Monday, December 13, 2010

Mr Phelps, You Are Disavowed…

[This blog is rated PG, for mild intemperate language..... if you want to read an article done in a more professional format, just click here.... I get paid if you click there, so, that would be my preference.]

I do not feel the need to disavow every single stupid thing a Christian group has ever done. For one thing, I'm Catholic, so most Christian sects, denominations, etc, have already disavowed me. So when other folks in other Christian groups do something stupid, I generally don't care.

Like, for example, when a creationist museum that has what appears to be a Garden of Eden setting … with a Velociraptor off to the side.

Thankfully, I can usually say, “Yeah, that's stupid,” and move on. Because it is stupid: even ignoring that human beings and dinosaurs were separated by about a few BILLION years of development, you'd think that the museum designer would have picked a dinosaur that was more friendly in appearance, and what wasn't the primary adversary of one of the top grossing films of all time.
So, with idiocies like that, I don't care. It's not my church, not my problem.

And then there's Fred Phelps.... who may or may not have appeared in one of our stories.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Authors I Am Thankful For

Thanksgiving and Black Friday are over. Everyone, welcome back.

This is probably something that should have been posted on Thursday, but everyone was probably busy this weekend.

In my life, few authors have affected me in any way, shape or form. Most of it affected me in a professional manner. From Joseph Garber's Verticle Run, I learned how to start a thriller that didn't stop from start to finish, and while he was recently trumped by Matthew Reilly and James Rollins, Garber is where to start.

Few authors have ever actually had an impact on my life in general. And by few, I mean three. And, technically, I wasn't even the one who really felt the impact for two of the authors … it's a long story.

Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Once upon a time, I had considered getting a friend of mine a gift for his birthday. The novel was Good Omens, which was essentially Murphy's law as applied to the apocalypse— losing the antichrist, for example. It was fun. Strange as all hell, but fun. Neil Gaiman still insists that he wrote some of the funny parts. I thought my friend would like it.

Meanwhile, in another part of the internet, a woman was trying to remember the title of a novel she had read once upon a time. She signed into her dating website of choice, and came across the novel in my friend's profile. The book was Good Omens.

That relationship culminated in the marriage from two months ago.....

J. Michael Straczynski.

Way back in the 1990s, there was a television show called Babylon 5. It was a science fiction program that was less about special effects, latex masks and tight body suits, and more an epic about character. It was essentially a filmed novel. Like War and Peace, with one-tenth the cast. It was interesting enough that I would spend time with my family pondering what would happen next.

Along the way, when I was sixteen, I started writing what is unfortunately known as fan fiction. I had written stories based off of throwaway one-liners in the series. And while I touched nothing of the actual series storyline, I had a few concepts that the show didn't expand on, and spun that off into little corners of the universe, and aside from the first two books, it basically became its own series. I started rewriting what was a fan fiction quartet of over two thousand pages, and I'm now on book 6 of a possible 13 that I've outlined...

One of the artifacts I had picked up because of Babylon 5 is a leather bomber jacket. It had a great big gold embroidered 5 on the back, in the style of the show, and the show logo on the front. I have worn it every winter when the temperature dropped below forty, and there was no precipitation. This includes my days in college, when it was just too cold to wear a suit jacket.

One day, in 2001, I walked out of a class called the History of Terrorism, and one classmate had noticed the jacket. We walked and talked across the university's great lawn, past the library, an administrative building, and to the other side of the campus, until my ride literally started the car, pulled up behind me, and flashed his brights at us.

A month ago, I was a groomsman at his wedding.

A few years afterward, during my abortive attempt at a PhD in history, I drove down to a social in Manhattan, wearing the same jacket. Someone behind me said, “Cool jacket, I know that show.” He hasn't stopped talking to me since. Two months ago, I was the best man at his wedding... the one made possible by Terry Pratchett

I've heard people tell me that reading is an anti-social activity. Obviously, they've been reading the wrong books.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Philosophy, Religion, and Sex.

Dear Pope Benedict, I've been a fan of your career since you worked under John Paul II.  The press hated you because you were hostile to them, and for that I applaud you.  But you have to stop having statements come out so close together, it messes up my schedule.

Last week, I explained why the Catholic Church wanted to hire exorcists.

This week, because no one in the Vatican can shut up, I'm going to try explaining something else that was recently in the news.

The New York Times recently reported that, "Yippie, the Pope is giving in and endorsing condom use."

The old gray hag of The New York Times has, once again, gotten it wrong.  One day, they may actually try to get a theologian to explain theology to them.  Unfortunately, given most theologians, that may not help much.

Let's start at the beginning: Why does the Catholic Church have an issue with condom use?  Or any contraceptives?

It basically involves philosophy ... bare with me a minute, I'll keep it short and comprehensible ... and what is the function of "a thing."  In the case of sex, the mechanism of sex is "insert tab A into slot B."  The "function" of sex is procreation, and a darn good time, if you're doing it correctly.

Contraceptions mess with the natural function of sex by removing elements that are inherent to the act -- procreation comes with sex.  The Vatican position is, that if you mess around with it and start taking out elements, then you are messing around with things that are not yours to mess with.

If you are pondering what the Catholic church's advice is on STD prevention when you have sex with your boy/girlfriend, the Church's position is that you should be having sex with your spouse, only with your spouse, have a nice day, thank you.  Under this rubrick, STDs are not a problem, since if you only ever insert one tab A into one tab B, STDs are not an issue; pregnancy remains in effect, but in the Catholic church, marriage is a contract to have sex, have kids, and spread the spawn around the globe, carrying the faith with it.

You are currently up on previously held positions.

The NY Times said, on November 21st .....
“Pope Benedict XVI has said that condom use can be justified in some cases to help stop the spread of AIDS . . . .”
However, George Wiegel, papal biographer and general Vatican busybody, corrected the Times report.  You can find the full text online, but since that will take forever for you to read, I'm going to translate it for you, gentle reader, into something easily comprehensible.

The pope's actual statement, in context, was during an interview.  The pope mentioned how the Catholic Church runs more AIDS hospitals, and stresses "prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment."  IE: The pope pointed out that, unlike pontificating reporters, the Church actually does something,

The pope even stressed that "we cannot solve the problem [of AIDS] by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease."

The pope continued:
.... people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence–Be Faithful–Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality .... the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.

Short version: sex is important, has an effect on a person, and is also for the purpose of expressing love.  Throw in a condom, and you just make it another way to drug yourself into a stupor.

The part where the NYTimes gets confused is probably in the following section:

There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.
When asked if "the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?"  Pope Benedict XVI answered that "She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality."

Short version: If it's someone infected with AIDS, yes, the Church would rather that they NOT KILL PEOPLE by infecting them further.

Basically, it's like robbing a bank -- if you rob a bank, the Church would rather have someone use an empty gun; it'll lessen the risk of someone getting their head blown off.

So, despite news reports, the Catholic Church's position hasn't changed.

With luck, we can all move on to something important now.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Pius Synopsis

The below is basically how the fly leaf of a A Pius Man dustjacket would look like.

A Pius Man is a mystery with too many suspects.

In Rome, an old terrorist is blown out the window of a hotel and crash-lands on a car at the gates of the Vatican. A figure in a priest’s robes is seen running from the scene. But the body on the windshield is just the beginning for a team of six unlikely investigators from around the world. Each pair of hands on this case has a past, and a few secrets … and an axe to grind. They don’t want to work together. They don’t want this case.

And one of them just might be the killer.

Is it....

Sean Ryan, an American stuntman turned mercenary and self-described “cleanser of the gene pool”? He’s supposed to be in Rome to train priests in combat, and old habits die hard.

Then there’s Giovanni Figlia, a homicide cop for the Pope who fears only paperwork. He was best known for starting soccer games with bishops in the Borgia gardens … until the corpse landed on the hood of his Jetta.

Could it be a former U.S. Army chaplain who was meeting with the murdered man on a weekly basis? Did the Jesuit priest who’s killed men with his bare hands know that his weekly luncheon date had just murdered a researcher in the Vatican Archives?

And what about Scott "Mossad" Murphy of Israeli intelligence’s “Goyim Brigade”? He and his partner are in the middle of investigating another murder at the Vatican … this one a high-ranking Muslim leader with connections to al Qaeda.

Into this mix comes Maureen McGrail, an Irish Interpol agent with a bitter past with Sean Ryan. She’s working her own murder case, related to the controversial canonization of Pope Pius XII, sometimes known as “Hitler’s Pope.” And guess who Interpol wants to send to Rome … ?

And the final, most distressing suspect is Joshua Kutjok....aka Pope Pius XIII, a right-wing African pope with rumors of blood in his past and the stated goal of turning “Hitler’s Pope” into the “Hero of the Holocaust.” To accomplish this goal, he’s already let terrorists into the Vatican Archives … would he kill a man who stood in his way?

