Bending Time

I was reading and enjoying Melissa Marr’s spooky novel Graveminder when I came across several flashbacks. I had an idea that these events were in the past but to help that along the author chose to set them off by using italics. I have I already posted in here about my dislike of the overuse of italics in recent works. Well, I really did not enjoy reading 4 pages of italics. Flashbacks I like. They provide back-story and context for our characters in a way straight narrative sometimes cannot. I just do not want to have to read four pages of italics. I am enjoying the book so far and think the writer is more than capable of indicating to the reader that the next part is something that happened in the past. So I am hoping the italics thing was just an experiment.

It did get me thinking about how many ways there are to set off flashbacks. I don’t like to think of any technique in writing as wrong or right but for flashbacks I have come across one way that pretty much works all the time. Basically it involves the use of three, “had,” verbs. The technical term is the past perfect form of the verb. You use two to start the flashback, sending the reader back in time. The third one is used at the end of the flashback to pull the reader back into the present time. Like so.

Marc paused. He knew what he wanted to do, what he could do, but not what he should do. Flynn told him about the buckling in the hull a week ago. He had made his first mistake as commander then. He had looked into her eyes and saw fear. “What do you want me to do?”
I’m sorry but you are supposed to know what to do, you wear the gold bars on your sleeve.”
“I just can’t take a whole deck off line. That’s home to our most expensive suites, all the big wigs stay on that deck.”
“Inconvenience them or expose them to space. It’s still your call.” The way Flynn had said it left little room for debate.

Simple and direct with just a few extra words. To me, this is just a more natural way to read. That is not to say the italics would not work.

Marc paused. He knew what he wanted to do, what he could do, but not what he should do. Flynn told him about the buckling in the hull a week ago.
“What do you want me to do?”
I’m sorry but you are supposed to know what to do, you wear the gold bars on your sleeve.”
“I just can’t take a whole deck off line. That’s home to our most expensive suites, all the big wigs stay on that deck.”
“Inconvenience them or expose them to space. It’s still your call.” The way Flynn had said it left little room for debate.

Like I said it isn’t necessarily wrong. I don’t like it. I hate the thought that writers have come to use typesetting instead of writing to tell their stories now. If you have any thoughts let me know in the comment section. Is this a coming trend that I should just get used to? Do we as writers have a responsibility to maintain a certain integrity and level of craft at the risk of being old fashioned? And do pick up Graveminder it is an awesome story with great characters.

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Do You Have the Write Stuff?

one_bookazThe Arizona State Library has just announced a contest for their ONEBOOKAZ 2014. This year ONEBOOKAZ goes all digital and they are looking for Arizona authors to provide the the works. ONEBOOKAZ is a program that encourages communities across Arizona to read the same book and then participate in discussions to bring the community together through literature. For more information visit the ONEBOOKAZ website here: ONEBOOKAZ.

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Are Your Bad Guys Bad Enough?

I am sitting in my office thinking on how busy I’ve been this summer and looking at a poster on my wall. The poster is from a video game released in 2005 for the Sony Playstation 2 called Shadow of the Colossus. The premise of the game is that you control a boy who must find and kill 16 giants the game calls Colossi to restore the life of a girl. So you spend the game wandering the vast land on horseback encountering these monstrous beings, climb up them, find their weakness and slay them. When you get all sixteen the game ends.

Now I can’t tell you what happens at the end of the game for two reasons. One, that would spoil it if you have any intention to play an eight year old game. Two I never made it to the end. About two or three Colossi into the game I came to realize what for me was a game killing fault. I am tasked with killing these beings with very little context or reason other than saving the young girl, yadda yadda yadda.  The only problem was the means of encountering them. You just come upon the first few Colossi. By the third one, lacking this story context I began to see the Colossus as a victim. At this point n the game the story has not revealed enough of the main story to give you a strong enough reason to go forward with the killings. The lack of context when you find the lumbering brute just wandering a meadow makes it even harder to scale it’s body and shove your sword into it’s unguarded flesh. Had I encountered other characters fleeing the Colossus or maybe see it ravaging a village, I would feel that I had to kill it. As it was I simply couldn’t justify the killing.

