Two weeks of nothing special except the one thing.

10505493_10152934717752004_967532443341958906_nThere are two different things in this missive, so if the first one is boring, skip down to part B.

So, I finally broke down and got carpal tunnel surgery on my left hand. I’d done my right a few years ago, and it had helped considerably. This meant a whole two weeks with my hand in a splint and not being able to do much at all except read, take pain pills, and watch movies. Since this is essentially my ideal vacation, this didn’t bother me too much. I made quite a dent in both my James Bond and Stat Trek BluRay collection, and I watched the excellent British show Foyle’s War.

The biggest downside of my little enforced vacation was the inability to drive myself anywhere. If I’d had the ability, I would have spent some time in the coffee shop or the wine shop. I did spend some time writing, but I only put down a half page the entire time–between the pain and the splint getting in the way, it kind of sucked.

Okay, so that brings us to the part of the last two weeks which is momentous news–wow, I really know how to write a story, don’t I?. I was contacted by a friend of mine, Adam J Whitlatch and offered an internship as an editor at KHP Publishers. After a Skype call with the editorial staff, I accepted the position.

Now, I know what my friends and readers are going to say, “Just one minute. Don’t you need more time to write as it is? Didn’t you turn down a job as a full editor just a year or two ago for that very reason?” You would be right to say that. It weighs heavily on my mind even now. Here’s the deal though, as an unpaid intern, I have a lot more leeway to make mistakes and see if being an editor is indeed for me than if I were jumping into the deep end head first.

So, there it is, I have six months to prove to them, and also myself, if it’s worth both our time for me to be an editor.

Time to get serious and piss around a bit

800px-Henri_de_Toulouse-Lautrec_018

This Toulouse-Lautrek is here for no other reason than I am currently reading Christopher Moore’s brilliant book Sacre Bleu

So, I’ve been working on a sequel to MINION OF EVIL. This is not the first time I’ve started this particular book, but I’ve discovered that sequels can be difficult. If you’ve already saved the world and got the girl, what else is there?

However, I have gotten a full 25,000 words into this book, meaning that I can probably proclaim I’ve made it through to the middle. This is a good thing. If I make it to the middle, I can usually muddle through to the other side. In a year or two of serious redrafting, I may even have a readable book. For me, this is an exciting thing. I like finishing manuscripts.

Lately, I’ve had a lot of trouble producing new fiction. And I’m beginning to believe I know why. I used to write to the end of the chapter. If something silly occurred to me, it would go in. But lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the end of the book, and the arc of the story vs. the arc of the character.

At first, I believed these deep thoughts to be an indicator that I was arriving at the next level, as a more mature, tested writers. But lately, they have been weighing heavily on my, like an albatross around my neck.

That’s cool though. It’s all about the learning process. And it’s nice to know that I still know practically nothing this far into the game.

Accusations Suck

The Exodus GateA few years ago, at DemiCon, I met this really cool writer and filmmaker, Stephen Zimmer–work pictured to the right. As I tend to do when I meet someone cool, I friended him on Facebook and read some of his work.

The other day, Stephen posted a message to his Facebook page, which I’ve been thinking about ever since. I’m not going to reproduce the whole message here, but to paraphrase, someone sent their work to Stephen. He promised to give them feedback on their work, but when he didn’t respond in what they considered to be a prompt enough manner, they accused him of stealing their work.

Okay, I know many authors get very upset about the concept of people stealing their works–I would too. I have a friend who worries about sending his manuscript out to his own writing group. Furthermore, I know for a fact that this really happens, especially now that anyone with an Amazon password and some specialty software can be a publishing house. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean anyone is going to want to steal your manuscript.

Call me too trusting, but if I send someone my manuscript, and they don’t get back to me right away, I assume they’re working on their own project like–just to pick a totally random example–a novelization of War of the Worlds: Goliath

In my experience, the vast majority of people who offer help with your manuscript want to help you with your manuscript, and the vast majority of people who rip people off and steal their work are well-known enough to find with a Google search–most of them are shady publishers and can be found on Predators and Editors. Most of those will try to rip you off in a totally legal fashion, with shitty contracts and deals too good to be true.

