Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Allegory of the Miniatures (part 5)

That time back in Shreveport was the last time I spent any considerable amount of time painting for other people, although I have sold some figures here and there in the last many years. Most for way too cheap. For instance, I wish I hadn't sold this one, at least not at what I let it go for:
But that's not really the point.

Before I get to the point, here's the last army type group of miniatures I painted. I intended to sell them when I started out on them, but, by the time I was finished with them, I decided I wanted to keep them. It's a group of Eldar troops from Warhammer 40,000.

The main thing here is learning to know what you're good at and recognizing it as such. When you're good at something but go around denying it, it comes off as fake or lame. Either you are so insecure that you have no faith in yourself and refuse to believe other people when they compliment you or you're just playing at the denial to get people to pump you up with comments like, "no, you really are good." Neither option works to your benefit. People get tired of being around someone that refuses to believe in his/herself, and false modesty, eventually, becomes offensive and tiresome as well.

Saying, "I'm good at this," or, even, "I'm better than you at this," is not arrogant when it's demonstrably true; otherwise, it's just delusional. And it's not the same thing as going around acting as if you are the king of the world. Arrogance is saying "I'm better than you at this; therefore, I am better than you." I'm a better football player, so I am better. I'm president of the student council, so I am better. I make more money than you, so I am better. The value of a person is not dependent upon a skill.

Likewise, humility is not acting as if you're not as good as other people. Humility is lifting other people up. Helping to elevate them. Being willing to bend down and give someone a hand. It doesn't do anyone any good when you can see that someone needs help with something and, yet, you go around self-effacingly saying, "no, really, you're great!" to that person and not helping them. Humility is being willing to get down in the ditch in your best suit and pulling someone out of the mess they're in. Humility is saying being aware that having more money or more power or more fame does not make you more worthy of person-ness.

So, as I've said in the past, yes, it's important to know where your skills are lacking, important to know in what areas you need to ask for help, but it's equally important to know what you're good at so that you know when to offer a hand to someone else that could use some help.

I am not the best painter out there. Far from it. If you want to see some really great painting, look up the Golden Demon winners from the miniature contest that Games Workshop does every year. Those things are amazing, and I sometimes wish I had invested the time to get that good. However, I was the best painter in the group I hung out with and, probably in that corner of Louisiana. If there was anyone better he was sequestered in a basement somewhere not letting anyone see what he was doing. At that point, it doesn't really matter anyway.

I spent a lot of time painting with my friends and showing them different techniques, not hoarding my knowledge. Yeah, I spent time putting myself out of business, as it were. The guy who bought me all the paints used to come over and paint with me all the time. We'd get two miniatures of the same type, and I'd show him what I was doing while he tried to reproduce it. And my cousin... well, my cousin would come over and paint so that he could get me to "help" him on the detail stuff that he couldn't do. Yeah, it was his way to get out of paying me to paint for him, but, hey, it gave me someone to talk to when I'd otherwise have been sitting there alone.

As the title says, all of this is an allegory. When I talk about grammar and punctuation, it is no way meant to be about "being better than anyone." I am, however, better at grammar and punctuation. No, I don't know that about each and every one of you individually, but I do know that in a general sense I'm better at grammar and punctuation. So, if I talk about comma usage, it's not about me going off about being better; it's about me trying to give you the tools to also be better. Like sitting down and painting with you and showing you how to do a proper dry brush stroke. If I review a book and talk about repetitive use of the word "then," it's not about me saying that I'm a better writer or a better person; it's to point out that there is such a thing as overuse of that word. I'm sure I have my own word reliances of which I may not always be aware. Like suddenly.

Anyway... I hate the idea of explaining an analogy, but, after you work with kids long enough, you kind of learn to explain everything. Better to explain it than to leave it open to someone not getting the point. So, if you know what I was talking about this whole time, that was great. If you didn't, don't tell anyone. Just say, "oh, yeah, I knew you were talking about grammar all along" and let it go at that.

Which is not to say that the painting story wasn't true; it was. I also felt like talking about painting. One of these days I'll get back to it for a little while.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Happiest Place on Earth: Part 5: It Just Got Happier

When we were at Disneyland back during the summer, I was joking with my kids about how Disney was going to take over the world. I may have mentioned this in one of the posts about all the Disney stuff, but I couldn't find it upon a casual perusal, and I don't have time for anything more in depth. As I'm writing this, though... wait a minute! Yes, it's here. Disney has been buying so much: Pixar, Marvel, and, now... Star Wars.

Yes, Disney bought Star Wars! Not just Star Wars but all of Lucasfilm including Skywalker Sound and ILM and all of that. They get Star Wars and Indiana Jones. It's a huge deal. A $4 billion deal of which Lucas gets $2 billion in cash. I can't even imagine that.

So this is one of the things that I was joking about while we were at Disneyland as we were strolling through Tomorrowland -- Star Wars being the next step Disney would need to take in their bid to take over the world. Star Wars is the biggest entertainment franchise ever to exist other than Disney itself, so this is... well, it's just HUGE!

The immediate result of the deal is that another Star Wars movie is going into immediate production for a 2015 release. And, yeah, I already hear the moaning out there blah blah blah, but I have just two words to say to all of you who think this is bad: The Avengers. If anyone can pull off another Star Wars film, it will be Disney.

I actually like that Lucas has done this. It opens all kinds opportunities to expand the world of Star Wars. Expansion that Lucas would never have done, because, well, he's tired of everyone bashing him. And who can blame him?

There are three more movies on the horizon now: episodes 7, 8, and 9. Movies that Lucas said he would never make. But I'm sure that's just the tip of the ice berg. There have been rumors going around about a solo Boba Fett movie, and I wouldn't be surprised to see that happen, now, too, especially since Joe Johnston, director of Captain America, provided the final designs on the character. He's also been bugging Lucas about making that movie for years.

The most significant part of the whole thing, though, is that Lucas said he's wanted to see Star Wars passed down for future generations, and there really is no better place for Star Wars to be for that happen. If Disney knows how to do anything, they know how to preserve cherished movies and pass them on from parents to kids and, well, to more kids. Not that I think Star Wars ever would have passed out of memory, but Disney will keep Star Wars alive and growing.

None of this even takes into consideration the great talent that will now be available to play in the Star Wars universe. Hey, Joss Whedon already has a relationship with Disney... can you imagine? There are so many possibilities!

And, well, heck, I'm still stuck on episode 7. Seriously. And my kids are super excited. Exciting times!

Monday, October 29, 2012

NaNo: The Crazy Idea That Got Away

[Note: As I mentioned some time in the recent past (I don't feel like trying to figure out which post that was, right now), my wife is doing NaNo this year. It was kind of a spontaneous decision, but, then, that's how she often does things, and the best way to deal with that is to grab on and go along for the ride. To put it in writing terms, she would be the pantser of the family while I'm the plotter. Except that that's not quite true, but that's how it often feels and, probably, looks from the outside. At any rate, her decision to do NaNo was... well, I'll let her tell you about it in her own words.]

So I got a Kindle Fire for my birthday earlier this month. This was a present from my most excellent husband (the owner of this blog) and our kids. Some things to know about me and Andrew: We're not early adopters, ever; I'm actually kind of a Luddite (despite being a data analyst for a large corporation by trade); and we both grew up reading copious quantities of physical books. Thus this gifting of an electronic device on which books can be read is a big leap for us. But he made the leap, I think, because he's got a wife who does love to read and he just thought it would be nifty; also because after 15 years together he's still not really sure what kind of jewelry I like. [Actually, I wanted to get her something that she would use and enjoy on a continuous basis, and, as much as my wife likes the idea of jewelry, she rarely wears it. And she's always complaining about how the books I want to keep take up too much space, which is a valid argument for the size house we live in.]
I was both thrilled and intimidated by this gift. Thrilled because it's for books! and intimidated because, it seems, you can do a lot of other stuff with this device, like play games. Or surf the web. Or check email. Or...I'm not sure, it may even have a ray gun inside it somewhere. And I sort of hate to figure out new devices and how to use them (see Luddite, above) and determine how much money they will cost me in an ongoing sense. (Though I admit that having a portable ray gun would probably be really handy, but I bet the per-ray charges are insane.)

