Sunday, March 21, 2010

Book Report: I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President

Like Jon Stewart (the Daily Show host whose blurb appears on the cover--not the Green Lantern), I loved this book. It's got a very PS238 feel, albeit on a smaller scale. Author Josh Lieb does a nice job of balancing standard super-villain tropes and a genuinely touching personal story.

Writer's note: this book is written in first-person, present tense, which some people dislike, but it works here. Also, this novel extends the usual narrative conceit by having the protagonist address a non-specific audience. The character would have no reason to say any of this to anyone in the world of the novel, but it's used as an effective way to deliver the story to the reader, and allows the writer to "cheat" certain expository bits into the flow of the prose.

Buy the book: Powell's, Amazon


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Monday, February 08, 2010

Comic Book Report: Star Trek New Frontier

I cannot recommend this book.

It collects "Turnaround," a five-issue miniseries published by IDW in 2008. And while I realize it's part of an ongoing storyline, there's just too much "continuity bingo"--which is a phrase I just made up to describe the apparent need of many tie-in writers to include every single character from an existing series, even if there's no good story reason for those people to show up in a particular work. This often results in convoluted, nonsensical, and/or irrelevant plot twists.

All that aside, this book features not one, but two dei ex machina. Two. That's about two more than any reasonable story needs.

Oh yeah, and also? The Vulcan mind-meld does not work through walls. I don't care if the character happens to be half-Romulan. Both of those races are touch-telepaths. I don't mind it when writers make shit up, but you can't make up shit which contradicts existing shit.

More generally, I have issues with Peter David's writing. I know a lot of people love him, and I'll grant that he's good with plot and dialogue, but too many of his scenes play as overly colloquial or--in the worst case--juvenile. Sometimes I just couldn't believe these people were professional, career military officers and not teenagers.

And some scenes seem to have been written just because the writer thought they were funny, not because they fit into the narrative. There's a good scene in which viewing someone's vacation photos is compared to literal torture, but it's totally anachronistic here.

Finally: One layout idiosyncrasy that bugged me throughout the book was the lack of any thought bubbles or narration captions. Absolutely every piece of information was delivered through dialogue, even if it was a character talking to herself in a situation where that would make no sense. Which is weird, because Peter David has made quite a name for himself in comics.

That is all.


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Friday, February 05, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: "Practice"

I don't remember why, but while driving around earlier this week I wondered aloud to D what the world might be like if people were fans of things besides TV shows and movies--if, for example, there was a fandom for medical doctors. And that's where this little vignette came from.

Read "Practice" at 512 Words or Fewer


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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Book Report: Tales of the Dominion War

If you're not a Star Trek fan, you can stop reading right now.

Tales of the Dominion War is, as you might imagine, an anthology of short stories set in the Deep Space Nine universe. Or, more accurately, in various parts of the Star Trek universe during the last two seasons of DSN. By that time, crossover between Trek series had become pretty common, and as a viewer, it was pretty exciting to see more of the fictional universe being fleshed out.

Media tie-ins are always tricky to do well. On the one hand, you want to include enough "real" or "canon" elements to show fans that you understand the setting; on the other hand, you don't want to just name-drop a bunch of characters without saying anything new or interesting about them.

That, in a nutshell, is why many of these stories didn't work for me. Writing aside, a lot of them seemed to aspire to be nothing more than the caulk of continuity--i.e., filling in storytelling gaps left by the TV series. If you think of the Dominion War like an actual, real-world conflict--say, Vietnam or WWII--there should be plenty of stories to tell about all sorts of different people who were involved. And since this is all fictional, it should be easy to make up some really compelling stories, right?

Maybe so, but this anthology didn't quite hit the mark for me. It's generally a bad sign when the introduction to a story has to explain that the pivotal character you're going to read about was featured in a different tie-in novel, and describe that character's connection to Trek canon--as if the editor knew that otherwise, the story itself wouldn't carry much weight. I skimmed through two or three of these stories because I knew I wasn't going to care much about their contents.

I do have to give props to my favorite piece, "Mirror Eyes," which manages to balance the elements I mentioned above. It's written in first person, as a series of journal entries, and brings the protagonist to life without veering into Mary Sue territory. It's also set between two seasons of DSN, so it doesn't suffer from episode-adjacent syndrome (in which a short story set immediately before, after, or during an existing TV episode inevitably begs comparison with same--and usually comes in second).

Finally, I have to mention that three of the featured authors--Heather Jarman, Michael A. Martin, and Andy Mangels--live in Portland, Oregon. 'oS! (That's Klingon for "represent.")


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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

I am a Professional Writer

Received today: Payment for some of my Wired How-To Wiki articles. And there's more where that came from.


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Monday, December 07, 2009

Scalzi on Self-Publishing!

Jasper here, with more on self-publishing, this time from New York Times bestselling author and multiple Hugo Award winner John Scalzi! From his "Quick Note on Self-Publishing":
[I]f you are going to self-publish, for the love of all that is good and decent in this world, don’t pay to do it. In this day and age, there is no reason to do so...

[This] assumes you are minimally competent to copyedit your own work and are competent to do a basic design for your book, either on your own or using the default settings available on Lulu or other similar services. If not, you can hire people to do these specific tasks, which is still very likely to be cheaper than a suite of services you would buy from a vanity publisher.

In related news, there's been a bit of an online brouhaha surrounding romance publisher Harlequin's announcement that they're launching their own "vanity press" imprint! They got spanked pretty soundly by several trade organizations, including SFWA, and that's all I'm going to say about that!

Always remember Yog's Law: Money flows toward the writer! (And thanks to Viable Paradise's Jim Macdonald for originating that axiom!)


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Thursday, December 03, 2009

The ORC Equations

Last weekend, at OryCon 31, I ran two Open Read & Critique (ORC) sessions. I've done writing workshops before, but this was my first experience with the ORC format (called "rogue workshops" in other places).

There were a lot of unknowns this year; the ORCs used to be an unofficial, late-night thing at OryCon, and this was the first time they were scheduled in the afternoon alongside other panels. I think the ORCs went well, and I was impressed by the quality of all the pieces read and everyone's critiques, but I have some ideas for better time management in future programs.

I wrote up my analysis into a four-and-a-half page document, which you can download as a PDF. If you're not inclined to slog through four pages of algebra, I'll sum up:

ORC sessions should be broken into hour-long segments. Sign-up sheets should provide slots for 4 participants and 2 waiting list names in each hour. Readings should be limited to 5 minutes, and individual critiques to 2 minutes (if more than 4 people in the room, 1 minute each). Any extra time can be used for group discussion.

(For the next part, it might help you to picture David Krumholtz standing in front of a whiteboard.)

Here's the formula to determine the time for a single round of critiques, t:

t = R + (n-1)C + D

Where n is the number of participants; R is the time to read a single piece; C is the time for each individual critique; and D is the discussion time at the end, when an author can respond to questions.

