Wednesday, December 18, 2013

THING IN THE WOODS First-Ish Draft is Done

This announcement is a week or so late, but here it comes. The first draft of my "teen Lovecraftian horror novel" The Thing In The Woods is finished.

The story began when I was hanging around the Borders in East Cobb when I was in high school or college. I was reading a Call of Cthulhu role-playing game manual and came across the concept of one of those isolated small towns where Lovecraft depicted evil things afoot being suburbanized. The phrase they used was "supernatural Love Canal." What began as a short story turned into a novel (in terms of concept, as I actually hadn't written very much), a novel I neglected to focus on other projects like Battle for the Wastelands.

However, I eventually realized this was another project I could write fairly quickly, since I wouldn't need to do as much research as I would for other projects. As of last March, only 1,517 words had been written. By the time the summer writing challenge with my friends Nick and Lauren began, only 6,000 words had been written. Now it's 46,000 words long. I call it a "first-ish" draft because I typically write one or two chapters at a time, print and revise them, submit to writing group(s), and then revise based on their comment. The last two chapters, which one of my groups will consider on 12/29, would technically be at the "second draft" (or a "Cherie Priest first draft" because she considers an unrevised-but-just-finished project to be "draft zero"), but earlier parts will have been revised twice or more.

Then things will get a bit tricky. Many agents will not represent and many publishers will not publish a work that's this short. There are some presses that will, but oftentimes they will only put them out as eBooks, not as print books. Although the eBook market is rapidly growing and threatens to obliterate mass-market paperbacks, no print editions mean no book signings. That's a very good way to generate publicity and thus further book sales (I've covered a bunch in my years as a journalist--see here, here, here, and most recently on page 10 here). If book signings are not an option, I'm not sure how I'd do my bit to promote the book.

Fortunately, I've got ideas for at least three more scenes I can add that flesh out the book's female lead (she's a relative newcomer to the story and I fear it shows) and provide one last POV for the novel's (human) villain that's thematically fitting. Hopefully I can get it to 50,000 words. Then I can bring the completed novel before my other writing group (and some interested friends) and once I revise based on their opinion, it'll be ready to be shopped around. I'm thinking this will be done by the end of first quarter 2014, although graduate school could be a problem.

Fingers crossed. Wish me luck.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Search Called Off For Missing Dolbeau-Mistassini Family

DOLBEAU-MISTASSINI--The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have called off the search for a missing Dolbeau-Mistassini man, his wife, and son.

Jacques Plante, 35, his wife Hettie, 25, and their newborn son Achille were first reported missing Jan. 12, but heavy snow and storms prevented the search from beginning until Jan. 15. Searchers in snowmobiles, helicopters, and even on horseback searched the countryside surrounding Dolbeau-Mistassini all the way to Normandin. Bloodhounds found a trace of his scent at one point, but it was soon lost. The RCMP combed the countryside for two weeks before another winter storm forced them to pull back.

"Mr. Plante and his wife trapped animals in the countryside, but during the winter came in to work at the ski resort," said Corporal Andrew Johansson, who oversaw the search. "The Plante family cabin was empty when we found it."

The only evidence of recent habitation, however, was the fire ring out front. There had been a fire there during the last week or so, but not evidence of cooked food.

In response to questions about whether the family had been stranded in the countryside without food during the winter, Johansson reiterated the need to keep adequate supplies as well as emergency radios to call for help. In the event of an emergency, it's always best to stick together. Oftentimes when a person strikes out alone seeking help, they run into trouble and cannot help themselves.

So what happened to this Canadian family? Find out by reading "I am the Wendigo," available on Amazon.com.

Pets Going Missing in Geauga County

Chardon, OH--Geauga County residents have been reporting an uptick in the number of missing pets over the last two months.

Newly-installed County Dog Warden James Gibson said there were 20 missing dogs and 10 missing cats reported in October, up from 11 missing dogs and four missing cats this month last year. In September, there were 15 missing dogs and eight missing cats, an increase from last September's numbers of eight and two respectively.

What's more, no identifiable dead animals were found. A skeleton later determined to belong to a Labrador retriever was discovered in Munson Township, but no connection with any of the missing dogs could be made.

"It'd been picked clean," Gibson said. "Clean."

He suspected turkey vultures had been at the carcass for days before it was found. There were no other dead animals found on county roads or in any of the townships.

Gibson advised residents to keep their pets, particularly cats and small dogs, indoors unless on leashes. This is doubly true at night, when predators would be most active.

Leslie Groves, a resident of Claridon Township, lost her beagle Samwise in September.

"He got out when I was taking out the garbage," she said. "Wriggled between my legs and out the door he went."

Samwise had gotten out before, but had always come back within a few hours. It's now been over a month and no sign of Samwise, alive or otherwise. Groves doesn't know what she's going to tell her daughter Abigail, 10.

Andrew Steinberg, a resident of the Huntsberg township, said the pet disappearances began increasing when some forests near Chardon-Windsor Road were cleared to make room for a new shopping center, the first new commercial construction in the area since 2008.

"Dozens of acres of forest, clear-cut," he said. "Whatever's living there, if it's still alive, is having it make its living elsewhere."

He suspects the perpetrators are coyotes, although he admits he hasn't actually seen any coyotes even at night.

Alva Jones, a representative of Donner Construction, denied any connection between the new development and the missing animals.

"There was no sign of coyotes or any other large predator when we surveyed the land," he said. "We found what looked like a squatter camp, but it had been abandoned for some time."

He offered his condolences to those missing their pets.

So just what has been driven out of the forests and forced to prey on cats and dogs in order to survive? Find out by reading "Melon Heads" by Matthew W. Quinn, available on Amazon.com.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

November Writing Contest Results

Now that I'm done with graduate school for the semester, I can post about the results from my November writing contest with my friend Lauren.

My most important accomplishment this month was taking THE THING IN THE WOODS from 36,294 to 40,579 words. That's over 4,000 words. All that's left to do is write the climactic confrontation with the titular Eldritch Abomination and I'll be done with the first draft. My plan is to bring the remaining chapters before one of my writing groups in December and then the whole thing before my other writing group in early January. Then comes the search for agents, publishers, etc. THING will probably be rather short, which could be tricky.

I also managed to cut BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS down from 99,631 (100,000 as far as publishers are concerned, since one always rounds) to 97,427 words. This I accomplished through lots of little cuts, like replacing "looked to the left" with "looked left." Many small cuts, added up, equal lots of cut words. All this was done without affecting the macro plot any.

I also worked on some old short stories that might be Kindle fodder. I brought one before my writing group this morning and got some advice that could lead to two versions, one a supernatural horror tale and the other a purely natural "animal story" that could be sent to a pricier market.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A NaNoWriMo Gift For You

For those of you who are participating in National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), there's a gift for you.

http://www.grammarly.com/blog/2013/beaten-path-nanowrimo-writing-tips/

Since high school I've been reading a lot of how-to-write books and copying the choicest bits into a Word document entitled "General Writing Tips." Grammarly was so kind as to give me a platform to share some of them with those toiling along in the NaNoWriMo fields.

(I'm not doing it myself, but I did edit Battle for the Wastelands to a hopefully more salable 97,000 words and I did manage to write just under 2,000 words so far for The Thing in the Woods, so I've managed something. Maybe I'll finish the Thing first draft by the end of the year.)

I hope the information contained therein is useful to you.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

More Entertaining Alternate Timelines...

