Archive | September, 2020


30 Sep

I cringe when I hear the word “furbaby.” I love my pets, don’t get me wrong, and I’ve spent way more at the vet than I feel comfortable with. But they’re not your children – and people using that word tells me something fundamentally wrong in America.

Now if you’ve had your kids, you’re waiting for (or have) grandkids, you get a pass. I understand the nurturing gene and how it doesn’t turn off after child-rearing age. I understand wanting to pour that into a pet. But don’t expect me to start talking to your “furry child” as if it’s going to speak English any moment now.

What really scares me is that the term is shifting down to younger and younger women… and let’s face it, it’s mostly women. (See Nurturing Gene) I’ll admit it, relationships are hard, children are a pain in the ass, but… that’s how we exist as a species. I didn’t realize until I had kids how different that experience is.

Pets are far easier; they don’t talk about, they want to be pet (unless they’re fish). All you have to do is feed them, walk ’em, clean up after them… and you get unconditional love. Now full disclosure, I have two cats, several fish, and way too many snails. The amount of work that goes into an aquarium is a serious pain in the butt; didn’t realize how much that was when the daughter wanted some fish. My older cat barfs on the carpet every other day. I have to do that with kids, too, but let’s face it… my cat doesn’t talk back about doing his homework.

The problem with the term “furbaby” is that it tells me that I should treat your pet like your child. Not just you do, I should. I’m not against animal rights, but don’t think animals have the same rights as humans. Your furbaby is not going to take care of you when you’re old. Your furbaby is not contributing to our society. Furbabies are the reason we need to import thousands of people into America just to keep our population rate just above replacement level (that’s 2.2 children / adult, in case you’re wondering).

Now you can say there are couples that can’t have kids, or you can’t get/keep a partner, or kids shouldn’t be brought into families that don’t want them… all valid points. Just don’t pretend your pets are your kids. They’re pets.

Too harsh? Not harsh enough? Tell me in the comments below!

Why You Should Read Sci-Fi

29 Sep

If Christopher Booker is right, and there are only seven basic plots, then why do we keep reading them in the same genre? It’s time to branch out and take a chance… and the first place you should go is science fiction. Why? Because it has a great secret that no other genre has.

The universe is a character.

This can be terribly exciting. The way the author uses the universe tells you everything about the story he wants to tell. Let me use one of my own universes as an example – the Fatebane universe is one of a balkanized space. Every planet is its own government, loosely united in an Association, which means although you have basic human rights, how they’re enforced or applied in different contexts vary considerably. The title character’s job is to defend this Association – who wants to destroy it? Those who wish to consolidate power. So I’m telling a story about the balance between personal freedom vs. desire for stability.

Contemporary fiction is supposedly easier – you already know the universe. You don’t have to figure out what is happening in the world because you live there. And yet… that is a lie. The setting of your favorite “serious” fiction is simply another universe. Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan introduces you to the universe of Chinese older women who live in California; it also introduces you to their life stories, which are set during the Chinese Civil War. The difference between my universe and this one is that… oh, I’ve heard of that.

Mystery writers are constantly trying to build a quirky universe; gardeners who solve murders, Navajo (Dine) detective solving homicides on the rez… all of them are in the real world, but deliberately show you a part of the real world that you’re not familiar with. If you worked at a pizza joint and someone was helping the police with solving death by cheesy crust, you wouldn’t buy it. Because you’re infinitely familiar with the universe.

So what you really want is to discover a new universe.

Since the universe is a character in and of itself, sci-fi helps you do that with ease. To quote one of my favorite authors, John Steakley, the difference between fantasy and sci-fi is “a hobbit or two.” So if you prefer not to learn the tech, fantasy is the same idea without it. Again, how the author constructs the universe tells its own story. So why bother pretending you know the real world and dive deep into an imaginary one?

Let’s take my recent book, for example, Defending Our Sacred Honor. I put at the beginning of a civil war between Earth and its colonies. The problem is that the Terran Confederation Space Force is a science and exploration agency, not really designed for space warfare. So how does an increasingly dominant Earth in a world filled with humans who have overcome death fight this independence movement? Simple… sell commissions to the highest bidder.

