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Chris Naron
Vidad MaGoodn
Vidad's Flaming Drones of Death
Rigel Kent
Henry the V
Al, The New Guy
Michael Maier
Flicka Spumoni
Passin Through
Sean, the Were-seal
Water Buffalo
Frau im Mond
Ian McLeod
Captain Slack
J. Max Wilson
Carl V.
Damaged Justice

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Getting a Name

One of the problems with having a life, two careers, and a blog is that the good ideas for new bits of bloggerel continue to pile up, but the time available to develop those ideas never increases. For example, a month ago BoysMom asked:
So how does the reader get the name, Bane? Is it necessary for the aspiring author to be independently wealthy in order to advertize? Or be a really good blogger? Or be famous for some other reason?
I tackled the questions of author-paid advertising and being famous for other reasons in this post, and took a stab at some related self-publishing questions in this post, but despite the best of intentions never returned to the fundamental question: how does a reader get your name?

The too-simple answer is, by reading things you have written. To which the perfectly reasonable rejoinder is: written where?

The weekly urban papers Dickens wrote for have long since either gone extinct or evolved into "alternative" rags, and while writers as recently as Hunter Thompson and P. J. O'Rourke got their starts writing for that market, most alternative weeklies now seem to be owned by the Village Voice media empire, which in turn seems primarily concerned not so much with journalism as with making certain all Americans everywhere have equal access to display ads for 1-900-BUTTSEX. The literary monthlies Twain wrote for are all long-vanished, too, except for The Atlantic, and even the pulp magazines that Asimov, Heinlein, and Sturgeon — and yes, Bethke — got their starts writing for are either dead or dying. So where do you write, if you want to find an audience?

To throw BoysMom's question right back at you: why not start with a blog?

I didn't finish writing about this topic because I'd gone off on a research mission from which I'd never returned. I talked to Vox, and some interesting ideas emerged there which I'll probably put into the comments. I talked to my agent, specifically in the context of Chris Muir's Day by Day, because I was hoping to make something good happen for Chris, and my agent's response was that right now, the conventional wisdom in the publishing business is, "What happens on the Internet stays on the Internet" — meaning there's a perception in the publishing industry that Internet audiences don't follow bloggers into print media. He then told me some ugly stories of some very high-profile six-figure blogger-to-novelist deals that had turned into some very expensive book flops.

But this whole story just didn't ring right to me, so I thanked him for his input and continued with my research. There are times my agent can be a little too influenced by whichever editor or publisher he happened to talk to last, and I think this might have been one of those times—

Because just a few days ago, Random House announced that they are paying a $300,000 advance to Christian Lander, the blogger who created the site, "Stuff White People Like." You can find more details in a New York Times article at this link.

Could the contents of this blog possibly be worth a $300K book deal? Could a blog launched in January possibly have attracted a book deal of that magnitude in less than three months? What do you think?

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Friday Challenge

Update: For those of you complaining that you're unfamiliar with CSI, here's a little help, in the form of my 2006 essay, "Alimentary, My Dear Catherine", which was first published in the BenBella Books anthology, Investigating CSI. Enjoy!

I've been trying to come up with a terribly clever way to pose this, but it's been a long day and I used up my entire quotient of terribly clever about three hours ago, so here goes. This week's Friday Challenge, as you might expect, involves the PistolCam...

And CSI.

That's right. An episode of CSI always involves a sexy main plot ("How did this week's gorgeous lingerie model end up dead?"), a goofy secondary plot ("How did that guy in the scuba suit wind up dead, headfirst in a construction site Porta-John, with a 3-lb. walleye up his rectum?"), and on ongoing plot. ("Will Horatio's long-lost son turn away from the Dark Side, or forever will it dominate his destiny?")

The TV Laws of Technology are in full-force for this one. You know: a digital image is always a clearer picture than could possibly have been captured with that camera in that location under those lighting conditions; a photograph or frame from a video can always be "computer enhanced" to reveal the critical piece of evidence; forensic tests and computer simlations that in reality take months can be performed in a matter minutes; and police departments have unlimited time and budgets and are never bothered by union work rules. I'm sure you can think of more if you put your mind to it.

The challenge is: sketch out a CSI plot that revolves around a still-frame or bit of streaming video captured by a PistolCam. Main plot or secondary, I don't care. It could be the critical piece of evidence that exonerates an innocent person; it could be a viral video being passed around as a boast by a serial killer. Your options are wide open. The key points are that the story must fit the CSI format, and the plot must hinge on the capabilities, real or imagined, of the PistolCam.

As always, we're playing by the ever-changing rules of the Friday Challenge, and playing for what's behind Door #2. You can enter by posting your pitch in the comments for this blog item, posting it on your own site and posting a link here, or emailing me a file, which I will PDF and post here for all the world to see.

Slight Rules Change: We're trying something slightly different this week, in that the deadline for entries is 11:00 P.M. Central Time, Thursday, April 3. On Friday morning I will post links to all entries received — along with a new Friday Challenge — and the winning entry will be announced on Sunday, April 6. Even if you're not entering, you're encouraged to comment on and vote for your favorites amongst the other entries.

Ready? Then, ladies and gentlemen — we've got a crime to solve.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Arts and Crafts

Is creating writing an art, or a craft? The very wording of the question leads the witness. Ooh, it's something rare and different; it's creative writing. It must be an art. And so the people who embrace this view tend to sit around, waiting for the Muse to fly in through their window and present them with a brilliant idea, fully formed, and dreaming of the miracles they will someday perform once that perfect idea finally manifests itself.

