(I Also Write Children's Books!)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

And Now The Book Is (Temporarily) Cheap

Okay!  If you're reading this, odds are 99% that you already have a copy of Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm A Supervillain.

BUT, my publisher is running a sale today.  99 cents.  That's crazy, so if you have any friends or something you wanted to give copies to, now would be the time.

It'll go up a dollar per day until it's back to $4.99.  Good luck!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Random Book Review: The Hellbound Heart

Okay, I left that last post up forever because I wanted people to know that, yes, sequel.  Sequel will happen.

But it's time to move on!

I like to read source material, stories that created archtypes.  Most of them are old - Grimm's Fairy Tales, Peter Pan, Frankenstein, and so on.  The Hellbound Heart is much more recent, but it inspired the Hellraiser series, which really revived the whole Lovecraftian 'circle of candlelight surrounded by a darkness full of horrors' thing.

So, I got it cheap off Amazon (Might even have been free.  Can't remember.) and read the Hellbound Heart to see how this started.  I'm going to want to slip a few biological horrors into At Least I Didn't Blow Up OUR Moon, and it might be good inspiration!

So, how good was the book?  Not very.  It's short, although that's not a good or bad thing, just worth pointing out.  A long short story rather than a book.  My reaction is split into two halves.

First, the ideas are freaking awesome.  The subtle suggestion that one of the Cenobites ('the Engineer') is god, that was clever.  Lamarchand's box, the idea that the music and ritual configurations of opening the box open a portal, also really clever.  Angels are murderous sadomasochists because they demand intense physical sensation over anything else, a cute twist.  Very nice Lovecraftianism there, actually.  It both makes sense and turns morality on its head, creating a new and believable kind of evil.  That is a very, very useful thing for any writer to consider.

My favorite touch by far was when an innocent opens the box by accident, and the Cenobite shows up - and is totally disappointed.  The box is a Faustian contract.  The Cenobites take people to be tortured who ask for pleasures beyond human understanding, and they get what humans do not understand as pleasure.  The Cenobite expresses that it isn't interested in humans who aren't deliberately asking for what they get.  Once the box is opened, the Cenobites have to take someone, but they give her a chance to provide a victim who really did ask for it.

And now the bad news.  The ideas may be good, and even the plot is decent, but the writing is terrible.  Oh Sun Pony, is it bad.  The beginning actually sucks you in, because you think you're reading about some guy back in the 1700s or early 1800s, with their grandiose writing style.  'I have become jaded of the pleasures of the flesh' kind of rhetoric, right?

Nope, it's set in the 80s.  The writing is just that purple.  It goes on like that, with senses of dread and cacophanies of beating wings.  There's not a lot of 'show' and a great deal of 'tell', although some of the physical descriptions of torture are pretty good, and thus effective.  A few good sentences in a novella is not much of a prize.

The characters are worse.  They aren't two dimensional, they're one dimensional.  Each character has one emotion.  That emotion defines them, consumes them, obsesses them.  Frank is a selfish hedonist.  He hardly even has any personality at all, he just does whatever's selfish.  Rory is so clueless it's a wonder he can tie his own shoes.  His role is to never understand anything that's going on, and to have just enough actions to demonstrate he doesn't understand what's going on at any particular moment.  Julia is an unhappy wife.  Why she isn't happy being married to Rory is never clear.  There's no depth to it.  She reacts to everything he does with 'Ugh, why isn't he his sexy brother?'  Rory fails to pick up on that, and that's their entire relationship and really their entire personalities.  Kirsty is depressed and thinks constantly about how inferior she is.  Again, not explained, and the only fleshing out it gets is that she has a crush on Rory.  That's only used for 'But I'm not good enough for him because I suck.'

Thank the Sun Pony the book is short.  I got the ideas without suffering too much of the writing.  I'm happy I read it, but only because I can strain out a few useful concepts and lessons as a writer.  I wouldn't recommend it to anybody.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Stupendous Sales and Sequel Sample

I am completely dumbfounded.  I think I went from being my publisher's worst selling author to best selling author in a week.  Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm A Supervillain is selling as well as the best known children's books, and its sales numbers have kept going up and up.  I'm in about the top 1% of Amazon ebook sales now.  My publisher thinks they can bring that up further.

I'm reeling.  I've spent large portions of this week having my friends go 'Oh, your numbers shot way up again today' and wandering around bumping into things and giggling the rest of the day.

I've had a sequel in mind anyway.  Kinda thinking I should fast track that.  I am happier than I've been in years, but all my plans are also blown right out of the water!

When I start outlining a new book, I like to do a sample page or two.  It's often the beginning of the book.  That helps me get into the mindset.  With that in mind, have the beginning of...

At Least I Didn't Blow Up OUR Moon

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Random Movie Review - Nothing Sacred

I find classic movies very interesting, and have not watched nearly enough of them.  I was delighted when a friend bought me Nothing Sacred, a 1937 comedy starring Carole Lombard.

The thing is, having watched it, I cannot review it in the classical sense.  The tone and pacing and style of humor were completely different from modern movies.  Trying to rate how good it is becomes an apples and oranges issue.

