NaNoWriMo Victory!

Winning NaNoWriMo has always been easy for me. The thing is, this year I had a different, much more important writing deadline. It’s official now, I failed to complete a draft of Munchies in time to slide it to Kij over winter break. The late push has been extremely fertile; just yesterday I wrote a scene that is both touching and gut-wrenching. I’d say more but then it would be a spoiler. Poor Agatha.

Meanwhile, there was NaNoWriMo. Really, you’re not supposed to extend an existing work, but that rule’s been largely ignored from the beginning. This year I also ignored that rule. The kids at NaNoCetral also suggest many ways to pad word count; I abused those suggestions and invented a new one all my own.

The ultimate result coming out of November: some really good scenes — a few even approaching publishable quality — but not a novel to ship. Those scenes, and a crapload of other words. I’m claiming victory this year, but it’s the first time in more than a decade that I’ve felt a little defensive about it. I didn’t win the way I like to win.

The Weight of Blood

Many of you who read these pages will be familiar with The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam, a tongue-in-cheek series of questions every aspiring fantasy novelist should review. If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the questions, you should seriously consider pitching your story in the proverbial dustbin and starting over.

I have started reading a story, the first part of which is available for free from the iBook store, called The Weight of Blood (The Half-Orcs, Book 1), which accomplishes something I’ve never seen before. The title scores three points.

Other than The Quest for the Important Thing to Defeat the Evil Guy, what titles have you seen that proudly proclaim that no cliché is too stale to put in the ensuing story?

(As an aside, the story’s not bad so far. I’ll fill you in later. You don’t have to thank me; it’s what I do.)

Note: if you use the above link to somehow pay for this free book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.

Wrapping up Shadow of the Sun

As I mentioned previously, I picked up Shadow of the Sun by Laura Kreitzer for free as the first Kindle book I loaded onto my shiny new iPad. Her goal, I’m sure, is to get people to read the first volume and subsequently pay for the following volumes.

While I found the story interesting, I will not be one of those to pony up for the sequels. The pity is that some of the flaws in this volume could easily have been avoided. Others are more systemic.

I marked more than twenty errors of grammar or editing while I read. That’s not very good, but for very long passages that I read while working out, I was not able to mark the errors I found. It would not surprise me if there were fifty errors in this volume that a good proofreader would have found. A misspelling on the first page, for crying out loud, and the horrific offense of using setup as a verb happened somewhere in there.

The other way strong editorial guidance could have helped is with a long stretch of story that went: “I was so sad I thought I would die! Then I got SADDER and I really thought I was going to die from the sheer weight of sorrow. Then I got EVEN SADDER…”

All this piling of sadness on sadness, punctuated with backstory, got pretty old. Then the action begins! And ends! After a long action sequence earlier, this climactic one at the end of the book was over in a flash, and seemed like it was just to get us moved on past the parade of pathos and into the next book.

Ah, the next book. This volume actually did feel like something was concluded: Act One. We get a real sense that the main character is moving on (after a heartbreaking funeral scene). Considering how open-ended the ending was, It did provide some closure on what had gone before.

Meanwhile, there was an extra dude in this book, whose only purpose was to fulfill the rule that spunky female leads must have more than one alpha male hot for them. This character did absolutely zero in this book but be a nice guy who miraculously survives shit that blows away supernatural beings. In the teaser for the next book, we see he will play a much larger role. Note to Ms. Kreitzer: you could have just waited and introduced him in book two and no one would have thought twice about it. I think a good editor would have suggested that Nice Guy not be there the whole time.

Having said all that, I didn’t dislike the book. With more action (not just violence–nudge, nudge) and less moping it would have been a fun read and I might have been tempted to pony up for the next episode. As it is, there are just too many other more-tightly-written spunky heroines with multiple suitors, and some of them aren’t even Chosen Ones.

Note: if you use the above link to somehow pay for this free book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.

Amazon Links Restored

Jerry Brown saw reason, and now people in California can be Amazon affiliates again. Hooray!

