Friday, May 29, 2015

Tomorrowland (a movie review post)

It's always disappointing to me to see a movie getting panned before it's even been released. I don't mean people saying things like, "Based on the trailer, it doesn't look very good," or, "That doesn't look like something I would like to see." No, I'm talking about full on bashing before a thing has even been released. Some examples come to mind, all movies which under-performed due to extreme negative backlash prior to release: Waterworld, Daredevil, John Carter. Of course, then there's always a movie like (the most recent) The Lone Ranger to give proof to some of that pre-release backlash. [Maybe I shouldn't say that, though, since I still haven't managed to force myself to sit down and watch The Lone Ranger.]

It's rather unfortunate that it looks like Tomorrowland is going to suffer the same kind of fate, because it's quite a fun movie. The worst thing that can be said about it is that it's a movie with a message, but it's not overbearing with its message, not like Happy Feet which picks up some dead fish at the end and slaps you around a bit until you feel like you've been abused. No, Tomorrowland is a choice, a choice you get to make. And it's a fun ride to get there.

The other thing worth noting is that, all things considered, George Clooney is probably the weak link of the film. However, when you're talking about weak links, Clooney is one you'd probably want to have. The problem is that he's really only in the movie to be George Clooney but, then, he's in the movie to be George Clooney. I have to say, I don't think there's anyone better at being George Clooney than George Clooney, so that was a pretty good casting choice, all things considered.

Britt Robertson is great as Casey. She's spunky, headstrong, and equal parts amazed and freaked out by what's going on around her. I'm unfamiliar with her as an actress, though, so I don't know if this was just a role that fit her or if she did a good job in the part. Either way, she was good, and I'll be checking out more from her to see which is which.

Raffey Cassidy was also great. Great enough that you can figure out the thing about her from her acting before you're told the thing about her.

And Hugh Laurie was really good as Nix. I know (now) that he's the famed Dr. House, but I never watched that, so this was really my first experience with him, and I liked him. I'm not saying I'm going to watch House, but I am now interested.

Thomas Robinson was perfectly cast as young Frank. He's just all kid and optimism, and he was fun to watch.

There are a few logic holes in the movie (like Casey watching her future self do something in order to figure out how to do it (a thing I always hate)), but they are few and, really, not very big. Basically, you can explain them away (though you shouldn't have to explain them away, if you know what I mean).

All said, it's a solid movie and a lot of fun to watch. Actually, I think the biggest issue with the movie is not the movie at all; it's the trailer. The trailer doesn't really give you a good idea of what the movie is about, and what it's about is much better than what the trailer leads you to believe. It's certainly not a movie to pass up for no other reason than the bad hype it's getting., and it's a good theater movie.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Clone Wars is coming...

I see some of you out there shaking your heads and thinking, "You're a little late to the party," but just give me a moment. I don't mean The Clone Wars is coming to TV; I mean The Clone Wars is coming to my blog! Sounds awesome, yes? Yes! Of course, it does.

In conjunction with The Armchair Squid, we'll be going through each episode on a weekly basis and evaluating and reviewing them. That means that for... well, like, a couple of years, I guess, there will be a weekly Clone Wars post. If you haven't watched this show and you like Star Wars at all, you really should watch it, and this is a great excuse to do it. This is easily one of the best animated shows ever on TV and, actually, one of the best sci-fi shows, animated or not. Trust me; I've been known to watch some bad sci-fi, and this is not that. If you've already seen it, well, you know you should get in on this. If you want to sign up, just follow the link over to Squid's blog and get signed up!

Now, a few words... which is difficult, because I want to say a lot of words about a lot of different things, but, then, that's a lot of different things, and I don't want this post to go on all season. So let's talk canon. Hey! Pay attention! I said "canon," not "cannon." We are not shooting explosives at people. Here, we use more elegant words from a... okay, well, not so civilized age. Anyway...

Last year, when Disney took over Star Wars, one of the first things they did was to "do away" with the Star Wars Expanded Universe. I have found this whole thing amusing, but the statement they were making had to be made. But let's back up a moment.

Prior to 1991, the only Star Wars canon was the original trilogy. Sure, there were a handful of books in existence (Splinter of the Mind's Eye, some Han Solo books, a Lando book or three), but no one took those as real, especially since some things like Luke cutting Vader's arm off certainly didn't happen within the movie time line. Those books were just fun things on the side. But all of that changed in 1991 due to a couple of events:
1. The publication of Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn.
2. Dark Horse comics' release of Dark Empire #1.

Both of these series take place after Return of the Jedi and are responsible for bringing Star Wars back into the American consciousness. One way or the other, you can probably thank Timothy Zahn for the fact that the prequels exist. It was his Thrawn trilogy (and everything that happened after because of it) that showed Lucas that there was still an interest in Star Wars.

Interesting fact:
Zahn originally wanted to write a trilogy set during the Clone Wars. Lucas said "no" because he knew that if he did ever make the prequels (because at that point he had no plans to do that), they would invalidate the books Zahn wanted to write. So Zahn reformed his clone story and set it after Jedi.

Now, here's the thing:
Lucas always said that anything done outside of the movies could be invalidated at any time (see Splinter of the Mind's Eye) and was never considered canon, hence the Expanded Universe. That's what it was: non-canonical material. But, over time, as there became more and more of it and people became more and more invested in it, even people at Lucasfilm, people began to view the EU as being pretty much as valid as anything Lucas himself did. People had come to view the EU as canonical even though they had been told again and again that it wasn't.

When Disney came in with their plans to officially expand the Star Wars universe, to provide a vast tapestry of new canon, they had to make a hard statement so that people would understand that they weren't going to accommodate the EU into their plans. So "the EU doesn't exist anymore" was a clear way of stating that.

The Clone Wars, though, having come from Lucas, is official Star Wars canon. This is the story. I think it's a good one. I hope you come along for the ride.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Growing Up In the Race Divide (part 6b)

So... The elevator...

And, yes, you should go back and read 6a for context.

The elevators were jammed every morning with teenagers waiting until the last possible moment to leave and, yet, still get to the convention on time. That first morning, it was something like a 10-15 minute wait just to get on the elevator. Being that we were on something like floor 887, the stairs were not an option. Of course, by "elevator" I mean the main elevators that were just off of the lobby area, basically, the "center" of the hotel.

However, either in looking for the ice machine or just looking around the first night, I discovered that there were other elevators. Or, at least, one other elevator. It was at the end of the wing our room was on, well away from the central elevators. The second morning, I suggested that we should try that elevator instead. What was the worst that could happen, right? That it would also be crowded?

And I had to convince everyone! Seriously, what's with having to convince everyone all the time? Okay, I didn't have to convince the girl since she was just, I don't know, along for the ride. I think she actually just lived right outside our hotel door since she was always there waiting for us every morning when it was time to leave, and that's where we left her every night. I seriously don't think anyone knew where her room was.

So we went down to the other elevator, and it was completely empty! No line. No other people at all, in fact. [Why do people always argue with me about these things? I will never know.] So we pushed the button, waited the moment for the elevator to arrive, got in, someone pushed the button for the first floor... and that's when things got interesting.

As soon as the door started to shut, there was a voice from down the hall, "Hold the door! Hold the door! My granny's coming. My granny's coming." Now, the elevator wasn't just at the end of the hall. The end of the hall turned about 30 degrees so that the elevator was facing a window that overlooked the city rather than a blank wall across the hall, which meant that you couldn't see down the hall without actually stepping out of the elevator and looking to the left. But the voice was decidedly childlike. Jeff reached out and stopped the door from closing.

An eight- or nine-year-old boy appeared in front of the elevator. A skinny, little black boy... wearing a tuxedo. A black tuxedo with red, canvas high-top basketball sneakers and a red baseball cap. To say the least, he was adorable. "Hold the door! My granny's coming!"

