Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Moving Like Glass (brought to you by IWSG)

This post is going to be a bit different from my normal kind of post in that I'm participating in Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writer's Support Group this month. People tend to believe that if you're a writer then you're insecure about it, that those two things go hand in hand. I'm actually not insecure about my writing, so I've been inclined to skip these posts in the past. Skip writing them, that is (I don't skip reading other people's posts), especially since many of my posts tend toward what I would consider support posts for other writers anyway.

However, although I'm not insecure about my actual writing, I am insecure about the whole writing career thing. One thing in particular constantly nags and pokes at me: everything seems to happen so slowly! I feel like a piece of glass.

Did you know that glass is a liquid? Okay, so, maybe not. Actually, the state of glass is still being squabbled over by Science, but, for my discussion, we're going to go with the "glass is a liquid" side of the argument. And, no, I'm not going to try and explain the argument, but I will say this: glass does not crystallize as other solids do when it's cooled. For this reason, it's generally called an amorphous solid or a supercooled liquid. Yeah, I know: if you go touch it, it feels plenty solid, and it can break, but if you want to go read up on all the science behind it, you go right ahead. [There's a good discussion here if you want to read up on it.]


Did you know glass is a liquid? The way it was explained to me (in Science) is that glass is a colloidal suspension. A simple example of this is Jello. Basically, you have a liquid into which is introduced a solid that is in suspension within the liquid causing it to hold it's shape. Or that's the case with Jello, at any rate. It doesn't actually have to be a liquid/solid suspension, but that's what works for my example. With glass, the actual glass is a liquid and has to have foreign particles introduced into it so that it will solidify and retain the shape it is cooled in. Most manufactured glass is soda-lime glass, known as such because of what is introduced into the system to help it retain its shape.

The theory is that glass then, only being a colloidal suspension, continues to flow very slowly over the years. Very slowly. Very, very slowly. So slowly in fact that this is also debated by Science, but, for my purposes, we're going to side with faction that believes in glass flow because it's a liquid.

And that's how I feel! Like a piece of glass moving so slowly that you can't tell I'm moving. I don't mean on the actual writing front. I'm not sitting here with writer's block or anything. But on the selling front, on the getting my name out there front, I feel like nothing's happening. See, I know that's not quite true, because I do have people reading my work and leaving reviews, but it's not spontaneous at this point. And that makes it feel like it's not happening at all.

And that makes me insecure. The feeling of no movement.

I suppose the good side of that is that it makes me want, even more, to finish my next project and get it out there.

Speaking of that next project, it's called Shadow Spinner (for those of you coming by for the first time today because of the IWSG thing. The rest of you should know this!). The first chapter, "Part One: The Tunnel" is available for free this week for the Kindle (only) over on Amazon. It would be so great if you'd go pick up a FREE copy of it, click the "like" button (something that seems to be difficult for most people stopping by), and, after you read it, leave a short review and rating. Yeah, okay, so I'm asking a lot, but it's a short read because it's just the 1st chapter, so there will be plenty of time left over for a short review! Make me feel like heated glass!

The cover has been done by the fantastic artist formerly known as Rusty Webb:
Did I mention it's FREE?!?

["Part Two: The Kitchen Table" will be available soon.]

Monday, July 30, 2012

Double Fail

Do you ever have those moments where you realize you've forgotten something or mislaid something or, I don't know, lost a child? I know someone that did that, lost his child at Disneyland because he forgot she was with him and just walked off and left her. There's that moment of panic that sets in when you realize that you forgot. It's a horrible moment.

Until today (Sunday, July 29, 2012), the worst experience I've had with this was forgetting about my creative class one day last school year. It's not that I forgot the class itself, I just forgot what day it was. I was busy writing, what can I say? I was being very cognizant of what time I needed to leave to pick up my kids from school, but, about half way through class, I suddenly realized "oh crap! it's Thursday I'm supposed to be teaching class!" That was a moment of panic.

Mostly, I don't have those, though. I've never forgotten to pick my kids up from school or anything like that. When I used to wear glasses, I would have those moments where I'd wonder where my glasses were while I was wearing them (no, I didn't switch to contacts... it's a long story (okay, not that long, but I'm not talking about that, right now)), but, really, I'm pretty good with remembering things or, at least, knowing that I'm not remembering and asking. I've never even forgotten birthdays, or, um... anniversaries.

Well, until now, that is.

I realized this morning... well, I was reminded this morning (remember, this is Sunday morning) that it's my wife's step-twins' birthday is today. That's not a big deal. The problem was that as I was being caused to remember their birthday, I had the sudden realization that their birthday is after my wedding anniversary. It's after our anniversary, and my wife and I hadn't done anything for it. Or even mentioned it. Or talked about anything about it all month. My immediate response to realizing that I'd missed our anniversary was an interior "oh, crap!"

Because, see, my wife hadn't mentioned it. She also didn't seem mad. I didn't know what to do. I mean, had she also forgotten, or, as I thought was more likely, had she remembered but not said anything because I hadn't said or done anything. Was it a test? This was bad! What the heck do you do in that kind of situation?

I briefly considered just not saying anything. I mean, you know, if she had forgotten then everything was cool. But, no, because if it was a test of some sort, the longer I went, the worse things would get. And if she had forgotten but remembered and I still hadn't said anything... I had to bite the bullet. That's all there was to it.

We go out for coffee on Sunday mornings. It's the only time we have without the kids all week, and that's what we do together. We drove over to the coffee shop to get our Aztec mochas (you can read more about the whole Aztec thing here), and, as we got out of the car, I said, "I realized this morning that I've forgotten something," to which my wife responded, "What did you forget?"

That wasn't a very good response for me. So much for fishing for information, right? So I start trying to explain to her about remembering what I'd forgotten without actually telling her what the thing was while I tried to figure out if she knew, and she just kept saying to me, "What did you forget?" until I finally said, "I realized that we missed our anniversary." My wife kind of stopped, like she got stuck for a moment, and then said, "What?" I could see her figuring out days in her head until she finally asked the date and then she kind of didn't believe that we'd missed it and tried to tell me that I was wrong, but I reminded her that it was the twins' birthday, which is after our anniversary, and, then, she couldn't remember the date of our anniversary to figure out when we were supposed to have celebrated it.

So I got points:
1. Because I remembered first!
2. Because I knew when it was supposed to have been!

And, then, she said, "What does that say about us?"

Which is a good question.

And I didn't really have a good answer except that I finally answered that it says we have very busy kids, which we do, and it's so difficult keeping up with all of their stuff that we can't remember our own stuff. Which is actually true. But, still...

We forgot our anniversary. Both of us.

However, I went out Sunday afternoon and bought some good food and cooked her a great anniversary dinner for Sunday night, and that was nice. Even if we did have to share it with 2/3 of our children.

My wife's final response was, "Well, at least it wasn't our 15th or 20th that we forgot, right?" And that's true, except that we still have the opportunity to forget those. I'm trying to figure out ways to drill this into my head, now, so that I can remember not to forget next year!

I still say boarding school is the answer...

Don't forget to pick up your FREE copy of chapter one of Shadow Spinner"Part One: The Tunnel" for your Kindle or Kindle app! "Part Two: The Kitchen Table" will be coming soon!
When you pick it up, please click the "like" button. After you read it, a short review and rating would be awesome! Thanks in advance!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Blog in 3 Parts

Part One

The big news today is Shadow Spinner! Shadow Spinner is my next planned release. I'm hoping it will be completely finished before the end of the year, but, until then, I'm going to be releasing it serially. I experimented with this a while back here on the blog, if any of you remember, which is what prompted this experiment. Of course, I'd meant to start doing  this months and months ago, but I had to wait for art. It was worth the wait!
"The Tunnel" is now available for the Kindle. I'd really like to make it free, but Amazon is being... problematic and telling me that they have no "option" for that. Duh, I knew that. I also know that they can go in and make something free, so I'm working on it. However, even though it's $0.99 as its set price, I'm making it FREE for the next many days, as many as Amazon will allow me for this selling period. Since it is free, I'd really appreciate it if you'd (yes, you, the person reading this post) go over and download it. I mean, you can't beat the price, and, even if you don't have a Kindle, there are plenty of free Kindle apps for whatever platform you have. After you read it, please click the "like" button, because I'm just gonna assume you're going to like it. What's not to like? If you could see your way around to leaving a short review and a rating, that would be great, too. This is just the first chapter of Shadow Spinner, and it's quite short, so it won't take up much time. Look, here's the link! Go get it now while it's FREE!!!

