Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What Your Blog Says About You: Part One -- Personality

As with many writers I know, I was advised that starting a blog would be a good way to gain readers for my recently finished book (this was back in 2011), but I had no idea how to go about doing that. Basically, the one thing I did know was that I couldn't have a blog that just said "buy my book" every time I posted something. I mean, I wouldn't read that blog, and I was pretty sure that no one else would either. Heck, I don't actually think I could even write that blog if I tried.

Which left the question: If I'm going to have a blog, what do I blog about?

The obvious answer, as a writer, was writing. But that seemed to me, on an ongoing basis, to be boring. I mean, I wouldn't read that blog. Well, maybe occasionally, if there was an interesting topic, but it's hard to make gerunds interesting. Still, writing seemed like a good starting place. And things related to writing. And reading. And, well, you can see what I decided on by looking up at the top of the screen.

Still, having content is not the same as having personality, and it's the personality (or the way that you talk about the content) that's important. Why? Because, other than when you're talking about yourself (which you have to do if you want to sell your book), there is no topic that you can choose to talk about that someone else isn't also going to be talking about. If I did (and if I ever do, please smack me) want to do a post about gerunds, it would not be a topic that some other blogger hasn't already done, so the only thing I can bring to that is, well, me.

Of course, when I was first starting out, I hadn't thought about it like that. I hadn't thought about the personality of my blog at all at that point. I had just kind of gone with it. The most I knew was that I would talk about the things that I like to talk about, and, to that extent, it would convey my personality.

About a year into blogging, I was confronted with it, though. I'd decided to do the a-to-z thing, and they were pushing short posts. I get the whole short post thing; I really do, and that wasn't the first time I'd seen people saying that the best way to get followers is to have short posts, but, see, that's not me. For one thing, I don't tend to like short posts. Either they don't say anything to begin with or, about the time the blogger is beginning to say something, the post is over. Why would I want to write in a style I don't like? But, more importantly, I felt it would be like lying. If I was going to have a bunch of new traffic to my blog, I wanted them to see the way that I blog, not some false front for the sake of pulling in followers only to go back to my actual style once a-to-z was over.

To put it another way, I realized that I had established a particular personality with my blog, and I wasn't willing to subvert that temporarily just to gain followers. Who I was on my blog was important to me.

And the blogs that I like most are all ones that have a particular personality that comes from the blogger. Maybe, it's a total facade for the sake of the blog, but that's okay, because the blog is the interface, so it's the personality presented through that interface which is important. I find more and more that I have no interest in blogs that are devoid of any type of personality. And, specifically, I like best those blogs which promote thought. Thoughts. I like what I read to make me think. And that's the kind of blog I try to have, too. So, even when I'm talking about writing or reading or even pop culture, I try to do it in a way that will make people think. Or see things from a new perspective. I'm just not a bandwagon kind of guy.

I also realize that the personality of my blog is not what anyone could say is a popular one, but I'm okay with that. I'm not, after all, trying to fit in.

All of that to say that I think the first thing you should do as a blogger is to figure out what kind of personality you want your blog to have. Yes, you can choose that, because the personality of your blog doesn't have to be related to your own personality. That's the fascinating thing about blogging. And, if you have more than one blog (which is CRAZY, but I know some people do), each blog can have a different personality. Amazing, I know.

But, wait, you say, "I've been blogging for three years, and I've never given my blog a personality!" Well, actually, you have, because you can't get away from that. Your blog projects some kind of image about who you are; it just might be that it's not an image you would have chosen if you'd thought about it. The good thing about it is that you can always make that decision and implement it. And, if you plan for your blog to be interactive in any way, I'd say that it's a necessary thing.

So, sit down with your blog today if you haven't already done so and help it to figure out who it wants to be. The overprotective big brother? The crazy, inappropriate uncle? The insane aunt with too many cats that wants to pinch your cheeks? The grandfather that slips money to the grand kids when no one is looking? Oh, no, wait, the class clown! [Yeah, that's so not me, even though I wish it was sometimes.] Personality is the first step toward a successful blogging career.

Oh, and, yeah, go buy my book!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Believing the Lie

Today, we're going with a themed approach. First up is the new short story by Rusty
I got a first look at this one as I did the editing on it. However, that doesn't stop me from being able to give an objective review (no matter what Amazon thinks).

What I can say for sure is that it's definitely worth a read, and you can get it here. (Check out that awesome editorial credit!) I mean, for $0.99, it's more than worth it.

"Going Home" is a solid story about a man who has chosen a lie over the truth. When you get to the end, you can begin to understand why. To me, it's interesting because of those times when people willfully choose to believe lies rather than face the truth, something that is much more common than we like to believe. It's not long. It's not that deep, but it does reveal that those depths exist. It raises a lot of questions, not the least of which is "wait! what happens next?" Carl is good at stories that leave you wanting to know more, and this one is no exception.

Next up is Life of Pi, which I finally got around to watching. I was less than impressed.

Sure, it was full of great visuals. Amazing visuals, even, but those don't make the story. [It's the same reason I could never follow a crappy story in a comic book just because it had good art (Spawn).] The story in Pi was very much lacking. The only reason it gets such a "wow, that was so deep" response is that it's one of those stories (the movie for sure and probably the book (though I haven't read the book)) that people can't figure out. Rather than say "I don't understand," they instead say, "that's so deep." Especially the critics, who can never just admit that something doesn't make any sense. Vague symbolism is always a sure way to baffle the critics into saying something is great. [One of my college professors was the same way. The sure way to getting an "A" from him on a paper was to write something beyond his understanding or deliberately vague enough that it seemed beyond his understanding. Rather than say "I don't know what you're saying here" or "This doesn't make any sense," he'd just put an "A" on it.]

However, the biggest problem with that aspect of the movie is that there is a message in there, revealed twice during the movie but obfuscated rather than just stated plainly: believing a lie is better than believing nothing. Or, as it's put forth at the end, "It's better to believe a beautiful lie rather than an ugly truth." That's a sorry message to be delivering and one I just can't get behind. No matter how pretty the package it's wrapped in, and Pi is a pretty package with beautiful bows and ribbons. It's not enough to disguise the ugly truth of the movie, though. Well, maybe, actually, it is. For most people.

The other big issue I have with the movie is that I hate (I mean I absolutely can not stand) getting to the end of a story just to find out that it didn't happen. [I mentioned this same thing in my review of Looper.] Don't waste my time with a story about a story that didn't happen. Don't have it turn out to be a dream. Don't have it turn out to be a time loop that gets closed off so that none of it happened. Don't have it turn out to be a hallucination to cover up something that the character can't handle. You've wasted my time at that point.

And, in Life of Pi, it reduces the only interesting part of the movie to the 30-40 minutes that happen before the storm. Then it's over. And that was hardly a story and one in which nothing really happened other than that someone survived a horrible stranding at sea.

And, sure, you can get all wrapped up in discussions about whether the tiger was God or what the heck was that island supposed to be, anyway, or whether he just made up the story he told the insurance people about the cook just so that they would have something they could grasp, but none of it matters. It doesn't matter because of the statement, "Which is the better story, and wouldn't you rather believe that thing than believe the truth?"

So, yeah, sure, Pi was pretty. It deserved the awards it got for those aspects of the movie, but it certainly wasn't a "best directed" movie. It was a hardly directed movie. I'm glad I watched it; I even kind of wish I'd seen it on the big screen just for some of the scenes on the ocean; but I don't think it was a great movie. It might look all deep when looking down on it, but, if you put your feet in, you'll find it's just a wading pool.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

House Arrest (and "The Undying")

My cat has been under house arrest, lately, or, as everyone else likes to say it, he's grounded. What did he do? Was he beating up the other cats on the street? Did he steal some catnip? No, nothing like that. He just keeps getting himself hurt. And, actually, he's the cat that gets beat up, so that's probably how he ended up getting hurt. He's just too curious for his own good.
A couple of weeks ago, he got this new wound on his back just above his tail. It's still swollen, but, at least, it appears to be healing up normally and won't require a trip to the vet like the last wound (which I talked about here). However, it was the fact that he come home limping a few days ago that got him grounded. And I don't just mean he was limping; he couldn't put any weight on his right foreleg at all. It was bad enough that he told me, "hey, that hurts," when I had barely touched it trying to check it out. So, yeah, for this week, at least, he's become a house cat. Here is how he spends his days:
People talk about a "dog's life," but, seriously, no dog has it as good as any cat.