In A Pius Man, six unlikely heroes must work together to unravel a web of intrigue and murder that entwines one of the most controversial figures of the twentieth century. Was Pius XII a Nazi collaborator who deliberately let millions of Jews die? Has the Vatican covered up the truth for more than 60 years? Or has someone perpetrated a decades-long smear campaign? And what will happen to six strangers trying to finally bring the truth to light?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

For Those of You Just Tuning into A Pius Man.....

[This is the Short version of how A Pius Man came to be.  The longer version is 13 pages long, in fort parts, and starts here]

In graduate school, I was a history major, and I did a paper on Pope Pius XII and his history during the holocaust—essentially: what did he do, what did he know, and when did he know it. I went through the standard procedure: primary documents (papers of the day), and secondary sources (books written later by people who weren't there at the time). Along the way, I came across non-historians, forgeries from convicted criminals, historians who had done jail time for slander, and deliberate liars (for example, one idiot said that “X person should have done Y thing”... but cited articles where it was STATED that X did Y, making him either brain dead or a liar).

One of the most interesting things about this is that one side of this conflict doesn't acknowledge the other. One side takes the opposition's statements and theories, vivisect them with a scalpel, the end result looking like shredded wheat, and the second side acts as though there are no alternate theories, interpretations or evidence.

Anyway, by the time I was finished, it was fairly clear who was right. I had enough primary documents to work on that alone. I left motivations alone, because I wasn't going to break out my Ouija board to ask a dead pope what he was thinking at the time. “These are the actual events; to the best of our knowledge, this is what happened, and this is how the people reacted to it AT THE TIME.”

The average reader is probably thinking “Duh.” The average reader would be right. No, I wasn't going for high intellectual value. Much of the paper was a simple narrative, and many of the conclusions were very “duh” worthy. I finished the paper, game over.

Shortly thereafter came some … other books. Novels where the history was so bad, it was painful to read. And people were getting their history from these books; in some cases, more than from actual texts. Did these inspire me on a rampaging crusade? No. I was bored, I moved on.

Then I read a completely different novel, also using historical events as a background to the primary action. Premise … nothing new, really. Evil Nazi Catholic church, blah blah, snore … "But, hmm, wait, I know that character's name. It's historical …" Skip to the back of the book to read the author's note, which collected the works used to create that novel. I had assumed that this author had read one side of the argument, and wrote another “evil Catholic church” story based on that. But, no, I had read these books. All of them. He had done his homework, and had completely and utterly screwd up the history. I could take it if he had just said “I'm writing fiction, not commenting on a historical debate.” But he took a side and even lied about facts that everyone agreed on.

Dominoes fell in my brain. People not only read this crap, they believed this crap. Most readers would have almost no intellectual background to separate the wheat from the chaff (seriously, how many people read about the religious and cultural activities of Europe in World War II?)

My reaction was somewhere akin to the quote of the eminent physician and research scientist, Doctor Bruce Banner: Hulk smash.

Fine. Two could play at this game. If people got their history from entertainment, I would take up the strangest project ever imagined. I would write a thriller that was (a) thrilling, (b) factually accurate about the Catholic Church in the Holocaust.

Now how the HELL was I going to do that?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Catholics are Doing What Now? Exorcism and the Church.

The Catholic Church is running low on exorcists. Positions are now open for new applicants. Please register at your local parish, thank you.

Don't look at me like that, I'm not joking.

Okay, maybe a little.

Seriously, the Catholic Church is running low on exorcists. If you've been near a Catholic Church lately in America, then you may have heard the daily intentions going out for “vocations,” hopefully to the priesthood … there are some parishes who would like at least ONE priest who was born within the boundaries of the United States. Me, I prefer the ones from Ireland and Vietnam, but that's just me.

There are also similar calls within the priesthood itself for vocations ... to become exorcists. Why would they be running low?

Remember that funny look that you gave me at the start of the blog entry? That's pretty much how a lot of priests look at exorcists, especially in America, where we suffer from visions of Linda Blair every time we think of exorcism.

One thing that no one remembers is that The Exorcist was based on true story. There was case of an actual possession in Georgetown. The possessed in that case was a boy, not a girl, and he stills needs therapy to this day, and no priest was harmed during the performance of that exorcism. If you look at the credits of the film, there are several real-life priests involved in the movie; several of them were involved in the original incident.

But, at this point, you're probably wondering what sort of barbaric, medieval lunatic tries an exorcism nowadays.

If you're asking that, I would actually recommend that you read the book The Exorcist. You see, with the Catholic Church, unlike some other Christian groups, you have the largest collection of skeptics ever when it comes to supernatural events. During the European witch hunts of the early Protestant Revolutions / Reformation period, the Spanish Inquisition would listen to tales of people who confessed to being witches who went flying with Satan. The Inquisition politely told them all to get lost, a variation on CW Fields' “Go away kid, ya bother me.”

More recently, trying to get miracles verified requires a small army of scientists who can confirm or deny that something is a scientific impossibility. For example, Father Stanley Jaki, PhD, physicist and Catholic priest, once wrote about the miracle of the sun dancing in the sky over Fatima (early 20th century). Jaki concluded that the effect was produced by a rare, naturally occuring phenomenon of frozen ice particles in the sky that turn into a giant convex lens; this giant lens appears to make the sun jiggle around the sky, like looking at it through a a magnifying glass. Did Jaki conclude that it was no longer a miracle? No; because it is scientifically impossible for anyone to predict such a meteorological event, to heck with three small children in the middle of Portugal.

In the case of exorcism, the book The Exorcist catalogs what the subject has to go through in order to get a Cardinal to sign off on an exorcism. The movie covers it a little, but not as much as the book does. Blisters appear on the skin? The stigmata appears on their hands? Sorry, those can be psychosomatic. Do you smell strange odors around the “possessed,” even if they've bathed, and you've lined the room with car fresheners? That could be caused by mental suggestion. Can the symptoms be caused by schizophrenia? Tourette's? Multiple personality? Thank you very much, come back when you have a problem that can't be found in the PDR, theDSM-IV, and might look more akin to something out of Ghostbusters (“...[S]he sleeps above her covers... *four feet* above her covers.”).

The Catholic Church gets about 9,000 applications for exorcism per year. If they do two, that's a lot.

Just so we can all be clear on the terms, when I say possession, I mean a case that defies all scientific explanation. I don't mean “possessions” that are “cured” by every other storefront preacher in a backwoods somewhere.

If you're an atheist, you could have an argument for saying that what appears to be possession is just a form of advanced psychosomatic disease that we haven't figured out yet. It could be a variation of Clarke's law, only this time, any sufficiently advanced biology is indistinguishable from magic. Maybe it's some variety of alien head-cold out of Doctor Who that creates mood swings and personality changes and enables the cold victim to speak in tongues, cause visions, and other things that appear to be supernatural.

However, no matter the cause of possession (or “possession” if you like), they still happen, even under the strict Catholic guidelines. And exorcisms still work— Pope John Paul II performed a few of them himself. If you're an atheist, and think that cases of possession are some extremely bizarre disease that no one has discovered the cause of yet, just look at an exorcism as a case where one human being, through sheer force of will, can help another be cured of their affliction.

And if you're a believer, I promise you, the Vatican is not going crazy … well, not anymore than usual. I'm a member, so someone has to have a screw loose somewhere.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Infinite Crisis of DC Comics.

Ah, DC Comics..... You didn't think I had a grudge with Marvel, did you?

Last week, I took a look at Marvel comics, and how they've tried for yet another Marvel “event” every other week.

At the other end of the comic book universe, in DC Comics, there has been a crisis or two … hundred. They had an Identity Crisis, an Infinite Crisis, a Final Crisis, and one, three year War of the Rings (a Sinestro War, a Corps War, a Blackest night).

Spoiler Alerts all around.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Disasters to Marvel At: A Comic Discussion.

While I generally leave anything referring to comic books or superheroes to others, I am now stepping in.  The disaster known as Marvel Comics has become a wasteland of jibberish for years now.  Finally, there is a solution at hand.

Dear Disney, you own Marvel now. Have Joe Quesada walk the plank off the roof of 666 5th avenue. You can have Johnny Depp hold the sword that nudges him off, if you like.

Why do I say that? About five years ago, DC Comics started their epic of the week. Marvel, in perfect monkey-see-monkey-do fashion, has tried to keep up. In this effort, the result has been … nothing I can adequately describe using PG-13 language.

Let's see if we can all follow this round of abject stupidity.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dear Politicians, Please Shut Up Already.

There have been some people who have doubted my political neutrality. When I told people that the view on my politics change depending on where the jury is sitting, I don't think anyone quite believed me.

This is, hopefully, the last political blog I will ever have to do...