Here are some more entertaining alternate timelines, courtesy of AH.com...

May 1945: Quisling Makes a Run For It

In real history, the Nazis' Norwegian stooge Vidkun Quisling, whose name has become synonymous with treason, surrendered to the Allies, was tried, and was executed. In this scenario, Quisling, fearing ending up like Benito Mussolini (executed by the Resistance), decides to go on the run. The story follows him on his adventures throughout newly-liberated Europe, the Norwegians hot on his trail. Those who like Villain Protagonist stories (although Quisling isn't malicious or cruel, he did aid and abet Hitler) will like this one, plus since he's not really mean, he's easier for those who aren't villain fans to sympathize with than, say, Eichmann.

Decisive Darkness: What If Japan Hadn't Surrendered In 1945?

In our history, the twin shocks of the atomic bomb and the Soviet invasion of the Japanese land empire were what it took to get the Japanese to surrender in 1945. But even after that, there were some die-hards who preferred death to defeat and they attempted to stage an anti-surrender coup. In our history they failed. In this history, they succeeded. The effects so far include Kokura getting the third atomic bomb and a Soviet invasion of Hokkaido. Given the widespread hunger even after the surrender, this timeline is going to get nasty. Some people have even used the phrase "American Japan" in an annexation sense, which would only be possible with eight-digit casualty figures.

With The Crescent Above Us

In real history, the 1877 Russo-Turkish War was an Ottoman defeat, with the British preventing the Russians from imposing fairly draconian terms. However, the Ottomans had several advantages that (based on the Wikipedia article) they squandered due to making foolish assumptions about how the Russian army would fight. This timeline diverges from our with the Ottoman war minister Hussein Avni Pasha not being assassinated, leaving the Ottomans with a much more effective military leadership. Things go much better for the Turks this time around. The author of the timeline is a Muslim, so he's got an inside perspective.

Bayonets Won't Cut Coal: The Socialist Republic of Britain

Some of my reading for graduate school leads me to believe there were widespread fears of a massive general strike in Britain in late 1914, a strike that didn't happen due to the beginning of World War I. However, sweeping issues under the rug doesn't necessarily eliminate them. In this timeline, the Anglo-Japanese Alliance is renewed and that spawns more changes culminating in massive labor unrest and ultimately a left-wing coup turning Britain into a socialist regime governed by the trade unions, with the old upper class (including no less than Winston Churchill) in exile in the Commonwealth plotting revenge. I'm not really familiar with labor history and I'm generally not sympathetic to hard-left politics, but this is a really interesting situation. It does require a fair bit of bad decisions by the British ruling class and one really bad bit of bad luck to get there though.

And now for a timeline of my own...

Muslim Europe, Christian Middle East

It's not nearly as insane as it sounds, I promise. In our history, the Persians and Avars occupied most of the Byzantine Empire and besieged Constantinople from both sides. The siege failed and both were beaten back, but the slugfest weakened both Byzantium and the Sassanid Empire to the point the new Islamic Caliphate seized most of one and outright devoured the other. The Eastern Roman Empire isn't so lucky this time, which will have its effects, including weakening the little-o orthodox church in favor of the big heresies like Monophysitism and Nestorianism. I wrote this years ago, but I was recently inspired by one of my graduate classes to start writing a story set in this timeline. It'll be around the time of the Battle of the Straits of Messina...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Arab Mascots, Arab Scientists, and Win-Win Situations

On Facebook today, I found this article from Al-Jazeera about Coachella Valley High School and its mascot, the Arabs. The image of the mascot on the school sign looks like some caricature of Yasser Arafat and there are a lot of more benign but still kind of cliched images of Arabs elsewhere on the school.

As you can imagine, some Americans of Arab extraction are not happy campers about it. Especially the image on the school sign, which is ugly as hell. Maybe he's supposed to intimidate the school's athletic rivals, but I'm not so un-empathetic that I can't understand how Arabs who've had to deal with the terrorist or oil sheikh stereotypes their whole lives might be bothered.

However, changing the mascot completely would be an enormous expensive pain in the behind. You'd need to repaint everything, rebrand everything, get people accustomed to using the new mascot, etc. And this isn't like the situation with the Washington Redskins, where "Redskin" is an actual racial slur. It's not like they're the Coachella Camel Jockeys (or worse). I'd compare it more to the Florida State Seminoles. Plus so far it's just one Arab-American organization that's upset--it doesn't seem like there's some massive groundswell among the Arab-American community in general or the local community (more important because it's their school).

So here's an idea that should please everybody. Keep most of the artwork and imagery for historical reasons and because although cliched they're not really insulting. However, replace the guy on the school sign who looks like a cliched terrorist with the image of one of the great Arab intellectuals. The "angry Arab head" might be fine for the sports teams to scare people with (and it wouldn't be seen as often), but the school is an educational environment and that should be paramount.

My initial idea for a new "Arab" mascot would be Avicenna, but it turns out he's Persian. Fortunately a quick Google search found this article, which lists many great Arabic scientists who kept the classical heritage alive and made many discoveries of their own while Europe stagnated. Someone whose field of learning is most relevant to a particular local industry would be best. If none are available, al-Battani might be a good pick, since he's so instrumental in trigonometry--something in Georgia at least is taught in high school.

This is a win-win for everybody. A rather caricatured image of an Arab is reduced in importance if not removed completely, the often-ignored contributions of Arab scientists are highlighted, and the school gets to keep its mascot.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hope for the Classic Mandarin? IRON MAN III Spoilers...

Found an interesting article this morning surfing the Internet. Marvel is going to do a short film focusing on Trevor, who in a major plot twist in Iron Man III was revealed to be a drug-addicted British actor rather than a terrorist mastermind. The kicker is, if this article is true, that the REAL Mandarin who is more in line with his comic-book counterpart will put in an appearance. And apparently he's not happy about what they were doing in his name.

That would be really cool. As I've said before, the Mandarin is a character with a long history in the Iron Man universe. I admit some of his depictions have verged on if not crossed the line into Yellow Peril-esque racism (seriously, look at those teeth) and a portrayal Chinese people (or at least their censorious government) find offensive risks losing money. However, there are perfectly legitimate ways to have a powerful Asian male villain without turning him into some kind of racist cliche that has overly-long fingernails, laughs evilly for extended periods, wants to turn the hero's pretty (white) girlfriend into his opium-addicted concubine, etc. This depiction makes him less exotic, even though someone I know from an Internet forum still played the "it's offensive" card by comparing him to some kind of "Japan Will Buy The World" evil corporate mogul. However, it's not like there're only two ways to portray a character.

Someone else I know online claimed having a real Mandarin with both Trevor and Killian Aldrich being decoys was overly-complex and too much like Game of Thrones. However, this could be explained by having Aldrich (who seems to have some kind of Asian fetish due to the tattoos revealed in the climax) coming up with the whole shtick completely on his own, perhaps basing it on something he'd only heard about. It turns out there really is a Mandarin supervillain who regards Aldrich, at best, as being a useful distraction or amusement or at worst, an upstart who needs to be squashed. Think the character of Asajj Ventress who appears in the Star Wars books and comics--she's a pit fighter on some backwater planet claiming to be a Sith and when Count Dooku, a real Sith lord, shows up, he's more amused than impressed.

We'll see how they manage it. One of the comments suggested Kingsley could play the real Mandarin with Trevor being a double, or even TREVOR being the real Mandarin who is just pretending to be a drugged-up loser. That could actually be funny.

