Time for some Thrilling Heroics

As a reader I’ll forgive a lot if you give me some thrilling heroics in your story.  Doesn’t matter if it’s a book, a TV show, a play, or an audio presentation.  Give me excitement.  Give me derring-do.  Give me reason to cheer.

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Add in a love story, and you’ve got me hooked.

Sure, you don’t need to have fast-paced heroism, and clear heroes and clear villains, to involve me in a story.  But, to be honest, it’s just easier to bring me in with that kind of story.  Give me someone to root for, someone to boo, a threat faced, a challenge overcome, and I’m happy.

Does this mean that you can skimp on deep character development or involved world building.  Eh.  Not really.

The key there is thrilling heroics.  They can’t be thrilling if I don’t care about the hero, about those threatened, even bystanders along the way.  They can’t be thrilling if I don’t believe the hero, and the villain, would act the way they do.  You can get away with less depth in lesser characters because by definition they don’t do much and we only need enough to do.  If the cab driver is just taking Our Hero from the airport to the hotel we don’t need to know that he washed out of law school, went on a month long bender that broke him up with his fiance and ended up in rehab before finally starting to put his life together and getting a job driving taxi (at least he’d never had a DUI even while drunk out of his mind).  But we have to believe that Our Hero is going to charge through machine gun fire into a burning building for someone he hardly even knows.  So you’ve got to have your character developed enough that when that happens we believe it.

Likewise with world building.  I’ve got to believe the threat.  And I’ve got to believe the actions available to the character.  It can be as simple as a modern cell phone.

A good example of that is the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  In a group devoted to discussing the series someone made the comment that it was strange that Buffy and her friends (collectively known as the “Scoobies”) didn’t use cell phones to keep in touch and coordinate their actions.  However, when the series was made, particularly the first few seasons, cell phones were still high end items and not in common usage.  I didn’t have my own cell phone until the third season was out.

So if your characters have cell phones (which here is a stand-in for whatever bit of worldbuilding might affect the plot) then either have your characters use them when appropriate or give them a good reason not to.

So, develop your character.  Develop your world.  Hell, put in a “message” if that’s what you want.  But wrap it up in some thing for me to care about.

And if you succeed in that wrapper, your prose can limp a little.  I can let the occasional lapse in other aspects pass.  I’ve done it before.  I can do it for you.

So give me some thrilling heroics.

And if you can throw in a love story.  That’s good too.

And if you give me that, well, that’s the kind of thing that gets me to give you money in return.

 

Blast from the Past: Home Defense Firearms

Normally I don’t like doing back to back “blasts from the past” but this subject came up on facebook and I thought it would be worthwhile bringing it forward.

When it comes to home defense, a strong argument can be made that the best, the absolute best, weapon for defense against a home invasion is a compact semi-automatic rifle with certain, particular features.

Despite what Hollywood would have you believe, criminals often continue to function after being shot, often after being shot several times. “The dead man’s ten seconds” is a phenomenon well and long known (the phrase comes from the Civil War). The criminal may be effectively dead from the first shot, but they still have the ability to do a great deal of harm before they’re stopped. Thus, it may take multiple shots to stop them. Maybe they’ll spend their entire “dead man’s ten seconds” staring down at the hole in their chest.” Maybe it’s easy for you to bet other people’s lives that that’s how it will go down but maybe instead they’ll use that ten seconds to hurt or kill the homeowner unless distracted by, oh, other holes being put in their body from repeat shots until they do stop.

We have repeated reports of people in military theaters shooting an individual multiple times and having them continue to fight.

And that’s not even counting that robberies are often committed by more than one person. Again, local news reports suggest that the majority of home invasions involve multiple attackers.

Now, maybe in the “average” it’s over after only a couple of shots. But one can drown in a stream that “averages” 6 inches deep if one happens to step in a hole that’s 8′ deep (the rest of the stream only being 4″ or so, so the “average” comes to 6″). But multiple attackers requiring multiple shots each to put down is one of the scenarios a “civilian” may face, and this without a partner, without backup on call, with just what they can grab ready to hand.

In high stress and fear situations human beings have certain common issues. One is that fine motor skills go to hell. Simply working the action of a rifle or handgun can become a thing of fumbling when one is in fear for ones life (a necessary condition of use of lethal force in all jurisdictions in the US). Much better a simple action of “aim, pull trigger, aim, pull trigger”. Thus, semi-automatic. (Police and civilian firearms trainer and recognized expert witness on firearms matters discusses the effects of fear on ones shooting ability in his book Stressfire among others.)

