Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Women in novels, and A Pius Man

On Monday, when I ripped a Tor Books blogger a new one, I wanted to go into an compare and contrast version of how to treat women in novels, mostly with novels I know, or novels I've written.

Then I looked at how long the bloody piece was, and decided to not bother.

After talking with a critic yesterday, I've decided to go ahead and do just that.

Unfortunately, it's a hard to find a good beginning.  Seriously, where does one start?  With the fact that one of my favorite stories of the Judges (biblical warlords) is a woman, Judith, walking into the tent of an enemy of Israel, and taking his head off, literally? Or, that when growing up, I found that the best part of Xena, Warrior Princess was not her leather outfit, but the glint in her eye right before she beat the hell out of everyone?

Do I start with Fr. Andrew Greeley, and his novels where the female and male leads have this tendency to save each other?

See these women? These are
what the really kick-ass scifi women
are wearing this year.
Maybe I could cover J. Michael Straczynski's Babylon 5, where the female leads practically dominate the series, and they have some of the best, strongest, most kick ass sequences -- usually without throwing a single punch, wearing clothing that's as revealing as your average monk's robes.

Perhaps I should start with the Irish mythology I grew up with, that had the belief that a woman was required for spirituality -- as in "a man could only go onto the afterlife after his woman drags him there, because otherwise the poor daft fool would probably just get himself lost along the way."

Or, perhaps I should just give my opinion in general, cite some specific examples, and move on.

Let's start with examples from the Tor article -- John Ringo's Ghost.  The premise is that a former SEAL, code-named "Ghost," finds himself in the middle of a terrorist plot, and literally gets dragged along for the ride. The blogger at Tor uses Ghost's internal struggle between his instincts and his ethics (Ghost believes himself a rapist by nature, while on the other hand, he hasn't actually raped anybody, and he knows it's wrong), and the blogger uses that to paint all of John Ringo's work with one brushstroke -- even though she had not read Ghost, any of John Ringo or anything more than a blog post excerpting small parts of the novel.

However, looking in Ghost, the FIRST novel, we see multiple instances of women coming to the rescue. During a firefight with the terrorists in question, Ghost only has a room filled with female college coeds for support. Over the course of one mission, he's saved by a gunship piloted by a female pilot (said pilot makes a comeback and also saves his butt a time or two in later novels).  Sure, Ghost has issues, and the character knows that he has issues, and most of the character moments involve how he sublimates his own violent desires into something more socially acceptable ... which, alas, leads into sequences of more bondage porn than I ever wanted to read ... but the problem the character has is not a problem that John Ringo shares, and it's quite evident in practically every book Ringo has ever written -- even in later volumes starring Ghost.

And, of course, there is always Princess of Wands -- Ringo's novel where the hero is a tough, physically and spiritually fit, very beautiful and sexy .... suburban housewife who goes to church every Sunday, and married to the same man for years, with several children.

Like I said, Ghost's problem is not John Ringo's problem.

My point? In John Ringo's novels, no one is a passive participant. Even his civilian female protagonists make for strong characters, and are just as likely to pick up a gun and return fire, or throw grenades as needed.

With David Weber, another victim of the Tor hatchet job, his Honor Harrington character was criticized for not having a sex life for multiple books.  Leaving out Honor's personal reasons for that (covered in the last blog), what the hell is a sex life supposed to add to a character, man or woman?

For the record: I don't write sex scenes. Period. My characters don't necessarily need to have a sex life. They're usually too busy being shot at.

In my novels, women are people, that they are women isn't all that special to me.  Of the main cast of A Pius Man, I have four women -- a secret service agent, a spy, an Interpol cop, and a forensic scientist.  Three out of four of them handle themselves well in combat -- two out of the three of them can give most of the main characters a run for their money (#3 is in IT).

