The scenes I have the most trouble writing are men posturing. I blame fantasy for this. It is one of the most used scenes in classic fantasy when two alpha males begin barking at each other and bumping chests. It also reads like the stereotypical nerd living in his parents' basement writing the hero he wishes he was taking revenge on the people that picked on him in school.

I don't live in anyone's basement, and none of my characters are representative of a person I wish I was (or think I am). They are their own selves. Chest thumping is what stalled THE 7TH SACRIFICE for the second time and I wrote another such scene this morning in my current wip. It's a necessary tension in the plot and will factor in later, but...

...but I don't like posturing. At all. It feels juvenile. Worse, it feels amateurish. I am the hero and I'm a badass therefore I am better than everyone. Did you smudge my pumas? I will have satisfaction, sir! Throw wine in face, punch to the stomach, draw swords, epic duel. Honor maintained.

What? Dude. Chill out. No grown adult is as quick to temper as a fantasy hero is. You don't need to browbeat everyone into supplication. If you're confident and skilled, your own regard is all that matters. Let the guy scuff your pumas. Throw an urchin a copper piece for a quick polish and be on your merry.

It's incredibly difficult to write because no matter how I approach it, I don't like that kind of thing, so I'll never think I've done good enough. I'll leave it there for now, but who knows whether it'll even survive my second draft.

Better Late than Never?

I have SO many thoughts going through my head, some of them articulate, some of them...not. I remember where I was, what I said, what I thought when the towers fell. When we went to war. When we diverted personnel to a second war that would take the life of someone I care about. And now all these years later and the deed is finally done. There are many different posts I might write about the death of Osama Bin Laden, each of them with its own meaning and relevance to me. But now that my initial jubilation has tempered itself, I am struck by one resounding thought that seems more relevant than all the other things I could write.

Burn in hell, motherfucker.

I'll Make a Bajillion Dollars!

So, as we all know, the reason there is still resistance to the ebook is because some people worry about losing their pretension. How can one prove that one is better than those around one if they cannot see that the book one is reading is clearly far beyond the reading level of everyone else gathered.

There had been a quickly-abandoned proposal of creating ereaders with screens on both sides, one for reading and one for showing the cover. Given that nearly all ereaders are immediately put into a protective cover, this proved a waste of time and monies.

But there must be a way we can welcome the coming epocalypse while maintaining our pretentious superiority! Well, there is, with the Selbomatic eBook Attenuated Label (SEAL-the bad ass of ebook covers).

Take the standard design for an ebook cover. Thick, padded sides with straps to hold in your ereader. Cut a rectangle into the top cover and shave off a few millimeters so there is a book-like divot in the cover. Slice an opening in the side. Print out a color image of the cover of the most pretentious book you want people to think you’re reading (and if you’re really concerned about looking superior, I suggest you actually read the book too lest someone else ask questions you cannot answer). Put the paper image between two thin pieces of plastic, then slide them into the opening until the image is situated in the divot. This divot being in truth a window to your intellectual superiority.

Ideally, you could manufacture this entire thing, but if your intellect can’t wait to be on display, you can accomplish it with a razor blade and a file. I am now accepting start-up capital.

The Obnoxiousness of Fantasy Characters

Fantasy characters are dicks. In fiction, in D&D adventures, anywhere "adventurer" is available as a life choice, people are dicks. You see it all the time. Main character meets Douchebag McAsshole and DMcA immediately starts talking down to him. I'm a wizard. I'm a barbarian. I don't bow before anyone. I don't show any semblance of etiquette that lets me function in a social environment. Blah blah blah.

With so many dangers in the world (waking gods, monsters, demagogues) and everyone seemingly armed to the teeth, how do these people not get left for dead on the side of the road?

Only in fantasy can "Hello" be answered with a recitation of all the reasons why DMcA is better than you and how you're not even worth the time he took reciting his better qualities, and then the two of you can go on a quest together. Together you go over to the tavern where DMcA insults the tavern keeper's food and beer and finds out he's the brother of the merchant DMcA threatened to kill if he didn't receive a 50% discount on some bauble he wanted to buy earlier that day. He gets the best food, drink, and women in the house and everyone steers clear of him because anyone that large of a douchebag must be powerful and could kill them all and DMcA can kill an entire tavern full of people without repercussions in fantasy because anyone that goes into law enforcement is a complete tool unless he's a hero in which case he's gone on a quest and unavailable to teach DMcA a fucking lesson.

