Monday, November 25, 2013

A NaNoWriMo Gift For You

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

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

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

I hope the information contained therein is useful to you.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

More Entertaining Alternate Timelines...

Here are some more entertaining alternate timelines, courtesy of

May 1945: Quisling Makes a Run For It

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

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

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

With The Crescent Above Us

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

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

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

And now for a timeline of my own...

Muslim Europe, Christian Middle East

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

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Arab Mascots, Arab Scientists, and Win-Win Situations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 3, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 2, 2013

October Writing Contest Results

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

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

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

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

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