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"

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, 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.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Interview with the lovely Daria Anne.

So, yesterdays' interview was fun, though draining....I'm one of those people who's very energized while socializing, and I'm totally wiped afterwards.  I'm still feeling the aftereffects.

But darn, it was fun while I was doing it.

Unfortunately, I got a little confused, and conflated two stories while I was talking to Daria.  I'll explain next week. Thankfully, it's not important to the broadcast itself (I think it was about a minute out of 100).

Anyway, I'm going to go and take a nap.  Enjoy this time with Daria. Again, I enjoyed it, and I intend to do it again in short order.

Monday, August 12, 2013

PRICE DROPS... and interviews.

So much to discuss, and so little time.

Okay, last week, I went to the Catholic Writer's Guild Conference Live!  Live because 1) Karina Fabian isn't President at the moment, that would make it CWGC Undead, and 2) they have an online conference.  I'll be blogging about that in due course.

 However, something I should note.  Remember, once upon a time, when I talked with Daria Anne DiGiovanni about A Pius Man? You might have remembered my blog interview with her?

If you don't remember the interview, just click here, and follow the instructions, and with luck, everything will work out just fine.

Well, this Tuesday, August 12, at 1PM EST, I will be talking with Madam DiGiovanni about my novel Codename: Winterborn. If you don't remember Winterborn, tune in and we'll see just how much we can bring you up to speed on the whole thing.

Oh, and while I remember, A Pius Man and Codename: Winterborn are both now cheaper on Kindle. Someone pointed out to me that $9.99 is not something that any normal person would pay for a Kindle book.  News to me, I never knew how much a Kindle book cost.

Yes, I'm a Luddite. No, I don't own a Kindle.

Lindsey Stirling Does Star Wars for Geek Week.

When YouTube announced "GeekWeek," my first thought was "Isn't every week on YouTube GeekWeek?"

Then Lindsey Stirling did this.

I'll forgive them for the "off" name.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Music to write to: Hi ho Sliver.

Yes, today's a music blog. It will feature music from the Lone Ranger soundtrack.  Thankfully, this has  more to do with Rossini than Johnny Depp as Tonto.

Basically, this is the original William Tell overture as filtered through the mind of Hans Zimmer.

Zimmer (or as we call him in my house, simply Haaannnnnsss) can usually make almost any movie better than mediocre. Almost any.