Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A year of thanks 2013

I've got a lot to be thankful for this year. And even though I should have probably said this at Thanksgiving, better late than never.

Daria DiGiovanni, who let me on her show ... twice.

Robert Bertrand, who let me co-host once after having already been a guest.

Matthew Bowman, the Novel Ninja, who gave me one of the best compliments I've gotten all year.

The people of the Catholic Writer's Guild, who made me so welcome in the wilderness of New Jersey. The last time I felt like it was home, it was DragonCon.  This includes Ann Margaret Lewis, Ellen Gable Hrkach, Karina Fabian, Kathleen Gulo, and I'm certain I'm leaving out one or two.

Jo Lindsell and Virginia Lori Jennings for putting up with me on the FB writing page. Sue Freivald, who gave me one of the best reviews I've had to date.

And I'm sure I'm missing several ... okay, a few tons of people here and there. Tanja Cilia, Jamie Wilson, Kia Heavey, for moral support alone, if nothing else.  I know I'm missing beta readers (don't worry, you've been written down and noted for the books you've beta-ed), and how about everyone who has ever reviewed me.

My family, who tolerate me still.

And, of course, you, faithful readers, who keep me going.

Happy new year, one and all.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Requiescat in pacem: a Pius in memoriam

I have never cried through a blog post before, but this year, I've buried five childhood friends: Vince Flynn, Andrew Greeley, Tom Clancy, Sheamus Heaney and Elizabeth Peters.

Yes, it's strange to say that some of my best friends were writers that I've never met, but you must consider a few things.  I've been reading these people for a very long time, and they've lasted longer than every relationship I've ever had, sans family.

Sheamus Heaney's Beowulf is the first and best translation I've ever seen of the epic poem. It was smooth and easy to read, and was just plain straight English.  He died in his 80s, with a few international awards, so he had nothing to regret when he left.

Elizabeth Peters, aka Barbara Mertz, introduced me to Egyptology the old fashioned way -- by writing about murders at Egypt excavation sites. There was a reason I was a child who knew an awful lot about the Egyptian pharaoh Akanten.

Her characters were witty, well drawn, and brilliantly done, even though none of them were particularly handsome. It was smart writing with intelligent heroes and villains, and enough history to make it interesting without making it painful. I will never see the rest of the family of archaeologists she created, who grew up with me -- the only offspring of this Nick and Nora of the desert was my age, and aged at almost the same exact rate.

She died at age 85. She had a damned good life, and I will miss her. It just hurts when a childhood friend has died.

Tom Clancy was my bus ride home every day during Freshman year of high school. When the film Patriot Games came out, it was one of the first movies my father loved so much I just had to get it for him immediately. Jack Ryan was fun, because he was a nerd who had to be an action hero whether he liked it or not.  After I played SSN, a submarine game based on an idea of his, the Spratley Islands and the South China Sea were never the same. Splinter Cell brought me back into the world of gaming by showing me an interesting story with my games.

I probably learned more about history from Tom Clancy than I did from any history class in high school.  When 9-11 happened, my first thought was "Didn't Tom Clancy do this already?"

When he died, he was only in his 60s.  Not fair.

American Assassin: A ThrillerVince Flynn .... I've discussed Flynn's writing other places. He was a fun author, who only used politics when it suited his plot, which was most of the time. Not bad for a thriller author who spent most of his writing time using terrorists for target practice. His first book about CIA assassin named Mitch Rapp was about terrorists taking over the white house. This was before terrorists became popular (1999), and he did a wonderful critique of what went wrong during the 1990s in the intelligence world.

One of the nice things about Vince Flynn was that he always has a domestic element to his novels. Domestic as in "do we have to kill the politicians before they get us all killed." Again, Flynn has had politicians as antagonists since the 1990s, so he didn't jump on a Tea Party bandwagon.

He helped write the best season of 24, day 5, which started with a bang, a boom, and a massive shootout in the first episode. he was a good, solid author. And he was only 47, damnit.

And then there was Fr. Andrew Greeley, who was with me the longest. Greeley wrote mysteries, and romances, and even one or two thrillers of his own.  A Catholic priest from Chicago, I grew up with him in the house.  I read his novel Angel Fire when I was 12, one of those books that you start at night and finish by dawn. I probably learned more about my faith from Greeley than I did from 12 years of Catholic school.  He was essentially a childhood friend.  Granted, he went off the rails a little when he hit the 21st century.  As a Chicago Democrat, he went from little jabs of "being a Republican is a sin, but excused by invincible ignorance" to just being snotty about his politics, which means he may have written about 15 lousy books..... I'd settle for having a few dozen bestsellers of quality writing.

He was also 85, and I expected him to live forever.

Eternal rest, grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. And may their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed,through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas, y'all. Oh Holy Night.

Merry Christmas, to one and all.  Or, as my Jewish friends call it, merry "Chinese food and movie" day.

If you're wondering, no, I'm not really going to blog today, of all days.  After all, I'm crazy, not particularly stupid.

However, I think this is a great time for O, Holy Night, by Peter Hollens.  So, turn up the volume, and enjoy.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Advent: Lent, with Christmas Lights.

[Originally published... for someone else]

How many of us grew up with the concept that Advent was just Lent, only for Christmas? As a child of the '90s, my experience tells me “not many.”

Don't worry, this isn't going to be the standard “spirituality over materialism” Christmas special that you usually get this time of year. After all, if 40 years of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” isn't going to convince the Internet, then one blog post isn't going to tip the balance. Besides, if you're reading this post, it is unlikely that you need convincing. I can't see many of my readers involved in a Black Friday shootout over the latest gadgets.

However, how many of us take the time to prepare ourselves, spiritually, for the coming of Christmas, and Jesus' birthday? Assuming that neither you nor I are involved in the latest riot at a toy store – my gift shopping was done in August – we are free from any special psychosis-inducing event that comes with the materialism of the season. But what of the day-to-day?

Let us consider, for a moment, just how special Christmas is. Yes, Christ was incarnate, etc, etc … does that really matter? After all, Christmas isn't considered the most important part of the Catholic calender, Easter is. There's a reason that Handel's Messiah has the “Hallelujah Chorus” in the section covering Easter. And, for Easter, we pull out all the stops, don't we? We fast, we abstain, we confess.

What do we do for Advent? If we go by what your average church encourages, probably not as much as we should. While Easter is the day in the Eucharistic calender, Christmas is what makes Easter possible.

So, something to dwell on, if you would (I abhor the word “meditation”); try something that our Pope would be familiar with – the Jesuit practice of imagining. In this case, just imagine if you were the creator of every speck of dust and every watt of electrons, and you make a choice to become – at best – a foot-long, 12-pound creature without the brainpower to utter a coherent sound. And you do this so that you can clean up the mistakes of people who really should have known better. Isn't that a strange thing to do?

It was Fulton Sheen who once described the reason that Jesus had to be incarnate in order for our salvation. He explained it very simply as a form of retribution, of repayment. If you steal my watch and ask me to forgive you, I will, but I want my watch back. Now, what happens when you offend against an infinite Being that is so far beyond our experience, the wonders of time and space are dwarfed? What kind of repayment can we utilize to make amends? Only something just as infinite – in this case, someone.

Yes, I agree, this is quite of bit of depth coming from someone who dedicates pages to shootouts in between bits of history just so he can revenge himself on Dan Brown, et al, but I have my moments.

In the memory of the Infinite Being who became a mewling infant, let's try to put in as much effort to Advent as to Lent. Visit a confessional, give up something if you like. Just … something.

As for me? I take a page from St. Augustine, who once said that “Singing is praying. When one sings, one prays twice.” 

There's a reason that I'm always on the hunt for a perfect rendition of “Angels We Have Heard On High”. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Saruman's Heavy Metal Christmas

Christopher Lee, singing Christmas tunes, with a heavy metal guitar in the background.  Your argument is invalid.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Christmas Posts of A Pius Man.

I've done a lot of posts about Christmas in the past. So many, I think any more will be redundant.
Stolen from Karina Fabian

So, a few things.  Let's start with the short story O Little Town of Bethlehem, may nothing you dismay.... even though I have a plot to blow you up. MUAHAHA.

