Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Happiest Place on Earth: Part 3

Some of us got up early on Friday, because the plan was to get into the park ahead of the crowd. That was actually a possibility, because we had these passes that let us in an hour before the parks opened. However, when I say that "some of us got up early," what I mean is "I got up early." In all actuality, I didn't get up any earlier than I usually get up, which is 6:00am, but everyone else was supposed to also get up at 6:00am, and that just didn't happen. By the time everyone had been dragged out of bed (kicking and screaming, in some cases (okay, so I'm exaggerating a little (but only a little))), showered, and dressed, it was 7:30 before we got into the park, and we still had to eat breakfast. Clearly, we didn't have this whole thing figured out. By the time we got some food, it was 8:00am, and the park had opened for real and we'd missed the whole hour of extra time we'd had.

One of the first things we passed going into Disneyland on Friday morning was
which I thought was SO cool. See, I took a picture of it! But, seriously, it's an old fire engine; what's more cool than that? Okay, lots of things, but, still... Anyway, so I was being all "wow!" over the fire engine, and there was this old guy washing windows nearby, and he saw me being all "wow!" over the fire engine and the fire station and stuff, and he came over and told us that Walt Disney himself had lived in the apartment over the fire station while the park was being built and that he'd used it as his room for years when he'd come to stay. That was pretty cool, and I'm guessing a bit of inside info that most visitors don't get to hear about. Yeah, this guy was old enough that I bet he's been working at the park since it was being built and knew the information first hand. It was that kind of experience.

The first ride we went on on Friday morning was
and I have to say  that the line, which, actually, was almost non-existent at 8:00am, was just as good as the ride. The detail they put into the place was amazing, and there was so much to look at, but we were able to just rush through, so it wasn't until we came back to ride it again (on Saturday) that I was actually able to fully take in the details of the line area.
Going in.
A death trap.
Of course, all the kids had to pull the rope.

Oh, and, yeah, the ride was a blast!

After Indiana Jones, we went up into Tarzan's tree house.
We explored the jungle.
And we rode a steamboat.

We did some other things, too, but, well, my camera decided it didn't want to work anymore. Oh, it works again now, but that was the end of the pictures for the trip. Friday morning, it just decided that it was taking its own vacation and refused to turn on again. Yes, I checked the batteries. I'd actually just put fresh batteries in not long before it quit working. After we got home, I was able to upload the pictures I got before it died, which I wasn't sure was going to work since the camera wouldn't function. I swapped out  the batteries again, just on a whim, and something in the combination of those two things made the camera decide that it would work again. But I have no more pictures...

Which means I don't have pictures from Cars Land, which is... Oh, man, I wish you could have seen it! It was like they pulled Radiator Springs right out of the movie and brought it to life. But, you know, with people walking all around in it.

So we're sitting over at Flo's waiting for my wife's dad and step-mother, and, across the street, at the traffic cone hotel place is Lightning McQueen. Now, he's just sitting there, so, you know, I'm thinking he's a decoration. Just a model car sitting out in the driveway. But we're sitting there, and, suddenly, he comes to life and starts driving out of the driveway, and he's talking to people as he goes by, and it was just incredible! He pulled through the driveway and turned onto the street and drove right by us, and I wanted to reach out and touch him so bad, but, you know, if I was all famous and stuff, I wouldn't want people I don't know coming up and trying to touch me, so I refrained. Anyway, he drives off, and, a moment later, Mater drives up the street from the direction Lightning had gone, and he goes over and parks in the same place, and it was all SO COOL! I mean, it was seriously cool, and I can't even imagine what that would be like if I was six and Lightning McQueen drove up to me and talked to me. Well, I can, because it would have been about like Luke Skywalker walking up to me and talking to me, and I used to dream about that kind of thing all the time when I was that age, so, apparently, I can actually imagine it.

We rode The Tower of Terror, and that was amazing. The hotel is awesome! I mean, well, it's  like everything there; the attention to detail is stunning, and it's like being in some abandoned hotel, and we wondered if they have some guy somewhere that just specializes in putting cobwebs on things or if they actually hire spiders to take care of it. At the time, I didn't know this, but it's not just a simple drop ride. No, Disney was not content to be satisfied with something as simple as gravity, so the car that you sit in actually has cables that pull it down so that you achieve a speed faster than free fall. Riding that with my wife and younger son was awesome. They're both into screaming, but, see, my wife would scream and then burst into hysterical laughter, so I was laughing at her laughing, and my son was screaming but trying to also laugh, and that may have been the best ride of the trip with the way she screamed and laughed.

The boys and I went off to the Mad Tea Party while the rest of the group went off to get wet. I'm not a fan of wet rides. Well, it's not the rides; I like them just fine; in fact, when I was a kid, the log ride may have been my favorite thing; however, I hate walking around wet after the fact, and if the stuff in your wallet gets wet... and I hate having wet shoes. It's just gross, especially later when you finally take your shoes off. Anyway, we were trying to see this Tron thing that they had when the oldest boy was there in the spring, but it's gone, now, and has been replaced with the Mad Tea Party, which was pretty cool and included a band playing 80s covers with a lead singer that looked like Tom Petty. But the coolest thing there, and the thing I regret most not having pictures of, was these two guys on stilts wearing pink flamingo bodies so that they looked like they were riding giant pink flamingos. And they jousted. It was awesome.

But, you know, my camera was on strike, so I don't have any pictures.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Guns and Adverbs: Part 2

What is the big deal with adverbs, anyway? I mean, they teach kids in elementary school to use adverbs liberally, to spice up their writing. If they teach kids they should be using adverbs, why do we, as writers, take the stance of "No Adverbs!"?

