Monday, March 31, 2014

Who the BLEEP is the Winter Soldier?

So, this week comes writing a series on Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

First things first, here, from beginning to end, are the videos we’ve seen so far.

First is the initial trailer, from back in October:

Then the Superbowl trailer, with a cameo by the creator of The Winter Soldier, Ed Brubaker.

And TV Spot #1.

And another spot with the phrase "Fury's last words." Sam Jackson still has several contracted Marvel films... and Nick Fury has more life model decoys up his sleeve than an army of Phil Coulsons, so....

Then a clip that apparently spoils the end of the film.

Followed by a ton of Black Widow. I approve.  I heart Redheads.

Marvel UK's "Three Days of Captain America"

Then... even MORE Black Widow.  I want a movie, and I want it called "Black Widow: Budapest."
So, if you want to know what exactly all this is about, and why a lot of people kicking around the internet are interested in this film, well, let's take a look.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Top ten Pius Blog posts, March 2014: Politics, sex, comic books, music.

At one point, it felt like that my blog's top ten posts changes.  Which is most popular and which aren't.

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

Sex and Comics?
1.  Who would Captain America Vote For? An election special. (October 29, 2012) Politics has been a major selling point for the blog, it seems.  When I did this blog post in time for the 2012 U.S. Presidential election, I had no idea that it would become so insanely popular. But then again, given the next one on the list, I guess it shouldn't have been too much of a surprise.

2. Sex, DC Comics, and ... wtf? (October 3, 2011) You remember this, right? It seems everyone has read it, probably twice. It was a study of DC Comics and their mistreatment of two of their better female characters. It includes, sex, sex, and more sex. And writing.  This is post is over two and a half years old now, and still going strong. I wonder why ....

For that answer, meet me over at #3...

3  Disasters to Marvel At: A Comic Discussion.  One of the longest-running posts on this list (Nov 8, 2010), and constantly in the top ten, this was a brief look at the past five to six years of Marvel Comics' history of absolute garbage. Looking at the top three, I need to find a way to make my blog about comic books, sex, and politics.

4. Snarky Theology 4: "Things that go boink in the night." See? Sex sells. I just need to find out how I can sell a book over how it's not sexualized. That should be fun.  Anyway, I can credit my friend Jason for this title. I mentioned I wanted the Catholic position on sex. The title was the first thing that leapt to his mind. I guess it worked.  This has been constantly popular since March of 2011. Maybe people are stopping by  JUST for the well thought-out theological discussion on the sexual nature of the human person.

Or sex.

Meet Mandy.
5. SFCS -- Strong Female Character Syndrome (August 19, 2013). This is the most recent post on the list, and it surprised me. It amounted to a simple rant of mine in which I ripped someone a new one over her idiotic interpretation of women in films. It had some valid points, but used the worst examples EVER.

I got your strong female characters right here for ya.

6. Self defense review: Zombies, Women's self defense, Barbara Sheehan (10/26/11).  I'm not sure why this one is so popular. All of the links are broken, and can't be fixed.

7. Someone has jumped the shark: women and military scifi (January 23, 2012). Tor, who seems to have become my favorite punching bag, decided to take an open-handed slap to their competition, mostly through libel.

Libel? How so? As in: "Oh, all of THOSE people are sexist, but WE are as pure as the driven snow".... give me a break.

Again, a blog about politics and sex ... sort of.

Maybe I really should find a way to make this blog about sex, politics and comic books.

8. Black Friday blog: Book shopping. On November 15, 2013, I tried to cash in for friends of mine, mostly because I really liked their books, and because people really needed to buy gifts. Books are always useful ... okay, and because I wanted to easily hock my books on twitter. Is that so wrong?  Apparently not, because a LOT of folks have shown up to take a look at this one.

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

10. Writing A Pius Man, Part 5: A Love Story?  Okay, this one I can't explain. At all. I have no idea why people flock to this one. Is it because it's romance? Is it because it's about writing?  Is it because I used to have an amazingly stunning woman on the post? Maybe. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Review: A Subtle Grace

After I read her novel Stealing Jenny, Ellen Gable asked for some reviews about her next novel, A Subtle Grace.  I jumped at the chance. Stealing Jenny was a great thriller with a singular oddity -- an unrepentant villain. We don't get many of those.

And then there's A Subtle Grace, whose Amazon flap copy reads as follows

1896, Philadelphia. In this sequel to "In Name Only" (2009, FQP), "A Subtle Grace" continues the story of the wealthy and unconventional O’Donovan Family as they approach the dawn of a new century.

At 19, Kathleen (oldest daughter) is unmarried with no prospects. Fearing the lonely fate of an old maid, her impatience leads to an infatuation with the first man who shows interest. The suave, handsome son of the local police chief seems a perfect match. But will her impulsive manner prevent her from recognizing her true beloved? A disturbing turn of events brings a dark shadow that threatens the life-long happiness she desires.

