Jack of All Trades?

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A Slice of OrangeI am the guest blogger on “A Slice Of Orange” this month – I’m writing about the existential angst of having too much experience spread out over too many areas -Enjoy!
Please visit this unique and inspiring site, filled with interesting insights from a wide selection of authors.

Help! I Need A New Slogan!

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help_geraltIn 2014, I published my first novel, Pindlebryth of Lenland. When I flog this and all my other books, I tout Pindlebryth as:

Narnia meets The DaVinci Code meets Jason Bourne; All the characters are animals, but it’s not for children; Swords & sorcery, political intrigue and backstabbing aplenty!”

At that time, a wonderful marketing adviser who goes by the moniker SuzyQ, came up with my current slogan “Warm & Fuzzy Mayhem!” It accurately reflected the spirit of Pindlebryth, and the novels yet to come in our hero’s continuing saga.

Since then, I have branched out into almost every direction in the Speculative Fiction world: Science Fiction, Horror, Fantasy, Strange Tales and even Fairie Tales. Suffice it to say my slogan needs an update.

But I’m stuck. Marketing has never been my strong point.
Here’s a few ideas that have popped into my head, but don’t quite hit the mark.

Don’t Let Your Skin Crawl Too Far Away
From Mirthful Macabre to Malevolent Mayhem
Wonders and Terrors that Delight and Astonish
Defy the Unknown

So here’s the deal.
This is an open call to come up with my next slogan/tagline. If I select your catchphrase, or if it inspires me to craft my own final result, I’ll award that person with a signed copy of the latest publication containing two of my short stories, the Bethlehem Writers Group‘s anthology of the Paranormal (and Finalist in Killer Nashville‘s Silver Falchion Award), “Untethered.”

Leave your suggestions as comments to this blog by Halloween (10/31/19), and best of luck to us both!
Ready, set… Write!BWG_Untethered_Front_Cover

 

The (Table) Games People Play – Episode 3

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Oh, I wish I had a game vault like this! But I am, however, thankful for my co-volunteers on OTAKON Staff, who are constantly turning me on to new table games. I would not be surprised if one or more of these friends have stashes larger than the one depicted here.

I’ve written before about my preference for games that are a step above the plain vanilla challenges like Risk or Monopoly, so I won’t bore you with that again. Instead, here’s my compendium of the table games I have played to date, with my ratings and comments. The new games added to the list are: Azul, Clank!, Galaxy Trucker, Gizmos, Kane Gawa, Onitama, Suburbia, and Terraforming Mars. I haven’t added any card games, so check out this post for those ratings.

As with any opinion, your mileage may vary. Play on!

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And when you’re finished. Top off a night of fun with one of my books! HINT HINT!my2books

Is Ignorance Bad?

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If someone calls us “ignorant,” our usual response is not kind. That’s because, in its typical modern use, the speaker intended it as an insult.

But is being ignorant, in of its own nature, bad? If one considers the actual meaning of the word, the answer is “No.”
I am ignorant of a ton of stuff.
So are you.
But are you or I flawed, inferior, or evil because of that status?

While being ignorant is certainly undesirable and possibly embarrassing in most situations, it is by no means evil, or a sign of a character flaw.
It simply means – “We don’t know.”

Consider the judge who declares “Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” during a proceeding. The judge is not handing down a reflection on that person’s intellect or moral character. What is being pointed out is that the person does not possess necessary knowledge, or is not properly prepared.

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What is, however, an undeniably serious character flaw is “willful ignorance.”
It is hubris in its worst form.
It is the root of all blind allegiances to causes evil and stupid.

I often hear in my circle of acquaintances, “The more I learn, the less I know.”
That saying is attributed to Socrates, Einstein, and everybody in between. But it is absolutely true. As one discovers more about the world around us, it is the most self-evident of all truths. Falling into the false security that one is absolutely right is akin to reaching a mountaintop and screaming “I have done it all,” only to spot the next higher mountain range in the distance.