After my initial moment of "whoa, what," I did do some exploring and found out a fabulous fact: Our local library system does e-book lending, and it's nearly as easy to do as just surfing Amazon and one-clicking on whatever you like (after you physically visit the library, pay your late-book fines, renew your card, and spend a couple hours surfing the library website looking for ANY e-book that isn't already checked out).
So yeah, after one-clicking, I ended up with a book titled No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty. There's very little explanation for why I checked this book out, other than the fact that out of 1000 or so e-book titles in the library this was almost the only thing that even remotely appealed to me and was immediately available. (Seriously, I would have even checked out 50 Shades of Gray, but it was checked out AND had a wait list of 40+.) I wanted some instant gratification on my new e-book mechanism, and this was it.
Let me be very clear at this point: I did not check this book out because I seriously thought I wanted to write a novel. Ever. Especially not during NaNoWriMo this year.
See, this is a substantial difference between Andrew and me. He has always wanted to write fiction, and I have always known that I do not and will not write fiction. That's not to say that I'm not a writer and not a good one, because I actually am. In college I could easily write a substantial paper overnight, without revisions, and get a B or higher. (The fact that I could usually get away with such terrible procrastination is why my overall GPA wasn't generally great.) But nearly all my writing has been done in the service of completing school and then being competent at my job. (You wouldn't think that the job of data analyst requires good writing skills but it actually does. No one's better at a bullet-pointed list than I am.) I've never taken a class in creative writing, and I didn't study more literature in school than I was strictly required to do.
I started to read the book and it turns out the story of NaNoWriMo--that is, the history--really drew me in. Basically it started out as a ridiculous thing for a group of friends to do. No one thought that works of great genius or amazing craft would be turned out; rather, it was a crazy creative thing to do for the hell of it, together. It sounded like a lot of fun. [It also wasn't originally in November, which I found interesting, and none of thought that it would become what it has. I mean, they weren't thinking about the future of it at all. It was a "let's do this right now kind of thing that became a tradition and then became a THING.]
After the history of NaNoWriMo, the rest of the book was mostly about the hows of accomplishing such a ludicrous, wild goal in the space of a month. Which, to boil it down, is "keep going and don't stop." (Now you don't have to read the book, but it's actually a pretty entertaining and quick read and possibly helpful to anyone who struggles with their Inner Editor or with writing paralysis.) Chris Baty managed to make the task sound like something which even I, the non-writer-of-fiction, am up to.

The upshot of it is that somewhere in the pages of the book I became convinced that I might as well try to write a novel. I do have a lot of story ideas in my head. I don't know whether they are good story ideas, but according to Baty that doesn't really matter; it's OK to write un-original crapola and it's OK to not care about "getting published." It's OK to write pulp fiction with no redeeming social value or great-novel aspirations. It's even OK to suck at spelling and grammar, at least for this first draft. (Spelling and grammar are a couple of things I un-suck at with writing; however, I'm also aware that they don't encompass fiction writing. And I managed to misspell grammar both times I typed it just now, of course.)

So yeah, I haven't ever written any fiction, but I have these things going for me:
-- I am a well-educated and thoughtful fan of sci-fi so I can probably not hack it up too badly. That is to say, I can do better than Galaxy Quest levels of science and there will be no chompy-crushy things in the middle of my space ship.
-- I write extremely quickly.
-- Spelling and grammar are not an issue for me.

Oh, I guess I should say I'll be writing a sci-fi novel. I was planning on writing something that could be described as "dystopian near-future sci-fi" (nothing like Hunger Games, okay), but yesterday I decided to switch to something different. A new idea, just because it feels more fun. And Baty's advice in No Plot was to write something I'd enjoy writing, so I'll be going for something more space-opera. I'm tentatively calling it All Suns Go Dark. (That probably should have been "tentatively titling." I told you I'm no author.)

Wish me luck. I'll update in the middle of the month if Andrew lets me and I haven't thrown in the writing towel by then. Anyone else doing NaNo or something equally ridiculous right now?

[I do want to say that I have been trying to get her to write something for years. She does have good stories, and I envy her ability to write quickly, a skill I do not have. Assuming she is still working on this, there will be an update in the middle of November sometime.]

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Cat Came Back (part 1)

I'm a dog person. I've probably made that clear in the past, but let me just state it flat out. I'm a dog person. Remember her?
And this is her eating a carrot:
I love my dog. She's, like, the cutest thing ever.

My dog, however, is not a dog person. Um, dog dog. Um, she doesn't like dogs very much. I think I have to relate this to women who say they only have guy friends and don't get along with other women very well.

Don't get me wrong, my dog does have a few other doggy friends, but her general reaction to "strange" dogs while we're out walking is not very... welcoming. Especially if the dog is bigger than her (there are some good reasons for this). Yes, she has a bad case of SDS, Small Dog Syndrome for those of you that aren't familiar.

She started out with a thing against cats, too. Well, actually, she started out with a thing against everyone and everything (except us), but, then again, she is a rescue dog. Mostly, she's gotten over her issues except with other dogs and people that walk funny. No, I'm not making that up. Anyway...
She had this thing against cats and loved to bark and chase them away. Until this one cat... this one cat showed up that wouldn't run away. We were walking down the trail the first time she met this cat, and she charged it, and the cat just stood there. It was almost like the cat had a force field, because my dog just kind of stopped, didn't know what to do, ran half way around the cat with the cat staring, and ran away. Yes, my dog ran away from the cat that just sat there. I say sat because, as my dog was contorting around the cat, the cat sat down and watched. I think it was laughing.

This kind of thing became a routine for a few days at which time the cat decided he would join us on our walks and just followed along. This really tweaked out my dog. You know in horror movies when the woman (usually) thinks she's being followed and keeps looking behind her and nothing's there, but, eventually, she's running away from the nothing anyway? Well, that was what my dog was like except, when she looked back, she could see the cat right there.

I can just imagine the thoughts in my dog's head:
"What's wrong with this cat? Doesn't it know it's the one that's supposed to run away?"
"Cats are not my friend!"
"Why is this thing following me?!"
"Run away! Run away!"

But the cat just kept buddying up to my dog, and, eventually, they became friends. People in the neighborhood thought the cat belonged to me, because he went walking with me and my dog so often. Yeah, my dog on a leash walking up ahead of me with the cat trotting along beside me or gravitating back-and-forth between me and the dog.

Having said that I am a dog person, I should also add that I am not a cat person. Not that I dislike cats, I've just never in my life had any desire to own one, and, until now, there had ever only been one cat in my life that I liked and thought was cool (which is a story for another time).

While all of this was going on, my daughter was doing her best to befriend the cat which she and some of her friends named Sam. Which wasn't really a big deal, since he's a very social cat. A cat that had no collar, by the way, and seemed to never have any place to be. The cat was just always in the park or roaming around the trail near the park. No one would claim him, and, yes, we did go and check around.
The cat.
The cat being cozy on my daughter.

Eventually, we did find the owner, although it was quite by accident. He has another cat that is very similar looking to not-Sam (his actual name is Jack) and a dog. He doesn't collar any of his animals, so they have no tags, and none of them are chipped. He doesn't seem to think there's anything wrong with this, I guess, because 2/3 of his animals are home bodies. As far as I can tell, though, Jack never goes home.

In fact... well, that's for part two...

Friday, October 26, 2012

(Not) My Pet Blog

Today, I'm over at M. J. Field's My Pet Blog, which is her pet blog, not mine. We're discussing cereal. Um, I mean serial. But not like serial killers or anything. Book serials. Which can be about serial killers but not at all what I'm talking about. Okay, never mind... Just hop over to her blog and watch out for the milk.