The door, though, didn't like being held and was fighting against Jeff's hand, so Jeff, being the brilliant college student that he was, decided to "stop" the elevator. By "stop," I don't mean that he pushed the button to hold the doors open or anything like that; by "stop," I mean that he pushed the big, red, emergency "stop" button. Before anyone could do anything about it or even think that we should do anything about it. An alarm sounded.

Bob was gone. I mean that very literally; he was just gone.

If you've been reading this whole series, Bob lived in the neighborhood around our church with his grandmother and his father. It was a big house, one that I'm sure had been very nice when his grandmother had first moved into it something like 60 years earlier. But the neighborhood was in as much of a state of neglect as the house, which is to say that it wasn't, hmm... It wasn't what you'd call safe. So, when the alarm went off, Bob ran so fast, we didn't even see him leave the elevator. [Yes, he did that in front of the girl, whom, if you remember, he had a crush on.] He just wasn't there anymore, and there wasn't even a cloud of dust with the word "zoom" hovering in it to mark where he'd been.

The little boy's eyes were huge, like the proverbial "as big as saucers" kind of eyes. Jeff literally grabbed me and the girl and carried us out of the elevator, almost under his arms, as it were, and said, "Go!" As we came out of the little alcoved corner where the elevator was, we saw Bob way down at the other end of the hall peeking around the corner at us. And, when I say "way down," I mean "way down." The other end of the hall was a good 50 or 60 feet away, and Bob was all the way down there before we'd gotten all the way out of the elevator.

But Bob was not the only one we saw. Coming down the hall was the smaller duplicate of the boy at the elevator. He was probably about four, had on a black tux with red, canvas, high-top basketball sneakers and a red baseball cap. It was like adorable overload with his slightly chubby cheeks. He was saying something like, "What's happening, Granny?" to a short, large black woman in a big, flower dress, and she was saying as we passed, "There go those white boys, done playing in our elevator." Or something to that effect.

Despite the fact that the... incident was definitely user error, we never went back to that elevator and suffered through the long wait times at the regular elevators for the rest of the trip. However, that might have more to do with what happened later...

Friday, May 22, 2015

Epitaph (a book review post)

When I was a kid, before I discovered dinosaurs (which I did at the age of four), the very first thing I wanted to be was a cowboy. My grandfather had cows on his farm, so I figured that made him a cowboy, and that's what I wanted to be. Imagine my surprise when I got to my American history class in high school and learned that the term "cowboy" became popularized and associated with the west because of a band of rustlers operating in Arizona in the 1880s know as the Cow Boys. Yeah, you heard me; the Cow Boys were the bad guys.

Interestingly enough, it was these same Cow Boys who would create the enduring legacy of Wyatt Earp and, by extension, Doc Holliday. Wyatt Earp, who was possibly the ultimate frontier lawman... right up until he wasn't.

Of course, there are those who would argue that he was never a lawman, just an outlaw posing as one, but, mostly, those are the outlaws who accused him of that. Or men like Johnny Behan, and we know Behan was crooked, so it makes his accusations a little less believable.

At any rate, Epitaph is not really a book about Wyatt Earp. Which is not to say that it's not a book about Wyatt Earp, because it is. Mostly, though, it's about the conditions that lead up the shootout that was not actually at the O.K. Corral and the fallout after it. The enduring legacy it created.

The temptation, here, is to get into the history of it, but that's in the book. To say that Mary Doria Russell is a meticulous researcher is probably an understatement. We'll say instead that I trust her research. And, sure, I'm biased and, sure, this is historical fiction, but I believe the facts are mostly in place and the suppositions logically follow from the facts.

That said, it's Russell's ability to allow the reader to walk along with her characters that is her greatest asset. And that's where her research really shows, I think. She writes as if she knows these people, as if she spent time with them, as witnessed these things herself. It creates a completely believable world.

Basically, I can't recommend this book or Russell more highly. And, although this is a companion piece to Doc, Doc is not required reading; Epitaph is not a sequel.

Whether you think Wyatt Earp walked with the angels or the demons (and it's not unreasonable to suspect either considering that he was never shot; even when his clothes ended up full of bullet holes, he never received a wound), this book is worth reading for the insight on the situation. The incident "at" the O.K. Corral formed a view of the Old West that has never been shaken, one of showdowns and street fights that never really existed. And maybe that's okay, because it's the legends we look up to and aspire to be. Parts of me still want to be a cowboy.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Do You Know the Code?

Briane Pagel has a new book out. He says it's the best book he's ever written and, seeing that I have quite liked his other books (except for that pineapple thing), at least the ones I've read, I'm really hoping for good things from this one. I've already picked it up but, with the end of the school year and everything going on with my kids, I haven't had a chance to start reading it. I'll let you know what I think as soon as I do, though.

Until then, here's Briane to talk about Codes!

Wherein I Hate Stuff For No Reason (a guest post by Briane Pagel)

I know this is the space Andrew has lately been reserving for his discussion of how to handle, or not handle, a bad (or, as it was, not-really-so-bad) review, and I think that’s important work. Someone has to stand up to bullies, and Andrew has a good platform from which to do so. That’s why I am extra-appreciative of his willingness to lend me his Wednesday slot in order to let me provide some thinly-veiled marketing in the guise of a LISTICLE!

P.S. WHY does everything on the internet have such a stupid name? Years into it, I still cannot bring myself to say that I tweeted something. I tell people “Oh yeah I posted a link to that on Twitter.” “Blog,” “Tweet,” “listicle,” etc. etc. It’s so degrading. I feel stupid whenever I talk about anything I do on the internet. People will say Are you going to try to publicize your book and I have to say Yes, I plan to… *sigh*… blog… about it.

Where was I? Oh, right: Listicle. People love lists! That was one of the things mentioned in an article I read entitled, “These 5 Amazing Things People Love About The Internet Will Change Your Life.” (Other things included cats and lists about cats.) So I’ve been making the rounds, promoting my new book, Codes, and it just made sense. What better way to discuss a near-future book about a corporation trying to perfect the process of human cloning by implanting computer-programmed personalities into them and marketing the result than to create a superficial list designed to generate fake controversy?

Did that sentence make any sense? It’s been a long day and I got lost in some of the clauses there.

Knowing that Andrew usually uses this space to discuss people’s reactions to bad reviews, I decided that the theme for my latest list would at least tangentially relate to that topic, and so I came up with the idea of reviewing shows and books I’ve never even seen, and, of course, panning them.

If you’re like me (and I pray you’re not. TAKE MY WORD FOR IT) then there are LOTS and LOTS of things you HATE, almost-sight-unseen. I am a champion at hating stuff before I know anything about it. I can dislike something practically before I know it exists. It’s a talent. Books, movies, TV shows, songs, certain shades of green… doesn’t matter what it is, I can hate it right up front. And, more than just hate quietly, I can -- based on that completely uninformed opinion review the bejeebers out of that thing I hate. YES! FREE SPEECH! ‘MERICA! Let’s get to it!

1. The Walking Dead: I have never seen this show, or even a preview for it. That has not stopped me from hating it so much that I have started disliking other shows if a commercial for TWD airs during them. Can we NOT have any more allegories about our society told through the zombie format? This thing is all over! I can’t go onto a web page without seeing some picture of a sweaty guy or girl holding a machete and looking fierce next to a headline about how TWD is really going to amazeballs you with the storyline this week. LET ME GUESS: They nearly get overrun by zombies but then hack their way out! Also, where is everyone getting these machetes in the first place? I am 46 years old and I have never seen a machete in real life. Do the zombies bring them? Do they sell them at the True Value ™ Hardware Store? In real life, a zombie apocalypse would feature 100% fewer machetes and 100% more “Dads holding a bed lamp they grabbed off the table.”

