Thursday, February 27, 2014

Brave New World (a book review post)

"Murder kills only the individual--
and, after all, what is an individual?"

"What is an individual?" may be the central question of Brave New World. What is his worth? To himself? To society? It's an interesting question, especially within the context of Aldous Huxley's novel and his world of mass-produced "individuals." Individuals who have been conditioned to be just like everyone else. [Yes, you may now say, "We're all individuals!" "I'm not!"]

The mass production of people, identical people, is a fascinating concept, and Huxley handles it in a way that is, frankly, amazing. Especially considering that the ideas he was dealing with hadn't really been invented yet. Especially the genetic engineering part, which is not what he calls it, but the concept is there. Basing it all around Henry Ford's assembly line transformed it into a vast social commentary which, evidently, didn't meet with much favor in his day. [Ford was still alive when the book was published in 1932, and I wondered about how he felt about Huxley's use of him in the book, but, as far as I could find, Ford never commented on it. I have to wonder, especially considering the initial reception of Brave New World, if he even knew.]

The real temptation here is to not talk about the book at all but to talk about Huxley and the context from which he was writing, about how he had wanted to be a doctor and his very scientific mind, which you can certainly see in the book. Not just in the science he talks about in creating people (which, yes, is fictional, but was probably quite plausible from 1930), but in all of the things he envisioned: helicopters, immersive television (which may be just around the corner), and social controls involving government-sponsored drug programs.

The book threw me right at the beginning. It starts out with a tour of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, and that's exactly what it is, a tour of the facility and, thus, the world setting for the reader. We follow a few of the side characters around for a bit before we are finally introduced (quite a ways in) to one of the major characters, and we're introduced to him through the eyes of "normal individuals" who see him as an odd one. We wouldn't necessarily see him that way but, once we've gotten to know the conditioned people, we're able to see him as someone who doesn't quite fit into "normal" society. And to say more would be to start spoiling the story, and I don't actually want to do that.

One other interesting bit is that the book was known as an "anti-utopian" when it came out. It's interesting to me in that the term "dystopian" already existed; it just wasn't in common usage. But Brave New World may be the best example of an actual dystopian novel that I've ever seen, from a literary standpoint, that is. Dystopian being something that looks utopian but has something sick or rotten at its core. That's actually part of the core of this book, too. Society is stable and people are happy. What have they had to give up? Individuality. Or, as it is put at one point (and this is a bit of a spoiler), the freedom to choose to be unhappy.

It's an interesting question, especially in a society that values the right to pursue happiness. If you were offered the option of a happiness, even artificial happiness, and all it meant was giving up the right to choose to be unhappy, would you do it? Would you choose a place that is basically a land of perpetual happiness and pleasure if it meant giving up the things that differentiate you from other people, because, after all, it is the things that make us different that make us unhappy. The things that set us apart. Sure, they are the things that make us who we are, but they are also the things that cause unhappiness in us. Too short? Too plain? Imperfect teeth? Too dumb? Too smart? Not a problem. None of them.

Unless, you know, someone gets too much alcohol in your blood-surrogate.

[Most significantly, especially after finding out that Brave New World is not supposed to be Huxley's best work, I want to read more of his books. That's the mark of a good author, I think, when you put down a book and immediately wonder what else the person has written.]

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What I Learned From Reading

It's tempting to say, "Well, of course, I learned everything from reading," but that wouldn't really be true. I didn't learn to walk by reading, and I didn't learn to play kickball by reading, and, really, I didn't learn most of the stuff I did as a kid from reading. But there are some significant things I did learn from reading.

For example, I learned to read by reading...
For the rest of this post, hop over to Indie Writers Monthly where I do not talk about all of the things I learned about dinosaurs from reading when I was a kid, most of which things were probably wrong anyway. Like that whole reptile thing. And maybe they all had feathers. But, of course, I learned this new stuff from reading. Anyway, go read what I have to say about learning from reading.

Also, don't forget, you can earn FREE! books. Click the link to find out how; you only have till Friday.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Everything Is Awesome! (The Lego Movie review)

As you might expect (at least, if you've been following along for any length of time), The Lego Movie has been a big deal in this house for... well, a while. I don't, now, remember when my kids first heard about it, but there's been growing excitement about it much in the way of the excitement around Star Wars back in the 90s when Lucas announced that he was going to make the prequels. It's an odd thing, though, since our house has been full of Lego movies for more than a decade, back when the first Bionicle movie came out. Of course, those old Bionicle movies aren't quite the same as the ones that came after the Lego Star Wars video game, which, in many ways, inspired this whole trend in Lego movies. Which is not to say that that is what inspired "brickfilms," because the first known brickfilm was made in the 70s, but it was after Lego Star Wars that the concept really took off. Needless to say, we own a vast assortment of Lego movies and shorts.
Honestly, The Lego Movie didn't quite live up to the standard that Lego has established with their direct to video productions.

Yes, this will be full of spoilers.

First, let me just say, the movie is good. It's a lot of fun and a lot of funny. For pure enjoyment, The Lego Movie did its job. I laughed a lot and so did my kids. The song, "Everything Is Awesome," is ongoing in my house, now. The actors did a great job with the voices, especially Will Arnett as Batman and Charlie Day as Benny. The animations was great and is full of more details than you can actually while sitting in the theater. Since this is a movie that we will almost certainly buy, I'm looking forward to being able to pause it in order to look for all of the things I missed and read the numerous background signs that whiz past in all of the action.