Also, in previous posts on the Mandarin issue I've criticized Shane Black as being a left-wing Hollywood type trashing a beloved character in the name of political correctness. I still think that, but this article here showed that he was willing to engage with critical fans in person rather than blowing them off as entitled white racists or whatever the Internet Social Justice Warrior lingo is or simply saying, "The movie made a billion dollars so I don't have to listen to anybody." I will give him props for that. It's easy to mock your critics online or simply ignore them--actually talking to them in person is more difficult, especially if you're as busy as Black no doubt is. Even if I don't agree, I can still respect bravery and having the backbone to stand up for one's position in public.

(I'd have liked the article to go into more detail about Black's rationale, but that's the writer's fault, not Black's.)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

October Writing Contest Results

As October ends and November, the National Novel-Writing Month, begins, here's the update on my writing contest with my friend Lauren. I've written 3,180 words.

The single largest amount of text is for a later book in the Wastelands world. My friend Jeff Baker, at writing group, suggested more intrigue in Grendel's harem. Although Grendel's harem is too small for the kind of shenanigans that went on in the Ottoman harems (or the less-severe sort in that of the Sultan of Oman, which you can read about in Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar, one of the books I'm reading now for graduate school), when the patriarch is away, there's still room for plotting and treachery. And so I wrote the beginnings of an alliance between two concubines forming. The memoirs I read will provide some of the basis--graduate school has been a great research opportunity as well as a potential career boon.

The next largest major block of text is for a political project based on some of my earlier blog posts. I'd checked out Foreign Policy Begins at Home and wrote 1,000 words based on the ideas author Richard N. Haass has in the book. His suggestion that China could someday do to the United States what the U.S. did to Britain during the Suez Crisis is reason alone to fear an overly-large national debt.

I also wrote a few hundred words for another project. I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about it because of the uniqueness of the concept, but hopefully it's something I can write fairly quickly. To give away a little bit, it's a faux history rather than a narrative, so it's dominated by world-building (which I'm good at), not characters (where I'm weaker).

However, most of the month's writing time was dedicated to revising Battle for the Wastelands. I spent October cutting it to 100,000 words (without cutting plot, characters, etc--just a matter of things like using "both" instead of "both of them" writ large) to make it easier to sell. Now I've gotten it to 99,000 words and I'm going to try to cut it to 98,000 during the month of November, which my friend Alex Hughes said is a "sweet spot" because some publishers think it can be cut further and others think there's room for expansion.

Monday, October 28, 2013

More Thoughts On A Better Mandarin ("Iron Man III" Spoilers)

I purchased Iron Man 3 for my friend David for his birthday and that got me thinking more about how the Mandarin could have been handled better than in the actual film. I've blogged about this already, but I've recently thought of another "how I would have done it" that would work in Killian Aldrich, since Guy Pearce did a good job playing him.

So begin the movie the same way, with Tony Stark blowing off the admiring, sickly Killian at a New Year's Eve party, then having his fun with (and presumably ditching immediately afterward) Maya Hansen. Both having been ill-treated by Tony, the two join forces presumably as they did before the main plot begins. However, given how they both were trying to get Tony's support, I'm assuming they're going to need an outside investor. Who do they seek out?

(Drumroll...)

The Mandarin. Early in the movie it seems like Killian is a subordinate or even disciple of the Mandarin and we can play this straight. The Mandarin provides the capital for Killian and Maya to develop the Extremis project, ostensibly for good ends, but the Mandarin has his own agenda. Given his comic book origins, perhaps he seeks to restore the historic dominance of the East over the West, and what better way to do it than use the never-ending War on Terror to bankrupt and demoralize the United States? It's like Palpatine's gambit in the Clone Wars, only the mastermind is the terrorist and not the Chancellor. This way, we can still use the Extremis exploding-soldier plot and Killian's original conspiracy, including the traitorous Vice President.

We can combine Maya's treachery and Killian's longstanding crush on Pepper Potts to cause drama between Tony and Pepper. Pepper remarks that Killian used to ask her out all the time in the kind of annoyed and slightly amused way a pretty popular girl might view a persistent (but non-threatening) nerdy suitor, only to be taken aback to see the stud-muffin post-Extremis Killian. This, and Tony's resulting jealousy, was one of the more amusing parts of the film. If Maya allies herself with Tony, the fact she was one of Tony's many one-night stands during his Jerkass phase could cause issues with Pepper. Killian tries to play on this to woo Pepper himself, resorting to kidnapping and forcible Extremis-izing only when this doesn't work. Due to his health issues, Killian owes so much more to the Mandarin than Maya and could remain loyal out of gratitude for the help in overcoming his disability--and if getting his hands on Pepper at long last is part of the bargain, so much the better.

(In this interview, Guy Pearce's description of Killian's lifelong efforts to overcome the disabilities he was born with make him sound rather sympathetic. This desire would make him vulnerable to manipulation by someone who can cure his disabilities and grateful enough to this benefactor he might be willing to ignore his conscience. Pearce's interview also suggests that while Pepper would never give the sickly, annoying pre-Extremis Killian a second glance, the handsome and confident post-Extremis Killian is an entirely different beast. But if Killian is still weak at his core the way the TVTropes page on him suggests, he could freak out and kidnap Pepper and subject her to the painful and dangerous Extremis process rather than confidently assuming he could "win" her as a triumph over Tony in a non-coercive manner.)

The final act occurs per canon, only instead of Killian killing Maya and Extremis minions capturing Colonel Rhodes and stealing the Iron Patriot armor, it's the Mandarin himself. Not only is he a plotting mastermind behind a worldwide conspiracy reaching all the way to the White House, not only is he a Corrupter playing a sickly and unconfident man for his own purposes, but he wields the until-now-unrevealed power of the Ten Rings (which could be explained in some throwaway line hinting to their alien origins). I could imagine Rhodes being assigned to protect Maya now that she's defected, but the Vice President reveals this to the Mandarin, who comes to punish her personally and defeats Rhodes to do it. Then he assigns one of his Extremis minions to use the Iron Patriot armor to kidnap the president, leading to the final battle.

This battle would be similar to the actual film, only bigger--Extremis-ized Pepper escapes and fights Killian while Tony battles the Mandarin directly. And given how powerful Killian is, it might take them both to bring him down (as it did in the film), allowing the Mandarin to escape to fight Tony again in a future film. Had Shane Black and the other Powers That Be went with this approach, Guy Pearce's performance as Killian could have been largely retained (and, like Maya, he's a sympathetic tragic figure and not just a vindictive creep), the classic Mandarin could still be used, and the theme of "Tony's previous bad behavior comes back to bite him" can be continued.

Of course, that might require someone other than Shane Black running the show and no investment money from China...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Two More Interesting Alternate-History Scenarios

Still got a lot going on, so this post will be rather brief. It's a couple interesting 20th Century alternate-history scenarios courtesy of my message-board.

The first is A Blunted Sickle, in which the French implement a different war plan and keep a mobile reserve during the lead-up to the German attack. When the breakout in the Ardennes occurs, the French are able to come down on it rather than having their soldiers cut off in Belgium as in our history. The Battle of France just got really interesting. I'd give away some particularly interesting highlights, but the only ones I can think of are spoilers. Sufficient to say, I really recommend this one.

