Archive | December, 2020

I Spit You Out Of My Mouth

21 Dec

Looking over what I’ve read this year, I realized there weren’t a lot of middling books. There were books I loved, books I hated, but rarely “okay.” Is that a reflection on the books I choose to read or me?

So I started looking through my list and seeing a lot of fives and ones. That seemed rather odd. While I’m scanning these books, a strange biblical quote came into my head.

So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

Revelation 3:16 (NIV)

Am I just naturally gravitating to the books that I find really good or really crappy? So my next thought was, “Maybe I’ve just read a lot of crappy books?” Ever since taking up the challenge of expanding my network, I’ve been asked to read other people’s work that I’ve met online, as well as read other independent authors to help the cause. A couple are amazing – Programmed to Serve by Jenna Ivey is an amazing erotica story – and that is REALLY not my favorite genre. But then there are books so awful, I didn’t want to even give their titles, lest karma comes back to curse my own books.

Then maybe I considered, “Perhaps my tastes have changed.” For example, I just finished reading Mamelukes by Jerry Pournelle… or actually written by his son and David Weber, but it was solid military sci-fi. However, I’ve read a lot of military sci-fi, so I know what I enjoy and what I don’t. So I treated it like popcorn, had fun, but wasn’t wowed by it. Similar was Pirates of the Milky Way by Jaxon Reed – solid, enjoyable sci-fi, but nothing that blew me away.

So because I’ve been jaded from reading so much, it’s easy to go from love or hate. The Emigrant by Leo Champion really surprised me on how good it was whereas The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams showed me what a travelogue pretending to be a novel looks like. And I’ve reread a lot of my favorite books, because sometimes you want something you know you’ll enjoy.

Have you found this in your own reading habits? Are you getting more intolerant of the same old, same old? Or is there a warm spot in your shelf for popcorn reading? Let me know in the comments below!

The Best Pie?

20 Dec

The best pie, of course, is the one in front of you. 🙂 But if you a choice, or you’re specifically going out to buy a pie, there are so many delicious options. How does one choose?

Pumpkin Pie

This is my first thought, so it’s probably correct, but pumpkin pie is so wonderful. Some of that is nostalgia–after all, you don’t eat it any other time than October–but it does have a wonderful taste and texture. The problem is that when you break it down, it doesn’t really need to be made of pumpkin. What you get excited about is the spice and the sugar–it could be made out of any gourd. In fact, I rather enjoy sweet potato pie, and it tastes very similar. In fact, I only learned about vinegar pie recently, which is the simplest form of this recipe.

Pecan Pie —

Again, anything with enough sugar is amazing, and most pies are full of it. However, the pecans on top really make a nice complement. Which lets me get to my childhood and…

Rhubarb Pie —

Rhubarb by itself is disgusting. It’s an insanely tart vegetable. However, you put it in a pie, drop a ton of sugar into it, and it’s a great compliment–a combination of sour and sweet that just melts in your mouth.

French Silk Pie —

When I was a teenager, this was the piece de resistance of pie eating. You’d go to the Village Inn, and after a good American family style meal, you’d ask for a slice of this. The shredded chocolate on top of cream was heavenly. However, it can be a bit too much, so I’m not as enamored of it anymore.

What do you think is the best kind of pie? Let me know in the comments below!

A Dragon is Coming For Christmas

19 Dec

I’m happy to announce that my new book, Drag’n Drop, will be coming out next week–right in time for Christmas! If you ever wanted to read an alternate history urban fantasy novel (and who hasn’t), now is your opportunity! 🙂

Okay, now that I’ve piqued your interest, what is it? Imagine an America where magic exists–not openly, but in the shadows there are wizards, orcs, elves, dwarves, fairies… and most importantly, dragons. Now imagine how that would have changed history. Europeans still colonized the continent, but only the coast, because the natives had their own medicine men to fight back. England didn’t conquer New Amsterdam, but instead was repelled. Pushed back against the sea, the colonists were eventually forced to unite together, and formed the multicultural Staats-General von Amerika.

