Monday, March 31, 2014

Abandoned Places: Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is approaching being 1000 years old. Built as a Hindu temple complex, it is the largest religious monument in the world. Although built by King Suryavarman II as his state temple and dedicated to Vishnu, and eventually becoming Suryavarman's mausoleum, within 200 years the legend was that Indra had commanded the temple to be built as a palace for his son and construction was completed in one night by a divine architect. It also moved from Hindu to Buddhist use around the same time. By the end of the 16th century, it had been mostly abandoned to the jungle. Fortunately, its moat provided some amount of protection, and it was never completely overrun by vegetation. The site went through considerable restoration during the 20th century and is now a major tourist attraction in Cambodia.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A to Z 2014: Abandoned Places

I know the official theme release day for A to Z is long past, but I have to (for all kinds of National Security reasons) keep mine under wraps right up until the last moment. That's how these things work. I wouldn't want my theme out there wandering around the Internet all unprotected and getting into trouble. My themes have been known to do that, cause trouble and stuff. Okay, maybe not, but I do have to guard my theme more closely than the Colonel guards his chicken recipe.

Because I feel like it; that's why!

Abandoned places have long been used to great effect in all kinds of horror environments. And Scooby Doo. Abandoned (haunted) houses. Abandoned warehouses and factories. And, my favorite, abandoned amusement parks. There's always that gypsy fortune teller machine that scares Scooby and Shaggy, then there's a great chase scene. Oh! And super hero cartoons, too. I'm pretty sure the abandoned amusement park has been used in both Batman and Spider-Man cartoons.

As much as I'm tired of the whole dystopian/post-apocalyptic thing, I think abandoned places have been quite under used in these stories. Think this
Of course, it works because the Statue of Liberty is so recognizable, and the sight of it like this speaks more to us about what has happened than words could have. It's all we need to know.

I think the tendency is just to make up places to be abandoned; how much work does it take to make up an abandoned house for your haunted house story? Not much. But I think there are plenty of actual places out there that have already been abandoned that could add that extra kick of realism to a story. And some of these places have great atmosphere; if you could put that in a bottle and sprinkle it on your pages...
Hey, I'm just sayin'.

Beyond that, some of the stories of these places are just interesting. And the pictures are cool. So you can always just look. Or, you know, add them to your list of places to see before you become an abandoned place yourself.

And, to give credit where credit is due, my wife came up with this idea. I think, now, she has come up with all three of my themes? I know she came up with at least one of the other two (but I'm not looking back at the moment to check the other one). I had a theme of my own for this year, but she sent me a thing with all these pictures of places, cool pictures, and, after I'd looked at them, she gave me that, "Hey! You could use this as your theme!" After looking back at what I'd planned... well, you see which theme won out, don't you.

So enjoy the month! These may be the shortest posts I do on any consistent basis.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Sparrow (a book review post)

As I've mentioned before, I am not much of a re-reader. It doesn't matter how much I like a book, I'm very unlikely to go back to it. There are just too many books I've never read for me to spend time re-reading things I've already read. However, as soon as I finished reading The Sparrow, I knew that one day I would read it again. I actually kind of just wanted to re-read it right then. But there was a sequel, so I opted to go that route instead. That was many and several years ago, that first reading, and I have finally gotten around to that re-read. I'm happy to announce that it holds up, which is always the worry when re-reading a book, that it just won't hold up to a second reading.

I think the first thing to point out about The Sparrow is that, for a science fiction book, you probably won't find it in the science fiction section of any bookstore. Generally, The Sparrow is found in the literature section (or whatever they call it now), which is--I want to say impressive, but that gives the wrong impression--abnormal for a book with aliens and interstellar travel. I'm going to say that this is because the book is not about the science fiction; the science fiction is just the stage for the true story, the story of a man and his faith.

So, while there is a voyage through space, the real voyage is spiritual. And I've probably given the wrong impression about what this book is about at this point, because it's not some book of Christian ideology. It's a book that asks questions, hard questions, and doesn't really know what to do with them or how to answer them. It never falls back on "God works in mysterious ways." I really appreciate the book for that. And it's not going to give you a bunch of "answers" at the end, either. There's no "trust God and it will all work out" pat on the back, and I appreciate it for that, too. To put it another way, this not a book preaching a bunch of Christian dogma.

