Book Magic

outliers-volume-1It’s been a long and very exhausting two months, but we finished it at last. Outliers: 2016 is now available in paperback. Forthcoming posts on the Outlier’s main site will cover more about the actual content of the series. I’m more drawn to the technical how.

Usually when people find out about publications I do, they approach with “hey, I got a story of my own.” I’m sympathetic to people who want to tell stories, but many personal experiences have educated me in the difficulties in producing quality books. I’m certainly not trying to crush anyone’s dreams, but I do think many folks underestimate the incredible amount of labor it takes to get to print.

I’ve come to suspect that events like National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) have become more part of the problem than the solution. The event tends to promote an erroneous idea that writing a novel is easy. The timing creates a spike in material that builds slush mountains (not piles) at larger publishers, or hemorrhaging on Amazon and other self-published distributors throughout the winter.

Amazon and other services who promote NaNoWriMo do not care how much poor quality material is produced because even if only a few copies are sold to the author’s immediate family, they still make a profit. Or else they would pull the plug so fast, you’d wake up the next morning to discover indie publishing all but died overnight.

Instead, a lot of what goes into publishing is primarily about 1,001 magic tricks, such that readers never know, never spare a thought to every minor detail. To borrow from Christopher Priest…

The Pledge. 

Something ordinary, seemingly a book. These days, for a story to be exceedingly original is very rare, such that the description will sound similar to what others have written. This is fine, but there are unsaid expectations: hopes of proper grammar, punctuation, spelling, formatting, page numbers, etc, etc, etc.

The strange thing is that the more there are of these simple but professional elements, the more ordinary is the book in question. This is because of our expectations caused by prior generations of book publishing. And by applying these elements, we would not otherwise be distracted from…

The Turn. 

The pledge is the responsibility of the formatters and editors, to convince us of something grounded. But the turn, the second act in which an ordinary story does something extraordinary, that is up to the writer. The turn is the point where true magic is unveiled, when we are shown emotions that we didn’t expect to feel from reading.

Sometimes, that is to experience something in writing that we wish for ourselves.
Sometimes, that is to discover and explore an idea we had never considered.
Sometimes, that is the twists and turns of plots that subverted our expectations.

It is the most important magic, for it conjures something we never thought we could think or feel. And that is why we read until…

The Prestige.

All stories end. The extraordinary becomes ordinary again, and people have to go back to reality. Such is the demand of the natural universe.

But if the spell is good, then the magic will travel from the reader’s mind to their mouth. Emotions always want an outlet, or such we wouldn’t bother writing to begin with. And it is the goal to create something worth discussing, so that the magic can spread and live on. Thus the prestige is left to neither editor or writer, but the reader. They have to want to believe in that magic.

That’s what goes into creating a story. And I suspect, that’s more than most expected to weave.

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Pardon the Life Interruptions

“Signal to noise is $%#^ed right now,” Alec said today, absolutely nailing the latest temporary problem.

Advertising our newest release has been put on pause until after Tuesday. The presidential election in the US and the rulings regarding the UK’s Brexit have been occupied the headlines, Twitter and Facebook in some nightmarish, endless loop.

coahtrMajor news outlets and comedy shows aren’t the only ones who have been benefiting. My Facebook feed is plagued with dozens of tiny political outlets and blogs on both sides, spewing quintessential mendacity and propaganda. Trenders fall into two categories: those who acknowledge the lie but fear the mentioned candidate winning, and intense, narrow-pupil zealots who are best avoided. Pondering and vexations as to the weaknesses of democracy often follow in their wake, to no meaningful conclusions.

In such times, relaxation is in order to relieve the body of stress.

Titanfall 2 with my brother offers some relief, as was the very impressive Doctor Strange. Although I enjoyed the movie as well as Netflix’s Luke Cage, my friend Adam nailed it when he said he was “Marveled out” for the rest of the year. While Marvel’s properties never fail to entertain, there does seem to be a saturation point where people need a break from even extraordinary characters, though interest often resurrects after a few months.

The entertainment industry is fickle as such. Entire genres can be tired out and placed in the cooler until such a time that they are dusted off to try again. Westerns for example, particularly those by Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood, gave us some of the best films throughout the 60s and early 70s until finally dying down. Perhaps twice a decade, the genre tried again, resulting in flicks like the remake of 3:10 to Yuma. But we are possibly on the cusp of a renaissance in other media, such as with HBO’s Westworld and the upcoming Red Dead Redemption title by Rockstar Games.

doctor-strangeStill, the Marvel property is far from dead, despite the doom-and-gloom entertainment articles which are increasing in frequency and almost always disproved. While I doubt that superhero films will become inert as a genre for quite a while, there’s definitely a limit to how much people can and do enjoy at one time. Still, Doctor Strange helps by opening the door to the mystical elements of Marvel’s properties, likely giving Marvel’s properties more longevity.

But perhaps most telling… if Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them does well, the market will learn of audience’s appetite for urban fantasy. If not, then Doctor Strange may have found people’s limits for magic on the big screen. And if the former is not a sign that people want to escape from reality for a while, I don’t know what is. So pay attention: you may learn a spell to conjure a fortune.

Why I Didn’t Vote

I will talk about my trip to the BLW and London later. For now, I have to clarify my own standings in light of the ending political season, and why I didn’t bother to worry about voting after all.