In fact, I think the women are better action stars than my male characters -- Sean Ryan is the only main character who is overly equipped for combat (mostly through skill than through muscle). Giovanni Figlia has some combat experience, but he's mostly in a position of management, performing the job as detective and commander of the Swiss Guards. Egyptian cop Hashim Abasi is, literally, a member of a think tank. Scott Murphy, while he is a spy, can't even fire a gun well (which is why his trailer has him being knocked back by the recoil of his own gun).

Over the course of my life, I have found most women to be my equals, if not my betters. Of course, as I grow older, I have discovered that there are plenty of women who are just as screwed up, just in different ways than I'd expect.  But, in my books, I don't really have a weak female character. Ever. Man or woman, my characters can always find some sort of inner strength, even if it's pure, unadulterated stubbornness.  Though, as I think back on it, I think my female characters all have more combat training.

Are all of my female characters beautiful? They are in my head, though I don't know if they are on the page. For me, I find that there are few truly ugly women, and it usually takes effort.  I very often find that personality does make an appearance, and mar or improve the features. I'm told that none of the women I've dated have been beautiful, but, apparently, I've always managed to find something special in them. Give me time, I can usually find something in them that is lovely.

And, while on the other hand, there have been more occasions than I can think of where I have looked at a woman who is, superficially, quite attractive, but I can never really pass judgement if they're "beautiful" until they smile, or get excited about something -- even then, I concentrate more on the eyes. That's where I find the real beauty more often than not.....

And I'm starting to sound like a romantic sap, I apologize.  But that's pretty much how my brain works ... or doesn't. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? You decide.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Coming soon to A Pius Man, 2012

There are plenty of joys to writing. Not so much to writing a constant blog.  Possibly the biggest mistake thus far was trying to make the blog into a three day a week affair. I've kept up that pace for almost a year now, and I'm actually starting to run out of things to day. Which is odd, considering all of the strange and sundry things running around my head.

Right now, I'm trying to design a few things for the website, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed about several of them.

On the one hand, I'm hoping to make some more videos. If you haven't seen the ones I've made yet, well, I suggest you look to the right -- I had fun making them, perhaps you'll enjoy watching them. One example is right here-- the Scott Murphy trailer.

Since I can't draw, and none of local areas are photogenic enough to look like something in Rome, I need people.  Unfortunately, relying on people to show up when they say they will has never been my strong suit. Possibly because I've usually had to invite anyone three months in advance just to get them anywhere in large numbers.

So, there's that.

Next, I'm working on interviews.  I jumped on the chance to review some novels, and I recently discovered that they come with the option of getting my hands on some of the writers. And trust me, some of these people, I want to get my hands on.  I know some other authors who want to get their hands on these writers as well -- for completely different reasons.

So, that's also up in the air.

Not to mention that I'm also working on my two columns -- in Self Defense and "Catholic."

In short, I've got a lot of various and sundry stuff I have in mind, a lot of it is contingent on the the cooperation of other people, not to mention the stuff I'm actually being paid to write. (Speaking of which, please feel free to frequent those articles. I get paid per reader. Please?)

So .... I've got some strange and wondrous things planned -- now it's time to see who I can get my hands on and make sure it all happens.

Wish me luck.

Be well all.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Someone has jumped the shark: women and military scifi.

UPDATE: There is a PART II to this article. If you have serious issue with what I've written here, I suggest reading the next one.

[Update: the Miriam mentioned below is no longer Ringo's girlfriend. She is now Ringo's wife.]

Just when I thought I ran out of material, someone on the internet goes and says something unbelievably stupid.

I don't know who set off one of the people at Tor books, but a recent blog focused on how women don't get a fair shake in military science fiction. Toward this end, they make a rather passing mention to David Weber's Honor Harrington, damning her with the faintest of praise.  They they follow it up with an attack on John Ringo, Tom Kratman, and David Drake, crying horror! Horror! at how women are treated in those novels.

Ahem ....

I'll start small, mostly by throwing David Drake under a bus. I've read some his stories, I found them as dry as dust. It could just be me, and my family, and my friends. Sorry friend, but it's true.

Now, onto some books I do know very well: those of Tom Kratman, John Ringo and David Weber.