So the time T required to complete all critique rounds is:

T = n(R + (n-1)C + D)

Given a time limit T and setting certain constraints on R, C, and D, we can solve for n:

Long story short, we set T=60, R=5, and D=2, and we can fit 4 people into one hour if C=2, and 5 people if C=1. Any less than that and most people won't be able to provide a useful critique; any leftover time can be added to D, since most writers never seem to tire of talking about writing. Q.E.D.

Applying these equations to other writing workshops is left as an exercise for the reader.


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Monday, November 30, 2009

Done and done

I wrote 10,700 words of fiction today, bringing my total for NaNoWriMo to just under 52,000 words, which got me this lovely parting gift:

I may post more about this year's experience later, but for now, here are some totally misleading statistics.

The official word tracker (shown below) is wildly inaccurate, because at least twice (including last night, when I did 7,300 words), I updated my total after midnight, and so it was added to the next day's count instead. I would really prefer to be able to manually assign my word counts to specific days, since until the verifier goes live on November 25th it's all manual updates anyway.

Because of OryCon 31 and other obligations, I only actually spent 15 out of 30 days writing this year's novel. My lowest word-count day was 570 on November 17th, and my highest was 10,700 on November 30th (which may also be the most words I've ever written in a single day for anything).

My mean average word count per working day was about 3,400. If I throw out the highest and lowest outlying data points, it's 2,900. But first draft is not my problem. Revision is what kills me.

As per usual, I did minimal outlining, though I did keep notes and make sketches throughout the month. The final novel actually did contain all the elements I anticipated when I filled out this form at the kick-off party:


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Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Rieta Linbitter's Backstory"

Apologies if you stayed up late last night waiting for this week's story. Blame Ignite Portland 7.

Read "Rieta Linbitter's Backstory" at 512 Words or Fewer


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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Um, gee, thanks, Facebook...

...but I think you may have confused me with someone else. Screenshot:

I'm not saying I wouldn't want to be Ray Bradbury's friend. I just don't think he would click "confirm" on that request.

What I'd really like to know is which connection Facebook mined to determine that I should be friends with Mr. Bradbury. Lacking any other evidence, I (as so many others have) choose to blame Scalzi.


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Monday, October 26, 2009

My Strange Love Live Interview

Last Friday night, despite host Cami Kaos' excellent guidance, I still managed to be all over the place topic-wise, and what the hell did I do to darken up my voice like that? Anyway, here I am, warts and all:

Thanks to Cami Kaos and Dr. Normal for having me on the show!


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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Holmes + Dracula = ???

My VPXII classmate Christian Klaver has a short story, "The Adventure of the Solitary Grave: From the Supernatural Case Files of Sherlock Holmes," in the new Anthology of Dark Wisdom from Elder Signs Press. Per Christian, it's "a Sherlock Holmes & Dracula pastiche," and really, how can you go wrong with that? (Unless, perhaps, it's a musical.)


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Friday, October 09, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "The Wren and the Hen and the Men in the Pen"

You may be wondering why I don't post to this blog more often, except for these promotional links to my flash fiction. The reason is because I am a lazy bastard.

Here's a quick breakdown of my various online presences:

Twitter is where most of my spewage ends up these days.

LiveJournal is where my Twitter spewage gets archived nightly, and also where I track my writing projects--which I'm going to start again in November, coincident with NaNoWriMo.

512 Words or Fewer is where I post a new short story every Friday. As you know.

CKL's HotSheet (this blog) is where DeeAnn, the cats, and I remark on things we find interesting or amusing. I tend to treat this more like a newspaper column than a journal, but I need to keep a regular schedule here.

Anyway. Here's this week's 512 story:

Read "The Wren and the Hen and the Men in the Pen" at 512 Words or Fewer


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Friday, October 02, 2009

Friday Night Live

Mark your calendars: On Friday, October 23rd, at 10PM Pacific, I will be a guest on Strange Love Live, a weekly online show featuring "the movers and shakers of the social web." I'm not sure I qualify for that lofty mantle, but who am I to refuse the invitation?

I first met SLL host Cami Kaos and producer Dr Normal at BarCampPortland III, the last such event to take place at the now-defunct CubeSpace. In the manner of such unconferences, they asked for any interested parties to sign up for brief interviews on that week's show, which they broadcast live from CubeSpace. I was one of the first interviewees, and I guess I didn't completely bomb. I've also seen both of them at other events since then, including CloudCampPDX and the local roller derby.

Anyhow, I will be talking about 512 Words or Fewer, writing in general, the Portland DASH and other puzzle hunts, PDX Browncoats, and whatever other random topics come up during the hour. Tune in, won't you?

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Monday, September 28, 2009

UR Doin It Write

From House writer-producer Doris Egan's LiveJournal:

Most people in the world can draw a firm divide between working and not working. You could take a picture of them, and see whether they’re working or not working. But a writer hitting keys could be far less productive that day than they were while walking the dog last night. I suppose a filmed documentary of a writers’ room would translate to most people as “work” -- but anyone who isn’t a writer is not at those meetings. They generally aren’t standing in the doorway watching the typing, either.

They do see a script, eventually, but I swear, somewhere in the back of people’s minds they believe what I believed of books as a child – that they’re found objects that washed up on shore that way. If you only ever see a cut of beef wrapped in plastic in the supermarket, the idea that someone had to separate it from a cow is alien.

-- "writers, Emmys, and Hollywood logic"

Much of the rest of the post is about TV production nuts and bolts, but even if you don't care about that, skip to the end for a nice little Shakespeare riff.


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Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Wake-Up Call"

Have I really been doing this for a full year already? Wow. Time flies.

Read "Wake-Up Call" at 512 Words or Fewer

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I Have No Excuse: FFNF09

Yes, it really has been six months since I posted the last installment of FREEFALL: No Fate, and no, I have no excuse.

I've had this entire serial outlined for years, and each chapter is less than 3,000 words. I should be able to wrap this up in a matter of weeks, if not days. I really have no excuse, which is why I'm not going to make any. I'm just going to hunker down and bang out the rest of this story before the end of September.

That's a promise. You can take that to the bank, and you can put that in your pipe and smoke it. (If they allow smoking inside the building, that is. Most places don't these days.)

Read "Extorted Treasure," Chapter 9 of FREEFALL: No Fate



Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cory Doctorow on Self-Publishing!

Jasper here, with some commentary from Hugo-nominated science fiction author Cory Doctorow!

Cory's latest Guardian column is about "Why free ebooks should be part of the plot for writers," but he also addresses the question of self-publishing:
[W]hy do we need publishers if we can just release ebooks and make the print available through one of the many excellent print-on-demand houses such as Well, a traditional publisher does a lot for you that is unrelated to printing books, from preparing the manuscript to ensuring that the book connects with an audience by wooing reviewers to talk the book up, booksellers to put it in the path of readers, librarians to put it on the shelf and, of course, by paying for a certain amount of marketing in the speciality and general press.

