Bellweather you use to vote

Sometimes, there’s organizations I agree with, and sometimes, there’s organizations I’m diametrically opposed to.  These are bellweathers for me. For instance, there’s a few folks on Facebook who are wrong on every single issue. Whenever they start complaining about a particular thing, I know to throw my support behind it. If they’re supporting something, it’s probably evil and I should push back.

Some of them publish voting guides. Tadah! I know how to vote. The opposite.  They want someone for school board? Voting no on them. They want a particular judge? Nope.

I just heard an ad on the radio, which stated that billionaires are trying to divert funds from the hard-working teacher’s union educators in public schools to fund evil charter schools with no accountability and *gasp* cherry-pick the best kids for their schools while keeping out the developmentally disabled. WHO WOULD DO THIS?

Paid for by the California Teacher’s Union.  Oh. That explains the message.

If you’re not in California, you have no idea what a racketeering influenced organization this is. See, they like to do things like take a percentage of each teacher’s salary, then pay themselves to “Advocate.” How do they do this, you ask? Radio ads. Every day, expensive radio ads in the highest priced markets touting how great the teacher’s union is for kids and schools.

Don’t you think the money would be better spent on the children, or kept by the teachers? The teacher’s union seems like a good thing for employees of the teacher’s union, and in this case, media stations that are pocketing the cash. Now, you’re a teacher’s union, you get to spend the money in the way you think will best help your members. And one of those ways you help your members is by quashing innovation and competition.

Anyway, I’m voting for whatever it is, because the CTA says it’s bad. Since they live in opposite land, it means that it’s good.

Everyone wants conflict. We love it.

Even in our blog posts.

So, um. You. Reader. I don’t like the color of your house.

There. Now we’re in conflict.  Go ahead. Respond in the comments, or this’ll be one-sided.

But… now we have to decide: Am I the antagonist, or am I the protagonist? We certainly know, most of the time, that we ourselves are the protagonist, of course, but what if you’re really the antagonist and you just don’t know it?

If you’re defeated after the climax of the story, you were probably the antagonist. Unless, of course, it’s a false climax and you’re headed for a new bigger climax where you win big. Then you were the protagonist all along.

If you don’t know when the climax happened in the story, you’re probably still headed toward it. Climaxes are always climaxy.

What if you’re just the B story, and you’re going to help someone else at the end, so you’re really only there for parts 20-30% of the book/movie? Just a bit character who will save the hero at the end after the darkest hour?

Also, did you arc? Even villains should arc.

You do know how to arc, right? I strongly suspect that most of the broken people I know never arced, which explains a lot. If you would just arc, you’ll finish your book, you writers. The lie that writers believe: Writer’s block. The arc: Overcoming it to publish a critically acclaimed best seller and have Steve King texting you for tips on his next novel. Climax: Beta readers all are bitten to become zombies, you get no feedback, and at the last moment an editor you met through a blog comes through and developmentally fixes your messy manuscript.

Don’t worry about the zombie apocalypse thing. You managed to get your book published, even if civilization is in the toilet. The End.

You gotta fight; you gotta struggle

My baby boy has hypotonia, which is a symptom of something else, which we don’t know or understand. Hypotonia is a weakness of the muscle system, which is caused by the muscles not properly tensing and untensing, something that happens to everyone with normal musculature.

He’s 7 months old right now, and super cute. He’s also developmentally delayed, which means he’s hitting 2-3 month old milestones instead of 7 month old milestones.

I have conversations with him. I’ll say, “Johnny James, you’re going to have a different life from all your peers. You got this thing. And you’re going to have to be fierce. You’re going to have to fight to be normal or attain that level. Other kids, they can just be what they are, but you’re going to have to fight.

“But I’m here, and I’m going to fight for you. I’ll help you be fierce. I’ll motivate you. I’ll push you. I’ll keep you on track. However, it’s your struggle, and you’re going to have to do it. So you have the blood of vikings running through your veins, and those guys used to get into little tiny boats and said across the north sea through storms and they’d conquer lands and subjugate people… for which they never apologized. You can be that fierce, and you will need to be. You must fight, you must struggle.”

