Monday, June 30, 2014

The Management Myth (or Making Your Own Future)

About a year ago, I wrote a post about the importance of liking your own work. The post was about how writers should like the work they are writing enough to believe in it and stick to their vision of what that work should be, but that idea isn't limited to just writing. You should take ownership of whatever it is you're doing in your life, believe in it, and not submit it to the constant whims and validation of others. But, if you want to read more about that, go back and read the post.

In that post, I touched on an idea that proved to be somewhat more controversial than I'd anticipated. Well, since I had not thought it a controversial point, I was surprised to find out that it was. So let's talk about aspirations.

I grew up in the South in a state that had and continues to have one of the poorest education systems in the country. It is both poor in that it is bad, and it is poor in that it doesn't have the kind of funding many other states are able to devote to education. I grew up knowing a lot of kids (teenagers) whose greatest aspiration was to, maybe, one day be a manager at Wal-Mart. Or something like that.

Now, before I go on, this is nothing against retail employees or any denigration of them. I spent time at Toys R Us among other places, so I'm not putting anyone in retail down or claiming greater status than anyone who is in retail. In fact, for a long time, my goal was to work retain, in comic books and games, and I've worked in various capacities in those environments, too.

What I am saying is that it's unfortunate when teenagers, due to their circumstances, cannot dream anything better for themselves than to one day be a manager at Wal-Mart. Being a kid, a teenager, is time when you ought to be able to dream big. To aim for things that may not be probable but could, actually, be possible with the right toss of the dice or enough work. Working at Wal-Mart is the thing you do in the summer or at Christmas while you strive for bigger things. Sure, some people will never make it past Wal-Mart, but you certainly can't if you never had aspirations bigger than that to begin with.

And here's the trap:
The goal of "one day being a manager at Wal-Mart" is a lie. Not that the goal itself is a lie but the possibility of it becoming a reality is a lie. At least from the standpoint from which I'm approaching this, that of the teenager (the teenager who is not going on to college or any form of higher education) right out of high school entering the workforce by picking up a retail job planning to stay there indefinitely.

Here's the thing about being a manager at a place like Wal-Mart or Toys R Us: "Regular" employees cannot be promoted to manager. It doesn't matter how long you've been there or how good you are at your job; they don't promote up like that. I know, because there was a point where I was under consideration for management training when I worked at TRU. Here's the process:
1. Be really good at whatever low level job you enter in.
2. Get promoted all the way up to Department Head (the equivalent of assistant manager (and I don't think they call it that anymore).
3. Be so good at that, at being a Department Head, that the regional or district manager takes notice of you.
4. Be sent away to management school which is the equivalent of getting a degree in business. And you have to pay for it, so it's just like going to college. And, sure, if the company (TRU, Wal-Mart, whichever else follows this model, but my understanding is that it's most of them) thinks you're worth sending, they will give you loans and stuff to pay for their school (sometimes you might even qualify for some scholarships, but that's difficult), but, then, you have to pay them back.
5. Be transferred to some other store other than the one you were working in to avoid issues between you and people you used to be equivalently employed with.

So let's look at this a moment:
If you are good at your job as a Department Head, the store you work at is not going to want to put you up for management training. If they value you, they don't want to lose you, so they won't recommend you. You have to get noticed by someone higher up than the store director, and that's tough to do. Especially if you don't know you need to (which I didn't). So, then, if you're approached for management training (as I was), the first thing they're going to tell you is that you will have to go away to school. TRU, at least, has training centers, and you have to go to one of those. You don't get paid while you're off doing that, so that's the loss of your income (such as it is) to your family while you're off at school. Then there's the fact that you will be transferred to some other store once you've become a manager.

The point of all this is that you don't go to work at Wal-Mart or Toys R Us and work there long enough to finally, one day, become a manager. That's not their system. There was a woman that worked at TRU as a department head while I was there who had been there in that position for something like 15 years. That was as far as she was ever going to go.

Of course, the other way to get to be a manager at Wal-Mart is to go to school for a business degree and apply for a management position. You can do that without ever having to work at Wal-Mart or TRU as a "regular" employee.

The whole system is rather deceptive and designed to make people believe they have something that they're working toward when, in fact, in almost all circumstances, they do not.

It's not completely unlike the way the traditional publishing industry works these days: The want to find already successful authors before they're willing to look at publishing them.

