Saturday, December 31, 2011

Congress Lets Ethanol Subsidies and Tariffs Expire

Ethanol subsidy expires; local effect unknown

Hooray for some fiscal responsibility!  Congress allowed a $6 billion corn subsidy to expire and a tariff on Brazilian ethanol to die with it.

This is good for several reasons.

*Firstly, with our massive deficit and national debt, cutting wasteful spending should be a priority and this is a biggie in terms of uselessness.  $6 billion is a drop in the bucket as far as cutting spending is concerned, but one has to start somewhere.  After all, many drops and the bucket is filled.  :)

*Secondly, corn ethanol takes crops that could be used for food and turns them into gasoline.  This drives up the cost of corn and makes the poor pay higher food prices, both at home (where it's less of an issue) and abroad (where it is more).  Ethanol production in Brazil, however, uses stuff leftover from processing sugar (cane fibers and various syrups) to make fuel, so real food isn't wasted.  In any event, even if more sugar could be distilled from the stuff used to make ethanol fuel, sugar is much less of a necessity than corn is.  One does not need sugar to survive, but one definitely needs staple grains.  This is one area where I actually agree with Fidel Castro.  And lest anyone think I'm some left-winger, so does The Economist.  Both the bearded tyrant in Havana and The Economist think Brazil's ideas are better.

*Thirdly, this might be a sign the corn lobby and the sugar lobby aren't as strong as they used to be.   According to one of my former professors at the University of Georgia, the sugar lobby has pushed for high tariffs on sugar that made it cheaper to use high-fructose corn syrup in soda.  Here's a link corroborating this.  And some material from the government too, lest you think the first site is too ideological.  Ending a tariff on imported ethanol made from sugar will benefit Brazilian sugar producers--who've integrated sugar and ethanol production--and I'm sure the American sugar lobby doesn't like that At All.

However, without the subsidy, I suspect ethanol made from sugar will be more competitive now and it will be in the American sugar producers' interest to borrow the Brazilian technique and put it to work here.  If they can grab a big chunk of the American fuel market, they won't need tariffs and quotas to protect themselves from foreign competition.  Getting rid of those will in turn benefit sugar producers in other countries, to whom increasing exports is a matter of survival.

*Fourthly, with the tariff gone, the Brazilians will be able to sell us more of their ethanol and use the profits to increase their own production, which in turn might eventually lead to lower gas prices here.  If we're going to be importing energy resources, they should be from responsible countries like Brazil and not unstable or unfriendly places in the Middle East.

So good on Congress for letting some unnecessary spending expire and making our trade with Brazil just a little bit freer.  And good for the corn-ethanol people for not putting up too much of a fight.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Thoughts on Animating "Coil Gun."

I'm about one-third or so through writing a screenplay based on my short story "Coil Gun," which was published in September in the third issue of Digital Science Fiction.

In order to transform a 5,000-odd word story into a 90-page (at minimum) screenplay, I'm going to have to expand the events in the story considerably.  This I've done by beginning the screenplay several hours before the story, during the lead-up to the war.

Although this will get me to the proper length and allow for additional characterization, the events depicted would make the necessary budget for the film larger.  Things include space battles in the vein of Battlestar Galactica, the depiction of submarine-launched nuclear attacks, etc.  Anything depicted on a submarine bridge, for example, necessitates an additional set, while the special effects needed to realistically depict WWIII would cost a pretty penny.

However, the thought just occurred to me that this could be donate via animation.  This would be much, much cheaper than doing it live-action, which would require Michael Bay-sized budgets for the action sequences.

The problem is, in the United States at least, animation is generally considered something for kids.  One reason the film Titan A.E. failed despite being an awesome movie is that although it was animated, it was much more adult-oriented--it starts out with the alien destruction of Earth, features the protagonist being subject to racist abuse by other aliens, lots of gun-fights and space battles, an alien getting his neck snapped, and the female lead in a towel answering the door to her cabin and asking the protagonist "in or out?"

However, the more recent Avatar was marketed as an adult science-fiction movie and is now the top-grossing movie on the planet.  Titan A.E.'s failure could be attributed to marketing--if I remember right, it was not marketed as science-fiction for adults but instead a movie for kids.

If "Coil Gun" were adapted into an animated film, I imagine it would be done using Pixar-style 3D animation rather than traditional 2D cel animation.  I much prefer the cel look visually, but apparently The Princess and the Frog (Disney's last big cel-animated project) didn't do as well as Disney expected and that contributed to future Disney projects being digital animation.  Legend of the Guardians did the 3D thing really well, so as  long as it doesn't come out looking like Toy Story or The Clone Wars, great.

And the same rationale can be applied to my earlier project, The Gates of Vasharia.  I've described that one as "Lord of the Rings with tanks" (to say nothing of an extradimensional demonic army), so adapting that one would require a Michael Bay budget as well.  Of course, with animation, it would probably end up with an Avatar-sized budget.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Prometheus" Trailer

Here's the trailer for the movie Prometheus, which I'd initially heard was a prequel to Alien.

However, based on the Wikipedia article, it looks like it'll be about human scientists searching for alien involvement in the early days of human history.  I think the aliens in question are the "space jockeys" whose ship carried the eggs that caused so much trouble in the first and second Alien films.

As I've said earlier, I'm not a fan of the ancient-astronauts theory, although the aliens-help-humans variant is not as bad as the humans-are-aliens version.  A member of my message-board whose handle is 9-Fanged Hummingbird came up with the following, which points out both how absurd the idea is and the racist implication that certain cultures need alien help:

The ancient aliens hypothesis relies on the idea that these guys who mastered space travel are watching us and helping brown people to build tombs for their kings out of stone for god only knows what reason. Also, the aliens pile up random rocks in other places just because.

Seriously, to a civilization like that of the "space jockey," early humans would be little more than animals.  Why bother with us?

Still, it looks like it'll be an entertaining film.  Between that and John Carter and a bunch of other films slated for 2012, I think I'll be spending a lot more time at the multiplex.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" Trailer with Comments

Just found this online courtesy of TOR books, and here's the YouTube video...

It looks cool.  The Dwarven songs in which they mourn for the loss of their homeland to the dragon Smaug are nice.  We don't really see a lot of Dwarf culture in the three Lord of the Rings films beyond them living underground and favoring feasting and axes, so this is nice.

One quibble--Thorin Oakenshield looks too human.  He's too tall and slender for a Dwarf.   I remember hearing that there had been some kind of Twilight-induced attempt to make the Dwarves "sexy," although all I could find was this article here.

I'm wondering how they work Rivendell and Galadriel into the story.  Gandalf and the White Council were active at the time in order to prepare the Free Peoples for the return of Sauron--who at this point was operating under the guise of the Necromancer of Dol Guldur--but I don't think the council dealt with him until well after the events of The Hobbit.

A thought I had was that they might work the White Council's defeat of disguised-Sauron into these two films somehow and have them physically destroy the Necromancer.  He would not be killed, since his essence is bound to the One Ring, but this could explain why Saruman told Gandalf in the first film that "he cannot yet take physical form."

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Some Thoughts On Egyptian Elections...

It's been awhile since I've blogged about the Arab Spring.  So here goes...

I'm not one of those people who's terrified of the Muslim Brotherhood, for several reasons.

*Firstly, the way they're hyped as a Big Bad that's going to turn Egypt into a new Iran and start a war with Israel reeks of the whole "justify your tyranny by creating an enemy," especially when it's mixed with the erroneous notion that Islam and democracy (in the colloquial sense of the word) are incompatible.  I'm sure people could make the case Christianity and democracy are incompatible based on how most of the anti-Semitic violence, witch trials, etc. long ago were populist in nature and it took monarchies and the like to restrain them (the king of Poland offered protection to Jews persecuted in Western Europe during the Black Death, frex), and that would be just as foolish.

*Secondly, a former member of my alternate-history message board, though we've had our disagreements on a lot of things (namely the revisionist theory of the Cold War, which is my personal bugbear), made a good case that the Freedom and Justice Party (the political face of the old Muslim Brotherhood) is more akin to the Christian Democratic parties of Europe rather than some anti-democratic death machine.  He even compared it more positively with the Turkish Islamist party, which he described as "peasanty."