In a lot of ways, using adverbs can be like taking a shotgun and shooting your manuscript with it at point-blank range. And that's why everyone goes around saying, "Don't use adverbs!"

Everyone would be wrong.

There's nothing actually wrong with the adverb. If you learn how to use them effectively.

However, I'll give you the top three ways people like to use adverbs, and, maybe, you can see why there is the temptation to banish them:

1. in dialogue tags
The problem with using adverbs in dialogue tags is that they frequently become a way to tell the audience what is happening rather than to show the audience. For instance, you might use, "he said quietly," when "whispered" would be better. Or you might say, "he leaned close and said into my ear," which would be even better. Or you might say, "she said excitedly," which is just telling me that she was excited, but "she squealed and jumped up and down before saying" shows me that she is excited, which is far more, well, exciting. Basically, adding those adverbs to dialogue tags can be a lazy way of getting around showing what's going on.
And, of course, using descriptive dialogue tags distracts from the actual dialogue, which you don't want to do. The dialogue tag should fade into the background as much as possible, which is why we don't want to draw attention to them by tacking adverbs on. There are few "rules" of writing I believe should be followed unilaterally, but the one about keeping dialogue tags to a simple "said" is probably the one I believe in most. Heck, I think if I could get away with not using them, I would (which is kind of odd considering how much I dislike Hemingway for that very reason).

2. to create redundancies
Unfortunately, the other way we want to use adverbs is to reinforce verbs that don't need reinforcing. In effect, we make a redundant word combination. We like to say things like "he ran quickly" or "she screamed loudly" or "he whispered quietly." We don't need adverbs in any of those circumstances. If he's running, we know that he's doing it quickly, and, if she's screaming, we assume it's loud. In most cases, there are better verbs to replace those combinations anyway, like "he sprinted" or "she shrieked" or "he murmured."

3. really and very
Yeah, people really, really like to use these adverbs very, very much. Frequently, these cause writing to become boring due to word repetition, and, as with any word, you don't want to use them too much. Usually, there are better words.

With all of this going against the adverb, it can be difficult to see legitimate uses for them. It's rather like taking out a sub-machine gun to hunt a deer. The only good reason for that is if you want to save some time in making venison burgers. The trick is knowing when to use the adverb gun and which adverb gun works best.

Personally, I like the adverb as an adverbial phrase. See what I did there? "Personally" is an adverb. In point 3, so are "frequently" and "usually." In point 2, I have "unfortunately." Adverbs in those positions are useful and give a clearer meaning to the sentences. And that's the catch, when we're going to use adverbs, they should provide a clearer meaning; they should provide more focus. Not the same focus. You don't want them to just re-say what you're already saying.

Another good use of the adverb, which provides a greater meaning to the sentence but is not as an adverbial phrase, is to contrast the word you're modifying. Going back to the examples I used earlier, you could have "he ran haltingly," which provides a completely new dynamic to that sentence. You could also say "she screamed hoarsely" or "he whispered loudly." Those adverbs are useful and good and provide new depth to what is being said.

All of this to say that, although I understand the temptation to tell people "don't use adverbs," it's a better solution for people to learn how to use them effectively. There's no real reason to deprive authors of the adverb tool just because some people use them incorrectly. It's not the same as when I was a kid and was given a tool kit one year and proceeded to use the hand drill
something like this
to woodpecker the furniture. Needless to say, it got taken away. However, it would have been better if my parents had taken the time to teach me what to use it on.

Damn It, Jim...

Today, I am guest posting over on Still Writing...
You should drop by to see what the title of this post is all about.

"Part Three: The Bedroom" is still available for FREE! through the end of today. So far, it has peaked at #37 on the contemporary fantasy list and is currently at #38.
Interestingly enough, "Part Two: The Kitchen Table" made it back up to #73 on that list yesterday while it was also free.

That's all for today. Come back tomorrow for "Guns and Adverbs Part 2."

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Bedroom without the Window

Today is the day for the next Shadow Spinner release!
"Part Three: The Bedroom" will be available as a FREE! download Monday, August 27 and Tuesday, August 28. Don't miss out!
As an added bonus, I'm making "Part Two: The Kitchen Table" FREE! for today only. Pick up your FREE! copies, and, if you need it, go back and pick up "Part One: The Tunnel." Sorry, it's not free this time, but Amazon won't let me get away with it as much as I'd like to. If I could, I'd just make all of these free all the time, but Amazon seems to think that 5 days of FREE! out of every 90 is enough. Unfortunately, these are only for the Kindle, but there is a FREE Kindle app for whatever device you might need it for, so you should be covered.
Also, don't forget about "The Evil That Men Do." It serves as a prequel or a prologue or whatever you want to call it to Shadow Spinner, and it's only $0.99.

"Part Four: The Cop" has a planned FREE! release on September 10.

And I have to say it even though there hasn't been a lot of follow through with this (as in almost none), if you go pick any of these up, please click the "like" button and, then, come back after you've read them and leave a rating and review. It would be a big help. Thanks!

Something funny happened on  the way to the bank...

Okay, so I wasn't really going to the bank. And it's probably not all that funny to anyone but me, but, still... I'm gonna tell you anyway.

I lost part of the title for this week's Shadow Spinner release. Yeah... I'm not sure how that happened. The actual title is "The Bedroom Window," but, when I made the list of titles out for The Amazing Rusty Webb (I think he should change his name to that! It's so pseudo Spider-Man!), I listed part three as simply "The Bedroom," so that's, now, what it is. At least, that's what it is until I release Shadow Spinner as a complete book. Maybe, it will get changed back. I haven't decided yet.