While the Tor blogger does acknowledge that Weber's Honor Harrington is a good female character, an equal to the male characters around her, it immediate turns into a backhanded compliment, complaining that Honor didn't get laid for the first half-dozen novels -- even though it was pointed out in book one that Honor was sexually assaulted at the naval academy (well, "nearly" assaulted ... she completely trashed her attacker into next Tuesday. It was awesome).

And did I mention that she has a sword?
I'm sorry, but the rape victims I've read of and those I know personally (nine and counting) go one of two ways, nymphomania, or celibacy ... would the Tor blogger have preferred nymphomania?

Not to mention that the article focuses on Honor Harrington as if she were the only woman in the entire "Honorverse" series -- ignoring, for instance, that the heads of state of the major governments are both women. And, since she whined about everyone being white, the article seems to gloss over the fact that the ruling family of Honor Harrington's government is all black. One wonders if the blogger even read the Honor Harrington novels.

Anyway, after bitching about the "racism" in the Honor-verse, and Honor Harrington's lack of a sex life, they then go into how John Ringo's character Ghost treats women like sex objects.

I'm sorry, but who goes into a rant about over-sexualizing women after complaining that a woman lead isn't sexualized enough?  You know, aside from hypocrites. [more below the break]

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Building a better death trap

A few months ago, a fellow author asked what I would do if I were an evil super villain who wanted to hold prisoners .... specifically, a Robin-esque ex-sidekick, a werewolf, and a Golem.

I asked "Why?"

Suffice it to say, she needed those three people in a prison they couldn't escape from -- and oh, yes, keep in mind, the villain is a teleporter, so he can come and go as he pleases.

"Cool," says I. "Mountain cage. If they leave, they all freeze to death."

Nope, we need something closer to Los Angeles.

"Okay. Three tiered, vertical death trap: your sidekick is chained up, hands bound by the chain. Below him, a block of cement in which the golem is trapped in, and, at the bottom, the werewolf -- obviously, in a silver cage. Stripped naked, for extra pain!  If the other two try to escape, the other falls, and there's death all around Muahahahahhaa!!!!"

Then she talked me off of a ledge.

"Keep the silver cage and the concrete, only stick them in a shipping container, on a ship -- dangling off the floor, suspended by four chains to opposite walls. If they move too much, splat."

We can't keep the concrete, our protagonist can't pick concrete with his lockpicks.

"Oh, all right, I never get to have any fun."

As to how everyone gets out of the problem.....

You disconnect two of the chains holding the container aloft, then, before disconnecting the third, hold on tight to the end of that chain -- the container will swing down, as will the chain your hero is holding on to. Instant ladder.

This was one of the better 2am conversations I’ve ever had, I think.


[Oh, and for those of you who don't know what a golem is -- I'd link to it, but Wikipedia wants to go into hiding today to stop the anti-pirating legislation from the fools on The Hill.   I wonder if miss "Pass the Bill to find out what's in it" Pelosi will be about to do anything with Wikipedia shut down.  Anyway, a golem is a stone man, traditionally a Jewish myth about a man made from clay in order to protect the Jewish peoples from harm. Mary Shelley, eat your heart out.]

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The best comics of the web

Recently, I've done a run of book blogs -- John Ringo, David Weber, Thrillers, Romance, etc, etc.  Now for something strange: Webcomics.

Don't be fooled. There are some excellently written works out there, that if they were written in prose format, would probably be up for major awards in science fiction and fantasy.  However, since there is a bias against comics, these are generally overlooked. If you don't believe me, asked Neil Gaiman -- when his story for Sandman won the World Fantasy Award for short fiction, they changed the rules so no other comic could win in that category.

Some of my suggestions.

Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire: It starts out as a small-town "seer" working for the local population, filled with puns, and a punchline a comic strip .... it ends with major character development, a cast of dozens, and a story arc that makes Lord of the Rings look simple and straight forward.

Day By Day: a political cartoon for those who are generally fed up with politics as usual.  God for those of either side of the aisle, really, but basically right-leaning.