This is followed by an unofficial sequel, my tale Coyote Christmas, a Story by Twitter. The events take place after OLToB, though that's better pointed out in 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.

I had some nice music blogs, mostly because of Lindsey Stirling, and her epic violin. Seriously, this woman was awesome.  Not to mention that her Celtic Christmas was beautiful ... oh, and What Child is this?

There was also The Piano Guys Bless ye merry Gentlemen, O Come Emmanuel, Angels we have Heard on High, and I've got one or two others coming.

And Christopher Lee does Christmas songs.

I think that's enough for right  now, don't you?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013

Black Friday blog: book shopping

I love Christmas, but I hate the Christmas shopping season. In my neck of the woods, Christmas decorations went on sale in August. August, blast it.

Anyway, realizing that, and that black Friday is coming up, I won't be doing a Thanksgiving day blog, and I don't have too much to add to my past blog entries on the matter.  However, if you want to know about cooking for 93, or the authors I'm thankful for.... you can check those out.

While I finished my Christmas shopping months ago (writers do it all year round -- write your own joke here) I understand that there will be an onslaught of people who are going to be trampling each other in order to get gifts for family and friends.

With that in mind, it occurred to me that this is going to be a great time to compile a list of suggestions to make your shopping lives easier -- if not for this Friday, then for the upcoming Cyber Monday. Some of these are books I've reviewed, and others are new even to me, but have come recommended to me. So, unless you're going to go out and buy some Darren Brown tickets, you might want to try some of these items below.

A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller -- of course I'd start with my own novel. It's surprisingly well reviewed, no one hates it (yet, give me time), where I take the war to Dan Brown, and every other nimrod who thinks they can write bad history in a thriller and get away with it.

Codename: Winterborn .... the "other" novel, also strangely well reviewed. Genre: character-driven scifi espionage. While on a mission to the Islamic Republic of France, Lt. Kevin Anderson's team is betrayed by the politicians who sent them. As the only survivor, Anderson must stop the senators involved before the next team is slaughtered on the altar of political greed. He's certain he won't survive, but he will make this sacrifice, for his Codename is Winterborn. I recommend this for all fans of Baen novels -- like John Ringo, David Weber, and even your straight up thriller writers, like Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, et al.

Murder in The Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes -- if you've been reading my blog for a long time, you know that I loved this one, and I can't possibly recommend it enough.

Mind Over Mind -- The short version? "No, he's not crazy, aliens really are messing with his brain."

Greater Treasures -- Imagine the Maltese Falcon with dragons. Nuff said.

And, of course, there is an endless list of books I can recommend, which happen to be a different tab at the top of the page -- includes Flynn, Ringo, Weber, Thor, etc, etc.

Stealing Jenny, by Ellen Gable: After 5 miscarriages, Jenny is about to have a pregnancy come to full term... until a psychotic woman kidnaps her and chains her in her basement with the intention of taking the child for her own. I liked this one.

Now, as far as books I haven't looked at yet.... [Below the break.]

Friday, November 22, 2013

Reflections on the Ring: One ring to rule them all.

Let's look a little at Existentialism 101. Don't worry, I won't bore you with a lot of details. One thought in Existentialism states that, since we are so radically changing, the concept of binding yourself to someone forever merely limits you, and binds your potential and chains your freedom for enslavement.  Welcome to Jean Paul Sartre, 101.

At the other end of the Existentialism spectrum, you have the Catholic philosopher Gabriel Marcel, who concluded that marriage is the ultimate act of freedom.  In marriage, we freely choose to commit to someone for the rest of our lives. Two people have decided to give their entire lives to one another.

End of lesson.

Now, as most of you may have noticed, I don't generally, as a rule, read chick-lit. Sherrilyn Kenyon? Sure. She's got an interesting fantasy universe, and I'm a bit of a romantic sap at times.

Then there was (deep breath) Reflections on the Ring: An Ordinary Woman’s Extraordinary Tale of How She Saved Her Marriage and Family.... yes, it's a bit of a title. And if you think the title is a little much, the back of the book is as follows.
Most women harbor dreams of a fairytale wedding and marriage. And while some do achieve it all, they are in the minority. For most of us the reality of living out our daily lives with another person demands compromise and commitment. Yes, it takes two to make a marriage, but someone has to take the lead. Why not let that person be you?

That’s the timeless life lesson author Lori Colombo Dunham learned when an unplanned pregnancy rocked her entire world back in 2001. Having only known her baby’s father for a short time, she agonized as to what God’s plan would be for her marriage and family once she and her partner decided that embarking upon an unanticipated marital union was the right thing to do under the circumstances.

So she bid her girlhood dreams of an elegant church wedding goodbye to exchange vows in a sterile county courthouse, mourning for what could have been. Little did she know that inauspicious beginning would lead to a magnificent marital and family life beyond her wildest dreams

Anyway, Daria Anne asked me to take a look at it, and she's hosted me enough times so that I could give her the benefit of the doubt. She coauthored it, so how bad could it be?

In fact, when I got it, I noticed it was less of a book and more of a pamphlet. 

So, was it good? Sure.  I'd give it about three to four stars, definitely leaning on A for effort, A for narrative style, and a B for execution.

Why wouldn't I give it five star?  Well, I had to slog through a few pages here and there. Have you ever had the prose of a book turn you off? Five pages in, I was going to just stop reading, lie to Daria and say that something had come up and I wouldn't finish this in time. There were at least two pages of mea culpa that just rubbed me the wrong way.
 Thankfully, the cringe-worthy setup rhetoric was wonderfully deflated by more sarcastic, wry commentary.  For example, describing "Tom... the male character in an ill-fated courtship that led to my starring role in a summer romance novel." Or, perhaps,
"Samantha, one of the most glamorous girls in the group... never misses a Pilates class or dares to leave her house without flawless hair and makeup, even if she’s only headed to Publix..She fixed her big blue eyes upon me with the same intensity a prosecutor might employ while interrogating a witness."
While not my usual thing, I liked it. There were moments at the beginning that I was tempted to shut things down, but thankfully, the narrative saved it. It keeps the rest of the book from becoming a collection of misery or a collection of sap. The narrative flow worked here.

Now, sure, there are a few problems here and there than just the opening. For example? Chapter 3 ends with Christmas, 2004.  Chapter 4 opens with October 2006 ... so, where did 2005 go?  There was at least one incident (a nice looking neighborhood populated by unpleasant people) that I wanted a chapter out of, if only to explain how she just knew some of what she described. And the plot twists at the end .... one plot twist undercut the impact of the other, which made me a little annoyed.

The book focuses heavily on faith and politics.  If you ever wanted to by a Dr. Laura book, don't bother, just pick this one up instead.  Aside from a lot of Catholic mea culpa in the opening, and Italian cultural tropes, it was heavy on the personal spirituality, and light on the religion... She obviously prays, reads her bible, etc, and "would rather go to my church than take from the government," but aside from "not dragging her husband to church," her faith seems to exist in a complete vacuum. So, if that's a problem for you, you know it's here. (For those of you wondering what the difference is, spirituality is your personal relationship with life, the universe, and everything, usually God; religion is where you go out and worship with other people in a community.)

At the end of the day, it was an interesting little book, and readable enough even for a hardened cynic like me.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Finding the time: blogging, marketing, and ass kicking.

For some people, killing time is a figure of speech.

For me, I break out the garrot.... literally, I used to play Hitman: Blood Money.

Right now, I'm taking Krav Maga, the self defense system of the Israeli military, for when you absolutely positively have to kick someone in the crotch.  I'm also writing scenes for A Pius Stand, the final book of the Pius trilogy, and I've started on a new book, Sanctuary, a novel for Scott "Mossad" Murphy -- because I wanted to write a book where someone who never uses weapons is sent up against an army of gang bangers, armed with machineguns and RPGs.

So, I'm keeping busy while I wait for my beta readers of A Pius Legacy to get back to me.

You didn't think I forgot A Pius Legacy, did you?  Nope, it's still coming out in December (I hope) in time for Christmas..... (I'd like to have it up and running for Black Friday, but I'm not that delusional)

But it's amazing how much time can be sucked up by driving out to Long Island from Queens.  Then doing three hours of Krav Maga/cardio, then trying to fit in reading, writing, and what television I still watch.

