Glow Like You Mean It

Every year the Albuquerque Botanical Gardens puts on the River of Lights, an extravaganza where they take most of the park of light it up. This year my son was singing in the choir out there so I actually had the opportunity to go see what the hubbub was all about. All of these shots were taken with the camera on my phone, so don’t expect anything too amazing. If you’re even in Albuquerque when River of Lights is going on, it’s a heck of a show. Just bundle up; it gets pretty cold out there at night. You can even buy tickets online at Riveroflights.org.

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This was actually the second scorpion of the evening.; the first is a bit further down. Scorpions are very big in these parts, though I’ve never actually seen one in the wild.

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I couldn’t get too close to this guy because the crowds.

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Happy sunflower.

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These two are looking down on the Steg. The whole critter was about twelve feet long.

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One of the tropical areas lit in brilliant blue.

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It’s hard to tell from this angle, but that’s an octopus. It was bout four or five wide.

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It’s Albuquerque, you gotta have a balloon

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The lion was animated.

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Yarr. This park be ready for a plunder.

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Snowman prison

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Dragonflies are also pretty common around here, though they usually don’t get this big. This piece was about five or six feet tall.

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I don’t know about you, but I find drinks just taste better when they’re served in a Tiki mug.

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I was trying to get a shot across the pond. It kind of worked.

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Beatles sold separately.

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The ocean theme in the center of the park.

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Thar she blows

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I forget exactly what this was, but it’s very glowy

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Fun fact: a flock of cranes decided the field next to my son’s school looked like a good place to hang out. Those are some damned big birds

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A slightly better shot across the pond.

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A not so great shot across the pond.

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Steer clear of the cactus, bud.

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Albuquerque is, of course, famous for its lack of actual birds of paradise. We make do with the glowing ones.

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I have not actually seen a live scorpion in town. I hear they have been known to rock you like a hurricane, though.

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For the uninitiated: The sun is the Zia symbol. The cacti are prickly pear. The mountains are the Sandias. The cowboy’s just a cowboy.

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Light up saguaro cacti. Another fun fact: though commonly depicted as common in the Southwest, saguaro only grow naturally in a fairly small part of the desert – The Sonoran desert in Arizona, the Mexican state of Sonora, and parts of California. They’re neither native nor common in New Mexico.

Twitterizimization, Twitterizing Adimification. Twitter Ads.

Back in the day I aspired to be a graphic designer. I’m not overly great at it, but I always wanted to do it. I suspect being a designer is much like everything else – better on paper than in the real world. So I became a programmer instead and now I spend my days parasailing with movie stars and lounging on beaches. It’s a rough life, let me tell you.

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Programming is exactly as awesome as this, only I’m usually surrounded by supermodels.

But there’s always that itch, that strange desire to create something visual that claws at the back of my head. It’s a feeling that simply writing doesn’t quiet so I create random things like book covers and twitter ads. P.S., if you need a cover designed drop me a line; I work cheap.

The combination of programming and some design background has given me access to a bunch of tools and the understanding that images have certain sizes that are expected from the applications that display them. Facebook cover photos are supposed to be 851 x 315 px. Shared FB posts render out at 504 x a variable number and the recommended strategy is to upload a 1200×1200 px pic. Twitter banners should be 1500 x 500 px. WordPress header images are variant depending on the theme you’re using. Tumblr banners have some size recommendations, too.

So when I set up my Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and WordPress sites, I followed the instructions and used images that would fit where they were supposed to go. I’m a little less rigid with my Facebook posts because they’re usually just random things or text string and everything works like it should. When I started putting up Twitter posts about my books I followed the same philosophy and wound up with things like this.

It looks okay here, but it’s cut off in a feed so you only see a portion of the whole image.

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The problem was I stopped thinking like a programmer or a designer and started thinking like a lunatic. A little thinking and a little research and I actually managed to make a few Tweeted images that didn’t look like ass. Things like this, which look much better and can easily be viewed directly from a feed.

