Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Way To Get Published, Courtesy of DragonCon...

I can't remember which DragonCon this was, but I remember a panel on promoting one's novel.  Here's an idea that's stuck with me...

The idea was that if one couldn't get a book deal, take one's novel and put it in audio form.  In the Olden Days, this was done via books on tape but now it's all digital--podcasts and the like.  One of the people on the panel suggested the Savannah College of Art and Design (I assume the Atlanta branch) would be a good place to get this done for free--the students would want voice-over credits for their resumes.

One can then distribute the novel for free via iTunes and other digital services and build up readership that way.  Having 100,000 readers of the audio version would strengthen one's hand in negotiating the print deals and it wouldn't forfeit any of the print rights.

The novel Blindsight was initially released for free online and then got a print deal, so putting something out there for free is not necessarily a kiss-of-death.

That being said, some publishers are simply concerned about it being published somewhere else, not just printed somewhere else.  This might count as publication.

I have no completed novels (unless you count fan-fiction), so I'm not really in a position where I can experiment with this.  However, some of you out there might find the idea interesting.

My Comments on the Importance of Writing Research

One of the most important parts of writing quality fiction is doing quality research.  One need go no farther than to find hundreds of instances where the creators of fictional works have gotten things wrong.

The page “You Fail History Forever” lists the 2004 Phantom of the Opera as one example. The film begins in 1870 and lasts at least through the winter of that year (it's sunny at the beginning of the film but the duel between Raoul and the Phantom takes place in the winter). Most of the Franco-Prussian War took place during this time but the war is never mentioned at all. Paris would not be so wonderful and glamorous either — the city was besieged by the Prussians and later rebelled against the French government, with much human suffering accompanying both. I enjoyed the movie but someone with more knowledge of French history would have been rather vexed.

Another page, “You Fail Religious Studies Forever,” lists the “Holy War” story arc of The Uncanny X-Men. That storyline depicts a mutant-hating cult attempting to disguise the devoutly-Catholic (but rather demonic in appearance) mutant Nightcrawler as a normal-looking human in order to get him elected Pope. They intend to reveal his true appearance at the same time incendiary communion wafers are used to vaporize Catholics. The goal of this scheme is to make people think the Rapture of the Church had taken place and provoke a holy war against mutants.

There is one small problem — the Catholic Church does not teach the Rapture. I cannot say what would happen if this improbable scenario somehow took place in real life but I’m pretty sure the surviving Catholics would not assume the Rapture had taken place and they’d been left behind.

Although some movies or books can be enjoyable in spite of errors, some errors can be so severe they ruin the reader’s suspension of disbelief. In an early draft of my novel Battle for the Wastelands, a member of my writing group who is a retired army sergeant pointed out some errors in military training and tactics. 

Considering the primary audience for a novel of this nature would be young men with an interest in matters military, allowing these errors to go uncorrected would jeopardize the chances of publication, gain the book bad reviews and thus poorer sales or perhaps even both.

Although research can often be time-consuming, in our day and age, it is much less difficult than in the past. When I lived in Lovejoy and McDonough, I borrowed two of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe novels (which used The Recollections of Rifleman Harris, a British infantryman who fought against Napoleon, as a major source) from the statewide PINES library network for research into Napoleonic-era tactics. I also extensively researched the Persian Gulf War for another project, research that eventually was used in my Transformers fan-fiction “The Revenge of the Fallen Reboot.”  Although not all library systems are created equal, a trip to the local library or libraries should be on every writer's to-do list.  And if you live in Georgia, the PINES Network is really helpful--although it might take a long time for materials to arrive, you'll have access to a whole state's worth of books rather than just your local library's.

Furthermore, there’s also the Internet. Although the Internet has a reputation for unreliability of information, the sheer number of sources one can access instantly is astounding and one can compensate for the possibility of error by checking something against multiple sources. If one cannot find necessary books at the local library, one can find them posted on Google Books or purchase them from 

For an alternate-history scenario I might set a story or stories in, I researched the population figures of French-colonized Vietnam on Google Books, while I purchased The Dictionary of the American West for research for Battle for the Wastelands.

Even YouTube can be a valuable source of information. I researched bayonet training and fighting for Battle for the Wastelands by watching WWII training films posted there. I also watched videos depicting the Spencer Rifle, the basis for the standard infantry weapon of my world, to see how the weapon was fired and what it sounded like.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

In Memorium: Mikaela Banes (Transformers)

This post is a little out-of-date in terms of the subject matter, but Transformers: The Dark of the Moon hasn't come out yet, so it could still be appropriate.

By now, I imagine everybody has heard that Megan Fox will not be returning for the film and that her character Mikaela Banes has been replaced with a new character named Carly, who appeared in the original series as the girlfriend and later wife of the original "Spike" Witwicky.

However much I can understand why Michael Bay would not want Megan Fox around (really, publicly comparing a Jewish director to Hitler was not cool), replacing Mikaela with an entirely new character rather than simply recasting her (as was done when Katie Holmes did not wish to return for The Dark Knight) is really going to be problematic for the story.

Let's see--given Sam's age and fixation on cars and girls in the first movie, chances are Mikaela was his first girlfriend.  And due to the whole alien-invasion thing, they'd been through a colossal amount of crap together, crap that could break a lesser couple.  Ending such a relationship would be extremely difficult to say the least--what problems people in a relationship typically have compare to surviving repeated attacks by evil extraterrestrials and a near-death experience?

Given how they re-shot the scenes Fox had already performed with the new actress playing the new character, it seems to me they'll simply shoehorn Carly in Mikaela's place without an explanation and that would just be gorram ridiculous.

The only thing I can possibly think of that could explain this in a non-idiotic manner is if Mikaela's dad was the cause of the problem.  In the first movie, Sam freaks out upon learning of Mikaela's criminal background (she said her crime was refusing to testify against her dad, but she *does* know how to hot-wire cars).  If her father backslides into his criminal ways and Mikaela refuses to cut ties with him (as would be in-character), that could be a major problem for Sam.

