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Monday, December 31, 2012

Sublimating Personality

Voice is one of these hard things to really define. It generally follows a “we know it when it’s there, and know when it’s not there. It’s very hard for a writer to not recognize at least some of his own voice in what he writes.
For one assignment in grad school I was attempting to write my own version of the introduction to Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire. I remember the feeling I got as I was writing it, I felt like I was nailing the style and prose. When I finished I printed it out and proofed it as I walked to the campus.
What astonished me most was that I couldn’t see myself in the writing. I had used such a different style, such a different voice, that I was no longer the author. I felt like I was coming at this writing, my own piece of writing not two hours old!, as someone to a fresh book. It was as close to an out-of-body experience as I’ve come.
That was the experience that really taught me what voice was, and marked a significant advancement in my abilities as a writer.

Friday, December 28, 2012

F3 Baby New Year

"Time is funny. The celebrations and beliefs of man make it more so, for why would the yearly solar revolution have any effect on the fabric of Time? Yet on the last day of a rotation, an old man, made old by the number of days as if each was a year, breathes his last. And as the first light of that new day strikes the planet, Time births a newborn."

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Road Trekkin'

I'm off to the fabled land of Texas to see friends (who are more like family) for a wedding. So I should be able to load up on BBQ and Round Rock Doughnuts. Yum. I love a good road trip.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Better Time of Year

I'm something of a Christmas nut. I love the holiday. I love the idea of people treating one another better at this time of year. I wish we didn't need the excuse of the holiday. I always loved the song "Silver Bells". The idea of people smiling as they pass each other warms my heart. I hope that everyone will take the time this holiday, whatever your beliefs, to smile and think how wonderful life can be if we all did a little bit to bring joy to other people. Wish someone well. Hold the door open. Smile.
Let's see if we can make life a little better for a little while. Once we nail that, we can work on the rest of the year.

Friday, December 21, 2012

F3 Jack Frost

"You want to run that by me one more time?" I asked Jack.
"I really don't. It's tedious." Jack answered.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tech Tools for Teaching

So I experimented in teaching with interactive fiction on flash drives for my students, and now I've decided to incorporate the flash drives in other types of projects.
One of the projects I have my students do is to review a mystery movie. In groups they watch the film for clues. In the past I would have to conduct this all myself, showing clips upon a majority vote. Now, with VLC portable and its bookmarks feature, students will be able to review the film in their own groups, watching only those clips they find important to their particular case.
I'm eager to try this out, and already trying to come up with more ways to integrate the flash drives into my teaching.

Monday, December 17, 2012


            A dear friend of mine runs a composition class with a theme of monsters. In it she has the class go through and look at some common monsters, then expand the idea to other things. They've been very creative in how they approach the problem critically to define monsters as social ills, obsession with status, material gain, and other things.
            In the wake of Newtown, I think it's time we acknowledge that there are truly monsters in the world. And we made them.
I'm not talking about guns.
We didn't intend to make them, didn't realize we were making them. They were not grown in Dr. Frankenstein's lab or on the Island of Dr. Moreau, but we still made them.
Then we turned blind eyes to the making of them.
I didn't know the shooter in Newtown, CT. I didn't know the shooter at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin. I didn’t know the shooter in Aurora, CO. I don't think most people knew them, either. But I know that people are not born wanting to kill others. They're not born wanting to slaughter children.
We made them that way. Into monsters.
It's time to stop pointing fingers. Stop trying to patch the problem. Stop politicizing.
We need to make them human again.
We don't let them ever become monsters, and we stop the monsters.

Friday, December 14, 2012

F3 Last Stand of the Indus

The ship rocked under another explosion.
“Hull breach on deck three. Bulkheads are down and sealing it off.”
“Helm, bring us around in a tight turn.”
Flynn stood at the weapons console behind Captain Jacobie. He leaned in as the ship executed the turn. The kinetic struts flared to life on the ship’s status console. One of them flashed to red, then to black.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


The first time I taught a class. The first time I taught mythology. The first time I taught creative writing. The great experiment of letting my classes decide syllabus policies. The interactive fiction experiment.
And all the times I've submitted a query letter or pitched to an agent.
I'm not talking about butterflies, though they are there. It's D-Day, the day when it all happens, when plans and preparations become reality. It's daunting and exciting at the same time. The point of no return. The daunting part comes from not knowing if I've done everything I can and should to properly prepare. The exciting part is watching to see it all happen. The successes often outweigh the failures. I'm teaching a brand new class in the summer, so that makes my list. I'm still plugging away at my space opera, and who knows if it'll go anywhere, so that's on the list, too.
It seems that my life, both writer and teacher, is full of these projects with D-days. I know from reading other authors that this doesn't go away.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Down Time

Last winter break I spent the entire time working on teaching, much to my personal detriment. I need the down time. I need to be able to set the teaching burden aside for at least a few weeks despite the ideas that will be churning through my head.
Time to crack open the idea book and unleash them in writing. The people in my head get some more breathing room.

Friday, December 7, 2012

F3 Faerie Work

The coin made a high arc through the air before it bounced once on my desk, then spun counterclockwise in a tight spiral. As it spun the color registered, letting me know this wasn't a quarter, not unless they made one out of gold. The coin finally spun to a stop with the face of a harp staring up at me.
Not him again. "Michaleen."

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Conference Tips

Crimebake was a massive success for me personally. Not only did I get to hang out with writers and participate in workshops in a genre I love, I made some great friends, learned a lot, and made great contacts in the publishing world.
So here are my tips for a successful writer’s conference:
1. Stay loose. Yes, there are going to be some great workshops, but you shouldn’t plan on going to all of them or feel constrained to stay in one that isn’t working out for you. Go find a different workshop, go to the bar, get in a conversation with people.
2. Two Follows on one. Go to the bar. This really should be mandatory, especially if you’re wanting to make contacts in publishing. Agents and editors hang out with one another in the bar. They’re not writers, so they don’t get much from some of the workshops, aside from the ones they run.
3. Hang out with people. Everyone is there to meet someone else, so join a conversation. You don’t want to take over, but there’s nothing wrong with hanging out and at least getting recognized.
4. Be you. Don’t try to impress people. Don’t try to be what you think people want you to be or what you should be. The friends I made at this conference were because I was my usual obnoxious, sarcastic self. There’s a group for you in the conference.
I could probably go on and on, but really that’s the essence of it. Enjoy yourself and make friends. Don’t stress about finding an agent and getting published.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Post NaNo

I did NaNo on the QT this year. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. With tons of grading, running a brand new project, more grading, a writing conference, Thanksgiving, and more grading, I just didn’t think it was going to be possible. NaNo was going to be the thing that I had to give up.
But there was no harm in at least starting it. If I didn’t make it, no problem. And there were quite a few times, especially during the conference, where I didn’t do any writing at all.
NaNo is something I will probably always attempt because it neatly sums up the writing life. There are always going to be things going on, and if you don’t make your words for the day, that’s okay. The important thing is to keep pushing forward. Keep adding to that word count.

Friday, November 30, 2012

F3 Critters

"Critters?" I asked.
"Yep, critters." Jack did not clarify.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Home Stretch

All major essay assignments have been graded. All that remains are a few minor assignments. I and my students are in the home stretch. Of course, now comes the inevitable reflections on the semester as I try and plan out changes to make in curriculum and teaching methods for the next semester. This time of the semester is good for that since all major work is done and I'm still in teacher mode.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A New Class

I have been given the opportunity to teach a brand new type of class. This is both exciting and terrifying. Because there have not been any classes like this before, I have nothing to reference in terms of what type of curriculum or assignments there should be.
On the flipside, I have autonomy to decide all of it for myself. I get to try something truly groundbreaking and construct a curriculum without preconceptions or constraints.
I just have to make sure I don't screw it up.