Questionable Content: Basically Left-leaning, but filled with humor about practically every subgenre of the culture, and music, complete with strange anthropomorphic robots .... just go with it, it's fun.

C+A+D on Spartans
Girl Genius: Another epic fantasy story.  If you've ever heard of steampunk, you have the idea .... oh, and there's plenty of basic politics (of the fantasy world, not of this one), and death rays galore.

Ctrl+Atl+Del: This is another unexpected one.  While it is centered around video games and the gamers who play them, there are some unexpected plotlines that are quite stellar .... just keep your eye on the penguin.

Order of the Stick: A very strange comic, drawn in ... stick figure format?  Believe it or not, the artwork aside, it's very standard "bring everyone together to stop the end of the world" fantasy storyline, with a lot of side stories, unexpected character development, and .... oh, yeah, it's within a world completely ruled by the rules for role playing games.
The Gutters on the
new Venom

PhD Comics: for anyone who's ever been to graduate school. Just trust me on this one.

The Gutters:  A relatively new webcomic, dedicated to making fun of the comic book industry, and all of the stupid things they do.

Crimson Dark: If David Weber was a web comic, it would be Crimson dark ... with a few touches of Firefly thrown in.

Whew, got this done in the nick of time.

See you all tomorrow.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Music blog. Les Miserables

When I was fourteen, and sentenced to a week in a pre-Freshman summer camp, I brought a book with me. I was never the most social teenager, and I preferred to be left alone than do deal with the savages of high school.  You know who I mean, don't pretend that you don't.

Anyway, I brought one book with me. And that was Les Miserables (Lay Miz er ahb ... yes, it's French; roll with it)  To this day,  I could tell you that the page count on that book was 1,463 pages long. I had seen the Broadway play as my graduation present from 8th grade. So, I've had a special attachment to this play for a while.

Then I heard this online from last week's duo who brought you Cello Wars.  It's not the best I've ever heard, but 'twill suffice.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Top ten blog posts, January 2012

It seems that every two months, my blog top ten changes.

These are the top ten all time best blogs, as of now.

1. Sex, DC Comics, and ... wtf?  You remember this, right? It seems everyone has read it, probably twice. It was a study of DC Comics and their mistreatment of two of their better female characters. It includes, sex, sex, and more sex. And writing.  And this post is only four months old.

2  Disasters to Marvel At: A Comic Discussion.  One of the longest-running posts on this list (Nov 8, 2010), and constantly in the top ten, this was a brief look at the past five to six years of Marvel Comics' history of absolute garbage.

3. Music: the Eye of the Storm: Fenton  This is a bit of a surprise. One part Cruxshadows, and one part killer sheep, this has only been up since June 23, 2011 -- when I was going a little nutty on posting everything at once.

4 .Two steps from Hell, Bermuda Triangle  This is also the same as number three, only with sea monsters, and awesome action music .... and, it was posted three days before #3

5. Characters answering surveys: Manana Shushurin  A little bit of humor goes a long, long way, doesn't it?  This was posted the day after the Sex and DC Comics post.

6. Top Ten Blog Posts, November, 2011. Yes, a top ten list has made the top ten list. Who knew?

7. Mr Phelps, You Are Disavowed… This was the first time I went after one Mr. Phelps.  This is one man who got disavowed hard.  From Dec 13, 2010

8. Evil Religions 2: Baby-raping Catholic Priests.  There's a funny story about this one.  It's been slightly modified from the original May 30, 2011 Lent edition.

9. The Pirate King, a Story of Sean A.P. Ryan. I think there was something about destroying Somali pirates that appealed to everyone online.  It's been popular since Nov 25, 2010

10. Music Blog: Rich Fantasy Lives, & My Spirit Will Go On... Proving once again that Tom Smith will be really popular, you have an ode to every Scifi and Fantasy Nerd who ever lived, as well as awesome hard rock from Dragonforce.  From Jul 13, 2011 

Be well all.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Music Blog: Lindsey Stirling and the Phantom Cellist

Just when you thought I couldn't find anything stranger online, you guessed wrong.