It's not a "Christian" book at all, in fact, not from that perspective, anyway. It's not telling you the answers to all the questions of the universe. It's more asking those questions for you. Or, maybe, asking the questions you thought you weren't allowed to ask. Then it leaves you to figure out what you think about them, which can be a lot more uncomfortable than you might think.

This is one of those books that really speaks to me. It doesn't shy away from all of the crap that life can give you, and it certainly doesn't say, "Well, if bad stuff is happening to you, God must be punishing you." And I really want to talk about the specifics, but I'm not going to, because I think you should go read the book. This is one of the few (three, in fact) books that I think everyone should read. Everyone should have the opportunity to confront the questions The Sparrow asks and figure out if they're going to try to figure them out for themselves or shy away from them or pretend they don't exist.

The structure of the story only adds to everything else that's going on with the book. You follow the main character, Emilio Sandoz, through two different time lines: the trip to Rakhat in the past and the investigation into the trip in the present. It generates one of those situations where you know, ultimately, what happened, but you are rooting for the characters, anyway. You want to know "what" and you want to know "why." It's much more gripping than if the story had been typically linear.

That said, this is no lightweight book. It has humor, but it also has pain. It has enlightenment, but it also has darkness. It has great joy, but it has greater suffering. This is not a Harry Potter "This is great!" recommendation. It's not an amusement park; it's a mountain. But the journey, and the requirement of the climb, is worth it in the end. If you can make the climb. And I do get that not everyone can and not everyone wants to (it's hard work) but, probably, you will not regret it.

There's a good chance that in another five or seven years I will read it again.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Do You Remember Your First?

You know what? You guys need to keep your minds out of the gutter. I'm talking about books. That very first book you just couldn't put down. The one that, maybe, kept you up all night because you just had to know what happened. Or, maybe, you took a sick day from work. If you read, I mean, if you really read, you've almost certainly had one of those books that would have had to have been pried from your cold, dead hands to get it away from you. I'll tell you my story, if you tell me yours. Just hop over to Indie Writers Monthly to find out.

Man, I should have made this a blog hop! Hmm...

And, hey! look! Bonus!
I recently did a review of Dead and Moaning in Las Vegas. Evidently, my review caused such a stir (totally true; I would never say that if it wasn't!) that the boys are running a special deal on it this week, so click the thing below and pick up your copy for a mere $0.99! Do it now before the zombies eat all of the copies.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel (a movie review post)

Wes Anderson is not your typical film maker, not by any standard. His films are, at best, quirky or, if it's not the kind of thing you like at all, actually, I suppose the best would be something more along the lines of weird. At any rate, they're different. If you want explosions and action, you're probably better off going somewhere else. Although there was a ski chase in this one...

The Grand Budapest Hotel is probably Anderson's best film. It's full of prison breaks, cats flying out of windows, and lots of perfume. It has a lot of humor, some of it black (like the cat flying out the window), and is full of weird and interesting characters. Also, it's a story within a story within a story. I still like Moonrise Kingdom the best, though.

Rather than talk about the movie, because I don't want to be spoilery, let's talk about the actors:

Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave: I am not always completely satisfied with Fiennes. He seems to oscillate between extraordinary and, well, pretty awful. I'm not sure if it's that he just sometimes chooses poor roles or if he's erratic as an actor. Whatever the case, he was delightful in Grand Budapest. Utterly charming and debonair. It's a good thing, too, since the weight of the movie was on him. He pulled it off magnificently.

Adrien Brody as Dmitri: Not the role required much of him, but Brody was great in the role. He looked the part, and he played the part. What more can you ask?

Willem Dafoe as Jopling: Dafoe is just kinda creepy all by himself so, when you put him in a role as someone who is creepy, you kind of can't miss. Not to mention the... I don't know; it's like they gave him lower jaw fangs or something. Certainly not someone you want to mess with.

Jeff Goldblum as Deputy Kovacs: I'm not sure Goldblum went out of his way in this part; I mean, it's not like it required that much, but I loved him in it. He's just got a... presence, and I wish he did more movies. favorite line from Grand Budapest: "Did he just throw my cat out the window?"

[Can you see the theme with the flying cat? That's my theme, not a theme of the movie.]

Jude Law as Young Writer: Law has a great voice, so he works great as the story teller. Well, the story re-teller.

