in my search, anyway).

2018 Hyunda Sonata Butt Shot

Here are some of the things you get in the Limited 2.0t:

  • Forward Collision Warning with Emergency Braking
  • Adaptive Cruise Control
  • Lane Departure Warning with Lane-keep Assist
  • Blind Spot Monitoring
  • Keyless entry, push-button start, remote start (via iPhone app)
  • Backup camera
  • Electronic parking break with Auto Hold (no more holding the brake at red lights)
  • An overeager trunk that opens by itself for some reason
  • Sunroof
  • Auto-dimming rearview mirror with garage door openers
  • Heated and cooled seats
  • Dual climate controls

The features in bold are the ones I cared about most, especially the Forward Collision Warning and Blind Spot Monitoring. I’m not sure why you would build a car without a rearview camera anymore, and I’m not turning a physical key like some kind of neanderthal. Okay, I would if I had to, but I wouldn’t be happy about it, man.

Unlike the 2018 Toyota Camry, I find the Sonata’s center stack to be well-organized and engaging.

2018 Hyundai Sonata Inside

It’s got everything you need, like an unobtrusive navigation / entertainment area, simple environmental controls, and these cool little piano keys that give your fingers a break from tapping screens all day. It’s got a couple of 12V plugs at the bottom that you could easily drop a double Anker power supply into and end up with 5 USB charging ports.

Anecdote: During the test drive, I sat back in the driver’s seat with hands off the wheel and foot off the pedals and watched as the Sonata drove itself around a curved section of I-35. It’s not a self-driving Tesla, but it was still pretty surreal.

I’ve still got a couple months before I can go pick up this surprisingly awesome Hyundai Sonata, which means I get to keep fielding calls and texts from the 10 dealerships I’ve visited over the last couple months. It’s interesting how different the salespeople have been, from the bro-douches to the My boyfriend drives this BMW to my favorite: the hands-off, no pressure, let me know if you have any questions salesperson.

I met two of them, so if you’re in the market for a new car, go see Jamison at Round Rock Mazda and Rick at Round Rock Hyundai.

Speaking of calls and texts, here’s one I got yesterday.

Round Rock Nissan Text

Round Rock Nissan, keeping it classy.

Wherein I Choose a Car?

Connect iCloud to Windows 10 Calendar App

Calendar

I wrote this post because, although I set this up earlier this year, I tried to do it again the other day and couldn’t remember how it was done. ALL of the information I searched for was wrong.

So, to my future self who will set this up on a computer some day, this is how you can use your iCloud calendar in the Windows 10 Calendar App.

  1. Go to http://www.icloud.com and log in.
  2. Click on Settings
  3. Under Apple ID, click Manage
  4. Log in again for some reason
  5. Under SecurityApp-Specific Passwords, click Generate Password
  6. Load Windows 10 Calendar
  7. Add Account
  8. Choose iCloud
  9. Use your Apple ID and the app-specific password generated in Step 5.

And that’s it. No privacy settings. No rebooting your computer. It’s so easy and so IMPOSSIBLE to find on the Internet.

Connect iCloud to Windows 10 Calendar App

Wherein I Go Car Shopping

As a Science Fiction author, the car I drive is paramount to my personal brand, as a recent Kline Group survey showed that 88% of readers choose books based on the kind of cars the author drives. If you think you’re getting into the Amazon Top 100 in a Nissan Versa, I’ve got bad news for you. If you want to play in the big leagues, you need a flashy car that screams “I get by.”

So, armed with an expiring lease, a tight budget, and a penchant for haggling, I set out to find the perfect car for me. Besides terrible salespeople, here’s what I found out there.

(Presented in the order I tested them.)

2017 BMW 330i

2017_BMW_330i

Since my latest novel Por Vida has a whopping 8 reviews on Amazon, I decided I would treat myself to a really nice car. Having never driven a BMW, I headed over to McNeil and 183 to test drive the 330i.

Long story short: this was perhaps the most boring car I’ve ever driven, and I’ve been in a Saturn. It accelerated just fine, but the interior felt like a smoke-filled office straight out of Mad Men. That’s the best description I can come up for it.

I’m not a 50-something CEO of a trendy new Austin startup; I don’t belong in a BMW.

2017 Audi A4

2017_Audi_A4

As my daddy used to tell me, “Son, I’ll never truly be proud of you until you buy an overpriced luxury sedan.” That led me to Audi North Austin in search of the 252hp A4 in my signature gray. The car pictured above retailed for about $42k, and they were willing to lease it to me at a price of about $42k. What a deal!