If this were the cause of the breakup I've read about, it left Sam seriously despondent (as it likely would), and it was Carly who pulled him out of it, I could buy Mikaela being replaced by an entirely new character.

But given the plot problems that Revenge of the Fallen had, something tells me including an intelligent explanation is not going to happen.  I don't despise Michael Bay like some people do, but when a film wastes its potential to the point it inspires one to write a "fix fic" to do it better (my story The Revenge of the Fallen Reboot), that's pretty bad.

And I'm probably one of the few people who actually like the character of Mikaela Banes.  Most people thought she was basically there to have Megan Fox run around looking hot (and were quite satisfied) and/or provide a "trophy" for Sam, but she was a lot more developed than that.

*Firstly, she had a particular skill--her mechanical abilities.  And these skills actually played a part in the story, when she hot-wired a tow-truck to pull a wounded Bumblebee back into battle at the end of the first film.  She didn't just stand around looking pretty.

*Secondly, she was not some cliched damsel-in-distress.  When the Decepticon spy Frenzy attacked her and Sam in the first film, if I remember right she cut him in half with a chainsaw while Sam was the one who panicked.  In the second film, she tortured and interrogated the Decepticon spy Wheelie and broke him to the point he became her adoring pseudo-pet.  Torturing another being requires a great deal of personal steel, since most people have built-in inhibitions against deliberately causing pain.

*Thirdly, although a female member of my alternate-history forum wrote this off as "being at the mercy" of her father and boyfriend, her refusal to testify against her father when he has committed crimes (based on her comments, I imagine he was running a chop-shop working on stolen cars) and helping him readjust when he gets out of jail rather than following Sam to the East Coast, her staying with Sam no matter how much personal danger it puts her in, and her rescuing him from the LustBot when she has every reason to think Sam is cheating on her with a human girl shows that her character values loyalty.

I've gotten into arguments over this, once with a female member of my writing group (who eventually conceded Mikaela was a "weak character" instead of a trophy) and once with an author at DragonCon after the "what women want in speculative fiction" panel.  And since I'm writing all this here, I stand by this position.

If Transformers: Dark of the Moon does well, as it probably will, and Fox gets an attitude adjustment (something that hopefully came with the poor performances of Jennifer's Body and Jonah Hex), maybe they'll bring her character back for a fourth film?  That would be very interesting story-wise and could provide a reason for Mikaela's disappearance.

Not to mention geeky guys who identify with Sam would love seeing two pretty girls fighting over him.  :)

There Goes One Possible Market...

Chaosium Submissions Page

Well, there goes one possible place to send The Thing in the Woods when it's completed.  I was hoping to send it there, since the concept for the story was inspired by a suggested scenario in one of their role-playing games and it is Lovecraftian in nature.  However, they don't accept unsolicited novels and if they want short fiction, they'll solicit for it.

Still, George Scithers (the late editor of Weird Tales) told me that Lovecraft's ideas and concepts were public domain (as opposed to Robert Howard's, which are most assuredly not), so it's not like the official publisher of Lovecraftian lore is really necessary.  Back when I lived in McDonough, my friend Daryl and I found an anthology of Lovecraftian fiction entitled Cthulhu's Reign published by DAW Books at the local Books-a-Million.  Perhaps they'd be interested if Chaosium is not.

Heck, I'd be a lot more comfortable self-publishing or using Amazon publication for The Thing in the Woods than for my other stuff, since this is a one-shot rather than the beginning of a series and it's my series ideas that are grand and glorious and would really need a major publisher to reach their full potential ("full potential" being epic movies of course--I'd imagined my "Gates of Vasharia" series as being the Lord of the Rings with tanks).  The Thing in the Woods would be the beginning and would pave the way for longer, more elaborate works--I wouldn't be a risky first-time author anymore.

And publication can spin the cash.  A member of one of my writing groups apparently makes a substantial sum per month selling electronic versions of her books through Amazon.  And this market is only going to get bigger as more people get smart-phones, iPads, etc. that enable them to read books electronically.

(I entered that field myself when I read Eric Flint's 1632 on my Evo in a McDonough barbershop, during downtime at my family's Christmas party, etc.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Well, I've Gone and Done It...

Well, I've gone and done it.  Last night, I converted my unfinished short story "The Thing In the Woods" to an unfinished novel.  I accomplished this largely by adding a lot of page breaks and chapter headers in order to transform scenes into chapters.  Today I came up with a prologue that will hopefully "grab" my reader more so than the original beginning, which consisted of my protagonist signing in at the local Best Buy.

I haven't produced any new content for it, though.  I think I'll need to reread some Lovecraftian lore I own, including The Lurker at the Threshold and Nameless Cults: The Complete Cthulhu Mythos Tales Of Robert E. Howard in order to get myself in the right frame of mind.

(For those of you interested in Lovecraftian fiction, I'd recommend Nameless Cults heartily.  The short stories "The Black Stone" and "Worms of the Earth" are absolutely brilliant.  Lurker is rather slow, but it's got good descriptive passages and it was produced by August Derleth, Lovecraft's successor, out of two fragments Lovecraft himself wrote.  The book is also 196 pages long, proof one doesn't have to write a 300-500 page longer work to be commercially successful.  I intend to keep The Thing in the Woods relatively short.)

I have produced some new content for my Transformers fan-fic The Revenge of the Fallen Reboot.  Finishing up the last of the "action chapters" (which includes Optimus Prime's battle with the Fallen) might not take as long as I thought it would.  Two more full chapters and an epilogue and then no more fan-fiction for me, although I imagine my colossal Sequel Hook (see TVTropes) planned ending will lead to my readers wanting more.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Productivity Update and a Project to Ponder

Last night, I posted a new chapter to The Revenge of the Fallen Reboot for the first time since November.  To get it done faster, I lopped off the last half of the chapter and made that part the next chapter, filled in the blanks, and posted that sucker.  This chapter features a Crowning Moment of Awesome (see TVTropes) by none other than Starscream, who I'm hoping is a proper Magnificent Bastard in this story (as opposed to the actual Revenge of the Fallen movie where all he does it get beaten and verbally abused by Megatron).

