Monday, September 18, 2017

Comic Review Sans Reader

Here are some more comics I've read since whenever the last time was.  A few months I think.

Batman: Rebirth, Vols 1 & 2:  Like when the "New 52" last rebooted Batman it isn't really a reboot.  It doesn't go back to Batman's origin and it references past characters and stories and so forth.  It's more of a renumbering like what Marvel has been doing steadily for the last 5 years or so.

With Rebirth, the writing duties on the title shifted from Scott Snyder to my new favorite comics writer Tom King.  I've read and loved King's Omega Men and Vision series, both of which ended at 12 issues.  This finally gives him a chance to do a really ongoing series.  The first volume is pretty tremendous.  It starts with a plane crashing in Gotham City.  Superman and other heroes are off somewhere so it's up to Batman to save the day...somehow.  It's really touching how as Batman is on top of the doomed plane, using drone engines to steer the thing for a water landing, he talks to Alfred about letters he wrote for his current/previous Robins, and whether his parents would be proud.  It sort of references The Dark Knight Returns as he talks of "a good death."

But Batman and the airliner are saved when two new super-strong heroes save the day.  Probably the lamest thing about this volume is the names of the heroes:  Gotham and Gotham Girl, who are brother and sister.  Unlike Batman v Superman, where Batman is instantly threatened by a super-strong hero and tries to murder him, this Batman recognizes that there are situations which he--even with his training, resources, and money--can't handle, such as the crashing airliner.  He tries then to work with the new heroes and steer them in the right direction.  It all goes fine until they run afoul of the "Psycho Pirate," who infects Gotham Girl with intense fear and Gotham with paranoia and rage.  So of course soon Batman has to fight Gotham.  He brings in Superman and the Justice League, but since it's Batman's title of course that doesn't work.  And for good reason:  Gotham's power amps up as needed.  What Batman soon figures out is the only way to stop Gotham is to burn him out by making him overdose on power.  Meanwhile Gotham Girl pulls a Britney Spears and shaves her head but still can't shake her fear.  Only the Psycho Pirate can do that but he's been kidnapped by Bane.

So in Volume 2 Batman recruits villains Catwoman, Punch & Judy, Bronze Tiger, and Ventriloquist to go to Santa Presca Island, which Bane rules in the buff.  In the comics since he was introduced in 1992 Bane has been on and off "Venom," the super-steroid that originally allowed him to break Batman's back.  This time he's off Venom--and clothing, for whatever reason--and using Psycho Pirate as sort of his personal shrink.  Or guru maybe.  Whatever.

I didn't really like these issues as much.  For some reason Batman keeps repeating the same mantra over and over until I thought he must be a robot or something.  Punch, Judy, and Bronze Tiger don't do a whole lot.  Catwoman is more interesting for stuff that has nothing to do with this, like why she's accused of 237 murders.  But the Ventriloquist's role was pretty good:  he's the only one Psycho Pirate can't control because he listens only to his puppet, who is often a dummy but this time is just a literal sock puppet.

The last couple of issues are better as it involves a tender love story between Batman and Catwoman.  They've been on-again/off-again throughout the years and now they're on again.  Batman is supposed to return Catwoman to prison in the morning but first they do some crime fighting and making out.  It's funny when they give conflicting versions of how they met:  one references their original meeting in 1940 or so and is drawn in that style and the other references Frank Miller's Year One and is drawn in that style.  Like Grant Morrison's run, King knows how to work in some of the older Batman material and characters to freshen them for the modern age.  Like Kite Man--hell yeah!  From what I've read, King is building towards Bat and Cat getting married, which seems destined for failure just like Peter Parker/Mary Jane Watson or Clark Kent/Lois Lane and so on.

Like the other books from King I've read the best thing about it is that King knows how to humanize his comic book characters to make them vulnerable instead of larger-than-life.  That's not to say he makes them wimps, but only that they are human, not gods.  I really need to take down that copy of King's superhero novel A Once Crowded Sky and start reading it.

Volume 1:  4/5
Volume 2:  3/5

Detective Comics:  Rebirth, Vol 1:  This is a far more traditional Batman comic.  Though it's really more of a Batwoman comic as Batwoman's army colonel father has trained an army in the style of Batman and set them loose on Gotham City.  Batman recruits Batwoman, Red Robin (former Robin Tim Drake), Spoiler (former Batgirl Stephanie Brown), Orphan (former Batgirl Cassandra Cain), and Clayface (former villain) to combat evil.  For whatever reason he doesn't recruit Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Bluebird, Nightwing, Red Hood, Robin (Damian Wayne), or the half-dozen other vigilante people in the Gotham City area.  It's an OK read with a touching moment as Red Robin "dies" though it's quickly spoiled when we find out the mysterious "Mr. Oz" (Jor-El?  Ozymandias?  Whoever.) has for whatever reason teleported Red Robin from danger at the last moment.

