The best blog from the best author you've never heard of. Assorted thoughts ranging from comic books to politics. Sometimes I even talk about writing.

Monday, January 27, 2014

2014, Week 4, Monday

I’ve been enjoying this trip into short story land the last couple weeks. In some cases they have a plot. In some cases they’re vignettes. In any case, it’s been fun to flex the muscles to tell a story in such a small format. Also the ideas have been pretty fast and furious. Whether they’re good ideas I don’t know. But there are quite a few of them.

Of the crop of short stories I wrote when I was much younger—and my writing showed it—in hindsight there was only one I thought was a worthy idea. It resurfaced for me at one point as a once act play. And when I decided to dive back into that format as a means of building my brand, I wanted to resurrect it. The story itself consists mostly of dialogue and interaction between two people, each an antagonist to the other. The original story was only ever told through one character’s eyes which—for what I want from that story—wasn’t going to change. But an opportunity presented itself to HULKSMASH it with something I’ve always wanted to try.

I enjoy playing around with character perceptions; the narratives in my stories are only ever told through one character’s eyes at a time. So if a scene is being told through Joe’s eyes, the only clue the reader has as to what Jack and Jill are thinking are the cues Joe picks up and how he interprets them. There’s no omniscient narrator. There’s no literary equivalent of breaking the fourth wall. But in a complex scene involving multiple main characters, the viewpoint may shift—with corresponding line breaks to indicate the narrative has changed focus—between the characters. In The Loyalty of Pawns, there are a few occasions where the same quick event is told multiple times but from different points of view. This isn’t done in a Rashomon-esque way where the events are retold differently; rather the honest perceptions of the different characters are presented as different facets through which the event is seen.

What I'm Not Doing

So what does this have to with that short story I mentioned? Well, what was originally one story has become two. Since the story is nothing more than two characters—who, for the purposes of this blog, we’ll call Joe and Mary—playing off each other, I thought it might be interesting to retell the same events but cast in the light of the personality of each character. Since Joe was always the viewpoint character before, I decided to write Mary’s story first. Obviously, from Mary’s own point of view at least, she has to be the sympathetic party so already it was a fun experience to twist the story around and approach it from that angle. I’ll start on Joe’s side as soon as all the editing is finished in Mary’s since the two stories have to line up in so far as dialogue and action is concerned.

The really fun step will be publishing each one and finding out whether or not people come across both stories and who they end up rooting for.

Monday, January 20, 2014

2014, Week 3, Monday

A late entry to be sure. But Mondays must be served (he says in only his second weekly Monday blog). But, self-fulfilling prophecies and all that, the success of a weekly Monday blog is best served by writing a weekly blog on Monday. It’s possible I just described a Mobius strip. But, given my mathematical failings, probably not.

So the holidays have happened. The responsibilities of the day job have lessened somewhat by comparison. And it’s time to turn my attention to the needs of promoting my first book. My strategy has changed somewhat, though. Originally there was going to be a lot of pavement pounding, working to get my book in brick and mortar bookstores. But let’s be honest—right now I’m just someone with a vanity project, and a sell sheet and a pretty book is not going to get my product on many bookshelves when there’s a such a mass of published work available.

Rather than go cold with nothing to recommend me, the most important thing seems to be building a body of reviews and recommendations to back up anything I might say about the book. Which means getting more people to read it. I could go with what seems to be the trend of the electronically published indie author—charge 99 cents for the Kindle version of the book. Almost anyone will take a flier on something for 99 cents. But if I sell a whole bunch of electronic copies for less than a dollar, how do I reasonably convince a bookstore it’s worth carrying the print edition when it costs $12.99? Also, and forgive me from sounding arrogant, I think the book’s worth more than 99 cents.

The only reasonable solution seems to be convincing people to buy my book by building up my brand—me. Exactly what that means is still a work in progress. Lots of writing and lots of material with my name on it for starters. This blog. Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, etc. etc. etc. Did I ever mention how much I dislike social media? The irony is not lost on me.