Two more chapters and an epilogue left to go.  The Fallen has actually risen again and all hell is breaking loose.  Only two reviews so far and only one of them is from one of my regular readers.  I guess when you don't update for five months, people tend to lose interest.  Oh well, serves me right for ignoring my fans.

I also submitted my Vikings-and-monsters story "Nicor" to Basement Stories, a webzine specializing in character-driven speculative fiction.  "Nicor" is among my more character-driven stories--the story is "about" a Danish teen's disillusionment with war that just happens to come at the hands of a bloodthirsty man-frog rather than a mindless dismemberment festival--so hopefully they'll enjoy it.

I also had Chapter 14 of Battle for the Wastelands ready to go for my Kennesaw writing group's meeting last weekend.  Unfortunately, a last-minute work obligation came up and so I had to bow out.  This is the first chapter in awhile where Grendel is the POV character and I hope he does some things worthy of his name.

(He doesn't do things For The Evulz and is fairly quiet, unlike some of his more psychotic lieutenants.  But if he thinks something needs to be done for his own good, the good of his family, and/or the good of the realm he rules, it's going to get done, morality be damned.  My friend Jamie said that constant puppy-kicking is not good enough for a character to be a good villain--and this is after I depicted Starscream in the ROTF reboot deliberately shredding the parachutes of downed human pilots for kicks, something an Air Force officer like Jamie has every reason to hate--and after some thought, I've come to agree.)

The plan right now is to go through the completed fourteen chapters and make sure I'm using action-verbs as means of describing the world without boring the reader.  Think a sentence like "David walked down the long hallway, his image reflected in the golf leaf on the walls.  The wind from an open window tousled his dark hair."  Dean Koontz is really good at this, as a quick flip-through of my middle-school-era copy of Watchers revealed.  One of the criticisms of my story is insufficient sensory detail and Koontz's way is a way do it without blobs and blobs of boring descriptive passages.

Once that's done, it's time to start cranking out new chapters and not look back.  If I write more continuously and spend less time perfecting earlier chapters, I might be able to meet my Veterans' Day deadline.

However, now I'm starting to wonder about the wisdom of another project.  Amanda Williamson, the organizer of my Kennesaw writing group, said she liked my horror fiction (which takes place in our world) better than my alternate-world fiction because there's less worldbuilding and more characters doing things.  Another problem I've noticed is that my individual novels tend to mutate into series, which are harder to sell.  Wastelands did that, as did The Gates of Vasharia, an older series now on hiatus.

I've got an outline for a short story whose point of origin was a Lovecraftian RPG (I think it might have been Call of Cthulhu itself) commenting on how a good setting would be a formerly-rural site of blasphemous rituals to other-dimensional horrors that's been suburbanized.  Like Love Canal, the town built on a toxic-waste dump, there're horrible things just waiting to come to the surface.

I figured if I developed each "story bit" (scenes separated by ***) into a chapter, it could be a full novel.  And given how it's set in our world rather than an expansive fictional world waiting to be explored and has a very definitive ending without lots of loose ends, it's a lot less likely to mutate into a series.  And a one-shot might be easier to sell that a story that is pretty obviously the beginning of a series.

Of course, starting on new projects when old projects get left undone is why I've got all these unfinished novels, most of which aren't ever going to see publication.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Up-To-The-Second Libyan War News

I was checking out FreeRepublic today and someone posted the following link.

It's got various Twitter feeds flowing in so one can get all sorts of information.  A lot of it is nonsense or rumor, I imagine, but it's got some interesting factoids like how the Gadhafi government is supposedly killing cattle near Zintan to deny the rebels food and all males aged 16 or old in al-Zawiyah (sp?) have gone missing.

(Shades of cities taken by the Serbs in Bosnia in which Muslim males were killed.  I suspect something similar has happened if this account is true.)

It's also got live Al-Jazeera in English, which I don't think is available in the United States.  It's pretty interesting--the narrators all sound British rather than Arabic.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Two-Minute "Game of Thrones" Clip (SPOILERS)

Looks interesting.  Good character moment with Ned Stark personally executing the man he sentenced to die in front of his son Bran, to teach the boy the gravity of the death sentence.  The scenes where Jon is at the Wall look well-done as well.

Petyr Baelish's outfit seems a little anachronistic--it looks like a tacky 20th Century business suit in a pseudo-medieval environment.  The "Song of Ice and Fire" Wiki describes him as being stylish, so him wearing that kind of outfit makes sense, but still.  He does have the creepy mustache, which is appropriate given his behavior in the books (obsessing over Catelyn Stark, marrying Catelyn's sister when she's not available, obsessing over Catelyn's daughter Sansa, murdering his wife when she gets upset, etc).

I considered getting HBO so I could watch this show (along with True Blood and Boardwalk Empire), but it strikes me as more fiscally responsible to wait until the DVD comes out and then watch it all at once.  Given how all the Blockbusters are closing down, I might need to do it online, either via Blockbuster's delivery service or Netflix.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

An Australian Alternate-History Scenario

What if Dutch shipwreck survivors settled Australia?

That's the basic premise of a new alternate-history scenario on my message-board.  I just found it the other day.

Basically, a Dutch ship wrecks on the coast of Australia around what would become Scarborough, Western Australia in our history.  The survivors establish a settlement and eventually contact the Dutch East India Company again.  More settlers are brought in and a colony is established.

There are some shades of our world's history--an obnoxious governor (like Peter Stuyvesant in New Amsterdam) and a trek of settlers who don't want to live under him and aren't particularly friendly to the natives (think the Boers).

