Saturday, May 28, 2011

What Happens when you Dance in a Dystopia?

Need fodder for a Dystopian story?  Look no further than Washington, D.C.  Craig Dixon, a friend of mine, took some video footage of what happened to him and former Marine Adam Kokesh at the Jefferson memorial.


I want to know, where were these guys when the dancing started?:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

An Inappropriate Interview: Everett Powers

Picture by Simon Howden


What can I say?  I love asking people about their politics and religion, both subjects banned in polite company.  However, having a chance to interview an author of a book that I am currently reading I couldn't pass up asking questions I am truly curious about.  I bring up politics, not religion, because in the long run religion doesn't matter all that much (for me at least).  People can live together in society depending on their politics despite having vastly different religious opinion.  

Everett Powers is the author of two books: The Mighty T and Canals.  What follows is my "inappropriate interview."  Everett answered all of my questions with candor.  Only two are about politics so if you aren't interested in those just skip over them.  


What authors have influenced you?
 
If you mean influenced my writing, it would be John Sandford. I’ve read all his Prey books, except the new one because I no longer want to pay $15 on up for a novel. I appreciate his writing style. He uses the comma splice to dictate pace, which I think works, and there are few adjectives in his books.
 
Stephen King’s On Writing influenced how I write, to a degree. I wrote my first book Canals without a plot. King calls this “a found thing.” The metaphor is, you’ve found a half-buried relic. Your opinion of it is based on what you can see, but as you uncover more and more, your opinion changes. Others call this “writing by the seat of your pants.” I plot now, but loosely. The “found thing” style was fun. I really enjoyed writing Canals.
 
What politics inform your writing if any?
 
I suppose my writing has been influenced by my conservative views, but it’s difficult for me to tell how much. I haven’t written any political fiction.
 
If the Republican Primary were held today who would you vote for?
 
Regretfully, I have to admit I’ll vote for the person I think has the best chance of beating Obama abut it’s impossible to say who that is now. I wish I could say I’ll be voting for whomever I think will do the best job at leading the country, but if I feel Obama will beat that person my vote will go to someone else. It might be impossible to undo the damage Obama has done, given the inclination the federal government has for perpetuating its own growth. I believe his administration is politics at its worst.
 
What made you want to become an author?
 
I’ve always thought of writing as an exotic career. You get to squirrel yourself away for hours, ignoring the cursed cell phone, alone with your imagination. Some people, like my wife, dislike being alone and so could never write. Not me. I can handle it.
 
At first, I wrote because my business wasn’t going well and I was under the delusion I would be an instant literary star, like John Grisham. I was sure my kids’ kids would be set for life. When I finished Canals and began querying agents and publishers, reality clocked me upside the head.
 
Writing gave me a “high” I’d never experienced, and the memory of it remained. I write now in part because I want to feel that high every day. I love the research, the plotting, the actual writing, and, yes, even the editing. I love sitting in public places with just my iPad, iA Writer, my Bluetooth keyboard, and my headphones, tuning out the rabble around me. It’s great. I’m out in the public but I’m still alone.
 
What do you think about the e-book revolution?
 
I’m guflupted, which means I have mixed feelings. On one hand it’s great because I’m in complete control and I kind of like that. I can publish my books when I want, yank them off the market if I want, make changes if I want, and best of all, I get most of the royalties. I enjoy formatting for ebooks and for POD, and think I do a decent job of it. I don’t mind the hard work. Covers are another matter; I lack the skill and software. The cover of The Mighty T is decent but could use a professional update. I just can’t afford the $500 price tag right now.
 
However, I also enjoy print books. I love filling my bookcases with them. My local Borders was a five-minute walk for me and I spent a lot of time there writing, editing, and reading. They gave me a twenty percent discount so I bought most of my print books from them. I’m still upset that it closed. Can’t stop progress, though. Print will likely become a rarity rather than the rule, which is undoubtedly better for trees.
 
What do you do to improve your writing?
 
Through Twitter, I’ve found many excellent blogs and resources; my writing has improved considerably, in my obviously biased opinion. I found lists of overused or commonly misspelled words, phrases that shouldn’t be used at all, sites you can upload your writing to that will find passive writing… I could go on. All of it’s been free.
 
I’ve figured out a writing formula that works well for me. Every writer needs to figure out how best to facilitate their muse and the mechanics of writing. I can be picky, so I fuss over formatting; should this be italicized or shown in all caps; does this typeface look right or should I use an different one; should the paragraphs be indented a quarter of an inch or less? Stuff like that. I could waste an hour looking for a new typeface.
 