So, I guess what I’m saying is, you don’t have to trust everyone 100%, but don’t just assume that because someone is slow reading your manuscript that they’re sending it to Random House. But if you do steal someone’s manuscript, you should murder them so no one ever finds out.

Wow, that really took a dark turn.

Some Interesting Videos about the NSA

file536d258dde61cFor me, one of the fun aspects of being a writer is doing research. Once upon a time, research was tedious and methodical. Today we have Youtube.

In preparing my presentation for Demicon about the NSA, I did read a lot of articles, but I also put in quite a few hours watching videos. So I thought I’d do a blog entry and some of the better ones.

Through a PRISM Darkly
Kurt Opsahl – Senior Staff Attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation speaks to the Chaos Communication Congress
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMwPe2KqYn4

NSA & The Mass Surveillance Society
James Bamford who has written three books about the NSA addresses the ACLU
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7MEzWzIIK8

Inside NSA – The National Security Agency
A Discovery program that is a little more pro-NSA. This copy includes some Realty Spam for some reason.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAPh5Pe1Iwk

Nova – The Spy Factory
A Nova program which James Bamford was involved in. I have to admit, because of time constraints, I didn’t get all the way through this one, but what I saw looked very good.
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/military/spy-factory.html

Interview with Russell Tice
Tice was an NSA whistleblower before Edward Snowden.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6m1XbWOfVk

Where there’s smoke, there’s sometimes just a cigar.

file534eec7b74940Warning: This post may be a collection of random thoughts.

I had an interesting day, yesterday. I had to give a deposition to an investigator. I am, of course, going to parlay this experience into a scene in the book I’m working on.

One of the most interesting things they asked me–which was not difficult, as most of what they asked me dealt with procedure and intellectual property–had to do with rumors. I think that I, as a writer, sometimes focus too much on what is really happening behind the scenes and not enough time on what my characters think are happening behind the scenes.

That’s enough about that, however, as I’m not sure how much I’m supposed to say.

In a couple weeks I’ll be attending DemiCon in Des Moines. It will be a chance to catch up with some writer friends. I intend to grill Adam Whitlatch on his upcoming novelization of War of the Worlds: Goliath, and twist his arm until he names a character after me. I’m doing a panel on the NSA, which should be interesting.

Speaking of Adam Whitlatch, I’m currently beta reading his book Birthright, which so far is pretty good. I need to spend more time on it though.

Hopefully by the end of this month, I will be releasing a new edition of my novel Minion of Evil through Broken Typewriter Press, a project of friend and author Dylan Moonfire. I enjoy working with Dylan, and I think we can come out with a nice book.

No one wants to hear it.

file5335c80c5ac17An interesting thing happened in American politics this week. Statistician Nate Silver predicted that the Republican Party is likely to take control of the Senate in the 2014 midterm elections. Some Democrats did not like this simple act of calculation, and said a few words to that effect.

This reminded me of Romney supporters in September of 2012. At the time, polls were showing a slight lead for Obama, and from the Romney supporters there was a lot of talk about how Silver’s number may have been right in the past, but things were different in this election, and he was weighing the polls wrong… etc.

This little back and forth brings up two things that can make your characters, especially your villains more believable: Confirmation Bias and Cognitive Dissonance. And just for fun, I’m going to use ridiculous political examples.

Confirmation Bias is the tendency to give more weight to things that confirm your beliefs. Say Mr. Example who belongs to a political party believes that the opposing party is the party of “Tax and buy Papaya.” He watches a TV show that does a segment about the president (a member of the opposing party) visiting the Kenyan embassy and eating Papaya. The next day, a prominent newspaper runs a story about how the president only eats Papaya once or twice a year, yet he is known to finish and entire pineapple in one sitting. Chances are, Mr. Example is going to spend more time thinking about dirty Papaya eaters.

