Wednesday, July 30, 2014

An Exploration in Fantasy -- Part Two: Orphans and the Gum Under the Seat (an IWM post)

It may seem that the easiest way to find the origins of fantasy literature would be to simply follow the trail of fantasy literature back in history until we get to the earliest examples of it, but that would cause some problems. For instance, when does fantasy cease to be fantasy and become legend or myth? Are we going to call Beowulf a fantasy story? Or the tales of the Greek and Egyptian gods? Or Gilgamesh? It gets kinda messy if we do that. And that's not really what we're looking for, anyway. No, we're trying to establish where our current model for fantasy writing comes from. Look back at the last post to see the list.

So, although we're not going to go looking for historical beginnings, we are going to start at the beginning. Or, at least, where all fantasy stories start: the orphan boy. Sure, sure, it's not always a boy; Disney has given us plenty of girls, after all; but, when we start talking about the genre of fantasy literature, it's nearly always a boy. Or, even, outside the strict confines of fantasy. Let's take a look at some of the most popular examples (and some that I just like):

Oh! Wait! That list is over on Indie Writers Monthly, but it's a good list, so you should go on over and read it. Go see if your favorite fantasy character made the cut!

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Failure in Irony

I've been getting these phone calls, lately, from "Geek Support Live." On the one hand, I want to applaud these people for their innovation, but the other hand wants to slap them. See, these are scam phone calls from India. I think it's an actual company. They call and tell you your computer has a security issue and if you will just follow their instructions, they will fix it for you. Of course, "Geek Support" is close enough to "Geek Squad" to make people consider what they're saying, but they also imply that they're from Microsoft.

I treat the calls like I often do with telemarketing calls, meaning I engage with them. Well, not always, but often enough. I find it amusing. Yes, I know I'm obnoxious, but getting telemarketing calls at 8:00 and 9:00pm is also obnoxious. So... anyway...

The first couple of times I got these calls from Geek Support Live, I asked all kinds of questions the guy couldn't answer but would always respond with, "It doesn't matter." Questions like
"What version of Windows am I running?"
"What kind of security issue am I having?"
"Who is it you're trying to call?"
Now, this third question was interesting, because, the first time I asked it, the guy responded with that "it doesn't matter" response. Basically, "you could be anyone with a computer." heh
Now, the second time I got one of those calls, the answer was disturbing, because they actually gave me a name; it was one of the wrong number names we frequently get to our phone number, but it showed more of a targeted call rather than random phone numbers.

Some other time, I told the caller that I didn't have a PC but a Mac; he immediately switched scripts and started telling me he could help me anyway.

I hadn't actually had anymore calls from them in a while until just the past couple of weeks. Frequently, I joke to my wife about the stupid calls like that that we get so, when I got the first new call, I mentioned it to her. She said, "It would be funny if the next time they call you tell them that you are from Geek Support Live and their computer is having an issue." I agreed. That would be terribly funny.

And it was terribly funny.

When I got the call today, as soon as the guy told me he was from Geek Support Live and that my computer was having a security issue, I said, "No, I'm from Geek Support Live, and your computer is having a security issue." At first, he didn't understand and tried to correct me, "No, I'm from Geek Support Live...," to which I replied, "No, I'm from Geek Support. My computer is telling me that your computer has a virus."
"No, my computer is okay."
"That's not what my computer is telling me."
"You're computer says my computer has a virus?"
"Yes, that what it says."
Of course, the actual conversation was quite a bit longer than that, but, somewhere in there, the Indian guy from Geek Support started laughing. He kept trying to cover it up, but I could hear him. I managed to keep a straight face, so to speak, throughout the call.

A little while later, they called back. It sounded like the same guy, but it may have just been the accent. We had a very similar start to the conversation until the guy said to me, "You must have a super computer."
I just went with it, "I do. I do have a super computer."
"You must, because you'd have to have a super computer to be able to tell you that my computer has a virus."
And that's where I almost laughed, because he failed to get the irony in what he was saying. I was supposed to believe that he, with his normal computer, could tell that my computer was infected, but I would need a super computer to tell the same thing of his. It was quite amusing.
Then he asked me if I was with Obama, because I would have to be with Obama (like be standing right there next to the President) to have access to a computer like that. But I still managed to keep a straight face.

The whole thing was very satisfying. And, no, I have no analogy or anything for this. It's just a page out of my life. You should have seen the looks my kids gave me every time I was having one of those conversations.

Oh, later, another guy from Geek Support called; it was definitely a different guy. He got offended when I told him that I was from Geek Support, too, then tried to tell me that the other two calls I had earlier in the day had not, in fact, been from Geek Support. Those guys were impostors. He even very helpfully offered to connect me to the Better Business Bureau so that I could confirm with them that he and only he was really from Geek Support Live.

I'm kind of looking forward to the next time they call.
Is that bad?

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Shadow Lamp (a book review post)

Here we are at book four of the Bright Empires series by Stephen Lawhead. You can see my reviews for the other books at the following links:
The Skin Map
The Bone House
The Spirit Well

[Seeing that this is book four, I'm not even going to try to do this without spoilers. I'm not sure there's a good way to even try. I will, though, be as general as possible, so any spoilers may not make sense anyway. Except for one, which will be a huge spoiler, so, if you even think you might want to read this series, when I get to the part where I'm talking about the new conflict, well, you'll probably not want to read that part.]

The elapsed time span in this novel seems to be much shorter than the previous books, at least as it passes with the central characters. There is still all kinds of back story as it relates to the Flinders-Petrie family and Burleigh, which is all interesting, but I'm not certain exactly how much of it pertains to the "present day" story. Well, I think that the stuff to do with the map is at least quasi-important, because the map (the skin map) is very important, so how it ended up in pieces is probably going to end up being important. But, still, the advancement of the main plot, the story around Kit, doesn't make much progress.