As I mentioned last Friday, The House on the Corner: First Person Edition is a year old! There was also a contest... a contest that didn't really get any responses. Not that there weren't any comments, but no said, "hey, I want a free copy." So even though I said I would announce a winner today, I'll have to think about the whole thing. If anyone wants to make a case, today, as to why you need a free copy, please do that, and I'll add that in to the thought process.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Celebrating One Year!

Wow, I know I'm not always the best at keeping track of time, but I almost let this slip past me. The House on the Corner: First Person Edition is officially one year old today! And I almost forgot. No, I almost didn't even think about it. It's not like I was thinking about it and, then, forgot; I wasn't thinking about it at all, but it got brought to my attention. But, anyway...
There it is... One year of House! Well, sort of, but that's another story. Looking at the cover, I'm inspired to once again thank the amazing Rusty Webb for his work on it. I was seriously at a complete loss as to what I was going to do as far as the cover went before I met Rusty, and I can't thank him enough for the awesome job he did. A job which completely surpassed any and all expectations I ever had.

I'd also like to thank each and every one of you that has taken the time to read my book and, especially, thank those of you that have written a review and/or left a rating for it. Those review things are gold for an author, so I appreciate the time it took you, whether it was 5 minutes or 6 hours, to do that for me.

I thought about running a contest, but, really, I couldn't think of anything that seemed extremely interesting. I mean, contest participation, at least when I've done them, has always been a little less than I could hope for. But, still... one year... so I decided to let the last year be the contest, and, in light of that, I'm awarding Briane Pagel the "Biggest Fan" award. Briane has been, by far, the most supportive (adult) person I know of my book and, actually, of all of my projects. He has relentlessly posted about  them and given them out as prizes in his own contests and all sorts of things. I wish I had a cool little blog stamp or something for that, but I'm no good with those things and didn't think of all of this in time to ask someone else (>cough< Rusty) to do it. Since I don't have a cool blog stamp for you, Briane, I suppose you will have to settle for a signed copy of House. I hope that works for you.

Okay, so, well, I lied. I will have a contest, but the prize won't be as cool as what Briane got. I'll hand out some e-copies of House to one or more people, but you have to earn them. The copy can be for you, or it can be a gift for someone else (as long as the someone else has an email address). All you have to do is tell me, in the comment section, why it is I should give you a copy. Or your friend. Be persuasive. Assuming at least one person leaves a response, I'll give away at least one copy. I might hand out more if I get more than one particularly persuasive comment. The only thing I'd ask is that you leave a review after you read it.
I'll announce winners on Monday.

[EDIT: Okay, Briane says I should offer the signed copy up as a prize (because he doesn't like those stuffy, old "real" books and prefers those that you can't actually hold in your hands), so I will. The 1st winner will have an option between a signed physical copy or an e-copy, if that is preferred. Thanks!]

Thank you all for being around the old blog over the past year and more, for reading this stuff I throw out into... well, whatever this is, and supporting all this stuff I've been working on.
Speaking of which, make sure you come back Monday for the free promotion for "Part Three: The Bedroom"!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

It's Time for Accordions

This last weekend was the Cotati Accordion Festival. It was #22. In some ways, that astounds me. 22 years of festivals. I mean, the accordion is not the most popular of instruments, although I do think it's highly underrated. I have to blame the monkeys and their little cups.
Those of you who have been following for a while know that my daughter plays the accordion and, now, the rest of you know, too. I love that she plays the accordion. I mean, I really love it.

This was her second accordion festival. Last year, she only played in the group performance of "Lady of Spain," which she really didn't know very well, but she could get away with it, because it was just a mass of people playing it, and, probably, half of them didn't know it, either. This year, though, she played on stage!
She was part of a group of "future accordion stars;" that's her teacher in the lower left of the bottom photo. She played the song "Over the Waves," which is her grandfather's favorite. And she had her very first interview.
I'm not really sure what the interview was for, but, still, it was cool. She even got asked for her autograph.

The Great Morgani was there. He played four times and in a different costume each time. Unfortunately, we only got to see him once. His costumes are amazing! (Last year, he had one of a big, green butterfly (but I don't have pictures of that one.))
You should definitely check out his website.

My daughter also got to meet and have her picture taken with Santiago Jimenez.
He's kind of legendary and has been Grammy nominated three times. We didn't get to see his actual stage performance, but we did get to hear him play at his tent.

There were also the Accordion Babes, but I was busy buying food for the family while they were playing, so I didn't really get to see/hear them other than to note that one of them was dressed up in some Celtic warrior outfit with a leather miniskirt. They have calendars.
They debuted this calendar at the event, but you're seeing as much of it as I've seen, which is this picture of it. They announced that this year's calendar is kind of racy, but I don't know what that means. At any rate, I'm sure they'd love for you to buy one, if you're so inclined.

I'm sure there was a lot more to see and hear, but we were only there for half of Sunday out of the two days of the event. My wife and I are hoping that next year we can actually stay late enough to hear some of the major performers.

Oh, and one other note:
On Friday afternoon, my daughter played for an hour in front of a local grocery store as part of a promotional thing they do every year for the festival. She played for it last year, too, although her song library was much shorter then. Anyway, during that hour of playing, she made over $45.00. This was her third time to go busking. I'm fairly certain her total haul for the, basically, three hours she's spent performing like this is more than I've made off of my book stuff. Maybe, I'm in the wrong line of work? Then, again, I'm not young and cute, so I'm not likely to bring in the kind of money she does.

