Celebration Week

It’s gonna be a free week to celebrate, uh, this week. 5/28 & 5/29: Henchmen will be 100% free. Arise will be free 5/30 & 5/31. Transmute will be free 6/1 & 6/2. As an added bonus, from 5/29 to 6/2, the Complete Saxton will be 100%free. Quantities are limited so get ’em while they’re hot. Click the links on the sidebar and get ready to dance with your wild side, or you can grab Henchmen right here.

Join a small organization of lovable bad guys: a super villain and her henchmen. Eve, the seven-foot-tall, bulletproof blonde is their leader. Frank and Jean are a couple that can get into any computer or building unseen. Jacob is a rough-around-the-edges biker type that has a deep and abiding love of guns and explosives. And Steven? Well, he’s really good at manipulating people and pretty handy to have around in a fight. As supervillainy goes, they’re just starting out. They don’t have much of a secret base. They don’t have matching uniforms. Not a one of them owns a single pair of tights.

A chance encounter at a sushi bar has led them to a young woman with a terrifying secret she doesn’t even know she possesses. The Yakuza wants to use her to put pressure on a missing father. No one’s entirely certain exactly what the secret is, but it smells like a weapon and it might be just the sort of thing to help topple a nation.

They’re done pulling small jobs. Now they’re aiming for the top – because why bother robbing jewelry stores when you can topple governments?
Yakuza gang fights.
Incursions into high-security, top-secret government buildings.
Picking fake fights with losers in bars.
A psycho ex-coworker who has some strange friends.
And a well-dressed older gentleman who haunts dreams.
It’s all in a day’s work for Steven…one of the world’s most dedicated and dangerous…
HENCHMEN

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WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

In a world where some nut sack gets a wild hair up his ass and decides to detonate himself at a concert, it’s not always easy to find good news out there in the wild. Sure, there are a plethora of cute animal pictures and videos about people rescuing bear cubs, but those things don’t exactly have world-changing properties.

So, if you’ve been living on Mars, in a cave, with your fingers in your ears, you’ve probably heard about the jackass (sorry, I refuse to use nice words for terrorists) who blew himself and whole host of people up at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. Go ahead and add that to the list of things jackasses have done with alarming regularity accomplishing nothing but making people hate their pathetic little guts more.

Of course, that hatred flows over into an entire group of people, most of whom have done nothing wrong and don’t deserve the vitriol that gets heaped on them by other idiots. Thus, the cycle of miserable little lives continues unabated.

This is sad state of affairs, but all it takes to knock it out of whack is a little bit of kindness. I’ll admit, I had to do some serious searching to find something good for the month, but I did find a story about a Muslim man helping a Jewish woman at the site of the Manchester massacre.

Check it here

That’s exactly the sort of thing that we should be celebrating and the beautiful thing is, it didn’t cost anything, it didn’t require risk, no one had to go and save a busload of nuns from a roving band of bikers. All it took was being a decent human being and deciding it was easier to not be a dick than it was to be a dick.

So, here’s your homework for the week: next time you feel like lighting someone up, try not doing that thing and see how it feels. Hold the elevator for someone rather than furiously pushing the door close button. When someone wants to get in front of you in traffic, let them. It’s pretty easy to not be a jackass and takes less effort than it takes to be a jackass.

And, just because I’m not feeling like a jackass, have a picture of a cute pit bull.


The last Friday of every month bloggers will share their stories led by six co-hosts, this month’s co-hosts are Peter Nena, Eric Lahti, Inderpreet Kaur Uppal , Roshan Radhakrishnan , Emerald Barnes and Lynn Hallbrooks.

If you’d like to join up with We Are The World Blogfest, I have good news for you: it’s free. Go check it out here.

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To signup, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

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Spin Cycle

Several years ago, while I was still a young punk learning the dark arts of persuasion and rhetoric, I asked one my professors what propaganda was. He hemmed and hawed a bit, but finally came down to “a type of persuasion that provides a ready-made answer.” Or words to that effect. To be fair, this was a long time ago.

Propaganda, as it’s commonly defined these days, falls into a few major categories:

  • Information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.
  • The deliberate spreading of such information, rumors, etc.

There’s also the Roman Catholic version that pertains to the training and oversight of foreign missions, but that’s not what most people think about when they hear propaganda, and the Catholics are using the traditional Latin meaning of propaganda – to propagate – rather than the political meaning of the word.