Instead, I thought I would talk about those apples-to-oranges issues.  Cultural differences interest me, and 1937 vs 2014 is like two different countries.  Ostensibly we share the same language, but the basic understandings have changed.

The first thing that struck me is that the movie is in color.  I tried to find the setting to watch it in the original black and white, only to find out that it was filmed in Technicolor, which was invented in 1932.  I really should have known that, but I didn't.  It's a peculiar washed-out color, but it's color.  I hadn't realized that films like Casablanca (1942) chose to be in black and white.  Given the quality of the early Technicolor experience, that was probably for the best.

Racism tends to leap to the fore in old movies.  A black actor (Troy Brown) had a major role, and while his picture in the opening credits was a classic fat-lipped negro stereotype, all of the actors were featured in similarly unflattering ways.  I was deeply surprised to see him in the very first scene as a respected and respectable king from the mysterious Orient.  No, not so much.  Turned out he was a bumbling petty crook, with a thick 'Yessuh Massa' type accent, very friendly but not bright, cheerfully dishonest on the level of swaggering and singing as he stole a few flowers for his girlfriend from someone else's bouquet.  Not only was he a racist stereotype, he was the stereotype of racist stereotypes.  Also, notice that a very black man could believably pose to be an 'Oriental' ruler.  Part of that was a joke, I'm sure, but it still reveals a deep 'Everything but Europe is the same' attitude.

Fair enough, this was a 30s film and that opinion of racism, however offensive we know it to be now, was normal.  The subtlety that I thought really reflected the difference in racial attitudes came later.  A model class of school children are featured briefly.  They are clearly meant to represent the diversity of America, and even include two black children at the front.  The rest, ranging from Tom Sawyer rough clothes to neat little suits, are different European descent stereotypes.  I don't know enough of those old stereotypes to tell you who was who, but the camera lingered closely on different individuals of such wildly different clothing, facial shape, and hair type that this scene was clearly meant to celebrate American diversity.

 The movie treats us to interesting internal USA stereotypes as well.  A heavily used joke is that everyone in Vermont expects to be paid, even for being unhelpful.  The lack of a telephone in the Vermont town we might expect from our modern concept of those days, and also horses being the only vehicles in this backwoods town.  What I was not expecting is that it was a 'company town'.  Everyone in town worked for one company, and was absolutely loyal, to the point of refusing to talk to outsiders.  That's a concept that has almost disappeared in our time.

Carole Lombard as the choice of lead actress struck me with how much Hollywood tastes have changed.  She had a delicate and beautiful face, but was as flat as a board.  These days, bust size is much more important when Hollywood picks beautiful actresses.  Advertisements for the movie feature a lot of close-ups of her face.  Her beauty was clearly a selling point.

At the time, I was struck by how small the airplane they took to get to New York was.  It didn't hit me until later that it had to be small.  This movie was pre-WWII, and there were no jet planes.

New York's reputation for gaudy cynicism, corruption, and crowded streets has not changed in 80 years.

I have saved the most important issue for last.  It is hard for me to be absolutely sure about any of these judgments, because the nature of comedy itself has changed.  The humor in this movie was very sly.  It was almost all about exaggerated representations of people or clever filming.  The hostile Vermont townfolk refuse to speak in more than one word sentences.  In one scene a very serious - even grim - conversation is held between two characters with a large potted plant between them, and for every line they have to lean forward  to talk past it, then sit back.  When the doctor goes on his ranting lectures, he leans forward a little more and a little more, gradually, until whoever he's yelling at has to push him back upright.  Given the worst job in the newspaper building, the shamed lead sits at his desk as people back into his space to access drawers, or lean ladders right over him, dropping occasional files on his head.  It's all continuous, with no sharp beats.  Very unlike modern comedy.

I should have saved something clever for the end of this review, but I didn't.  To sum up, I found Nothing Sacred very interesting and clever, but not exactly funny.  Comedy has changed too much.  I certainly enjoyed watching it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

My Job Translating English To English

I don't think I've told this story here, and it's a fun one - short, but fun.

I made the unfortunate mistake of quitting my (admittedly miserable) job in LA right at the start of the Great Recession.  This made finding new work a nightmare, and meant I took a few weird temporary jobs to help stretch out my finances.

The most fun of these temporary jobs was translating English to English for Japanese television.  A major Japanese television news station has a branch office in LA, you see.  They had an assistant out lengthily for medical reasons, and by one of those weird friend-of-a-friend situations I got the job to fill in.

The job itself... well, my main job really was to translate English into English.  The office was staffed by Japanese natives - a fact that unfortunately was the reason the office chief couldn't hire me permanently.  English was the second language of every single person in the office, and in most cases a second language they could barely speak at all.  In particular, the office chief was a highly intelligent woman, but her English was only okay.  Sorting through American news stories to see which ones were important enough to send to the office in Japan was hard for these folks.  The language is often either highly technical or filled with implications.  I, with my writing background, had the job of doing things like listening to CDC updates and explaining them to the office chief in very plain English.  I would also listen to or read general news stories, and explain not just what they said (which she usually understood already) but what they implied.  They also found it quite convenient to have a native English speaker to make investigative phone calls.  I even performed an interview once at E3 that supposedly made it on air in Japanese news.  The office chief was vocally pleased with my performance, and unhappy that she couldn't hire me permanently.  Hiring decisions were made at the home office.  I would have loved to have kept that job.  I remember it, and her, fondly.