I have also made it known in the past that I dislike politicians and politics. When I suggested to a friend that nuking D.C. (Washington DC, not the comic books) wouldn't be a bad idea, she objected, since she knew people in the area.

When I suggested VX nerve gas during a state of the union address, she thought that was more reasonable.

When I said I hate politics, I meant it.

There are a lot of things I didn't like about George W. Bush. Okay, I wanted more of his tax cuts, and the people he invaded were people I wanted invaded under Clinton. And his faith-based stuff was interesting, but lost in the abyss of terrorist white noise. But aside from that, I disliked a lot of what he let happen in the Congress, a lot of the stuff he passed, all of the stuff he let pass unaddressed. It pissed me off.

But there was one thing I liked about “W.” without question.

He stayed off the air. He didn't do press conferences. He rarely did interviews. He rarely stuck his head out of the gopher hole of the oval office and said anything that made the nightly news. It might have been because of his gaffs … As a public speaker, I share his problems—I'm better at off-the-cuff comments; if you give me a prepared speech, I turn into a blithering idiot.

But no matter what the reasons were for W. to shut the hell up, he gave us weeks of blissful silence.

So, had anyone listened to me in Washington, I would have given them one message: SHUT THE HELL UP.

I hear soundbites from President Obama every, damn, day. I don't even object to what he says … do you know why I don't object to what he says? Because I stopped listening over a year ago. In 2009, he was on every day. For all of 2010, he's on the airwaves at least three times a day. I now object to the sound of his voice.

And, Mr. President, the Republicans are now (11/1/10), and have been since January, 2009, politically irrelevant to your agenda. You had a super majority when you came in—you need 51 votes in the Senate. You had 60 upon arrival. It feels like the old joke about the college president who had three envelops on his desk from his predecessor in times of problems: First envelope says “Blame me, I'm not here anymore, I won't object,” Second says “Take the blame, you're entitled to a screwup,” and the Third envelope says “Prepare three envelopes.”

I'm perfectly impartial. It's not just President Obama. It's everybody in Washington. It's candidates I hate and candidates I agree with, and candidates who aren't even in town. I'm tired of listening to Christine O'Donnell telling me she's not a witch. I don't have a vote in the Linda MacMahon vs. Blumenthal race, so why are you people running ads in New York? Mr. Christie, I'm glad you're stopping all spending in New Jersey, I'm happy for you, but I'm sick of looking at you on the news. I'm tired of looking at the Halloween mask of Nancy Pelosi, the Skeletor face of Harry Reid, and the women of The View and their feud with Bill O'Reilly and Sharon Angle (at current rate of speed, I'd rather Joy Behar talk to Kurt Angle).

In my state, it's Andrew “I want to be a kneebreaker” Cuomo vs. Carl “straight-jacket” Pallidino; the latter is a multimillionaire from upstate New York, but apparently blew all of his money on getting the nomination, so I hear nothing but Cuomo's thuggish tones over the airwaves. And my vote won't matter either way, since this is New York, your vote doesn't actually count, because the Cuomo will win, as will Schumer and Hillary redux.

Right now, I'm at the point with politicians that I am with the Church around the “annual appeal.” In the case of the church, I want to say “I'll write you a check if I don't have to listen to you for another year.” In the case of politicians, “I'll vote for you if you keep out of the airways from now until a month before reelection.”

But overall, you politicos should just shut up. This is serious political advice. Why?

Look at it as advice from Machiavelli: in his advice for dictators, he suggested that a brutal dictator should commit all of his atrocities immediately upon taking power. After, this dictator should not perform another harmful thing ever again, not one, single, thing. The principle is that, over time, people will forget why they were ever annoyed with him.

Politicians, take this advice: throw all your BS around at the start of a political season, then shut the hell up and leave us alone. I'm tired of listening to all of you.

Unfortunately, I suspect that this will end with the start of a new political season. That's right, as of 11/03/10, we start the race for the Presidential Election 2012!

Somebody wake me when it's 2013. Or when we muzzle the politicians. All of them.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Europe Has Some Problems.

Europe Has Some Problems.

[Before reading this blog, I would to ask readers to go through it with a critical eyes. I would prefer it if someone could supply me with numbers for or against anything I am saying here. I am relying heavily on anecdotal evidence and half remembered details. I retain a lot, but that doesn't help much. In short, I'm flying blind. Any numbers for or against what I'm saying would be appreciated.]

In the Brooklyn museum, during the reign of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, there was an issue involving two piece of “art.”

One, was an image of Jesus Christ, symbol of the entire Christian faith, in a jar of urine.

The other was a statue of the Virgin Mary, symbol of at least the Catholic church, smothered in elephant dung with photos of female genitalia plastered all over.

While Giuliani went postal, and complained about the museum, nothing really happened. No one was assaulted. There were no riots. Nothing was burned down. The “artists” were not hunted down and burned at the stake by a horde of angry Christians. Though I think the “artists” should be forced to stare at their own creations for a week.

Let's go to Europe.

There was a Danish political cartoonist who wanted to note how much Muslims self-censor any condemnation of Islamic terrorists, and that you can't even do a critical analysis of Islam like you can of, say, the old testament.

And, to show that Islam could tolerate criticism and would not censor anyone ... they had weeks of riots in reaction to the criticism and tried to censor the danish cartoonist.

I will grant you that political cartoons aren't funny, but this is like Norway having a riot over Hagar the Horrible. Were the cartoons worth the lives of over a hundred and thirty nine people and over eight hundred injured in the international rioting?

Imagine if it wasn't a cartoon, but a movie. Then you can imagine Theo Van Gough being knifed to death in an alley.

Not long ago, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that creating a multi-cultural society has completely failed.

Apparently, this little bon mot was started by central bank board member saying the country was being made “more stupid” by poorly educated and unproductive Muslim migrants.

Merkel's comment: “Multikulti”, the concept that “we are now living side by side and are happy about it,” does not work. “This approach has failed, totally,” she said, adding that immigrants should integrate and adopt Germany’s culture and values.

“Subsidising immigrants” isn’t sufficient, Germany has the right to “make demands” on them, such as mastering the language of Goethe and abandoning practices such as forced marriages.....

I'm going to agree that Europe's idea of multiculturalism is stupid. Multiculturalism on the continent is more Balkanization than anything else. The Balkans were held together by Empires and dictators for centuries; there were multiple groups, with separate cultures and identities, who did not want to associate with each other, hated each other's guts, and wanted to kill each other for about a thousand years.

In France, they keep their Muslim immigrant population in glorified slums.

In Holland, government officials have suggested making sharia law officially part of the legal system of the Netherlands (sharia: stone female adulterers, cut off the hands of thieves, and a legal defense for rape ).

I live in Queens. We have 167 ethnic groups speaking 117 different languages. We get along fine. I am the whitest guy I know, yet can walk through the Barrio, Harlem, three Chinatowns, and Brighton Beach, without anyone looking at me like I came from another planet. Then again, within four miles of me, I have dozens of flavors of Christianity, a Bhuddist temple, a synagogue, and a cultural mix of Hispanic, Asian, Indian, Italian, Irish, and those are just the restaurants. We generally all speak English, or we at least attempt to, and if we can't understand each other, there is usually someone who will translate nearby.

So, what the hell is Europe's problem?

They have several. France, for example, insists on a cookie-cutter policy. If you deviate or stand out in anyway, you're a target. The only place for hajibs or yarmulkes are in Catholic schools. Wearing a cross is also banned. Most of these policies were passed under Jacques Chirac, and don't seem to be going anywhere.

Then you have the Netherlands, where the growing Muslim population are mostly young, the first generation born in country (mostly young folk) are growing up with extreme feelings of identity—to their religion. This could just be their version of being a teenager, but instead of being Goth or Emo, it's extreme religion. Unfortunately, until recently, for over ten years no one objected when they assaulted groups of Jews, or committing assorted other hate crimes.

And, recently, one of their politicians was put on trial for … being politically incorrect in a film. Since I haven't seen it, I can't say how offensive it is, but in America, CAIR could have just filed a lawsuit, and made money. People would have boycotted the film. Life moves on. In the Netherlands, you can't even say bad things about Muslims, even when there is a segment of the population that is becoming an issue?

I'm not 100% certain about Germany's problems, if their Islamic population has any specific grievances, or what trouble, if any, they may have caused in Germany in order to spark Merkel's comment.

So, I agree with Merkel that Europe has no idea what they're doing. Time for them to come to Queens.

Then there is Merkel's next line … “We feel tied to Christian values. Those who don’t accept them don’t have a place here.”

Wait, what? I'm sorry, I'm going to hit the brakes right here. Christian values? This is the same Europe that rejected anything religious in the European Union, right? The EU founded on anti-religious Enlightenment ideas? When Pope John Paul II suggested that Europe even had Christian roots, he was told to stuff it. So, Chancellor, you're a little late.