Never once does the tavern keeper throw DMcA out, send a scullion for the cops, and join with the rest of the patrons to show DMcA what happens when one person is a dick to an entire town. Main character is then either tarred and feathered for having shared a drink with DMcA or gets to watch while DMcA is thrown down a well and collectively pissed on by a dozen men who have been drinking all night.

Because of this, I am incredibly sensitive about characters, specifically how they react to one another. I could speculate why so many characters are written this way, and I would touch on those points you would expect me to touch on (social deficiencies of the writer, attitude norming of the genre over the course of decades of DMcAs). This morning working on JH, I took Jehovah in a direction I never planned on taking him. At first I thought it was a mistake. It wasn't a "DOUCHE RAGE!" moment, but a tangential angle. I'm cautious to have characters get angry for much the same reason. The exaggerated Hulk reaction is a second-place finisher to the character as a dick thing.


If people lost their temper that often in real life, we'd all live in an episode of Buffy.

Losing time is usually representative of some kind of mental ailment, a la "Primal Fear" (Ed Norton, Richard Gere). But it can happen in great moments of stress, car accidents and the like. Today, Rae stated Jehovah's greatest fear (being abandoned again) and said she would do everything she could to make sure it happened.

Where do you go after that? In a setting where you kill a person for a pair of shoes, how does one remain calm? The obvious answer is one doesn't. But I didn't want a Hulk smash scene either. Jehovah needs Rae and any conclusion to such a situation would be dissatisfying to say the least. And in fact, given the POV of the story, I don't believe Jehovah would remember anything that happened.

So he doesn't. Rae launches her attack on Louisiana Avenue and he comes back to his senses on Maryland Avenue, alone and totally confused how he got there.

This is a risky move. At this point in the novel Jehovah has killed nine people and there will be more to come. This could be the last trick to make him appear a sociopath instead of an empathetic main character. My gut instinct was to backpeddle. Just don't have Rae say what she said and his reaction becomes unnecessary. But given their own relationship and the truths Rae revealed to him, this was the appropriate result. And the more I think about it, the more I think Jehovah's reaction is appropriate as well. The trick is that it's balanced with his experiences up above on the platform, something that won't be coming for awhile. I gotta keep the reader reading to get to that point and he balances himself out.

So in the end, this is a good but tough decision. And even if the reader decides that Jehovah is too much of a killer, at least he's not a Douchebag McAsshole. I really hate that character.

Does Boston Make Me a Bad Writer?

Once upon a time, I had thought to craft a blog post entitled "The New Yorker's Guide to the Rest of the Country." Many of the agents whose blogs/tweets I follow not only work in New York but grew up there as well. They will then jet off to various parts of the country for conferences and conventions and blog/tweet about their experiences there. It is amusing to me that any of these agents should comment on my conduct given their own documentation of their own poor conduct outside of New York, moreover in that they did not understand their conduct was poor. Telling people they are "quaint" is condescending. Ogling a restaurant because you're the only person there is condescending.* Describing to locals how they do not live in New York is condescending. They know they don't live in New York. They aren't confused about their locale.

I grew up in the middle of Missouri, a small city of 75,000 people (plus another 25 grand for the students at the University of Missouri). I went to high school in a town of 35,000 people. I went to college in a town of 12,000 people. From there I have stuck to urban centers: Denver (Lakewood), St. Louis (St. Louis city**), and then the exurbs of Boston (Nashua, NH). To liken to regional stereotypes, I grew up in the Midwest thus I grew up with manners. It doesn't necessarily hold true, as I've met plenty of people from the Midwest who don't and plenty of people on the East Coast that do. But like so many stereotypes, you can find a kernel of truth if you look for it.

In the Midwest, I was often considered abrasive. On the East Coast, I am downright genteel. The fact that I have mastered the use of the words please, thank you, sir, and ma'am, puts me in the upper 1% (the proper Bostonian parlance being the more familiar "Hey guy!"). I opted not to write my thinly veiled chastisement (though I seem to have accomplished that above regardless) and let the New Yorkers act like New Yorkers. I have begun to question my own dissolution of manners vis a vis my experiences on the MBTA subway (Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, because you know you were trying to figure it out on your own).

The T, as the subway is known, embodies your classic East Coast experience. The general sense a passenger holds in respect his fellow passengers is "Fuck you." Or more appropriately, "Fuck you, guy." It is not uncommon (and by not uncommon I mean it happens every day) for a person to step onto the subway trolley and stop immediately inside the door, blocking access for the twelve people behind him/her. Nine times out of ten, when people are left on the platform, it is not a result of the trolley being full, but that people did not want to back up to the mid-section where there is no available exit. Or even worse, there are open seats but people are standing in front of them, preventing others from sitting down.