Friday, November 23, 2012

F3 Thanksgiving

"You have Thanksgiving in a restaurant in St. Louis every year?"
Jack shrugged. "What's wrong with that? I'm thankful for—"
"Barbecue, I know."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Digital Teaching

Increasingly I'm finding ways to incorporate computerized learning in my teaching. I'm still evaluating my foray into interactive fiction as a teaching method, but since I've gotten an assortment of flash drives, I've been coming up with other ideas, such as copying video files and having my students review them for clues and details. Previously I would show the video in class and have them tell me what clips they want to review as a group. With individual videos on flash drives, they could look at them individually how they wanted.
I wonder what else I can do with a class full of flash drives.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Serious People

Every teacher wants a serious student. We don't want the most brilliant students, we want students who take classes seriously, who genuinely want to learn and expand their horizons. I have a hard time taking students seriously when they only want to take a class to get a credit, fulfill a requirement, or have fun.
Writing is also for serious people. Anyone who wants to get published needs to know the endless hours of honing the craft, revision, and head-slamming needed to get a manuscript out. Writing is not for the casual. I can understand the idea of exploring and testing the waters to see if it's right for you, but I have problems with the idea of "everyone has a novel in them" or the people who think wistfully, "I might write a book some day."
Writing is not something that just spontaneously occurs (though many a writer wishes it were so). It takes a lot of hard work. It takes dedication. Writing takes blood, sweat, and tears.
How many are willing to bleed for their writing?
Paper cuts can be nasty, though carpal tunnel is more likely.

Friday, November 16, 2012

F3 Meditation

I watched as Nikki sat in some kind of Yoga position in front of a statue of Buddha. An Indian Buddha, at that. It was easy to get lost in the different flavors of Buddhism, and it wasn't my strong suit.
"Do you meditate, Matthew?"

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


In the highest points of political debates and speeches came an idea that people are entitled to higher education. I think this comes from the need for advanced degrees in order to qualify for employment. But I don't think people are entitled to higher education. I've been through the system. I've clawed my way into an advanced degree, and this is not something people are entitled to. College is a proving ground, and not a place where mere participation merits achievement.
Higher education is for those who put forth effort. Higher education is for those who sacrifice and struggle, who recognize that college is not entertainment and partying, but hours of studying, attending class, and doing the work, no matter how awful and boring it all is.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Full-Time Jobs

I frequently visit sites like Lifehacker, which collate great tips of life productivity from around the web. It's a great time saver. Quite often they post job tips (applying for, dealing with colleagues, etc.), and on one occasion I perused the comments of one such about how to apply for a job. One of the comments posted a common idea: applying for a job should be treated as a full-time job.
I understand the sentiment, and there is certainly a lot of effort involved, but time is a precious commodity.
Ask any teacher, and he or she will tell you that teaching is a full-time job, no matter if they spend a full day actually teaching or not.
Being a writer is likewise a full-time job, one I do not get paid for . . . yet.
Staying up on the publishing world by reading news, blogs, and social media is a full-time job.
When exactly would I have time to apply for yet another full-time job of applying for a job?
I don't think applying for a job should be a full-time job. It should be regarded seriously, but not necessarily requiring that much time. If someone is unemployed, obviously circumstances are different, but for those employed, life keeps going on.
I guess I am just prioritizing differently. Finding a new job is important, but it's not as high up on the list as other things. Plus, I think working smarter is key here. New techniques, new resources. New inspiration.

Friday, November 9, 2012

F3 The Chosen One

"Congratulations" the note read, "you are the Chosen One. On you the whole world, all of reality, hinges." This seemed too much to handle, and Eric swallowed hard before continuing on.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Crimebake Ho!

I'm off to Beantown to see friends, family, and immerse myself in writer conference-y stuff. I'm especially excited about the forensic workshops. Not to mention I get to rub shoulders with mystery writers and agents galore. Desert Dreams was great, but being one of a dozen men at a conference can make you a little self- conscious. Throw in the fact that 90% of the conference attendees are interested exclusively in romance writing (and quite a few workshops reflected that) and I was very much not in Kansas, anymore.
This time around it should be a little easier for me to hobnob and make contacts.
Maybe I'll be able to pick up on the Boston accent and slang while I'm there, too.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Self-esteem in Moderation

I've been reading some interesting news on the web, most of it tied to education, but the same holds true for writers. It turns out that too much self-esteem is not good. That's understated. It's downright dangerous.
The idea is that excessive positive self-esteem is constant reinforcement that a person is, well, perfect, and can do no wrong. When confronted with obvious failings and shortcomings, the reinforced behavior of the person's ego is unable to reconcile, and so places blame on external forces instead of recognizing imperfection.
In short, students who have too much self-esteem will resort to blaming teachers, work, assignments, or other external forces rather than embrace the idea that they are the ones who have failed. This excessive self-esteem prevents people from taking responsibility and wanting to improve themselves. After all, they've been told repeatedly that they are perfect, so there is nothing to improve. They have a locked mindset that prevents growth and change.
Writers are not immune from this, either. I believe writers, especially fledgling writers, receive too much positive feedback on their writing from friends and family instead of other writers and professionals.
Professional writers (and teachers for students) are under no such illusions about assessing abilities. It puts everyone in an awkward position, and can result in harsh feelings.
It's no wonder that many agents have embraced not responding to queries.
Teachers do not have that luxury.

Friday, November 2, 2012

F3 Grammar Clergy

William attempted to keep himself from trembling as he approached the Confessional. His stomach churned and heaved with fear, and he licked his lips.
He walked into the space, closing the door behind him. He sat patiently, trying to order his thoughts.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Separated by a Common Language

I've immersed myself in the UK show Top Gear, and one of the things I've been truly noticing are the distinct differences between American English and British English. I'm not simply talking about vocabulary or the Oxford comma. I'm more interested in the colloquialisms, phrases, and syntactic patterns.
I'm absolutely fascinated by these phrases which do more to dictate how language is received more than specific words. I also think these phrases convey more than trying to phonetically reproduce an accent in print.
If I'm honest, I'd say phonetic accents in print are rubbish.

Monday, October 29, 2012


Back in April, I met Tom Leveen ( author of Party and Zero. He graciously agreed to visit my creative writing class at the end of the semester, and it was during that time that he made one of the most profound statements about writing dialogue. He developed his dialogue chops with his theater background.
When I write, everyone tells me my dialogue sounds and feels natural, and is one of my greatest strengths. I never had a clue as to why until Tom talked about his theater background.
I don't have a theater background.
But I do have a background in drama literature.
I've always loved plays, even in high school, and relished reading them, especially Shakespeare. My undergrad focus in literature was drama and Shakespeare. Three different Shakespeare classes and half a dozen other drama literature classes including modern drama, Renaissance drama, and restoration drama.
Tom was right that there's nothing on the page but dialogue. When you read drama, you are forced to rely only on those words.
But this has started me thinking (yes, always dangerous).
Are there other specializations of writing that develop generalized fiction writing skills?

Friday, October 26, 2012

F3 Tempest

"Prospero," Jack belched after chugging his beer.
"What?" I said.
"You asked about the most famous Storm Rider."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


I've written mystery fantasy. I've written urban fantasy. I've written fantasy (though the less said about that particular work, the better). I've written a partial for a spy story (it may never see life outside of the drawer, but I still wrote it). I've begun a historical mystery. I'm about to begin a sci-fi space opera.
I can't help but wonder if I'm in too many genres. Will agents, publishers, and readers accept someone who writes so much scattered across the genre board? I know pen names can help, but those are short-lived in the age of social networking.
Of course, that's a conversation to have once I get an agent, so I guess I should shut up and get back to writing.
But part of me can't help but think about it from time to time.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Grading Process

I've talked about refining teaching and writing processes; now it's grading's turn. This one is tough. Ask any teacher, and the hardest thing about teaching is the mounds of grading that has to be done. It's daunting to say the least, and a big reason why I think rubrics are gaining popularity.
I've been playing with text expansion programs, checklist stamps, and changing up the assignments to make grading easier, yet still provide effective feedback. Some work, some don't. I'm still hoping to find something of a more silver bullet quality, but have yet to discover it short of IBM loaning out Watson to me. But I'll keep trying. Maybe some kind of macro combined with track changes. . . .

Friday, October 19, 2012

F3 Pursuit

"Report." Flynn said, despite knowing the situation.
He stood on the small bridge looking at the viewscreen. It was a far cry from his old ship's viewport with display overlay, but it sufficed. The solar and insterstellar winds collided in the shock, spraying charged particles everywhere.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


In teaching, I'm constantly refining what I do. What works, what doesn't, what can I try t make better, and what absolutely flops. It's all about making gradual improvements to how I approach the job. I'm constantly engaged in it, even during times when I'm not teaching.
I'm not nearly as robust when it comes to my writing process. I think it's largely because I have a lot of feedback when it comes to teaching. Writing is largely solitary, and even when you get in touch with other writers, often it's more about what was written instead of how the wring happens. I've struggled with finding what works, and it's an intensely personal process.
Little bouts of random experimentation are hard to evaluate, and inspiration regarding the process is slow in coming. One of the things that does work for me are my graphs, so I've continued that. Now I'm experimenting with the time I do my writing, and the results are opposite what I thought they would be.
Time to do some more experimentation.