Here's where I seriously start developing problems: A recent study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation think tank showed around one-third of Germans feel the country is being “over-run by foreigners” and the same percentage feel foreigners should be sent home when jobs are scarce. And nearly 60 percent of the 2,411 people polled thought the around four million Muslims in Germany should have their religious practices “significantly curbed.”

Now my BS detector is going into red alert.

Germany has already banned something labeled as a religion. Scientology has been outlawed as being fascist. But I'm assuming that there were not four million scientologists in country when they passed the law.

If this new German thought process is an indication of where Europe's policy is going, I'm worried. It is one thing to ignore, kowtow, or be afraid of a problem, it is another to blindly lash out at a whole group only because a percentage of the group is being a problem.

Maybe if Merkel's “Christian Values” are more like France's Catholic schools, we can talk. But would anyone want to place money on that?  In Europe's past, they have shown only two settings: cower in a corner, or go fascist.  I'm hoping for something in the middle.

Maybe the Brooklyn museum would like to make an image of Muhammad and cover that in excrement. If anyone complains, it can always be covered by free speech.  Should there be a riot in America, like there was in Europe, I wonder if the NYTimes would refer to it as fascist censorship, (like they said about Giuliani) or if they would call it "freedom of religious expression."

DragonCon, 2010, Day 1-3

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Purple Only Works On A Ninja Turtle.

I'm a Born Contrarian.

People tell me that we need to be tolerant to all religions, I'm the first one to ask, “Does that include being able to blow yourself up in public?”

I'm told about Nike paying pocket change for someone to make their shoes overseas, and I ask “Is that comparable to local wages?”

Someone tells me that, “I'm going to burn this book!” All I can think is, “The bookstores are going to love you when you buy out their inventory.”

I like bumper stickers that say “Nuke the whales.” I've hated every Presidential candidate for the last twenty years. Green advertizements make me want to litter. Negative ads make me want to vote for the target. Vegans make me want to eat a porterhouse. Atheists who hate me for believing in God make me want to go to church daily. I believe in women's lib, and chivalry, and that Gloria Steinem is an idiot. If you gloat about the Yankees, I will become a Mets fan, even though I hate baseball.

In short, if you give me two sides of any issue, I will find a third alternative that will, somehow, be the same as telling both sides to go perform an impossible anatomical act on themselves.

This includes fads. Mentioning breast cancer month will earn a glare from me, and the fact that more women die from lung cancer than breast cancer.

Recently, there's been a few suicides of younger people, some who were gay, at least one who was questioning (I say this because I can't imagine that any fourteen year old knows what the hell they are).

My normal reaction to suicide is that “you get no sympathy from me.” (Keep reading, go with it.)

Not for any religious reasons. There is a strain of thought in the Catholic church that suicides are a coin toss: how mentally disturbed were they? Were there factors that someone missed in terms of mental health? What was the thought process going on in their brains? Were they trying a stunt they saw on “Jackass”?

Suicides rarely get sympathy from me because I was the nerdy fat kid. From Kintergarden to The start of college, I was that person with no friends. Over the years, I have been accused of being a future terrorist, a current terrorist, a soon-to-be mass murderer, or a future serial killer. I was a target of bullying for more than half my life. I have never given serious thought to suicide, or mass murder. However, I did come up with various and sundry ways to assassinate individuals who had earned my ire.

Only two types of people come up with creative ways to kill large amounts of people: terrorists and thriller writers. I hope to be the kind that pays better.

So, my first thought about teenagers and college students committing suicide is usually: I lived, what the Hell was your problem?

But, as a friend of mine educated me on details that the newspapers don't mention too loudly, I noticed some things. A lot of people have focused on the gay issue (“LGBTQ”). I believe I've mentioned before, I don't care who you sleep with, as long as you're not giving me the details.  You straight people, I'm talking to you, too.

[For the record, I'm using the word gay in substitute for LGBTQ … mainly because if we keep adding to the acronym to encompass everybody, we're going to run out of letters. And because not even Wikipedia is 100% certain what the Q is for.]

And as I look at the suicides of late, I'm more interested in the bullying aspect. While I went through it for over a decade, it was never organized. No one put so much energy into it that they formed moderate to large sized gangs of thugs to launch a campaign of harassment that drove someone to death.

I've come to a few conclusions.

1)  It's probably not because of who they're sleeping with / thinking of sleeping with / are suspected of wanting to sleep with.
I like to refer to it as the Freakish Individual Syndrome (FIS). If you look like you're out of place, if you're a brunette in California, the nerdy fat kid, the gay one, or even possess the random genetic quirk, you are a target.  The people in question were easy targets for the pack of jackals to gang up on.  I am told that sexuality is an easy subject to lock onto at any age from 13-22, mainly because development in that area is still ongoing.  If someone did an indepth report, I would lay money, right now, that the bullies in question had tried previous targets, and failed miserably.

Also, FIS will probably also mean that you'll be called some variation of gay as an insult—I went to an all male high school, and I heard the variations on a theme tossed around so often, I wasn't sure if it was a running gag, the insult of the day, or if half of my student body was thinking of making time with the other half. It's just one of a hundred random insults of teenager-dom; extend this into college for any large clique, because their IQ drops significantly in large groups.

The point: if you suffer, even slightly, from FIS, you have a bullseye on you. Because there are people looking for a target.

Why are these twits looking for a target? See #2.

2)Someone has too much time on their hands:
Hey, you. Not you, the one next to you. The one with the stupid brand name clothing. The one organizing the bully mob. You're a moron. You can't think of anything else to do? Nothing good on television? Really? Teasing people is part of growing up, so is being teased, and occasionally being made fun of. But organizing groups? Seriously, that's your idea of a pastime? You have no life. You're downright pathological...

And you're not even paying attention, are you? That's your problem. Your mother and I have been worried about you for a long time. And when you get into barfights because you think you're impervious to the consequences of the checks your mouth is writing, and someone sticks a shattered beer bottle in your guts, don't say I didn't warn you. Now be a good little moron and go torture some animals, and change your sheets, you wet the bed again.

3) Advice from a madman (me):
If being gay (you know what I mean) is the excuse someone is using to target you, you might want to take a page from my book. You might not, but it worked for me … no, I don't mean fantasize about mass murder, or shoving your adversary down a well, or introducing them to the finer points of piano wire, you don't want to become THAT much like me. However, you might want to become blatant. At least for their benefit.

For example: In college, I kept dressing in suits and ties … green jackets, yellow shirts, and green and gold ties. I had purple shirts for the season of lent, black and orange ties for October, shamrock ties for Halloween; if I was going to stand out by dressing professional, I was going to be as brightly colored as possible. I covered my mild FIS of being the nerdy fat guy by becoming the UBER-nerdy, overdressed guy.  It wasn'y a costume, or put on, I just exaggerated my natural tendencies, going from "overdressed" to OBVIOUSLY overdressed.  Also, it was the only time in my life I was color-coordinated.

Now, while I don't suggest dressing in lavender (it only works during Lent, Easter, or on a Ninja Turtle), the next time you hear “gay,” “queer,” “fag,” pick another insult word here, just smile at the men and tell them “I know our breakup was unpleasant, but I am not into S&M, see you at the bathhouse” or laugh at the women and say, “Don't worry darling, I wouldn't steal anyone you would date, honest.” Watch the tormentors change color.

I also suggest that this works for anyone who has insults on sexuality thrown at them, and the insult doesn't even come close to the mark.

Sharpen your tongue, and any campaign of harassment and bullying turns into a battle of wits, and they're the ones who have brought the knives to an artillery duel. They come to bully you, you use it as an opportunity to laugh at them.

4) If you're a target:
I have to tell you, you will live. Honest. I have learned to enjoy my freakishness. I may have far too much fun with it too. Then again, I had freakish qualities like being a gentleman, believing in chivalry, wanting to avoid sex until I got married, that sort of thing. You'd be surprised how badly such things go over around “normal” people. Normal people are a little weird.

Now, I don't know how much anyone should take my advice. I'm geared with a mindset that conjures up images of garotting my victims, feeling the life leak out of them as they struggle against the wire cutting off their air …

I'm also the person who thinks that a terrorist should be sent back to their homeland alive and relatively healthy … except they have their hands, feet and genitals cut off with a blow torch.

At the end of the day, targets of bullying certainly don't want to turn into me. While, despite my thought processes, I have yet to inflict malevolent harm upon a single mammal on God's Earth (killing insects does not count), I have come to enjoy and make use of my mindset, they may not.

So, as one of my ties says: non illegitimi carborundum.

Don't let the bastards grind you down.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Terrorists Are Stupid, Ft. Hood edition.

Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, also known as the Fort Hood shooter, faced testimony from his victims last week.