However, that doesn't mean there are no significant events.
We're introduced to another new character, and I'm not sure how vital he will end up being to the overall story, but he was at least vital in one area in this book. Still, it's kind of weird to me that Lawhead has continued to introduce major characters this far into the series. I'm not saying that it's a bad thing; it's just not usual. Generally speaking, series like this give us the whole cast of characters right up front and, if not, certainly by the end of the second book, but Lawhead gave us two major characters in book three and at least one in book four (and possibly a second, I'm not sure, yet), so that aspect is interesting to me.

The other thing of interest to me is the conflict (and, yes, this is where the major spoiler comes in). During the first three books, the conflict is really just over the skin map itself. Kit and his group (the Zetetic Society, even though Kit didn't know that) on one side and Burleigh on the other. The skin map is a twofold prize: 1. The obvious one, it provides a map to travelling the leys, and there is a lot of profit in ley travelling if that's your motivation. 2. There is a secret hidden the map. There is speculation that the secret is the Spirit Well, but no one is quite sure if that's it or not. Of course, the Spirit Well, all by itself, is a prize beyond compare.

So for three books we're going with that as the conflict, but The Shadow Lamp introduces a new character, Tony Clarke, and, through him, we discover that there is something much worse going on, something that could lead to the actual destruction of not just the universe but the entire multiverse. Of course, getting the skin map may be the only way to stop the threat. All of it leaves one wondering how in the world he will wrap all of this up in the fifth (and final) book, which is something I started wondering in book three, actually.

Now, here's my problem:
Bright Empires is not really a time travel story even though it has time travel, of a sorts, in it. However, this book develops a time travel issue, and I'm not sure, yet, how I feel about it. [This continues the spoiler warning, because I'm going to get kind of detailed with this conflict.] There's a lot of theoretical talk in the book about multiple dimensions and how time works and all of that kind of stuff, and I'm okay with that. On the whole, it all deals with current ideas, so it's not wild speculation by the author [Which I would probably be okay with, too, but I do want to point out Lawhead has not just made up all of the theory stuff in this series. There's science that goes with it.]. However, there is one theoretical position that I have not read about [So it could be made up? I haven't tried looking it up, yet, to see if it's something that's being said out there in SCIENCE.], and the logic with which Lawhead uses it kind of baffles me.

The idea is that time flows... well, it flows backwards. Instead of flowing from the past to the future, as we experience it, the idea in the book is that time flows from the future to the past. Okay, interesting thought, but what does it have to do with anything? Well, because of this reverse time flow, if something happens to mess up the future, that error gets carried back into the past and wipes everything out. In the book, this will result in the collapse of the multiverse and it will be as if it never existed. Time itself will cease to exist.

And here's my problem with that:
If such a thing happened and time actually ceased to exist, then nothing would ever have happened to begin with. There would be no story, because it never would have existed. Which may not make sense, and would also negate the, well, telling of the story, but, what I guess I'm saying, is why make it so that nothing, not even time, would exist, because then there was nothing to begin with. And I may be getting to metaphysical for this discussion, so I'll just say that that one logic hole bothers me. Probably not enough to run the series for me but enough to put me back to reserving judgment till the next book.

That said, I like Lawhead. He's one of the few authors whose books I will just pick up and read whenever he has a new book out. He gets to go to the front of the line, so to speak, which is not so figurative as it may sound. Also, I've really enjoyed this series, especially after what I felt was a lackluster start to it (see the review of the first book). Even though I'm having ambivalence about his whole "utter annihilation of the entire multiverse" thing, I'm sure I'll enjoy the last book. At least, I hope so. I suppose I'll let you know whenever the paperback is released.

** ** **

In related news that is not related:
I was looking at the pre-sale information for the fifth book, The Fatal Tree, and it's ridiculous. The hardcover is $20, which pretty normal, but the Kindle edition is $18! What the heck? And the paperback? The paperback is only $12. Now, anyone, tell me why I would pay $6 MORE for the e-version of the book. And this is why I have no sympathy for Hachette and other publishers who want to gouge consumers by charging more for something which has virtually no cost for them. It's just wrong.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

An Exploration in Fantasy -- Part One: The List (an IWM post)

Prior to Tolkien, fantasy writing was sparse. At least, what we think of now as fantasy was sparse. Because of that, Tolkien is widely considered the "Father of Modern Fantasy" or, specifically, the "Father of High Fantasy." Along with the title has come the assumption that it was Tolkien who established our model of how fantasy ought to be written, that it was Tolkien who originated the tropes. People, often people who have not read The Lord of the Rings, look at what Tolkien did and ascribe the origins of all that fantasy has become to him.

Now, I love The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit, as you'll know if you've checked out my "Of Significance..." page on my own StrangePegs blog, is one of the three books that I think everyone should read. And I don't undervalue Tolkien's importance. There would be no fantasy genre as we know it today without him. However, I don't think that we can "blame" Tolkien for today's fantasy tropes. In fact, many of the things we think he did, he did not, in fact, do. No, for the origins of fantasy, we have to look elsewhere.

* * *

And that elsewhere is Indie Writers Monthly. Sort of. I mean it will be where to look. Today, we're just talking about the elements of fantasy. And there's a list! Everyone loves lists, right? So hop right over and check it out!