Yeah, be quiet. It's 6:00 a.m., and I'm not really awake up. Just go over and read the stuff I wrote at a more reasonable time of day.
Besides, there are Jedi Knights over there doing lightsaber tricks or something.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Allegory of the Miniatures (part 4)

The time of the death of my boss, the owner of the used book store I worked at, was a time of change in my life. Not because of his death, but there were some ways in which it was related. To make a long story short, though, I ended up hooking up with a gaming group in Shreveport. I should reiterate, at this point, that I had never been a "gamer" as the term was understood at that time (which has nothing to do with how it's understood now, which all has to do with video games and MMOs). I'd played some Battletech, but that's about it, and I'd done that mostly with people who also were not gamers.

I had, however, been on the fringe of the... let's call it the gaming community... for years. It's hard not to have some acquaintance with gamers when you work in a store that sells comic books. For one thing, I ended up being the one that would order all of their gaming equipment. And, as you have heard, I'd been painting miniatures for gaming purposes for more than half a dozen years by that point. So I ended up involved in this group of gamers in Shreveport, one of which happened to be my cousin, whom I'd also gone to high school with and played Battletech with and spent one (disastrous) semester at college with, and several others of whom I'd also gone to high school with, although I hadn't known some of them at the time. One of them had known me because of my painting, but, evidently, he'd never stuck in my head, probably because he was a junior or senior while I was a freshman.

This all started out with some RPGs. Actually, it started out with the Warhammer RPG, and ended up with RPG once a week at this guy's house, which ended up in Warhammer Fantasy Battle. He had this huge army of goblins and orcs, and, as it turned out, tabletop gaming was what he and a couple of the other guys were really into. As it also turned out, all of these guys are guys that I had been in high school with. Have I mentioned before that I went to a smart kid, geek high school? Well, if you happened to gloss over that fact, this ought to be all the proof that you need. Evidently, the whole strategy tabletop game thing lends itself very well to a higher IQ level, so we had had a pretty high concentration of tabletop gamers at my high school.

All of this, again, caused a change in my painting career.

As I've stated, I had been painting exclusively with oils up to this point. The question of me painting came up, because some of the guys knew I'd painted miniatures for people back in high school, so I showed them the few things I had, which included the green dragon.
(Remember, this is not how he looked at the time. Back then, he had metallic green plates, for one thing.) One of the guys very soon began asking me to paint some figures for him, but he wanted them done in acrylics.

I didn't own any water based paints. At all. I was working on my mechs,
and I was using oils on those. I told him I'd paint for him but that it would need to be in oils as I wasn't reinvesting in acrylics.

He continued to bug me about it. And bug me about it. Until I said something along the lines of "if you want to buy me some acrylic paints, I'll be glad to paint whatever it is you want me to paint in acrylics." I was, of course, joking, because it never even entered my mind that someone would want me to paint for them so badly that they would go out and buy me paints to do it with. About a week later, he showed up with this big paint kit that came with something like 20 or 25 different colors of paint and a selection of brushes and asked me how many minis I'd paint for him if he gave it all to me.

This lead to me painting for nearly everyone in the group at some point or another. Any time anyone had a miniature or unit of miniatures they wanted to look especially good, they brought them to me. I spent several years painting figures for people and not painting my own.

The strangest thing in all of this, though, is that one day I went into this comic shop, a little hole-in-the-wall shop, that I had never been in before. I often stopped in small shops like that, because you could often find good deals on "hot" issues of comics, so I'd stopped in to look around. My cousin may have been with me. I think someone was, at any rate, because, somehow, my name got mentioned, and this guy, the owner of this shop, a guy I had never seen before, knew who I was. "You're that guy that paints, right?" I think I had that deer looking at headlights look, but, evidently, my fame, or whatever it was, had proceeded me.

This guy literally pulled out a couple hundred Essex 15mm Confederate troop miniatures and said, "What would you charge me to paint these?" I think I made a bad deal in regards to those particular miniatures, because I'd never done 15mm figures before, and I just didn't know the kind of monotony I was getting myself into by agreeing. I used so much grey paint over the years painting figures for him it wasn't even funny. Except, I think it was funny to my cousin, because he used to laugh at my Confederate soldier painting assembly line. At any rate, the rates for me painting for him went up every time I took on a new order, and I was so sick of those guys by the end, but I couldn't bring myself to just tell him "no," because he couldn't do it himself (he showed me some of the figures he'd tried to do), and no one else could either. No one he knew, anyway. I wish I had a picture of that army that I painted for him, but this was more than 15 years ago, and it never occurred to me that I would have a reason to have pictures of them one day.

The point, here, for this section of this story is that it's not a good idea, necessarily to marry yourself to just one medium. Or on genre. Or whatever. It's good to try new things. Of course, the big issue for me at the time is that I couldn't see the benefit in reinvesting. I figured I'd been doing fine with oils for, well, years, and the truth was that I had been doing fine with them. BUT! But I surpassed everything I'd been doing in oils by the switch to acrylics. There was just so much more I could do. Washes, inks, dry brushing, detailing. I couldn't do any of that stuff with oils, and I knew that, but I'd lost sight of the value in it from not having worked with acrylics in about 10 years, since I'd stopped doing the ceramic stuff.

In the same way, I don't want to get trapped in any one particular literary genre. I like fantasy. I really do. I probably prefer fantasy, in fact, in my reading, but I like a lot of other stuff, too, and I'm finding I'm having more and more story ideas that aren't related to fantasy at all. I want to try new things.

I think a lot of people trap themselves in their own heads with these identity ideas, "I'm a romance writer" or "I'm a fantasy writer" or "I'm a sci-fi writer." It's like locking yourself in a box. Get out of the box. Try new things. Write new things. Play with new things. There's no telling what you may find that you're good at!

Next time, we'll finish this story up.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Unexpected Applause: War Angel

Children seldom get a good idea of the lives the adults in their lives lead before they came into them. I'm sure this is true of my own kids even though I do try to tell them stories of my youth. Those snapshot events rarely reveal what a person was really like. And, of course, kids often don't care... not until much later, often not until  it's too late to find out.

That's the basis of "War Angel" by Rusty Carl, a grandchild discovering the secret past of his grandmother.
Not that it was necessarily a secret, he had just never been curious enough to find out about it until she was about to die.

It's a good story, although I'd say it opens more questions than it answers. For instance, Engel has always been his grandmother's favorite, and there is an implication in the story that there's a reason for this, but it's never explained. There is a possible reason within the story, but there's not enough information for it to be more than guesswork which is a bit unsatisfying. For me, at any rate.

The other main drawback for me is that it's too short. There's so much more there that's kind of hinted at and, then, passed by. But it is a good story; it just could have used some expansion.

However, if you're looking for a quick read that will immerse quickly, this may be one to look at. It does grab the reader quickly with the immediate questions it raises.

I'm skipping the technicals this time as I have a copy that I know has transcription errors. Even with these, though, it was a gripping story, meaning they didn't distract me from what I was reading. Most of these, if not all, should be fixed at this point, so it should be even better for anyone else.

I'd say this one is a strong B. Definitely above average. Being able to read it in one sitting doesn't hurt, either, even if I would have preferred something longer.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Why the Right is Wrong

[Disclaimer: This is NOT a political post. This is not me declaring sides or advocating for one side or the other or anything like that. What this is is pointing out a mistake, kind of like pointing out a misplaced comma or a "your" instead of a "you're." However, in my mind, it's a pretty big mistake, and it's something that has made me sad. If you are at risk of becoming offended, don't read at all. If you do read, please read all the way to the end. Thank you.]

People like rules to tell them what to do. In America, we like to think that's not so true, but it's just as true here as it is anywhere. It's by following the rules that we know how good we are. It's by following the rules that we know who's winning. It's by following the rules that we know who's better. These rules, though... we just make them up. But, worse than that, we also impose them on other people. After all, you can't tell who's winning or anything else unless everyone is playing by the same rules.

I grew up a Southern Baptist, and I have to tell you the three greatest commandments had nothing to do with the Bible at all.