The trick was to get the sizes right. Shared images in Twitter (think things like your book covers and ads and stuff) are rendered at 590×295. That’s a 2:1 ratio. Twitter has an algorithm that decides how to handle images that are above that scale. That algorithm examines portions of the image and attempts to determine the important parts and scales the total width based on the important parts it finds. While this is an impressive bit of coding it’s not always going to render things the way you want them rendered. The solution: understand the image size limitations and work within the confines. Rather than pushing up an image that 1563×2500 (Amazon’s recommended book cover size), I pushed up an image that was 181×290. Small, to be sure, but good enough for Jazz and government work.

Book covers are only a part of the equation, though. An ad for a book gives you a bit more flexibility than just a simple 140 characters and some hashtags. They allow you to spend more time on things like dialog or extra explanations. This comes in really handy on a book like … well, anything I’ve written. For instance, look at The Clock Man images above and they don’t tell you an awful lot about the stories. They give a basic indication of the primary story, but there’s a lot more going on in the back ground and the cover doesn’t really describe the text. That’s why I came up with this guy:

I like to think the dragon itself (himself) is eye-catching and the text (pulled straight from the story) gives a hint of what lies inside.

That ad was done in my best friend, Inkscape. The dragon image came from Dreamstime and the text came from The Clock Man. The image was resized in GIMP and the whole piece was all assembled in Inkscape, then fed back into GIMP for some cleanups like getting the sizing right. The sizing was the key. Twitter images are rendered out at 590×295, so I designed the image at 1024×512 and then let Twitter’s algorithm shrink it all down to size. The result worked.

WOOO!

WOOO!

But let’s say you don’t have all the time in the world, don’t want to learn GIMP and Inkscape, and generally just need to knock a few things out quickly. Well, that’s where a little place called Canva comes in. It’s a free site that has pre-built templates for most social media and enough flexibility that you can make something that looks pretty good without killing yourself figuring out GIMP and Inkscape. Canva isn’t quite as flexible as GIMP and Inkscape, but it cane make some pretty slick looking ads with a minimal amount of effort.

As an example: here’s an ad I was working on today for The Clock Man. Aside from the very obvious fact that sex sells, the image actually does have a purpose, but you’ll have to read Zona Peligrosa to figure out what it is. Just to experiment, I first created the ad in my usual combination of Inkscape and GIMP and then tried to recreate it in Canva. The results are below:

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Created in Inkscape. Main image from Dreamstime: ID 22789426 © Alenavlad

 

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The Canva version

The two images look pretty similar which means you can get a lot of quality design out of Canva for not a lot of effort. I like that. There are a couple caveats, though: the smoke rings and Clock Man logo were done in Inkscape and uploaded to Canva, so some of the image elements were pre-created. Canva has a ton of prebuilt images you can use, but if you want something special you’re going to have to create it yourself. Personally, I prefer the text work I can do in Inkscape; Canva doesn’t seem to have the ability to modify leading, kerning, and tracking. This isn’t surprising and isn’t really a show stopper. You can can get leading effects easily in Canva by using multiple body text elements and scrunching them around.

So which one did I go with? The Inkscape one, but that’s just because I had a specific font I wanted to work with and I had already done the layout in Inkscape.

But you’ve got to admit, Canva’s a hell of an awesome chunk of code. It’s fast, friendly, and easy-to-use. It has pre-built template sizes that are a breeze to work with and a very minimal learning curve. The kicker, though, no matter which program you use is to get the sizes right. If the ad comes out at a non-standard resolution it’s going to look wonky in the feed.

So, here’s the ad posted to Twitter.

If you want to learn more about the various image sizes, you can’t go wrong with a little research. Fortunately, someone’s already done the heavy lifting for you. Social Media Design Cheat Sheet

Book Review – Beyond The Pale by Senan Gil Senan

I read a book many, many years ago, called Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition. It was billed as science slightly over the edge, but a lot of the ideas have found – or will find – traction over the years. That was almost twenty five years ago and while we still haven’t managed to fax human brains around the galaxy the technology will likely come at some point. Things like that will change us as a species quite a bit. Don’t bother fighting it. People love technology. From that phone in your pocket that’s become a digital leash to the magic boxes that let us watch what we want when we want we tend to embrace technology as long as it’s billed as a good thing.