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Pocket Problem

Here's something I bet you didn't know:
Where the pockets are placed on the back of the jeans you're wearing affect how your butt looks. Now I bet you're trying to look behind yourself at your butt, aren't you? It's okay, go ahead. Mostly, I suppose, this is not a thing that matters to guys, though it's probably no less applicable to them; they just don't really care. But women... Well, women care about their butts.

Wait. That sounds wrong. Let's try again:

Women care how their butts look. You know it guys. What guy doesn't dread the question, "Do these jeans make my butt look fat?"

Let me give you some background:
A while back, my wife needed to buy some new jeans. For most people, that means going to the store... Okay, wait a minute. For most guys, that means going to the store going to the jeans section, grabbing the right size, and paying for them. There may not even be any trying on of the jeans. For women, though... well, I'm not even going to explain the ordeal of buying clothing. If you're a woman, you know what it is; if you're a man, there is every chance you don't have a clue. You have an idea of women liking to shop and think that answers the question of why they spend so much time trying to figure out what clothes to buy and, while it may be true that any given woman may like to shop, that has nothing to do with why it's so much work for them to buy clothes. Just... you know, get her to explain it to you. Seriously.


My wife needed to buy some jeans, and my wife is not one of those women who likes to shop; in fact, she pretty much hates it. So what my wife does, to cut down on the actual shopping time, is research. Which is where I come into this. My wife wanted me to help her with the jeans selection, which started online. But, first, she had to explain to me this whole pocket theory thing, which involved her showing me lots of pictures of women's butts. Before I go on: There are whole websites devoted to this issue of pocket placement. So she showed me scores of pictures of opposing views of women's butts: bad pocket placement vs. good pocket placement. You know, so I would understand. And, then, the question: Tell me which butts you think look good. Yeah, okay, it's not a question, but I'm sure you understand.

And I bet you guys out there are shouting at your monitors in your best Ackbar imitations: "It's a trap!"
Don't get me wrong; that thought crossed my mind. But just wait; it gets better.

So we went through all of these pictures until I had it down what to look for in regards to how back pockets should be on the pants, and then we went out in public... It was a festival-type thing. You know, lots of people. We let the kids go off and do their thing, and my wife and I sat down, and she said to me, "Help me look at women's butts, and make sure you point out the ones that look good." I know! I know! IT'S A TRAP!

But it wasn't a trap. We sat there or walked around for a few hours pointing out butts to each other and determined that, on the whole, women do not do a good job of purchasing jeans. Older women, especially, were prone to jeans that sagged off the butt and left the butt looking rather formless. Younger women liked pockets with lots of bling; I suppose to draw attention to the butt, but that usually was a bad thing. Those women tended to have pockets that were either placed too far apart or were too long (going past the butt down onto the leg), both of which flattened the butt out, leaving it looking like a board.

'Cause, see (and now we get to the point), the problem is that there is no general pocket solution. No one pocket fixes all, which is, of course, what we want. We want THE pocket that we can just slap on any butt and SHAZAM! THAT BUTT LOOKS AMAZING! But all butts are different, and each butt needs pockets that fit the design, so to speak, of that butt. Which can make it difficult to find just the right pocket. And, guys, that's just a small insight into why it takes women so long when they're clothes shopping.

But, of course, this doesn't just apply to butts. It applies to writing and, well, to EVERYTHING! There are very few, almost no, easy solutions in life. No magical fixes. No simple set of rules you can follow to success or whatever it is you're after. It all takes work, research, some trial and error, mistakes, wrong roads, right roads, errors in judgment, missing the target, getting the bulls-eye, tripping, falling, getting back up, trying again, all to get to the the thing that fits you. That set of pockets that makes your butt look good. That turns heads and makes people whistle. Whatever.

Just to let you know, my wife found some awesome jeans. As she said, there's no reason that, just because she's a mom, she should have to wear "mom jeans." I agree. Figure out what fits you and makes you look good. Do the research. The work. Put in the effort. There's no need to settle for a saggy, shapeless butt when you can have, instead, "Now that's an ass!"

Friday, July 18, 2014

Les Miserables (a local color post)

As I mentioned in passing, recently, my oldest son has been a part of a local production of Les Miserables. He's actually getting paid for this gig, which is pretty cool, especially since he didn't even audition for the part. He was requested by the director (whom he worked with several years ago in a production of The Pirates of Penzance). Not that he had a big part in that he was one of the main characters or anything; he wasn't, but he did have several solo bits and was a named character, Combeferre, along with the ensemble stuff he did. Basically, he was on stage through the greater part of the performance. He's even the first one onto the stage, as he gets pushed out as part of the prisoner gang.

As you can guess, I'm going to say my son was great. And he was. But, look, it's chorus work, mostly, and the chorus folk did a fine job, on the whole (with the exception of one kid who didn't know what to do with himself when he wasn't actively doing anything). His singing was right on, so it's hard not to be great when you don't have so much room to screw up. Okay, look, if my kid has one issue, it's that he might smile too much, but that's also one of the things that makes him good. He's got charisma, and he draws eyes to him just by being on the stage. [Recently, he was in Pride & Prejudice in the role of Bingley, largely due to his ability to smile. Well, he got that role as opposed to some other role, because no one can smile the way he can.]

Overall, the production was quite well done, but there were a few issues. Primarily, it was difficult at times to hear the singing over the orchestra. Maybe, this was an issue for use because we were sitting right up front, just one row removed from said orchestra, so the music was right in our faces. Or, maybe, they just didn't have the sound system set up to overcome the orchestra; I don't know. What I do know is that I was glad, as I watched, that I have seen the movie, because there were a few places I wouldn't have know what was going on if I hadn't seen it, because I couldn't hear the vocals. The worst of that happened during the scene where Javert shows up with the revolutionaries, where I still had a moment of "huh? What's he doing there?" until I remembered what was going on.