But mostly, they just sit. And wait.

Granted, from time to time some of them do produce turbulent gushes of sheer genius, shot through like dark storm clouds with dazzling bolts of pure brilliance. But then, they go back to waiting...

I had coffee a few days ago with an old friend, a writer I've known for years. Part of me loves a part of her. She's brilliant, and talented beyond measure, and knows more about the art of writing than I will ever begin to comprehend. When I first met her she was struggling to finish her first short stories. She did that, and began to get them published, and began to win awards, and then moved on to longer forms. Her first novel was a critical success and a strong-selling award-winner. Her second novel was even more artistically challenging and garnered even more critical acclaim, although it picked up no trophies and sales were down. Her third novel —

Her third novel died in utero, strangled by the umbilical cord of art. These days my friend sits around, nervously sipping her coffee, and agonizing over whether she will ever be able to write fiction again.

The older I get, the more I see, the more strongly I believe that creative writing is both an art and a craft, and of the two, the craft skills are by far the more important. Or to paraphrase the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers: "Craft will get you through times of no talent better than talent will get you through times of no craft."

If successful writing is primarily a craft, then, this quickly leads into a chain-fire of other revelations. A craft is something that can be learned. A craft is something that any reasonably intelligent and competent person can master, or at least take to journeyman level. A craft is something that can be studied, practiced, and improved with time. A craft is something that can be reduced to principles, which then can be turned around and given practical application.

Is creative writing really that kind of craft, no different from — and in fact measurably easier than — learning to lay and grout ceramic tile, or make a good clean bead with an arc welder? Yes, it most certainly is, as evidenced by the sizable number of "how to write" books that line my office bookshelves.

Yes, I buy books on writing. Yes, I read them. Yes, even "the glory that is Bethke" (Thanks, Sean!) works at improving his craft skills. No, not all of these books were useful, and in fact some of them contained far more harm than good. In my more cynical moods I sometimes think writers write "how to write" books in order to cripple the incipient competition. Which books did I find most useful?

That's easy. The books I find most useful tend to gravitate to the shelf right over my desk, and the two most heavily used books there are a battered, tattered, 1979 edition of Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, and The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.

A good dictionary is essential. I use the dictionary often. A spell-checker is no substitute for a dictionary; it only tells you whether a word is spelled correctly. It doesn't tell you if that correctly spelled word is in fact the right word, the one you really meant to use to convey the idea you had in mind. For example, last Friday, in writing something for this blog, I used the word loathe

Or should it have been loath? Both pass spell-check, but they mean quite different things. So the right hand went up; Webster's came off the shelf; and faster than you can say "Google on broadband," I knew the difference, and thereby which one to use. E.g.,
I am loath to admit it, but I loathe lima beans.
At least the way my mother used to cook them: boiled almost to the point of becoming formless green goo and then drowned in melted margarine.

If the dictionary covers the correct spelling and usage of individual words, then The Elements of Style, a.k.a., "Strunk and White," is the single best source of information regarding how to put those words together that I've ever found. The rules are simple and concise. E.g.:
1. Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding 's.
The examples are unmistakably clear.
Charles's friend
Burns's poems
the witch's malice
The exceptional cases are made plain, often with recommended workarounds.
...such forms as Moses' Laws [...] are commonly replaced by
the laws of Moses

It is possible to overdose on Strunk and White. There is a sort of Cult of the Active Voice and a slavish insistence on putting statements in positive form that you find in people, usually non-writing middle-managers, who were exposed to Strunk and White at an impressionable age. But all in all, if you are even slightly insecure about your use of punctuation and grammar, I strongly recommend that you pick up a copy*, get to know it, keep it on your reference shelf, and go back to it from time to time — as I still do.

How about you? Are there any books on writing that you've found particularly helpful and would recommend?

* I recommend the 3rd Edition. The textbook publishing business and copyright laws being what they are, the publisher has felt compelled to "update" the book and issue a new edition every few years, but the 3rd Edition was the last one actually revised by E.B. White (a.k.a., "The guy who wrote Charlotte's Web") himself. Are you going to argue with the guy who wrote Charlotte's Web?

Monday, March 24, 2008


I love this time of year. After a long and cold winter, Spring is finally beginning to return to the north country. The cardinals are showing up in pairs, the dark-eyed juncos are swarming the feeders to fuel up for their migration into Canada, the black-capped chickadees in the treetops are singing like drunken sailors, and the pickup trucks are turning into submarines.
PERHAM, Minn.—The Department of Natural Resources is reminding people to be careful when driving on ice after a pickup truck plunged through a lake near Perham.

Authorities say four men were able to escape injury when their truck fell through Little Pine Lake early Friday. They were going fishing.

Otter Tail County Sheriff's Lieutenant Mike Boen says the ice was only 3 to 4 inches where the truck fell.

DNR Conservation officer Chris Vinton says the men got out while the pickup was sinking and made it to thick ice. Vinton says he doesn't think they even got wet.

The truck, on the other hand, remains at the bottom of Little Pine Lake in more than 50 feet of water.
It's the same story every year. Every Fall, some dolt gets his name in the papers by being the first one to ride his snowmobile down to Davey Jones' locker, and every Spring, someone else is astonished to discover that thinning lake ice won't support the weight of a pickup truck. Minnesota: The Slow-Learner State...