And here's Decimation: A Europe After The French Break at Verdun. World War I is ended a lot earlier than in our history, but Continental Europe descends into revolutionary chaos soon afterward. Notable for a Trotskyist secessionist regime in France, Lenin active in Bohemia, and a whole lot of Balkan bloodletting. Really interesting in terms of concept--it's told like one of Robert Kaplan's travel-books, interspersing description of the present day of an alternate timeline with accounts of the history behind it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My "Battle for the Wastelands" Plan (and more...)

Hey everybody. I know it's been awhile, but I've been rather busy with graduate school and my various freelance writing clients, including this lucrative gig covering a recent trade show. I haven't had a lot of time to blog or even work on my personal writing (my fiction word count this month is a whopping 232). But I've got something up my sleeve you all might like.

It's been a little over a year since I finished Battle for the Wastelands. Since then I've submitted it to three publishers and a whole bunch of agents. Although I've gotten requests from one agent and one publisher, neither of them went anywhere. Their responses, however, proved quite helpful for further revisions, especially when paired with a helpful discussion on worldbuilding with my friend Matt from one of my writing groups. I also managed to cut it down to 100,000 words from 104,000, hopefully making it easier to sell.

Here's my plan for the book for the remainder of the year. I've submitted it to five agents this month. I intend to keep submitting it to agents only until mid-January, when the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest opens up. I intended to submit it last year, but dawdled while waiting to hear back from a publisher (whom I later found out had lost the manuscript) and by the time I decided to stop waiting, it had filled up. There's a lesson in that.

Should ABNA not provide the results I'm looking for (even if I don't win, one of my friends got a book deal from being a semi- or quarter-finalist, I can't remember which), I will seriously consider submitting it to a small press. One of my other writing friends suggested I submit to a publisher that's put out a pair of anthologies he edited and based on the anthologies' cover art, that might be a really good idea. One reason I'm leery of small presses is that their cover art is often shoddy and obviously CGI, but this one is much higher on the food chain.

In the meantime, I'll try to finish The Thing In The Woods. Most of the actual story is written, which is a bit of a problem--at present it's 36,000 words. One of the people at the pulp panel at DragonCon said 60,000 is an ideal pulp length, while one of the agents I found won't represent anything below 65,000 words. Given I've already planned a series centered around the protagonist I could make the third story the first book in the series and make this a prequel novella, but I'd rather not. My writing groups can surely come up with some suggestions to fill it out.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Writing Contest Results: September

I use Grammarly for proofreading because every time you publish a typo, the errorists win.

Although my bet with my friend Nick has ended, my friend Lauren extended it until the end of the year and so I kept track of what I wrote this month.

*I started writing a short story starring a half-Welsh half-Japanese (well, the pulp fantasy equivalent) samurai and a novel that serves as an expansion of that short story, but didn't write a whole lot in either. However, Mary Robinette Kowal advised on the podcast Writing Excuses short stories should be 4,000 words or shorter, so the story doesn't necessarily have to be all that long. I've plotted out the novel (and outlined some sequels), but that'll be a bigger undertaking.

*Wrote 1,007 new words for The Thing In The Woods in one evening. Between that and a few extra words I added while editing another part of it, it's around 36,000 words now. I found a horror small press that might be a good market for it, but minimum word count is 60,000. At DragonCon one of the pulp writers said 60,000 is a good length for a pulp novel. If I finish without making it to 60,000 words, I might go back and add some content from another character's POV in order to better show his character arc. I might also give the female lead some POVs of her own, but the problem is, she knows a lot that gets revealed to the reader later on. It'd be like having a Littlefinger POV in A Song of Ice and Fire.

*Wrote around 1,300 words for a pulpy short story set in the alternate timeline I wrote called (at present) "Muslim Europe, Christian Middle East." It's not nearly as ridiculous as it sounds, I promise. Basically it's a pirate tale in which a Coptic Egyptian sea captain signs on with the Roman successor states in Italy and North Africa to fight the huge Muslim fleet emerging from Islamic Constantinople (or "Konstantiniyye" as it'd be in Arabic). The headquarters of the Caliphate was moved there instead of Damascus and Persia was able to hold out in this timeline, so imagine the Byzantine Empire after the Islamic explosion with Arabia and the Holy Land down to the Sinai attached. Egypt is independent with its own Roman-style emperor who has adopted the trappings of an Egyptian pharaoh (I think the phrase "the cobra crown of the Caesars" is going to show up). Not sure where I'm going to send it when it's done.

*My single biggest project this month in terms of word count has been a political project entitled A Republican Party That Can Win California. I basically copied all the chapter titles and what I'd written so far into a Word document, which came out to be 2,250 words long or so. This one doesn't require a lot of creativity (or a storyline), just research and citing books. It probably wouldn't be all that long either, so I could bang it out relatively quickly.

(Of course, that's what I thought with The Thing In The Woods. It'll take me a lot less time to finish that than Battle did, but still.)

8,442 words total for the month of September, even though I only worked on fiction nine days out of 30. Graduate school must come first, after all. Onto October!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Kindle Fiction Update: Oct. 2013

I've decided to examine the sales figures for my Kindle short stories now that it's been a little over a year since I self-published the first two, I am the Wendigo and Melon Heads. I went through all the sales spreadsheets Amazon has provided and have totaled them up.

For starters, "Wendigo" has been an unqualified success. I sold fourteen copies in 2012 and nineteen so far in 2013. Thirty-three copies at 35% royalty copies out to $11.55. Considering how I sold it for the first time (in late 2006, to the now-dead webzine Chimaera Serials) for $20, this is a profitable second run indeed. And it's pure profit, considering how Udo Wooten did the cover for free. A lot of paying markets pay $10 or less, so I've made a good business decision self-publishing this one rather than scrounging for a market that would accept a reprint (rare) and pay a decent rate (rarer).

"Melon Heads" came out of the gate strong, selling twenty copies in 2012, sixteen in the release month of September. However, it faltered in 2013, selling only five so far. That's $8.75, which is better than giving it away for free or selling it to one of those $5 magazines. Not as good as I could have gotten if I'd sent it to a $10 magazine, assuming they'd buy it. Unfortunately I tried to promote it using Google Adwords that proved to be an epic fail (no sales whatsoever during the period the ad ran), so this one is still a net money loser despite its stronger sales.

My Lovecraftian tale The Beast of the Bosporus was released later, in November 2012. I sold fourteen copies in 2012 and eleven through September (I've sold one so far this October). Not including the October sale, that's $8.75. Still better than the freebies. This was the first story I've tried to promote with a post on this blog that I managed to get hosted some other places--a faux excerpt from a historical journal implying the story was gleaned from newly discovered Ottoman manuscripts. Fortunately I'd gotten the cover done free as well, so this one has been profitable.

Despite commissioning a beautiful cover, Illegal Alien has proven a disappointment. Only five sales in 2012 and eight sales thus far in 2013 for $4.55. Considering I paid $45 for the cover, this one won't be making a profit for awhile. A pity Kindle publishing didn't exist when I wrote this at the height of the 2006 immigration reform protests or else I could have pulled in some major money due to the timeliness. Life lesson--if you're writing a story to cash in on a current event, Kindle-publish it because by the time a traditional market runs it, it'll be too late. Roger Corman made one of his movies in a month or so to cash in on the Moon landing, but that's not really possible with written fiction.