We're incredibly proud of what my daughter has done in  this past year with her accordion work. Her teacher says she's one of the best she's ever taught, and she's been teaching for something like 40 years, so it's kind of a big deal. Even though we often have to fight with her over practicing, it's really been worth it. I'm not sure if she'd admit that, but she already has an eye for new accordions. She already owns two.
(Accordions aren't cheap... just sayin'.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Back in the School of Things

School is in full swing again. It started last Wednesday for the younger two and on Monday for the oldest. Back to school means a lot of things:

  • back to biking -- and, oh, man, after, really, all of the spring and summer away from it, it was a lot harder adjustment than I thought it would be. Not the actual doing of it, but, evidently, my butt got out of condition, and it had an argument with the bike seat the first few days. My younger son said the same thing. My daughter, however, just gloated about how comfy  her seat is. [I have to add here that it was my daughter's fault we didn't bike through the spring. She caused an accident by arbitrarily stopping that ended up with me flipping over my bike and breaking the rear axle. Yeah, it took me a while to get around to getting it fixed.]
  • back to making lunches in  the mornings  -- Of all the things related to school, I hate getting up and making all of the lunches the most. I've tried doing it in the evenings ahead of time, but, evidently, I hate that even more, because I just won't do it on a consistent basis.
  • back to badgering the kids about getting their homework finished -- Yeah, I hate this one, too, but lunches are worse.
  • back to quiet during the day allowing me to focus on writing for more than 12 minutes at a time before I'm interrupted
  • back to teaching creative writing! The class will be two days a week, this year. One day will be for writing and reading and the other day will be for technicals such as grammar, punctuation, and story structure. [My son will only get to be in the class half of the year because of Spanish and art, which are both required while my class is just an elective. He's not happy about it.]
  • back to reading The House on the Corner! I've been asked to read the book to a new class of kids this year. I'm actually pretty sure none of these kids have ever heard any of the book before, or, if they have, it was years ago while I was still writing it. I think, though, this is the in between group that has not had any overlap from the reading in either of my son's or my daughter's class. At any rate, none of my kids are in this class this year, so it was a nice surprise to be asked to come in and read by a teacher that does not have one of my kids in her class.
Speaking of reading in classes, I found this
in our family folder last week. It's a thank you book from one of the classes I was reading in last year. Each kid wrote me a note, and some drew pictures.
A picture of the house.
Me reading to the class.
The thank you book was completely unexpected and completely awesome.

Since I'm going to get to spend more time on the technical aspects of writing this year, I'm going to be doing some posts related to that stuff. It makes me glad to be able to work with kids interested in writing and help them to develop their technique at an earlier age than most people get to. I mean, most of the writing samples I run across online aren't any better developed than middle schoolers', anyway, which makes me wonder what happened to their schooling, except, then, I remember the state of the education system and the lack of importance given to anything in the arts, which includes knowing how to write a decent sentence, and I quit wondering, but, then, I wish they would take it seriously enough to learn how to do it rather than just blowing it off and writing in 1st person because they think they can get away with it that way. I don't know... maybe, grammar lessons will be boring, but they will probably be accompanied by a decent amount of ranting, which can make pretty much anything entertaining, so I guess we'll see.

Hmm... It seems like I had one other thing for this post, but, if there was something else, it's gone now. At any rate, for those of you with kids going back to school, I wish you a very merry school year. Or, you know, the nearest approximation.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Be Vewy Qwiet...

...I'm hunting wabbits.

One night last week, when we were out on the evening walk with the dog, we came across a rabbit in a field off the trail. Actually, it was a hare, but people always get so confused when you talk about seeing hares or wild hares, so, you know, we'll keep it simple and just call "him" (because I'm deciding it was a him) a rabbit. I'm sure he doesn't really mind, because, well, he can't read. I hope. Because, if he can read, humanity may be in trouble.

We were out walking; my wife and I were way ahead of the pack of kids that were lollygagging with lizards and naked ladies behind us.
This kind of naked lady. Yeah, I know what you were thinking...
Out in the field on  the other side of the fence, was a rabbit. It was sitting up with its very long ears sticking straight up, and we stopped to watch it. The tall grass in the field beyond probably starts about 60' or so away from the trail, and the rabbit was about midway between us and the grass. (and I wish I had a picture, but I wasn't carrying the camera) The girls, my daughter and her two neighbor friends, were making a lot of noise, so, as they got close enough, I called out to them that there was a rabbit. Now, this was meant to be the signal for them to approach quietly, you know, like Elmer always says; however, it actually resulted in a mad dash toward us and even more noise, and, of course, the rabbit scampered away. It did stop just before hopping into the tall grass, so they did get to see it, but it's not like they got to observe it the way my wife and I (and dog) had been before they crashed in on us. Even the dog knew to be quiet.

The problem with the girls is that they all want to talk at once, and I don't mean just to each other. They all want to talk to me at once, and it makes my head feel like it wants to explode. I have flashes of that scene from the Grinch with all the noise all the noise all the noise from Whoville every time they walk with us.

So, last night, there was a squirrel. I love squirrels. I've probably mentioned that before. He (yes, he gets to be a he, too) was sitting up in a branch on a tree eating and chattering away.
Unfortunately, he was too far away for my flash to do any good.
My daughter was, again, lagging far behind, because she was looking for lizards, but my wife and I had stopped (with the dog and the younger boy), so she came running up making a ton of noise, and the squirrel dashed off farther up into the tree (so I didn't get a chance to try and get a better picture). She got to see the squirrel, but she was sad she only got to see it running away.

Is anyone seeing a pattern here?