The other side of the equation is the physical world we live in and our impact on it. Let’s face facts here: we don’t exactly live in balance with nature. Technology may or may not solve this problem in the long run. Like the advanced technology of Great Mambo Chicken the technology – and the desire – to effectively leave our environment alone will come along and we’ll accept it as long as it’s billed as a good thing.

Sure, there will be those outside the norm – the ones who want things to be like they always were, the ones who pine away for “the good old days” – but we’ll drag them kicking and screaming into the next good thing.

It’s this kind of world that Senan Gil Senan’s Beyond the Pale drags us into.

In many ways Beyond the Pale is Senan’s musings on human nature and the transformative power of the future. On the one side you’ve got a group that has embraced technology and decided they know best about what the future and the environment need. They’ve used technology to wall themselves off from the natural world and stack themselves one on top of another in walled cities. On the other side are the groups that don’t accept that and have found their own way to heal the world by living in harmony with it. Friction happens and the outsiders – when found – are rounded up and forced into the cities.

All is far from perfect in the cities, though. A chance encounter and a desire to do the right thing lead to one outsider being pulled into the city.

From here Senan gives us bits of insights, discussions about the future of humanity and the ways an outsider can be sucked in by that good thing. Part philosophy, part action, part mystery of where the story is going to go from here, Beyond the Pale takes us on a physical and philosophical journey. If you like your sci-fi mixed with a heaping spoonful of debate, this is the novel for you.

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Get your copy here

Queen : Cover Reveal – To Be Adapted for Queen the Serial Novel

© Felipe Adan Lerma - All Rights Reserved - Blogging at WordPress Since 2011 🙂

Queen medQueen

Cover Reveal.

To be adapted for Queen, the Serial Novel.

Designed by Nico Laeser.

Original image by Felipe Adan Lerma.

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“a beginner’s view: the intent of this blog is to incrementally build a body of thought that works toward integrating various topics, yoga, fitness, and the arts – it’s a process…”


Site Areas

Fitness ** Arts ** eBooks

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Queen

Cover Reveal

To be adapted for Queen, the Serial Novel

**

December 07, 2015

Related Categories : Fiction – Thrillers

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Basic info:

Not much to say, yet (smiles).

This is the new cover for my new thriller, Queen.

I’ll be releasing the book as a serial and adapting the main cover for that purpose.

Much more info soon!

Planned release date is Christmas, with the first episode, Book 1, available for pre-orders soon 🙂

Thanks so much!

Best wishes everyone!

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Queen med

@ 2015 Felipe Adan…

View original post 160 more words

Writing Exercise

Today’s writing exercise is to write a short (<1k) story off this picture. It doesn’t have to be a full story, it can just set a scene or explain where she’s going or where she’s been. If you want to join in just email me or post a comment and I’ll add your bit (make sure to add a link to your blog or website), otherwise it will be just me (as usual, sigh).

Woo hoo! Just added a short by Silas Payton. Look right after mine!

Just added Tom Benson‘s story. Well, part of it, you can read the rest on his blog.

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Click for full 1920×1080 goodness

The unexpected downpour matches her general mood and the feeling of the rain soaking into her leather boots. It’s a melancholy kind of malaise, frozen toes and a general grumpy mood. A few minutes ago the storefronts were open, mah jong games were played, and she could ask, “Where is Chan?”

Sometimes someone would grunt and point with his chin further down the alley. Some people would look her up and down appreciatively and ask if she was busy, did she want to party, did she want to visit the jìyuàn? Maybe stay? A pretty redhead could make decent money at the best jìyuàn in the city. As if there was ranking system for whorehouses. In this part of Crotoa there is no such thing as a good jìyuàn; there is only the rickety bed, the drunken bastard, and the slap in the face for daring to talk.

She’s done her time at a jìyuàn and has no desire to do it again. All she wants is to find Chan. But now everyone’s gone, disappeared like roaches in the daylight just before the food carts start looking for breakfast meats.

Alexis isn’t used to the Ch’uan part of town. She would describe herself as an uptown girl, more used to the glittery strip malls and sumptuous dim sum diners than the rabble down here. The red light of paper lanterns casts eerie glows down the dim alleyway. This is the last place she expected to meet the legendary Chan, but his message – delivered by tiny dragon, of course – pointed to this block, this alley, this place.