I’ve already thrown out three things that might appeal to you. Wait a minute… humans who have overcome death? How did we get that? What kind of society does that create? Why do the colonies want to break away? And how on Earth do rich boys/girls do trying to fight a war that covers multiple solar systems?

Do you start to see the appeal of sci-fi now? Or at least my book? 😀 Of course, I could be off base. Am I preached to the converted? Or is there something about sci-fi that turns you off to reading it? Let me know in the comments section below!

“When Did You Lose Your Grace?”

28 Sep

As I’ve said before, I’m an aficionado of cheesy films. The Prophecy (1995) scratched me where I itched; to date, this is the only film I’ve seen in the theatres more than once. I love this story – angels as heavenly hitmen! No one brings it better than Christopher Walken!

Forget the sequels, this film is wonderfully made. Of course, you have to accept the concept first – there was a second war in heaven and there are “rebel” angels who need the perfect evil general to lead their armies to overcome the “loyal” angels. Somehow, that soul is in a colonel who committed war atrocities in Korea and died in a rural town in New Mexico. Okay, pretty big suspension of disbelief.

Failed Priest Turned Cop – Elias Koteas

The movie starts off with a Catholic priest who suddenly gets a vision so profound he loses his faith and becomes a homicide detective. Okay, big job switch, but he’s our protagonist. He also happens to be the perfect person to follow the leads when angels start killing each other in the streets.

Gabriel – Christopher Walken

Leader of the rebel angels, when his lieutenant is taken out by Simon, one of the loyal ones, has to come down to Earth to get the soul himself. Amazing job through the entire film. He has GREAT lines and fun scenes that balance the utter brutality of his character.

Simon – Eric Stoltz

Plays perfectly what you think an angel would look and sound like. Great performance.

Satan – Viggo Mortensen

Before he became famous as Aragorn in Lord of the Rings, this performance is what I know him from. Suave, goofy, and demonic… Hells, Viggo is frickin’ amazing! One moment talking calmly, next teasing, next psycho – wow!

Even the secondary characters rock hard. Patrick McAllister, who played the colonel, never said a word during the film (because he was dead, not that stopped anyone else), but conveys creepy silently. The little girl (Moriah Shining Dove Snyder) is one of the best little girl performances EVER, right behind Newt in Aliens. Completely believable, worked well. Even the teacher / love interest was good, but then again, it was Virginia Madsen… and after Jennifer Connelly, she’s my big celebrity crush.

The lines are memorable, the story flows, and you are alternating laughing and being shocked… sometimes in the same scene. Amazing world building. Fantastic cinematography – there’s one scene that has no words, but explains the new character’s entire backstory in fifteen seconds. Wow! I thoroughly recommend this movie!

However, as said before, my taste in films is not everyone’s. Have you seen this movie? Did you think it sucked? Was it a life-changing experience for you, too? Were you somewhere in between? Let me know in the comments below!

The Revolutionaries Next Door

27 Sep

As part of my Hamilton binge, I watched an extra “lotto” skit that Lin-Manual Miranda did with an actor from Les Miserables, whom he joked were “the revolutionaries next door.” Which made me realize something – there are always revolutionaries next door.

What do I mean by that? Next time you see a protest/march/rally, look at the signs people are carrying. Most of them will probably be about the issue involved, but there will be several that will have a… tenuous connection to the issue you’re marching for. So what does that tell you about your group? Not everyone believes the same as you, even at the same rally.

(Side note: If they all have the same signs, it’s not a protest, it’s a photo-op.)

Okay, Marcus, I hear you say, “Duh!” Of course they don’t believe the same as me. No, I mean they don’t believe the same on the same issue. Let’s take the famous Women’s March that happened a couple years ago. All right, we’re all about women’s rights. Which one do you tackle first? Access to birth control? Pay equity? Affordable day care? Parental rights?