At that point, my daughter wanted to go ahead of everyone else to see if we could find the rabbit again. I left the dog with my wife and younger son, and my daughter and I went off ahead wabbit hunting.

But not quietly as she was talking talking talking and not with an "inside voice," either. So I told her that if she wanted to see the rabbit, I mean, if she wanted to get a chance to see the rabbit and not just watch it running away, she would need to be quieter. She got mad at me. In fact, she told me I was being mean.

Yeah, seriously. She told me I was mean for telling her that she was being too loud to see the animals. So I explained to her about how the rabbit had run off when she and her friends had come up because of all the noise they were making, and I explained how the squirrel had run off because of all the noise just she had been making. Really, she knew that stuff, but I had to remind her of it. After that, I asked her what was more mean, to tell her that she was being too loud or to allow her to keep being too loud which would mean that she wouldn't be able to see the animals. She mumbled out something about wanting to see the animals and that I wasn't really being mean to tell her she was too loud. She just didn't like it.

I'm hoping that some of the more astute of you are seeing where I'm going with this, because I was immediately struck with the similarity to the way that people react to bad reviews and negative critiques. The reaction is almost always that the reviewer/critiquer is "being mean." The act of telling someone that they are being "too loud" is seen as some malicious act when, really, it may just be that the reviewer person is trying to help the reviewed to "see the rabbit."

Yeah, sure, I know some people are just being mean, but those usually aren't accompanied by the "why"s. In a review, if all you get is "this piece sucked! It was the worst piece of crap ever written!", you might be able to say that the reviewer was just being mean. Not always, though. However, when a reviewer takes the time to say, "I didn't like this and here's what didn't work for me," you can probably be pretty sure that s/he is not being mean but trying to point out some issues with the writing that legitimately need to be improved.

Just like me telling my daughter she was being too loud. She had a goal; she wanted to get to observe the animals, but her goal was not being achieved because she was being so loud she was scaring them away. It was an act of kindness borne from the desire to help that prompted me to tell her that she would need to be more quiet if she didn't want the animals to run away.

In the same way, if I give a review that points out mistakes in the grammar or story structure, it's not out of any desire to "be mean" but is meant as an assistance to the author so that s/he doesn't scare the readers away with the noise of bad grammar, poor punctuation, and weak plots. No, I can't speak for everyone, but I would imagine that anyone out there that's taking the time to say, "hey, this story didn't work and here are the reasons," is not doing that out of spite or any desire to be mean or to hurt someone.

I think it's time we, as a culture, stopped being so adverse to being told we're doing it wrong, to having our feelings hurt, to taking correction. It's the act of being told what we're doing incorrectly that helps us to get it right so that we can achieve our goals.

And, no, we didn't see a rabbit that night, but, if we had, my daughter was being quiet enough that it wouldn't have run away.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Guns and Adverbs: Part 1

I'm not a big fan of guns. I never have been. Well, that may not exactly be true. I suppose, when I was a kid, I liked guns. I do know that I wanted to go hunting. Everyone in my family hunted. Well, all the men did, at any rate (along with one aunt), which included my cousin who was three years older than me and my childhood idol. As far as I can remember, he always hunted, and, for all I know, that may have been true (knowing my uncle (because it was his wife that was the hunting aunt)). What I do know is that my cousin was hunting by the age of seven, because he got a deer that year. So I wanted to hunt, too.

For whatever reason, my mom really just blocked the whole thing, like she did with me playing any kind of sports when I was a kid (my brother both hunted and played sports). I got this whole thing about how I couldn't hunt until I had my own gun, but I couldn't have a gun until I learned how to handle one, but I didn't have a gun, so I couldn't learn how to handle one. It was all very frustrating to me as a kid. By the time my grandfather decided to just take me out hunting despite the fact that I had never held anything more powerful than a BB gun, I had really lost interest. That was middle school, probably 8th grade, in fact. I took a comic book with me, an edition of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe
which was nice and thick so that it would keep me busy for a while, and we sat in the deer stand. We didn't see anything. I sat and read until it got too dark to see, then we walked back to the farm. I never went hunting again. I never learned how to use a gun.

Because I don't know how to use a gun, I don't own one. Of course, I have no intention of using one, so it would be rather superfluous to bother to have one in my house. That would just be asking for trouble.

I'm pretty sure most people don't approach the whole gun thing that way, though. After all, they look pretty simple to use, right? TV and movies make them look easy to use. Just point and shoot. Of course, the truth is  they are not easy to use, and they are certainly not easy to use responsibly. This leads to all sorts of problems too numerous to mention, but, if you're reading this, you're probably aware of gun issues whether you approve of them or not.

And that's the catch, because there are so many issues with guns, people are tempted to call the gun itself bad or wrong. The gun, though, is just a thing. As long as no one's holding it, it just sits on the table doing nothing.

But! But, to keep people from using them inappropriately, what we want to do is to say "no one should use guns." Forget being educated on proper usage and safety, just don't do it! And you know what, I get it. I understand that temptation. It's oh so much easier to prohibit than to teach.

Of course, there are legitimate uses for guns, not the least of which is protection against other people misusing them, not that I'm advocating owning a gun "for protection;" I'm just saying. The truth is that if I ever needed to use a gun, I mean needed to use one, I would be unprepared, and that would not be a good thing. That makes me think that gun safety courses should possibly be mandatory just like drivers education is mandatory.

Of course, it might not do much good; look at the number of automobile accidents we have every year.

