Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Let's go for a walk... Part 5: The Quantum Mechanics of Children

My two younger kids were out of school last week. For this post, the importance of that is that they "got" to go on the noonish dog walk with me. "Got" being a relative term. But let me digress for a moment.

Quantum mechanics is a... difficult... field of study. One of the fundamental principles of quantum theory is the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. It is so difficult to understand that many quantum physicists don't fully understand it. In fact, when Heisenberg originated his principle, it was largely intuitive, because they didn't really have the instrumentaion to actually demonstrate what Heisenberg was really saying. At any rate, it was a demonstration of vast intelligence and understanding.

A simple way of stating the uncertainty principle is this:
Oh, wait, there is no simple way. Okay, well, without getting into the actual physics of it, the best way to say it is that the act of observing something changes its behavior. Yeah, I could explain how this pertains to subatomic particles, but it works just as well as I've said it for my purposes here.

The interesting thing is that this doesn't just apply to physics. Think back to the last time you were alone, there was a song playing that you really like, you were belting it out at the top of your lungs, only... Only you weren't alone. You didn't realize, though, until halfway through the song that you were being observed. Your face turned red. Your voice constricted. The sound choked off. The observer probably smiled and told you to carry on, but you couldn't. Not now. You were being watched.

At least, that's the typical response. The alternate response is to sing even louder in an effort not to have the typical response.

Try watching kids play. As long as they don't know you're watching, everything is good. My favorite, though, is when a young child, around 5, falls and gets a scrape. If they think no one is watching, they pretty much shake it off and go about their business. If they know an adult saw, or, sometimes, even another kid, it's time for hysterics and water works.

But how does all of this pertain to my kids being out of school and walking the dog? Well, I'll tell you. And you may get a bit more of the physics with this, too.

Walking with my kids and the dog is rather like being an atom. I suppose that makes me a proton while the kids and the dog are electrons. They really don't orbit like planets do they way they teach you in high school. No, electrons orbit in electron clouds layered around the nucleus of the atom. And that's what it feels like to be walking with my kids. I mean, here I am, a proton, trying to mind my own feet and walk down the path, and I have these electrons bouncing all around me. And it doesn't matter how much I watch them, analyze their movements, as soon as I think I know where one of them is going, BOOM!, their position suddenly changes! As soon as I think I know where one of them is, BAM!, their direction changes!

I don't suggest trying to walk that way, especially when one of the three electrons is physically tethered to your arm. I think I must have looked like a drunk proton, because I certainly couldn't follow a straight line.

So, yeah, these are the thoughts I have when walking with my kids... I had a whole walk dwelling on the uncertainty principle just because I could never figure out which way they were going.

But, wait! There's more!

It also occured to me that writing should be sort of like this. At least, it should look like this from the point of view of the observer. Um, I mean the reader.

Here's the thing, when writing is like the planets, i.e. predictable, it's boring. The reader knows where everything is going, and, after a while, doesn't even need to pay attention anymore. It becomes like watching a clock. Tick tick tick. No one likes sitting and watching a clock. Because the act of observing a clock makes it stop altogether. Right?

However, when we write on a more quantum level, the reader can never quite figure everything out. They can't quite tell what direction one thing is going in or they can't quite figure out what's happening in this other place. It keeps the reader interested and keeps them observing longer.

Now, this doesn't mean be completely crazy. After all, electrons tend to stay with their nuclei. Well, unless some outside force acts upon them. At any rate, the reader wants to be able to get some idea of what is going on; that's why they're watching (reading) in the first place, so it can't be too unpredicatble. I mean, you don't want to be studying a carbon atom and find out that it's spontaneously become an oxygen atom. That would just be weird. Although, if you could duplicate it, you'd probably get a Nobel Prize for it.

So, I guess, I don't mind too much that my kids bounce around so much and the dog takes such sudden tangents. It does help me to work some quantum mechanics into what might be purely classical mechanics writing. And we wouldn't want that.
I urge you to do the same... Let's get quantum!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Frisby vs Brisby Addendum

First of all, this is not the real post for today. The real post is here. If you haven't read that one, go read it. This one is all the little notes and things I forgot to include in that one because I was trying to finish it before getting my kids off to school. Of course, the real issue is that I kept telling myself all day yesterday that I just needed to get these added into the post so I wouldn't forget them, but I kept not doing that. And, so, yeah, I forgot them.

Note #1 -- Briane Pagel is doing this big Star Wars blogathon over at The Best of Everything. It's 100 days of Star Wars trivia. There's some big prize or something. Or maybe not. I don't really know, because winning the prize isn't what's important to me. Just winning is what's important to me, and, evidently, I'm the guy to beat. Except that it's not really that difficult to beat me. All you have to do is be the first one to give the correct answer, and I'm not always that swift on getting to comment. Oh, yeah, and there are weekly drawings just for participating. The prize for this week is a copy of A Dead God's Wrath by Rusty Webb. If you haven't already read it, you should get in on the drawing!

Note #2 -- Speaking of Rusty, he left a really great review of my new story, "The Evil That Men Do" over on Amazon (and on Goodreads). It was completely unsolicited, and I can't say how much I appreciate that he took the time to do it. You all should follow the link over to Amazon and read the review and, then, by the story. It's just $0.99, and it's well worth it at that price, if I do say so myself. If you've been reading any of my Tib stories (and like them), you certainly don't want to miss this one.

Note #3 -- Actually, I've already forgotten this one. I know I had three things, but, whatever this one was, it doesn't exist in my head anymore. Maybe it fell out? Oh, well...

Frisby vs Brisby

It was a real struggle to get my daughter into reading. She's a very active kid, and, for a long time, making her sit down to read was virtually the same as the Chinese water torture. And not just for her. Over the last several months, though, she "got" it. Whatever it is that opens the eyes to books. That thing that so many people don't get.

So I've been suggesting books to her, and she's been reading them. The last one was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh. I was a little older than her when I first read it, but I loved the book. It was one of my favorites when I was a kid. When Disney said they were making a movie of it, I was very excited. Just like I would later be excited that they were making an adaptation of The Black Cauldron. My hopes, in both cases, were smashed and stomped on.

Anyway, my daughter read Mrs. Frisby in a few days. A very quick read for her considering she's 8, and the book is nearly 250 pages. She loved it. Currently, it's her favorite book.

I don't remember how she found out, but she did find out that there is a movie adaptation: The Secret of Nimh. Maybe it was my fault. I can't remember if I mentioned it or if she found out some other way. At any rate, she demanded to see the movie as soon as she found out there was one and reminded me everyday for weeks that I was supposed to get it for her.

Now, I did warn her that I had been very disappointed with the movie when I was a kid and that it's not really much like the book. She didn't care. She wanted to see it.
Today was that day. ["Today" actually being a day last week.]

I understand that kids aren't supposed to care how close to a book a movie sticks. They're not supposed to care. But I cared. Evidently, my daughter also cares. Before the half hour mark of the movie, my daughter said to me, "This isn't much like the book at all." By the hour mark, she had asserted, "I don't like this very much." When it was over: "Dad, why did they change it?" I have no good answer for her as it's a question I have often asked myself about movie adaptations.