A brief search for Lindsey Stirling on this site will find you a very awesome and talented young lady who dances, prances, and moonwalks, all while playing the violin.

This is a cute video, and it comes from a lot of playing with Shadows.  You'll note that the light is on her face, almost head on with her, broadcasting a shadow on the wall to the left side of the screen .... yet the shadows at her feet are going to the right.  Even if you don't like the music, like the camera work.

Next .... this is just very strange.  Pretty much every bit of star wars music in one clip.  With some funny bits in between.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Good news, bad news, and publishing.

So, this is going to be one of those days where there's a lot of good news, bad news.

Good news: I'm keeping up a good pace on my Examiner articles: both as the Catholic reviewer, and the self defense Examiner.

Bad news: so, I don't exactly have a buffer of blogs for this week. My bad.


Bad news: this book of mine they want is not A Pius Man, and I do not have an agent for it.

Good news: this publisher doesn't need agents!

Bad news: they're not open again to submissions until March 1..... Bugger.

Good news: time to edit. Quickly.

Now, it's been a very, very, very long while since we've done the post explaining how things work in the publishing business.

This is the way things usually work:

Agents represent the author.
Their mission: sell your book to a publisher for the highest possible value.  Agents act as a filtering mechanism for editors. If an author comes with his own agent, he has passed the first line of defense. There has to be something marketable about the book, otherwise, a good agent wouldn't be bothered with it. An agent would certainly not touch a first time author's book with a ten foot pole unless it was pretty darn good. Consider it this way—the agent only gets approximately 10% of what the author does, and an unknown author (barring a celebrity) has no selling value by themselves. The book had better be good.

And the editors need the filter. Editors have agents pitching manuscripts at them constantly. There are some stories about editors having a seven course meal for lunch, and with each new course came a new agent, and each agent has multiple books to pitch.

Editors work for the publisher, and goes over the manuscript with a fine tooth comb. They are generally the people who are the feelers for the book. The agents have to cultivate contacts, pitch the book to editors, convincing them to at least look at it.

And then, editors have to sort through all of the suggested manuscripts pitched in order to select those that would actually be read. Then an editor has to read all of them. Usually, these are samples of fifty pages and a synopsis, but that's still a lot when you consider their already busy life.

And these editors, after sorting through what projects they think will sell, then have to pitch it up the chain of command. 

The publisher is the one that buys the book from you. That's where the money comes from, that's how the book is distributed. Before writers even sell a single copy, payments are first made with advances.

Advances are made by the publisher, and tend to be broken up into three parts: signing with the publisher, the arrival of the first draft; prompt delivery of the final draft. 

Simple, right? The author pitches to an agent. The agent pitches the book to an editor in a publishing company. The editor pitches the book to the company s/he works for. The publisher sells the book to you, the audience. The agent doesn't make money until the author does. The publisher doesn't make money until the books fly off the shelves. 

Or, mathematically....

Agent -->Editor
Editor --> Publisher
Publisher --> the reading populace.
$--> The Reading Populace --> Publisher --> You.

In this case, I skipped step one.

We'll see how this other book goes.  Here's hoping

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing

Once again, this week, I'm saved by somebody else altogether. In this case, it's Karina Fabian ... you might remember her. And, if you don't, that's what links are for.
If you don't mind R-rated language, you might want to check out 25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing... it's fun. And it works.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Author Review: David Weber. FREE BOOKS.

We're back with another author review.  Remember, Baen books has a marketing gimmick. The theory is that if they allow books out for free online, it will prompt people to buy the books in real life. Below, I have assembled not only the lists of series and novels for each author, but also the link to each author's current novel series. You can download ANY of the books listed below.

David Weber writes so many series in so many worlds .... to quote him directly, he said that he wished he could break off parts of his personality so that they could write individual series; except that with his luck, they would spawn new spinoffs within those series, creating entire new storylines.

