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.

No, that’s not cliche.

file52cd712f163eeLately, I’ve seen an annoying trend, namely people using the word cliche that don’t seem to understand the nuance of the word. I think it’s unfair to call something cliche if it was a new idea when it was created.

I was telling someone about watching the original Dark Shadows. I was telling someone the storyline, and they told me Barnabas Collins was a cliche because  the tortured vampire was so overdone.

No, I say. You are incorrect, sir. If Barnabas Collins were created today, you might have a point, but in 1966, he was unique. Many people believe he was the trend setter of the genre.

On a side note, I’ve now watched over 100 DVDs and seen over 1000 episodes of Dark Shadows. I’m still not done.

This is not a year in review.

file52c701b409737Last year I published two books. This year, I came out with nothing. There are many reasons for this, but it really comes down to: writing is hard work and takes a long time.

I am currently in the final stages of finishing two manuscripts. I even know where I want to sell one of them–if they’ll have it. One is ready to go about 2/3 of the way through, but needs a better ending. The other is looking very good, but needs a final polish.

I’m actually looking forward to 2014. I have a new editor interested in my work–I hate to leave the old one, but I think it’s the best decision for both of us. I like him, and I’m happy he gave me a shot, but I really don’t think we were all that good a fit. I’d rather have him spending his time working on the books he knows how to sell.

I have to admit, I’m actually a little nervous about submitting again. It’s still nerve racking.

On the other hand, I have to admit, I’m getting impatient. It will probably be the end of February before I’m ready to officially send anything out.

So it might be slow to start, but I’m hoping you’ll see some good stuff in 2014.

Soylent, the End of the Week

P1000652Today ends my week of nothing but soylent. It’s been interesting.

On the health side, I have lost ten pounds, which would be a lot if I were a skinny person, but I am not. My eyesight has improved, indicating that I was not getting enough of one of the micronutrients in my concoction. My energy levels are good. My sleep patterns are better. If I could do this for a year, I would probably end up a healthy person.

On the down side, the diabetes doesn’t seem as happy. My blood sugars, while still in the safe range, run a little higher. I wondered if this would happen as the soylent specifications are higher in carbohydrates than what I normally allow myself. On the other hand, if I am getting more nutrients and losing weight, it’s probably worth it in the a long term. And I have to remember that they only reason I hit that normal range is because I take drugs, which can be adjusted.

In full disclosure, I did have a sample at the wine shop today. After a week of soylent, Diet Coke, and coffee, it was one of the most wonderful things I’d ever tasted. This probably means I’m not a good candidate for a 24/7 solent diet.

Despite my inability to eat nothing but soylent, I am going to continue to experiment with using it as a meal replacement. I hope to find a balance where I can have food often enough that I don’t crave it, yet eat soylent enough to improve my health significantly.

Over the last week, I haven’t had any huge epiphanies, but I did get some poignant remembers about both my relationship and society’s relationship with food. Not only did I miss out on some social activities, but I felt like I didn’t spend enough money to justify my time in the coffee shop. Also, the speed at which my health improved and the weight started to come off drove home how bad I am at coming up with healthy meals for myself.

So, in the end, was this experiment worth it? You bet. Before I tried soylent, I had pretty much given up on nutrition. Not only were the things I liked to eat bad for me, but even if I tried to eat healthy, there were too many things to keep track of, to many ifs. I needed a nutritional shortcut, a way to eat healthy without having to make good decisions, a simple recipe that would improve my health. And I think I’ve found it.

Now, let’s see if I can stick with it.

Soylent: Day 6

P1000651 Today, I did something that I said I was not going to do this week. I added a little flavoring to my soylent. In addition to the usual mix, I put in some stevia and cinnamon. This actually made the experience rather pleasant. Not that it was horrible before, but I was getting a little tired of the “generic” flavor.

Again, the most extraordinary thing about this “revolutionary” diet is how ordinary I feel on it. If I had to survive on soylent for the rest of my life, I could. I probably will be making it a regular part of my diet. It may be tricky finding the right balance, but I’m sure it’s there.

So, essentially, nothing to report.

Soylent: Day 5

mcdonalds-Big-MacAfter five days of Soylent, I am probably the healthiest I’ve been in years. I feel physically stronger and mentally alert. I’ve lost an impressive, but not dangerous, amount of weight, and my clothes fit better.

All that being said, I miss food. I’m looking forward to Sunday, when I’ll have my first Christmas dinner of the season. I plan to take my Soylent in the morning and then go crazy the rest of the day.

The question is, how much damage will I do to my newfound health in one day? Even more, when I finish my week, how often do I want to eat Soylent? It’s obviously good for me. Would two meals a day be good enough for similar results?

It seems like a no-brainer to drink nutrition paste for my health. But that Big Mac is looking really good.

Maybe that’s what this Soylent experiment is really about. The ability to let go of our animal impulses, becoming beings of pure logic, and embracing our future a cyborgs.

Or maybe not.