Why did they change it?

For instance, since I've been talking about it recently, why decide to adapt the book Oil! into a movie but, then, only use the first 1/3 of the book. What you're left with is not a story at all, as I've said about the movie There Will Be Blood (you can read the review here).

I suppose this is what I'm saying:
If you think a book is good enough to adapt into a movie, why screw around with it?

Don't get me wrong, I understand the need for some changes. For example, The Hunt for Red October. This is a great book and just screams to be made into a movie. Which they did. But the book, especially the climax, is quite complex. You can't get all of that into a two hour movie. This necessitates some changes. However, the core of the story was left intact. If you watch the movie and, then, go read the book, as I did, you get the same story, the same plot; the book just has more... depth? Richness? More complexities. However, when they went on to do Patriot Games, they changed the whole thrust of that book from being a story about the political statement of a terrorist group into a story about revenge. The action is somewhat consistent, but the motivations are completely changed, lessening the story.

The same thing holds true for movie re-makes. Here, I'll point to True Grit and The Day the Earth Stood Still. The re-make of True Grit is excellent and, probably, superior to the original. This is because they held to the story of the original movie. I mean, they held to the story almost shot for shot. They layered in levels of grittiness and language, though, that weren't common when the original film was made which gave the re-make a much more realistic feel. And Jeff bridges was much more convincing as a drunkard than John Wayne, but, again, that was more due to the sensibilities of the time period than anything else. With The Day the Earth Stood Still, though (a movie I love and own (the original, that is)), they kept little more than the title, the fact that the character is an alien, and a giant robot. There is nothing else that is similar between  the two movies. What, then, is the point? Oh, wait, the guy(s) that did the re-make wanted to use the title.

I'm not a legalist with adaptations, no matter what it sounds like. I like the movie version of Coraline better than the book. Some of that is because of the changes. But the story is the same. It's just that, in many ways, the movie is the richer version of the two of these. And Gaiman was involved in the changes and helped keep the story itself intact.

All of this still leaves me with the question:
If you want to adapt a book, why change the story, the plot, you are adapting?

I couldn't answer my daughter's question. I don't understand the issue. If it's a different story you want to tell, just write a new story. Don't stomp all over my daughter's dreams by ruining a story she loves. Not that it ruined the book for her, but she was really troubled by the fact that the movie she saw was not the same as the book she read.

This isn't a question I have any kind of answer for. I get that Hollywood is just trying to make money, and they'll do that by exploiting, well, by exploiting anything they can get their hands on. But it seems to me that when you look at adaptations, the most successful ones are the ones that held most closely to the source material. Lord of the Rings, anyone? Harry Potter? You'd think with these kinds of examples, Hollywood would do a better job of trying to stick to the story from the book.

Yes, I do realize that The Secret of Nimh is 30 years old, so, maybe, it is getting better. Oh, wait, then there's There Will Be Blood. So maybe not.

Going back to the question, though...
As a writer, it may just be that I'm more sensitive to story integrity than most people. Of course, most people (as we've talked about before) don't read, so they don't really know the difference anyway. Maybe that means none of this matters. Is it my job to be upset if some other writer sells his/her story to some studio to get butchered? But, then, I have my daughter saying to me, "Why did they change it?" and it does matter to me. And I can't make it not matter even though I tell myself it shouldn't.

And I'm rambling, now, so I'm just gonna stop. It's not an easy question to deal with, though, and I, as I said, I just don't get why you'd want to adapt a story and, then, make the story unrecognizable.
Maybe that's just me...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Red Tails and the Lucas Syndrome

There have been many underappreciated films throughout the years. Generally, these are just due to not being able to market them to their potential and no one goes to see them. Occasionally, the reasons are much more insidious.

Red Tails went into development way back in 1988, and the original intended release date was two decades ago. You'd think that when the creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones says he wants to make a movie that movie studios would listen, right? Realize, this was before all the crap that has rained down on Lucas' head since the re-release of Star Wars as the Special Edition. However, no one would touch Red Tails. Not a single studio. Why? It was a story about black men with a primary cast made up entirely of black men. Hollywood wouldn't touch it.

They say there are financial reasons.

This may be true. In fact, it probably is true, because Hollywood is all about the money, but it doesn't make it okay. In the end, Lucas financed the movie himself. Marketed the movie himself. He only didn't distribute because Fox, grudgingly, finally agreed to do it. IF Lucas paid the distribution costs, so he paid for that, too. All totaled? Nearly $100 million. But Lucas believed in the worthiness of the movie and was willing to pay the costs even though he knew, he knew, the movie would take a loss. Probably a large loss. I can't help but admire that.

When it came time for Lucas to screen the movie to studio execs, he was snubbed. People literally just didn't show up to the screening. This was in 2011, so a lot of that had to do with the full-on hate that Hollywood and most of the world has going for Lucas, right now, but you can't deny that there is some part of it that's due to the fact that Lucas made a movie about blacks that's full of blacks. An action movie, not a drama. Something that hasn't ever been done before. We'll see if it happens again. As Lucas said in an interview, that's just not right. It's their job to show up for the screening, and these guys, a lot of them, chose to not do their jobs. It was calculated and insulting.

And completely undeserved.

Red Tails is getting bad reviews pretty universally. Before I went to see it, I did, actually, read some reviews, something I almost never do anymore. But, honestly, I was scared it wouldn't be good, so I wanted some information. My favorite (by far) review, started something like this, "George Lucas, destroyer of childhood dreams, has a new movie..." This was a professional reviewer, mind you, someone whose job it is to approach movies as objectively as possible and evaluate them for their individual merit. Maybe that was as objective as the reviewer should be, but, if that was the case, he shouldn't have been reviewing the movie. I'll leave it to your imagination as to what he went on to say about Red Tails, because it's probably worse than anything you'll imagine.

I finally got a chance to go see Red Tails the other night (I really wanted to go see it at Skywalker Ranch, but, despite the fact that they had several screenings of it, they filled up so quickly (with stars and "important" people) that the regular employees at Lucasfilm were never extended an invitation). I won't lie and say that I wasn't apprehensive. I didn't see a single good review for it. I didn't want it to be bad but was scared it would be. My fear was misplaced, Red Tails was spectacular.

Saying it like that, I could just be saying that the visuals were spectacular, and, believe me, they were. Extraordinary. It felt like watching aerial footage from WWII. But in color. Seeing that Lucas immersed himself in WWII dogfight footage when he made A New Hope, this is not surprising. This was not new territory for Lucas. But the rest of the movie is good, too.

I'm not saying it's the best movie ever, but it's solid. And it is certainly better than There Will Be Blood. By a lot. Yet, Blood was a best picture contender? And Red Tails is snubbed. Not just by critics but by everyone that currently has a beef against Lucas for "destroying their childhood dreams." At least, Red Tails is about something! An important something, I think. The movie, of course, is based on the Tuskegee airmen. I don't think there is anyway to stress how important the whole Tuskegee thing is to African Americans. Prior to that, the US military, based on "professional" psychological and medical testing had stated that blacks were both not intelligent enough or physically capable enough to ever be able to fly an aircraft.