Anyway, if I disappear from the blog for long stretches, I apologize.  This blog almost didn't get posted, such is the state of my life right now.

Despite the fans I have -- and I have some very encouraging, uplifting fans-- they don't pay the bills.  So, if I'm doing something that prevents you from buying the book, then by all means, let me know. I get very little feedback outside of a select few, who have lives of their own. This won't stop me from publishing, or writing, since I enjoy the writing, and might as well publish what I produce.

But I have to fight for every minute of time I have devoted to pushing the books, and I'm not sure if it's worth it anymore.  If no one cares, then I might as well roll up the blog and the Facebook pages and dedicate all of my time to just writing and Krav Maga.

So, I must ask you a few things.  Could you folks who have read A Pius Man comment below about the book. Did you like it? Hate it? What parts of it? I have already been told that the blog codes were annoying in the last book, so APL will not include them.

Also -- how many of you have purchased and/or read A Pius Man? If you haven't ..... could you tell me what you're waiting for? If you're waiting for a pricedrop on a paperback edition, I can arrange that. If you want a price drop on the Kindle, you already have it. If you want a hardcover, then by all means, let me know, I can arrange for it.

I'm very easy in most things -- except for sex, you'd have to work for that -- but you have to ask in order to get me to give. My ESP doesn't quite work over the internet.

Now, pardon me, I have to get my ass kicked by a 5'5" Indian girl who tends to elbow me in the throat.

Be well all, and God bless.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Review: Ender's Game

My conservative friends have always told me that any way movie is an anti-War movie, especially if the audience is paying attention.  War is never pretty, and sh-t happens. A lot.  And that's even if the war goes well.

I think I'm going to need to up my connection soon, especially since I'd want to load up the videos and graphics and pictures to go with the review. I may have to upgrade to a bt broadband package before I crash the website.

Welcome to Ender's Game.  Premise: the Earth was attacked by a bug-like species that nearly destroyed us.  We rebelled the invasion by the skin of our teeth, and a little luck.  However, in order to prepare for the next battle, the planet has decided to think differently.

And, in order to do that, we need children.

The concept of children as soldiers is not a new concept.  Just go and watch 300 if you don't believe me. In the world of Ender's Game, these children are trained for warfare via video games, and then glorified groups of lazer tag, and finally full warfare simulations.

And then, we meet Andrew Ender Wiggin, a third child in a world where offspring are regulated to control population growth (the book was writtin in the 1970s, when the world would be overrun by 1995).  He thinks in three dimensions and fights three steps ahead of everybody else.

If you've read the books, you know how the movie goes.  The film took the novel almost page by page, with some liberties taken for time compression and standard movie reversals -- and they've deleted a subplot involving Ender's brother, for which we can all be grateful.

At the end of the day, the movie was surprisingly well-acted, and not just by Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley. I've never seen a 10-year old who can roar back at Indiana Jones. 

And the special effects.  Oh Lord, that was well done.  The special effects, the three dimensional tactics, the execution of the material .... I was surprised.

It was a very well done piece of work from director Gavin Hood -- who made a cameo appearance just long enough to be killed -- and I can't recommend it enough. Ignore the artificial controversy about the author and his political views, they seriously have nothing to do with the film.  It's a great summer movie .... I'm just trying to figure out why they put it in November.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Update and Music blog: an Evanescence song I'll tolerate

Whew.  Yes, I know I've been gone for two weeks. And yes, I think you also deserve more than just a music blog...

Okay, I'll break it to you.  A Pius Man, book two, A Pius Legacy is coming out within the next 6 weeks (depending on the beta readers).

Yes, you heard it.  This will be my third book this year, right after A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller and Codename: Winterborn.  Yes, I am a writing machine. I am unstoppable.  I will crush you....

No, wait, that was my Arnold Schwarzenegger impression, and it doesn't work online. Nuts.

Anyway, as far as A Pius Legacy goes, there is a problem. It's very, very political .... actually, it's probably not as bad as I think it is.  I thought APM was a complete and utter trainwreck of political divisiveness, and I found that it was enjoyed as much by the right-wing Catholic Daria Anne as it was by the left-wing atheist Stuart West.

When people on both sides enjoy it, I guess I did something right.

So, update delivered.  Tell your friends.


Despite what the title says, I'm not exactly against Evanescence, but I don't exactly go out of my way to find them, and if you're not a fan, coming across them by accident takes some doing.  Seriously, I think their popularity peaked around the Daredevil movie .... which probably killed a lot of their popularity, depending on who you talk to (I prefer the director's cut, myself.)

Anyway, this is one of the few songs of theirs that I know offhand... and it's done by Lindsey Stirling. So, I can forgive a lot for the amount of talent put into this.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Review: Marvel's Agents of SHIELD

UPDATE: Apparently, I was right. Who knew? The second episode was supposed to be .... that way.  Why?  Because while we all remember that this is a Joss Whedon show, some of us (me included) have quite deliberately forgotten that Jeph Loeb is involved. Who's Loeb?  Does anyone remember Heroes? That was him. We're lucky AoS hasn't turned into a complete train wreck by now.
Loeb in an interview with TV Line states that "Certainly the second episode was intended to be very much like ‘The Pilot, Part 2,’ because it was really the first time [the characters] could all work together and see who they are. Very much in the same kind of way that the audience is getting to know these characters, these characters are getting to know each other as well. That is the mission. “I think the show is absolutely getting better as we go — and we hope the audience feels that way as well,” he continues. “We’ve absolutely found the show; the idea is to keep watching. It’s very much like a roller coaster. You’ve got to go up the hill before you start coming down the hill at 100 miles-per-hour.”
As I said below  .... tell it to Arrow.

So, where does one begin with Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Should one say “Coulson lives!” and move on? Does one give it a strange look, cross some fingers and toes, and hope it all comes together? Perhaps one just believes in Joss Whedon as nerd deity and move on.

First: do I really have to say *spoiler alert*?

Then, how about we really start with the difference between criticism, and being a trolling / hipster douchebag? For criticisms of MAOS, start with my colleague Matt Bowman, over at Novel Ninja, as he looks at the first and second episodes. Then, you can look at my favorite punching bag, Tor, whine over every little line (actually, the article had been far worse; the original title mentioned "nerd shaming" and implied that it was insulting their target audience... nerds). Or, one better, we can look at "screen rants" talk about already killing off characters -- and that was written around the second episode!

Me? Well, to start with, I follow the three-episode rule followed by TV guide reviewers. Never judge a show by one episode, wait until the show hits its stride. Obviously, we can't all follow the rule, no matter how hard we try. The new Ironside show, for example, took the original tv show with Raymond Burr (known to my generation as an aging Perry Mason) as a cop confined to a wheelchair, and updated it with Blair Underwood, making Ironside a nickname, and turning him into House with a badge … as I didn't like House in the first place, I was turned off in short order.

So, SHIELD … to start with, I like some of the dynamics they've got going. They've got Ming-Na Wen playing Agent Melinda May – former field operative, and now “just the pilot.” There is “Fitz-Simmons,” two scientists who are obligatorily young, perky, adorably socially inept, and accents so thick you can cut them with a machete. There is the obligatory Agent Ward – loner field agent, good-looking, stoic, and doesn't play well with others. And since we have Ward, we must have – Skye! Hackerchist (hacker anarchist) who has no problems blowing classified operations in progress because The People Must Know (no matter who gets killed).

And then, there's Phil Coulson, badass. He is the little man who wasn't there, you never saw him, never noticed him, until he cracks you over the head and whips out his boogeyman gun. He loves his classic cards, his classic car, and indulges in a lot of lateral thinking. How can you hate Coulson? I can't.

Of the first three episodes, we had a solid pilot, an episode that felt like it was cut off from the first draft of the pilot, and episode three, The Asset, which felt like someone said "enough setup, let's get us a plot." It's got a nice, stable foundation for an ensemble cast.

Is it perfect? No, I've got some problems...

Yes, problems.
[More below the break]

Monday, October 14, 2013

Lindsey Stirling sucks

Or, to be more precise, Lindsey Stirling does a Dracula (the series) themed video.

Yes, I made a "vampires suck" joke....

Oh, shut up and play the video. Enjoy. No one reads my blog on federal holidays anyway.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Interview with Jo Linsdell.

