For the Narcissist Lover in You…

Archive for July, 2010

Things My Kids Will Never Experience (Part One)

I’m reviving some blathery fun stuff I wrote a little while back.  This one was suggested by my friend Deb: rotary telephones. Remember those?

My parents had a rotary phone until I was nineteen. For you kids who never experienced one, here’s how it worked: forget buttons. The only buttons on a rotary phone were the line cutoffs, which were generally two little plastic pegs about the size of pencil erasors that stuck up through two holes in the center of the headset cradle. When you hung the headset on its cradle, it pushed the pegs down and they operated a secret gizmo that broke the connection. Thus the term “hung up”, as in, “that mean, insensitive girl whose phone number I got off the bathroom wall hung up on me!”  So named because the act of hanging up the headset ended the call. Had telephone evolution skipped the rotary-dial/manual-cutoff days and jumped straight to cell phones, the term for ending a call would be something different, like “He powered-off on me!” or “That jerk gave me the click!”  Which sounds vaguely dirty and sexual, so maybe it wouldn’t have been that one, but you get the point.

Anyway, no buttons on a rotary phone. Instead, you called someone by sticking your index finger (or if you were cool and talented, any other finger, or a pen or pencil, etc.) into one of nine holes ringed around the circumference of a plastic dial. Each hole had a number- one through nine, then zero- imprinted on the phone beneath the dial. Using your finger (or the implement of your choice if you were cool and talented) inside the little hole, you turned the dial clockwise with a tiny clockwork ratcheting sound as something in the mechanism of the phone measured the length of the turn. When your finger (or cool implement) met the little metal hook that stopped the turn, you let go and the released dial would ratchet quickly and more noisily back to its starting point. You did this for each digit in the phone number you were dialling (another anachronistic term, “dialling”; since no phones actually have dials anymore, it would be more accurate to say that one punched up a number or buttoned a number).

Then you held the headset, which was a heavy plastic thing shaped like a bent dumbbell with a set of super-mod salt and pepper shakers molded onto the ends, to your ear and waited for the call to connect. The headset was always attached to the phone by a spiral plastic cord. Cords came in a variety of lengths, from not-quite-long-enough-to-reach-the-fridge to just-short-enough-to-keep-you-from-sitting-on-the-floor. The spiral of the cord was designed to allow it a degree of stretch, but the result was inevitably a strange snarled tangle that made weird alien shapes which had a perverse life of their own. For instance:

Imagine you were on a rotary phone with the need to jot down an address. The pen and paper were always on the other side of the kitchen or office, so you clutched the headset between your shoulder and ear and, igor-like, lurched across the room, stretching the spiral cord as far as you’d think it could reach, pulling it so painfully taut that it looked like a vibrating tightrope connecting your ear to the wall. You’d crane your arm as far as you could until you’d barely, barely, get the pad of one finger on the paper and hook it to you. Success! It never occured to you, in that moment, to take the paper and pen back to the phone base. Instead, you’d stand there at the furthest desperate length of the cord, pen and paper in hand, and say something like, “OK, I’m ready, what’s the address again?” And that’s when the little tangle in the phone cord would suddenly spring loose, adding another six inches to its length, and making the headset pop smartly off your shoulder.

Always, always, this resulted in a desperate and deceptively slow comic ballet as you bobbled the headset in your hands, trying not to drop the paper or the pen, getting your wrists tangled in the cord, yelling for the person on the phone to hold on, hold on, I dropped the phone, ah crap, and of course, inevitably dropping the phone on the floor.

The only good news was that you could retrieve it without bending over, since the cord was still tangled around your wrist; you simply reeled it back in, shaking your head and cursing under your breath.

Mothers were expert at rotary telephone ergonomics. My Mom could cook an entire meal in the kitchen with the phone clutched between her ear and shoulder. It was like watching some retro robot that had to be plugged in to operate. Dads had no patience for it. Watching Dad on the phone was a study in verbal economics. A typical phone call would go like this:

RING! RING!

Mom: Hello? Oh hi. Hold on. (yelling) Hon! It’s Wally!

Dad: Hi.

Dad: Yeah.

Dad: The green one.

Dad: When?

Dad: Bye.

Mom (twenty seconds later): What did he want?

Dad (from the living room): Who?

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Literary Bootcamp: “What’s your pen-name, soldier!?”

So I leave for Writer’s Bootcamp in two days and I am having quite a mixed response to it.

I’ve been reading Orson Scott Card’s books for a couple of years now, and while I have not read all of them (I’ve only read the first Ender book, but all of the Alvin Maker series thus far) I’ve enjoyed them quite a bit.  Still, I am not approaching this Bootcamp, which Mr. Card is hosting, with anything like hero worship.  If it was Stephen King hosting it, that would be different.  I’ve been reading his works since I was a teenager and have devoured all of them, even (and especially) the Gunslinger series.  I’d hate for Mr. Card to know it, but Mr. King is actually sort of my literary forefather.  If he were hosting this event, I would be as nervous as the proverbial scho0l girl.

For that reason, I am sort of glad that it will be Mr. Card and not Mr. King standing behind the desk.  I can approach Mr. Card with respect, rather than avoid him out of unworthy awe.  Make sense?  Anyway.

I spent a good chunk of change on this trip.  How ironic that it actually happens at a time when I have just lost my job and am worried about money.  If I could go back in time and save the money instead, I’d do it.  And yet, I can’t help wondering (romantic that I am) if this is how it was meant to be.  I don’t want to think that, because it leads me to have hopes about this event that I am equally sure will eventually be disillusioned, but I think it anyway.  I (just like many of you) am very adept at setting up the trap of disappointment and then stepping right into it.  Whee!

But I haven’t stepped into this one yet, thus I am still entertaining the tantalizing possibility that this trip will be worth it– that something amazing will happen, something validating (in the least) and potentially life-changing (at the most).

I am an artist, which means that I have too good of an imagination for my own good.  When I was a kid, I kept myself awake at night imagining vivid horrors lurking in the dark.  As an adult, I keep myself awake at night imagining plausible breakthroughs that could happen during trips like the one I am about to take.

Shall I admit them and thereby show them for the foolishness that they likely are?

What if Mr. Card reads some of my writing and thinks it actually is good?  What if he thinks it’s good enough to introduce me to a good literary agent?  Or a publisher?  What if he gives me a quote I can use to market my stories myself?  (“Riveting and Engaging!  A Must Read!”  — Orson Scott Card)  What if in the next few months I don’t need to find another digital art job because by then, thanks to this event, I will be (gasp!) Writing For A Living??

Ridiculous, of course.  But not impossible, right?  That’s the terrible thing about it.

So I temper those thoughts with ones like these:

Most likely, I will never have a private interaction with Mr. Card.  Most likely, he will barely register any of my own writing, and if he does, it will not be brilliant enough to catch his attention.  Most likely, this will be an instructional, handy-helpful adventure in how to become, eventually and with practice, a better writer.  Most likely, the rest of the writers attending the event will be as good and better than me.  Most likely this will be just one more milestone on a long road of milestones toward some unknown destination that might not, in fact, include ever getting “for real” published.

That’s far more likely, isn’t it?  Tell me it is.  I need to know that, so I won’t be too disappointed when the time comes.

Anyway again.

If I am allowed, and if I have time, I will probably blog here about the Bootcamp as it is happening.  It will be all next week.  Wish me luck.  Fingers crossed.

Onward.


Will Write for Food

Well, as many of you know, last Friday the economy finally reared its ugly head in my direction, and frankly, I ain’t all that upset about it.

Yet.

The company that I worked for– a nifty production house called Technisonic Studios that had been in business for 70 odd years (no kidding!  Tina Turner and Chuck Berry recorded some of their first albums there back when the joint was mostly a high-end recording studio!) — completely shut its doors.  Nobody here but us chickens.

There were people in tears, moving through the halls as if a bomb had gone off.  In a sense, of course, it had.

I am far better off than many of them.  I really wasn’t even particularly upset.  I like spontaneity and adventure, and it’s pretty easy for me from a career perspective because I can just fall back on doing freelance work, which I sort of prefer anyway.  But I felt really bad for everyone else.  A lot of you know exactly how this feels right about now, I am sure.

But the bottom line is– who’d a thunk it!?– I am one step closer to writing for a living.  Right?  For better or worse, I now have the time to write a lot more, and to promote what I finish.  Woo!  It’s likely, I suppose, that in the coming weeks I will begin James Potter 4.  I look forward to that.  I will also be pouring some serious time into the promotion for “Ruins of Camelot” in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, it’ll make me enough coin to support me and mine for a short time.

Is that too much to hope for?  Maybe.  But maybe not.  A guy in my position can’t afford to give up hoping.  And that, really, is the hardest struggle of all.  Again, many of you probably know exactly what I am talking about.  The writing isn’t the hard part.  The self promotion and the constant barrage of professional rejection isn’t even the hard part.  It’s carrying around the hope that someday this will all be proved worthwhile, that someday our expectations will be met, we’ll break through, and the hopes will magically transform into reality.  In the face of everything that says “give up!”, it’s the carrying on of that hope– that heavy, stubborn, exhausting hope– that is the real work of becoming a writer (or anything else worthwhile, I suppose).

Le sigh and le moan.  Onward.  And upward.


The New Thought Police

This will come as a shock to no one, but I am more than a guy who writes.  Part of the reason I started this blog was to create a place where those who were interested might come and take a peek inside my mind– a place where I might reveal a bit more of my personality and worldviews than I do on my websites and Facebook pages.

Today, I am going to muse upon something completely unrelated to my books– something potentially controversial, and something that may cause many of you to think twice about my writings, and even me as a person.  Be prepared.

(big sigh)

Without any of us particularly noticing it, a new form of Thought Police has arisen here in America (although I suspect those of you outside the U.S. might recognize the same influence in your own culture).  Right here, in the land that values freedom of speech as its primary right, free speech– and independent thought itself– is being systematically squashed.

And it isn’t happening where you probably think it is.  Bear with me.  A lot of you won’t like this one bit.  I apologize in advance.

Near where I live, a university professor was recently fired for teaching what he is paid to teach and for expressing, when asked, a personal opinion about it.  The university explained their action by stating that “the courses at this institution should be geared to contribute to the public discourse and promote independent thought”.

Let that sink in a bit.

Can you smell the irony?  Apparently, “public discourse” and “independent thought” can only occur when they are completely homogeneous with the prevailing worldview.  Dissenting opinion, no matter how respectfully presented, cannot be tolerated.  Let’s ignore for the moment what the professor’s unacceptable opinion might have been.  Is this defensible?  Are we so feeble-minded that the mere expression of an unpopular opinion is utterly unacceptable?

The New Thought Police is usually not embodied in an institution, however.  It is usually a citizen brigade.   Often, this consists of only a single person, but a person completely assured that they are backed up by an unstoppable tide of moral superiority.  Examples:

A few weeks ago I was at the park with my kids.  I met another couple who were there watching their own children.  We struck up a conversation and they were very likable.  Then, however, the conversation turned to politics.  The couple talked freely about how horrible people of a certain political persuasion are, how stupid and evil they are, and how they must be stopped and silenced.  I became very sad at this, because they were talking about me.  They did not know it, of course, and I did not tell them.  Maybe I should have, but I was embarrassed and intimidated.  I liked them.  I was sad because I realized that if they knew who I really was, they would obviously hate me, and probably not even speak to me.

Only a few days ago, I was telling some friends about a discussion I would be attending with a particular author.  One person interjected that I should be very wary of the author’s “insane political and religious views”*, and that he himself could never attend a discussion by such a person.  I am not entirely sure what this author’s political and religious views are, but what if they happen to be the same as mine?  I really like the man who said this to me– he has been very helpful and encouraging.  Now, I am faced with the fact that, if my political and religious views are not his, he would likely shun me just as he would the author we were speaking of.

So of course I didn’t say anything.  I am a people pleaser.  I want to be liked.  And yes, this shames me.

There are more examples of this than I can recount in this blog.  Most of the time, the oppression of the New Thought Police is felt simply as a pervasive social pressure– an unavoidable prevailing wind that insists you simply cannot think outside of the norm: “only stupid, insane, hopelessly uncool people doubt or disagree with X.  Obviously you agree with us.  If you don’t, make sure you keep it to yourself, at least if you mean to keep your friends, your job, your social status, and even your freedom.”

It reminds me, most of all, of the scenes in George Orwell’s “1984” that deal with the “two minutes hate”.  During these interludes, nothing was acceptable but absolute unanimity of expression.  Any deviation from the norm was cause for suspicion, alienation, and even imprisonment.

I do not understand the mindset of the person who assumes that everyone else agrees with them, who by their enthusiastic degradation of anyone who might disagree, utterly squashes any potential for discourse.  I am pleased to know that I have friends from all across the political and religious spectrum.  I respect the differences.  I relish the conversations about those differences, and I have them frequently.  These conversations both sharpen and refine my own beliefs.  I am better for them.

Knowing this, how is it healthy for a society at large to actively obliterate the expression of any opinion that deviates from the politically correct norm?  When has this ever been a beneficial course for a community?  How well rooted can any of our worldviews and belief systems be if we insist that NO contrary opinion ever be voiced?

We probably agree on this, right?  Now comes the difficult part.

What if the opinions being squashed and outlawed are ones you yourself dislike?  What if the professor who got fired for expressing an opinion was blackballed because his opinion was that the Catholic teaching that homosexual acts are a sin is true?  Can you still defend his right to express that opinion in a free society, even if you find it reprehensible?

What if the political view being deemed evil and stupid is the one that you strongly oppose?  Will you still defend the idea that right-thinking people can have respectful debate on the topic?  Or will you be content in that instance that those holding that view should be shut down and intimidated into silence?

The classical view of tolerance is one worth revisiting.  In the modern world, tolerance means accepting without question or debate the popular and prevailing worldview.  Any dissent with that worldview– indeed, even holding an unspoken opinion of dissent– is considered intolerant and deserving of censorship.  The classical definition of tolerance, however, was stated by Voltaire as “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Are we as individuals big enough to live up to that ideal?  Or do you disagree completely?  I’d love to hear from people who might defend the idea of shutting down the voices of those who express unpopular opinion.  I won’t think you are stupid or evil for disagreeing with me, but I will be happy to debate you.  By doing so, we will all sharpen and hone our beliefs.

Shouldn’t that be what any free society, respectful of intellectual pursuits, engages in?  Or are we all too truly intellectually lazy to allow even the expression of an opposing perspective?

That’s a question I really am asking.  Give me your thoughts, all.

* paraphrased.


Imagination in my Hand

I’m a lucky dog.  I’ve never been “for real” published, but I am in the amazing position of being able to enjoy some of the really interesting fringe benefits of only the best of the best-sellers.  It’s a little surreal.  One example is that movies are being made of my stories.  No kidding!  Thanks to Kellen Gibbs and his crew, the movie version of “James Potter and the Curse of the Gatekeeper” is shaping up to be a full-on slice of indie film heaven!  Another example is shown below: MERCHANDISING.

Let me introduce you to a really cool guy.  His name’s Rick Van Velsor and he operates a mini wonderland called Big Bang Toys.  Among Rick’s myriad talents, he makes licensed figures for an amazing array of top shelf intellectual properties (take a quick glance at the website and you’ll find cool stuff for Spiderman, the Simpsons, South Park and others).  To my great delight, Rick took notice of my James Potter stories some time ago and created for me, totally gratis, perfect little figures of my own versions of Merlinus Ambrosius (seen in the images) and Benjamin Amadeus Franklyn (I’ll show Ben in a future post; he was at my work office when these pics were taken).  Since then, Rick and I have discussed several potential creative collaborations, only one of which is centered on my latest book, “Ruins of Camelot”.  This weekend, I was delighted to receive some samples of (gasp!) potential merchandise based on my works!  Take a look:

The medallion (or “sigil”, as it is known in the story) is based on descriptions in the book and some of my drawings/renderings.  It is actually two halves which fit together seamlessly.  This presented a challenge to Rick, but he was extremely gracious about it, and even said that he really enjoyed the act of working out the best method for making it work.  The result, as seen here, is a base that neatly frames both pieces.  The base has a cool burled edge and a rough-hewn back.

All I can say is that it was extremely cool to physically hold this piece in my hands.  I took it apart and put it back together at least three dozen times this weekend, marveling at the bizarre thrill of seeing something from my imagination brought to physical reality.  Thanks Rick!  We’ll talk this week about where to go next, but this is beyond my expectations.  It is exactly as envisioned, and I love the circular base.  For readers who will enjoy the new story, this will make an excellent memento, and even just a really cool emblem completely on its own.

So who’s interested?  Let me know, so we can decide how to proceed with this.  Would you like to get the sigil on its own, or as part of a book package, maybe with a signed copy?  What say you, dear readers?

Either way, and no matter what, HOW COOL IS THIS?  Woot.  Onward.


The Truth About Toyota: Priustine

Considering the recent revelations about what really happened with all those Toyotas that allegedly went crazy and tried to drive their owners pell mell to Japan, I thought it’d be worth reposting this little ditty I made a few months back.

Just for fun, here’s the original trailer.

As it turns out, in all but one or two cases, the owners of the “haunted Toyotas” were mashing down on the accelerator instead of the brake.  Amazingly, this made their cars rocket forward rather than stop.  Still, I like my theory a little better.


The James Potter Ride Thus Far

JPHEC

JPHEC

Part of the reason I started this blog is so that those of you who are my readers, friends and supporters (many of you are all three) can be more closely connected to the happenings in the JP universe.  With that in mind, a quick primer for those who are just now tuning in.

When I was a kid, I was always depressed on the day after Christmas.  There had been so much build up, and then it was all suddenly over.  That was how I felt when the Harry Potter series ended.  It had been such a great journey, and then, for the first time in years, the ride was done.  There was no next book to look forward to.

So I started drabbling a new story of my own, picking up, more or less, where Deathly Hallows left off.  The result was “James Potter and the Hall of Elders’ Crossing”, my first fan fiction novel, written before I knew what fan fiction was.  At the encouragement of my wife and some friends, I released the story online.  The story became a worldwide phenomenon, garnering international media attention and hundreds of thousands of readers.  In the end, both J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. had to deny that the story and its companion website were secret projects of their own.  I spoke to Ms. Rowling’s agency and was assured that they did not (despite media claims to the contrary) plan to sue me.  They were, in fact, very encouraging.

The success of JPHEC led, of course, to a sequel, “Curse of the Gatekeeper”, and then a third book, “Vault of Destinies”.  All told, these three books have been read by over a million people worldwide.  They have been voluntarily translated by readers into at least six other languages, with more in the works.  They have inspired an excellent fan film (with the sequel forthcoming!), and even spawned their own fan-fictions.  I have made friends all over the world because of these stories, and receive emails everyday from readers in all the corners of the earth.

It has been a phenomenal ride.  And it isn’t over.

Amazingly, despite the fact that I have not advertised or promoted the books in any meaningful way for months, the James Potter websites are experiencing a consistent upsurge in new readers.  The hits are coming from all over the Internet, rather than a few major links here and there, which tells me that, for the first time, the majority of the traffic coming to www.jamespotterseries.com is a result of sheer word-of-mouth promotion.  People are talking about the books all over the world.  The phenomenon has taken on a life of its own.

Here are the numbers for those of you who are really interested:

The main JP website is currently getting an average of about 600 new views a day, with spikes of over a thousand.  This average is trending up daily.

The James Potter stories have garnered over 400 ratings on goodreads.com, with an average 4 star rating for each book.

So, the bottom line is that this ride, as it were, is far from over.  It is, in fact, still gaining momentum.  If you’ve been following this blog since day one, then you know that I am still not sure what to do with all of this.  Writing fan fiction is NOT a particularly good way to launch one’s writing career.  On the other hand, if a writer merely wants readers (and the answer to that is a resounding YES) well then, what am I waiting for?

So.  I tell you all of this just to say, firmly and resolutely, THANK YOU to all of you who have encouraged me from the beginning, who inspired me to keep writing, and who still do so on a daily basis.  The success of this endeavor, strange and underground as it may be, is as much yours as it is mine.  I will occasionally keep you all updated as the JP ride continues on.

But I am very curious: what HAVE you all been doing to talk these books up?  I know some have you have translated the books and started your own websites featuring the translations.  Others of you have blogged about them, or simply told your friends.  Tell me, how IS it that this has become so huge?  I am extremely interested to hear the details.

For now, as always, onward and upward.