Being an outside cat, we've never had a litter box for him; there's never been a need (except that one time when he had a potty emergency in the middle of the night and I wasn't able to throw something on quickly enough to get him outside). However, one of the first things I did after he got himself grounded was to go and buy him the requisite materials to take care of his needs in the house, which he has done very politely.

Now that his leg is getting better (in fact, this morning, he was back to being a total spaz and acting as if nothing is or was ever wrong), I'm torn between going back to the normal routine or making him an inside cat. On  the whole, he seems to be adapting to being inside all the time pretty nicely. Not that he hasn't had a few... episodes. Like yesterday when he kept jumping up on me and typing in my document. He said something like, "xxxcdxccd." I'm not sure what that means in cat, but I'm guessing it must be something like, "Help! I'm being held prisoner in a fortune cookie factory." Or, maybe, it was just "FEED ME!" That's the big change for him: he doesn't get to hunt lizards anymore.

For me, though, aside from the fact that he's constantly getting banged up from playing outside all of the time and the fact that I have to go and chase The Orange away several times a week, him being inside relieves the worry of him getting trapped in someone's car and getting carried away by accident. Being right next to the park, we have foreign cars out there all of the time, and my cat is obsessed with them. He has to go smell every car that parks out there. He gets up in the backs of trucks. And, if anyone leaves their windows open (which they frequently do), he hops up onto the door and explores the inside of the car. In fact, when the guys were delivering our new washing machine a few weeks ago, he did his best to get inside the delivery truck. The delivery guys thought that was so funny.

The verdict is still out on his final sentence. I suppose we'll have to see how crazy he ends up driving everyone by being deprived of going outside. If he ends up being as bad as my daughter is when she's sick and can't go to school... well, let's just say that's not a pretty sight and leave it at that.

In other news, today is the FREE! release of "Part Twenty-two: The Undying"
This is the chapter where Tib well and truly begins to understand just how weird the Garden is. Or, at least, the denizens of the Garden. Basically, every time he thinks he knows what's what, something changes.
FREE! today, Monday, May 27:
"Part Twenty-two: The Undying" (Also FREE! Tuesday, May 28)
"Part Twenty-one: The Chase"
"Part Twenty: The Sword of Fire"
"Part Nineteen: Lost in the Garden"
"Part Fifteen: Food of the Garden"
"Part Fourteen: Anger and Laughter"
"Part Thirteen: The Clearing"
"Part Twelve: The Gash in the Floor"
"Part Nine: The Shadow of the Tree"
"Part Eight: The Cold and the Dark"
"Part Seven: The Moth and the Shadow"
"Part Six: The Man with No Eyes"
"Part Three: The Bedroom"
"Part Two: The Kitchen Table"
"Part One: The Tunnel"

There's 15 of the 22 parts of Shadow Spinner available for FREE! Go download, enjoy, and tell all your friends. Oh, make sure you read it with the lights on. Or so I've been told.

As a special bonus, I'm also gonna throw in The Evil That Men Do for FREE! It's kind of Tib part 0, but it's not going to be in Shadow Spinner, so grab it now. Don't forget to let me know what you think of it!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Last Friday Night (or Friday Night Magic)

If you've been following along this week, you're aware of how this past weekend went and ended, but I left out how it began, so let's go back to last Friday night. Okay, actually, let's go back to April...

Remember how I mentioned that during the midst of a-to-z that my washing machine had broken? Well, it did. Part of dealing with that was rearranging the garage, and part of rearranging the garage was finding things (like that first edition copy of A Game of Thrones). Well, it also meant finding a bunch of my old Magic cards.

As I've stated before, I love Magic: the Gathering. Best game ever made. I love Magic so much that I did a whole series of posts about it and how it relates to writing not all that long ago (you can find part one here). However, I haven't really played it in... a long time. Aside from games with my kids every great once in a while, but, considering that I used to play tournaments and stuff, that hardly counts. For me, anyway. I play it with them to enjoy an activity with them, not because it gives me the kind of game play I want.

At any rate, having unburied all of these cards, I thought it was probably time that I sort them out and sell off all the extra stuff I have. Because I have a lot of extra stuff. But, see, the sorting through them really made me want to play again. I mean play for real again. It is something that I miss doing. So I started checking into the local tournament scene...

There was a big problem with that, a problem I knew would exist, but I was just checking, so I was willing to ignore it for the moment. What problem? Well... see, here's where it gets complicated for those of you (I'm betting nearly all of you) that don't know anything about Magic, so I'll make it as simple as possible: My cards aren't current.

Yeah, I hear all of you non-Magic players out there: "What does that have to do with anything? Cards are cards." Which is true if I just wanted to goof around and play casual games, but it's totally not true for tournaments. To make it simple, due to the large number of expansions and the cost of the older cards, Wizards of the Coast has various formats for tournaments. The most common of these are modern and standard. Modern format tournaments allow cards printed after 2003; I stopped collecting in 2004. Standard format tournaments allow cards from the last couple of blocks of expansions, which means the last couple of years. Basically, I don't own any cards to build decks for these formats of play. That meant that "constructed style" tournaments were out (tournaments where you build a deck beforehand and bring it in to compete with).

Fortunately, in the time since I quit playing draft tournaments have become a big thing (a "draft" tournament is where everyone gets some booster packs of cards and chooses one out and passes it to the next player to choose and so forth until all of the cards are gone); they barely existed back when I dropped out of playing. I'm assuming the rise in popularity is because, theoretically, they put everyone on a somewhat equal footing. And you get to keep the cards you draft, so, even if you lose, you don't come away empty handed. This was exactly the kind of thing I needed. I could compete in a draft tournament.

Except for the one snag.
The draft tournaments are on Friday nights. Friday night is special family time night with a big special meal and all of that.
My wife was not going to be happy.

And she wasn't, but we worked it out. In the end, it was decided that I would take my oldest son, who had never played in a tournament, and go this past Friday night. Probably not the best choice of nights, but it was the only choice of Friday nights anytime around now. The prior Friday night, he was busy. Tonight, he is busy; actually, we all are, because we are going to see him in an improv show with his school drama group. Next Friday night, the whole family is busy, because my younger son will be performing in his school musical. I'm sure you get the picture with our Friday nights. Even with as busy as the weekend was going to be, it was the only Friday night available, so we went.

So, while I was busy working on formatting issues for Charter Shorts, Too and trying to get that finished, my son was looking up rules and stuff. And he kept trying to talk to me about the stuff he was reading, which I couldn't really do at the time. I answered his questions as best I could, but, whenever he would say something like, "hey, listen to this," I told him I couldn't. Now, that's important, so pay attention. In fact, in some ways, it's the point of all of this.

My son and I made it to the store where the tournament was being held at and got all signed up. We were asked multiple times by various employees "have you played in a tournament before?" and "have you played in a tournament here before?" I was very clear about our answers: 1. My son had never played in a tournament before. 2. It had been over 12 years since I had played in a tournament. 3. Seeing that that store had not existed a dozen years before, no, neither of us had never played in a tournament in that store. I kept waiting for some response to that question, or, at least, some kind of clarification as to why it was being asked, but the answer never seemed to get more than a nod, and at no time whatsoever did anyone bother to explain how anything worked.

I became that annoying kid in class that kept asking questions... except I really didn't know what questions I should be asking. And I didn't really get any answers, anyway.

At any rate, being totally unfamiliar with the cards, my son and I began drafting our decks, the slowest people at the table. Of course, once I had my colors worked out (blue and white), I sped up and even had to wait for stacks of cards from the people next to me. My son didn't get any faster and became the bottleneck at the table. But we got through it with only minor difficulties and miscommunications and got our decks built. 60 cards, right? Because that's been the minimum deck size limit since... well, since almost the beginning.

So I played my first match. It was against one of the top players in the store, and it was clear that he expected to win. And he did. Fairly easily, too. But, see, here's where it gets interesting. He took the time to put the cards he'd drafted into sleeves before playing [Sleeves are special flexible plastic covers for the cards so that you don't damage them while playing. I've never been a big fan of sleeves, but a lot of people use them.], so I didn't notice anything about his deck. But, once I had lost, I went over to watch my son in his game, and all I kept thinking was, "His deck looks really small." [Just don't even go there, okay.] So I got worried that he was playing a below minimum deck, but I didn't want to call him on it in the middle of the game. Afterward, though, I asked him, and he was playing with 40 cards.