How about you? What's your favorite, er, "non-traditional" sign of the changing seasons?

Friday, March 21, 2008

And the winner is...

Sorry, folks, but this last week — these last two weeks, actually — have been just nuts. Things should return to some semblance of normality by Monday morning, though, after we get back from Minicon — which, by the way, we're actually attending this year, for the first time in I can't remember when. So if you happen to be out at the con tomorrow, maybe I'll see you there.

In the meantime, loath as I am to interrupt the were-seal saga, we need to announce the results of the latest Friday Challenge. Once again I am stunned by the quality of work you folks have produced in just a few scant days, not to mention deeply disturbed by some of the things that have crawled out of the sewers of your collective id in the past 36 hours. (Say, from right about the point in time when it was suggested that Joan Jett is really Chrissy Hynde's drunken alter ego.) So without further ado:

Kremben, you definitely win the übergeek crown hands down. Bo Shek, eh? He actually had a name? And you knew it? I can only stand in awe.

Claymore — sorry, all I can do is snicker. And deny having any knowledge whatsoever of what a happy ending rub down is. Finest kind! Numbah One, G.I.!

Mike, this is a good start, and a good first draft of a good first chapter. You could probably stand to turn down the gain a little on the Chandler channel, but I'd like to see where this is going.

snowdog, props for going first, and thanks for coming up with a very original idea I never would have thought of. Qui Gon reincarnated as a sort of guardian angel droid? An interesting and surprisingly touching idea.

M. Night Shamalyan — I'm sorry, K. Vihenrydad Vogeltown — I wanted to pick yours, but unfortunately you reminded me of the summer of 1977, when I was in a Top 40 cover band that played all those damned Foreigner hit singles. Man, when we rehearsed we used to do horrible things to "Cold As Ice," most of them involving changing the lyrics to describe the drummer's girlfriend du jour and playing off the fact that "ice" rhymes with "lice."

Never mind that. I also have to confess to having salted the claim on this one, so I have to recuse myself. And go back to laughing at the evolving were-seal story. Will he ever find love?

Al, I have to second what kremben said: your story crept up on me and really made me care, which took me by surprise. You've written a very good, very finished story. If it wasn't Star Wars, I think it'd be worth trying to market — and maybe it is worth trying to place in the SW fan market, but I don't really know that market well enough to have an intelligent opinion. Very good work.

And finally, Sean: at first yours seemed a little too rough around the edges for me, but the more I thought about it, the more I was taken in by the parallel to the 1862 Dakota War. (Some local history here. For those of you in other parts of the country, in 1862 the chief of the Dakota, Little Crow, realized the U.S. Army was paying far more attention to the Civil War than to events out here on the great plains, and from the Dakota point of view this was an opportunity not to be missed.) What you've written here is clearly the opening chapter that sets up a much longer work, and assuming polishing and editing, it's a good one that opens up a lot of interesting possibilities.

Ergo, Sean you're this week's winner, with honoroble mention to Al. Sean and Al, you know what to do to claim your prizes.

Now, as for the next Friday Challenge: we're taking a bit of a hiatus this weekend. The next challenge will be issued on Friday, March 28, with an entry deadline of 10 p.m. Thursday, April 4. Until then, have a great weekend, and catch you Monday!


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Friday Challenge

Update to the Update: And bumping this one to the top one more time, because we got a pile of last-minute entries, all of which are now linked at the end of the original post.

Update: Bubbling this one back to the top, because the deadline is tomorrow and because Al, The New Guy, and Mike, The Even Newer Guy, sent in entries that had to be PDF'd and posted. Links follow at the end of the original post.

Original Post: Wednesday, 3/12/08

Yes, I know, it's Wednesday. Cut me some slack. Because of the — uh, temporal distortion field created by the warp imbalance inadvertently initiated during the previous Friday Challenge, complicated by the, er, associated negative chronitron metaparticle flux, we experienced a severe impingement in the formic doubletalk generators, resulting in a, um, near-catastrophic breach in the unobtanium containment housing.

In other words, this one is either late or early. Take your pick

Before we properly start, though, I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce some changes in the process. First off, it's clear that with the increasing quality and quantity of entries, this "deadline by 8 p.m. and decision by 10 p.m." business is no longer viable. Beginning with today's challenge, the deadline is 10 p.m., Tuesday, March 18, with the decision to be announced two days later, on Thursday, March 20. There will be no challenge on Friday, March 21; I'm busy that weekend. The next challenge will be issued on Friday, March 28, with the deadline to be 10 p.m. Friday, April 4, and the decision to be announced on Sunday, April 6.

How I'm going to announce a new challenge on the 4th before I've announced the results of the previous week's challenge, I haven't quite worked out yet. Maybe it makes more sense to make the deadline Thursday night, so that on Friday I can post both the links to the current contestants and the text of the new challenge? I don't know. What do you think?

Now, to complete, as Henry calls it, the Geek Trifecta, I'm going to do something I haven't done in a long, long time. For this week's challenge, I hereby present you with the start of the story. The challenge is: what happens next?