2. The New Star Trek Movies: This automatic-dislike probably began when they cast Chris Pine as Captain Kirk in the first “new” Star Trek movie. Looking at Chris Pine gives me the same feeling I get when I grind my teeth, only less pleasant. That was bad enough. But then I heard that in one of these movies they had Kirk driving around in a hot rod on Earth. You know what space operas don’t need? Drag races on planet Earth. But to top it off, they remade “The Wrath Of Khan.” YOU CANNOT REMAKE THE WRATH OF KHAN. That is like remaking a rainbow. Like remaking a glorious, rage-filled, fist-shaking, Enterprise-attacking, earwig-monster-injecting, desert-planet-inhabiting, Fantasy-Island-operating rainbow.

3. The Hunger Games. OH. MY. GOD. From the moment I first heard of this series of books I thought they sounded like the dumbest thing ever. Here is my understanding of the plot: some government starves all its citizens, so that they will send a bunch of kids to shoot each other with arrows in order to get a little bit of extra food. HOW DOES THAT MAKE SENSE? How would that system work? It could never! But then after all the kids shoot each other or whatever, the two (?) winners (?) get elected to the government or something, like Charlie winning the chocolate factory only Jennifer Lawrence didn’t even have to give back the gobstopper? NO DO NOT BOTHER EXPLAINING WHERE I GOT IT WRONG. The plot doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t have to, because it’s a book for teenagers, and teenagers love it when things don’t make sense. It lets them be convinced that adults don’t ‘understand’ them. That’s why I loved The Cure when I was seventeen, and why kids nowadays love The Hunger Games and its sequels, New Moon and whatever the third one was with Percy Jackson.

3a.Bonus hatred: I cannot stand Jennifer Lawrence. Not even a little bit. She is somehow the female version of that guy in 8th grade who thought smelling farts was funny. Associating her with a movie makes me that much less likely to see it. If “J-Law” showed up on my doorstep with a giant pizza and a bootleg director’s cut of the next Star Wars movie, I wouldn’t even answer the door.

Let’s do one more. This is fun! How about:

4. Anything by Isaac Asimov. To be honest, I am not sure where this one comes from because I do not know really anything about Asimov other than I dislike him and everything I imagine he stands for. I know as a scifi-ish writer myself I am supposed to apparently love Isaac Asimov and everyone’s always talking about how he predicted the future and his laws of robotics and etc blah blah blah, but I can’t be bothered. I’m not even sure what Asimov is supposed to have written. Foundation, I think? I’d go look it up but I’d rather my browser not have a history of searching for Asimov stuff. Even I am cooler than that. I think Asimov wrote that story that got made into I, Robot, starring Will Smith, and can we as a society really take an author seriously anymore if Will Smith likes his stuff? I’m also pretty sure that in reality there’d be no way robots could be programmed not to harm humans, which I think was a ‘law’ of robotics Asimov pulled out of thin air and made people believe was a thing. It’s so dumb: suppose I was being held hostage by Chris Pine and Jennifer Lawrence and the only way I’m getting out alive is if C-3PO (do NOT get me started on R2-D2!) snipes them both with a laser rifle from across the road. OH WAIT there’s a LAW that he can’t kill them, only if he DOESN’T, then he’s harming a human by letting me die, right? That is NOT how laws work, Isaac Asimov. You don’t see gravity only holding people down if it’s nonparadoxical.

In closing, you’ll note that the only people I picked on in here are people who are dead, or who don’t matter, or who are Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pine and so deserve it. I don’t have to worry about anyone overreacting or calling me crazy or taking me to task for these entirely unfounded and ill-informed, and yet still 100% correct, opinions. Don’t forget to mention in the comments how much you agree with me!

Something I don’t hate: My book, Codes: Robbie had an ordinary life, until she walked into Gravity Sling. Now he’s seeing coded messages everywhere, being chased by shadowy big-corporation goons, and questioning literally everything about the world as he knows it. Some questions need answers. This Phillip K. Dick style debut science fiction novel raises questions about how people use technology and each other.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Weekly (Pat) Report #2: The Finale

As often happens with these kinds of things, they just sort of fade away. At least to all outward appearances. After a huge explosion after last Wednesday's post (and it was epic, let me tell you), Pat offered a truce, which covers fixing the things he did but not the things his sister did. As it turns out, his sister is willing to offer her brother up as a sacrifice for a vendetta that isn't hers just because it's fun to do mean things to people (that's a paraphrase of her actual words, not something I'm just saying). Pat, though, is doing his best to counteract what his sister has done, since she's unwilling to retract all of the fake ratings she threw at me.

And that's where it stands and where it will stand unless something else happens. I'm hoping that nothing else happens.

Because this is related, I recently (last week) started reading The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha; you probably know it better simply as Don Quixote, but I just love the full title. Now, just in case you don't know, this book is 400 years old and is one of the first examples of a novel in Western literature. Yet, in the prologue to the book, Cervantes felt compelled to write the following:
Idle reader, you need no oath of mine to convince you that I wish this book, the child of my brain, were the handsomest, the liveliest, and the wisest that could be conceived. ...if a father should happen to sire an ugly and ill-favored child, the love he bears it claps a bandage over his eyes and so blinds him to its faults that he reckons them as talents and graces and cites them to his friends as examples of wit and elegance. But I, who appear to be Don Quixote's father, am in reality his stepfather and do not intend to follow the usual custom, nor to beg you, almost with tears in my eyes, as others do, dearest reader, to pardon or dissemble the faults you may see in this child of mine. You are no kinsman or friend of his; ...all of which exempts and frees you from every respect and obligation. So you may say what you please about this story without fear of being backbitten for a bad opinion or rewarded for a good one.
So... There you go. 400 years ago, Cervantes was saying, "Review the thing however you want to. Be honest. You won't get a response from me one way or the other." Evidently, he was the exception in his time period, not the rule.

I suppose this is just an example of how people don't really change all that much. 400 years later, we're still struggling with the concept of allowing people to honestly receive our work.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Growing Up In the Race Divide (part 6a)

Wow! A new part! And a less serious part, just to give a bit of a break from all of the heaviness around here, lately.

In the summer of 1985, I went to a youth conference in Washington D.C. with my friend Bob (which I talked about some here, but that is a heavy post, so be aware before you click through). One thing I didn't mention in that other post is that we had to have a chaperon in order to be able to go since we were only 15. We were already hitching a ride with a group from Texas just to be able to go, but we had to provide our own chaperon, which was almost a sticking point for us, because we couldn't find anyone in our church willing to go with us even though the church was willing to foot the bill for the trip for the chaperon.

So I had to get ingenious. We'd been to summer camp a few weeks before the D.C. trip and had met a college guy there. He was between his freshman and sophomore years, too, just Texas A&M instead of high school. Jeff was one of those charismatic guys whom everyone loves right away, and he was also from Shreveport, so I gave him a call and asked him if he wanted to go on a free trip to Washington D.C.

Now, I want to make one thing really clear, here: We liked Jeff, but we didn't really know Jeff. But the church okay'd him to go with us as chaperon, anyway. Of course, I did a lot of convincing, both to get Jeff to go (Because I had to convince him to go on a FREE! trip to D.C.! What the heck?) and to get them to let him go.

Another thing: Jeff's family was rich. Not only was his family rich, but he was rich. When he was around 10 or 12, he'd written (put together) a book of Aggie jokes that had become a bestseller (I have a copy somewhere). The royalties had all gone into a trust fund that he had received when he turned 18, several hundred thousand dollars. He had a Camaro with a TV and VCR that came out of the glove compartment area and was really only good for the driver. Having been a passenger in that car, I can tell you that the TV was not viewable by anyone else. That car was the first thing he spent his joke book money on.