Oh, and I didn't forget: The incredible art has been done by the artist who may or may not be Rusty Webb. He's kind of undecided at the moment, but it's incredible despite his identity crisis. Somewhere around chapter 4 or 5, there will be an alternate cover, and it's even more cool than this one!

Part Two

I ran a contest last week. It may have been a bad week to run a contest as traffic was down and comments were way down. Oh, well. It is what it is. You can go back and look at the contest post if you missed it. At any rate, Donna, over at Mainely Write, has walked off with the prize. At least, she will have once I hear back from her so that I know which option she wants. By the way, if you haven't visited Donna before, you should. She posts lots of great poems. I find most modern poetry less than satisfying, but Donna's stuff tends to the great, so go check her out.

Part Three

Remember back in April when everyone was A-to-Zing? Back during that whole thing, I discovered a bunch of books and stories I wanted to read about things that were fictional at the time but are now, if not real, on their way to being real. My "V" entry was about virtual reality, and I mentioned a short story by Stanley Weinbaum, "Pygmalion's Spectacles." It was an appropriate follow up to my recent read of the After, as they both deal with themes of reality and what, exactly, reality is.

However, Weinbaum's story was written in the 1930s and has an incredibly accurate look at what virtual reality might be like. How real does "real" need to be. How much will our own brains supply to fill in the gaps? Is virtual reality as real as real reality? It's pretty short and well worth reading. And it's FREE for the Kindle, so you should follow the link and go check it out.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Nolan Again Impresses...

...with his ability to obfuscate.

I do realize that I'm going to be in the vast minority with my stance on The Dark Knight Rises, but I'm used to that, so I'm just going to go with it.

I have one thing to say for Christopher Nolan: he's a magician when it comes to making movies. I mean that in a very literal sense. He uses flashy action to distract us from the holes he leaves behind in the story. We can't see them, because we're too busy looking in the other direction.

Or maybe it's just that Marvel has set the bar so high with their string of excellent adaptions that I'm just no longer satisfied with interpretations. Maybe if it was more explicit that these are interpretations, I'd be happier. DC/Warner Brothers could just slap their Elseworlds label on  these things, and I might be more accepting of them. As it is, though, there are so many things that aren't Batman in these movies that I have a hard time dealing with it. Like in Burton's Batman when Alfred brings Vicki Vale down into the Batcave. What?

Unfortunately, Nolan has plenty of those moments himself. Like in Batman Begins when Wayne allows Lucius Fox to know that he's Batman. Whereas that was almost acceptable in that movie, those inconsistencies with the source material have continued to snowball to the point that by the time we get to Rises, I can't accept them. I mean, by the end of The Dark Knight Rises half of everyone knows that Wayne is Batman. And we're just supposed to believe that some random cop walks up to Wayne and just knows? Seriously. I get that Nolan needs that for his story, but, give me a break, he knew because he saw it in Wayne's face? At least Tim Drake did the research to figure out that Wayne is Batman. And I don't want to give spoilers, but having his actual name be Robin? It just makes me cringe.

However, the big issue for me, the thing that set the big disconnect for me, is that we're supposed to believe that this is 8 years later. That Bruce Wayne just quit being Batman and went into seclusion. I get that Nolan is trying to give us a sense of Miller's Dark Knight comics in which Batman had quit and was in seclusion, but that was because he got old. He even gives us a cane like Wayne uses in Batman Beyond, but, again, in those he got old; Nolan wants us to believe that Wayne just quit. I can't buy it. I absolutely can not buy it.

This is where I understand the difference between me, someone that grew up reading Batman comics and was heavily invested in Batman lore for...well, longer than I should have been, and the vast majority of people out there that don't have that same investment. These details aren't important to them. I get that. I also get that I am not really the target audience for the movie. I was the target audience for Batman Begins, because that one was more focused on the fans of the comic, but these last two, after hooking everyone in, have been focused on the general consumer.

Even so, the idea with Nolan's Batman is that he is set in the "real world," and, as such, I still can not accept this 8 year hiatus. He wants us to buy into too many unrealistic ideas:
1. After 8 years of no Batman, people are still talking about him. Give me a break. Culturally, we barely hold onto anything for 8 days, and Nolan expects us to believe that people are still saying, after 8 years, "is he coming back?" Not to mention the fact that he has kids, like 10-year-old kids, talking about Batman as if he's a reality to them. Or was a reality to them. Yes, all of this bothers me, because none of it's how the real world works.
If he'd made it a year after the events of Dark Knight, maybe even two, it would have been plausible.
2. There's a Harvey Dent Day and people care about it. See point 1. No one would care after 8 years. Well, they wouldn't care beyond the fact that it was a day off from work. And it's not clear that they, the common people, do get a day off from work.
3. After 8 years, Wayne just puts the suit back on, and it's like he never quit. There are so many problems with this:

  • There is an implication, a strong implication, that Wayne has been doing nothing to "stay in shape" during his seclusion (except, maybe, shooting some arrows). He's just been sulking about. Bodies deteriorate pretty quickly. After just a few months, he would have lost his edge and begun losing muscle mass. After a year, it would have taken considerable training to be able to get back into shape. After 8 years? 
  • Aside from the staying in shape aspect of it, Wayne has definitely not been sparring or doing any kind of combat training in those 8 years. As an example of what not sparring can do, you can look at the Foreman/Ali championship fight. Foreman was unable to spar for the entire month leading up to the bout due to an eye injury, and just that one month of not training threw his fighting off so much that he couldn't compete. (Ali won and refused to ever allow Foreman a re-match.)
  • On top of all the not staying in shape and not sparring, Wayne has suffered some sort of debilitating injury that has caused him to need a cane to walk. His body is in bad shape. No, it's in horrible shape. So... 8 years of lounging in seclusion and he can't even walk under his own power, but we're supposed to believe that a high tech knee brace returns him to fighting form? Are you kidding me?
While it is true that Alfred voiced concern over these issues, it was given in the sense that it would be a "bad idea" to get back into costume. In truth, it would have been an impossibility. Not to put the costume back on but certainly impossible to be Batman again just like that.

If Nolan wants us to believe that this is a Batman that could be in the real world, he needs to keep him in the real world. And don't get me started on the "fusion bomb," because all of that was just bad science. I'll buy into Wayne creating a fusion reactor, but not turning it into a "time bomb" in the way it was done in the movie. They're equating it to a meltdown in a nuclear reactor, and those things just don't happen on a schedule. Not to mention the last minute save after 5 months. It just doesn't get more cliche than that.

Nolan also uses sleight-of-hand to hide facts from us. I don't have an issue with this in a general sense, but it takes away from the enjoyment of watching it again. He did this very successfully in The Prestige, because, in that one, he gave us the clues to figure out what was going on so that when the reveal happened it was your own fault for not figuring it out. I like that kind of cleverness, and doing it that way does make for good repeat viewing, because you can go back and see where the clues were that you missed (like in The Sixth Sense). I dislike, though, when not only is the information hidden but the fact that there is information hidden is hidden. Of course, then, when you do see that coming because you have more lore than the average viewer, there's no surprise, so that twist didn't throw me at all, and that made the viewing experience... less than it could have been.

Having said all of that, don't take it that I'm saying that it's a bad movie. It's not. It's a good movie, and I'm glad I saw it in the theater. The acting is good (Oldman is still great as Gordon, Hathaway was good, Gordon-Levitt is quite good), and the action and fight sequences are spectacular. But the movie, if you look beyond those things, is not great.