I gave up riding the Orange line during rush hour all together following an incident where a rather large woman (and by large I mean she took up the entire door made for two people to enter/exit at a time), stepped onto the trolley and stopped, blocking the twelve people behind her (I counted). Rather than shouldering past her (as is the norm), there was no place for these people to squeeze past and all twelve of them were left on the platform despite there being room for at least twenty people to board. This was her spot and those people be damned. I was struck with the overwhelming urge to kick her in the stomach, leave her sitting on her ass on the platform while those other twelve people boarded and we celebrated righteous vengeance. This is when I knew I needed to stop riding the Orange line.

Just yesterday a very attractive (to me) woman boarded the Green line and blocked half the entrance. When people pushed past her, she gave them the most disdainful, "how dare you" look. I went from being annoyed to truly loathing her just with that one look. That's when I began to worry. Is riding the T diminishing my ability to write humanistic characters? Will they all be selfish assholes with a pervading sense of entitlement and regional superiority? Can I identify good people? Or is my concept of what makes a person good being so harshly skewed that I'll write books full of nothing but dicks?

I used to spar with a coworker when I lived in St. Louis. From Tennessee, her mother had raised her with outmoded Southern sensibilities. She thought I was a sexist because I did not agree that a man was obligated to pay for a date or that he was obligated to open a door for a woman. I told her she was sexist because she was assigning gender roles and that I, being the gentleman that I am (was?), opened the door for anyone regardless of gender.*** Now I don't let anyone go first. Fuck that guy, it's dog eat dog. Saying please seems to net me all the karma I need out here, so why should I give up my seat to that old lady or let that young man who clearly has never ridden the subway before go in front of me?

Ick. I love New England, and I love with bold letters, New Hampshire. But there are some things about living here I do not enjoy. I certainly hope it does not diminish my own character or my own skills the longer I am here.

*Simple rule: The rest of the country is not a zoo. Do not treat it as such.

**Locals know to differentiate between St. Louis city and St. Louis County. The city is not part of the county--or any county for that matter. And the demographics of the city are much more representative of a poor urban center than of any of the incorporated towns that surround it. A bit of trivia, St. Louis city is one of 11 metro cities in the US that are not part of a county.

***Amusing side-note, a group of us went to lunch. On our way back to the office, I held the door for this woman and the rest of the group (an assortment of men and women). We went up the stairs and another male coworker held the second door that lead to our part of the office. She turned to me and said, "See? He held the door for a woman like a gentleman." In 24 steps, she had forgotten who held the first door for her because she was so sure I was a sexist pig.

I Love My Company

The formula I always say for meeting colleagues in the publishing industry is to take the decade of a person's age (I'm 33, so 3), subtract 1, and that's the number of publishers that person has worked for. It's amazing how accurate that formula is. Publishing is incredibly incestuous in its hiring practices, we list who we've worked for like a pedigree, and few people are satisfied with the first company they work for.

In my case, the first publisher I worked for was particularly nefarious. I am reminded of that fact today because I just sat through the annual health benefits meeting. Every large corporation has them, and the difference between my former employer and my current is like night and day, or really like Douchebag McAsshole vs Captain Awesome von Awesomesauce.

My last health care meeting with DMcA was representative of my last year with the company. They lied their face off, I called them out on their lies in a combative and non-constructive manner. The gist of the meeting was that they were changing our plans. They would cost more, offer less, have astronomically higher deductibles, and cap on services to everything. They followed this up with rhetoric about how much better the plan was for us because now we could have an HSA. I replied that it was better for us only if we did not get sick. This was a highly accurate assessment of the plan.

I skipped last year's health care meeting with CAvA, but because of the health care legislation, I wanted to see what changes might happen. This is where the screws were going to be put to us.

What I saw was not what I expected. This happened to me over the summer too. I missed the town hall meeting last year where the CEO came and spoke because I got lost (hey, I hadn't been working in Boston this year). When I worked for DMcA, CEO visits were a nightmare. They showed us an hour-long PPT showing how much money they made and that they were freezing our salaries, stopping new hires, and not funding forward-moving strategy so they could make more money. I expected much the same and for the first 8 minutes, I saw how much money the company made (in short, a shit load). The remaining 52 minutes were spent explaining our moral obligation to educate the world, the strategies we were implementing to do so, the funding those strategies would receive, and taking vice presidents to task for not being more aggressive in implementing fare business strategies.

I'm not making that up. Read that paragraph again. So what would I see at the health care meeting? This guy wasn't the wicked intelligent, charismatic CEO with the grand vision. This is the guy that manages the nuts and bolts. This is where you squeeze the workers for cost savings.

Oh, when will I learn. First, the guy is funny in his own right. Second, a discussion of cost didn't come until 40 minutes in and it was only one slide long. He started with "Our biggest expense is high-value illnesses like cancer, so we're changing policies to make it easier for employees to receive preventative care." Yes, my company actually uses common sense. Rather than limiting health care access to reduce costs, it increased front-end expenditures to reduce larger expenditures for untreated illnesses. 100% preventative coverage, free cancer screenings, and distributing free copies of a popular nutritional author who happens to be published by our trade division. Total costs are rising marginally, but the services my company offers me is improving across the board.

This is how corporate America should act. This is the ethical and responsible relationship a company should have with its employees. This is Captain Awesome von Awesomesauce. I love my company. It is the greatest place in the world to work.

And at the very end of the presentation he dropped the bomb. Because of new health care legislation, my company's health plan is considered a Cadillac plan. Come 2018, the company will have to pay the government $80 million a year to continue offering this level of coverage to its employees. What? No! This is how a responsible American business should treat its employees. They should all be doing this. The company will not consider an additional $80mm charge to its annual health costs. So it will instead be forced to reduce benefits to fall outside this range.

Dammit Congress. I'm annoyed, but am not worried. The current health care legislation will not be what is implemented in 2018. Still, what the hell. You could quadruple my salary and I still wouldn't make the "rich people are bad" $250k. What are you doing taxing my health care?

You Gotta Fight for Your Read?

I've offered tacit support of SPEAK during the flair-up against the comments made in Springfield last week. I didn't hop on the bandwagon and speak out against it for a couple reasons. First, I'm fat, and doubt I could hop on a bandwagon if I wanted to. Second, I don't think my message would reach anyone that could be swayed by anything I have to say.

Having lived various places in Missouri, the guy that said what he said will never be convinced of anything. Nor will his comments convince anyone that needed convincing. His fanatics already believe the swill he's spreading. My telling you how ridiculous his promotion of rape as sexuality wouldn't surprise you. You're a smart individual and already knew that.

I am going to make a comment tangential to the subject, though, where I think a reasonable discourse may change minds. When book "banning" (and those quotes are deliberate) comes up, it is inevitable that someone says that it's unconstitutional. First I'm going to tell you why it isn't. Second I'm going to tell you why you hurt the cause you're supporting by making that claim.

The book isn't being banned. It's being removed from the school and its curricula. A banned book would not be allowed to be printed or sold or owned. Congress (or even scarier the Executive or even scarier yet the Judiciary) would say, no more BREAK. We're old and dumb and scared of sex and any value BREAK brings to society is not worth our discomfort. It is forbidden! That is an infringement on speech. That's not what's happening here.

The school board is empowered by whatever body elects/appoints it (either the people or the municipality) to administer its schools. It can decide what books are and are not included in its curricula. This does not deprive the author of speech. The book is still printed and sold. Students are still able to purchase the book from bookstores. It just won't be part of their homework assignment.

Does this suck? Absolutely, for BREAK, SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, FAHRENHEIT 451, and so many others. Is it wrong? I believe so. I think those books are relevant and worthwhile. But it's not unconstitutional. You want to make a big impact? Skip the incredibly passive "Speak Out" skin on your twitter icon and instead do the very active vote in your next school board election. Question the candidates about the issue and elect people who understand the value of these books and want to see them in our schools.

...okay, add the skin too, but only after you've made a difference in your local community.

Now, why is saying its unconstitutional a bad thing? It creates a reverse straw man argument. Douchebag McAsshole says rape is sexual and bad for kids (I say rape is bad for kids, but that's beside the point). He says we're going to ban the book. You say, you can't do that, it's unconstitutional! You are incorrect. What you've done is given him the opportunity to disprove your argument rather than defending his own. He doesn't need to explain why he thinks rape is sexual (eww), he just has to show how what he proposes is legal.

Which it is. Not only does he not have to defend himself, he will defeat you in the argument you're making. This is not how to defeat Douchebag McAsshole. And we want to defeat Douchebag McAsshole. We want to defeat him very much.