Of course, there's a lot more to all of this, but it's not the actual story. I just need you to know enough about Jeff so that you have an idea of what's going on.

And there was a girl. Because there's always a girl.

I don't remember exactly how we met the girl except that it had to do with a screw up with the hotel. The hotel we were supposed to stay in had overbooked and, since our little trio wasn't really apart of the group we were supposed to be with [And we were, actually, supposed to be with that group, which is probably part of why my church let Jeff go with us. You know, how much trouble could we possibly get into when we would be with this other youth group?], they peeled us off and sent us to a different hotel. A swanky hotel a block from the Capitol Building. You know, one of those hotels that puts mints on your pillows every morning after they came in and cleaned your room. In fact, we could look out our window and see the Capitol Building up at the end of the street.

That's where we met the girl. Probably during check in, because she was attached to us almost the entire trip. No, I don't know whom she was supposed to be with. No one ever came looking for her. She was, maybe, a year older than Bob and me. Bob had a big crush on her, and she had a big crush on Jeff. To his credit, Jeff wasn't interested.

Fun fact:
The hotel the rest of "our group" was supposed to stay in had a fire the morning after we arrived, and they got shuffled out to various budget motels on the outskirts of D.C. None of them were very happy with us when we'd run into them. They had to get up super early to get bused to the convention center, no one cleaned their rooms, and they didn't get mints. Not only did we get mints, but we were able to just catch the Metro to the convention center; it took no time at all. In fact, the longest part of the trip was waiting for the hotel elevator.

Speaking of elevators... Well, let's just say that what happens in elevators doesn't always stay in elevators. But you'll have to find out about that next week.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Name of the Wind (a book review post)

I'm going to start out by saying, "I get it." I get why people rave over this book. It's epic fantasy, and it feels so big. Oh, the incredible world building! And it's told in first person! How can you get better than that? First person epic fantasy!

But it's all a trick. Smoke and mirrors. A lie. Whatever you want to call it. The world building, in actuality, is almost non-existent. What we have are constant views of the insides of wagons and inns. Beyond that, the only thing we have any experience of is the university, and we don't get much of that. Rothfuss fakes it all by telling us this other stuff exists, but we never see it.

Look at Tolkien: He never just tells us a place exists. We come across it, experience it, discover it then, maybe, he tells us about it. Even Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkin take us to and show us the places in his world. Rothfuss just mentions places and lets us assume that his world is big, but he never really even shows us the University. Thinking about it, now, I am realizing how little he gave us about this incredibly "important" part of the book. We know there's a big, box of a building with a bunch of sprawling stuff that was poorly planned. It's like Hogwarts with all the confusion except that Hogwarts has a reason for that to be. Rothfuss just wants to evoke the same kind of thing without having a reason for it.

And, speaking of Hogwarts, can we be through, now, with the young, brilliant student thing for a while? Seriously, how many times are we going to do that? And with, pretty much, the exact same formula: gifted student arrives at magic school, gifted student immediately makes an enemy out of one of the professors, gifted student immediately creates a nemesis in one of the students, gifted student is constantly getting in trouble but comes out the better for it each time, gifted student is generally gifted at everything.

But I think I'm getting ahead of myself, because I was tired of the book way before Kvothe ever got the University.

The book opens as a third person tale. I was good with that. Really good with that. In fact, I am very not good with the seeming overwhelming desire of everyone to write everything in first person these days. So we take this fine, third person story and, just as it's starting, we switch to first person reflection on the protagonists life. And it is so contrived! I could just feel the author thinking, "How can I get Kvothe to tell his own story?" So, you know, he has a guy show up who wants to make a book out of his story and convinces him -- Kvothe, who is supposed to be in hiding and doesn't want anyone to know who he is -- with almost not effort to do that. The whole situation felt completely out of character for Kote, the persona that Kvothe is playing, and it actually felt out of character for Kvothe, especially as we learn more about him, because he never displays any interest in having people know "the truth" and is perfectly fine with them making up whatever they want to further his reputation.

Then, it got worse. One of the first things Kvothe does is explain to us how to say his name. This is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever seen done in a book and was completely the author, for lack of a better way of putting it, showing off. Think about it. The guy he's talking to knows how to say his name. Even if he hadn't known who Kvothe was, all Kvothe needed to do was to say, "I'm Kvothe." See, there, he heard it. Only us out here in reading land didn't hear it, and Rothfuss, for whatever reason, wanted to make sure we knew the "correct" pronunciation, so he has Kvothe explain it to us.

Now, you might be saying, "But he was explaining for future readers of the story!" Except, well, Kvothe is already a legendary figure -- yes, even in his own time -- so everyone already knows how to say his name, because there are stories about him floating around everywhere. Suggesting that people in the future wouldn't know how to pronounce his name would be like suggesting that we should need Julius Caesar to explain to us how to say his name. Or, maybe, Kanye explaining... um, wait... But, still, the argument stands. I almost just put the book down, right then, when he started explaining his name.

And, then, he stopped to explain how magic works. Really? Why do that? There's no need for anyone to know except that the author wanted to show off how clever he is by explaining his magic system and how it works to the audience. In a world where magic is feared, no one would have stopped to explain that. It was gratuitous. And completely not clever since all it amounted to is that his magic system relies on the laws of conservation of matter and energy.

Except that didn't seem to apply to food, because the food, even in the dead of winter in the snow, seemed to always magically stay warm.

Yeah, right, whatever.

The worst bit, though, other than the name thing which was also the worst bit (and that's me making fun of Rothfuss saying about two different things about a page apart "it was the most beautiful thing I'd seen in three years") was the part where Kvothe suddenly takes off to go investigate a Chandrian rumor. This may be the most contrived situation I've ever seen in a book. Sure, we know that Kvothe is interested in the Chandrian and that he has very passively been trying to find out about them. Very passively. So passively you can barely tell. Then, he hears this rumor about a Chandrian attack and he just drops everything and runs off to investigate it.

There are two things about this:
1. It is clear from the context of the book that the land Kvothe lives in is very rumor infested. Therefore, it is unreasonable to suppose that this is the first rumor of the Chandrian that Kvothe has heard in the past few years, but he takes off specifically to investigate this particular rumor. It would be more believable if Rothfuss had shown us an ongoing interest in Kvothe tracking down these rumors, but he doesn't do that. We're left to believe that Kvothe, at 15, suddenly has an irresistible urge to check this one out.
2. The other option is that this really is the first rumor about the Chandrian that Kvothe has heard since they killed his family. Then, we have to wonder why that is. It's a superstitious land full of superstitious people and rumors about all sorts of mystical things. That there wouldn't be other rumors like this is even harder to believe.

Of course, when he gets there, he finds Denna there in the middle of it. Of course, he does.

And he kills a dragon. Of course, he does.

Which brings us back to blue fire and why there hadn't been any Chandrian rumors due to the blue fire of the dragon.

I could go on...

Basically, this book contained nothing new. It was every fantasy cliche there is out there, including the orphaned boy living on the streets, shaken up and redistributed less skillfully than the sources they came from. Especially, the Kvothe Potter sections. There was nothing charming or interesting about any of it, just Kvothe being better than everyone always.