The biggest issue with the movie is that Lucas started in the middle. The original treatment was too long for one movie, so Lucas had it expanded into a trilogy. Looking at the story, he felt that part 1 and part 3 were not movies he could make. More drama, less action. At least, he knows his strengths, I guess. The issue is that there really isn't a lot of background information given beyond a quote at the beginning of the movie. It picks up with primary characters, Easy and Lightning, in Italy at the Negro airbase there. If you don't know your history, especially your race history, I could see this being rather confusing. I don't know if it's because I grew up in the south or if it's just that they don't cover this stuff in schools anywhere anymore, but we've had to have many conversations with our children about racism and the history related to it, because they haven't covered it in school. At any rate, a lot of the subtext behind what's going on is left to viewer knowledge. And, honestly, at this point, while we're still dealing with race issues and other hate issues in the US and the world, it should be common knowledge. Too bad it isn't.

The other weakness with the movie is something I don't know if it's a weakness or not. When Ang Lee made his version of the Hulk 10 years ago, there was much derision of Eric Bana's lack of acting ability. I didn't find it to be bad acting. I'm pretty sure the "woodeness" of Banner in Ang Lee's Hulk was a directing decision to show how emotionless Banner kept himself. How in control he had to always be. I've seen Bana in other movies, and his role in Hulk is the only time I've seen him so... flat, so I think it was a concious decision. Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Terrence Howard are the "star power" in Red Tails, and both of them are very deliberate, slow speakers in the movie. It's difficult to tell if this was purposeful or not. Both of them felt very flat to me, but it may be that this was an appropriate way to speak for black men in their positions that had to deal with white men. So... maybe, it was actually great acting, but, without knowing, it came off as bad acting on the parts of the two "names" in  the movie.

However, they are both supporting characters, and the leads don't suffer from this issue. Both Easy and Lightning are strong characters and easy to like and engage with. The movie, really, focuses on the relationship between the two men with the war and race issues supporting what's going on. I didn't find any issues with the dialogue, which has been the major criticism of the movie. I think, with the assumption that Lucas was responsible for it. But he didn't write the script or do any of the writing.

To be clear, this is a movie that deserves to be seen. It's good. Good enough that I sat with my hands balled into fists almost throughout the entire movie with the tension of the action. That's not normal for me. But from the opening, and it opens with a combat sequence, I cared about the characters, and I didn't want anything bad to happen to them. No, it's not a "deep" film, but it's not meant to be. It's an action movie. Maybe that's the issue for a lot of people. So far, any movies that have dealt with race issues have all been dramas. All been "deep." As with writing, it keeps "black" movies a sub-genre. Black movies go in their special section just like books by black authors go in their special sections. It's just like sitting on the bus. Or drinking from the water fountain. Racism doesn't end while there are still distinctions, financial or not.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

There Will Be Disappointment and Peculiar Children

There Will Be Blood

Way back when I was still in school working on my degree in English, I had a particular English professor. There was one pretty sure way to do well in his class and that was to have "huge... tracts of land." True story: One day after class a female friend and I were waiting to ask him a question. We were both English students and in the same year, so we had a lot of classes together, and this wasn't the first time we'd been in this professor's class together. So, finally, he turns to us and before whichever of us could ask whatever question it was, he looked at her and said, "You don't happen to play volleyball, do you?" It wasn't until much later that we realized what he'd meant by that question. Huge tracts of land.

Being male, I didn't have huge tracts of land, so I had to rely on the alternative method of doing well in his class. In actuality, I'd accomplished that the first semester I'd had him. It's going to sound easy, but, really, it wasn't. The way to be even more assured of doing well than having huge tracts of land was to write a paper that was beyond his grasp. Scores of kids went into his classes with the assumption that that was an easy thing to do. Easy A. Just write a "deep" paper that the professor couldn't "get," and he'd give you an "A." And this was true. But it took a lot more to be able to do that than most students had in them. I did it with my very first paper before I'd heard about that "trick." I sort of became his prized student and everyone always wanted my help with their papers.

Several years ago, my wife and I decided we were going to watch all the "Oscar" movies. Mostly, this means we're watching the best picture winners, but we also branch into the ones nominated for best picture and some with best actor and actress wins. The idea here is that these should be the best movies of each year. However, sometimes, movies win not because they are good but because the professor just couldn't understand the paper. Because the critics or the panel or whomever didn't understand the movie, they assume it must be "deep" and decide it's great. Mostly so as not to look like they didn't get it.

We recently watched There Will Be Blood, and this was just such a movie. Now, I'm not going to say that Daniel Day-Lewis didn't deserve the best actor Oscar for the movie; he certainly did. He was tremendous and scary. But the movie was also nominated for best picture, and I have no choice but to believe that it was nominated because people just didn't understand it and decided, because of that, that it must be great and deep. It was based on an Upton Sinclair novel, so that must be true, right?

I haven't read Oil!, so I can't speak for the novel, but I was extremely disappointed with the movie. It wasn't about anything. Which is not to say that it wasn't about anything except that it wasn't. It was only about something in that it was about the life of Daniel Plainview, but it wasn't anymore about anything than the life of someone off the street is about something. Things happened. Lots of things happened, but none of them were about anything. You get to the end of the movie and look back and the only thing to say about it is, "what was that about?" and there's no answer for that question. I suppose, maybe, some people may consider that deep, but I call that not being about anything, so, really, what's the point?

[Note: I looked up some stuff about the book, and it backs up my assumption that the movie isn't about anything. The movie switches the main character to a supporting character and focuses on one of the supporting characters. A character which does not make it all the way through the book and a character without an actual plot arc. Basically, the movie ends at around the point where the book is really getting into whatever is going on. This would be kind of like making an adaptation of The Three Musketeers with Porthos as the main character and ending the movie when he gets wounded and has to stay behind.]

Related to that was the music. The music was... well, I have no good word for it. The music was the kind of music that makes you think something bad is about to happen except that it played that way throughout the entire movie. It made my wife tense so that she kept actually talking about what could be about to happen, and it (the music) was very distracting from the whole experience of watching the movie because nothing was ever about to happen. Well, except for a few times, but, mostly, no, nothing was about to happen.

The best part of the movie, the most artistic section, was the first 10 minutes or so. At first, there's no sound. Then, there's no dialogue, just Plainview doing his thing. Just a solitary man without sound in his life because he's alone. The movie descended from there, and I felt like I'd wasted my time after it was over; although, the conversation my wife and I had about it the next morning at breakfast made it worth watching, I suppose. Neither of us liked it, though, which is saying something.

My biggest issue, I think, is that the character ends up just as he started. He undergoes no change. No change means no story. When it comes down to it, this is a man vs himself story, but Plainview not only didn't win, he didn't even bother to show up for the conflict.