Here's the way I look at it:
After I saw The Avengers, I wanted, immediately, to see it again. After seeing it the second time (opening weekend), I wanted to go back and see it again. I still want to see it again. I have no desire to see Rises again.
I had the same experience with The Dark Knight when it came out alongside Iron Man. I saw Iron Man three times in the first week and still would have gone back to see it. I could barely sit through my second viewing of The Dark Knight because I got bored even though I'd been on the edge of my seat during my first viewing. After 4 years, I barely want to re-watch Dark Knight and that desire is only related to the release of Rises (in fact, I have not seen Dark Knight again since I saw it last in the theater even though I own the movie). I've seen Iron Man numerous times in the intervening years and talking about it makes me want to go put that one in right now. That, to me, is what makes a movie great, the desire to watch it over and over again. I just don't get that from Nolan.

I've said that I'm not in favor of re-boots, and I'm not, but I would certainly be in favor of a Batman re-boot. As long it's more in line with the comics. I really don't want someone coming along and trying to continue on from the point where Nolan left things. Of course, that's part of why Nolan left things the way he did (by his own admission).

I'd say that maybe I'm just getting crotchety in my old age, but that's just not it. In truth, I've always been like this. Even in high school, my friends would be upset because I'd point out inconsistencies in movies. I'd enjoy them just fine anyway, but, then, I'd pop their bubbles of the movies by pointing out the flaws, and they would lose enjoyment of them. So... I like Rises. It was a good movie, certainly big enough to be worth seeing in the theater. It just wasn't great, and it wasn't great because it lacked in the story department. Anyway, I'm not trying to make anyone else not like the movie, but I would like to peel back the whitewash of "greatness" that has been slapped onto it so that people can see past the action smokescreen.

[And, remember! I have a contest going on! Check out yesterday's post for details.]

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

It's Time for a Bicentennial Celebration!

Okay, so that's not precisely true. I have not been blogging for 200 years, although it would be very impressive if I had. I just wanted to say it, because in hitting my 200th post, I started thinking about the bicentennial when I was a kid. The Bicentennial. I was six. I was a very patriotic lad. I still have souvenir type things from 1976. Which includes my brother, since he was born only a few days later. It makes me wonder how we'll celebrate the 250th birthday of the nation; I'll be surprised if I'm still around for the 300th.

Anyway... This is, indeed, my 200th post. When I started blogging, I don't think I ever thought about getting this far. 200 posts is a lot, especially when you tend to the longer side of posting. I mean, my posts tend to be in the 1000 word range, so that means that I'm hovering in the 200,000 word range in my posts. That's a lot. Hopefully, they've mostly been "good" words.

Since this is post #200, I'm gonna make it about me. I figure I can do that every once in a while. BUT! There will also be a contest, so keep reading!

First, here are some recent things that have been said about my book, The House on the Corner:

"When you read a book and get so into it that when you reach the end you feel lost and alone because you miss the characters and want to know what comes next. Thank you Andrew, for introducing me to the Howard's. I cannot wait to read more!"

"That was a great book I cant wait for the next one :)"

"Omg how could you end it like that?!?!?!?!?! You need to hurry up with the next book!!! "

"Clearly I loved it, since it's 5am and I stayed up to finish it."

"Loved it, loved it, loved it Andrew! Loved the viewpoint of children. You could always tell who the voice was because you wrote the characters so clearly. The story was "real" and down to earth, even though the subject veers off into the realm of fantasy - but the family itself is rooted in the familiarity of the real world and I loved that. Great book! Really enjoyed it! Well done!!!!!!!"

I think those are some great quotes. Of course, I also think you should read my book. Just to note, I am debating about the idea of raising the price on it. A lot of the newer research/reports suggest that people view books at the $2.99 price point as indie authors just trying to grab the 70% royalty rate and that's where the "crap" sits. The view is that if the book is not priced at at least $3.99, it's not worth buying. So, yeah, buy it now while it's still $2.99!
Oh, and for those wondering, I am working on the sequel. I promise! 
One other thing, if you've read House (and liked it), it would be a great help to me if you could pop by Amazon and click the "like" button on the page (both Kindle and physical would be great). The links are off to the right over there. Thanks!

An update on "The Evil That Men Do":
Well, this is not precisely an update about that story, but it is an update about Tib. I have some preliminary cover art for Shadow Spinner, and I'm working hard on finishing it. Theoretically, I should have the first few parts coming soon for the Kindle. Remember, "The Evil That Men Do" sets up the events in Tib's life. I only don't include it with the rest of the Tiberius stuff because it's more of an adult story while Shadow Spinner is appropriate for kids, too. Be on the lookout for more great artwork from the inestimable Rusty Webb! I mean, I've seen it, and it's great! Especially the one he's done of the Man with No Eyes! Oh, man! It's almost enough to make me want to show you, now, anyway, even though it's not finished!
At any rate, I think "The Evil That Men Do" has been under appreciated, meaning that almost no one has bothered to pick it up, but it's only $0.99, and it has a perfect 5-star rating! At the moment.

The Contest!

Oh, yeah, I mentioned a contest, didn't I? Yeah, I think I did. But it's not going to be an easy one. It will require some work on your part, too. 

As a writer, one of the things I hope is that I am not writing in a bubble. That includes blogging. I mean, I don't want to be like that Dragon Tattoo guy who never got read until after he was dead. That would suck. Which means, I don't blog strictly for my own entertainment. I could do that without putting it online. That means this stuff I throw out here into the void of the Internet is, hopefully, stuff that is of worth to you people that read what I'm throwing out. As such, it's time for some feedback from you guys!

Here's what you need to do:
1. Go back and read all the other 199 posts. I'll give you a few minutes to do this.
2. Okay, no, you don't really have to read all of them.
3. Okay, seriously, now, of the posts that I've written and you've read, decide which one was your favorite and/or the most helpful to you.
4. Have one picked out? Now, tell me about it. Why is that particular post your favorite? Why was it helpful to you.
5. And, you know, if you want to skim back through my early posts, the ones I wrote before I had any followers, feel free to do that. Some of those are quite good, too. Well, I think they are anyway.
6. Just to be clear, in the comments section, leave me a comment telling me which post is particularly meaningful to you in whatever way it is, and you will have entered the contest.
7. You have until midnight (PST), Friday, July 27 to get your comment in.

The Prize!

The prize is going to be a little self serving, too. Deal with it.
Back at the end of May, I released a collection of short stories from the kids in the creative writing class I taught last school year. That release was met with a lot of support and a lot of people posting about it and, yet, there were almost no sales. It was a bit disappointing, because the kids did a great job, and some of the stories are really good. They're all good, but a few of them are great. You can see the link to Chart Shorts over there on the right side of the blog. Since I should be teaching this class again this coming year and since I'll be putting together another collection of short fiction from the kids, I really want people to see what was done this past year when I went into the class without any intention of putting together a book.

So that will be the prize. A signed copy of Charter Shorts to the person that has the "best" comment about which post they liked best. Of course, the book won't be signed by all the authors, but I'm pretty sure I can get three different signatures in there. As an added bonus, I won't necessarily stop at just one copy! I'll give away up to three copies of the book depending on the worthiness of the responses. Basically, if you guys make me unable to choose a "best," I will give out more than one prize. I'm  not like those Pulitzer people that just decide that no award shall be given at all.

The fine print of that does mean that you will have to be willing to give me your snail mail address if you want the book. However, if you don't want to do that, you can choose an e-copy instead. As long as you are Kindle friendly, that is.

Well... There you go. My very first contest. 200 posts. A great prize. And speaking of the prize, because we were, I'll announce the winner(s) on Monday, July 30. Probably. I mean, I don't see why I wouldn't. But, you know, don't tie me down.