The end is the only thing that saves the book from being a complete waste of time, but that's just there to entice you on to the next one, and I am tempted, but I'm pretty sure that one will be more of the same, meaning barely more than a complete waste of time. At the moment, I plan not to be lured into going on. Maybe if Rothfuss ever finishes the third one and I hear that it is just extraordinary... Of course, that's what I heard about this one.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Weekly (Pat) Report #1

Well... Here we are! Another week in the saga of the Revenge of the Fake Reviews! You're probably all tired of hearing about it by now; I know I'm tired of talking about it. BUT, if you want things to be righted, you can't stop talking about it, because that's the same as saying, "What you did is okay, and I'm going to let you get away with it." Dilloway has already been implying that he wants me to stop talking about the things he's done and his patterns of behavior, and I will... just as soon as he has his sister take down all the fake reviews/ratings she has up for me. Which are also on goodreads, now, because Dilloway can't stop himself from escalating the situation even as he's talking about how I should stop talking about him.

So... Let's review the situation, shall we?

1. I wrote a review of a book not written by Pat Dilloway.
2. Pat Dilloway freaked out and had a hissy fit because the author of the book was a friend of his.
3. As a result of his hissy fit, he attacked my review in each place it was posted.
4. He also, in a attempt to "give me a taste of my own medicine," lowered the rating of a book of mine, "Tiberius," which he had previously reviewed and rated four stars, to one star.
5. Pat tried to extort me to change my review of the other book by offering to change his rating on "Tiberius" back to what he originally gave it. Not one to be extorted, I said no, but that whole exchange made me angry. This is not a "hey, I'll lie for you if you'll lie for me" kind of thing.
6. Then, he wrote a post on the IWM blog about what a horrible person I am and accused me of being someone who just goes around giving out 1-star ratings, basically, because I feel like it and because I like being mean to people.
7. At that point, I wrote a post explaining, again, my stance on honest reviews. This post had nothing in and of itself to do with Pat Dilloway, although he took exception to it just as he did the first time I stated my stance years ago. Also, Briane Pagel wrote a post about honesty in reviews which he posted on the IWM blog in no small part because Pat's view that reviews should be biased toward the author for indie books (although he does not practice his own stated stance and will freely give negative reviews to people he doesn't like or to whom he views as a threat or competition) is not a reflection of the views of IWM.
8. Pat expanded his attack on me to include Briane and 1-starred at least one of Briane's books in response to Briane's post about reviews.
9. I wrote a post about the childish behavior of Pat Dilloway with the idea that the way you deal with bullying behavior is to bring it to light. The bully wins if you keep it hidden, and it allows the bully to keep doing it and do it to other people.
10. Pat began harassing me and calling me names in the comments section on my blog (he had also been doing the same to me on goodreads).
11. I published a review of a book of his which I had previously withheld. I see, now, that withholding the review in the first place was a mistake but, at the time, I had not wanted to get into it with Dilloway, because I already knew how he reacted to bad reviews. The review was not revenge, as he seems to think, but was to make a point, again, about the types of reviews that I do, i.e. reviews with objective reasoning based on the product which have nothing to do with how I may feel about the author.
12. Dilloway, of course, attacked the review. Another reviewer pointed out some of the things that I was talking about in the review, things Dilloway said didn't exist, and Dilloway attacked him, too. The other reviewer posted his own review of Dilloway's book because his comments somehow mysteriously vanished from the comment thread on Amazon, and Dilloway attacked that review, too, though most of Dilloway's comments were removed by Amazon.
13. Dilloway began spamming my comment sections on my posts with hundreds of comments calling me names. Yes, I said hundreds. These comments I just ignored and stored, but Dilloway, then, went out of his way to also call various of my commenters names and, actually, called all of my commenters stupid.
14. Because of Dilloway's "I didn't do that, oh, I did do that but it's okay" attitude and his similarity to Vox Day along with his persistence in spamming my comments, I wrote the Sad Puppy post.
15. Dilloway asked for people to help teach me a lesson (on Facebook (I saw the post but don't remember the exact language he used)), and his sister went over to Amazon and began 1-starring all of my books. Later, his other sister also 1-starred the same books that Dilloway had 1-starred.
16. Dilloway wrote another post about what a horrible person I am and how I am just petty dictator for removing all of his comments which were full of nothing more than calling people names and insulting people. Sorry, it's my blog and, if insulting people is the best you have, I don't need that on my blog.
17. Amazon stepped in and removed all of the Dilloway siblings reviews/ratings on "Tiberius" and The House on the Corner. Dilloway re-posted his reviews, both with 3-star ratings, just to have Amazon remove them again. That happened several times (at least three), but Dilloway was persistent in re-posting the reviews every time Amazon removed them. They currently stand with 3-star ratings. Neither sister replaced their reviews on those books, but the first sister still has six 1-star ratings of my work on Amazon.
18. Dilloway began spreading around, in order to show how horrible I am, that I am currently in a feud with my church. That's a very interesting thing since, currently, I do not attend church nor have I in years. I'm assuming that Dilloway is referring to the series I've been doing about racism, and I am going to be generous and assume that his misunderstanding came from a lack of being able to read closely rather than that he is siding with the batch of racist assholes I was talking about in those posts.
Oh, wait, he could have just been purposefully lying about me so as to discredit me. Hmm... yeah, let's go with that option. Occam's Razor and all of that.
19. His sister expanded her rating attack to goodreads where she has currently given me more than 50 1-star ratings (because each piece of the Shadow Spinner serialization is still listed there).

This is the point at which I'm saying that I am not going to quit talking about Pat Dilloway and what he has done and is doing until he fixes it. Not just his reviews (he also went and downrated everything he'd rated of mine on goodreads), because he's changed those so that he can, I suppose, say, "Hey, look, I don't have any bad reviews of his works," but his sister's, too, since, ultimately, he is responsible for those being there. Also, if I see that he's doing this kind of thing to anyone else, I will do my best to let people know about that, too. Because, you know what? Bullies don't get to win.

And, now, for my favorite one!

20. Just this week, Dilloway has published a post saying how much he hates me and how, also, he's sure that everyone believes he's an asshole but, really, what he's doing is okay because he keeps it isolated to "out-of-the-way message boards and blogs." At least he's not putting it in a book that's for sale on, say, Amazon where thousands of people could see it.

The logic here is amazing to me. It's kind of like saying, "Hey, I know I hit you in the back of the head with this board, but at least I did it in this alley where no one could see instead of out on the street." Or, "I know I stole $100.00 from you, but at least I didn't steal $1000.00." It is not the magnitude of something that makes it wrong. The thing is wrong or it's not. Speeding is still against the law even if there are no cops around to catch you.

He also states in the that post that he has been involved in "many a flame war," which I also find interesting considering his stance that I am the problem. I suppose that this could be considered a flame war except that I have kept all of my talk (except for one stray comment) restricted to my blog and have also restricted my talk to only pointing out actual actions without resorting to calling names and insulting anyone's intelligence. At any rate, I think the person who has an issue with getting involved in flame wars should take a look at his behavior.

So that's the update. Next week's will be restricted to only new developments, but I wanted to get the sequence of events down here at the outset. I think I covered everything, at any rate.

If you would like to find out what you can do to help fight the bullies who attack and/or intimidate authors like this just because they can, please feel free to email me.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Growing Up In the race Divide (part 5e)

This post is not specifically about racism, but it would hardly be fair to not tell how it all ended.

After the church made the decision to merge, I went into damage control mode in order to protect my youth group. I mean, I knew I wasn't going to have a job anymore once all the merger stuff happened, but I wanted to make sure my kids were taken care of.

Wait, let me back up a step:
What they tried to tell me (and kept telling me over the few months that all the legal stuff for the merger took place) is that I would be necessary through the merger and beyond; they would need me to help integrate the two groups of kids. "Don't worry; you're not going to lose your job." But I knew that was bullshit. Not that it mattered. There was no way I was transferring to the other church.