Note: that's not a typo! People really do say "speciality" instead of "specialty" in England!

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

QuoteBusters: Lincoln didn't say that.

Bayla here with some actual facts. I know, you probably didn't expect to find those on the Internet. Just deal with it.

While catching up with my blogs last week, I saw The Quotations Page's "Quote of the Day" for July 19th:

"People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like."
- Abraham Lincoln

And I thought, Really? That construction seems awfully modern and snarky--more like John Scalzi than the 16th President of the United States. But it is just random enough to be true.

So off I went to do some research. How else am I supposed to kill time under the bed all day?

According to The Quotations Page, Lincoln used that sentence "in a book review." No date, no mention of the book title or the publication in which the review appeared. Typical.

A Google search revealed that many of the people who use this quotation describe it as Lincoln's "response" when asked for a review or critique of a particular book. So, not actually a book review. That helps. Maybe.

The only direct reference I could find is from George William Erskine Russell's 1903(?) book Collections and Recollections (full text at Project Gutenberg; my emphasis below):

But "The Art of Putting Things" includes also the things which one might have expressed worse, and covers the cases where a dexterous choice of words seems, at any rate to the speaker, to have extricated him from a conversational quandary. As an instance of this perilous art carried to high perfection, may be cited Abraham Lincoln's judgment on an unreadably sentimental book—"People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like"—humbly imitated by two eminent men on this side of the Atlantic, one of whom is in the habit of writing to struggling authors—"Thank you for sending me your book, which I shall lose no time in reading;" while the other prefers the less truthful but perhaps more flattering formula—"I have read your blank verse, and much like it"

You may also recognize two other literary clams in that paragraph. Those, combined with a lack of primary sources, make me doubt the overall accuracy of Russell's (wait for it) recollections. OH. SNAP.

I found one other scholarly mention of this quotation, in the Yale Book of Quotations (2006 edition), but I also consider them suspect because they list the publication date of Russell's book as 1898, when a peek at the Gutenberg text shows that the preface was written at "Christmas, 1903."

However, the Yale Book does mention one other interesting fact:

David Mearns suggests in the Lincoln Herald (1965) that the source for this remark was a mock testimonial by Artemus Ward: "For people who like the kind of lectures you deliver, they are just the kind of lectures such people like."

First of all: 1965? A hundred years after Lincoln's death and that's the best you've got? And second: "mock testimonial?" What does that mean?

After several hours of web searching, my paws were tired, but I finally found a definitive debunking in Ralph Keyes' book, The Quote Verifier (my emphasis and linkage below):

[I]n late 1863 a spoofy newspaper advertisement for [Artemus] Ward included this testimonial: "I have never heard any of your lectures, but from what I can learn I should say that for people who like the kind of lectures you deliver, they are just the kind of lectures such people like. Yours respectfully, O. Abe."

So, there you have it. Accuracy may die, but satire lives forever. Thanks to the blog Abraham Lincoln Observer for that pointer.

Verdict: BUSTED. Let's give credit where credit is due.

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

I'm Writing as Fast as I Can

I'm one of the writers participating in the Clarion West Write-a-thon 2009. "What's that?" you say? I'm glad you asked. Clicky clicky:
    2009 Clarion West Write-a-thon
For details about my personal writing goals, and to donate by PayPal:It's all kosher and 501(c)(3) blah blah blah. Read my official and somewhat more professional announcement over at 512 Words or Fewer, and follow my progress on LiveJournal.

UPDATE (8/2): I made it to 102% of my word count goal. Thanks to all my sponsors for their generosity and support!


* Post-dated from 22 Jun 2009 to stay at top of blog.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Quote of the Moment

"Breaking a story is a bit like role-playing, but I can't get the writers to use the damn dice."
- John Rogers

Also, a heads-up: "my" episode of Leverage airs next Wednesday night on TNT. You should be able to see my face in the background in at least one scene.


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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Pay the Writer

After reading Monday's blog post, my friend Loren emailed me to ask: "How soon do you realistically think it will be before you make money from writing?"

I wrote up this response:

I've been submitting short stories to magazines; if and when one of those sells, I might get a couple of hundred dollars (depending on the publication). The short fiction is mostly for practice, and to accumulate professional credits.

After I finish this month's rewrites/additions to the novel, I'll start querying it; if it sells, a typical first-novel advance is about $5,000. (Last year at VP, I talked to one of the staff who had signed a 3-book deal for a total advance of $60,000. That's insanely great for a new novelist. Her agent had managed to get two publishers into a bidding war.)

More on first novel advances:

I also have a couple of screenplays in the trunk. I have no idea what the going rate for those is, but my impression is it's highly variable depending on a variety of factors (no pun intended). I'd have to do quite a bit of work to get either of them into fighting shape.

Realistically, I probably won't ever make a living from writing alone; most fiction writers don't. I expect to get back into web consulting in a few years--I've already started attending the various open-source events here in Portland--or doing other types of freelance work.

Those are the facts. I'm luckier than most to be able to take a few years off to chase this dream--I've already won the lottery once, figuratively speaking. I have no illusions about my chances of becoming a bestselling millionaire novelist (to wit: vanishingly slim), but I believe I have a good chance at getting published, sooner or later. I'm working on the "sooner" part.


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Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Creation Blues"

This is not my best work, but bad is better than unfinished. Yeah. I'm going to keep telling myself that.

Read "Creation Blues" at 512 Words or Fewer


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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

An Observation

John Scalzi is the only person I know who regularly and unironically uses words like "ginchy" and "cromulent" in casual conversation.

That is all.


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Monday, May 18, 2009


In the same vein as today's "Writer's Block" prompt on LiveJournal ("Same Name"), here are a few other people and things with similiar names...

Ken Levine: There's the TV comedy writer and the video game designer. I met the former at last year's Sitcom Room, and heard the latter give the keynote speech at last year's PAX. They're both quite accomplished in their respective fields.

Chocolat/Chocolate: One is the Academy Award-nominated 2000 film directed by Lasse Halström and starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. The other is a 2008 Thai action movie featuring "[a]n autistic woman with powerful martial art skills" (IMDb). Don't get them confused when you're at the video store.

John Sheppard/Jack Shephard: John is the officer in charge of military operations on Stargate Atlantis. Jack is the Doctor who makes bad decisions on Lost. And there are, apparently, way too many Jesus freaks naming TV characters these days.


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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

J.J. Abrams' Awesome Trek Fanfic!

That's my one-line review of the new Star Trek movie.

D and I saw it yesterday, and we both enjoyed it, but I have to be honest here: regardless of its provenance, the story still felt more like fan fiction than actual canon--Trek-flavored, if you will; much better than Enterprise, but still not the real thing.