On November 5th, Maj. Hasan went through Ft. Hood with a handgun, equipped with a laser sight, and went on a shooting spree.

Not too long ago, I mentioned that Terrorists Are Stupid. I even reposted it as a note on Facebook.

The more I learn about Maj. Hasan, the more evidence I have.

For those of you who are not familiar with the technology, a laser sight is supposed to show you where the bullet is going to land. A commercial laser pointer will guide you to bullet points on your PowerPoint presentation. A laser gunsight will guide your bullet to the point on the target you want to shoot.

Part of his rampage included going through a processing center on the base. If it's laid out like other offices, I can only imagine it as shooting fish in a barrel. His path also took him through a soldier-readiness center (go there, get a checkup and sign your will before heading to a war zone). The Military Police had no bullets in their weapons, making one conclude that their rifles are only for clubbing people over the head (note to army: I hope someone has rescinded whatever stupid order armed your MPs with empty guns).

One of Hasan's first attempted victims was a Sergeant Alonzo M. Lunsford. Sgt. Lunsford was in the readiness center when Hasan stood, shouted “Allahu akbar,” and opened fire.

Sgt. Lunsford was shot five times, at least once in the face, requiring reconstructive surgery and has resulted in the loss of eyesight in his left eye. At least one of Hasan's bullets obviously hit him in the head.

Sgt. Lunsford is alive, at least in part, because Hasan is obviously an idiot.

Major Hasan “Chop,” terrorist idiot, killed thirteen people, and shot thirty-two others.

It is most likely my mindset for creative havoc that leads me to think: Only thirteen? Hasan “Chop” had the shooting equivalent of training wheels on his handgun, shot up a bunch of soldiers in the midst of paperwork, and he had no armed resistance, AT ALL, until the local police arrived. He could only kill a baker's dozen?

Pretend that you are a terrorist … if it makes you feel better, pretend I am a terrorist … you now have the ability to hit what you aim at. Your mission is to kill as many people as possible. You have surprise on your side. One victim you shoot in the head, emptying five bullets into him; would he have survived the first bullet?

From the point of view of a terrorist attack, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, had “the right idea.” If a terrorist is doing it right, they should spread, well, terror. If al-Qaeda wanted to wage a campaign, they would have recruited a dozen other Major Hasans, and have a day of shootings.

I am not worried about inspiring al-Qaeda, by the way. If this idea can be thought up a guy in the back end of Queens, NY, who has never even seen a gun up close, I suspect that someone in the AQ hierarchy just MIGHT have thought of it by now.

However, let's take a closer look. Because, even if al Qaeda decided to wage such a campaign, it would be proof that terrorists were ineffectual bunglers, who only manage to kill people if they get lucky.

Maj. Hasan shot forty-five people, and killed thirteen. He couldn't even assassinate one-third of the people he shot at.

He fired over one HUNDRED rounds of ammunition and only HIT forty-five people?

Let's do some basic math.

13 (Killed) + 32 (Wounded) = 45 (Shot).

13 (Killed) / 45 (Shot) = 28.8% (Of victims died.)

Hasan had all of the advantages on his side, and had a rather pathetic “success rate.” If success for a terrorist is mass casualties and widespread panic, Hasan is a complete and utter failure.

A twenty-three-year-old college student with a history of mental illness did a “better job” at Virginia Tech, and he was an utter nutbar: 58 shot; 33 dead; 25 injured. That caused fear and trembling all over the place, and was a cause of conversation for weeks, at least on college campuses.

When I applied to be an Air Force historian, I was told that I would have weapons training, even though I would be a civilian employee. One can assume that someone doesn't get to being a Major in the U.S. Military without something like basic weapon's training, no matter the position.

And yet this wannabe terrorist couldn't even outperform a schizophrenic college student at Virginia Tech.

Hasan's rampage was an attack waged by an idiot, full of sound and gunfire. He had all the advantages one could have, and still managed a paltry outcome.

However, for all that, thirteen people still died.

Which leads to the same conclusion I had at the end of my last “Terrorists Are Stupid” article.

Even idiots can get lucky.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

J. Michael Straczynski at NY Comic Con.

Despite numerous problems, electrical storms, YouTube connection problems, and miscellaneous other problems, here we go ....

At New York Comic Con, the amazing J. Michael Straczynski gave a one hour lecture and Q&A section.  He is the creator of Babylon 5, and a screenwriter for: Murder, She Wrote, The Changeling (with Eastwood, Jolie, and Malkovich,) Kenneth Brannaugh's Thor, World War Z; author of Thor, Amazing Spider Man, The Brave and the Bold, Superman: Grounded, and Wonder Woman.  He discusses WWZ, making a cameo in Thor, writing, Rod Serling, and pretty much all of the above.

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Someone asks: "The end of your Amazing Spider Man run ended ... basically undoing EVERYTHING you had already established.  Why was that?"
"You want the Four Seasons, room 423, Joe Quesada."


YouTube videos, and “So, you want to be a writer?” (Apologies to Dr. Who.)

Everyone here has been promised a video of the hour-long spotlight on J. Michael Straczynski, where JMS gets to talk for an hour about strange and various topics.

However, due to a massive lightning storm that interfered with my YouTube upload, followed by the inability of both YouTube and Facebook to accept any uploads, that particular post will be delayed.

So, a little filler while the various video websites get their act together. Now I get to regale you with tales of, um, hmm … Wait a moment, I can fake this one …

Yeah, nothing interesting is coming …

So, you want to be a writer?

Maybe not, but keep reading, you might be entertained.

The first rule that many people tell you in creative writing is “Write what you know.”

I'm going to tell you that this is the last thing you should do.

No one wants to read about your family drama. Do you think that Vince Flynn is actually a terrorist hunter? Or that Bob Kane dressed up as a giant bat? Or that Stephen King is a demonic clown?

Okay, demonic clown is redundant …

Saying “write what you know” is as ridiculous as suggesting that I am either: an athletic mercenary with enough weapons to take Latin America / a soccer-playing Vatican Secret Service agent / or a commando priest.

I would recommend, generally, that you write what you read. Unfortunately, your writing will probably suck at first. Keep writing. It will still suck. Do it again. Repeat until you no longer suck. Trust me, I speak from experience. And from the experience of Timothy Zahn, John Ringo, and several other authors who discovered how to write the hard way –by writing.

That would lead to an obvious follow up: read. No, Vince Flynn is not an assassin, nor am I any of the above.

However, we all do research.

For A Pius Man, I read easily a dozen books worth of material. We will not include all of the various and sundry newspaper articles and websites and lectures that I had to go through to collect information on weaponry that I've never held, and tactics I've never had drilled into me, and places I've never been. And we can ignore the fight scenes I had to rewrite after taking 18 months of self defense training.

Third: sure, you can use your own experience. If it's relevant, if it fits, if it's part of a character. If you're writing romantic elements, it might be nice if you've been in love. If you've fired a gun, describe its feel, its weight, the sound it makes when it fires. If you're a colorful personality who made homemade explosives for grammar school science projects, use it. I don't necessarily recommend testing out the Anarchist's Cookbook—merely reading it will suffice.

Experience is good. Relevant experience is better.

People talk to me. In my life, I have known seven rape victims. I once wrote a affidavit for a woman who was the plaything of a sexual sadist from age 8-22. I have dated a bisexual bipolar wiccan nymphomaniac (long story), a bi-Latina Catholic nymphomaniac (even longer story), and I have listened to more people with more kinks than I have ever wanted to learn about. I am a walking confessional and therapy couch rolled into one.

Would I put any of this into a novel? Very little. I have yet to write a graphic sex scene in any book. My only torture sequence involved our villain describing, in one paragraph, what he would be doing over the course of several hours. No details were present in any of them. The closest I have ever come to a sex scene was so vague, someone had to ask me to clarify the details. .

Though I do have at least one character who walks into a room, tries to read, and people confess everything in the universe to him …

Fourth: Don't go into writing unless you need to.

No one with an ounce of sense will go into professional writing unless there was nothing else for them.

I don't mean in terms of education, personal mental / physical / socio-economic limitations, or anything like that. I mean you are compelled to write professionally. You lay in bed in the middle of the night and keep a notebook close at hand so you can write down ideas before you forget them. Or you start writing a simple amusing fact and you suddenly fill the page with an outline for a novel. Writing is your drug. Your addiction. Your neurotic, uncontrollable compulsion. You would go insane otherwise … Or merely more insane.

Writing is not for the faint of heart. You are essentially playing chicken with your entire life. Even the publish on demand route is a crap-shoot. You may be picked up by someone bigger, you may not be. We hear the stories of those who have published online and have been chosen by Random House. I have trouble doing the math on how many others there are who don't go anywhere.