So in the modern day, Caleb, a green dragon who’s been living in New Amsterdam (you’d know it as New York) has seen native invasions come and go, but this time, something’s different. The united tribes have burst through the Cordelyou Line–a massive defense work built along the western border–with a new magic that should be impossible. Now they are threatening to finally destroy the European Settlements once and for all. Threatened with the loss of his home, he gathers his friends–a washed-up wizard and an arcane librarian–to travel across Amerika. His hope: find the source of the natives’ new power, gather an army of magical creatures, and destroy it… before it’s too late.

I’ve had a lot of fun writing it and I hope you enjoy it when it comes out! I’ve got a great cover–which you can see–and it’ll be available at the low, low price of $1.99! Right in time for you to use all those Amazon gift cards you got for Hanukkah. 🙂

Living in Fictional Universes

18 Dec

I’ve lost track of how many fandoms I’ve signed up for. They are wild, wonderful worlds full of interesting people in the real world. However, the reason we are fans also becomes the reason why many of these fandom decline or die.

For those not familiar with the term, “fandom” just means the world of (usually) sci-fi/fantasy fans. It can also used in plural to refer to a particular fan base, such as Star Trek fans, Star Wars fans, et al. Myself, I am primarily involved with The Royal Manticoran Navy, a David Weber fan group. After that, I’m in the Colonial Ministry of Defense, which is a Battlestar Galactica fan group, and I’ve recently become inactive in STARFLEET International, a Star Trek fan club. I also signed up for The Mercenary Guild, which is a Four Horseman fan group, but I just watch the FB posts for that. I used to be in the Society for Creative Anachronisms, but not because I don’t like the Middle Ages any more, just a lack of time.

Look at that smiling idiot with the shades and all that bling–that was me after I finally gave up my ship command and became a commodore. I had run the local chapter (our “ship”) of TRMN for three and a half years and was glad to turn that responsibility to someone else… specifically the two folks in white hats to my left.

You’d think, “Why would you give up being the captain? That sounds pretty cool.” And it is cool–I liked the title, I like the bling, I liked setting the meetings. At the same time, you have to deal with problems with your members. Which gets back to the point I started with–the reason a lot of these organizations decline is because of the kind of people you attract. People are fans of science fiction because this world does not appeal to them.

That applies to me as well. We’re all socially awkward, occasionally successful, fans who wish they could be in a different universe where their talents would be respected and adored. Who wants to be an instructional designer with a mortgage when you can be an admiral leading ships into battle against a devious foe?

However, now you combine people who are socially awkward and throw them together in an organization. By the time I was done with being a captain, I had a couple members who drove me crazy. I didn’t enjoy hanging out with them, they lived too far away, and they were driving away members that I liked to hang out with. So when I got the chance at a promotion, I took advantage of it, and let the local chapter slowly die.

Not proud of that last part, but because I didn’t exclude those problem children, it was inevitable. Of course, having had experience being in a veteran’s organization, this may be a problem with any volunteer group. You join, you get really excited, and you have a personality conflict with one of the members. That either gets resolved or one of you leaves. When the conflict gets really bad, you break off and form a new chapter. My post/bar is only a mile away from another post/bar. Why? Because the members of one couldn’t STAND the members of the other.

That doesn’t mean I don’t participate, but certainly the gleam has dulled from fandom for me, so I don’t participate as much as I used to… even before COVID. Am I right? Is this a problem with any volunteer group? Or is it specific to fandom? Let me know in the comments below!

The True Spirit of Hanukkah

17 Dec

There’s a war on Christmas, Kwanzaa is commercialized, and Diwali… was last month. However, if you light candles in a menorah this time of year, you could be misled that it’s all about the miracle of the lights. But that’s not the true spirit of Hanukkah.

The first problem with the Jewish holiday is that it’s not in the Torah–this is what is called a “rabbinic holiday.” You light candles, but you don’t have to light them at a certain time. We give gifts because it happens to correspond with Christmas. The dreidel is a memory of a game done to hide the fact that we were studying Torah in secret.