Actually, this happened a while ago, but I’m just now getting around to restoring all the links on this site to my affiliate account instead of the the other account that was cared for by someone in another state.

All is back to normal here, so if you’re going to be shopping at Amazon anyway, I’d sure appreciate it if you’d start with the link in the sidebar.

Thanks!

Intracorporeal Memo

To: Heart, Lungs, Legs
From: Brain
Re: Exercise intensity

Exercise intensity will continue to increase. Get used to it.

Note: Way to hang in there, knees. Keep up the good work.

A Budgetary Splash of Cold Water

The United States’ military is pretty frickin’ awesome. Consider this: Europe has gone 65 years without a major war, perhaps for the first time ever. It’s easy for us to take for granted now, but sixty-five years without a war between European powers is unheard of. Our boys on the ground over there have been a factor, for sure. NATO, which the United States anchors, not only answered pressure from the east but made war between Norway and England impossible.

Part of our success is that we have committed to making every infantryman* worth twice what any other country can field, through technology and training. This means fewer of our guys get killed to achieve a given political objective. That’s a good thing.

But.

Our military is really, really, expensive. Let’s go back to Europe for a moment. It’s easy to argue that without American commitment Europe would not have achieved the solidarity and economic integration it has today. Hooray! But now it’s time to say, “mission accomplished.” We just don’t have tens of billions of dollars to spend on the defense of Europe every year while they become an economic partner/rival to us.

In the price of every Cadillac (and every beer) is the cost of defending Germany from attack. The Germans put their taxes to use building infrastructure.

And then there’s Japan. At the end of WWII we required that they look to us to defend them. At the time it made sense, more or less. We wanted to ensure that they would not become an aggressor nation again. Well, they didn’t. Instead they worked their asses off and went from ruin to one of the world’s great economic powers. Rather than resent their rise, America should be proud of it. It wouldn’t have happened without us. What’s best is that they tied their economy entirely to ours. Sure we have our differences, but we have no ally whose interests are more tightly intertwined with our own. The United States and Japan are the world’s economic odd couple, but it works.

And still, the US bears almost the full cost of defending Japan. Ironically, over there, a lot of folks would like to see us go. There have been problems. Yet we stay.

In the price of every Ford (and every ice cream cone) is the cost of defending Japan from attack. The Japanese spend their taxes building their industries.

Meanwhile, we’re fighting two ground wars and trying to maintain a peacetime economy. Somehow people are still surprised at the difficulty of reining in ridiculous government borrowing. Sure there’s plenty of other waste in the government, but we’ve dumped a trillion dollars (a TRILLION! A fucking trillion!) into a war with no good possible outcome.

And still we dump, and good Americans die, the best soldiers the planet has ever known, the ones who can accomplish a political goal more efficiently than any other force in history, and they’re being dicked over at tremendous expense to all of us, for a political goal that has long since passed into irrelevance.

It is not with disrespect to the guys out there who have accomplished so much that I call for an enormous reduction in military spending. It is because they did so well that our allies are now able to stand on their own. The best thing our armed forces have accomplished is a dramatic reduction in war. Pax America, baby. It’s real.

But now it’s time to let the world take care of itself for a while. Europe’s good, and it won’t take long for Japan to feel secure. Taiwan, not so simple. Iraq, it doesn’t matter if we pull out tomorrow or twenty years from now; violence will ensue. May as well get it over with. Afghanistan, I think we stick there. Recognize that had we not gone off and invaded Iraq, we could have done right by those guys.

We can probably still afford one ground war, if it’s small.