When an attack comes, you can’t be sure that everyone in your household is all together. You may, for example, have to go get the kids. This doesn’t involve hunting the “bad guys.” I don’t recommend that at all. Get your family together and defend them if the bad guys come to you, but “get your family together” may require some moving around. Now, when you’re moving around, you may have to do things like open doors or work light switches. Or maybe (it’s dark, say, and this occurred after everyone was in bed) you need one hand free to hold a flashlight. Maybe you have a light mounted on your rifle but, well, you’re looking for your kids. It would be good to have a light you can shine on things without pointing your gun at them, don’t you think? (First rule of safe gun handling is treat any gun with the respect due a loaded gun but the second rule is “never point a gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy.” What that means regarding using a light mounted on your firearm to look for family members is left as an exercise for the student.) A “pistol grip” simply makes it easier to handle and keep control of the rifle in such circumstances. Also, a more “compact” design is easier to maneuver down hallways, through doors, and the like.

The attack happens at night? When you fire the muzzle flash blooms in front of you, temporarily blinding you. Who knows what can happen in the couple of seconds it takes your eyesight to recover? A flash suppressor/hider doesn’t actually suppress or hide the flash. It diverts it to the side where it interferes less with your vision allowing you to keep eyes on target allowing you to assess whether the attacker had been stopped or if you need to keep shooting, and if you do need to keep shooting you can aim rather than fire blindly (literally) and trust to luck.

A rifle is easier to aim accurately than any handgun. A centerfire rifle has more stopping power than any handgun.

Now, maybe you’re not the one available to grab the rifle.  Maybe it’s your wife (or husband if you’re a woman reading this–or whatever if you’re in a non-traditional relationship.  I won’t judge) who’s smaller than you (or larger).  Or maybe you sometimes use the rifle out in the cold while wearing heavy, thick clothing and sometimes when its warmer so you don’t have so much heavy clothes on.  A stock that can be adjusted for length helps size the rifle for easy, comfortable, accurate shooting.

Now note what I’ve just described: a compact rifle with a pistol grip, “large” capacity magazine (actually “standard” capacity since that’s what these rifles are designed for), flash hider, adjustable stock, and possibly a rail to which a light can be attached. While there’s no “shoulder thing that goes up” (Carolyn McCarthy can never be sufficiently mocked for that) what I’ve just described is an “assault weapon” per the media and folk like the Brady Campaign. (Not an “assault rifle” as defined by the military since that definition calls for fully automatic capability.)

It also happens to describe the best tool for defending your family against one of the between 4 and 40 thousand home invasions that occur every year.

How many of those 4 to 40 thousand families, many with children, are you willing to sacrifice?

Blast from the past: Stories should be fun to read

Back when I was in the Air Force, I found a book in the base book store by a guy of the name of “Dray Prescott”. The book was titled “Beasts of Antares.” Dray Prescott was actually the protagonist, the story was told first person, “As Told To” Alan Burt Akers who I much later learned was a pseudonym for the late Kenneth Bulmer.

I suppose it wasn’t “great literature” but it was fun, it had a moral hero whose primary motivation was devotion to his family (he gets thrown about the world by forces beyond his control and given tasks to complete–and complete them he does since that’s the only way he’s allowed to return back to wife and family), an effort to end slavery on his adopted world, and unite the “civilized” portion of the world to prepare to stave off a potentially civilization-destroying invasion that’s on the way.

Dray was a sailor from late 19th Century Earth, transported to the world of Kregan, around the double star system of Antares making this a tale in the “sword and planet” mold pioneered by Edgar Rice Burroughs and others.

Dray gets caught in a complicated rivalry between two forces, both nominally forces for “good”, the Savanti (humans with some advanced capabilities mixed with sword-swinging adventures) and the Everonye or “Star Lords” who are something else.

The “diffs” that populate Kregen are often little more than humans with an animal head or an extra pair of arms and given to being little more than “racial stereotypes” might make purists cringe. Still, when Bulmer pulled one of the various “diffs” out of the background and made them a character of significance the main characters often learned that there was more to them than just the stereotype of their race.

Although the science is dubious at best, with birds and related animals large enough to carry humans in flight and mixes of minerals that can be used to create anti-gravity airships, other aspects of the story show a remarkable degree of research and thought.

Beasts of Antares, my first exposure to the series, was the 23rd of 38 books that were originally released in the US. (Books originally released in Germany carried the series to 52 volumes.) I bought every book from #23 through to the end and, a few years ago, made a point of completing my collection with the US released versions. I learned at the time that a web site had been releasing ebooks of the later volumes in English but had gone defunct.

Well, just recently I discovered that most of the series (through volume 45) has been released in electronic and paper format. They had plans to do the rest but apparently that’s not happening

So, I have the first “cycle”, starting with volume 1, “Transit to Scorpio” on my iPod Touch and am thoroughly enjoying it.