In a story the antagonist is the foil, obstacle, thing that must be scaled and defeated so that your protagonist can move onto the ending. While the reader does not have to hate the antagonist as much as your protagonist does you have to make it clear to the reader that the antagonist needs to be dealt with. The more extreme the dealing with for the more extreme the hurt, hate or adversity. After all you want the reader to root for your protagonist.

We’ve all read about the heroes you love to hate, but a bad guy you hate to love? It’s gonna take some special writing to make that happen and unless you nail it the whole thing is going to blow up in your face. Depending on the story you are crafting, there could be a whole host of activities, behaviors and traits you can bestow upon your antagonist to make the reader hate him, her, it. The only thing to be aware of is if your desire to write something that isn’t so black and white it becomes cliche. The last thing you want is to give your antagonist enough sympathetic qualities that the reader begins to see the antagonist as a victim. When the time comes for the protagonist to triumph you do not want the readers tasked with picking a side, even if they see multiple sides, they always must side with your protagonist.

In the case of my video game, the part of the story that made me want to continue with the slaying of these creatures took too long to appear. I could see the creatures were dangerous formidable opponents but that was not enough. I took this as a lesson and use it in all of my writing. My bad guys have to be bad, my obstructions have to be massive. There can be no question of motives.  This way when the time comes for the protagonist to triumph it is a victory shared by the reader as well.

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It’s a Service Issue

I know I have been a little distracted by video games lately, in particular retro video games. In truth I have been indulging my nostalgia a little more than the law allows. Get me an eye patch and a Parrot named Mr. Stubbs because I’ve been trolled the deep waters of a pirate life. To the end, I came across an interesting article on the Penny Arcade.

The interesting bit I took away from this was the quote from Valve’s Gabe Newell who once said that, “Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem.” That started me thinking. What is the chain of events that allow our works to go from our heads into readers’ hands. In the past the independent writer typed up the pages, running them by a Kinko’s after which he or she would fill up the trunk of his or her car with copies to distribute. A little less further further back and it would be paying a small publisher and then getting a trunk full of bound books. Now we can upload a file to our publisher, let’s call them, Amazon, and 24 hours later you can still order a trunk full of books. See the problem isn’t getting a copy of your work to sell it is getting it someplace to sell, a service problem. The challenge is still getting the books someplace where readers can read or buy them. That is the service problem we as independents have.

Traditional publishing encompasses the production of a book but more importantly holds the apparatus for getting said book into readers’ eager hands. From whipping people up into a frenzy for it to making sure the bookstores have stacks on hand in all the key locations of the store, this is the one service that technology has not taken away from traditional publishing. But the technology has shaken the tree hard enough that bits and pieces are falling down to where independent writers can make use of them.

We are already use to the bookstore as publisher, hello Amazon and Barnes and Noble, but did you know the library may, one day, also be your publisher. When you think about it, what is more likely to be in your town a library or a Barnes and Noble, we’ll pretend the internet doesn’t exist otherwise this thought experiment fails. But even in that libraries have made their presence felt in cyberspace and their legions of users know just where to click for the latest books. As libraries struggle to meet costs for e-content amid shrinking budgets the turn to local writers and home grown content is looking like a promised land for them. Are we writers up to the challenge? Only time will tell.

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When the Well Runs Dry

When working on my first novel, my biggest fear was that once complete that was it for me. That one book would be the only one in me. My career as a writer would end before it even started. At one point I think that fear even played a part in my procrastination as I neared the end. I can chuckle about it now.

I currently am working on my ninth and tenth novels. Actually that tenth one is on hiatus for now but is about 30% complete and I will get back to it. I really don’t know what part of the blood brain chemistry accounts for the spontaneous ignition of creative ideas. For me dreams often play a part. Many of my stranger and or more memorable ones find their way to one fictional form or another. Then there are the characters. Often I will come across someone, could just be a stranger in the store or on the television, that sparks something. Then as Johnny Storm would say, “Flame On.” (Please don’t sue me Mr. Lee but I had to use it.)