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children

I wanted to like this book. I expected to like this book. I mean, it has a great title. It also has a great cover. And it has a novel idea, the idea of using photographs as part of the story. I'd heard so many good things about this one from people posting about it and such, I figured it must be good. Plus, it was recommended to my wife by people she knows. And, well, it is a best seller, but, maybe, that should have served as a warning. I mean, I really know better than to trust that best seller=good book. It can mean that, but, more often than not, it's a signal to be wary.

All of that said, I didn't enjoy Peculiar Children. The first thing that really bothered me, and I mean it really bothered me, was that the Jacob went on and on about how he must be losing his mind. It was just annoying. The constantly trying to convince himself that he was crazy. Even when he was past the point of finding things unbelievable, he continued to tell himself that he must be going crazy and couldn't have seen or experienced what he did see and experience. If the author wanted to cast doubt on whether Jacob's experiences were real or not, he should have found some better way to do it, because the audience is never in a position to doubt Jacob's experiences, so the fact that Jacob doubts them is completely unrealistic. Especially since it's told 1st person.

The next issue I have with the book is that Jacob makes grand, sweeping, general statements about things fairly frequently early on in the book and, then, immediately contradicts them with more specific examples. And this is more of an editing issue, but the story occasionally slips into present tense. It's told past tense but every so often there will be a few sentences in present tense. It makes me wonder if it was written present tense and the author's editor or published wanted it changed, and they missed some passages. It was very disconcerting every time it happened, though. (And it was probably heightened for me, because one of my creative writing students has this problem of switching back and forth between past and present tense, so I'm hyper aware of it, right now.)

But my biggest issue with the book by far is that, out of nowhere, there is time travel. What the heck? Seriously? In general, authors should just stay away from time travel. Especially when the author is trying to pass of magic as science. [There will be a post about this at some time.] Everything in Peculiar Children is told from a very modern, scientific perspective, but, then, there are all of these stupid things the author throws in because he wants it to be that way although there is no scientific reason for it. Like technology from the present not working in the past. Why? Were the laws of physics different 60 years ago? I don't think so. It's just DUMB! Also, if people from the past come to the present, the weight of all of their years catch up with them, they age super fast, and they wither and die. Why? Because the author wants it to be that way not because there is any scientific rationale for it. It's a STUPID idea! Not just in this book, either. This is something I see trotted out a lot, and it's just DUMB! From a scientific point of view, at any rate. If you want it to be that way, just write a fantasy story and make it magic so that you don't have to explain it. If time travel was possible, scientifically, there is no reason why anyone should suddenly age by jumping into the future. That, by definition, would mean that time travel is not possible. At least not in a way that anyone would want to do it. Oh, and he conveniently forgets about all of this at the end of the book, because it suits his plot. None of the time travel stuff is even consistent within his own world, and that is something that screams bad writing at me. When you make up a world, be consistent to your own rules!

There are other issues and inconsistencies, too, but, even if there weren't the time travel thing would be enough for me to not like the book. The hollowgasts, the big bad in the book, are freaky early on when they're just being talked about, but the actual thing in the book doesn't fit the image of what is created early on, and what they end up being is really rather dumb, beings that crawl around on their tongues. >insert eye roll here<

All of that said, there were some spots where the writing really took over and pulled me in. I could actually get immersed in the story from time to time. Until something new and stupid popped up, then, I would sigh and wonder how I'd forgotten how dumb the book was overall. The worst part is that I still want to like the book. I want to like it in that I wish the author hadn't decided to throw in time travel and all of the other stuff he did that makes me not like it. I wish someone had been there to say, "hey, this time travel stuff is inconsistent at best. You need to tighten this up if you want it in the book."

There are two lessons to learn here:
1. Don't use magic as science. Just don't do it. If you don't have good science to go with what you want to happen, don't present it that way.
2. Be consistent to your own world. One of the biggest issues with, well, all stories are authors doing whatever they want under the umbrella of "magic" (or whatever) and losing all consistency. If you have a rule, follow it. (So, if you're characters can't leave their time loop at one point in the book because they will age 80+ years and die within a matter of hours, don't decide at the end of the book that this is no longer an issue.)

Both of these works were disappointments, which is unfortunate since I wanted to like them both.

[Note: "The Evil That Men Do" is now available for the Kindle. And only the Kindle. Yeah, sorry about that for you Nook people, but I've put it in the new Kindle only program, so that's where it will be for the next few months. Lucky for you all that there is a free Kindle app for the PC (which is what I use), and it's a fairly short work that won't chain you to your PC for several days. See the link at the right to purchase "The Evil That Men Do," or click on the Tiberius tab for more information.]

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Let's go for a walk... Part 4: The Otter

A couple of weeks ago, while out walking the dog, I saw an otter. Now, this isn't the first otter I've seen, but, the first time I saw one, it was not very close, not close enough that I could tell definitively that it was an otter, in fact, and it was kind of small. It was neat but not impressive.

This last one, though... it was both neat and impressive. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me. Not that it really would have mattered, because my camera is slow and doesn't like to take pictures of things that are moving. It was swimming downstream and toward me, and it was pretty big. As it approached, it suddenly dived, and I thought, "oh, well... that was pretty cool." But it surfaced just even with me and came to the shore of the creek to eat whatever it had caught. It was, maybe, 25 feet away. Close enough that I could hear its little jaws crunching whatever it was that it was eating. When it finished, it swam back out into the flow of the water and continued on downstream, occasionally diving, but it never banked itself to eat again while I could still see it.

As I was watching it, it occurred to me that it's events like this that make reading worthwhile. It's the injection of the unexpected into a story that makes us want to keep reading. Now, it's not that I didn't already know this, but I'd never thought about it in exactly this way before. I mean, we all know that no one wants to read about everyday life if that's all there is to it.

See, I walk the creek path everyday. It's beautiful. Really. But I do it everyday. It's not that it gets old, exactly, because I like to watch the water while the dog is doing her... well, taking care of her business. Which includes digging for gophers; although, she has yet to catch one. However, it does tend to be just the same old, same old. Things like the otter, though, remind me to keep my eyes open and pay attention to my surroundings. There are often neat little things to see. Like the hawk that landed on a branch just over the heads of my son and I. It was completely framed by the other branches around it so that it stood in a patch of sky with the full moon (it was daytime, though) back behind it. You couldn't have planned a better picture (and I did have my camera with me, but, by the time I got it out, the bird flew away).

Anyway, what I'm saying is that it's important, incredibly important, to ground your writing in the real. Or the realistic. You want it to be believable. In the midst of that, though, you want to toss in bits and bites of the unexpected. It doesn't matter how beautiful your writing is if it's just about the mundane. However, it doesn't matter how much of the unexpected you throw into your stories if they're not believable. Really, it's like adding salt to your food. Just enough to make it tasty but not so much that it ruins the flavor of whatever you're eating.