If you do have the occasion to fall into writing, if you have the compulsion to write every day, no matter what, then here's my last suggestion: Don't stop. If you need to write for a living, then do it. Write in your notebook during a lunch hour, write a page or two each day. Keep writing, and don't stop. Don't turn your back on your goal. Don't even blink. Blink, and you're dead.

Good luck.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Politics of A Pius Man.

Irony sucks.

In my life, I have written nearly two dozen novels. Science fiction. Hostage novels. Comedy thrillers. Plain old, simple, straightforward shoot-em-up thrillers. One vampire novel. Murder mysteries set at a high school summer camp (title: Summer Death Camp).

And then there's A Pius Man. It was strange for a number of reasons. It basically took every single character I ever created and threw them together in a sprawling, two-pound, eight hundred page epic. There was theology, philosophy, liberty, love, marriage, death, and a fairly large war somewhere in the middle.

It was also the most political novel I had written.

Seriously, this book was all over the place with political topics. Racism, homosexuality, globalization, secularization, warfare, a just peace, when peace is just another word for surrender, torture, the International Community, terrorism, abortion … you name it, it was in the book.

Here's the irony: I hate politics. Hate 'em to death with a fiery passion. I think it's narrow-minded, more dogmatic than the Vatican, and more hypocritical than Voltaire saying “destroy the Church” on one hand, while taking daily communion in his private chapel. Look at the list above: racism and homosexuality are political topics. It should be simple: racism bad; who cares who you have sex with, have a nice day. But, no, they must be politicized.

Like I said, I hate politics, and what it does to normal, sane people the moment someone brings it up.

So, of course, when I finally come close to having something published, it's A Pius Man.

Like I said, irony sucks.

Unfortunately, politics are unavoidable when looking at the discussion of Pope Pius XII during the holocaust. [For those of you just tuning in, the “discussion” is summarized here]

No matter what side of the Pius discussion one finds themselves on, politics follows. While not perfectly uniform, the discussion breaks down along political lines.

Leftists take the anti-Pius side, right wingers take the pro-Pius side. Leftists use it to bash a centralized church with a strong hierarchical structure, with a goal of making the Catholic church like, say, the Unitarians (only a slight exaggeration, depending on which Leftist one is talking about).

On the right, you have a lot of conservative folks who make a case for Pius XII's sainthood.

I know what you're thinking: if this breaks down along political lines, you can tell exactly how the book will end depending on what my personal politics are. What are my politics?

That depends on where the jury is sitting.

In New York I'm a right-wing, blood-thirsty maniac because ... I think a blanket gay marriage license is a bad idea. Mainly because, in the first wave issued in the Northeast, there were a large segment that took the newly issued licenses, and went to their local church and demanded to be married –whether or not the church in question allowed gay marriage.

In the South, I'm a blood-thirsty left wing psychotic because … I think “marriage” is a religious term. Atheists go to a justice of the peace and enter into civil unions, NOT marriages. A civil union is a state function. Issue licenses for civil unions to BOTH atheists and gays, then the latter group can take it to a church that allows gay marriage, and they can all live happily every after and leave my church the hell alone. I'm not interested in burning gays at the stake, and I don't care if one is gay, straight or “flaming,” have a nice day.

In New York, I'm an evil righty because … I supported G.W. Bush going into Iraq and Afghanistan, and the war on terror in general.

In REALLY red states I'm an evil Leftist because … I would have supported Clinton going into Iraq. And I wanted someone to go into the Sudan before Darfur became a buzz word. And I hated almost everything else President Bush ever did.

In New York, I am conservative because … I think abortion and contraceptives are generally a Bad Idea.

In Pat Robertson's district, I am a bleeding heart Liberal …. because I'm not going to say “You had an abortion, therefore you are immediately going to Hell! MUAHAHAHA”

In New York, I am a psychotic Conservative … because I think the government should get the hell outta my life. Just protect my stuff, my neighbor's stuff, and leave me the hell alone.

In the more bleeding red states, I am an evil Liberal … because I'd want a Republican government to get the hell outta my life. Just protect my stuff, my neighbor's stuff, and leave me the hell alone.

My politics boils down to, “There are things I don't like, wouldn't recommend, but I'm not issuing automatic condemnations.”  Politically, I'm somewhere in the middle. Which, in politics, means I'm in the middle of the crossfire.

So, what does this mean about A Pius Man? Don't be mistaken, I do take a side. I believe my conclusions are obvious basic on the facts I have researched. However, the political portions of the book are discussions, not rants. And the politics are driven more by the characters than by me.

And the politics of the characters in A Pius Man?

Sean A.P. Ryan. Mercenary. Believes in the free market system, heavy weaponry, and grew up in Hollywood. When queried on his political affiliations, he would say, “I believe people should be able to own marijuana and machine guns. I will laugh at the marijuana crowd, but if I have my guns, I'm happy.”

Scott “Mossad” Murphy. He works for Israel, usually among Palestinians. Moved from America to join the Mossad after 9-11. His politics: “I believe in the power of waterboarding. But I'd sooner talk terrorists to death. It's more painful in the long run. When you can talk them into revealing everything they know, kill them, move up the chain of command. Repeat until they're willing to be peaceful, or they are peacefully dead.”

Giovanni Figlia. His father was blown up by a Red Army faction in the 1980s, so he has a grudge against extreme, gun-toting Leftists. Aside from that, his politics are: “I have to protect the most powerful religious leader on the planet, and he insists on pissing off nearly one-third of the world's population. Leave me alone and let me do my job.”

Pope Pius XIII (Born: Joshua Kutjok): Hard right-wing. Has all but declared war on the Sudan. Thoroughly dislikes tyrannies, which means North Korea and China dislike him right back. “I am against abortion, gays being married in my church, and contraceptives are against the religion. Then again, you should only have sex with the person you marry, so abortion and contraceptives shouldn't be needed. However, my homeland of Sudan is going through thirty years of religious and ethnic warfare, I have better things to do than deal with whining hedonists!”

Father Francis Williams, S.J.: “I'm a Jesuit who is trying to transfer into the Opus Dei. I speak six languages and I can kill people with my rosary beads … what was your question?”

Maureen McGrail. Interpol. “I'm too busy being shot at to have a political opinion. Leave me alone.”

Secret Service Agent Wilhelmina Goldberg: As a special adviser to anyone who wants the Secret Service to audit their security, she has been all over, and her political opinion is simple. “At the end of the day, America looks good by comparison.”

Hashim Abasi: Oxford Educated in global politics. Egyptian police officer. His name translates into “Stern Crusher of Evil.” His father died while tinkering with a vest for a suicide bomber. He mentions having a wife, but it sounds like she was stoned to death. No one asks what his politics are.

The above characters have more influence over how the political discussions go than I do. So, the topics will be... interesting.

Friday, October 1, 2010

From Comic books readers and Scifi fans, to James Patterson and back. Why anyone can enjoy a Pius Man

[Author's note: this was originally going to be a note on Marketing. It didn't turn out that way.]

What do you call a book chock full of hundred year old conspiracies, dangerous priests, psychotic mercenaries, operatives trained to kill practically from birth, international political intrigue, a terrorist plot, and a wide ranging collection of protagonists the likes of which the world hasn't seen since the team that took out Dracula?

You call it A Pius Man.

Now, who should read it? On the face of it, it seems like yet another in a long line of bad Da Vinci Code ripoffs that have come out in legion since Dan Brown's super-hyped novel hit the scene an interminable amount of time ago. However, while my book has conspiracies and religion, that's more or less where the similarities end. There will be no puzzles, the French will not be a threat, and no one will spend dozens of pages finding their way out of an art museum.

That said, there are some people who just don't read thrillers. Understandable, it's a term so generic you can toss a net over a whole host of authors... some of whom probably should have a net thrown over them anyway, just to be safe. However, when a field is as vast as the comic-bookish feel of Clive Cussler's NUMA novels, to the theoretical science of James Rollins, to a Barry Eisler novel, half of which takes place in the head of his protagonist, assassin John Rain. It's almost as diverse a group as public Catholic figures—as Oscar Wilde used to say: Here Comes Everybody. Can't call it a historical thriller, because then it will be mistaken for a period peace like the Sharpe's novels of Bernard Cornwell—I wouldn't mind having his audience, but they might feel gypped to find it set in the 21st century.

So, who the hell should read this book?

Comic book fans: My first agent drew parallels between the team of protagonists and the Justice League—possibly since this is the most international team since the original Dracula. One character has already been compared to Deadpool—of the comic, not the film. Throw in adversaries who seem preternaturally strong, fast, and trained... well, it's not like fighting the Hordes of Hydra, but my villain isn't exactly the Red Skull. Some are as serious as a police procedural, and some might as well have wanted to be Doc Savage when they grew up. One of them even works with “Middle Earth's Most Wanted Elven Assassin,” and no, I'm not kidding.