In August, as sales begin to fall for my original four (only ONE sale in July), I put out three new stories. That spurred sales back to the level they'd been earlier this year, although they never reached the euphoric heights of September 2012. So far the alternate history spy adventure Picking Up Plans In Palma has sold only five copies, all of them in August. Combined my two stories starring superveillain protagonist Andrew Patel, Übermensch and Needs Must, have sold nine copies, with "Ubermensch" selling seven of those. However, it's too early to write them off as failures, since although "Wendigo" started weak (only six sales the first month), it proved to have good staying power.

This year-long experiment in Kindle publishing has led me to reach some conclusions:

*More "mundane" creature horror sells better than more niche Lovecraftian stuff. However, there's a complicating variable--"Wendigo" is explicitly advertised as a reprint of a traditionally-published story, which no doubt makes it more attractive.

*Horror sells better than science fiction.

*Alternate history and superhero/supervillain tales do worse than standard science fiction.

*If you can get good covers for cheap enough rates, self-publishing can be financially more profitable than sending them to markets that pay only a small amount ($5 or $10) and definitely more profitable than giving them away for free.

You may be tempted to write off Kindle publishing short fiction as a waste of time or a poor investment. However, there is such a thing as a tipping point and it'd be a shame to give up just before you get successful (there's a rather sad cartoon showing a miner giving up when, if he'd dug a few more inches, he'd have found a trove of diamonds). My friend Jeff Baker, in the addendum he added to my guest blog post, said that at LibertyCon, the consensus one needed 20-25 items available on Amazon before they started feeding off each other. And I've just bought a Kindle e-book on guerrilla marketing one's self-published fiction, so hopefully I'll get some good advice and my sales figures will go up.

Still, at DragonCon one year some panelists said short fiction isn't worth the amount of time invested in it. Although I'm going to try to sell my unsold stories and Kindle-publish the ones I can't (I have two fantasy stories submitted to traditional markets at the moment), I'm going to focus on my novels Battle for the Wastelands and The Thing in the Woods. If I can sell one of those, hopefully it'll spur sales for the short stories.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Some Good Pacific War Timelines For You

I'm in the first semester of graduate school and I've got a lot on my plate, hence the decline in my blogging. However, to tide you over before I upload my third batch of notes from DragonCon 2013, I'll supply you with a couple interesting Pacific War timelines from AH.com

The first one is A True and Better Alamo: The Battle for Wake Atoll. I'm not as familiar with our world's Battle of Wake Island, but based on the author's comments, efforts to fortify the island begin much earlier than they did in our history, making the island MUCH more defensible. Based on the title it doesn't look like things will go well for the defenders in the long run, but considering how the Japanese campaign in the early days of the Pacific War was run on a shoestring on a very tight timetable, a prolonged and bloodier resistance at Wake Island is going to cause them problems in the long run. After doing some more research, he decided to change some earlier events in the timeline and started writing an updated version, which you can find here.

The second one isn't really a timeline per se, but an attempt to war-game a second Japanese carrier assault on Hawaii in early 1942. Instead of assisting in operations in Rabaul, Borneo, and Java, the First Air Fleet (the major Japanese carrier battle group) is dispatched east for a second attempt to destroy U.S. carrier forces in the Pacific and (possibly) tear up Pearl Harbor and Oahu some more.

Behold IJN Carrier Attack on Hawaii-January 1942.

There's a lot of gamer talk, but as you scroll through, there's narrative depicting the results of the dice-rolling, including a B-17 bomber hitting a ship (something that happened very rarely). Given how it was the U.S. that ground the Empire of the Rising Sun to ashes, it seems to me that hitting the U.S. harder when they'd already hurt us (Pearl Harbor and the aftermath) would have been a better strategic decision that going overkill on some battles they would have won anyway, but that's with hindsight.

On the other hand, if they end up getting gutted like they did at the Battle of Midway, the war in this timeline might end up being shorter.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Notes from DragonCon 2013, Part Two

Here's the second round of notes from DragonCon 2013. It'll be like the first round, only with much less name-dropping.

One panel I attended involved people who'd been involved with several anthologies. That was interesting to me, since although collections don't sell well, the number of magazines accepting fiction is rapidly declining. My friend James R. Tuck edited two Thunder on the Battlefield sword and sorcery anthologies featuring his own work and that of two other members of my writing group (a story I wanted to submit wasn't ready, even though he graciously offered me extra time). Once I get some clout, maybe I can pitch an anthology to a publisher and they'll agree to publish it if I edit it. :)

*Putting together an anthology is tiresome and the pay's not great, but it's a lot of fun. I'll have to keep this in mind, since I've got a lot less time for fun these days. :(

*One of the panelists talked about getting 500 submissions for ten slots.

*If a submitted story is good but the anthology rejects it, the editor might keep the writer in mind for future work.

*Many stories submitted to anthologies have weak beginnings. If the submission numbers are small, editors can work with authors to improve a particular story, but if there are a lot of them, buh-bye.

*Anthology editors don't want to do actual editing. Those submitting to an anthology should polish it until it shines before sending it in.

*A common problem is that stories take too long to get started and finish too fast.

*There's no shame in using Kickstarter to get funding in advance, since anthologies generally don't make a lot of money. A good Kickstarter campaign will raise enough money to pay professional rates for covert art, editing, layout, and proofreading.

*Small presses are better outlets for anthologies. I'm guessing they were talking about pitching an anthology proposal to a publisher much like how one might pitch a single-author book to them. See the Thunder on the Battlefield situation above.

*An anthology like UnCONventional isn't going to sell a lot of copies at bookstores, but due to its subject matter, it will sell a LOT at conventions. Having a table at conventions is something to keep in mind, given how most publishers will not spend a lot of money to market a newbie author and then when said newbie author fails, it might be the kiss of death for their career (unless they adopt a pseudonym). Given how publishers will often offer books to authors at a reduced price, setting off to conventions on one's own seems like a good way of doing business.

Notes from DragonCon 2013 Part One

Sorry for the big gap in blog posts. I have recently started graduate school and between that, freelance work, and my own writing projects, that's bit into my blogging time considerably.

So here are some notes I took from DragonCon 2013:

*At a branding panel with artist John Picacio, he said art directors are the ones who generally hire artists. To become a successful freelance artist, he recommends building relationships with publishers but also be a member of the fan community via things like attending conventions.

*Many independent authors want book covers but offer too little money. He's turned them down for this reason, but suggested that second rights to an artistic work can be sold for much cheaper.

*Those interested in finding good fantasy art should check out Spectrum or visit DeviantArt. One DA artist has done the covers for several of my Kindle stories, so I've already taken that advice into account.

*At a pulp panel featuring my writer friends James R. Tuck and Delilah S. Dawson, I learned the ideal word count for pulp publisher Airship 27 is 60,000 words. That's what I'm shooting for with The Thing In The Woods, although I fear it might come up short. James has advised me to send Battle for the Wastelands to pulp publishers and once I hear back from some biggies I've already sent it to, I'll take his advice.

*With pulp, there's less need for a back-story.

*Later books in a series can feature a Dramatis Personae that's a recap without being a recap.

*Audible.com is a good place to have your books recorded for audio purposes. I might give that a try with my e-books.

*Nazi rocket planes were fueled by red foaming nitric acid and 100% hydrogen peroxide, both of which will dissolve anything. When mishaps occurred and the chemicals spilled into cockpits, pilots would literally melt. This happened at least once.

*John Ringo is apparently popular in Europe. His father-in-law, a minister in Lithuania, name-dropped Ringo and doubled the number of people at his church services. Meanwhile, either Ringo himself or a friend of his (I can't remember clearly) encountered some German women who were big fans.