—-

* In the end, it’s all about the infantry. Sure the airplanes the the cruise missiles kick ass, but sooner or later someone has to walk where someone else does’t want him to. All the stealth bombers and MOABs are just fireworks. You win when your guys are standing on the street corers.**

** Except, I have to add, that that’s when we lost Iraq. The victors were entirely unprepared to be police, and in twenty-four hours the US Army’s disregard for civil law and order was felt. America’s biggest supporters were looted into bankruptcy overnight, and the rest is history. Stop the looting right then and there, and you send a message: this is still a nation of law. Stay inside for a few days, let us know if you need anything, and we really hope your own police come back to patrol. If they don’t, we’re here. The law is here.
Even a passing mention to the advancing army that they were responsible for civil order might have averted a decade of futile battle. It’s even in the Geneva convention. “In war, plan for peace,” Sun Tsu advised. EPIC FAIL in Iraq. Trillion-dollar epic fail. Possibly the biggest blunder in US military history. I can’t think of a worse one.

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Nice View They’ve Got

Astronomy Picture of the Day is one of my favorite sites, but yesterday’s edition was even better than most. I’ve always wanted to see the aurora borealis, and I will, dammit, but now I also want to see the northern lights from space.

Can someone hook me up?

They ARE Watching You

Near the beginning of the novel 1984, Winston Smith is in his apartment, doing his state-mandated exercises in front of the TV. Suddenly a voice blares from the speaker and reprimands him for not making more of an effort. We learn at that moment that the telescreen is a two-way device; it watches you as you’re watching it.

Now we call that machine Kinect for XBOX Live.

Some of this is old news in privacy circles; it was more than a year ago that Microsoft first bragged to investors that the Kinect platform could be used to gather data on people using their product — what people are wearing, and things like that. This is what happens when you have a Web-cam in the house that’s always connected to the Internet, and someone you don’t know is on the other end.

Well, as you might expect, these revelations raised quite a kerfuffle. Microsoft very quickly and very loudly promised not to use data gathered through the camera in your home for targeted advertising. In the articles I read, journalists took two approaches:

  1. Whew! I’m sure glad Microsoft promised not to be evil!
  2. You know, targeted advertising isn’t as bad a people keep claiming. Relax and get information tailored to you.

The commentary, and Microsoft’s reassurances, miss the point entirely. With the government pulling flagrant rights violations like National Security Letters, how long before the video feed in your living room is handed over to the FBI? Hell, it might have happened already. Microsoft would be legally barred from telling anyone it even happened. This is the state of our constitution these days.

(If the government really thinks this is all cool and the public wouldn’t mind, why do they work so hard to keep it secret?)

There are ways to prevent the video feed from reaching the outside world, but as I understand it, the default is always on. Not only can it report what game (or political convention) you’re watching, it can report when you cheer. Better think twice about that Che Guevara poster on the far wall from the TV. My video-game playing, dope-smoking neighbors may not be too concerned about privacy anyway (judging by the clouds drifting through the neighborhood), but I doubt they’d feel great about knowing they have a live video feed that any government monkey with a frightening letter will be able to watch.

Let me repeat that just so I’m clear: Any government monkey with a frightening letter will have access to a live video feed from your living room, as well as every email you’ve ever sent and what you checked out at the library. Things are bad enough without handing them the most invasive tool yet to pry into your lives.

I would LOVE to see a big company like Microsoft stand up to the government and publish a policy that states that they will not surrender the feed without a legal warrant signed by a judge. The chances of that actually happening are zero — unless Microsoft thinks it’s losing a very large amount of business due to those privacy concerns. That’s not an indictment of Microsoft, I doubt any major US corporation is ready to go to the mat with the Feds on this one.

Microsoft once more finds itself in the very familiar position of creating something that sounds really cool without considering all the consequences, much like when they put into Microsoft Office a system specifically tailored for adding executable code to Office documents. Office automation, they called it. A great time-saver. “Capital idea!” shouted the virus writers with glee. Now once more Microsoft has come up with something that is almost magic in how it works (e.g., parental controls based on the metrics of the people in the room), but those things require the camera to be on, even when you’re just watching TV.

If someone gave me a free Kinect and XBOX, I’d probably use it. But I’d be very, very careful about when the Internet connection is active. And, while exercising I’ll be sure to give it my all.

Why do You Think I Would Like That?