[Note: All of this is based on how things worked about 15 years ago. That's when I experienced all of this and discovered TRU's system and that it was based on Wal-Mart's system, which nearly every chain store had adopted. Things may have changed since then, but I sort of doubt it.]

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Ghost Brigades ( a book review post)

The Ghost Brigades is the sequel to Scalzi's book Old Man's War, which didn't get the highest recommendation from me. You can check that review here.

I was hoping that I was going to be able to say that this one is better than the first and, for a while, a long while, I thought I was going to be able to say that. For one thing, Ghost Brigades is in third person, so that was a great improvement for me. For another thing, there is much less exposition about Scalzi's scientific ideas. And Jared Dirac is a much more interesting character with much deeper internal conflict than John Perry from the first book. Everything was there for this to be a better book.

Then it wasn't.

Actually, there was a pretty significant hiccup at the beginning of the book, and I was willing to overlook it when it was the only wrinkle but it becomes more noticeable when combined with how the book ends. I mean, when the opening is weak and the ending is weak, well... it makes it difficult to look kindly on the book.

The book opens from the point of view of an alien [and this is a bit of a spoiler, but it's only the first 15 pages or so, so it's not much of one], only we're not supposed to know that. The way we don't know that is that we're experiencing everything through the character's internal perspective without any external descriptions. That way, see, we're "surprised" to find out that this character was really an alien with animosity toward humanity. The problem I have with this is not the trick of it (okay, actually, I get annoyed with these kinds of tricks by authors where we're only fooled (if we are) because the author purposefully left out information which, honestly, we ought to know) but that the alien acts entirely human. His emotions and thoughts and everything are equivalent to what humans would have so, really, he's not an alien when he ought to be completely strange. Just on Earth, humans can have such cultural differences, while still being human, that we are, at least, disconcerted to be around the other person. That a species of an entirely different planet would think and act like a human so much so that we are "fooled" by it is mildly ridiculous at best.

But I got past that issue, completely forgot about it, once I moved into the story proper. That character at the beginning of the book is mostly inconsequintial and easily dismissed once we've gotten caught up in the mystery of Charles Boutin and Jared Dirac. And that was a good, engrossing story right up until somewhere around 75-80% of the way through the book.

Then the bottom falls out of it.

At least it did for me. And there will be a major plot point spoiler here, so feel free to skip past.

There's this bit of tech in the book (both of them) called the BrainPal. It's pretty much what it sounds like, a computer in the brain to assist the soldier and allow things such as internal communication with other soldiers with a BrainPal. Scalzi felt the need to disable the BrainPal en masse, so he went back to an 80s trick and had Boutin do it with a secret backdoor in the code. Now, I get that this a thing that we've been seeingin movies and books for about three decades, but, at this point, the idea of a secret backdoor in a program is ridiculous. Everything about it is ridiculous.

So, in the book, the reason the backdoor is there is to allow Boutin easier access to the program he's working on, but I think we all know that to access, well, anything all you need to do is input your password (or whatever the equivalent is). To get in through a backdoor, you have to input your password (or whatever the equivalent is). It doesn't allow any kind of ease of access or speed up the process, so, from that standpoint, it's pointless.

Beyond that, Boutin is not the sole architect of the computer program he's working on. In fact, he's not even the primary architect. He's just part of the design for one small part of the BrainPal, the consciousness transfer aspect of it. Asking us to believe that Boutin was able to put in an exploitable backdoor when working within a group and not even the lead in the group is asking us to believe something that is totally implausible, and it's easier to accept things that are plausibly impossible than implausibly possible. Basically, Scalzi is asking us to believe that everyone Boutin was working with was incompetent, in which case, the BrainPal wouldn't work, anyway. [This is on par with expecting us to believe that John Perry is the only one to understand the truth about the Consu in Old Man's War. It's just not plausible.] Scalzi does, at the end of the book, acknowledge (through the characters) that a backdoor like that shouldn't have existed, but it doesn't make it less of a contrived scenario to create tension at the end of the book. Basically, he had created a "Superman scenario" and used the backdoor as his Kryptonite.

So the book fell off of a cliff for me and plummeted to the rocks below. There's nothing that will ruin a book more than bad ending.

Sure, it might just be me, but anyone who knows anything about computers and how people work together and will probably find the contrived backdoor fairly laughable.