The easy answer is “all of them are equally important!” However, you have to use those numbers to push forward on actual change, so you have to pick a topic to start with. Let’s say access to birth control; okay, you’ve just lost Catholic and Fundamentalist Christian women. You might say, “That’s okay, they weren’t with us to begin with.” So now we have to define what “access” means. Does it mean “free?” (meaning “government paid”) Does it mean “employer paid?” Does it mean “insurance paid” or “subsidized?”

Let’s say “government pays,” because that’s probably the majority. Even if you ignore the vast cost of that (157 million women in the US in 2010 x average yearly cost of birth control pills is $400 = $62.8 billion!), does that mean that the government will provide a range of pills? Because not every woman’s body is the same. Then the government will have to create a mechanism for distributing those pills. That costs more money. And pills require a prescription – does that mean doctor’s visits for reproductive health are free?

This is just one example. The closer you are to actually making policy, the less people you have on board. That’s why the first thing that normally happens after a revolution is either a civil war or a purge of your followers. Because you might be able to get on board with the idea that President Bakufu is bad, but you have very different… often radically different visions on how you want to remake the government. So you’ve got only option – kill them.

That’s what made the American revolution such an amazing and unusual experience; we didn’t kill our opponents. We let them stay on. We even let them take power! This didn’t happen in France ten years later (or thirty… or fifty…). You might make an argument for India if you ignore the fact that millions of people decided/were forced to leave your country who might oppose you. Ireland went into a civil war twenty years before.

So when you hear, “I’m ready to fight in the streets,” no you’re not. And don’t fall for those siren cries. They are not on your side.

By the way, my math is flawed – birth control would not include pre- or postmenopausal women, so the cost goes down, but since I didn’t include the bureaucratic cost, I figure it’s still valid. Did I make any other mistakes? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

“Nice Story, But Not a Good Fit”

26 Sep

Today’s blog post is brought to you by my good friend, Ed Stasheff, who has been working as a small press publisher, editor, and author for years.

If you’re an author who’s ever submitted a short story to a magazine/anthology/whatever, you’ve probably gotten this rejection letter: “This is a nice story, but it doesn’t quite fit our needs for this project.”  I got those, too.  And I always assumed they were a polite, diplomatic way of telling me the story sucked, essentially no different from any other rejection letter.  Then I became an editor.  And I had to reduce a slush pile of almost a hundred submissions down to only fifteen to twenty open slots (depending on word length).  And I had to send out rejection letters—a LOT of them.  And that’s when I learned the truth (and the value) of the “nice, but not a good fit” letters.

Sure, a lot of mediocre and even bad stories end up in the slush pile—but so do a lot of good ones.  Frankly, eliminating the bad and mediocre stories is the easiest part (and there are fewer of them than you might think!).  They all get a short, polite form rejection letter along the lines of “thanks, but we’ve decided to go with other options”. After that, though, the reduced slush pile will almost certainly still contain more excellent stories than can possibly fit in the anthology.  From this point on, winnowing down the pile gets much harder, mainly because the editor has to start disqualifying stories for reasons that have nothing to do with the writing quality.  This is when the (you guessed it!) “not a good fit” rejection letters come it.

Many, even most, anthologies these days are arranged around a theme.  It’s how the book is marketed, why readers buy it, and what they expect.  If the stories inside don’t fit that theme—even if they’re otherwise great stories—readers feel cheated (and leave bad review, which affect sales). Consequently, any story that doesn’t fit the anthology’s theme has to be rejected.  When I was selecting stories for “Corporate Cthulhu“, I had to reject one of the best story submissions for this very reason.  It was the creepiest horror tale I received, the only one that sent a shiver down my spine… but it had nothing to do with either the Cthulhu Mythos or corporations, so I had to turn it down.

The rejection letter I send to these authors was also a form letter, but a different one.  It said, among other things, that it was a good story, that I enjoyed reading it, but that it wasn’t a good fit for this anthology, and I finished by inviting them to submit more stories in the future.  But here’s the thing: I MEANT IT!  And I meant the part about submitting more stories, too.  A talented author is not a resource to be discarded lightly.  Never forget that editors are only rejecting one particular story you wrote, not you as an author. 