And if I have time, I'll try to put together a top 5 or so of my favorite posts just because I think that might be interesting. Next week will be pretty busy, though, so it might be a few weeks before I have a chance to sit down and figure out my top 5.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Unexpected Applause: the After

I'm going to do something a little bit different with this review in that I'm also going to review the author, at least I am to an extent. Book reviews really aren't about he authors but about their products, but I really feel like talking about the author of this one a bit.

One of the things I see most frequently as a "rule of blogging" is to keep your posts short. I get it. I do. At least, I get the idea of it. I don't really agree with it, though. I don't agree with it for this reason: most short posts I see just don't say anything. At best, they talk about the idea of talking about something, but, because the blogger is trying to keep the post short, s/he never more than touches on a subject. Maybe s/he gives a list about the topic, but, honestly, a list doesn't say anything. They're good for a trip to the store but that's about it. The end result is that I don't tend to short posts or spend much more time on them than it takes to scan through it.

Briane Pagel is the only blogger I know that routinely writes longer posts than me. And not just on one blog! Briane writes about half a dozen different blogs, is a lawyer, and has twin 5-year-old sons. And writes books! He's by far the most prolific person I've ever known, and it wouldn't surprise me if, one day, his body of work surpasses Asimov's (generally considered the most prolific author to have ever lived). However, I think Briane is also one of the most overlooked bloggers I know. People are daunted by his long posts, and I think it's their loss. It's unfortunate that so many people are willing to not invest in worthwhile things. Like taking the time to prepare a meal rather than just heating up processed crap. What I'm saying here is that the time you would spend reading half a dozen other posts would be better spent reading one of Briane's posts.

Often Briane is like Kevin Smith, and I like that. Not just that Kevin is dialogue heavy, which I like, but the way that Kevin talks is how Briane writes. Have you ever seen any of Smith's Q&A DVDs? If not, you should go get one and watch it. It's a simple format: someone asks a question; Kevin answers it. But it's how Kevin answers the questions that make it so great. Often (almost every time), he'll go off on some tangent and, then, another, and, sometimes, another, and you're left thinking, "Where in the heck is this going? What in the world could it have to do with the original question?" But he always gets back to that question, and, when he does, there are great "ah-ha!" moments where you see how all of the tangents fold together to make that one story and how a simple answer to the question in no way would have been as satisfying as the story he told. And that's Briane Pagel.

And he has six blogs, so there's bound to be something that you'll like. I follow two of them myself: Thinking The Lions and The Best of Everything. Seriously, you should go check out his list of blogs and try a couple or few out. Don't be daunted by the length of the posts. They're worth the time.

Other than the blog stuff, Briane writes books. I've previously reviewed some of his other works (Eclipse and his Xmas story), and I just finished his latest release, the After.
Considering that this is the third book by him that I'm reviewing, not to mention hyping his blogs, you may make the assumption that I like his work. You may even make the assumption that I really like his work, and you would not be wrong.

So, as usual, let's start with the technicals and get the bad stuff out of the way. Briane's not much of an editor. He admits that he doesn't find it to be fun so doesn't spend much time on it. Fortunately for him, he's really very good without the editing. I'm pretty sure he doesn't do any editing on his blog posts, and they don't tend to have more than the occasional typo. the After, though, could have used some more editing. A lot more in all actuality. On the plus side, there are no consistent errors caused by not knowing any particular grammar rule, but there are lots and lots of left out words, wrong words, and just plain typing errors. There's also an issue with the formatting. The big issue, for me anyway, was that he gets the character names mixed around a few times, especially with Ansel and Austin, which caused me to have to go back and make sure I knew what was being said before I could go on. Due to the sheer number of errors, I'd have to give a "D" on the technicals.

So, if you are a person that has a problem getting into a story due to these kinds of things as I usually am, you may need to skip this one.

Pay attention to what I said though: "usually am." Generally speaking, poor editing is a big roadblock for me, but not this time. Briane's story sucked me right in. His main character, Saoirse, is easy to identify with, empathize with. You want to know what's going on with her. And I don't really want to say more than that, because you should really just experience it for yourself.

Be aware, though, that this is no straight forward story that takes you from point A to point B and you have everything laid out for you by the end. Briane doesn't really write that way. There is much of the surreal in this book, and, as in Eclipse, you don't always know what's real and what's not. But that's okay, because the After is not about the destination; it's about the journey, and all that's really ever important is what's happening at that given moment. It doesn't matter what's real or not, because what is "real" anyway? And that is one of the big questions in the book, "what is real?"

There is an answer. Or, at least, what I'm taking as an answer. But I'm not going to tell you what it is. Maybe, you know, after you read the book, we can sit down and discuss what you got out of it and compare it to what I got out of it, but I'm not going to tell you going in, because, then, you'll just be looking for my answer, and I wouldn't want to ruin the journey for you in  that way.

Hmm... in many ways, reading this book is like looking at an impressionist painting, especially Van Gogh. In fact, there is one scene that made me feel like I was looking at The Starry Night while I was reading it.

At any rate, I would call this a beautiful book that needs to be read by the more than just the few people that have read it so far. The story is so strong, in fact, that it far outweighs the poor editing, and I give the book a "B" overall. This is the kind of book that really makes me sad to have to even point out the editing/formatting issues, but I'd hate for anyone to pick it up and not be able to get into because of that, especially on my recommendation if that's actually going to be a stumbling block. However, it's only $0.99, so, you know, for less than a buck, you have nothing to lose. Okay, so you'd lose a dollar, but it's worth so much more than a $1.00 that it's worth the risk.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Let's go on Vacation! Part 2: The Menu

Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I didn't think to take pictures of any of this part of the trip, mostly because I was busy cooking and, then, eating the food. It just didn't occur to me to tell someone to grab the camera and take any pictures, especially since I'm generally the guy taking the pictures. Maybe next time though.

What to eat on a vacation is always a big deal. Okay, so it may not really be that big a deal to most people. Most people eat out all of the time anyway, so eating out while on vacation is rather expected. However, we don't eat out all that often. We don't even eat out once a week. Even counting pizza, I don't think we eat out more than a couple of times a month. Of course, camping isn't exactly about eating out, but we also didn't want to spend a week eating cheap, crappy hot dogs and stuff. Besides, hot dogs cost more than, well, all but the expensive cuts of steak.

Don't believe me? Go check it out. Generally speaking, at least at Safeway, hot dogs run about $5.00/pound. In my mind, that's freaking insane. Chicken doesn't cost that much. Pork almost never costs more than that, and, just this week, I got some really nice New York strip steaks for $4.99/pound. Why would I even consider paying that kind of price for hot dogs when I can buy steak instead. By the way, lunch meat is the same way (even bologna), which I can (kind of) understand but not really. It just goes to show what we're willing to pay for convenience.

I suppose my family is not very convenient. Actually, I know this to be true.

In the end, camping food ended up being very much like home food. That was the decision, at any rate. But let me put this into context: this was a camping trip with the in-laws (my wife's father and step-mother), and  they were rather difficult to pin down about how the whole eating thing was going to happen. Let me put this into more context: for years, they have taken my kids camping once or twice a year. When they go camping, they've always done the typical thing: eat lots of hot dogs and s'mores; they weren't really prepared for how we were planning to eat, and, I think, because we (my wife and I (really just me)) aren't into the whole camping thing, they figured we wouldn't know what to do when we got up there. However, having a stove, a real stove, to cook on is one of the reasons I wanted a cabin. A stove and a bed, see. So they brought lots of hot dogs. And bacon. And marshmallows.

We brought real food.

Needless to say, they ended up eating with us for most meals. Most means all of the dinners and about half of the breakfasts (we didn't really "do" lunch (there was never any need, because breakfast was so big and good no one would be hungry until around 4-5:00 anyway)).