Yours truly with my much-needed gift of beard balm.

At the end of the Talmud, they print an appendix, which includes all the stuff redacted in the Middle Ages (stuff blasting Christians). It also includes a list of all the holidays that were observed during the time of the Hasmonean Dynasty, which includes Hanukkah, Tu B’Shevat (New Year for Trees), and Marriage Day (in Israel, a chance to get young singles together). Those are just the ones that are still observed–the 3rd Celebration of establishing this section of Mishna… not so much.

Okay, I hear you say, what’s your point? This was the first Jewish Independence Day–this is how the Maccabees came to power and became the prince (and later kings) of Israel. If you read 1 Maccabees, there’s no mention of the whole miracle of the lights–it’s all about the overthrow of the Greek and the restoration of Jewish practice.

So why the miracle of lights? It appears in the Talmud because the sages really didn’t like the Maccabees. They were happy at first–after all, the Greeks had tried to eradicate our faith. However, afterwards Judah’s children named themselves kings (they weren’t from the line of David) and high priests (and they weren’t of the Zadok line of kohanim), and then proceeded to crush any opposition to their rule. They didn’t bother to just stop there–they frequently fought each other, because the role of high priest was just as politically powerful as the king, and the king didn’t want to share.

So Jews had independence, but only for about a hundred years, until another civil war brought the Romans in and they ended up occupying the country. They propped up a willing client-king, Antipater, who was the prime minister under the last Hasmonean king, who married a royal daughter and declared himself king. His son became Herod the Great, who even the sages in the Talmud (who hated him) had to admit did two things well: rebuilt the temple and reintroduced a species of bird. After his death, Israel was divided up, and most of Palestine became a Roman province.

The sages realized that people were celebrating Hanukkah, but didn’t want to glorify the Hasmoneans. So the miracle of lights was created. Which hides the true spirit of Hanukkah–Jews kick ass. A guerilla army took down a major occupying force and cleansed the temple of pagan worship. A great story… and one that gets forgotten.

Do you agree? Do you think I’m discounting the miracle too much? Let me know in the comments below!

Lines and Veils

16 Dec

I recently came across someone outlining the rules of a game and doing something rather odd. He asked his group “what actions are off-limits?” At first, I dismissed this as overly touchy and sensitive, but the more he talked, the more he made sense.

The game is Vampire: The Masquerade (5th Edition), which I last played in college under the first edition, so I didn’t even know that they made four more since then. This was also called a “session zero,” which again, is another term I never heard before. That’s a way to explain the game to a group of people who have never played it, which I have participated in before, but never heard the term.

I was watching Dice Friends, which is a recording of folks playing an RPG up in Victoria, British Columbia. Their group–Loading Ready Run–is a brilliant group of internet comedians that I’ve followed for years. So to have them play an RPG is great to watch. However, they are UBER-liberal, so to hear them talking about lines and veils immediately struck me with the same disdain I have for “what are your pronouns” (which are on their Twitter feeds) and putting “x” at the words to make them gender-neutral.

However, I gave it a listen, and the more they talked, the more the concept made sense. I play Dungeons and Dragons regularly, so this issue doesn’t come up very much. You know what you’re getting into with DnD–you’re going to weapon-up and kill monsters. This is the way. If you have a problem with that, this is not the game for you. On the other hand, when my son (13) runs a game, he likes to be overly descriptive when it comes to finishing off a creature, and his sister (10) really doesn’t like that. That’s her “line,” and given enough “Asher! Stop!” he eventually listens.

When you’re dealing with a horror game, what you’re in for is… not exactly clear. If you’re used to DnD, you’d be surprised just how different another RPG is. Vampire does have combat, but it also has negotiation, mind control, sex… and that gets into some oogie areas. What if you’re a vampire who only feeds on dogs? The most blood thirsty barbarian player in DnD may be iffy about gory details about killing dogs.