Monday, October 15, 2012


When the semester begins, (even before that, really) teacher mode kicks in. My focus is on teaching, setting up classes, preparing assignments, and the dreaded grading. I still write. I've been trying very hard to make sure that writer mode stays on no matter what else is going on, but publishing mode, the part of me that is trying to find an agent and get published, gets pushed way into the background. There are, after all, only so many hours in the day. Sorting through the web, looking through the Writer's Market, following agents on Twitter, ends up being a lot of work. And it's work that I can do, but when teaching comes, I have to shift focus.
The only regret, and the thing I want to work on, is being able to switch modes more effortlessly. If I can figure out a way to go from teaching to publishing with less effort, I think I could fit at least a little of it into my semester.
Even then, publishing mode ends up encompassing a lot of smaller modes, like teaching does. Queries, social media, conferences, and the like are all parts of that mode, but require their own separate skills. Writing the book is the easy part of becoming a writer. But then, getting a degree is the easy part to being a teacher.

Friday, October 12, 2012

F3 Bar Fight

The Great Nebula Bar on Antares Station wasn't famous, wasn't that big, nor did it serve particularly good hooch. The 'shine tasted as if distilled through a cooling system, but it got its patrons plenty drunk after a couple of belts. Flynn worked on his second, trying to decide if the taste and future hangover were worth the intoxication, when a meaty paw grabbed his shoulder.
"You're that guy," the man belched degreasing solvent fumes—otherwise known as a Saturn Sidecar—in Flynn's face.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Rubrics have become the big thing in college essay grading. More and more colleges are advocating their use. Online tools are created, and whole departments are coming together to create them in an effort to standardized how writing is graded.
Here's where I get the hairy eyeball.
I hate rubrics. I can't stand them.
Here's the thing about rubrics, the categories never seem to be adequate. The gradations within those categories never seem to be adequate, either. I think that rubrics can artificially raise or lower the score of an essay. Every teacher has had to wrestle with whether a score goes up or down because the gradations just can't accurately measure every eventuality.
Why are they used and so popular?
I think the popularity of rubrics really comes from the ability to speed grading. Because of the categories and gradations, teachers can quickly assess an essay with almost Scantron speed. I have actually seen instructors move with that kind of speed through an essay. Moreover, many believe that the rubric gradations serve as specific comments and feedback. It is a quick, efficient form of grading, but I don't think the mechanization of grading is truly beneficial.
But I think certain things can be taken from rubrics to improve my slower, antiquated grading. I've been incorporating checklists of things that the students will need to be able to do, or else their grade receives a penalty, such as essay length, point of view, citation of sources, etc. I think this is a better way as I don't have to force abstract qualities (such as communicating ideas) into a rubric. I have a concrete means of determining score on objective measures. I'll continue to explore various options, including ways to make rubrics better, but for now I'm against using them.

Monday, October 8, 2012


I've always loved Halloween. It must appeal to the fiction writer in me. On a regular basis I assume the guise of other people, so donning a costume just adds to the authenticity of it all. While the physical is disguise is enjoyable, and makes things easier, it's the character I really like. Being able to flesh out personalities makes the whole experience all the better. Being able to interact with others who are likewise engaged in assuming other guises makes the whole night a giant work of escape fiction, where pirates clash swords with Jedi. Where monsters dine with politicians and celebrities.
What could be cooler?

Friday, October 5, 2012

F3 Solace

"This is what the ancient mariners on earth used to do." Captain Flynn said softly as he looked out the bridge window.
"Ain't it a kick?" Ann said from her position at the helm. "No engine. Just the sails to keep us going. Every move we make has to take the current into account."

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Orchestra

I'm a big fan of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Not only are they superb artists at the rock opera, but they have managed to touch the soul of the holiday season. I first embraced them when I was at a real low point, and they've been a wonderful presence in my life ever since.
They're coming back with a new show, and I can't wait to see what they've got this year. It'll be the perfect capstone to the semester, too.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Policy Experiment

Well, it's time to report on the great policy experiment. In all three of my classes, I gave students the opportunity to create the policies for the course. I let them work in groups to brainstorm ideas, I circulated around answering questions and pointing out various circumstances and consequences, and provided them a sampling of policies that I have used.
It was really quite remarkable to see the process as they worked. Now, any teacher knows that students will always digress some when set to work in groups, but I must say they stayed on task remarkably well. The general discussion and debate was quite interesting as well.
The results, well, the results were staggering. All three courses, with only very minor adjustments, adopted the policies I gave them as examples. All the students found those policies to be fair and representative of what they wanted in a course, allowing for flexibility when needed, and rewarding effort above presence.
Best of all, the students are now conversant with the policies, and have taken an ownership in the class. As a result of my experiment, I will say that the policies I'm most comfortable with will continue to be part of the course, and the students are invested in the course, knowing that I respect them and the part they play in the learning experience.
This was a resounding success. Will it always be so? Probably not, but the results are such that I'm willing to continue the experiment on again next semester.

Friday, September 28, 2012

F3 Cold and Hard

The hard-boiled greats could face down any challenge. Surly gunmen, flim-flam artists, the upper crust with skeletons big enough to rival the dinosaurs, and even the smoldering stares of femme fatales as they prepared to plant a knife between your shoulder blades. They took it all in stride. Another day at the job.
I wasn't those guys.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I've been watching a lot of Top Gear on both BBC and History Channel, and I love the show. But I'm not a gearhead. I've spent an extensive amount of time working on my cars through the years, but I'm not the kind of guy that relishes all things car. I'm just not into the ultimate performance some people are. I would never take an engine apart, clean it, then reassemble it. That's not me.
However, I've always been drawn to cars. I couldn't wait to reach sixteen so I could drive, and I've always felt quite at home behind the wheel, even on long drives. And that's probably as far as I go with cars. I want a car I can take on a long, comfortable drive. Like many a teenaged-boy I had a poster of a Lamborghini on my wall, but over time (and reaching a height of 6'8") I know that such cars are not for me. Instead I find myself drawn to high-end luxury cars that offer style over performance. I want the long haul. I don't' need a car that can go 200mph or with the fastest 0-60 time or the ability to drift. I want a car that soars down the road at 80, but doesn't feel like it's moving at all.
I suppose my car choice reflects what I want to use it for most, an extensive road trip. I can't imagine a Ferrari or Lamborghini remaining comfortable after ten+ hours on the road. But a Bentley . . . hey, a guy can dream, right?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


I'm gearing up to go to Crimebake this year. I've been to precisely 2 writer's conferences, and both of them were romance oriented. Nothing against the romance writers, but I want to sink my teeth into a conference geared a little more towards the type of writing I want to do. I can tell Crimebake is my place simply from the workshops offered. Where else do you get to learn about describing a crime scene, writing about bodies, and police procedures? So I will hobnob with Bostonians for a weekend in November. Too bad I don't have time to take in as much of Beantown as I'd like.

Friday, September 21, 2012

F3 Tinkering

"I need to take the sublights off-line." Henry Sherman said.
"Why?" Flynn looked at him hard.
"I've got some improvements in mind. We'll boost the efficiency by twenty percent."
"You know, Hank, whenever you say that there's going to be an improvement in efficiency, it's by twenty percent."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Running Man

As said before, I'm reading I've finished The Running Man. And my impressions while reading this book are that I've found the darker, grittier, spiritual successor to Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. In many ways I can see King's book as an update to Bradbury, who pulls out the civility found in Bradbury to throw a truly horrible dystopia at the reader, one reflective of the violence and prejudices in society that we choose to shrink away from.
I find myself seriously considering using this book in part of my teaching. It's take on reality game shows is certainly predictive, and reflective of an era focused too much on spectacle, much as the plebians at the gladitorial games. Yes, I am considering teaching this novel most strongly.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pseudonym Death

I'm reading Stephen King's The Running Man, one of the infamous "Bachman Books". King's essay "The Importance of Being Bachman" should be required reading for anyone considering publishing under a pseudonym. Even as far back as the 80s it was impossible for someone to remain completely anonymous. Today, with the internet, social networking, and search engines, it's downright impossible to maintain any level of anonymity. Curious and enquiring minds will discover the true identity.
Is this a reason not to employ a pen name? Yes. Is it the final word? No. There are other considerations, but King's experience should be part of the decision-making process. Complete anonymity as a writer is a thing of the past.