 By this point, I bet you're wondering what, exactly, we had for our dinners. Well, let me tell you!
Tuesday: rib eye steak, salad, bread
Wednesday: pork fajitas w/ sauce that we made, homemade ice cream (pineapple coconut)
Thursday: spaghetti, garlic bread (there was supposed to be salad, but, um, the refrigerator kind of froze it, so there wasn't much left worth eating (I did give it my best shot, though, but I just couldn't do it))
Friday: grilled salmon, salmon mac (mac 'n' cheese with salmon mixed in), kale chips (one of my favorite things! (it's something I make from fresh kale, not something we buy)) [and my father-in-law provided grilled chicken]
Saturday: hamburgers (I make the best hamburgers. Seriously. We kind of can't go out for burgers anymore because of it.), homemade buns (and my wife makes the best hamburger buns (we also make pretty much all of our own bread (except sourdough)), yam fries

Those were our evening meals. The in-laws were astounded. They decided that camping is better the way I do it. And it was nice to be cooking for people that appreciated my cooking (as opposed to complaining about it (as my kids do (because they still think sugar and carbs are the best things in the world))).

In no particular order, the breakfasts were
ham and cheese grits (the in-laws had never had grits before, so this was a new experience and, unless they were lying (and I'm pretty sure they weren't), they really liked them -- grits, good grits, are not the easiest thing in the world to make)
blueberry pancakes (homemade with fresh blueberries, of course (my wife doesn't like pancakes, but she loved these))
biscuits and sausage gravy (my favoritist breakfast in the world! (when it's done right))
French toast (my kids' favoritist breakfast and made with homemade bread (it's awesome))
All of these were accompanied by scrambled eggs and bacon (except the French toast, which just had bacon, because it's already covered in eggs). The last morning was just scrambled eggs and bacon as we were trying to take as little back with us as possible. We succeeded in eating all bacon, but we had to tote eggs home again.

All of that and there were 'smores basically every night. That made my daughter, especially, extremely happy.

So there you go... who wants to go camping with me next year?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Amazing Vs Spider-Man

Spider-Man has always been my favorite super hero. Always. I'm pretty sure I was born with an awareness of Spider-Man that persisted throughout my life. Sure, I watched Super Friends when I was a kid, but it was nothing when compared with Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends or any of the other Spider-Man cartoons. And nothing beat the theme song from the original animated series from 1967. I even loved the cheesy, live action, TV series from the 70s. Why? Because it was Spider-Man. At 7, I just didn't care how bad it was.

And, then, I waited... and waited... and waited for the movie. I grew up with the promise of the movie always. Seriously. The Spider-Man movie went into pre-production in the late 70s and just stayed there and stayed there spinning and churning, but something would happen every time they thought they were going to get started on it.

Superman had a movie. And then more movies. And they all sucked.

Batman got a movie, and it sucked, too. Not like Superman, but Burton butchered it. And those movies just got worse and worse.

And, still, Spider-Man didn't get made. It was horrible.

I'd waited nearly my whole life for the announcement that production was actually slated to begin on a Spider-Man movie in 2001 (after hiring Sam Raimi as director in 2000). I was more excited for it than I had been about the Star Wars prequels, if you can imagine that, although I was more than a little concerned over the choice of Raimi as director. I mean, when you look at what Raimi did before Spider-Man, it doesn't inspire the greatest confidence that he'd be able to handle a super hero movie. So, metaphorically speaking, I held my breath and waited.

Spider-Man was my first favorite super hero movie. That sounds a bit wrong, because if there are super hero movies, by default, you have to have a favorite, but, trust me, it's not the same thing. As much as I loved the first X-Men movie (and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine (he was/is perfect for that role)), it didn't quite rise to the level of what I would call a favorite even if it had been my favorite. Yeah, see, just trust me.

Here's the thing, Raimi made a near perfect adaptation of the Spider-Man comics and everything I'd always loved about Spider-Man. It took me back to being 4 years old and reading The Amazing Spider-Man #15 for the hundredth time (that was the first appearance of Kraven the Hunter, for those of you that don't know, and it was my favorite issue for years and years (a near-mint copy is currently worth $2000, and my copy was "donated" to something or other without my permission when I was kid (not that mine was mint, but, still...))). Raimi captured the essence of Spider-Man and put it up on the movie screen for us to see. Even though not quite all the facts were correct (there was Mary Jane instead of Gwen Stacy, for instance), he bounded up the heart of Spider-Man and made it into a movie.

In making adaptations, that's a difficult thing to do. It just doesn't happen all that often, and I can name the movies on one hand that have pulled it off: Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, The Avengers, and The Lord of the Rings (yes, I know it was three movies, but it was only three movies for the same reason that it was three books). So, even though everyone says Spider-Man 2 was the best of the Spider-Man movies, I don't believe it, because Spider-Man came to life in the first one.

As you might have guessed, all of this is leading to the newest Spider-Man offering. I finally managed to go see The Amazing Spider-Man this past weekend (actually, the weekend before (this review got delayed a week)). I was... unimpressed.

Don't get me wrong, it's a good movie, and I loved (finally!) seeing The Lizard onscreen. I've been waiting for him to show up for, well, years, especially since Connors has been bouncing around in the background of the other Spider-Man films. However, it should have been Spider-Man 4, not a re-boot. In starting over, they failed to recapture the essence of what is Spider-Man, instead giving us some new version that gets (most) of the facts straight but doesn't give us the heart and soul that Raimi did. In short, they gave us a good movie but a poor adaptation.

And, for the second time in one weekend (see my review of Brave), I walked out of the theater from a good movie completely unsatisfied.

I hear people saying that this new one is better than the other one, but I don't think I believe that even just measuring them movie for movie. Sure, the special effects are slicker in this one. The movie is flashier. The Lizard looks great. But, beyond that, the movie is just formula. I think people are tricked into believing this one is better because it's darker and prettier, so to speak. But the characters, with the exception, maybe, of Gwen are less developed, so it's a story that's hard to get involved with.

I didn't care when Ben died because we don't really see Peter care. We know, intellectually, that he cares, but we never feel it. And the way that he died felt pretty contrived. The whole movie is like that. We know how we're supposed to feel about various things, because we know the Spider-Man mythos. The producers or the director or writer or some combination of them know we know these things, and they rely on our pre-knowledge to give us access to the feelings that the movie ought to be evoking so that they can actually gloss over all of that stuff. In truth, I feel sort of gypped.

Perhaps the movie's biggest failure, however, is the reduction of Peter's motivation to being Spider-Man to one of revenge (or "getting even" as Uncle Ben says) and guilt. This is the same thing that Nolan did with Batman in Batman Begins. It's as if there can be no other motivation for a super hero. This is where the heart of Spider-Man is lost in this new movie. Spider-Man is not about revenge. It's all about "with great power comes great responsibility," and it's the absence of this one line from the movie that may be it's most egregious error.

The reason for the success of the comic book was that it asked the question of what a normal kid would do if he got super powers and answered it in a realistic way. Peter's first motivation was to use his new power for fame and fortune. The introduction of tragedy into his life becomes not a motivation for revenge but a reason to look at himself, see where he failed, and become a better person. Spider-Man becomes a character that is motivated to do good because it is the right thing to do not because he's seeking revenge against criminals or wallowing in guilt. Sure, those things come up, but they are not the motivating factor. [Later, Marvel would decide to give us a character motivated by revenge, so they gave us the Punisher.]

The new Webb movie (I know, ha ha, right?) reduces all of the complicated emotional trauma of being a teenager into one driving emotion, getting revenge against the people that have done Peter Parker wrong. Starting with Flash and moving through his vendetta against long-haired, blond criminals. He morphs that with guilt over the fact that Peter feels like he created The Lizard, and that whole thing about the heroes creating their villains is also something I'm rather tired of seeing used; it gave me flashbacks to Burton's Batman, "You made me!" So, yeah, I came away unimpressed.

