Friday, January 18, 2019

Rules Don't Apply

So yeah this is another one of my war stories from Critique Circle.  Deal with it!  (Which you'll probably do by not reading this or most other entries.  Very clever strategy!)

This one person bought some program that's supposed to help with grammar and junk.  For fun he/she put in a chapter from a bestseller to see how it'd work.  Here are the results:
I am in the middle of a two-week trial of ProWritingAid and am really enjoying it. It is very helpful to see stats on things like pronouns, passive writing, number of adverbs, sticky words, dialogue, pacing, etc.
 Just for run, I typed in chapter 2 of The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (runaway bestseller from a few years ago) and ran the review on it. The chapter was almost 2,400 words. Here's what stands out.
 For those of you who are not familiar with ProWritingAid, the software gives your writing a score on a scale of 1-100 in various categories (grammar, style, readability, etc.) It considers the target to be anything above 80. Anything at 80 or below is considered below the standard and needs work. The Nightingale got scores of 73 (style), 55 (grammar), 77 (readability - Flesch scale) and 67 (overall). Wow. Ms. Hannah needs a serious editor (just kidding).
 It also has other benchmarks, such as average sentence length (it consider 11 words or better as the goal) and sentence variety. Her average sentence was 13.2 words, and her variety got a score of 7.0 (anything above 3 is good).
 She used a whopping 15 adverbs!! Rap her knuckles with a ruler. She had nine sticky sentences (too many glue words; recommended target is 0) and a glue index of 45.1% (target is 40% or lower).
 The chapter was 7.8% dialogue, and 34.6% of it was considered "slow pacing" - i.e. scene setting, internals, etc. The software didn't set benchmarks for either of those categories.
 Her pronoun score was 8.8% (target range 4-15%) and her initial pronoun usage (i.e. sentences that start with a pronoun) was 26.7% (target less than 30%).

So for the most part this wonderful program said this book was mediocre at best.  Yet it was a bestseller!  Which to me means all those "rules" they tell you are full of crap.

For whatever reason this one moron who's been trying to sell a stupid book about living teddy bears or whatever (It's totally not like Toy Story or anything!) took personal offense at my comment.  I suspect the reason is she bought this program and probably thought it would make her into a bestselling author.

Well it turns out from this person's experiment that bestselling books don't follow the standards of this program.  So maybe this program isn't the best for deciding what's good writing.  Hence maybe the moron with the teddy bear book got cheated.  Like many people though she couldn't really fight with facts because the facts are right there in black and (whatever background color).  Sure the book passed some of the tests, but not most of them.  She said:
Considering you haven't tried the software to see what it does, it's more proof you prefer to judge stuff before, than proof of what it does or doesn't do.
Which whether I bought the program or not is irrelevant.  I wasn't judging the program; I was judging the results of the program.

So then we had a little back-and-forth:
HER:  And, it said, point-by-point, she nailed it.
ME:  Actually it said the opposite if you bothered to read the post.
HER:  No, it said that only if you're clueless about the program. Once in a while, learn what you're talking about before posting.

How dumb is this chick?  I mean do I have to draw it out for her?  According to her precious program this bestselling book was not great.  It failed to meet standard after standard.  But it sold anyway.  Meaning those standards are bullshit.  It's really not that hard to follow, is it?  You don't need a degree in accounting like me to figure it out, do you?

Like I said, I think she had too much personally invested in the program to admit it's really not that important.  Bottom line to me is that "rules" even when they're espoused by agents, editors, or bestselling authors like Stephen King, are bunk.  What matters is whether someone thinks he/she can sell your book.  And that is why you fail, not because of some stupid program.  While I'm using a Star Wars quote, Luke blew up the Death Star because he turned off the targeting computer and used the Force; he relied on himself and not the machine.  Think about it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Importance of Self-Reliance

The first time Bill Shatner appeared on The Twilight Zone was in this episode where he and his new bride are on the road in Ohio when their car breaks down.  While waiting for the car to be fixed, they go to this diner that has these little devil-shaped napkin dispensers that for a penny spit out a fortune.  After a couple of these fortunes seem to come true, Shatner's character becomes obsessed with the thing until his wife finally pulls him out of there to live their own lives again.  As soon as they leave, another couple comes in who have become completely enslaved to the fortune telling napkin dispenser.

In writing critique groups there are quite a few people who seem to be like the latter couple; they seem completely unable to make decisions on their own.  This post about "medieval research" is a good illustration:
1. What sort of surnames should I give them? C is a Princess and S is a Lady.

2. As C is a Princess and S a Lady, will they even be able to see each other? Usually princesses have duties to attend to and things like that (and the same goes for the Lady), so how will I fit this into the story?