Which had been one of the things he'd been trying to tell me earlier, that it was just a 40 card deck, because, at home, we always play with 60, because "them's the rules." Except for draft tournaments. Only I hadn't known that which is why that guy beat me so easily. It was definitely a "D'oh!" moment. The only issue I had about the whole situation was that none of the staff ever bothered to give any kind of run down of the rules despite making us repeat we'd never been in one of their tournaments before.

After dropping my deck down to 40 cards, which you can do in a draft tournament--mess with your deck as much as you want between matches (maybe even between games) as long as you are only using the drafted cards--I went on to win my other two matches and take home a prize. My son won his first match but lost his next two, so he didn't get a prize. But, now, he's totally hooked on tournament play. He really loved it and wants to go play again. Except, well, the next several Friday nights are booked.

Moral of the story? Take the time to know the rules and don't expect anyone to tell you what they are, even the people that ought to tell you. After seeing how my modified deck played and watching the guy that beat me play a couple of other games, I feel fairly confident that I would have won that match against him had I known about the 40 card thing. But that's what next time is for.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Charter Shorts Project

Some of this will be a repeat in history, but it's probably better than linking to previous posts. Generally speaking, I've found that people don't go back and read linked posts no matter how relevant they are, so let me just start at the beginning. If you know this part... well, that's just too bad.

Last (school) year (the 2011/2012 school year), I started teaching a creative writing class at my kids' school for the middle school portion of it (they run K-8). Don't get all excited; it's not a paid thing, just a worthwhile thing. I didn't really expect much out of it; after all, they were middle schoolers. I didn't have a lot of kids last year, just about half a dozen over the course of the whole year, but I had all but one of those for the entire three quarters of the year. The really neat thing about that class is that I had writers. What I mean by that is that (most of) the kids I had already spent time writing. For fun! Another of them really wanted to write and to get better at it even though she hadn't spent much time doing it. It was a good group, and we worked on some ongoing projects. [In fact, it was because of that group that I ever started writing Shadow Spinner. The book will be dedicated to them.] At any rate, it wasn't long before I realized that their work, their writing, deserved some form of recognition and thus was born Charter Shorts.

The only real problem with that idea was that I had it too late in the year to develop it the way I wanted to. In an effort to have more material for this year's Charter Shorts, I went from teaching the class from one day a week to two days a week, thinking that would give more students a chance to participate, and to start working on the collection earlier in the year. Well, I certainly had a lot more students. Lots more. But it didn't really turn into having more material, because I didn't have any of them, this time, for the full year because of the way the elective classes work and the days I chose to offer the class. By the time most of the kids were finally beginning to get something down on paper, the quarter was over. Or someone would turn something in, and I'd say, "Let's work on this," but the next quarter would start, and it's hard to keep them working on stuff when they're not actually presently in the class.

So I ended up not being able to start the collection early because I didn't have anything to work with until close to the end of the third quarter. A lot of good stuff got left out because the student never went back and worked on a turned in story or turned it in too late to get ready it in time. Which is how I got my first taste of having to send out rejections, so to speak. One boy in particular was crushed when I told him his story wouldn't make it into the book, and I felt horrible, but there was nothing I could do. He turned it in too late, and it needed a lot of work, especially since it was very similar to another story in the book. Basically, I was left with the choice of working with this one kid on getting this one story ready in time or getting the other 10 stories I had that needed only minor editing work ready to go. Hopefully, he will hold onto to the story for next year's edition (because, yes, we are already working on plans for next year's creative writing program and how we can blend the experience from my first year teaching it and the second year teaching it).

All of that to say that Charter Shorts, Too is now available. I encourage you guys to check it out if for no other reason than to support the creative writing program for these kids and to help develop the next generation of writers. Yes, the funds from these books, such as they are, do go to supporting the program.
One other thing I will add:
Last year, because of how few students I had, I purchased copies of the book for each of the students published and gave them to them. I wanted them to have a copy since they were in it, you know. But, last year, I had only four students published that weren't my own; this year, there are more than a dozen, and I just can't afford to buy a copy for every student. So I put out order forms thinking that surely the parents of the kids would, at least, buy them a copy. I mean, I know that each of the kids with something in the book want a copy. They've all told me so. But... I only had orders come in from two parents, which means that about 10 kids will not get a copy. And here's where you can help: any copy of the physical book purchased, will enable me to purchase a copy of the book for one of the kids (I think it works out to 3 of the Kindle editions to purchase a physical copy (or 2.5)). If you'd like to help out, buy a copy of the book and email me or leave a comment letting me know that you've purchased a copy, and I will mark a copy to go to one of the students that isn't getting one. Hopefully, I can make sure that each student gets a copy, because, for most of them, this is their first time (and maybe only time) being published, and it would just suck to never have a copy of that. You know?

On another note, in comparing the two editions, I think the first Charter Shorts is probably better overall, but I think that the highs of this new edition are much higher than the highs of the first edition. I'd tell you which are my favorites, but, just in case any of my students read this, I'm going to choose to keep that information to myself. I will say that I have some talented kids. And, as I related recently, more talented than some adults I've read. I hope you'll give it a look.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Into Whatness?

As I mentioned in my last post, I had a very busy weekend. On the tail end of everything that had been going on, Sunday night we went to see Star Trek Into Darkness. That was a drama in-and-of-itself. Initially, we'd planned to go see it on Friday night, but something came up on Friday night that I "needed" to do (there will be a post on that later), so we were going to do it Saturday. Of course, that was the plan before we pushed my daughter's sleepover party to this past weekend rather than the prior weekend, so Saturday got knocked off. That left Sunday, and my wife didn't want to do Sunday after the weekend we were having. She just didn't want to add that to the end of everything.

The suggestion, then, was that I take my oldest son to go see it and that would be that. My younger son has an ingrained opposition to Trek because of his love of Star Wars, so he had stated that he didn't want to go. My daughter wanted to go only because it was "going;" she had no real desire to see the movie. "Going" is always better than "staying" in her book. So the idea was that I would take the oldest to the afternoon matinee.

BUT there were complications. To start, he had gone off to spend the night with someone to avoid my daughter's sleepover, and he neglected to arrange for a ride home. There are two things to that: 1. We told him due to all of the stuff on during the weekend, we would not be available to transport him, so he had to arrange his own transportation. 2. My wife let him know very explicitly that she didn't want him gone all day because of his lack of planning. She wanted him home at a reasonably early hour on Sunday. Well, he failed to take care of that stuff. He called around 2:00 p.m. to let us know that he still had no ride home, a call I had been anticipating. At that point, I told him that we (he and I) were going to Star Trek... unless he didn't make it home, in which case, he would miss out. I figured that would put a fire under his butt. [It did. he dragged himself in the door somewhere around 3:30 (although, technically, he's missed the showtime I'd planned on).] The other complication was that I was just dead tired after all of the girls left and had needed a nap (which I barely got), so I hadn't been ready, yet, for the 3ish showtime, anyway.

Here's where it gets interesting:
So my oldest son walked in the door just as I was getting ready to leave to pick up my younger son from the work party he was at for the musical he's in at school (see why we weren't available to drive the oldest anywhere? Besides, if he wanted to, he could take some steps in getting his driver's license, but he's balking at that). My wife said to me as I was walking out that door, "You should see if he wants to go with y'all."
My response: "But he said he does not want to go."
"Just ask him anyway."
So I did. His response (once I picked him up (covered in paint (including a hand print on the leg of his pants from a girl (which would embarrass him to no end if he knew I was printing this))): "Sure, I have nothing better to do."

Okay, so, now, it was just us guys going to the movie. When it was just the older boy and me, my daughter had decided to stay home because she was have a water balloon fight in the park (this after all the water activities at the end-of-season league party); however, when she found out, upon coming in to refill the water pump, that both boys were going, she immediately changed her mind about the movie. Now, this was a problem. Not that she wanted to go but because now everyone was going but my wife who is the only one in our household that really identifies as a Trek fan. So I had to talk her into it, which wasn't as hard as all that after all; I just said, "Look, everyone else is going, but you're the one that really wants to see this, so you should just come, too." So she did. And she was glad of it.