Tilda Swinton as Madame D.: If I hadn't known it was her, I wouldn't have known it was her. My only issue with the movie, if you can call it that, is that Swinton plays a woman about three decades older than she is, and I don't know why Anderson wouldn't just get someone of the appropriate age to play the part. But, then, there's Swinton doing this amazing job bringing that peculiar look she has even though you can't tell it's her at all, and I guess Swinton was the right choice.

Tony Revolori as Zero: Actually, Revolori was great as the sidekick/counterpart/protege to Gustave. His very direct manner worked to cut through Gustave's some of Gustave's pretense and offered some great moments in the movie. "Don't flirt with her."

It was also great to see Bill Murray and Owen Wilson make appearances. Oh, and Jason Schwatzman.

There are other actors I could mention, but these are the ones I thought stood out. These are not in any order, either. I mean, I didn't put them in any kind of descending order; I just went down the cast list and commented on the ones I had something to say about.

So... If you like Wes Anderson's movies, this one will certainly not disappoint. If you've seen others of his movies and were put off by them, this one is no different and won't convert you. Probably. If you've never seen an Anderson film, I'd say this one is a good one to start with. Or Moonrise Kingdom; you can't forget that one.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Process Or Chop?

Last week, I was making meatloaf. Look, you can just shut it. I hear you all out there about the meatloaf, but I make great meatloaf. There's a secret to it. A secret which I'm not going to tell you, because then I would have to share the "King of Meatloaf" title (which goes with my "King of Hamburgers" and "King of Fish" titles (there are probably more titles (like "King of Mashed Potatoes," according to my son but, really, how hard are mashed potatoes?), but those are the ones that come to mind right off hand (oh, and "King of Eggs," probably, too))), and I'm just not willing to do that.

So I was working from this recipe that my wife wanted me to look at (don't worry; I modified that recipe and made it my own), and it called for a "food processor." No, not in the meatloaf! What are you, crazy? It called for me to use a food processor with which to cut things up. Like the bread. Why in the world would I need a food processor to make little pieces of bread? That is kind of crazy.

See, I used to have a food processor. I kind of hated it. Okay, I did hate it, which is why I don't have it anymore. Unless you're making salsa or, like, a smoothie, the things are basically worthless. Recipes don't usually call for vegetable juice, and that's about the only good they're for. I used to use mine for meat (and that's about the closest you're getting to my cooking secrets), and it was great for that until it was time to clean the thing, and that was... well, to put it mildly, cleaning meat out of a food processor is a bitch. Sorry, I have no other way of putting that.

At any rate, eventually, I got rid of the food processor. I'm not much for making my own salsa.

It annoys me when recipes call for a food processor. I mean, what does it matter how I go about cutting up whatever it is I'm going to put into whatever I'm making. What if I don't want vegetable paste but actual discernible pieces of vegetables? I mean, we don't all have a phobia against plant matter like Briane Pagel and my younger son (except my son's bias is mostly against green things, and he fully supports potatoes (see "King of Mashed Potatoes")). And what if, you know, I don't own a food processor. Especially if that's not by choice. And, then, let's just pretend I don't have a lot of cooking experience, yet, and I see that the recipe calls for the food processor, and I don't actually know that I can just cut the stuff up myself. Instead, I see that in the recipe and I think, "Well, crap, I can't actually make this."

It's even worse when that is something that's actually true. Which does not happen with cooking, but it does happen with my kids' school assignments upon occasion. So many of my kids' assignments center around the computer, and it bothers me to no end when teachers give computer-centric assignments because not everyone owns a computer. In fact, there is still a significant percentage of American households that don't have computers. And I'm not just talking about the need to get something typed up and printed out (although we don't own a printer, so that always bugs me, and we have to go out of our way to get things printed for the kids when they need something printed).

The other day when I was making the meatloaf, my daughter was also working on an assignment for school, an assignment for her English class. In theory, the assignment should have been to write a report but, instead, the teacher had assigned them to make a slide show. This was disturbing to me on so many levels. For one, the assignment specifically required a computer (not just the ability to print something out (although I would guess that at least some of the students who do work on the computers at school do not have access to that work when they are at home; what are they supposed to do?)). For another, it required her to do things I know nothing about.

There should not be any kind of assignment from an English class that I know nothing about. Of course, I knew nothing about it because it was not really an English assignment. There was virtually no research involved as she only needed captions to go with the pictures. There was virtually no writing involved as she only needed to write the captions to go with the pictures. The actual work was finding the pictures she needed for her topic and putting them into the slide show thing. That's not the kind of thing that goes in an English class.