What I Liked:

  • Drives like a dream. Ultra smooth handling. Far superior to anything else I’ve had my hands on.
  • Looks good
  • AWD for those frequent Austin snow days
  • Rear-view camera

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Bare-bones inside for $42k
  • No blind spot monitoring, no forward collision warning… nothing to save me from the perils of driving Loop 360

Ultimately, it was the cost of this bad boy and the lack of any features that sent me running.

2017 Dodge Charger RT

2017_Dodge_Charger_RT

When I arrived at Covert Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram at 8107 Research Blvd, Austin, TX 78758, I was greeted by a salesman whose nametag read Worst Salesperson Ever. Here’s what the exchange was like:

Me: Hi, I’d like to test drive a Dodge Charger and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

WSE: Okay. If I make you a good deal, are you gonna buy today?

Me: No, probably not. I’d like to test drive them first.

WSE: Wait here.

A few minutes later, WSE came back with Junior Sales Employee #291092 and said JSE would be helping me going forward unless I wanted to buy.

Undeterred, JSE and I set out in this beautiful blue 370hp Charger RT and we zip-zoomed up and down 183 for a little while. Throughout the entire drive, I wondered how this car was going to look parked outside of my frat house. I also wondered how I was even allowed to drive it without wearing two polos and having both collars popped.

I can see the appeal of this car’s power, but the College Douche-Bro vibe was just too strong with this one. It may have even smelled a little like Axe body spray inside.

2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee

2017_Jeep_Grand_Cherokee

For a brief moment, I considered getting another SUV, but with a bigger engine than my Nissan Rogue. Enter the Grand Cherokee, a kinda mean-looking SUV with a decent base 245hp.

Now exit the Grand Cherokee because there’s really nothing special to see inside. It drives well, has a good amount of power, but the interior is not particularly interesting. It’s an SUV. Not much to get excited about here.

We returned to the dealership and I had another warm and fuzzy conversation with WSE:

WSE: So what’d you think?

Me: They’re nice, but they’re probably not for me. I’ll let you know.

WSE: I’m never going to hear from you again, am I?

I shook my head and left.

2017 Nissan Maxima

2017_Nissan_Maxima

I’ve driven a Nissan ever since the 1995 Chevy Blazer family SUV turned off in the middle of I-35 while I was doing 70mph. Two Altimas, an Altima Coupe, and recently the Nissan Rogue. You’d think that with that kind of history, the good folks at Round Rock Nissan might want to cut me a little break.

Think again, sucker!

By the time I got back to looking at the Maxima, I’d given up my dream of that Audi, so I was looking for a more reasonably priced vehicle. A helpful salesman from RR Nissan emailed me to let me know they had a 2017 Maxima SR for only $33,900. Yikes! Sign me up!

I hurried to RR Nissan and put the Maxima through its paces. After driving a bunch of other cars with actual gears, the Maxima’s CVT engine really started to stand out… in a bad way. Yeah, there’s lots of power here, but it feels muddled / hidden behind the CVT. Inside, the interior is like a cockpit, which is funny because the car feels like a boat. Steering at idle speeds is a workout. Bringing this beast to a quick stop sent shudders through the frame and scared the nice lady who was helping me out.

Still, for $34, I was willing to haggle.

Me: Alright, let’s talk numbers.

Her: Okay, so this car is $41k MSRP.

Me: And what’s my price?

Her: $41k.

So I won’t be getting a Maxima. Minus the black wheels, I really like the styling on this car. It feels familiar too. Just wish they’d been willing to work with me a little more. Or at all.

Useless Trivia: Nissan is the preferred brand of the Perion Synthetics corporation.

2017 Mazda 6

2017 Mazda 6

Every review I read of the Mazda 6 started with the qualifier Sure, it has a shitty engine, BUT… And they were right! 184hp 4-cyl with no turbo. It’s about what you expect.

BUT… step inside this monument to feature-glut and you’ll see just how much $27k can buy you. Rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, comfortable seats, a heads-up display, a cockpit-like feel, and so on, and so on. For the money, I have not seen a more feature-complete vehicle. It handles well too, but not perfectly, as if it is still trying to prove that it can be sporty.

I would have bought this on the spot… if it weren’t for that engine. It. just. needs. more. horsies.

Right now, this guy is #1 on my potential buy list. It’s going to come down to what’s more important: a roaring engine or safety features that will help keep me alive.

2018 Toyota Camry

2018 Toyota Camry

The timing is all wrong on the V6 Toyota Camry (RR Toyota won’t have them until Feb), but since the dealership was on my way home, I decided to go test drive the 4cyl version and see what the interior was like.

Long story short again: I can see why so many people buy these. The ride is smooth and sturdy. The 4cyl engine does fine for what it is. It’s just that… well… it’s a little dull. The center console was sparse, as if the car didn’t do much beyond Park, Drive, and Reverse.