I certainly don’t claim to know everything.
And anyone who does, has pointed themselves out as a world-class idiot — though you will almost never hear someone so buffoonish to actually declare “I know everything!” It’s usually couched in such phrases as “I know more than…” or “You don’t know anything.”

I am ignorant. So are you.
But it is how we respond to the realization of ignorance that defines us.
Remain open to learning.
Remain teachable.

A Review of My Reviews

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reviews_starsI make it a point to file reviews on Goodreads and Amazon for every book that I read. Sometimes I file reviews under my own name, sometimes under an alias. With a little embarrassment, I admit there have been instances when I have posted a review more than a year after I’ve read said book.
But I do file that review.

As an author, it would be hypocritical of me to curse the world for not filing reviews of my own books, then turn around and not file my own reviews of others’ books.

And as much as I despise hypocrisy, I embrace rigorous honesty.
I still remember the exact moment the brilliant thought “If I don’t lie, I won’t have to remember what lies I’ve told” occurred to my thirteen-year-old brain. I thought I was oh-so clever, until I discovered Mark Twain beat me to the punch by more than a century. Oh well, at least I can take solace that I think like Mr. Clemens!

Nevertheless, I try to practice rigorous honesty — though some might say it’s more like brutal honesty. For example, I once told an ex-girlfriend that I was a better cook.
True? Absolutely. Necessary to say that? Well… maybe.

When it comes to my book reviews however, I won’t quibble. I will not freely give out 5-star reviews. They are reserved for those books that left a mark on the core of my being, books that helped define my writing style, and books that I have read again and again. Less than 10% of the books I’ve read are awarded a 5-star rating. And in a true Gaussian distribution, that’s the way it should be!

It greatly disturbs me when readers blithely hand out 5-stars like jelly beans, often with the comment “I liked it.” Really? Do you not understand that the 3-star rating is explicitly tagged “Liked it”? Believe you me, if I give a 3-star rating, that’s exactly what I intended to say: “I liked it.”

At the lower end of the spectrum, if I dole out a 2-star or, Heaven forbid, a 1-star rating, rest assured that I believe the author truly had it coming, and am willing to explain why. That’s rigorous honesty, Buster. The comments I leave with my reviews hopefully prove my passionate honesty for 5-star ratings, and dispassionate surgical honesty for 1-star ratings.

I only hope that when readers file reviews of my own books, they rate them (and comment) with similar honesty. How else am I going to learn, adapt and improve?

So if you have read my books, please file a review!

Oops! Did My Face Say That?

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reinach_cropI have little control over my facial expressions. My eyes will bug out when I hear unbelievable claims. I hardly ever go to amateur musical performances, because I grimace whenever I detect a flat note or off-kilter sound.

I like to believe I am more self-aware than most. I am cognizant of every facial twitch, every sigh, every click of the tongue, every angling of my eyebrows.
It’s only my self-control that is lacking! The instinct to rein in my facial commentary comes too slowly.

Sorry, Mr. Politician, I didn’t mean to roll my eyes at your blatant exaggeration! Nor did I mean to flash that death’s-head rictus at your stupefying claim, Ms. Spokesperson.

It’s this self-awareness that also gets me in trouble with my writing.
Take for example my latest novel, the working title of which is “My Friend Jackson”. It’s a gritty YA urban fantasy/horror, dealing with Jasmine, an inner-city girl tormented by bullying, and the monster that comes unbidden to help her. All written in “Deep 3rd Person” — I’m the little angel/devil on her shoulder, observing what she observes, with the occasional peek into her thoughts.

I rely on my self-awareness to model and portray Jasmine’s thoughts, her fears, her likes and dislikes, and the myriad of angst-driven emotions that fill a teenager’s mind. What frustrates me, is that whenever I describe our heroine’s reactions, well-meaning critiquers circle it in red with the warning “You’ve changed POV!” (Point of View).