There is one redeeming thing about this series:  Azrael is back!  Jean-Paul Valley's Azrael took over as Batman from 1993-1995 but was killed off at the end of his solo series in 2003.  But now he's back, though they fused him with the Michael Lane version of the character in making Valley super-Catholic.  He's not in this much after the first few pages, though in future issues he's got his sweet Batsuit back, so eventually I'll have to read that. (2.5/5)

Batman:  Gothic:  From the early 90s this was Grant Morrison's second Batman story after the legendary Arkham Asylum a few years earlier.  In Morrison fashion it's kind of a gonzo story that features an undead killer who's trying to cheat the devil by trapping souls in a cathedral.  To get souls he plans to release plague into Gotham and only Batman can stop him.  It's weird and wild and yet wonderful in its way. (3/5)

X-Men:  God Loves, Man Kills:  This 80s limited series was the basis for the 2003 X2: X-Men United movie.  Only in that (and later movies) William Stryker was an evil general but in this he's an evil reverend, sort of a televangelist who is on a crusade against mutants.  After a TV debate with Professor X, Stryker has the professor, Cyclops, and Storm kidnapped.  Kitty Pryde is able to follow them and find their lair.  Eventually Stryker hosts a big broadcast from the World Trade Center during which Professor X's mind power is being used to target mutants around the world.  But naturally he's saved.  It's an OK story but as someone mentioned on CBR or something Chris Claremont has a real fascination with mind control, in the same way Alan Moore has a fascination with rape. (3/5)  (Fun Fact:  The Batman story The Cult is largely similar to this, including the religious nut breaking the main character.  They came out a few years apart; I think the X-Men one was first.)

A neat thing I found out is Amazon offers some older Marvel titles free with Amazon Prime.  So I downloaded a few of those since I had nothing better to read.

Deadpool:  Secret Invasion:  This was another volume 1 of Deadpool, though I'm not sure exactly when.  During the Secret Invasion event when the shape-shifting Skrull aliens were secretly invading the Marvel universe, which I think involved Spider-Woman being their queen or some shit.  Anyway, Deadpool defects to the Skrull who try to clone him, with disastrous results.  In reality Deadpool is trying to steal info for Nick Fury but it's intercepted by Norman Osborne.  The rest of the volume involves a broke Deadpool undertaking a mission in Europe to kill a mercenary's wife and some zombies.  But then it all goes sideways.  It's OK, but not really anything special. (2.5/5)

Punisher, Vol 1: Black and White:  This is a more recent Punisher renumbering.  Frank Castle has moved to LA in pursuit of drug dealers.  But then traditional Spider-Man villain Electro gets involved while Castle is hunted by the Howling Commandos as well.  Overall it's pretty much your typical Punisher comic with him killing bad guys and stuff. His "costume" is a little more updated with a bulletproof vest decorated with a skull and a Crossbones-type mask he sometimes wears.  (2.5/5)

Immortal Iron Fist, Vol 1:  This was from about 2007 shortly after the Civil War story.  Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Daredevil are all around but "unregistered" which makes them outlaws really.  That doesn't factor much into things, though.  What this is mostly about is Danny Rand finds out there's another Iron Fist, one who fought in World War I and later left in disgrace.  He and Danny team up to battle the Steel Serpent and HYDRA.  It's written by Ed Brubaker, who's better known for his Captain America run that was the inspiration for the movies and for grittier comics like Gotham Central.  Mystical kung fu stuff isn't really his thing.  If you didn't think much of the Netflix series, I don't think this will really change your mind. (2.5/5)

Legendary Star-Lord, Vol 1:  Long ago Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, was a pretty typical superhero guy.  But in recent years Marvel turned him into the wisecracking goofball portrayed by Chris Pratt.  This series continues that as his costume is exactly like the movies and so is the attitude.  It's kind of a grab-bag as he escapes from bounty hunters, meets a half-sister, fights Thanos, and runs afoul of someone called "Mr. Knife."  I guess if you like the Chris Pratt version it's fine.  I could take or leave it. (2.5/5)

44:  The title for this comes from Stephen Blades being the 44th president.  The day of the inauguration he gets a letter from 43 (a thinly-veiled W Bush) who reveals that something has been detected in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and a ship was dispatched to investigate.  A ship that will be making contact in just a couple of months with whatever is out there.  And what's out there is a big "chandelier" that could be a gun or maybe not.  I liked it for the most part though I didn't like the artwork.  It's one of those newer styles where people aren't really drawn like people; the dimensions seemed all off to me.  So mark it down a little for that. (2.5/5)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

How Much is Too Much?