So if you ever get one of those “nice story, but not a good fit” rejection letters, believe it, and be proud of it.  They’re basically saying, “this IS good enough to publish, just not in this project.”  More importantly, keep submitting new stories to that venue. They already like your work.  Next time, it just might be a good fit after all.

I could go on and on for hours about what editors are and are not looking for, but this isn’t my blog.  Still, if you found this useful (or if you didn’t), let Marcus know in the comments—maybe he’ll invite me to do another post someday!

Is Gambling a Sin?

25 Sep

Contrary to popular belief, gambling is not listed explicitly as a sin in the Bible… whichever Bible you use. Not that that’s my favorite sin, but it did occur to me, that it wasn’t a commandment. So where do we get this idea from?

I didn’t mean to get into a Bible study, just textual analysis, because it’s something I’m curious about. The simple answer is it’s a variation on greed. Oh, Greed is one of the seven deadly sins — which is NOT in the Bible, that was Pope Gregory I in the 7th Century. However, if you’re a Christian, Paul gets into the works of the flesh and works of the spirit in Galatians:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21 KJV

So by this definition, it’s a revel, and we’ve covered hatred, emulations, and strife. Besides, I’ve rarely seen a poker table without drunkenness and seditions. So it’s pretty sinful and Paul makes sure to add “this isn’t a complete list.” But keeping in the Christian canon, let’s get to the root of the issue:

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

1 Timothy 6: 9-10

Ah! It’s not so much the gambling that’s the problem, it’s the money. This may be why we gamble for chocolate on Hanukkah. Speaking of which, we should try for more Tanakh (Old Testament) quotes:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Exodus 20:17

Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.

Ecclesiastes 5:10

Gambling is all about trying to get more than you have. Since the Lord gives you all you need, asking for more is the sin involved. In Islam, this is made very clear:

O you who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, dedication of stones, and divination by arrows, are an abomination of Satan’s handwork. Eschew such abomination, that you may prosper… Satan’s plan is to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah, and from prayer. Will you not then abstain?

Quran 5:90-91

In Buddhism, it seems that it’s not explicitly forbidden, but most teachers will tell you that you it’s discouraged. You are putting up a stake, expending positive karma to gain more, which means you’re gonna pay for it later. I could be talking out my backside on this one, so I’m paraphrasing this article about it.

So in the end, regardless of what you believe, the “sin” in gambling is not the joy of winning or the sadness in losing, it’s the consequences of that action. If you’re doing it for fun, without expectation of winning or concern of losing, then you’re fine. But how often does that happen? That’s how you can have Catholic rectory bingo or card tournaments, because in the end, you might win something, but not enough to endanger your soul.

So like smoking, drinking, or dancing, gambling is something you shouldn’t do unless you’re doing it for the right reasons. Implied sin, not explicit, because it’s so easy to abuse. But what do you think? Am I missing something? Do I not go far enough? Let me know in the comments below!

If Only You Could Send Me…

24 Sep

So someone tried to scam on Twitter. They claimed to be a poor boy whose mom was sick and him and his two sisters had just run out of rice. And your only salvation is a Twitter follower you met yesterday? Yeah, right…

I’m a pretty caring person – homelessness is actually one of the few causes I give a damn about. However, I’m also jaded, and don’t believe things at face value. The guy with the sign on the street in America might be hungry, but he’s not going to use the money you give him to get food. He can raid trash cans for food. He’s gonna use it for whatever is going to make him happy. Drugs, drink… hell, getting a new cell phone. Every homeless man in America has a smartphone. So if I give something to a man with a sign, it’s water or food, not money.

So when I give to the homeless, I give to Family Promise. That’s a great charity that specializes in not only providing shelter and food for homeless families (because most shelters are gender-divided, so sons can’t stay with their mothers), but also provides employment assistance, does interview training, and provides transitional housing to get them off the street. When I’m feeling particularly soft, I give to Phoenix Rescue Mission, St. Mary’s Food Bank, and the Salvation Army… all charities I respect.