And I'm not even going to talk about how ridiculous the motivations of Boutin were. I thought as I was reading through the book and the obvious motivations were given that it must be a trick because it was so cliche. I figured Scalzi had something more interesting, more clever, up his sleeve but, no, it was all straightforward cliche and based on things that went against how given characters and races should have acted. It even had the super villain monologue at the end. To say that I was disappointed doesn't come close to how I felt at the end of the book.

Still, I will probably read the next one, though I'm not sure if I know why. I do want to find out what Scalzi has going on with the Consu, which is barely touched on in this book, so, yeah, I will probably read at least one more to get more of the meta-story. I just hope it's better than this one, though.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Road to Fiction (an IWM post)

I was asked an interesting question recently. I like interesting questions; they make you think. Well, they make me think. I don't actually know about you. I don't actually even know if you do think, because so many people don't, though I like to think that if you're reading this blog then you're a thinker, so we'll just go with that.


The question was, "How do you write fiction?" Let me clarify that. I get the question, "How do you write?" a lot, but I've never had the question, "How do you write fiction?" Her contention was that writing non-fiction is easy; it just requires a bit of research and putting it together in a way that's easy for the reader to take in. But she didn't know how to go about writing fiction.

* * *

I'm sure at least some of you have guessed that you need to hop over to Indie Writers Monthly to find out where "The Road to Fiction" leads.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Cat Stands (Stays) Alone

My wife and I had a disagreement. It wasn't a huge thing; there was no yelling or fighting or anything like that; it was a just a disagreement. It all started with the cat. Remember him?
Yes, he is walking on the back of a chair. No, I'm not sure what he's doing with his eye. Aiming his deathray? It's always hard to tell with him. But I digress...

Two years ago when we went camping, our cat didn't have us. [Yes, I could say "we didn't have the cat," but, clearly, the cat decided that we belong to him, not the other way around. He did move into our house like a little, furry squatter.] We took the dog with us and there was no problem. In anticipation of the camping trip last year that didn't actually happen, I bought a leash for the cat.
The leash was so that we could take the cat with us, but we didn't go, so the leash just sat around and I never bothered to train the cat with it. He acts like he's dying when you put it on him except when he's walking backwards, which is what he's doing in the below picture.
One time he walked backwards right up the wall and only stopped when he was looking straight down at the floor, then he just stayed like that, like he was lying on the wall.

So, when we started talking about camping this year,
I resumed my plans to take the cat... right up until my wife let me know that she didn't want the cat going with us. The conflict spread to the kids at that point, because they, also, wanted the cat to go. There was a lengthy debate. Well, sort of. It wasn't a debate that happened all at once. It was spread out over about two weeks with occasional comments that were always interrupted by one of the kids saying, "I want the cat to go." That always ended the discussion, because we didn't want the kids getting involved in the decision since they wouldn't be the ones to be taking care of the cat.

Long story short: The cat stayed (because, man, who wants to have to lug a litter box with your camping gear?) at home. Alone.

Now, before anyone says anything about the cruelty involved in leaving the cat locked in the house for a few days, I didn't just decide to do that. At some point, I had done some research about cats and what to do with them when you're going to be away from home, and I found that this is what a lot of people do, just leave the cat at home. They are, after all, pretty self-sufficient and, before Jack (the cat) came to live with us, he had lived alone outside for a long time.

Still, it was not without some trepidation (and anxiety) that I did it. Going off and leaving your pet, unless it's a fish, locked in your house is no small thing. [And before you start giving me options, I considered them. (Especially the one about having someone come in each day, but Jack is an expert at waiting just inside the door and hopping out as you come in -- sometimes without you even knowing he's done it -- and I didn't want to have to deal with a missing cat while I was not home and able to deal with it).] But I made sure he had plenty of (dry) food (there was still some left when we got back, so I did okay on that), what I thought was plenty of water (that was almost gone, but I think that's because he normally gets wet food, so he drank more water to make up for what he wasn't getting from his food), and a big pile of fresh litter.

When we got back, the first thing we noticed was that the house was still here. That was a positive, because I wasn't sure the cat wouldn't box it up and run off with it while we were gone. Heck, that could have been his plan all along (that cat definitely has some kind of plan). I went into the house, first, and the cat met me as I came in the door and was actually more interested in seeing me than in hopping out the door (he saved that until a few nights ago to do to my oldest son as he was coming home from rehearsal). So all is well, and the cat has been way more affectionate this past week than he has been in a while.