*Romantic fiction in Germany is apparently very BDSM/dominance-heavy. Dawson and Ringo discussed the reaction to their books in more-puritanical America and according to Ringo, his Paladin of Shadows novels fit right in but Dawson's steampunk vampire romance is very tame. Ringo's account of the reaction of his mother (and her book club) to Ghost, the first Paladin novel, was hilarious. If you've ever heard of the Internet meme "Oh John Ringo No," it's about the series. Here you go.

*Pyr Books' "Toxic City" novels taking place in a London quarantined due to the use of chemical/biological weapons are being adapted for a television series. However, it's being set in Los Angeles. Given how the first book is London Eye, I'm wondering what they're going to call the series. "Toxic City," according to one of the Pyr panelists, seems like a good bet.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Very Merry Blog Tour Is Beginning

The other day, I was discussing the sales of my Kindle short stories (available here) with Matt Mitrovich. Sales have been declining for some time and he, having reviewed one of my stories, said chances are that the problem is not with the quality of the content, it's with my marketing. He recommended I do a blog tour--for those of you not in the know, that's writing a bunch of guest posts for a bunch of blogs.

I gave the matter some thought and decided to go with it. I'd just published three new stories on Amazon in quick succession, so I had the occasion for it. I posted a request for hosts on my message-board and received some interest, so I'll call this the "Very Merry Blog Tour" based on my board user-name MerryPrankster.

Here's the first post in the tour, a discussion of my experiences Kindle publishing on the blog belonging to my writer friend Jeff Baker.

My Career as a Kindle Direct Author, Thus Far

Sean C.W. Korsgaard, Matt Mitrovich, Alex Shalenko, and Christopher Nuttall have all agreed to host blog posts, as has the member of my message-board whose handle is Talwar. I've also gotten a bite from someone on Blogger Linkup, which arranges for people to guest post on each other's blogs.

So far I've made one sale of "I am the Wendigo," but considering how William Meikle re-tweeted the first post to his 71,000 followers, hopefully that'll only be the beginning.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Some Kindle Formatting Advice...

If you self-publish short fiction on Amazon.com for the Kindle like I have, I just figured out something that could be very beneficial for you.

Something I've noticed if one uses Tab to indent paragraphs and then uploads from Word directly to Amazon Kindle Direct, the paragraph indentation sizes vary. Most of the time they're the same size or vary only slightly, but occasionally you get really severe indentations that look like you hit Tab twice. That's not good.

Today when I was uploading "Picking Up Plans In Palma," I decided to use block-style paragraphs--no indents and a space between each paragraph. The result was much, much more readable. As a self-publisher I've already got one strike against me--I don't need more due to mediocre formatting. I went back and reformatted all but two of my stories into block paragraphs and I'll do the remaining two later.

I hope this proves useful to any indie writers out there...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Another Afrikanerverse Story Is Coming

My first story set in my Afrikaner Confederation timeline, "Coil Gun," appeared in Pressure Suite - Digital Science Fiction Anthology 3. Now, ladies and gentlemen, I will announce that my second story, "Picking Up Plans In Palma," will be available soon on Amazon for the Kindle.

Here's the cover for you, courtesy of Alex Claw.


In its current form, this story is 7,500 words long. My friend Sean C.W. Korsgaard is giving it one last look-over before I post it. Although it's possible he could find so many places for me to cut that I could send it to additional paying markets (it's rather long for a short story), that seems rather improbable at this juncture.

After that, I'll post the second Andrew Patel story, "Needs Must." The first story, Übermensch, is already available for purchase. Alex has already done a cover for a collection of four Patel/Silverbolt tales, so all I need to do is just write two more. :)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The 2013 Georgia Big Picture Conference Blog I Manage

Behold the new blog of the 2013 Georgia Big Picture Conference!

I will be managing this blog on behalf of one of my clients. Information about upcoming Atlanta-area film events and workshops and the conference itself will be appearing there.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Andrew Patel Is Coming...

I will soon have some new independently-published material for the Kindle posted soon on my Amazon.com author page.

Here's some back story. Last year (or perhaps earlier), my Kennesaw writing group discussed a "Southern Superheroes" anthology that ended up not going anywhere. However, before its implosion became clear, some of us had written stories. My contribution was two tales starring Andrew Patel, a Nietzsche enthusiast anti-hero who thinks transcending the merely human translates into making himself a cyborg.

(Hint: His is a situation of "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" as far as Nietzsche's philosophy is concerned.)

Given how I've done some research and found that superhero short fiction is a hard sell these days and how I've been told the way to succeed at independently publishing short stories for e-readers is "churn and burn," Mr. Patel will be making an appearance soon.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with the covers for Übermensch and "Needs Must," courtesy of Alex Claw, illustrator of The Beast of the Bosporus:




Depending on how successful these are, Mr. Patel will be making more return appearances. Today I came up with a new potentially recurring (worse) villain for him to face.

July Writing Contest Results

Here're the results of the writing contest involving Lauren, Nick, and me. I wrote a total of 13,598 words, beating out Nick (13,000) but losing to Lauren (14,614). Fortunately Lauren picked a restaurant we both absolutely love for me to take her to. :)

Here's how it breaks down:

*Early in the month, I spent a lot of time editing Battle for the Wastelands, getting it down to 100,000 words in preparation for submission to #PitchMas (no luck this time) and a new batch of agents. That took up a great deal of writing time but resulted in relatively few words. I also wrote some material for a later Wastelands novel, but not a whole lot.

*I also started a new project, which I will not go into a lot of detail on at the moment. Sufficient to say it plays to my great strength (worldbuilding, technology, etc.) and avoids one of my major weaknesses (characterization). Maybe around 1,000 or so words on that. Given the threat graduate school (more on that later) will pose to my fiction-writing productivity, this could be worth shifting my focus onto.

*I broke 30,000 words on The Thing In The Woods, writing around 9,000 words this month. Three days alone in which I wrote an excess of 1,000, 2,000, and 3,000 words respectively provided the bulk of that. Finishing chapters to submit them to a writing group one must commit to in advance is a powerful incentive. Still concerned it might be too short, but my plan is to finish it before

For August, I plan to write a good bit more material for Thing and do some more edits on Battle, since my friend Jeff from my Lawrenceville writing group posted a blog on some particularly-unnecessary words. However, graduate school approaches, and that will cut into my writing time considerably.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

If You Support More Inclusiveness In Speculative Fiction...

Over the last few months, there has been a big kerfluffle in the world of science fiction, fantasy, and horror about inclusiveness. Most of that pertains to gender, but there has been some controversy about race/ethnicity as well.

Well, if you want to support inclusiveness in speculative fiction, I would like to recommend to you some of my independently-published short stories:

Übermensch-This came from a "Southern superheroes" anthology my writing group attempted that didn't go anywhere. The protagonist is an irreligious half-Indian biomedical engineer who lives by the creed of Nietzsche and provides cybernetics services for Atlanta gangs in the vein of David Duchovny's character in the film Playing God. Superhero stories are pretty common--how about a supervillain story instead?

The Beast of the Bosporus-I started writing this story when I was in college after I realized that most of Lovecraft's fiction takes place in rural New England in the early 20th Century. I decided I was going to be a bit different and write a Lovecraftian horror tale set during the glory days of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th Century. Although the protagonist Sokollu Mehmed Pasha is a white man (he was a Serb by birth), he is a Muslim and the setting is distinctly non-Western. One of my writing friends Matthew Stienberg gave it a very good review.