*Thirdly, the Freedom and Justice Party's platform at present seems to indicate the MB's priorities at present are more economic than anything else.  Quibbling about social values in times like these is a luxury in a wealthy country like the United States.  In a much poorer country like Egypt, which has had food riots relatively recently, there's even less justification.  Luckily the Freedom and Justice Party seems to be aware of this, based on these comments about Islamic punishments being suspended in a time of famine.

That being said, the fact there's been violence against Christians in Egypt after Mubarak's fall is something to be legitimately concerned about.  Furthermore, the Salafist al-Nour Party, which looks a lot more like the scary fundamentalist entity the Western pro-Mubarak types are afraid of, is expected to do well in the coming second phase of the elections.  Not to mention the Freedom and Justice Party isn't entirely sweetness and light by its own admission--the Al-Ahram article indicates the party doesn't want members of certain Islamic splinter sects to proselytize, which is antithetical to the idea of freedom of religion, while the Wikipedia article states that they don't think Christians or women should be the country's president.

So here's a suggestion for the Freedom and Justice Party.  When the time comes to form caucuses and alliances and such, they should ally with the secular liberal types who kicked off the revolution against Mubarak in the first place rather than the al-Nour Party.

Not only would this show respect to the people who helped make these elections possible, but it would ensure Egypt does not become a pariah trade nobody will trade with and tourists won't visit.  That will in turn hurt Egypt's economy and cause mass suffering among the population, something I'm sure Mohammed and the other early Islamic leaders wouldn't have wanted given the Islamic doctrines on charity and the like.  Plus if al-Nour does really well in the second and third phases of the elections, which look to be taking place in poorer and more conservative areas, the Freedom and Justice Party might need to ally with the secular liberals in order to maintain a majority.

The Al-Ahram article quotes some Freedom and Justice Party types saying they won't caucus with the Salafists, which is a good sign.  The article about violence against Christians assigns much of the blame to the Salafists, so they seem like the true villains anyway.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Battleship" Trailer

The trailer looks surprisingly awesome and there's a good chance I'm going to go see it when it comes out.  Yes, I know it's based on a board game that has no plot.  However, it looks like it's going to be pretty entertaining.

However, one objection: The whole "invincible alien energy shields" thing is overdone.  A friend of mine describe this movie as "Independence Day with ships" and the energy shields go a long way to bolstering his point.  Plus both the 1950s and the 2006-ish version of War of the Worlds used them and they weren't even in the book.

It'd be a lot more creative if the aliens had a nearly impenetrable point-defense capability--perhaps using lasers--that is very good at taking out missiles and aircraft but cannot track artillery shells.  In this situation, the mighty aircraft carriers would be all but neutered and the heavy guns of old-school battleships would be what saves the day.

John Ringo's novels Legacy of the Aldenata novels have used this concept with the Posleen--their defensive weapons are murderous on aircraft and missiles but they're useless in dealing with artillery.

In order to have a big human defeat to presage the final battle, perhaps the carriers launch a massive "Alpha Strike" (a large attack by a carrier air wing) bolstered by huge numbers of cruise missiles fired from the other ships.  The attack is stopped cold with minimal damage to the aliens by a laser point-defense system, but some surviving aircraft pilot points out that when he used his plane's guns, they weren't able to counter it.

Then we get the big naval artillery brought in.  :)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Ron Paul Rises In Iowa

A couple of interesting articles this morning I found this morning, one via Twitter and one via my home-page.

Paul gears up for long primary slog

Paul stuck through for the entire process in 2008, although his impact was minimal at the end of the day.  However, this time around he's got more money and the recent economic crisis will have bolstered his credibility.  I heard some talk radio host last night who said it was possible Paul could win Iowa, which leads into my next article...

Paul strength may help Romney in Iowa

This could be a problem in the long run, since if all the people in the GOP who don't want a Romney nomination split between too many candidates, Romney will win the nomination by default.  On the other hand, Romney losing a state to a candidate many Republicans deride as having no chance would be a major black mark on his record.

It'd be really interesting if nobody wins a majority of delegates and we get a brokered Republican convention.  According to the Wikipedia, there hasn't been a brokered convention in decades.

Who knows?  Maybe that'll be Huntsman's chance to shine, since although he's been trying to run to Romney's left, his actual governing bona fides are downright Reaganite in economics, which the Republican Party as a whole is likely go for, while his more socially-liberal views will make him more acceptable to the American electorate as a whole.

(Those who disagree should check out The Emerging Democratic Majority and Whistling Past Dixie: How The Democrats Can Win Without the South.  Really hard-core social conservatism is not going to be a winning issue in the long run, at least on the national level.)

Plus Paul might get some of his  more useful views incorporated into the GOP platform.  I doubt it'd be anything radical like the gold standard, but stronger opposition to pork, a more restrained foreign policy, etc. might be doable.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Some "Destroyermen" Fan-Art For You

Here's the first drawing I posted on DeviantArt in some time.  It's based on the boarding action of the Grik ship at the end of the first Destroyermen novel, Into the Storm.

Consider it more true to the spirit of the scene than the scene itself.  If I remember right, there were a lot more Grik and lemur-people involved in the boarding action, as well as more U.S. sailors.  However, the bridge is still there, and I was sure to get the number of the ship right.

Maybe Taylor Anderson will host the image on his Web site?  There are several fan-made pieces of artwork there.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

One Area Obama Holds An Insurmountable Advantage Over Gingrich

Here are some thoughts I recently had about the electability of Newt Gingrich.  Don't get me wrong--I think Gingrich is a very smart man and if he were to win the Republican nomination, I'd probably vote for him.

That being said, for Republicans interested in nominating a candidate who can beat Obama in 2012, there is one area where Obama has an insurmountable advantage, and that's the much-vaunted area of family values.

Barack Obama's personal life.

Newt Gingrich's personal life.

It would be very hard for Newt Gingrich to run as a candidate strong on family values with a personal life this...complex.  Especially since it's more than just adultery-divorce-remarriage-repeat--in a book I bought when I was in school entitled Inside Congress, on page 133 of the 1997 Pocket Books edition, it describes how poorly Gingrich provided for his then-wife and two daughters while they were legally separated. A local church had to start a collection to pay for the family's utility bills.  Gingrich was paying $700 per month to support his family and $400 per month on his food and dry cleaning alone.

All Obama needs to do is show he has been married to and remained faithful to one woman since 1992 and there have never been any problems providing for the children and Gingrich will take a major hit.  Especially since Obama has not come from an especially stable family himself--see this article by none other than Bill O'Reilly--and yet he has managed to avoid perpetuating the cycle of dysfunction that often plagues unhappy families.

Now, as a consequence of my religious views I'm a big believer that even the most evil people can change.  Gingrich has, among other things, converted to Catholicism, which is a fairly big break from his earlier religious background and something that likely cost him political support.  If this represents a genuine change of heart, God bless him.

However, though God will forgive a sinner who repents, actions still have consequences, and his prior behavior has made him very vulnerable in certain areas.  Gingrich might make a better Cabinet official or chief of staff or general purpose eminence grise for whoever ends up winning the GOP 2012 nod rather than as the candidate himself.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Huntsman's Daughters Parody "SexyBack"

Jon Huntsman's daughters are at it again.  This time they parody Justin Timberlake.  Some of the rhyming is pretty clever, like when they knock Herman Cain.

Ron Paul Ad Criticizes Newt Gingrich

I'm all for people changing their positions based on evidence rather than being inflexible and rigid, but based on the stuff about money, I think Newt's approach to many of the issues herein is not based on examination of the evidence.

(I'm thinking the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac business and health-care.  I don't think the people who believe global warming is human-caused and a problem have got the money needed to sway him.)

Newt is smarter than the average bear in the Republican field at the moment and I'd support him over Paul (due to the bin Laden raid) and Romney and would probably vote for him over Obama, but this isn't a good sign at all.  And given he has written alternate-history fiction (something I'm interested in), that's saying something.

And Ron Paul's ads have gotten better.  When I supported Ron Paul in 2008, I remember a really goofy television ad featuring a bunch of people who really couldn't act sitting around a restaurant, with one of them rather unsubtly saying "I'm going to vote for Ron Paul."  In TVTropes terms, Narm.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Church Friend Has a Book Out!