Unrelated Monday stuff…

That San Francisco/Seattle game…wow. One of the best I’ve seen. Still can’t believe what it came down to and that the Niners lost. The resulting adrenaline crash flattened me like a ton of bricks last night. The Super Bowl should be interesting. I’ll be bleeding orange and blue for the next two weeks.

I am way behind on book reviews. I haven’t posted anything on any of the books I’ve read so far this year. That’s going to have to be a priority within the next week or two. Right now I’m reading Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day. It is very different than I expected but quite enjoyable.

I’ve got nothing else for now.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Season's End

So. I wrote quite the thing this morning about football. And I made two picks. And I am quite on the receiving end of a bit of hubris I suppose.

I alluded to how crushing a playoff loss was to a fan. It turns out I am that fan. And it was in the balance until almost the last possible moment. And then the Niners lost. And it’s a rough time.

Football’s not over. There is still a Super Bowl. I’ll be watching it. You can guess I’ll be ruining my voice to yell in favor of the Broncos.

I think everything I said this morning about football holds true. And I wouldn’t change the nature of the game. It’s been one hell of a ride.

NFL Playoffs...Accept No Substitute

No major American team sport compares to football for me. And the postseason is a huge reason why. There is no long series of games. There is no redeeming game 1 mistakes by forcing game 5, 6, and 7. There’s no strategizing of which goalie or pitcher to rest and which to start—and where and when. It is sixty minutes of game time where two 53-man rosters leave everything out on the field because if they don’t, they’re done. It’s the shootout in the wild west. The gladiator bout in the Roman Coliseum. It’s every to-the-death film, television, and literature metaphor you can think of. It is all there is, and there is no more. And for a fan, there’s no slow let down as your heart breaks incrementally over several days. The game turns on a play and expectations implode and the highest adrenaline high turns into a depressed mockery of everything you spent 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 weeks rooting for.

So…the games…

I’m picking the Patriots. I hate typing that. And I don’t even know if statistically they’re the better or worse team. But I do think that, this season, New England’s quarterback has the bigger shoulders. Whatever he has to do, he will—even if all it is is to hand the ball off as we saw last week.

As for the NFC game...I’ve read a lot of columns picking the Seahawks. Most of the writers say the Niners are currently the better team playing better football. But the Niners will lose, basically, to the stadium. Not the Seahawks. Their stadium. And to be fair, that argument holds weight in Seattle. But I don’t think stadiums win championships; I absolutely think they don’t win this one. Crabtree, Boldin, and Davis…all healthy. Kaepernick making strides improving progression and keeping his eyes downfield as he starts a run. And eight game win streak and five of the last six on the road. I’m not saying the Seahawks can’t win. They most definitely can. But I think only if they go back to lights out football. In the end, though, I think the Niners will everyone counting themselves among the 12th Man.

Here we go.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Submitting "And the Baby Goes To..."

As I alluded to in Monday’s rambling bit of rambling, I was prepping a short story for submission. I declared it finished last night and sent it off via the magical intertubes of the world wide web. And because revisiting short story format for the first time in years wasn’t fun enough, I decided to submit a comedy.

Well, if I crash and burn, at least I’ll do it with style. Or, as my poor protagonist Joe Davis put it: This [will go] as badly as this could ever possibly go in the history of things going badly. It’s not that I don’t think I can be funny. Ask anyone I know; they’ll say I’m hilarious. This will not be a compliment, by the way.

The story concept popped in my head as a one act play, and all of the humor was in the dialogue. Which is great. For a play. But not so much for someone who has no desire to be a playwright. But since the short story equivalent of stage direction has to be entertaining, I wasn’t sure if it would pace the same in prose as it did in play format. Of course, if it doesn’t work out, I can already hear the dulcet tones of Eternity comforting me, much as I phrased it in my story; quoth Eternity: [Theron]! What the hell are you doing?