Sometimes visiting an interesting place is all the stimulation your mind needs to launch you into a new project. My latest trip to Bisbee, Arizona provided me with an interesting setting with a rich back story. A thriving mining town full of wild west stories and intrigues. I jotted enough of it down that I will be ready to begin my eleventh novel as soon as the smoke clears from my tablet’s screen. Hint, it’s a Steampunk work with plenty of Demons in it.  While in Bisbee I could feel the ideas peculating away. The place also allowed me to make significant progress on my latest work, the Sequel to Undead Heart.

So as I said earlier I can chuckle now at the thought I was a one book Benny. Still the fear is very real and you will work through it. Just don’t let it keep you from finishing or even starting a work. As long as you live a well stimulated life that old well is never going to dry up.

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What’s in a Name.

First, I must thank fellow author and friend Gale Leach for sharing this on the message board of the West Valley Writer’s Workshop. I learned a long time ago that a manuscript rejection means four things, the agent / editor didn’t really read it and just tossed a form letter your way, the story doesn’t hold anyone’s interest, your writing really does stink or all of the above. Now I have to amend that lesson to include a fifth possibility with, you are a nobody.

I self publish because I became sick of seeing a pile of manuscripts sitting in my closet gathering dust. I also had to repeat the same mantra to anyone who found out I am a writer, “well, I am querying agents but the market is such I’m not getting many responses, so I don’t have anything on the shelf.” The sad truth is the market has gone away. Unless you can show you have success with a particular story you are not going to get anywhere with traditional publishers or agents. The best you can do is be pleasant at conferences and strike up a friendship with an editor or agent. Now the good news is a new market has spring up in it’s place. You still have to do your homework and write an epic story that entertains and thrills and is expertly told. You will also have to arrange some professional help with the cover, the formatting, editing or all of the above. Where today’s publishers want all the rewards without the risk you have to be willing to have your wallet assume on all the risk. In the end you may not wind up in a loft in New York City overlooking Central Park or a guest spot on Letterman but you are taking charge of your own destiny and can call yourself a writer.

Oh I almost forgot here is the story from CNN.

What do you make of about this? Does it prove all along what you have long thought?

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It’s called Price Fixing and It’s Illegal

So Apple ignored the publishers who rolled over and settled with the Department of Justice and so this past Wednesday received a guilty verdict from a federal judge. posted an interesting article on what the fallout for consumers could be: It is unlikely that we will see eBook prices drop across the board. All this really means is that I will buy fewer and eBooks from traditional publidpshers. Still that this even happened is scary. Imagine if the folks who run Red Robbin went to McDonald’s and said, “you know you selling hamburgers for 99 cents hinders or keeps us from selling 12 dollar burgers.” Never mind the quality difference a burger is a burger right? Either way this would never happen yet Apple managed to pull it off until the DOJ came calling. Every once in a while the government gets something right.

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Copyright, Piracy and the Troubled Waters We Tread

pirate_flagAll of our laws begin with a noble idea seeking to right a wrong or protect the innocent. Copyright law is no different. No one would ever say that an artist does not deserve to be compensated for his or her work. That is the noble idea that copyright law came into being to protect. I agree with that 100%. The only one who should profit from my brain regurgitation is me or my family. But what happens when copyright veers from that noble goal? Is copyright a guarantee if profit?

Ever try borrowing a current bestseller from the library? Well you can’t. How about lending your eBook copy of Hunger Games to your sister, not going to happen. Current eBooks are swaddled in DRM that severely limits what users can do with them all in the name of thwarting piracy. What does piracy have to do with copyright? Well in our modern age if you aren’t paying for your digital content you’re probably pirating it. Funny I am giving away copies of my works all the time to build my audience and for reviews, not piracy. Borrowing a book from the library and reading it also not piracy, now try to convince publishers of that.