There’s an old joke: How do you know when a politician is lying? His lips are moving.

It’s funny that we expect our politicians will lie to us, yet we are constantly surprised when they do. Of course, most of them will gleefully tell you they didn’t lie, you only misunderstood the totality of the events that lead to what you see as a lie. In the long run, it wasn’t that they lied, they were simply victims of circumstances that went beyond their control. And, besides, those other guys did it first, so it’s totally okay.

I’ve got a long and undying love of propaganda posters. The above is a great example of simple propaganda. The ape, with his fangs bared and holding a bloody stick in one hand and a swooning maiden (possibly representing Liberty) in the other tells us a lot about how the artist (Harry Ryle Hopps, c.1917) wanted the viewer to see the Germans. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and this one doesn’t have a single kind one to say about the Germans during WWI. Of course, it’s a poster that’s aiming to get people to join the Army and you don’t win a war by humanizing the enemy.

Posters like this fall perfectly into propaganda because they give us a pre-built answer about to expect from Germans; they’re brutish thugs set on crushing skulls and stealing our women. It promotes information and ideas about an entire nation that are not completely accurate. As an aside, because of images like this a lot of German-Americans suffered discrimination and beatings during WWI. Probably WWII, too.

But this is a long-term propaganda project. WWI ran from 1914 to 1918, with the U.S. being involved only in the very last part. Support for the war in United States was meager at best and it took a lot of propaganda to build up stateside interest in a war on the other side of the ocean.

In the information age, things happen very quickly. While there’s still plenty of time to ratchet up a good long-term propaganda campaign, scandals and events happen and are discovered almost instantaneously. Traditional propaganda doesn’t work in instantaneous timelines. Think about Mitt Romney’s comment about 47% of the population not voting for him because they pay no taxes or Hillary Clinton’s remark about baskets full of deplorables. These are immediate scandals and shooting out some posters or long-term propaganda efforts won’t work.

This is where propaganda twirls madly off into our good friend spin. Think of spin as propaganda light; same great taste, but it applies to more immediate concerns. Whereas a propaganda campaign may be a long-running task, spin happens in the here and now.

The Trump campaign’s response to Clinton’s comment about a basket of deplorables with immediate and predictable spin. “She thinks she’s better than you!” “This shows just how much Hillary Clinton hates real Americans.” On and on and on.

And you know what? Clinton made a huge mistake with that line. She’s a career politician and should have seen the response to her comment coming a mile away. Just like Romney should have seen the response to his 47% comment coming a mile away.

Argumentation requires a clash of ideas. I say X. You say X goes to far. I retort that your plan, Y, doesn’t go too far enough. That sort of thing is what discourse is supposed to be made of. Propaganda ignores the clash of ideas because it quashes them entirely. Spin ignores the clash of ideas of by completely ignoring the argument in the first place and spinning off into someplace else entirely. Take, for instance, Clinton’s comment about the basket of deplorables:

“I know there are only 60 days left to make our case — and don’t get complacent, don’t see the latest outrageous, offensive, inappropriate comment and think, well, he’s done this time. We are living in a volatile political environment. You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people — now 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”

“But the other basket — and I know this because I see friends from all over America here — I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas — as well as, you know, New York and California — but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”

Hillary Clinton – 2016

The spin came from focusing exclusively on part of her statement and completely ignoring the rest of the argument. Were some of Trump’s supporters sexist, racist, xenophobic jackasses? Sure. Was it half? I don’t know. I work with plenty of Trump supporters and plenty of people who fall into the second basket – the folks who held their noses and voted. They’re all decent people who didn’t think Clinton would do a good job.

The spin – saying Clinton’s comment showed her contempt for everyday Americans – ignored the entire second paragraph. It was the rhetorical version of saying so’s your face. And guess what? It worked.

It worked because we don’t want argumentation. We want immediate, crushing, bumper-sticker logic that we don’t have to think about. We don’t want “Four score and seven years ago”, we want “Hillary for Prison 2016” because that’s easier to digest.

This is primarily a writing blog, so you may be asking yourself exactly what political spin has to do with writing. Hunter S. Thompson could probably tell you why it’s important, but he was a political writer. In the world of fiction, understanding spin gives you a great way for characters to rationalize their behavior, even at the macro level.

Think about this way: if spin works well enough to determine international politics, it should work quite nicely with fictional characters and plots. If you’re writing fiction, you can use spin and propaganda techniques to your advantage.