The author's page for the book

The book's Amazon page

I've attended some Fusion gatherings associated with Buckhead Church over the years and at one of them, I made the acquaintance of Robert Bunch.  We talked a fair bit about writing and he told me about a book he was working on it.  If I remember right, it was a Christian allegory of some kind and it involved a journey into a forest.

Robert moved back to Iowa to look after a sick relative and I haven't seen him since.  However, he just posted on Facebook that not only has he finished his book (which has changed a bit since we discussed it), but he has published it and it's now available on Amazon.  I took a look at Renatus Publishing and though it seems to be Iowa-based, the web-site is rather bare.  It seems like a legit publisher, based on the price of the book.

(The price seems pretty standard for a hardcover--self-published/print-on-demand books tend to be more expensive because they're printed one at a time and not in bulk.)

That's a point in Robert's favor--he didn't self-publish it, but sold it to a real publishing house.

If you all are interested in supporting a new writer, give him a look.  If the hardback price is a deterrent, mark your calender for January--that's when the softcover and Kindle editions come out.

Black Friday Bargains on My Site

For some of these items, prices have been cut as low as will let me.  For some reason, they don't want me selling Tom Clancy's The Bear and the Dragon for $0.50.

Some of these books are half or less of what I paid for them in the stores, including Vampire Empire: The Greyfriar and Wolf Age.  The latter of which has a very creative concept--a wandering wizard visits a city of werewolves.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Some Writing Advice and Techniques

Some of these I've Tweeted or posted on Facebook, so you might have seen them before, but I'll post them here as well...

One of the bigger quandaries of being a writer is providing adequate description without bogging the story down.  One of my favorite writers is Dean Koontz, who squares this circle by working descriptions into sentences with action verbs.  I realized this one afternoon when I flipped through my old paperback copy of Phantoms.

Here's an example of this technique that I posted on my Facebook fan page and Twitter account earlier this evening.

"Beowulf drew a silver-plated Desert Eagle from his leather belt. He squeezed the trigger. Thunder cracked in the confined space of Hrothgar's basement. His bullet struck Grendel between his large pectoral muscles. Dreadlocks flying, Grendel hurtled backward, smashing the mahagony doors to splinters. His green blood covered everything."

That spawned some rather hilarious discussion about whether I was writing an updated story of Beowulf in which they're all gangsters.  If that were a movie, I'd watch it.

But getting back to the topic, Koontz's technique is a good way to strike the necessary balance.  I'm going to have to go over Battle for the Wastelands and plug in some new description using that technique, which will probably necessitate making cuts elsewhere so I can keep it at or below 100,000 words.

Another writing truism is "show, don't tell."  That's something that can be tricky, as sometimes the reader doesn't get it unless they're told and that bothers some readers.

However, I had a flash of inspiration a few months ago and posted something resembling this on my Facebook fan page:

Telling: The chair disgusted him.

Showing: The chair seethed with maggots. Its very appearance made his skin crawl. The stench of the rotten wood was overpowering. He swallowed. He'd have to sit in that chair.
This gets the point that the character finds the chair disgusting without "telling" and works in some spiffy description besides.
I hope you would-be writers out there find this helpful.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Productivity Update

Current Projects

*Battle for the Wastelands

*"Coil Gun" screenplay



Still soldiering on with Battle for the Wastelands.  The Veterans' Day deadline thing didn't happen.  I'm hoping now to get the first draft done by the end of the year, but given the overstretch with other projects, that's looking less and less likely.

Currently rewriting the first half of Chapter 22 per the advice of my Lawrenceville writing group, whose members agreed the original draft contained too much information we'd already seen before about how the Merrill army has no food.  They instead pointed out that I had a chance to describe the military situation in more detail, so I'm rewriting it to describe the planning of the enormous brigade-strength supply raid that will take up most of the remainder of the book.  There'll be some dramatic irony--the reader will know what our hero Andrew Sutter and his friends are doing, but he won't.

Chapter 23 has been complete for some time.  I'll bring it before the Lawrenceville group in early December, since the next meeting in the rotation has been pushed forward due to Thanksgiving.  There are 32 total chapters, so I'm in the home stretch.  The current word count is 85,000 words and I'm going to have to be careful to keep it under 100,000.

Work on a screenplay based on "Coil Gun," my first professional level ($0.05/word-plus) sale, has stalled due to so much else going on.  Writing the last half shouldn't be that hard, since I can just transcribe the short story image-for-image, but getting the first half done will take some time.

Went to my Kennesaw writing group yesterday to discuss "Ubermensch," which will be one of my two contributions to our group's charity superhero anthology.  The consensus from the two other people who attended (it was a slow week) was to trim Patel's interior monologue from the fight scene so it wouldn't drag and to avoid using real gang names lest there be...issues.  I spent a lot of yesterday afternoon working on "Ubermensch" and cut around 200 words.  I'll send the second Patel story, "Needs Must," to the group probably sometime in December.  That one was drastically rewritten based on comments from both groups.

One of my co-workers got me involved in a writing group that meets closer to home.  My contribution to the first meeting was the first 2/3 or so (they have a strict word count limit) of "Nicor," a monster story set in the Viking era.  I sold that one to the print magazine Flashing Swords in 2008 and was even paid ($44 if I remember right), but the magazine went under.  The group really liked that one, but they did have some minor suggestions I thought were good.  The organizer also suggested expanding on the characters, which is what I'm still working on.  Not sure where I'm going to send it, since I've sent various versions of it to so many markets since I first wrote the story when I was a student at UGA.  Between those that have rejected it and those that have gone under, there aren't very many left.

Trailer for Disney's New Film "Brave"

Here's the trailer for the upcoming Disney-Pixar film "Brave," which will premiere in summer of 2012.

I like the soundtrack and the whole Celtic thing.  Hopefully they can strike an ideological balance between criticism of society piling restrictions on women (her mother views her interest in archery as being unladylike) and women being passed around for political reasons and being too unsubtle and preachy.

I've taken a look at the links cited by the Wikipedia entry on the film and it seems heroine Merida is intent on avoiding an arranged marriage.  However, her wish for freedom risks bringing war to Scotland.  Given how marriages in those days were used to seal political alliances, her mother's comment about the price that would be paid for her freedom does make sense.

And although the trailer doesn't go into much detail about the consequences of Merida's wish (to undo the problems she might have caused with the arranged-marriage thing), one of the articles the Wiki page links to describes how her mother is turned into a bear.  Given the opening bit in the trailer about how her father fought a dangerous bear that had killed many people, if the macro-plot is that Merida has to find a way to break the spell before her father kills her mother, that's nice and full of pathos.

Some Books I'm Reading: The "Destroyermen" Series (Spoilers)

It's been awhile since I've posted on what I've been reading, let alone reviewed a book.  So I'll make up for it by posting some comments on three books--Into the Storm, Crusade, and Maelstrom.

I just started reading Taylor Anderson's "Destroyermen" series.  Basically, two obsolete American destroyers being hunted by the Japanese in the early days of World War II in the Pacific attempt to hide from them within a storm--only it turns out the storm is actually some kind of hole in space-time and they end up on a parallel world.  The dinosaurs apparently never became extinct--intelligent mammalian life only evolved in isolation on the island of Madagascar.  This species--a civilization of intelligent lemurs--is under siege from the Grik, who are essentially a velociraptor horde-from-hell and drove them from Madagascar into East Asia thousands of years before. 

Things get even more fun in the second book when we learn the Japanese battle-cruiser that had been hunting them in our world has crossed over as well and its insane captain has allied with the Grik...

The books are pretty quick reading, which is why I'm commenting on all three of the early ones, not just each individual book.  Although there are some writing bits I don't like--Anderson often introduces a character and then describes their personalities in the narrative rather than illustrating their character by their actions--overall it's extremely fun and entertaining.  There's a lot of interesting technical detail, the battles arecool, and there are some well-done scenes like when some of the Americans the lemur-folk have had contact with humans in the past or the meeting in the third book with "Lawrence," a member of a Grik splinter-culture that refuses to prey on intelligent species and has become the friend/pet of a British girl descended from the earlier arrivals from our world.

I'm seriously considering getting my dusty colored pencils out and creating a piece of fan-art to put on my DeviantArt page.  It'd probably be a generic battle scene--a bunch of the lemur-people and Grik facing each other with melee weapons with some American sailors with guns as fire support for the former.  It'd be loosely based on the boarding action depicted in the climax of the first novel, Into the Storm.