Even when I lived in India, there were the homeless that I respected/knew and the ones that I knew were part of a racket. There, people were obviously hungry, but there is a scam where kids are hired/forced/coerced to look cute and bug people for change. However, that money went to their pimp… don’t have a better name for it. Just like pigeons, if you pay one, you suddenly get a swarm of homeless kids that start asking for money, and you have to yell “baas!” (A rude way to say “get away” in Hindi.)

Interestingly enough, this happens electronically too. The reason I even know about the Phoenix Rescue Mission, St. Mary’s Food Bank, and the local Salvation Army is because Family Promise sold my contact information to them. I was rather annoyed by that – damn it, I gave you money – that doesn’t mean I want to be put on the “sucker” list and get swarmed by homeless advocates.

So that’s how I balance compassion with logic. Part of me still worries that I just shut off a starving boy in… Africa? Gambia. West Africa, that’s right. English is a primary language. But if you’ve got money transfer software, you can take your mom’s cart, drag your sisters along, and sell whatever she sells on the streets of Bangui. But that’s what makes the scammer/beggar’s message so insidious. They are trying to appeal to your best nature. But they think you’re suckers. Look at all those silly people going to work and I get to be free and people give me money for nothing. Suckers.

Am I too jaded? Is there a better way to balance compassion with logic? Let me know in the comments below!

I Hate Social Media

23 Sep

Here’s my terrible admission: I hate social media. Yeah, I’m on five different platforms and I kick out a blog post everyday, but I hate it. If I could hire someone to do this for me, I would. So why the %&$* am I still here?

I apologize, this is a continued whiny post from yesterday, but I figured this deserved its own rant. If you continue reading, you have been warned.

So why am I still on social media? Simple–so I can get people to read my words. I mean, that’s the great democratization of the Internet. You want to be heard. That’s what anyone wants, right? When I ran for Congress ten years ago (8% of the vote for a third party) what I learned on the campaign trail is that everyone has an opinion and everyone has an issue. Well, you can join an organization for your issue (Mine? Cigar and pipe smoking rights), but your opinion? Someone needs to listen to you.

This is what sucks about being a political candidate. You have to listen to everyone. Issues you don’t care about, people who can’t edit themselves, folks who ramble on and can’t stay on topic. And since everyone’s vote is the same, you’re going to stand there and take it.

When trying to sell something low cost like… my book, everyone’s purchasing power is roughly the same, so just like on the campaign trail, you have to reach out to as many potential readers as you can. It’s like campaign signs on the corner. No, you’re probably not going to their website, but when it comes time to go to the ballot box, you’re going to think, “Oh, yeah, that name sounds familiar,” and click it.

Sound stupid? Yeah, it is. But it works. Historically, in a “safe” district where one party has held the seat for decades, the candidate can die and still get reelected. That’s how powerful the familiar is.

I feel safe saying this further down the blog, but WordPress is my favorite. People who read blogs are “readers” and hopefully want to read my books. So I spend the most time on it. Twitter is my second favorite, mostly because I’ve muted all the political rants out, and have focused on the #writingcommunity. So I’ve carved out a small pocket of internet peace. Who knew?

Facebook is next and I was ready to leave it before I starting my writing jihad. Now it’s there to just repeat my blog and occasionally find out what my hobby club is doing. Goodreads falls after them. I’m still mad they got rid of Shelfari and I had to absorb that into Goodreads. But… it has readers and I go where the readers are. Finally is LinkedIn. When I was a travelling consultant, this was vital to getting the next job. Now that I’ve had the same job for two years… eh, it’s where I put my online resume. But I get a strange amount of feedback from it, better than Twitter, so I keep at it.

Am I alone? Are you compelled to stay connected even though you’d rather disappear into the woods? Are there some platforms you prefer above others? Let me know in the comments below!

Wait, I Thought I Read That…

22 Sep

I’ve been rereading one of my favorite book series over the weekend and I hit book six. Within a couple chapters, I realized, “Wait! I’ve never read this before!” I was sure I had. In fact, I’ve read the next three books – how did I forget to read this?!