3. At what age were women in those days supposed to marry at? I'm not planning to write a romance!

4. Were princesses and ladies even literate?

5. I'm making a fictional town in England. What sort of name should I give it?

6. Also, referencing back to question 2, what kind of duties do they have?
It seems so lazy.  You can't even go on Wikipedia for ten minutes to research some of this?  You can't Google medieval surnames?  Nah, random Internet people spoon feed me some answers.

Even better, here's another one:
I am trying to write a character who moved from Las Vegas to the mountains in western North Carolina. I'd like her to have some kind of experience with casinos, either as an employee or patron, or maybe just someone who knows general stuff about casinos but eschews patronizing them herself. Any information about casinos would be much appreciated. I've been to a Harrah's casino once with friends and we played the slots, but I don't feel that gives me enough experience and information to properly flesh out this character.
I can't look up casino stuff on the Internet or even turn on Ocean's 11 or the literally hundreds of other movies about casinos.  Nah, tell me...stuff about casinos.  What stuff?  I dunno, stuff.  Whatever.  I mean, come on, you should at least know whether your character worked at a casino or not.  Narrow it down a little for Pete's sake.  Throw me a fricking bone here!

Another one this person couldn't figure out how to interrupt a conversation.  Really?  There are literally dozens of ways you can break up a conversation on the street.  Here's a list I threw together in a couple of minutes.
They're outside so there's any number of things that can happen: Purse snatcher, someone's dog gets loose (or just a stray dog or other animal), a flasher, a drunk, some acquaintance shows up, reverend of their church walks by, soldiers march past, and so on.
It's the 18th Century but I think most of those can still work.  Instead of listening to me this moron gets blathering with some other newb who can only think of a medical thing, it rains, or a horse gets loose.  Well I can't do those because...so don't!  I just gave you a bunch of things that aren't that!  It's really not as hard as you're making it seem!

But more to the point, people like this seem like they can't make any decisions on their own.  What should I name them?  How can I fit stuff into my story?  What are casinos?  How can I interrupt a conversation?  Maybe you should try to figure it out for yourself.  It is supposed to be YOUR story.  If I'm making all the calls for you then it's MY story, not yours.  Or if you're crowd-sourcing everything then it's still not your story; it's everyone else's but yours.

One good thing about being over 40 is I didn't use the Internet until I was graduating high school.  So I'd already been writing stories for about five years.  They weren't good stories necessarily, but it still helped me gain some self-reliance.  If I wanted to ask people about what to name characters or whatever, I'd have needed to do it in person.  Nowadays with this new-fangled Internet it's so easy to ask people to make decisions that these newbies don't learn to rely on themselves.  And gods forbid you tell them to that because then you're a mean ol' bully.

But if you don't learn to rely on yourself for answers you're like that couple in the Twilight Zone who have to keep asking the fortune teller machine to tell them what to do.  In the end your story should be your story, not Bob's story or Fred's story or Grumpy Bulldog's or whoever else's.  Learn to sink or swim on your own and only use writing groups as a last resort.

And for fuck's sake, learn to Google!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Man in the High Castle Season 3 Features Slow Burns and Big Twists

Season 3 of Amazon's Man in the High Castle came out last September or so and I watched it last fall.  As a recap, the series takes place in the early 60s in an America where the Axis won WWII and split the USA between the Nazis and Japanese, with the Rockies as the dividing line basically.  In the first season a woman named Juliana Crane is given a film that shows our universe where the Allies won.  This is distributed by the "Man in the High Castle" and shortly after Juliana gets the film, her sister is killed by the Japanese.  Meanwhile a German double agent named Joe Blake joins up with her to find the source of these films.  In New York, Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith is trying to track down the Man in the High Castle.  In Japan the just as evil detective Kido is trying to find Juliana.

In season 2 Juliana found out that the Man in the High Castle was a guy named Hawthorne Abdensen (Stephen Root) who's being given these films by "travelers" from other dimensions.  Such a traveler is the Japanese trade minister, who goes to our universe where Juliana is married to his son, who hates him for being too old school.  Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler finally dies and Joe Blake is recruited by his father to help him take power.  But Smith is on the other side and helps stop Joe and his father and installs Heimrich Himmler into power.  But back in New York, his son surrenders to authorities because he has some genetic disorder (like MS or something) that means in the Nazi world he has to be put down.  At the end of the season, Juliana is visited by her sister while her former boyfriend blows up the Japanese police headquarters in San Francisco and is dead--so we think.