  1. Don't drink.
  2. Don't smoke.
  3. And, whatever you do, don't dance.
I am in no way kidding. There was a fourth rule: don't have sex; however, if you didn't dance, you would probably be okay, because it's dancing that leads to sex, so just stay away from that whole dancing thing and nothing bad would happen. Made up rules.

The point is, we make up a lot of needless rules to try to keep everyone in line, and they actually have nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with religion. The worst part about all of this is that Christianity isn't even a faith anymore, not in the USA. It's a political stance, and it's so wrapped up in so many things that have nothing to do with actual Christianity that I can barely stand it.

So I want to go back to the beginning. It doesn't matter what you believe about the truth of these things; this is what Christianity IS as preached by the apostles, especially Peter, and this is what defines Christianity. It's called the Kerygma:

  1. Jesus, the [one and] only begotten son of God, was born in fulfillment of prophecy.
  2. He was crucified according to the plan of God and was raised from the dead in glory, witnessed by many.
  3. He has given us the Holy Spirit as a sign of his present power and glory.
  4. He will return again in judgment and restoration.
  5. Those who hear this message should repent and accept salvation.
Holding to these things are all that's required to "be a Christian." Not believing in Creationism. Not opposing abortion. Not being clean, sober, and abstinent. Not believing that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. I'm going to say it again: the Kerygma defines Christianity.

Now, I believe in definitions. Not because they are rules but because they allow us to understand one another. If you say, "Watch out! There's a lion about to attack you!" It's important that the person being addressed understands that a lion is a lion and not, say, a gerbil. If I say to my kids, "take the trash out," I don't want them shoving the dog out the front door. Definitions are important, and so is this one about Christianity. For, oh, 2000 years it has been understood that to be Christian, you had to adhere to the Kerygma.

Along with this is where Christians gained their definition of what a cult is, because a cult was something claiming to be "Christian" while not adhering to the Kerygma. This goes all the way back to the Gnostics  and, while the word has changed through the ages (Gnostic, heretic, cultist), the meaning has remained the same. So, for decades, the Mormon faith has been considered a cult by Christians and, especially, by the Southern Baptists.

I'm not here to pass judgment one way or the other on that. I'm just saying it is. I grew up hearing about the evil Mormon cult at church while having Mormon friends that lived up the street. Just to clarify even more, I also grew up in a church (and an area) where an old lady, one Sunday, had a freak out because there was a [black man] in her church and someone needed to run him out of it. Yes, "black man" is my term, not hers. So I'm not saying whether it's okay or not, but, if I was a Mormon, I'd want to just be a Mormon and not get wrapped up in any of this "Christian" stuff. Just own what I am. Except that's not how it is.

And here's the thing that makes me sad:
This last week, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association removed Mormonism from its list of cults. This was not done because of any enlightenment or desire to bridge the gap between "Christians" and "Mormons" or "Christians" and any other cult group, because, let's face it, it's rather offensive to be called a cult, just like it was offensive of that woman in my church to call that man what she did. All the other groups labeled cults are still there; it's just that Mormonism has now been embraced into "Christianity" even though none of the definitions have changed.

Except that they have. Because "Christianity," as defined by the Right, has nothing to do with the Kerygma. It's a system of political stances that has risen above religious faith. It's rather like having decided that you don't like the thorns on a rose, but you still like the name rose, so, instead of a rose being a rose, you will now call a lily a rose. People still think when you say "rose" that you mean rose, but, really, you mean lily. It's kind of a clever trap, because you get people to elect a lily for president when they thought they were electing a rose. Or whatever.

Likewise, you don't just get to call yourself a rose if you're not. Daisies are daisies no matter how many times they try to claim to be roses. They're not gonna spontaneously grow thorns through word usage.

This whole thing bothers me, if you can't tell. There was no announcement. No change of stance. No "we've realized that this list is offensive." No nothing. They just quietly removed Mormons from the list to further their political agenda. And that's what Franklin Graham (Billy's son, and the person I think was most responsible for all of this, because he's more politically ambitious than his father ever was) said, "We don't want anything to stand in the way of getting Romney elected." That's a paraphrase. Basically, we're going to set aside what we believe in and what we've stood for for decades not because we've had a change of heart but because we don't find it politically convenient.

That way of being just... well, it just burns me up. If you believe in something, if you're going to say it and tell people about it, believe in it. Do it. Walk the talk. This amounts to me raising my kids telling them that they should treat other people the way they themselves want to be treated, which I do. Teach them that, that is, especially when it comes to how they treat each other. This is the basis for everything I teach my kids in many ways. However, if at some point I decided that I need to not follow that anymore, that I need to treat someone in a disrespectful way, because I have some justification that I feel goes beyond the "Golden Rule," so I tell them, "You know what? All that treat others the way you want to be treated stuff? Forget that; we're not going to encourage that anymore," because it's convenient for me to set those things aside to achieve my agenda, well, that would be the same sort of thing.

If you believe in something, it's not about convenience, it's about belief. If you lay it aside because it's  not convenient, you didn't believe it in the first place.

And this has nothing to do with the stance on Mormons specifically; it has to do with the stance on Christianity. If you believe the Kerygma, and, theoretically, if you say you're a Christian, you are saying that you believe the Kerygma, whether you know what that is or not, you don't get to just toss it aside because it's not politically convenient, and, if that's the way the Right and "Christians" are gonna be, well, maybe I don't want to be called a "Christian" anymore, because I certainly don't believe in a lot of what the Right says you need to believe to be a "Christian," none of which seems to have anything to do with the person of Jesus.

Maybe what I want to be is a Kerygmaist.

At any rate, Billy Graham is someone I've respected my whole life. I remember watching him on TV when I was, like, six. Billy Graham stood for something. He held to his beliefs, stood by them, but, because there is such opposition to a [black man] (who professes to be Christian) being in the White House, the organization is willing to toss aside their "beliefs" to elect a man that just a few years ago they would have dismissed as a "cultist." Which is what I'm sure they still believe, but it's better to have the white cultist than the black Christian. [Yes, I do believe it's a racist issue; after all, I've heard how my own family has talked about having Obama as president.]

I don't blame it all on Billy; he is almost 94 years old, after all; I think his son played a huge part in swaying his decision, but, still, it hurts me to see a man I have admired laying aside his beliefs because it's convenient to do so. Much better that he'd had an actual change of heart.

I'd much rather deal with a (wo)man I disagree with but who stands by his/her beliefs than someone who will lay them aside for the sake of the current convenience.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Oh, How I Miss You Blogfest

So I was thinking...
Yeah, I do that from time to time. Usually, it's dangerous, but, this time, it actually worked out.
So I was thinking, "Boy, there are some blogs that I used to really love to read, but the bloggers have disappeared. I sure do miss them." And that thought lead to another thought which lead me to talking to Alex Cavanaugh and that lead to dragging Matthew McNish into all of it, and that lead to the
It's a pretty simple idea in all actuality, and I'm surprised no one else thought of it first. Here is all the official spiel:
Oh, How I Miss You
November 16, 2012
Hosted by Alex Cavanaugh, Matthew McNish, and Andrew Leon

The bloggers we really miss...
and the ones we would really miss!

Do you have a couple of blogger buddies that aren't posting as often? Those who've pulled back and seem absent from the blogging world? Do you have blogger buddies you're grateful are still around but would miss if they vanished? Now is your chance to show your appreciation and spotlight them!

On November 16, list one to three bloggers you really miss and one to three bloggers you would miss if they stopped blogging, then go leave a comment on those blogs letting them know.

Our blogger friends are special; it's time to let them know!
The sign up list is down below all the news. Make sure you don't miss it!

Item #1: The Great Review Contest
As far as I can tell, since no actually came back and said, "Hey, I left a review," I got four new reviews during the contest. Using super secret technology to choose a winner, also called having my wife pick a random number, Rusty Webb is the winner of the free e-book! Yea, Rusty!
I'm grateful for the four new reviews I got. I can't say how much. This review thing is tough, so every little bit helps. Thank you all so much!