Got a message from YouTube today, saying they missed me terribly and wished I would *ahem* login *cough* now and then. So I did. I’m an agreeable sort of fellow.

Google, who now holds almost my entire music collection, whose business mandate is to use data about people to make money off them, suggested that I might enjoy watching the latest Beyoncé video. Or Lady Gaga, perhaps? Or maybe Justin Bieber.

Google, seriously. What the Fuck? You know all the songs I’ve listened to for the last month. Justin Bieber was notably absent. Ravonettes, 50 foot wave, Sex Pistols. Nothing remotely like the Beib came down the wire.

If you’re going to collect data about me and then try to sell me stuff, as least do it right.

Shadow of the Sun: Moving Along

So, I’m more than halfway through Shadow of the Sun now, and I’ll be finishing it. There were some things I was hoping for that did not come to pass, but there are encouraging signs.

Let’s start with the disappointments, before I get to the the plusses.

When last I wrote about this story, I was only three chapters in and we had a smart and possibly spunky young woman in a job she didn’t seem suited for on the surface but in fact might be perfect for. In short, she might have been a Stephanie Plum of supernatural investigation.

Honestly, I’m ok with Miss Plum but I’m not a diehard fan. But if you’re going to write a series based on a single character, you need to learn from Stephanie’s success. Plum is a bounty hunter from Jersey, charmingly unqualified for the job, yet able to succeed through willpower and cleverness. Most important, outside of the fantasy genre one expects a series of books that allow the character to grow but each book will be a satisfying read on its own. I had hopes that Gabriella could be a kindred spirit, someone confronted with a never-ending variety of crazy situations, and have to work each one out. Hell, you could even get a little humor out of that.

Nope. Gabby is a chosen one. Nothing particularly wrong with chosen one stories, fantasy is thick with them, but… fantasy is thick with them. It’s kind of refreshing when someone who’s only mildly exceptional gets stuck in these situations and has no power of prophesy to bail her out.

An observation: There are attractive bad guys in this story, but there are no ugly good guys. An overweight human is a nasty human.

A storytelling issue: roughly in chapter four Karen said, “We need exposition! Summon the council of Elders!” (Not quite a direct quote, but pretty close. And I will use that line someday.) The elders convene, and expose. Thank you, elders, be sure to pick up your parting gifts on the way out. Oh, and remember Ol’ bitchy? She has faded away, without elevating the story in any way. She’ll probably pop up later, but honestly setting her up ahead of time was not worth the damage she did to Gabby’s credibility. (Gabriella hates being called Gabby, but I feel like we’re pals now.)

When reading in bed, I started marking the editorial errors, which I can’t do while on the trainer (can’t hold my finger still enough). There are a lot of errors (not even counting missed-hyphenation errors, which I chose not to mark). Maybe I can send my marked-up version back to the publisher. Seems like with e-publishing they could put out a patched-up version pretty quickly. It’s nice to feel constructive but right now there are a lot of errors in front of me that should have been caught before the thing hit my reading device. Missing words, for crying out loud.

The (main) love interest: Too fucking perfect. Roll-your-eyes feminine wish-fulfillment. I hold out hope for a lot of things to improve in this story, but that’s not one of them. He will be forever perfect. (OK, maybe in book three there will be a little doubt, but I’m not likely to read book three.)

Whew! Now the good. Fewer in number but greater in magnitude. The warning by the demon-guy near the beginning may not be what it seemed. (That doesn’t explain why he wasn’t clearer with his message, though, or why he didn’t make any effort to deliver the message in a way that could possibly succeed.) Good vs evil isn’t as neatly-sliced as most people want it to be. That right there is a big win for me, and enough reason to keep me reading.

Another biggie: The pace of the story makes me think that before I reach the back e-cover of this volume something large will be resolved. We just had a big battle and a sympathetic character died. Gabby’s mysterious past is rapidly being demystified, and overall it feels like I’m reading a story that fits in the space provided. Kind of sad that “it might have an ending” is reason to push on, but this is the lot of the fantasy reader these days.