Illegal Alien-Protagonist Patrido Guzman is a Mexican who seeks a better life in the United States and employs the services of a coyote--an immigrant smuggler--to get him there. Guzman himself is mestizo (I don't really get into racial politics in the story--this is Word of God) and another major Mexican character is more distinctly Indian. And never is the word "illegal" used in a pejorative fashion. Stienberg reviewed it on Amazon and gave it high marks too.

I am the Wendigo-Although the Wendigo is a monster, I drop some hints that when he was a human being, he had at least some Native American ancestry. For starters, he knows that the Algonquin language is more properly called Abenaki.

Although I am a straight, white Protestant male (and therefore get a lot less crap from society than those who aren't), most of my independently-published short fiction has protagonists who are minorities, at least in my own country. Ironic, isn't it.

And I've already had a cover made for a second Andrew Patel story, "Needs Must." I will keep you posted.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Recipe to Save The GOP Part Three: Less Social Conservatism

Earlier this month, I'd written about how a distributist economic model could build a new Republican coalition and how the stalwart National Rifle Association and Boy Scouts of America could provide long-term demographic support for the GOP by encouraging (responsible) firearms enthusiasm in the young and inculcating them with patriotic values (this is not to say non-Republicans aren't patriotic, but the GOP tends to be friendlier to overt patriotism). Now it's time to risk stepping on yet another land mine, social conservatism.

For starters, religion in the United States is in decline. The mainline Protestant denominations have suffered the most, but evangelicals have taken hits too. Younger people in particular are quite often non-religious. The Southern Baptists, one of the strongest powers of the cultural right, are not doing too well at the moment. This New York Times article states evangelicalism is in trouble--and it's written by an evangelical, not a gloating devotee of the "New Atheists." One in five adults have no religion, with young people being increasingly non-religious. I remember seeing a local Baptist church was preaching a sermon on the Second Coming soon after Obama was elected (or re-elected, I can't remember which), which seems like an acknowledgement said church's cultural power was in decline. Stemming or reversing this decline is the responsibility of the churches--my concern here is the political implications.

For starters, this means banking on the Religious Right or the assumption religious people vote Republican (which in many cases isn't true, but that's a different issue) as an election-winner is, in the long run, a doomed strategy. This has several implications:

As far as concrete policy is concerned, the GOP should just lay off the homosexual issue in general. Five percent of the electorate was some form of non-straight in 2012 and that's just the tip of the iceberg. In a culture where shows like Modern Familyhttp://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=accotoquin-20&l=as2&o=1&a=B002JVWQSWGleehttp://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=accotoquin-20&l=as2&o=1&a=B004D9FLJE, etc. are popular, harping about "the gay agenda" isn't going to help in the general election. I am not calling on anyone to endorse anything they feel is sinful--I'm simply saying don't make a political issue out of it. An exception can be made if it's something defensive in nature (i.e. opposition to people using public parks as hookup sites, which some people will claim is anti-gay), but as far as "starting it," no. Right now we as a country have so many other issues to deal with that culture-war stuff is a luxury.

On the abortion issue, this means attempting to outlaw abortion isn't going to work. See the recent failures of personhood legislation and the like. However, this does not mean pro-lifers need to abandon their efforts entirely--there are other ways to oppose abortion. For example, I wrote an earlier blog post on joint projects for pro-life and pro-choice people, such as making it impossible for rapists to try to claim custody rights over the resulting children (they often try to, if anything to blackmail their victims into dropping charges) and investing in scientific projects to make abortion obsolete. The latter is something that would only be effective in the long run, but the rape issue is something where more concrete action can be taken (see the work of activist Shauna Prewitt).

However, there is another way the Republican Party can reduce abortion without sci-fi techniques, by supporting more comprehensive sexual education in schools. These methods can include abstinence, and since it is the only 100% effective way to prevent unintended pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases, leaving it out would be irresponsible. However, many people (to say the least) aren't abstinent, and lack of knowledge on contraception could lead to more unintended pregnancies and thus the temptation to abort them. Discussing contraceptive methods on than abstinence does not equate to endorsing immoral behavior--one could make a poster with the effectiveness rates like abstinence 100%, condoms 85-90% (I can't remember the exact figure), and down you go. Abstinence-only sexual education has largely shown itself ineffective, with the most effective ones including information on contraceptive methods as a "backup."

The GOP should also cease being associated with, let alone actually pushing for, the teaching of intelligent design or full-blown young-earth creationism in schools. Not only has teaching a particular religion's origin story as scientific fact been found by the courts to violate the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, but the scientific problems with young-earth creationism are legion and as The Devil in Dover shows, intelligent design has its fair share of problems. This is something that has cost the GOP in the increasingly important Asian and East Indian voter demographic.

Finally, the GOP should support legalizing marijuana. For the record, I don't use any sort of drug (I don't even drink coffee or drink alcohol more than the occasional taste), but supporting a continued marijuana ban is bad for this country and bad for the Republican Party. Here's one article on why it's bad for the country. Here's another. Marijuana legalization is becoming increasingly popular among younger people and as the Baby Boomers die off, they will become increasingly important votes to win. A slight majority now supports legalizing marijuana. And should the GOP support legalizing weed, it might gain the party support among African-Americans due to the racial inequities of the Drug War.

Remember how the Republican Party used to regularly win California? With one exception, the Republicans won California from 1950 to 1988 and won several times before that. Ronald Reagan, so loved by Republicans, was governor there from 1967 to 1975. That's not going to happen if we are--or are perceived to be--a party of Southern social conservatives. A Republican Party that can win California is going to be far more competitive nationwide than one that cannot.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Recipe To Save The GOP Part Two: How Allies Can Help

In an earlier post, I suggested adopting a distributist economic model could improve the GOP's electoral chances in the long run.

Now it's time to describe how two major organizations that are or are perceived to be allies of the Republican Party can help. These groups are the National Rifle Association and the Boy Scouts of America, both of which are disdained by the cultural left.

For starters, the National Rifle Association doesn't just oppose efforts to pass gun control laws. It has the Eddie the Eagle program to teach kids firearm safety, as well as shooting-sports programs. I propose the NRA put more money and publicity into both programs, the former to reduce the accidental shootings that give anti-gun people heartrending anecdotes to sway people to their side and the latter to teach people ignorant of firearms that although they can be dangerous if misused, guns are not objects of superstitious dread that must be kept away from everybody. In particular, the NRA should fund shooting-sports programs at children's summer camps, in particular the summer camps of demographics that are traditionally not interested in or even overtly hostile toward firearms. In particular, smaller camps that need money might be more receptive.

Overall in this country, the rate of gun ownership is going down. I am not suggesting ownership of guns for the sake of having them. I am not a gun owner myself because I don't see the need to own one and thus don't want to shell out hundreds of dollars. However, the fewer gun owners there are, the easier it will be to politically marginalize and then one day crack down on them. Reversing this trend by encouraging (responsible) firearms enthusiasm among the young will help ensure the right to bear arms survives should those who don't currently own guns change their minds.