Item #2: Shadow Spinner
I'm about to hit my rollover on the first part of Spinner, "The Tunnel," and that means I'll get five new free days for it! Woo hoo! But before that happens, I have one FREE! day left that I want to use up. No sense in letting those things go to waste, right? So, today only, Monday, October 22, I'm making
"Part One: The Tunnel" FREE! Because that's just the kind of guy I am. Also, because part two is nearing its rollover date, also, I'm gonna throw it onto the FREE! train along with part one. That's "Part Two: The Kitchen Table" for FREE! for one day only! If you haven't picked them up yet or know someone that hasn't, make sure you drop by and do it! Don't forget to click the "like" button when you do!

And now back to the blogfest!
Sign up on the linky list below:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Great Review (Contest)

Here we are on another Shadow Spinner release day. Today is "Part Seven: The Moth and the Shadow."
Of course, it's FREE! today, Thursday, October 18 and tomorrow, Friday, October 19. Make sure you pick it up! Also, "Part Six: The Man with No Eyes" is also FREE! today only.

Here's something interesting:
I like the idea of switching covers every so often. I mean, when you're doing a serial book, why have the same cover all the way through, right? Why not offer the consumer some variety? Especially when you have someone as talented as Rusty Webb doing your covers! It seemed like a cool idea to me.

Evidently, it wasn't such a good idea. On Monday when I had parts 1-5 available for FREE! there were an undisclosed amount of downloads on parts 1-4 (because I think I'm not supposed to post my actual numbers or Amazon will get upset), but there were only about 25% as many downloads on part 5 as any of the other parts individually. I can think of no other reason for this than that the cover changes at part 5, and the visual recognition just wasn't there. I find it really kind of odd. I had another cover change in mind that would happen around chapter 12 or 13, but, now, I think, maybe, I shouldn't do that. The whole thing is a little disappointing, but it's a good thing to know.

This is the part where I would normally start begging for reviews. I'm growing tired of it, and, if I am, I'm pretty sure you guys are too. But, see, "The Man with No Eyes" is sitting at just one review and "The Cop" at three. I'm starting to feel like little Oliver, "Please, sir, I want some more." Because I do. It's enough to make the idea of purchasing reviews tempting, but, you know, only not, because that still steams my ears. The difficulty of getting people to leave a 20 word review makes me understand the temptation, though. Especially since begging doesn't seem to work. So here is what I'm going to do:

The Great Review Contest!
Between today and, oh, say Sunday, for every review you leave for one of my works, I will put your name in a drawing for a FREE! book. Yes, that's right, a FREE! book, and it doesn't even have to be one of mine. However, there are some qualifications:
  1. It must be an independently or self-published work (this includes small publishers). No big, traditional publishers here.
  2. It must be an e-book, and
  3. It must be for the Kindle or Kindle app.
So go and leave some reviews on any of the Shadow Spinner parts or on The House on the Corner or even for "The Evil That Men Do" or Charter Shorts (which doesn't have a single review!). After you've done that, leave me a comment here to let me know where you've left reviews (and under what name you left them), and I'll mark you down for an entry for each and every review you leave! It's that simple! And, really, 20 words is not that many. I mean, a lot of you are writers, so 20 words should, you know, come out when you sneeze.

I'll announce the winner in Monday's post (which also has a super, secret announcement!). If you win, just let me know what book you want, and I will buy it for you and send it to you. It's as easy as that! ANY BOOK! Well, not any book, but you know what I mean. I hope you do, anyway. It can be one of my books, or it can be any of these great up and coming authors that we all want to support. And, hey, I just did a review on a great book that you could choose!

And just to be clear, I want a real review, meaning an honest review. I'm not offering to buy 5-star reviews here; I just want to get some activity going, so, you know, I'm not gonna secretly mark you off the list if you give me a bad review.
However, if offering incentives to get people to actually stop and leave a review (and click the "like" button) doesn't work, I may have to resort to coming to people's houses. And none of us want that!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Allegory of the Miniatures (part 3)

Which brings us to college...
And this is a much longer story, but I'm gonna cut to the part where I was working in a used book store in charge of the comic books. It was rather like a dream job at the time. Heck, it's still kind of a dream job. The owner of the place bought things, frequently, on whims, which was the state of things when I started working for him. For whatever reason, he had miniature sets kind of all over the place, but, mostly, he had Grenadier's Dragon of the Month kits.
During my freshman year at college, a bunch of us had started playing Battletech, so I had started painting again. And my boss had all of these dragons lying around. I started lusting after them. I couldn't afford them, though; however, all I really wanted to do was paint them.

Now, he'd had these sets lying around for, well, years, actually and never sold a single one, which is I why he gave me the job of being in charge of the comics and everything that went along with them, because, as evidenced, he was no good at deciding what to stock. But that's beside the point. Because he's had them lying around for years, I said, "Hey, why don't you let me paint a couple of these, and we'll put them on display and see if they sell." What the heck, right?

Just a note: I was still using oils, but oils had these great metallics that you couldn't get in acrylics at the time. Games Workshop rectified that sometime or other and, eventually, other companies followed with some excellent (acrylic) paints. [Just a personal note to any of you out there involved in this stuff: Games Workshop has what are probably the highest quality miniatures on the market if you're using them for gaming. They lack diversity, though, because their minis support their games. However, I don't much care for their paints. They tend to dry too glossy for my tastes.]

So here's how this worked:
These dragon kits sold for $10.00. They were lead, and they were heavy. He paid me $5.00 each to paint a few of them, and he put them up in display case (with the expensive comics) for $20.00 each. Remember, he'd been collecting these up for years and had never sold a single one (I think he had something like 3 dozen dragons. I know! He couldn't tell me why he'd kept buying them, either, but there it was). As soon as he started putting them in the case, people started buying them. I  literally could not paint them quickly enough. People started coming in just looking for the dragons. Even after he marked them up to $30.00. No, I didn't get a raise in how much I was being paid to paint them.

I still have one of them, though.
The only reason I have it is that my boss, the owner of the store, died, and it was the last one I had painted. That's not the original paint job. After he died, his son (or someone) boxed up a bunch of stuff that was mine (the dragon was mine because he didn't want it, I guess); he dropped it or something and broke it to pieces. Maybe that's why he gave it me. At any rate, that dragon had a hard life of having to be fixed over and over again. Eventually, I re-primed him and painted him with acrylics (you could never get a look like this with oils).

I do, now, have a large collection of (unpainted) dragons. Unpainted, because I've never had anywhere to display them if I did paint them, and they're easier to store in their disassembled states. One day, though...

In a lot of ways, this was like working for a publisher. I did the work, and he made the money. Sure, I got paid a decent amount for doing the painting, I suppose, and I got the enjoyment of doing the painting, but he made four times off of each figure what I did, and that was when he was selling them for $30.00, because there were certain of the dragons, like the Gold Dragon
and the Spectral Dragon,
that he would sell for $50.00. You could say that both of us got what we wanted out of it, and, in some respects, that would be true, but I was never happy with the disparity; there was just nothing I could do about it if I wanted to get to paint the dragons.

It's too bad miniatures cost so much these days, or I might consider going back into dragon painting. However, your general dragon miniature starts at around $25.00 these days, and the nice ones (the ones that are more along the scale of the Grenadier dragons) are much higher (like this one from Games Workshop that's more than $50.00).
So... I've kept it no secret about how I feel about traditional publishing and the way traditional publishers are just out to use authors for monetary gain, but, by my own experience, I can't say that there's not a time and a place for them. I would never enter into a deal, now, like the one I was in then, but at that time and in that place, it served my needs. I suppose what I would say about that in relation to traditional publishing, now, is that, if you're looking at traditional publishing, do make sure that it is actually going to serve your needs. Don't find out after the fact that you've been lead into a relationship that is only going to take advantage of you and give you nothing in return.

Next: how I spent years painting a Confederate army and how I came to hate the color grey.