The comedy wasn’t the first story I wrote in recent days. It was just the one I chose to submit to this one submission because this one submission seemed like a great line in the sand to herald more submitting. Got that? I’m glad someone does. Actually, I had intended a different story, but the guest editor for this particular issue said he the magazine doesn’t get enough humor and he likes to laugh. Well…play to your audience and all that.

So now I figure out if I can balance my writing between churning out some short stories and working on the inevitable follow-up—which I’ve already started—to The Loyalty of Pawns. And if all else fails, poor luckless Joe had a great backup plan in mind: And that was when entropy caused the heat death of the universe.

Monday, January 13, 2014

2014, Week 2, Monday

So I kept coming across #MondayBlogs on Twitter. As it obviously occurred to everyone already using it, a goal as simple as always posting on Monday is a great way to force blog content to generate—especially when writing and publicizing said writing isn’t yet your full time job. So here we go. I promise very little. I don't even promise it will make sense.

The last week I've been trying to obsess over the deadline for an open electronic submission period for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (the period ends tomorrow, the 14th). I have no special relationship with that magazine or any special reason to think I have a great shot of getting my story published. The only reason I even know about it was because of something posted on Twitter back in December. But a couple things occurred to me after I published The Loyalty of Pawns. Chief among them was that, no matter what real and virtual pavement pounding I did, the best way to get my book's name out there was to get my name out there. What, do you imagine, is the best way for a writer to do that? Exactly. I gave up short stories years ago, concluding that my style simply didn't conform to the dictates of the medium's size. While that may not have been inaccurate in a sense, it is probably better to say that most of my story writing was done when I was a teenager, and the execution was what you might expect from someone who had only had fifteen or sixteen years--several of which spent while I couldn't read or write--formulating a writing style. And as the years went by, and the project that became The Loyalty of Pawns became more of a focus, I lost sight of the forest for the trees. So here we go again. It's a comedy--at least it's supposed to be. And it was a great place to write a sentence I've always wanted to: "And that's when entropy caused the heatdeath of the universe."

Playoff football. Oh my. What you may have noticed if you follow me on Twitter is that I am a football fan. And a 49er zealot. And that was some great football in both cases this weekend. I really thought the Saints were going to pull it off. I am not a Saints fan; in terms of respect for the rules of the game, I hold them one spot above the Seahwaks--which is to say pretty low. But I liked the idea of facing New Orleans at Candlestick--and who didn't want to see the old girl have one more great game--more than I liked the idea of going to Seattle again. Even with all the other stuff on that final New Orleans drive, expounded on here by Peter King, I cannot fathom how Colston makes that decision. I The Colts/Pats game was of less consequence. Andrew Luck may yet be the second coming of Peyton Manning...but not yet. Or, actually, maybe so and he's inherited Peyton's Tom Brady vulnerability. Speaking of Peyton Manning, it looked for a few minutes like his fabled big game troubles were going to reassert themselves. But it was too little too late from the Chargers. As for that Niners' game--I will concede there were reffing failures. But on both sides. So I'm not prepared to say the refs cost the Panthers that game. Not by 10 points. And not when Newton was getting the pressure he was getting in the second half. Obviously I'm biased, but I like our chances in Seattle very much.

Already got three books under the belt for the year with a fourth under way. Currently I'm plugging along with StarWars: The Truce at Bakura by Kathy Tyers. While I am a giant nerd, this is my first foray into post-Jedi Star Wars books. Also, because I'm really curious if I can do it, I'm keeping a tally to see if I can manage at least 1 book a week for the year. It's a great start at the moment, but part of that owes to what I've been reading. Fun, lighter fiction seems to digest easily--certainly compared to less contemporary writing or compared to all that non-fiction that it is sitting on my shelf. We'll see how well the average holds up when I tackle Lincoln's Citadel or The Bully Pulpit--both books I am anxious to read.

So that’s it this week. This is probably the format this little dedicated blog entry is going to take. Some Mondays it may be of more substance than others. This Monday, as I am struggling through whatever cold is passing itself off for the plague in the bay area, I have relatively little of consequence to add.
This entry brought to us by a crowded Panera Bread at lunch time and Night Visions by Imagine Dragons.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Bioshock: Rapture by John Shirley

Bioshock: Rapture on Goodreads.