Dr. Luke Peterson (the family’s new physician) also makes quite an impression on Kathleen. His affection for her leads him to startling revelations: about Kathleen, about his practice and, most importantly, about himself.

Will (oldest son) believes God may be calling him to a religious vocation. Eventually, he discovers the hidden circumstances of his humble beginnings compelling him to embark on a pilgrimage to Rome.

(Note: Although "A Subtle Grace" is a sequel, it can be read as a stand alone book, independently of the first book in the series.)
A Subtle Grace is not my type of book. It is sappy, the overall plot is fairly predictable (when the plot begins at all) and the pace is so laid back and leisurely, I could skip pages at a time and not miss any part of the events, the character development, or anything of note. In fact, once I did start skipping parts, I didn’t have to backtrack a single time.

That aside, on its own terms, A Subtle Grace is a solid novel, in a traditional sense. Around my household, growing up, it out be referred to as a “novel” novel. As a period romance, there are parts of it that are set up akin to a Tom Clancy novel, with several threads that are seemingly unrelated, but interconnected later one. The characters are usually interesting, the most interesting one being the town doctor. Of course, they’re very much like real people – meaning that I wanted to take some of them off to one side and smack some sense into them, like I do with most people in real life.

Also, we have a proper villain of the piece, who you spend a good portion of the book just waiting to see again – mostly because you want to see a stake driven through his heart. Unlike the typical “villain you love to hate,” like a Loki, or the villain of House of Cards, this guy is unvarnished evil, and you just wait for him to be fed to a wood chipper. Having read Ellen Gable’s thriller Stealing Jenny, I can say for certainly that she specializes in villains who are particularly obsessed, evil bastards.

This also has some nice little historical touches, especially with technology, like installing phones or the hotel with a lighting system so new, it has to post letters to inform the guests that “This hotel runs on electricity. Please to not attempt to take a match to the light bulbs. There’s a switch if you want light, thank you.”

Addressing real problems with this is a shorter matter – “this is not my sort of book” does not constitute a real problem. Let’s face it, a slightly formulaic plot and a leisurely pace is most likely not a problem for someone who’s going to pick up a period piece romance, and if it is, they’re probably in the wrong fan base.

Nitpick 1: There is a subplot about our heroine’s brother, and that being a bastard is a problem for joining the priesthood, but the problem is never explained, merely dismissed as part of cannon law. The book spent pages over the course of the book explaining some basic aspects of Catholicism, it could have spent a few lines fleshing this out.

Nitpick 2: a doctor, at one part of the book, is held at gunpoint, and he uses the Hippocratic oath as a reason to not gut the man with a scalpel. Sorry, but self-defense is not prohibited by the Hippocratic oath.

Nitpick 3: The ellipses in the dialogue are oddly placed at times. A small matter, but crops up quite often.

THE Problem? This book was about 70 pages too long. And I don't mean the leisurely pace of the story; by the time I had gotten to around page 300, I had gotten used to that. I mean that there were several points this book could have stopped, and the final confrontation was drawn out to beyond my levels of tolerance. There was a perfect buildup to a final confrontation, which was a complete fake-out.  That wouldn't have been a problem, if it weren't followed by a apparently contrived mechanism that seemed to be designed for the sole purpose of extending the story for no real reason. I liked it, but not so much that I had to have more of it.

End rating: 3/5 stars -- probably 4/5 if you're a fan of the genre. If you are not a fan of the genre, read Stealing Jenny.

Monday, March 24, 2014

"Manly men with brains," masculinity and writing.

In a writing context, what exactly defines being “manly”? Really, I’m starting to wonder. It’s a word that’s been tossed around a lot lately: Cedar Sanderson and Sarah Hoyt talked of emasculating women in their SFWA posts, a writer’s group I’m a part of recently lamented the death of the “manly male” characters like Dirt Pitt in popular novels. Even A Pius Man in a review by Robert Bertrand referred to it as “a book for manly men with brains,” though on the other hand, I've been praised for my strong female characters, both in private and in public. Both were aliens concepts to me, namely because I never considered either while I wrote it, the characters weren't “strong women” or “manly men,” the characters just … were.

Then again, let’s face it, William Shakespeare would probably fail a course on his own plays, considering what people have seen in his own work that he, in all honesty, probably hadn’t seen himself when he wrote it.

Now, I'm going to presume that the common definition of masculinity will involve men who can beat the crap out of other people. However, physical prowess isn't exactly exclusive to men anymore.

Manliness also includes a willingness to draw a line, hold it, and be willing to defend it, and fight back.  Also not exclusive to men, but few men have ever been pushed around and been considered "manly."  Then again, the ultimate Man, Jesus, did instruct us to go the extra mile when someone's walking all over us, but a "manly male" could take that and make it into "You want to shanghai me into carrying your stuff for a mile? I'll do it for two. Hah, you wuss."