Continuing the theme of the last couple of posts, let me whine about another way authors can lose plenty of money quick:  audiobooks!  In July Draft2Digital announced they were partnering with Findaway Voices, a service to create audiobooks.  It said there was no fee to join or anything as long as you were a Draft2Digital member, so I figured I'd go check it out. 

I went through and submitted A Hero's Journey as I didn't think one of the gender swap books would be appropriate.  After a few days later I get an email that they have some recommendations for narrators.  It gave me a list of five or so ranging from $75/completed hour to $250/completed hour.  I have no idea how many hours my book would take, but I think most audiobooks are a few hours.

So no I didn't go through with it.  I mean it'd probably be like $300 minimum and you think I'm going to get that $300 back?  Hell no.  While it might be neat to hear someone other than Amazon's Text-to-Speech reading my book, I don't have the money to waste on it.

Amazon's ACX lets you exchange royalties instead of paying a set fee.  Though I think that would just be a waste of the narrator's time and money as much as mine.

There are just so many ways for authors to waste money that might sound like good ideas but really aren't.  Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice (or more), shame on me.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Killing the Golden Goose

Last Wednesday on the blog (not that you noticed, I'm sure, though I'm writing this rebuke a month in advance--prove me wrong, assholes!) I talked about how "Goodwill" or giving shit away for free can often backfire on an author because people are assholes and just take the free shit and run.  Now here's a trend I've noticed the last couple of months that could be part of what's killing my golden goose:  it's these mega-bundles of 30, 40, 60, 80 "books" that are sold ridiculously cheap for as low as 99 cents.

Here's a case study for you: 

 At the time I'm writing this it's #1 in Victorian erotica, #2 in Transgender erotica, #2 in Historical erotica.  The page count is 370 pages, so if you do the math with 44 books that's only an average of 8 pages per "book."  Considering the real average is probably less than that these are more flash fiction stories than books.

And really you wrote 44 books of virgin taboo sex?  And this "author" has tons more of these collections.  To write that many stories you have to be even faster than me.  And far more focused on just doing one type of story over and over again.

Here's another case study just at random:
Dark Rough Erotica Sex Taboo Romance:  80 Books Mega Bundle, Deep Inside, Bisexual & Threesome Submission, Explicit Menage Stories for Women and Men  (Not so much a title as a bunch of keywords sandwiched together)

At this time it's not really doing as hot.  Only #38 in Transgender and #47 in Historical.  Unlike the other one it's a whopping 2326 pages, so the stories are more like stories at a 29 page average.  And yet think about this:  2326 fucking pages!!!  And you're selling it for 99 fucking cents?  That's like if I took my entire Transformed gender swap series and sold the thing for 99 cents instead of selling most of the book separately for $2.99.  I might make some money, but I'm still probably losing money because I'm only getting like $0.35 per copy.

And that's the whole problem.  These people are devaluing the product to such an extent that how can I possibly compete with them?  Let me put this in a simplistic example not using books.  Let's use soda pop instead.

For a couple of years I've been selling Grumpy Bulldog cola regionally and I've been doing pretty well.  I mean not as much as Coke or Pepsi, but more like RC Cola--or Faygo in Michigan.  For every 12-pack of Grumpy Bulldog cola I charge $2.99.

Now along comes some huckster selling Bubba Cola at 99 cents for a case of 80.  So what am I supposed to do?  I can't afford to sell my cola for 99 cents in a case of 80; I'd go out of business in a month because the sales couldn't possibly cover my expenses.  

And if Bubba Cola wants to actually maintain a business, they can't keep selling cases of 80 for 99 cents either.  But maybe they don't have to.  Maybe they just did something unsavory like take a bunch of flat, expired soda from a dumpster, slap a new label on it, and resell it for ridiculously cheap because they don't have much in the way of actual costs.

Or if you want another example, let's say I'm selling meth (though I'm not DEA, pinky swear) and I'm selling the pure blue Walter White shit for $2.99 a rock.  But then Gus Fring comes along and rips off my dealers and starts selling my product for 99 cents per pound.  He can do that because the product hardly cost him anything.