Friday, September 14, 2012

F3 Inspirational Speeches

"Now I know great captains are supposed to be able to make speeches." Flynn said into the ship-wide comm. "You know, the kind that inspire people to do their best for your superiors. But I know you people. You're a bunch of cold sons of bitches out for money. I can't promise you all the riches of the universe, but I can promise you a good haul, enough to get you into the brothel of your choice."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


The point of fiction, to me, has always been to pull me into another world. I want to be sucked in and experience lives and worlds apart from my own. I'll never have opportunity to wield a magic sword, command a space battle, or solve a case for a femme fatale, so I want to experience these things through fiction.
This can be through books, movies, television, or computer games. It's all the same when you get sucked into the world with the right writing. No matter how outrageous the concept, there is always the verisimilitude of reality, mostly through the characters.
I can forgive a lot of technical and factual failures if the characters are believable. After all, if I wanted to truly simulate these experiences, I would read up on all the factual information, but that is, frankly, boring. I suppose what it comes down to is for a few hours, I don't want to be me.
One of the truly great things about being a writer is I don't have to be me. I get to experience life through my own characters as well as what I read, watch, and play.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Working Relationships

We naturally gravitate towards people similar to us. We look for common interests in friends and spouses, and even in professional circles. We're closer to those family who are more like us, too. When it comes to professional circles and family, we're stuck. We don't get to choose all of them. We all have that family member that we don't get along with, but usually we can distance ourselves from them so that we don't get rubbed the wrong way except every now and again at family events.
At work, we're well and truly stuck. We have to see them nearly every day, and it can really wear. I talked about policies as a kind of guideline to the personality of an employer, and I think that's right. The personalities that come through in policies are an indicator as to how a particular person or employer works. They are policies that agree with your own personal policies, then all is good. If there is a difference, if there is a lopsided relationship, then there will probably be drastic trouble down the road.
I think it's important for people to know themselves (a la Sun Tzu) in order to know how to work well with others. What are the policies that will clash? Where do you agree? What about personality conflicts? What compromises can be made that won't compromise your sense of self?

Friday, September 7, 2012

F3 Set Sail

"Flynn, we've cleared the shock."
"Sensors." Flynn ordered.
"No ships close by. We've got several streams. Very high speed." Ann's enthusiasm was hard to miss.
"Set course for Antares Station. Cut system engines and deploy sails."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


I've been thinking about my experiment to let students collaborate to make policies. I think one of the reasons is actually a check on myself. There's a huge responsibility teaching to make sure things are fair for everyone. As the instructor, it's on me. I can't pass the buck. I'm the one accountable. Moreover, chaos can't rule. No policies allow for exploitation and inequal treatment. With friends and lawyers in law (and having done my own share of research) the reasons for law is to order society and protect its citizens. It has to be done.
But at the same time, there's that temptation. There's that itch that simply says make the rules to benefit me. When it comes to contract negotiations, people vie for what benefits them the most. It's logical. We are, by nature, interested in ourselves first. As the person in power, it's very easy for me to simply declare things that are most beneficial to me under the guise of what is fair to all. I don't want to be that person. I know Machiavelli said it's better to be feared than loved, but that caveat at the end pokes at me. It's important not to become hated. It's easy for people who to turn an eye of hatred against those who are heavy-handed in their authority.
We've all been subject to that authoritarian hand, too. There are policies that employers have that benefit them over that of the employees. I've been subject to some of those in my professional career, and many of them are lousy. That's it. They're lousy. And I'm reaching a point that I'm becoming selective about employer policies.
Policies convey messages. They convey more than simply the letter of the limits the proscribe. They speak about the author of such policies, and describe the type of people that make them. They send the message about what kind of people you will be working with. I've run into policies in both my teaching career and writing career that speak to me about the people out there, and I've already begun avoiding those institutions whose policies speak to the types of people I know I would not work well with.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Interactive Fiction

     I've been experimenting with interactive fiction, the earliest pioneer of the computer game that used text, and runs, as Sheldon Cooper put it, "on the world's most powerful graphics chip: imagination."
      I'm glad to discover that interactive fiction never died out. There is quite the thriving community behind it. Their resources have made it very easy to repatriate to this oft-forgotten medium. I've been interested in using IF (as they abbreviate it) for teaching purposes, but now I have to consider the future of the publishing industry.
      The iPad has kind of kickstarted a revolution in reading by integrating media files and links into their books for a richer experience, and the old Choose Your Own Adventure style books are making a comeback through digital means. However, interactive fiction is finding its way to devices as well with interpreters that can run on any platform, including ereaders like Kindle. Interactive fiction is perfect for such a platform. The e-ink screens don't need to display complicated, moving graphics, and a keyboard (either a touch-enabled or physical keyboard) for input makes interaction simple.
      I'm really excited to think that interactive fiction could make a resurgence, where games emphasize story and imagination over raw graphics processing and special effects.
      Those wanting to know more about interactive fiction can check out the Interactive Fiction Archive and Inform 7.

Friday, August 31, 2012

F3 Soaring

     "Ann Szalick?" the voice buzzed when transmitted through the charged bars.
      Ann sat up in her cell, careful not to slam her head against the bunk above. He squinted at the guy on the other side. Tall and not at all pretty, he stood with the precision of military.
      "Who wants to know?" Ann asked.
      "Name's Flynn. I hear you're a decent pilot."
      Ann squinted at Flynn. "Flynn? I heard of a Flynn. Heard you were a decent bonehead. Great job on Tashi Station."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Surface Thoughts

     The Microsoft Surface is the first tablet device I feel like I really need. The Surface gives me everything I need in a tablet. It's not simply a multimedia tool (which is what Android and various idevices would be for me), it's a productivity tool. I'm a writer. I need to write. No matter how slick and predictive touch screen keyboards get, they won't be able to match a physical keyboard in terms of speed for true typists.
      Moreover, the surface has Windows 8. No, I'm not a windows-only advocate, but I am a full-fledged operating system advocate. Android and iOS can't hack it. They have apps. I need programs. I need real processing power that those apps have been unable to provide. I think they are capable of that power, but the app development has not pushed them far enough, yet, at least in terms of productivity.
      I think Surface will change that. Tablets must evolve into devices that can truly replace laptops as productive pieces of software. I can't wait to play around with the surface. I truly hope it will be the device I need to replace one of my laptops.

Friday, August 24, 2012

F3 Magic Potion

     I watched with great interest as she poured from the assembled beakers, mason jars, and bins of powders with acrid and pleasant scents. She poured into the carafe of a blender, adding a melange of colors and scents that were pleasing individually, but an assault to my nose and eyes. It took on a mottled brown and black, and the scent which was at first flowery erupted into something noxious like sulfur.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Language Logic

     I'm not a computer programmer, but I dabble.
     I dabbled with Excel, and became an Excel wizard. I dabble in Google Scripts. I'm starting to get it. I'm dabbling with interactive fiction, and even it has it's own little method. I've been struggling to figure out how it works, and after a week of intensive, independent study, I think I've finally got the method down of how it works.
      Which is when it hits me.
      Writing in a language is more about understanding the logic and conventions than anything else. When you can actually understand the logic and conventions, you can think in the language, which is the beginning of mastery.
      Academic writing is its own language. The part of academic writing that students struggle with are the logic and conventions of this new language. None of the vocabulary is any different, but understanding the mind of academic writing takes time and practice.
      Now how to impart this to my students. . . ?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Brand Loyalty

     I'm a Thinkpad man. I love my Thinkpads. They are workhorses, and they put up with abuse. More than that, they are fixable workhorses. I've had my T61P for over 5 years. I've replaced the keyboard twice (hazards of being a writer), keyboard bezel, swapped out the primary hard drive twice (because I'm a data paranoid kind of guy), upgraded the RAM, upgraded the OS, replaced the monitor hinges (which I'm about to do again), and I'm about to replace the DC power jack.
      Some may say that's an awful lot to go wrong on laptop, but it's not, and I take care of my electronics. Laptops generally don't have a usable lifespan beyond two years. Mine is over twice that, moving on to three times, and I intend to get it there.
      I'd also prefer not to go the warranty route. I don't want to have to send my computer in to get it fixed after spending an outrageous amount for a warranty service, then to have to wait to get the computer back. Thinkpads allow me to fix them. Lenovo (and IBM before) publish technical manuals for people to download, and even put out videos demonstrating how to repair their machines.
      I discovered the manual when in the beautiful unfrozen north of Juneau Alaska for grad school, and my laptop's monitor died. I had to order a replacement and install it with my trusty keychain tool. Because of that manual, I was able to work out my graduate essays on my own computer instead of fighting for one of the computers in the lab.
      So as I'm looking out at the new ultrabooks, there's really only a couple of  choices for me, the x230 with its smaller screen and better portability, or the x1-carbon, with its sveldt frame. Decisions, decisions.