Before I dive in, a couple of non-spoilery remarks:
  • As the end titles started rolling, I thought: "John Cho gets top billing? Represent, brother!" Then I realized the principal cast were listed in alphabetical order (Ben Cross being the second name was a big hint). Oh well. At least Cho's starring in another Harold & Kumar flick next year.
  • The score started out perfectly, with a lone French horn, but the overall tone of the theme music was a bit too martial for me. Which leads nicely into my next point...
One of my earliest memories is of standing up in my crib and watching television. The three shows I remember most clearly are Space: 1999, Star Trek, and Bewitched. (I can just imagine some of you nodding and muttering, "That explains a lot.") For me, the thing that always distinguished Star Trek from other shows was its stated mission:
To explore strange new worlds;
To seek out new life and new civilizations;
To boldly go where no one has gone before.

At its core, Trek was all about exploration and discovery. The best stories they ever told, IMHO, involved the crew learning something new, either about the universe or about themselves (ideally both), figuring out how something worked, and--if it was broken--fixing it. It often also pitted personal principles against rules and regulations (e.g., Kirk vs. Prime Directive), and above all, it emphasized that science works. It wasn't always the right answer, and sometimes it was even the cause of the problem, but there was no question that science and research were the key to a greater understanding of our universe and ourselves.


The new movie gets the characters right, even while tweaking them a little. I agree with screenwriter John Rogers that "[a]lmost every choice was the best possible choice" in that regard. You should go read his excellent analysis of "how what will be the most successful movie of the summer kicks conventional screenwriting 'rules' in the junk." You could also read film critic Anthony Lane's thoughtful review of the new Trek's "recklessly rolling plot... [which] powers along, unheeding of its own absurdity, with drive and confidence," even if he is a bit of a downer.

I have issues with the new Trek's wacky pseudo-science (yes, even wackier than the usual technobabble), multiple deus ex machinas and MacGuffins, and nonsensical villain motivation (hello, Evil Overlord); but, as D said, whenever the story stopped making sense, the filmmakers just threw in a big action scene to distract us. That's one advantage movies have over books, at least in the hand-waving department. They can always flash something shiny--or naked, or explodey--to distract you from a weak story. It's a problem when spectacle overwhelms storytelling (insert Michael Bay joke here), but Abrams understands and respects that balance.

As a longtime fan, I'm still ambivalent about the massive continuity changes wrought by this reboot. The alternate reality angle, even more than the Spock/Uhura 'shipping, makes this seem like fanfic; and though I understand why Abrams and company chose to destroy Israel Vulcan and kill Amanda, it feels to me like The Powers That Be just gave up on trying to deal with that culture. I'm glad they recognized that Spock is an integral part of Trek--you could argue that this is really his movie, not Kirk's--but I think his story was already interesting enough, and obliterating his homeworld just seems mean-spirited.

At this point, a sequel seems inevitable, and maybe the Vulcan diaspora is part of the plan for rewriting the Trek universe: to shift the fundamental balance of power in the galaxy away from Vulcan, which was previously depicted as a highly advanced civilization and one of the governing races in the Federation, and toward Earth. I noticed that while several alien Starfleet officers got screen time in the new movie, very few of them actually had speaking lines: Kirk's obligatory green-skinned honey was little more than a prop, and Scotty's little Ewok friend doesn't actually do anything useful. Um, xenophobic much? Let's not do that, guys.

To end on an "up" note: I did enjoy all the little in-jokes and callbacks to previous Trek incarnations, especially the sound effects and the return of the 47s. It's a sign that the writers were paying attention to at least some of the details, and it gives me hope that this new Trek will respect the history of the franchise while putting an interesting and different spin on it.

(ADDENDUM: My Facebook friends inform me that Abrams previously and independently did the 47 thing in Alias. Guess Paramount picked the right man for this job, then.)


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Friday, May 08, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Reunion"

Happy Mother's Day? I guess?

Read "Reunion" at 512 Words or Fewer


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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Science Fiction Writers Take Note

From io9's Top Ten Rules of Space Opera:

9. There should be a captain. If there is not a captain, there should be a special agent. If there is not a special agent, there should be a cadet with a future. If there is no cadet with a future, there should be a mercenary with a dark past.
If there is no mercenary with a dark past, there should be a wisecracking stowaway. If there is no wisecracking stowaway, there should be a witch. If there is no witch, there should be a scientist. If there is no scientist, just remake Spaceballs.

-- Annalee Newitz

Has there been a really great science fiction satire recently? And no, crap like Superhero Movie does not count.


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Saturday, May 02, 2009

Streaming Consciousness

Free writing results from this morning's Writing Group session at BarCampPortland:


Things--physical objects--give a sense of place, but they're not the only thing. The sound of traffic outside might tell you you're in a city. The smell of grass and flowers might indicate the countryside.

I once heard a lecture by a computer science professor who had developed software to tell, from the shadows visible in a photograph taken outdoors, exactly where on the planet and at what time of day that picture was taken. But the computer only does analysis. It has no memory of that place. It doesn't know who took that photo, why the woman on the left looks a little sad, whether this was the end of the party or just the beginning.

One of my high school teachers told me that you can frame a photograph when you're taking it--choose where the edges are, where the image ends--and leave out certain things. He thought that a written account was a better memento, because you can include as much as you want. I think it's also better because it's an active recalling of the event.


The Fourth of July! Celebration! Parades, flags, music, marches, people everywhere. Fireworks show audiences are always crowded. Not just because the pyrotechnic materials themselves are closely regulated, but because it takes skill and expertise to deploy them. Any kid with a sparkler can shoot off some sparks, but it takes real, professional telant to put on a show.

Where does one go to learn the fireworks trade? Are there vocational schools? Correspondence sources? (Probably not.) The biggest fireworks manufacturer in America is a family business, and has been for decades. They have trade secrets--even their powder mixture and construction techniques are proprietary. It would be a tragedy if all that knowledge was lost one day because they held on to it too tightly.

On the other hand, "open source" firewords probably wouldn't work, either. These are high explosives. You can't experiment with them the same way you can tinker with computer code--crashing a web server is not as bad as blowing off a finger, or an arm. We need to build on the knowledge of others, a tleast for the fundamentals. The artistry comes after the craft.


Rain is not always cold. People complain about the weather here in Portland, joke about the rainy season being "January 1st through December 31st," but I've seen days where it's sunny and rainy at the same time. Okay, so it also hails in April, and last December was the snowiest for something like 40 years, but I like the variety.

What I don't like--and my wife hates--is driving in the snow. We drove down to California, the bay area, back in February, and putting on chains to go through Grants Pass was terrifying for her. She's lived all over the US, including Minneapolis, where it got so cold that the ground was literally frozen when her brother had to go outside and bury a knife (that's another story), but she's never had to put on tire chains before.