At any rate, the point is that a gun is a tool. It's the user that determines what happens with it, which is the same for any tool. The problem with guns is that they are so powerful. Like pit bulls. [Pit bulls have not been shown to be any more violent than other breeds of dogs; however, when there is an incident with a pit bull, the victim tends to fare much worse than in other dog attacks because the jaws of a pit bull are so much more powerful than those of other dogs.] Because gun usage can end up being an all or nothing affair, people tend to react with an all or nothing attitude.

What we end up with is a bunch of people running around saying, "Don't use guns! Don't use adverbs!"

"Guns are bad! Adverbs are bad!"

Yeah, I just threw adverbs into the mix, because adverbs are just like that gun lying on the table. A thing. Neither bad nor good but very effective when used properly and very damaging when used improperly. But adverbs are so very easy to misuse and can destroy a manuscript, so what you get are people saying, "Don't use adverbs! Bad! Wrong! No!"

However, the correct position on adverbs is not abstinence but education.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Happiest Place on Earth: Part 2

As I'm sure everyone knows, Disney bought Pixar a number of years ago. A few years later, they bought Marvel Comics. They own The Muppets. They own ABC. They own ESPN. I could go on, but, really, why bother? They own a lot of stuff. I sort of think, maybe, Disney plans to own the world. Just a couple of weeks ago, I would have said that was a bad thing; however, I'm not so sure now. I mean, if they were to do with the world what they've done with Disneyland, I think it might actually be a better place.

Of course, no one would ever have any money, because, my gosh, are they good at selling things!

But everyone would be happy, so, maybe, the lack of money wouldn't matter?

So... the trip:

The trip down to Disneyland was an even longer drive than the trip up to Trinity Lake, which is kind of weird. Well, at least, it's weird to me. Going up to Trinity Lake is like going to a completely foreign place in a lot of ways, so it feels like it should be farther away. We had all kinds of plans to be at Disneyland by early afternoon, but a late start and bad traffic around L.A. defeated us, so we got a much later start at the park than we had meant to. I learned a lot, though, about planning for the next trip if we ever go back.

I had nothing to do with the planning for this trip. As I said, I was sort of just instructed that I was going and didn't really have any say in the matter. But, then, you don't really argue, I suppose, when someone offers to take you to Disneyland. You don't turn down free, right?

To start things off, we stayed at Disney's Grand Californian hotel. That place was amazing. I wish I had pictures for you, but there was just no view of it from the outside that I could get that would have captured the hotel. However, I have some shots from our balcony into the park, because, yes, the Grand opens directly into California Adventure.

And this was in the hotel:
I really wanted to eat there or, at least, get coffee there, but we never did. We were pretty much at one park or the other for all of our meals. But, wow, I really wanted to go there! It was probably better, though, that we didn't; that place was expensive! Next time, though, coffee for sure!

Our first destination for Thursday night after we arrived was Tomorrowland and Star Tours! Just to say it, Star Tours is awesome! Even the line is awesome. There's all kinds of stuff to keep you entertained while you stand in line, which is true of a lot of the lines, but Star Tours most of all. We had fastpasses, though, so, mostly, we skipped right through the line, which was rather a disappointment. My younger son and I wanted to go back at some point and wait in the regular line so that we got watch the video presentation and listen to the droids banter, but we never got to. Unfortunately, I have no pictures from Star Tours, because we didn't get to stand still long enough for me take any (and, by the time we went back to ride it again, my camera had decided not to be compliant with the whole picture taking process).

By the time we got back to the hotel that first night, I was sold on Disneyland. Here are a few more pictures:
Sleeping Beauty's castle.
In Tomorrowland.
The parades were awesome!
They had floats!
This whole thing with the parades is significant, because my wife kept mentioning to me prior to the trip the fact that they had parades, but, you know, I thought she just meant marching bands and stuff. The kind of stuff they had at Six Flags (the real Six Flags) when I was younger. At some point, she mentioned something about the floats being lit up at night, and I had to do a double take. So, yeah, they have these huge parades through Disneyland with floats and everything, and  they are amazing! I wish I had more and better pictures of them.

Yes, I got swallowed by Monstro.

One other thing we did our first night was to go on the "It's a Small World" ride. No one could believe I wanted to do that. I can understand why they couldn't believe it, because, really, no one else wanted to do it, but, as I've said, everyone else had been before. However, Small World is just SO Disney, and I can't imagine having not done it. I'd have gone on it again, too! There's just so much to see in there; you can't do it all at once. Here are a few pictures:

And that was most of the first evening. Small World, Star Tours, a parade, the Star Trader (the Star Wars store), and lots and lots of looking at stuff. So much stuff!

Stay tuned for part 3... whenever that happens to happen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Ice Age Campaign

You ever have one of those days where you're trying to do something nice for someone, or a group of someones, and it just doesn't work out the way you want it to? The nice thing that you do, the person gets upset about? Or it messes up? Or whatever? I feel like I have those all the time, although I know that's not really true. However, it was true last Friday. The last Friday of summer...

As it is with many couples, my wife and I don't get out together very often.It's a combination of kids and money. I'll leave that to you to figure out. But I knew my wife wanted to go see The Campaign, and, with our oldest off in Maine, we didn't have free babysitting available. However, I also knew that my younger two kids wanted to go see Ice Age: Continental Drift (I wanted to see that, too, but I can eventually catch it on DVD). It just so happens that the movies are virtually the same length, and it just so happened that our theater was starting them Friday afternoon just five minutes apart. I figured it was the perfect opportunity for my wife and I to catch Campaign while the younger two watched Ice Age.

The problem was that I didn't tell anyone my plan.