Tell us a bit about your latest book Virtual Book Tours: Effective Online Book Promotion From the Comfort of Your Own Home

Virtual Book Tours are a great way to create a buzz for a new release or to put life back into an older publication. In this book I take you through everything you need to know to be able to set up and carry out a successful virtual book tour.
The book is divided into 4 main sections for easy navigation:
1) What is a Virtual Book Tour?
2) How to organise your own tour
3) Promoting a tour
4) Useful resources
You'll find it packed with links, tips, and advice to help make your tour a hit.

Why do authors need your book?

Marketing is part of being a writer. Regardless of how you're published (traditionally or self-published), you will, at some point, need to do some marketing. Virtual book tours are one of the most effective methods of creating a buzz about your book and have numerous benefits. In this book I cover everything you need to know to organise and carry out a virtual book tour. Even if you decide not to do a virtual book tour, you'll still find this book useful as it's packed full of marketing ideas and links to resources.

Why did you decide to write a book about virtual book tours?

I've done several successful virtual book tours for my own books and have worked with book tour companies and authors for years hosting them on my sites. Over the years I've therefore gained a lot of experience in doing virtual book tour both from the author and host point of view. As I often get asked for advice about doing them from other authors I decided to put all the information together and created Virtual Book Tours: Effective Online Book Promotion From the Comfort of Your Own Home

What is the first thing you recommend authors do when they decide to organise a virtual book tour?

Put together a media kit. In creating a media kit you have all the information regarding your book, you as an author, and your virtual book tour, all in the one place. This makes it a useful reference tool for you, but also a valuable tool you can use during preparations for your tour. It looks professional and creates a good impression. I also makes life easier for your hosts as they have all the information they might need for your post all in the one place.

You created the cover art for the book yourself. What was your inspiration for the design?
I wanted a cover that was thumbnail friendly as, more often than not, it gets seen online in that format. That meant the text needed to be easy to read and the whole look needed to be clutter free. Too many details or fancy fonts don't look good in thumbnails. I also wanted an image that quickly portrayed what the book was about. I choose the theme "sending your book around the world" and played around with some ideas based on this idea. I'm really pleased with how the cover came out.

Why did you choose to self publish using Amazon's KDP program?
I've always been very pro self publishing. For me, it's always been my plan A. I choose Amazon because it's the leader in its field. Everyone knows Amazon. Using the site is super easy and through KDP your book can be available to the public in just 12 hours from hitting the publish button.

I like that through KDP setting up a free day is easy. It's a great way to spread the word about your book and get readers to take notice. I like that you can update your book information as and when you please and have full control over pricing. They also have one of the best customer services I've come across. If that's not enough, they bought Goodreads earlier this year (one of the top sites for book lovers).

You're best know for your best selling children's picture books. Why the change in genre?
For me, it's not about thinking outside the box. The box simply doesn't exist. I like to experiment with my writing and although I've had most success as an author and illustrator of children's picture books, I'm always trying out new genres. When I get an idea that gets me excited, like this book about virtual book tours, I go with it.

You're a mother to a 5 year old and a 2 year old. How do you find the time for writing and marketing?
My kids definitely keep me busy but I've learnt to make the most of the time I get. I do most of my writing in the evenings once they've gone to bed. Sometimes my husband will take the kids out for the morning to give me a break and give me a few hours to work on bigger projects.

During the day I hop on and off my social media pages to network. I have the apps installed on my phone so I can visit and engage with my contacts even when I'm not near my computer.

I use sites like Social Oomph to program some content to post at scheduled times. I do the same for some posts to my Facebook pages. This gives me a constant online presence without needing to actually be online all the time. I also program my blogs ahead of time. When you have young kids anything can happen and so you need to prepare for the unexpected. By having some content programmed in advance I give myself a safety net and so don't need to stress about keeping up with things as much.

What's next?
I'm currently working on another children picture story book The Bedtime Book, a series of non-fiction books for writers and authors about using social media, and some new collaborations as an illustrator. I like to keep myself busy ;)

Where can people find out more about you and your books?
On my website www.JoLinsdell.com

Anything else you'd like to add?

Virtual Book Tours: Effective Online Book Promotion From the Comfort of Your Own Home is available to buy at the discounted price of $2.99 for the whole month of September to celebrate its release (normal price $4.99) http://bit.ly/VBTKindle

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Review: Mind Over Psyche, by Karina Fabian

Some days, it feels like Karina Fabian is being reviewed on this blog every three months. It's not entirely accurate, but close enough for government work.  Especially government right now.

So, if you remember Mind Over Mind, you don't need much of an introduction.  If not....
Deryl isn’t crazy; he’s psychic.  Desperate to escape the insane asylum, Deryl  teleports to Kanaan, a world of telepaths who regard him as an oracle.  But freedom comes at a price.  The Kanaan expect their oracle to teach them to use their powers to wage war.  Meanwhile, he’s falling in love, but to be with her means to share his psyche, which could drive her insane.  Most dangerous of all, he hasn’t escaped the Call of the Master, enemy of the Kanaan, whose telepathic manipulations were why Deryl was committed in the first place.  Now, the Master will forge Deryl’s powers into a weapon to kill all he loves or destroy his mind trying.
First, I must say that I like this world she's created.  It's one of the most comprehensive scifi worlds I've seen in a while -- one of the better planet-as-character routine I've seen since Dune, and possibly one of the better Christian science fiction premises I've seen in print since C.S. Lewis penned Perelandra.  We've got flora, exotic fauna, aliens who mate for live, like wolves or Catholics, and did we mention that there's a war coming?

At the end of the day, one of the more interesting threats is Deryl himself.  Sorry, I've got a thing for where the hero is one's own worst enemy. And in his case, if he's not careful, he's going to develop psychokinetic abilities and level Tokyo....

Oh, wait, he already has telekinetic abilities.

Yes, everyone's in trouble.

We also have an interesting introduction to the Twilight Zone. Season 1 to be precise. Literally, there's a section narrated by Rod Serling. And it's quite awesome.  Not to mention that there's a large segment of the novel that looks like The Last Temptation of Christ meets The Prisoner.

The book can be broken down into three sections, so much so that they're almost like vignettes strung together.  First, there's the incident that precipitates the accidental teleportation to an alien world.  Next, we have the Oz effect -- as in "we ain't in Kansas no more" -- complete with your standard writing conflicts of man vs. nature, man vs. self, and a man vs. society, all to varying degrees along the way. Much of it is interesting, though there are moments you might want to take Deryl and smack some sense into him. The book's strengths lay in the exploration of the alien world via the two "sidekicks," Joshua (Deryl's friend/shrink in the last book), and Tasmae, the local alien contact.

Then, part three, we actually have man vs. man .... if "the man" in this case is an alien who can kill you with his brain and throw you into a nice, ready- made nightmare. So, fun.

I like the world, I like the characters ... though there are some scenes that were exceptionally drawn out. I liked The Prisoner as much as the next guy -- maybe more than the next guy -- but when we, the readers, already know what is and isn't real, hallucinations can get tedious.

Thankfully, by the end of the day Mind Over Psyche is the payoff we wanted from Mind Over Mind.  Round three should be interesting.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Interview with Karina Fabian of Mind Over Psyche.

If you don't remember Karina Fabian ... that's too long a story to get into here, just click on "Fabian" keyword below, and you'll find her quick enough.

If you don't remember the first book in this series, Mind Over Mind, you can see my review of it here.

Now for a look at Mind Over Psyche.

Deryl isn’t crazy; he’s psychic.  Desperate to escape the insane asylum, Deryl  teleports to Kanaan, a world of telepaths who regard him as an oracle.  But freedom comes at a price.  The Kanaan expect their oracle to teach them to use their powers to wage war.  Meanwhile, he’s falling in love, but to be with her means to share his psyche, which could drive her insane.  Most dangerous of all, he hasn't escaped the Call of the Master, enemy of the Kanaan, whose telepathic manipulations were why Deryl was committed in the first place.  Now, the Master will forge Deryl’s powers into a weapon to kill all he loves or destroy his mind trying.