But, see, the thing that nailed it for me is that while I was chopping stuff up for the meatloaf (and I have to say that the clean up from chopping things is so much easier than cleaning up a food processor), she couldn't get something to work with her slide show, and I was completely unable to help her with that. Which is when I began wondering how the assignment was helping her to develop and kind of English skills.

All of that to say:
It's not always important to listen to the "how" of doing things. People will continually want to tell you the "how" of it, whatever the "it" is. Here is "how" to write a novel. Here is "how" to be an author. Here is "how" you should write. Here is "how" to pick your nose. What's more important, though, is to look at the result you want and figure out your own "how" on how to get there.

Which, I suppose, is where I have the issue with my daughter's assignment. I don't know what it is they were supposed to learn. It was classified as a "research project," but the "how" of presenting said (almost non-existent) research seemed to be the actual goal of the whole thing. Then, I have to ask: Why was that the goal of an English assignment? But I digress. Again.

So, anyway, if you need to have vegetables be in small pieces, what's the best way for you to do that? If you want to write a book, what's the best way for you to do that? You don't need to go out and buy a food processor just because a recipe says you should use one (especially if you don't like them to begin with (I mean, heck, some people still write on actual paper instead of using a keyboard)), and you don't need to have an office and office hours to write a book. Sure, there are some things where you need to follow a specific "how," like putting pictures into whatever slideshow thingy my daughter was using, but, sometimes, we come up with new ways to do things because someone doesn't know the "how" of it comes up with something new. Personally, I'd rather be that guy.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Dystopian Marketing

I have made no secret of my dislike of the whole "dystopian" thing in popular culture these days. Much of my dislike springs from the fact that it, mostly, is not actually dystopian but post-apocalyptic, and I got over the whole post-apocalyptic thing back in the 80s. Names mean something to me, which is part of the reason I never liked Tim Burton's Joker movie. What? You're telling me that Burton never made a Joker movie? Sure, he did; he called it Batman. I walked out of that movie completely dissatisfied and the first comment I made to friends that I saw it with was, "I might have liked it if they'd called it The Joker." [I'm not just giving an opinion here. If you watch any of the interviews with Burton at the time, he says repeatedly that the movie was focused on the Joker. That's the character he found interesting. He could really have cared less about Batman.]

Anyway, if you want to know more about my whole thing with dystopians and calling things what they are, hop over to Indie Writers Monthly and read the post.

Now, I have a question. Last month, I did a little experiment focused on getting reviews. Mostly, that didn't work out. I did get one review from it, so it wasn't a total failure, but one is hardly what I'd call successful, either. However, I did get some sales from the push for reviews. So here's the question: What is it that makes you go from thinking you might want to read a particular book some day to actually buying that book in preparation for reading it? I know what it is for me (sort of), but I don't think, at this point in my life, that I'm a good example of how people buy books. Then there's that it seems to work to some extent (no matter how much I don't like doing it) when I say, "Hey, buy my book! please" And I do know that I don't do that "enough," at least, not according to all of those marketing people who say you ought to have such and such a ratio of self-promotion to other stuff. I tend to, um, not self promote at all.

So, yes, specifically, I'm looking to find out what it would take those of you out there who have been thinking about buying one of my writing things to move from the "thinking about it" side of things to the "doing it" side of things, but I'm assuming that it's the same process for my stuff as for any other books. So let me know:

What's the thing that pushes you over the edge from just thinking about buying a book to actually buying the book. Aside from how it might benefit me, I am curious. Let's call it a data study.

And don't forget, after you answer that question, here, hop over to Indie Writers Monthly and read all about the "dystopian thing"!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

You're a Hitter, Now!

Softball season is well underway, here. At least, it is for me, since I count the beginning of the season from the point when my daughter starts practice. The actual season has also started. Games began last week. [And here is where I'm tempted to start talking about my daughter and how it looks like she's going to be an awesome catcher, but I'm not going to do that. That's not what this post is about. I'm sure that will come later, though.]

Hitting during a game is an especially difficult thing for this age range, due in no small part to the erratic-ness of the pitching. Many of the girls are so scared of being hit by the ball that they jump out of the box every time a pitch is thrown. And they all get hit at some point, so it's not an irrational fear. And, because so many of the pitches are balls, the girls have a difficult time discerning what to swing at. I don't envy them.