I just found out the local library has the fourth book in the series, Distant Thunders.  Definitely going to request that once I'm done with this post.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Two Interesting Alternate-History Scenarios...

Here are a couple of interesting scenarios from my alternate-history message-board you all might find interesting.

An Age of Miracles: The Revival of Rhomanion

This is a Byzantine-revival scenario that takes place fairly late--it's actually after the Fourth Crusade in which the Crusaders took Constantinople and the Empire shattered into several warring statelets.  Considering how at least some Byzantine experts think the Empire's fall was inevitable after the crusade, the fact one of the Byzantine statelets manages to reunite the Empire and actually expand territorially in Asia Minor, which had since become largely Turkish and Muslim, is impressive.

(I'm not the biggest Byzantine expert there is, but there's nothing here that seems to be unrealistic.)

A Crack at Draka: ME's Attempt at a Better TL

Here's an attempt to create a more realistic version of the Draka timeline, beginning with a longer-lived Sir Francis Drake establishing a colony on the Cape of Good Hope.  Pretty realistic so far, although the author had to revise a particularly-glaring issue involving the leaders of the East India Company being strong-armed.  It also has an explanation for the weird Latin lingo the Draka used in the canon timeline making an appearance in this one.

This timeline's Draka aren't as scary as the canon timeline's Draka--there are history-book entries dating much later in the timeline that feature them trying to remain part of the British Commonwealth as late as the 1950s and 1960s and being rejected for their racist behavior, so they aren't apparently interested in world domination and being the Master Race.

UPDATE 9/17/2014: "Age of Miracles" is still going strong, but "A Crack at the Draka" has been rebooted. See here for the new thread. It starts out with a narrative set in the late 1980s involving what looks like a member of the Assad family as a Citizen, which is cool. And the Draka in the late 1980s still practice slavery (instead of becoming mega-Rhodesia that the original timeline implied), which isn't.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Couple of Interesting Movie Trailers...

The other night, I came across the trailer for Snow White and the Huntsman, which can basically be summed up as "Snow White done in the style of Lord of the Rings."

I'd heard about how they intended to remake Snow White with a more overtly-feminist SW who even goes into battle in full armor and I thought that was goofy and heavy-handed.  I have no objection to feminism--see my repeated denunciations of complementarianism--but given how most women aren't as physically strong as most men, medieval-style combat in heavy armor is not something they're especially suited for unless we're talking someone like Brienne of Tarth from the A Song of Ice and Fire novels who is unusually big and strong.

However, having watched the trailer, this actually looks kind of cool.  Epic battle sequences, the evil queen providing a very strong incentive for the Huntsman to kill Snow White, the much spookier Magic Mirror, a reason for the evil queen to want Snow White's heart specifically, monsters, etc.

My friend Korsgaard warned about Kristen Stewart's acting prowess.  I've never seen any of the Twilight films, so I cannot comment intelligently on whether or not she can act.  Let's hope she can pull this off.

And now we're onto the Hunger Games trailer...

I haven't been interested in the Hunger Games novels because I figured they were intended for younger people, but then, so is Harry Potter and that didn't stop me from writing two novel-length HP fan-fics.

However, a member of my writing group and my friend Jamie have both gotten really interested in THG, so writing it off as kids' stuff would be rather foolish.  Furthermore, in discussions of just what genre Battle for the Wastelands would fit into, someone pointed out that young adult fiction is predicated on the protagonist's age, not the content.  THG features teenagers taken as tribute by an evil government and forced to fight to the death, plus YA fiction from my own childhood (Gruel and Unusual Punishment and Weasel) could get pretty disturbing.

Oh well.  We'll see what happens when it's done and polished and sent to publishers.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Jeffrey Stepakoff Dispenses His Wisdom

Last Saturday, I attended a seminar at a local library featuring Jeffrey Stepakoff, a novelist, screenwriter, and a professor at Kennesaw State University.  I figured someone with his extensive experience writing in several fields would provide much wisdom for a small fish like me, and I was correct.

Stepkanoff told the participants that they should stop thinking of themselves as being at the mercy of producers and publishers.  If producers and publishers did not have content, they had nothing.

"We are at the center, the epicenter," he said.

He said there are people right now looking to find the next big book or the next script for a big television show or film.  However, he said this doesn't mean that one shouldn't write well and produce good content in the first place.  He advised people to wait until their content was outstanding before putting it out there.  If it really is good, getting it published/produced is just a matter of time.

A professional writer shouldn't just start writing without planning.  One should know one's story and ensure the story works before one starts writing.  Writing a script that doesn't come from a good story is a miserable process that requires a lot more work--one has to come up with stuff as one goes along.  This is important when one pitches one's story to an editor--one should have a good story, not just a vague world.

Then he dropped a substantial bomb.  He said if one's novel or script isn't getting traction, even after years, chances are it's not that good.  Write well.  "Have your killer story," he said.

He advised those writing scripts to pay attention to what the market wanted.  If someone writes for cop shows, but the market is for comedies, one should ask if they've ever written something funny during one of their cop shows.  If they have, they can write comedy.  However, he said that doesn't mean one should take the novel one has been working on for 20 years and add vampires just because they're trendy.

Stepkanoff said if one thinks one's book is in the same vein as, say, Jodi Piccoult, one should study her work and who reads it.  If the book is unpublished, find out who Piccoult's agent is.  Examine the book jacket.

He warned even if one has a contract for a book, if it's not a good point, the publisher will only print a small number of copies and won't put a lot of effort into promoting it.  However, if it is good, one's editor will push for the publisher to promote it.  Most publishing houses put out around 1,000 books. How many books get first print runs of 20,000 to 50,000 copies?  Maybe 20, and of those, 15 will have been written by established authors.

Stepkanoff described the process of "selling in."  If the sales people hear from on high the publisher is psyched about the book, they'll push that one more so than the other 300 or so books they're responsible for selling.

He advised the writers they should have the book jacket in mind when they write the book.  One should think about where the book should go in the bookstore.  One's pitch begins with the author and will ultimately travel all the way to the book buyers.  Stepkanoff designed his pitch before he even started writing the book.  This doesn't mean one shouldn't have the writing space to develop good characters, but that one should have a good idea from the beginning.

He then advised writers to build a public persona.  Publishers don't want just an image, but a built-in fan base.  Editors are thinking about how to pitch a person.

(Hmm...I think my built-in fan base are Harry Potter and Transformers fans from my fan-fic, BattleTech people from "Skirmish at the Vale's Edge," Digital Science Fiction readers from "Coil Gun, people I know from Marietta because I grew up there, Griffin and North Fulton because I work there, and alternate-history enthusiasts due to my long posting history at

Audience members asked him if he wants them to write something that can be easily forwarded.  Stepkanoff said this was the case.  An agent once asked a colleague of his to tell her what to tell publishers.  The colleague was upset, until Stepakoff told him the agent had connections and does her things so he can live in Georgia nad have a good place with his family.  He recommended audience members to craft a killer letter.

Stepakoff then explained the differences between literary and film agents.  A Hollywood agent, especially one who works in television, invests a lot in a single writer.  A literary agent will work with a larger number of writers and, consequently, will not be as present in one's life.  New York agents are more accessible--although their Web sites often say not to e-mail them, it does work.

An audience member suggested the Web site Everyone Who Is Anyone, which contains contact information for many publishers and agents.  Stepakoff told people who approach agents and publishers via this method to wait until their product is darn good, as a favor to other writers who might use this site later.

Stepakoff suggested people join the Writer's Market Web site or purchase the large Writer's Market books to find agents in one's field.  One should also find books in one's genre and check out the acknowledgements section.  One should find the agency that represented the writer and then go to the agency's Web site to find an agent.

However, he advised them not to fire off crazy e-mails and to think long and hard about one's opening line.  Agents don't just get you jobs--they're your business partners.  You have to give them something.

He then discussed marketing.  Most writers aren't pushed hard by their publishers and if the publisher won't put the effort into promoting one's book, one should.  However, there needs to be a balance between time spent writing and time spent on things like Facebook, blogging, Twittering, or doing signings in bookstores.