Interview Questions for Mind Over Psyche by Karina Fabian
1.  In Mind Over Mind, you had a romance between Joshua and Sachiko.  Will we see more of that in Mind Over Psyche?
No.  It’s Deryl’s turn to fall in love, and it will be a very different experience from Joshua’s.  For one, Tasmae is an alien.  Kanaan mate for life and when they meet their soul mate, it’s usually a compulsion.  They know, on a biological and telepathic level, that this is their soul mate, and they figure out the rest later.  Of course, Deryl being human makes things a little confusing for both him and Tasmae.  There’s more danger involved, as one or the other could drive each other insane in the literal sense.  Kanaan bonding is more than joining hearts or bodies.  They link minds.  Readers of Mind Over Mind know that’s traumatic enough for Deryl even with limited human contact.  What’s worse, however, is that Tasmae is under the psychic influence of her ancestor’s memories—her ancestor who had gone mad.  Add to that the fact that some of the Kanaan close to Tasmae see Deryl as a threat, not an oracle, and you can understand why Joshua is really worries about Deryl and Tasmae ever having the chance to be alone together.
2.  Joshua practices a form of psychiatry called neuro linguistic programming.  He used it extensively in Mind Over Mind.  Will he use it in Mind Over Psyche?
Some, but it really doesn’t work with aliens.  He will, however, save a child’s life with it, and will use some techniques to help Deryl and Tasmae out of danger.  This book, he also gets to exercise his musical talents.
3.  What is your favorite scene?
Tasmae is deeply under the influence of her ancestor’s memories and the pain and confusion have made her violent.  They’re causing Deryl pain a well, and he begs Joshua to help her.  He’s a psychiatric prodigy, right?  Never mind that he’s 19, an intern, has no drugs or orderlies as backup and oh, yeah, is dealing with aliens.  I loved imagining what Joshua, Deryl, and especially Tasmae were thinking and doing.  Crazy can be a lot of fun…when it’s not real.
4.  What’s the challenge about writing about a psychic people?
They don’t communicate just in words, but also images, emotions, and simple knowing.  For example, why have a name for a person when you can pass on the knowledge of who that person is?  Ditto for places.  However, to reach a reader, I have to use words.  No one wants to read “the captain of the Kanaan guard” ten times a page, so some characters needed names, and I needed a reason for them to have one.  In the end, humans and the Barin (who also have verbal language) name certain things.  This will be fun in Mind Over All, because Joshua will joking name a young boy who clings to him, “Axel,” and it sticks, to Sachiko’s ire.
Also, with no written language, there needs to be a way to preserve history.  This is vital in Mind Over Psyche, as memories are stored in psychic plants.  You experience things as the person experienced them—no sanitizing, no skimming, no skipping the yucky parts (unless the plant allows it.)
5.  Tell us about the everyn.  They’re more than just small dragons, right?
Oh, yes.  The everyn are part of the sentient animals species called Bondfriends.  They have a symbiotic psychic relationship with certain Kanaan (also called Bondfriends).  Without this psychic bonding, an everyn reverts to a fully animal state, while a Kanaan will ignore their physical state until they die before they reach puberty.  Bondfriends life separate from “regular” Kanaan, who don’t’ really understand their psychic relationship.  Also, because they are an animal/person mind, so to speak, they are a bit wilder than the Kanaan.
6. Where do you get your ideas? 

All over—from TV, from conversations with friends, from something on the news (or Facebook), from another book I’ve read, from a call for submissions for an anthology… There’s actually a psychological term for it: cognitive disinhibition. People with CD do not organize/file away information as well as people who don’t have it. As a result, we have a lot of stuff floating around in our minds, synapses snapping around until they link up with something else, and BOOM! Idea! Interestingly, schizophrenics also have CD, but on a more extreme level. So to all the people in college who thought I was inhibited—HA!

7. What’s a common mistake new writers make?

Following “rules” too closely. Really, there aren’t rules, just guidelines. For example, I had a friend who tried to remove every single adverb in her novel because “the rules” say “No –ly words.” Those words are a legitimate part of the English language and used judiciously (Look! -ly word), they can have an impact.

8.  You write a lot of different stuff—horror, fantasy, science fiction, comedy, devotionals…  What won’t you write?
Erotica, for one, or anything with an excess of gratuitous sex or violence. I have a rule for writing: If I’m not comfortable reading it aloud to my kids, I won’t write it. I've put aside novels because the characters want to share more than I’m comfortable writing.

Also, I won’t write something deliberately hurtful or insulting. I don’t hold back my opinions, nor do I resist a good joke just because it might offend someone. People are too prone these days to take the most innocuous stuff personally—or “personally” on behalf of someone else or some particular demographic. I spent too much of my childhood with a thin skin; life is more fun when you realize a joke is a joke.

I sometimes take on controversial subjects. The Mind Over series has a subplot concerning abortion, for example. I try to put myself aside and stay true to my characters’ feelings and attitudes. I won’t go so far as to say I’m always balanced; again, I write what I’d want my kids to read. So, while I won’t write a pro-abortion story I also don’t cast the woman who had one as the obvious villain. Life is complex, but there is a right and wrong.

9. You often decry on Facebook that you have too many ideas. How do you decide which to write first?
I have a rubric:
1. Will I get paid? (as in right away)
2. Am I on deadline?
3. Do I have a contract or an expectation from a publisher?
4. Will it sell more books?
5. Has the story grabbed me?

Sometimes, these blur, and once in a while, they go out the window. For example, I had an idea for a flash piece that I sent to a friend’s website. It will earn me nothing, and no one was expecting it, but the idea did not want to let go.

10. Is there a world of another writer you’d like to write in?
Madeleine L’ Engle’s Time Trilogy. Daydreaming up stories about Charles Wallance is what got me started. In fact, Mind Over Mind started in high school about Charles Wallace as an adult. Of course, it has radically changed! Deryl is nothing like Charles Wallace now, and the worlds are totally different. However, I still have one story that would work best with Charles Wallace. It takes place when he’s in his seventies and must again go in and out of people like he did in Swiftly Tilting Planet. One day, I plan to write it and use technology instead of withining—unless, of course Madeleine L’Engles’ estate wants to contact me about it!

I have been invited to write a novel in another author’s universe, incidentally. I don’t want to say more, though, until we have something more concrete. Let me just say, it’s a very interesting world premise and potentially a lot of fun.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Guest post: Karina Fabian of Mind Over Psyche.

Guest blogs: the lazy blogger's best friend ... well, it's either that or Darren Brown Tickets. This week features the return of Karina Fabian, author of Mind Over Mind, Mind Over Psyche, Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator, and creator of zombie killers, interstellar rescue nuns, and dragon private investigators.

The Joy of Having Written
By Karina Fabian

Every now and then, we have Tabata week at the gym I attend.  If you don’t know Tabata, think of it as being in labor:  20 seconds of hard pushing and pain, followed by ten seconds of rest.  Of course, drugs are discouraged and your trainer might not appreciate it if you snarl, “This is your fault!” but it only lasts an hour, and then you’re done until the next day.  Sometimes, I enjoy going to the gym, but it had been a crazy week, anyway, and my motivation was low, even less so for Tabata, but I went. 

Why?  Even though I didn't look forward to going, I enjoyed having gone.

That’s how it goes with writing sometimes.  There are plenty of times when I don’t feel like writing.  Sometimes, other things in life seem much more important, whether planning a surprise for my husband’s retirement or doing dishes.  Sometimes, it’s looking at my Amazon sales and realizing that, should something horrible happen to Rob, I would not be able to support my family on my writing.  Rarely, but on occasion, a bad review or comment from someone will make me wonder why I bother.

But why I bother in those moments is the same reason I bother to go to the gym:  Even if I don’t want to write, I invariably enjoy having written.

There’s a definite satisfaction in a scene well crafted, a character who comes alive on the keyboard, or a sentence that makes your eyes sting with its poignancy.  (Just wrote one of those today, in fact.)   There’s getting that message out of the blue from a reader saying they loved my book, or from an editor asking when the next story is coming.  There’s that hope that this story, this novel, will be the one to break through—but of course, that will never happen if I don’t write it.  I know, too, that I’m in this for the long term.  I love writing.  I love having written, and I love going back over my own stories and marveling anew at the adventures I lived without ever leaving my chair.