Which goes to my theory that I sincerely doubt these books are legit.  I think what these "authors" did is scoop up a bunch of stories off message boards or pirate sites or other books on Amazon and then slapped them together into a bundle.  I mean how else do you sell it so cheap and actually make a going concern?

The problem is like in my simplistic examples:  how can I compete with that?  Who wants to buy my one book for $2.99 when they can have 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 books for 99 cents?  Now in my cola example I would immediately think if you're selling 80 cans of soda for 99 cents there must really be something wrong with it.  Like if you say your car is is only $1 I'd immediately think there must be something terribly wrong with it.  But I don't think book readers are necessarily that discerning.  I don't think most of them really give a shit enough to think, "44 books by one author for 99 cents?  What's the catch?"  They just scoop it up because what the hell it's just something to jerk off to and if it sucks it only cost a buck, right?

Going back to Wednesday's post, this is frustrating as an author who would like to actually make some money off his writing.  This isn't exactly giving the book away for free but 99 cents for 80 books is pretty well giving it away for free.  And even I don't have 80 books a month in me.  Or even 44 "books" if they're all on the same theme.  That would just get so repetitive so fast.

Now to be fair some legitimate authors have been doing this too.  Recently Jay Noel posted about a collection of steampunk novels he contributed to that made it onto the USA Today bestseller list.  These I can be pretty sure are legit because it lists all the different authors.  It's not one person claiming to have written 22 steampunk novels.  As great as that is, though, it's largely like giving books away for free as you're hoping people will read your book in the collection and go buy more by you.  How many will?  And even when you sell a bunch of copies, at 99 cents split between the publisher and 22 authors, you're making maybe a penny on that.  Which is why I never made any money off the flash fiction collections I wrote with Neil Vogler and Sean Craven (and others on the second one); they sold it for 99 cents and when you split the 40% for the authors among three people that's 13 cents apiece.  To make $10 then we'd have to sell 77 books.  Now if you have 40% (or 40 cents per book) split 22 ways that's 1.8 cents apiece so you'd have to sell more than 500 books to make a measly $10.

You see what I'm saying there?  As a promotional tool that might be helpful--though from my last post I'm skeptical--but as a way to generate immediate money it's a losing proposition.  Unless you're getting your material for free or almost free and thus whatever you make is pretty much pure profit.  Which is great for you but now all of these collections are clogging up the bestseller categories on Amazon, making it harder for people like Yours Truly to get their books seen by readers.  It's like if I'm at a convention with my booth and this other person puts up a booth three times the size of mine smack dab in front of mine with all kinds of expensive pyrotechnics and whatnot; who the hell is going to notice my booth, right?

I'm not saying that's the only reason for a sales slump the last few months, but I think it's one reason.  I should go track down some proof and maybe convince Amazon to shut down these people, though Amazon will likely be too lazy to do anything (sellers like me they treat like garbage but scammers they just love) or the offenders will just keep coming back under other names.  Like with pirated movies, music, and so forth it's really up to the consumer to demand better product.  Drink Grumpy Bulldog Cola!  Er, buy my books!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Goodwill Games

This post seems appropriate for what should be the Insecure Writer Support Group day.  (As an aside, how long has that been going?  Years, right?  How many insecurities do you people have?  Jeez.)

In accounting there's a sort of bizarre concept known as "Goodwill."  It happens when there's a merger and one company ends up paying more for the other than it's technically worth.  I guess the idea is you need a way to balance the books without fudging numbers so you throw in this thing called "goodwill" which is kind of like saying, "Well, we paid too much but you got to spend money to make money."

Authors know all about paying for benefits that aren't immediately tangible.  Free books.  Bookmarks.  Ads.  All the costs of conventions.  Or even if you buy a new computer or pen or whatever.  (In my case also frappes at Biggby Coffee, Starbucks Coffee Beanery, etc.)  Think of all the money and time and energy that goes into writing, editing, publishing, and then promoting a book--especially for a self-published author.

Can you believe this asshole spelled the title wrong on the fucking cover?
Just about 25 months ago now I started a newsletter.  Using a template from a book I read I put my newest release on top and on the bottom I put a free book.  The free book I most often just go to the "top 100 free" of Amazon's Transgender erotica list, because often I can find something there.  Sometimes if I can't I'll use one of my own books.

Here's the rub:  when I look at my MailChimp stats, what site are most of the "clicks" from the newsletter for?  (Ie, which link do people click the most?)  The FREE book, of course!  When it's one of my books for free, the clicks go way, way down because people probably already have that book.  One time I couldn't find anything good on the list so I put up a link to a book on sale for 99 cents by another author.  Clicks nosedived to hardly any at all.