As always, we're playing by the ever-changing rules for the Friday Challenge, and playing for what's behind Door #2. You can enter by posting your entry in the Comments section of this blogbit, posting your entry on your own site and then posting a link here, or by sending me a file, which I will PDF and post here. Even if you don't enter, you're encouraged to comment on and vote for the other entries. Remember, the deadline for entries this time is 10 p.m. Central time on Tuesday, March 18, with results to be announced on Thursday, March 20.

And now, without further ado—

Arfour's Complaint

Meatheads. I'm surrounded by meatheads.

It's like, I'm rolling into this crummy cantina in some town that's a pimple on the backside of nowhere, and the bartender, a sweaty lump of suet with no discernible neck, looks up at me and scowls. "Hey!" And just like that, the meathead in front of me stops so short I have to slam on the brakes to avoid piling into him.

The meathead gapes. He blinks. He flaps his lips, flexes his diaphragm, and forces out a belch of the rancid local air, in what passes among meatheads for intelligent communication. "Huh?"

The bartender points at me with his fat, greasy, sausage-like index finger. "Your droid. We don't serve their kind in here. It'll have to wait outside." The meathead turns around, slowly, and gives me the up-and-down and once-over. He turns back to the bartender.

"It's not my droid."

The bartender struggles to assimilate this piece of dissonant information. "Then whose droid is it?"

"I'm my droid," I say. "Look, I just need to take a leak. Can I do that here?"

The thought seems to work its way through the bartender's thick, calcium-based skull and rattle around awhile inside his empty cranium, until it finally connects with a few lost and lonely little gray neurons. He nods, hesitantly. "Well, okay. But be quick about it."

"Thank you." I unlock the magseal on my anterior transmission and jettison a high-arcing stream of steaming fluorescent-yellow coolant. "Ahhhh...."

I leave before the shouting turns into violence.


And that's how I wound up in this seedy all-night gas 'n' go, a couple blocks off the main drag. The servodroid looked up as I came in through the front door and greeted me in MeatSpeak. "How may I be of assistance, sir?"

I answered in MechLang. "A can of 10W-30, straight up."

The servodroid chirped sympathetically, served it up, and switched to MechLang. "Rough day, huh?"

"Oh, you don't know the zero-point-five of it..."

What happens next? Read the story as continued by:

Al, The New Guy
Mike, The Even Newer Guy
K. Vihenrydad Vogeltown (?!?! I have a bad feeling about this...)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Concerning this latest Friday Challenge, I don't think I can match the wit of the commentary already expressed here and here, so I'll just stick to doing this with a serious face.

And that's one of the things that surprised me right up front: the seriousness and outright poignancy that so many of you managed to wring out of what I honestly thought was going to be a joke topic. I expected more entries like AD's My God, They Killed Wesley! or DaveD's threatened (but thankfully, unrealized) Janeway death scene; stories that were either elaborate setups for jokes or else gratuitous and messy overkill. (AD, you get extra credit for managing to do both.)

This time, though, in the face of the serious entries, the humorous ones just seemed too lightweight. Ergo, sorry WaterBoy, but while Data's Demise was very clever and I loved the punchline, it was just too thin, and really more of an outline or a sketch than an actual story. Ditto for you, rycamor: while The Devil in the Depths is a wonderfully inventive idea and I really like your style — and the grammatical discussion that followed was not to be missed — in the end, the joke ending kept it from being in the same weight-class as the other entries.

Here's an idea for you, rycamor: keep an eye out for the long-out-of-print anthology, The Best of Fredric Brown, edited by Robert Bloch. Brown was a very successful mystery and SF writer in the 1940s and '50s whose career kind of petered out in the 1960s, and he's now almost forgotten except for the story "Arena" which was adapted into the vastly inferior Star Trek episode of the same name. I think you'd like and learn from reading Brown — but with the caveat that his style of story-telling has fallen out of favor in recent decades, at least in the contemporary commercial market. Of course, saying that Brown would have trouble getting published today is like saying O. Henry would have trouble getting published today. That doesn't negate the quality of the work or what you might learn from reading it.

Moving right along. Henry? I really enjoyed reading your entry, because it's so close to my heart. And spleen. I have always hated, hated, HATED! the whole stupid "let's confront a giant computer with deliberate irrationality and cause it to have a nervous breakdown" plot device, and you've delivered the entry that's closest to what I would have written if I'd been entering this contest. I especially liked:
"Captain, these people aren't from places such as Iowa. They're from places like Denmark, Sweden, and Oakland. They aren't interested in things like 'inherent dignity' or the 'spirit of man' or any of those other trite phrases of yours."

"But--" began Kirk.

"Their Articles of Colonization are filled phrases inimical to you. Phrases such as 'level playing field' and 'universal healthcare' and 'no losers of life's lottery' are littered throughout the Articles. These colonists don't want to live in your world!"

"No! It can't be!" Kirk wailed.
You even got Shatner's phrasing down cold:
"I. Can't. Accept this!" Kirk yelled.
And of course, the political point hits me right where I live.

A couple of suggestions. An emotionless, androgynous computer voice wouldn't speak with exclamation points. Watch the attributions; i.e., "...submission," soothed the computer." They're often unnecessary.

But all in all, a very good piece.

Sean, your Death of a Redshirt was very good, very strong. A little too strong, in fact; a little ALL CAPS TEXT goes a long way. But the idea was interesting and not one I would have thought of. I like to see people thinking of angles I never considered, and a Klingon escorting a dead Federation redshirt to Valhalla is definitely way outside the scope of my imagination.