And there's your writing tip from the creek...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Made for 3D

Over this past weekend, I had the opportunity to go down to Skywalker Ranch and see a screening of the new 3D release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Before any of you say anything, I highly doubt that there is a single one of you out there that would have turned that down, no matter what you feel about The Phantom Menace. However, I happen to like the movie. Really like it. So, no, it's not my favorite of the Star Wars movies, but even the least of the Star Wars cannon is still Star Wars which puts it miles ahead of everything else. And, honestly, I love the movie. Even Jar Jar, as I've said before. [Scoff if you want, but I think if more of you were able to look at the movie based upon its own merits apart from your expectations, you'd see a different film. But more on that in a bit.]

It's been more than 12 years since I last saw this on the big screen, and it was so worth it to go see it again. And the 3D was AMAZING! Seriously. Of course, I saw it in Stag Theater on Skywalker Ranch, and, as the man said before the movie started, you won't see it anywhere else at a higher quality. I believe it. My children are not happy with me (because, unfortunately, I can't take them with me when I go down there for things like this).
And here's what makes it so awesome: there are no gratuitous 3D shots. I love the new Real 3D; however, I'm not always thrilled with the movies made in 3D. I hate those shots that have no real place in the movie, but the producers really wanted an over-the-top 3D shot for the trailer. It's annoying, to say the least. However, the Star Wars movies weren't made with 3D in mind, so there are none of those shots in the movie. I have to say, though, that Star Wars was just meant for 3D. I think that must be the way Lucas' mind works, because the movie was just incredible. AMAZING! I really don't care how you feel about Menace, you shouldn't let this opportunity to see it in 3D slip past you.
I also have a new respect for the lightsaber duel in Menace. The one from Empire has always been my favorite. It's just so classic in its style, and I love it. Just after that falls the duel at the end of Sith. However, the one from Menace may actually push it out of the #2 slot. After seeing it again on the big screen, I think it is the best example of what it must be like to be a Jedi involved in a lightsaber duel. Most of the credit there has to go to Ray Park. He made that duel.

On the question of gratuitousness (which wasn't really a question, but I'm making it one), this 3D stuff makes an excellent example of the pitfalls for writers in adding things in just because they're cool. Not that there's anything wrong with having cool things in your work, BUT. But sometimes it's out of place. Seeing Menace  in 3D, there is nothing out of place. There is amazing 3D, but nothing jumps out and pokes you in the eye and screams, "I'm here to show you how cool 3D is!" A long while back there was that Spy Kids movie done in 3D, and it's full of shots that are there just to highlight the 3D. Even Coraline, which is a great movie, has specific shots made just for the 3Dness of it.

I suppose what I'm saying is that you have to be really careful with this stuff. When the audience becomes aware that something was added in just to please them, the audience actually, usually, is displeased by it. Yes, the definition of irony. As a writer (for whatever medium), you can't be too overt with these things. Avatar, actually, is a good example of this. There are some shots in the movie that are there just to display the 3Dness of the movie (like the shot in the control room with all the holographic screens (and I can't wait to see the 3D holographic image of the Death Star in Jedi, by the way (and it's totally not gratuitous))), but they are melded into the film so flawlessly that you can barely tell. It seems natural. And it is even though it's shown the way it is just to be 3D. However, one might say that the whole prospect of re-doing Titanic in 3D is the very definition of gratuitousness.

There's a balance that must be maintained between the integrity of the story and giving the audience what it wants. Audiences are fickle in a lot of ways, and, if you give them too much of what they want, they no longer like it. Sort of like allowing kids to gorge on sugar until they're sick.

Which brings me to my next point: audience expectation.

The Phantom Menace disdains audience expectation. People wanted another A New Hope. Maybe, they wouldn't say it that way, but that's what they were looking for. They wanted to relive that experience of seeing Star Wars for the very first time as a kid. And, most of all (I think), they wanted Han Solo. But you know what? Lucas already made that movie. It was called A New Hope. Why make it again? He's said as much in interviews, and I agree with him. He can never make that movie again no matter how hard he tries because the adults, now, that experienced that movie for the very first time back in the 70s can never relive that experience again. You can't go back to being a kid and have that joy and awe that you had when you first saw Star Wars.

So this is another fine line to walk. Although, I agree with Lucas in that he made the movie that he wanted to make (except not exactly, because Qui-Gon was added in because they couldn't do with Yoda, yet, what they wanted to do with him, and Lucas knew that the puppet Yoda could never perform a believable lightsaber duel), he may have gone too far the other direction. That's a hard one to call. And, see, I'm actually on the side of Lucas. My kids love all of the movies, and my kids love Jar Jar. In fact, I don't know of any kids that didn't love Jar Jar. And I think that's great, and I think the problem lies within the adults if they can't get past the fact that Jar Jar is in the movies. [I'm sorry. Remember back to when you first saw Star Wars and take into account how old you were. Now, put yourself at that age in front of Menace and tell me (honestly) that you wouldn't have loved it.]

That doesn't change the fact that Lucas failed to meet the expectations of the greatest proportion of his audience, and his audience has been roasting him for it ever since. As an author, what should you do? Should you strive to meet audience expectation? I'd say no, because it doesn't matter how hard you try, you'll never achieve that goal. Of course, that's me, the author, talking. Most people that are just audience would say, "yes, meet my expectations! Throw in gratuitous 3D shots to show me how cool everything is!" And, then, they wouldn't like it anyway. So, really, it's a no-win situation, and I don't have any good answers.

Well, that's not true, I think we, as the audience, have to learn to accept things as what they are and quit demanding that story tellers write our stories for us. If you feel so strongly about how a story should be written, go write it yourself. I guarantee it will change your perspective.

Other short reviews (because I won't have time to give these the attention they deserve):

Real Steel
I highly enjoyed this movie. Hugh Jackman was great. When is he not great? The kids was a bit to precocious (beyond his years), but it was a good exchange the two had going. The robots were cool. You can boil it down and say this was Rocky with robots, and, in many ways, it was, but the dynamic of the father/son relationship makes it worth watching.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Great movie. Seriously. I can't even begin to explore this in the time I have to do so, so you'll just have to see it. James Franco was great as was John Lithgow. Of course, it was Caesar that stole the show and Serkis certainly deserves some kind of recognition for his performance. I think they did a fabulous job of going back and setting the stage for the old Apes movies, and it made me want to go back and watch them all again (I haven't seen them since I was a kid). I think I'll be doing that, in fact.

Other News:
"The Evil That Men Do" is almost finished. Well, it is finished; I just have to finish with the formatting and the notes. I'm hoping to have it ready for Thursday but, certainly, by the end of the week.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Not Just For Kids

One of the things I worry most about as a writer is being pegged as a writer of kids' books. Unless that's all you want to do, it can be a huge ball and chain. Once you get that label, if you try to break away and do something else, everyone gets mad at you. Like you can't possibly do anything else. My goal with The House on the Corner was not to write a book for kids but to write a book that was accessible to kids. Yes, I want kids to read it, but I also want adults to read it. In this, I was, actually, striving for something along the lines of Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia (although, really, Lewis was writing for kids, but I think he surpassed himself).