And, hey!, the house wasn't even booby trapped Home Alone style when we got back, so I guess the cat really does like living with us. Or something.

Still, I'm going to keep working with him with that leash. Either I have to get him to go forward, or I have to learn to walk him backwards. That could be interesting. I'll have to try get some video footage of that.

* * *

In other news, I have a new thing that I'm finishing up. The draft writing, that is. It's all in notebooks (because that's how I write when I'm off at softball practices or accordion lessons or whatever), so it still has to be typed up and all of that. Why am I telling you this? Well, as I have been doing, I'd like to add a bonus story by some other author to go with it, so I am officially taking submissions. Or requests. Or something. Look, if you have something that's, oh, say, around 5000 words and you'd like me to put it in with my new thing (which I'll tell you more about later), let me know. Or if you want to WIP something up. You still have time. Just leave me a message or email me or whatever to let me know you're interested.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Unexpected Applause: The Faerie Guardian (a book review post)

Before I get into the review for this book, I'm going to call your attention back to a post I did dealing with objectivity and subjectivity in responding to books. I'm having a very divergent reaction to this one, so I want to make sure I am qualifying it ahead of time. Remember these:
  1. This is good, and I like it.
  2. This is good, but I don't like it.
  3. This is bad, and I don't like it.
  4. This is bad, but I do like it.

"The Faerie Guardian" started off on the wrong foot with me. It's not really the fault of the book or the author. I mean, I'm the one with the thing against first person/present tense presentation. But it is first/present, and I couldn't stop myself from groaning inwardly when I started reading it. And this example is pretty typical of the stuff I've read using first/present, so it did nothing to distinguish itself for me. But, you know, I get that that style is popular, right now, so I can hardly fault the author for choosing the style. I'm just not into it.

So the main character is a "fairie" girl, and I say "fairie" because she's just like a human teenager down to the pop culture references that, as far as I can tell, she shouldn't have knowledge of. In fact, she seems more conversant in pop culture than she does in the culture of her own people. In fact, in her narration she refers to other fairies as "fairies," as in "the fairie stood there," which would be like me saying, "the human stood there," which is not a thing I would ever say nor have I ever heard any human say. Awkward. All of that to say that I had a hard time buying the protagonist as anything more than a human teenager with some convenient magic. And that doesn't even touch that the purple-haired fairie is named Violet.

The other main issue I had with the story also started right up front along with the first/present stuff. Violet is in a boy's room to guard him from a snake fairie thing, and, of course, she sees him sleeping. And, of course, she is smitten by him just from watching him sleeping. Maybe this is just a disconnect because I'm a guy, but the whole romance angle seemed more contrived than realistic to me. There was just no reason for it and it felt out-of-character to for Violet to react that way. I mean, there's no indication that she has a habit of instantly falling in love with sleeping boys, so I need something more from the story than that she arbitrarily had feelings for this one boy because she saw him asleep.

From a technical standpoint, the book was fine, and I can see why people like it (and based on the other reviews, I see that most people do like it); it just didn't appeal to me. The writing is fine. It's well edited. But it's not my story. This is one of those where I can see that it's (probably) good, but I don't like it. For this one, I'm being that guy at the party that goes over and gets a helping of whatever it is everyone is raving over, I put it in my mouth, make the yucky face, and spit it out. Everyone looks at me like I'm crazy. Eventually, like, one other person comes over and pats my arm and whispers, "I didn't like it either."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lies Writers Tell... To Other Writers (Part Five -- It Shouldn't Be Work (Or "Waiting for Your Muse")) (an IWM post)

Those of you who have been following my blog for any length of time will know that my daughter plays the accordion.
In many ways, she has a love/hate relationship with it. She loves playing. She loves performing even though she doesn't like to admit that. She doesn't want to give it up. However, she hates practicing. She hates getting new, more difficult songs. She hates the work of it.

Now, let's go back to the beginning:
Learning to play the accordion was her idea. It would never have occurred to us to suggest to any of our kids that they ought to learn to play the accordion. I mean, who does that, right? But my daughter decided that she wanted to learn to play it. Of course, that meant that she had to learn to play it and that's work. Playing the accordion is not just picking one up and jamming it in and out.