There are always motivations in story-telling. Why does a character do something? Why does the villain do such heinous things? The cool thing about using propaganda and spin techniques in writing is you don’t have to feel like you need a shower when you’re done. Unlike the real world, using those skills in fiction only impacts made-up characters and places, so your karma will still be free of taint.

For instance: I’m currently working on Greetings From Sunny Aluna. It’s essentially a fantasy novel with drugs, religion, and real-world implications in a place where magic and mythology collide. Gutter fantasy, if you will. Very bad things are happening and the baddies need reasons to do those things and justify their actions to themselves. Even the good guys do less-than-savory things. They use propaganda and spin techniques to sell their actions to themselves and the other characters. Henchmen was basically one big propaganda and spin job with guns and cheeseburgers, but it was a pretty political novel to begin with.

Besides, if you want to see how propaganda and spin can be used effectively in story, just ask this guy.

Book Review – We Are All Monsters by Cassie Carnage

Twitter is a vast wasteland filled with all manner of bad hombres. Some would say build a wall around it and be done with the problem, but I say there are gems out there just waiting to be discovered. Such is the case with Cassie Carnage’s collection of horror shorts We Are All Monsters.

Now, in case you hadn’t guessed by her name and the title of the book, this isn’t romance or anything feel-good. It’s good, old-fashioned horror with monsters and all manner of bad things happening to otherwise decent folk. In other words, We Are All Monsters is great way to spend a couple hours letting your dark side rise up and enjoy life for a while.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a horror fan. I’ve certainly enjoyed the horror books I’ve read in the past, but I usually don’t go out of my way to seek them out. This one popped up in my Twitter feed as being on sale and it looked interesting enough that I grabbed a copy. While I wouldn’t say any of them outright scared me (don’t worry, not much does), there were a couple that left a hint of that tingle of nervousness. In my world, that’s a win.

In any collection of short stories, you can’t really expect them to all be winners. Not that any of the stories in We Are All Monsters are necessarily bad, it’s just that a couple of them rise above the rest. Personally, and this is just my opinion, The Dying Light was a great tale that ends with such a twist it makes you wonder if it couldn’t be expanded into a full-length novel. Black Hearts and Bloodied Lips could also set the stage for a much larger world. Walpurgisnacht had a great concept, too.

All in all, an entertaining read. If you’re into horror – and this isn’t overly gruesome horror – it’s worth a check.

And, in case you’re wondering if those Twitter plug work; well, it would appear they sometimes do.

WE ARE ALL MONSTERS by Cassie Carnage contains 10 original stories from a unique new voice in horror, plus a bonus preview chapter of the weird west monster hunter book THE THREE THIEVES OF NIGHT, which introduces you to their dark, corrupted world of gun slinging magicians.

Horror Stories Include:

HER ROTTEN EMBRACE
What the swamp takes, she also gives back.

CANCER’S REQUIEM
Cancer comes back to collect a widowed husband.

THE RING
What would you do if you could see ghosts, and your best friend dies?

DROSOPHILA (a horror poem)
Are there fruit flies everywhere, or only in the demented mind of Malachi?

THE DYING LIGHT
Two kids hear an urban legend about a monster in an abandoned copper mine. When they break into the mine, they accidentally wake it up.

HOT WATER
Sometimes, it’s not your imagination. Sometimes, there really is something inside your water heater…

BLACK HEARTS AND BLOODIED LIPS
Two monster hunters discover unexpected package while investigating a nest of vampires.

THE CORNUCOPIA
A homeless preacher finds a way to feed the starving people of his flock. But not all is what it seems, as the magical golden box that leaves a feast each night only does so after a human sacrifice.

WALPURGISNACHT
A mummified saint’s body, a witch, and a terrible curse.

OF ‘SQUATCH AND MAN
Three college guys go camping during a full moon and discover that one of them is not quite human anymore.

THREE THIEVES OF NIGHT PRELUDE (Bonus Section)
A psychic swordsman and a con man with an incessantly itching wound that won’t heal discover that their brother-at-arms is missing.

If you like Tales from the Crypt, Clive Barker, Stephen King or Anne Rice, you will love WE ARE ALL MONSTERS.

Get your copy here

Check out Cassie on Twitter

Check out her website

Book Review – Junior Inquisitor by Lincoln Farish

Not a lot of people know this, but I grew up Catholic. Anglican Catholic, to be more specific. I have since fallen from the purer faith, but, at least in my eyes, Christian religion is indelibly tied to Catholicism. I know that’s not the case for a lot of people, but it’s just how I perceive the Christian world.