One other area of copyright that some run a foul of concerns movies and television shows. Buy a blu-ray of The Avengers and want to watch it on your phone or tablet? Well get yourself an eye patch and three corner hat. Oh you can pay for a copy to run on your device in addition to the disc you just bought. If you are fortunate to have a device that will play then files in that come with some releases even better. Television is an other matter. Over a year ago we dropped our satellite service and instead rely on streaming. We have subscriptions with Netflix, Hulk + and Amazon Prime. We also have a digital antenna for local broadcasts but there are a few shows that are cable only. The streaming services are great for older shows but current ones are not so lucky. In truth it is quicker and easier to torrent the show than it is to find it on one of the streaming services that we pay for. That noble idea of copyright is starting to become a real pain in my digital ass. All I am saying is I am willing to pay for the content I enjoy but I can’t even do that. So churns the waters.

One last area that stokes my fire concerns emulators. An emulator is a piece of software that tricks a computer into acting like another. Emulators are not illegal to create own or even buy. The programs, called roms, that run on the emulator are a different matter. By all interpretations of current copyright law these files are illegal. Own them amounts to theft but let’s look at this. Suppose you want to rekindle your adolescence with some rounds of Mario Kart but you have long since parted ways with your SNES. In one scenario you could download an emulator and the rom for Mario Kart and enjoy. You would be a pirate, breaking the law and Nintendo doesn’t get a dime. In scenario two you could hunt down an old system from a garage sale or eBay and the game cartridge.  You would be completely within the legal confines of the law but Nintendo still doesn’t get a dime. Are you starting to see a flaw in this?

No technology can arrive without causing some disruption in the status quo. Just think what the printing press did for all those medieval scriptoriums. It would be foolish to think technology can enable a wild west mentality at least until the laws catch up. The danger we face is in not recognizing when the mechanisms of protecting business models no longer relevant are allowed to slip into the codification of law.  At that point we are all adrift. Arrrgh maties.

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A New Game in Town

My review of the Ouya Game console as it appears in the MCLC TechTalk blog.


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Me outside my house in Ceti IV with my Starfleet shirt.

Sometimes we all need someplace to sneak away to even if it is a fictitious hamlet filled with furry animals. What? Let me explain. I recently downloaded Animal Crossing New Leaf to my Nintendo 3DS. My wife and I spent far more hours than we would care to admit in the original release on the Gamecube. The latest release plays much like the original with a few new twists and customization. Also due to the magic of advancing technology the game looks a little better despite being on a handheld.

The hardest thing about Animal Crossing is explaining the game to others. You don’t earn points or level up. There are no bosses to fight, stages to clear or even an end to the game. Most of your time will be spent doing things like weeding, digging up fossils, running errands and fishing. You do these things to earn bells, the currency in Animal Crossing, that you will use to buy furniture for your house and clothes for your back. Speaking of your house, in a game that mimics reality, somewhat, you even have a mortgage that must be paid off if you want a bigger house. You will want a bigger make believe house, for more pretend furniture.

Typically I prefer video games with more story behind them. Animal Crossing is sort of a throw back to when games were just fun and you only played for the enjoyment of the time spent. That was back when said enjoyment only lasted until your next quarter ran out. There was no story in Pong, just hit the white box across the screen, or Space Invaders for that matter. Even the game that launched an Italian Plumber to stardom, Donkey Kong, had no story other than don’t ket yourself killed on the way to the princess. I bet you didn’t know this, in the original Donkey Kong, Mario was only known as Jumpman, his moniker would come in later games. Stories eventually evolved with the technology and the medium, but sometimes escaping to a little place for some fishing is just the thing after a busy day at work. And that joker on the commute home that wouldn’t get off your tail, it’s nice to know you can go someplace to forget about him where all you have to do is hand a duck an orange to make their day. Oh I still get my head shots on in first person shooters and quest for hidden treasures but I am so glad I have Animal Crossing for times when I want to get away.

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