It's only been posted for three days thus far and it already covers sixty-eight years of history.  Aracnid (the board member writing it) has clearly done his research.

Covenant Care Adoption Services Has Reached Its Goal

In an earlier entry, I called on my readers to donate money to assist Covenant Care Adoption Services, a Christian non-profit whose function is to facilitate adoption of unwanted children.

Well, my friend Michael (who clued me on this) and his wife Angelyn both posted this on Facebook today.  Apparently Covenant Care has not only reached, but exceeded, its goal and soon a worker for Augusta will be hired.

Good job to all of you who helped out.  And to anyone who might not have seen my earlier link or not been able to donate, I imagine they'll still need money for other purposes, so one can still donate.

A Belated St. Patrick's Day Funny Video...

Happy belated St. Patrick's Day.  Hopefully this video will be both educational and entertaining.

Here's the video's YouTube page.

It's entitled "A Biologist's St. Patrick's Day Song."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Movie Review "Battle: Los Angeles" (Spoilers)

Saw Battle: Los Angeles last night with my friend David.  Time for the review...

The Good

I liked director Jonathan Liebesman's desire to create an alien-invasion film in the style of war movies like Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan.  I don't know if that's ever been done before--Independence Day was very large scale and didn't tightly follow a single military unit, while the Tom Cruise version of War of the Worlds and Skyline tightly followed civilians who happened to encounter military battles against the invaders rather than a group of soldiers.

I liked the concept of the alien invaders.  I don't think I've ever seen squid-like aquatic aliens turning themselves into cyborgs (the comment about the surgically-implanted gun) to fight a land war before.  I also liked some of their weaponry, including something that looks and functions like a cross between crew-served machine gun (it's a squad-support weapon) and a multiple-rocket launcher (it fires swarms of small rockets) that walks on two legs to boot.

The aliens also have some tactical sense.  In one scene, alien infantry use a dog to distract the Marines prior to ambushing them, while they also track human radio and cellular transmissions to hunt down survivors.

The film also has, in TVTropes terms, some Crowning Moments of Awesome.  The first is when Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) lures an alien drone away from a bus his Marines had salvaged and kills it with a grenade to a gas station.  The second is when, with the alien command center destroyed and the directionless drones falling from the sky, the alien infantry begin retreating.


The last Marine squad in Los Angeles (and an Air Force technical sergeant along for the ride) pursue the retreating aliens, hammering them to the point Nantz and another character run out of ammunition for their rifles, draw their sidearms, and hammer them some more.

Another scene features, as the aliens swarm a position the Marines need to hold in order to call in cruise missiles on the alien command center, Technical Sgt. Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez) and another Marine actually fixing bayonets and spearing a couple alien infantry to a wall.  Bravo.

There's a good character moment where Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) is wounded and orders Nantz to leave him to save the others.  They argue about that and when Martinez definitively orders him to go, Nantz shouts "not again!"  Although the incident where Nantz lost Marines under his command is never really described, that line shows how deeply it affected his character.

(Martinez then turns on his radio to lure the aliens in and then blows himself up, killing himself and several enemy infantry and destroying their heavy weapon besides.  He goes out well, despite his inexperience getting the Marines into trouble early on.)

Although some have criticized the shaky-cam aspect of the movie, it accurately depicts how loud and confusing a real firefight would be.

Also, although the emotional impact could have been better, the scene where Nantz shows Corporal Jason Lockett (Cory Hardrict), whose brother died in Iraq under his command, that he remembers the names, ranks, and other information of every Marine who died in that incident and wishes he had died in their place had a good concept.

The Bad

With so many characters, it was hard to keep track of all of them--I actually had to search reviews online to find some of their names.  With Skyline, having a smaller cast made it easier to at least remember all of their names and develop some of them more.  It would be better if the movie focused on a single fire-team or squad rather than a mashed-together unit commanded by a lieutenant, who would typically be in command of a rifle platoon (three squads).  Focusing on a single squad or fire team would enable the friction between Nantz and Lockett, to be better developed and potentially more problematic--for example, with fewer other Marines around, what if Lockett was tempted to frag Nantz?

Given how Nantz's discovery of the alien command center and the Marines calling in an air-strike on it appeared to have turned the tide in Los Angeles, it should have been clearer that it was the aliens' drone aircraft that were the decisive element of the battle.  There's the scene where a drone hunts the Marines inside the commandeered bus and human aircraft attacking the combined-drones (the saucers) and not doing a lot of damage to them, but it could have been developed better.  Maybe if there's more than one incident where we see the drones taking down human aircraft due to superior maneuverability or something like that, it would make this clearer.  A scene where the Marines are pinned and an A-10 Warthog shows up and butchers the alien infantry and lighter vehicles until it's attacked by drones and the aliens start advancing again would make the point better.

The final confrontation between Nantz and Lockett could have had more emotional impact if Lockett's facial expression had changed at all during Nantz's recitation of the names of those who died under him or if, when Nantz describes his brother, tears start rolling down his face.  Lockett visits his brother's grave earlier in the film and talks to him as though he's there, so it's obvious they were close.

Although the theorizing the aliens have come to Earth to take the liquid water to fuel their machines could have been written off as blather from a TV talking head, bringing that in at all wasn't helpful to the movie.  The aliens wouldn't need to invade Earth to get liquid water--if they've got interstellar space travel ability, it shouldn't be too hard to capture ice-comets or collect water from uninhabited worlds (moons like Callisto or Europa, for example).  Given how the aliens appear to be aquatic and Earth is 70 percent water, making their objective colonization makes a lot more sense (and that does come in--"we are being colonized!").

Before anyone says this is a popcorn movie and one doesn't need to take plausibility seriously, it is possible to have one's cake and eat it too.  It's not like I'm suggesting action scenes be cut or unrealistic amounts of exposition dropped in.  Just cut the "they're using our liquid water to fuel their machines" tidbit from the TV and explicitly state the orange things they passed by when they infiltrate the alien command area via the sewer system were alien egg sacs.