Look, I get it, we all love free shit.  I love getting books for free as much as anyone.  I'll scoop them up if I'm alerted to a sale.  I use Amazon's borrowing once a month quite often to get one book for free--though at least the author does get a small portion from the pages read.  Prime members can also download some other books like the first Harry Potter, a couple of LOTR prequels or whatever by JRR Tolkein, short stories by some better known authors, and some volumes of Marvel comics for free.  So hey I take advantage of that.  Again I assume the authors get a chunk of the pages read or something.  I don't, however, stoop to piracy sites.  Not just for moral reasons, but also I worry too much if those will give me a virus or spyware or malware or whatever that could help Trump win another election.

In the early 2000s like many other people I used some file-sharing services like Limewire, Bearshare, etc (not Napster) to download music.  This was before iTunes, Amazon music, etc made it fairly affordable to buy a single.  I will say, though, that many of the songs I first downloaded for free I later bought legitimately because I wanted to hear more of the band.

Now that's where we get back to Goodwill.  What's supposed to happen is I offer you a free book and you go and pay to read my other books.  Or in the case of my newsletter I offer you someone else's free book and you say, "What a guy this is!  What a prince among men!"  And you go check out my books.  But too often I think people are like someone who goes into the supermarket, eats all of the free samples, and then leaves without buying anything.  People can do that and they get fed, but the supermarket doesn't make money.  In fact, the supermarket is losing money not just on the food but on the electricity, wages, and so forth.  There are all these hidden costs for that "free" book.

So I guess the irony is that 10 years later or so I finally get you, music industry.  It really sucks when people just take shit for free. 

That's not to say it never works.  I mean one day in August I sold 44 books, which was maybe an all-time high.  Since the counter jumped from like 2 to 42 in the span of an hour and there was no rush on one title, I assume it was one person (or small number of people) who read a book and wanted more.  Just like I sold a lot of copies of Second Chance and Last Chance by giving away Chance of a Lifetime for free.  Now still I gave away probably many, many times what I sold of the other two books, but it was not completely terrible.  That's the chain-reaction an author wants.  That's why we're giving away the books and the "swag."  It's why we have a booth at the conventions or posting ads on websites.  Just like the big authors, we want to make a living doing this.  Sure there's some love involved, but we also need money because this is a capitalist society.  So if you want us to continue writing books, you need to actually BUY books.  And not buy them and then return them within the week like a dick, but buy them and KEEP them so the author makes his or her 70% from Amazon.  That's how you keep us in business.  And, duh, selling books is a feather in our caps so the more people buy the less insecure we are.  (See what I did there?)

Friday, September 1, 2017

Side Hustle n Cash Flow

On the local news about a month ago was a story on "side hustles" or "gigs" like Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft.  The results were that on average these side hustles don't really generate a lot of cash.

Airbnb led the way with $400 a month and then Lyft and Uber with about $150 a month, and then one for delivering food that was only about $100 a month.

So in most of these cases you'd be better off getting a part-time job for like 20 hours a week.  Even at minimum wage you'd be taking home more per month than any of these "side hustles."

Right now my side hustle--selling books--generates more than these other ones, but when at some point it no longer does, that's really the point to think about finding a real second job.  For most authors, writing is a nice hobby, but it doesn't produce even as much as any of these "gigs."  It's certainly not something you should do if you want to make a lot of money.

This is also a good reminder that the "new economy" isn't really working out all that well for most people.  Especially when you consider the cost of potential renovations for the Airbnb--and fixing any damage that occurs to it--and for Uber and Lyft if your car doesn't meet their standards you have to buy a new one that does, though it's unlikely you'll be making enough off of the fares to make it worthwhile.

But it does beat selling Herbalife.

No post on Labor Day, so see you Wednesday...or probably not...

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Thoughts on Season 7 of Game of Thrones & Looking Ahead

Sunday was the final episode of Game of Thrones for potentially a long time.  I heard somewhere that like Westworld, it could be over a year until the final season begins to air.  Whether that's true or not remains to be seen.  In any case, that season will only be like 6 episodes, though like the last episodes of season 7 some will probably be longer than the usual 50-ish minutes.

One thing I lamented in previous seasons (especially season 5) was how long it took for things to happen.  But starting in season 6, with the number of episodes dwindling and having exceeded the storylines of the books, the producers started to put the pedal to the metal.  All of the sudden Danerys could round up a fleet of ships and transport an entire army across the sea to Westeros in the blink of an eye.  I mean in the first couple of seasons it took people several episodes just to get from Winterfell in the north to King's Landing in the south.  And Danerys had been wandering around the west like Moses for almost 6 fucking years.  Now all the sudden she can conveniently pack up and fly across the sea on her dragon.