So lines made sense, but some things are part of the game, like drinking blood. You’re a vampire. You can’t get around the fact that you suck blood from someone. So if you have trouble with this, you create “veils:” this where you just say, “Okay, you do that.” No description, just move on.

The more I heard about this, the more I liked it. Just tell your players, “If at any point, you don’t like what I’m talking about, just say, ‘Stop. That’s a line for me,’ and I stop.” I don’t have to go into as much explanation as this particular GM did, but then again, I’m not playing an RPG that people haven’t played in before. This may or may not work in everyday conversations, depending how comfortable you are with that person, but it’s good in this context.

How does making your lines in conversation/gaming work for you? Is this a new concept for you? Is this a bunch of touchy/feely clap trap? Let me know in the comments below!

Weapon Name or Novel Title?

15 Dec

I’ve discovered my next random title generator–the Destiny 2 Weapon List! Now I’ve never played this game, but I discovered just how good this weapon list was for generating story ideas, because there are just so many names!

For all the legendary weapons–which I doubt are very legendary with so flipping many of them–they all have memorable names. Now somebody might be able to tell me that they all do different bad-ass things, and some have cooler paint schemes than others, but for my money, they generate so many story ideas.

The first one that caught my eye was Beringer’s Memory. What memory? Who is Beringer? What happened in his/her/its past that might come back to haunt them? Anonymous Autumn just sounds cool, even though that might be a little simple–your main character is called Autumn, but no one can keep a memory of her.

Similar to this screen shot, strapping on the word “Eternal” in front of everything sounds great. I actually bought a book called “Eternity Road” by Jack McDevitt and absolutely hated it. I didn’t read another book by Jack for another five years, and… it turned out he actually was a good writer, he just had a bad book.

Home for the Lost and Last Perdition are fricking awesome psuedo-Western stories just waiting to be written. Similar to Patron of Lost Causes, however, Peace by Consensus or Perfect Paradox have some wonderful time travel possibilities. Seventh Seraph could be anything, but if I need a good cyberpunk title, we can go with Stochastic Variable. I have no idea what that means, but it sounds vaguely mathematical and cool.

That’s what a lot of these boil down to–something that sounds cool. Telemachus-C has that main character from The Odyssey with a “C” in it to make you wonder, “Is it a robot? Is it a satellite? Is it a computer virus?” I’ve got three story ideas right there! I can put it in an anthology called The Militia’s Birthright which will also have a short story called The Time-Worn Spire.

This list is really good! Much better than the Pulp Adventure Name Generator, which I’ve also used on previous occasions, but that’s going for a Conan/Cthulhu vibe. What random generators (purpose built or not) have you found that are really useful? Let us know in the comments below!

Tired of Riding Your Cash Cow

14 Dec

L. Frank Baum ended up writing thirteen Oz books–he was the J.K. Rowling of his time–The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was insanely popular. The problem with reaching success, you fall into the fallacy of forgetting what got you there.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was the best selling children’s book for TWO whole years (1900-1902) as well as a widely popular stage play. Baum probably thought, “Okay, now that I’m known, people will buy whatever I write.” When The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus came out in 1902, it… didn’t do well. People didn’t want just more fantasy, they wanted Oz.

So he had to go back to writing Oz sequels, but he kept declaring, “I’m done with writing Oz!” Then when Queen Zixi of Ix failed to sell copies (even with “Author of the Wizard of Oz” written on the cover), you go back and write more Oz sequels. It made him fabulous well-off… until he dumped a lot of his money into making these new motion pictures and it didn’t do so well. After his death in 1919, other authors wrote an additional 21 books.

The lesson? Don’t forget the gal who brought ya to the dance. Jim Butcher probably really doesn’t enjoy writing the Dresden Files books anymore, but he never disavows writing another, because the Codex Alera ain’t gonna pay the bills. He himself indicates that he loves sword and sorcery fantasy the most… but that subgenre was last in vogue in the 1950’s.