What can I say? I wanted it to be a surprise. So my wife got home from work, lunch waiting for her, and I told her we were leaving in 30 minutes or so but didn't tell her what we were doing other than going to the bank, which I needed to do, and dropping something by the post office. She assumed I was taking her to see  with the kids some movie (Ice Age) she didn't want to see. Plus, according to everyone else, it was hot, and there were complaints about driving around in  the hot car. But, see, I grew up in the south where it's not just hot but about 80% humidity all the time, so it really has to get over 100 before I feel the heat out here.

By the time we got to the theater, everyone was cranky, and my wife was more and more assuming that we were taking the kids to a movie that she didn't want to go see. Basically, she'd rather been at home. But I bought the tickets, and my wife realized that she didn't have to go see Ice Age, but, then, my daughter freaked out because she realized that we weren't going to see the movie with them. So I went from being in trouble for one thing to getting in trouble for something else.


I bought them (the kids) popcorn, and that (mostly) made everything better.

My kids loved the new Ice Age, just by the way for any of you out there with kids. They came out wanting to tell us all about it, which is not something they're prone to doing, so it must have been really good. I'm looking forward to actually watching it with them once it hits DVD.

As for The Campaign, well, my wife laughed all the way through it. And with good reason, too. This is the best straight up comedy Will Ferrell has made since, probably, Anchorman. Yeah, sure, some (a lot) of the humor is beyond belief, but, when you look at politics these days, maybe not too much beyond belief (especially when you have a man named Weiner texting pictures of his weiner).

I didn't realize the movie was set in the south going into it, so I was worried about the whole accent thing as the movie started up, but all of the actors did a great job. There was none of the over exaggeratedness you sometimes get with actors trying to do southern accents, so that was a pleasant surprise. And, speaking of accents, Karen Maruyama was amazing! Seriously amazing.

Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow were excellent as the Motch brothers. But, then, both of them are long time favorites of mine, so I could be a bit biased. However, I would say they complemented each other nicely. Jason Sudeikis was great, and Dylan McDermott was rather chilling as the campaign manager. And funny.

Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis were gold.

The most interesting bits of the film were the various political statements, the most telling of which was the statement that we have or are making legal all these horrible things that businesses do, and we're doing it because of money. That's the real message behind the movie, that everything is run by money, but, then, I think we all know that. As Cam Brady says (or something very close to this), "I'm a great politician, but I'm a bad congressman."

If you like Ferrell, this movie should be a must see. Even if you don't like Ferrell, it may be worth seeing. There is actually a core of content, real content, in this movie that is not always present in Ferrell's movies.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

School and "The Kitchen Table"

Here we are at the beginning of another school year. It seems like the summer has just burned away like early morning haze. One moment it's there, the next it's gone. Not that it's not always like that, but, this summer, it was even more so, because we did so much stuff. As a family, we took two trips this year, which is two more than we took last year. Or the year before that. Or the year before that. You probably get the picture. In fact, in the last nine years, these were trips #2 and #3 for the family, so, I suppose, that means we are averaging one trip every three years.

My younger son took an additional trip to scout camp which was his first time to camp and his first extended trip without us. He got to kayak, which, surprisingly (to me, anyway), he loved. That's really the only thing we've been able to get out of him about the trip other than that, yes, he did earn his swimming merit badge. And he got to cook one of the meals which everyone complimented him on.

My oldest son is off, right now, on a trip to Maine with his other family, but he often gets to do travelling that we don't. The perks of two families, I suppose. Last summer, he went to El Salvador.

Somewhere amidst camping, Disneyland, the fair, fireworks, sleepovers, and, well, everything else, I managed to get some writing accomplished. Not as much as I would have liked, but, still, it wasn't a wasted summer on the writing front. I finally got all of my hand-written material into the computer, made some progress on Brother's Keeper, made a lot of progress on Shadow Spinner, got parts of Shadow Spinner ready for serial release, and wrote an entirely new story that's part of a long term project I've had bouncing around for a while. It's about... well, that would be telling. It will be coming up soon enough.

Now that school is starting, I should be able to focus a tad bit more on writing.
Goal #1: finish Shadow Spinner
I'd like to have the whole book out by the end of the year at the latest.
Goal #2: Brother's Keeper!
I have so many people asking me when this is going to be ready, so, as soon as Spinner is finished, I'm going to be concentrating on BK until that's done.
With school starting back up and the fact that I'll be reading The House on the Corner in another class this year (by request and not one that one of my kids is in (for the very first time)), I'm sure the "when's the sequel coming out?" questions will be bombarding me again.

Of course, there will also be blogging and my creative class, so, when I say concentrating, I don't mean concentrating in the strictest of senses but only as much as I can between whatever else is going on. I have hopes, though... I do have hopes.

Speaking of Shadow Spinner, "Part Two: The Kitchen Table" is now available! You can pick it up FREE today and tomorrow.

Here's the update:
"Part One: The Tunnel" got over 200 downloads during the three days I had it available for FREE! That was enough for it to peak at #26 on the contemporary fantasy free chart. It would be really great to get "The Kitchen Table" even higher, so let everyone know that they can get it for FREE on August 13th and 14th.

Now the catch:
Once you've downloaded "Part Two," please click the "like" button, and, once you've read it, please leave a short review and a rating. It would be a great help. Also, if you picked up "The Tunnel," it would be great if you'd hop over to that page and do the same. With over 200 downloads, it only has 4 reviews.

The future:
"Part Three: The Bedroom" will be available August 27th.
"Part Four: The Cop" will be available September 10th.
"Part Five: The Police Car" on September 24th.

Remember "Part Two: The Kitchen Table" is FREE today, August 13th and tomorrow, August 14th! Pick up your copy today!