So I write my first draft in Courier and forget about formatting. No italics, no nothing. Any formatting is done in the second draft. I write a lot in OmmWriter for PC, which has no spellchecker and no formatting. Just words on the page. When an iPad version is released, I’ll probably get it and dump iA Writer, even though they’re almost identical. OmmWriter comes with a sound track that is so easy to write with. Plug in some headphones and I can write for hours sitting in the middle of the mall. The soundtrack makes the difference for me. It’s free, unless you want to upgrade to the version that offers additional backgrounds and music tracks.
 
After banging out the text on the iPad or in OmmWriter on the desktop, I import it into Scrivener, a writing program I began using recently. I first about it on Twitter. Scrivener is currently in beta for the PC. I’ll buy it when they release the finished product. You can dump everything into the program. My research used to be spread all over the place: in printouts stashed in file folders; bookmarked Web pages; photos on the computer; real bookmarks in real books... Now it’s all organized in Scrivener, a mere click away.
 
Another thing I’ve learned is editing must be done on real paper, not on the computer screen. It’s too easy to miss things on the screen. I like editing, as I’ve said. I have a small collection of fountain pens I hardly use because everything gets typed these day; I get to use them when I edit.
 
Tools like these are helpful but not necessary. What writers really need is discipline. We need to schedule our writing time. Stephen King wrote most ofCarrie while sitting in his utility closet next to the water heater with his typewriter balanced on his knees. If that’s what it takes, then that’s what we do.
 
Anything you want to add?
 
The tagline on my blog says “Everyone has something to say”. I got that from a guy named Dave Donaldson, who taught an English night class I took in 1982. The class was filled with adults who had worked all day—the back three rows slept through most of the class but Dave never protested or woke one of them up. I thought that was pretty cool.
 
He gave us a writing assignment one night. We were to write a bit of fiction. When half the class groaned, he said something like “Everyone can write because everyone has something to say.” I got all goosebumpy. Prior to that I didn’t think I was capable of writing fiction, but for some crazy reason I believed him. I’m no Steinbeck, but I think I can write well enough to capture people’s attention for a few hours and leave them thinking it was time and money well spent.
 
I’d like to thank George for asking me to do this interview. I’ve enjoyed getting to know him on Twitter and through his blog. 




You can find out more about Everett and his books at his blog, here.



Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I Wish... a tale of Witches (a book by Wren Emerson)

Image by Salvatore Vuono
I rarely ever get to do book reviews on newly released books not to mention on unknown authors.  The first time I had the opportunity to do this is with Justin Scro's book "Replicas," review found here.  So is Wren Emerson a better author than Justin Scro?  I don't know, they are both too different to compare but both are really engaging reads.

Wren's book, I Wish... is about a girl who discovers her heritage, mainly that she comes from a long line of witches, and how she deals with the revelations and the culture within the witch community.  The culture of the witch community reminds me of the culture of the Dark Elf community in R.A. Salvatore books about Drizzt.  In both books social worth of an individual is related to the rank of the matriarch based household and advancement was often based on murder (in the case of the Dark Elf community everyone in the household had to be killed off... not the case in I Wish...).  

The book was well written and errors that usually abound in indie publication were surprisingly minimal.  My only criticism is that there wasn't nearly enough of a climax in this first book to create an intense longing to read the rest of the series as they appear.  The book doesn't end with a bang but with no clear direction.  I will most definitely purchase the rest of this series as it is released to find out if the author is capable of doing literary justice to the complex culture she has created (or at least reveal more of the complexity in a believable and entertaining manner.... I'm interested in the complexities of the inner Coven politics!).  

So the book moved fairly quickly but information was revealed very slowly.  This is what made it a book that held my attention.  I was always wanting to figure out what happens next.  Some twists were good, battle scenes were great, I loved it!

I'm giving this book 5 stars (on Amazon) for a first effort (a 4-5 star book without qualification).  This author is talented, as is Justin Scro mentioned above, and good things are sure to come for her if she persists and constantly works on getting better, more complex, etc.  The next couple of books will reveal if she has the "it" factor of authors such as J.K. Rowling but this is not quite there yet.  I will detract this statement depending on the quality of the sequels.  