Oh, and, just in case anyone is interested, that Green Dragon is still for sale. heh

Monday, October 15, 2012

Unexpected Applause: Demetri and the Banana Flavored Rocketship

As I said in my last review, I haven't been having the greatest luck with books lately. Especially with traditionally published books. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say that traditionally published books are bad; I'm also not trying to say they're good. I am saying that just because a book has been traditionally published doesn't make it good. Likewise, independently published books are not bad just because they couldn't figure out how to get published traditionally. Which does not make me trust them, in general, any farther than I can throw them. Which, in actuality, is not that far at all since most of them are digital only and can't be thrown.

All of that said, I have just, I mean just as in less than 15 minutes ago (as I write this) finished reading the best book I've read all year. Really. Possibly in the last two years. Heck, it may be the best book I've read since The Sparrow (and Children of God), and that was a while ago. What you should take away from this is that it was great. So let's get to it.

The book: Demetri and the Banana Flavored Rocketship
The author: Bryan Pedas
As always, let's start with the technicals. Which will be extremely short as this is the best edited independent book I've ever seen. Other than mine and maybe better than mine. The House on the Corner is a lot longer, though, and I'm not gonna take the time to run a percentage comparison. Let's just say that Demetri is close to flawless. I only remember one dropped word in the whole book, which is extremely impressive, and even the commas where pretty right on with no distracting mistakes. The editing gets a good solid A bordering an A+. Maybe an A+. Let's just say I was impressed.

The writing is incredible. The only drawback is that the premise of the story may be a barrier to some readers. It's like the movie Lars and the Real Girl, beautiful and completely under appreciated. I understand the under appreciation, because I can understand that people see what it's about and respond with "that's dumb" without ever giving it a chance, and Demetri is like that in some ways, but it's also a beautiful story, and people who dismiss it because of its premise will be missing out. And, no, I'm not going to tell you about the premise, you can clink the above link and go read it. You'll be one step closer to buying it that way, and you really should buy it.

Here's where I knew I had something beyond just the good on my hands:
Flip-flops echo on a darkly stained tile floor as the fluorescent lights give a sleepy-eyed flicker, bathing Demetri in stale light. The faucet water runs yellow--maybe it's being kissed by the light, maybe it's always been that color--and fills his hands on its way up to the sharp, patchy stubble beneath his cheeks and chin. A row of bathroom utensils lay along the counter like surgical tools in a low budget horror flick, and Demetri reaches past the toothbrush and the nail clippers to the disposable razor, which is anything but "disposed of" in its five years of dull, rusted life.
That's in the first chapter, at the 2% mark according to my Kindle app. The image is vibrant and paints an enticing image. It's one of those passages that I look at and just think "wow, that's excellent writing." I knew I was going to like the book at that point, and I wasn't wrong.

There are times it made me LOL. Literally, I mean. I tried not to, because Demetri is not for kids, and my kids were around, and they always want to know what I'm laughing at if I happen to be laughing, but there were several points in the book where I just could not hold it in. Like when Demetri receives the crate. So there are those  moments of humor that are hard not to respond to, but the book is also very touching, and you really want Demetri to pull things together.

What is most surprising, though, is the amount of tension I felt as I approached the end of the book. I really didn't know where Pedas was going with the story, and I kept envisioning all these horrible things that could happen, and that's a pretty impressive feat for a book that is, essentially, a dark comedy. And, no, I'm not going to tell you whether you will like the ending. Go read it! I mean it.

There's only one real drawback the book has: the title. But, here's the thing, I like the title. The title is appropriate. I just think that it puts a barrier between the work and a lot of readers, but it gives an impression of the book that it is, well, juvenile, and it's totally not. So, if you don't know what you're getting into, you might think you're getting something that you're not, and a lot of people that might like the book may skip right over it thinking it's something geared toward kids. I don't really have a better idea for the title; I just think that, knowing most readers, they will let it get in the way of reading the book.

Title aside, I give this book an A+. The main characters are real and fully realized as are many of the side characters. A few of the side characters are caricatures, but they are the caricatures that we know and have had to deal with in real life, so they never come across as stereotypical. This is a great book, and I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

How To Breed a Better Writer

First of all, realize that it's very hard and that writing is a grueling and lonely business and, unless you are extremely lucky, badly paid as well. You had better really, really, really want to do it. Next, you have to write something. -- Douglas Adams
 I love that quote by Adams. I don't love it because of what it says about writing; I love it because of his relationship with writing, that being that he was sometimes locked up by his publisher to make him, you know, actually write. Writing was almost always the last thing he did even though he seems to have spent his time bursting with ideas.

Adams is, in my mind,  the only good reason for NaNoWriMo. That's how he wrote. Tied to a desk with the command, "Write this now. No, right now!" I think it was The Restaurant at the End of the Universe that he wrote in about two weeks because he'd been locked in a hotel room with someone to make sure that he did things like eat.

If you like Douglas Adams and you like Neil Gaiman, you should certainly read the book Don't Panic by Gaiman about Adams. What better pairing could you have?

But all of that is kind of beside the point... but not really.

The results of a joint study between Yale and Moscow State University (yeah, in Russia) were released last week that shows that there is "a modest but statistically significant familiality and heritability element to creative writing." (the whole article is here) Basically, if you want to be a writer, have parents that are writers.

That explains why my kids are so good, I suppose. At writing, I mean.

But I actually want to jump back up to what Adams said: "Next, you have to write something."

See, that's the important part. It doesn't matter how "good" you are if you never do it. So, in that case, the person that didn't get any special helpings of talent from his/her gene pool but sits down and determines to write and, then, does is way better off than the person that has the best "writing genes" in  the world but never picks up a pen. It's like the potential energy of a ball held in your hand but never thrown. What does it matter?

Going back to Adams: he had such vast stores of potential energy, but most of it went unused. In the end, he only wrote a handful of books, brilliant books but a very few nonetheless, because he couldn't make himself sit down and do the work. Maybe, if NaNoWriMo had existed then, and he'd only spent that one month a year writing, we'd have more books from him.

Speaking of NaNoWriMo, my wife has decided to do it this year. She's hoping that having two writers in the family will genetically and environmentally spur our children on to further writing. Especially our younger son who has started this brilliant story (you can find "The Language of Nythos" in Charter Shorts) that he is reluctant to carry forward. My wife is a good writer, too, and writes in a way I wish I could: quickly. Words seem to flow out of her, and I have to pull each and every word out of my head like grass burrs out of socks (or the bottom of a bare foot). But there will be more on all of that later.

My other thought about this study, which focused on the actual writing, is what it has to do with story telling in general. Like oral story telling. I think there must be a link at some point, but they weren't looking at that, so they have no data on it. It makes me wonder, though.

At any rate, if you want to be a best selling author, it does help to be related to one (as the study seemed to indicate) but not because that means you're good; that just means you have an easy in. As Adams said, for it to be anything other than badly paid, you have to be extremely lucky. I'll add: or work extremely hard. I suppose, in the end, that's why Adams didn't have to write more. He hit on the "extremely lucky" with his first real project, but he had lots of experience with the "badly paid" before that. Maybe, if Hitchhiker's had only done moderately well at first instead of what it became right away, we would have had more from him.


The House on the Corner is being featured today over at Author Andrea Pearson. You should go check it out.

And the news I know you've all just been dying for!
Today only!
Parts 1 through 5 of Shadow Spinner will be available for FREE! today, Monday, October 15. What a jackpot! If you've missed any of the parts, today is the day to pick them up! Well, except for "Part Six: The Man with No Eyes," but that one will be free later in the week. At any rate, follow the links below and pick up your FREE! goodies! Make sure you tell all your friends about it. Really, do that. I'd really like to break into the top 20 on the contemporary fantasy list, so send everyone you know. Oh, and, yeah, because I have to say it: be sure to click the "like" button if you haven't done it already!