He then had some advice about bookstores.  If one goes to a bookstore and tries to arrange a book signing, the staff will be much more interested in you if you can point out where the book is in the store.

"Make noise on the Internet," Stepakoff advised.  "Get people to review the book."

(That advice I've already implemented.  I've promoted "Coil Gun" and the collection it's in, the third Digital Science Fiction anthology, via contacts I've made on

Stepakoff is on the fence about spending one's own money on Internet advertising.  He recommended if one is in a niche market, one should focus on social networking, as well as focused events relevant to your topic.  He then said every writer should have a Twitter feed.

"Nobody knows what's going to happen to publishing," he said.

His informed opinion is that consumption of stories is not going to fall and that digital media is going to be remarkably beneficial to it.

(I can agree with this wholeheartedly.  My publications, including the well-paying BattleTech and Digital Science Fiction ones, were in primarily online markets.  I did make a couple of sales to a smaller print magazine, but the magazine went under before they could be printed.)

Stepakoff discussed electronic readers like the Nook.  Amazon is selling more e-books than print books these days and many people bring their e-readers into stores, see what interesting books are on the shelves, and download them electronically.

He suggested that independent bookstores conduct a public-service campaign.  People who go to bookstores just to see what books they can download don't know they're not supporting the bookstores.  He said people complained about the death of Borders, but had to be asked if they even bought books in the first place.  He said Barnes and Noble is trying to integrate more with the local communities and compared them to Whole Foods.  Barnes and Noble also promotes books by region.  The company promoted his book Fireworks Over Toccoa heavily in the South, where it has been selling well.

Stepakoff also discussed giving out content for free as a means of enticing readers.  He has a free e-book entitled "Love A La Carte," which he described as being the "deleted scenes" from his novel The Orchard.  It's the number-two free item on at the moment.  He suggested writers put their own content online or for free at a low price, but not to just spew low-quality stuff.

An audience member brought up James Patterson, who gives out the first few chapters of his books online for free--people will buy the complete product to finish it.

Stepakoff said Patterson's books are so well-designed, they hook readers.  He reminded the writers it's their job to get people to read the second page.

He also weighed in n book trailers.  He recommend they not mess with those and instead focus on social media, which is free.  Creating a quality book trailer is expensive and it involves putting faces on characters Hollywood would like to cast.  If one absolutely must do a book trailer, one should focus it on selling the writer, not just the story.

"Let the publisher pay for it," he said. "Let them do the professional version of it."

He suggested a better way to get one's name out there is to guest-write for blogs.  There is a correlation between this and a high Amazon author rating.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

On Twitter Now...

Just joined Twitter. Here's my page:!/MatthewWQuinn

James R. Tuck said I should be on Twitter and it would not be a great time-consumer and Jeffrey Stepakoff, at a panel of his I attended over the weekend, suggested writers should have Twitter feeds.

Hopefully I can figure all this out...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sad, Beautiful Songs...

It's odd, how some songs sound so beautiful, but when you listen to the actual words, they're incredibly sad.

Here's one: "Too Many Times" by Earl Thomas Conley and Anita Pointer.

The song is all about regret--a son who'd hurt his late father, a woman who abandoned her lover and misses him, etc.

And here's "Picture Postcards from LA" by Joshua Kadison.

Rachel the waitress dreams of going to Hollywood to be an actress or singer, but she always recoils at the last minute, even when she's got her bag packed and a bus ticket.  It's become so routine all her co-workers, even the protagonist of the song who seems to love her, joke about it.

"In the Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics.

A man doesn't get along with his father due to their differing opinions on unnamed issues (the video makes it sound like something to do with war, given how the son looks at a picture of his father in a military uniform) and not being able to understand the other's opinion.  They never reconcile.  To the point he isn't there when his father dies, something he regrets.  Hell, of the three songs, this is the saddest one of all.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Problems With Cain, Perry, Romney

Here are some issues with the current Republican front-runner candidates that show why Jon Huntsman is a better choice for the 2012 GOP nomination.

Although I voted for Herman Cain when he ran against Johnny Isakson in the Republican primary in 2004, I am not inclined to support him now.  In addition to his earlier conspiracy-mongering about Islamic law in America, his "999" plan has a bit of a problem.

84% would pay more under Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan.  That's right.  84 percent of Americans would pay more taxes under this plan.  And it would burden the poorest Americans to a large degree.

Although many claimed the Bush tax cuts would burden the poor, that's a foolish argument.  Nobody's taxes were raised.  This, however, would be a tax increase.  I don't mind sales taxes in small quantities--I have written in support of Metro Atlanta's proposed regional sales tax to pay for transportation improvements and Fulton County's Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to improve the schools--but a nine percent sales tax on top of state sales taxes would be fairly burdensome.

And as Rick Santorum said, many states lack sales taxes.  This scheme would impose a federal sales tax on those states and additionally burden their taxpayers.

Meanwhile, Rick Perry has started pandering toward the Birthers.  Thankfully he isn't overtly claiming that Obama wasn't born in the United States, but this interview shows that he's trying to appeal to them.  There are reasons to dislike Barack Obama--"Gunwalker" comes to mind--but the claim he was not born in the United States when there are birth announcements for him dating back to the 1960s is absurd.  Such people should be ignored, not pandered to.

And here are some reasons not to view Mitt Romney as an authentic conservative, listed in an open letter from Huntsman to New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu.  Assuming this is true--and it does ring true, considering Romney's more left-wing record in the past--Romney's a lot less conservative than I had thought.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bigger "Heart of the Swarm" Trailer

The other day, I found a new trailer for Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm.  Apparently it was revealed at BlizzCon.

Looks like the Dominion has shown itself untrustworthy, on a much larger scale that just sending in a bunch of Ghosts to kill Kerrigan like the earlier, smaller teaser trailer revealed.  Like, attack-by-capital-ships untrustworthy.  And Valerian and Warfield might not be coming out of that treachery alive....

(Sucks for Warfield, as it seemed he was on the level and even made Rayor commander of the entire Dominion force while he was having his arm fixed.  But if Valerian went into this intending treachery from the beginning, to hell with him.)

Some of the promotional material makes what's going to happen in HOTS sound really GrimDark.  Raynor has gone missing, while some artwork on the Blizzard web-site depicts Kerrigan with a reinfested arm. 

I hope they don't kill off Raynor and then have Kerrigan go totally insane and reinfest herself or, worse, have her think Raynor is dead, reinfest herself, and then have Raynor show up alive again and think Kerrigan is truly irredeemable even with the use of the Zerg-purging artifact.  Heck, with the dialogue snippet "the girl you knew is dead," this makes it sound like despite being forcibly de-Zerged, Kerrigan is still evil.

Wings of Liberty was a lot more optimistic than the first Starcraft and Brood War, with the Dominion public rioting upon learning of Mengsk's true evil nature and the Swarm decapitated and Kerrigan returned to human form.  That was pretty refreshing, considering how dark the first games really were. 

One can hope they took the darkest quotes and scenes from Heart of the Swarm out of context and strung them together to make the story sound a lot more GrimDark than it actually will be--some of the promotional material describes Kerrigan only remembering some of what she did as Queen of Blades and not liking it, which shows there's hope for her.  She does look pretty angsty when she's loading her rifle, while the Queen of Blades would have probably been joyfully homicidal.  Raynor is only missing, not confirmed dead.  And the new trailer depicts a lot of human-on-human warfare, including what looks like a military drop on a human planet. 

Ending the Second Great War with Kerrigan's Zerg and Raynor's Raiders holding Arcturus Mengsk to account for his many sins would be awesome, with the Dark Voice and his Protoss-Zerg hybrid army over the horizon.  However, some stuff I've read on indicates the hybrids will be entering the sector en masse and they'll put the hurt on the player, so punishing Mengsk might not in the cards for a bit...

BTW, the soundtrack in this trailer is just awesome.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Book Review: "Twelve" by Jasper Kent. Spoilers!

I came across Pyr, a science fiction and fantasy imprint of Prometheus Books, at DragonCon this year.  One of the books they had available for purchase was Twelveby Jasper Kent.  I remembered seeing Pyr's booth at DragonCon some years back, with Twelve being listed as coming soon, so my curiosity was already piqued.  It looked interesting, so I bought it. Here goes the review...