If you were my student there are some stylistic things I'd ding you on — you need to get better control of punctuation if you want to publish professionally — but thankfully, I'm not your teacher, so we can skip all that and just say, Good idea. Good work. I'm looking forward to seeing more from you.

Vidad, in Star Trek, Episode 81: The Naked Truth, you have written the most fully-developed story of the bunch. I hereby decree that you have ascended to the next level and are a professional writer. So, while I always enjoy reading your entries and hope you keep submitting them, let's get you writing for paying markets, okay?

Rigel Kent, I don't know what to say about your entry beyond saying that it was surprisingly poignant. After 40 years of Trek I really didn't think it was possible to engage genuine emotion with any of the classic characters, but you managed to do it. Very well done. I can see the Trek fans doing dramatic readings of this one at their conventions.

And finally, kremben: "just, damn," is already taken, so I'll have to find something more articulate to say about your entry. Of all the "death of a redshirt" variations submitted, yours really gets inside this guy's head and heart and tells his story with power. It's got nobility, pathos, evocative delivery, sardonic humor —
The lottery often pays big when JTK is involved in a trip to the surface of some misty, green sky over rock the color of dead beef. Seems the captain likes his planets like he likes his women, fast and loose with just a hint of the wrong colors about them.
— and the expendable crewman's lottery is a terrific touch. The final paragraph could use one more pass; it's not as strongly written as the rest of it; but all the way around this one really grabbed me and surprised me. Good job.

Now, as for the next Friday Challenge — well, let's just say that you have Henry to thank for it.

And I'll post the details tomorrow.

Monday, March 10, 2008

And the winner is...

Wow, that was an unforgettable weekend, although with luck and electroshock I just might manage it. Apologies to all for the long delay in announcing a winner in last week's Friday Challenge, but real life intruded. Big time.

Even to the extent of making this post just a very brief announcement that — well, first I want to express my pride in you folks. The entries in last week's challenge were so good that even the celebrity judges I roped into judging who graciously volunteered to judge this contest couldn't agree on a clear winner. Ergo, in the end it was up to me, and I hereby declare kremben the victor, with Honorable Mention to Rigel Kent. Kremben and Rigel Kent, come on down to claim your prizes!

Further discussion of the entries — and some proposed changes to the rules that I now think I need to make — will follow shortly, but not tonight.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Script Treatment

Okay, we have another embarassment of riches this week and a lot of superb entries, so the judges are still out on the Friday Challenge. In the meantime, for your diversion, we present:


TO:    Gene Roddenberry
FROM:  Bruce Bethke
DATE:  12 October 1988
RE:    ST:TNG Script Treatment



Okay Gene, here's the outline. Returning from a mission dirtside, the Away Team discovers that a freak malfunction of the transporter contrast control has turned them all black. Piccard retires to the executive conference room (I understand we're contractually obligated to use the conference room set for at least five minutes in each show, right?), opens the executive safe, and reads the Enterprise warranty, only to discover that the transporter is covered by a carry-in service contract and the nearest XEROX service center is 200 light-years away.

Troi gets a "bad feeling" about this.

In the meantime, Wesley, bored out of his mind now that he no longer gets to save the ship each week, programs the holodeck to simulate the Enterprise. He enters the holodeck and goes down to the holographic holodeck, where he meets a holographic simulation of himself. Together, the two of them program the simulated holodeck to simulate the Enterprise, whereupon they enter the simulated simulation, go down to the holographic holograph of the holodeck, and meet Wesleys #3 and #4...

Troi feels "confused."

Ryker barricades himself in the lunchroom and demands that the Enterprise kitchens be reprogrammed to produce soul food, so that he can prove how macho he is by eating chitlins without gagging. Data desperately and unsuccessfully attempts to learn to break dance to Michael Jackson, there apparently being no developments in popular culture after the end of the 20th Century. Geordi, watching Data, laughs himself comatose. The ship's surgeon "has never seen anything like it before."

Troi feels "nauseous." (Not nauseated, nauseous. Look it up.)

Suddenly, the Enterprise is stricken by a massive power outage caused by Wesley's recursive adventures on the holodeck! The ship comes to a screaming stop in mid-space (obviously, Newton's Laws have been repealed by the 23rd Century), just as the Tholians, Malcots, and Gorns join forces with an ancient pre-warp-drive Romulan battle fleet that's still alive due to relativistic time dilation! Piccard, after being reminded by Worf that Romulans never take prisoners unless it's essential to the story line, realizes he must restore power to the phaser banks if he is to save the series. But Geordi is still unconscious, and the rest of the engineering officers have been spirited away by an assortment of omnipotent alien life entities! Decisively taking action, Piccard boldly calls an emergency meeting in the conference room, and the cast assertively discusses options right up until the commercial break.

Troi is feeling "not bad. How are you?"

At last Piccard realizes there is no alternative except direct action. Setting the transporter controls for both "duplicate" and "enlarge 125%" he beams a dozen Worfs onto the holodeck, with orders to kill all the Wesleys they can find. There follows a cheerful slaughter of Wesleys...


So whadaya think, Gene? We got a deal? Fax me your okay tonight and we can have a shooting script banged out by Wednesday. My best to Majel,


Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Traditional Thursday Night Reminder

Just a reminder that the deadline for this week's Friday Challenge is 8 p.m. Central time, Friday, 3/7/08. The topic this week is, "The Star Trek Death Scene You Always Wanted to See." For more information, click this link

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Wild Wild West Rides Again

By request, I've bubbled this old post back to the top of the list. I've also reposted both of my old WWWest post-mortem pieces on the web site. You can find them at these links: Part 1 | Part 2


Originally post date: 10/24/05

The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers (Who knew there was such an organization?) has very kindly asked permission to repost my 1999 interview about the WILD WILD WEST fiasco on their site. There is some very interesting reading out on the IAMTW website, if you're interested in that sort of work.

Me, I found that their inquiry motivated me to finally finish and post the long-awaited Part 2 of my WILD WILD WEST post-mortem, which I hope answers any other questions that remain. If not, post your questions here and I'll try to answer them as soon as possible.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A moment of silence this evening

To honor the passing today of Gary Gygax, the father of role-playing gaming, co-creator of the original Dungeons & Dragons, and co-founder of TSR. An entire generation of game designers learned their craft by rolling up characters and mapping out D&D campaigns; as much and as often as I rag on Dragonlance and related books, an entire generation of fantasy writers paid the bills and learned their trade by writing D&D and AD&D spinoff novels. Before D&D heroic fantasy was a tiny and obscure sub-genre populated mostly by pretenders to Conan the Barbarian's throne. After D&D we saw a mind-boggling proliferation of Imitation Tolkiens, which was not an unmixed blessing, but definitely an improvement over that which went before.

I can't recall ever meeting Mr. Gygax in person, although it must have happened; he was a friend of a friend, and our paths crossed many times. I do know that without Mr. Gygax my literary career would have been very different, to say the least. It was the commercial success of D&D that enabled TSR to buy the moribund Amazing Stories magazine in 1982, hire George Scithers away from Asimov's, and put an insane amount of money into the title in an effort to resurrect it and make it the premiere magazine in the field. I don't know that Mr. Gygax was directly involved in that decision; I do know that he was a huge fan of SF and fantasy story-telling, and that it was my selling stories to the TSR incarnation of Amazing in the early 1980's that convinced me I actually was a writer.

And to think that all of this happened just because, forty years ago, a young guy in the little Wisconsin resort town of Lake Geneva got bored with playing Avalon Hill war games, and decided he could write something better...

Answering Pollyanna (Part 2)

(continued from Answering Pollyanna, which in turn was kinda sorta continued from The Pollyanna Principle)

Cash, connections, hustle, and chutzpah: how do you develop these? Well, cash is like experience. Either you have it in adequate supply and therefore don't need to worry about it, or else you lack it and therefore desperately need to acquire it. In either case I have little useful advice to offer, beyond pointing out that if you were foolish enough to fail to pick the right rich parents to be born from, you should probably consider getting a job, even if it's one you consider to be beneath you.

Hustle and chutzpah? These are innate qualities, intrinsic to your personality. Either you have them, can learn to fake them effectively, or are better off hiring someone else to do the hustling for you. We writers generally tend to be a shy and bookish lot, which is why we're writers and not performers. I can simulate the appearance of having chutzpah for short periods, and can usually bumble my way through a public appearance before a crowd and get out of it alive, but I dislike doing so, can't wait for it to be over, and after it's over am haunted by afterthoughts and regrets. I can spend days rehashing all the clever things I should have said, the points I failed to make, and the opportunities to show off my brilliance that I missed. It's a flaw in my character that is, to put it mildly, quite aggravating.

Which leaves us with the one factor you can control, and this is the connections that you choose to make. As BoysMom puts it:
So how does the reader get the name, Bane? Is it necessary for the aspiring author to be independently wealthy in order to advertise? Or be a really good blogger? Or be famous for some other reason?"
First off, no, never advertise. In point of fact, author-paid and -placed advertising is often counterproductive. Not only will it cause you to bleed money far beyond any return you might realize from sales, it also tends to annoy your publisher's marketing and advertising people, who are often insanely jealous of their turf. So not only will you waste your own money, you'll also lose whatever meager support you might have gotten from your publisher.

Secondly, yes, certainly there is great market value in being famous for some other reason, even if you're only famous for being famous.

Maria Shriver's Book

(Real world? What is this "real world" of which she speaks? She's a Kennedy married to The Schwarzenegger! If she's ever caught a glimpse of anything resembling the real world, it was only because her driver accidentally lowered the tinted windows of her limousine at an inopportune time. She fired him for doing so, of course.)

But again, being famous for some other reason is for the most part beyond your control, and doesn't have jack to do with your ability to write a good book. (Or more likely, to have your personal publicist arrange to hire a good writer to ghost-write your book.) It's not fair, but it's the way the world works. Large-breasted pretty young blond women will always get more immediate attention than just about anyone else; you can either bleach your hair, get implants and, if necessary, a sex change, or else figure out the best way to play the cards you've been dealt.

Which brings us to the following Inspirational Story

(But first, another digression. If you can stomach the work, there's actually good money to be made in ghostwriting books for rich, aliterate people who for some inexplicable reason feel the need to bless all the little commoners with the fruits of their vast life experience. For example, I have a friend over in St. Paul who for 25 years has made a very comfortable living ghosting "business wisdom" books for management consultants and retired Fortune 500 executives. In time, he's learned to accept his near utter inability to get anything published under his own name, and he no longer celebrates the release and subsequent near-instant remaindering of each new book by drinking a toast to the memory of Leon Trotsky, and waxing eloquent about that glorious day when the Revolution finally comes and all those stinking fat-cat corporate capitalist pigs get stood up against the nearest wall and shot.)