Amidst that, one of the girls on the other team got her first hit during the first game. It was a nice, solid fly ball. A foul, fly ball (right at me, actually, so I'm glad there was a fence there). Of course, a foul ball is a strike, so, on the one hand, it wasn't a successful hit, but, on the other hand, she hit the ball. In fact, her coach yelled at her after she'd returned to the plate, "You're a hitter, now!" and, maybe, something about doing it again. What came after wasn't important. The "you're a hitter, now," though, is very important.

There's a particular confidence that comes from knowing you can hit the ball. Actually make the bat connect with the ball. If you can do that, no matter where it goes the first time, you will eventually be able to get a base hit. You have to get on base to score.

Now, follow along with me here, and let me know when you get what I'm saying. [Note: I am not going back and sourcing this information, but this is all based on a few articles and reports I've read in the last few weeks.]

At the moment, indie books are being published at about the same rate as traditionally published books (despite claims by people supporting traditional publishing saying that indie authors are "flooding the market" (with crap) and making books indistinguishable for readers). That means for every 1000 indie books that are released there are 1000 traditionally published books released. But let's look at what that really means.
[There will be math involved, which will make Tina happy, but, despite anything she says, this is not "everyday" math.]

For every 1000 indie books published, that's like 1000 girls getting a piece of the softball with their bats. They won't all score or even get on base, but, hey, they hit the ball. They can say, "I'm a published author." If they keep at it, eventually, they will score. Now, here's the part you have to understand; that's a 100% success rate. Beyond that, two or three of them will do well enough to be able to go on and earn a living just playing softball.

But let's look at the traditionally published books. For every 1 of those 1000 girls at bat, there were anywhere between 500 and 1000 more girls told they couldn't play on the team. No particular reason, just "you can't play." So you have the same 1000 girls getting a piece of the ball, but the success rate is way less than 1%. In fact, it's as bad as 0.1%. Instead of 1000 out of 1000 being able to say "I'm a published author," you have 1000 out of 500,000 to 1,000,000 being able to say it. Those are bad odds. And you're no more likely to be able to go on to earn a living playing softball as a traditionally published author than you are as an indie author. In fact, instead of it being two or three out of the 1000, it's only one or two.

And the traditional publishing industry doesn't want you to know about the 1,000,000 kids, the 1,000,000 little girls, they turned away. Oh, wait, the 999,000.

And, yes, before anyone says anything, I know my analogy is not exact. For one thing, I'm assuming that every girl that gets up to bat will get a hit, but it worked for the analogy because that's what gave me the thought, "You're a hitter, now!" "You're a published author, now!" On that basis, it works.

The point is is that the traditional publishing industry survives by keeping kids off the field. By not letting them play. At all. Then they tell everyone that they picked the best players. That all falls apart, though, when you look over at the kids playing on the indie field, even some of those making a living wage at it, and you find out they were some of the same ones told by the gatekeepers of the traditional fields to get lost.

Look, we all want to score a run or two. At least bat someone else in, right? That can only happen if we can get out on the field and play. Personally, I believe in the system that lets people that want to play the game, play the game. Right now, I can say, "I'm a published author." I'm getting to play the game. Right now. I'm doing it. I'm not waiting in line over and over again to be repeatedly turned away hoping there will be an opening just when I happen to show up.

In the end, that's really what it comes down to for me: Are you going to let me play the game or not? As it happens, the indie field is open and has plenty of room for people to play the game. I'm not much fond of being told to take my ball and go home.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Dead and Moaning in Las Vegas (a book review post)

I'm not much a fan of the modern zombie story. Or, actually, of any zombie stories. I just don't get the attraction. Well, from a sociological standpoint, I do get the attraction, as I've talked about before, but I am not attracted (maybe, it's the lack of a cell phone). That doesn't mean there hasn't been the odd zombie story here or there that I haven't disliked:
Resident Evil (the movie, not the game (which I've never played), and only the first one)
Shaun of the Dead
Dead Beat
Really, I think it all comes down to this whole eating brains thing, which I just don't get. Where did that idea even come from and what kind of sense does it make?

Well, it doesn't make any sense, and that's part of the charm of Dead and Moaning in Las Vegas. That it pokes its rotting finger at the whole zombie thing while adding in social commentary is what makes the book work. That and the completely unlikely heroes. And that the real villain is not one of the zombies. And that the zombies are almost lovable with their constant nose-picking and chewing on, well, everything they can get their hands on while looking for "fud."