After eight months at the gym, including four or five weeks of Tabata, I've lost 25 pounds.  That puts me at just under 145.  One of the ladies asked me what my ultimate goal was.  I suppose I could go for 120 or 125, which is what my weight from my teens to my early thirties, but I realize that it doesn't matter as much to me, any longer.  Maybe I’ll get there, but if I can stay around 140 and keep going with my exercising, then I’m satisfied.

You know, I have to keep that same attitude with my writing.  Someday, I may make the NYT best-seller list.  I may find my Amazon sales grow enough to let my husband quit his day job.  But if that never happens, then if I can keep writing and producing and find readers who love my work, then I’m satisfied.  Even when my motivation is low, and things around me discourage me from my craft, I keep pounding away at those words, the same way I pound away at the weights (minus the labor-like groaning, of course.)

After all, the real satisfaction is in having written.

Big:  Winner of the 2010 INDIE for best Fantasy (Magic, Mensa and Mayhem), Karina Fabian has plenty of voices in her head without being psychic.  Fortunately, they fuel her many stories, like the Mind Over trilogy. Mrs. Fabian teaches writing and book marketing seminars, but mostly is concerned with supporting her husband, Rob Fabian as he makes the exciting leap from military officer to civilian executive, getting her kids through high school and college, and surviving daily circuit torture…er, circuit training.  Read about her adventures at http://fabianspace.com.   

Monday, September 30, 2013

Guest blog: Writing Non-Fiction, with Jo Linsdell

In the usual tradition of this blog, when things get tight, the pressure builds, and I can't find time to write anything.... that's when it's time for a guest blog. :)   See, easy ... unless you can hand out ipods, Virgin Media TV packages, or free books ... this is easier.

Today, we'll be hosting Jo Linsdell.  If you're a writer on Facebook, you've run into madam Linsdell before. I even had a Facebook interview with her not too long ago. Jo Linsdell is a best selling author and illustrator, award winning blogger, and freelance writer. She is also the founder and organiser of the annual online event Promo Day (www.PromoDay.info). Her latest release Virtual Book Tours: Effective Online Book Promotion From the Comfort of Your Own Home is now available from Amazon. Find out more about her at her website www.JoLinsdell.com

Writing Non-Fiction

By Jo Linsdell

I'm a multi genre author and also an illustrator so my writing process tends to differ depending on the project I'm working on. For my non-fiction books the first two steps are always the same though 1) make the cover art 2) write up the table of contents.
By making the cover art I get a feel for the book and set the tone. It also becomes "real". This is a great motivator for me and helps me focus on finishing it. Another benefit to making the cover early on is that it means I can do some pre-release promotion even before I've finished writing the book.

The table of contents is basically the structure for my book. I start by brainstorming the topic I'm writing about. For my latest book Virtual Book Tours: Effective Online Book Promotion From the Comfort of Your Own Home the topic was virtual book tours. I made a list of the questions I get asked most related to virtual book tours and they essentially became the chapters of my book. All I needed to do was put them into a logical order. With a clear plan for the book I knew exactly what to write for each chapter and book quickly came to life.

The idea was to break it down into 3 main sections; pre-tour, during-tour, and post-tour, covering everything a person would need to know to be able to set up and carry out a successful virtual book tour. I then added a forth section packed full of useful resources. The book pretty much wrote itself.

I think the main reason I found it so easy to write this book was that I already had a lot of experience and knowledge of my topic (I've carried out numerous successful virtual book tours for my own books and have been hosting others on my blogs for years. Some times working directly with the author, some times with book tour companies). Virtual book tours are also my favourite, and most effective, marketing method for promoting my books. I'm therefore passionate about the topic and enjoy talking about it. These two factors are the essentials for writing a good non-fiction. You need to know your topic and be passionate about it.

As the reader goes through your book it will be obvious whether you're an expert in your topic or not. Your excitement and enthusiasm about your topic should shine through from start to finish. If it does, you'll have them excited about the topic too and eager to use their new found knowledge.

What are the first steps you take when writing a non-fiction book? As a reader, what do you look for it a non-fiction book?

Monday, September 23, 2013

THIS! IS! 400!

This is the 400th post for this blog.  Can you believe I've been doing this for six years?  It's only felt like sixty on this end.  Along the way, I've shared with you how I invest myself in my work, dissected my life to show you how it enters my writing, given you the story of everything that has been important in my life. You folks know when I'm single, when I'm hurting, and when I'm going to lose myself in video games.  I've shared my wonder at emerging technology, my irritation at politics and the comic book industry, my love of reading and even the music du jour.

I'd like to thank you all for putting up with me that long. I never thought I was that interesting.  Believe it or not, this blog has lasted longer than some relationships I've had.

And now, I have an almost constant readership of some 2000 people, give or take a few hundred.  Wow. If it were in my power, I'd start posting gift voucher codes to thank you all for the time and energy you've spent visiting my blog and reading everything.  Now if only you would all buy A Pius Man and Codename Winterborn....

Yes, I'm joking.  But you can't blame a guy for trying, can you? :)

So, since I can't hand out gift voucher codes on this blog (and I'm not sure where I'd get them, to be honest), what do I have for you today?  Well, for one thing, I have a brand new review of my novel Codename: Winterborn, written with my co-author Allan Yoskowitz, so that'd be fun.  Also, I have a new video from Lindsey Stirling.

Enjoy all, and thank you again.

Monday, September 16, 2013

DC comics death from Above: writing for management

Starfire, bad ass.
In the not too distant past, I did an article about how DC comics seems to have a pathological problem with sex.

This month, the problems have really started to hit me.

Keep in mind, the last DC comic story I read was "Final Crisis," and that one didn't even make sense.  Once they went to the New 52, "One More Day"ed every relationship, and started warping the very nature of their characters, I have only glanced at the comics from time to time, usually to my horror.
Starfire, fashion victim

It was bad enough when DC comics took Starfire -- an alien who was fairly open about her sex life, and was completely monogamous -- and turned her into a .... I'm not entirely certain that the word "slut" is a strong enough word. Not only did they have to go out of their way to make the character amoral when it came to sex, but also gave her a costume redesign to match.

I mean, really? Who comes up with this stuff?

Then Catwoman's character redesign was .... also horrible.

I figured, okay, not a problem, that's two comics out of 52, and one of those writers is Judd Winick, who is a crappy writer to start with (Really? Let's bring back Jason Todd? That's a good idea by you?).

And then some of the most recent stupidity hit the fan.

batwoman.jpgTake, for example, Batwoman, a "Lesbian hero in the DC universe."  That, in and of itself, doesn't effect me. After all, I figured out a while ago that the DC policy on women created since the late 80s is simple: if you're not a woman dating a Superhero, or if you don't have superpowers in the DC universe, you're a Lesbian (Footnote: see Maggie Sawyer, Metropolis cop; Renee Montoya, Gotham Cop, Batwoman... you get the idea).

Here's the problem.  After building up for months the concept that "Oh, Batwoman's going to get married to her girlfriend," DC pulls the plug on the whole concept.

Now, I don't know if you're aware of this, but comic books are usually planned out at least one year in advance. This allows for planning, crossovers, editing, illustrating, etc. You can't start a 6-12 month story arc without approval.  You can't start something and blink at the last minute.

And yet, this is what DC comics has done.

If you told me that, at the last minute, someone had old religious feeling kick in and they felt they had to swerve away from a lesbian marriage .... I wouldn't believe you.

Why?  Well, aside from the fact that a lot of people don't give a crap about gay marriage (my opinion on it is here), you have.....

1) As I said above, the "new 52" imposed a "One More Day"- like idiocy on the DCU.  No one in the entire DC universe is married anymore.  Barry Allen, married forever? Not anymore. Superman and Lois married for all of the 90s? He's now dating Wonder Woman.  Marriage is, after all, for old people. Who cares if your loyal readership of decades have grown up with these characters in solid, committed relationships? Teenagers are where [DC thinks] the money is.  (Personally, I'd wager my money on the middle aged professionals doing a 9-5 and have a few bucks to catch up to Superman this week)

2) I can't see religion being a factor, given what was done to Catwoman and Starfire.  And, after cancelling any wedding for Batwoman, DC decided that they wanted artwork of a naked Harley Quinn committing suicide. Which leads me to...