The 2018 redesign looks good from the outside, but inside you’ll find one size fits all. Maybe a stronger engine could have swayed me, but we’ll never know.

2017 Buick Regal

2017 Buick Regal

Oh, my poor, poor baby Regal. You are stuck in two worlds. One is modern, with steady handling, confident acceleration, and a plush interior. The other is a last-century Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. Those touches may keep the GM diehards coming back, but for new generations of drivers, they’re relics of a past age. And sadly, it doesn’t matter how great your car is… people aren’t going to buy it if it feels like their grandfather’s car.

Fully-loaded, the Regal Premium II comes in at $36k. While it’s always nice to do something in your grandfather’s memory, there has to be something better than buying this car.

The Regal above lacks the safety features (blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning) I so desperately want in a new car. When I brought that up to the salesman, he said, “Well, no, but it has a really good crash rating.”

Great.

All that said, this car (~4k less without the safety features), is sitting at #2 on my list. You can see why I’m getting worried.

Pending

I’m exhausting cars left and right, but I still have a couple I’m going to test drive before making a decision. They include:

  • 2018 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T
  • 2018 Honda Accord EX-L V6
  • Whatever you recommend

If you can help me out with a suggestion, leave a comment below. If you’ve taken umbrage with my personal opinions of these cars, please tell me a little about your childhood, preferably in the form of a haiku.

Wherein I Go Car Shopping

Sentence Length Variance

If you read enough books, you can gain an understanding of sentence length variance without really knowing what you’re learning. And when you sit down to write, you’ll follow the style and flow of your favorite authors, using short sentences if they used short sentences, and going on long-winded, semicolon-dotted tirades describing the contents of a store room if they went on long-winded, semi… okay, you get it. But if you do need it spelled out for you, consider this quote:

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

— Gary Provost

I love and hate this paragraph. I love it because it’s dead-on. I have not seen a piece of writing advice that encapsulates rhythm and flow like this one. And I absolutely hate it because I wish I had been clever enough to think of it first.

Being aware of the flow of your words is paramount. It’s another layer of storytelling. It’s more than what you’re saying; it’s how you’re saying it. Can stilted language create anxiety? Or long sentences fatigue? Or any length any emotion?

If a character is overwhelmed, I’ll run a sentence into the ground until everyone is exhausted. If a character is scared or angry, their dialogue will be short, clipped. How fast the reader gets through the sentence, the paragraph, the page, the chapter… all of it matters. When do they stop for air? When does it all become too much?!

I finished another chapter in Book V this morning, so I loaded it up intent on counting the number of words in each sentence. When that got too tedious, I decided to count the number of words in each paragraph. After all, those need variance too, right? Too many big blocks of text and the reader’s going to go watch YouTube.

So I counted up the words. 2,106 words in 79 paragraphs. Smallest paragraph: 1 word. Longest paragraph: 95 words. Average paragraph: 27.

Here’s what it looks like:

paragraph_word_counts

I like short sentences. They have drama. Power.

Longer sentences are great too, especially when they’re drawing the reader in, showing them things they may have missed, expanding on ideas in a thousand different ways to show them the hopelessness of the character’s plight.

I was glad to see there was plenty of variance in paragraph length. I think I tend towards shorter paragraphs because of the way it looks on the page, so there’s definitely an aesthetic consideration at work here as well.

When I look at the shortest of sentences and take into account their content, it’s almost as if they serve as punctuation marks for groups of sentences. A handful of regular-sized paragraphs followed by a short stinger.

“Watch me,” said, Armando, tossing a wad of paper towels into the trash can. He hurried out of the bathroom, wanting to get away from Jimmy and Ethan and the office and the horrible malaise that was slowly enveloping him. It was as if reality had developed a feel to it, a weightiness, one he was only aware of now that he’d been outside of it. Standing beneath the falls, standing on the bleak emptiness of existence, he’d felt free, almost… clean.

That was the word he was searching for.

Reality was a shroud he was forced to wear. It weighed him down, connected him to the simulation. If he could break free of it, he would also break free of its feel, its smell and taste—just everything about it. He could shed it all.

But first he’d have to make it back to the underworld.

The Rogue sputtered, growled.

I could see another writer combining the first three paragraphs, just letting it all run together. But to have a single sentence on a line by itself imparts importance, a clear clue to the reader that they should pay attention, something interesting just happened.

Anyhow, I was just thinking about this today. I hope you think about it too.

Because if I preview your Kindle book and am greeted with a page with no paragraphs breaks, I’m probably not going to read it. I’m looking at you, Victor Hugo.

Sentence Length Variance