The first episode of season 3 helps to recap the prior season and it just kind of tells you where everyone is.  Juliana and her sister stay with the Man in the High Castle on a ranch in Colorado.  Joe Blake is in a Nazi prison, being "reeducated."  The only way he can get out is to kill his own father, which he does.  John Smith has a new job (with some other long German word for it) and a new Manhattan apartment, but his wife is not taking the death of their son well.  There's tension between the Germans and Japanese with the Nazis cutting off oil supplies to the Japanese.  The trade minister has to find some way to get the flow going again to avert war.

After killing his father, Joe Blake is assigned by Himmler to kill Nazi defectors in Japan who were part of a project to build a device to traverse the multiverse.  Juliana has some dreams about this multiverse and starts seeing memories of her lives in other dimensions.  In one she's taken to a mine by the Nazis, including Joe Blake, who shoots her.  When Nazi agents raid the ranch in Colorado, Juliana and her sister go into Japanese territory, where they're captured by Kido until the trade minister springs them and takes them to his house.  Juliana's sister soon goes back to the dimension she came from, one where Juliana was dead instead of her.

Joe kills a former Nazi scientist and retrieves the plans for the device, which has some German name.  Then he meets Juliana again and she finds the plans among his stuff and realizes what it's for from her visions.  And then comes one of the first big twists:  Juliana locks herself in a bathroom and when Joe bursts in after her, she slits his throat with a straight razor.  To which I shouted, Damn!  That was totally unexpected.  Down goes Joe!

Meanwhile, John Smith is facing a crisis.  His boss, the Reichsmarshal, is worried Smith will take his spot so he has J Edgar Hoover (who works for the Nazis) digging up dirt on Smith's attempts to get his son taken to South America so he wouldn't have to be killed.  The Reichsmarshal brings Smith in to see Himmler, planning to expose him but then another twist:  Smith has gotten to Hoover (presumably with pictures of Hoover's cross-dressing) and turned the tables on the Reichsmarshal.  And so Smith does get the guy's job.  In a Godfather-like twist, the former Reichsmarshal goes to Cuba where an assassin hired by Smith kills him.

Now that she has the plans for the machine, Juliana goes to Colorado again with a former resistance fighter named Wyatt Price to get some fake IDs to get into Nazi territory.  There she meets her boyfriend Frank's assistant Ed who's shacking up with some guy and she finds out that Frank is alive!  He's living in the mountains with some Jews hiding from the Nazis.  He's even had a bar mitzvah.  Part of his face was burned in the bombing the previous season so he looks kind of like Two-Face.  They spend a night or two before Juliana and Wyatt head east to the Poconos in Pennsylvania.

In Nazi territory, Himmler and company have declared it "Year Zero."  As part of this celebration they're destroying US landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial, the Liberty Bell, and even the Statue of Liberty.  There's a young German filmmaker directing the filming of all this and she hooks up with some reporter chick for a gratuitous lesbian plot that really doesn't add much.  Meanwhile, Smith's wife is still recovering from her son's death, which is made worse because her oldest daughter just had her period and is facing a blood test that could lead to her too having to be killed.  Smith has been spending time watching some of the Man in the High Castle's movies Hitler had that show other universes where Smith's son is still alive.  In one of them Smith and his son are chatting and then MLK comes on the screen, probably to give his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Smith gets a call from the trade minister, who wants to talk to him in secret.  They go to the Man in the High Castle's former ranch.  The trade minister turns over some of the documents Juliana left from Joe Blake and some other information so that Smith will get Himmler to turn on the oil spigots again.  While there, Smith finds a picture of the Man in the High Castle and his wife and has someone look up other ranches in the area.  They're able to then find the Man's wife and capture her, which leads to him being brought in as well.

About the same time, Kido goes undercover in Colorado and finds Frank.  He takes Frank to an old internment camp and chops his head off with a sword.  No coming back from the dead this time.

Smith and Himmler go to the Poconos to watch a testing of the machine down in a coal mine shaft.  Juliana, Wyatt, and a couple of resistance people are also there, sneaking in from a closed mine shaft.  They all watch as four volunteers are taken into the shaft and three of them are splattered.  The fourth, a young woman, just disappears and doesn't come back.

Juliana and company are discovered and she's captured while trying to escape.  Back in New York, there's a big celebration as the Statue of Liberty is blown off its moorings by Nazi jets.  In a scene that's eerily similar to Charlottesville, Nazi kids take to the streets with torches shouting "Blood and soil!"  Himmler is enjoying this until he's shot from a nearby building by a sniper with Wyatt as a spotter.

The assassination didn't come as a surprise really.  They had already said it was 1963 and shown the Buddhist monk immolating himself like what happened in South Vietnam in our universe.  So I wondered if Himmler might take a trip to Dallas, but it was just in New York.