She sighs, wondering if it’s all worth it. They say he doesn’t meet with many people and doesn’t train anyone anymore; not after the unpleasantness with that mechanical … thing … in the Clock Tower. But she sent a request and for some reason or another he replied. Alexis jumped at the chance to learn from Chan. Phrases like “best ever”, “unbeatable”, and “future legend” are always attached to his name.

Of course it’s worth it, she thinks and pulls his note from her purse. Huddled under her umbrella, she tries again to read the Chinese script. It tells her the general block and area but then trails off to “Follow the dragon.”

What dragon? There is no dragon. Dragons aren’t even real.

Alexis tilts her head back and stares at the dark skies. Rain falls on her face and she closes her eyes. She imagines the rain washing away her many sins, pardoning her for her trespasses, forgiving her for what she’s done. In truth, it wasn’t her fault. Not entirely, at least. He was a man, she was a woman, sparks happened. But when his eyes turned hard and his hand flew she remembered her time in the jìyuàn.

She never knew a man could have so much blood in him.

She also didn’t realize Hu Yuan was head of the Black Tigers until saw the tattoo on his neck after she slashed his throat. Then it all came crashing down and her past rushed back to meet her. His blood covered her body, splattered on her face and soaked into her underwear. She panicked. Ran and kept on running back to her little apartment.

Alexis paced and panicked and drank and fumed. Finally a bit of desperation hit. They’d find her. They’d rape her. They’d kill her. She crept down to the corner store and found the old woman that always smiled at her and sold her dim sum.

“I need to find Chan,” she told the woman.

Chan. The mysterious man in the dǒulì who was a legend. If she could learn from him she could take care of herself forever. Even the Black Tigers would never go after Chan. She needed that kind of power to take back her life, to create the new Alexis that was free from her past.

The old woman just nodded and handed Alexis a dumpling. “Chan talks to no one.”

“Please,” Alexis plead. “I need to talk to him.”

“Chan is gone,” the old woman said.

“He …,” Alexis started. “Please. I just killed a very bad man and I need to see Chan. I … need to …”

The old woman cocked an eyebrow but didn’t say anything.

“I just want to survive,” Alexis said.

“Take dumpling,” the old woman said. “Be patient.”

The little lizard landed on the window sill of the run down hotel Alexis was squatting in two days later. It squawked and screeched until she let it in and unraveled the note attached to its leg. Directions to this place at this time.

Now Alexis stares the note and watches as the characters run off the slip of paper in tendrils of inky water. The note is useless now. Arguably it was always useless. It was always nothing more than hope, plain and simple. The note was the fevered dream of redemption. She watches the dream fade into indistinct blurred characters. Like so much of her life the happy dream was fleeting and temporal.

She wipes her eyes, wet from more than the rain and blinks against the pain in her heart. A kind of steel forms in her, spun from the stunning revelation that she really doesn’t care anymore. Fuck them all, she thinks.

Alexis looks back into the sky. She lets the umbrella drop from her hands and embraces the cold rain running down her body. Her damp clothes don’t matter, her matted hair doesn’t matter. All that matters is there’s still rain that falls from the sky and old ladies that will share dumplings and deliver messages. She glances around the abandoned alley and realizes she’s happier this way: alone and forsaken.

“Are you still looking for Chan?” a voice asks in a deep Southern growl.

Much to her surprise, Alexis doesn’t jump. Not caring is a kind of slick armor. “No,” she says. “I think I found him already.”

Silas’s story:

Crushing Sadness by Silas Payton

Where to turn? Where to go next? I’m have no idea. Rain pours down, the noise like the the water, drowning out my thoughts. I wish it would wash me away with it…make my decisions for me. Shrink me down to the size of a water droplet and carry me off. Along the gutter, into the sewer, anywhere but here. How could he do it?

I followed him here to a new world. A wonderful world of a different language, a different culture. Half hour ago, I felt like a person of beauty in a place I belonged. Now, I stand dripping in juxtaposition to my surroundings. Lost in a foreign land. Alone.

“It’d be a great experience,” he said, and it was. I left my job to join him, a promotion rarely given to someone of his experience. A new beginning, an adventure. His raise would be enough we could see the country and still save. A few years we’d have a down payment on a house and he’d likely get another promotion at the end. “How can we turn this down?” He asked.