Twelve tells the tale of Captain Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov, a Russian officer during the Napoleonic Wars.  He and some other officers have been assigned to operate separately from the main Russian army to cause trouble for the invading French.  When one of them takes the liberty of calling some old comrades from the war against the Turks who are very good at killing the French, everything seems peachy.

Until Danilov gets a little too curious and discovers just what manner of monsters they've allied themselves with...

The Good

*I really liked the concept.  I haven't seen a lot of historical fiction or speculative fiction set in Russia, so this was doubly interesting.

*The book is well-paced and never boring.

*The author's attention to historical detail is good.  Distances are measured in the traditional Russian measurement of verst, while the events of the book are dated using the Julian calendar, which was used in Russia at the time, rather than the Gregorian calendar, which was used in Western Europe.  He even describes the difference between Russian and Western European horseshoes, the latter of which aren't adapted for the icy conditions of the Russian winter.

*The fact that the twelve who arrive to help fight the French are vampires is not immediately revealed.  One has the chance to learn along with Danilov just what the Oprichniki--Ivan the Terrible's secret police, which our heroes name the twelve--are.

(Unless you read the blurbs on the back too closely, but I'll get to that later.)

*The Oprichniki's chief introduces them to the Russian characters before returning to Romania.  The twelve of them are all named after the Twelve Apostles, with the one named for Judas having a rather interesting trait--I'll reveal that later in the review.

*There are some very vivid descriptive bits, like a scene where Danilov witnesses the Oprichniki throwing a body out of a barn.  He describes how the body has had a good bit of flesh gnawed off and then sees the look on the dead woman's face and realized the only reason the vampires had decided to stop eating was because the victim had died. He then sees the vampires torturing and feeding on the dead woman's husband in the barn.  One of the vampires bites off some pieces of him and spits something out.  When Danilov comes in during the day to kill the vampires, he finds what the vampire spat out--the man's wedding ring.  He then subdues one vampire and tortures him for information by opening the barn door to expose him to the sun and then closing the door again to allow him to regenerate.

"The vampire was a torturer's dream.  Continuous pain could be inflicted because the body would be continually refreshed."


There's another scene where Danilov stops to think and sits on a log.  When he gets up, he disturbs the snow and reveals a silver chain.  He digs for it and finds it's a bracelet and what he thinks is a branch is actually a human hand.

"I had not been sitting on a log, but on a frozen, rigid human corpse."

Now that's a good way to end a chapter.

There's another scene where another character takes a vampire prisoner and both of them are caught in a blizzard.  The vampire ends up frozen solid and buried in a snowdrift, but cannot die.  Danilov digs the vampire up and the sun starts melting the remaining snow and ice--and igniting the vampire.  The vampire's flesh ignites, which ignites his clothing, which burns away and reveals more flesh, which is in turn ignited by the sun.  Once the fires start going on his clothes and flesh, the vicious cycle accelerates into a continual chain of combustion.

*Danilov is a realistic human being with flaws.  In this case, away from his wife for a long period, he visits a prostitute named Dominikiaa and becomes quite attached to her.  That's a realistic problem for someone to get into in a wartime situation.

The Bad

*The book jacket describes how the behavior of the twelve new arrivals reminds Danilov of the legends of the voordalak.  Given how it isn't revealed until well into the novel that the Oprichniki are in fact vampires, using the less-familiar Russian word was a good idea.  The problem is, one of the first blurbs on the back of the book calls it "good vampire-hunting fun."  I would have enjoyed the book much more if I hadn't known going in that the Oprichniki were vampires and discovered it along with Danilov.

*When Danilov cannot bring himself to kill Dominikiaa after he believes she has allowed herself to be made a vampire by Iuda, he very quickly reaches the conclusion that he would be damned if he killed her and damned if he allowed her to escape, so he decides that if he's going to go to hell anyway, he should allow Dominikiaa to make him a vampire so they could go to hell together.  I can understand his moral dilemma--he can't bring himself to kill Dominikiaa but would have any deaths vampire-Dominkiaa inflicts on his conscience--but his solution is really quite bizarre considering his hatred of the vampires.  Furthermore, this decision is made entirely too easily, in the space of about a page.  And he's really detached about it too--he even thinks this would be a chance to look back and remember his own death.

*The revelation that the vampire Iuda wasn't actually a vampire, but was in fact a human who traveled with the vampires and had deceived them into thinking he was one of them was really lame.  If he had been with the vampires for an extended period of time, one would think these creatures--who prey on humans the way we feed on lower animals--would have noticed.  That does provide a reason for him to be named after Judas, but he doesn't actually betray the vampires.  Of course, if he was a Russian-born vampire who retained loyalty to his people and opposed the Oprichniki when they began feeding on Russians as well as French, that would make him a bit more interesting...

The Verdict

An entertaining read.  8 out of 10.  The sequel, Thirteen Years Later,has been released in the United States, as has the third book in what will be a quintet, The Third Section.  Kent will continue the story all the way to the Russian Revolution, so how things turn out will be very interesting.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An Idea for a Left-Wing Techno-Thriller

On my message-board this morning, a Turkish (I think) member posted the following link.

"China worried by U.S. Revolt."

Apparently the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, despite its rather small size, has gotten the attention of the Chinese government.  Although the Chinese government hasn't claimed it's an incipient sign of proletarian revolution or something like that--this isn't the 1960s anymore--they are actually endorsing the protesters.  They make the claim that if the problems the protesters are pointing out aren't dealt with, things would get worse.

However, someone on the board seized on some Iranian officer's comparison of "Occupy Wall Street" to the Arab Spring and suggested a scenario for a bad techno-thriller--the Chinese militarily intervene in the United States to stop the "American Spring," much like how the Soviets intervened in Hungary and Czechoslovakia to maintain Communist rule in Eastern Europe.

That gave me an idea for the rarest of all beasts--a left-wing technothriller.

Imagine a world where the United States, due to irresponsible spending, is extremely, EXTREMELY indebted to China, much more so than today.  The United States government has radically cut services and raised taxes severely, in order to pay off its foreign debt.

When protests break out and the U.S. is unable or unwilling to contain them, the Chinese intervene militarily...

(Let's say for the sake of the argument this is in the distant future where the Chinese are capable of a trans-Pacific invasion or it's more subtle, like importing Chinese police and soldiers to crush dissent in the same way the Iranian government has used foreign enforcers to crush the "Green Revolution.")

Ironically, this kind of thing has happened before, albeit typically a long time ago.  Various European powers occupied Mexico during the U.S. Civil War due to non-payment of debts, while the first U.S. military interventions in Latin America were designed to forestall such things.

More recently, due to massive Third World debt and consequent structural adjustment that leads to cutting education and the like in Third World countries, there have been calls by people like Bono of U2 for debt-forgiveness.

An overt Chinese military intervention to ensure debt payments continue is much more severe than anything done by the West in recent years, but it might take something more severe to make people think.  The "Republic of Gilead" depicted in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale was far more monstrous than any realistic overreach of the American Religious Right would be, but I think Atwood's goal was to make a point, not depict a realistic American theocracy.

I've got enough on my plate these days, so I'm not going to be writing this.  If anyone wants to take this idea and run with it, have at it.  Although the economics involved are rather left-wing, the fact it involves the invasion of the U.S. by a nominally Communist power with the stated aim of repressing its population for the invaders' economic benefit, a publisher of "right-wing gun porn" might actually be interested in it. 

Acknowledgement of where the idea came from would be nice...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Some Music You Might Enjoy...

Sorry for not posting in over a week, but I've been really busy with work and writing.

While I've been writing, I've been listening to music.  Mostly from my iTunes collection, but often from music videos on YouTube.  One music-video I listen to is entitled "Blood for the Blood God" and consists of clips from various Warhammer 40K video games strung together in such a way that it sounds like a rock anthem to the Chaos God Khorne.

(And darn it's awesome.)

And YouTube supplies suggested videos on the right side of the screen.  I've found some songs this way that I'd never considered before.

The first was the instrumental piece "Preliator" by the band Globus, which puts out stirring orchestral music.  It was used as the background for a slideshow of Warhammer 40K images, mostly pertaining to Khorne and the Chaos Space Marines that follow him like Kharn the Betrayer.  Here it is if you want to see it.