And then I help him do exercises to improve his core muscles or help with his coordination or attention or the myriad other things that we’re working on with him.

I read this article that Jake Seliger linked to here: Links and the specific link was to a story in Marie Clare written by Merritt Tierce, “I Published My Debut Novel to Critical Acclaim—and Then I Promptly Went Broke.” Ms. Tierce describes publishing her first novel, which won accolades, awards, and was touted as newest best thing. It sold 12,000 copies and promptly fell off the radar. Ms. Tierce hasn’t written since.

And this reminded me of my conversations with Johnny James, my baby outlaw. Maybe Ms. Tierce has someone saying “you gotta be fierce, you gotta get motivated.” Maybe not. The thing of it is, if you want to be successful as a writer, you need to be hungry and you need to be motivated.  There’s tons of blah writers out there who produce for the slush pile. How hungry are you? Does the blood of warriors run through your veins? Or are you complacently producing milk and cheese and content with that?

Sci-Fi: Use the trope or make it yourself?

In my other post about swearing, I was considering that the language comes with the character.

In real life, there’s people I know who use cuss words every other word. And there’s plenty of people who don’t need those words. If your characters, who are broken and in conflict, do not sound authentic, we won’t believe them or you. For me, I’m writing about marines in space. Nobody has met a marine in space, but most people have a picture in their head of a marine, either someone they know or R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket or some other iconic marine. Marines are tough. Marines will fight you. Marines swear a lot.

That’s the stereotype. It -is- a stereotype, in that I know marines and former marines and while all of them are tough, some are gentle, some don’t swear, some swear only around other people but are considerate of the audience around them/kids, and so on. These marines do not necessarily make up the stereotype of a marine that most of the public carries around in their head.

My marines in space can be anything I want them to be. They don’t have to be USMC culture, or British SAS, or anything Earth has ever made or seen. I suppose I could do the hard work of creating something new, so that the words aren’t buzzwords surrounded by the current culture (such as fire team, squad leader, sergeant, marine, lance corporal, navy, lieutenant, etc.).

But the point here is that it essentially looks like the USMC in space. That’s hardly original, but because it uses tropes and stereotypes, it establishes an immediate picture for someone familiar with our modern culture. I don’t have to do the work to create the picture because the reader comes pre-loaded with the picture. I just use the correct words and phrases and the reader supplies a bulk of picture, with some careful descriptions from my end to tweak it in such a way that the picture doesn’t look exactly like the USMC or marines from Aliens or something else that is intrinsic and part of our cultural background.

Contrast this with a book in which the author carefully creates an entirely new military culture, with new rank names and positions, with new terms and policies and tactics and names for them. This means the author must do the heavy lifting and set up the initial framework, then put enough explanation in the book that the reader understands that framework enough to form the mental associations with what they do know (NCOs, officers, enlisted, organization of men and material, and so on). No matter how strange and fantastic you make your new sci-fi whatever widget military city alien race, ultimately the reader cannot relate to the whatever widget unless they can tie it in to something they have experienced. Imagination can make up the rest, but if you don’t know what the color green is, it’s just a nonsense word that means nothing.

We depend on Culture to Inform the Audience on What to See

The way that culture wraps around the stories we tell is also interesting. There are movies which every single person alive either has seen or should have seen. Thus, phrases like “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” or “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” or “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse,” are used as the basis of jokes in other art such as written stories or cartoons or movies or visual art. When a cartoon like the Animaniacs does their humor, much of it depends on having seen the body of work of famous movies like Casablanca, ET, Star Wars, the Godfather, Gone With the Wind, and so on. Don’t see those movies? Don’t get the jokes.

I saw a cartoon done during WWII, where they tongue-in-cheek said, “Crime is down, except at clock shops.” The criminals break into a jewelry store and steal all the clocks and leave the jewelry. I didn’t understand it, had to look it up. It turns out clocks were no longer manufactured during the war because the factories were making parts and devices for the war effort, so people couldn’t buy new clocks. Thus, the thieves make off with the clocks. Without the culture to interpret the humor, I couldn’t grasp it (and it wasn’t funny).