Which is not to say, again, that it's not a good movie. It's totally enjoyable and exciting. The Lizard looks awesome and the CG work is excellent. They use a number of iconic Spider-Man poses in the movie, which was nice to see. Denis Leary and Emma Stone are both great. Sally Field was out of place, although Martin Sheen was pretty good. There was nothing to distinguish Andrew Garfield other than his build, though. He did an adequate job, but he didn't really pull off the nerdy, awkward teenager thing. If you like exciting super hero movies, it's certainly worth seeing in the theater.

But it's not my Spider-Man movie. Sam Raimi made that one 10 years ago, and Sony would have done better to just carry on with the new cast and director building off of what Raimi started rather than trying to start over.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Create Your Audience

As is so often the case with me, I was thinking of something that lead me into thinking about something else entirely and making a connection between the two. Just follow along, and it will all become clear. I hope.

We are all, probably, (somewhat) familiar with the story of how Apple got its start and how no one believed that there would be any interest in the consumer market for the personal computer. We've all learned about how HP and who knows who all else turned down Wozniak and Jobs and how wrong they were for doing so. Short-sighted. Closed minded. Whatever you want to call it. All these guys said, "there's no market for that," and we've derided them for it ever since. I mean, I learned about this as early as 6th grade and continued to have it drilled into my head for the next 12 years, give-or-take, of schooling after that. All the way through my (required) college computer class. Those business guys were just stupid to not see the potential that Wozniak and Jobs were trying to introduce. This has become, in many ways, part of our cultural mythology.

The thing is, though (and here is where my thinking sort of went off track), those guys were not wrong. Yes, I said that. The HP corporate types and all those suits that said "no" were not wrong. There was no market for the home computer. To put it in other terms, the home computer didn't have an audience. Steve Jobs (and Steve Wozniak) created that audience.

And it's kind of amazing when you think about it. I use my computer all the time. It's a tool and a toy, and I can't really imagine trying to get by without it (even if it was nice to be away from it while on vacation (although, in that case, it was that it was nice to be away from the Internet more than the computer itself)). But, looking back, I have a hard time understanding why anyone would have wanted to own a personal computer way back in 1980. They didn't do anything. And, yet, we were enamored of them.

I had one friend who had one (not "one" as in a particular friend, like "I had this one friend," but "one" as in I only knew one person that actually had one), an Apple IIe (I think; It could have been a II+). His parents were doctors, not just regular doctors but some kind of specialized research doctors, and he's the smartest guy I've ever known. Smarter than me (if only by a few points (of course, a few IQ points are huge)). He was in his head all the time and had almost no social skills. I was the only person that could really relate to him when we were in 4th grade (before we got moved away to the school for smart kids), so I was the one that got to go over to his house and "play on the computer." He didn't have any other friends. There was no Windows, only a DOS prompt. There was some game that we played with this little guy that ran around and dug holes and climbed ladders. When we got to 6th grade and had our first computer class (remember, smart kid school; this was the only elementary school computer class in all of Shreveport, possibly in all of Louisiana), I'd go over to his house to test my BASIC program assignments. That's not an adjective, by the way, it's a computer language that I would bet most millennials have never even heard of. We got to write programs that did things like allow us to use the computer as a simple calculator. You know, because, if you didn't write a program for it, you could not use the computer for that!

Do you understand what I'm saying? When the first personal home computers came out, they did... NOTHING! I can't, now, figure out why anyone would have wanted one. And I have no idea what my friend's parents did with theirs. Of course, they were both research scientists, so I'm sure they had uses for it; I just can't imagine them. So, when those corporate suit guys said, "there's no market for that," they weren't wrong. And, yet, they were.

Because Steve Jobs went out and created a market. An audience. And, now, we can't imagine living without the things. Even though your smart phone can do oh so much more than the first personal computers ever dreamed of doing. I'm talking about your phone, here!

Likewise, there was a time when science fiction, as a genre, didn't exist. Imagine if it still didn't and Jules Verne was only just now writing his odd stories about travelling to the moon and into the center of the earth and in the depths of  the seas. Publishers would say "there's no audience for that" and they would be right. Verne, along with Wells not too much later, would create the audience.

And, although fantasy did already exist before Tolkien, Tolkien created the fantasy genre as we know it today. He was told, with both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, there is no audience for this. Why? Because there wasn't. It's rather difficult for there to be an audience for something that does not yet exist. Tolkien created his audience.

But, as I said way back up there at the beginning, I was thinking about one thing that lead into a supposedly unrelated thing. That other thing is a conversation in this writing group on Facebook:

An author posed the question of whether it's a "bad idea" to switch from 1st person POV to 3rd person POV in the middle of a story. Of course, I didn't want to just say, "hey, I've done that, so I think it's fine," so I responded from a more neutral stance of asking why the author wanted to do it. Not that I wanted to know but that the author needed to know. Basically, there should be a reason for it beyond just the desire to switch POVs. Later, I said that the author needs to tell the story that she needs to tell it in the way that she needs to tell it (that's what I believe about any story (tell your story)).

What surprised me, though, is the number of people that responded that it is a bad idea and that the reason that it is a bad idea really boiled to "there is no audience for it." Basically, "it's not done that way" meaning  that it's not done that way because no one would be interested in that, just like no one would be interested in owning a home computer. Or science fiction. Or fantasy epics.

What gets me here is the lack of willingness, often, in the writing community to try anything new. To go to new places. People look around and say way to often "it's not done that way" meaning "you shouldn't do that." But the rest of the world doesn't really work that way. The rest of the world spends its time looking for the new big thing while the writing world spends its time only looking for only the next big thing. I think this is at the heart of the troubles in the publishing world. When e-books became a thing, a new thing, the publishing world screamed "it's not done that way!" and "there's no audience for that!" Clearly, they were wrong.

But that's beside the point...

The point is that you should never let someone tell you "there's no audience for that" for a thing that has never been tried. Or something  that has rarely been tried. I mean, if there's an audience for deep fried pickles, and there is, there's bound to be an audience for anything. And everything. The response, always, to "it's not done that way" should always be "yet." "It's not done that way... yet." So, you know, big deal if there's no audience for what it is you want to do. Go out and make your audience. Create it. Build it.

The thing is is that Wozniak did not build that first computer because he was trying to build something for public consumption; he built it because he was interested in it. He knew that he wanted to have something like that for himself. He didn't really know how many other people would be interested, but he knew he was. Jules Verne didn't start writing his science fiction stories because he looked around and decided that he needed to create a new genre of literature; he wrote the kind of story he wanted to read. The same was true of Tolkien. He wrote, created, what he wanted, what he felt a need for.

The lesson, then, is this for you writers out there: write what you want. Unless you are completely, uniquely idiosyncratic, it's more than likely that there are other people out there that want the same thing you want. So, if you want to switch from 1st person to 3rd and back or... whatever, if it's what you want for your story, do it. Then go create your audience.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Unexpected Applause: Cassastar

So... following on the heels of all the discussion about reviews is... a review. And, probably, this is one I should have gotten to a long time ago, but I have a huge stack of books waiting to be read, so it took a while to get to this.

Alex Cavanaugh is pretty well known in these parts and not without reason. Not only has he written a couple of best selling books, but he's incredibly supportive of other writers. His name gets around. But we're not here to look at the author but his book. His first book, that is: Cassastar.
As usual, let's look at the technicals first:
This is easily one of the best edited small or independently published books I've seen. In the top 3, for sure. I wouldn't know more specifically than that without going through those three books and actually counting up the errors, and I'm not going to spend the time doing that. Although there are a few more toward the end than in the beginning, except for one consistent misspelling of a word by substituting in a homophone for it, all of the mistakes were just things that got missed, like "as" instead of "a" or things like that. There are no consistent punctuation errors at all. Without the rather routine editing issues I've come to expect from independently published works, this became a rather enjoyable read for that alone. I'd give it an A on technicals.

Without getting into the actual plot of the book, I'd say it's a fairly routine space romp. Think Top Gun meets A New Hope with a dash of Battlestar Galactica thrown in for good measure. Of course, Alex does add in his own bits, too, such as the telepathic abilities of the Cassans (and possibly other, more rare, mental abilities that we don't encounter during this first book (well, we do encounter one other, but that would be telling)), and those abilities play a role in what unfolds with the plot, so they're not just icing on the cake, so to speak.