John Smith goes home to find his wife has absconded with their two remaining kids.  He goes to a beach house where she was supposed to have gone, but she's not there either.

Smith visits the Man in the High Castle in his cell and he finally drops a big secret about the traveling:  the one who didn't die in the experiment most likely was dead in the universe she traveled to.  That's the only way someone can travel between dimensions--if they don't exist there anymore.  You can't have two of the same people in the same place.  But Juliana is the only one who can see between the dimensions.  So any hope for the Nazis to invade our world or others in force is pretty well dashed.

Then Smith goes to Juliana's cell where she's meditating like Yoda and shaking the walls.  He realizes she's about to travel and shoots her in the chest.  There's a bloody spot left on the wall before she disappears.  The season ends with Wyatt using connections with a smut movie producer to have one of the Man in the High Castle's films copied in mass to distribute all over the country.  To fuel hope or whatever.

And that's it!  Not even a hint of where Juliana went.  Kind of frustrating because I'd have to wait about a year to find out what's going to happen now.

My theory is that Juliana will go to the world her sister went to, the one where she doesn't exist.  That follows what Abdensen told Smith about traveling.  Meanwhile Himmler will probably die and John Smith will succeed him as the fuhrer, which will probably lead to him having his wife found and killed in an "accident."  And/or he'll find someone to kidnap his son from another world to bring back or maybe he'll find a way to go there himself.

Besides that the episodes often move at a glacial pace, the other major problem is there wasn't that much of interest happening on the Japanese side.  Ed, his boyfriend, and a business partner are going to spread some paintings Frank made around to stir up local angst, but there really isn't anything big going on there.  It seemed like there might be another World War between the two superpowers but like the Cuba Missile Crisis that fizzled.

It definitely will be interesting to see what happens on the Nazi front next year with their machine and potentially losing another fuhrer.  I'm not sure how many seasons they're planning to do but unlike Game of Thrones this surpassed the book a long time ago so it's all uncharted territory.

A couple of Fun Facts:  In the fourth Wingman book Thunder in the East the Soviets had a sort of "Year Zero" thing where they were taking not just American artifacts like the Constitution but also anything that might remind people of the good ol USA like baseball bats and footballs.

Juliana is kind of like Joanne in the Scarlet Knight series.  Joanne had a unique ability where she could see and talk to the other versions of herself in parallel universes.  She did eventually even travel to other universes.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Are We Addicted to Happy Endings?

I've often complained about readers writing bad reviews because a particular story didn't end Happily Ever After.  I even wrote a book as unhappily as I could to trap those morons.

But this isn't about that.  This is about something that happened on Critique Circle a few months ago.  I wrote a blurb for a story.  Here it is:
Advancing to its first Final Four should have the students of Bailey University in a hard-partying mood. Instead, the campus is shocked and horrified by a terrible crime committed against its most beloved resident. Red, the university's bulldog mascot, has been taken! If the university doesn't pay a million dollars in ransom by tip-off of the championship game, Red will be gone forever. But the crime is even worse than the student body thinks because it's an inside job.
 Mark Carmichael is Red's handler and social media coordinator—and also a rotten gambler. Into a local bookie for a hundred grand, Mark seizes upon a desperate plan to pay his debts and make a nice nest egg for himself: he'll give Red to a couple of stoner friends for a few days, stage the dognapping, and collect the ransom. Then there will be a tearful reunion on camera to make Mark and Red world famous. It's a foolproof plan.
 Except there's a stingy university president who doesn't want to pay for a dog, an overzealous campus policeman hot on Mark's trail, and an intrepid reporter—the girl Mark dreamed of having in high school—who's suddenly interested in him. Cleaning up after a bulldog and writing Twitter posts never prepared Mark for this!
 The Dognapping is a black comedy in the mold of Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty or the Coen Brothers' Fargo.

And someone replied:
And make it so the reader can pull for Mark and the intrepid reporter girl and Red to ride off happily into the sunset after Baily University—against mountainous odds—wins the tournament with a buzzer-beating three-pointer. That kind of story.
OK, so let me get this straight:  the guy who got deep in debt from gambling and stages a dognapping to get money from his employer to pay his gambling debts (plus extra for a nest egg) should get to live Happily Ever After with the reporter and the dog?  What the hell does Mark do to deserve a happy ending?  Nothing!  He's actually a pretty shitty person.  But he should totally get to run off Happily Ever After into the sunset.  No wonder there are people who still think the assholes in Superstore should get to live Happily Ever After no matter how shitty they are to other people.