Consider these examples when I describe Jasmine’s actions: “she bared her front teeth in a weak snarl,” or “she pulled down her collar, exposing the yellowed bruise.”
I will get at least one “Bad POV!” response, inevitably backed up with the reasoning: “She can’t see her own face.”

And yet these same critics don’t bat an eyelash at the protagonist “raising her eyebrows.”
Wait a cotton-pickin’ minute!
She can’t see her own forehead– so why is the former a no-no, but the latter example is okay?
Riddle me THAT, Batman!

My stance is that the character must be allowed to be aware of their own body.
You want proof? There’s a scientific name for this phenomenon – proprioception. This is the body’s mechanism to know the position, actions and state of any part of the body without looking at it.

And everybody has it. For example, proprioception allows us to touch our nose with our finger, even when our eyes are closed (assuming we’re not tipsy!). Many neurologists refer to proprioception as “the body’s Sixth Sense.”

Proprioception is the sense that allows the character to know, without seeing:
– whether their own cheeks dimple or not,
– whether they raise one or both eyebrows,
– whether a bruised area is exposed or not,
– how far one sticks out their tongue at POV critics,
– whether their hand behind their back is crossing its fingers, or flipping POV critics the bird.

Writers often serve up the following advice – “Use all five senses.” I heartily agree, but let’s go one further — I feel writers are allowed to use all SIX senses.

I therefore plant my flag – it is valid to write anything that can be sensed by the character’s proprioception.

“So there!” he said, followed by a flash of his incisors.

Keep an eye on my Facebook author page for developments on “My Friend Jackson.”bibi_and_dragon

Walking into a Minefield

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I have finished my latest novel, “My Friend Jackson,” and am currently in the process of pitching the book to agents.
However, once published, I suspect I shall be walking directly into a minefield.

I’ve been working feverishly over Jackson for one-and-a-half years. It is a gritty YA urban fantasy/horror telling the events spanning a week in the life of Jasmine, an inner city teen girl — as she struggles against psychological, emotional, physical and cyber abuse at the hands of her high school peers.

I’ve never quite fully understood how the maxim “write what you know” applies to writing speculative fiction (sci-fi, strange tales, horror, etc.). How does one exactly know the world of monsters, spirits, artificial intelligence, angels & demons, and so on? How does one claim expertise over The Inexplicable?

Maybe that explains why I am courageously (and possibly foolishly) venturing into this No-Man’s-Land (pun intended) of girl-on-girl bullying. If that weren’t enough of a challenge, the heroine of the story is a teenager of color. So of course it makes perfect sense that a much-older-than-teenage white male author write about such topics and protagonists!?

I have had long conversations with agents, like Arara Hoshijo, who have forewarned me of the current sensitivity over cultural appropriation.
I’ve been advised by her and others that perhaps I should write the book under a pseudonym. That seems counterproductive, if not just plain disingenuous and cowardly. If I’m destined to take heat for such a project as Jackson, imagine how much worse it will be when its readership discovers I’ve hoodwinked them?
Thank you, no. I prefer my honesty straight up.

So – a few words of explanation.

At heart, I’ve always loved to learn.
As a writer, I learn by reading and writing.
My first defense is that if I don’t explore this undiscovered country of experiences outside my own small sphere of gender and race by research and writing, how else can I learn?

This whole work had been inspired by Rosalind Wiseman’s profound study Queen Bees and Wannabees. Much of her analysis of the dynamics of girl bullies is reflected in Jackson.
And what little familiarity that I can claim on the topic of diversity comes from my decades-long work experience at AT&T Bell Labs. I worked and partied with people from all over the world — China, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Czechoslovakia, Portugal, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Columbia — while learning and appreciating their similarities and differences.
Truth be told, I sorely miss my days with that crew. I may not be fully “woke,” but I’m trying the best way I know how. Maybe the result will be me having a better handle on it than most. Only time will tell.