When she lived in Chicago, they didn't allow chains because they would tear up the road--everyone had snow tires or 4-wheel drive instead. Also, they plowed the streets regularly. Last December, Vancouver, Washington, was totally buried for days because the city didn't have enough snowplows or drivers to clear the streets. We were very glad that we only lived half a mile from the grocery store, because it was kind of fun to trudge through the snow and go shopping. But only once.


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Friday, May 01, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "First of May"

That is today's date, isn't it?

Read "First of May" at 512 Words or Fewer


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The Stigma of Self-Publishing, Part 5 (The Last): Flash in the WAN

(Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

It's no secret that I am a writer, and I aspire to be a professional. Since last October, I've been posting a new piece of flash fiction every Friday to 512 Words or Fewer and recording an audio version to podcast.

But wait! Why, you may ask, am I "self-publishing" these stories, when I've just spent the last four days railing against self-publishing? Why am I not submitting them to actual, paying markets so I can start collecting professional credits?

I'm doing 512 Words for three main reasons: practice, pressure, and publicity. Practice, because I'm still working through my million words of crap; pressure, because at least two people will notice and get on my case if I don't meet my deadline every week; and, of course, it's a publicity stunt to get my name out there (a story a week! kinda like Jay Lake! but not really).

Listen, I have no illusions about my "reach" (as marketers would call it). My blogs are essentially newsletters for my family and friends, because nobody else cares what I have to say. I do have longer stories making the rounds at several professional markets (I'm expecting that rejection from The New Yorker any year now), but if short fiction is to writers as the club scene is to independent musicians, flash fiction is my version of busking on a street corner. It gets me out there and doing something, and it keeps me writing. It's just part of the journey.

I also believe, as Tim O'Reilly famously said, that obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy. I support the Creative Commons (CC) movement to share cultural works freely (both as in speech and as in beer). I believe more artists should follow the fine example of forward-thinking people like Cory Doctorow and Jonathan Coulton, who release all their work under CC licenses for others to share. Let fans be fans, and they will show you love and support in ways you could never have imagined--or, sometimes, ever wanted to, but that's another story. So this is me, putting my money where my mouth is.

Even if you're a writer who would rather distribute your writings the old-fashioned way--encased in physical objects called "books"--the Internet gives you tons of opportunities to interact with your fans and keep them engaged. You may have heard of Scott Sigler and Seth Harwood, whose novels are published by Crown Publishing (a Random House imprint). Both of these guys do a ton of online self-promotion, including putting free content on and selling some crazy merchandise. Clearly you don't have to be as gung ho as these two to succeed as an author, but it certainly couldn't hurt:

Now, some people think it's fun to do all that self-promotion. But that's not writing. More to the point, if you can make others believe in your work, they will help you do all the things you're not so good at. When I get my first book contract, I don't want to comb through all the legalese myself--that's when I'll want an agent. When the book goes to press, I won't want to deal with typesetting and other production issues personally--that's why I'll want an editor and a publisher. And so on. I am willing to relinquish some control for the benefit of having a good team on my side, and I want them to be in it for the duration.

The American dream these days seems to be the get-rich-quick scheme. Every singer wants to be Gloria Gaynor, who built a career out of a single song ("I Will Survive") and is still raking in the royalties. A lot of unpublished writers seem to think they'll be able to write a single Great American NovelTM which rockets to the top of the bestseller lists and then immediately retire, having secured fame and fortune everlasting.

But no publisher or promoter wants a one-hit wonder. Forget about the lottery-jackpot aspect of this pipe dream; if a reader enjoys one book, she's going to look for more books written by the same person. Publishers want to help dedicated writers build careers as authors. I want to tell lots of good stories, and I want each one to be better than the last. I want my life to be something more than long.

Like the man said, always end on a song:


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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Script Frenzy 2009: DONE

I got started late, but I finished strong, thanks in large part to thrice-weekly write-ins with my fellow Portlanders.

You can read an excerpt from my finished screenplay over at 512 Words or Fewer.


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The Stigma of Self-Publishing, Part 4: Zines and Thoughtcrimes

(Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Over the last three days, I've discussed why self-publishing is, at best, a huge time sink for writers who should be writing, and at worst a way for scam artists to prey upon those desperate souls and steal their money. As I noted yesterday, there do exist legitimate print on demand (POD) services who don't pretend to provide the editing, advertising, and other services that real publishing houses do, and those companies are a great asset for certain creators. But that's printing, not publishing. There's a difference.

There's a long tradition of people printing their own stuff when no one else would, because they were passionate and wanted to put their work out there. Here in Portland, Oregon, the public library system and Powell's ("The greatest bookstore on the planet," says PNH) both feature entire racks of zines covering a wide variety of interests and topics. They come in all shapes and sizes, many obviously handmade. They serve small, local audiences. They have no pretensions or wider ambitions. This is what they're for. (Science fiction fandom also produces tons of fanzines, but that's a whole other discussion.)

These days, it's trivial for anyone to create their own "e-zine" by setting up a blog or a web site. Of course, just because it's easy for anybody to find your content, it doesn't mean that they'll go looking for it, or that they'll like it. If you build it, they will not always come. And even if they come, they may not stay.

So who gets to be a "real" publisher? These days, short fiction writers can submit their work to a lot of online-only markets. Many of these are little more than blogs, and most don't pay writers a lot (if anything) for their stories. Mac Stone, whom I met at Viable Paradise XII, runs Coyote Wild Magazine out of her own pocket. She doesn't make any money doing it. She does it because she wants to help get good stories out there.

Leonard Richardson and Sumana Harihareswara just released Thoughtcrime Experiments, "a free 2009 anthology of fantasy and science fiction stories and art, published under a Creative Commons license." As Leonard explains in Appendix A: How to Do This and Why, he and Sumana spent $2,300 and nearly 400 person-hours putting together the anthology, and the main reason they did it was so they could find and share stories that suited their own personal tastes. In other words, for fun. They're not making any money off TE; in fact, they're losing money. But they consider it money well spent.

Are Mac and Leonard and Sumana publishers? Sure; they've found content they like and helped present it to a wider audience. Are they professional publishers? No, and they don't pretend to be running a business. They're publishing because they want to give back to the community. They have no illusions about reaping financial gains from these transactions, and that's okay. We all do things for love that we would never do for money.

Tomorrow: the anticlimactic conclusion!


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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Stigma of Self-Publishing, Part 3: Eragon vs. Hogwarts

My favorite anecdote regarding Eragon comes from our friend Suzie, who saw a billboard for the movie adaptation and thought to herself: "Hey, they misspelled DRAGON."

I haven't read Eragon, and I don't intend to. The history of its publication is similar to Daemon and Scratch Beginnings, the two self-published books I read recently, and if its quality is also similar, I have better things to do with my time. Besides, I'm more of a science fiction than fantasy man. And I spell "dragon" with a "D."