Monday, May 23, 2011

Your opinion is law… but is it good? by Guido Henkel

Guest Blogger: Guido Henkel

[I asked Guido Henkel to guest blog for me and what he gave me was beyond expectations.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.]
Used with permission of jscreationzs



One of the great things about self-publishing your work is the amount of control you have over your work. I’ve been essentially self-publishing for over 20 years — not only books, mind you, but computer games, initially. Back in 1990 I was getting tired and frustrated about being ripped off over and over again by unethical publishers, but when one of my publishers went into bankruptcy and I never saw a dime of about $100,000 dollars worth of monies, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. As long as I let someone collect the money for me there would always be a risk of that someone withholding the money from me one way or another, and it was a risk I was no longer willing to take.

Aside from some small inroads — such as my stint at Interplay where I produced the RPG Planescape: Torment — I’ve been master of my own destiny ever since. So, when the time came to get my Jason Dark supernatural mysteries into the market, I knew I would publish them myself. I wasn’t even aware of any indie movement at the time, the way you do today, I simply did what felt right and natural to me.

There was significant upfront cost for me, but I was ready to swallow that. Print-on-demand technology — evolved as it may be at this stage — didn’t work for me with the Jason Dark stories, mostly because none of the POD companies offers actual saddle-stitched dime novel formats. All they have are all sorts of paperback or hardback books, all of them tagged with outrageous base prices — by necessity, I must add in all fairness. From the beginning, however, I had a $2.99 price tag in mind for my stories, in print and in eBook form, and with POD there simply is no way to meet that price point. At the same time asking people to pay $8 or $10 for a novella seems outrageous to me, so the only way for me was to have them printed in quantities enough to bring the price down.

So I spent some tens of thousands of dollars to have proper cover artworks created, to have the books printed — I launched with three books ready at the time — and to create an array of promotional materials and merchandise. As a result I was fully in charge of every step of the operation and have been ever since.

But there’s a downside to all of this also. If you self-publish, your opinion is law. By definition. No matter how wrong it may be, what you decide is what will happen to your product. While we all have certain instincts and ideals, it is easy for us to forget that we are only one individual, and a very jaded one at that. Oftentimes there is no one to bounce ideas around off, no one to ask for opinions or serious criticism.

Sure, you can ask people on your social networks, you can ask fellow writers, — which in many cases are one and the same — but since all too often you do not know these people in person or well enough, it is hard to judge the validity of their opinions; how qualified they are? They could be every bit as off-base as you, and you wouldn’t even know it.

Apart from that, while writers are also readers, I found that they are never representative for an actual reader base, and I think every writer would be well advised to remember that. The intrinsic bias we writers have, because we are exercising and have been learning the craft to various degrees, is very different from that of an average reader. If you ask people on the street, very few will know right off the bat what a sentence modifier or even what an adverb is. They may have some sense of it, but not like a writer who is breathing these things on a daily basis.

The same is true for the presentation of your book. As a self-publisher you will have to decide on a cover, and honestly, how many of us are truly qualified to evaluate the creative and marketing aspects of a book cover? Most of us look at it and decide whether they like it or not. Not very scientific, is it? Unfortunately, cover and poster creation has been perfected into a science for years by book publishers, movie studios, record companies and just about every advertiser known to mankind. If you try to compete with them on the same level, you better know how and don’t let I-like-it be the ultimate guide of your decisions.

I admit that I sometimes miss the opportunity to bounce around ideas and talk to people face to face to get their reactions to some of my ideas right then and there. It truly is one of the biggest detriments to being a somewhat sedentary self-publisher, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. I will, however, try to find ways and means how I can get feedback about my work and how it impacts others, no matter how disillusioning it may end up being.

I think serious self-criticism, along with the ability to accept and evaluate criticism from others, is the cornerstone of success, and it is part of the reason why over the past sixteen months I have massaged the Jason Dark supernatural mysteries occasionally to adjust the way people are perceiving these books. By now, I am sure it will not surprise you at all, that the perception I created initially upon the launch of the series, was not quite how I wanted people to see it. I think my bias got in the way somehow, but I am also proud to say that listening to readers has helped me nudge it in the right direction.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My 5 Minute Fiction

I know every author thinks that their work is writing has something to it but when judged by others it comes up lacking.  When I completed this weeks "5 minute fiction" I thought the same about my own.  Of course, I didn't even become a finalist...  but I'd like to share it with you guys anyways.  The word was "drill" and there was 15 minutes to write it.  I spend 1/3 of that time thinking of SOMETHING to write about.. but I definitely got a good 5 minutes of writing in:


“Eeeek! What are you doing?” Dharma asked her brother.
“Dharma, please stop your whining, and stay right there!” Greg ordered her. He engaged his drill again into the floor of her room making sure she didn’t take off. Sirens were going off in the distance.
Greg pulled out a floorboard and retrieved a box. Guns. “What is this?” Dharma asked.
“Follow me,” Greg ordered while grabbing her hand. They left their house and entered the forest. Greg met up with twelve other men, all carrying weapons. “It’s time,” he told them, “It must be done.”
That was the day the revolution started. Dharma could still remember Greg frantically drilling for his revolutionary tools, weapons, and meeting his “cell.” Greg’s group of revolutionaries was so expansive that the state could not keep them under control.
“Is that all?” the interrogator asked.
Dharma paused. “No,” she said, “Now it’s time for me to leave and do what I should of done from the start.”
The walls exploded and the interrogator was shot. Dharma walked towards her brother. “Hey sis, believe me now?”

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What Makes Heinlein a Great Author?





This post contains spoilers for "Podkayne from Mars," "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," and "Stranger in a Strange Land."  

After reading three books by Heinlein I am captivated by his writing.  He is a competent author that takes readers into his world in ways very few authors can replicate.  In researching Heinlein I came to some conclusions about why he was such a good author.  First, Heinlein was not a lazy author. Second, Heinlein was quite intelligent. Third, life experience!  Heinlein didn't REALLY start writing until he was in his thirties.  How long does it take to gain the life and literary experience needed to write a good fiction book?  Heinlein was thirty-two when his publications began to appear.

Of course Heinlein's writing career didn't just appear when he turned thirty.  He read, a lot, and not just fiction.  Heinlein read all the astronomy books in the Kansas City public library before attending high-school.  He also devoured quite a few sci-fi books in his childhood.  His education was also pivotal though non-conventional.  Heinlein attended a year of community college before being accepted into the Naval Academy of which he graduated fifth in academics overall out of over two-hundred candidates.

Heinlein's writing becomes high-quality for the reader when the reader realizes that it is not lazily written.  There is a lot of research and brute intelligence manifest throughout his books especially in the realm of mathematics and physics.  Heinlein doesn't skimp out on it.  What can account for such high quality in these areas?  Though Heinlein doesn't have an undergraduate degree in Physics or Mathematics he did earn what is equivalent to "Naval Engineering."  If Naval Engineering in 1929 is anywhere near the rigor of current engineering degrees today Heinlein had a solid foundation in mathematics (probably up to Vector Calculus, Linear Algebra, and Differential Equations, though some mathematics was still being developed after 1929). Heinlein also took a few weeks of graduate courses at UCLA in both physics and mathematics which have added to his quality of writing significantly.  

Heinlein left UCLA and ran for office as an assemblymen in Hollywood.  He failed at this but according to the Heinlein Society it influenced him tremendously.  In books such as "Podkayne of Mars," a "juvenile noel", Heinlein creates a magnificent political back story, though never too detailed, that creates a three-demensional experience.  "Pokdayne of Mars" has it all; political duplicity, kidnapping, blackmailing, and a politically principled old man (to the point of sacrificing his niece and nephew).  Podkayne, an 18 year old girl in earth years (9 in Mars years), was captured along with her 6 year old brother Clark (12 years old in earth years) as political prisoners in order to get their elderly uncle to acquiesce to the threats of the kidnappers.  This isn't even the most interesting part.

Clark, the younger brother, a genius with an IQ of 165, planned their escape which included the use of a bomb he smuggled into his sisters baggage at the "spaceport."  A discussion commenced between Clark and his sister Podkayne over the ramifications and the morality of using the bomb to kill their captors en route to an escape which ultimately concluded with the moral rule "if it is moral for a collective then it is moral for and individual."  Clark convinced Podkayne that killing their captors was just as moral as the justice system doing so in their place.

After reading this it took me a while to mull over the principle.  This principle was stated in a different way in Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress."  Instead of rationalizing actions based on what the collective does the sentiment is given: "If it is not okay for an individual to do something then it is not okay for a collective to do it."  This moral rule limits the actions of the individual.

It is discussions like these that make Heinlein's work intriguing.  In "Stranger in a Strange Land," a discussion on religion brings to light some of Heinlein's deepest thoughts on the subject.  Though I find the book to be disappointing for including too much of the supernatural I found the ideas discussed withing to be mind-churning.