We set up some joint events between the two youth groups... you know, so they could get to know each other. Yeah, it sounds like it would be such a great idea. Except, well, the other group, being the teenagers of upper middle- and lower upper-class parents were completely dismissive of my group. And my group tried. I had a couple of very outgoing kids, and they walked right up to some of the other teens to introduce themselves, and the kids from the other group would just turn and walk away without saying anything. Basically, at each event we had set up, my group got shunned by the other group. And their youth pastor did nothing about it. Each event, within 20-30 minutes, my kids were saying to me, "We don't want to be here. They won't talk to us."

And here's the complication:
I spent a few years working as a substitute teacher during this time (because I wasn't on staff at the church, just an hourly worker), so I knew a lot of the kids in the other youth group. I was a well-liked sub. In fact, I was the favorite sub of at least two schools because, as the administrators said, I was one of the very rare subs who was liked by both the students and the teachers. So I knew the kids in this other group, and they already knew that they liked me. Many of them liked me more than their own youth pastor (who, honestly, wasn't a lot of fun).

At the very first joint event we went to, a social event at their youth center, within 10 minutes of us being there, a girl from the other group, a girl that I knew, walked over to me where I was standing with a couple of my kids and said to me, in front of them, "Why are you hanging out with these losers? Come hang out with us; we're better." After I recovered from my disbelief, I made it clear that my kids were not losers, and I wasn't going to have anyone talking that way.

Yes, the other pastor and I had a discussion, though it was less discussing and more me just telling him like it was. This guy who was a decade older than me. But he didn't argue. It also didn't change anything.

Which mostly brings us up to the week of the merger. There was a last Sunday at the church I grew up in; that was the day they announced the merger was official and that the next Sunday would be at the other church. The other church was supposed to send one of their buses around to pick up my kids for the Sunday morning youth stuff on that first Sunday. That was the only thing I was concerned with.

Now, you have to understand that on the Sunday of the announcement, the last Sunday in our building, they were still telling me, "We need you. We need you." Technically, we didn't become part of the other church until midnight, so Monday. Monday afternoon, I got a call, a call I was expecting, "We just wanted to let you know that your services are no longer required." That's pretty close to the exact wording, "Your services are no longer required."

I called everyone I knew that week, everyone with any power to affect the first Sunday of joint services, to make sure that they picked up my kids. "Yes, yes. It's all fine. We'll pick them up." Sunday morning came. My parents and brother went to church. I was somewhat livid over that fact. My mom, I suppose, was trying to keep her job. At least, at the time she was. They went; I stayed home. Sometime around mid-morning, I got the first call, "No one picked me up."

"No one picked me up."

"No one picked us up."

"What do we do?"

"What do I do?"

It's what I knew was going to happen. I was full of rage and tears, and there was nothing I could do about it. Again, on the Monday, because I had made some calls on Sunday knowing I wouldn't be able to get anyone, I got a call, "We've decided that it's not cost effective to pick up your kids. You'll have to find some other place for them to go."

And I did try. But these kids had just had their home ripped away from them, and for some of them, my group was almost literally their home. The only place they felt safe. Including the kid I had to kick out of service about once a month whom I never expected to keep coming back, the kid who, when picked up by the cops one night, had them bring him to me, not his parents, and who did, always, keep coming back. And their home was just... gone. Because it wasn't "cost effective."

Of the three dozen kids, only three of them allowed me to get them situated in another group. My old youth pastor's group at the church he'd moved to when I was graduating from high school. Just three. The rest... just quit church.

What they learned was that churches couldn't be trusted. Churches were full of hypocrites. Churches only wanted you if you had money and wore the right clothes. The people in churches were worse than the people not in churches so why bother to go. There was no, "They will know you are Christians by your love."

Now, it's easy to say at this point, "Well, that was just a bad church," but I  have worked with and in a substantial number of churches across three states, and they were all essentially the same. Except one. That one was a church composed of homeless people and existed through donations to keep it running. "Keep it running" meant enough money to pay to rent the space they used on Sunday nights and to feed the homeless people who came. Yes, they came to eat, but they also listened while they were there. There was no salary for the pastor or any staff or deacons. Just some people who volunteered to help make sure people were getting fed.

All of the other churches where very much about looking the part if you wanted to attend. The right color skin (white or, maybe, slightly "tanned" (meaning there might be someone of Asian or Pacific Islander descent, but there were no black people)), the right kind of clothes, and, most importantly, the right kind of money. You know the focus is wrong when, during a social event, the pastor turns to you and says, "Hey, by the way, how much are you tithing, right now?" [True story.]

Friday, May 8, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (a movie review post)

The second Avengers movie opens in the middle of a mission. In one sense, it's odd to step into it in the middle of the fighting; however, it serves to show the camaraderie of the group. You can see that they have actually been working together enough to have banter and to have "moves." The way Thor and Cap work together throughout the movie is particularly impressive. Basically, what we have is a fully functioning Avengers team. For about five minutes. Give or take. That's about how long it takes for things to go to Hell.

The movie continues the progression of the Infinity War story, which, since it's been announced as the next movie, I'm not treating as a spoiler, but, more importantly, it sets the stage for the next Captain America movie, which I'm also not treating as a spoiler since it's also been announced.

Beyond that, there's not much I can talk about without spoilers, but I will say this (because it was in the trailers and virtually everyone must have seen pictures by now):
The fight between Iron Man and the Hulk was amazing. Iron Man's Hulk-buster armor is awe inspiring.

Oh, and I really, really hope that this Avengers is also setting up for another solo Hulk movie. Now that we have Mark Ruffalo, it's about time.

Which brings us to the actors. I don't know what there is that can be said about the returnees that hasn't already been said. There's no weak link. Not even Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, who has emerged as a more central figure in the team dynamic. It's good.

So let's talk about the newcomers:
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver -- He was adequate. It was more that there wasn't enough screen time for him to get a feel for him as a character than it was about the acting. The character in the movie is not the same as the Quicksilver from the comic (who is, more than anything else, haughty), so there was nothing to draw from. I think his signature line really worked for him, though.

Elizabeth Olsen as the Scarlet Witch -- She was suitably spooky in her movements and, although there is a bit more development with her, it still wasn't enough for me to get a handle on her as a character. Again, she doesn't remind me at all of the character from the comics.

Speaking of comparisons to the comics...
I mentioned in one of my earlier Marvel Studios reviews the need to be okay with the divergence of the movie universe from the comic universe. I get that, and I'm okay with it. I don't have a problem with the link to Magneto being removed from the brother/sister duo (though I know that there has been a lot of pissing and moaning about it in some circles). I don't have a problem with the changes to the origins of Ultron and... well, I'll leave him nameless, just in case. The movie universe is not the same. That's fine. The lack of relation to the comics with the case of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch just leaves me without a comparison to make. They were fine. I just need to see more development before I can form an opinion.

James Spader as the voice of Ultron -- Since his bizarre run in The Office, I've found his new quirkiness fascinating. He used it well as Ultron, playing off of the personality of Tony Stark perfectly. He was great.

Age of Ultron is a great addition to the ongoing Marvel movie story line. In many ways, it is a standalone movie, sort of like an episode of a TV show, something Joss Whedon does well. It has a concise story arc that begins and finishes in  this movie, and you don't really need to have seen any of the other Marvel movies to understand what's going on. Having the background makes it a richer, more full experience, but you don't need to have seen them. On the other side of that, you can see the various plot threads the pass through this movie come into it and go back out again (especially the stuff with the Infinity Gems), and that takes more than a small amount of skill to weave those things through without them being a distraction to the main story.

