A different kind of loss in Night Shade’s collapse.

by on May.24, 2013, under Observations

This post is not going to deal with how or why Night Shade collapsed, nor is it going to deal with the choices that authors have to make dealing with the purchasers. I really don’t know anything about either of these, and what little has reached me I read in the same places you have. I am writing this post about something different–what we in the community lose in this transaction.
(continue reading…)

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The essential key of a good critique

by on May.08, 2013, under Observations, Process

After more than four years participating in critique groups, both in person and online, I have come to the firm conviction that there is only one essential key to a good critique. This key is so essential that I’ve come to believe that a critique missing this key is worthless to the author, and that any critique containing this key, no matter how green or ignorant the reviewer, can be valued for its weight in gold by the author. (continue reading…)

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My first technical book has been published.

by on Mar.30, 2013, under News, Publications

In addition to my fiction I also work on technical publications. My first technical book was published by Packt Publishing this last week.

Details about the book can be found on my technical website at Instant Puppet 3 Starter.

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The most important question

by on Oct.30, 2012, under Observations

This election is not about the economy. There is something so much more important here. There is something essential to the nature of who we are as Americans that is on the line right now.

What we are doing when we go into the ballot box this coming Tuesday is not selecting the economic leader for the next four years. Instead, we are selecting the leader who will guide our executive policy for the next four years. The person who will choose where the government spends its money, and whether or not it helps people in need. This is not a question of economy. This is question of compassion, and mercy.

Let us consider these candidates:

Obama Romney
FEMA Relief for Storm Victims Is busy mobilizing well-trained federal resources to assist people. Wants the (bankrupt/debt-ridden) states with limited resources to deal with the problem.
Health Insurance Reform Has passed laws to protect people from greed-driven opportunism by the health industry. Wants to see every person able to receive quality health care. Obamacare programs will relieve significant state burden for unpaid emergency room visits. Supported President Bush’s policies which saw health care costs more than triple for businesses. Wants to end Obamacare so that the health industry can charge anything they want. Wants low-income families to go to the emergency room to die. No help for the states.
Women’s Rights Reversed Bush’s executive orders that denied health care to women overseas on his first day in office. Appoints women into his government on a regular basis. Supports their right to make their own choices. Doesn’t know any competent women. Lied about having asked for a binder of them. Has been reported as insulting to women in the workplace and the church. Has repeatedly promised to take away women’s rights. Supports legislation which would allow employers to deny healthcare to women.
Gay Rights Believes that gays should be able to have relationships with dignity and respect. Has prevented the government from defending DOMA. Fought against gay marriage in Massachusetts. Humiliated and victimized children of gay parents by refusing to sign their birth certificates.
How They Treated People (while young) Has spent his entire career helping people improve their lives. In his first job he expanded a tiny community role with a church to set up a job training program, a college preparatory tutoring program, and a tenants’ rights organization in Altgeld Gardens. Bullied and beat up on people poorer and smaller than himself. Impersonated a policeman to harass people. Threatened people with his father’s influence.
How They Treat People Now Has focused his presidency on treating everyone with dignity. Respects other faiths. Has created policy to better help people who need help. Ridicules people that need help. Insults people of different beliefs. Wants to turn the government’s back on people in need.

This is what we are choosing. This is the man you are choosing to lead the nation. This isn’t a choice where you get to vote for the best gas price. Neither one of these presidents can control that. You are choosing the moral character of the man leading our nation.

More importantly, you are choosing how your friends will be treated by the US Government over the next 4 years. You are choosing whether or not your friends:

1. Die from being unable to cover their medical bills after being cast aside by profit-seeking health care companies.

2. Lose their jobs or lose their lives because of who they love, or which god they believe in. (When people know that the government won’t indite them, they do nasty things to people they fear.)

3. Lose their dignity and respect by being unable to participate in the same benefits you enjoy today. Lose their lifelong homes after their partner dies. Lose their partners because they can’t get coverage for them under the same health plan.

This is the quality of mercy. This is the choice you are making for your friends and neighbors. You really cannot pretend it is anything else.

I have come to a sad turn in the road, but it is a turn that I think is essential and important to me. If you are a person that feels that the things I have listed above are not important enough to vote to save them, then I no longer want you in my life.

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Do you groan about a story title’s inclusion in the text?

by on Sep.22, 2012, under Observations, Process

How often do you read a story and come across the title of the story in the text, and groan to yourself, thinking “Oh god, that was a horrible way to shove the title in?”

Apparently, this happens quite often. But I have done some analysis of this topic, and from what my limited testing shows, this may be an artifact of reader expectation. Let me share with you what I have observed, and then you tell me what you think. (continue reading…)

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Describe thyself, mortal!

by on Sep.21, 2012, under Process

One of the issues that I struggle with in writing is physically describing my point of view character. So very many readers come back with “I wish I knew what the protagonist looked like.”

This is a tricky subject. Gazing into a mirror is far too obvious, and will get snarly comments from editors. Switching to another point of view character is an easy habit, but many more of my readers would prefer me to use a single PoV character.