At first, for the first year or so, she hated going to lessons. She also hated practicing, but the real issue was that she hated going to lessons. She wanted to play the accordion, but she wanted to be able to do it without putting any work into it. [How many of you know that feel?] Eventually, she got over hating her lessons and dislikes when she has to miss them. She still hates practicing. Well, not always, I suppose, but there are days when it's a huge ordeal to get her to sit down and put in the half hour. It's work.

* * *

And, once again, here's the part where you have to hop over to Indie Writers Monthly to find out the rest. Of course, I encourage you to do that.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Last 10 Days

Where I've Been
And on either side of where I've been,
Here's what I've been doing
It's been a very busy 10 days, and the 5 softball games each weekend are pretty rough. But there has also been some writing happening, so all is not lost!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Unexpected Applause: Lost and Found (a book review post)

Lost and Found by the A Beer for the Shower guys (Bryan and Brandon, for those of you that don't know) may be the best ghost story I've ever read. Not that I read a lot of ghost stories, but the ones I have read have all been pretty typical. This one is far from typical. So far from typical that you don't know... Um, wait... I want this to be as spoiler free as possible and saying that this is a ghost story is almost a spoiler all by itself.

Okay, so let's start with the technicals. Bryan and Brandon continue to deliver the best edited independent books that I've read. I think I counted, maybe, three typos. Not that I was counting, because I wasn't, but the lack of errors made the ones I did see kind of jump out at me. But it may have only been two. Few enough as to not be worthy of commenting on. I know, then why am I commenting on it? Well, the traditionally published book I am currently reading (you know, the one with a budget to hire professional editors) has already have three or four times as many errors, so I think it's worth noting that these guys do a better job of polishing their work than the "professionals."

Okay, so back to the story:
The story is told in two parts: "Lost" and "Found." Both stories are completely independent of each other in that you could sit down and read either of them and come away from whichever one you'd read and think, "Well, that was pretty good. Not spectacular but pretty good." However (and this is a big "however"), when you put the two stories together, they interlock and are spectacular. Seriously. And I wish I could talk about it, but that would be the spoiling part.

I think the best way to describe the story is like this:
In case there are any of you reading this that have never seen this particular illusion, there are two pictures there. You can appreciate either of them independently, but it's only the appreciation of those two pictures melded into one image that really makes this interesting.

So let's call Lost and Found a psychological thriller with a paranormal twist, which still doesn't cover it, but it's probably as close as I can get. It's creepy, maybe scary, but not gruesome in any way. It has a little bit of Ghost Whisper and a little bit of... um, I'm not sure... some kind of reality hunter type show. You should probably just go read it. Yeah, you should probably go do that right now.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Lies Writers Tell... To Other Writers (Part Four -- Betas Required) (an IWM post)

I don't own a cell phone. I know; go ahead and gasp and ask how I'm able to survive and all of that stuff that everyone always asks me. No, seriously, go ahead and get it out of your system. I know you want to. I can give you answers to all of it, but it all boils down to one thing: I don't need a cell phone. Neither do you, actually.


You can stop with all the reasons about how you need it, right now, because it's all a bunch of excuses. Sure, I get that the cell phone may make some things easier, and they're certainly nice to have in case of an emergency, but you don't need it.

I know. I know! How can I say that? Right?

I can say it because humanity survived without cell phones for, well, thousands of years. In fact, we even survived the 80s without cell phones and, if we can do that, anyone can do that.

* * *

To find out the rest, you will have to head over to Indie Writers Monthly. Just do it!

[Note: I am out of town at the moment. I'll respond to comments as soon as I return. Okay, well, not as soon, but sometime after that.]

Monday, June 9, 2014

Maleficent (a movie review post)

Let's get one thing straight right here at the outset: This is not any kind of prequel. This is not the live action prequel to Disney's Sleeping Beauty. It doesn't pretend to be. This is not like Oz the Great and Powerful (which is a prequel but which I still haven't seen).

No, Maleficent is the story of Sleeping Beauty told from the perspective of the villain. Sort of. At any rate, it's told from a different perspective than the one that has been presented in popular culture for the last half century and more. I think they did an amazing job.

The movie is magnificent to look at. The tree men that serve as the border guards are astounding and the land serpent was... well, that was incredible. Not to mention the work they did on Flittle, Knotgrass, and Thistletwit. And the dragon! Well, I think it's enough to say that the movie looked amazing, but, then, there is also Angeline Jolie who was impeccable in her role. Not that there wasn't makeup to go with that, but I think she almost didn't need any help pulling off the fairy look. Except for the wings. I think it's safe to bet that she doesn't have her own wings.