Oh, and stop by and let Rusty know what a great job he did on  the cover! Man, I can't wait to show y'all the cover to Part Five!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Let's go on Vacation! Part 4: The Science

When I was a kid, I had a ritual of sorts. Every summer, I would collect locust shells. They weren't really locusts, though; they were cicadas. Evidently, people are allowed to call them locusts because they just do it, but it's always bothered me ever since I realized what an actual locust is. But I digress...

Every summer I would collect these:
My son collected these on the camping trip.
I would fill up grocery bags and grocery bags (back when grocery bags were only paper) of them. At the end of the summer, I'd count them all up (I kept a record of this for several years) to see how many I had and, then, spread them out all over the sidewalk and stomp on them just like bubble wrap. Although I'd mentioned this to my kids before, they didn't really understand since we don't, to my knowledge, have any cicadas around here. At least, if we do, I've never seen (or heard) any sign of them.

However, while we were on our camping trip, I happened to spot a few of the shells, and I showed them to my kids. My younger son became fascinated by them, and he (we) started gathering them up whenever we came across them. I think he brought more than 50 shells home with him.

But that's not the interesting part...

The other thing I used to do when I was a kid was to go out in  the evenings and look for them coming out of the ground so that I could watch them shed their skins. It was fascinating. And I told my kids all about all of the collecting the shells and watching them hatch and all of that, and, of course, my younger son desperately wanted to see that happen, too. I didn't make any promises. It was never an easy thing to find them, and I was lucky if I found two to watch hatch in a summer.

But! But it just so happened that on the evening of the day we found the first shells that I found one crawling up to the cabin in the fading light of sundown. He was ecstatic. I went and put it on  the outside of the screen on the backdoor of the cabin so that he could watch it from inside. Then, as I was walking back around to the front of the cabin, I almost stepped on a second one! So that one joined the first.

All the kids watched them for a little while, but the youngest and, then, the oldest got bored with how long it was taking and went to bed. But my younger son stayed up and watched the two cicadas shed their skins, grow their wings, and become entirely different creatures. Here are some pictures of the process:
Yes, that is my son holding one of the cicadas in his hand. I was impressed that he was willing to do that, because it's not usually his thing, and, actually, he turned down the opportunity initially. He was so fascinated by them, though, that, in the end, he couldn't resist.

It was really great to be able to bring a bit of my childhood to my kids through this experience, and they all three thought it was pretty neat even if it was only the middle one that had the same kind of interest that I had as a child.

Nature's a pretty interesting place...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Happiest Place on Earth: Part 1

I've never had a huge attraction to things Disney. That's not to say that I don't have my movies: Robin Hood and The Fox and the Hound are still two of my all time favorites. But Disney was never a thing for me. That may have been due to the butchered versions of The Black Cauldron and The Secret of Nimh they released when I was a kid. It's hard to hold any special fondness for the butchers of two of your favorite books.

But that didn't stop me from wanting to go to EPCOT Center when it opened in 1982. I had absolutely no desire to go to Disney World, but I desperately wanted to go to Epcot. That never happened. In 1987, Star Tours opened, and I wanted, even more, to go to that! I mean, it was Star Wars. But, in 2010, they shut Star Tours down to re-design it. I was bummed about that. I'll never get to experience the original Star Tours  attraction. But I still had hope to go to the new Star Tours. That's the only reason I've ever wanted to go to Disneyland. That and the exclusive Star Wars action figures the Star Wars store there has.

Several years ago, the kids' grandmother took them to Disneyland, and they brought me one of these:
It's awesome! But it made me want to go even more (and get all of the figure series).

Earlier this year, my oldest son got to go to Disneyland to perform with his choir (where they received a gold medal ranking), and he got to go on the new Star Tours and brought this back:
I just have to say that I love all the collector's editions of the Potato Heads. I have, well, probably, more than I should. Spuda Fett filled me with a renewed desire to go to Disneyland just so that I could buy the whole Star Tours collection of them. My wife did not find it amusing.

I still had no real interest in Disneyland in general, though. I figured it was overpriced and overrated. Besides, I've been to Six Flags. I mean, I grew up within driving distance of the real Six Flags, which has a lot of attractions and Texas color and isn't all about the rides. Why would I need to "waste" money on a trip to Disneyland? You know, other than Star Tours. And the Indiana Jones ride, but that wasn't as big a deal.

Earlier this year, the grandparents (my father-in-law and his wife) decided to take the kids to Disneyland this summer. During the ensuing conversation, I mentioned that I'd never been to Disneyland. It was an innocent comment, especially so since their grandmother (not the grandmother that took them the previous time (that had been my wife's mom)) had asked me a question that I couldn't answer because I'd never been. It never occurred to me what kind of an uproar it would cause. As it turns out, I was the only one in the family that had never been to Disneyland, a fact my wife knew but neither of us thought particularly important as my wife had not much care for Disneyland, either, a fact that just reinforced my attitude toward the place since she had been there before.

At any rate, a whole new plan was conceived. A plan that involved the entire family going to Disney. People were excited. Well, honestly, 6 of 7 of us were excited. Even my wife got excited. I was looking forward to finally getting to go on Star Tours and going to the Star Wars store, but, really, I didn't have any particular care about the rest of the trip. It was a necessary evil to accomplishing my Star Tours goal.

That trip was last week.

I can't say how wrong I was. Sure, Disneyland is a big commercial enterprise, and they really do a good job of enticing people into spending money. I mean it's a massive money suck, but, oh! it's so much more. But you'll have to wait for Part 2 for the rest...

Oh! And I got this:
I wasn't able to get all of them, but I got the most important one!