As for the movie... well, let's start at the title.

What's the deal with meaningless titles? They annoy me. The title has no more to do with the movie than it could have to many movies. Like The Empire Strikes Back could have been called Into Darkness, and it would have held more meaning to the actual movie than this one. I get that it sounds cool, but, seriously, the title (of anything) ought to relate to the thing that's being titled in more than some vague way.

Past that, though, the movie was pretty awesome. Abrams  knows how to bring the action and keep you tense and on the edge of your seat. And, hey, there was no red matter, this time, so double plus good. Without giving anything away, I loved best the role reversal of Spock and Kirk. That was pretty awesome.

I have only two negatives (other than the title) at this point:
1. I do not want to see "old Spock" pop up in every movie as their tiny "god in a box." I get that the fans love seeing Nimoy (I do; I get it), but, from a story perspective, it's gonna get old if they always contact him when they're in trouble.
2. As much as I love Simon Pegg and love Simon Pegg as Scotty, he is the one character that doesn't quite feel right. he has moments where he feels like Scotty but, most of the time, the character seems off target. I don't blame this on Pegg, as he has no control over the writers having him do things that are not "Scottyish."

Speaking of the characters, I still love Karl Urban the most. Man, he could be DeForest Kelley. I swear, I can't tell the difference; he's just like watching the original Bones at work. And they gave him the line! Well, not the line but a the line: "I'm a doctor not a..." It was awesome.

Zachary Quinto comes in a close second to Urban on pulling off the channeling of the original character. Of course, he has had the privilege of actually working with Nimoy, so he wouldn't have an excuse to not be able to pull it off.

And, well, then there's Benedict Cumberbatch who was a perfect match to the rest of the cast. Mostly, it's the voice. But he seems to be able to play any kind of role he wants to play (see War Horse and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to understand what I mean by that).

And that's really about all I can say about the movie without giving stuff away, and I don't want to do that. As someone who is not really a Star Trek fan, I loved the movie. I do know that there are Trek fans out there that don't like what Abrams is doing, but, really, I'm not quite sure I get that, because he's really captured the heart of the original series with how closely they've managed to get the characters to their originals. It's actually enough that it makes me want to go back and watch those old episodes, and how much more successful can you be than that?


Sunday, May 19, 2013

" of -those- weekends."

Softball update as we approach the end of the season:
They did lose the game I thought they'd lose (which makes us 9-4, at the moment), but the coach of the other team (the undefeated team, I should add) said we were their toughest competition all season (both times we played them).

And here's a new one I heard at Saturday's game (spoken by the opposing coach to one of his batters as she was getting struck out):
"I can't come and swing it for you."

So, yeah, Saturday started bright and early with a softball game. Prior to the softball game was gassing the car and retrieving coffee. After the softball game was the end-of-season party even though the season isn't quite over yet. Evidently, you can't actually have the end-of-season party after the season ends because no one will show up, because, you know, the season is over. [Let me clarify, this was the end-of-season party for just my daughter's team (yes, there's a reason I'm clarifying).]

Then it was rush home and get the final cleaning in on the house before my daughter's 10th birthday slumber party. [Are you seeing a theme here, yet?] It was a small one this year, because we inadvertently planned the party for the same night as a school fundraiser which involved going to an A's game. [See, not being a baseball fan, I had completely dismissed the fundraiser in my mind so didn't realize we were planning my daughter's party for the same time slot.] She lost several of her friends to the game, so, on the one hand, I felt  bad for my daughter (and for her friends that were upset that they were going to miss the party), but, on the other hand, it was kind of "yeah! we'll only have nine girls!" (instead of 15). Still, nine girls make a lot of noise. [Seriously, the girls never stop talking and I can't hear any one of them over the constant chatter, and there's always at least one of  them trying to talk to me. Parties for my son (the younger one) are never like that.]

And one of them climbed a tree and got "stuck" and, then, went home because I didn't cause a drama over the situation. Basically, I told her she could stay in the tree or I could go get her parents (she actually lives next door, so that was an option (and also why she could just go home)), but she didn't like those options, so she came down (I watched her climb back out of the tree) and, upon arriving back at our house, announced that she had decided she would go home to sleep, which was fine with me. And, while I was dealing with TreeGirl, two of the other girls chased my cat down the street. When I say street, I mean, they chased the cat down the middle of the street to almost a block away. This was after I had told one of the two, specifically, to leave the cat alone, because he wouldn't come to her anyway. And he didn't, so they chased him. Then I had to go fetch him back which was also a bit of a chase, because he was freaked out by all the girls to begin with and, then, by being chased by two of them.

And the night just got better and better as they achieved a kind of synthetic agreement to not sleep. They've never done this before. At previous sleepovers my daughter has had, by the end of the movie, most of them have been asleep. That happens when you start the movie around 10:00 p.m. But not this time. No, at the end of the movie, they were all still awake. So I had to put in another movie. I do plan ahead, though, so I already had one set out. However, I wasn't able to make it through the second movie. The girls had mostly calmed down (after another incident of going off and doing what she was told not to do by the girl that had been told not to go after the cat), and my eyes were melting out of my skull, so I went to bed. I want to say that was around 1:30 a.m., but I'm not really sure.

And I say I went to bed, because I never really went to sleep. There was talking and some amount of moving around and such once I went off to go to bed, which elevated when I heard The Goonies being over. I just waited it out hoping they'd go to sleep, and, eventually, I nodded off sometime after 3:00 a.m., which I know because I got up to go to the bathroom just prior to the nodding and checked the time while I was up. It was short lived. At around 4:00 a.m., I was awakened by one of the girls doing her best Lionel Richie impression, by which I mean that she was dancing on the ceiling. Or something. Maybe galloping through the house on her ghost steed. I'm not sure if she was alone in the cavorting that was going on or if she was the only one brave enough to respond to my shout down the hall that no one was supposed to be up:
"But I'm not sleepy!"
"I don't care. Be in your spot."
"Someone took my spot!"
"I don't care! Find a place to be!"
"But I can't find my blanket!"
"Go to sleep!"
And she did. I know because, 20 minutes later, the cat started scratching on the door that he needed to go out. I've learned that scratching on the door means, "I have to go potty!" Also, he was probably just trying to get away from the girls and only came out at that moment because he figured it was the first time all night that it was safe for him to do so. "Finally! They're all asleep! I can escape!"

But here's the thing with that. The cat has recently switched his eating schedule to eating in the morning before he goes outside from eating in the evening when he comes in. And, normally, I wouldn't let him out so early (so wouldn't be up feeding him so early), but I felt bad for him, because the girls just would not leave him alone when he had been trying to go to sleep after the whole being chased down the block incident. Every time he laid down, someone would put her hands on him, and he'd have to move. It was like a compulsion with them; it didn't matter that I kept saying "leave the cat alone." I mean, he would have been happy to lay down next to one or two of them (which he tried to do) if they would have just quit trying to pet him.

So, anyway, the cat wanted out, and I figured I should feed him, first, so I got up, turned on the lights in the kitchen (basically 10 feet away from where all the girls were sleeping), and banged around to feed the cat. The girls were completely zonked out and didn't stir at all, including the one that had just said to me, "But I'm not sleepy!" After the cat ate, I walked over all of the girls, as did the cat, so that I could let him out. I halfway expected never to see him again. I'm not sure I would have ever come back if I had been the cat. I'd have been all, "Meesa outta here!"

The funny thing with that is that when the girls did get up, about half of them tried to claim that they had never been asleep, including Miss "But I'm Not Sleepy!" One of them tried to claim that she had only been pretending to sleep, but none of them remembered me being in the kitchen or turning on the lights or letting the cat out. heh

I gave up on sleep at that point. Or I tried to. It was only an hour or so before I was supposed to get up and start working on breakfast, and, by the time I was finished with the cat, I was awake. Or so I thought. At any rate, I sat down at my computer to work, but I couldn't focus enough to do that, so I mostly just stared at the screen until I decided I'd go do some more work in the garage because that required standing and some movement. I managed that until sometime after 6, when I thought I'd try to get in a 20 minute nap before the alarm went off at 7, my new time for starting on breakfast since all the girls were still asleep. So I laid back down in bed and had just dozed off... when my daughter's alarm clock went off. 6:30 a.m. I sighed and got back up. [Oh, and there was some stuff with the dog in there after the stuff with the cat, and it was the dog that kept me from going back to sleep after the cat went out (because she had to go see if the cat had left any food, and wouldn't stop bothering me until I took her to see that it was gone).]