The performances were excellent, especially Jolie. Elle Fanning pulled off exactly the persona of someone who is happy and beautiful all the time. Sharlto Copley was crazy scary... or, maybe, he was scary crazy. One of the two. The three fairies pulled off the same sort of bickering as the fairies in the animated Sleeping Beauty; they were wonderful and hilarious. And Sam Riley was great, too.

The only possible issue with the movie is the whole "true love" thing. Disney continues to try to undo its whole cliche around that theme, which is fine and good, but it hasn't even been a year since Frozen, so I hope this is not a new trend, taking the "true love" theme in some other direction every movie for the next... well, who could even guess how long that could go on. Anyway, it was fine for this movie and handled well, but 3/4 of my family reacted in the same way to it: "I hope this isn't going to be their new thing." I guess we'll just have to wait and see on that one.

Overall, this is a great movie. It has everything you could want, none of which I'll name, because that would mean spoilers, even if I did already mention the dragon. But, then, we all knew about the dragon, right? Wait, it doesn't have lightsabers, but I think that's okay. I'll just put it like this: My wife cried. It's almost a certain thing that a movie is good if my wife cries, so there you are. This one gets 5 tears.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Unexpected Applause: Up So Down (a book review post)

Let me just say right at the start of this that I really enjoyed this book. It's not spectacular in the sense of The Avengers or something like that, but it's very solid and quiet. In fact, it is much like getting to know people, a little at a time. I want to get that out of the way because some of the things I am about to say might lead someone to believe that I didn't like that book or that it's not very good, but that's not the truth at all. In fact, the book is very engrossing in the sense that you really want to know what's going on in these people's lives, but, if you want a book to pick you up and carry you along, this book is not for you. This book is calling up your friend and saying, "Hey, Bumpy, would you like to get some coffee and hang out a while?" You have to take the initiative, but it's well worth doing so.

Because it's me, let's just get this out of the way:
The book needs some editing and formatting help. Mostly, it's nothing all that serious, an overuse of commas that most people won't notice, but there are some spots where there are wrong words or names and a couple of those spots did make me have to go back to figure out who was talking at a given a moment. There is also some inconsistency in the formatting, but it's hard to say whether that's a real issue or not. For me, there is a minor visual distraction, but I don't know if it's the kind of thing most people pay attention to or not. In a book that's not as well written, the editing and formatting issues would be bigger problems, because they would highlight the problems in the book as a whole, but, here, they are more like swatting at an annoying fly rather than being caught in a swarm of yellow jackets.

Now, the major element in the book that is likely to cause problems for people is something that is there on purpose and which I enjoyed very much: the story is told non-linearly. In general, we don't like non-linear stories all that much, but I think this one worked well. As I was reading it, I kept thinking, "This is like how it is to get to know someone." When you meet someone, you don't get their chronological life story laid out in front of you. What you get are small stories that are shared at relevant times and those things rarely happen in sequence. That is how we learn about Sarah and Bumpy, little pieces of a year or so of their lives connected sort of by theme rather than by when they happened.

So, as I said, I kept thinking about this idea of getting to know people as I was reading the book, then, when I got to the end, in the author's note, Briane Pagel talks about choosing to write it that way because that's how you get to know someone, so, with that intent in mind, I have to say he pulled it off perfectly.

That non-linear aspect to the story is what propelled the reading of it. You find out early on (so this isn't much of a spoiler) that Sarah's fiance has died. She thinks it was murder. So, of course, you want to find out what's going on there. To some extent, Sarah blames her brother, Bumpy, for what happened, but that's complicated by Sarah's guilt over a childhood event between her and her brother for which she blames herself and which causes her to blame herself for, basically, Bumpy's life and how messed up it is. How messed up it is according to her, at any rate. So, then, because she blames Bumpy's irresponsibility on herself, she also, somewhere in there, blames her fiance's death on herself, too. She's a little messed up, to say that least.