Anyway. Teenage author Christopher Paolini's parents printed their son's first novel and marketed it themselves, but by all accounts Eragon was not considered a success (or, I imagine, remotely profitable) until Knopf acquired it and reissued it in hardcover. I'll admit I haven't done extensive research, but I've yet to hear of a single self-published author who turned down an agent or editor after attracting media attention.

It seems pretty clear that "self-publishing" is a misnomer; it's really just printing up bound versions of your manuscript, which may or may not be any good, and then selling it yourself. It's no different from the people who make arts and crafts to sell at swap meets or street fairs or on Etsy, except that there is some status associated with being "an author" and not just "a writer."

There's nothing wrong with printing your own book--we've done it with our 2008 road trip photos and the Hogwarts Game textbook, and every year I print a copy of my finished NaNoWriMo novel because my wife doesn't like reading 50,000+ words in Courier font. But that's not publishing. That's printing. We're doing these things for fun, not as a business.

If you're crafty and like making things, it can be a lot of fun to make a book and sell it at your local flea market. Print on demand (POD) services are great for low-volume, special-interest items like the Hogwarts textbook. Ironically, we moved 107 copies of that thing in 2006, which makes it more successful than many actual, published books:

"Here's the reality of the book industry: in 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million [in print] tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. The average book in America sells about 500 copies."
-- Publishers Weekly, July 17, 2006

Of course, we weren't trying to turn a profit, or even offer the book as a separate product--it's just a souvenir of The Game. We also want to stay under the radar so Ms. Rowling's lawyers don't come after us.


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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Stigma of Self-Publishing, Part 2: Scratch Beginnings

Scratch Beginnings is not a well-written book. To his credit, the author--Adam Shepard--admits in the introduction that he is not a good writer. But someone telling you he's an awful cook won't make the meal taste any better.

I became interested in this book based on the description of the author's recent visit to Powell's. I didn't attend the event, having learned of it after the fact, and that's probably a good thing; I might have been tempted to actually purchase the book, and I would have suffered some serious buyer's remorse around page 12. (I later found it at my local library.)

The gimmicky high concept of Scratch Beginnings--which is a good hook, I'll admit--is a recent college graduate's personal experiment to bootstrap himself out of poverty. He selected an east coast city at random, traveled there by train, and debarked with only $25 to his name. His goal was to go from homelessness to having an apartment, a car, and $2,500 in the bank by the end of one year.

I'll save you the pain of having to read the book: he succeeded. To be honest, I never doubted that he would; I was curious about the details of his actual experience. And the stuff about the homeless shelter was interesting, but his frequent use of sentence fragments and constant self-aggrandizement got old real quick. Several sections could have been summarized thusly: "Dear diary, today I did cool things and made people like me. Because I am awesome!"

Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh, but it really does get that bad at some points. I'm pretty sure "Shep" is one of the "white people" from Stuff White People Like.

Even though Scratch Beginnings and Daemon are touted as self-publishing success stories, it's important to note two things:
  1. They are the exception, not the rule; and
  2. both authors took pains to disguise the fact that they were self-published.
Daemon was put out by "Verdugo Press," a company created by the author and his wife for the express purpose of marketing the novel. Scratch Beginnings came from "SB Press," whose business address is a condominium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Guess where Adam Shepard's family lives? Yup.

Scratch Beginnings has since been acquired by the Collins imprint of HarperCollins and reissued in hardcover--hence the book tour. Isn't it interesting that the ultimate goal of most self-published authors seems to be getting an actual book deal from a real publisher?

Anyway, here's a half-hour interview with Adam Shepard from a Triangle-based public access cable show. He seems like a nice kid, and I hope he enjoys his fifteen minutes:


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Monday, April 27, 2009

The Stigma of Self-Publishing, Part 1: Daemon

You may have read last year's Wired article about the novel Daemon, detailing how three agent rejections discouraged first-time novelist Daniel Suarez so much that he started his own company to publish and market his half-baked techno-thriller.

You may also have seen novelist J. Steven York's deconstruction of Daemon's success--the book was later acquired by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin, and reissued in hardcover (and with the author's name spelled forwards instead of backwards).

I have nothing to add to the information presented in those two articles, especially the second one, except to say that the Big Ideas name-checked in Daemon are presented much more completely and plausibly in Charles Stross' Halting State (which opens with a bank heist inside an MMORPG) and Cory Doctorow's Little Brother (which delves into actual hacking in great detail; complete text available free online).

I've been programming computers for over twenty years, and I know from personal experience that automation is hard. Maintaining the Internet is a war of attrition. Someone discovers an exploitable flaw in the network--e.g., in TCP/IP or DNS or some other protocol--either by research or accident; then somebody figures out how to fix it; and the security hole gets patched. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I don't care if you're Lex Luthor; there's no way anyone can create a single automated system that can hack the planet for over a year without some human intervention. Also, the repeated threat that the daemon will crash the global economy falls flat, since we've now demonstrated that we can do that pretty well all by ourselves.

Anyway. Skip this nihilistic crapfest and read Stross and Doctorow instead. It's a huge plus that Halting State and Little Brother, in addition to being authored by competent writers with a firm grasp of narrative language, were also vetted by experienced editors who knew from good storytelling and copy-edited by professionals who knew where to put quotation marks and how to join separate phrases together to form actual complete sentences. It's not a coincidence that Halting State was nominated for a Hugo Award last year, and Little Brother is nominated this year.

Finally, speaking of Charlie Stross, here's what he had to say about the continued value of real book publishers in 2007: (skip to 46:47)


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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Warren Does Joe

If you want to give your tired old media property a badass reboot, Warren Ellis is clearly the man to call. He helped elevate Ultimate Fantastic Four, and now he's done it again with G.I. Joe: Resolute, the new animated movie that's been airing in installments on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. It's a solid junior techno-thriller.

The final installment airs tonight at midnight. You can also watch the entire show online (or on YouTube, for those outside the USA). It's not perfect--you'll see stormtrooper marksmanship and heroic sacrifice tropes, among others--but I love the science fiction procedural in Parts 3 and 4 (I now have a tiny crush on the new Dial Tone), and the ninja fight in Part 8 is brutal.

I really don't expect this summer's live-action movie to be anywhere near as cool as this.


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The Trouble With Reaper

I like Reaper a lot. It's one of the few TV shows D and I both like enough to pay for (we download all our TV a la carte from iTunes or Amazon). And I appreciate that it's not to be taken too seriously, but there's gravity and then there's consistency.

When you make a show with the Devil as one of your regular cast, you'd better have a good handle on your theology. For the most part, Reaper avoids any heavy theological entanglements--the characters discuss God rarely, and never by name--but when you make up your own rules, you need to stick to them.