Speaking of Javert, I'm still waiting to see a version of Les Mis where I think the Javert performance is worthwhile. If the other performances in the recent movie adaptation hadn't been so strong, Russel Crowe could have ruined it, because he was pretty horrible. The guy in this production was better but only just. Mostly, he just stood in place on stage and sang, which is where he did a better job than Crowe, because he did have a good voice and sang the numbers well, but he just stood there and sang for most of them. Unemotionally. In fact, just about his only acting was to tilt his head back and look down his nose at Jean Valjean. My wife says that Javert is the kind of role where you can get away with playing it with a stick up your butt, because Javert has a stick up his butt, and I agree, but I am still dissatisfied.

The actor playing Jean Valjean, Pedro Rodelas, had a very Hugh Jackman look to him and played the role with the same kind of heart, which made him hard not to like, even if some of the music stretched his vocal range beyond his ability. I think the same can be said of Jackman, though (actually, I think I did say that somewhere after I saw the movie), but the emotion both actors poured into the role made up for any gaps in their singing ability.

The most difficult part of this production was the actor they chose to play Marius, David Strock. The man can sing, but he was just too old for the part, and I couldn't buy into him as the student revolutionary standing next to the young woman playing Cosette. He just looked out of place, which made it difficult to buy into that whole young love-at-first-sight thing that's supposed to be going on.

However, the kid they had playing Gavroche, Ari Vozaitis, was amazing and could have completely stolen the show if he'd more "screen" time. I'm guessing he's not older than 12.

The only other issue is a practical one: The show is quite pricey. But I suppose that's the price you pay ["Claim the pun!" as Briane Pagel would say.] for local theater. Still, $30 is a lot to pay for a ticket but, if you can afford it, I would strongly recommend the show. I'll put it like this: It's long. Three hours long. But I didn't once have that feeling of wondering how much longer it was, and that's saying a lot. Also, my wife cried and, as previously stated, if my wife cries, you know it's good.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

No Respecter of (Third) Persons: Part Two -- The God Problem (an IWM post)

All right, so we were talking about third person and why it's preferable to first, especially when you use it. Again, I don't necessarily mean you you, but I do mean the general you that's out there, 95% of whom are all writing in first person. Seriously, there was a study. Okay, well, I bet there really was a study, but I'm not actually citing any study. I'm just saying... The actual study was actually with ewes, and that study found that all ewes, all ewes that write, that is, write in first person. As it turns out, ewes aren't very imaginative, and most of the stories they write, something like 99.8% of them, contain a wolf or a big bad wolf as the antagonist. The other .02% contain a bear. The most frequent line in manuscripts by ewes is "I was scared," followed closely by "I was afraid," and even more closely by "I was terrified." Some of them write in present tense, too, so it's "I am scared."

The literary history of sheep. It's a thing.

So anyway...

Why shouldn't you write in first person? You should definitely go back and read part one of this to find out the obvious reasons. The other reason is larger but more subtle. Not as noticeable in general but more pervasive. It's the thing I think that most often wrecks first person manuscripts. I call it the "God Complex."

* * *

And this is the part where you need to hop over to Indie Writers Monthly to find out the rest. If it was me, I'd want to know. I mean, having a God Complex is a serious thing, and you have to diagnose it early if you want to do anything about it. God viruses are hard to beat. Go read!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Two Quick Announcements

Announcement #1

My sons' blog continues to chug along. The second post of Aim for the Cat! is up, and you should all hop over and read it. That is, you should if you can weave your way through the non sequitur  ramblings of a middle schooler. It made me laugh. Go check it out!

Announcement #2

The first Indie Writers Monthly anthology is now out! It's all about time travel! And just to let you know, I've worked out the secret of it... but, well, there are issues that make it unusable. I mean, if you want to live through it, that is. Read all about that in my story, "The TIME Machine." Then there is the first place winner of the story contest, "I Will Be a Jerk," which is quite deserving of the honor. Plus another dozen or so other time travel stories, including one by my wife! Seriously, just go pick up your copy RIGHT NOW. Look, here's the link! There's no TIME to lose!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Secrets (a book review post)

Secrets is a great example of how even a poorly written novel can be popular. And, when I say "poorly written," I mean it on just about every level that you can mean it. Still, though, it's better than Snow Crash but, then, Snow Crash is a level of stupidity all its own.

The first and most obvious issue the book has is that it needed an editor. This may be the most poorly edited book I've ever read. There were misspellings, homophones, tense issues, missing words, wrong words (above and beyond the homophones, which are, technically, wrong words), missing letters, wrong letters... um, did I cover everything? I'm not actually sure. And it's not that there were these things; it's that there were these things on every page. And not that there was, like, one per page, it was a handful per page. And I haven't even mentioned the punctuation... oh, wait, there, I did. Let me just say, and not just to whomever edited the book (I'm assuming the author (but I don't know that)), but to everyone (because this is becoming a real peeve of mine): a dash is not a "catchall" piece of punctuation. You can't just stick in a dash (either kind) because you feel like it. Dashes have a purpose, and they are much more limited than most people think. [Let me just put it like this: Quit using dashes! Seriously.] There were more punctuation issues than just the dashes, but it was like someone just sneezed dashes all in the book.

At any rate, if editing is an issue for you, don't attempt this book, because you will want to pull out a red pen and mark all over your Kindle screen (or whatever screen).