The above wouldn’t matter, but I’m actually interested in how this plays out. I get the feeling that the mystery of the extra key will not be answered this volume, and that’s ok if some other closure is achieved. But the extra key is an interesting mystery, one that implies that yet another faction might be at work. (I’m still sorting out the factions, all of whom have ‘of’ as a middle name, and many of which are fragmented and their members have no firm identity to start with and to hell with it I’ll figure out who’s bad by whom they try to kill.)

Gabby herself, despite being a chosen one, is really pretty all right. She’s discovering power, but what legitimatizes her identity is her selfless nature, her insistence that they all get out together. That’s what makes her a hero. That trait is played pretty hard a couple of times — hammered, really — but this is the reason we like ol’ Gabby. She doesn’t need any of the other shit she can do if she carries that well. (Writing challenge: create a savior of super beings who has no innate superpowers beyond inspirational leadership.) She’s showing the best of human traits even as the definition of human is being warped. We all want to have that strength.

And so I keep reading, and root for ol’ Gabby, and now I know that the author is not afraid to kill good guys, which raises the stakes (though honestly I wonder about the permanence of death in this case). There are enough snakes in the grass that you start wondering if everyone is a snake. That’s pretty fun. (I’m pretty sure I know the next snake revelation, but that’s mostly ok, as long a Gabby doesn’t seem to be willfully ignoring her own observations.)

Let’s see where this goes.

Note: if you use the above link to somehow pay for this free book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.

Call me g2-587217eb4d0b8b1710372695336f2a58

The other day I got an email notification that someone had requested a password change for my wordpress.com account. WTF? I almost never even log into wordpress.com. But, if someone knew my member name, they could try to hack my account and I assumed that this message was a result of such shenanigans. I figured an actual change of my password was in order, just to be safe.

Then I noticed the user name on the account: g2-587217eb4d0b8b1710372695336f2a58

That’s actually not my user name at wordpress.com. Someone (a robot, obviously) created an account with my email address. Huh. I logged into the fake account, changed its password so whoever created it wouldn’t get access to it, and looked around for a way to delete the account entirely. I couldn’t find one.

I know you had a snafu that led to people’s passwords being stored less securely, and therefore a spate of “reset your password” messages issued forth, but this message was absolutely not the same as those. I am fanatic about protecting my email password (as I write about here), and I have changed it recently. There is no other sign that my email account has been compromised.

I logged in as the bogus user and checked to see if any comments or posts had been made; it appeared not. So, I set the password to something ridiculous and promptly forgot it.

The only problem is, when I leave comments on people’s wordpress.com blogs, after I put in my email it auto-fills the rest with data from the bogus account.

So, two things:
1) how did there come to be an account with an email address the bad guy almost certainly didn’t have access to?
2) how can I make that bogus account go away entirely, and never bother me again?

Who DOESN’T Like Big Bundts?

Yep, it’s Bundt Cake Day! Hooray!

Check out this site all this month for all the latest bundt news.

Tonight I’ll be breaking out the camera to immortalize my own sweetie’s bundt masterpiece. Then I’ll be breaking out the fork. Yum!

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It’s All in the Light

I was watching (without sound) some show that features a guy who may (or may not) be the the showbiz illusionist Chris Angel. The show was called something like “I’ll wear anything and fight anyone to get on TV.” Nothing to do with showbiz magic. Probably-Chris Angel’s job was to chat with the other host and interview stupid people. (I assume they were stupid; I suppose they may have been discussing quantum mechanics.)

What struck me as I watched this silent farce was the remarkable brightness in Angel’s eyes compared to everyone else’s. His eyes caught the light from the camera in a way no one else’s did. Was this intentional? I don’t know. But he focussed intently into the camera, and his dark eyes did the rest. The result was that he just looked… special compared to everyone else.

Tweet!

Tonight I set up a twitter account. My twitter ID is JerrySeeger.