Science Fiction fans—who will hopefully forgive me for calling it “SciFi” above: Key pieces of this story involve NLW technology. Or, in standard English, non-lethal weaponry. Microwave cannons that emit plasma beams, tazer beam weapons, gases, explosives; if it's been mentioned, or appeared in a semi-realistic video game, it's probably in there. Throw in the laser-keyboards and the microwave microphones, you can outfit a small Sharper Image store.

Spy fans: International intrigue? Got it. Shadowy figures? Check. Conspiracy theories? At least five of them, and three are right. We also have: the obligatory evil Cardinal; a pale, silver haired priest with commando training (not to be confused with an albino, of course); the Jesuits, the Opus Dei, and the Knights Templar all show up, just so I can play with some of the old cliches

Readers of history: Yes, A Pius Man actually has historical facts. Literally, they happened. This is a book where the history presented in its pages can be footnoted. I know this because the original draft had footnotes. It was suggested that I take them out... however, I still have the bibliography in the back.

People who like intelligent destruction: There's an assassination on page two, an explosion on page three, a wrecked car by page seven, and a mercenary with a resume that reads like scripts of the A-Team. We'll ignore the shootout on the Spanish Steps in the armored SUV. Death, property damage, and utter ruination are always good for an audience. It worked for four Die Hard films.

Political folk: As much as I loathe to admit it, there's politics in this novel. It goes to motivation for the various and sundry parties. Besides: how do you negotiate being a Catholic—universal—Church? Unlike being a superpower, like the United States, you can't pick and choose who you associate with just because they're valuable to you. If that were the case, I wouldn't have a friend whose uncle is a missionary in China. And what happens when you put an African Pope who's to the right of Attila the Hun into the middle of this particular hurricane?

At the end of the day, the only people who should probably NOT read A Pius Man are those who expect a novel by way of Mitchner, or Clavell. Half of the book is filled with thoughtful, drawn out characters who are trying to think their way through the problem at hand. The other half of the book is filled with various and sundry creative ways to lay waste to large parts of Rome—from shooting up the Spanish Steps to trashing Leonardo Da Vinci airport.

Oh, and there's a love story in there, too.

And this is just the first book. Book two is the fallout, and countermoves by those bad guys who survive book one. Book three is where I recreate the Battle of Thermopylae.... if the 300 had possessed remote-detonated landmines.

Anyway, if you or any of your friends might enjoy anything listed above, you might want to join the fan page, or invite them to tag along. Or both.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

DragonCon, 2010, Day 4. Peter David and Will Smith

Peter David, writer of stuff, as a few things to say about his latest novelization project.  But it's a little odd, since the movie wasn't finalized yet. Or produced, or almost anything else.

Comes with a surprise guest: Will Smith.

Part 2

Monday, September 27, 2010

DragonCon Report, Day 3: All Butcher, All Day

DragonCon: the world's largest science fiction and fantasy convention. Ever. Period. Official numbers: over 35,000. But that's what we tell the fire marshal.

The following will be a series of reports made about my visit to DragonCon, mostly broken down panel by panel. I will not spend time complaining about the scheduling, the presentation thereof, the audio equipment, etc. Each panel will be taken down and put together in transcript fashion. There will be some inaccuracies, since I lacked recording equipment... even if I had recorded it, there is a chance that any and all videos of DragonCon posted online may be taken down without warning. This way is safer.

However, there will be some lines that are unattributed, and there may be inaccuracies scattered throughout. Most of what is written down is what was said, accurately quoted and attributed.

Day 3

Panel 1: Spotlight on Jim Butcher

“It turns out there really is a ten in the morning... who knew.”

“I initially started writing because there weren't enough books out there that I wanted to read. I started writing my first book at nineteen. It was awful. Then I wrote my second. It was awful. My third and forth books were hideous. I rewrote the first one, and it was a different kind of awful. I went to get a degree at the State University of Oklahoma, and got a bachelors degree in English literature. And one writing class... they told me some ridiculous things about writing. They must have set me back about two or three years. I mean, I had a bachelors in English lit, and the professor had only published about forty books. And I looked at this stuff, and I was going to prove her wrong. I was going to be a good little writing monkey, and show her that it would turn out the same exactly kind of cookie cutter crap. I handed it in and she said 'It's good.' 'Wazzat?' 'I think you can sell this down the line.' And that was the first book of the Dresden files. So, I showed her.”

Q: Tell us about Codex Alera.
Butcher: Alera started out as a bet on an online writers workshop forum. One side had the premise of the “Holy Idea.” That a book can be a successful novel no matter how bad the writing was, as long as the idea behind it was good. Just look at Jurassic Park.

On the other side were the people who focused on craft. That no matter how old the idea, it could still form something cool and fun. Just look at how many times they've redone Romeo and Juliet. And, basically, at the end of the day, it came down to one mouthy guy on my side and one mouthy guy on the other. Obviously, I was one of the the mouthy guys.

And one day the other guy says “Okay, pal, show us. I'll give you an idea and you write something about it.”

And of course, I said, “No, give me two ideas.”

He said, “Fine. One: Lost roman legions. I'm sick of hearing about them. It's been two thousand years, all of the legions should be found by now.” For those of you who don't know, the lost legion marched off one day into a thunderstorm and was never seen or heard from again.

I said, “Okay, fine, what's the next one?”


… For those of you who don't know Pokemon very well, it started out of two concepts. One was the Shinto religion's believe that everything in nature has a divine spirit, or a Kami. And you don't mess with the Kami of a mountain because it will crush you, and you do the same with a pebble... actually you can step on it all you like, it's a pebble, what's it going to do to you? And the other side to Pokemon was pro wrestling.

So, I basically had the Roman Legion lost in the land of the Pokemon, had it ferment for two thousand years, and you get Alera. When I started writing it, I thought “Wow, this is good,” and I posted that “I think this is too good to post here, I'm actually going to try and get it published.”

Their guy said “You you admit I'm right.” Yeah, whatever, the best revenge is living well.

Q: What do you think about the role playing games for Dresden?
Butcher: I think they're great, like a Dresden Wiki. I don't need to go hunting for information anymore... you have to realize, for every Dresden book, I have rewrites, beta readers, editors, line editors, and a final copy. By the time I'm done, I've gone through seven to nine variations on the book, and fans only get the one final version. So you probably know some of this stuff better than I do. In fact, the guy who made the RPG actually found some stuff I had planted in book one, and I asked him not to write it down, otherwise it would give stuff away in the later novels... he was creepy good about finding those details.

Q: What's your next project now that Alera is done?
Butcher: When I sold Alera, I was halfway through a science fiction series. My protagonist had ejected, falling through a planets atmosphere during a solar flare, and he's been there for three years.

[Time for audience Q+A.... the line backs up.] Butcher: “It looks like we should just give you guys a belt and a coupla knives so you can sort yourselves out.”

Q: What loose threads are left in Dresden Files?
Butcher: I can't really tell you, mainly because there are no loose threads in my head. But I put stuff in Storm Front [his first book] that will come out in the last trilogy. Because my teacher told me I had to.

Q: I have a defective copy of Changes, it doesn't seem to have an ending
Butcher: Okay, I can do that right now. Harry says he will die to protect his daughter, he does, the end.
“There was one cartoon that said, Oh, well, everything looks likes it's turning out all right. I just want to read the last few pages of changes. And it ended with 'I heard the voices of thousands of nerds crying out, and were silenced.' …. By the way, there are some people who are bothered by the phrase nerd. I own my nerdom.”

“When I started working on the Dresden files, I went down to the bookstore and grabbed books on magic and forensics, for background, and because it's cool. I recommend the writer's guides. There was one called Deadly Doses, on poisons. That was neat. It was during research like that where I discovered that there were so many kinds of werewolves, none of which looks like the wolfman. If you ever have to do research on that sort of thing, go to the children's section of the library, they'll tell you the stories. If you go into the adult's, all of the books you find there won't go three pages without mentioning Jung or Feud. Or you can do on location research.”

Q: You ever going to explain how Nicodemus and Tessa got together?
Butcher: The romance between the two of them covers thousands of years, murder, chaos, and cities abandoned. It'll take someone with a stronger constitution than me to do it.

Q: Would you like to talk about Ghost Story?
Butcher: Harry is dead. And he has to solve his own murder, as a ghost. I can't tell you too much, but he will have the line “I always wondered why ghosts were always moaning and screaming when they went through floors and walls. That stuff hurts.”

Q: What did you think of the Scifi channel Dresden? Sorry, I guess I should say Syfy [pronounced "Siffy"].
Butcher: You mean the syphilis channel? It coulda been worse. They only started making them like the books after Howe's kid took some swag home from the press briefing, and told his father, the owner of the channel “Why couldn't this be more like the books?”