The issue I have with the movie is the story. Or its lack to effectively establish one story.

Most of the movie revolves around the story of Emmet Brickowoski, a generic Lego minifigure. He is so generic, in fact, as to be unrememberable. He is devastated to learn that when he went missing no one really noticed that he was gone. He wasn't special in any way. He had nothing that set him apart in any way. Nothing that made people say, "Oh, yeah, that guy!" Which is why he found the idea of being "the special" so appealing. Once he realized that he wasn't, that is.

The problem was that Emmet only knew how to follow the rules and didn't know how to do anything without his instruction book. Because he has become the subject of the prophecy, they need to teach him how to be "the special," which really doesn't go well. He has no imagination and is unable to come up with anything beyond his "bunk couch" idea. Eventually, though, he does begin show some capacity to lead and, just as he is beginning to get into his role as "the special," his mentor is killed and reveals that there never really was a prophecy: He just made it up. Before dying, though, he tells Emmet that all he needs to do to be special is to decide to be special. Basically, he can do it if he just believes in himself.

That's fine as the message of a movie. I mean, it's a pretty common message for movies. "All you need to do to succeed is to believe in yourself." You can't be special if you don't think you are. Personal feelings about that message aside, Emmet doesn't fall for it. He's devastated to learn that there is no "special" and that he's not it. He does make the move, though, to save his friends, specifically Wyldstyle, and sacrifices himself to the void to free them.

And ends up in the real world. Our world. Where the movie and the message change and, really, completely undermine the original message.

Once we get out into the real world we find that the actual conflict is between a boy and his father. The father believes in doing everything by the instructions, and the boy wants to build his own things. The father's Lego sets are off limits to his son, which is the issue, as we come to find out. While his father was at work, the boy has "wrecked" his father's stuff by rebuilding the rather miraculous sets into the story we've been watching. The conflict is about the rigidity of the father and whether the boy should be allowed to play with his father's toys.

Very little of the movie dealt with what was actually the ultimate story and conflict (and the one that my children resonated with, by the way), but it is the point of the movie. And I will leave the outcome of that unspoiled.

However, in dealing with that conflict, the father dismisses Emmet as "just a construction worker." A nobody. Which reveals to us why the character is so not special. However, the son responds, "No, Dad, he's the hero." Which reveals to us that Emmet actually cannot be special just because he decides to, just because he believes in himself. He is special because he was chosen to be special by the son. And that is the issue I have with the movie. It sets up this whole story about being special and believing in yourself and how that's all you really need but, then, says, "Never mind. You have to be chosen." Of course, they don't come out and say that, but, still, it's there.

So, from a story-telling perspective, the movie has some structural flaws. Despite that, though, as I said, it's very enjoyable, and, really, most people won't notice what I'm talking about anyway or feel any conflict from it. And, well, there's a great Lego Star Wars cameo. Being a Warner Bros. movie, the Marvel franchise was, unfortunately, left out. The movie was calling for some definite Hulk action.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Me and My Star Wars (an Indie Writers Monthly post)

Drop by Indie Writers Monthly to hear how I learned to avoid Star Wars spoilers. There's a volcano involved. A whole planet of them.

Also, don't forget; until the end of February, I'm giving you the chance to earn FREE books. Go find out how.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Nebraska (a movie review post)

Before I get into the actual review, I want to say that this makes 9 out of 9 seen of the movies nominated for Best Picture, this year. We've never managed to see them all ahead of the Oscars before. I'm not sure if we'll ever actually try to get them all in, again, the way we did this year. It just sort of worked out.
Nebraska is another of those movies that I would never have gone to see (or probably even rented) if it wasn't nominated for Best Picture. I don't think it's a "best picture," but I am glad I saw it. Of all of this year's best picture nominees, it is probably the one that will linger the longest in my mind despite it's very subdued quality as a movie.

And it is subdued. Slow moving. And black-and-white, which adds to the subdued quality. I've been trying to figure out what the movie would be like in color, and I can't really imagine it that way. Color would change the tone of the movie, which is kind of weird to me, but I think it would. It would make it not quite so somber, and it needs the somberness, the sense of depression and desperation, to make it work.

Being black and white, though, it won't appeal to a lot of people (my daughter (and, yeah, she's just a kid, but I've known plenty of adults with the same attitude) refuses to watch b&w movies out of principle. The fact that it's slow, including scenes of people just sitting around not talking, will also make it unappealing to pretty sizable chunk of people. But some of those scenes of people just sitting, or sitting and watching football, reminded me of being a kid in East Texas, and those scenes really resonated with me which has caused me to continue to think about it even though it's not at all spectacular.

The other part of that is that the movie is not what it's about. On the surface it's a movie about an old guy that seems not quite all there trying to walk to Nebraska to pick up $1,000,000 that he thinks he's won, but it's not about that. I mean, it's not about growing old and losing your grasp on reality. It's about relationships and how we don't always know people as well as we think we do, even when those people are our parents.

The acting was great. I'm not sure Bruce Dern deserves the best actor nomination, but he was very good. He really sold the depression and desperation. Okay, maybe he does deserve the nomination. The role is so... normal; it makes it hard to tell. Will Forte was even better as his younger son, David. He brought the helplessness and exasperation to the role. They were great together. And Forte was also great with Bob Odenkirk who played his older brother. They had great chemistry. June Squib was frightening and hilarious as Woody's wife.