Of course, it’s good to stretch out, because you never know what might take off. One of my favorite authors, David Weber, started a different series on the planet of Safehold which can only be described as… um, Reformation Wars with a little sci-fi. I enjoyed it… mostly. There was one book where he deliberately avoided the wargasm which it had been building up for, but he paid it off in the next one.

What other examples can you think of? Authors who obviously didn’t like what they were writing, but kept cranking out sequels nonetheless. I’m sure I could think of some film examples, especially with actors. Let me know in the comments below!

Obsolete Specialties

13 Dec

When I was growing up, I was told that there was a fund by the State of Illinois to support people who went into “obsolete specialties,” skills that were no longer in need in the modern world, but we didn’t want to disappear. But who would follow such a path?

Blacksmithing is the most obvious that came to mind; not a lot of demand for swords these days. However, if you wanted to make custom horseshoes, there is GREAT demand for that, and could command a good price. However, I’m often surprised how many handmade swords are still sold at renaissance fairs across the United States. I own one myself–five pounds of high carbon steel that cost me all my high school graduation money.

Typesetting is a more obvious obsolete skill. We haven’t used actual letter printing since the 1960’s–wiped out an entire profession (and their union!) when we shifted to automated printing presses. However, there is an entire niche hobby built around the idea of making your own cards or papers with nicely printed presses.

It’s becoming harder and harder to find these older letter sets (60 years old!), but they still exist, and somebody wants them. Which goes to prove that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

What’s next? Projectionists are already eliminated, but movie theaters might be next. And yet, steno pools became secretaries, then admin assistants. Just because the skill becomes obsolete, doesn’t mean that need for the role disappears. What skill might become obsolete next? How does someone adjust to the changing demands? Let me know in the comments below!

What is Legitimacy?

12 Dec

Bastards, Blood relations, Half-Brothers, Step-brothers, In-Laws. We have lots of terms in the English language for various levels of legitimate relations with people. Yet I wonder how many of those terms are really useful anymore?

I’m working with a professor talking about divorce law, which as you can imagine, goes into great detail on such issues. However, my initial thought was… I get this from a legal perspective, but how much does such relations actually impact our lives?

I guess it depends how close you are to the people in question. I used to joke that I started off as an only child and ended up the middle of ten. How does that work? My parents only had me, then divorced. Then my mom remarried and I gained three stepbrothers and a stepsister. My dad remarried and had a half-brother and a half-sister. Then my mom died, my stepdad remarried, and I gained three half-stepbrothers.

Stop me if you’re getting confused–I sure was! Then my stepsister married my half-stepbrother, which sounds icky, except there’s no blood relation and their parents only married after they were 20. But that pales in comparison to the fact that my aunt is also my second cousin (my parents met at their wedding). 🙂

To add to confusion, there is also relations of mine who are not married to their partner, so they’re my… what? Not-stepbrother-in-law?! Rebecca’s boyfriend? I guess if I know them well, I just call him Steve, but the further away I am from that person, the more I have to define them in these obsolete terms.

The real point of “legitimate, step, in-law, whatever” is a legal definition. How close is the person to inheriting the wealth of another person? Back in medieval times, you might get Don John the Bastard, but as much as that term has a negative context, by calling them a bastard actually meant you legitimized them. This is my son! They get a portion of my wealth! However, that took something away from the regular kids, so they’ve always been demonized… unless they weren’t.

Take the Tudors–they were descended from the bastard child of the wife of Henry V. No one claimed they weren’t really royalty… well, maybe during Henry VII’s reign, but that’s why it was important for him to marry one of the more direct bloodlines so that his kids were legitimate… and why Henry VIII was so crazy about marrying all those women, because memories of the War of the Roses was VERY clear in the survivors, and he wanted to avoid wars of succession. It didn’t… quite work, but he did prevent more than just a couple coups… oh, and the Spanish Armada. 🙂

But before I go down that road, what do you think? Is legitimacy useful outside the legal world? Do you consider someone a “brother from another mother?” Let me know in the comments below!

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