This same person a month or so later whined about a story not seeming to end happy.  It was about a Mennonite woman whose husband goes to work in some other town and cheats on her--with another man!  And this person commented, why wouldn't she want him back?  Um, because he cheated on her.  With a dude.  Duh.  But no, she has to take him back!  We have to have an imaginary Happily Ever After!  Dude has some serious issues.

Much like respect, happy endings have to be earned, not just given.  Would Fargo (the basis for this story) have been better if William H Macy got the ransom and ran away with his mistress?  Or if the kidnappers had been killed and he and his wife reconciled?

Now if Mark needed money because his grandma had cancer and he needed to pay for treatments, then he might deserve a Happily Ever After, but not for paying gambling debts.  Which isn't to say that sometimes we don't root for the "bad guy."  I mean in heist movies like Ocean's Eleven we root for the crooks to get away, right?  But at least in that movie you have crooks robbing an asshole casino manager so that makes it OK!  Or in Hell or High Water two brothers rob a string of banks.  But...it's because their home is being foreclosed on and they only rob branches of that bank to pay the mortgage and keep the house, which has oil on the property.  So a happy ending is OK for them because they have a righteous cause.

So maybe if the college president is a real asshole and the bookie goes around kicking puppies or something then his caper might be justified.

But as I wrote it, Mark doesn't deserve a happy ending.  So, are some people just addicted to happy endings that they can't even recognize when a happy ending isn't justified?  I think so.

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Cold War

In the same vein as updates...

A few months ago on Critique Circle there was this person who posted a query where two sisters go back in time to 1692 Salem for basically the hell of it.  I wrote an entry about it.

Back in November this person posted a revised version.  I was busy and didn't really want to make a thing of this so all I said was "It's better than your last attempt but 175,000 is very unlikely to get published. You'd be better off breaking it in two if you can't cut 75,000 words.  Which is just the conventional wisdom.

Then this person says, "can I have some feedback on the query itself?"  Maybe I would have later but I didn't really appreciate being called out so I said No.  Just that:  No.

And this person just lost his/her shit.
This is a relatively small taste of your usual saltiness, but I am going to nip it in the bud. 
This is for all to read because I am not alone. I am sick of the way you interact on here. That was a rude and unnecessary response. I am 100% certain I've done nothing to offend you, and I don't deserve to be treated this way, even if this is merely an internet forum and you think you're somehow exempt from common decency. Don't be an obstructionist jerk. You're not cool, you're not funny, you're not helping.
Also, for everyone to read: Over the past year, I have reported Grumpybull on numerous occasions due to the way Grumpybull has interacted on my posts but more often for what I have seen on other people's posts. Grumpybull, I wish there was a way to block you fully, but there isn't. So, unfortunately, I, and everyone else on CC, are forced to put up with your counter-productive, worthless infringements on our progress to become better writers. Is it a literary rite of passage to be harassed, belittled, irritated by Grumpybull? I don't think so, and in that case, I'm not going to put up with it! If you want to be like this, GO AWAY! BE GONE!
This is a place for community and for sharing our work. I genuinely welcome feedback and want to make my query better (wouldn't have put it on here otherwise), but I do not want this kind of crapola on my post feed. If you don't want to interact, no one has a gun to your head. If you want to be a bully, rude, destructive, please - SERIOUSLY - stay away. You're not welcome.
To everyone else: PLEASE don't let this little side trip into Crazy Land stop you from commenting on the query. I appreciate the real feedback with my whole heart, and honestly, I am depending on it. Please do not let Grumpybull stop you from posting on this feed or any other.
It was pretty freaking ridiculous considering I didn't say anything about them and I didn't say anything negative about his/her story except it was too long.  Which any "expert" would tell you 175,000 words is too long, especially for a first-time author.  There was hardly any "harassment" or "belittling" except this person's treatment of me.

I still didn't feel like making a big deal about it so all I said was, "I spent more than enough time commenting on your last attempt. I said this was better than that last one. I don't owe you anything."

Which is true.  I did waste a lot of time on the first version of the query.  And I said this attempt was better.  So I don't know why you're accusing me of being negative and harassing you and whatever. 

And no, I don't owe you anything.  Just because I said no doesn't mean you can throw a temper tantrum and call me a bunch of names.  Spoiled, entitled brat.  Honestly, what did this person ever do for me?  Nothing.  You didn't critique my stories or queries and yet if I don't give you as much as you want on yours I'm the villain who needs run out of town. 

If there's one good thing, it's that no one joined Spartacus's calls to have me run out of town.  I'm sure he/she would have liked a slow clap turning into a standing ovation or an angry mob with pitchforks and torches.  Instead there was mass not giving a shit.  No support for me either, but you can't have everything--or anything.