The Verdict

A fun movie that could have been better.  6.5 out of 10.

Additional Comments

Something I've noticed about the reviews is that many of the bad reviews (that is, most of them) take issue with the film as being too gung-ho, being a love letter to the U.S. Marine Corps, too patriotic, etc. and use that as additional grounds (besides the characterization issues) to criticize it.

Is something wrong with that?  Does the cultural class (I can say that--I'm a journalist) think somehow more sophisticated to portray U.S. Marines as war criminals or tormented mental cases than portraying them as the heroes most of them are?

It's true that in the past, movies could be Narmishly (see TVTropes) gung-ho or even glorified war, but going too far in the other direction into cynicism and even bashing the military isn't good either.  After all, the film does depict Martinez's inexperience causing problems for those under his command, another Marine apparently suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (who probably should have been elaborated on more), and friction between Lockett and Nantz, so it's not like the Marines in the film are unrealistically flawless.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Help Me Find Broken Links...

This morning, I found that most of the links in my blog post about famous people I've met didn't work.  I've been using Firefox instead of Internet Explorer due to security concerns and apparently Firefox and Blogger interact in such a way that links I posted redirect to the Blogger edit page rather than the places I intended.

I reinstalled Internet Explorer, went in, and fixed them.  I also checked other links in blog posts made using Firefox and they seem to be fine.

If anyone should come across a blog post with links that are broken, please let me know so I can fix them.

For the foreseeable future, I will use Internet Explorer to make blog posts and use Firefox for my other web-browsing.  Hopefully if I don't use IE very often, there won't be security problems.

People Hate Me, So I'm Righteous?

I dropped in on , a blog run by former members of the Sovereign Grace movement, this morning.  For those of you who aren't aware of what Sovereign Grace is, it's a hybrid Charismatic-Calvinist movement whose best-known figure is Joshua Harris, the writer of I Kissed Dating Goodbye.  The people who run this site seem to have a high opinion of Harris as a person (at the very least they view him as salvageable, unlike Sovereign Grace founder C.J. Mahaney), but they really don't like the denomination (oh, sorry, "family of churches") due an excessively authoritarian leadership structure.

The most obnoxious material in Mahaney's post isn't Mahaney's own words, but the words of John Calvin.

None are more exposed to slanders and insults than godly teachers. This comes not only from the difficulty of their duties, which are so great that sometimes they sink under them, or stagger or halt or take a false step, so that wicked men find many occasions of finding fault with them; but added to that, even when they do all their duties correctly and commit not even the smallest error, they never avoid a thousand criticisms.
It is indeed a trick of Satan to estrange men from their ministers so as gradually to bring their teaching into contempt. In this way not only is wrong done to innocent people whose reputation is undeservedly injured, but the authority of God’s holy teaching is diminished….
The more sincerely any pastor strives to further Christ’s kingdom, the more he is loaded with spite, the more fierce do the attacks upon him become. And not only so, but as soon as any charge is made against ministers of the Word, it is believed as surely and firmly as if it had been already proved. This happens not only because a higher standard of integrity is required from them, but because Satan makes most people, in fact nearly everyone, over credulous so that without investigation, they eagerly condemn their pastors whose good name they ought to be defending.

I'm not going to deny that pastors have a difficult job and standing up for unpopular truth can be costly, but this goes down a dangerous road.  I concede that I often do not take criticism well, but a lot of the time, criticism has a legitimate purpose--to show you where you are making mistakes.  That doesn't mean that all criticism is valid, but unless it's really absurd, it should at least be considered.

This also ties in with a problem I have with certain values of Protestant who, when something that they teach offends someone, assumes that they've "struck a nerve" or induced the conviction of the Holy Spirit and that people are offended because they know the teacher in question is right, not because the teacher in question insulted them.  There was a thread on FreeRepublic, the online conservative-turned-loony forum, in which a religious war over Catholicism erupted and one anti-Catholic (I believe some flavor of Calvinist) claimed the reason Catholics were so offended at his or her claims was that the Holy Spirit was at work.  I'd post the link, but I'm having trouble finding it.  When I last checked, it was over 800 posts long, and that was months ago.

If I go down into the 'hood in the middle of the night, walk up to a bunch of gang-bangers and start preaching the Curse of Ham (the notion that God cursed black people, allegedly the descendants of Ham, with dark skin and decreed they would be slaves of the descendants of white people, allegedly the descendants of Shem, because Ham mocked Noah for lying around drunk and naked), and get the crap kicked out of me, did my inspired preaching convict them of their sins and did they lash out in rebellion against God, or am I just being an ass (and preaching false doctrine to boot)?

After all, if the amount of hatred from "the world" that one's teaching provokes is proof of one's own godliness, then Fred Phelps is the godliest man in America.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

All the Famous People I've Met...

Over the years, especially due to my work as a journalist, I've met a lot of famous people.  Here's a list of all of them I can recall, the circumstances we met, and the articles I wrote about them...

S.M. Stirling-DragonCon 2009.  Sci-fi/AH author.  Discussed Draka novels with him and found out Samothracians had beaten the Draka in a sleeper-ship-on-sleeper-ship fight (mentioned in Drakon) because their ship was better.  I also asked him some questions about his Emberverse novels.

John Ringo-DragonCon 2010.  Sci-fi author.  I think I inadvertently offended him with a comment I made about his book Ghost , but patched things up.

Mike Huckabee-Presidential candidate.  He spoke at a church and I covered it for my old newspaper.  I got to ask him a couple of questions beforehand.

Eric Johnson-Georgia gubernatorial candidate.  I voted for him in the primary, but he didn't make the runoff.

Ray McBerry-Georgia gubernatorial candidate.  Also spoke at a church and I covered it for my old newspaper.  He seemed nice enough, but then the scandal broke...