This is an extension of something I’ve just learned is called the Mandela Effect. Apparently, it’s named after the belief held by many people that Nelson Mandela died in prison. In fact, he was released from prison, became the first black president of South Africa, and died long after.

Did you ever watch Moonraker (1979), one of the cheesiest James Bond films of all time? If you grew up in the 80’s, it was shown over and over on broadcast TV, so you couldn’t help but watch it. Anyway, there’s a scene where Jaws, the henchman who will not die, is pulled from the wreckage of his latest attempt to kill Bond by a small blond haired woman. He smiles with his patented metal chompers, she smiles with her braces.

Except she doesn’t. You can see from the picture above that her teeth are perfect. Your mind put the braces in there. You remember reading the Berenstain Bears as a kid? No you didn’t, you read the Berenstein Bears. Unless you grew up in New York City, you weren’t used to people having names ending in “-stein,” so your mind changed them to “-stain.”

So there’s only two answers to this. One, you’re in an alternate dimension (a la Sliders) that’s close to the one you started in. Or two, your memory is faulty. In fact, your memory is not very good at all. When a political candidate… let’s say, embellishes a story, especially a story that can be easily checked from existing footage – they’re not lying. When they originally told the story, they added a detail to make it more exciting. Then when they told the story, that detail was kept in. Then they added another detail. The longer you tell the story, the more you believe it, until finally, your memory puts in the detail that wasn’t there before.

I didn’t read Kushiel’s Mercy because I didn’t own it at the time. The second book ended on a good note so I thought that was the end of that trilogy (forgetting it was only the second book). So when the next trilogy came out, I read that, and there was minimal reference to the previous book because… well, the author set it two hundred years in the future. I wasn’t confused. So I just assumed I read Mercy.

As Petros Papadakis is fond of quoting, “All the world has become a lie, and the lie is the truth.” Of course, I probably got the quote wrong. 🙂 Where have you noticed your memory being wrong? Were you as surprised as I was that Dolly didn’t have braces? Have you read Jacqueline Carey’s steamy series? Let me know in the comments below!

Return on Investment

21 Sep

Well, that’s disappointing. This has been the third month of my social media expansion and although I now have 7800 followers across 5 platforms, my return on investment has been… far lower than I wanted.

Okay, this is going to sound like whining, and… maybe it is. Thankfully, I haven’t spent any money yet (although maybe I should), but I have invested a significant amount of time into Albigensia Press and getting its name out there. How much? It takes me about 20-30 minutes each day to write these blog posts and another 30-60 minutes each day to grow followers. I do this 6 days a week, so let’s just call it an hour a day. So I’ve spent 78 hours of my life building this up.

So I was estimating a 1% return on investment. The hope was that 1% of the people who follow me would actually be willing to buy one of my books. That’s a hideously low number, but considering the miniscule amount of marketing I’ve absorbed over the years, I thought that was significantly conservative.

<whine mode> Turns out I was way over estimating. I’ve sold (drum roll please) exactly 9 books in three months! Are you #*$&@#($ kidding me?! That’s a tenth of a percent! Exponentially smaller. What the #*$& do I have to do?! </whine>

Am I concerned with the money? No. No one becomes a writer (or teacher… and I’m both!) to become rich. The investment I want is for people to actually read my work. Now if you’re reading this (sigh), I guess that counts. After all, this blog does force me to build up my writing ability, and… that’s investment, right? But it’s hard to be hopeful. Especially since this takes a significant amount of time out of my day.

Now here’s the positive spin – nine books is more than I have ever sold than in the last 10 years I started publishing my own books. So I guess if I look at it from investing a significant amount of time, I get a significant increase in readers, then… I’m on the right path. But man, it’s hard to be positive.

Now… am I about to stop? No, because as I explained above, I am making progress. But Lord, I was hoping to make more progress. Are you on the same path as me? Did your grounded expectations turn out to be woefully optimistic? Let me know in the comments below!

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