The next issue is that it's first person but not just first person: It's written from two different first person perspectives in alternating chapters. Which, in and of itself isn't an issue [I mean, I've done that, so who am I to complain, right?] except that both perspectives are written in exactly the same voice. There is nothing to differentiate them and, especially considering one is male and one is female, there ought to be some differentiation. The author doesn't even bother to give us alternate perspectives on the same event once we get past the first few chapters. For the most part, they just pick up where the other left off or show us what is happening where the other character isn't. Not to mention the fact that [spoiler alert] during the climax, when Olivia starts to doubt Holden, there is no suspense because we've been in Holden's head the whole book (and so has she, actually, for part of it) and we know how he feels about her.

[More spoiler alert.]

The story itself is pretty typical; in fact, I felt like I was watching a cheap knockoff of Buffy the Vampire Slayer through most of the book. So let's see:
1. Female protagonist born with a hidden destiny that she doesn't know about.
2. Bad boy romantic interest whom only she can save and turn to the light.
3. Good boy romantic interest to create some tension.
4. Traumatic death of a loved one.
5. Enigmatic mentor who never tells her anything useful other than that she's "special."
Yeah, it's got it all. Actually, it's worse than what I'm saying, too, because the female protagonist, who hasn't been in a relationship for over a year, finds herself instantly infatuated with two men at the exact same time. What are the odds? [Is the sarcasm coming through?] She immediately begins acting in ways that are just not her. Of course, we don't know that other than that she tells us that "she never does this kind of thing."

There are two things here:
We have to take Olivia's word about things way too often. The author never shows us how Olivia supposedly really is. For instance, when Quintus tells her that she's been born this guardian (the first one in 2000 years, so she's mega-special), he says to her something along the lines of "Haven't you always been a loner? Someone on the outside looking in?" But we never see that about Olivia. In the book, she has an awesome best friend who has been with her since middle school (that doesn't sound like a loner) and she's quite adept at being a socialite, so none of that stuff rings true in the book (it reminded me of Percy Jackson and how, at least in The Lightning Thief, he is constantly telling the audience he's one thing (a rebel and troublemaker) while acting completely the opposite).

It's quite difficult to take Quintus as a love interest seriously since Holden is the one offering the alternate perspective to Olivia's. To put it another way: Quintus is never a credible threat.

And speaking of vampires, Holden is "Vampire Lite." It's like the author really wanted to do a vampire story, but she also wanted her vampires to be able to go out in the daylight, so she just calls them "jinn," instead. Or "jinni." She seems to use the terms interchangeably, and they have nothing to do with the actual jinn mythology. It's just a word she uses, which, actually, bothers me. If you're not basing it on the actual thing, make up a word, or, you know, make your vampires all sparkly. Oh, and jinn have demons in them that operate much the way Whedon's vampires do without the actual changing into vampires.

Perhaps the thing that bothered me most, though, is the sudden, inexplicable, telepathic bond Olivia and Holden develop. It's all very much "we love each other so much, we know each other's thoughts! We're just made for each other! Two halves of the same soul!" [Yeah, I want to go wash my mouth out from just typing that.] So, yeah, their connection is so deep that they spontaneously develop the ability to read each other's minds. And, yet, at the end, even though Olivia has been inside Holden's mind, she doubts whether he really loves her and thinks that maybe he's just been using her the whole time.

Mostly, I just found the book tedious. There's nothing in it that hasn't been done elsewhere and done much better. If it had been well edited (or just edited), I might even would say: If this is the kind of thing you like (cliche love-at-first-sight stories), give it a read; as it is, I can't say that. Evidently, though, based on the other reviews and ratings, most people don't care about that kind of thing, so, I guess, if you like cliche love-at-first-sight paranormal(ish) love stories and don't mind bad grammar and poor punctuation, give it a read. I won't be going on to the next book, though...

Which reminds me! Considering the cliffhanger ending (which I won't spoil), it shows how much this book didn't hold my attention, because I don't care what happens enough to endure another of these books. The two stars I'm giving it is me being generous. I'd say it's probably a 1.5 star book.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Stand Your Ground (but not with a gun)

Back when I was in middle school, I had to take a law class. Seriously, it was a requirement because of the program I was in. It was titled something like "Introduction to Law" and was meant as a government-type course with an emphasis on the legal system and how it works. Toward the end of the course, one of the things we had to do was re-enact court cases, the idea being that if we had learned what we were being taught, we would come away from those re-enactments with the same decisions as the courts did.

Here's the summation of the case I want to talk about:
Two men go into a convenience store to rob it. Man #1 has a gun; Man #2 doesn't know Man #1 has the gun. The robbery doesn't quite go as planned, and Man #1 pulls out his gun and shoots the clerk. The clerk dies. Generally speaking, this is first degree murder because the man willfully took the gun into the store; basically, he planned to use it if necessary. The question was whether Man #2 was guilty of the same crime. Remember, he didn't know about the gun.

I'll pause for a moment to give you a chance to consider. Pretend the Jeopardy music is playing. Or something. In fact, here you go:

So... Once we had re-enacted the case, which resulted in a "not guilty" verdict, we were asked to give our own opinions on what the outcome should have been. All of the class said the outcome should have been "not guilty." All of the class but me, that is. First, all of my classmates started giving me a hard time; I was the only one who said the man was guilty so I must be wrong. How could I be the only one with the correct answer, as it were? Then, my teacher started pressuring me: "Are you sure you don't want to change your mind?" And here was the hard part; she had everyone that believed "guilty" stand on one side of the room (that would be me) and everyone that believed "not guilty" go stand on the other (that would be the 35 or so other students in the class). I'm not sure I can adequately relate what it's like to be in that circumstance. To be the only one standing up for something against a wall of your peers telling you that you're wrong.