In truth, what I was striving for was something more along the lines of Animaniacs (the greatest cartoon EVER!) or Looney Toons. Kids love that stuff, but you can't really appreciate them until you grow up and see the entire other level of humor. I'm not saying I achieved anything along the lines of either of these shows, but, still, it's the kind of thing I was going for.

So... if I don't want to get labeled an author of kids' books, why did I write a book that lends itself to that? Well, the answer is really simple, actually: I didn't want to have to tell my kids they couldn't read it. That can be a huge motivator. So what you get is The House on the Corner and, now, the Tib "stories."

But the truth is that the "real" stories in my head, the "big" ones, are not for kids at all. Not that I want to belittle what's going on in House or Tib, because I don't view those as "small" stories, but one of the things in my head would fall under epic fantasy (I think), and that makes me think "big." The other deals with... well, big issues, I guess. Not growing up type issue, like House, but society issues.


My original idea when I started all of this writing business was that I was going to start out by writing short stories. That idea didn't live very long as fell into House pretty soon after that. I did, however, start one short story (this is was nearly 3 years ago). Yes, I did say "start," because I never finished that first story. Well, that is, until now.

It's interesting to me in that that story started out as just this isolated little thing. It came out of the idea of what we can do with words to other people (but I don't want to say more than that, because, really, more than that would give the story away). Later, much later, I sat down and wrote "The Tunnel" (The Tunnel being part 1 of Tib, for those of you that haven't been following). As I was writing it, I realized that these two stories were linked, and a much larger world started growing in my head (yeah, it's kind of painful, and there are all sorts of operations (usually involving keyboards and the banging of heads) required to get things like that out once they've started growing).

The problem here is that that first short story, that one I started so long ago, well, it's not for kids. I will just happen to fail to mention it to my kids even though they're reading all about Tib. They'll just have to wait till they're older to find out how all of that came about. Okay, well, maybe my oldest will get to read it, but it's really going to depend upon his ability to keep his mouth shut to the other two. I don't think I would think about things like this at all if I mostly dealt with high schoolers (I was reading things much more mature than this when I was in high school), but, no, I teach creative writing to middle schoolers and spend lots of time in elementary school classes, and I have to worry about parents letting their kids read this story without looking at it first for no other reason than that I wrote it and their kids love The House on the Corner. [Yes, I'm going to be spending a lot of time telling parents at my kids' school "make sure you read this before you let your kids read it (because a lot of them have Kindles or access to one).]

And, now, finally, to the point:

This post was supposed to be the announcement of the release of a new story, but, alas, I'm not quite finished with it and getting it all set up on the Kindle. Things have just been too busy, lately, but I should have it ready by sometime early next week, so I'm going to go ahead and debut the cover today.

First, though, for those of you who have been following the adventures of Tib (if you can call them adventures), this is sort of a prologue to all of that. Or an origin story. But not really. At any rate, it is the story that gave birth (no pun intended (yes, you'll have to read it to understand that)) to the world that Tib lives in. The title is "The Evil That Men Do," and it will be available exclusively on the Kindle sometime soon.

The inestimable Rusty Webb is, once again, responsible for the cover, and I really love it.
And because I'm such a nice guy, I'm going to give you a look at some of the other designs that were part of the process.

My wife (and, I think, Rusty's wife) liked this one best, and, while I really like the silver, it doesn't evoke the moth and flame image the way the other cover does.

And because I think this next image is really cool, even if it doesn't work for what I was going for, here's one other "work in progress" piece:

If you don't already follow Rusty, click that link I left up there, and go do that!

Look for (actually, I'll tell you when) "The Evil That Men Do" to be available for the Kindle sometime in the coming for the LOW, LOW price of only $0.99!!!

Also, remember, the sale on The House on the Corner is ending today. Tomorrow, I'll set the prices back to what they're listed at on my House page, but, for today, you can still get it for the LOW, LOW price of only $0.99!!! And, hey, you can't beat 2-for-1 on signed copies of the physical book! Okay, well, that's not precisely true, because you could beat it, but I can't. Sorry, folks, that as low as I can make it go, so buy your copies while you have the chance, and give one as a gift!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wherein I Review My Own Book

As part of the celebration of The House on the Corner being one year old this week, I've decided to give my book the review treatment. As much as possible, I'm going to approach my book as if it was someone else's book. However, because that's not really possible, I'm going to give you tidbits of information about different aspects of it as I go. Sort of a "how someone else might see it vs. why I did it that way" kind of thing. Also, I hope to show that I can be harsh with my own work, too.

Not that I really think I'm that harsh, but any time you don't tell someone you absolutely love what they've written, you tend to come off as harsh. In fact, if you have a preference for some earlier piece of work someone did over whatever it is s/he's currently working on, you come off as harsh. Anyway... all of that to say that this review business is tricky, so I understand why people decide to (A) not do them at all (B) only give fabulous reviews and 5 stars no matter the quality of the work. However, and I've said this before, I strongly believe in the need for reviews, especially for new authors, so I feel I need to do my part in supporting that by giving them. [Hopefully, that will work its way back around to me some day (although, so far, no such luck (which is not to say that I haven't had any reviews, but... oh, never mind)).] I also don't feel like I can be dishonest (especially with myself) by proclaiming the greatness of something that I didn't think was great. And saying a book was good when you don't really believe it doesn't help anyone, but I've already talked about that (although, I don't remember which post that was), and I digress...

I'm going to start with the grade, this time, rather than working toward it as I normally do. The House on the Corner is in the B+ to A- range. And, yes, this grade is a struggle for me. House is not A+ work. I mean, just this morning while reading in one of the classes I read in, I found a typo (chapter 14), so I haven't worked all of the bugs out of it, yet. However, on the technical merits, House is at least an A. Overall, there are very few "bugs" that still need to be worked out. Although, on this read through, I have noticed a tendency to over use the word "though," which I'm finding annoying. [So much so that I've been trying to pay attention to my actual speech to see if I use it that much when I'm talking or if it's only a writing thing.] However, in comparison to most self-published books (and some (many) professionally edited and traditionally published works) I have far fewer "oopsies" than are generally floating around out there. I think I've done a really nice job on that even if I do tend to use more commas than are strictly necessary (they are still correct, even though most people wouldn't use them (I have a whole post on commas coming up at some point in the future, too, so, really, you don't want to miss that!)).

I don't think a lot of books deserve the A+, and I don't really expect that I will ever write one. Not that I won't try. House is not it, though. So what holds it back?

It's long. Not War and Peace long, but it's long for a "kids' book." I will say, though, that the kids don't seem to have an issue with this. But, aside from being long, it has a slow start. This is a huge barrier to a lot of people. I think people that love books like The Lord of the Rings won't have an issue with the slow start, but, as amazing as it may seem, most people don't love The Lord of the Rings (even if it is considered the most significant work of fiction of the 20th century). Most people have not and will not ever read it. Why? It's too long, and it starts too slowly. If you make it through childhood and haven't read it, it's unlikely that, as an adult, you will ever read it. I'm sure there's a study out there somewhere about that. [Of course, 50% of people never read another book in their life once they finish school (and I know there are studies about that, because I've talked about that before (sorry, I don't remember which post that was, either)).]