Then there was the morning drama, which I won't really go into except to say that it's hard to cook when you have to round up a gaggle of girls and yell at them for the misbehavior. It got the day off to a great start, let me tell you.

Eventually, though, all of the girls did leave, including my daughter, because she had to go to her end-of-season league party. Which, again, had to happen before the season actually ended. The boys had gone off to other places so as not to be home during the sleepover (a wise decision), and they weren't home, yet, so I thought, finally!, I could get some sleep, but that pretty much wasn't to be, because the dog decided to spend the afternoon barking at stuff.

There's more stuff to include, but that stuff will come in other posts, because, really, this one is long enough, and I haven't even gotten to the BIG thing, yet, which is that in between all of this I finished getting all of the last things accomplished for Charter Shorts, Too, and that is now available!
This is the collection of short stories from my creative writing class for this year, and there is some really good stuff in there. Some I was surprised by. There are more students represented this year, since I had some many more, so that's nice. Still, I wish I had more stories from them for it. Maybe, next year, with the changes I'm hoping to get for the program, the book will be longer and won't need anything from me to fill it out. Still, there is only one from me this, year, so that's good. I hope some of you will pick it up and support these kids and the work they're doing.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"The Ohnegott"

And now it's time for another of my infamous book reviews...

I learned something new about goodreads today: If someone deletes his account, you lose any mail you may have exchanged with that person. What the heck? Seriously, why is my email deleted because someone else deletes his account?

So... back around Christmas, I received an email from Charles Timm asking me if I would review his "book," "The Ohnegott;" I say "book" because it's barely longer than a short story, but he's treating it as if it's a full length novel. I explained to him that I was busy with several projects and had other reviews I needed to do, so it would take a while (as you can see, it's now May (and the only reason I stuck it into the list, even now, is because of how short it is)); he said that was fine. I also explained as explicitly as I could that any review I would give would be completely objective--there would be no automatic positive review. I told him he should check out some of my reviews so that he would know what he was getting into. I don't know if he ever did that, but he said he understood and wanted the review no matter how it turned out. And, see, that was the part I wanted to save, because it's good to have it in print when someone tells you to be harsh.

At the time of the request, "The Ohnegott" had no reviews. It does, now, mostly negative ones, and he deleted his account, so I have to wonder if those things are related. And the email that I saved is gone. Oh, well...

The first thing I looked at when Timm gave me a copy of his story was the length. I don't have an exact word count, but it can't be more than 10,000 words or so, but he's charging $2.99 for it. My immediate response to that back in December was to tell him that he's charging too much for a story of that length. He agreed with me, yet the price is still $2.99. That seems unfortunate to me, because I would actually be angry if I paid $2.99 for this. I'd probably shrug off $0.99, because Amazon doesn't let you charge less than that, $3 is the author taking advantage of me both because it's not long enough to warrant that kind of price, unless it was exquisite, and, because, this "book" is the opposite of exquisite.
[As a complete aside, the next Charter Shorts is just about ready for release, and, if "The Ohnegott" had been a submission from one of my middle schoolers, it would not have made it into Charter Shorts, Too. Seriously. And it was written by a guy, supposedly, with a degree in English.]

Let's start with grammar and punctuation because that's oh so much fun, right? I have no kind way of saying this: He needed to get some. The story is littered with inappropriately used semi-colons and commas. Semi-colons used as commas. Anywhere he could put a punctuation mark, he did. Sometimes just stuck between words for no apparent reason. Frequently, there were long strings of sentence fragments strung together with said commas and semi-colons so that, in the end, the string of fragments didn't actually say anything. To cut to the chase: a degree in English does not mean one knows how to use punctuation correctly, and Timm is in desperate need of an editor just to deal with the punctuation. Not to mention that his verb tenses didn't always match and not all of the words he used meant what he thought they did.

And that part, the part about using the incorrect word in a sentence brings me to the next bit. I think he was trying to write in "lofty" language. To elevate the story by his word choices. But it just reminded me of my dad and how he used to use "big words" to sound more intelligent except that he'd use the wrong word and just sound... well, I'll just say that when I was teenager I was often left embarrassed whenever my dad would open his mouth to talk. "The Ohnegott" felt just like that to me, like Timm was trying too hard to sound grand and bigger than life but left it looking like a bunch  of five-year-olds playing dress up. Only, it's cute when five-year-olds do it.

Sometimes, though, the worst grammar problems can be overlooked if the story is good enough, but this one wasn't that. In fact, it was more along the lines of one of those five-year-olds wishing he could be good enough to cause his birth to magically have been a royal one and find out that his dad is really the king and he's really a prince. Frederick's desire to work hard enough and become worthy enough to have been born a royal makes absolutely no sense, but let's forget about that for the moment. Let's go to the incestuous attraction that Frederick and his foster-sister, Carina, have for each other. But they're not really brother and sister, you say? Well, it's completely unclear that they know this. From the presentation, it appears that they believe they are brother and sister and each has a secret love for the other, which, in the end, turns out to be okay, because, surprise!, they're not really related (except not a surprise, because the reader knows they're not related; it's just a surprise to them making their long secret love for each other okay).

Beyond all of that, the story is illogical and inconsistent. The king has had all of the churches burned down for no apparent reason, and, evidently, no one knows where the king's castle even is. But I'll give you an example right from chapter one where we are introduced to... well, I can't tell you that, because the character has no name. Let me let you catch up:
Right at the beginning, our brother and sister meet a monk in the woods. Only he turns out to not be a monk, he just likes to wear the robes because they're comfy. Probably because he's fat. Monks have to be fat, you know (Timm tells us this later in the story, the thing about monks being fat). [Remember the part about how the king has burned down all of the churches? Evidently, he kills monks, too, but this guy is waltzing around in monk's robes. (Yes, we are told in the first paragraph that churches are outlawed.)] As soon as the "monk" reveals he's not a monk, the siblings realize he's just a kid. What the heck? Suddenly, he looked younger than the mature man he'd looked only moments before! I'm going to just assume he's a teenager, because Timm is never clear on just how old the kid is. When it comes time to exchange names, we find out the not-monk has no name.

Let me take a logic break here. This kid, teenager?, has no name. Not even anything he calls himself. Nothing anyone else has ever called him. He's homeless, see, but he did live with a string of women at some point (a whore's kid, then?), but, evidently, not a single one of them ever had anything she called him. He doesn't even make up a name; he's just all sad about how he doesn't have a name. Oh, wait, more logic break. He's homeless! At this point, he's living mostly in the woods scrounging for food (and we get his thoughts about how good it will be to actually get to eat), but he's fat. And he knows how to read, although he's never had a family or anyone take care of him, and he's very knowledgeable about medicine.

Which takes us to the next thing, they decide to take this nameless not-monk (although the sister promises to get him a name) back to their house to attempt a cure on  their sick father. I'm thinking, at this point, that we have the set up for the story. But, no, because that whole thing never happens. They just take the not-monk back and feed him and the whole thing about him healing the father never comes up again. In fact, the not-monk's presence in  the story is rather questionable except to fit the "fat monk" archetype. Which he doesn't do.

After that, other things that make no sense happen. The only saving grace the story had was that it was short. If it had been any longer, I would have backed out of reviewing it. Which, after reading the first chapter, I wanted to do, anyway, but, then, I couldn't email Mr. Timm to tell him that (because of the closed account), so I sighed and finished the read. I'm going to have to start turning these requests down. I have too many things I want to read on my list to take time out to read something like this, even if it didn't take very long.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Weird Things They Say In Softball

My daughter's softball season is coming to a close. They have two games left to play before the playoffs and have a comfortable 9-3 record. They are already the lead team in their league and don't have to play in the first round of playoff games because of it. Based on whom they're playing in these last two games, I'm going to guess they're going to end the season at 10-4. Not bad, all things considered. They should also win their league championship without any problem, unless there's an upset like last year. Of course, last year, she was on the underdog team that caused the upset and displaced the champs to win the championship. We're not hoping for an upset this year.