I was scared but trusted him. Gave up everything I had…all security, all family. For the man I loved. And the fun we did have, treated like royalty. Six months of bliss and excitement touring this city, this country, filled with art, with history, with kindness. My life could not have been better…until tonight. Until I opened the apartment door. To my home. To the place where I felt safe. My sanctuary.

He lay there on top of her, his pants down. Thrusting and pulsating, pounding a spike through my heart with every push. His gyrations twisting it in like an insult. The door clicked shut behind and he looked back at me over his shoulder. His eyes said it all. Part embarrassed, yet part not caring. The young Asian woman under him had a look as surprised as mine. I wondered if she even knew he was married.

My coat and boots on, still holding my umbrella, I left. I ran from my love, my soul mate, my best friend who I’d known since high school. Out into the cold rain. The dark. Seconds ago I was a gem in a chain of beautiful stones…a welcome guest here, now I am a misfit alone in a country of strangers. No money to escape, no one to call a friend, no place to turn. Only emptiness. The weight of the rain on the umbrella becoming heavier, like the crushing sadness as my heart shrinks to nothing, as I wonder if my life will ever be normal again.

Tom’s Story

A Day of Reckoning

Monday, 15th February 2010
Glasgow, Scotland

Lei Mei arrived into Glasgow Airport at 7am and made her way to the city using the shuttle bus service. It was impersonal transport, so she wouldn’t be noticed. She wore no makeup, and maintained an impassive expression.

The 30-year-old walked to Buchanan Street, where she found a busy early morning cafe. She ordered a traditional meal, with tea, and avoided making small talk. At her table, Lei used the map on her phone to locate her destination. It would take ten minutes to reach on public transport, or thirty minutes on foot. She walked.

Lei strolled along Sauchiehall Street, and chose a department store where there would be a washroom. Unlike most international travellers, the bag she carried over her shoulder contained all her needs. It held makeup, underwear, three changes of outfit, and travel documents.

On her departure through the store, both men and women gave her approving looks. Her long hair was centre-parted and brushed so it cascaded over her shoulders like a sheet of black silk. False lashes and makeup enhanced her natural oriental beauty. She wore a bright yellow blouse and black mini-skirt, complemented with black high heels.

It took her a further twenty minutes to reach her destination. She arrived in Cowcaddens and assessed the modern six-storey block as she approached. At a bus shelter less than 50 metres from the building, an old Chinaman in vibrant traditional dress waited alone. He had a straggly grey beard, and his long hair hung in a pigtail down his back.

Lei stepped into the bus shelter, glanced at the advertising posters, and then stared at the bus route timetable without reading. She half-turned to the old man to speak.

“Do you use this route often, wise one?”

He stood in regal pose, arms folded across his body, and hands inside the wide cuffs of the opposite arm.

“I walk,” the man said. “I prefer the light, and do not act in the darkness.”

“On occasion, we are compelled to act in the darkness,” Lei said. “I have no choice.”

The old man closed his eyes, and nodded imperceptibly. He handed Lei a wrapped item, and in exchange accepted her shoulder bag.

Lei’s ruby lips twitched. She gave a slight bow, turned and walked away.

Half an hour later, Lei revisited the old man at the bus shelter. His wrinkled face broke into a brief smile on her return.

“Use the subway,” he suggested, returning her shoulder bag. “Stay strong and true, child of Mei Bhei.”

Read the rest on Tom’s Blog

Serious Problem : Laughable Solutions

Another beautiful day in the United States where we wonder just what the Hell happened yesterday to cause someone to shoot a whole bunch of other people. We’ve apparently now had more mass shootings than days this year and – as usual – nothing is being done to address to problem with anything other than platitudes. The problem seems obvious: there’s been a serious upturn in mass shootings and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. But let’s take a look at some proposed solutions:

  • The NRA staunchly defends its policy of solving gun problems with more guns.
  • Politicians vacillate between offering prayer and good thoughts and saying we need tougher gun control laws.