(Her name and the network's name are withheld on the off chance they wouldn't like it.)

One interesting event in that job was the discussion of the word 'otaku'.  We were covering E3, you see - the major yearly computer gaming industry show.  Getting free press passes to that was pretty cool, by the way, although damn did we work rough hours during the convention.  While discussing the convention and how it was covered, my office chief asked me what the closest English translation to 'otaku' was.  The convention is, after all, of great interest to otaku.  I told her that the closest word in English is 'fanboy', but not to use it because it had strong negative connotations, and was generally considered an insult.  She and the other Japanese natives were baffled by why anyone would consider being otaku a bad thing.  The cameraman was otaku, she said.  She called out something to him in Japanese, and he answered similarly (he did not speak any English).  They apparently considered it a point of pride.  That has stuck with me as an interesting episode and cultural difference.

Also, in finding news stories for the Japanese audience, I was under strict instructions to pass along anything involving Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Apparently they love him in Japan.

Maybe that story wasn't as short as I thought it was.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Fictional Travelogue

Hylotl Exploration Log:  Pretty Bubbles
Date:  Meaningless, out here
Planet: X Theta Her Majoris VII a

Having worn out my nonexistent welcome with the apes, I decided it was time to take my beautiful alien art pieces and find a new star system to explore.  I had enough time to take one detour first.  Why not take a look at the nearby ice moon?

Oh, my.

 Humans must have an obsession with their reproductive anatomy.  This place is huge.  The original caretakers are gone, and the unfortunates left behind are so irritable one of them tried to hit me with a chair.  I employed the Hylotl Way of Peace, and built each one a Shame Box so that I wouldn't have to hurt them.  This guy will need a lot of time in his box.

A hand print scanner!  Would I have to drill my way- oh, wait, it was broken.  All the doors were open already.

Human architects understand the need for open spaces so that even criminals may enjoy nature.  Look at all those lamps.  This courtyard is much better lit than the insides of the buildings themselves.

Oh, humans.  Among all the non-Hylotl races of the galaxy, you are the closest to civilized.  You alone have discovered Shame Box technology.

If only anything else you did made sense.

And yet, here and there, hints of true wisdom.  At the exact center of the colony I found a giant room dedicated to pouring water on each other.  The shrine maiden offered to introduce me to a human custom called 'shanking'.  Perhaps someday, human, when you understand Peace and Beauty and emerge from your Shame Box, we may shank each other as friends.

The giant building behind the water temple was full of humans who had escaped their Shame Boxes.  Look at them all!  I admire the way you struggle towards enlightenment, humanity, but you rely too much on metal bars and computer locks.  My tiny wooden boxes will give these poor souls time to reflect.

Sometimes I think you're trying TOO hard.  What do these even do?  I don't want to know!

We can all use time out to reflect, draw wisdom, and see the world from another's viewpoint.  I sat here for a long, long time, but no one came to talk to me.

Wait.  That's the exit on the far side of the colony.  This horrible grey room is a welcoming center and rest lounge!  So close to civilization, humans, but so very, very far.  Ugh!

I never leave without a souvenir.  Sometimes a lot of souvenirs.  Look what the humans gave me!  Maybe it's used for shanking?  The local wildlife was not impressed, I can tell you that.

My visit with the human reproductive colony is over.  I'm getting out of this star system before the apes find enough spare parts to fix their spaceship.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


And now, a break from the twisted romances and gothic fairy tales, because...


It was supposed to be out yesterday, but Amazon happened.  Currently, the ebook is available from Amazon and from Nook.  Paper books and purchasing from Kobo are winding their way through the system.  The internet is much slower than you would think.

Easy purchasing link for Amazon:

Yes, it's this cool.  Buy here!

I hope I don't have to tell anyone what it's about by now.  Do you want to read a book about a middle school girl supervillain?  Then press Amazon's luridly inviting 'Buy Now' button, and get ready for a fun read.

For those interested in a quick 'behind the scenes peek' into the publishing process...

The book was supposed to come out for sale yesterday, and technically it did, late last night.  You would think adding a book to Amazon is a straightforward process - fill out the appropriate forms, send it in, and it goes on their list.  In fact, it normally takes about 24 hours, and there's no guarantee that it won't take much more.  Computers move at the speed of light, but bureaucracies don't.  Once the book was up, I had to go in and tell Amazon as an author that it was my book, and that took a few hours to confirm.  Can't blame them on that part.  It clearly needs human judgment.  Now the book's Amazon page is not finished, because only the author can set it up properly.  I'm waiting on instructions from Curiosity Quills as to what needs changing.  You can buy the book now, but the page will soon be prettier, or have useful cross-links, or... I don't know.  It's Sunday, and nobody's gotten back to me yet.