Toward the end of the first season, the writers established that the Devil couldn't eavesdrop on any conversations that occurred inside of circles. This was a major plot point during the demon rebellion arc; characters would meet inside circular rooms or draw chalk circles on the ground before discussing their plans to overthrow Lucifer. This season, however, the characters seem to have forgotten that trick, and it's gotten them in trouble more than once.

I don't have a problem with the characters being ignorant of certain supernatural things, but they've seen the circle-cone-of-silence demonstrated, and they know the consequences for pissing off the Devil. It doesn't make any sense that they wouldn't continue using the circle trick, and the writers haven't even attempted to explain why they don't. I guess they were hoping viewers wouldn't notice, or that we'd also have forgotten by now.

Well, I haven't, and I'll say it again: Insufficiently rigorous! I know Reaper's a comedy, but fans are fans, and we don't like unexplained retcons.

The thing is, Sam and company didn't have to forget about the circle thing. They screw up almost everything else; why couldn't they think they were protected, but then later find out that they hadn't drawn their circle properly, or that someone or something had broken the circle when they weren't paying attention?

You could even make it a running gag. Have Sam carry a hula hoop in the trunk of his Prius so he and Sock and Ben can have private conversations wherever they are. Show the three of them squeezing into a hula hoop that's too small for their bodies to fit comfortably.

Need the circle to stop working? Maybe the plastic hoop gets warped after a particularly warm day; maybe Sock sits on the hoop and accidentally breaks it, but is too embarrassed to tell Sam. Everyone stays in character, you still have any number of failure options, and you get additional opportunities for comedy. Am I wrong?

But I guess they had more important things to worry about.


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Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Customer Surface"

What if there was a store like Fry's Electronics, only it sold magical implements instead of technological ones? Would cash-poor aspiring wizards still take advantage of the "Fry's rental plan" (very lenient 30-day return policy)? Would dealing with their low-paid, poorly trained employees still be a pain in the ass? You've got questions. I've got a short story to answer some of them.

Read "Customer Surface" at 512 Words or Fewer


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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Nathan Fillion: King of Castle

Castle gets a lot of things wrong. It wildly misrepresents--or, at best, cherry-picks--the experience of being a bestselling novelist or a New York City detective. But damn that smarmy motherfucker Nathan Fillion. He's just so entertaining to watch.

Also, as Leverage showrunner John Rogers notes, the techie clues have been real smart so far. I still don't buy Stana Katic as murder police, but I'm giving her Kate Beckett character the benefit of the doubt for now. Maybe the writers will come up with an interesting and plausible backstory for her.

The fourth episode was the one that really sold me. Lots of nice little moments, including the uniform searching the dumpster, Castle and his daughter cutting onions, and the closing scene in the bookstore. You can get the full show from iTunes. Here's the Lame TV PreviewTM:

Episode three wasn't bad, either. Like everyone else, I really enjoy the father-daughter scenes with Nathan and Molly. And I'm thinking about making my own "You Should Be Writing" screensaver.


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Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Sam Spayed"

It's about as bad as you think it is.

Read "Sam Spayed" at 512 Words or Fewer


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Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Bad Boy of the Spelling Bee"

This week's story has its origins in an actual, personal experience of mine, which you can discover in the notes, if you're so inclined.

Read "Bad Boy of the Spelling Bee" at 512 Words or Fewer


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Sunday, April 05, 2009

How'm I Doing?

Short answer: Pretty well.

Long answer:

Remember all those commitments I made at the beginning of the year? I haven't managed to meet all of them, but I'm making the effort and accomplishing a decent majority of everything I set out to do. Hooray! Detailed breakdown follows.

post a new 512 Words or Fewer story (text and audio) every Friday

I've met this 100% and am very happy about it. I only came close to missing my deadline once, and I was even ahead of schedule last week. You can expect to see more trunk stories and novel excerpts if I ever get too busy or lazy again.

finish "Freefall: No Fate" - post a new chapter every month

I finished two chapters in three months, so I'll call this one 67%.

1 NEW short story submission to pro/semi-pro markets every month

This one, I need to improve. I finished one short in January and two in February, but the latter pair were for my Clarion application, which was rejected, and they're now being critiqued by my VPXII peeps prior to another rewrite pass. I need to write at least one new story this month.

critique 1 VPXII classmate's story per month

I slacked off on this for a long time and then critiqued three in March, so on average I'm doing okay.

finish 2nd draft of Waypoint Kangaroo by end of March

Well, that didn't happen. I'm still working on it, but at this point I'm leaning toward starting the agent query process and sharpening up the first three chapters just so I can get the ball rolling before mid-year.

do Script Frenzy in April

In progress!

upload all home videos to YouTube

Still doing this most Fridays. I'm prioritizing longer videos so I can get them uploaded before Google Video turns that off, and I got sidetracked in February with editing the GC Summit stuff.

It turns out that most of my old VHS tapes are marching band performances from high school. Here we are in the 1992 Rose Parade (scrub to 1:36 for my close-up, Mom):


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Friday, April 03, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "The Incredible Machine"

In this case, I'm using the first sense of 'incredible,' i.e.: "So implausible as to elicit disbelief." I hope, however, that you are willing to suspend disbelief for the five paltry minutes it will take to enjoy this week's tall tale.

Read "The Incredible Machine" at 512 Words or Fewer


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Monday, March 30, 2009

Better Late Than Never: FFNF08

I didn't manage to finish this in February, but at least it's done now. The latest installment of my current adventure in the FREEFALL universe features a little excitement with fast-moving spaceships and other dangerous technologies. I can't say more than that without spoiling it, so just follow the link and...

Read "Yet All Shall Be Forgot", Chapter 8 of FREEFALL: No Fate



Saturday, March 28, 2009

You're Not Feeling Lucky

On Thursday, my former employer announced another round of layoffs--its third this year. But there were two big differences this time around.
  1. A larger number of people was affected: 200 now, versus 100 in January and 40 in February (all numbers approximate).
  2. The affected organization was sales and marketing (as opposed to recruiting in January and the radio advertising group in February), which means it's likely that I know some of the departed.
Here's the official word, plus a couple of employee reactions. (You know how much I less than three primary sources.)

My heart goes out to everyone who's been caught up in this. That includes the managers who had to decide whom to let go, and all those left behind. I've been through layoffs at other companies (everyone at AT&T knew what the acronym RIF stood for), and I know it's not easy for anyone.

At times like this, I remember these words:

Bottom line is, even if you see 'em coming, you're not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can't help that. It's what you do afterwards that counts. That's when you find out who you are.

Thank you, Joss Whedon.


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Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "True Story"

On Monday, I finished writing, recording, and scheduling a completely different short story for this week's 512 Words. I was pretty happy with it. But you're not going to see it today. Why?

Because, on Wednesday, I came across this BBC News article, which reminded me of another story I'd written seven years ago. When I dug up the manuscript and saw that it was only 650 words long, I knew what I had to do.

And yes, "True Story" is the original title. I considered changing it to avoid any confusion, but it's just too perfect.