Really, though, it's not the length that's the issue, it's the slow start. Of course, there are reasons I have the slow start. One reason is that I hate how the new conventions of "how things should be" in literature include leaving out the exposition and as much of the rising action as you can. Basically, it's all about jumping into the story as close as you can get to the climax and still have it be understandable. I hate that. Jumping into the middle of the action may seem fun and exciting, but it's really just bad story telling. I decided to not take part in bad story telling. I start at the point of conflict, the move, but it's not the middle of the action.

Another reason for the slow start, and, really, the larger reason, is that I wanted all the pieces in place for what I'll call the meta-story. The story beyond the story that's just in this one book. This is going to get a separate post, but one of the things I really hate (despise) in series fiction (and this happens a lot on TV) is when the author(s) throws something new into a story (episode) to satisfy a plot point that, really, we should have known about all along. It's contrived, and I find it annoying (and I really want to use stronger language, but I'm biting my tongue). I get that your (and I'll call it) micro-story has needs, but you should have thought of those needs ahead of time. Don't throw in a secret healing ability because you suddenly "need" it. Think of something else. Basically, if it's something we should have already known about, don't use it. Figure out a way to introduce it and make it part of the story for later use. I mean, this isn't Batman's utility belt we're talking here, and you don't have any good reason to suddenly whip out shark repellent. Other than the old, 60s Batman television series, about the only place this idea works in is James Bond movies, and it only works because the idea is that James Bond can use whatever he happens to have available to get out of the messes he's in. [You might notice, though, that the new Bond doesn't use the whole Q-effect.]

At any rate, I wanted to include as many of the elements from the meta-story as I could in this first micro-story so that it wouldn't seem like some cheap trick when they show up later. I don't want anyone to think, "Wait, why didn't we ever know about that before this?" So, when there are issues with the little stairway going to the side door, that will be important in the meta-story. The books? The books that seem to be so casually thrown in to no purpose: important in the meta-story. Even Dr. Atkinson, who may seem like an unimportant side character that could be dropped, important in the meta-story. These things, which draw out the length of this first book, will already be there when they are needed. This seems to me a more natural way of doing things... well, it will be more natural to the reader when they encounter them..., so I'm willing to make the story a bit longer than is strictly necessary to accommodate that, even if it means that it will fail to hook some readers.

The next drawback is the perspective. I chose an unusual way of telling the story, but it was a conscious choice. Even knowing that it might be difficult for some people, I chose it anyway. As with most things I do, there are multiple reasons:

1. The obvious reason: I have three kids. I was writing this book for them (which is not to say that I was not also writing it for the larger audience, but my primary concern was writing a book they would like. In doing so, I hoped to write a book that all kids would enjoy (and my experience (so far) has shown that to be pretty close to truth)). Because I was writing it for them, I decided to write it about them to a certain extent, so I decided I would give each character (Tom, Sam, and Ruth) their own perspective. This was actually the thing I was most worried about going into the book, that changing the POV between three 1st person perspectives would be too confusing for kids. Ironically, the only people who have struggled with the perspective shifts have been adults.

2. The not-so-obvious reason: The Pigman by Paul Zindel. I'm not sure if this book is really as obscure as it seems to be to me. I had to read it in middle school, and, evidently, it is still widely used in schools, but I've never ever heard mention of it again since then, so I think it must be a book that not many people have heard of. In a lot of ways, it is... unspectacular; however, it's one of the books I've thought back on frequently over the years. It probably deserves a spot on my "Of Significance..." page, and it may get one once I get the copy I just ordered and re-read it. It tells a story from two different 1st person perspectives, and I've never seen that done again since (not saying it hasn't been done since; I just haven't seen it). Until my book. It was the direct influence of The Pigman that lead to my decision to use 1st person for my three characters. I thought it would be interesting to see the story from three different sets of eyes, especially since there is occasional overlap in the story telling.

Some people have struggled with the change in perspective even though it changes by chapter, but, again, it seems to be only adults that have had issues with this. None of the kids I've dealt with around House have had any issue adapting to the changes and have figured them out almost instantly. Still, it's a barrier to some readers and drags my grade down because of it.

To sum all of that up, the first half of the book drags. [Although, I do have to say, it didn't drag for me until I was on my 5th or so read through, but, then, I prefer a slow build.] Nothing big is happening. Yes, they keep discovering new little things, but, other than squabbling amongst themselves, there's no obvious conflict happening. Well, there is the thing with the old man across the street, but that doesn't sustain itself. At any rate, action junkies will grow bored long before they get to "the good stuff." Despite the slow burn, though, I think the payout at the end is worth it.

Also, the perspective changes can be confusing. Yes, I've thought about label the perspective changes with the chapter titles, but, for some reason, I don't like that idea.

So... there's the bad, but what's good about the book?

The most obvious good is that it's set in the 80s. See, although my kids (and kids in general) are my target audience, I didn't want to write a book that was just targeted at kids. I wanted to write a book that parents could also relate to and enjoy. Part of doing that was a desire to evoke images of their own childhoods. Part of that is done through 80s pop culture, so that's a pretty narrow audience, just adults that are my age. But, hey, the 80s were fun (except for the nuclear fears), and I wanted to give my kids (and others) a bit of a taste of 80s culture, so that's where I set it. Hopefully, I have enough parent/child interaction to give all parents something to relate to, not just those of us that grew up in the 80s.

The real positive about House is that I don't follow many of the normal conventions for this kind of story. At least, I see that as a positive. One of the things my wife is always complaining about with fantasy literature (and this extends to Star Wars) is the orphan boy syndrome. [You can see this most recently in Harry Potter (and Percy Jackson).] You know, orphan boy discovers he has a previously unknown heritage (being a wizard or, um, the son of Darth Vader) and, often, is part of some prophecy and only he can defeat the ultimate evil (the ultimate evil that is usually the one responsible for the death of his parents). After coming to grips with the loss of his parents which has haunted him his whole life. This is the formula for fantasy story telling. I didn't want to do that (mostly because, if I did, my wife would ridicule me forever and ever and probably would never have read my book).

The other part of that is that the motivation for doing the right thing becomes about getting revenge, and I wanted a story about someone choosing to do the right thing for the mere sake that it is the right thing. Not because the protagonist is trying to avenge his parents' deaths or anything like that. I wanted characters that choose the right because it's the right. No other motivation than that. I think it's important that kids (especially) see that doing the right thing can be its own motivation. No revenge. No guilt. No ulterior motive. Not that there aren't struggles and mistakes, I want it to be real, but I also want the normal, average kid that lives in some sort of family to be able to identify with the kids. In other words, I wanted something closer to the Pevensies but with the parents involved in the story. I think this approach has resonated with the readers.