3) Is it just me, or is every active writing decision that DC Makes centered around pandering?
  • "Hey, we'll have some gay superheroes!" And make it a green lantern from an alternate universe who gets almost zero screen time, as well as one of a hundred interchangeable green lanterns.
  • "We'll make a title heroine who's a Lesbian, yay!" as long as she doesn't get locked into a stable relationship, but we can see her make out with her girlfriend.
  • "Let's have two of our strongest female leads turn into sex crazed women!"
  • "Naked Harley Quinn!"
Seriously? Who's in charge of DC comic nowadays? The same five year olds who swear on MMORPGs because they just discovered these great new words?

My point? I'm not sure if I have one, short of "top-down control is bad."  I used to think it was deranged when there was an infinite amount of crises at DC.  "Oh, hey, we're going to continually shake up the DC universe every month."  But those at least created some interesting stories and some good writing along the way, such as the three year War of the Rings in Green Lantern, or the series 52.

This .... all this has just resulted in bad writing. Does anyone know what's going on anymore?  Once it was editorial lockdown from above, where everyone was in lockstep with the crisis du jour. Now, it looks like no one is in charge except for refugees from my old high school.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9-11, and Nightwish meets Lord of the Rings

Today is September 11th.

Twelve years later....

Lucky for you folks, I haven't really anything new to add to the post from the tenth Anniversary.

However, I do have a new review for A Pius Man.

If you got the expanded edition of Lord of the Rings, you will have noted that it comes out somewhere around fifteen hours.

Here it is in ten minutes.

Monday, August 26, 2013

MORE reviews and interviews

Yup, it's strange that I'm still posting these nearly six months after the book has been published, but things got strange, in short order.

First off, I've got an interview with Christopher Bunn over on his site. I think you might want to read it for his commentary more than for my answers.

Second, Glenda Bixler has written a review of A Pius Man.  And I think she likes it. A lot.

Third, there will be no DragonCon reports this year... I wanted to see a small handful of people, and it wasn't worth the money. I'm breaking even with A Pius Man right now, and every dime I have is being invested in marketing. While I would have liked to ambush John Ringo or Peter David, or even Jim Butcher with a novel... Butcher and David come to New York, a friend of mine has discussed mentioning it to Ringo.  Guests this year include Amy Acker, Steven Amell, Kelly Hu, and Eliza Dushku, all of which I've never seen before.... but that's four people, and it's not worth $2000 and six days of my life.

We'll see how things go.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that you can get both Codename: Winterborn and A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller, on Kindle, for free, during Labor day week?  No?  Well... it is.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Report on the Catholic Writer's Guild Conference. Live!

If you're wondering, like I did, why the CWG conference was "Catholic Writer's Guild Conference. Live!" (As opposed to what, Undead? No, only when Karina Fabian is President...just kidding). Actually, they have an online conference as well.


This post is going to be a collection of little events and moments that I really enjoyed.  I mostly went there just to hang out, and meet people that I only knew online. So I'm treating a lot of what went on as confidential.  There were one or two panels I went two that were just plain fun, and I'll write up later.

The CWG conference was in Sumerset, NJ.  While this is usually a problem for me-- like most New Yorkers, I believe Woody Allen's old line that "If Jersey's the punchline, you don't need the rest of the joke"--so I decided to go for one day.  Less time in Jersey, and, well, $40 cheaper. Did I mention I was a cheapsake? (Actually, I"m a writer in NYC, with these taxes, Donald Trump probably counts pennies here)

My arrival was surprising.  Not that the convention center and hotel were anything impressive. After going to DragonCon for five years, nothing impresses me anymore.

What surprised me was showing up at the registration counter, and having someone identify me by sight.

"Do you know who I am?" she asked. And, even if I didn't know my favorite Sherlock Holmes author offhand, I could clearly see her nametag.  Ann Margaret Lewis, author of Murder in the Vatican.

One of my favorite authors could identify me immediately. Squee!

I covered the exhibit hall in about five to fifteen minutes on the first round (later rounds would find the author of the Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living, which I enjoyed quite a bit), then went to the CWG opening meeting.  Most of it consisted of what the Guild does, and how it operates, and how their Seal of Approval happens.

However, the panel consisted of three people I know / knew of-- Ellen Gable Hrkach (more on her later), Ann Lewis, and Karina Fabian.  In fact, at one point, before the meeting started, it was interesting. Karina Fabian was handing out slips for her free Kindle Download of Greater Treasures. She went through the room, handing them out.
She was about to hand me one, when I told her, "I read it."
"Great! Now you can review it."
I flashed her my business card. "I already did."
"John! You came!"  And she hugged me.
Come to think of it, I think she hugged me about 3-5 times that day.  I could be wrong.

After that meeting, there was coffee.  I hung around the coffee machine, planting flyers (because I'm stealthy like that), and taking them back when Karina Fabian handed them to me (she's better), and talking with a friend of hers, Arthur Powers, and someone else (I forget who).  When I mention my Anti-DaVinci Code, A Pius Man, I had positive reactions (which consisted of "Thank you, God! When are you published?"), Mr. Powers said, "I think I know that title. I handle all of them at CatholicFiction.net."

I didn't know my books were that memorable.

Oh, a random event.
Passerby: "Where's the CWG booth?"
Me: "Just go past Pope Francis and go straight up the middle."
Passerby: "Pope Francis is here?"
Me: "The cardboard cutout."
Passerby:  "Oh."

Later, in the exhibition hall, I chatted up the representative from the Chesterton Society, Richard Aleman. I later found out he was one of their authors.  I told him about my book, and my historian background, and promptly suggested I take a job with the Chesterton Academy, out in Minnesota. I was then informed that an editor from Chesterton Press (different organization) was looking for me, which was strange, because I had said hello to him that morning, making certain that my badge was at eye level the whole time.

So, I hung around the CWG booth, awaiting his return.

As I wander, meek and wary, I was approached by a youthful middle aged woman (when her hair is going slightly pale, and she has the energy of Stan Lee on a sugar rush, that is youthful middle age) who was about 4'11", maybe 5'.  She saw that my tag was CWG, and asked about what I wrote.
"I write under Declan Finn. I wrote a book called A Pius Man."
Her face lit up like a child on Christmas morning, and she shoot my hand vigorously, exclaiming "It's an honor to meet you. I loved your book. I know the review that I gave you wasn't a perfect review but it was an honest review, and that's important.  And you really should keep writing, no matter what anyone says because you're a great writer. Are you coming to my presentation later? Your book is on kindle, right? I'm doing a presentation on how to sell your kindle book, and you should come to it."
As you can tell, I paid attention to every word she said, but I was stuck at "You're honored to meet me?" [Blink, blink, blink.]
I think it was one of the happier moments of my life. I had fans. Who knew?
Oh, and "this one" is Ellen Gable Hrkach, the President of the Catholic Writer's Guild.
I told you we'd be getting back to her.

At the end of the day, it was a pleasure to finally meet all the folks who I've talked to for years. They are great, enthusiastic people, and I loved every one of them. It was a great opportunity, and I look forward to doing it again. (Yes, again. I have family doing something in Chicago next year, at the same time as the CWG conference is going on. I look forward to doing this again. If they're looking for a fighting and writing panel, they have my number. Hint, hint. :)

Monday, August 19, 2013

SFCS -- "Strong Female Character Syndrome."

I believe it was Stuart West who told me in private correspondence that he appreciated how many strong female characters I have. I was a little thrown there because it took me a moment to figure out what he was talking about.

In my novels, I have Manana Shushurin, who's a spy that's more James Bond than George Smiley.  She reads, likes music, has a degree from Wittenberg university .... has no social life, and technically, lives with her mother (technically, I say, because she really lives in her office). She also has a secret that's eating a hole in her life.

I also have Maureen McGrail.  She's an Interpol detective, local Dublin cop, relentless, tenacious, and she knows about three martial arts.  She's also pining for a guy who came into her life, swept her off of her feet (just by being himself, really) and disappeared, without showing even a hint of romantic interest in her.

Then there's Wilhelmina Goldberg, who is 4'11", computer nerd, daughter of two esoteric languages nerds. She likes science fiction and fantasy, programs her computer to talk like characters out of Lord of the Rings, and has a subscription to Security magazine.