Friday, August 17, 2012

F3 Engineers

     "This is going to work," Kurt said.
      "But the book says—" Rick pointed to the holo-slate indicate the emitter's tolerances.
      "I know what it says. Listen, we're out here on a station waiting weeks between supply runs. This isn't a fancy new ship of the fleet. Every other week something dies on this station, and the only reason it doesn't rip apart and empty us into vacuum is because I don't go by the book. Well, that and duct tape."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


     Remakes certainly seem to be all the rage. Between Amazing Spider-Man and Total Recall this summer, I'm not sure remakes are that worthwhile. Sure, Batman Begins showed the world what happens when a remake is done right, but there are precious few examples of those. And, really, is it a matter that things should be remade? Mere months after Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica remake there was talk of doing another. Is this anything other than cashing in on popular trends?      While many can (and have) made this case, I wonder if it might not be a cry out for re-writing the story. Is this somethign that should have happened before another version was made. In my own writing I know that changes can take the form of something minor to a drastic overhaul and complete re-imagining.      I also wonder if it's a measure of the ever-changing market. There's not an easy way to accurately gauge what will sell other than to make it available to see if it sells. I think the remakes are an effort to take what everyone recognizes as a great premise, and to tell a new story, one which may appeal to a new audience.

Monday, August 13, 2012


     Teaching and writing have two very important things in common. They are composite skills. There is no one single skill which makes someone an excellent writer or an excellent teacher. Instead, it takes many skills working in concert to do either. More than that, there are no unimportant skills. You cannot adequately compensate for a deficiency in one by exaggerating another. Ability with dialogue will never replace grammar. Nor will action replace dialogue. Skills must meet a certain threshold in order to work as part of the greater whole. When that happens, they all meld together in a great symphony, complementing one another.
      One last thought: you're only as good as your weakest skill, so plan accordingly.

Friday, August 10, 2012

F3 Surrender

     "Everyone loves the idea of fighting to the last, of never giving in to defeat." I said. The door thudded hard as people on the other side tried to batter it down. "But I've been outgunned and overpowered every single time. Sure, there are times when I can outthink and find a way out, but the simple fact of the matter is I've gotten used to the idea of surrender. That may offend your sensibilities, but here's the last bit. I'm still around even after surrendering. They're not.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Lectures (AKA Info-Dumping)

     As a professor, it's almost expected that I lecture. Truth is, I hate lectures. Pretty much always have. I don't like someone standing up and telling me everything I should know. I don't like being that guy, either. Which is why I've been moving away from lectures. Certainly there are times when someone has some important bit of information to impart that a lecture is the most effective method, but more often than not it's ineffective. Of course, this goes along with the control idea. A lecture is the ultimate form of a controlled classroom. Give up the lecture and you give up a measure of that control.
      But I think it's worth it to get rid of those awful lectures. More discussions, more exploration, more action.
      Stories have their share of lectures, though the industry term is usually "telling" or "info-dumping." So it usually goes that writers need to show more and tell less. It's a hard lesson to learn. As a writer, there's always so much information that needs to come across, and it feels like simply telling is the most efficient way to convey that. We want to educate the reader on all the necessary information before moving into the story. Unfortunately, we forget that all that world-building and information is usually not the most interesting stuff, or that it's only interesting to us. I hope I've moved past my most egregious info-dumping moments.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Control over the Classroom and the Story

     Before each semester, professors across the world set out at an arduous task. We revise our syllabi policies. We build on experience, seeing what works and what doesn't work. What has been exploited, and what encourages learning. The resulting changes often feel like legal contracts with many clauses and restrictions.
      I don't like it.
      Not only does it take a toll on me trying to figure out a way to wrangle the policies in a way that works, but prevents undesirable behavior, it creates an totalitarian air to the classroom and the policies. While I understand that young children often need the discipline and structure rules provide, I teach adults. I know from experience and my own heritage that such rules and discipline can often provoke the wrong response. I have some of the famed "Missouri Stubborn" stock in me, so in the face of such rules and restrictions, the impulse is to rebel.
      Moreover, these rules feel oppressive and prevent a lot of participation by certain members of the class, who see no point in contributing since the class is handed down from the professor, and their views do not matter.
      I've been thinking long and hard about these ideas; I've gradually been moving towards more student autonomy, to encouraging them to act and do for themselves. So now I'm prepared to do what I'm sure many professors would consider the unthinkable.
      I'm giving up control.
      I'm going to put classroom policies in the hands of the students. They will be responsible for setting them. I feel it's the only way to truly give them ownership of their education. I hope it will bring them together and show them they can freely express their ideas, and that people will recognize and pay attention to those ideas.
      I'm excited and terrified. I have no idea how it will turn out. This will either be one of the greatest successes or colossal failures.
      Stories are the same way. Stories come best when they're not forced. Writer's block is what happens when I try to force the story too much. Sure, there's always grinding, just churning out those bits that need to be there, but by easing up on the reins, the story is able to go where it must.

Friday, August 3, 2012

F3 That Guy

     "So, listen," the strange man in the fedora said, "these things are after you. There's some kind of rumor of prophecy going around. The other side. Well, that's not true. One of the other sides is out to get you." He pointed a finger at me.
      "M-me? Why me?"

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Research Necessities

     Research can be a pain in the butt. It's a necessary one, though, wherein I find out the information I need to make a scene more authentic. Most of the time it's a subject I find interesting, and wanted to know about, anyway. However, there is one project that is looming on the horizon wherein the research will be something that I have to study hard and really learn. Moreover, it's a subject where there will be a good deal of math and other computations. I don't have to make it super-authentic, but I want it to have a level of authenticity. I also need to sharpen up my thinking skills, and, as Spock indirectly suggests, stop thinking in two dimensions.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Student Autonomy

     In teaching, I've been moving towards policies and methods that focus on student autonomy. It's important for them to feel integrated into the process, and to take ownership of their own education. I remember my own college days fairly well. The struggle was more against myself than the material, and courses that allowed me to take control of how I learned are the ones where I did best.
      I never had courses to the degree of autonomy I'm looking to embrace for my students, but the nature of education has changed over the years. It feels harder to get people engaged, even when I'm trying to teach them what they will need not just to be better writers, but to be better students and employees.
      This movement is not without risks. In order to be successful, students will have to embrace the process, otherwise it will fail miserably. Previously, I had policies that would allow the class to move forward even with minimal participation. Now, if the students remain disengaged, it will be a mad scramble to come up with something that works, and will likely come across as dictatorial, alienating me from the students.
      But I think it's a worthwhile gamble. I'll report back on my results when I have them.

Friday, July 27, 2012

F3 A Crew

     When you do a job, you need people. Small jobs can go for one or two people, but the bigger the pay off, the more people needed. I thought I was done running cons. I thought I could get by in life without them.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Switching Gears

     I've spent a good part of the summer revising a book at the suggestion of an editor. Now that I've finished that, I need to get back to writing. The problem is I've spent so much time in the world of the book I was revising, all I can do is generate ideas and stories for its sequel. It's quite distracting to jot down notes for it when I need to get my head back into another character and universe. It's like going from driving a luxury car to a 4x4. There are certain similarities, but they handle in vastly different ways.
      It's a good thing I've got an outline to work from, rough as it is. That's a pretty new practice for me, too. I used to be a die hard pantser, but over time I've been outlining more and more. It's a good thing, but I'll go more into that in a different post. For now, I have to go off-roading.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Theater Tragedy

     I can't begin to express my feelings over the tragedy of the premier of The Dark Knight Rises. I'm sure many others have already done so, and in more eloquent fashion. I'm sure studies and messages of outcry over what could cause such actions will undoubtedly be explored in every way possible.
      But there's still the aftermath, and all I can think of is the aftermath of 9/11, of the aftermath of Virginia Tech. I remember after 9/11 being asked, "Would you fly again?" Without hesitation, I answered yes. After Virginia Tech I was asked, "Do you feel safe walking around campus?" Again, I didn't hesitate to answer I did. Now, after the disruption in our theaters, in that place that is so common to every day people, I won't hesitate to see movies. I will go and continue to enjoy films. Perhaps, now, I will do so even more, as a form of protest to the actions of one man, who sought to put our world into chaos and turmoil. I will go and enjoy, making light of fear.
      To others, I ask the same. Go and enjoy. The way to fight such terrorism is not more security in our every day places, not to submit to the loss of freedom and fear. Go and watch. Enjoy. Let those who trade in fear know we are not afraid.