The only drawback is that it's never really explained what's going on, but I think that's just a drawback for me, because it's part of the structure of the story and an explanation would actually weaken it. Still, for me, I want to know what's going on. How everything happened. Okay, honestly, I think that information is already in the story in that it takes place in Las Vegas, but that's all the hint from me that you're going to get.

At any rate, if you like zombie stories and you don't mind them being mixed with hilarious absurd comedy, you should love this book. If you don't like zombie stories but love absurd comedy, you may still love this book. If you take zombies just a little too seriously, you might want to hop on your Segway and look for the newest "how to survive the zombie apocalypse" book.

A note:
I'm not dealing with any editing, etc issues in this review, because my copy of the book is from the release, and it had some formatting issues. My understanding is that all of that stuff has been fixed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What We Have Here... a failure to communicate.

But it was entirely my fault.
The original post is here. You should probably take a look at it, because it's full of a bunch of pictures and actors and authors and stuff. Then, you can go here and find out what I was trying to communicate in that post.
Because it's the author's job to communicate in a way that his audience will understand, and I clearly didn't do that with the post in question.

So hop over to Indie Writers Monthly.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Softball and High School

Life has been a little, shall we say, full, lately. It's sort of like that feeling when you really need to go to the bathroom, that bloated feeling, and you ought to just go, but, for whatever reason, you can't go do it. So you're uncomfortable, but there's nothing you can do about it. [For me, that feeling is usually in the morning while I'm cooking breakfast. There are eggs on the grill (and you can't just walk away from eggs while they're cooking), more eggs to cook, and I'm trying to get everything done so that people can go where they need to go and, besides, there's someone in the bathroom taking a shower or getting ready or whatever, anyway, and I need to eat, too, but, well, there's that bloated feeling because I need to go to the bathroom, so food is, let's just say, unappealing.]
Yeah, that's life around here, right now.

Softball for my daughter started about a month ago, and she's been having practice three times a week. Two of those nights are weeknights, which is extremely disruptive to the whole cooking dinner thing since, really, it means setting out for softball almost as soon as we get home from school. She already has her accordion lesson on Saturday morning, so Saturdays consist of going to her lesson, getting home, waiting 10 minutes while she changes into her softball gear, and heading back out again. It's a lot of running around.

In the midst of all of this, my younger son has been going through all kinds of high school admissions stuff. That's included special trips to schools to pick up or drop off paperwork, trips to the hospital to pick up immunization records, placement testing, interviews, and auditions. When did getting into high school become such a production? Why do we do this to our kids? I mean, in a general sense. The boy is 13-years-old, and he's being put through the equivalent of trying to get a job. I'm pretty sure it's not the kind of stress a kid should have to go through.

And, through all of this, my older son is never home. They're in the midst of putting on their biennial musical. This time, that's Once Upon a Mattress, a choice that I don't understand. I mean, in comparison to the last two musicals they did (The Producers and Chicago), this one seems rather lightweight. So he's had constant late nights between rehearsals and performances and, well, everything. And, when he gets home, he still has homework to do. Maybe I haven't mentioned how much I hate homework (and all of the latest research shows that homework (other than reading) has a largely negative impact upon students, but I bet we don't do anything about that any time soon). Anyway!

Despite the somewhat frivolous nature of the musical, my son was great! He plays the mute king, so it's a lot of physical comedy, and he has a real gift for that stuff. He was easily one of the best parts of the play. The girl playing Fred was also pretty spectacular. There were moments where I felt like I was watching Carol Burnett (the role of Winnifred was her breakout role back in 1959). In fact, as I'm typing this, he's in the middle of a performance that is supposedly being attended by Tom Smothers who played the part of the mute king in the 2005 Disney version.