Read "True Story" at 512 Words or Fewer


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Monday, March 23, 2009

"No," I Ralc

Rejected by Clarion 2009. Details on LiveJournal.



Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Arcana"

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?
And miss it each night and day?
I know I'm not wrong; the feeling's getting stronger
The longer I stay away.
Miss them moss-covered vines, the tall sugar pines
Where mockingbirds used to sing.
And I'd like to see the lazy Mississippi hurrying into spring.

-- Lyrics by Eddie DeLange

Read "Arcana" at 512 Words or Fewer


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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Reflections on teh RaceFail

My somewhat entirely selfish observation about the whole "RaceFail '09" debacle is this:

I'm really glad I attended Viable Paradise last year, because this year's class experience is sure to be tainted--if not completely eclipsed--by this stupid thing. (Lucky XIII, indeed.)

Aside: I didn't even know about any of this until I caught up with my VPXII classmate Alberto's LiveJournal. Yes, I am a grumpy old man.

John Scalzi called it "discussion of [x]," and I agree. This particular thread has gone way, way off the rails and off-topic. A few cooler heads, including Scalzi and friends, have attempted to wrestle the conversation back to the subject of race, but the damage has been done, and any good that comes out of it at this point has come at an enormous and unnecessary cost.

This is all I have to say about [x]:

Issues of race (and, by extension, racism) are deeply personal, for people of any heritage. When you choose to make those issues public, well, thank you for sharing, but please be aware of what you're getting into.

You can't write and perform The Vagina Monologues without eventually becoming an activist. You can't write The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian without tapping into centuries of American history.

That's political. And politics is all about power and diplomacy. Unfortunately, on the Internet, both those dimensions are collapsed into a single channel--text--and sometimes, words alone aren't enough. You can't end a war with an aphorism.

And now for something completely different relevant:

But seriously, folks:

You are not the work. This is something pro writers say, a lot, when advising baby writers. It means that you have to learn to accept criticism of your work by understanding that "this story sucks" is a fundamentally different statement than "you suck."

The line is much finer when it comes to blogs and comments thereupon. What you say is not who you are, but it is all that people see here. Your words are your actions in this space, and actions have consequences.

(My final remark below is not directed toward any particular person. I offer it as a general guideline for all.)

On the Internet, no one knows if you're a dog, but what other conclusion should they draw if all you do is bark?


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Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Martian Standard Time"

"Sean O'Reilly was the first human on Mars. He got to enjoy it for about three seconds..."

Read "Martian Standard Time" at 512 Words or Fewer


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Friday, March 06, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Getaway"

Not much to say about this one. The idea is not new, but then, most ideas aren't. It's all in the execution.

Read "Getaway" at 512 Words or Fewer


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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Putting the ON in Clarion

I just submitted my application for the 2009 Clarion workshop at UCSD, with a whole ten minutes to spare. (In case you're curious, the two stories I submitted were expanded versions of the 512 Words or Fewer pieces "Prisoner" and "Bachelor of Science" (which I renamed "Persuasion").) I'm pretty happy with the drafts I submitted, especially since I only decided to apply this week. Huge thanks to D for helping me whip those stories into shape.

So I probably shouldn't have played in the Microsoft Puzzle Hunt 12 simulcast this weekend--even if I was only a remote adjunct to the bay area Drunken Spiders. It was fun, except when it wasn't. More on that later. And yes, I am going to sleep now.


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Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "The More Things Change"

Time travel is always tricky, as everyone on Lost now knows. But if it's possible, we're going to figure it out by using science and technology like Daniel Faraday, not with mystical bullshit like, well, every other uncurious motherfucker on the show.

And nobody ever talks about the bureaucracy that would surely grow like weeds around something as potentially volatile as time machines (depending, of course, on whether you believe in the many-worlds interpretation or the immutable alchemist's gate). Well, nobody except Connie Willis. I love Connie Willis.

Read "The More Things Change" at 512 Words or Fewer


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Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "What You Should Know About Water Rites"

Fun fact: The title of this week's story is the same length as 1.4% of the story itself. Also, the first draft was about three times longer and included a lot of rambling about politics and homelessness. So much for social relevance. I know, I know, just get to the damn magic already. Fine.

Read "What You Should Know About Water Rites" at 512 Words or Fewer


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Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Art Attack"

D read this week's story and remarked that it has the same type of ending as "Antique"--i.e., one character making a flip remark.

I'm also quite aware that it's yet another alien-artifact mystery (like "The Forty" and "Finale") and, though it does have a self-contained conflict and resolution, feels like the teaser to a longer piece (like "Bachelor of Science" and "Ghosts of Earth").*

Am I getting into a rut? You tell me.

Read "Art Attack" at 512 Words or Fewer


* For the record, I am working on longer versions of all three of those stories.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Better"

I've been sick today (in bed until 2pm, on the couch until 6pm, now back in bed), so today's shameless self-promotion is a bit late. The good news is, my friend Jeff already blogged about today's story. So you can just go read his post instead.


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Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Sleepmonger"

Read "Sleepmonger" at 512 Words or Fewer

You can also listen to me do funny voices, or get the backstory infodump.

I'm still mulling the comedy pilot I wrote last summer, working title: "Apartment of Champions." I would never call it "Friends meet Heroes," unless maybe I was actually trying to sell it to someone. But the script still needs a lot of work.


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Sunday, January 25, 2009

First Draft

I'm starting the first draft a new novel today. CKL asked me if it was going to be a Victorian. It's not. So I said, "No!" in a horrified tone of voice. I was really surprised that he should ask me such a question.

Then I remembered that I just finished reading What Jane Austen Ate and What Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool, and that I'm currently reading Daily Life in Victorian England by Sally Mitchell. He's seen me with those books. He was even in the room yesterday when I started building my rural Victorian village in the Sims.

I've been talking about the Victorians a lot lately, too. I find the differences in our lives mind-boggling. For example, A typical laborer might need to spend more than 1% of his weekly income if someone sent him a letter. Food was more than 60% of that same laborer's weekly budget... if his family lived on oatmeal, bread-and-butter, potatoes, and ate meat only on Sunday. Housing was expected to be less than 10% of income.

By comparison, I pay nothing to receive more stuff in the mail than I know what to do with. I eat meat almost every day, but I'm still offended if my food budget (not including restaurants) exceeds 10% of my income. And I feel like I'm getting away with something because our housing is only 20% of our monthly budget.

Those are just the easy differences. I have difficulty imagining what it would be like to live without electricity, plumbing, or communications. And that's nothing when I try to imagine getting married and no longer having ownership rights to anything that used to be mine, including my body.

So I guess it wasn't entirely unreasonable for CKL to ask me if I was writing a Victorian novel. But I'm just playing around with the Victorians. They're interesting and their world is alien to me.

My new novel is much less interesting. It's about a high school girl in a family of werewolves.

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