Friday, July 20, 2012

F3 The Banshee

     She screamed like she always did, filling the air with a howl that made most people cringe and cover their ears. To me the sound was encouraging, something to be relished. Today there was no one around to discourage the Banshee from screaming, so I let her go to her heart's content. The wail echoed around the inside my garage until I hit the button.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Space Opera

     I am in need of a good space opera on TV. I lament not having the days of Star Trek, Stargate, and Battlestar Galactica. I need great space battles and epic quests in the vastness of space.
      Now, I have a solution. With the popularity of Game of Thrones on television, there should be a series based on science fiction books of an equal caliber. I suggest Jack Campbell's Lost Fleet series. With a six book series and a second series beginning, there is ample material for a series of at least five season (maybe on up to 10 depending on how it's done). So, networks, bring me the adventures of "Black Jack" Geary!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Travel Bug

     I've gone to a wedding already this summer, but I still have the travel bug. The only question remains is whether or not I want to drive or fly. Given my location deep in the Sonoran Desert, finding places to visit within close proximity is difficult. At least places I haven't already exhausted. The latest wedding conveyed to me just how difficult a 10-12 hour drive is a little more than I'm willing to go any more, which means at least one stop to get anywhere interesting.
      While I'd love to visit my friend in Boston, I'm hesitant because I should be seeing him later in the year. Also, I'm eager to strike out in the car to parts unknown, well, because I can. Again, it's the proximity thing. I think I would have to travel out three days to get some place that I'd want to see, or I can take a five hour trip to Boston, the birthplace of the Revolution, where the history geek in me will go absolutely bonkers.
      Decisions, decisions.

Friday, July 13, 2012

F3 Nightmares

     "The stuff of nightmares doesn't belong to Lovecraftian descriptions of horror, nor does it belong to King's more believable portrayals of the known becoming horrific.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Language Conventions

     The English language is one of the most complex and flexible languages in the world. The permutations in how a sentence can be put together are staggering, especially when compared to other languages with a more stringent grammar and syntax. In many languages that use word order to determine meaning, the word order is rigidly enforced whether it is subject, verb object (as in many romance languages) or with the verb at the end of the sentence, or linguistic variations I haven't even conceived.
      English, though, while it largely follows the pattern of the romance languages, also has flexibility to put words in nearly any order, yet still convey the same meaning, or subtle variations on that meaning. Consequently, there are very few absolute times when a sentence must be phrased in a specific way. There are certainly more effective ways, but sometimes sentences must be written for a specific effect, or to reflect specific speech patterns.
      While sometimes accents in written text can be difficult and distracting, they have always been a fascination of mine, and are topping my list of things to research. I'm hoping I can find some kind of chart that might tell the differences.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Gaming Consoles

     I've been a gamer (of some kind) since days of yore. I had consoles such as the Colecovision, Intellivision, and a Commodore 64 (not technically a console, but it ran lots of cool games). Since those days, I've been a staunch supporter of Nintendo. Now the Wii U is looming, and I have to ask myself if I'm going to buy it as well. I like the premise, but I don't have the opportunity to play multiplayer games with friends as much as I did in college. While I'll always want the latest Zelda, Smash Bros., and Metroid, I often find better uses of my time, such as writing, reading, or just spending some me time. Do I have the wherewithal to continue console wars, especially when I buy only a few games?

Friday, July 6, 2012

F3 The Library

     In movies and TV shows, libraries are sacred halls of knowledge rife with forgotten nooks and corners housing ancient tomes of forbidden lore. The quirky but charismatic bookworm character finds the absolutely vital piece of information in the tome—complete with eerie diagram—right in the nick of time.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day

     I love July 4th. I love the United States. I've always been a huge history buff, and can rattle off stories about the 13 colonies long past the point when people will listen to me.
      It wasn't until I did a summer of grad school in Juneau, Alaska that I saw patriotism on a personal level. Yeah, I know, Juneau doesn't have colonial roots, and is geographically as far as it gets from the Revolutionary War. Every year, Juneau is proudly the first city in the U.S. to celebrate July 4th. They start just before midnight on July 3rd. The fireworks light up the sky near the docks where all the cruise ships come in, and it is literally standing-room only. The entire town turns out for this celebration of Independence. When speaking with Juneauites (I have no idea if that's the correct term, but it has a cool sound to it), the reason for this celebration is simple enough: the miners got the 4th off for a holiday.
      The origins of their celebration may not have had anything to do with Independence, but how the city celebrates does. They come out as a community both that night, and all day of the 4th. Barbecues, games, and events take place throughout the day. To my mind, nothing could be more patriotic than to spend the day in celebration with families and friends, enjoying the freedom the day represents to the fullest.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Teaching Brain

     My teaching brain is dying. Not because I've just been too long from teaching, but because I've focused on writing. I count this a good thing, overall. I needed the time to expand as a writer and let the stress associated with teaching melt away. Over the winter break I spent the whole time working on teaching, and I think it took its toll on me. I needed the down time, but I pressed on. I made some great innovations in the time, but now it's time to take care of other needs and other skills. Of course, I will need to get the teaching brain back very soon. The end is near.

Friday, June 29, 2012

F3 Hunting

     As a kid, dad would drag me into the Catskills, just me, not my sisters, and we'd do a litlte hunting. Never anything major. At most a deer, but usually rabbits and an occasional fox. It was bonding time with dad, but I hated hunting. I hated traipsing through the forest to look at tracks. When we fished, I loved it, but hunting was a chore, especially when dad really got into it with the camouflage clothing.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


     From what they say, it's everywhere. It's what makes the world go round. It's also the bane of my existence as a teacher. Now, I have to say, I have nothing against math, personally. I'm a confirmed Excel junkie. My first instinct for a math problem is to reach for Excel, not a calculator. I perform complex math equations that physicists would be proud of. Well, once they get over shaking their heads and show me the shortcut to cut it in half.
      The thing is, math is only as good as what people put into it, and humanity is notorious for taking the easy route. Deep down, math is complex problem solving, analysis, language, and even philosophy. It's awesome. On the surface, it's an empty procedure and memorization. I remember my times table. I could rattle off answers of up to 12x12 in a heartbeat. It's memorization. Plug and chug. At that level, math doesn't take any thinking. And that's the problem. Math is treated as a means to find a solution. People look for the magic equation whereby they solve for X. However, life doesn't work as an equation.
      There are so many complexities in life that there's no magic equation, no silver bullet, no way to simply plug in values to make things work. I see it in teaching, and I see it in writing. No one has the formula for what makes a bestselling (or even just selling) novel. No one knows the perfect equation of story to humor to plot to characterization. It just doesn't work that way. Instead, it takes a lot of thought, time, and hard work. If there is an equation, that's it. Skimp on any of them, though, and it doesn't work.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Different Enough?

     I had a great concept for a book. Then I ran with it. Thinking like a good little writer, I decided to research to see if anything else was out there that might be like mine. There is. So I got it and read it, hoping that the fundamental concepts were different enough. At first, the news was good. My concept was radically different in nature. Then, about 2/3 through, there was a hint that the concepts were closer.
      Life sucked.
      Big time.
      Here I am, several thousand words into the book, and the concepts are close. What do I do?
      "Pop quiz, hot shot, what do you do." My situation is such that I feel the need to quote Speed.
      I was pretty bummed, to say the least, bu then I began to realize that while there might be a similarity of concept, this author buried it deep, and mentioned it off-handedly. Moreover, I remembered my English lit. There are only so many stories in the world. What matters is in how you tell them. While there are similarities, the execution is radically different.
      So I'm going to press forward.
      Ahead warp factor 9.