So, two down.  Next would be to discuss men on an emotional level: what to express, how to express them, that sort of thing.

And, since I mentioned the Bard, Shakespeare has also had some thoughts on manliness, particularly in MacBeth. After MacDuff is informed that his family has been slaughtered, he is told to take it like a man; MacDuff replies that he must also “feel it as a man.” So, I guess a man actually can be "in touch with his feelings" – feelings of loss, of love, of filial devotion, as well as rage and homicidal intent.

Recently, my own character was commented on, that I’m a “cool and detached” person. That could be, but that’s only because I've noted that feelings have to be beaten, forged, and molded into a proper tool; hot, passionate feelings just turn into shrapnel, unfocused and wasteful. I like to think I have a good lock on my passions. I love truth so much, I made a trilogy dedicated to defending it, and beating back lies about a man who died before most of my friends and readers were born. Being detached keeps those passions controlled.

Heck, Jesus has called us to love one another, not like each other. Which is good for me, because I can’t stand most people, but will rush to their aid if they truly needed it (and you thought I was schizophrenic because I’m a writer, didn't you?). Most people who trip over me have conversations that are so self-centered, I can just smile and nod and get away with it.

Don’t get me wrong, I used to care about everything that everyone would tell me. I’d do my best to give advice and council, and I’d hurt when they’d hurt and fret when they did … then I concluded that they just wanted attention, and someone to tell them that they were right and they were perfectly justified to do whatever it was they wished. Now, I will only invest myself in a select few.

And let’s face it, you've all seen me when I become invested in a person. When my best friend (who I was a bit in love with) burned me, I had a full-on public nervous breakdown, disguised as a writing lessons: emotions varied from painto rage to murder to tears.

So, which is “manly”? The passionate rage? The hurt? The tears? All of them?  None of them? No idea. My men in The Pius Trilogy are hurt, get sad, depressed, enraged, and homicidal.

Even in the Facebook conversation that started this discussion mourned for a manly character who fights, gets laid, saves the girl, smokes, drinks, but is also educated. Really? Does that mean James Bond, perfect psychopath, counts? Spider Robinson once noted Robert Mitchum as a perfect example, but I never saw the man as more than a moving block of wood. Neither of them are the sort of man you find in Inigo Montoya of The Princess Bride.

Manly? Or too much
Looking at all of the “manly” characters I can think of, the best I can come up with is being vaguely detached. At least the ability to be detached. Looking at men who are manly without being He-Man exaggerated, what is there: Bond, Montoya, Batman, Tony Stark, all exude “I don’t give f---,” either about the opinions of others, law (occasionally morals). Captain America, Thor, Superman, all stand for something, defying what others think or feel. They are in touch with their own feelings – honor, patriotism, ethics.

No, I don’t necessarily mean Alpha dominant bull, because that just seems to lead to macho stupidity or being a schmuck. But to have the correct level of self-possessed spirit that says “Yes, I can act independently if abandoned.” Sure, a manly fellow can fit in with society, any Band of Brothers sentiment relies on it, but he is not attached at the hip to society write large.

But all things in balance, please. Even “sociopaths” who kill in the military can feel the loss of a friend, feel sad over the loss of a civilian, et al. They love who they love, and if you mess with them or theirs ... well, let's just say that they don’t love you. James Bond shows an unnatural level of detachment, caring about … nothing, really. At the end of the day, attempts to give James Bond depth fail because he only cares about his job – not any woman he sleeps with, and his sense of patriotism only seems to go only as deep as it is his job to defend the country. If one day, someone ever writes a book where Bond’s failure leads to mass casualties, his biggest response will be to shrug and treat it like an unsuccessful chess match.

So, does being a man entail sociopathy? Well, let’s break that down a bit. In John Ringo’s Under a Graveyard Sky, two men say that they’re sociopaths because killing doesn't bother them, and they don’t see the enemy as people. I don’t find that too strange, since if I’m being shot at, I’d see the threat, not a person. Little definitions like this lead some people to say that a sociopath is defined as someone who merely scares the psychologist. And now that sociopaths come in flavors (high/low-functioning, genetic, situational), sure, maybe being a man does involve that on some level, the same way that Autism Spectrum Disorder has been expanded to cover people who were once merely assholes.

Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbach, is frequently described as a “high-functioning sociopath,” but is not usually considered manly because he’s so detached, he borders on being a thinking machine, as was the original. Yet Martin Freeman’s Watson, in the first episode, shoots a serial killer with no remorse, and it didn't faze him one little bit. Psychology has gotten to the point where many would see Watson as a sociopath, so let’s not get too carried away with that, shall with?