Amidst all of this frantic busy-ness, I have still managed to be doing some writing stuff, and I have discovered something. What I have discovered is a discussion for another time. The point, though, is that, sometimes, the chaos causes things to rise to the surface that you might not otherwise see. Not that I want the chaos. I'm quite ready for it to be over. Not that it's going to be over anytime soon. I mean, my daughter's games haven't started, yet, and, when they do, there will be two games per week and two practices, so the schedule isn't going to be getting any easier anytime soon. However, there are still things that can be learned even when things are so busy you can hardly think. And there are still ways you can use your time to be productive even when you hardly have time to breathe. It's all about looking for the openings.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Author Contrasts (Sort Of)

I have no deep thoughts today. Hmm... no. Wait. I have no deep thoughts today that have translated into words. Today, it's just a bunch of images. You can probably blame this man for that:
And maybe this man, although he doesn't actually appear in the post:
Anyway, it's all about the difference between reality and how we like to see it. Or something like that. Go find out over at Indie Writers Monthly!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Part 2: Why Bother To Blog (That's Not a Question) (an IWSG post)

After a month of extremely low traffic (like February was for me (see part 1)) or a drop off in comments or a failure to generate sales from blogging or any number of other things, you might wonder, "What's the point? Why should I spend my time doing this thing; it doesn't seem to be getting me anywhere."
I can't say that's not a legitimate question.

So let me give you an example of why a blog can make a difference for even a well-known author.

John Scalzi is kind of a big deal in the science fiction world. His first (traditionally published) novel, Old Man's War, was nominated for a Hugo in 2006. Red Shirts won the Hugo for best novel in 2013. There have been many other nominations (which I'm not going to go try and figure out). He was also the president of SFWA for a while.

But, see, despite the fact that I read a lot of sci-fi/fantasy, I'd never heard of John Scalzi. Not as a writer. I discovered him through his... wait for it... blog! His blog is, in fact, great. I didn't find his blog until well after I'd started blogging myself, and I didn't realize, right at first, except in a very vague way, that he was a writer of books. I mean, he doesn't spend much time talking about the process of writing, so, just from his posts, it's not always apparent. Which is fine. I don't really need more author/writer advice, and I didn't go there looking for that stuff. Why would I when I didn't know about any of the books he'd written?

I went there because he has interesting posts about actual things and, more importantly, he has real things to say about those things, whatever those things happen to be, and we, evidently, have a very similar way of looking at those things. So far, I haven't disagreed with him about any of the things, at any rate. Though I'm not likely to wear a dress. (And you can just go check his blog to figure that one out.)

Eventually, though, he mentioned a thing he had coming out ("The B-Team," part 1 of his serialization of The Human Division), which caught my eye since I was serializing Shadow Spinner at the time, and I really took a look at his books and decided I wanted to read Old Man's War, which I haven't actually done, yet, but I will. And I also, now, want to read Red Shirts (which is going to be a TV show, so I really need to get on that). So, in me, he has a fan, and I haven't even read any of his books, but, see, I like him.

And all of that was because of his blog.

There's also Demetri and the Banana Flavored Rocketship, my favorite read of 2012, by Bryan Pedas, whom I found through his blog. And Briane Pagel and the very many things he's written (which, actually, includes his blog, which is like some vast, scrawling art form); do you want to guess how I discovered him? I bet you can't. No, seriously, just guess.
Okay, you got me. It was his blog.

I could go on.

Actually, I kind of will. If you have a blog and, for whatever reason, I go to it, and I see that the last post was November 27, 2011, guess what I'll do. If you're thinking that I'll explore it anyway, you'd be wrong. I'll close it up without bookmarking it and never bother to go back. I won't go poking around and I won't find out what you may or may not have written. Which is not to say that if you're an author you need to have a blog, but, if you do, you should keep it updated. If you're not going to do that, take it down. All the way down. Or archive it somewhere as a "look what I used to do" kind of thing.

Blogging may not be the thing anymore, but it is a thing, and it can be a big thing if you use it well. Most of my new reading (other than authors I already follow (like Gaiman, Lawhead, and Russell)) is coming from things I'm finding from blogs. That someone may be following along here and later decide to read one of my books makes me want to do a good job with the blog, which, granted, can mean a lot of different things and is a much longer conversation, but the intent is still there.

All of that to say, sure, blog traffic will dip and sway and be fickle and passive-aggressive or, even, aggressive-aggressive (I've had some of that, too) and it will come and it will go, but that doesn't mean that I should decide that it's just not worth it. How do I know when someone like me might come along and decide to check out one of my books? I don't, so I need to make sure that no one comes along sometime in 2016 and finds March 5, 2014 as the date of my last post.