At any rate, the plot is not very complicated or unpredictable, so, if you're looking for some big twist ending or endless convolutions in your plot, you should look somewhere else. Plot-wise, you're going to get a fairly straightforward story. The only real issue with this is that Alex waits to reveal the conflict, or that there is any conflict, until well after the first third of the book. It left me feeling somewhat adrift during Byron's training because it was impossible to tell that anything else was going on other than boot camp.

Of course, the plot is not the point of the story. Cassastar isn't about an interstellar war, it's about the characters, and Mr. Cavanaugh does a very realistic job of drawing his characters and fleshing them out. In fact, there is real character growth in the book, which is not something that's all that common in these days of flashy, all out action all the time. Byron is not the same character at the end of the book as he starts out being. Neither is Bassa. The book is about friendship and how "iron sharpens iron;" the plot is only there to facilitate that journey. In this respect, the book often reminded me of the relationship between Frodo and Samwise in The Lord of the Rings. It's all very British feeling.

It's a solid job of story telling. Good characters. Good action. A nice, entertaining read. There's enough to it to make it above average, and, coupled with the lack of grammar issues, I'd give it a nice, solid "B." It's not great or earth-shattering, but it is good entertainment with some insight into "humanity" thrown in to make it worth the time.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Is It Better To Be "Nice" Or Honest? Part Two

I'm guest posting today over at Arlee Bird's Tossing It Out on the topic of reviews for "Indie" authors. We agreed that the topic was big enough for more than one post, so I'm continuing what I started over there over here. You should really pop over and read part one, first, though, before reading this one.
[One a completely separate note, I also have an interview up today over at the A to Z Challenge blog, stop by and check that out, too.]

To bring the impact of the “nice” review down to a more personal level, when the the independent market suffers the effects of undeserved good reviews, so do you.
Let me put this another way: The only way you can ever become successful as an independent author is if the larger audience of readers begins to buy your books. It's all well and good for your blogging friends and a few of their friends to buy your book, but, really, that's just a handful of sales. To make it, to really make it, you have to break through the “friend” barrier out into people that don't know you. That is a hard thing to do.
You want to know why it's a hard thing to do? Because the larger audience of readers doesn't trust the independent market. They don't even really trust the small publishers, so how do you expect them to trust you, some anonymous author with a sign saying, “Buy my book! It's really good!”
See, when we just do the “nice” thing and give good reviews to our peers, the independent market suffers, as I said, but, also, you, specifically you, as an independently published author, suffer. You are not immune to the overall perception that people will have of a market place full of good reviews that don't mean anything.
 You want to know how I know this? Because I don't buy independently published books except from people I know or that have been strongly recommended to me by people whose opinions I trust. Why? Because I can't tell what's good and what's not. And, even then, half the stuff (and I'm being generous here) I've read from people I know or has been recommended to me shouldn't be out there available for purchase, anyway, so why would I expect that other stuff is any different. But, yet, I can browse through the "indie book shelf" (yes, I just made that up) and find plenty of books with a stack of good reviews (on Amazon or on blogs) that I know to be... dishonest, for lack of a better word. In some cases, I don't think the person giving the review even read the book, because the review is about the author not the work.
A review beginning with “this is a great guy” or “I went to high school with this guy and he wrote a book” or “this girl spends all of her time writing” does not inspire me to buy the book or give me any faith in the independent market. If you didn't read it, don't go click 5-stars on it! Just don't do it.
To make this as clear as I can, it doesn't matter if you genuinely have written a great book, the best book ever, even, if no one can find it. It's like being the one apple tree in the middle of a forest of crab apple trees. The only way to be seen in all of that other mess is if reviews, all reviews, are honest reviews and are clearly labeled “crab apple” instead of “apple.”
So far, we've been pretty self-centered and only talked about how all of this stuff affects ourselves, but let's look at how the “nice” review affects the author in question. Does the “nice” review actually help him/her? Again, I'm going to say “no.”
Sure, as I said in Part One, getting the “nice” review may gain the author a few sales, but, if the book is really not good or not ready or not whatever, it's going to hurt the author more in the long run.
First, people buying the book are going to find “oh, this book sucks” and decide to never buy another book from that author again. It doesn't matter if, later, the author does put out something good, why would a buyer (that doesn't know the author) come back and try again after getting burned once? Most people are just going to remember to not buy anything from him/her again (like I won't buy any more Goodkin or Hamilton, I don't care how good people say they are).
But what's the likelihood that the author is going to improve if everyone is just being nice? The author, at that point, believes that the work is fine and s/he can continue in the same manner. I've seen a lot of this out there, too. Authors that whip out some 40,000 word "epic" in a couple or few months, get some nice reviews and continue on doing the same. Over and over again. Their friends are all giving them good reviews and telling them how great they are, so they never bother to actually look at the work or how much (little) time they're spending on it. They don't edit beyond spell check or have anyone with any kind of skill read the manuscript before they hit the publish button.
These authors think everything is just fine. “Look at how all my friends love what I'm doing!” But no one is buying their books. Why? Because they're no good. But no one is brave enough to tell them that. No one wants to damage the friendship by saying, “Hey, you need to work on this some more.” Again, it's a short term gain, but it's kind of like allowing your friend to walk around with a huge booger on his/her face. Sure, s/he'd be embarrassed if you told him, but how mad at you is she going to be when she finds out that you didn't.
Doing the “nice” thing doesn't help anyone. It doesn't help the market, it doesn't help you, and it doesn't help the author in question. Not in the long run. Yeah, I know, it can be really difficult to see past the short run to the long run, but, if we want independent publishing to survive, we have to do that. Right now, the big publishers are out there banking on one thing, that this lack of quality among independently published books will drive people back to only buying from them. The sad thing is they may not be wrong. Until we, the independent authors, have the courage and fortitude to be honest about what we're flooding the market with, people will continue to orbit the big publishers as their main source of reading material.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Are You Brave Enough?

As all Pixar movies, Brave is a beautiful piece of work. The landscapes are gorgeous. The animation excellent. The characters interesting. Despite all of that, I was left slightly unsatisfied at the end of the movie.

It's not that it wasn't a good movie; it was. It was very good. But, I guess, I was just expecting something a little bit more from Pixar, because, in the end, it turns out to be a pretty typical kid-oriented fantasy movie. It's the kind of thing where the kid makes a bad decision but gets rewarded for it anyway. Basically, parents are always wrong and if they would just open their eyes and take a look at you and how deserving you are to have your way then they would just see that that's true and let you have your way. Of course, it's not that simple in these kinds of movies, and the kid has to make a big mistake for the parent to actually take a look at the kid and, instead of the kid having to deal with any consequences of his/her actions, s/he's able to put everything right which enables the parent to say, "Oh, you were right all along. Here, have everything you always wanted."

And this is the unfair bit, I suppose, because, if this movie had been from anyone but Pixar, I would have been fine with it. Not that I would have thought it was a better movie, but I wouldn't have been left with a feeling of disappointment. As it is, though, Pixar has been pretty good about taking that next step in dealing with personal responsibility. They've had characters that have worked through difficult issues, looked at their own behavior, and come out stronger and more mature individuals on the other side (with the exception of Wall-E, which I thought was cute but a bit heavy handed with its message and lacking in the personal growth department (even Cars 2 had a strong dose of personal growth)). The character of Merida does not come out a stronger and more mature person on the other side. She may appreciate her mother a bit more, but, in essence, she's the same at the end as she was at the beginning.

To make matters worse, the whole movie revolves around the question, "Are you brave enough?" Are you brave enough to change your own fate? It's a good question, and it sounds like a Pixar question. So I went into it expecting the heroine to do just that, to be brave and change her fate. But that's not what happens. At no point does she take the brave stance to change her fate. Instead, she runs away and makes a bad choice. It felt very The Little Mermaid to me.