But here's the thing:
Their decision was based on what they felt was fair. Basically, it wouldn't be fair for the man to be found "guilty" since he hadn't known about the gun. They were having an emotional response to the situation.
My decision was based on this law that said, in short, that the man was guilty of the same crime as Man #1, whether he knew about the gun or not, because he had participated in the crime.

As it turned out, Man #2 had been found guilty just as Man #1 had been because of the law. I was the only one in the room that had looked at the facts and made an objective decision based on those facts. And, as it turned out, my teacher had pressured me because, as she said, that's sometimes what happens on juries, especially if deliberations have been going on a long time and the jurors just want everything to be over. Basically, she wanted to see if I would cave under the pressure (and she allowed it to be a lot of pressure, almost two full class periods).

But I stood my ground, because I had actual facts sitting in front of me, so to speak. And that's not the only time I've been in that position in my life. By a lot. But that is one of the best examples of having to stand on your own against everyone else that I have ever experienced or seen. Man, I hated middle school.

So what am I saying here? That you should always just demand that you are right no matter how many people stand up against you and tell you that you're wrong? Well, no. But I am saying that you shouldn't back down just because everyone else is saying that you're wrong. Mostly, I'm saying to look at the facts, the data, all of the information. Make a decision based on those facts, not with your emotions. If you've made the best decision you can based on the information at hand (not how you feel about that information), you shouldn't change your mind just because everyone else says you should. Especially if they are appealing to you on an emotional level (and let me tell you, appealing on the basis of what is "fair" is about as emotional as you can get: "fairness" is rarely objective). Now, if someone comes to you with actual fact, data, whatever, you should certainly look at it, evaluate it, and, maybe, revise your thinking. But just remember: Being the only one on a side, does not make you wrong.

Having said all of that, for you writers out there, this is the same way you need to approach your manuscripts. The hardest part of that is to remove as much of your own emotion as you can so that you can evaluate your work as objectively as possible, then put your emotion back in and ask yourself the question, "Do I like this? Is it something I would want to read if someone else wrote it?" If you can say yes to those questions, it doesn't really matter what anyone else says about your work. And, if you can say yes to those questions, it can give you the strength to stand alone through the rejections and the pressure to change.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Aim for the Cat!

My boys have started up their very own blog. Sort of. Okay, well, yes, "they" have started a blog, but they started working on it... oh, I don't know, months and months ago. However, the older boy hasn't been able to be bothered with actually getting the thing going. Either he's not home or he's texting. Theoretically, they were supposed to make the whole thing live back during the school year, but that just didn't happen. I finally told my younger son that he needed to just start doing it if it was ever going to happen; waiting for his older brother to sit down and work up their first post together was never going to happen. So he did that. Their blog (or maybe just his?) is now live and his very first post is up. Remember my review of the new Transformers movie? Well, now you can get his take on it first hand.

All of that said so that you can click on
And, seriously, you should. Maybe, next week, they'll explain what that means. In truth, I have no idea what they have planned, so you should hop over and sign up for the ride.

Probably, they won't actually be aiming for any cats, although maybe I should start keeping a better eye on ours.
I think he's trying to hide? 

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Also, just to remind you, the July issue of Indie Writers Monthly is out. It has all kinds of good stuff in it including part six of my series "Lies Writers Tell... To Other Writers." For only $0.99, it's hard to beat.

But there's more!
For a limited time, the April issue is absolutely FREE! So you should definitely go pick that up. I mean, you can't actually beat FREE!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

No Respecter of (Third) Persons: Part One -- How Does That Make You Feel? (an IWM post)

Somewhat recently, I was presented with the question of... okay, I don't remember, exactly, what the question was, but I'll say it like this: Why do you believe that third person perspective is superior to first person?
That's a really good question, especially since I don't exactly shy away from first person.
So, I suppose, the real question is more along the lines of "Why do I think you shouldn't use first person?"

Well, okay, it's not that I think you, the specific you sitting here reading this post, shouldn't use first person; it's that I think the general you out there shouldn't use first person. At least not until you have figured out how to write in third person. First person, especially for the beginning writer, has too many traps and short cuts; until you know how to get around them, you should write in third. And, actually, it's writing in third that will help you to learn to avoid the snares.

So let's start with descriptions...

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Do you know the drill, yet? I feel like you ought to know the drill. Unless this is your first time here, in which case, here's the drill:
His name is Bit, and he's glad to meet you.

Seriously, though, hop right over to Indie Writers Monthly to find out why you ought to be writing in third person. Or, at lease, why you shouldn't be writing in first. No, they're not the same thing.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Musicals: It's All About Context

Let me begin by saying: Musicals have never really been my thing. When I was a kid and my mom was always wanting me to watch musicals, I just couldn't get into them. Let's just say that the idea of a crowd of people suddenly bursting into song and dance (as in Oklahoma!) just didn't fit into my reality. I mean, I'd never seen that happen in life, so why should I be expected to accept it in a movie?

Of course, Disney films, at least the animated ones I watched as a kid, were an exception. The break into song didn't seem out of place to me in an animated movie. And they usually didn't involve elaborate dance numbers, Mary Poppins being the exception, but there was enough animation and fantasy involved in that movie that I didn't have issues with it. However, when people think of "musicals," I don't think they tend to think of Disney movies, except, maybe, the aforementioned Mary Poppins.

All of that to say that I grew up with the idea about myself of "I don't like musicals," and it was an idea I held onto for quite a while. Which is not to say that, now, I like "musicals," but I certainly don't dislike something because it is a musical.

Interestingly enough, it was two unrelated musicals in 2001 that began to change my perspective.