Guess what? None of that will do a damned thing to stem the flow of blood. The NRA’s policy of more guns – the idea that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun – is laughable. We have more guns than people in this country and so far those guns have done fuck all to stop the bad guys with guns. Tougher gun control laws won’t work either. We already have pretty tough gun control laws and they apparently aren’t doing a damned thing or are being actively ignored. You could try to go full Australia and outlaw guns but Australia and America are two very different places: they had a few million guns, we have a few hundred million guns. Our gun culture is much more entrenched than Australia’s, too.

Good thoughts and prayer? Well, that’s all fine and good. Praying for someone or sending them good thoughts is a wonderful way to make yourself feel better without any of the messiness of actually effecting any change. You don’t have to get your hands dirty to pray. All you have to do is wish for something to happen and then wait patiently for it to happen. Good thoughts are even more disingenuous. “Gosh, I hope everything works out” is not a viable solution.

So then, what’s the solution? Well, to get to that it might help if we really understood the problem. Are the guns themselves really the problem? Is the relatively easy access to firearms really the problem? I don’t think it is. There are millions of registered gun owners out there happily spending their days not shooting people. A gun is a tool; nothing more, nothing less. To find out why a tool is doing something, you really need to look to the user.

Now, the first thing to get through your head is this: the problem is not going to go away overnight.

Repeat that. The problem is not going to disappear overnight.

Keep repeating that until it sticks. As soon as you wrap your head around that idea, you can start looking for some valid solutions. The problem with mass shootings is a complicated one and it’s going to require more than happy thoughts and tough laws to take care of it. We need to start thinking outside the box on this one and it’s going to require a lot of buy-in from a lot of people, even when they really don’t want to cooperate.

The NRA needs to modify its stance. It’s no longer valid to just say “More guns more guns more guns more guns”. Like ’em or don’t, the NRA is the voice of a lot of gun owners in this country and their message isn’t helping anything. How about something more along the lines of doing what they were founded to do and teaching people about firearms, about how to handle them safely, how to keep them out of the hands of dangerous people, how to be responsible gun owners. If I were the NRA I’d be less concerned about someone’s right to carry an assault rifle in a Target than about the massive than I am about the fact that I could wind up legislated out of existence. Modulate the message: it should be less about catering to the extremists and more about a kind of moderation. The next time someone demands the ability to carry an assault rifle in store (or to a Presidential address) the NRA’s response should be “Really? That’s what you’re worried about? Why do you even need to carry your gun all the time, anyway?”

Gun owners, especially those people that think they need to carry their assault rifle while they pick out tonight’s desert need to think long and hard about the message they’re sending. I get it; you like your gun. I like guns, too. We should party. But do you really need to have it with you all the time when the chances of you and your trusty rifle saving the day are about a trillion to one? And what happens when it gets stolen because you weren’t treating that gun as a weapon that needs a little respect? Congrats, you just put another gun on the streets. I’m not averse to open carry laws, I’m not even really averse to someone carrying an assault rifle around in public, but it just seems contrary to the whole “handle guns with safety and respect” message that I was brought up with.

Forget about outlawing guns; it’s simply not going to happen. There are too many guns out there and they’re far too easy to come by for “outlaw all guns” to be anywhere near a valid solution. The simple logistics of removing 300 million guns from the hands of people who don’t want to give them up is staggering. Brush it off the table and stop using it as a crutch.

Take a good hard look at the current legislation on the books. I know politicians have knee jerk reactions to situations just like the rest of us, but adding more laws to the books – especially when no one is willing to enforce those laws – isn’t helping. As a corollary to this you have to realize that mass shooting are happening with previously legally purchased firearms. Laws will likely only impact sales of new guns and those usually aren’t the problem. It’s existing guns, things that have already been out there for a while, that are the real problem. You can ban sales of guns to everyone except former Marines who served as Embassy Guards in Tokyo and you’ll still have 300 million guns out there.

New legislation is a waste of time – it’s only marginally better than prayer and happy thoughts.

So that leaves us with what? Pretty much no solutions. The NRA needs to modulate its message and responsible gun owners need to be acting responsibly. Yay. Both of those together won’t solve the problem, but they’re a start.

What will solve the problem is this: we need to recognize that the person that pulls the trigger is the one responsible for doing the shooting. It’s not the guns, it’s not the NRA, it’s not the yahoo in Target with an AK slung over his back. It’s the lone wolf out there. The solitary person with an axe to grind. All the legislation in the world isn’t going to stop that person because they’re already armed and ready to go.