I have recently read a literary advice blog that suggested saying less is more in the case of fiction.  Would Heinlein be as good as he is if he limited his discussion and simply drove the plot home?  Would there really be any plot?  The overall sense one gets when completing a Heinlein novel would be diminished greatly.  He is one of those rare authors that can pull off being verbose on topics not necessary for the plot.

All three novels I read by Heinlein had emotional appeal at the end of them.  In "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," Mike, the computer, dies.  It takes the entire novel to gain an attachment to Mike as a character but in the end Heinlein was effective.  In "Stranger in a Strange Land" the main character is killed as a religious martyr.  The story would have been much better if the reader wasn't assured of an afterlife.  Like I said above, way too much of a supernatural element.  Finally, in the original version of "Podkayne of Mars" the bomb explodes and kills Podkayne as she tries to save a baby fairy.  Even in the published version it seems as if this is the case but their uncle discloses that she survived in a phone conversation with the children's parents.

Heinlein is and will remain one of the most loved sci-fi authors of all time.  






Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama's Death: Hard Pill to Swallow

Photo by Saarab





A friend of mine wrote this and posted it on facebook.  I love it!

By Michael Hargett

So, a small group of U.S. government officials are reported to have found, killed and genetically identified Bin Laden...

then the body was quickly thrown into the sea, so, unfortunately, no outsider could corroborate...

because the body had to be "buried" in under 24 hours, to be in accordance with Muslim custom...

and the U.S. government has been extremely sensitive toward Muslim beliefs and customs...

flushing and burning Qurans...

exposing Muslim POW's to graphic sexual acts...

preventing the bodies of average Muslims from being buried for weeks following bombing raids, etc...

unfortunately, the burial at sea was likely a violation of Muslim customs...

an easier solution might have been an unmarked grave...

but, then people would start asking crazy questions like "Why can't we see the body?"...

so, into the ocean, I guess...

of course, it was reported previously that Bin Laden died of natural causes in December of 2001. I mean, he was a pretty sickly old man, with kidney and other physiological problems...

and the Taliban even admitted to this, so no heroic martyr's death there...

not to mention, the guy in the videos released over the last decade doesn't even look like Bin Laden...

I mean, OBL had a narrow nose and the guy in the videos looked like he had a pair of wine corks stuffed up his nostrils...

and let's not talk about how he suddenly became the Grim Pirate Blackbeard...

but while we're on the question of who admitted to what...

On September 16, 2001, Bin Laden released an official statement denying that he was involved in the attacks, accusing the U.S. government of using him as a bogeyman...

Now, I'm not saying that he wasn't, and I'm definitely NOT saying that I am sure of whether or not Muslims even involved in the 9/11 attacks, because the evidence on both sides is far too murky, with disinformation flowing like wine at a wedding...

but, we've got this story from the weekend of May 1, 2011...

about this guy who was killed, rather than arrested...

supposedly...

even though he had been reported dead almost ten years earlier...

whose body was dropped into the ocean...

thus destroying the evidence of his "capture"...

who on at least one occasion is reported to have denied being behind the attacks on 9/11...

and who was never charged with the attacks...

but that isn't important, because there won't ever be a trial...

All of this just so happened to occur on the weekend when Bush the IV (Barack Obama) officially launched his campaign for re-election...

gas prices were at a record high (and climbing),

a few days earlier, major campaign contributing corporations opened their books to reveal they didn't pay any taxes in 2010 and reaped record profits...

the economy for regular, non-corporation people is in the tank...

and television sweeps month kicked off...

On top of it all...

we're now being told we're even LESS safe than we were before Bin Laden's death...

you read that right, "LESS SAFE"...

so "security" has to be even MORE invasive...

liberties have to be even FURTHER compromised...

the U.S. government needs even GREATER funding...

I'm sorry if I've gone on a bit long, but there's a lot to consider...

this is the same government that lied about the Lusitania...

the same government that lied about the Gulf of Tonkin...

the same government that lied about the "bombing" of the Maine...

the same government that said Saddam had ties to Al Qaeda, then denied that they ever said it, despite the video evidence showing them doing so...

the same government that told us Iraq would be a "cake walk"...

the same government that drafted "Operation North Woods"...

the same government that was once allied with Saddam "The Butcher of Baghdad" Hussein and Joe "Million Man Death-March" Stalin...

the same government that hired Osama Bin Laden to do to the Russians what he is alleged to have done to America...

and now I'm supposed to accept, on their word alone, that they killed OBL this past weekend, despite everything else I've seen and read and heard?

Forgive my skepticism, but no.

I'm too old for faerie tales.