Season 7 then began to really exaggerate that.  The penultimate episode was probably the worst offender as Jon Snow and a fellowship go past the wall to round up a zombie.  In prior seasons this would have taken an entire season or at least half of one.  But in this episode they go beyond the wall, find the zombie army, get stuck in the middle of some ice, have one guy run all the way back to the wall, then have the guys on the wall send a raven with a message to Danerys, and then have Danerys show up with her dragons like choppers in a war zone.  It was all pretty ludicrous.

So while previous seasons I could complain they were too slow, this one I complain everything is moving too fast.  It's like the people of Westeros all the sudden figured out supersonic engines and bullet trains.  Like the episode I mentioned, this allows for characters who were far apart to arrive just in the nick of time to lend a hand or provide critical information.  Like at the end of the season when Sam arrives at Winterfell just in time to tell Brandon that Jon is the rightful king of Westeros.

It makes it a little difficult to predict what will happen in Season 8, whenever it airs.  With the Night King and his zombie army breaking through The Wall, are they going to move like a bullet train and be at Winterfell's gates in the first episode, or are they going to move at a more traditional pace to give Jon, Danerys, and everyone else time to arrive?  I really don't know, but you have to think it'd be pretty easy for the Night King to just fly ahead and use his zombie dragon to turn Winterfell into a pile of rubble (again.)

It is funny then how you think you want something and when you get it, it doesn't really satisfy you.  I thought after season 5 I wanted things to move along and now everything is happening so fast it's hard to keep up.  That's life for you.

Anyone reading this has probably A) Seen the show or B) Never watched it so I don't really feel like going into much more about it.  Let me just finish with my wish list for Season 8:

  • Theon "Reek" Greyjoy dies saving his sister.  And stopping Cersei's mercenary army from reaching Westeros in the process.  And so Reek finally shows some courage and dies a hero's death and we don't have to see him anymore.  (Though it was pretty funny in the last episode when the guy he was fighting kicked him between the legs like three times and he just smiles like, "I ain't got nothing there no more, fool!")
  • The Hound finally kills his brother.  They faced each other in the finale of season 7 and at some point you have to think the Hound will finally take out the Mountain, his now-undead brother serving Cersei Lannister.  Maybe once the White Walkers are dead and everyone goes after Cersei they can have a throwdown--if Arya Stark doesn't kill the Hound first.
  • Arya and Sansa do...something.  I actually have no idea what I really want either of them to do.  It was cool that they tricked Littlefinger and took him out, but I really have no idea what else they can do with the zombie army bearing down on them.  If they became zombies I wouldn't really give a shit.
  • Some main characters become zombies.  You have to make at least a couple of token main characters into zombies at some point.  I really don't know who but like The Walking Dead just about anyone is fair game, especially in the last season.
  • Brandon and the Night King have a warg-off.  Now that Brandon has all this mystical psychic bullshit going on, he needs to have a throwdown with the zombie army's leader, the Night King.  And if they didn't already, tell us who the Night King is and how he came to start the whole zombie army thing.
  • Dragonfight!  You have a zombie dragon and two non-zombie dragons so at some point we need a fight.  And the one Danerys doesn't ride will die because it's the spare.  I mean the only other reason to have two dragons is for Danerys to ride one and Jon the other.
  • Tyrion is the Last Lannister Standing.  Since the rest of his family has shit on him pretty much the entire series it would be pretty awesome if Tyrion is the last of the Lannisters at the end.  And he could let Bron have Castelly Rock while he remains Hand for whoever sits on the Iron Throne.
  • Someone good should sit on the Iron Throne.  After 8 years let's not end the series on a bummer with Cersei on the Iron Throne or the Night King turning everyone into zombies or shit like that.  It should be Jon or Danerys, which is why it probably won't be, but at least someone who isn't evil or shitty, please.  They don't have to go all LOTR with the end but it'd be nice if good defeats evil and winter ends with a new king or queen who isn't fucking awful.  I'm just saying.  My dark horse candidate:  Sam the big fat guy.  I mean he is the head of the Tarley house or whatever now technically, isn't he?  So if the other families get barbecued or zombified he has a shot, right?  And he's GRR Martin's avatar, so there you go.