It all starts here:

Feeding the Active Writer: Shredded pork with mushrooms and gravy

This is another simple recipe.  It can be eaten as is as a thick, meaty stew, over vegetables, or if you’re not on a low carb diet over potatoes or noodles.

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 lbs pork loin, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup chopped onion (about 1 large)
  • 8 oz. coarsely chopped portabella mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp xantham gum
  • 1 14 oz can beef broth
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Add the pork loin, onion, and mushrooms to a 4-5 quart slow cooker.  Sprinkle the xantham gum over the top of it.  Pour the liquids over the top of that.

Cook on low 8-10 hours.

Stir.  The pork should just fall apart into shreds.  If it does not, remove any larger chunks and pull them apart using two forks.  Add the pulled pork back into the pot and stir together.

Enjoy.

Wonder Woman

I was almost going to give this movie a pass considering the problems I had with the previous installments in the “DC Movie Universe.”  However, friends whose opinion I had reason to trust had spoken highly of it (and, okay, I’ll admit that the offense, and the nature of that offense, taken by certain people added an incentive to see it).

I’m glad I did.  See this movie!

They use a framing sequence of Diana (Wonder Woman) Prince in the modern world receiving a package from Wayne Enterprise.  In the package is a picture from WWI showing Wonder Woman standing with a group of others and a note from Bruce Wayne saying “maybe someday you’ll tell me the story.”  The bulk of the movie, then, is one long extended flashback.

I’m not a big fan of that kind of framing sequence.  I can see why the creators of the movie would want to tie the events taking place in the DCU past to those of the present day but, frankly, I think it was unnecessary.  The story is quite capable of standing on its own.

I’ve heard some people complain about changing the setting of Wonder Woman’s origin from the time of World War II to that of World War I.  However, the reason the origin was originally set in that time was because it was contemporary to when the stories were written.  They weren’t going back in time.  It was happening “now” for the readers and writers.  There’s no real reason to tie the origin of the movie universe to the same as the comic book universe any more than we need to have the origins of Superman and Batman set in the later days of the Great Depression.  Superman and Batman’s origins have been moved to the present day.  And they kept a “historical” perspective by keeping Wonder Woman’s origin in the past.  World War I is largely untapped for superhero stories.  I think the result works.

The story takes a little bit of time to set up as we’re introduced to Diana, Hyppolyta, and the other denizens of Themiscyra, Paradise Island.  But once Steve Trevor arrives at the island the pace goes into hyperdive picks up and doesn’t slow down until the end.  Oh, there are a couple of pauses to let you catch your breath, but only that.

I found myself jerked out of the story once for a plot hole big enough to drop me out of the story.  Given Trevor’s stated starting point in the Ottoman Empire, the maximum range of the plane he was flying, and the possibly locations for Themiscyra that produces, they seemed to make it to London awfully fast.  This gave me a “wait a minute” moment.  Then I shrugged and decided I didn’t really care.

Oh, and as for the “big bad” of the movie.  I called it pretty early on but I’m not going to spoil that here.

The climax was very poignant and moving.  Indeed, there were a number of points in the movie where I got kind of misty, which is unusual for me in a superhero movie.  I can be as sentimental as the next guy but that’s not usually a reaction I have to the superhero genre.

All in all, an excellent movie which I can highly recommend.

Reviewing covers and book descriptions.

I’ve been taking some time to look over some of my older releases particularly those whose sales have been lower than expected while yet drawing good reactions from folk who did read them.  Sometimes a bad cover or bad book description can drag a book down.

People really do, after all, judge a book by its cover.

Case in point my novelette The Spaewife.

We started with the cover:

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And the description:

A young mother hears the Norns. They tell her of terrible things to come. When Ulfarr wants her gift of prophesy to serve him, he takes her and steals away her children. Can the young mother escape from Ulfarr’s clutches and save her children from him? Only the Norns know.

Recently, the cover was described as “looks like a craft book from the 70’s”.  The font used for title and byline were also problematic.

Ouch.

Other complaints were that the person looking at it didn’t know what a “Spaewife” was. Question was:  “what’s a spae?” Also, they noted that a person unfamiliar with Norse myth might not know who the Norns were and, in general, the description confuses rather than entices.

So, first order of business was a new cover:

Spaewife v3 web

Although the building styles and the cross peeking out from behind the right side of the woman’s head are anachronistic for the story, this cover does more clearly say “fantasy” than the old one.  The font is bolder and more easily legible even at thumbnail sizes.

The new cover has been uploaded, but Amazon can take up to three days before it shows up online.