The House on the Corner is well above average. It's not great, but it is quite good. I'm happy with quite good. It's good enough that, even though I wrote it, I'm still not tired of it or impatient with it while reading out loud in the classes I'm reading it in. I think I'm on something like my 7th time run through, too, not including my own readings of it, so it has some good staying power. I still come across things that make me laugh. Even though I wrote them. And even though I've repeated them over and over in these readings.

And there you have it. My (mostly) objective look at my own book. Sure, there are things that could be improved, but, overall, it's a lot better than the average book out there on the bookshelf. No, it's not Harry Potter. I'm not as clever or as witty as Rowling, but I do know how to tell a good story. And, honestly, I think any amount of slowness in this first one will be completely overlooked when I finish with Brother's Keeper. There's no set up involved in that one, and things are happening right from the start.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Happy Birthday! (and a SALE!)

January of 2011 saw me preparing The House on the Corner for publication. That was a lot of work. I mean, it's a lot of work to write a book to begin with but all the little details that go into publishing a book, even self publishing a book, are somewhat overwhelming. At any rate, I spent the month working on that and got it all set up. As it happened, the official publication date for the 1st edition (it looked like this:
ended up being February 6, 2011. February 6 happens to be my birthday, so that was kind of cool, and it would never have happened if I'd been trying to plan it that way, but, because I was just going about my business, it ended up that way. It was a cool birthday present, to say the least, to hold that first copy of my book in my hands.

Of course, the book no longer looks like that. Despite all of the editing I did on the book both prior to January and in January, I missed a lot of little things. I was amazed at how much more I noticed by having the physical copy in my hand. I also discovered the importance of cover art. Of course, I've already covered all of this in previous posts, so I'm not going to go back through it now. At any rate, I spent some months going back through the book and making changes and getting some cover art (thanks to the amazing Rusty Webb! (who happens to have the best blog title ever!)), and, now, the book looks like this:

It's all the better for it.

Speaking of blogging, StrangePegs (the blog) also turned 1 year old a few days ago. That's something that I'm still trying to get my head around. One year, 125 followers, 125 posts (including this one). It seems like a lot longer than that and also a lot shorter than that. When I first started the blog, I really had no idea what I was doing. I was just kind of informed that, if I had a book, I should have a blog, so I started one. Overall, it's been a good experience. Even if one that's hard to keep up with.


I mentioned a sale. In honor of it being the birthday of the book, and, really, publishing a book really is kind of like giving birth, I suppose. There's a lot of work that goes into it. It spends a long time growing. There's a period of intense labor, and, finally, voila, there's a brand new book! Thankfully, books tend to cry a lot less, and you (usually) don't have to clean up after them. But I digress...


The sale! In honor of it being the one year anniversary of the publication of the 1st edition of The House on the Corner, I'm having a sale!
For the Kindle:
I've marked the price down to $0.99. Coincidentally, after I'd gone in and made the price change (but before it took effect (because it still hasn't taken effect)), Amazon also decided that House should be on sale and marked the Kindle price down to $0.99. heh
I have no idea what will happen to their price mark down when mine goes into effect.

For the physical copy:
I can't actually mark down the physical copy of the book (through Amazon) any lower than it already is, because I'm pretty close to lowest price they'll allow me to charge for it; HOWEVER, if you want a signed copy (which comes through me), I'm doing those 2-for1, right now. The listed price on my page (go back up there and click the link) is $18.00 for one copy. If you click through the link, it will say $24. For $24, you will get not one, but 2! signed copies of The House on the Corner! One for you and one to give as a gift. Now, let me explain the thing with the pricing. At $18.00, because of shipping, I'm taking a loss. Sort of. At any rate, it puts the actual price of the book down to $12.00 (rather than the $15 on Amazon). To cover the cost of shipping 2 books instead of 1, I've had to bump the price up a bit. I can ship them both to the same address or to two separate addresses, though. At any rate, it's a pretty good deal. At least, I think so.

I'll keep these SALE prices through Friday or Saturday, so don't let this chance pass you by.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Let's go for a walk... Part 3: Goblin Town

[Note: Tib part 8 is up >points to the Tiberius tab above<. You should go read it and let me know what you think. Next week (I hope), look for some changes in the Tiberius tab.]

I'm waiting for the dog to eat, right now, so that we can head out on our walk. She seems more content to be taking a nap, though. You know, I think that's what that saying "a dog's life" is all about. Naps. I want one of those. But... this post is not about napping, it's about walking.

As I've mentioned, we have a troll bridge off to the right down the creek path. But, if you go to the left, there is something completely different. Goblins. Actually, the goblins are sort of everywhere, but the closer you get to the troll bridge, the scarcer the goblins become. Not that we've actually seen the goblins, but we know that they're there. "How's that?" you might ask. Well... here's how:

This is an entrance to Goblin Town. There are many of them along the path, especially if you go left out of the park. Trolls eat goblins just as readily as they eat people, so there are not so many entrances to Goblin Town if you turn right and none near the bridge where the troll lives.

The dog finds the smell of the goblins very interesting, and she always wants to explore the doors to Goblin Town, but goblins love to eat dogs (they're a delicacy), so we do our best to keep her away so that no lurking goblin can reach out and snatch her up. Of course, goblins also love to eat little children. They're so juicy and tender! They especially like to throw children into pots and cook them up in a stew. They'll eat adults, too, but it's not their preference.

This is another entrance into Goblin Town. If you look closely, you can see the warnings painted on the door. Although, goblins love to catch people, they also don't like uninvited guests, so they paint warnings on everything to keep people away.

The trail isn't safe after dark. Daytime is mostly okay, though. Goblins don't like sunlight, and they tend to stay underground during the day. I've heard that sometimes they creep out on really cloudy or rainy days, but we've never seen any. Yet.

A better view of the "keep out" warning. It's written in goblin language, though, so I'm not sure how it actually translates.

This is one of the main entrances into Goblin Town. A fortified entrance. It's like a concrete bunker. It was getting late as you can probably tell by the darkness of the picture, and I had to run before I could get a better picture as I heard the concrete lid start to slide open. Not a place you want to be when the goblins come out!

Some time ago, there was a battle between the goblins and the early human settlers in the area. Here is a picture of the place where the human's fortress once stood:
The foundation is all that's left, so, as you can see, the goblins won this great battle and drove the humans out for a while. Drove us out. But, you know, I didn't know those people, so it's kind of easier to just think of them as the "humans."

There is a new watchtower built to keep an eye on goblin activities in the area. I thought I had some pictures of it, but I'm not finding them. At any rate, it's disguised as a practice area for the local fire department, but some of us know the truth. It's a good cover for all the personnel that come and go that are busy monitoring the goblins.

Which brings us to the end of today's exploration of the path where we walk the dog. My kids enjoy learning about the "history" of the area, and my daughter, especially, asks lots of questions about the entrances to Goblin Town. She has even mentioned becoming a goblin hunter and going down to wipe them out. The boys generally just content themselves with singing that song from the animated version of The Hobbit.

"Down, down to Goblin Town..."