The writers kind of painted themselves into a corner now as far as Jon's love life goes.  We find out Danerys is his cousin or whatever just as they finally get around to fucking.  And the only other women he could hook up with are his sisters, Brienne, or Cersei Lannister.  There are no good cards in that hand at all.  Well done, producers!  So either Jon isn't going to end up with anyone or he's going to die--again.  And, hey, what happened to that witch who brought him back to life?  She was in like one episode just standing around out of sight.  Maybe she can get the "Lord of Light" to help with the zombies or something.

If you're wondering by now, I'm 90% serious about everything in this post, which is pretty much maximum seriousness for any post on this blog.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Selfish Critiquer

This comes from frenemy John Oberon's blog about a month ago.  Someone asked for a critique on her poem:


Let me first say, poetry is not my strong suit. That's why I need a little help. I've been trying to improve in this area, and I would greatly appreciate a few honest opinions of the attempt and/or suggestions on how to improve it.
Thank you in advance.
I know not why I turn to Nature’s embrace
when the man-made confines of wood and stone
become too stifling to endure longer.
It seems my soul longs to trace
the sun’s warming rays,
dancing amidst the riotous colors of spring’s fresh blooms,
and I am helpless but to obey.
At such times, I leave the dusky shadow of my home
and set out down the old gravel path
until my feet irrevocably lead into the neighboring wood.
I can measure my life in the changes
of her humble trees
passing from one phase of their life
to another by regular degrees.
Today, I entered by a path untried
by my feet in my score years.
No humble herbs sprouted here save the mosses
carpeting the forest floor with a fresh green softness
absent from the other well-worn paths.
Here the elders of the forest’s arbors
rise high above my lowly head to proudly raise
their branches in praise to their creator.
I walked there through the long, solemn halls
of a cathedral untouched by bumbling mortal hands
and gazed heavenward upon a mural
no man’s craft could hope to rival.
Leaf and sky, light and shadow,
gathered in an undulating dance
unhindered by the passage of time.
All too soon the sanctuary came into view,
and I stood transfixed in awe of its simple beauty.
A crystal brook wound merrily along its course,
the tinkling waters joining in the songbirds’ hymn.
A single dogwood tree stood alone in the clearing,
blushing blossoms sheltering the brook
from the overlooking sun’s mottled light.
My soul rejoiced, joining in the chorus,
and I remained, having no will to leave.
When I thought my heart could hold no more
wonder for the marvelous sight,
I was further blessed to see a single deer.
She passed the shadows of the trees
to dip her head to drink of the stream’s waters.
Her countenance was unlike any I’d ever seen,
a delicate, graceful form covered in fur of purest white.
The wind shifted,
showering the clearing with dogwood blossoms,
and the doe raised her hoary head to regard me.
I felt no fear from her,
only my dumbstruck awe,
regarding the lovely creature glowing in the sunlight.
In an instant the moment was gone,
and the snow-white doe vanished
into the forest once more,
leaving me with the realization
the creature I encountered was no fleshly being,
but the spirit of the woods.
And here was his response:
Well, the meaning is crisp and clear, and that's good, but it reads more like a factual account of an event than a poetic impression. It's almost like you initially wrote this in prose, then simply diced it into eight stanzas of varying lengths with very little rhyme or reason. Good description, though.

A big problem is the idea of worshiping nature...of trying to draw spiritual transcendence out of flora and fauna. Certainly nature provides us with moments of beauty, awe, and grandeur, but only because they are the handiwork of the most beautiful, awesome and grand Creator. They reflect the character of God and apart from Him, they are nothing but shadows and dust. To misplace worship on the created rather than the Creator is little more than emotional masturbation. It is hollow and in the end leads to despair, because it can never fill the God-shaped vacuum in our souls. Nature dies, but we are meant for eternity.

So if you want to improve this "poem" immeasurably, at least as far as meaning, direct the worshipful feelings and awe that nature inspires to the infinite God, because all of nature points to Him.
So after one short paragraph that could actually be construed as helpful, he spends two paragraphs lecturing her about Christianity.  It's so silly too this idea that you can't "worship" nature without Christian God.  Um, hello, Native Americans and tribes in Africa and South Africa and so forth have been doing that for thousands of years before Christ was even born!

But more to the point, this is just selfish on Oberon's part.  The author didn't ask him about religion; she wanted help with her poem.  Instead of providing much actual help, he uses it as a platform to harangue her about his religion.  It's just bad form.

The goal of a critique is to help the author, not save his or her soul.  If you want to do that, walk around your neighborhood handing out pamphlets.