Cognitive Dissonance happens when someone comes into contact with a bit of knowledge that they believe, but is in contradiction to what they previously believed. Let’s catch up to Mr. Example after an election when his president is in charge. The thing Example really likes about his president is her teetotalling and strict sense of morality. He is in the supermarket and he sees a newspaper with a picture of their president drunk with a man, who is not her husband. Cognitive dissonance forces Mr. Example to either ignore the story or minimize it–maybe the picture was taken out of context. Maybe she was flushed and dizzy because she had an inner ear infection. Maybe the man just grabbed her because she was about to fall. Maybe the vodka bottle in her hand was refilled with water, because recycling is important.

So, what does this have to do with anything? Well, in a story, your characters are going to act in accordance to these principles. If they’ve always thought that Dan at the office was a good guy, and he offers them a stick of gum, they’re going to take notice, and maybe invite him to their party.

If a character thinks someone in this office is incompetent, he is going to notice every mistake to confirm his bias. When others don’t notice that incompetence, it will grate on the character until he lashes out in anger.

Just something to chew on.

Jealousy

1900136_10201607273731426_1683397005_n-200x300Something really cool just happened for my good friend Adam J. Whitlatch. He has been chosen to write the novelization of the animated movie War of the Worlds: Goliath. I just watched the trailer. It looks awesome, and I can’t wait to see how Adam makes it work in a novel.

Whenever someone I know has this kind of success. It gets me thinking about the attitudes we can have when someone else gets good and well-deserved news.

To me, it seems like there are two ways to react to someone else’s win. The first, and I think more juvenile way is to curse the success of others, to pile on projections of our own inadequacies, whether it’s taking a jab an A-list author or badmouthing peers behind their back. Putting down other writers, or “talking smack,” not only wastes your time and energy, it is unprofessional and counterproductive. In a worst case scenario, you may be burning a bridge.

Is it possible to be a prick and be successful? Sure, it happens every day. But I don’t want to be that guy.

A drum corps parable:

There was a small corps in the 1960s, back in the days when the VFW judged regional shows. One of the members of this corps asked their instructor why another corps was always scoring higher, since the other corps sucked. The assembled corps members cheered on their fellow.

The instructor looked over his corps and said, “Well, if they keep scoring better than you, and they suck, then you must sub-suck. So, if you want to practice some more maybe you can get better, and some day you can suck too.”

The more mature way of dealing with the success of others is easier, causes less stress, and maybe will even make you feel better about yourself. You feel good for the other person, and you walk away with a lighter soul, without acting like a total douche.

So, what if you are a total douche? Well, sometimes it is better to bury your natural instincts.

Here’s the thing: Writing, and life, is not a basketball game. There isn’t one winner and one loser. Just because someone has good news doesn’t mean you’ve lost some kind of game. You can choose to be consumed by the jealousy of others, or you can look at their accomplishment, be happy for them, and move on. Because you’re not going to find your own happiness by sitting around complaining about how unlucky you are, or how much better you are than everyone else.

As for me, I’m looking forward to reading Adam J. Whitlatch’s novelization. I’m hoping that–baring contractual issues, as I don’t really know how novelizations work–I’ll even be able to beta read it.

Overthinking

file5304d3e9a08b7I am prone to over-analysis. I can be almost paralyzed by indecision over trivial things.  I can spend minutes or even hours turning over capitalization decisions in my head, only to find out I’ve made mistakes in less ambiguous areas.

Recently, I was reading advice on a writing forum on whether how to best chain an action to a line of dialog. One writer was adamant that you should never have simultaneous action, therefore your character should clearly stop talking before doing anything. I have to admit, I was stunned by this knowledge.

I mean, where do you stop. Can two people have a conversation while riding in a car? While walking down a hallway? While standing on the rotating Earth? Or can they do these things as long as we don’t let on that they’re happening?

Okay, maybe that characterization is a little unfair, but let me look at some of my dialog and see if people are doing things simultaneously. I opened up a chapter which I thought to be mostly dialog, and I ran into this gem after about 10 lines.