Margaret Weis-Fantasy author.  DragonCon, year unknown.  I think I was in high school at the time.  I'd guess probably 2000, since I think it was pre-9/11.

Sonny Perdue-Former Georgia governor.  Spoke to him at an "active adult" residential dedication and at the Georgia capital.  He kind of had a high-pitched voice and didn't want to talk--he shook my hand and found other places to go.

Casey Cagle-Georgia Lieutenant Governor.  Spoke to him at a press function and asked about Sunday alcohol sales.

Mike Lee-Warhammer 40,000 novelization author.  He was really cool and funny.

Hank Klibanoff-He wrote  The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation and spoke about investigative reporting at the press function I met Cagle at.  I've got a copy of his speech and some notes and I'll blog about it in the near future.  I'll also be sure to take a look at the book if the library's got it.

Chief Jay Strongbow-Retired professional wrestler.  I did a feature about him for my old newspaper.

"A Dance With Dragons" Will Be Released on July 12

I got an e-mail from Borders yesterday afternoon stating that A Dance with Dragons, the next book in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, will be released on July 12.

At last!  Some people on my message-board said they remember reading in editions of the fourth book, A Feast for Crows, that "Dance" would be out in 2006!  People have wondered if the series would ever be finished and even speculated on Martin's health.

Someone theorized that this has been timed to cash in the upcoming HBO series A Game of Thrones, which is based on the first book in the series.  I'm seriously considering getting HBO just to watch that.  Someone called A Song of Ice and Fire "The Sopranos in Middle-Earth" and it actually depicts how utterly horrific a realistic fantasy world would be.  You've got massacres of peasants, women being passed around for political reasons, and to drive the point home, a nobleman makes the following comment about a woman he murdered:

"Catelyn Stark sleeps with the fishes."

(Maybe--I haven't read that far in the series, but I've heard this.)

Let's hope subsequent books come much faster now.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Free Stargate/Battlestar Galactica Crossover Outline Seeking Writer...

On my alternate-history discussion forum, someone posted a suggestion for a science-fiction scenario in which the Twelve Colonies of Kobol (from the 2003 "re-imagining" of Battlestar Galactica) were attacked by the Goa'uld of the Stargate television series.  The basic plot was that the Twelve Lords of Kobol worshiped by the Colonials were actually Goa'uld System Lords who now sought to reclaim their runaway slaves.

That prompted a lively discussion as to how the Colonials--and the Cylons--might fare against the System Lords.  The board member with the handle AtriumCarceris said the Colonials and Cylons' weapons would be ineffective against Goa'uld shields and even the Season One System Lords would grossly outmatch them.  He also cited the figure of 200 megatons for a single shot from a System Lord ha'tak (mothership), a blow that would one-shot a battlestar or basestar.

The Stargate Season Two episode "The Serpent's Lair" depicts a one-gigaton (1,000 megatons) nuclear missile failing to penetrate the shields of the System Lord Apophis's ha'tak.  I watched that episode on Hulu to see what exactly happens and it appears the ships' shields spread the force of the impact around like a bulletproof vest would when a person is shot--done so well that Teal'c and Dr. Jackson only notice slight turbulence.

I doubt the Colonials have GT-class nuclear weapons, but they do have lots and lots of smaller nukes, plus kinetic-energy weapons. Beam weapons tend to be effective against Goa'uld shields because they pierce the shields at a single point (like a knife going through a bulletproof vest) but nuclear/kinetic spam might be enough to simply overload a Goa'uld shield.

I've pondered how an invasion of the Cyrannus System (where the Twelve Colonies are located) by the Goa'uld would look.  I've created the following sequence of events based on some narrative other board members posted and my own thoughts on how this war might look...

1. Goa'uld System Lord (name) discovers the Cyrannus System. Decides to conquer these uppity humans who have gotten advanced technology without (to his knowledge) any alien assistance. That might give the slaves ideas about the necessity of their "gods."

2. Not being a complete idiot like many System Lords, he sends a small force to scout out the system. I would imagine Death Gliders, troop transports, and al'keshs for heavier support. Goal is to take prisoners and if need be, snake (possess) them.

3. Goa'uld raids on lesser colonies of the system (i.e. the mining settlement Troy, not a biggie like Caprica or Virgon) and capture of civilian ships. Among those captured are humanform-Cylon infiltrators. This is how the Cylons learn of the situation.

Now, I would imagine the raiding parties would encounter Colonial forces either responding to distress signals or investigating the interlopers. Al'keshes have shields and cloaking devices, so they'd be harder targets, but the Death Gliders will be dog meat. The Goa'uld might attack the Galactica itself because it's a weak military target, or the Galactica is the nearest warship capable of responding to a Goa'uld incursion.  The Galactica would carry squadrons of modern Mk. VII Vipers as well as 40 or so Mk. II Vipers from the first war with the Cylons.

The Colonials may be the first to know they're under attack and think these were some splinter group of the 13th Tribe, since after all, they're human. However, the presence of the larval Goa'uld in the Jaffa and full-Goa'uld commanding the Jaffa might clue them in that something is very strange here.

The Cylons, with their superior spatial technology, might be able to track the raiders back to their point of origin. I don't think they would attack immediately, since the System Lord in question is not an immediate danger to them. Perhaps they conduct probes of their own, in an attempt to gather intelligence. That would get them POWs who ramble about "the gods" and if they're attacking major Goa'uld facilities, they'd encounter Goa'uld technology that outmatches them--ha'taks, for example.

Here's where we get into internal Cylon politics. Many Cylons, including Brother Cavil (Dean Stockwell), won't care one whit about the Colonials and might be content to watch the humans fight each other.

However, others might decide the System Lord is a danger to them as well and the less xenophobic might see this as an opportunity to convert the Colonials to the worship of the One True God--after all, here is something that can be used to prove the Lords of Kobol are impostors and not true gods. The Leobens, the Sixes, and the Eights might go for this.