I’ve been googling around on this topic, and the Internet has spoken.
This is hard.

Unfortunately, that’s about all it has to say. The best I’ve got is to let the character interact with themselves in some manner that gives hints. Combing their hair, or tearing it out I guess is more likely in my stories.

In contrast, I was just listening to the Mary Robinette Kowal and others say in The Story Board, Episode 2 that it’s better to not describe the protagonist. That describing the protagonist takes away the reader’s ability to imagine themselves in that role. In doing so, I would need to choose to leave those readers unsatisfied.

If you are a writer, how do you tell the reader about the protagonist, through the protagonist’s eyes? Do you just leave it to the reader’s imagination?

If you are a reader, which do you prefer? Do you find that clearly described characters turn you off?

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Evolving the writer, Engaging the reader

by on Sep.19, 2012, under Process

When I think of how I have evolved as a writer, it is easy to see it as a staircase. Each jump, each step up in my writing ability came about due to a new understanding about what engaged the reader. Every time I learned what the reader wanted but did not get, or got but did not understand, my writing improved dramatically (as judged through the subsequent reviews of revisions or newer stories).

At this point in evolution, I’m not sure any other factor is involved in a writer’s growth. Most of the processes you learn in writing classes and workshops are tools to help the writer develop their vision. I can’t recall any of those tools being directly aimed at improving the writing output; the tools generally assist the writer in getting the job done.

This leads me to what I feel is an obvious conclusion: the only way to improve your writing is to put it in front of readers and get their response. The emotional engagement of the reader provides the only useful feedback from which to judge your output. And a reader who can elucidate which a certain piece really works for them, or really doesn’t work for them, provides the most valuable catalyst for growth as a I writer. For me, it seems to be the only catalyst.

Have you experienced something different? What works for you?

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Reading a story is like experiencing a role playing adventure

by on Sep.12, 2012, under Observations, Process

Very recently, a reviewer of one of my stories complained to me, “Reading this is like playing a role playing game. The reader has to advance up level by level.”

This statement was truly said to me as a complaint, although I still can’t figure it out. Should I should have given the reader a complete list of characters and a map of universe, prior to asking the reader to read the story? Do we ever get a map and character list prior to starting a story? Would you read a story that tried to give you all of this prior to the first paragraph?

It’s been 10 days since that comment, and I still can’t figure out what the basis of the complaint was. To me a well told story is where you the reader starts with a tight focus on a single scene, and expands outward as you learn more. Is this not the brilliance of story telling, such that a good story will tease us forward, into the darkness in hopes of learning more?

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Review: The Big Short by Michael Lewis

by on Sep.01, 2012, under Reviews

The Big Short is a book that describes how the 2008 economic meltdown came to be, as told through the personal stories of several people directly involved in it. How some of them were directly involved in the fabrication of wealth that never existed at all. How one of them became fabulously rich betting against the major funds whose wealth disappeared overnight.

Alright, you might ask, what does this have to do with Science Fiction? That’s a good question. No, I am not taking on the review of books of politics or economics. I am reviewing this book because I feel that this book is a case study, a must read book for aspiring authors.

As an aspiring author, this is a book you must read three times.

Once: to read the content. If you are in any manner involved or care about economics, this book will be very upsetting to you. Just read it all the way through. And throw it. And yell at it. You will.

Second time: Sit back and admire how well this story is told. Economics is a pretty dry subject. Yet you were throwing the book and yelling about it, weren’t you? Examine how this story is told. Examine how Michael Lewis engaged you in the story.

Final time: Examine how Michael Lewis engaged you in the characters. Some of these characters are real bastards. Some of them scorned you and the money you’d invested or left supposedly safe in their organizations. And yet he makes these characters real to you, he engages you in their story. He makes you care.

In short, Michael Lewis gave you a story with no heroes–only villains and a few unlikeable anti-heroes, and yet you were would up tight in the plot. This is impressive, and there’s a lot to learn here.

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The Soul of a Reviewer

by on Aug.31, 2012, under Observations, Reviews

I had an interesting conversation with a couple of other reviewers last night that really got me thinking. Several of them admitted that they didn’t stop to think about whether or not they enjoyed the piece they were reading–they were too busy looking for things to critique as done well or badly.

Although I totally respect the work that both of these reviewers do, I feel that it is important that as a reviewer I don’t forget what the reader cares about.

One of the essential things to remember is that a reader is reading to be entertained. They have no objective beyond enjoyment or learning, in both the passive and active senses. The most important thing about reviewing should be looking at the story from this point of view.

If I am reviewing a piece of work, and I don’t approach it with the intent to be entertained, then I am doing the reader a disservice. While it may be important to note that an author did or did not achieve some technical objective, the most important part of a review is to answer: is this book likely to entertain the reader?

Obviously, it’s impossible to such a subjective question for all possible readers. But I feel that it is the goal that we as reviewers should always strive for. Almost any technical matter within the work is less important than this essential question.

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