We all, as Americans, need to modulate our messages, too. We have a tendency to believe just because we think something it must be a) true and b) important. I’m sorry to say, but it’s really not true in a lot of cases or all that important. We need to do a better job with understanding that. Just because you think something doesn’t mean anyone else has to care about it. It doesn’t mean it holds any inherent value. You, just like me, are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. If someone disagrees with you about something it’s not the end of the world; it just means you disagreed. If you don’t approve of someone’s religion, get over it. If you disapprove of the way people live their lives, get over it. Move on. Bullied at school? Either learn to fight back or learn to ignore it. None of what’s happening to you right now is going to last forever. It’s like the old saying, “There will always be tough times, what makes it through are tough people.”

But if you shoot someone, no matter what they’ve done to you, that will last forever.

Look at the source of the problem – the person squeezing the trigger – and the solution becomes much more apparent. But it’s not an easy solution to implement; realizing that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few is a hard pill to swallow you’re one of the few.

And, for fuck’s sake, if you’re mowing down a Planned Parenthood because you think God wants you to, you need to realize something: if God is omnipotent and omniscient, He doesn’t need you to do His dirty work.

You want to see an end to mass shootings? It’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of effort and just enacting a bunch of new laws or praying that it all goes away won’t stop a damned thing. We, as a country, need to stop going back to the old solutions – the ones we’ve proven time and time again don’t work – and start looking for new solutions no matter how uncomfortable they make us. It’s going to require a societal shift and no amount of laws or prayer is going to cause that to happen. What will cause it to happen is realizing what we want isn’t always the best for everyone. We have to start seeing each other as fellow humans instead of competitors. We have to modulate our messages, tell the extremists to shut the hell up, put aside our differences, and see where we can go.

Here’s an interesting article that links mass shootings with a kind of mob mentality. This is the kind of cultural shift I’m referring to. At some point, someone decided it was okay to shoot up a school. Subsequent shooters can then assume it’s been done so it takes less mental effort for them to come to grips with perpetrating their own shootings.

X Meets Y

I’ve said it before: I’m terrible at talking about my books. I guess I’m just not the relentless self promoter I need to be. I am getting better, but I still have issues. This is kind of strange for a guy with a Master’s Degree in Speech Communication; I should excel at talking about my books. The problem, I think, stems from the question of “how do you distill tens of thousands of words into a brief pitch?”

The answer really should be to fall back on that blurb that took you almost as long to write as the book did in the first place. Unfortunately, some of Hollywood’s “Deadpool meets Gandhi” pitch tactics have started flowing over into the book world. This isn’t as common in the book world, but I still hear people describing their books as “x meets y”. You can substitute anything for x and anything for y. For instance:

“My book is an action-packed, Ninja-themed punch to the adrenal glands with trains! It’s Thomas the Tank Engine meets Kill Bill

THAT'S RIGHT!

What terror might look like

or

“A woman gets dumped and rather than being all maudlin about it she goes on a brutal rampage. Think of it as Thelma and Louise meets The Terminator!”

shocked

What aghast might look like

There is no way either of those could be good things.

And it’s not necessarily because the source references were bad, it’s because the combinations were bad. Like orange juice and toothpaste, there’s no way Ninjas and Thomas the Tank Engine could possibly taste good. So why do people do it? X meeting Y is a good place to draw in a couple references for the audience, but it suffers from some drawbacks a couple drawbacks:

  • It assumes your work is derivative of other works
  • It relies on your audience having the same notions of those other works that you do

It also implies there’s nothing really new or exciting about your book.

According to Ecclesiastes 1:9, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” The key part is the “no new thing under the sun” line. Bear in mind The Bible was written quite some time ago; so it should be a given that what was true then is true now. But that’s not entirely accurate. Kind of a lot has changed since The Bible was written.

I’m not saying The Bible is wrong, so put down your pitchforks and torches.