Every Pirate Movie made from the 60s on Is Influenced by Treasure Island

Another trope in our cultural has to do with all the cultural baggage on horror monsters. Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, Wolfman, the Mummy, these early movies from late Victorian books set up decades of horror that continues to this day with genres entirely devoted to them, especially the vampire genre. Or zombies, which sprang from George Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead and spawned dozens of movies and hundreds of books. The premise is pretty bad, but people really like it, for some reason.

And some things are so prevalent in our culture, that for our characters to not acknowledge them in the books as we write would be weird. So, in a zombie apocalypse type of book, you always get the character who says, “you mean this is a zombie apocalypse?” and the other characters pooh-pooh it, but the first character is right. And it has to be mentioned because it’s all pervasive in culture and you cannot avoid mentioning it without it being a wee bit strange to the reader, who is immersed in zombies and expects that at least some of the characters in the book will figure it out and call it what it is.

If you’ve ever watched a pirate movie, there is always some aspect that will point back to Disney’s Treasure Island, with Robert Newton performing as Long John Silver. Where does the pirate accent come from? Robert Newton, who got it from his grandmother who lived in a remove part of Britain where the dialect was unchanged from several hundred years before. I’ll bet some of you were playing with “Talk like a Pirate Day” yesterday, and you were, whether you knew it or not, mimicking Robert Newton’s dialect from Treasure Island.


Nice people write lousy fiction

I suppose that better fiction comes from people who are messier, who don’t mind wading into a scene where there’s conflict.

Because that’s what messes up my plotting. There I’ll be, setting up the battle to end all battles, and I’ve got my people primed and ready to go. There’s going to be Donnybrook!

But wait. Not really a plot twist, more like a balloon full of molten lead. The antagonist has flown the coop. There is no battle. No bodies. No blood. No bullets flying.

That’s awfully boring, isn’t it? No one wants to read that. Give us the figurative blood and gore. We want it. We need it. It’s necessary for fiction to have that.

That’s the point of the title. The nice people out there, they shy away from dragging everyone else through their messes. Fiction comes from the depiction of people in different bad situations. Maybe people who’ve been damaged by conflict in their childhoods might write weak fiction because they shy away from the nasty stuff. I don’t blame ’em.  Maybe you are the eternal optimist and think there’s enough conflict in the world. Maybe you’re just nice and want people to have a yellow happy face have a nice day sort of  blather. Either way, that is the insipid path to dullness.

Stories do not work without conflict.

So brace yourselves and make everyone argue. Peace is a nice thing to talk about in blog posts where you have no intention of doing anything to back it up, but it’s dullsville in fiction.  If you manuscript says, “The elves and dwarves had been at peace as long as anyone could remember,” I’ll fix that for you. Say, instead, “The elves and dwarves had been in a bitter war as along as anyone could remember.”  Everytime we get and elf and dwarf together, there’s a fight!

Plus, each scene needs that conflict goal thing. You know, the character has a goal. There’s a conflict. They can’t have their goal. Then you do the whole mourning thing, they come up with a new goal, and go to carry that out. Scene and sequel. Repeat this over and over. Apply structure, apply arc, add plot twists, you have a book.

I will now go make my characters fight some more. There’s way too much agreement.

To swear or not to swear

What’s your policy with swearing in your novel? Do you substitute lesser words for the biggies? Or do a Zane Grey sort of thing where you use something that looks like this: “G_______!” Texas said.

Or just leave ’em out?

I know some of you don’t care about this. I know that space marines have potty mouths, so the things they say don’t sound right unless it’s peppered with expletives.

I suppose I could come up with all new swear words to replace those English swear words we all know and love. That way, the marines can be a pottymouthed as they want, but no one gets offended when they’re all, “Move your supercalifragilistic rear!”

Say. There’s 3300 words missing from the manuscript.Uh oh. There’s a ton of spaces missing, too.

I email my manuscript to myself for portability, and when I opened the latest iteration, the one that should have 30,314  words, it reported 27,000 words. Excuse me?

I scroll through and notice that there’s entire paragraphs where the spaces were stripped out. Not sure how that happened, but it’s pretty annoying. I don’t think I made any changes to the majority of the text, just the beginning and the end, and since that text was undamaged, it imported it into this morning’s copy and all is well.