Anyway, it's sad that sometimes you try not to start a thing and it starts in spite of it.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Updates

You might say, "Hey you said you weren't blogging!"  And I'd say, "Aaaaaaaaaactually, I said I wouldn't be blogging regularly."  So there, suck it imaginary confused reader!  In your non-existent face!

So anyway, for the first post of 2019 (though not the first post I wrote for 2019 or in 2019), I just wanted to do some updates I stuff I had previously talked about.

In the post Dear Readers:  It's a Trap I wrote about how I wrote a whole book as dark as possible and made it look as dark as possible because I knew some imbecile would complain that a book fully advertised as too dark was too dark.

It took a while, but someone finally fell for it!  I don't usually like 1-star reviews but that was one that made me happy.  It's good when your low expectations of people are met.  So anyway, this book with a scary font and unsmiling (sorta scary) person and called DARK Gender Swap, this idiot complained was a horror story.  Um, yeah, idiot, that's why it was called DARK Gender Swap and not Super Happy Funtime Gender Swap.

As Bill Simmons would say:  Yup, those are my readers.

In the post You're Branded, I mentioned Chuck Wendig's foul-mouthed, in-your-face attitude is his brand.  Apparently Marvel/Disney didn't realize that because last October they fired him from writing Star Wars books because he wasn't civil.  Um, really?  The guy who wrote The Kick-Ass Writer isn't Ned Flanders?

Disney seems to have a problem with that lately as they brought back Roseanne Barr and then fired her a couple episodes in for racist Tweets.  Which if they'd done any kind of homework they would have realized she was a fucking Trump-supporting racist beforehand.  They also had problems with John Carter and Solo because they hired directors who were eminently not qualified to direct big-budget live action sci-fi movies.  Both then went over budget and flopped.  And both cases could have been avoided if Disney actually acquainted themselves with the directors beforehand.  I mean just because someone (or someones) have success with animated movies or comedies doesn't mean they can direct a big live action movie.

By the same token, if someone from Marvel/Disney had read pretty much anything by Wendig, they would have realized that he wasn't really Disney material.  You can't blame a guy for sticking with his brand.  Your ignorance of the brand is on you.

In one post I noted how terrible Amazon's giveaway system was.  Then in another I noted how they'd added a Goodreads-like giveaway option that was more useful.  Guess what?  They backslid back to uselessness.  When I went to make a giveaway for my book Casting Change, the Goodreads-type option was no longer there.  All they had were two pretty useless options:  first come, first serve or every X number.  I mean the latter is great if I'm a huge company giving away 300 products but not great if I have one.  I set it for every 3 people I only get 3 entries; I set it for every 100 people I might not get enough entries.  The first come-first serve option is especially useless if I only have one or two books to give away because the first one or two people to enter would win and then it's over.  So there's no time to build up any interest.

Meanwhile Goodreads still wants $150-$600 for doing nothing more than hosting the giveaway.  Their platform is nice, but it's not worth that much money for a small operation like mine.

For Casting Change I wound up doing two giveaways that didn't accomplish much.  The first I did through my newsletter.  I offered whoever answered a 2-question survey the chance to win.  Only 22 of 215 or so newsletter recipients even answered.  And then I had to pull three names out of my hat to find someone who would answer my email to tell them they'd won.  Geez, talk about a gift horse in the mouth.

The second giveaway I ran on LibraryThing.  It's sort of like Goodreads but the problems are that people need to join a special LibraryThing group to enter.  And there's no direct link to your book being given away and even though it's free you know even the slightest effort is too much for some people.

Naturally neither person who got a free book has written a review or anything.  (Probably.)  And the sales weren't great either, so it wasn't really worthwhile.

I just wish Goodreads would be more reasonable.  I mean, $150?  Maybe if it were $20 or $30 it'd be worth it for me but $150 is outrageous for hosting the thing and sending a couple of auto-generated emails that'll be ignored.

I wrote a post about how annoying all these people saying Aaaactually [or just impying it] are.  There have been a few more of those.  Like one on Facebook about Trump not going to visit a graveyard in France on Veteran's Day because it was raining.  I commented that remember when Hillary had the flu and fainted and Fox "News" and its fans were saying that didn't make her qualified for the presidency?  Someone said [Aaaaactually] it was pneumonia not the flu.  Because the specific illness is what was important there, right?  I said yeah, yeah, whatever.  And she says, Ah, an asshole.  To which I said, Yes you are and blocked her.