Next came the new description or “blurb”:

What can a Spaewife do, when even the gods are against her and the future she foresees is full of horrors?
For years Katla Gudmarsdottir told no one of the things the Norns, controllers of fate, told her were coming. She shared forecastings of when to plant and when to harvest and other simple things, but not the dread visions the Norns gave her.
Now Ulfarr, the Foul one, has kidnapped her and holds her children hostage for her foretelling.
And alone, forsaken even by the Norns, Katla must save herself, her children and her people.

Here we make things a bit more clear.  We are given an idea what a Spaewife is.  The Norns are introduced to those who do not know what they are.  And we are given the problem she faces in stark terms.

And so we have a much better presentation to help people who might enjoy the story find it.  Which, in the end, is the goal of marketing, to bring together products and people who appreciate those projects.

And if this is a product you might like, you can find it here (sorry:  as I said it can take a few days for Amazon to update the cover image and they’ve still got the old one):

$2.99 on Kindle, Always free to read on Kindle Unlimited.

We are the others

I am a member of a select group.  There are few if any benefits to membership.  Indeed, being a member can expose one to considerable difficulty and persecution.  And yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I am a member of the group of people that author Sarah A. Hoyt calls “odds”.  We’re people that don’t quite fit in, that look at the world differently from others.  It includes “geeks” and “nerds” but is not limited to them.  It includes folk on the Autism spectrum but, again, is not limited to them.  It can include people in various “subcultures” but once again is not limited to them.

So how do you tell an odd?  It’s actually relatively simple:  he or she (or however you want to count it) in a gathering of people that’s not a gathering of odds (like, say a Science Fiction convention) will be the one off by himself, or with a small gathering of like-minded odds.  If there’s something “everybody’s doing”, the odd will be doing something else.  Oh, sometimes the odd’s interests will become fashionable for a time.  Some will complain about this.  Some won’t.  Odds are very much individuals only united in not fitting in with the “mainstream”.

How an I odd?  Let me count the ways.

  • Geek/nerd.  What’s the difference?  Damned if I know.  I’ve seen several definitions attempting to define the distinction.  Several mutually exclusive and contradictory definitions.  In any case the first book I remember reading was “You will go to the moon” by Ira M. Freeman and Mae Blacker Freeman, the first edition with illustrations base on Von Braun’s Collier’s series, not the later edition with illustrations based on Project Apollo.  The first TV series I remember watching was Lost in Space in its first run, followed by Star Trek, The Outer Limits, and UFO.  I lived science fiction and–once a friend introduced me to The Hobbit while I was in High School–fantasy.
  • Physical late bloomer.  Oh, this was a source of misery growing up.  I was always the physically weak/slow one in school (many years later I figured out that I was basically running one years behind my peers).  Late start to puberty.  As a result the one always picked on.
  • Conservative/libertarian philosophy.  Even as a child I tended to favor a more libertarian approach although it was only later that I learned the words to describe what I believed.  Of course Heinlein books like Red Planet and Have Space Suit, Will Travel (my favorite book to this day) pushed me in that direction.  It’s the “libertarian” part that pushes me into “odd”.  Both conservatives and liberals tend to look questionably at us.  But it’s especially the case when combined with some of the other things on this list.
  • Writer.  I don’t just read/watch this science fiction and fantasy stuff.  I write it.
  • Goth (ish–or maybe “Goth lite”).  As I have mentioned here and there I discovered my “inner Goth” rather late in life after years spent attempting to be something I’m not in an effort to be attractive to the opposite sex (yes, I’m unreservedly heterosexual but that’s not an “odd” characteristic so not part of the list).
  • Physicist.  It’s not physicist itself that makes me an “odd” but how I got here.  I did math and science problems for fun.  Sports?  Fashion?  Never mind those, give me a good physical theory to explore every time.

Any one of those would be enough to make me “not fit”.  Together?  The intersection of those sets is very small indeed, let me tell you.  I have yet to meet one other.

But those are really just symptoms.  Being “an odd” is something else.  Folk can generally spot the odd from an early age.  I was identified as “something different” from a very early age indeed–first grade (I never attended Kindergarten) so pretty much from the first time I was put in a significant social environment.

Because that’s one of the things about odds.  We tend to be bull-in-a-china shop when it comes to social situations.  That leads to bad experiences, which often leads to retreating from social situations.  That’s certainly how it worked for me.  Oh, I can be “on” when I’m doing a panel at a science fiction convention or on stage in other contexts, but otherwise?  I’m that guy in the corner at the party playing with the dog (or the cat–I’m easy to get along with that way).  And if you approach me?  Well, expect either short, rather abrupt answers because I don’t know what to say, or long diatribes on some subject also because I don’t know what to say.

I’m The Writer in Black.  And I’m an odd.  It has been 37 days since my last in-person social interaction not involving employment or my immediate family.

And on that note, a musical interlude: