Sunday, October 27, 2013

Excerpt: Critical Mass

Hey, all.

It's been quite a ride so far. I have four books out now, and working on the fifth. Still trying to get a handle on that "marketing" thing. Anybody know a move producer?

This week, I want to share another excerpt, this one from Critical Mass. It hits hard at the heart of one of the themes of the trilogy. I'm sure you can guess what it is, and how passionately I feel or it.

Without further ado, Critical Mass:

Jimmy sat on the porch, watching the dull routine of the afternoon in front of him. The air commandos not on guard sat in the shade of Nadia’s lawn for lunch, weapons within easy reach. Those on duty at the detention shacks stood their watches, ever vigilant against any attempted breakout. The occasional fly or wasp buzzed by, its hypnotic drone lulling the man in the wooden chair. The pain med Watts had given him was just starting to do its work, and the ache in Jimmy’s shoulder was finally at a tolerable level. But on the downside, that warm, sleepy feeling Jimmy hated so much was just beginning to creep in and steal the rest of his afternoon.

The old warrior’s eyes had just drifted shut when the screen door opened with a protest of springs. The steps on the porch were light and favored one side. The soft scent in his nostrils confirmed the identity of the other party. “Afternoon, Miss Paine,” he mumbled through the painkiller’s haze. Another smell, cool and yeasty, wafted to him and he held out a hand to receive the cold bottle offered, his eyes still closed.

He couldn’t resist his own grin at the smile in her voice. “You must have sonar, you old coot.” The chair next to Jimmy’s creaked as Jenna settled into it. She clinked her bottle against his and took a pull.

The first swallow went down good, so he took a second before speaking.

“How’s the leg?”

“Better, thanks. A little stiff, but I can work with it.”

“Good. Wouldn’t want ya to miss out just ’cause ya got a little hitch in your git-along.”

“Jimmy, I wouldn’t miss this if I had a whole leg off.”

“Big deal, eh?

Jenna looked out at the yard for a while before answering. “They lied to me. I don’t like being lied to.”

“But do you still believe in what they want? World unity and Kumbaya, and all that crap?”

Jenna tensed and clenched her jaw at the offhand remark. “When you kill someone, what do you feel?”

Jimmy bristled at the question. “You’re kidding, right?” Feel? How the hell am I supposed to feel? What kind of stupid question as that?

Jenna’s eyes narrowed with passion. “I want to know what you feel when you pull a trigger and put a bullet into another person, and let their life spill out. In whose name did you do it? Yours? Your country’s? And how did it solve anything?” She looked away. “That wasn’t even enough, was it? You had to teach others how to kill, too. For a border. An imaginary line on a map.”

She paused long enough to take a swallow. “So before you label someone’s beliefs as ‘crap,’ just think about what it felt like every time you killed someone for that imaginary line.”

The hair stood up on Jimmy’s neck. I swear, if you were a man, I’d pin your ears back… As it was, there was no way he was going to let that one go. It had been a long time since he needed to shift into sergeant mode, but the shift was a smooth as his last class of recruits.
"Young lady." He struggled through gritted teeth. "I didn't kill anyone for a line. I killed to save an idea. That idea was that free men should be able to defend themselves from oppression and tyranny and help other men to live free as well. Them poor jackwagons who stood in the way  of that idea were the ones I killed. And to tell you the truth, I don't feel a damned thing for 'em. That line on the map you're goin' on about is the line that say, 'on this side you're free to choose your own destiny.' And I'll spill as much blood as I have to to make sure it stays where it's at."


Jimmy sniffed and set his bottle on the small table between them. “Look at

you, giving me the ‘baby-killer’ speech. How many bodies have you left behind? Why don’t you tell me what you felt when you stood over the bodies of the people you laid out for a lie?"


He gave her a cold smile then and watched the steel in her eyes melt away. “I’ll grant you, hon, you ain’t any worse than me. But you sure as hell ain’t any sight better.”

Leaning his chair back, he said, “Now, I’d be willin’ to bet your vision for this earth ain’t too far from mine. We just ended up thinkin’ about it from some different places.” He fixed her eyes again with his. “I do know if I’d have had a half-dozen more of you on my team, we’d have buried less of our boys and more of theirs.”

Jenna broke her gaze away and looked across the yard. In the silence that followed, Jimmy imagined he could hear the gears working inside her head. He just hoped that, whatever she decided in the end about whatever it was she was pondering, it wouldn’t affect her edge when it came down to brass knuckles and billy clubs.

Things were going to get bad enough as it was.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Murder, He Wrote!

Remember when I posted on Propaganda? Remember those shadowy figures somewhere who want to influence you "behind your back?" Well, they were out in force on both sides recently, and I'd be remiss if I didn't run down some facts vs. what was released in the press, and see how much of that malarkey we all fell for.