The most notable of his works is his Honor Harrington series-- a female space naval officer, usually worrying about 100-to-1 odds. Imagine the Napoleonic War done in space.

The Stars At War: giant insects with spaceships eat planets whole .... you know how hard it is to kill a cockroach? Add an interstellar armada, and there's not enough Raid in the galaxy to deal with them.

Stand Alone Books:

Empire from the Ashes---- What do you mean our moon has been replaced by a spaceship?

The Apocalypse Troll --- the lone survivor of a fleet from a hundred years in the future fell to earth in pursuit of a life pod that has a world-killing alien on board. They both fell through time and space... and now she has to kill it with allies in the 20th century. Assuming it doesn't kill everyone first.

The Excalibur Alternative-- humans make great mercenary soldiers... even if they are from the 16th century, abducted by aliens, and pressed into service.

In Fury Born--After 3,000 years of slumber, a Greek Fury stirs, awakened by a human whose own fury calls...

His honor Harrington series is Horatio Hornblower meets Star Wars. I have it in recommended order of reading.

On Basilisk Station-- what do you do when you're a shiny new Captain who has to deal with a hostile crew, rioting civilians, an evil empire next door who wants your sector, and, oh, yeah, you've been left by yourself in the middle of the busiest sector in the galaxy with only one ship? Improvise.

The Honor of the Queen-- Honor Harrington is a female captain trying to save a world of semi-Mormons who think she's inferior, and has to defend them against an enemy of religious zealots who make her “allies” look tame.

The Short Victorious War --- Robert S. Pierre and his revolutionaries have created the People's Republic of Haven. Now it's time to flex their muscles.

Field of Dishonor -- What do you do when the people who are trying to kill you are the people in charge of the war you're fighting?

Flag in Exile
Honor Among Enemies
In Enemy Hands
Echoes of Honor
Ashes of Victory
War of Honor
The Honorverse Short story collection – it will explain a few things from the books here and there

More than Honor-- I'd recommend only the first story in this one. Seriously.
Worlds of Honor--- I suggest only the Weber stories here.
Changer of Worlds-- now things get interesting.
The Service of the Sword--- Even better.

Crown of Slaves – Takes two sets of characters from Changer of Worlds and Service of the Sword and brings them together against a common enemy.

Shadow of Saganami: Honor's graduating class from officer training has there own ship... and their own problems.

At All Costs--- Honor has lost an eye and an arm leading her Majesty's Navy... much like Admiral Nelson... and this is Trafalgar.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Month in Review, December, 2011

Well, that was a fun year, huh?  In fact, 2011 was so fun, let's just do it over again, and skip 2012, so we can wake up and election season will be over.

Oh well, can't have everything.

December was a bit of a mixed bag, and the year wasn't all bad. With luck, 2012 will be better. Apparently, after my rampage through, making my November blog traffic spike through the roof, I retained nearly a thousand new visitors, who knew?

Then again, I had some aid in this from a strange and unexpected source -- actually, about three or four different times.

To start with, my tale Coyote Christmas, a Story by Twitter, was a strange success, viewed by over a hundred readers in the first month, and that's without having to post it all over the internet.  Even Coyote Christmas: the full story, written in standard prose, took in a goodly number of readers.  Who knows, I might have stolen someone's title without knowing it -- that would explain why I had a lot of readers looking for "the author of Coyote Christmas" in search terms.

You can never underestimate the power of a good death trap.

I had some nice music blogs, mostly because of a recent discovery on my part: Lindsey Stirling, and her epic violin. Seriously, this woman was awesome.  Not to mention that her Celtic Christmas was beautiful. And her rendition of Silent Night, it worked ... so, yes, I was probably saved by Christmas, and tripping over Madam Stirling.

Though there was one good thing in 2011 I wouldn't change at all, my new Self Defense column (which you can see reviewed for all of 2011 right here). And my Catholic column -- which is even newer.

And this year, well, I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Not many, but I'm working on it.