Friday, June 22, 2012

F3 A Catch 22

     I looked at the entry in the journal. Round Metal Plate: "The type of metal is unknown, something highly durable, but completely jet black. It's not iron. There is a layer of seasoned cooking oil on it to prevent rust. There is text around the edge stamped into the metal at the time of its making. In Italian it reads: 'Dedicated to Vesta and all the bounties that spring forth from her hearth.' "

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


     I've never been much of a non-fiction guy. I enjoy research, but my first instinct with a book is fiction. I want the escape, the adventure, the immersion in a whole new world. Likewise, I've never thought much about writing a non-fiction book. In a random moment of inspiration I conceived of one, but wasn't sure I wanted to take away from writing fiction. Now a student has got me thinking about writing another non-fiction book. And I'm pretty excited at the prospect. The big question, how to find the time?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sabotaging Characters

     It's never good to let characters go too long without smacking them back in their place. I think this goes for villains and common people as much as the hero. Bad stuff happens to everyone. I also don't think the bad stuff has to have a deeper meaning like sometimes happens in TV. It was random chance something horrible happened, not the machinations of some shadowy villain or organization (well, except for me). I find striking out at even the little people quite satisfactory, and also a major impetus to other characters.

Friday, June 15, 2012


     Supervillainy, as popularized by comic books, film, and spy novels is characterized by lasers, shiny materials, and evil laughter. One out of three is a terrible ratio, but I can't give up the laugh. But, really, I have cause for the laugh. Humor is important. A plan should be both practical and humorous whenever possible, and I watched the monitor over Atlanta with child-like anticipation. This was going to be good.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


     At the colleges where I work, they perform teacher evaluations every semester or every other semester. I have to tell you, it's always, always a harrowing experience. Here's why. The evaluations are done with another teacher sitting in on your class. They generally give you a few dates to choose from, but there's not much in the way of flexibility for what they see. It sounds pretty straightforward, but here's the harrowing part: students. Students are a wildcard. A gigantic one, at that. There's no telling what students will do from day to day, especially during an evaluation. It could be as simply as being extra rowdy to texting to being completely disinterested in what goes on.
      This has me thinking about becoming a published author. When it comes to agents and editors. There are a lot of things not in my control. I can't control the state of the industry or what is currently trending. I can't control the recent sales of manuscripts. But I can control my own writing. And that is really the most important part of the process. What agents evaluate me on primarily is my writing. If it's good, I do well. I can't control what students do no matter how much I refine my teaching. I can continually improve my writing, though.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Outrageous Ideas

     I have found in my flash fiction endeavors (albeit not all of my attempts are complete stories) that I can embrace my more outrageous ideas, and simply run with them. These have spurned off what are potentially brand new series of books. So I say, embrace the insane idiot, and write about elephant cheese and lobster-wielding mobsters. Who knows what will come of them. Hmmm, lobsters in elephant cheese sauce.

Friday, June 8, 2012

F3 Elves

     Dwarves were surly, raucous, often drunk, and loved to fight, especially while drunk. The only thing against them were their choice of songs. Elves, though, were proper, pious, fond of ritual, and severe. They had a habit of looking down their noses at anyone not meeting their standard. Especially dwarves. I didn't like Elves. I hated their drinks even more.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Assessing Stories

     Last time I talked about assessing my course policies, but it applies outside of school. Assessing what works also has to take place in stories. This one is harder to do, but I feel I've gotten better at it. Turning an objective eye on a story is tough, but an absolutely essential aspect of writing. I feel like I've been gradually overcoming the need for purple prose, and finding a simple elegance in the language. Making sure that the story moves along is getting easier, too. Something a little more difficult is deciding what kind of foreshadowing to leave for future books. I like leaving loose ends and clues that will pertain to future stories, but sometimes they can feel extraneous. But then, it's all part of the process of what to keep and what to kill.

Monday, June 4, 2012


     The semester has ended, and it's time to take stock. I look at things that worked, and things that didn't. Always, always among that list is the revision of the syllabus. Some policies work, some don't. Among the most tedious of the revisions is instituting new policies to close out loopholes students worm their way into. It's tedious, and I feel more and more like a lawyer trying to micromanage every little thing to make sure there is zero misunderstanding and zero possibility of circumventing my will. Of course, in the process of both of these, the compromise is length.
      All of these policy explanations result in a syllabus that looks and reads like a contract to buy a car. I'm sure it's only a matter of time until it's like buying a house. Of course, this automatically negates the possibility of creating a document that is impossible to misunderstand. Also, students look at document that must be drilled instead of stapled, so never bother looking at it.
      I've tried to keep my policies short and to the point, but it is a challenge. I wish for a time when students would embrace college instead of seeking ways to manipulate the system. Policies should be more enlightened. But then, I like to think the world could be a better place if I try to make it that way. So I keep my policies short, and try to minimize damage, while accepting that manipulation is inevitable.

Friday, June 1, 2012

F3 Exotic Tastes

     Brachiation seemed the most expedient, not to mention the most desirable, means of travel, despite the lack of anything to swing from. No trees, no jungle gym, nothing. It was a melancholy moment for which Johnny would remember until the end of his Twinkie. Unfortunately he had a Long Tom, a Twinkie three feet long. Without the cardboard support, it would break apart under its own weight.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Future of (Comic) Books

     I got a taste of new, digital comic books. It's interesting because it progresses in slideshow fashion with text revealed in subsequent pages, but with the same artwork. This gives the illusion of time passing sequentially across the page, and I'm sure it's only a matter of time until this becomes more mainstream with digital comics, and digital, interactive books. It is both exciting and terrifying. I wonder how it will all unfold.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Summer Days

     School has ended! Grades are posted, and time is something I suddenly have in great abundance, now. Previously, I had thought I was going to teach during the summer and work on a project. Those didn't pan out, so now I have time.      It's okay.      I'm looking forward to the time.      For the past three summers I have chocked them full of things: projects, trips, recovery from injury, etc.      For the first time, I think I'm just going to enjoy the time. That's not to say I'm going to laze about and do nothing.      I've already set a writing agenda, and I' going to set up for another round of queries.      Long live summer!

Friday, May 25, 2012

F3 Sigmund Freud Vampire Hunter

     Germany.      Night time (ish).      Dr. Sigmund Freud strolled down on his way home, smartly tapping his cane on the cobbled stones. The good doctor thought of his recent research, and how he had helped so many patients with their recent problems. His research on psychoanalysis and dream interpretation would surely help millions of people cope with their problems. If only I could

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hero Worship

     I learned something significant at the writing conference. Well, I knew, but it was reinforced, and I really put it into practice. Play it cool. The authors, the agents, the editors, are just people. Like me. Probably a little more (in)sane (depending, because I'm pretty insane).      The point is to make a good impression, and make contacts. I think the same applies to the panels at Comicon. So I'll play it cool there, too. It'll be fun. It was at the conference, and I made some great connections, some of which I hope to see at Comicon again.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Two Straws

     While attending U of A, I noticed how one of my best friends used two straws with his drink at Carl's Jr. When I remarked on this, he told me that it was simply more efficient to drink this way. From that time on I've grabbed two straws.      It seems to me that these tiny things, these little behaviors we all pick up add more depth to a character than any kind of physical description. Too often everything is just sight, or even sound or smell, but those don't add the right kind of depth. Having a character whose default fast food is a gyro or one who emulates a magic show he saw as a kid or one who names his horse after a hockey team are little touches I think add much more to my characters.

Friday, May 18, 2012

F3 Burners

     Jack and I coasted down on our cloud boards to the top of a small crater. Small being just a couple of miles across. A woman stood at the top. My eyes easily picked out that she had spotted us, and she didn't look particularly happy about it.
      "Reilly, keep cool."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Awesome Avengers

     The Avengers did not disappoint. A feel this is a major accomplishment in film and storytelling. Never before have disparate franchises been brought together so seamlessly in a film. For those who have not seen the film, do so. Immediately. Oh, and stick around for the credits. There's some foreshadowing followed by a very human moment for the team. I'm trying to fight off the urge to see it again.      I wonder if something like this can be done with books. There are certain challenges to overcome, certainly, but it might be interesting to publish a set of books each with their own protagonist, culminating in a book that brings them all together.      Hmm. I think I need to make some notes.

Monday, May 14, 2012


     In April I attended Desert Dreams 2012, and it was completely awesome. The people running the conference are top-notch. I had a great time even though I'm not a romance writer. I won't hesitate to go again.      More than that, I've got an itch. I want to go to more conferences. I want to be with other writers and agents. These are my people. Unfortunately, I don't have much of a budget to work with, but I'm going to be keeping my eye out now. But until I can get to another writing conference, I'll indulge in the next best thing: Phoenix Comicon.