The first was "Once More, With Feeling," an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now, let me make it clear that the episode contained all of the things I'd always disliked about musicals: people, including crowds of people, spontaneously bursting into song and dance. However, Joss Whedon, who wrote all of it himself, gave it all a context, a reason for happening, and it was pretty brilliant. It was especially brilliant in that the characters, at first, were aware of what was going on but didn't know what was causing it. Not to mention that it had some great songs. I bought the soundtrack of the episode for my wife, and she carried it in her car with her for months.

The second was Moulin Rouge. Not only did it have music by U2, but it had Obi-Wan Kenobi... SINGING! How awesome is that? [And, yes, ever since Moulin Rouge, I have wanted Star Wars: the Musical.] And, again, they put the singing and dancing in a context I could take, that of writing a musical. And, well, some of the numbers are just amazing. And hilarious. If you haven't seen the "Like a Virgin" scene, you are completely missing out. However, I'm going to share one of Ewan McGregor's songs (you can look up the "Like a Virgin" number on your own time):

To make what could be a longer story shorter, the lessen here is that you shouldn't dismiss an entire genre, any genre (even romance), as being something you "just don't like," because there is always the room that there are pieces of that genre that you could like. It's like when my oldest boy was six and tried to maintain that he didn't like cheese... while preferring cheese pizza and being a constant eater of cheeseburgers. Later, much later, it was, "I only like Gouda," but that was wrong, too.

Within the last couple of years, we've begun showing our kids musicals. Partly, this was prompted by the fact that my oldest son has now been in a few (right now, he's performing in Les Miserables) and my younger son has actually been in a couple himself. Partly, it was prompted by my wife's love of musicals. They all loved Moulin Rouge; only my wife likes Oklahoma! Other favorites have been Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music.

Basically, don't get trapped within ideas of yourself. We all get tempted to do that because those things help us define who we are. However, when we lock ourselves into those things and refuse to step outside of those boxes, we tend to become smaller and smaller people. Our views fail to expand and grow, and we can't even look at things that don't fall within the narrow confines of who we think we are. It's time, now and always, to look outside the box. Musical or not.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Transformers: Age of This-Movie-Should-Be-Extinct (a movie review post)

I have a soft spot in my heart for Transformers. I'm sure I've mentioned that before, so I'm not going to go into it. I like all three of the other Transformers movies. I'm not even going to apologize for it. I like the Transformers.

Also, I like dinosaurs, and I know I've talked about that before. The merging of the two things in 1984ish with the introduction of the Dinobots was, to put it simply, amazing. It was with no small amount of excitement that I received the news of the Dinobots being in Transformers: Age of Extinction. And my 13-year-old, who inherited my love of dinosaur robots, completely geeked out about it. Like, a virtual geek meltdown. We went to the early showing of the movie because my son was so excited about it.

The short review of this movie is that even my 13-year-old walked out of the movie like, "What was that?" He really enjoyed seeing the Dinobots, especially Grimlock, but he, my 13-year-old, had a list of all the stupid things in the movie, so, considering he falls right in line with "target audience," he shouldn't have that kind of list.

To put it simply: This movie is a mess. I haven't seen a movie with a story so all over the place since Robocop 3 (which upset me greatly because it was Frank Miller that had made such a mess of it). There were just too many story lines all trying to happen at once and it would have taken at least two more hours of movie to make sense out of them, and that's saying a lot for a movie that's already bumping the three hour mark. Someone really needed to step in and tell Ehren Kruger, "Stop writing! It's time to edit," which I'm pretty sure they just skipped.

In order to keep this to a somewhat readable length, I'll just talk about a few of the biggest issues in the movie for me. There will be spoilers.

1. Lockdown. Lockdown is the robotic villain of the movie; the problem is not so much with him as it is with the story around him. See, he's not an Autobot or a Decepticon but some kind of Transformer bounty hunter working for "The Creators" who want Optimus Prime back. As it turns out, Optimus is some kind of knight for them who deserted his post at some point in the past. It appears that Optimus remembers being this knight but has no knowledge of these Creators. And, you know, as if Optimus needs some other special thing attached to him. Mostly, though, the story here is too sketchy to follow; there are just too many "Why?"s involved.

2. The movie opens with Optimus near death. Again, why is it we're always dealing with the death or near death of Optimus Prime? [Okay, that's really because, other than Bumble Bee, he is the only Autobot that goes from movie to movie, and we could ask "Why?" about that, too. Personally, I'm annoyed that, basically, every movie, they introduce a whole new collection of Transformers. Where are they coming from?] He's found by Cade Yeager, who thinks he's just a truck he can strip down for parts but discovers he's really a Transformer; at which point, he begins repairing him. They make a huge deal out of the fact that Optimus is in such bad shape and that they have no way to fix him unless they can get him to the other Autobots. He may not make it.

Then they get attacked, and he takes some more beating, and it's a wonder he can still function. Then they find out that Ratchet (the Autobot medic) is dead and Optimus has no good way of getting repaired. I suppose, by that point, they were tired of dealing with the fact that Optimus was barely able to function, because they just have him scan a new big rig and take that form, and, voila!, he's all better! If that's all they need to do to become repaired, why ever bother to do anything else? Just scan a new vehicle. Or store your scan and re-use it. That whole bit was dumb.

3. The banter. The characters have a continual flow of inappropriate conversations during combat situations. Part of the problem is that "Cade Yeager" is written just as if he's Sam Witwicky, and Wahlberg, as much as I like him, couldn't pull it off. None of the characters could, as the stream of mouth diarrhea flows from one character to the next, none of them believable in any way close to Shia LaBeouf (do you see the irony in that statement?).