Although the NRA has opposed gun control legislation as a slippery-slope toward confiscation (see the SKS controversy in California and how registration preceded confiscation in Britain and Australia), there might be a third option. A member of my alternate history forum who works in the California legal system has proposed strict liability be implemented in regards to firearms. For example, if someone's gun is stolen and they don't report it to the police, if the gun is later used in a crime, they get into trouble. Anecdotally, he's seen guns left out on the seats of cars where criminals can easily break in and get them. There's some reckless endangerment right there, but I don't know if it's possible to, say, slap a ticket on the car for that.

Advocating stricter enforcement against straw buyers would be a good idea as well, since that's another way criminals get their guns. None of these things would affect law-abiding gun owners (or if they did, they would only affect the most stupidly negligent among them) and in fact could be covered by the credo "rights have responsibilities" or to paraphrase Spider-Man, "with great power comes great responsibility." The NRA advocating this policy could back-foot gun foes and win over the more moderate people who support things like universal background checks, keeping them from being seduced by pro-confiscation forces like this fellow who wrote an article for the New York Times.

Now for the Boy Scouts. This article here describes how the Boy Scouts are in decline and suggests ways to counteract that. One solution is to admit girls, as many foreign Scout organizations and the American Venture patrols already do. Based on the New York Times article, there are a lot of girls dissatisfied with the "girly" activities of the Girl Scouts who could provide a welcome increase to the organization. For anyone concerned about shenanigans ensuing, I'm not aware of Venture events turning into orgies and furthermore, there is a concept called "adult supervision." A greater outreach to the growing Hispanic community would be a good idea as well, especially since the article claims Hispanics view the Boy Scouts as "elite and unattainable." This article here says in many countries Hispanics come from Scouts are for rich people, but that's not an issue I'm aware of in the United States. The Hispanic community is a largely untapped "market" for the Boy Scouts and if we want avoid irrelevance and remain the pillar of American culture we have historically been, that's a big opportunity.

The Boy Scouts of America has recently voted to allow gay youth, although not gay Scoutmasters. Although my religion as I understand it teaches homosexual behavior is immoral, I support this. I'm not going to name names, but I do remember getting a gay vibe off one of my fellow troop members. For all the harping about the potential problems that could result from gay kids in Scouts, I'll point out that they're already there. Again, "adult supervision." Furthermore, by requiring Scouts inclined this way to lie to stay in the organization they may love, the Scouting movement until recently was setting a stumbling block before them.

Politics reflect culture. A strong Scouting movement will inculcate generic "American" values and patriotism in young people regardless of race, religion, creed, etc. Although many Scouts I knew were Democrats (Republicans do not have a monopoly on patriotism and American values), none I knew were stridently anti-American or ludicrously alienated from their own civilization in the way some of the more belligerent leftists are. One of the more prominent Democrats in my old Scout troop joined the military, something hippies or people who think the celebration of the Fourth of July is a slap in the face to Indians and blacks (a friend of a friend said this online, but I can't find his blog at the moment) generally don't do.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Recipe To Save The GOP Part One: Distributism

Much is being said about the poor long-term demographic prospects of the Republican Party. I've done some thinking about that and here are some ideas I've got to retool the GOP for the long run. I'll dedicate this post to economics and a later post to social issues.

Firstly, I've heard it said that millennials (my generation) will be voting against George W. Bush the rest of their lives due to the Great Recession and other issues. As the Boomers die off, real or perceived fealty to the big banks whose reckless financial practices helped cause the recession must be avoided.

But how to do this without betraying property rights, capitalism, etc? Well, here's a solution that people might not have thought about.

Distributism. And there are ways to implement it without an excessively activist state. Back when "too big to fail" was the mantra people who supported bailing out the banks and auto companies cited, someone else pointed out that too big to fail was also too big to exist. There was an opportunity there to avoid "too big to fail" in the future by requiring any entity accepting federal bailout funds to spin off parts of their operations into smaller companies. Although one ought to keep economies of scale in mind (that's a big flaw in the distributist economic model), many companies spin off on their own already. Obviously this opportunity has passed, but should there ever be a perceived need for another bailout (and there might), it should come with strings that ensure that "too big to fail" is no longer a problem. The GOP can also oppose corporate welfare like farm subsidies, which are used by agribusinesses to buy out smaller competitors. In this case, one can oppose "bigness" by simply being fiscal conservative rather than being particularly activist.

I proposed this as a solution to the GOP's demographic woes on my alternate history Internet forum and someone suggested that without a commitment to help people on the bottom end of the economic totem pole, this is just "Libertarianism lite" and would be "hollow" rather than true distributism. If we want to go with conservative ideas on hands-up, not hand-outs, education and infrastructure are two ways to deal with it.

For starters, the cost of attending college has risen drastically over the last few decades, with a big jump recently fueled by state-level budget cuts brought on by the recession. It was once possible to make enough money doing summer jobs to pay for college, but this is increasingly more difficult now. And good educational systems breed economic success--Silicon Valley exists in a large degree due to the University System of California's presence in the area, while a strong university system propelled California's historic prosperity. Meanwhile, according to a U.S. Congressman I saw speak once, foreign companies don't bring jobs to America because of lack of worker skills, not overly high wages. Improving the technical college system will bring blue-collar type jobs back to America, providing prospects for the majority of people who don't go to college.

As a reporter for The Griffin Daily News, I observed that in order to attract businesses, the local government agreed to refurbish a rail line. Many of the local VIPs were in favor of the TSPLOST to improve infrastructure as well. Working as a journalist later on the North Side, I saw a lot of this as well. Infrastructure is already to a large degree a government responsibility, so a stronger focus on infrastructure would not be expanding the scope of government. And if infrastructure is good for business, that means jobs for people and thus less need for handouts. There is a fine line between this sort of thing and the corporate welfare I've decried above, so one must be careful.

Adopting a distributist economic model, which is based on Catholic teachings, could help the GOP appeal to the growing (largely Catholic) Hispanic demographic, which also tends to favor a larger government. It will also appeal to the Occupy types and Tea Partiers opposed to things like bailouts. An emphasis on small business could appeal to immigrant small business owners that in some places pretty much are the bourgeoisie and who are in danger of being turned off by perceived nativism in the GOP. Finally, since it's a Christian ideology, many in the Religious Right might be open to it, especially younger evangelicals concerned about "social justice" or supporters of Mike Huckabee, who was more interventionist on economic issues and more overtly concerned about the poor than many of his Republican peers. A campaign to revamp America's failing infrastructure would, so long as the improvement program exists, generate more blue-collar jobs and hopefully bring those works over to the Republican fold. It will also benefit companies that might oppose a distributist "anti-bigness" program by providing them government contracts. Spending more money on education will hopefully mitigate the opposition to the GOP among the well-educated, something Rick Santorum hasn't been helpful with.

Furthermore, this is something squarely in line with Republican tradition. Teddy Roosevelt was not a fan of the monopolistic trusts of his era, which were prone to engaging in legitimate abuses.

Although I imagine people might think I'm suggesting selling out Republican principles to buy votes of various demographics, none of these ideas are anti-conservative. Many of them, like opposition to corporate welfare, align with traditional fiscal conservative principles, while improving existing infrastructure simply means the government is taking responsibility for something that has historically been its responsibility.

Obviously all these things will have to be paid for. The only idea I've got to pay for them at the federal level (as opposed to local stuff like not handing out property tax exemptions too readily) off the top of my head are cuts in farm subsidies and other sorts of corporate welfare and in defense, which are coming anyway as the public turns away from an active foreign policy as a result of the Iraq and Afghan Wars. I'll write more on this later.