A prequel to a video game. Oh boy. John Shirley’s Bioshock: Rapture made it on my shelf simply because the Bioshock video game was a stunningly immersive piece of work with a tight narrative and a surprising amount of philosophizing subtext. That you go into the video game after Rapture has already deteriorated (with strewn-about details that hint at the history that led to the chaos you see) was part of its appeal to me, and as much as I was interested in a book that told Rapture’s story, I was not free from apprehension that knowing the story couldn’t live up to the mystery. But I have to say that, for me, Shirley succeeds.

Much of the book follows Bill McDonough, a loveable everyman who gets pulled into the world of Rapture, and the villainous Frank Fontaine who bears a large part of the blame for Rapture’s fate. The story does check in with several other notables along the way: Andrew Ryan, Brigid Tannebaum, others. But keeping so much of it on two characters makes the inevitability of a prequel work in the book’s favor. If you know the Bioshock video game, you know how Shirley’s book has to end, and you know how it turns out for all the named characters. But the great thing is that, in most cases, the book doesn’t take us to these grisly details. Bioshock: Rapture is not the end of its story that leads to the next story, rather the book is the prologue before the first chapter of the game, and the book knows that.

Where I found less interest in the book were the scenes with Sofia Lamb, the antagonist from the second Bioshock game. Much as Bioshock 2 didn’t seem to mesh smoothly with the history established in the first Bioshock, Sofia Lamb also feels extraneous to the greater story, and in fact she does somewhat drop off the map (for a perfectly valid reason) relatively early on. But it establishes as good a reason as possible for what Sofia Lamb is all about in the Bioshock 2.

Perhaps the most important aspect for me that Shirley gets right is taking the philosophizing from both Bioshock games (objectivism and collectivism) and weaving them throughout the story. As I read the book, the narrative seemed to suggest that adhering too much to either philosophy was a danger—even before Fontaine does a great job of manipulating both sensibilities. I don’t know if Shirley meant for the book to have a side as to which philosophy is better, but I prefer the feeling that whatever statement was being made was up to me to figure out.

I gave this book four stars on Goodreads.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Star Trek: From History's Shadow by Dayton Ward

I don’t know if it’s possible to separate people who read Star Trek novels into casual fans and more than casual fans since if you’re reading a Star Trek novel you’re probably rather conversant with the franchise’s details—at the very least the details from the particular show the novel’s characters and circumstances are drawn from. But if it is possible to separate them, Dayton Ward’s From History’s Shadow is not for the more casual reader; much of the story features relatively obscure guest characters from three different series, and the plot linking Kirk and company to the story being told in the past is based on the Temporal Cold War.

In the abstract, I like what Ward did bridging fictional circumstances established as part of the past with the Star Trek universe still to come. The story itself is well told and, despite the time travel, never really devolves into something where you expect a reset button. He also did a great job building Wainwright—a character I remember as little more than a caricature from Deep Space Nine’s “Little Green Men”—into someone with depth.

The Temporal Cold War comes into play as the device that links the past with the novel’s “present.” It also creates the motivation for the antagonists threatening the Enterprise. I’ll admit I groaned a little when I read the phrase “Temporal Cold War;” I was never a fan of that plot in Enterprise because while it created some interesting notions and moments it was virtually impossible to define the nature of the conflict or feel like there would ever be any lasting consequences.

What doesn’t work for me is that the story in the novel’s “present” feels extraneous. I almost wish the story took place solely in the past—stretching over a longer span of time perhaps. By far the most interesting character is Wainwright, but it feels like there is a lot of potential in Mestral and the Aegis agents that never gets developed.

I wasn’t sure what I thought about From History’s Shadow when I finished it; I think it grew on me afterwards, so I’m glad this wasn’t posted right away. I’d be very interested to see the threads developed here built up in a subsequent piece.

I gave this book three stars on Goodreads.