I've come to the conclusion, though, that sports are just weird. At least, they make people do weird things and say weirder things. During the course of the season, my wife and I have been taking note of the odd things that people say, especially during the games and especially by the coaches. Some of them have invoked the "what the heck?" reaction from us, and a couple of them we had to seek clarification for.

So, for your edification and enjoyment, here are some of the best things we've heard repeated all year:

1. "That's ice cream." -- Generally, this means that a pitch is too high. It's called ice cream because everyone wants ice cream. Of course, it's used to mean that you don't really want it, which doesn't make any sense to me. Seriously, why call the stuff you don't want "ice cream"? It seems much more reasonable to call the stuff you really do want ice cream and to call the stuff that's too high something else. The idea, though, is that you think you want it so you swing at it, but everyone does want ice cream. No one just thinks she wants ice cream, so it seems like a bad choice of terminology to me. Maybe they should call it "wax fruit;" that's the kind of thing a kid might pick up, thinking she wants it, just to find out that it's not what she thought it was (and I've actually known several people that have done that).

2. "It's all you." -- This is something that's usually said to the batter but, sometimes, to the pitcher as well. I don't really understand this statement of the obvious. Of course, it's all "you." Who else would it be? Except, when it's said to the batter, it's not exactly true, because the batter has to get a pitch she can hit before "it's all you." At any rate, who else is going to hit the ball besides the batter and who else is going to pitch the ball if not the pitcher?

[Let me pause for a moment and make a clarification.]
The coaches stress, and I mean stress, how the girls should swing at pitches that are not strikes. If the girls can get walked to base, that's what they want to see happen. And I don't mean the coaches for our team; I mean all the coaches. You can hear it every game--coaches chastising their girls for swinging at "balls." At least, that's the case before there are two strikes. Once they've hit two strikes, everything changes, so the girls get these conflicting messages, both of which gets them yelled at. Of course, the real problem is that "balls" are the norm with most of the pitchers and "strikes" are more of an accident. To put it mildly, it can make it difficult for the girls to know what to do.
[Okay, let's go on.]

3. "Good eye!" -- This is something that's yelled any time a girl doesn't swing at a "ball." Of course, most of the "balls" are two feet over their heads or rolling on the ground toward them. Or they're dodging out of the way. It doesn't take a good eye to know those things are balls. The ones that are actually close? Well, most of the time, the pitcher has already thrown two that aren't anywhere near the strike zone, so the girl has forgotten she should be trying to hit the ball anyway.

4. "Now you've seen it." -- This is when an actual strike is pitched. This is to remind the girl of what a strike is like and to not let another of those go past. On the one hand, I understand saying this, but, on the other, if there have just been three "balls" pitched and, suddenly, there's a strike, it's not likely that "having seen it" is going to inspire the batter to know if she should swing at the next pitch or not.

5. "The next one is yours." -- This is often said after a girl gets a strike, whether it's a pitched strike that she didn't swing at or a pitch that she swung at whether it was a ball or a strike. The thing here is that there are so many wild pitches that saying this makes no sense at all. It supposes that it's up to the batter. The next one isn't anyone's if the pitcher can't get the ball over the plate, and, since this is the case at least 75% of the time, it makes saying this rather ridiculous.

6. "Swing at anything close." --  This one is, in many ways, the worst. Because they spend so much time stressing to the girls about not swinging at "balls," it's more than a mixed message when they start yelling this once they have two strikes. And that does happen. Actually, the main pitcher for our team is quite good, and she actually strikes girls out on a fairly regular basis, hence our 9-3 record. So you start out with the girls getting reprimanded for swinging at "balls," but, once they have two strikes against them, the coaches, the parents, everyone are all yelling, "Swing at anything close." The message being that's it's better to strike out by trying to hit the ball than to have a "strike" called when you didn't make any attempt. Which is a fine message as long as you aren't yelling at the girls for making the attempt at other points when they're at bat. What I stress repeatedly with my daughter is, "If you think you can hit it, swing at it." That allows the girls to develop their own judgement about what they can hit and what they can't hit, because, really, it doesn't matter if the pitch is a "ball" if you can hit it. Every time I hear someone yell this, especially a coach, I can't help but think, "Make up your mind."

7. "Way to battle." -- I kind of hate this one. If a girl has two strikes, and she hits a foul ball, someone will inevitably yell, "Way to battle!" You know, way to keep the "at bat" going. Of course, this foul often is the result of the previous "swing at anything close," so, sometimes, it's a "ball" they're swinging at. Which, you know, is fine if the girl is swinging because she thinks she can hit the ball, but, then, why wasn't she swinging at the other pitches that were just like that one? Because she was told not to. So the girl isn't battling anything other than the desire to not be held accountable for getting struck out because of conflicting messages from  the coach. But, really, in the end, why is it always a "battle"? The girls just want to have fun; it's the coaches that are all uptight about winning. [I know this because the girls very rarely have any idea about who won until after the game is over when someone tells them.]

8. "This is a cheetah situation." -- OH MY GOSH! Remember back when I was talking about umpires and I mentioned that whole thing about the batter being able to run on a third strike if the catcher dropped or missed the ball? Well, one of the teams would yell this "cheetah" thing any time there were two strikes. For either team. Which meant it got yelled a lot, since they're team actually has the best pitcher in the league. Two of our losses came from the two times we played this team. Both times, I just wanted the coaches on that team to get beaned in the head with a fly ball just to get them to stop yelling "cheetah!" "This is a cheetah situation!" "Come on, now; it's a cheetah!" It was so annoying! No other team acted like that, and the coaches for this team would just yell it over and over and over and  over and over and over... See what I mean?

I'm sure there were more things that were said that just don't make much sense when you place them in reality, but these were the most repeated. The ones I could remember until I got home and could make a note of them. Yes, I've been planning this post all season, but we're close enough to the end, now, that I feel I can share. The thing is, though, we have these kinds of inane things we say about everything, especially the idea of "the next one is yours." We tell people that kind of thing all the time: "You'll get 'em next time." Or whatever. And, yes, it supposed to be encouraging, but, often, we say those things about stuff the person has no control over, so it's rather meaningless, and, I think, it's meant more to lift us up than the other person, because, really, when you're in that kind of situation, how many of you buy that "you'll get 'em next time" kind of thing? Yeah, that's what I thought. Or we tell people that things can only get better or there's always a silver lining or put your positive energy out there or whatever you specific brand is of that particular superstition.

Really, I suppose, I don't want to be spouting empty aphorisms, which is why I tell my daughter to try to hit anything she thinks she can hit. That gives her the power in the situation rather than just saying, "The next one's yours." So it may be that I don't seem to be as encouraging to other people as I could, but I'd rather offer something real, something substantial, rather than a glass of air. So...
"Now, you've seen it."
"The next one is all you."
"It's a cheetah situation!"

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Chasing Thrones and Other Stuff

First up, today is the FREE! release of "Part Twenty-one: The Chase," which is pretty much what it sounds
like except without any cars or boats or anything like that. But more about that in a moment...

The next bit of news I have is that I'm now part of the Out of Print group. The blog is going to be about featuring short stories. I have one coming up in June, but there are already two on the site. Drop by and check it out, leave a comment, all that jazz. Maybe, there will be jazz. Not right now, but you can't rule that kind of thing out, especially if I say, "Hey, we should have jazz," which I probably won't, but you never know. And I mean exactly that, you never know.

Now for the other thing:
Our washing machine broke. That happened in the middle of a-to-z and all the crazy deadlines I have coming up here at the end of the school year, so it took longer to take care of than I really wanted it to. What that means is that I had to completely rearrange the garage so that we could have a new washer brought in and the old one taken out.

And I just have to say that it's more than a little bit bogus that we had to buy a new washing machine. Not that we had to buy one in-and-of-itself, because the old machine was, well, old, BUT the last time it broke (granted, that was something along the lines of 15 years ago), we were able to get it fixed at a reasonable cost, but you can't do that anymore. Basically, the cost of having the old washer fixed was going to cost us the price of a new one, and that just bothers me. It bothers me that you can't have things fixed anymore, because our society doesn't believe in fixing the old stuff; it only believes in buying new stuff. I do like the new washer; it's all water efficient and stuff, which is good for the environment, BUT I hate that everything is made around this idea of throwing it away and buying something new when the time comes.