In context, I should point out that Stuart was using the strong female character comment as a segue into a completely different point, an issue he found in my writing. (Apparently, I shouldn't be putting in bust size as far as describing a female character.  I neglected to tell Stuart that if I knew anything about clothing, I would probably include men's jacket sizes to paint a clearer, more accurate picture of them, too. But I don't know any men who are the sizes I need. Me? OCD?  Nah....)

In any case, the SFC term struck me, and stuck with me.

And then there was this article, entitled I hate Strong Female Characters.  If you read through it, you might find a few points to agree with, and a few problems.

Now, I agree with the author on the initial point.  I also have problems with the SFC label. I really do, because it tends to detract from, oh, the point. In the example they used of Buffy-- she was smart, witty, with outside the box solutions to non-vampire problems (shall we start with the fertilizer bomb in the high school, or the rocket launcher?).  But "Strong" is the only descriptor one can come up with?

In my own work, I spent so much time on developing characters like Manana and Wilhelmina, their quirks and habits and hobbies, that I feel a little awkward if the best description anyone can come up with about them is just "strong."

Though you want my problem with this author?

1)  "I want good complex characters!"

.... And then, let's focus completely on Buffy, because she's the STRONG character.... and ignore Willow, who saves the day repeatedly, but is physically as strong as your average anemic? Faith, who's as physically strong as Buffy, but a broken character? How about Cordelia, who starts out a vacuous California mean girl, and becomes more interesting within the first half of season 1? Anya, who goes through a fairly strange character arc of her own?

And, while they're talking about complex characters, they boiled Buffy down to only "SFC." How about witty? Smart? Creative? The example used in the article was the end point of a two-episode arc exposing just how vulnerable Buffy really is. Yes, she's got superpowers, but she's still a teenager, with all the problems that comes with it, in addition to waging a constant war against everything that came to kill her, swallow the Earth, etc. The author managed to ignore the entire point of a two-part story!

Who demands good complex characters! and then ignores them when s/he gets them?  If this article had said that the "SFC" label shoved a character into a box and left them there, then I could agree to some degree.  But this author seems to be guilty of doing just that.

2) I want a 1:1 ratio of complex characters, male and female! 

The author prattles on about Peggy Carter of Captain America: The First Avenger, complaining that she was unbalanced and cartoonish, making a lot of assumptions.

The author mentions that Peggy Carter shooting Captain America's shield is a temper tantrum that no guy would have gotten away with. Obviously, this person never saw the 100 generic Stupid People Tricks that are on cable, and mostly male.  The author assumed that in firing, Peggy had been too stupid to not be listening to the toymaker Stark prattle on about his cool toys for however long she'd been in his general orbit. The author also assumed that no one in the entire room knew that the shield was bulletproof-- which is kind of like people in Q's lab not knowing to duck on a regular basis.

The author then insists that this "over-the-top" reaction is because she's one of two women with a speaking part, and there be more women on screen to counter stuff like this. (Which is odd, since I counted four -- which included a grandma with a tommy gun, and a SHIELD agent at the end of the film).

My real problem?  First, the author makes these above assumptions and then kvetches that they could have shoe-horned in more women. Why? Just to shoe-horn in more women. So we could have a 1:1 ratio of women in the film. Really?

Hey, maybe we could have put in more cardboard cutouts. Besides, if you really want equality, then Captain America: The First Avenger, was perfectly equal. There were only two complex characters in the whole film.  Tommy Lee Jones was playing....Tommy Lee Jones.... Zola was Mad Scientist #2 ... The Red Skull was Psycho Villain #6 ... Eskine was "Dr. Littleoldmun" from Mel Brooks' High Anxiety. And Stark was very much "Howard Hughes Carbon Copy #1."  Outside of the sidekick Bucky (Plucky Sidekick #9), are any of Captain America's team referred to by name?

In short, Carter and Rodgers were the only two characters of any substance in the film. This isn't a complaint. I'm sure they were plenty deep in character design, but there was little enough of it on the screen. Not to mention-- it's a movie. If you're Peter Jackson, you get nine hours of films for develop all of your character. If you're a Marvel film, you have, at most two hours and thirty minutes.  If you have two well-written and developed characters, you're ahead of the game.  I feel fortunate to have one, some days.

But for the 1:1 ratio this author wants?

Maybe this author would have liked more 2D characters. As she suggest, let's gender swap.... Dr. Zola?  So we can have a weak, simpering little woman be bullied by Tommy Lee Jones? Dr. Erskine? So we can have a little grandmother figure play the martyr?  Hey, we could gender swap Tommy Lee Jones, and have him played by Kathy Bates!  Why not have the Red Skull played by Angelina Jolie?

Now, a reasonable argument I got from Karina Fabian is from the point of view that, there were certainly a heck of a lot more women in the WW2 military than were seen in the film. There were secretaries, WACs, women who transported planes, codebreakers, nurses, etc.  That way, we could have had a lot of women.... but they would have been in the background, and probably would have completely boiled away this author's argument.

3) Women are at the back of the bus...um, movie poster, like Black Widow.

"Strong women are supposed to kick ass and keep their mouth shut." Really?



How about the fact that there were maybe five deep moments in the entire film, and Black Widow was in two of them (The five moments were Stark and Banner in Lab, Stark and Rodgers reconcile, Coulson, interrogating Loki, and Black Widow and Barton, post-brainwashing....six scenes, if you count Black Widow and Bruce Banner in India, giving her half the deep moments in the film).

Oh, hey, how about Sam Jackson? Maybe we should say The Avengers was racist, because he was in the back of the poster?

I'm sorry, but unless you're Iron Man or Thor, you're in the back of this poster.

4) Where's Thor?

Seriously, where's the movie Thor in this discussion?  You know, the movie that was mostly Kat Denning and Natalie Portman handling Chris Hemsworth as he was enduring culture shock? With some occasional exposition from Mr. Skaarsgard? Portman's character, astrophysicist Jane Foster, isn't "strong," in this sense, is she? Because last time I checked, most of my female friends could break her like a toothpick. Foster is instrumental in Thor's change from prick to hero, but is she thrown on the bonfires of the blogger's vanity because she doesn't come with a complete bio and genealogy?

Or does this author consider her merely as a damsel in distress?  Which would be odd, because if you were in the New Mexico town in Thor, you were in distress, up to and including the three beefy supporting characters and the Valkyrie that (quite literally) drop down out of the sky.

Or does this not count, because the end of the movie involves the Warriors Three, Odin, and Loki? Making it three more male characters on screen than women?  Do we count Freya, who tried to stopped three assassins coming to get Odin? Or because she wasn't on screen that often, should we throw her aside?

While not physically strong, I thought Jane Foster was very well written. She was the love interest, sure, but that love motivated both of them to be better.  He was motivated to be a better person, and she was motivated to continue pursuing interstellar/inter-dimensional travel.

Am I wrong? Or, as I asked, does she just not count?

Conclusion: Equality!

As I said at the beginning, I don't like the SFC label.  If you can shove my characters into a nice neat little box, I'm going to be pissy -- either at you for demeaning my characters, or at myself for making them cardboard cutouts.

I would have liked this article more if it were less obvious. It's clearly pushing an agenda -- not about creating good characters, but numerical "equality!" for "equality's" sake. By the end, I felt like I was reading a review of 300 that insisted that there should have been 150 female Spartans at Thermopylae (this is not a joke, I did read one of those).

I honestly couldn't tell you the ratio of my characters if you dared me to.

In A Pius Man, I've got Maureen, Manana and Wilhelmina named above as main characters. Is the ratio 1:1 if I include Giovanni Figlia's wife, the forensic specialist?

Is the ratio no longer 1:1 if I count the three priests in the background?

Is it all right if I have Scott "Mossad" Murphy, who can't shoot, is pale, anemic-looking, and pair him up with the sexy gunslinger Manana?  Does that make him weak, even though he will take gunfire and is a pivotal part of the book?

Does Wilhelmina Goldberg not count if she doesn't shoot anybody, but is a key part to hunting down the bad guys by the end?

At the end of the day, the SFC label is too simple. But so is reducing "equality" to numbers of people on screen and counting lines.  If you're keeping score with 1:1 ratios, exactly what will satisfy you? I have no idea.

Now, if you'll pardon me, I have to go write a scene where Manana has to save Scott. Again.