Then I discovered the Swedish metal band Sabaton.  The first song I viewed, "Masters of the World," was kind of a standard metal song with a lot of Nietzschean self-assertion going on.

Then came "40:1," which is about the Battle of Wizna in Poland during World War II.  That battle is known as Poland's Thermopylae--720 Polish soldiers held 40,000 Germans for three days.  They lost, but they inflicted many more casualties than they suffered.  This is appropriate because I was writing a portion of Battle for the Wastelands taking place in one of the refugee camps where the remnants of the Merrill army look after civilian refugees from Flesh-Eater cruelty and periodically raid enemy territory.  The Merrills are outnumbered by their Flesh-Eater enemies and even more so when facing the combined armies of the tyrant Grendel, ruler of the entire Northlands.  However, the ones who survived the conquest of their homeland are the hardest of the hard-cores and they won't go down without a fight.

The last song I've purchased as a result of listening to it on YouTube so far is "Ghost Division," which is about Rommel's division and its role in the German invasion of France during WWII.  Even though Sabaton is no friend of Nazism, one can honor martial prowess and sheer cojones and that's what the Germans showed during the Battle of France.

(Although they conquered France in six weeks, it was by no means a walkover like the France-bashers like to say.  They outmanuevered French armies that were larger and in some cases better-equipped.  Read about the Manstein Plan, the collapse of the Meuse Front, and the Channel Dash in the Wikipedia article for the cojones part.)

I might buy other songs based on the YouTube videos.  Although it may seem odd to buy songs when I could simply listen to the music online, there's not much incentive to produce content when you don't get compensated for it (intangibles like fame and the joy of exercising one's creativity are nice, but they don't pay the bills).  I view it as stealing, although not everyone agrees.  It's also a lot easier to save an iTunes file onto my iPod than extract the music from the video, save it to my computer and then transfer it.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Productivity Update

Current Projects

*"Needs Must."  The second Andrew Patel short story slated for my Kennesaw writing group's "Southern Superheroes" anthology.

*Battle for the Wastelands-What will be my first finished novel using my own worlds/characters (i.e. not fan fiction).

Last Sunday, I was up until around midnight writing Chapter 19 of Battle for the Wastelands.  I'd already finished Chapter 20 and Chapter 22, so finishing this chapter helped fill a major gap.  The concept for Chapter 21 I came up with at DragonCon and I plugged in the chapter between what became Chapter 22 and the unfinished Chapter 20.

This chapter was harder to write, since it isn't based on my strengths (world-building, fight scenes)--instead, it's purely dialogue/character development.  Still, a woman from my Lawrenceville writing group liked it, even though I realized after I submitted it that I left out some very pertinent information.

In this one, cowgirl Alyssa Carson flirts with protagonist Andrew Sutter some more, but he isn't interested, remembering his girl from his doomed hometown.  She ends up flirting with his jerkish squad-mate Will, which makes Andrew jealous.  I don't have a whole lot of experience with this kind of drama, so writing it realistically is going to be tricky.

Now to finish Chapter 21, which features the villain Grendel's son Falki ending up in a rather sticky situation...

I've got 20 continuous chapters completed and when I finish 21, that'll be 22 continuous chapters.  Nine to 10 more left, with bits and pieces of material already written.  Got to finish by Veterans' Day...

However, I'm also committed to have two stories completed by either Nov. 1 or Nov. 15 for my Kennesaw writing group's "Southern Superheroes" project.  I've completed and revised the first story "Ubermensch," which was first titled "Andrew Patel's Crisis of Conscience."  The second story is entitled "Needs Must" and features an awkward team-up between the villain Andrew Patel and the heroic Silverbolt.

I've got 4,148 words on that one completed.  Hopefully I'll be able to get it done by Monday or Tuesday and submit it to my Kennesaw writing group for our Oct. 8 meeting.  That'll jeopardize my timetable for finishing Battle, but this whole situation was my idea in the first place, so I really can't complain.

Earlier this month, I also wrote 1,200 words on a short story entitled "A New World To Conquer," which is set in a new science-fiction universe I devised at DragonCon.  I was in a panel that was getting a bit dull, so I started doodling in my notebook.  I drew a roughly man-sized pterodactyl in powered armor accompanied by a human in the same gear.  My mind started whirling--what kind of story would produce this?

I ended up with the basic plots of eight novels and several short stories set in universe where humanity is part of a decaying empire ruled by alien pterodactyl-analogues.  When "A New World" is done, which will probably be after both of my Andrew Patel stories and possibly even after the first draft of Battle for the Wastelands, I intend to send it to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  I haven't sent them anything in quite awhile, since most of the short fiction I've been sending out has been revised older material they've already rejected.  If they don't want it, I suspect by that time, Digital Science Fiction would have reopened for submissions and "A New World" would be a good fit for them.

Of course, I'll run it once through each of my writing groups to make sure it's in the best possible shape...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book Review: "Tears of the Sun" (SPOILERS)

Just finished S.M. Stirling's The Tears of the Sun, the newest novel in the Emberverse.  Here's my review...

The Good

*It was an enjoyable book and a fairly quick read.  Always a plus.

*Stirling clearly put a lot of care into the development of minor characters.

*I liked how the Boisean light cavalry gets lured into a trap with the prospect of sheep to steal and gets jacked.

*Good commando raid into Boise and the price that is paid for victory.  Not going to say who, but the cast from the first books is starting to get mighty thin on the ground...

*Nice cliffhanger ending to set up the next book, Lord of Mountains.

The Bad

*Too much description of the food and how it tastes.  I recall the description of the taste of cured meat coming up many times.

*Rudi MacKenzie, Mathilda Arminger, etc. kind of disappear for a long time.

*Too much time, including multiple flashbacks, spent on Mary Liu's treasonous dealings with the Church Universal and Triumphant and how they're exposed and dealt with.  It was good to meet Odard Liu's other siblings and they do get a lot of development for characters introduced (I think) in this book, but still.  I think a lot of this could have been cut from the book and been replaced with battles.  See below...

*We see Rudi and company gathering for war and we later having Tiphaine d'Ath's Mary Liu flashbacks interrupted by the need to assist Rudi and friends organizing a "fighting retreat."  The campaign and the battle that forced Montival's army to retreat don't get described at all.  This is in marked contrast with the Pendleton campaign of the earlier books, in which the campaign and its aftermath make up a significant chunk of the book. 

Given the book jacket's blurb about how Rudi knows he might die in the fight against the Church Universal and Triumphant, depicting him having a close call in a battle we see onscreen would have been awesome.

The Verdict

A good book, but Stirling can do better.  6 out of 10.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Lots of Internet Publicity for "Coil Gun"

Ever since Pressure Suite - Digital Science Fiction Anthology 3, which contains my short story "Coil Gun," debuted, I've been using the Internet to market it.

For starters, since the story is set in a timeline I created on an alternate-history Internet forum, I promoted the heck out of it there.  The threads about it are mostly in forums where non-members do not have access, so here's the link to the actual timeline of the world it's set in.  Go to the very end for some discussion about how just how the Afrikaner Confederation will incorporate much of India and present-day Indonesia--the username whose handle is "gksa" came up with some really interesting ideas I intend to use.

And that has led to further promotion.  Korsgaard, who I know from the forum, wrote a review of the entire anthology on my friend Nick's blog and reviewed "Coil Gun" individually on his own blog.

Then Korsgaard's friend Mitro mentioned my story and got some comments from Digitial Science Fiction Editor Michael Wills and then interviewed me about "Coil Gun" and the craft of writing in general.

And Digital Science Fiction was so kind as to link back to all of them on its own web-site.

Hooray for networking!

And then there's this here, the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.  Not sure who runs it exactly, but it's some additional material on my story.

Friday, September 23, 2011

I Write About Jon Huntsman

Earlier this year, I posted here about why I supported Mitch Daniels as the 2012 Republican nominee.  Unfortunately, Daniels decided not to run this year.

So I set out in search of a new candidate.  Mitt Romney has an alarming tendency to change his views to gather popularity, while Rick Perry doesn't seem to believe in evolution and has interfered with the investigation about whether Texas may have executed an innocent man.  Rick Santorum actually used the phrase "man on dog" in an interview, while Ron Paul, who I once supported quite zealously, said he would not have authorized the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

And then I found Jon Huntsman, who is fiscally conservative but doesn't have social views that would repel a growing percentage of the American electorate.