"Part One: The Tunnel"
"Part Two: The Kitchen Table"
"Part Three: The Bedroom"
"Part Four: The Cop"
"Part Five: The Police Car"

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Come Back Monday (This is not (quite) a post)

Yeah, all I'm here to say is come back on Monday. And tell all of your friends to come back on Monday, too. Part Seven of Shadow Spinner will be coming out next week, and it's far enough into the series that I'm sure there are some people not picking up the new parts because they don't have the old parts, so, on Monday, I'll be making parts 1-5 FREE! again. This is a one day thing, so, especially if you don't have one or more of those early parts, make sure you pop in.

Also, I'll be talking about Douglas Adams. You can't lose with Douglas Adams, you know.

Just as a visual reminder, on Monday, you'll have the chance to get
for FREE!
for FREE!
And, yes, there is a reason I put all of those up there like that. If you can figure out why (the first person to tell me only), I'll let you have one of these
for FREE!
Oh, yeah, there will also be one of these
on Monday for, you guessed it, FREE!

See you all on Monday, and, remember, bring your friends!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Allegory of the Miniatures (part 2)

So... Giant robot models. They were a turning point I didn't see coming. These things
were fully articulated, which was really cool. They were a whole new level of complexity and a lot of fun to build, because, if you messed them up, they wouldn't move, and you didn't want that. My robot models were the envy of the neighborhood and the end of my career selling models. See, after I started on the robots, I never went back to mere airplanes again, and I wouldn't sell my robots. Period. I had a table in my room with all of them set up on it. This was one of my favorites:
A few of them even transformed.
There were at least three variations on the transforming kit. Basically, they were all the same model, but, you know, I had to have each one. Besides, they were the most challenging, because  the pieces had to be able to slide around. A kid that lived across the street bought one, because I wouldn't sell him mine, and he didn't even get the basic airplane mode out of his. His ended up a huge mess that he dumped on me to see if I could fix, but, you know, once those things are glued, there's not much you can do with them.

Anyway... High school started. I had this one friend; he was kind of my only friend at the time. Yeah, middle school was not a happy time for me, but, then, who is it a happy time for? But I digress...
I had this one friend who was in the school D&D club. Now, I didn't play D&D or any RPGs or anything, because, well, my parents wouldn't have approved. Not that I ever asked, because, when I was in about 6th grade, I'd ordered the books Clash of the Titans and Dragonslayer from my Scholastic order form at school, and my dad threw them away when I brought them home, because they had "magic" in them. It was rather traumatic and the end of any discussion with my parents about what I was reading. I figured role playing games were a bit too far to push it, though, so I'd never gotten involved. At that point.

Anyway... I had this friend, also a freshman, in the D&D club, and he mentioned to them my giant robot models. For some reason, none of them believed they existed. I think, by this time, the models were no longer being available in stores (I know I wasn't able to find them anymore, at any rate), so he started begging me to bring them to school to show the club. After a few weeks, I succumbed, and I brought a few of them to school with me. I have to say it didn't help my "nerd rating" and I already went to a nerd school, as my brother used to say.

Just to put this in perspective, these giant robots came with pilots. You can see the head of one looking out through the turret from the tank above. The "glass" cockpit cover on the top robot opened, and you could see the cockpit interior and pilot in there, too. These little pilot figures were around the size of 20mm miniatures, the standard size for D&D. Actually, they were slightly smaller, but close enough. And this is where everything changed:

1. I discovered that there was a game called Battletech that was based on this giant robot idea. It was more of a board/tabletop game than an RPG (at the time), and I immediately got interested in it. When my friend moved later that year, he gave me his Battletech stuff, which consisted of the basic game and one book of mechs.

2. I got flooded with requests to paint miniatures from guys in the D&D club. Yeah, they were so impressed with my models that they all wanted me to paint their figures for them. I started out charging $1.00 a figure but pretty quickly found that that wasn't going to work. See, one guy immediately brought me a huge bag of 30-40 loose figures, which I thought was pretty good money, but everyone else started offering me more money to bump their figures up the painting list. In the end, I was getting around $3.00/figure for fairly basic paint jobs. And, remember, I was using oils, because I just kept right on using my model paints. It was what I was used to using. The detail on the minis wasn't great, but it was a lot better than what they'd had doing it themselves, so everyone was happy.

Eventually, I started buying mech miniatures of my own for Battletech and started painting those, too. When I was a junior, the school shut the D&D club down, and, between that and the fact that I was never home anymore, I quit painting for other people. At that time. I continued to use oils on my miniatures for the next many years, but more on that next time...

Here are some pics of my oil painted mechs (ignore the dust contamination (I will never figure out how things accumulate dust while in a box!) and missing antennas). Several of these are the same class as the models I have. Wherever they are.
 Thunderbolts (I have this in model form)
 Hunchback (one of my favorite mechs) and a... Commando? I think. (no models for these)
Rifleman and Archer (no models for these, either)
Crusader (I think there was a model for this one, but I can't remember for sure)
Both of these were models.
As was this one (pictured above).

The only writing lesson I have from this is that sometimes you can take what you learned in one genre (models) and apply it to another genre (miniatures). Although I loved models and would kind of like to sit down and do one now, they never brought the same satisfaction as painting miniatures. I wouldn't have guessed that when I was 12, though. You have to be open to growth and change.

Make sure you come back on Monday for an awesome give away! 
Yeah, some of you may have what I'll be giving away, but it will still be awesome, and you can tell all your friends that don't have it!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Allegory of the Miniatures (part 1)

[Disclaimer: Some of this information is located in my "crafty" tab. There are also pictures there, if you haven't already seen them.]

I started painting when I was pretty young. Not like finger painting, either. What I mean is that I got serious about it at a point when most kids aren't interested in devoting that much time to something that requires that much sitting. Now, I loved to play outside as much (or more) than the next kid, but I also wanted my models to look good. Maybe it was my love of Star Wars that did it.

See, it was Star Wars that really sparked my interest in models. I'd had a few kits, but, like everyone else, I just put them together right out of the box with only the naked plastic to show for it. That meant airplanes that were completely white or cars that were completely black. Or red. But, mostly, black. That all changed when, around the age of 8, I got my first Star Wars model kit: an X-wing fighter. I loved it! Except I wasn't happy with it when it was all finished, because X-wing fighters, while mostly white, are not completely white, and I needed my model kit to look like an X-wing fighter. A real one. So I demanded model paints.

Just to be clear for those of you that don't know, model paints are oil based. Yes, this will be important. They have to be oil based, because water based paints, acrylics, won't stick to plastic. They just run off. Unless you prime the miniature, first, with a base coat of paint that acrylics will stick to, but I was 8, and I had no idea about any of that stuff. What I knew was that there were special paints for models in the model section of the toys, and I wanted some.

You do know that there is no longer a model section in most toy departments, right? It kind of makes me sad. Model building is actually something I would love to do with my kids, but, even if stores did still carry models, they are now much too expensive, which, I'm sure, is why stores don't carry them anymore. The same kit I might have paid $3.00 for when I was kid would be at least $30.00 these days, and, unfortunately, it's just not worth it.

Anyway... I started painting my models, but I still wasn't happy with them. For one thing, I wasn't really able to get them to look as good as I wanted them to look, but, mostly, it was that the idea, as it was presented to me, that you put the kit together, and, then, you painted it. This caused some problems, especially with airplane kits, in that, when you were finished, you'd have a painted exterior, but everything in the cockpit (or the interior of the car) was bare plastic, and it really detracted from  the overall look of the models.

During this same time period, I was learning about various painting styles from my mother in her ceramics class at my church. The real issue, though, was that we used acrylics on the ceramics, and they are a lot more versatile than oils. Really, the only way you can do anything interesting with oils is by doing airbrushing, which I wanted to do, but airbrush kits were expensive, and I wasn't willing to save up to buy one when I didn't know how to use it. Let me just say that you can't do any kind of real detail work with oils without an airbrush because the paint dries too quickly on any kind of detail brush, and the oil paints completely ruin brushes that aren't made specifically for them, and those brushes don't come in detail size.

The important things to know are that by middle school, I had
1. learned a pretty good bit about painting on a large scale by doing ceramics.
2. taken to painting the pieces of my model kits as I assembled them so that the interiors were also painted.