But all of that is beside the point, because the point is this: While I was rearranging the garage, I found
Yes, that is a first edition copy of A Game of Thrones, only read once, by my wife before I met her (and that is, indeed, my thumb in that picture). She didn't care enough about it to ever want to read the next one, so it's just been in storage, mostly, since then. I checked around ebay and copies like this one (sans dust jacket) have been going for over $100, so we're going to sell it. However, before I stick it up for auction, I thought I'd see if there are any of you out there that might be interested in it before I dump it off on the highest bidder. Aside from the fact that it doesn't have a dust jacket, it's in great shape.

As mentioned above, today is the FREE! release of part 21 of Shadow Spinner, so, if you can't afford the copy of Thrones, you can still come away with FREE! stuff. Here is today's list of FREE!:
"Part Twenty-one: The Chase" (FREE! Monday, May 13 and Tuesday, May 14)
(The rest of these will only be FREE! on Monday, May 13.)
"Part Twenty: The Sword of Fire"
"Part Nineteen: Lost in the Garden"
"Part Eighteen: The Angel"
"Part Fourteen: Anger and Laughter"
"Part Thirteen: The Clearing"
"Part Twelve: The Gash in the Floor"
"Part Eleven: The Kiss"
"Part Ten: The Broken Window"
"Part Eight: The Cold and The Dark"
"Part Seven: The Moth and the Shadow"
"Part Six: The Man with No Eyes"
"Part Five: The Police Car"
"Part Four: The Cop"
"Part Two: The Kitchen Table"
"Part One: The Tunnel"
So there you go... 16 of 21 of the current Shadow Spinner pieces available for FREE! today. Spread the word! Spread it like peanut butter. Not regular butter. Unless it's melted. That could be okay. But don't try to spread it like cold butter, because that just rips your bread up and makes a mess.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Bone House

A bit over six months ago, I reviewed The Skin Map, which I did not so much enjoy. However, Stephen Lawhead is one of my favorite authors, so I didn't give up on the series. It's a good thing, too, and this is one of the reasons I tend to persevere through books that don't necessarily seem all that great at the beginning, because the second book in the Bright Empire series, The Bone House, was excellent. It really was Lawhead at his finest, and the shape of the overall series is beginning to come into view by the conclusion of this second book.

On the surface, the series is all about time travel and the search for an ultimate treasure, but that's just the book at a glance and not what it's about at all. Rather than time travel, the books deal with multiple dimension theory, and Lawhead weaves this in as the backdrop to his story rather flawlessly. The only thing I have any complaint about are the squalls that happen any time the characters ley travel. That one thing seems a little overly dramatic, but the emphasis on that occurrence has lessened in the second book, so at least it's not right in my face anymore.

The dimensional travel is made more complex by the fact that the time streams of the various dimensions don't line up, so one can travel to all sorts of different times, so there is time travel, but it's not the typical kind of time travel where there's all the angst over what you can and can't do because you don't know what kind of paradoxes you might create. It's so nice not to have to deal with that, because, at this point, that bit of conflict in time travel stories has been done to death. And the truth is, in Bright Empires, the characters don't really know what they're doing or what kind of impact they may have or how changing things in one dimension may cause ripples in another, so that's rather interesting, too.

Kit, whom I did not care for in The Skin Map, is beginning to come into his own. He's no longer just letting things happen to him, and he's figuring out who he is. Still, his importance to the story seems somewhat questionable, but there is the glimmer of potential about him that was lacking in the first book. His willingness to learn and his search for knowledge gives us enough to want him to succeed as opposed to his whiny complaining in the previous book.

This book still gives us many different character perspectives, but Lawhead seems to have a better grip on the transitions between so many characters this time, and, instead of it being annoying and disjointed, you can begin to see the tapestry that Lawhead is weaving. You can see how the different threads relate and come together and, even, begin to anticipate some of them. It has the look of a complex story that will be satisfying to watch come together.

And, I have to say, I can't wait to get on to the third book, The Spirit Well.

One last note about persevering through books that start slow or don't seem that great at the beginning:
Yes, I know some of them don't get better. Some books are just bad or you don't enjoy them or whatever, BUT, sometimes, the book (or series) is good, and you just give up on it too soon. I see so often, not the least from agents, that there is no point in reading a book if it doesn't hook you on the first page or, even, the first paragraph, and I can't say how much I disagree with that viewpoint. Some of the best books I've ever read have taken a considerable investment from me to get into them or through them or whatever, but they were worth it. If I listened to these people that say to stop reading right away if you don't love it right away, I would never have read those books, and that would have been my own personal loss. If I'd quit reading Bright Empires because I wasn't enjoying The Skin Map, I would never have gotten to The Bone House, so, if you have any cause to believe that a book is good despite your first impression of it, I would urge you to persevere. You don't know what you might miss.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

What Hope Do We Have? (an Indie Life post)

Those of you who have been around here for a while may have figured out that Mary Doria Russell is one of my favorite authors. Her first book, The Sparrow, is on my "Of Significance..." page and is one of the three books I think everyone should read. I reviewed both A Thread of Grace and Dreamers of the Day and will be reviewing Doc pretty soon here. The Sparrow has been optioned as a movie three times (once with Brad Pitt as the lead), but a screen play that satisfied both Russell and the potential producers has proven elusive. It also won several prestigious awards. Her latest novel, Doc, is in production as an HBO series.

Russell is a good writer. When I say "good," I don't just mean "good;" I mean she's an excellent writer. Her prose is wonderful; she researches her topics extensively; her characters are real. And, yet, except for hearing me talk about her here, most of you probably have never heard of her. And that's too bad, because she has deserved better than she's gotten.

See, Russell has been stuck as a mid-list author for a big publisher, Random House, since her first book. We all like to think that if you are with a big publisher that the big publisher is going to do things for you. Things like distribute your book and things like market your book. The publisher is going to make sure that people know you're out there, right? Well, not so much. As it turns out, the only people that get marketing dollars are the people that don't need the marketing dollars; everyone else is just quietly shuffled aside.

Let me give you a more specific example.

Russell was with Random House for 15 years and 5 books. During that time, none of her books were ever promoted. Nevertheless, her books made money. I say that they made money in that they (the publisher) made back its advance and  the books continued to profit. But they were never blockbusters. Then, in 2011, just before the release of Doc, Random House let Russell know that they were not interested in any further books by her, and they dropped any and all promotional activity on Doc. They gave her no reasons at all. They were just finished with her. [Of course, I have to wonder if it would have gone that way if they could have guessed about the HBO series, which didn't happen until after the release of the book.] As she says it, it was like having your spouse throw you a huge 25th wedding anniversary party and serving you divorce papers for dessert.

Russell is not an exception to business as usual; she is business as usual. At least for Random House.

If an author like Mary Doria Russell can be dropped by Random House as easily as one might drop a tissue into the trash, what hope do the rest of us have? Random House (and one can surmise the rest of the big publishers) is only looking for the "next big thing;" if you're not that, they don't want you. There is no more development of the mid-list author, no promotion of authors who aren't already big, no more time or space for anyone that is not grand slam. So what hope do we have?

Well, I'd say that our hope is not and, in many ways, should never have been in BIG publishing. Unless things change, the future of publishing is not with Random House and the other large publishing houses. The present, the right now, of publishing is barely with them, and it's moving away. Fast.

All of the things we used to need the publisher for are available elsewhere, now. Except getting our books into book stores, and, as it turns out, they're not all that good at that and, actually, never were. Here is some suggested reading on the subject.

My point, though, is this:
As writers, our hope does not lie in the big, traditional publishing houses. If you think you need them, they don't want you. If they want you, you don't need them, although you may not realize it. [E. L. James certainly didn't need them. Random House only wanted her because she was already a success; they did not make her one. They just tacked themselves onto the end of all the work she had previously done so that they could get a cut of the profits.] Writing and, by extension, getting your writing out to people is hard work. Random House and their ilk are not interested in doing the hard work, so you're going to have to do that yourself whether you're an "indie" or with a publisher. If you're going to have to do the work, why pay them to take your money?

Just sayin'.

The hope of authors, at least until something else comes along, is in building a community apart from the traditional publishers.