I think I had one small complaint with the movie, but I don't remember what that was, now, so it can't have been that big a deal. It's probably not quite as fun as the first one, but that's about it. I would probably call this a 4.5, but I'll give it the full 5 just for bringing in some of the side characters, especially The Falcon.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

On Bad Behavior and Author Tantrums: Why It's Bad for the Indie Writer Community (or I Bet You Think This Post Is About You) (an IWSG post)

I live with a fairly harsh critic. Food critic, that is. She's hard to please when it comes to what she wants to eat. She's always been that way, my daughter. The boys were always pretty easy, but, when my daughter was a baby, we'd spend an hour, easy, just trying to find something that she was willing to eat when she was hungry. Talk about a nightmare! We were so glad when she learned to talk and could tell us what she wanted.

The problem, these days, is that the dinner selection most nights is pretty narrow. As my wife says, "A hunk of meat and some vegetables." If my daughter was rating dinners at our house, most nights would get one star from her. In response, I work with her as much as possible to make her school lunches interesting for her. [On the other hand, the boys take the same thing every day and are more than happy with it.] It's a small price to pay and works a lot better than me throwing a tantrum at her every night because she doesn't want to eat what I cooked.

I've known those parents, by the way. The ones that yell at their kids if they don't want to eat dinner. "This is perfectly good food, and you will eat it!" Or something like that. It makes the kids scared to voice their opinion... even when asked.

And that goes for readers.

But let's look at book bloggers, first. If you travel around to the blogs of book bloggers and take a look at the ones who will not review indie books (which is most of them), you will find two reasons repeated across most of the blogs:
1. The books aren't very good.
2. If you say the books aren't very good, you get attacked by the authors for saying it.
Basically, an author approaches a book blogger and says, "Hey, would you be willing to review my book."
The blogger says, "Yes, but it will be an honest review."
The author says, "Oh, yes, of course! That's what I want! An honest review!"
When the blogger gives the book a 1- or 2-star rating, the author explodes, "How could you do that to my book? My book is awesome! You're just stupid and didn't get it!"
Sometimes it's not actually the author but a friend of the author "sticking up" for his/her friend, but it amounts to the same thing.

From experience, I'm going to say that this happens a lot. I'm guessing I've done about 40 reviews of indie books at this point (no, I'm not going back to count), and I've had that response at least half a dozen times, now. That's significant. It's even more significant if you reduce the overall number from books I've reviewed to authors I've reviewed, which is a considerably smaller number.

And, then, maybe it makes sense as to why readers tend to stay away from indie books. When the author of the book attacks you for a negative review, it makes sense to stay away from that author. Unfortunately, it also makes sense to stay away from all of those indie authors (because traditionally published authors don't tend to attack reviews in the comment section on Amazon (maybe that's because the publishers keep a rein on the authors and prevent them from doing that, I don't know)); you can't tell which ones haven't grown up enough to not act like a 3rd grader over a negative review.

Of course, the whole thing can be even worse if you are another indie author, because many of these tantrum throwing authors will retaliate for perceived bad reviews by seeking revenge against you through the giving of fake, 1-star reviews, including getting their friends and/or family to join in "the cause" of giving that guy "a taste of his own medicine."

And, yes, this is a situation I'm going through, right now, as you know if you follow my blog. The author in question, along with his sister, have been fairly free about 1-starring everything I've published and bashing the cover art done by the talented Rusty Webb. What we'll call the drama around this situation prompted Tony Laplume to ask me "why?" Why review books at all if it leads to situations like this one? I think that's a very good question, because the whole thing seems... well, let's just say it's a minefield, and there's no way through it without setting some of them off.

I think there are three main reasons why indie authors need to step up and give honest reviews to their fellow indie authors:
  1. It helps to legitimize the field of indie publishing. Right now, the general view from the outside is that indie writers are all busy shining each other's crap and saying how good it is. Basically, we all go around giving each other 5-stars on our books no matter how bad they are, so you can't trust indie writers. [This is, by the way, the point of contention between me and the other author. He believes that all indie authors (or, at least, the ones who are his friends) deserve the automatic 5-star rating because, in his words, "selling books is fucking hard."] However, when indie authors will step and give real, actual, honest reviews, it shows readers they can trust the field in general. Honest reviews are good for everyone.
  2. Following that, it's good for the readers. Your readers deserve to be able to scan through reviews, if they so wish, and use them to reliably choose a book they think they will like. When the reviews are all gushing, fake, 5-star reviews, the reader gets gypped and chooses to not by more indie books. Also, giving the honest review can shine a light on tantrum-throwing authors. Invariably, tantrum-throwing authors attack the reviews in the comments. For readers who use reviews to help choose books, that can serve as a warning of which authors to stay away from. It a lot of ways, it's better for you, as an indie author, to be attacked than an unsuspecting reader.
  3. Finally, it benefits you, as a fellow author. If you review one of your friend's books with a less than stellar review and s/he turns into a green rage machine and unfriends you and... well, it can be all kinds of things that happen after that, you will find out who your friends actually are and who of them are just using you because they think they can weasel some good reviews out of you. You don't need those people. Honestly, you don't.
I'm not going to say this is an easy thing to do. It can be especially difficult to just sit and take it. I mean, I want to go and refute every one of those fake reviews posted by Dilloway's sister. I want to do that. But I'm not going to. It looks bad. As I said, readers need to feel safe, and they need to feel safe to leave negative reviews if they so desire and, even though her reviews are fake, if I go and comment, it will look like I'm one of those authors who will go after people for leaving negative reviews. As indie authors, the best thing we can do is support each other in leaving actual, honest reviews and, more importantly, support each other in taking actual, honest reviews.

And, you know, stand up to the bullies who will use their power to retaliate against you with 1-star reviews. There are things you can do together to make what they're doing meaningless. But that's another post... or you can just email me to find out what you can do to help.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Growing Up In the Race Divide (part 5d)

[You should really go back and read the previous parts of this.]

I was scheduled to preach.

I'm only telling you this so that you'll understand the context in which all of this happened for me. See, despite that I had been working with the teenagers for... well, if you start counting at the point I began teaching (when I was a teenager)... something like eight years and specifically working with the youth group as "director" for more than four years, I had never been allowed to preach. Not in "big church," as the adult service was referred to by the youth. I'd been trying for years...

There's a whole other story here, but I'll boil it down to the fact that I wouldn't let them ordain me. I wouldn't let them ordain me for the sheer fact that I lacked respect for the whole lot of them, and I was not about to be ordained by anyone I had no respect for. I don't know if they knew that or not. I think they thought I was just stubborn and that this extended from my lack of acquiescence to being a ministerial student.

But, finally, they'd agreed to let me preach in the adult service... on a Sunday night. Because, you know, there weren't as many people there. But, still, I was going to get to preach, and I had my whole Good Samaritan sermon already worked out. [And I'm not going to go into why that was the appropriate message, at the moment.]

However, the Sunday before I was going to preach, we were scheduled to have a church meeting about the upcoming merger proposal because, yes, it had become a merger proposal. It was to be a time for the congregation to ask questions, voice opinions, and whatever else people might want to say. It was no secret at that point how I felt about the whole business, and my mother had been receiving warnings that she needed to get me to quit "mouthing off."

She, in turn, counselled me to keep my mouth shut because nothing I was going to say was going to change anything. I knew nothing I said was going to change anything, but I wasn't going to sit by and say nothing, either. What they were doing was wrong, and I wasn't going to let that go unspoken. Basically, what they were saying was, "We would rather close our doors than have to be in the same building with 'you people.'" The whole thing disgusted me. It still disgusts me, now.

The meeting was the most highly attended thing we'd had in years, probably something like 500 people. Basically, all people to show support for the merger. Sure, there were questions, but they were all self-serving questions. Things like, "Will there still be a van to pick me up on Sunday mornings?" and "Will I get to keep my same Sunday school class?" [Yes, these are questions from adults.] The pastor fielded the questions but, after the questions, anyone who wanted to speak was allowed to. And, if you wanted to speak, you had to go up to the pulpit to do it (because that's where the mic was).