“Okay,” said Nick, heading for the kitchen. “But this recipe takes a while.”

Call, me crazy, but I don’t think this overloads the reader. Maybe that’s just me. On the other hand, I use this level of “simultaneous” action very sparingly. A mere 1300 words later, I write:

“You are in a good mood tonight, cousin,” Larry said, holding Nick’s head down like a police officer would, so he wouldn’t hit his head on the roof of the car. 

Somehow, I think I can live with this level of simultaneous action. However, I do find that I much more often use the Action-Talk-Action method and separate everything out into units. For example:

Rudy sniffed it tentatively. “It’s very aromatic. I’m a little worried it might give me anosmia.” He made a face and poked the thick tea with his finger, failing to break the surface tension.

I’d like to say this was some great stylistic decision, but I really just went for what sounded better in each place.

Obama: The Nation Stands Firm

Okay, here’s the thing. Before I started writing novels, I used to do a daily blog of fake news. Every once in a while, I get the bug to do it again. So when I remembered that tomorrow was the #stopthensa protest, I decided to do an article for the event.

(SNN French Lick) Today, President Obama called on all Americans to stop masturbating so damn much.

obama“We, your government, have this thing, you may have heard of it, called the National Security Agency. Now, this is a very necessary agency, and they’re tasked with looking at everything you look at on the Internet. And unfortunately, that’s almost entirely pornography.”

“Now, I have a plan to save the United States an awful lot of badly needed resources. I would ask all Americans to spend a month, this March, abstaining from flogging the dolphin. The amount of manpower and computer time this would save would mean more school lunches for our kids, better health care or the elderly, and increasing our ability to provide badly needed resources for our soldiers in Afghanistan.”

Obama then went on to site specific cases examples of where those cost savings would come from.

“There’s a man, let’s call him, Anthony, who lives in the great city of New York. During the month of December alone, Anthony looked at pornography over 700 times. When people like Anthony commit these levels of self-abuse, not only is Anthony probably doing harm to his urethra, but he is costing taxpayers thousands of dollars of overtime.”

“Then there’s Sue in Bloomington, Indiana. Sue was let go from a factory job in January, and now she spends up to three hours a day looking at Japanese bukake. I know Sue’s suffered a lot, but I’d like to ask Sue to make one more small sacrifice and spend those three hours a day looking for gainful employment.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called a special meeting in the Capitol basement, which he claims was well attended despite his inability to find the light switch, and no, that’s not a euphemism. “Obviously, I’m for cutting government spending, but I believe we can find savings elsewhere. Could someone just prop open the door, so we can get some light in from the hallway? Hello? Is anyone there?”

Last year, an outcry went up when it was suggested members of Congress abstain from masturbation until the government shutdown was over, specifically in national parks and historical sites.

Wow, it’s been a month.

file52f1500e55d86Okay, I guess I’ve been a slacker. The last time I wrote about my doings was nearly a month ago.

It’s been a busy month though. I finished the latest draft of my novel Panic No More, and I beta read a pornographic dinosaur novel by the irreverent t’Sade. No, really. It’s a fun read if you aren’t easily offended by sex and violence.

The big reason I haven’t written is the tedium of the revision process. I feel like I put in solid work day after day, but like staring at one of those magic-eye prints, eventually everything starts to blur together. And honestly, I can never see those 3D images.

At this point, I feel itchy. I want to just submit the thing, and let the chips fall where they may. Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead! This is a very bad thing to do. Madness.

In this situation, there is an easy, sensible thing to do. I set aside the revision. I can do a read-through again, much later, when I’m feeling sane, some time in the far future when I can get discounts on McDonald’s coffee. Of course, this slows the process another notch, but this is the way it must happen. In that promised tomorrow, things will make sense. I’ll find the humor and drama in my own words. I will put in all those intricate little moments that will make the story great. But only when it is time.

It doesn’t leave me with a lot to write about.