I'm going to hold myself back, at this point, and not talk about the relationships and family dynamics, because it would require all kinds of spoilers, and I think this is the kind of movie that each person should come to on his/her own, so to speak. It probably has something different to say to any given person based on what that person is bringing into it, like my resonance with the old men in my family sitting around, mostly silently, watching football.

This one probably won't appeal to a lot of people at the outset. There are no explosions, no gunfights, and no car chases. But, if you let yourself follow along, I think it's one you'll find yourself pondering at odd moments for weeks (or at least days) after you see it.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Which Came First? (a review review post)

There is that age-old question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" It's the great playground debate. Or, at least, it used to be. No, seriously, when I was in elementary school, we would argue over this on the playground all the time, sometimes switching sides several times in the same "conversation" about it. Okay, so it wasn't all the time, but it was often enough that I remember doing it. And it wasn't everyone; it was just a select few of us. I suppose the few of us that understood that there was a question even worth asking. As kids, we felt like this was the unanswerable question, because how can you have one without the other, right? But the question does have an answer or, rather, two of them, depending upon which stance you take:

  1. The religious: The Chicken came first.
  2. The scientific: The egg came first.
We authors have a similar kind of question: Which comes first, the sales or the reviews? Conventional wisdom says that reviews come first. Which, you know, is a difficult concept, because how can you have reviews without sales? Which is why there is such a push for early reviews generated by giving away copies of the book, etc. Those already existing reviews at the book's release are supposed to signal to the reader that the book is good. Of course, then, there are those readers that disbelieve those reviews as being fake whether they are or not, and I can't say they don't have reason to believe that.

Of course, the problem with this idea is that most people say that reviews don't actually determine whether they will buy a book. The number one reason that someone will buy a book is because someone s/he knows has recommended it to him/her. Other top reasons include general word-of-mouth (you hear people talking about the book a lot) and author loyalty. It's possible that reviews can fall under "general word-of-mouth," I suppose, but there has to be a reason the person is there looking at the book to begin with.

Which brings us back to the question of whether reviews drive any sales. Most data seems to suggest that reviews follow sales, not the other way around, which, honestly, is rather disheartening for those of us who have neither sales nor reviews. It leaves with the option of needing to "trick" people into buying our books to get everything started. Tricking or badgering in the same way that Sam-I-Am gets people to eat green eggs and ham or becoming the used car salesman. Yeah, I'm just not good at those things.

But, still, people insist that reviews are important; that's what conventional wisdom says, and, as much as I am usually against conventional wisdom, I do believe that reviews are important. I just hate asking for them, because that's as bad as trying to convince people to buy the book in the first place. Worse in some cases. And giving people copies of the books hasn't generated any reviews to speak of, either, so don't even suggest it. Seriously. After giving away dozens of copies of various things specifically for review purposes, I think I've gotten back, like, two. So the return is definitely not worth the investment from that standpoint.


Yeah, you should have known I'd have a "but," because I always have a "but." And stop your giggling, we're not twelve here, you know.

You have to keep trying new things, so here is the new thing I am trying. Hopefully, it will generate some sales and some reviews. I'll take either or both. As I just announced, "Shadow Spinner: Collection 4: The Undying" is now available, and it's sitting there with zero reviews, which is not to say that my other stuff is
overflowing with reviews, because that's not so, either. Basically, everything could use more reviews. So here is how all of this works:
You review one of my books on Amazon (it would also be great if you posted it to goodreads, but that's not as important). You let me know you've reviewed that book so that I can go and see the review. Once I've seen the review I will buy for you a book of equivalent value. Specifically, I will buy you an indie book of equivalent value (indie meaning self-published or small press); you just let me know which one you want, and I will gift it to you on the Kindle. Yes, it has to be for the Kindle. Also, yes, you can review one of more than my books and add it all together. For instance:

Let's say that you review "Collection 1: Tiberius" and "Collection 2: The Man with No Eyes," both with a sticker price of $1.99, that would give you enough to have me gift to you, say, The House on the Corner, which costs $3.99. Not that you have to choose something by me. That was just an example. You could choose for the same dollar amount
Demetri and the Banana Flavored Rocketship
two of my personal favorites from indie authors.
Temporary Anne (which contains a backup story by me)
"My Killbot Buddy"
"The Evil That Men Do" (which would go great with Shadow Spinner)
"Empirical Evidence: A Novelette" (which I haven't actually read, yet, but it's on my list)
And, see, I know a lot of you downloaded the free bits of Spinner as I released them, so you could just read those and review the collections based on the individual chapters, and that's like FREE! books!

Now, this isn't an unlimited offer. I'll let it run through the end of February. Or until my money runs out. I don't have an unlimited writing budget, so it's really a first come kind of thing for an unspecified amount of money which ought to buy more than a few books for people that leave reviews. I don't, though, want to cut anyone off that decides to read something of mine but doesn't finish it by the end of February, so, if that kind of thing happens, just email me and let me know you're working on it, and I'll hold that offer for you.

Here's to trying new things. It's useful information whether it works or not, right?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Life of the Writer's Son (a local color post?)