So for the first time in 40 years, the Cylons send an emissary to Armistice Station, in order to discuss an alliance against the new enemy.

Meanwhile, the System Lord, thinking the Colonials are onto him and are likely to attack him themselves, makes ready for a large-scale invasion of the Cyrannus System...

I figured if it was a single low-level System Lord with one or two ha'taks attempting to conquer the Colonies, the Colonials and Cylons could overwhelm him with sheer numbers.  A swarm of thousands of Cylon Raiders armed with nukes would be a particularly dangerous enemy, since the individual fighters have faster-than-light Jump capability and can't be one-shotted with a 200 MT plasma blast.  Masses of nuclear-armed Colonial Raptors would be similarly dangerous.

However, if it was a coalition of System Lords--perhaps all twelve of them that pretended to be the "Lords of Kobol" worshiped by the Colonials' ancestors--the Colonials and Cylons are screwed, especially the Colonials whose population is largely tied to the planets.

Of course, this gives anyone who wants to take this idea the chance to create a mirror version of what happened in the canonical TV program.  The fleeing survivors of the Colonial and Cylon fleets, possibly with Goa'uld infiltrators among them, travel throughout the galaxy in search of Earth--which they could learn is giving the System Lords hell--or other allies to reclaim their occupied worlds.  Survivors of the Colonial military trapped in the Cyrannus system could wage a guerrilla war against the occupying Jaffa armies.

The board member whose handle is Mike Stearns suggested that a captured Stargate could be set up at Ragnar Anchorage, which is hidden within a gas giant.  This would work in either a Colonial/Cylon victory or Colonial/Cylon defeat scenario, since the Goa'uld might not think of where it could be hidden.  In a victory scenario, it could be used as a base for wider explorations via the Stargate network; in a defeat scenario, it could be used as a means of funneling personnel, supplies, etc. back and forth between the occupied Cyrannus system and wherever the refugees are hiding.  I suggested Baltar, since he's a polymath (computer and biological sciences) could be a participant in the program.

I've got a lot going on these days, so I simply do not have time to write a crossover fan-fic covering this scenario, however awesome it might be.  I'm posting this idea here so that anyone who is interested can take the idea and run with it.  I would appreciate my name and blog URL be included as the source for the idea, however.

Good luck, have fun, and send me links when they get posted!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Help An Adoption Agency Out...

My friend Michael posted the link to Covenant Care Adoption Services on Facebook this morning.  The organization seeks to expand into Augusta and needs $50,000 to fund a caseworker.

It's a Christian organization, but it seems cross-denominational--in addition to Baptists and Presbyterians (PCA), they also have Catholics.  Anyone who is interested in helping provide homes for children who would otherwise be in risky situations should consider donating some money.

A Novel Marketing Idea...

I was pondering some novels some friends are writing or have finished and creative ways to market them. I realized the web-site TVTropes ( could be a very good way of doing it. One could create a page dedicated to one's work, set up an initial list of tropes, and then add your work to the pages of the individual tropes. Hopefully the fan-base will do the rest. My friend Jamie describes this as "entry-baiting" or something similar and said it's allowed.

I've considered doing this for some of my fan-fics, since Jamie described a scene in "The Wrath of the Half-Blood Prince" as being a Crowning Moment of Awesome (Sirius Black riding his flying motorcycle through a swarm of Death Eaters). However, if I actually *joined* TVTropes, it would eat more of my life than it already does. I think I'll save that until my book (or the books listed here) get published...

Here's a list of some tropes for my novel Battle for the Wastelands.  I'm not going to link individually to each trope lest my readers get sucked in and spend all day there rather than doing useful work.

Doomed Hometown-Carroll Town

Complete Monster-Jasper Clark, Karl Steuben--two lieutenants of Grendel, the main villain, who lack his virtues and have much more over-the-top bad behavior.

Child By Rape-The situation of Catalina Merrill, whose child (by Grendel) Grendel intends to use in a dynastic double-cross. Which leads to...

Chessmaster-Grendel ultimately plans on replacing Jasper Clark with Havarth Grendelsson, who would have a dynastic claim to the region and could command the oppressed population's loyalty through his mother Catalina Merrill and would be hailed as a hero for getting rid of the oppressive Jasper and his evil cult. Inspired by a scenario from Machiavelli's The Prince. Andrew will also get to this position himself as the story progresses

Unfortunate Implications-Grendel's regime is multinational and includes Arabs and Asians; the plucky rebel army is largely white and our hero's opinions of a particular ethnic group mirror our world's antisemitism and antizaganianism (hating Gypsies). This has gotten some people annoyed. I expect even more people to get annoyed when we meet Grendel's son and heir Falki Grendelsson, who is of mixed race (Grendel is white; Lin Cao, Falki's late mother, was Asian). I am not a racist--there are story reasons for things working out this way, like the demographics and politics of the fictional world.

Steampunk-Most of the advanced technology in the northern realms is like this--airships, calculating engines, etc.

Dieselpunk-Some of the advanced technology in the northern realms and all of it in the southern realms (which come up later in the series) is like this.

Religion of Evil-Jasper's cult, the Flesh-Eating Legion.

Vestigial Empire-Alonzo Merrill's realm, which consists of several hidden refuges/camps. The Merrills once ruled a very large territory now overrun by the Flesh-Eaters.

Rooting for the Empire-I'd hoped to avoid this for Grendel and his regime, but I've lately realized that if there's a lot of controversy within the fanbase, this means more attention and thus more sales. Besides, creating villains with virtues (Grendel's lack of concern for race and bringing peace through conquest) and heroes with flaws (Andrew's bloodthirst and racism) will lead to differing character interpretations

Roaring Rampage of Revenge-Andrew re: the Flesh-Eaters.

Hollywood Tactics-My knowledge of warfare comes from books and the Internet and isn't always in line with reality. Luckily a couple members of my writing groups have military experience and have pointed out where I've gotten into this.