Another time the Geek Twins linked to an article about Sony maybe hogging Spider-Man since Venom did pretty good.  I said, I guess Sony forgot how their last Spider-Man didn't exactly light the world on fire.  So this doofus replies, "[AAAAAACTUALLY], Sony has lots of other things not just Spider-Man.  You should read the article before commenting."  But the article was about Disney and Sony sharing Spider-Man, not Sony's other Spider-verse projects.  Duh.  So he was the one who should have read the article.  I just said I did read the article and then blocked him.  I don't know, who are these people who have to jump all over you when you don't even know them?  And for stuff that's so inconsequential.  Yeesh.  Get a life as Shatner would say.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Bot Picks: The Winner Is....?

From April 2, 2015, the Top Post Ever on this blog:

A to Z Challenge:  Bimbos!  I suppose because lots of people are searching for bimbos on the Internet.  Boy would this be a surprise.


In the Transformed series are not one but two books focusing on bimbos.  For my purposes a bimbo is a woman who looks really hot but isn't all that bright.

The first Transformed Into a Bimbo borrows heavily from my prior novel Chance of a Lifetime.  In the first story, a scientist is working on an anti-aging drug called FY-1978, which is the drug that turns Detective Steve Fischer into Stacey Chance in the novel.  Anyway, some animal rights protestors raid the lab to free the test animals and in the process the scientist gets dosed with the FY-1978.  He finds himself turning into a girl who gets increasing hot--and increasingly dumb.

The second story is basically a miniature version of Chance of a Lifetime.  A detective tries to foil a robbery at a pharmaceutical company and is shot with the drug, now going by the name Yunagin--Young Again, get it?  He turns into a young woman who then gets revenge on the criminals.

There are a couple of key differences.  First, Steve/Stacey is named Jake/Jackie Madigan; Jake is Steve's old partner in the Chances Are books.  Then of course Stacey looks like this:

You know, pretty much like a normal young woman.  Whereas Jackie looks like this:

Yowza!

Then there's how Jackie takes revenge.  Where Stacey pretty much fought them with guns and such, Jackie uses her body.  One guy is into S&M stuff so she uses that to her advantage and gets kind of creative.  You know, because this is supposed to be erotica.

Someone whined about the first book that the character should get into the sex more quickly, so I decided to give that a try with the sequel.  The first story is really short.  It's one of those classic Twilight Zone stories where a rich guy thinks he's going to cheat death by transferring his brain into his bimbo trophy wife, but gets more than he bargains for when he really starts turning into her.  If you read carefully you can see where Michael Offutt makes a cameo.

The second story was a lot longer.  It's one of those that sort of spun out of control a little.  Basically a janitor at a lab triggers a weird holodeck sort of thing and finds himself inside the holographic world as a character called "Naughty Nancy."  A scientist gets pulled in with him and together they jump through a few different scenarios as they struggle to escape.

The scenarios I based on some of my previous books, so they end up as schoolgirls, little girls, Goth girls, whores, fat girls, and geek girls.  That's part of why it ended up longer than I intended.  Fans of "Archer" will get the Dr. Krieger reference in the story.

And of course you can buy both on Amazon for the low low price of $2.99 each!

There you go.  We're done.  Now shut it down!  Until...whenever.  Happy New Year!

Friday, December 28, 2018

Bot Picks Runner-Up: Goliath is the Legal Thriller I Hoped "Better Call Saul" Would Be But Isn't

From October 24, 2016:

I remember five or six years ago I watched the (failed) pilot for a Zombieland series on Amazon Instant Video.  It was not good:  no name actors, low-budget effects, and a fairly blah story.  Since then Amazon has gotten a lot better with shows like Transparent, Mad Dogs, The Man in the High Castle, and The TickGoliath is the latest addition to that list.  It's a legal thriller from David E Kelley, who knows his way around legal thrillers like LA Law, The Practice, Ally McBeal, and Boston Legal, plus other series like Picket Fences, Chicago Hope, etc.  He was a huge deal in the 90s and early 2000s, though I think he kind of fell off the radar a bit in the last ten years.  Like Kelley, most of the stars of the show were bigger stars 10-20 years ago like Billy Bob Thornton, William Hurt, and Maria Bello.  Still, it makes for a winning combination.

In the title I mentioned AMC's Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul.  I watched the first season and really wanted it to be good, but it wasn't.  Instead of actually focusing on low-rent lawyer Saul Goodman and any actual cases, they decided to do this whole lame prequel/origin story thing that was boring as shit.  The reason why 99% of prequels suck is they spend most of their time trying to build mythology and explaining useless shit (the origin of Wolverine's jacket, revealed at last!) so they don't have time to actually create a decent story.