Well hello there, readers of Andrew’s blog.
If you didn’t look at the title, this isn’t actually the man himself, Da- Andrew. This is his son. The writer’s son.
Or, perhaps, the writer? Who is the son of a person who also happens to be a writer?
Or maybe I’m the person who happens to be the writer as well. Perhaps because my father is a writer? I honestly got no idea. (Bad grammar... and I thought I was good at writing...)
So, dad assigned me to write this post. Why? I’m not sure. He felt like it. He likes to torture me.
But I do know that I wasn’t assigned to write this to beat down dad’s feelings with hurtful words about how mean he is to me. No, that would only get me grounded...
I was assigned to write about writing. Woah. Write-ception.
Um, anyway, so. The writing. The subject of this mess. Let’s get on with it.
While I’m doing the writing, it’s not the best thing in the world. It seems really boring, like a waste of my time. I would much rather be doing other things. Sometimes, only sometimes, I actually get writing really quickly and I like it a little. It’s sort of fun then, but when I’m stuck and going slowly it’s not so great.
And I do get stuck. I actually get stuck quite a bit. I am currently working on three different stories and I don’t know where to go with them. I say to myself, “How do I get this character out of this situation? I’ll solve that today,” and then when I try I fail. That’s not a nice feeling, not nice at all.
The nice feelings happen when I complete a story. A good story. Seeing a story all finished and fancy gets my hopes up; I feel like I’ve accomplished something. Have I really? I’ve got no idea, but it sure does feel like it. Although, when my stories go into collections or when I earn money off of them, I’ve probably done at least a tiny morsel of good.
Hmm, the collections. Every year, dad makes a collection of stories out of the good ones that he gets from the elective he teaches at my school (this year he actually has his own entire class period on Friday afternoons) called Charter Shorts. It’s nice to have a story or two in there, and I’ve had at least one every year. My favorite is actually the first one I ever wrote, one that combines the House on the Corner -- the book that my dad wrote -- and Star Wars. I know you know what the latter is. If you don’t, may I hang you on a ladder?
Okay, I’m honestly sorry for that pun. It wasn’t any good. Please forgive me. Don’t eat me alive.
Okay, um... well, I don’t have anything else to say. Is this the most awkward exit ever? Quite possibly. Uh... bye bye. Go away now.
No, really. If you’re still reading this, then there’s something wrong with you. Leave. Leave before I drive you insane. Maybe I should just write this entire thing out again. Which would turn it into an endless loop of itself, since this is at the end of it. Okay, fine. Let’s do that.
Well hello there, readers of Andrew’s blog...

Actually, don't leave yet!
There's a reason I wanted my son to write a post for me about writing, so let me get to that. Just ignore him telling you to go away. And, by the way, for those of you out there that write, did any of those problems sound familiar?

My son mentioned his first story, so let's talk about that. He won a prize for that first story which he is still proud of even though he tries, sometimes, to play it off as no big deal. [He was only 10 when he wrote it, by the way It's impressive talent for a 10-year-old.] Because it fits the parameters of what I wanted as backup stories in the Shadow Spinner collections, I thought I'd share it. So, today, the fourth (and final!) collection of Spinner chapters is available! WooHoo!
You can pick up "Collection 4: The Undying" right here. And you should totally do that! And leave a review.

But wait! There's more!
My son has this other story he wrote, "The Language of Nythos," that I absolutely love. It is my favorite thing by him (at least until I get to the stuff he's working on for this year's Charter Shorts). But there are a couple of problems:
1. Although it works fine as its own story, he actually wrote it as the introduction to a longer story.
2. He refuses to write more! He says he decided he doesn't like his idea and just will not continue it, no matter how much cajoling I do.
3. Briane Pagel has published the story over on his site lit, so you should go over and read it.
4. Leave him an encouraging message (if you like it) so that, maybe, just maybe, he will be inspired to write some more of it!

Hmm... Okay, so that was more than a couple. Just go read the story and leave him a note. And don't forget to pick up "The Undying"!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Casual Vacancy (a book review post)

It took a long time, but I finally finished The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling.
My first impression of the book remains my impression of the book now that I've finished it, that Rowling was trying too hard to be "adult." It's like the stereotypical starlet who goes out of her way to do as many nude and/or sex scenes in her movies as soon as she turns 18. Or, you know, like Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears. Or, prior to them, Drew Barrymore (if any of you remember when she went through that stage and posed in Playboy and all of that). It's not that there is sex in the book, it's that any time there was anything sexual, she conveyed it in the most crude and vulgar way possible. Like the detailed description of a young girl's genital area in a quasi-sexual way. It just seemed to me like a cry of, "Look! I can write adult stuff! I can!"

Aside from that issue, though, it's quite an interesting read. At least it is for a while. Well, it's interesting like a traffic accident is interesting. I mean, none of the characters are what you would call "good." So here is the spoiler warning before I go on.

The most interesting thing about the book is that the only "good" character, the protagonist, dies. No, not somewhere along the way; he dies right at the beginning. That's the inciting incident. And, no, he doesn't come back to life nor is he a ghost or anything like that. He's just dead. The rest of the book is about this election because of his vacated council seat and, along the way, we find out how he influenced his community. We find out just how good he was, which shows us all the failings of the people around him as they are set up against the person he was. I suppose the effect is like taking over a new job and having to listen to everyone go on and on about how great the previous person was. You form a picture of that person (distorted, sure) without ever meeting him.

On the other side of that, none of the other characters are really likable, so there's no driving force to keep reading. You're just not rooting for anyone. So, although the book is really well written and interesting in the way it's put together, it's really hard to feel any empathy for any of the characters. As soon as you start to think, "well, this one's okay," that one will do something horrible to someone and it becomes, "well, never mind, then." I suppose the closest we get to a character we want to see make it is Krystal Weedon, but that's only because Fairbrother (the dead guy) wanted to see her make it. You do feel sorry for her from time to time, but she's also not a very nice person, with reason, so it's difficult to retain that bond with her.

There are two main failings of the book. The first is perspective. It's third person omniscient, but it's kind of all over the place. There are a lot of characters, so there is a lot of shifting perspectives, which isn't really the problem. The problem is that Rowling has no pattern she follows for this. Sometimes, she takes the characters by section by section so that there is a clear change in character perspective. However, sometimes, it's like being at a party with a video camera and the perspective changes as you walk around and film different people. One paragraph you're with one person and the next, because someone more interesting walked past, you're following someone new around. If Rowling had used just one of those formats, it would have been okay, but switching back and forth made it a bit muddled. Still, if this had been the only issue, it would have been fine.

The other issue is the one that makes the book not really work for me in the end. Even though Fairbrother is dead, he serves as the main character for more than 75% of the book. Near the end, though, it's like Rowling decided that she just needed to end the story (which she did), and events quit revolving or being related to the death of Fairbrother. (And double spoiler alert!) It is not, however, because events gradually diverge; that could have worked. Instead, she just starts killing people. Everyone comes into a personal crisis all on the same day, and she resolves the crisis of the book not by resolving the crisis of the book but by delivering arbitrary death upon characters. It was just... unsatisfying. It wasn't even death in a Shakespearean sense where everyone kills each other. There just needed to be resolution, and that's how she did it. I suppose there's not a better way to bring a character's story to an end. Unless you start with that character's death, I guess.

So... great writing on the micro-level. The characters were well-developed and fascinating, just not likable. But the perspective changes and failure at the end made the book just not work for me overall. Few of the characters really learn anything or have any character growth; it just ends. I suppose that's because the death of the one character we're supposed to want to make it, the thing that would have made Fairbrother's life mean something, brought Fairbrother's story to a close. But nothing felt finished even though there was nothing more to say.

I suppose that's real life, but, although I want realism, I don't read a story for real life. I want a story arc, not just a bunch of stuff that happened to some people.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pajama Pants (an Indie Life post)

For quite a while now it has been acceptable, even if not incredibly fashionable, for women to go out in public in their pajama pants. Okay, maybe, acceptable isn't the word I'm looking for there, but it is fairly common, the whole going out in public pajama pants. I don't go a week without seeing a few women in their PJs at the grocery store. I'm sure that schools having frequent PJ days doesn't help this pajama pant trend. At any rate, it's something I've just had to get used to, because... well, it's not illegal or anything (except in the place I grew up. Almost. At least, they're trying to make it illegal there).

I suppose I had grown used to the whole thing. At least, I had until just recently. As I mentioned, I went to this Magic tournament not that long ago and, at the tournament, there were a couple of guys there in pajama pants. I was kind of blown away, because I hadn't ever seen guys out in public in pajama pants before. One of the guys had on black Hello Kitty PJ pants that all of the girls kept remarking on. Yeah, I'm sure it was some kind of statement beyond "I was too lazy to put on real pants." I blew that whole thing off, though, as it was a midnight event at a place where, I'm sure, these guys hang out all the time. And they were young guys, early twenties at the oldest. Maybe it was to be expected?

But the next day I had to make a trip to the grocery store (the Saturday before the super bowl (NIGHTMARE!)), and at the grocery store were TWO grown men in pajama pants! GROWN MEN! One of them was at least a decade older than me. What the heck? When did this pajama pants thing extend to men, too? Did I miss that memo? It's possible. I mean, I don't actually check my "guy" in-box all that often (it's usually full of stupidity and spam, anyway, so what's the point, right?), but you'd think there would be some kind of special heading on the note that men are now, also, going to be wearing pajama pants in public.

I don't approve.

And, no, I can't tell you why it's an issue for me now that guys are doing, but it is. Actually, I suppose it's always been an issue for me, but I'd gotten used to it. Used to women doing it, I mean. Seeing men do it, too, was... jarring. And all I could think was, "If you can't bother to put on real clothes, please just stay home." It's not about your comfort; it's about the effort you're willing to go to to be presentable, and, if you can't make the effort, any effort, just don't go out in public.

Now, let me say this: I don't expect you to wear a suit. Or a dress. Or whatever. I don't expect that you will be dressed in your best possible attire every single day. Not all people can afford suits, anyway (I haven't owned one since I was about 10), so this isn't about how much your clothes cost or anything like that. I wear jeans. If you want me to dress up, I wear my better jeans, but they're still jeans. But jeans are made to be worn in public; pajama pants are not.

Publishing your book without editing it is like going out in public in pajama pants. It says, "I didn't feel like going to the effort to get dressed." Or, um, I didn't feel like going to the effort to make my book presentable for the public.

And, look, I'm not saying you need to go out and buy a "book suit" (spending tons of money on hiring an editor (which I talked about here)), but I do think you ought to dress as if you're going out in public. With your book, that means make the effort. Act like you're sending your book out in public, because, guess what, you are. Which is why I don't let my kids go out in their pajama pants. If they're going out in public, I make them dress like they are, and, believe me, my daughter has tried frequently enough that she no longer asks. "But, Dad, it's just the grocery store." "Yes, which is out in public, so, if you want to go, get dressed."

Really, it's not much to ask, I don't think. If you can't be bothered to put on clothes, please stay home.

This post has been brought to you in part by Indie Life.

Monday, February 10, 2014

My Science (Fiction) Life (an Indie Writers Monthly post)

I had just left my computer to go sit on the couch with the dog. Actually, I was going to do a bit of reading, but I have to give the dog her time, first, because she jumps on me as soon as I sit down. It had only been a few moments--I know because my computer was still "on" (the monitor hadn't yet gone to sleep)--when my computer shut off. Completely. So did my wife's and the old computer that barely works that my son was using. In fact, there was a sound of the house powering down. A kind of whirring noise that then shut off. Yes, the power had gone off.

To find out what happened next and to read my science fiction love story in honor of Valentine's Day, hope over to Indie Writers Monthly!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Good Book Is Like A Bad Cold

I don't get sick a whole lot. However, I did catch the cold thing that's been going around here lately. Possibly, it was the lack of sleep that did it. I had three or four nights in a row with little or restless sleep, including the one before I had to get my blood taken from me and one where I went to a midnight pre-release Magic tournament from which I didn't get home until 5:00am. Why, yes, I am getting a little too old for that stuff, but only because my body can't recover very well anymore. Not! because I'm too old. No, those aren't the same things!

So I got sick with this cold which I didn't realize, at first, was me getting sick since it started during the Magic tournament with my throat getting sore; I just thought it was the lack of water and how tired I was, but it persisted all through Saturday and, by Sunday, I felt pretty terrible. Sunday night, I felt especially terrible, and I woke up Monday morning feeling none to great. But I went back to sleep (not by choice) after I took the kids to school and felt a bit better once I woke up. So, now, I'm over the sick part of the sick and just have the aftereffects to deal with.

Several years ago while at the doctor's office, probably with one of the kids for one of the vast numbers of possibilities for which I could have been there with a kid, I noticed a chart. A chart about colds and flu and longevity. Basically, the "sick" part of being sick for either the cold or flu is quite short, usually less than a week, often not more than a couple of days; however, the aftermath of the being sick can last up to four to six weeks. Yes, I said weeks. A month or more of snot and mucus and coughing and whatever other lingering things can happen. There were more (I'm sure), but I mostly just focused on the snot. Look, when you're a parent, snot is one of those things that you just sort of have to know about.

It's just kind of not fair. I mean, you catch a cold and you get a sore throat and cough and, maybe, have a headache. Or whatever. And your body comes in and says, "Hulk SMASH!" and takes care of the cold. It kills it dead. DEAD! Two days to muster the troops and slap the sick right out of you. But, then, you have a month, a freaking month, of damage control and cleanup.

Yes, that's where I am, right now, the cleanup. Meaning the mucus. I feel fine except for all of the snot draining out of my body, and, really, how can there be SO MUCH after being sick for just two days? It's kind of insane. Plus, all of the snot stops up my ears and makes my head hurt. So, yea, I'm not sick anymore, but I'm going to have a week of sinus headaches as my body packs mucus into my head. Why isn't there a better way to get rid of that stuff than through my nose? Seriously.

There I was in the kitchen blowing my nose and, well, you know, checking the paper towel for color and consistency and stuff (because that tells you how much more you can expect! geez!) when I had a realization: A good book sticks with you just like snot does after being sick. Okay, so, maybe, that's a little gross, but it's true.

Some books you read, you shrug, you put it away, and you barely ever think of it again. But some books stick with you and make you think and continue to stick with you and poke at your mind every so often and it's like having a head full of mucus. I mean, you put the book away, but it's sticking with you for the next four to six weeks. And that's when you know it's a good book, when it's like a bad cold.

To carry the analogy just a step further, those books happen more frequently when we're younger, just like kids get sick a lot more than adults do. Man, I used to hate the first few months of every school year, because I knew it was just going to be one sick kid after the other, but, as they get older, they build up their immune systems (thank God!) and not every bug that comes along gets into them. And books are like that. Each new book we read as a kid is a NEW BOOK! and is much more likely to get under our skins. But the next book that's like that one is much less likely to make an impact.

Which is why, as an adult, it's impressive when you read a book that really infects you. A book that gets in there and makes you think and stays with you and has long lasting aftereffects. I have to admit, I've been inoculated against a lot of books, so it takes a lot for a book to really make me continue to think about it weeks after the fact. But those are the best books. Those are the books I look for.

And those are the kinds of books I want to write.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Captain Phillips (a movie review post)

Yes, we did go see Captain Phillips even though neither of us really wanted to. However! It was making a special appearance at the cheap theater, so we both got in for less than the cost of even one matinee-priced ticket at the normal theater. No, I'm not sure it was even worth that much.

The question I kept asking myself as I was watching the movie and have continued to ask since seeing the movie is "Why did this need to be a movie?" My wife says it's because we need to have movies each year that feature the American military as the good guys, but I'm just not quite buying it. I mean, that's probably true, but it just doesn't do it for me.

Yes, there will be spoilers. Not like everyone doesn't already know how this turns out.

There are a few interesting parts in the movie, but they're not enough to give the movie any real depth. For instance, the movie opens with a scene of Phillips readying himself for his trip. [It's actually the kind of thing I routinely tell my creative writing class not to do: Do not give us your character waking up in the morning, brushing his teeth and eating breakfast. We don't care. Unless there actually is some relevance to the story. Not that that is what see with Phillips, but it's the same kind of thing, but it does have a point.] It's completely normal and middle class, him going off to the airport. I have to say, though, that the dialogue between Phillips and his wife is terrible. It switches, then, to the character of Muse and how his day starts. It serves to show us how very different these two characters are and, yet, how they are similar. So, yeah, that was interesting, but that's the first 10 minutes or so and nothing's that interesting the rest of the movie.

The whole movie can be boiled down to one conversation between Phillips and Muse:
Phillips: There has to be something more than fishing and kidnapping people.
Muse: Maybe in America. Maybe in America.

I think that moment is so short that it gets lost in the rest of the movie. And the movie does nothing to support it, since it focuses on Phillips and not what drove the pirates to do what they do.

The thing I was most struck with, though, is not something I think I was meant to think about:
The pirates were trying to ransom Phillips for $10 million. In response, we mounted a huge Naval engagement which included airdropping in a bunch of SEALs and an aircraft carrier. The recovery mission took days. I'm sure the cost of the rescue mission dwarfed the 10 million the pirates wanted. I'm not saying we should have paid them off, because I don't that at all. I do think there has to be a better way, though. [And because I was curious, the cost to operate an aircraft carrier per day is $7 million! And it was one of only three Navy ships involved in the mission. The mission which lasted several days. So, yeah, we spent WAY more than $10 million to get Phillips back.]

As for the acting, I was unimpressed. Hanks showed up and was appropriately stoic through most of the film. The only real acting he did was at the very end after he was rescued, at which point he has a complete meltdown. That scene with him was great, but the rest of the movie was pretty flat. His acting, all the acting, the whole movie. Let's just say that, overall, I was particularly underwhelmed. It was kind of like watching the "high speed" chase of O.J. Simpson on TV a couple of decades ago. Oh, except for the brief moment where I thought the movie was about to become Home Alone as the crew did things like spread broken glass on the floor for the barefoot pirates to step on. But that didn't last long enough to be engaging.

Basically, the movie gets a "meh" from me. It wasn't stupid (which, you know, would have been pretty bad considering it's based on true events), but it also just didn't do anything for me. I never cared about any of the people involved except for brief moments for the "pirate" kid that stepped on the glass; he was only 15-ish. But, then, Muse was only 16-ish (which never comes out in the movie. If they'd highlighted that, there may have been some emotional investment, but, then, it might have been invested in the "bad" guys). This just isn't an Oscar caliber movie. It's better than The Wolf of Wall Street but not by much. It is, however, politically correct, I would suppose.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Reading in the Cracks (an IWSG post)

I've always been one of those people that carries a book wherever I go. It started in elementary school, actually, when I would finish assignments way before the rest of the class, and the thing I was allowed to do was read. Well, or sit quietly at my desk. I don't think teachers realize how difficult it is for an eight-year-old to just sit quietly anywhere when everyone else has something to do. So I started filling in those cracks with reading. Of course, at the time, it was from books in the classroom; it wasn't until middle school that I started carrying books with me. Probably so that I'd have something to read on the school bus. But I discovered that having a book with me was a good thing because it didn't matter where I was, when I was stuck waiting for anything, stuck in a crack in time, I had a book to read. By high school, I was the guy with a book. Not that anyone ever called me that, not to my face, anyway, but people would comment. And my friends would ask me why: "Why do you always have to have a book with you?"

They never really understood the answer. Even that I liked reading didn't suffice as an answer. I suppose that was too foreign a concept for most of them. I know they didn't get it, because the same people would ask that question over and over, like I was lying to them, "But why...?"

When I was younger, those cracks in time where I would slip some reading in were often large and happened frequently. Actually, thinking back on it, now, it's amazing how much time kids have to just... waste. And, mostly, that's what they do with it. Yeah, yeah, I know it's part of being a kid, but, still...

The biggest crack was at bedtime. That was like a grand canyon of time every night when I would spend a couple or few hours reading. Man, that was so luxurious, and I didn't even know it.

The problem is that those cracks get smaller and smaller as you get older, especially once (if) you have kids. In fact, some of those cracks get filled in completely. There's no sitting around in class reading because you've finished whatever everyone else is working on. I'm thinking that behavior is mostly frowned on at most jobs, at least most of the jobs I've had. And bedtime reading is nearly non-existent. There is just too much tiredness. Whereas I used to read at least an hour every night, I'm doing good to get in 10 minutes these days (which is why it took most of the last year to read The Casual Vacancy). My reading cracks have been reduced to waiting for my kids after school, a yield of about 20 minutes a day, and waiting in line at the bank, which I generally don't do more than once a month.

All of that means that I need to restructure the way I read. Reading in the cracks just isn't good enough anymore. But there's a bigger reason for that.

The way I read, or have been reading, requires that I have something I can carry with me, which means an actual, physical book (because I have no mobile device for reading), but what I really need to be doing is increasing my e-reading (which requires that I sit at my computer (not entirely pleasant after sitting in front of my computer all day already)). And why do I need to do that, you might ask.

One of the things that really bothers me as I bounce around to blogs by other indie writers ("indie" encompasses (by definition) self-published authors and traditionally published authors published by any publisher that is not one of the "big" publishers) is that, when they talk about the books they "love," they are almost exclusively talking about books from the "Big Six." In fact, there are frequent posts that just gush over books like Gone Girl (being the one that I ran across the most this week (half a dozen separate posts about this book)), which is not the problem. The problem is that there is a deficit of posts like that about other indie writers.

The implied message (which I'm sure is completely unintentional but is there just the same):
I am an indie writer and you should read my books. Yes, I am that good. However, other indie writers out there are not as good as me, which you can tell because I only read books published by the Big Six traditional publishers.

Yes, this bothers me. As an indie writer, I do my best to support other indie writers by reading their books (and reviewing them, but that's another discussion) and letting people know what indie books I've read that I really like (see that reviewing thing, again, which is still another discussion). It doesn't mean that you have to give up reading books by the Big Six, but, if you are an indie writer, you probably ought to be giving something close to equal time to other indie writers. That message says:
I value what you do as much as I value what I do.

That's an important message to be sending. Not to the other indie writers (though that is important) but to readers. Readers need to know that indie books are no less good than Big Six books, and the only way to let them know that is by showing that we are reading them, too.

For me, specifically, this is going to involve some changes in the way I do my reading (at least until I get some kind of portable device). No more just reading in the cracks. I will have to set aside deliberate time in which to do reading at my computer so that I can start working on, really working on, my TBR list of indie authors. It's important.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Blood & Magic

Man, with a title like that, it sounds like I'm about to go off on some dissertation about fantasy and magic within fantasy or, maybe, some new magic system I, personally, have developed for some epic fantasy epic that involves blood or something. Or maybe something with vampires. Sadly, it's nothing so fantastic. Actually, it's just what it says it is...

I have an ambivalent relationship with blood. I don't mind the sight of it, not at all. If you're gushing blood, I can even stay level-headed enough to help you or get you to help or whatever. I know this from personal experience (like when a friend of mine when I was a kid fell off of a wall and hit his chin on the way down (man, there was blood everywhere!), and I got him to his mom (so she could take him to get the bajillion stitches he needed)). So it was with some surprise that I found out I have a squeamish reaction to people having blood drawn.

I don't have a problem with needles. You need a shot? No problem. Well, unless it's in the belly; that's kind of gross, but it doesn't make me want to pass out (I know, because I had friend in high school with type 1 diabetes who had to give herself insulin shots in the belly. Gross. But no head issues). However, you so much as poke someone with a lancet, and I start to swoon. Not that I've ever actually passed out, but I think I've been close.

I found that out unexpectedly during sixth grade. We were on a field trip to a hospital, and they were going to centrifuge some blood for us, but they needed to get the blood, first, so one of the nurses or techs or someone popped his (or her (I don't remember)) arm out to have the blood drawn. I was trying to watch just like everyone else was, but, as soon as they stuck the needle into the person's arm and started to pull the blood out, I went "white as a sheet," as one of my classmates said, and broke out in a damp sweat, and felt like my head was going to pop off and float away.

To make a long story short, I have learned to avoid situations where I (or anyone else) am going to have blood taken out of me on purpose.

So it was with much trepidation that I had to go in to have my blood drawn last week. Just something for this program at my wife's work, nothing to be alarmed over. [We earn points for doing things like this and can redeem for, among other things, movie tickets. So, now, you know the secret to all of the Oscar movies.] Well, except for me. It was something for me to be alarmed over. Evidently. Because I didn't sleep well the night before (among other side effects). It was, after all, my first time to have my blood drawn.

I also had to have my blood pressure taken. I have had that done before. But it didn't go well. As in, she took my pressure the first time and it was really high. Too high. So she decided to take it again and started telling me to relax and stuff, so I told her it wasn't having my blood pressure taken that was the issue, and I explained the whole thing with taking blood out of people. During the discussion about that and her amazement that I had never had my blood taken before, she finished with the pressure for the second time, and it was even higher, and she was concerned, so she decided to try my other arm. I don't even know what it was that third time, because, by the time she was finished, she had decided to take my blood first. Yeah, yeah, I know she'd already done the pressure three times, but she didn't take any of those results.

She had me lie down and she took my blood. Which was actually okay, because I just stared at the wall the whole time, and, other than a tiny poke, it didn't feel like anything. I was quite shocked actually that she had taken three vials of blood out of me. Three vials! My wife says that's normal.

She took my blood pressure again... and it was totally normal.

Which brings me to my point: I didn't feel any different after she took out my blood than I had beforehand. I mean, to me, I didn't feel any different, but something in me changed, because, immediately after, my blood pressure had returned to normal even though I hadn't felt stressed before and I didn't feel relieved after.
And I find that pretty amazing. Bodies are weird.
And that thing in particular? Well, that's magic.

Which brings me to
Last week, Nathan Fillion tweeted that he was learning to play Magic: The Gathering, "the game with more rules than game." Or something like that. Here are the things you should take away from that:

  1. Yes, I am now on twitter (in case you missed me say that before). You can find me here. If you follow me, I will probably follow you back. Unless I don't know you, in which case you need to give me a reason to follow you, like interacting with me.
  2. Yes, I follow Castle. Um, I mean Nathan Fillion. The guy who used to a space cowboy. I only follow cool celebrities, though (seriously, I already quit following one (unnamed) celebrity who turned out to be a <content edited>).
  3. Fillion plays Magic! And was even tweeting Wizards of the Coast about some issue or another. He became infinitely cooler when he tweeted about that.
I hope he posts updates, because I really want to know what color(s) he settles on as his favorite.

Oh, also, if you have any twitter tips, let me know, because I'm still trying to figure the whole thing out.