Any time you talk about religion, you have to be careful – people take their beliefs very seriously and I’m not trying to knock anyone else’s faith, just pointing out the eyes I used to look at the world of Lincoln Farish’s Junior Inquisitor.

I’ll get the meat out of the way and just say this: Junior Inquisitor is a hell of a lot of fun and if you’re into action and mystery, go buy a copy now.

This isn’t a religious book, per se. In the world of Junior Inquisitor there is evil present in the world. Not abstract evil, either. This is Evil with a capital E; the kind of thing Mike Myers would pronounce “Ayveel. Like the frooits of the deveel.” In fact, that kind of evil pretty much hits the mark that Mr. Farish is going for. In this world, most people aren’t aware of the underlying evil slowly eroding the world around them, but the Catholic church is well aware of it, and has been for some time. The Inquisitors are the tools the church uses to purge this evil.

Junior Inquisitor revolves around one Inquisitor as he stumbles into a hornet’s nest of evil. Excuse me; ayveel. Most of the tale is about him as he tries to do his job, but the story ultimately includes more Inquisitors as Sebastian attempts to purge a host of witches from the face of the planet.

Now, it should probably be noted that Farish’s witches aren’t Wiccans. There’s nothing kind or gentle about the witches in Junior Inquisitor and the magic they do is based on power pulled straight from deals with various demons and devils. In other words, these aren’t nice people we’re talking about.

So, while Junior Inquisitor takes place in a world that feels like our own, it’s very much set in its own world. And that world is inhabited by some terrifying things that not only go bump in the night, they also capture you and enslave your soul.

As I pointed out in the beginning, I’ve got a Catholic background even though I no longer count myself as one of theirs. But that background – even though Farish is using Roman Catholicism instead of Anglican Catholicism – made this book all that much more tangible, right down to the bureaucratic nature of all large organizations.

Part horror, part action, Junior Inquisitor is all fun. Even if you aren’t Catholic (or religious at all, really), it’s hard to not cheer on the exploits of a character that faces down the terrible things lurking in the darkness and shoots them.

Brother Sebastian is halfway up a mountain in Vermont, hell-bent on interrogating an old woman in a shack, when he gets the order to abandon his quest for personal vengeance. He has to find a missing Inquisitor, or, more likely, his remains. He’s reluctant, to say the least. Not only will he have to stop chasing the best potential lead he’s had in years, this job—his first solo mission—will mean setting foot in the grubby black hole of Providence, Rhode Island. And, somehow, it only gets worse…

If he’d known he would end up ass deep in witches, werewolves, and ogres, and that this mission would jeopardize not only his sanity but also his immortal soul, he never would’ve answered the damn phone.

Get your copy here

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Book Review – Pawns by Patrick Hodges

I used to have this story rattling around in my head about a ship from the future that gets damaged in a firefight and crashes on a planet where magic was very real and very dangerous. It would have been an interesting examination of the inherent equality built into technology versus the inequality where magic – and therefore power – was concentrated in the hands of the few. At some point or another, I may still write it, but the key point of high-tech coming into contact with high-magic was the unique part about it and Patrick Hodges just beat me to the punch.

Such is life.

Patrick Hodges has finally made the jump from YA fiction (which was very good stuff anyway) in the real world to more adult YA fiction centered in a fictional world. This is a very good thing as far as I’m concerned. Joshua’s Island was an excellent examination of bullying and the general crap people deal with when they’re growing up, but Pawns is a much larger story. Some of themes are still there, at least in a nascent form, but the themes are background to the story instead of the driver of the story.

Pawns – Book 1 of The Wielders of Arantha saga has, at its heart, the same kinds of studies of growing up and learning to adapt, but packages it in a sci-fi realm where magic and technology are suddenly thrust together. So, now my opening paragraph makes sense.

Pawns is a unique mixture of sci-fi and fantasy, set on a faraway planet where the rules are different from what our intrepid Earthlings expect. It’s a tightly woven story told from multiple points of view and, while it’s the first in a series, gives us a solid tale.

And that’s the only real downside to the story. This book, like most first books in a series, is primarily here to introduce the characters and situation and get the ball rolling. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a solid story here, but Pawns’ primary purpose is to build a world. And, to be fair, it’s a heck of a world, richly detailed and populated with interesting characters. I don’t know how many books Hodges has planned for the series, but this one will definitely be the one to start with.

