Category Archives: Writing

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

NSA & The Mass Surveillance Society
James Bamford who has written three books about the NSA addresses the ACLU

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.

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.

Interview with Russell Tice
Tice was an NSA whistleblower before Edward Snowden.

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.


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.


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.

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.

ICON 38 / Paradise ICON 2

icon38Wow, what a weekend. For the second time, I participated in the Paradise ICON workshop which runs concurrently with ICON, the Cedar Rapids area SF convention.

Friday morning started a day of critiques with the Paradise ICON attendees. I’m going to be lazy here and paste in their twitter accounts: @SplitLegend @bluemaven @ransomnoble  @cathschaffstump @GeorgeGaluschak @CoreKnell and @timothycward. I was a little nervous getting into critiques with people I’d never worked with before. Fortunately, George Galuschak’s piece, my favorite was up first.

Yeah, I’m playing favorites. I’m harsh like that.

One of the nice things about working with more skilled authors is they all know how to take criticism. It’s not that I want to be mean or gruff, but if you genuinely don’t connect with a piece, you need to be able to tell them that and explain why without them getting upset. Even if they don’t agree with you, you owe it to them to tell them how you felt.

After eight critiques, my time was my own. I’d intended to meet up with the Paradise crew at the bar, but I was too busy catching up with Adam Whitlatch, Lars Pearson, and Dylan Moonfire. It’s funny, when I first started coming to cons, I thought it was weird that people would come to socialize, play games, and do crafts, things that they can do at home or with their friends. Outside of the writing workshop that was mostly what I did.

My Saturday started out with lectures from Nancy Kress and Gregory Frost. Having read Kress’s Beggars in Spain, I was already excited to hear what she had to say. She spoke on the subject of character arcs and what makes a believable character. She also had a really nice character worksheet.

Greg Frost’s talk was an eye-opener for me because he talked about the differences between short stories and novels, and I have never been able to master the short story. Even now, I am planning a short story that goes against the advice he gave… I know. I know. It will probably fail, but I’m still going to try.

After lunch, we were supposed to get a Q&A from Ellen Datlow. Unfortunately, she couldn’t make it, so I went downstairs and wandered into a panel on Dungeons and Dragons. I ended up having a very enjoyable time. Not only were the two local game masters very knowledgable and had good things to say, but Jim C Hines was on the panel. Jim had some interesting things to say about teaching morality and math.

Then I went to a panel on Doctor Who. My friends Adam and Lars were on the panel. Now, if you don’t know Lars Pearson, he is a walking encyclopedia of Doctor Who. His company Mad Norwegian Press publishes gigantic compendiums of Doctor Who essays and facts. As a panel member, he is a clever, hyper-animated–I hesitate to call him elf, but… yeah, elf.

Then we went to a nice dinner before our Paradise ICON rapid-fire reading. We were up against a Joe Haldeman reading and the cosplay Masquerade, so the attendance wasn’t great, but I still managed to be plenty nervous. Mostly we read pieces we had worked on in our group, but I was totally blown away when Tim Ward read his short story Cornhusker: Demon Gene, which was awesome.

After that, I went to the post-apocalyptic survival panel, featuring King Zombie Sean Beaty, Adam Whitlatch, and Jess Whitlatch.

Then I spent the night in the bar.

Sunday was a nice quiet day. The paradise crew went to breakfast, and then I attended a panel on cover art, featuring my friend Adam Whitlatch. After that, I attended a radio-style play done by the BrassGears Adventure Society. Finally, I finished off my weekend with a reading by Adan Whitlatch–you might have guessed that Adam and I get along well.

It was a tremendously fun weekend.  PARADISE2