Why did I finally do it? Here’s my first (and to date, only) tweet, addressed to Antonio Gonzalez of the Associated Press:

@agonzalezAP setup is not a verb! In fact I set up my Twitter account just to say that. #peeve

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Shadow of the Sun – First Impression

Today I got my iPad, and the first app I loaded was Kindle. Absolutely one of the things I’ll be using this for is reading. Before I commit to paying good cash money for eBooks, however, I wanted to give a test drive with a title I didn’t have to pay for. I went to Amazon’s top 100 free books.

A surprising number of the free books are books about how to write books. I flipped through the list, and paused at Shadow of the Sun. First, that’s a good title. Second, it looked like fantasy and I like that genre. There was a respectable number of stars next to the title, and it was free. First in a series, which I’ve gone on about at length before, but I have to say that if you give me the first part free and let me decide whether I’m in for money, my anger is less intense.

[And aside here: FAIL for the newbie experience with Kindle’s iPad app. I loaded it, launched it, and poked around for fifteen minutes trying to figure out how to get a book. I read the “Welcome to Kindle” book over and over, where it promised access to 920,000 books. But how? Finally I went searching on the Interwebs and discovered that among the new “features” of the latest Kindle app for iOS was the removal of the link to the bookstore. Seems like that might be worth mentioning in the “Welcome to Kindle” message. It’s the core of the business and all. This is the kind of out-of-box startup experience that other companies get right.]

So, back to Shadow of the Sun. Speaking of out-of-the-box experience, there was a grammar error in the fourth paragraph of the prologue. I was reading on the trainer for the first time, so I thought it was just my eyes jumping that caused the sentence to parse funny. I read it again, then broke it down. Yep. Bad Grammar. Hello and welcome.

The prologue is less than a page long and is made to supply tension before a story that starts well enough on its own. Were I the editor, I’d chop it.

By “starts well enough” I mean that it’s a good setup and we get to some real shit pretty quickly. There are some problems, however. Backstory density is high, much higher than it needs to be. Gabrielle’s mysterious parentage can wait. I don’t care if she thinks she’s a good skier. The old “have your main character look in the mirror so you can describe her” trick is used. And there’s no way in hell she wouldn’t have fired her assistant by now. That’s the one piece of backstory I would have appreciated: Why is this bitch still employed? (Side bet: is she really evil or will she come thorough in the end? Really evil is favored 9:2 – my respect for this storyteller will bounce dramatically if Snoopy McBitchybritches isn’t in league with the devil.)

It occurs to me as I write this, that with my new-fangled technology I probably could have marked the grammatical errors as I read, so I could reference the choicest of them now. Not a good sign for a story when errors like that become a statistic. Were I the editor of this book, there would be fewer errors, not even counting the eschewing of the hyphen the way kids do these days. That’s an indictment of the state of publishing more than a criticism of the author, but in the current complete vacuum of editorial involvement (at least as editors), the author has no one but herself to rely on to make sure things are right.

Then there’s the whole “I work in a paranormal research facility but I can’t tell my boss what happened because he’d think I was crazy” logic. Sure, Gabrielle’s supposed to be a skeptic, but that’s the kind of reasoning a character does when she’s trying to make the story work for the writer. Generous of the character to sacrifice her credibility that way for the sake of the story. I’m willing to bet her boss will say, “You should have told me!” far too late.

We’ve met the devil now — or perhaps his lawyer — and I’m hoping he’s not as stupid as he seems. It’s all about the wheels within wheels, or at least the hope for same. Black powerful flaming-eye guy (note hyphen) comes out all big and scary and says, “don’t wake up the angels!” If I’m the devil (and you don’t know I’m not), the only reason I’d act that way is if I did want the angels to be awakened. Just calling them angels in is a blunder on the part of the bad guys; angels have had pretty good press over the centuries.

So there’s a lot of hope that the story is smart where so far there’s no reason to believe it is. Warts aside, I want this story to succeed. It’s an interesting situation, and a character I think I could like, if I got to know her more organically. I’m still reading. It’s flawed, but it might be awesome. It might be… flaw some.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this (er… free) book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.