4. The Dinobots. As my son said, there is no build up to them. They are a complete Deus ex machina. They're just prisoners in Lockdown's giant spaceship. At the point when the Autobots are going to be overwhelmed, Optimus releases them and threatens to kill Grimlock if they don't defend the Autobots. Hmm, yeah, that fits right in with the character of Optimus Prime. So the Dinobots destroy the Decepticons then go on their way. They also never speak, which was more than a little disappointing.

5. Everything to do with Lockdown's spaceship. The Autobots allow the humans to go off on their own. Dumb. There are booby traps. Dumb. Lockdown knows almost as soon as they've trespassed that he has unwanted guests, but he doesn't have a clue when Optimus disengages part of the ship. Dumb. Yes, I could go on.

6. Optimus Prime. This was a very unOptimus Optimus. He was angry, and I lost count of the number of times he said, "I'm going to kill you!" to people, robots, whoever. In fact, he's so full of anger and hate through most of the movie that it's actually out-of-character for him to stay and help the humans at the end of the movie. It was rather like, "Well, we're already here, so we may as well." Plus, he blasts off into space with his magically appearing boot jets at the very end. What the heck?

And, actually, I could just go on and on about the stupid in the movie, but there's not a lot of point in doing that. I'm sure you get the idea. So I was trying to think of any good points about it, but I'm not really thinking of any. Well, I did enjoy Stanley Tucci (he's difficult not to like), but he has the same problem all the characters have with random-seeming statements at inappropriate times which made his inevitability shaky at best. Still, he was better than most of the characters. Kelsey Grammer played a pretty good villain as the part was written, but it was hard to buy into the character. I mean, the President sends word that he wants to see him and his response is something along the lines of, "I don't have time for him." That doesn't make the character a badass; it makes him unbelievable. That's not what you say to your boss.

Um... some of the Transformers were pretty cool looking, like Drift and Crosshairs. Even Lockdown. That was offset by how ridiculous Hound was in robot form, though, so even that was a mixed bag.

Basically, unless you're just a die-hard Transformers fan, you should probably just skip this one. Even if you are a die-hard Transformers fan, you might want to skip this one.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Forget-Me-Not (an IWSG post)

Photo by  Sedum and used under the linked license.

When I was a kid, my best friend was from a rather large, blended family. He was the youngest of, like, seven or eight kids (I can't actually remember now). His oldest brother was about 20 years older than him, and he was my favorite of Cory's brothers. Billy, the older brother, would do things like play football with us in the backyard. It would be Cory and me against Billy. At some point during any game (multiple points, actually), we'd end up on each of Billy's legs trying to tackle him while he dragged us through the yard toward the goal line. He was a lot of fun.

Somewhere in there, Billy developed some mental instability. I don't remember or know everything about what happened -- I was only eight or so -- but I know there was an aneurysm involved and a subsequent stay in a mental ward. And an escape.

Yeah, one night, he escaped, and he came to my house. I'm really not sure why he came to my house other than that sometimes he and my dad would play guitar together or, maybe, we were just closer? Whatever the reason, we let him in, because, well, he didn't know he'd escaped; we just thought he was dropping by. Or something. Even if it was kind of late.

So we all sat around together, and he talked about what it was like to be in a mental institution and what it was like to be crazy. Because he could remember some of what it was like to be crazy. Sometimes, he only remembered the things he did but, other times, he remembered the emotions and urges driving him to do the things he did, and he talked about all of it. Some of which I'm sure was quite inappropriate for me to hear. The thing that stayed with me, though, is how he'd no control over himself during those episodes. Like he was outside watching his body do things that he couldn't keep it from doing.

Somewhere in that conversation, and he was there for hours, he started talking about how he'd escaped...

But the rest isn't really important. The important thing is that I developed a "fear" of mental breakdown, and that, I think, was the beginning of it. The actual is more inclusive of a failure of mental capacity, which includes forgetting things. I used to keep all kids of little notes to myself about things when I was in high school and college so that I wouldn't forget those things. I never, later, needed the notes, but that was probably because I made the notes in the first place.

And all of this is coming up now because, last month, I forgot my IWSG post. I mean, I completely forgot it. I forgot it so much that I didn't remember it until Alex said to me, "Is this [emphasis mine] your IWSG post?" about a post which was definitely not an IWSG post. Man, I HATE forgetting things.

Because of my fear of forgetting, I keep a lot of notes about stories and story ideas. I have a file for them and add to them as I think of things so that I can continue with whatever I'm working on. So far, it works pretty well. The file system I'm using now is important, though, in that before I was using it, back when I was writing "The Evil That Men Do," I made a lot of notes about the world that would be for Shadow Spinner and then... lost them. When I started on Spinner and couldn't find my notes, I panicked because I couldn't remember any of what I'd written down, so, well, I started over. Later, much later, when I was almost finished with Spinner, I found my original notes and, amazingly enough, what I'd done held to what I'd originally had down almost 100%. But, still, I don't trust that, especially when I do things like forget IWSG.

So I make notes.

However, I'm still not very good at making grocery lists. I can't even begin to tell you how many things I've forgotten just this week at the store. Maybe I need to make myself a note to make myself a list...

All of  that to say  that my greatest insecurity, both as a writer and as a person, is that I will become mentally deficient in some way, especially in a way that would mean I could just forget things. That I am smart has always been a defining characteristic for me and losing that as I age is a way worse thought than any physical deterioration. So it's about time someone develops that anti-aging serum. Or something.

This post has been brought to you in part by Alex Cavanaugh and the IWSG.

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Also, make sure you stop by Indie Writers Monthly today for information about the July issue and part six of my series "Lies Writers Tell... To Other Writers."