The other issue that is potentially an issue for people is the lack of resolution to most areas of the lives of the characters. I will admit that when I got to the end I had a very "What? It's over!" reaction. I was a bit upset. But the farther away I get from finishing the book, the more okay I become with the way it ends. This is not an action/adventure thing where the space ships take off from the previously hidden rebel base to fight the enemy space station and it just ends leaving you hanging. This book is like being in people's lives, and people come in and out of our lives, and it's more the kind of thing where you to turn to someone several months down the line and says, "Hey, you remember Sarah? I wonder what ever happened with that thing with her fiance? Did they decide it was a murder or not?" And the other person says, "You know, I haven't seen her in months. I wonder what did happen with that. Have you heard what happened with her brother?" That's exactly how this book feels to me, like my life crossed paths with these people for just a little while, I got to know them a bit but not all the way, and they passed back out of my life. So it's not that there aren't resolutions; it's just that I don't see those people anymore so I don't know what happened with them. Sometimes, I'll wonder but, mostly, I will just go on with my life.

There's your measure of deciding if this book is for you. It's certainly not your typical fare, and I think that's a good thing. If you need a bunch of action, look somewhere else. If you want to get involved and invested in some characters, pick up Up So Down.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Lies Writers Tell... To Other Writers (Part Three -- You're Too Close To Your Work) (an IWM post)

I hate housework. Who doesn't right? Okay, there are some people who really enjoy it. I'm not quite sure what's wrong with those people, but they exist. More than a few of them, even. And it's probably not so much that they enjoy the housework, but the desire to have everything completely neat and spotless overrides any displeasure they have in the work. I'm thinking Monk, here (I wonder if Tony Shalhoub is as good as Monk at cleaning?).

Of course, there are parts that I hate more than more other parts and, actually, some parts I don't mind so much. Cooking, for instance, is a part I don't mind so much and even enjoy it. Except for the parts filled with the negative reviews from my kids. I hate unloading the dishwasher, but I don't mind loading it. I don't mind doing the laundry, but I hate folding it. I don't make beds. Vacuuming is okay. But I hate, absolutely hate, cleaning bathrooms.

Maybe, I'm just too close to it? Actually, when cleaning the bathroom, I'd have to say that I am definitely too close to it.

So... the lie... And this one is a bit tricky, because it's a lie, but part of it's true. The lie goes like this:

* * *

Oh, yeah, I'm horrible, I know, but this is an Indie Writers Monthly post, so click the link and go find out what I'm talking about. Then, you know, you can come clean my house. You can start in the bathroom.

Monday, June 2, 2014

June Bugs!

The new issue of Indie Writers Monthly is out! It's Volume 1, Issue 4 even if it says Issue 3. That was just a goof that I'm sure will be fixed at some point. At any rate, it looks like this
and, right now, it's FREE! So you should totally go pick yourself up a copy. It's full of all kinds of goodness. For one thing, there's an interview with me, but there's also this story I wrote that you can only find in its pages, and you don't want to miss that! Well, and there's stories from some other people, too, but there's a story by me! So go now and get your copy while it's FREE! Wait, did I mention it's FREE!? Because it totally is.


You need even more convincing? Fine! Here's the first little bit of

The Day the Junebugs Came

Charlie knew that summer had come the day the Junebugs arrived. It didn't matter to him that his mother told him that that wasn't necessarily true. It didn't matter to him that his father told him that it wasn't true. And it even didn't matter to him that his teachers told him that summer always started on the longest day of the year.
Usually, some time in May, the Junebugs would start arriving in little groups. He didn't know where they came from or why, just that they would start showing up. He'd go out in the morning on the way to school and there would be two or three hanging on the screen of the screen door and three or four hanging on the screen of the front window and five or six hanging on the screen of the screened in part of the front porch. For a few days, there would be a few more everyday. Then, one day, he would open the door, the hard door, and he wouldn't be able to see through the screen of the screen door because it would be entirely covered with the little honey-colored scarab beetles. He knew, too, that they would be coating all the screens – like beaded curtains – but not just the screens; there would also be a layer of them across the porch itself and even some hanging from the ceiling.

That day each year was the day summer arrived.

Go get yours NOW! Just follow the link.

"Risk"ing Your Feelings

I have, as long as I can remember, always liked games. Seriously, as far back as I can remember. Like, when I was less than five, my cousin, who was three years older than me, and I walked three miles from my great-grandmother's house to her (mostly unused) house to get Mouse Trap ("You roll your dice, you move your mice; nobody gets hurt."), because that's what we wanted to play. I'm not sure anyone knew where we went, and I'm not sure anyone knew we were gone. But, you know, it was the East Texas countryside, and we were rarely where anyone knew where we were most of any given day.