(Check out the book The Emerging Democratic Majority.  As the U.S. grows less white, less Protestant, and less Christian generally, Religious Right-type views are more and more going to be an albatross around any candidate's neck.)

Here's a column I wrote about Huntsman for my newspaper.

Don't overlook lesser-known GOP candidate in 2012

Let me emphasize this is NOT an endorsement, since my newspaper does not endorse individual candidates.  However, it is a list of reasons why Huntsman would make a good candidate.  And for good measure, I don't take shots at any of the other candidates--instead, I merely explain Huntsman's strengths.

Now to find a Huntsman group in Georgia.  In 2008, there were Ron Paul groups and I was even a member of one.  However, searching found nothing Huntsman-related in Atlanta and Googling "Georgians for Huntsman" only found me an anemic Twitter feed.

The Georgia Republican primary is February 7, 2012.  There really isn't all that much time left.


If you all are ever in Little Five Points in Atlanta, be sure to check out Fox Brothers Bar-B-Q.  It's better than Shane's or any other BBQ place I've even been to.  I especially like the brisket.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

2011 DragonCon #2: S.M. Stirling

One of the panels I had the chance to sit in on at DragonCon was that of noted science fiction and alternate-history author S.M. Stirling.

"Currently, I'm working on a sequel to Tears of the Sun," was his answer to someone asking him about his current projects.  The sequel was originally titled The Given Sacrifice, but the story took longer than he thought.  It is now called Lord of Mountains and it will complete Rudi MacKenzie's story arc--make of that what you will.  He does intend for more Emberverse novels taking place afterward--he and John Birmingham are working on one set in Australia.

"Galleys ramming each other Salamis-style off the coast of Darwin," is how he described that project.  He also made a reference to a future Emberverse novel entitled Eric the Strong, which is (I assume) about the foundation of the Norse-reconstructionist pagan culture that our heroes come across in Maine during one of the later Emberverse novels.

He referred to the Change universe as his Hyborean Age.  Robert E. Howard created the Hyborean Age so he could include things from different historical periods.  Stirling wanted to have knights in armor and cowboys existing in the same world, and voila.

He is also pondering an alternate-history project in which Teddy Roosevelt won the 1912 presidential election.  It will feature dirigibles, biplanes, guys in leather helmets with goggles, and, just maybe, an underwater base.

Stirling also said he may return to the world of Island in the Sea of Time, although he didn't go into detail.  He said he can produce roughly a novel a year, so he only has time for 20-30 novels, barring rejuvenation technology.

Someone's phone rang during the discussion. "Die!" Stirling shouted.  I thought that was pretty funny.

When asked if he has given any thought to opening up his world like Eric Flint did in his 1632 novels, Stirling said he has given thought to a shared-world anthology of Emberverse stories. However, his publisher vetoed it.

Stirling then revealed the Emberverse series has been optioned for a TV program. He warned that hundreds of properties are optioned every year, so that doesn't mean it will be made. He said the series would be like HBO's Game of Thrones, with each book corresponding to a TV season.  He said TV series are more appropriate for books than movies are--a movie is more akin to a short story or a novella.

Stirling also revealed he will have a short story included in a Barsoom anthology timed to come out at the same time as the John Carter film next year.  His story manages to include the Moon Men and Pellucidar. He will also have a Time Patrol story in a Poul Anderson tribute anthology.

"Short stories are sort of a Judas breed these days," he said. "You don't make enough money from them to be worth your time, but it's a hell of a lot of fun."

Ironically short stories used to be bigger sellers than novels.  Robert E. Howard was the richest man in his hometown.

A woman asked Stirling about including maps for battles in his books because the battles were written confusedly.  He said he tries to be as clear as possible when he writes battles.

"It's hard to be both realistic and clear about battles and fights," he said. "Especially on a large scale."

He then said that in real life, actually being a king is boring.  Lots of meetings and reports.  No wonder the fantasy stories end when the hero actually becomes king.

Another participant asked how the Draka series would end, or would the status quo continue for thousands of years.  Stirling said the Draka were alternate-history horror, an "AH Cthulhu mythos."  He said he wrote the series when he was in law school, which would explain why it was full of anger and hate.

He told the participant he was not interested in the Draka anymore, since he wrote the last book over 20 years ago.

He then discussed his life before he made it big.  He spent eight years working odd jobs while trying to write, including picking tobacco and working as a bouncer in a bar for two days.  He sold a short story to a British magazine for a quarter-cent a word.  The magazine went under, but someone bought the rights and the story appeared 20 years later.

"I got my quarter-cent a word," he said.

He told a funny story about how he sold a story to Jim Baen, the founder of Baen Books.  Baen said it was a good story, but the ending was ambiguous--what happened was the last page had gone missing.

Stirling's work began selling after he married.  His career really took off with Island in the Sea of Time and things have been getting better ever since.

"You've got to have talent, you've got to have persistence, and you've got to be lucky," he said.

He said fiction sales have withstood the recent economic downturn well, but publishers have gotten more cautious.  Publishing profit margins are typically three to five percent--people try to get 15 to 20 percent returns and they can't.  Writing is one of the last individual craft industries.  He signed a multi-book contract before the crash and he is safe.

"For people trying to break in, it's hell," he said.

An audience member asked about EBooks.  Stirling said as long as people were paying for them, he is happy with them.  He has a Kindle and it helps him read more, since he spends $6,000 per year on books.

As far as fan-fiction is concerned, if copyright is acknowledged, that's free advertising for him.  There are people who post fan-fiction on his site.

(Hmm...that might be something to keep in mind when I become a novelist.  I got a lot of practice for novels with my Harry Potter fan-fiction and so I couldn't non-hypocritically condemn fan-fiction, but I can easily imagine getting upset if someone wrote Grendel/Andrew slash fiction, romanticized the captivity of Catalina Merrill, or something icky like that.)

I got the chance to ask him a question during the session.  What happened to all the Protestants in the Emberverse?  I asked why it seems everyone in the Emberverse is either a neo-pagan or a Catholic.  Even Frederick Thurston, who was brought up as a Methodist, became a worshipper of the Norse gods.

Stirling said that was  of a joke--everyone he knows who is a member of some exotic religion started out as a Methodist.  Rarely does one see, say, an enthusiastic Orthodox Jew becoming a Wiccan.  He said the "either Catholic or pagan" situation was in the Pacific Northwest only and Iowa is still majority Protestant.

Someone else asked him what his long-term plans for the Draka were--who wins?

"The battle would have continued as long as I wanted to write the books," he said.

He said one doesn't kill off a good villain, unless you give them children.

Stirling then read a selection from Lord of Mountains out loud.  Rudi has had a big meeting at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood and he and a bunch of others investigate a supernatural occurrence nearby.  He gave Rudi and Edain faux Irish accents, which I found really funny.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Anthology Containing My Short Story Is Now For Sale

The third edition of the Kindle anthology Digital Science Fiction, which contains my short story "Coil Gun," is now available for purchase.

Buy it here for Kindle!

Buy it here for Kindle, the Nook, and other formats!

Also, here is some content that my loyal readers might appreciate.

For starters, here's the map of the world in which "Coil Gun" takes place. 

And here's the current version of the timeline leading up to the events of "Coil Gun" and what happens afterward.

I figured you all would appreciate some background material on the world this is set in.  I've got one more completed story set in this world, "Picking Up Plans In Palma," that I hope to submit to Digital Science Fiction when it opens for submissions for the fifth edition.  I've also got an incomplete story set in this universe entitled "Killing The Rijnsburg" that focuses on the spaceplane attack that destroy the titular Afrikaner battle-station (and will also feature the destruction of the Montgomery as well) I can finish and send in.

I've also got some novels that take place during the lead-up to WWIII and during the war itself and its aftermath plotted out, although one won't need to read the short fiction in order to understand what's happening.  Some of the characters in the novels appear (or are mentioned) in "Picking Up Plans in Palma," but that's just "showing" some of their back-story rather than "telling" it--the important stuff will be related in a "telling" away in the novel itself, although I can imagine including "Palma" text as flashbacks.

Also, for those of you who are new to me and enjoyed "Coil Gun," you might want to join my Facebook fan page.

Here's the link.