I find it more than a little ironic that Pixar, a movie company known for their "bravery" in movie making, took the less than courageous route in a movie about being brave and taking your fate in your own hands.

Which makes me wonder about the influence Disney is having over them. Pixar kept their own studio headquarters up here near San Francisco when Disney bought them. The idea behind that was so that they could keep their autonomy. Do their own thing. Continue to make the movies they'd been know for. But I'm not sure that's happening. Last summer's Cars 2, which I liked, is considered Pixar's first failure for its overt merchandising. A movie short on story for the sake of being flashy and selling a lot of stuff. That's so very... Disney. And, honestly, even with the stronger than typical female lead, Brave felt much like a typical Disney "Princess" movie. Even Toy Story 3 was pushed through by Disney. Actually, because Disney owned the rights to any Toy Story sequels, they were going to make the movie without Pixar's involvement at all, but after their Pixar acquisition, Pixar took control of it and started completely over on the project (and thank goodness for that!).

Maybe it's just the lack of John Lasseter. With the acquisition by Disney and his expanded role as chief creative officer for both Disney and Pixar (along with a handful of other duties (which included the creation of the new Cars theme park at Disneyland)), he's had to be much less involved in the individual projects at Pixar, and it was always Lasseter that was the real heart of Pixar. It was his vision that created Pixar, took it from a failing animation department that George Lucas sold to Steve Jobs and Jobs was considering selling off to Microsoft (or anyone that would take it, really) and turned it into the most profitable movie studio ever (they currently have the highest average box office take across all of their movies of any movie studio). Is it that Lasseter's vision for Pixar has been removed or diluted, or is it that he's finally bought into Disney's way of doing things? I'm hoping with his more direct involvement with next summer's Monsters University that we'll see a return to what is more expected from a Pixar movie.

All of that said, my kids loved Brave, and that's really what matters. As I said, it is a good movie. If it had come out under the Disney banner rather than Pixar, I wouldn't have thought a thing about it. In fact, I would have applauded them for providing a female lead that did not need a man to "complete" her, but from Pixar... well, it just fell short of expectations.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Order Your House Online!

Not to re-visit the days of when we were moving last fall, but moving sucks. I mean, the moving itself sucks, but, worse than that, the process of buying a house sucks. One of the things I said somewhat frequently while we were in the house hunting stage was "why can't we just buy a house online?" I was somewhat serious about that, too. I mean, you can buy virtually everything online. You can even buy a car online. Why not a house?

Don't get me wrong, I understand why you can't buy a house online, but I don't like it. When we had to get a new car, I wanted to want to buy that online, too, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. A car is expensive enough that I wanted to "feel" the car before deciding on it. We did look at options online, but, in the end, we went down to the dealership and checked out the cars and test drove and all of that stuff. I can't imagine, in that sense, actually buying a house online. I'd need to go "feel" it, too.

Except the process of looking for a house is so horrid, there should be some kind of process for it online! There just should be.

A few months ago, while watching a period show with my wife, she said something along the lines of "I bet those are Sears catalog homes" about a neighborhood in  the show. I had to pause the show and say "what?" Then, after she explained, I had to say "what the heck!"

Because, see, before there was the Internet, you could buy your home online. Okay, so not online, but from a catalog. Seriously. Sears offered houses, HOUSES, in their famous Sears catalog.

We all know about the Sears catalog, right? Who, growing up in the 70s and 80s, didn't await the Sears catalog with great anticipation every winter so s/he could sit down with it and circle all the toys s/he wanted for Christmas? That's what I though. Maybe some kids still do that? I kind of doubt it. I only know that my kids don't because we don't get the Sears catalog nor do we shop very often at Sears (which I'm sure is a part of why Sears is having... issues... these days). But we USED to love the Sears catalog and "window" shopping in it. Back before the days of the Internet changed all of that.

At any rate, back in the day, specifically the days between 1908 and 1940, you could order a house from Sears' Book of Modern Homes and Building Plans. To make it even more amazing, the price for a house was as low as $650! Yes, less than $1000! And the most expensive plan was only $2500! At least, in 1908, those were the prices. Yeah, so you had to own a piece of land to put the house on, but, oh my gosh, you could just flip through a CATALOG and pick out the floor plan you liked best and order your house. They'd deliver it right to your non-existent doorstep, pre-assembled and ready to be put together. Mostly, you could even do it yourself with friends and relatives much like an old-fashioned barn raising. This Is Amazing! And I want it to come back.

Okay, so it may have to wait until we start colonizing other planets and there is, once again, plenty of land available for cheap for people to build on, but, still, this is such an amazing thing!

As great as I think it is to be able to order your house from a catalog, to be able to pick a floor plan and choose your bits and pieces to fit that floor plan, customize that floor plan into something that is you; I don't think it's such a great idea in writing. Not that it can't be done successfully. Plenty of people do it: write by formula. Plenty of people enjoy reading it, too. I just don't enjoy it. It can be kind of interesting to see how people make the formula their own, but, in  the end, I generally feel like "I've been in this house before." Unless you've done some pretty spectacular job at customization, it gets a little boring wandering through the same old floor plan over and over again.

Honestly, I feel that way about houses, too. If I could, I would design the general layout of my house myself. The thing I want out of a house is not something you can buy anywhere today (but that's a different topic). There is no existing layout for what I want. It's not the big house in the woods kind of thing. Or the big house on the hill. Or any of the "big house" ideas that most people have about big houses. It's so much not that that my wife was actually surprised by what I want out of a house. I want the same kind of thing out of my writing. I don't think I'm there, yet, but I am working on it. I think, based on the number of people who have said things like "that's not what I expected (but in a good way)" about my book, The House on the Corner, I'm getting there, but I'm not all the way there.

Still, the idea of being able to order a house online is awesome. Until I have the resources to design my own house, I'm all for the idea of the catalog house!
[Oh, and just to mention it, Sears wasn't the only company that sold catalog houses, just the most well known.]

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Let's go on Vacation! Part 1: The Place

Last week, I went on vacation. In many ways, it was the first real vacation I've ever been on. Not that I've never been on a vacation before; there was my honeymoon almost 14 years ago, but, for some reason, a honeymoon doesn't feel like a "vacation" to me. And there was one other family vacation about 6 years ago, but that one, also, did not feel like a vacation. Probably because my kids were too young. I took them on vacation, but I didn't get one out of that deal. But this one... this one was good.

It was up at Trinity Lake in the Trinity Alps. We stayed at the Trinity Lakes KOA and rented a cabin.
Our cabin, which is, evidently, their "best" cabin, although we didn't know that ahead of time.
The view up the road to our cabin which is down at the end.
The view out of our bedroom window.
The general area as seen from the lake.

I'm not really much for camping. I'm sure that goes back to a traumatic camping event from middle school (story for another time (yeah, I know I'm always saying that and never getting to those "another times," but no one ever reminds me!)), but I've discovered that cabin camping is pretty good. Actually, it was kind of the only way I would consent to go camping. Not that I said it that way, and I would have gone even without renting a cabin, but I wouldn't have really enjoyed myself. In the cabin, though... it was good.

And there was a deck with a picnic table and, down below it, a creek. We kept the window open in the bedroom all the so that we could hear the creek at night. Oh, it was so nice. And sitting out on deck in the mornings with my mocha (sometimes while writing) was... incredible. Other than being repeatedly interrupted by one of my children (who shall remain unnamed), it was possibly the most peaceful thing I've ever experienced.
A view down to the creek from the deck. Yes, I know you can't see the creek. Listen carefully, and, maybe, you can hear it.

So that's the overview. Tall trees, big mountains, bubbling water. No Internet. No outside connections at all. That's a nice thing about not owning a cell phone or iDevice. And no withdrawal symptoms, either, which was somewhat surprising but not at all unpleasant.

Yes, yes, you may envy me now. We are tentatively planning to go back next year. I'm already looking forward to it.