Q: Some stories are not in Side Jobs?
Butcher: There are some contract problems. The contracts expire sometime next year, so I'm going to have to write more so I can fill out the anthology.

Q; Where did Bob the Skull come from?
Butcher: It was actually an inside joke with my writing professor. After the first few chapters, she asked me what I was going to do next with Harry. I said I was going to bring him back to his lab, and he'll talk with his personal assistant, who was like a cross between a lab tech and a PC. She told me “Okay, but don't make him a talking head.” A talking head, if you ever saw those old black and white movies, was the science guy who would come on and say “As you know, Jack,” dispenses info, and disappears. And I always wondered “If Jack knows this already, why's he explaining it.” So when she told me not to make Bob a talking head, I made him a literal talking head.

She got to that part of the story, looked at me, and said “You think you're funny, don't you?”

But, yeah, Bob is my inner fourteen year old.

Q: Are there people in your life you used for Dresden characters?
Butcher: Yes. Shiro was actually based on my dojo instructor. He actually grew up being taught martial arts by monks, while he was in hiding during the war. When he was growing up, he had some problems with the Yakuza. They tried to kill him about five times, and he kept killing their guys. After a while, they said “Hey, you want to work for us?” He said, “No, I want you guys off of my street.” It was cheaper in the long run to leave him alone. So they did. And he's more like Mr. Miagi than he has any right to be.

Anna, in White Night, was someone who won a charity auction to earn a horrible death in one of my books.

Most of my female characters I base off of my wife. [Audience “Awwwww”]. Do you people remember how many women are villains in my books?

Q: Is there going to be another attempt at the Dresden files as a movie or tv show?
Butcher: Not yet. As of now, Lionsgate still has the rights for a year, nine months, and twenty some-odd days.

“I'm going to have a final apocalyptic trilogy to end the series. They'll be titled Hells Bells, Stars and Stones, and Empty Night. Despite that Harry just keeps saying them as phrases, they actually mean something.”

Q: Why does Harry have a hat on the covers?
Butcher: Because the artist thinks that a staff and a fedora says “Wizard PI.” I'm actually thinking of giving him a hat later on, just so he can destroy it. Either that, or I'm going to have someone ask him why he doesn't wear a hat. “Because once your hat gets knocked off, you're out of fate points.”

“Lily, the Archive, is like a grown up version of Bob, with better bandwidth.”

“I just tell the characters that You Work For Me. If they don't agree with what I want, then I'll go back and make them. And then I have a rush of power as a godlike creator. MUAHAHAHAHAHA. Next question?”

Q: Why do you have magic screw up electronics? Won't that screw them up as technology becomes more and more prevalent?
Butcher: Magic has always had side effects, and every three hundred years, the effect changes. It used to make cream go sour, or make flames turn color. Harry will eventually say that “Maybe in another hundred years, using magic will make the user attractive and popular with the opposite sex, though I'm not holding my breath.”

“2012 will either be a bumper year for Harry, or it's a time he's going to want to be on another planet.”

“I gave up on my old college when the Dean invited me to give my opinion of the school. And I thought he meant it.”

“I was initially interested in the martial arts because I was not only the smart nerdy kid, but I had a tendency to mouth off in school-- go figure, right? My dad said no. But one day, I was on my bike, and someone pulled a knife on me. So I picked up my bike and hit him with it. Of course I was the crazy kid who beat someone with a bike. I don't my dad about it, it was awful. He said that now I could go train.

“When I was heading off to college, my instructor told me: 'No spar. Other student want to spar with you. You no spar with them.' I told you he sounded like Mr. Miagi. After a while, I finally sparred with someone just to get them off my case. I caged up, blocked everything, until I had one good mid-line punch. And I think I got him on an inhale, he was doubled over and vomiting. I didn't mean to hit him that hard. When I came back and told my instructor he said, 'You make incorrect punch. Correct punch would have killed him. I show you how to make proper punch.'”

NYTimes Bestselling Authors

Panel: Laurell K. Hamilton (Anita Blake seris); Sherrilyn Kenyon (Dark Hunters); Jim Butcher (Dresden Files); Kevin J. Anderson (Misc Star Wars); Jonathan Maberry (Co author: Marvel Zombies Return.)

Laurell K. Hamilton: Wow, this is my fourth year at DragonCon, and it's the first time I've actually seen it. It looks like fun. My tenth book, Narcisscus in Chains, was the first one to make it to the bestsellers list. I've had decades of fan buildup... and going whole hog into sex might've had something to do with it.

Kevin J. Anderson: My first three bestsellers were within a month of each other. MY first Star Wars trilogy, with the Jedi Academy books. Before that, I had published nine books in eight years.

Jonathan Maberry: My first bestseller was the novelization of the movie The Wolfman. Before that I had written books on judo. When they gave me the screenplay, it had virtually no details, so I had to add a lot of my own. When the reviews came out, they said “Read the book.” Which proves if you sacrifice goats, God will listen.

Sherrilyn Kenyon: Goats work. As do chickens.

Laurell K. Hamilton: I got in at a good time, right after the Buffy television series kicked off.

Kevin J. Anderson: Sometimes you get lucky, when you ride the wave of a trend's popularity. Da Vinci Code was the last gasp for Dan Brown. His previous novel, Angels and Demons, didn't sell. And suddenly, people are buying books that the industry didn't know the public wanted.

Q: What is your favorite book, what you've written and what you read?
Jim Butcher: My favorite book that I've written, Dead Beat, because you can't beat the zombie dinosaur marching down Chicago. Or, the last five pages of Changes. And I like Lois Bujold's Mirror Dance.

Q: What is your most embarrassing experience as an author?

Kevin J. Anderson: Sherrilyn, you can answer this one.
Sherrilyn Kenyon: Laurel?
Laurell K. Hamilton: Thanks Kevin. Well, there was the first time someone asked me to sign their penis.
Jim Butcher: The first time?
Laurell K. Hamilton: Yes. Now, never feed the crazies. I simply told him that it was illegal to expose himself in public in that state, and that he'd go to prison. And that there were children in the store, did he really want to do that? I sometimes have some really over excited fans, who take the sex in my books way too seriously. I can only assume that he didn't really think it through. I mean, I'm using a ballpoint, did you really think it was a good idea.?
Jim Butcher: And you have a really long name.
Laurell K. Hamilton: That sometimes doesn't help.
Kevin J. Anderson: Crap, now I have to top that.
Laurell K. Hamilton: You wanted me to go first.

Jonathan Maberry: My best moment was at a convention. Someone in an elevator looked at my nametag and said “Oh, you're a guest. And I never heard of you. You must be a writer.”

Kevin J. Anderson: I had one time written an X-Files novel. I went to a bookstore for a signing, and security told me that a guy in a tinfoil hat was waiting for me. Never a good sign. This guy in the tinfoil hat came up to me and said that he really needed my home number, because he knew what was going on, and what the government was covering up. When I told him I couldn't, he said, “I understand the need for a secret bunker. I'll give you my number.” If I were a different person, I would call him up at two in the morning and say “You've been talking to people, haven't you?”

Jim Butcher: As for me, to be embarrassed, you have to have a minimum amount of dignity. I generally don't have that problem. However, one time during an interview with me and Shannon, my kid wanted into the living room. The interviewer asked him if he thought it was impressive that his parents were both authors. My son said “Eh, if these two can pull it off, how hard can it be.” My wife gave him a look that promised death for the boy later.

Jonathan Maberry: I had the problem once that I was jealous of myself. When I was asked to do a novel, I used a penname to write it, because I had written technical books before that. When I decided to write under my real name, I was told that I was ripping off Shane McDougal. But I was Shane Mcdougal. I twas actually an acrimonious relationship after a while. Finally, I killed the bastard. I showed up to a Halloween party dressed as a dead author. I went as Shane McDougal. He's officially dead.
Jim Butcher: I now have to nominate you for the funniest use of the word acrimonious.

Sherrilyn Kenyon: One time my brother was at one of my signings. And he was impatient, and I owed him twenty dollars, and he wanted to go to dinner. After a while, he started telling the line that “She sucks, go home.” “She owes me money.” “What are you people bothering with her for?” We finally got out of there. Later that evening, he called me up at home at two in the morning and said, “Guess what I did.” It was two in the morning, I didn't want to think about what he was doing. He told me “I just finished one of your books. It's pretty good.” “Oh good, you can read, mama had doubts for a while there.”

Q: What is the best advice you ever got from an author?
Kevin J. Anderson: Dean Koontz told me that the first million words you write are just practice.
Jim Butcher: Roger Zelazny told me “Write a bit each day. It adds up. Eventually, you get a book.”
Jonathan Maberry: David Morrell told me that “Writing is an art, but publishing is a business. Just remember that you can't ignore the business end.”
Sherrilyn Kenyon: Harlan Ellison told me “You want to be a writer?  Go home and write.”