Character assassination is one of the most prominent tools for a propagandist. If you can't influence your audience with simple truth, appeal to them on a more visceral level.

Take for instance the latest hoo-ha from Texas about voter identification:

Just start with that headline. It seems to infer that all Texas Republicans want to keep women from voting. For one thing, that's one of the most asinine assumptions an honest person could make.

The point of the report assumes that because women tend to vote liberal (assuming more liberals are Democrats than Republicans), and women tend not to update their photo ID's after marriage, that any requirement for a person to present a photo ID in order to vote is an attempt to prevent women from voting.

How stupid can you be and still breathe? For one thing, the writer of this article is assuming that women are too stupid to have a valid photo ID. For another thing, the writer assumes more married women would vote for liberal (or democratic) candidates, if given the opportunity (you know, because their Republican/conservative husbands keep them barefoot and pregnant, and take away their opportunity to vote). Actually, the opposite is true. Married women tend to vote more on the conservative side. So if anything, Texas Republicans are trying to get more women to vote, not less. I still say there's a reason someone wants non-citizens to vote. But that's just me.

Ladies, get a valid photo ID and keep it up to date, already! Show those evil conservatives who has the power of the American ballot box! (Pssst!--how about we make sure first that they're Americans?)

Now, that's out of the way. Let's look at the political murder that Congress has been committing at the federal level.

When one side offered a funding bill that had one program defunded, the other side said, "NO! All or nothing!" Now, the House of Representatives is supposed to have the power of the purse string. The bill would have funded the entire government, except for one law that will triple our national debt and handcuff us with more than 80 new federal agencies. It's no secret that I don't support that law, and I have a boatload of reasons for that.

But aside from that, the recent shutdown was blamed squarely on one party in the press, the very party that offered many, many bills to fund the government. The other side, who demanded the "all or nothing" approach, was just as guilty, was it not? But that's not how the press reported it.

What waved the first red flag for me was how the shutdown was handled. It seemed like the government agencies and programs that ground to a halt were deliberately the ones who would have hurt or inconvenienced a maximum number of people. The WWII Memorial in DC was barricaded, even though no staff tend to the thing to begin with. Likewise, across the nation, national parks and lakeshores were shut down or closed off, regardless of whether staff was actually required to keep them open. Take our own Sleeping Bear Dunes. In most of these cases, citizens simply moved the barricades and opened the parks and monuments anyway. I mean, how far do you really have to go to prove a point, Mr. and Mrs. Congressman?

Aside from parks and monuments, benefit programs like Social Security, Military pay, and military widow's benefits were withheld. You know, I'm sure we could have done without studies on the flow rate of ketchup, or personal airports in Pennsylvania, before these critical programs were shut down. But no. Maybe if they'd stuck with programs we really didn't need to begin with, maybe the public would realize how badly we've been getting fleeced all these years.

We've been getting played, people. By both sides in the "Republican/Democratic" war. And in the end, we lose anyway.

At least we still have a ballot box. Isn't it about time we showed the Washington Pharisees and Sadducees where the real power in America resides? This is supposed to be a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people." But it seems it's become "of the professional politicians, by powermongers, and for the special interests." They keep leveling accusations at each other across the aisle, and we get caught in the middle under the thumb of more regulation, more taxes, more oppression, more intrusion, and less freedom. Less of what made this country the greatest on the face of the planet.

I don't now about you, but I'm getting fed up with both "parties."

That's not to say there aren't some decent folks trying to change things. They just need some more support from those of us who actually study the issues and vote based on facts, not on character assassination.

Let's get ready, because the Mid-Terms are coming. Vote for freedom, folks. Before we lose it all.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Beta Readers: Who Needs 'Em?

I do.

And any writer who's honest with themselves will say the same thing.

For those of my followers who are not writers, please bear with me this time as I discuss a critical element in the process.  It just keeps coming back as something that gets neglected way too much, and the industry suffers from a lack of it.

When I first started writing, I wanted to hide my masterwork under a sheet, like the grand artiste I was (yeah, right), until the day of the Grand Reveal, when the world would behold my genius and fall to their knees in ecstasy. Agents would read it and cry, wondering where in the world I'd been all their lives. Editors would engage in a demolition derby in my driveway, fighting each other to the death to get my signature on their overly-generous contracts.

How stupid can a guy be and still breathe?

Needless to say, since then I've learned how mind-numbingly difficult it is to get a manuscript in shape to even have a hope in the slush pile. After about the thirtieth rejection letter, the sun began to rise in my less-than-plumb-level-and-square brain. Maybe there was something wrong with the manuscript, and maybe, just maybe, I was too close to see what it was.

Where I work for my day job, we have an intricate quality-control system, for which I'm sure you're all grateful. When one fixes problems on airplanes, one needs to take measures to make sure the job is done using what I like to call, "The Right Way." And when the procedure you're following is sixteen pages long, and you're messing with landing gear settings, checking functions in the navigation systems, changing settings in the controls, and double-checking the cabin pressure system, it helps to have a second set of eyes come along behind to make sure you didn't miss a step. Our inspectors go over every detail of the job, make sure every screw is tight, every panel in place. All before the crew sets foot in the aircraft again. If we didn't have this system, people can get hurt, or worse.

Now, a typo in one of my books won't get anyone killed. The worst thing that can happen is one of my readers gets a papercut. But it doesn't absolve me of the responsibility of ensuring my work meets certain standards. Editors don't need a perfect manuscript. But they also don't want to spend their time rewriting a mediocre work just to get it ready for market.

So two critical steps I was missing jumped up and bit me in the nose. Fortunately, it wasn't too late to take advantage of them, and I've never missed those steps since.

The first step is to get the work critiqued by a brutally honest crit partner. I don't mean Attila the critter. I mean someone who will push you on a deep level and point out where you're doing well, and where you could still do better. I also trade suggestions with my regulars, and we steal from each other with gleeful gratitude. Then again, I guess it's not stealing if it's offered as a gift, is it?

Anyway, the second critical step is to find a beta reader who will look over the entire manuscript and give you a definitive thumbs-up/thumbs down on it. They don't have to be a writer, but you need them to be, once again, brutally honest as well as an avid reader.

Now, here is the place where "The Split" happens, depending on your publishing method. Self-publishers, for the love of God, invest in an editor. If you can't afford an editor, you're better off finding an agent or a publisher for a contract deal, so it can be edited by a professional. If you're looking for a contract deal already, the call is yours whether you want to get the manuscript edited at this point. It couldn't hurt, but when you enter your deal, your publisher will assign you at least one editor, and then the real work begins, with rewrites and revisions galore until it's ready for a final galley.

After I inserted those two critical steps into my process, I've been consistently accepted for contract. And don't assume that once you get your foot in the door with one publishing credit, that every manuscript is a slam dunk from then on. Quite the opposite. The bar only gets higher.

As competitive as the publishing industry is, you can't afford not to let someone peek at your work before it goes to market. The extra edge will make the difference between a shredder and a contract.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Ah, The Classics!

Greetings, fellow castaways.

As I write this, the Keith Household is settling down to watch one of the most rock-awesome movies of all time, the original Dracula, featuring none other than Bela Lugosi in the lead role. I am a huge fan of some old movies. I know, acting and special effects have come a long way since the 1930's, but there are still some stories that remain timeless in their form as pure masterpieces of the art of cinema.

It's been years since I've seen Dracula. Like, when I was a kid. I finally took the liberty of reading Stoker's novel last year (it came free on my reader), and I can tell you, as bone-chilling as the movie was, the book is even more so. I just wish Stoker could have written an action scene worth a darn.

But anyway, what I was trying to say is that there are some old movies that are head and shoulders above their younger versions. I think Hollywood has become so dependent on special effects, they have compromised an essential element of movies, and that is the use of our own imagination in interpreting the story. I don't need to see the Count ripping someone's lungs out through their ear, thank you. I can get a stronger impact from the suggestion that he's ripping someone's lungs out through their ears, and I don't need to get grossed out by watching him do it. Horror is so much more than a cheap slasher flick (cheap is cheap, even though the budget may have been a hundred times as much on extra blood, pig guts and various gross effects).

Okay, call me old-fashioned. Go ahead. Say it. There, I know ya could. I am a little old-fashioned. There are actually few oldie movies that feel this way about. Many of them are primitive, poorly written, and flat out boring. My soft spots are reserved for those brilliant gems who stand out as ground-breaking and timeless.

Among them, I count the Count (muahahaha!) and a few others like All Quiet on the Western Front, The Wizard of Oz, Modern Times,  and The General.

I do have some modern favorites as well.  The Fifth Element and Aliens, and some little-known movies like Walking Across Egypt and The Last Legion (one of my new faves).

But it does seem like Hollywood has experienced a dearth of original stories lately. How many movies came out this year as remakes on older movies? Just this year, we've seen another Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie, yet another version of Dracula called Stoker, The Great Gatsby, The Lone Ranger, numerous sequels, and a plethora of what promise to be movies founded on splashing blood, copious amounts of sex, sermonizing, belittling morals, and any other of a number of reasons to not leave the house.

I like a movie that actually encourages me to use my brain once in a while. Okay, I slip in some Three Stooges once in a while. Ya can't take yourself too seriously, ya know.

I'd be interested in knowing what your favorite classic movies are. Post a comment, let me know.