As it turned out, though, when we got there, we discovered that about half of the pieces to the trap were missing and all of the cheese. So, yeah, we got to walk back empty-handed.

At any rate, well before the age of ten, I began having... issues... finding anyone willing to play anything with me. Except, maybe, Battle. Or War. Or whatever you call it. You know, the card game where you just flip over the top card and the player with the high card wins. That one was pure chance, so I could still get people to play that one with me. Then I discovered Risk.

I was in middle school. I'm not really sure how I got introduced to the game, though it may have been at school or, maybe, it was just a present or something I got for a birthday. At any rate, Risk became the game that people were willing to play with me. My brother and my friends and his friends and such. The reason? They could team up against me. Seriously.

Of course, it didn't just start out that way, but it didn't take long for them to realize that that is what it would take for them to have a chance to beat me, and it became the way every game started. Every game. It was just accepted that everyone started out with the goal of beating me and they would worry about each other later. Actually, it was not uncommon for them to just quit playing once they'd defeated me.

I lost a lot of games that way. BUT I still won games, too. Probably something like 1/3 of them. Sometimes, it was upsetting, the whole thing with having everyone always set against me. It's tough when you're 12 to deal with the fact that everyone wants to see you lose. Actually, it's difficult to deal with that at any age, but middle school is already the worst, and always having everyone team up against me made it the worst of the worst.

And it didn't stop there. I started getting into other strategy games in high school and carried that on into college and, pretty much, that became the routine I had to deal with in any group game. Everyone's goal was always to take me out as quickly as possible. The catch was, and I had known this since middle school, if I wanted to play, I just had to deal with it. And I wanted to play.

And that's the way a lot of things in life are. Not the having everyone team up against you but the balancing of the potential of having your feelings hurt against doing the thing you want to do. That's especially true in writing. You have to know going in that you're going to get your feelings hurt at some point. The question is, "Is it worth the Risk to get to do that thing you want to do?" (Look, another version of Risk!)
So I'm going to focus on the writing part since that's what I do, but you can apply this to, well, anything.

When you set out to be a writer, a published one, you really need to go into it with the mindset of having everyone teamed up against you, everyone wanting to see you lose. Which is not to say that everyone actually wants to see you lose, but everyone is playing their own game, and they are all trying to win, so it's not like anyone is on your side, not in any real sense. You're not part of a team like the guys who always teamed up to make sure that I didn't win. You are on your own.

And, then, there are the reviews. Mostly, it's the lack of reviews, but it's also the negative reviews, and you have to go into it knowing that that's going to happen, so you have to go into it willing to put your feelings aside in exchange for getting to do the thing you want to do: writing. You have to put your feelings at Risk.
(Look! Another version of Risk!)
There was one time in college where we were playing a game of Risk down in the lobby of the dorm, five or six of us. One of the guys was really exhorting everyone to go after me. He started in on it as soon as we were setting up. It's not like anyone needed that much convincing, but he just wouldn't stop going on about it, so I decided I would make sure that he, at least, went out before me and started working on his armies. As I got pushed back, I pushed into his territory and slowly took him out of the game. The more he started to lose, the louder he got about everyone taking me out of the game, right up until I broke his last major stronghold, at which point he flipped out, flipped the board up into the air, thew the table over, and stormed out of the room. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for authors to act the same way over a bad review.
(And look again, another version of Risk!)
When you act like that, no one will want to play with you anymore. I have to tell you, it pissed me off, because it was my Risk board that he sent flying all over the room, and it took hours to find all of the little army counters. Oh, no, wait a minute, I didn't find all of the army tokens. I never asked him to join a game again and, guess what, no else ever asked him to play any other game with us again. Ever. All it took was that one moment of poor sportsmanship and no one wanted to Risk another explosion on his part.

You make your choices going in, but you have to be willing to take the consequences. You put your feelings aside in order to get to play the game or you explode to find that no one wants to play with you. Or work with you. Or be around you. Or all they want to do is push the big giant button you've shown yourself to have and they spend their time provoking you just because it's fun.

Personally, I wan to play the game, and I've had, I suppose, pretty good training in dealing with situations where I have to fight the odds to win. Of course, when you do win, it makes victory so much better.

By the way, I still love Risk. I don't get to play it very often, but I love the game.
The multiple versions could be a giveaway, I don't know. This isn't even all the versions I own; these were just the ones conveniently accessed. Right now, my kids are lobbying for this one:
Maybe Christmas...