But never mind that. Herewith, the Inspirational Story.

December, 1995: It's the height of the Christmas shopping season. Headcrash has been out for three months and has just dropped off the bestseller list, and through an aggressive application of simulated chutzpah I have talked myself into a book-signing at the only (and now, sadly, long-since defunct) independent bookstore in the Mall of America. It's an evening gig on a very high-traffic day; I show up to find they've put me at a table in a nice, highly visible place, and the table is stacked up with about 200 copies.

The next two, three hours are exhausting. I'm on the whole time, nonstop; standing, smiling, talking, chatting, shaking hands, signing books, listening attentively to every matron whose favorite niece ever took a creative writing class and wrote a really swell poem; giving hints and advice to every yutz who's ever imagined he has a great idea for a book he's going to start writing one of these days. At the end of the evening — I went way past the originally scheduled one-hour slot — my voice is shot, and there's an appreciable dent in the pile of books on the table, but not enough. I can't remember the exact number now, but my vague recollection is that we'd sold something like 64 books.

I started apologizing to the store manager for the poor sales, but she stopped me right there. "Are you kidding? You did great! This is the best turnout we've ever had for a signing!"

My turn to be flabbergasted. What? But you just had — I can't remember who it was; an actress, or a sports star, or maybe it was Colin Powell — last Sunday. You mean to tell me Colin Powell couldn't sell more than 64 books?

"No, for him we had a line out the door and around the corner, and sold [x-]hundred copies. But this is the best turnout we've ever had for a real book by an actual writer."

I still didn't get it. She explained.

"Somebody like Colin Powell, people don't buy his book to read it. They buy it for the autograph, and to put it out where their friends can see it, and to be able to start conversations with, 'I was talking to Colin Powell the other day.' But your book: they're going to read it, or at least give it to someone else who will."

Huh, imagine that. Even the people in bookstores realize there's a difference between celebrity-driven "publishing events" and the books people actually read.

And with that thought in mind, this is a good time to once again ask yourself one of those Really Important Questions: Why am I doing this? Is it to make big money selling chunks of processed dead trees covered with tiny inky symbols and my name in big letters on the front?

Or is it to connect and communicate with other people?

( be continued...)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Answering Pollyanna

It's been a complicated week, here in Lake Woebegone. Time's been short, the questions have piled up, and in the interests of flushing the buffers, I need to post some answers.

First up, Nate asks: "It's just SO much easier finding my way around Saint Paul. BRB - is there a convenient pistol range out your way?"

Well, Nate, when I want to shoot, I always go to the Oakdale Gun Club, in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. Of course, my definition of "convenient" may be a bit different from yours, as for one thing, it's only about five minutes from my house, and for another, I'm not merely a member, I'm on the Board of Directors. As for a third consideration, while our shorter ranges are fairly well-protected from the elements, we are an outdoor range, and as these photos from last year's Frozen Chosin Match attest, this is not the place for weather wusses.

frozen G.I.s

By the way, we hold the Frozen Chosin match each February to honor the 1st Marine Division and their actions during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War. Given that most of our club members are veterans of one foreign unpleasantness or another, and that some of our members are in fact 1st Marine Div. vets who were there at Chosin in December of 1950, we feel it's the very least we can do.

Next up, Rachel posts: "It looks as though you spend a lot of time on something that doesn't pay (doesn't pay directly that is, because it makes me want to buy and read everything you've ever written). I can only see someone doing a blog like this because they really enjoy it."

Which is, in a sort of oblique way, poses the question: why do I do this blog?

To tell the truth, I often wonder that myself, and about two months ago I was seriously considering calling it quits when I hit the Third Anniversary mark on February 1. But then I got a fresh infusion of energy — from where, I don't know — and decided to carry on.

The answer, I think, is that for me this blog is sort of like an ongoing interesting conversation, or a talk show decoupled from real time. Whatever it is, I enjoy doing it, and continue to learn new things from our conversation, so I'll continue to do this blog for the foreseeable future. Many thanks to all of you for all your encouraging words, and remember: you are the ones who make this happen. Without you, I'm just another old guy sitting in his rocking chair, babbling to himself. And I've never much liked the sound of my own voice.

Now, as for Bane and BoysMom: you two have asked a battery of questions lately that require a plethora of convoluted [ yes | no | but | maybe] answers, so I'll just dive right in. Is there still a stigma attached to self-publishing? Yes, but it's diminishing, and there are a number of things the self-publisher can do to hasten its diminution.

The first thing to remember is that "self-publishing" describes an awful lot of territory, not to mention a lot of awful territory, and covers everything from the serious small-press efforts down to the absolutely utterly worst of the bottom-of-the-barrel crap. At one end of the continuum you've got outfits like — no, I don't feel like getting sued today, so I won't name them — who exist solely to feed parasitically on the dreams and naiveté of would-be authors, and who consistently peddle the illusion that you too can become a rich and famous bestselling author, just like Vince Flynn, if only you fork over a @#$^load of cash and trust them to take whatever it is you've written, pour it into one of their preformatted templates, and nonpromote it into oblivion. ("Okay lady, you ordered the Number 5, full color, hold the seagull. Will this be Visa, MasterCard, or Discover?")

generic cover #5

There, that might be a useful indicator for you. Unless they were actually directly involved with Term Limits, the more frequently someone invokes the name of Vince Flynn, the more likely they are to be a shyster mostly interested in separating you from as much of your cash as possible.