What all of this lead to was me owning a bunch of models that I didn't really want anymore, because I'd progressed so far beyond the skill I was at when I first did the older kits. Although I could go back and paint the exteriors, I couldn't take them apart and paint the insides. This lead to some creativity.

I had a thing for magnifying glasses, and I had pretty cool one that had a 6" diameter. I liked setting off firecrackers with it when we had fireworks at the 4th of July. Sometimes I'd  lite the fuses, but, sometimes, I'd burn right into through the body of the firecracker. We never got a lot of fireworks, so this kind of stuff made them last a lot longer. A lot of my friends would blow up their models at the 4th every year, but that was too easy and no fun. What I decided to do was to use my magnifying glass to make "battle damage" on the models. I eventually worked out some cool techniques which left them looking like they had smoke damage and all sorts of things. Once I finished giving a model I didn't want anymore "enough" battle damage, I would completely melt it down with the magnifying glass. Yeah, it probably wasn't the safest thing to be doing, but it was a lot of fun.

This went on until I got to some airplane that the kid across the street really liked. I mean, he really liked it, and he protested me destroying the plane. After a prolonged argument, he decided he would buy it from me to keep me melting it down. How could I refuse that? That first model, I sold for the same thing I paid for it. I figured it was a bargain, and I went out and bought a new kit. Pretty soon, I had kids from all throughout the neighborhood buying models from me. I sort of couldn't keep up with the demand. In fact, I sold off all of the models I didn't really want at an increasing rate that allowed me to buy more and more kits. I sold them all until I was down to the models I really wanted to keep, and I got offered some pretty high prices for some of those. Well, they seemed high to me. There was this one plane in particular that I got consistent offers of $15 for, a kit I'd paid, probably, $3 for, but I wouldn't sell it, because it was my favorite one. Sometimes, kids would go buy kits and pay me to build and paint them for them. It was a pretty sweet business for a 12-year-old is all I can say.

All of this continued until I discovered giant robot models.
I had most of these, and, actually, theoretically, they are still in storage at my parents' house, though I have no idea what kind of condition they may be in after all of this time. I wish I had pictures of my actual work, but this was 30 years ago, so you're just out of luck. I had almost every kit they made, though, and they were really cool as the robots stood over a foot tall. But more on all of this next  time...

Just to relate all of this to writing in a more direct way than the overall allegory I'm building:
Learning to write is rather like building a model kit. At first, everyone just puts the kit together and ends up with a rather plain looking whatever with no embellishment. Eventually, you figure out about painting and decals so that the it's a little dressier, but it's still not much on complexity. And even more eventually, you learn how to build your writing piece by piece just like painting the interior portions of the model first. Your writing gains depth and complexity and, maybe, even your own customizations like battle damage or mixing kits or whatever. You don't start out at the end, though. You have to learn to just glue the kits together in the beginning.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Don't go to The Shack

Overall, I'm not having the best of luck with books this year, especially not with traditionally published books. I'm not sure, exactly, what that says, but there it is. The last several have been less than what I wanted, and this one, The Shack is no different. It's somewhere down around the level of Snow Crash, but not quite for the same reasons.

As with Snow Crash, my negative opinion began before I even started reading the actual book. In case you don't know, The Shack is being called the new Pilgrim's Progress, so my expectation was that the book is some kind of allegory. And it is, except that the author doesn't want us to think that it is. So he lies to us. Yeah, in the foreword... So you do all know what a foreword is, right? It's a piece of non-fiction about the book written by someone other than the author. Basically, someone else writes the foreword for your book which should then be about the book or you or you writing the book or whatever. But Young uses a character from the book, except you don't know it's a character from the book since you haven't read it yet, to write a "foreword" about  the book in which the (fictional) character claims that the book is a true story.

So here I am with this book in my hand not really knowing what to think. Because the author lied. Yeah, it's a lie, because that bit at the front of his story is not a foreword at all. At best, it should have been the prologue. That would have worked, because that puts it into the context of "story," not the context of "fact," so I almost right away have to go look up to see whether the books is supposed to be true or based on real events or whatever, and I find out that it's not, so I started out pissed that the author felt like he needed to give his story more weight by lying to me about it.

And I would have put it down right then except that my neighbor loaned me the book because it's one of his favorite books ever, so I felt kind of obligated to read it. Or, at least, give it more of a chance.

Now, this has nothing to do with reading the book, but I always carry a book around with me, and The Shack has been the book I carry around with me lately, because it's a paperback, and that's what I carry with me. So I always carry a book around with me, but it's a rare thing that anyone ever says anything to me about the books I'm reading. Not so with The Shack. I had many people come up to me and ask me about this book, ask me how I'm liking it, and, as soon as my face twisted into my "not much" look, before I actually said anything in some cases, I got "oh, I hated it, too." From every single person that came up to me. They were all women, and they all had the same reason for not liking it, which has nothing to do with my reasons, but, still, it was a weird thing to have so many people coming up to me telling me how much they also didn't like the book.

The next thing is that the writing is just bad. Amateurish. The first third of the book is all "tell" and no "show," and I found it tedious and without any real tension despite the fact that the set up for the book is that Mack loses his daughter. We're never brought into the story, so it's really difficult to care about any of the characters. And, oh! my! gosh! I got so tired of the words "then," "now," and "again." People did things again and again and again. "Again he turned." "Again he turned." I'm surprised all the characters weren't puking from dizziness.

So... once we get through all the "telling" to what the book is really about, we spend the virtually the rest of the book involved in a philosophical conversation with "god." I'm sorry, but, really, if you want to have a philosophical conversation, write a book of philosophy; don't write a story to act as a thin veil to cover that philosophy. And don't lie about it on top of all of that to try and get me to believe that what you believe is actually the truth. Because, and I have to say it, this guy's theology is pretty shaky in spots and just wrong in others. Which isn't to say that I don't think he gets some of it correct, but what we really have is the author's personal philosophy of God that he's trying to pass off to us as a true story, and it offended me more than a little.

Not to mention that his picture of God is most often just silly and, frequently, offensive. At least to me. But that may be that I grew up in the South. His presentation of God the Father is that of a large, Aunt Jemima-style black woman. Now, I appreciate his attempt to go beyond a picture of God as an old, white guy. And I'm not offended by his presentation of God as a woman, because I do actually agree that God is above male and femaleness and that God could choose to present "himself" in whatever form "he" might want to. What I do find offensive is the stereotypicalness of Young's presentation of God as the large, black woman, "Oh chile, let's get you some food!" Not that that is an exact quote from the book, but that's how he portrays god, and I don't think God would ever be so callous as to incarnate himself as such a racial stereotype. At least, not the God I believe in. Yes, this really bothered me.

At any rate, I waded through all of the philosophical conversation (just like I waded through it all in Snow Crash), and I found it tedious as well, but what I really didn't like was that Young would frequently have Mack ask some question (a logical, common question that we might all ask) and then have God respond with "we'll talk about that later" and never go back to it. Why bring it up if you're not going to address it? Seriously. That's just dumb.

When we finally get to the end of the book, and, yes, this is a spoiler, he completely destroys everything he's done (which, granted, wasn't much in my estimation) by having Mack be involved in a life-threatening car crash. You know, to cast doubt over the weekend the character just spent with God. Was it real or was it an hallucination? What the heck? Really? That's where you want to put it. That's your out for your bad theology? Maybe Mack didn't quite remember everything correctly, so you can't be held accountable for anything that isn't correct? Well, if you'd just owned up to the fact that you made it all up to begin with, Mr. Young, that wouldn't be necessary at all, would it?

So, yeah... I couldn't recommend this book to anyone. I understand why my neighbor liked it, and I suppose it could be a good book for people caught up in religious dogma to read, because it could certainly present God to them in a way they hadn't thought about before, but, really, those people should just read C. S. Lewis and apply their brains to what he says about stuff before getting caught up in some dude's ideas that are no better formed than "ooh! what if language was a virus?!"