This post has been brought to you in part by the IWSG.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Luck of the Sci-F(Irish)

Some of you may have noticed that I've been involved with this other group lately: Indie Writers Monthly. Mostly, it's geared toward science fiction and stuff. "Stuff" means all the other stuff that's generally associated with sci-fi. Things like fantasy and horror and and paranormal and... well, I'm sure some of you can see how I fit in even if I don't (yet) fit in with the science fiction. Well, except for my robot story, which is certainly science fiction.

I've seen the question come up here and there about why we call it "monthly" when there are so many posts each week. Well, here's the answer!

The first issue of our monthly magazine! Go grab it right now while it's FREE!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Part 1: February Was Weird, What the Heck? (an IWSG post)

February was a weird month. Not that February isn't always weird, but this one was especially weird. Don't get me wrong, I like February. It's my birth month; I'm obliged to like it. And I like that it's weird. I like that it doesn't know how many days it ought to have and all of that. But none of this February's weirdness has to do with the number of days it contains.

To be fair, the weirdness sort of started in January. That was when I finally broke down and joined that whole twitter thing (that's a link to me on twitter, by the way, not just a link to twitter (like you'd need that)). Twitter, just by itself, is weird. Seriously, I fail to see the appeal of speaking with this arbitrary 140 character cutoff, especially when people then just tweetspam (Is that a thing? That should be a thing.) a dozen times so that they can say the 1500 characters they wanted to say to begin with. That's like making mini-cupcakes so that you will eat less but, then, eating all of them.
Because they're so tiny.
You know.

So I'm on twitter, but I don't really know if I'm doing it correctly, because no one tends to respond to anything I tweet unless it's, in and of itself, a response to a tweet. Am I the only one actually reading what other people say? I don't know. Plus, twitter adds this unexpected pressure on me of coming up with tweets that at least approach the 140 character cutoff. Because why use just 50 characters? And it feels like they, the tweets, should be profound in some way. But once I throw it out there, no one responds, so it feels like I'm one of those guys walking down a crowded street talking to himself that everyone stares at and moves away from.

Of course, most of those people these days are just on the phone, but that weirds me out, because I'm never quite sure if the person is on the phone or just talking to him/herself.
But I digress... really, way off target here.

The weirdness started when John Scalzi replied to a tweet. I mean, I was replying to one of his tweets, but he replied back, which was kind of a jaw dropping moment. I had to tell Rusty about it just so someone else would know and, well, make it real. If that makes sense. Still, it's not quite the same as Offutt having Neil Gaiman tweet at him (which has happened more than once, if I'm remembering correctly), but it is something.

That was at the end of January, and, for a while, the most exciting thing happening on twitter, unless you count Nathan Fillion announcing that he was learning to play Magic, was the push up competition going on between Briane Pagel, Rusty, and myself. Yeah, I know. I'm sure all of you were waiting with held breaths to see our tweets on that subject. But, then, one day, I sat down at the computer to find that Jim Butcher was following me. Wait, what? I know! What the heck?! Again, I tweeted Rusty about it. But what the heck?

As it turned out, the heck was that Butcher's account had been hacked and, for whatever reason, used to follow back about 1000 of his followers. When I got home later that night, he was no longer following me. For a few minutes, though, I thought I was one of the cool kids.

However, a real thing did happen: Howard Mackie, a longtime writer for Marvel Comics and the writer of one of the best runs on any comic ever, dropped by my blog and commented. That, in many ways, is an even bigger "what the heck?" moment than the thing with Butcher. I mean, I've mentioned Butcher here on the blog on numerous occasions, but I've never mentioned Mackie. At least, not by name. I only talked about Ghost Rider and, that, only in passing. So I'm still wondering how he ended up on that post. I'm sure there's a lesson here, somewhere...
Oh, but we'll get to that.

On top of everything else, February was my lowest blog traffic in a year. Way below my current average. Way below. Way more than can be accounted for by the loss of a couple of days from the month. It's one of those things that makes you stop and go, "Whoa... what the heck?" And without wanting to you're suddenly wondering if blogging is actually worth the time it takes. Or if you did something wrong and offended a bunch of people. Or... something. It doesn't matter that your head is telling you all sorts of rational things:

  • It's just a fluctuation.
  • Blog traffic in general is slowing.
  • It's not about you.
Because your head is also telling you all sorts of irrational things, and you can't help hearing those things.
So... why blog?

And that's what we'll talk about next time. See you on Wednesday for "Part 2: Why Bother To Blog (That's Not a Question)"

This post has been brought to you in part by the Insecure Writers Support Group.