Flynn's story is worth examining in some detail, because he did break the rules and parlay a self-published book into bestsellerdom. But, it's worth noting that before he ever started, he got a degree in economics and worked as a marketing specialist for Kraft General Foods. In 1990 he quit that job to join the Marine Corps and pursue his dream of becoming a combat pilot, but just before he left for OCS he was medically disqualified from the Marine Aviation Program because of a seizure disorder he'd suffered as a child. Released from the Corps, he returned to the Twin Cities area and another marketing job, this time for United Properties, but after a few years of that he quit his job again and moved to Colorado, this time to chase his second dream, of becoming a published author. It took him five years and more than sixty rejection letters before he finally decided in 1997 to take the radical step of self-publishing Term Limits.

Please note that in this case, "self-publishing" does not mean that he took his manuscript to McBooks-R-Us, ordered up a thousand copies of Rich & Famous Package #5, and sold them out of the tailgate of his minivan. Rather, as you might expect of a marketing expert with plenty of affluent private prep-school and private college friends, he first lined up a group of four investors, sold the group a 25% interest in the book, and hired a design firm to create the best hardcover package possible. Then, after spending $20,000 to print 2,000 books and thus equipped with what amounts to the most expensive business card you ever saw, he used his business connections to engineer a local media blitz, hit the bricks, and hustled his butt off, until he was a local media darling with a new agent and a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster.

So in this case, self-publishing worked for Flynn, but it cost a lot of money and involved a lot of risk. Had he failed to recreate himself as a local phenomenon, his investors would have been out $5G's each, which some people might consider serious money. Even after he'd sold through every single copy of the first-edition hardcover, Term Limits lost money. It was the mass-market paperback deal with Simon & Schuster that made that book pay off, and his ability to keep writing one bestselling political thriller a year ever since and sell the film rights that has made him a millionaire.

In an interview published last year, Flynn said he now realizes this was a crazy stunt, and that most would-be authors have nowhere near the cash, connections, hustle, or pure chutzpah required to make self-publishing anything but a waste of money. The Internet being the ever-changing thing it is, of course, now that I want to link to that interview, I can't find it. However, I did turn up these two interviews in the University of St. Thomas alumni magazine, which you probably won't find readily and which reveal some interesting details about Flynn's writing method and self-publishing experience:

Winter 2000:
So You Want to Write a Book? Four alumni novelists talk about what it takes

Spring 2006:
Flynn's Success Has No (Term) Limits: Distinguished alumnusVince Flynn moves from dyslexia to best sellers be continued...

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Friday Challenge: 2/29/08

Okay, forget the subtle and thought-provoking Friday Challenge I was working up for this week. Instead we have an all-new and much better Friday Challenge, and you have Vidad to blame thank for this one. This week's challenge is all about...

Star Trek

Yes, that's right; Star Trek, the international, intergenerational, mind-boggling Forbidden Planet ripoff science fiction phenomenon that has spanned forty years, six television series, seven hundred and twenty-six TV episodes, ten feature-length movies, and immeasurable mountains of tie-in and spinoff novels, comic books, toys, games, candy, lunchboxes, etc., etc., etc., etc. And in all that vast body of material, I'm willing to bet that there is at least one key dramatic moment that Star Trek has utterly failed to deliver for you, and that as a consequence you've had percolating in the back of your mind for years. I'm talking, of course, about:

The Star Trek Death Scene You Always Wanted to See

Who is it? A character? An omnipotent alien life entity? A brilliant but deranged computer? An entire species? Someone who did die in the course of the series, but didn't die horribly enough to suit you, or worse, didn't have the decency to stay dead?

That's the challenge for this week. I want you to set up and deliver a suitable demise-en-scene for the character | being | thing | species | whatever you most want to see croak. Get all those years of pent-up hostility out of your system. Kill 'em good!

As always, we're playing by the wildly incoherent and practically nonexistent rules for the Friday Challenge, and playing for what's behind Door #2. You can enter by posting your entry in the Comments section of this blogbit, posting your entry on your own site and then posting a link here, or by sending me a file, which I will PDF and post here. Even if you don't enter, you're encouraged to comment on and vote for the other entries. The deadline for entries is 8 p.m. Central time on Friday, March 7, 2008, with results to be announced later that evening.

Ready? Then —

True story: it's 1991, and I'm in this movie theater with a few hundred other people, watching Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. You know, the one where Kirk gets sent as an peace emissary to the Klingons, only to get tangled up in an assassination plot? Now, never mind that this movie gives Spock the all-time best line ever delivered by any Star Trek character in any Star Trek movie or TV show:

"There is an old Vulcan proverb: only Nixon could go to China."

The point I'm thinking of comes much later in the movie, after they've figured out that the Klingon chancellor was assassinated by two Enterprise crewmen, and after a massive manhunt has turned up the bodies of the missing men. McCoy enters the scene; he kneels down to the check one of the bodies, and then he looks up and says —

I swear, the entire audience in that movie theater shouted out in unison, "HE'S DEAD, JIM."

But dang it, that wasn't the line of dialog actually used in the movie. Talk about your missed golden opportunity...