Action Girl-Alyssa Carson (the cavalry-woman from chapter 13, whose name hasn't been introduced yet)

Badass Longcoat-Andrew, the Merrills in general

After the End-There was some kind of nuclear apocalypse hundreds of years prior.

Mix and Match Critters-The rippers, which are essentially wolf-headed and wolf-pelted chimpanzees.

Alternate Character Interpretations-Something I figured will come up. Is Grendel a wicked tyrant or a bringer of order and peace who does what he has to do? Is Andrew a heroic paladin against the forces of evil or a bloodthirsty killer driven insane by the destruction of his home and family?

Five Man Band-Andrew's squad in the Merrill Army. Zeke is The Big Guy, David is The Smart Guy, and Hank is the Sixth Ranger.

I figure those of you out there who have produced books and other media who are trying to market them might find this concept useful.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

I Got to Interview Don Bluth...

One of the improvements of working in North Fulton as opposed to Griffin is that there is a lot more going on.  A few weeks ago, I learned about the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival and how they would be screening An American Tail in Johns Creek, which is my primary area of responsibility.  The movie is a metaphor for the American Jewish immigrant experience (Fievel's family standing in for Jews, the cats standing in for the persecuting Cossacks), so it's appropriate.

One thing that is particularly awesome is that director Don Bluth and producer Gary Goldman would both attend the festival and would speak to those attending afterward.  I got the opportunity to sit down with Bluth and Goldman at a nearby tapas bar while the movie played and speak to them at length.

Here're the two articles I got out of it:

Don Bluth, Gary Goldman Discuss "An American Tail"

Renowned Producer, Director visit Johns Creek for Jewish Film Festival

My first experience with the films Bluth, Goldman, and others who left Disney with them produced was probably when I was around four years old and saw  The Land Before Time in the movie theater.  I remember it being awesome, but on the other hand, I was four years old and particularly interested in dinosaurs.  I also remember seeing An American Tail on VHS probably around the same time and I can still remember the cat assault on the Russian mouse village, "There Are No Cats in America," and "Somewhere Out There."  Two-odd years later, I saw The Secret of NIMH toward the end of kindergarten and found it terrifying (the scene where the escaping rats fall down the air duct and when Mrs. Brisby is captured and caged, sans clothing).  I saw it again a few months ago and it obviously wasn't scary (being 26 as opposed to six helps), but it was really well-done, especially Mrs. Brisby's voice-acting.

I never saw Anastasia or his lesser-known 1990s films like The Pebble and the Penguin, but I did see Titan A.E.  It is unfortunate the movie failed at the box office, because it was really good and its failure severely hurt traditional animation (which I prefer to the Pixar style).

I greatly admire Bluth, Goldman, and the others who left Disney when the bean-counters wouldn't let them produce quality animation because it involved actually spending money.  They decided to follow their dreams and produce quality films in the tradition of Disney himself despite the difficulties (resources and not having Disney's marketing machine), something they succeed at.  And apparently their success helped convince Disney to not shut down its animation division (something that would have been a gross insult to Walt's memory) and begin producing quality films once again, I believe starting with The Little Mermaid.

I think some of my story ideas (in particular the Gates of Vasharia novels, which I've described as "Lord of the Rings with tanks" and would be insanely expensive to produce live-action) would be quite awesome if adapted via traditional animation.  Maybe someday I'll get to work with Bluth, Goldman, and company...

Anybody Got Suggestions for Improvement?

I attended a meeting of the Atlanta bloggers group the other day.  Unfortunately, due to getting out of the office late and taking the train to the wrong MARTA station*, I missed a substantial chunk of the meeting.

*I went to the North Avenue station and walked several blocks when it turns out the Midtown station is right next to the restaurant.  At least I saved gas and didn't need to worry about my car...

I pick up some interesting suggestions.  One of them is to set up a Twitter account to accumulate followers and, I assume, cross-pollinate with the blog (refer Twitter folk here and blog-followers to Twitter).  I'll be sure to do that, but not right now.

The most relevant suggestion to this post, however, is to ask your readers for feedback.  So....

1. What parts of my blog do you all like?

2. What parts do you all dislike?

3. What are some improvements you think I could make?

Any comment would be appreciated.

Moving On Up In the World...

I recently wrote a second column on Sunday alcohol sales in Georgia for the Johns Creek Herald.  The first column was an attempt to engage opponents of Sunday alcohol sales--who are primarily motivated by religion--on their own ground.  I pointed out that since Jesus turned water into wine, Sunday alcohol sales do not represent an infringement on the Sabbath, and that Christians should be leery of attempts to impose religious views on wider society due to past persecutions at the hands of pagans and rivals within Christianity.

This is a shock--I agree with Nathan Deal

This column takes a secular approach--I point out how the ban on Sunday alcohol sales deprives the state of needed tax revenue and how the Republicans in the Georgia Senate, who decided in a party caucus to not bring the bill to the floor rather than actually voting on it, are violating the principles of open government.

Continuing Sunday alcohol ban bad for the state

 Both of my columns were picked up by the Georgians for Sunday Alcohol Sales Facebook group, which organized a protest at the Georgia Capitol the week before last if I remember right.  Between that and the fact I posted both columns on the Facebook page of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal's press secretary (who I figured would appreciate positive attention given to his boss, who said he would sign a bill to allow local votes), I've gotten a lot of Facebook recommendations and tweets.

Things got better.  Georgians for Sunday Alcohol Sales is conducting a media campaign outside of Metro Atlanta, where most of the opposition to allowing local votes on Sunday alcohol sales is based.  They called the other day asking for permission to use my column.  They're going to submit it to 300 radio stations and newspapers and give full credit and attribution.

Not only will this hopefully turn the tide in favor of allowing Sunday alcohol sales, but it will get my name out there and, since my publisher allows me to include my blog URL at the end of every column, more exposure here.

Life is good right now...