This post has been brought to you by Indie Life.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


One of the things that Marvel has done so well with their series of movies has been to keep the characters true to their comic book origins. I say Marvel in the sense of the movies that Marvel has done, not in the sense of all of their characters (because, if you look at what Fox did to Wolverine and will be doing to him again this summer, you will find that non-Marvel companies have not handled the characters quite so faithfully). With that in mind, I was looking very forward to the Mandarin as the villain in Iron Man Three.

The Mandarin, for all intents and purposes, is Iron Man's nemesis. He pre-dates the Iron Man comic book just as Iron Man does [Iron Man made his first appearance in Tales of Suspense #39, the Mandarin in issue #50], so I was expecting something... well, I was expecting something epic. Iron Man's greatest foe and all of that. That is not even close to what Marvel delivered with this movie, and I can't say more than that without offering spoilers. Let's just say that I was... disappointed with the Mandarin, especially given that it was Ben Kingsley. Not that Kingsley didn't do a great job; he did. I mean, he was fantastic in the role that they wrote for him; it just wasn't the role I wanted to see him in.

Here's the thing, for most of you out there, the vast most of you, the most of you that didn't spend more than a decade reading Iron Man comic books, there will be no issue with the role of the Mandarin at all. See, it works great in the movie. Which is what causes my divergence of opinion. On the one hand, I'm disappointed with the portrayal of the Mandarin, but, on the other, Iron Man Three was completely enjoyable to watch and has a lot going for it. In my head, I know that the continuity that the Marvel movies is setting up is not the same as it is in the comics, but that doesn't change my emotional reaction to it. The "why did they change that?" reaction.

Of course, it's comic books, and, maybe, they didn't change anything. It is conceivable that the Mandarin will still become who and what he is in a later movie. Or, maybe, he's that, now, but they're just hiding it.

As for the movie itself, it was quite good. Robert Downey, Jr. was amazing as always. It's a more personal movie than the previous two in a lot of ways. Tony is dealing with... issues, mostly brought on by his experiences in New York during the alien invasion in The Avengers. For much of the movie, he's effectively alone without any armor, and it was interesting to see Tony operating as a person rather than an iron man. Downey pulled that off with what appeared to be effortless ease.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle were respectable in their roles. Even Guy Pearce was adequate. Okay, probably more than adequate, but I really don't like the guy, so, when he plays a villain, he gets an automatic boost from me in that regard, so I actually have a difficult time in telling whether he's doing a good job or not, because I'm not going to like him anyway. I'll know that he can actually act if he ever bothers to play a good guy and he can make me like him. And, as I stated, Ben Kingsley was amazing. He really was.

Iron Man Three is slightly different in structure than the other two. It starts with an opening narration, and I don't tend to be fond of narration in movies. Of course, it ties in with the way the movie ends, which almost makes it worth it, but not quite. It also starts and, then, jumps back, which I'm also not fond of, but, at least, it didn't do a "three days earlier" or anything like that.

Also, the CGI is a bit... clunky... in this one. I didn't know why until I got home and looked it up: ILM did not do the effects on this one. Now, that is something I completely don't understand. ILM did the effects for both other Iron Man movies and The Avengers, so why switch when Disney owns ILM, now? And Iron Man. If it was that they (ILM) were too busy with the new Star Wars, I could understand, but they have at least half a dozen films coming out this year that they're doing the effects for, so having someone else do this Iron Man seems odd to me. Oh, well, I'm sure it was cheaper. It's always about the money, right?

So, yeah, as a movie, I liked it. It's great, in fact. But that doesn't stop me from being ambivalent.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Sensationally Absurd

When I was a kid, I had this friend, we'll call him Parker, who is, without a doubt, the smartest person I have ever known. During our high school years in Advanced Math, AP Calculus, AP Physics, he's the guy our teacher would leave in charge of the class when he was going to be out. Sure, we had a sub, because we had to have a sub, but the subs were never qualified to teach any of the material, so Sellers (our teacher) would leave Parker in charge, and the sub would just sit around doing... well, whatever.

For a number of years (starting in 4th grade, when Parker first came to my school), I was his only friend, because no one else could relate to him. It was so bad that, even though Parker was one of my best friends, my mom wouldn't let him over to my house, because he gave her the creeps because he was so "weird," and I was the only person that ever went to his house, because everyone else just saw the "weird kid." The fact that our teacher left him in charge of the class didn't help him any, especially since he couldn't teach. Not being able to relate to people gets in the way, no matter how smart you are.

For a while, none of this stuff mattered to Parker. He was less concerned with friends than with what was going on in his head. Of course, there are those times, especially in high school, when that's not enough anymore and you want to be liked, and Parker wasn't any different. Around our junior year, he started going to parties and things in a campaign to become popular or, at least, well liked. The whole party thing wasn't my thing, so some distance began developing between us.

The problem was that Parker was desperate to be liked. He'd never had many friends, and he wanted to be in the middle of it all. Once people began to realize just how desperate he was... well, things didn't go well. There started to be stories about him and people laughing in Calc when he'd come in. No one liked him, but they all thought he was great at parties because he'd do anything he was told to do. Like peeing on the lawn in front of everyone. Or stripping down, putting his underwear (that he'd just been wearing) on his head, and running down the middle of the street. And... other things.

It was painful to see this stuff happening to him. It's one of those crisis moments: talk to him or not? I talked to him. I told him that none of those people were his friends and that they were laughing at him behind his back. It was the only fight we ever had, the only time I heard him yell, and the last time we ever spoke. He told me I was lying, that they were his friends, and I was just jealous of how popular he was.

I guess he clued in to what had been going on once he got away to college, because, the first time the group of us (the smartest of the smart kids at our school, that Parker had been a part of before he decided to be "popular") got together after high school was over (probably Christmas our freshman years at college), he let us know that he wanted nothing to do with us or anyone from high school ever again, and he's done his best since then to make sure that that was the case.

Reading about Slim Dyson in The Sensationally Absurd Life and Times of Slim Dyson

made me feel like I was witnessing Parker's descent again. I wanted to smack Slim in the face and tell him to quit being stupid. It was painful. And it was hard to read. Part of me kept wanting to say, "Come on, no one is this stupid! I can't expect that they want me to believe this." Then I would remember Parker and sigh and keep reading. But it wasn't easy. Like I said, painful.

There's the part of the book that's about Slim as the hapless character just wanting to be liked and always believing the best about everyone, a decision he seems to be making because he can't deal with the alternative, and there's the part of the book that is a pretty direct metaphor of the homeless writer being a homeless writer--a writer without a publisher. That part of the book, I find clever. The idea of the independently published writer as being homeless is something I can identify with. And with that the idea of being "discovered" and, then, the publisher, also, only wanting to take advantage of you. No matter how much money they throw at you, it's only because they believe they are going to make tons more.

So there are pieces if the book that I really enjoy, especially the first half or so, and, taken individually, nearly all of the chapters are entertaining. Taking individually, I would never question any of it, but, as a whole, the simplicity of Slim began to wear on me, and I just wanted him to open his eyes. For a while, I even questioned his mental capacity. Maybe there was just something wrong with him... but, no, there's enough information within the story to show that it's more willful than anything else. And, again, that stuff took me back to Parker. Of course, the fact that it resonated the way it did shows the quality of the writing, even if it wasn't enjoyable for me to read.

The only real flaw I'd say the book has is the ending. It's abrupt and out of nowhere. Like a sudden 90 degree turn when you're running at full speed. Well, and  the joint writing of the authors wasn't as flawless in  this one as it has been in some of their other works. Basically, I'm pretty sure I'd be pretty close to accurate if I made two stacks of the chapters as to which one wrote which chapters. Neither were of less quality, but they didn't always mesh in style and, occasionally, a chapter would seem to "forget" information from the chapter directly preceding it.

Oh, and, because it's me, I should talk about the editing, which, also, wasn't as good as the other books I've read by Bryan Pedas and Brandon Meyers. Which is not to say that it was bad, because it was still miles ahead of 99% of the independently published stuff I've read, but it wasn't quite up to the level of their previous books.

It's a good book, but I'm still ambivalent about how I feel about it (if you go look at how I rate books, you'll better understand that comment). I think it's probably more accessible to the common reader than The Missing Link, but I didn't enjoy it as much. Still, it's much better than the average offering out there and is filled with comically absurd moments. It's definitely worth checking out.