Which led to my first time in the pulpit. [Now, you really have to pay attention to this to understand the richness of it.] Most of the people getting up to speak (by "most," I mean "all") were talking about all the good things that would come from the merger with the larger, older, richer (and even more white) church. Some of these people (because, remember, there were people like the little old lady in the congregation) went so far as to say how glad they were that they would not have to share a church with "the blacks," although most of them (not all) added something like, "They're okay and all, but I don't want to have church with them." [Now, why don't you just move to the back of the bus and go use that other drinking fountain, because this church is for white folks only!]

The more I listened, the angrier I got. Every time they asked if there was someone who wanted to speak, my hand went up. They avoided calling on me as long as they could. My mom leaned over at some point and said, "If you go up there, they're not going to let you preach." I didn't care. I mean, I did care but, if that was the price I had to pay, then so be it. [It occurs to me only now that the offer to preach in the first place was probably some attempt at buying my silence. But old age and treachery will beat youth and enthusiasm every time.]

Eventually, they had to let me have a turn. It's not like everyone in the church knew what was going on between the leadership and me, and this was an open forum, meaning anyone that wanted to speak got to do it. And there was my hand every time. If they didn't let me speak, there would (amazingly enough) be questions. People did, after all, know who I was. So I took my turn in the pulpit, the only time I would ever stand at the pulpit in the church I grew up in. [Well, during a service, anyway.]

I let them have it. Both barrels. All the barrels. Any barrel I could find. It was definitely what you would call "righteous anger." Unfortunately, I don't really remember exactly what I said. I pointed out, though, how I had grown a youth group from, basically, nothing into being something living and growing from the neighborhood around the church, and I told them how ashamed they ought to be of themselves for just abandoning people. And, this part I do remember if not in exactly the right words, I told them they should be ashamed of themselves for just sitting on their butts for more than a decade because they would rather the church withered and die than reach out into the neighborhood around the church.

There was complete silence when I was finished. I walked back down to my seat and sat down and, still, no one said anything. For minutes. Everyone stared at me, and I just glared back. The meeting wrapped up not long after that. I suppose I was a bit of a hard act to follow.

The call was almost immediate. As immediate as it could be, anyway. Within a couple of hours of me getting home. [Remember how I said to pay attention?] Officially, the reason they gave me for telling me that I wasn't going to get to preach was that I said the word "butt" while in the pulpit, and that was completely inappropriate. I mean, if I would say the word "butt" while in the pulpit, there's no telling what I might say.

The pastor we had throughout the 80s used to say "peckerwood" from the pulpit all the time. When I was a kid, I didn't know what it meant; I just knew it was derogatory. Also, every so often, he'd say "dickhead."

But I couldn't preach because I had said "butt." I'm fairly certain that I am not the first person to have said that from that very pulpit, though I can't point to a specific instance. I just find it hard to believe.

Sometimes, in even the most serious of situations, there are those things that are so ludicrous all you can do is laugh. And that's what I did. Not while I was on the phone (with the head of the deacons); no, on the phone I just shrugged it off with an "okay." After I hung up, I laughed. And I laughed more when I told my mom. She was all concerned, "I did warn you." She didn't understand that I really didn't care at that point. Why would I want to be involved with people as petty as that?

A few weeks later, there was a meeting for the vote. It was anonymous, which was ridiculous, except that very few people that weren't me would have been brave enough to raise their hands on a "no" vote. Not that it mattered. Even blind, there were less than 10 votes against the merger.

Don't worry. It gets worse.

Friday, May 1, 2015

It's Not That I'm an Introvert...

...I Just Don't Like You.

To be fair, I don't like most people. In that, I mean that I don't like the mass of people who are out there just, you know, floating around.
Could someone please turn the gravity back on?
Oh, wait, I mean lying around.

You might ask, "But what's wrong with people?"
To which I would say, "People are dumb."
Wait, don't say "dumb." They'll think you mean people can't talk, and we both know that's not true.
Okay, I would say, "People are stupid."
That's better.

So, sure, I realize that saying "people are stupid" is unfair.
No one said life is fair.
The truth is that people are just average.
But the average person doesn't do much for humanity. The fact that reality TV exists proves it.
Sure. I'm not arguing that with you.
Fine. I'm not arguing that with you, either.
Anyway, people are average. Almost all of them, which is what makes average..., well..., average. Which is fine, because average people are fine with each other.
I think they even like each other.
We don't know that. They could all just be faking it.
Okay, true.
At any rate, average people are out there all the time milling about in places like...
Like Wal-Mart!
And malls. And, probably, Starbucks.
Yeah, those places!
You do know that you go to those places sometimes, right?
Sure, but never by choice.
Like that makes it okay.
Hey, I'm just sayin'.
You keep saying it, see what happens.
That's what I thought.

So let me make one thing clear...
Just one thing?
Yes, just one thing! At least, at the moment. Is that okay with you?
Fine. You do whatever you want.
So, look, I am not shy. "Shy" is not an introvert thing as people like to believe. Shyness is actually pretty evenly spread throughout introverts and extroverts.
But with an introvert, it's like a... Can I call it a geometric progression?
You can call it whatever you want.
Then that's what I'll call it.
Great. Now shut up. I'm trying to explain something.
So... Let me make this really simple.
For the sake of time, right? Not because you think people are stupid or anything. Right?
Yes! Because someone keeps interrupting and is making this go on and on and on!
Okay! sheesh!

Extroverts like to be with people. They like big groups, big parties, and being social.
Introverts like small groups or just being alone. They are not particularly social even with their friends, which is important, because it has to do with not being shy.
See, shy people don't like or want to go up to people they don't know, for instance, and that applies pretty evenly across both groups.

All of that to say that just because I'm an introvert, don't think I'm shy.
If I'm off sitting in a corner reading or scribbling in a notebook, it's not because I'm timid or scared or, even, because I'm an introvert.
It's because you're weird, you weirdo.
Sure, that's what people think...
Are you saying you're not weird?
No, I'm saying that sitting in a corner doesn't make me weird.
No one else is doing it.
Ohmygosh! I'm weird, okay? Does that make you feel better?
A little, yes.
Look, when I'm off sitting somewhere by myself doing something isolating, it's not just because I'm an introvert. Sure, I like doing those by-myself things, but the reason I'm not coming over to talk to you, if I don't know you, doesn't have to do with being an introvert. It's because you're just people, and I don't happen to like you very much.
That's kind of rude, you know.
I'm trying to be honest. Okay?
Well, you're honestly rude.
I never said I wasn't rude.
Well, that's good, because that would have been a lie.
Can I just please finish?
Oh, yeah, just go on with your rudeness. Should I have them turn the gravity off again, too?
What I'm trying to say is this:
I don't like "people," the mass of people out there... Great. The mass of people out there who are now floating around again.
You said...
I did not!
Fine! I'll have them turn it back on again. sheesh!

Look, yes, I don't like people, but I do like individuals. So, no, I'm not going to quit scribbling in my notebook and come over and talk to you. I'm an introvert, and I don't feel the need to socialize with you, but, more importantly, if I don't know you, you're just a people. Unfortunately, if you don't want to be "just a people," you will have to come over and talk to me. And that's okay. I'm not going to bite you or, even, growl.

On the other hand, when I'm just sitting there doing my thing, you shouldn't be offended; it's not you. Not specifically you, anyway. And, if you don't want to come talk to me, that's fine. Because, really, I'm good with my book and my notebook.

Hey, soylent green is people.