Friday, August 25, 2017


I emailed Amazon and they finally made A Hero's Journey permafree!  In case you haven't read it already, now you can get it free on Amazon.  It's already free on Barnes & Noble and other retailers.

And in case you forgot what it's about or are new to this blog (which was used to launch the book in 2012):
Dr. Emma Earl never wanted to be a hero. But when she finds a magic suit of armor that can deflect bullets and turn her invisible, she becomes part of an ancient war between good and evil. It’s up to Emma as the latest incarnation of the heroic Scarlet Knight to save Rampart City from the fiendish Black Dragoon and his plan to rule first the city and then the whole world!
You can go to the Special Features tab to get lots of bonus content like character bios, a guide to Rampart City, and an animated comic!

There are some other new free ones too:
There's supposed to be a couple more but maybe they'll show up as free later. (Yup, 3 other Eric Filler books have also been added: Unisex, Private Dick, and Race Against Time. I'll add links later.)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Our Brand Needs Crisis is one of the few pages I can open on my computer at work.  I like to take their daily polls just to see what other people are thinking about things.  Sometimes it's pretty funny.

  • Who do you blame for the healthcare bill failure?  48% Senate Republicans
  • Do you think Trump is doing a good job?  68% No
  • Who are you going to vote for in 2018?  40% Republicans, 39% Democrats

OK, so you don't think the Republican president is doing a good job, you don't think Congress is doing a good job...and yet 40% are still going to vote Republican. 

This is kind of a depressing thought I had:  A lot of liberals like to talk about flipping the House or Senate in 2018, but for me the problem is that unless things really tank, I worry people are just going to be too comfortable to make a change or even bother to vote.  Let's face it:  most people don't really follow what's going on outside their neighborhood or sports team or favorite TV shows, so as long as things aren't too bad for them, they don't really see the danger.

The biggest gains Democrats had in this century were in 2006 with the Iraq war bogged down and 2008 after the economic collapse.  Since then they've just been losing, losing, losing seats.  In that time there's been no great crisis to motivate people.  The Iraq war has pretty much wound down, Afghanistan is no longer on the front pages, and the economy isn't great but not as bad as it was.

The movie Our Brand Is Crisis gets its title from something Sandra Bullock's character tells the Bolivian candidate she's working for:  that he needs to instill in voters the idea there's a crisis that only he can solve.  It's something to large extent Trump did for his voters by whining time and again how we're not great and losing and blah, blah, blah.  Enough people bought it for him to win the electoral college.

If nothing really changes economically or militarily in the next year, the challenge for Democrats is instilling in people that there's a real crisis that needs a change of management.  A lot of us in "the resistance" already think that but we saw in the 2016 election how that doesn't necessarily play out to blue wins.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Imaginary Middle Ground

There's one blog I follow written by a self-styled "independent" in Texas.  We don't agree on some things like gun control (being from Texas of course he wants no gun control, yee-hah!) but we do agree on regulating Wall Street.  So among individuals you can have some agreement despite political leanings.  But one thing he said I found particularly ridiculous:

Democrats have to realize Republicans can have some good ideas.

Oh really?  Like what?  That was the challenge I put forward:  tell me one good idea Republicans have that doesn't benefit special interest groups or rich people/corporations?

And the answer:  I don't have to tell you.  Look it up!  You're lazy!  You're close-minded!  Read The Economist!

In other words, even though he says I should think Republicans can have good ideas, he doesn't actually know any good ideas they have.  I guess they CAN have good ideas, they just don't.

I mentioned before how on Twitter I got into it with a Hillary supporter who whined about Bernie Sanders's ideas.  I said, "At least he had ideas" to which she said that Hillary had plenty of ideas.  Like what?  (That she didn't steal from Bernie.)  And it was the same response as on this guy's blog:  Look it up!  She has ideas!  Tons of them!  Just sounding like when you ask a virgin how many women he's fucked.  So don't think I'm just picking on the right.

The problem here is people want to think there's some middle ground, but it no longer exists.  The "Blue Dogs" like Hillary, Cory Booker, etc try to play to a center that isn't there anymore.  All they do is anger liberals by being too far right and angering conservatives by not being right enough.  The days of compromise and everyone getting along for the common good are over--if they were ever here to start with.  So let's just stop pretending.

And for that matter we really need self-styled "independents" to grow up.  If you can't name one good idea Republicans have, then maybe it's time you stop pretending like you have a choice.  It'd really be nice if one-issue voters like NRA members or "pro-life" people could grow up too and realize maybe there are more important things in life than whether you can go hunting with a machine gun.  Fat chance of that, I suppose.


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