What I’m getting at is fiction has explored areas that were unbeknownst to the world at the time The Bible was written; things like computers, the Internet, television, cars, and The Rock on simply didn’t exist back then. They’re beknownst now and there are always new things popping up all the time. The point is I’ve met too many people who think there’s nothing new under the sun and everything has to be related to something else – something that already exists and can be used as a comparison point. This kind of intellectual dishonesty should be anathema to writers because there are plenty of new things under the sun and we’re not just retelling the same stories over and over again. There’s creativity, process, sweat, drunken rages, and furious typing at work. There are new worlds being born all the time and they have to be populated with living, breathing things.

What anathema might look like

What anathema might look like

Think about this way. If you’re a writer, how many words did you string together to make your last book? How long did it take to write it? For me, The Clock Man was around 110,000 words written over the space of about a year or so. I used to say writing came easily – and it kind of still does – but there was a lot of time spent choosing the right word, making sure the stories were as fresh and original as I could make them, and pondering how to get someone out of a fix I’d created for them. It took a lot of time and a lot of work. That’s not counting the months of editing time and folding in recommendations from my beta readers, and then editing it again.

So after all that time and all that effort, am I going to simplify the whole thing as “some famous thing meets some other famous thing”?

Hell no.

Well, maybe “a fifth of bourbon meets your blood stream”. That might be an apt x meets y descriptor, but anything else would be doing a disservice to my own work.

See, here’s the problem with x meets y. Not only are you saying your work is derivative of something else, but you’re relying on someone else’s preconceived notions of what those other things are. Communication Theory refers to this as “The Triangle of Meaning”. The general gist of the triangle of meaning stems from the fact that words have inherent meanings and interpreted meanings based on experience. If I say, “Cat” you might think “purring furball” because that’s your experience with cats. Someone else might remember that scratch that got infected. You have zero control over someone else’s experiences and, therefore, zero control over their interpreted meanings of your words.

Ogden_semiotic_triangle

What a Triangle of Meaning might look like

For instance, let’s say you’ve got a superhero story set in the early 1900s. Cool. That could be interesting. Tell me your story is Daredevil meets Downton Abbey and I might think, “Okay, that might be cool.” At least now I would, because I’ve watched Charlie Cox playing Daredevil recently. Before that I would associate Daredevil with the Ben Affleck movie. Then your cool turn-of-the-century superhero story is going to look like a giant bag of suck. (Apologies to Ben Affleck, it wasn’t his fault the movie was mess.)

What Daredevil might look like

What Daredevil might look like

BTW, I’ve only recently started reading the Daredevil comics, which is why I still tend to associate him with the shows.

At the very least, if you’re still absolutely insistent on saying your book is x meets y, at least have a little fun with it. Rather than just taking two inspirations and smashing them together to create something new, try twisting the old saying itself into something new. You’re a writer? You just finished writing the most epic novel ever? Be creative with your pitch and instead of comparing your book to an existing book or movie, play with the meme and make it your own.

  • Henchmen is: A politician meets some angry bad-asses in a dark alley. A beat down ensues.
  • Arise is: Bad guys meet worse guys. A beat down ensues.
  • The Clock Man is: Unpredictable weapon meets unpredictable weapon. A lot of things ensue.

This way you can still say “my story is something meets something else” but it won’t look lazy and you won’t have to deal with someone else’s preconceived notions. For a more in-depth – and movie focused – take on x meets y, check out this blog post on why you shouldn’t do this.

The only real thing meeting some other thing I’d like to advocate is my books meeting readers. Everything else is just gravy.

modok

What M.O.D.O.K. meets Elvis might look like.

The Quill Pen Recommends – Part 3

An awesome review for Henchmen and other excellent books!

The Quill Pen Writes

Aime - Lucinda E Clarke Amie – An African Adventure

Following on from my last edition of The Quill Pen Recommends, take a look at these three titles and make some room on your kindle device this Christmas.

Here’s my review of Amie – An African Adventure:

This book caught my eye having seen several good reviews. It was moved up my extensive TBR for reading and it has taken me some time to get around to it, that said, I’m so glad that I did.

From the first few pages, the author sets the scene, the significance of which doesn’t become relevant until much later on in the book. The story hinges around a seemingly stable region of Africa and the need for a desalination plant to be built. Our heroine, a mere secretary of sorts to the film industry that she longs to be included in, finds herself whisked to the foreign land…

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