The fact that it’s a great read is just icing on the cake.

Seven hundred years in the future, the Jegg – a powerful alien race – invade Earth, wiping out half of the Terran Confederation.

In a hidden base under the Sahara Desert, a team of scientists works to mount a resistance against the invaders. Their plan is to fit an Earth ship with Jegg folding-space technology, and travel to the other side of the galaxy to find a mysterious energy source… one that could help them defeat the Jegg.

But just before departure, catastrophe strikes. Only two of the crew survive and make it to their destination: the team leader’s wife Maeve, and her teenage son Davin. What they find on the distant planet will forever change both the future of their family and their planet, as they enter a race against time… and against impossible odds.

Get your copy here

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Closing In

Now that Greetings From Sunny Aluna is closing in on 90,000 words (with probably another 10k to go), it’s probably time to start talking about it. You know, ramping up interest in a book that’s not even done yet in the hope that when it finally drops it won’t land with a dull thud.

I’ve been doing more research about how to do a better job of pitching the story and learning about the quick hooks that will lure people into a false sense of security. No, wait. Excitement. A real sense of excitement. Even now, when someone asks me to summarize the Henchmen series, I’m usually at a loss and wind up changing the subject. As a result, the people that have taken the time to read it usually enjoy it, but it’s the getting people there part that’s still the problem.

What excitement might look like

Of course, there are three major components that can generate interest in a book: The cover, the blurb, and the first page. If any of those blow, you’re well and truly boned. That’s for people looking at the book, though. They have to actually see it in front of them before any of that matters. What about the times where you’re on an elevator or talking to people you work with? There has to be a way to summarize the plot to a point that it covers the gist of the story without being overly onerous. One line. That’s really all you get before people put their eyes on screensaver. And guess what, the blurb is far too long and formal to talk about while you’re at a restaurant.

Blurbs are important, don’t get me wrong, but they’re not what we’re after here. Information on writing blurbs can be found anywhere. Hell, I’ve written a post on writing blurbs. Everyone who’s ever written a blurb has likely written a blog post on writing blurbs. What we want is a blurb for a blurb.

Loglines work on that kind of level. They’re hooks designed to generate interest. They don’t tell the whole story, they don’t even really reveal much about the plot. The general gist of a logline is it’s a quick and dirty sales tactic, the kind of thing you can tell someone when you’re in an elevator without resorting to half-assed declarations about thematic unity or your book being a tale of redemption. If you want a good examination of loglines, go check out Sean Carlin’s post on loglines. He does a marvelous job of explaining how to distill an entire story into a compact statement that can be delivered at the drop of a hat.

That’s the kind of thing you need when someone asks what your book is about. No one is going to listen to a rambling discussion of how a super villain’s henchmen work with her to topple the United States government because they’re really pissed off about random things and, oh yeah, there’s this girl that they pick up and her father was into some shady things and that leads the henchmen to a place they never even knew existed. And everything goes all gooey-kablooey with invisible people and guns and stuff. Oh, and it also has bondage sushi in. Like totally right in the beginning, too.

13486232
Zoidberg can be a real jackass.

How about: While celebrating their latest robbery, a group of villains bent on destroying the United States stumbles across a terrible secret that the government will do anything to keep hidden.

Or

In the New Mexico desert, a group of villains searches for the ultimate weapon – a weapon the US government will do anything to keep hidden.

Admittedly, not my best work, but both convey the general gist of Henchmen pretty well. And, yes, it does have bondage sushi in it, but only for a short while. While Albuquerque may not be by-the-books desert (I think we get too much rain to be true desert), most everyone thinks of New Mexico as a whole as being desert so who am I to disagree. I don’t work in the tourism department, I just live here.

So, now that I’ve prattled on a bit, it’s time to get to the meat of this post: notably drumming up some interest in the forthcoming (sometime late this summer) Greetings From Sunny Aluna. To do that, I’m going to try my hand at the two immediate challenges of getting someone to read something: the cover and my new friend, the logline.

The Cover:

GreetingsFromSunnyAlunaR2A3

The Logline:

In a world of magic and martial arts, four people with different reasons dodge gangs and violent cops to find and eliminate a mysterious crime lord known only as The Beast before he can kill more innocent people.

I think it still needs work.

Drop me a note in the comments about what works, what doesn’t work, and any other thing you feel like chatting about. I like chatting.