And lastly — Why did I choose this protagonist and her environment? I didn’t — the monster in the story did.

If you want to see a smattering of how these experiences have already influenced my writing, visit my webpage, or my author page on Amazon.

If you have any advice that might help me navigate the perilous path ahead of me, please comment or email me. For example, any words of wisdom on a new term I learned this past weekend at a writers’ conference — a sensitivity reader, and how to choose one.

What Ever Happened to Hippie Jane?

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what_happened_1969_2019“The median age of the Fox News viewer was 68” in 2018 — so quoth Google from that year’s Nielsen ratings.

Let’s step into our Wayback Machine, and consider the “Summer of Love.”
Doing the math, we find that today’s average Fox News viewer would have been 19 in that halcyon year of 1969 – the perfect age to be drafted and shipped off to fight in Vietnam, yet still not yet old enough to vote. In other words, the exact age to represent the typical disenfranchised  “Flower Child”.

So here’s my question — How did the generation that actively took part in “Drop Out, Tune In, Turn On”, chanted “Trust no one over 30,” embraced Free Love and Flower Power, and loathed everything associated with authority, turn into the Ugly American beating the drum of ultra-conservatism?

Truly I say unto you, the child grew into the thing they most hated.

I’m not just postulating hypotheticals here. I have a close relative who is the poster-child for this metamorphosis. In 1969, he was a hippie, lived in a commune, read Marx and Lenin, had a ponytail down to his waist, and was arrested for marijuana possession (in an era when such a thing was a truly scandalous societal Scarlet Letter).  Today, he is a devout follower of all things Fox, Breitbart, and who-knows-what-else, often proselytizing the Gospel According to Glenn Beck.
But he is not the only one I’ve observed this startling transformation – not by a longshot.

So, what causes this reversal of behavior in so many of that fabled generation?
Is it Stockholm Syndrome run rampant on a society-wide basis?
Were they so disgusted with their failure to change the world, they decided “if ya can’t beat ’em, join ’em”?
Is it enantiodromia, a Jungian mental illness that causes a person to become their polar opposite?

I don’t have an answer to the question I pose.
I wish I did, but I don’t.
I merely post this to point out my latest unsettling observation.

Whatever the reason, it’s quite probable I’ll work it into one of my books. I’m already working on the follow-up collection of strange tales to “If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep.” Stay tuned – it might show up there!If_I_Cant_Sleep_v3

Gotta Darwin ‘Em All!

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No deep thoughts this time around.
No discussions of things philosophical or metaphysical.
No diatribes over the craft of writing.
Just a bit of fun.

Last week, I had a book signing with A.E.Decker, who whiled away the slow spots with the iPhone version of Pokémon Go. After having a guilty chuckle over that addictive electronic version of crack cocaine, several questions came to mind:

  • How many people have hurt themselves walking into traffic in an attempt to “catch ’em all”?
  • Is the game a nefarious social experiment of Darwinism in Action, culling the genetic pool of those silly enough to walk obliviously, phone in hand, into dangerous situations?
  • Why haven’t Anonymous or other groups hacked the game, placing Pokémon critters at entirely inappropriate locations and situations?

That last question lit the fuse to both our twisted imaginations. We spent the next quarter of an hour rattling off a host of “Places We’d Like To See Pokémon.”

  • A house of ill repute
  • A funeral parlor
  • 1000 ft above the deepest point in The Grand Canyon
  • Under a SpaceX rocket 5 minutes before blast-off
  • The killing floor of a slaughterhouse
  • NORAD headquarters
  • The bottom of Niagara Falls
    Oh, we had plenty more, but that’s all I remember…

Well, people – I’d love to hear your ideas as well! Leave a comment if one comes to mind.

If mirthful macabre thoughts like this are your bread and butter, then you’d certainly enjoy If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep. A.E.Decker’s review favorably compares my dastardly tales to those of Roald Dahl. High praise indeed!If_I_Cant_Sleep_v3