So while they begin with something of the same premise--a low-rent lawyer who used to be part of a big firm and is now working out of a seedy motel and the bar next door--Goliath can actually tell a story instead of trying to tell us the origin of  Saul's loud wardrobe.  The story is pretty simple:  a boat blows up on the ocean and the guy on board is ruled to have committed suicide, except his sister doesn't think so.  At the behest of another ambulance chaser, she goes to Billy Bob Thornton, who basically starts out as his character from Bad Santa if he were a lawyer instead of a safe-cracker.  Really they could have called this Bad Lawyer if they'd wanted.  Anyway, he isn't willing to represent her, but then they sleep together and he takes the case against a weapons company who is represented by the big firm he helped to create but left after a murderer he defended went out and killed again.

The big firm is run by William Hurt with a Harvey Dent-type look of half his face being badly burnt.  He sits up in his office with the blinds closed while spying on everyone and listening to opera music.  It definitely makes for a creepy vibe.  As you'd expect there are a lot of high-priced assholes working for him, one of whom is Maria Bello, who also is Billy Bob Thornton's ex-wife (in the show).  Like Netflix's Jessica Jones there's a gratuitous lesbian attorney subplot involving Maria Bello and the head of the defense team for the weapons company.

From there the big law firm does pretty much everything they can to keep Billy Bob Thornton and his ragtag team from taking the case to trial and winning it.  They run over his client, frame him for a DUI (which included tazing his daughter), set up two witnesses on drug smuggling charges, and even put a dead body in his trunk.  He has some dirty tricks too like having a prostitute friend sleep with a cop to coerce some information from him.

So yeah neither side is squeaky clean, but that's the real world for you; it's never really black hats vs. white hats.  The case does eventually get to trial, where it's hampered by a judge doing everything possible to help the defense and an important witness who has a stroke.  Who wins?  You can watch to find out.

There were some things I don't think were really dealt with adequately:  who kills the mysterious "Karl Stoltz" for one thing.  How did William Hurt get burnt?  (A flashback like they do in Breaking Bad and Arrow would have been good there.)  Other than having slept with Billy Bob Thornton and the other side's lead attorney, Maria Bello doesn't really contribute a lot to the story.  And at the end there's a "hot mic" (or cell phone) moment that's a cliche I get tired of.  There are some unanswered questions, but that's for season 2, right?

If you have Amazon Prime you can watch the entire 8-episode season for free.  Unlike some of those old series on Amazon it's actually worth the time.

BTW, I was glad among all the dirty tricks, the bad guys didn't kill the stray dog Billy Bob Thornton was always feeding and even letting sleep in his room on cold nights.  I kept fearing someone was going to do a Godfather and leave the corpse in his bed or something.  Maybe they're saving that for next year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Bot Picks 3: A New Year/A Hero's Journey

From April 1, 2012 (the first official post!)

It's day 1 of the A to Z Challenge and also Day 1 of my new author blog.  Gone are the grumpiness and bulldogs, though I know you're as sad as I am to see them go.

Anyway, in the short term at least the point of this blog is to sell my novel A Hero's Journey whenever it comes out.  I wish I had a cool book trailer or anything like that.  Instead I'll just give you a basic description of the story:

Cover by the excellent Rusty Webb

A 19-year-old genius named Emma Earl returns to her hometown of Rampart City to begin working her dream job at the Plaine Museum of Natural History.  On her first day, though, strange and terrible things begin happening, starting with the appearance of a slab of black mineral that no one--including her--can figure out what it is or where it came from.

The black object is just the precursor to an ancient evil that descends upon the city.  To oppose this evil, Emma is led to a suit of magic red plate armor that lets her become a hero known as the Scarlet Knight.  But even with the power of the armor, Emma might not be able to stop darkness from destroying the city.


If you want to learn more about the story, you can find all sorts of stuff on the Special Features page--look for the tab below the header graphic or click here.  We have character bios, deleted scenes, a guide to Rampart City, and the short story that started it all--Heart of a Hero.

At this point I don't know when the book is coming out, but I'd guess in summer sometime.  Until then I'll keep plugging away.  That's right, every letter in the A to Z challenge will relate to the book in some way.

Tomorrow, the origin of Emma's friend Becky Beech.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Bot Picks 4: Comic Captions 4: Not Safe for Work!

From October 3, 2012: (I sometimes wish this were still a thing.)

Comic book people must be some of the most sex-crazed people on Earth.  I mean you ever see those female heroes they draw with like the size 40-DD breasts and waists smaller than Barbie's?  And that most of their costumes look like a roll of dental floss strung over their naughty bits?  Anyway, if you don't believe me, check out this month's Comic Captions from Batman Confidential #18

My turn:
Batgirl: That's a big sack you've got there.
Man: You should see my other one.


Now your turn.  Caption this...if you dare!

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