Friday, May 11, 2012

F3 Sparring

     I sucked at fencing. I sucked at the sword, period. It wasn't my weapon. So even as I squared off against Andurias, I knew I was going to lose. I just had no way to use the weapon effectively. It wasn't my skillset. The Captain of the Guard neatly disarmed me in the practice yard and held the point of his sword to my chest. The people—the ladies in particular—around the courtyard cheered and clapped his victory.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Three Loves

     Three of my loves are coinciding in one great project. For the first time, writing, video games, and teaching are all coming together. I am creating an educational text adventure game for use in my classes. The sheer awesomeness is almost beyond words. It certainly surpasses a grue.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Gadget Love

     I'm a tech guy, and as such, I really want to be able to buy all the great new tech that keeps coming out. I could use a new ultrabook. I'd love a Kindle Fire. I'd love a 10" tablet (not an iPad). And that's just the stuff off the top of my head. But I don't need any of that stuff.
     I think this spins into writing, too. There are many times where I want to have a scene or am attached to a great piece of prose, but it just doesn't belong. I don't need it, so it needs to go.
     Sometimes it really sucks to do the necessary thing.
     And I really want an ultrabook.

Friday, May 4, 2012

F3 Inferno

     Fire. That was the first thought. It had also been the last thought. I blinked my eyes open against heat. It wasn't a natural heat, though. Blue liquid poured down the walls. It might as well have been lava. I looked around, and the man who had caused it all lay five feet into the room. The magical device had annihilated itself on contact with the wall.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


     I don't see many movies in the theater, any more, bu tI am a die hard fan of the Marvel movies. I have been anticipating the Avengers ever since Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk came out. Not only is this one of my most loved franchises, this is movie history. No one has ever created a scenario with separate franchises coming together in a team. This has only worked in comic books before. I truly hope that Avengers lives up to its potential. I also know I have little to fear with Joss Whedon at the helm.

Monday, April 30, 2012


     I regularly hook up with friends on Friday night to play games. Our current favorite is Dominion, and even as I'm getting my butt handed to me tonight, it's still a blast, and quite nearly infinitely replayable. But be warned, it's an investment with all of the expansion. Unlike many games, all of the expansions are worthwhile.

Friday, April 27, 2012

F3 The Study of Law

     "James 'Crushinator' Adams. You are currently ranked number five in your class, and currently up for Law Review. However, many people are looking at your number five spot. What do you have to say to them?"

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Conference Prep

     Registration: Check
     Business Cards: Check
     Finished Novel: Check
     First Pages: Check
     Free Schedule: Check
     Elevator Pitch: I really hope so
     Agent Appointment: Check
     Butterflies in stomach: Swarming
     Excitement: Off The Chart
     I'm off to Desert Dreams this weekend. Time to hobnob with writers and agents.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Legend of Korra

     I am a huge fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender series. There are few animation series out there with the same storytelling moxie, and Legend of Korra looks like a worthy successor. I'm already enjoying my foray back into the world of Bending, and I can't wait to see how it unfolds. I just hope the show creators are in the process of creating a third series. I need to see more Avatars.

Friday, April 20, 2012

F3 Dealing with Dwarves

     Dwarves rarely came into the kingdom. When they did, it was either to burn the place down or for trade. Since the town put up decorations and had a parade, it was the latter. I liked dwarves, for the most part. They drank, had rough manners, and liked to fight. It felt just like any of the bars in the Bronx. Unfortunately, the way they came in, it was more like the nice Manhattan bars attacked by people from the wrong end of New Jersey, which was the whole state.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Military Sci-Fi

     I'm working my way through book 4 of The Lost Fleet by Jack Campbell. I really like that the author is retired from the U.S. Navy. The tactics are authentic, and I don't find myself yelling at the book to be smart about things. Like I did with the last sci fi book I read.
     The characters are engaging, especially the protagonist. I heartily recommend this book to anyone looking for a good sci series with epic space battles.

Monday, April 16, 2012


     It amazes me as I teach to see the classroom continue to dwindle. It makes me think the writing business must be the same. A lot of writers must call it quits before the query process, and I'm sure the query process really makes others drop out.
     I think back on posts by Nathan Bransford and Rachelle Gardner about why we write. I think the same can (and should) be applied to why we go to school. This is something that people should figure out (both writing and schooling) before wasting the investment of time and money.
     And yet every semester, no matter my exhortations to students, there seem to be more empty chairs than filled ones by the end of the semester.

Friday, April 13, 2012

F3 Down Time

     I stretched out on the beach, enjoying the sun. It wasn't much of a vacation, but it was aces in my book. The small speedboat was tied up on the shore, and I had this entire side of the island to myself. Most of the Bel Vistas had people on them, but there were still a few that had been set aside for use by the town. I wasn't on one of those. I actually parked off one of those islands that hadn't sold, and just squatted.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

On Format

     I understand why agents and editors make formatting a big deal. It is a big deal. Screwed up formatting, from how it looks on the page to the file format to the file name are a big deal, and I'm not even looking at this with publishing experience. As a college professor, I am driven up the wall when it comes to my students simply throwing whatever format they want out there. I'm sure agents and editors spend hundreds of hours on fixing simple formatting mistakes that should never be committed in the first place. Among the biggest I can think of are using spaces to indent paragraphs, manually inserting page numbers and headers on ever page, and using bizarre styles that set everything screwy from the get go.
     My advice, learn the formatting before you start writing. If you do it before you write, you won't have to worry about having done it wrong and wasting time. To that end, I've whipped up a little something that reflects the most current formatting. I'll post it up soon if anyone wants it. Of course, that's just the most generalized format. Agents and editors are the final authority on how manuscripts should be formatted.

Monday, April 9, 2012

School Days

     I notice in my teaching that my classes become quite a bit smaller as the semester progresses. A few of them have legitimate reasons, but only a few. Others simply stop (or never started) doing the work or showing up. They never truly got their heads in the game.
     I remember from my own college days that classes did diminish over time. Maybe not to the same extent, but there were always empty seats by the end. College is tough. But then, it's supposed to be tough. I don't know of anyone who has said college was easy. Certain classes, maybe, but never college as a whole. There is always that one professor, that one requirement, that you will struggle through. There are a lot of hoops to jump in college, and the only thing that will see you through is perseverance.
     Getting a college degree is nothing but dogged determination as professors and classes will actively seek to make you drop out. I've had professors announce that anything below a B will fail. Others that there will only be on A in the class. Strictures and requirements so obtuse and pedantic that figuring out their purpose brings on a migraine. These are all tests to see just how much you want that degree, to see if you have what it takes to hold on to your goal despite all the obstructions.
     Writing is exactly the same, but tougher. No one said being a writer would be easy, and there are a lot of road blocks. I never quit college, and I'm not going to quit this. If anything, I want to be a writer more than I wanted college degrees. I'm in this for the long haul. I will reach my goal of becoming a published author. I have the determination and drive. Time and effort will make up the rest.

Friday, April 6, 2012

F3 Rosy-Fingered Dawn

     "Do you know, Matthew, how long it has been since I have seen the sun?"
     I could take a stab in the dark, but didn't care to. "You're sure about this? I mean, there are easy ways to test this out."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How's The Weather up There

     At 6'8", I have heard this joke enough times to make me a millionaire at a nickel per. Nevertheless, I now have an answer: a fiendish grin. My current project involves the weather. Which means I need to take a crash course in meteorology and the weather. One thing I love about writing is that I'm always learning. One of the things I hate is I'm always researching. Mostly because I get sidetracked by the former.
     It's an easy thing to be researching then suddenly go "Oooo! That sounds cool. Time to read up on this." Click. Many an hour has been lost in what should be a quick bit of research. But at least I'm entertained and learning; and I still get my writing done.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Hordes

     I just finished Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford. The book was simply amazing. The scholarship is top-notch, and paints a dynasty that many thought to be simple barbarians as leaders the likes of which put Alexander and Caesar to shame. Even better, I think I got an idea for my own fiction. I'll have to do some more research now.

Friday, March 30, 2012

F3 The Enchanted Sword

     That was definitely a sword in a rock. Back home it was straight out of King Arthur. Here, there was one in every village and kingdom. They were all variations on a chosen hero. Some of the stones lay forgotten in forests. Others rested in places of prominence. Still more were in ruins or guarded by fierce creatures designed to test the bravery.
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