Heck, Kevin Anderson, the hero of my co-authored novel Codename: Winterborn, has a lot of similar characteristics to all of these "manly" qualities mentioned: rage, love, filial devotion, will stand up for what he believes in, up to and including killing people, will let no one push him around unless he wants to be pushed around ... and one review (who gave it 5-stars) slapped a label on Kevin as a simple psycho.

Is he crazed and damaged in Codename: Winterborn?  Oh, you betcha.  But just calling him a psycho because he has no problem killing people might simplify things just a little too much. Heck, he had no problem killing people before the book started.

At the end of the day, for a literary character to be manly, yes, he can have feelings – in fact, he must – but he must also have the right ones, and in the proper degree, otherwise, he becomes a caricature.   

Thursday, March 20, 2014

In Memory of Fred Phelps of the WBC: RIP or RIH

Ah, Fred Phelps is dead. Whatever could we say about a man who insisted hat God really hated everybody? Except for him and his incestuous cult of a family?

Well, we can briefly discuss what has been said about him.

When I first learned about Phelps and his merry band of vile creatures, my response was "Mr. Phelps, you are disavowed." I discussed his history, his attitudes, and how he's basically a pure, unadulterated schmuck.

I later discussed how the Supreme Court went through a lobotomy over these morons.

And then there was the day where I got into a fight with some of the little retards ... and if you insist that I'm picking on the autistic, you know what I mean, stop being a douchebag.

Then my last shot was NOT God Hates .... Superman? a short story.  Completely not about Phelps at all. Honest. Would I lie?

We could all hope that he rests in peace. However, if he's as unrepentant in death as he was in life, then we can replace RIP with RIH -- rot in Hell.

Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Patrick's Day Blog -- Erin Go Boom

Ah, an oldie, but a goodie.  If you weren't around for this when it first aired, you probably haven't seen it since.

And why am I merely posting a link to it above? Because I'm tapping this blog out on a borrowed laptop while I await a new cooling fan for my primary computer, a 5-year old Dell Vostro 200 PC. Shoot me now.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Dear Forbes, you need some nerds.

The following blog post is rated R, mostly for language.

Last week, Forbes decided to weigh in on the whole Agents of SHIELD writing with this article, that claimed that "Had it been this show [that fans wanted] out of the gate, it would have failed catastrophically."

Really? Well, what does Forbes think that fans wanted in the first place?
Had the series come out of the gate with nothing but major universe tie-ins, the series would have tanked before episode two because it would have said to the viewing public “we’re only going for hardcore fans of the MCU right now.”
Major universe tie-ins? What?

Um, how do I break this to Forbes?  Oh, yeah. WE DIDN'T WANT MOVIE TIE-INS! We wanted the Marvel Universe writ small. There was not been one, single, teeny-tiny hint that there's an actual Marvel universe out there independent of the films until seven episodes in. Instead, now, at this late date, we're getting movie tie-ins? If I wanted a movie tie-in, I'd petition for Peter David to write novelizations of the films again.

I try not to swear, but I call BULLSHIT.


This entire article is a collection lame excuses, and even if I believed a single one of them, there is no reason on God's green Earth for Agents of SHIELD to have taken so damn long.  As of last week, March 4th, we were 14 episodes in; by this time in a single season of Buffy, or Arrow, or practically any other series with "a plan," we have some idea of who the bad guy is, what their motivations are, and a hint of their sinister plot.

Instead, we have had a creepy sex subplot with Ming-Na and someone young enough to be her son, we still have no idea about Coulson's death (not really), they spent a lot of time with awkward scenes of bad guys talking to each other, yet still lacking any character, and this garbage could have been compressed into half the time.

Don't believe me? Do you really think that "This couldn't have happened immediately"?

So we needed a "second pilot"? We needed the Island of Dr. Quinn ("The Asset")? We needed two-dimensional characters, writing as witless as 24, season 6, and a boatload of writing and episodes that went NOWHERE?
[more below the break]

Monday, March 3, 2014

Cast this -- Codename: Winterborn

So, I've done multiple posts on how I would cast my novel, A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller if it were made into a film. If you want to take a look, there's a 2011, 2012 and 2013 edition.

However, there's been an oversight, and I have never looked at casting the novel Codename: Winterborn, which I co-wrote with Allan Yoskowitz.

Remember this one?

Yes, I know I don't talk about this one much, but, blast it, I've been busy.

From a casting perspective, this is actually going to be easier than the Pius universe. Why? Because I've got about nine major characters in the entire story -- both heroes and villains -- that would make it to the big screen and a few minor ones: let's face it, if you've read the book, you can see how some Hollywood people would cut out the first few chapters, so we'd lose .... some of the more colorful characters in the opening.

What would the casting look like? Well, let's look at it below the break.