I’m wondering how the spaces got stripped out, though. While I could restore the spaces by hand, I’m not going to spend my time putting 3300 spaces in the correct spots. Backup copy to the rescue.

Anyone else ever have huge formatting disasters? Usually Word and me, we’re friends, but this time, I don’t know what happened. Stabbed me in the back, it did.

Word count for Sunday

29600. I had a great discussion with an English major friend who knew story structure backward and forward. I was inspired to throw a new chapter one into my manuscript and started on that. I’ll be fixing some of the relationships in the act one/act two stuff to setup situations for later, and keep pushing forward with chapter 11 after I’m done with the new chapter 1.


How about a date at the ER?

After taking my son to the ER on Friday night for an infection, my wife suffered a scratch on her cornea on Saturday evening when the baby clawed her.  Sucker has sharp fingernails.

A friend came over to watch the kids after urgent care turned out to be closed and wife couldn’t go there. Across the street to the ER at the hospital we went. I walk in, see a tech from the night before, and wave. He recognizes me. But I’m here with someone else. (Cause and effect: I come in with people that need the ER, therefore my presence causes injuries. Or bad correlation.)

We log in and she goes in and I’m left with the baby in the waiting room. A while later, the front desk people are around the corner and young woman rushes in, agitated and hurrying. She arrives at the window and looks perplexed because there’s no one there. “HELLO! IS ANYONE THERE? HELLO!? CAN ANYONE HELP ME?” She looks at the people in the waiting room. “Why isn’t there anyone here?”

“They’re there, they’re just around the corner,” we say.

“I NEED HELP!” she yells. Some hospital personnel come around the corner, and she says “my mom is out there, we need a wheelchair right now, she can’t move her right side!”

Three men in the waiting room got up and ran outside to help her. They weren’t hospital personnel. I trailed out, because this was drama and I wanted to see what happened, but I had the baby and wasn’t going to be any help in moving someone, though I was probably the most qualified to do so out of the people responding. They moved the lady to a wheelchair and wheeled her in to the waiting room after determining it wasn’t a stroke.

After two visits to my wife with the baby to see if he’d feed–he didn’t, he just looked around at the ophthalmology room, which was a good sign because he was curious about his surroundings and a bad thing because he was really fighting sleep, and sometimes eating helps– she was discharged with some prescriptions. She described the pain as being a knife stab to her eye, and she desired painkillers and an eyepatch.

We decided, at that time, to wait for morning to buy the medications because our local covered pharmacy was closed. CVS was open all night but it’d be full price to buy ’em there.

I went to bed about 12:30 a.m.

I was awakened about 1:20 a.m.  “Get the medicine at CVS. I need something for the pain.”

Okay. I woozily drive to CVS and order the meds. My wife calls me. “Will it help for pain?” I dunno. I ask the pharmacist.

“Maybe. No, I don’t think so,” he says.

That doesn’t change my trajectory, and I bring the meds home. Wife takes meds. “This isn’t going to work, I need to go back to the ER.”

I think longingly of my bed, it’s 1:50 a.m. She decided not to go back to ER until the morning, and that was my Saturday night date.

Does anyone else spend a lot of time at the hospital with their kids?

I mean, I think hospitals are great places, but we’ve been going to them all too much. #3 son is 7 months old, has significant cognitive delays, tons of therapy, and he gets to go to hospitals a lot.

Last night, #1 (the 8 yo) says his privates hurt and he can’t walk without pain. Off to urgent care. Urgent care Doctor can’t even examine #1 without pain, so he sends us across the street to ER. Check in time: 9:30 pm.

ER is pretty slow on Friday night–apparently everyone likes their weekends so they tough out the pain and go on Monday night after work–so in we go. Nurse Practitioner takes a look, then sends us to ultrasound. After some uncomfortable ultrasound of the private region, back to NP who tells us it’s an inflammation, and prescribes the usual antibiotics.

We were out by 11:05, so that’s probably a record. We’ve been to the urgent care twice for my daughter, twice for me, three times for #1 son in the last 6 months. Yeesh. More sleep, less disease.

It’s not like I had something else planned for Friday night.