When Romney won the Republican primary, I already knew the issue was settled for me. I couldn’t support him. I was, and still am, not a fan of Obama. But there were many, many Republican candidates I also refused to support.  Some seemed alright, but seemed muddled and somewhat vague about their solutions. But others just felt like the other side of the same problem, like Newt Gingrich. The very few that I liked were flushed out and stopped early.

Looking over Romney’s record, I knew I could not vote for the man. I couldn’t. The man didn’t have any real standing to criticize the president for his Affordable Care Act (better known as ‘Obamacare’). Not when he implemented his own similar healthcare plan in Massachusetts, which happened to be the small scale experiment whose results Democrats are intending to replicate across the rest.

And Obama? We saw two versions of him over four years. In the first two years, he had the keys to the kingdom. Control of the House and Senate.  Cash for clunkers, Obamacare, the bailout spending. Why anyone is really that shocked about the emergence of the Taxed Enough Already (TEA) party is beyond me.

But despite the wake up call to stop, there was no earnest effort to try scaling back. The Democrats didn’t really seem to want to cut spending. The Republicans didn’t want to increase it anymore. An unstoppable force met an immovable object. So now we have the great budget debate every few months just to keep the federal government running.

But in the end, it felt like a false choice. Romney? Given the same circumstances in 2008, I quietly fear he would have done many of the same things Obama did in some shape or form. If you close your eyes and imagine the closed-door deals with the K Street lobbyists, crafting the rules of the Affordable Care Act, you could easily see either Obama or Romney signing off on it.

Repeal Obamacare? At best, Romney would have taken a scalpel to it, but little more.

A lot of people don’t like Obamacare on both sides, but many also loathe to get rid of it. It stands, if nothing else, as a symbol that things can change, that efforts can be made to alter the existing system. Killing it would be a politically inconvienent thing to do, as it would generate protests and anger. The same Progressives, Liberals and even affirmed Socialists (with or without the ‘democratic’ prefix), who hold their noses about the law would still defend it.

Despite the disdain those groups have towards it, they still label it ‘progress’, and will protect it. Almost anything that expands democratic power is seen as the ideal to them. At least until that power expands into their very direct lives. You can count on them to do what’s in their nature.

But like I said, it was a false choice.

Our options were  either something similar to the last two to four years, or Romney. An awkward gentleman who claims to be the better manager but with no real convictions. A guy says something I want to hear, but then does something else. Romney went after the president over economic issues, which is an excellent point of discussion. But history proves that’s just not good enough. FDR should have lost the presidency in his reelections because of how unimpressively the New Deal tackled the Great Depression. Three successful reelections later, that was just not so.

Well, here’s to two more years of the last two years…

The Chair 2012

Ladies and gentlemen, after careful consideration for the needs of our country, I have decided upon our most trustworthy candidate for the 2012 presidency. The chair.

I first realized the uncanny resilience of the chair during the GOP convention. The chair just, stood there… absorbing criticism from the sharp tongue of one Clint Eastwood. Both silent and strong, it refused to bow down to the harsh words tossed at him. Yet at the same time, it practiced such poise and grace, remaining open and available to anyone. Even to its most critical of critics, Eastwood himself.

Ladies and gentlemen, that is what this country needs. That strength, built on a solid foundation, but comfortable and accepting. Coupled with a wisdom and sense for design that comes with centuries of existence. The chair has traveled the world and has adapted itself to every culture.  The chair sees nothing of you. It knows not your race, your gender or creed. Nor does it care. All it knows is that we Americans need its support, which it gives so freely. And it is there for you.

I have not personally had a chance to discuss the issues with the chair. But I remain confident that we will find it both neutral and yet supportive of bi-partisan measures. It will be a pillar of strength for Congress and the Supreme Court, as well as Americans everywhere. I feel comfortable enough with it to say that it is laissez faire upon matters of economic importance. And military matters. And diplomacy… and pretty much everything else.

From my understanding, the chair has no plans to appoint anyone. Rest assured that its will be the least expensive administration of the executive branch we have seen in years. Yet it will be at its desk, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 12 months to the year and 365 days in that year for the full length of its term. It will neither rest nor eat. It will not shower or bathe. Never before will this country have had such an attentive president.

But know that despite all this… the chair is there. A gentle soul in the home of every American family and business. Supportive despite our burdens. With the resolve to correct our posture while understanding enough for when we slouch.

A vote for the chair… is a vote for America.

The Pattern

If they can't smell your nose hairs, you're not close enough.

If they can't smell your nose hairs, you're not close enough.

For the past three years, I’ve been studying politics as a hobby. Reading biographies and history books, studying the combinations of political, economic and sometimes environmental events and how they impacted the world.

I can’t respect anyone who is quick to dismiss the past. And believe me, I know people who have tried. “You can’t change the past,” they would say with some truth, without mentioning that you can at least learn from it. Or, “It’s in the past!” As if it were completely absurd and not worth any consideration.

Of course, I notice that these same people often get into the same personal problems time after time, reoccurring like a techno beat.

When people aren’t even learning from their own personal history and subject themselves to the same misery again and again, I cannot help but wonder if there’s a missing link.

When it comes to politics though, I certainly notice one pattern. And interestingly enough, that same pattern seems to happen both personally and politically. The emphasis that is placed strictly on the now.

Not the past, not the future, just here and now. You try to bring up the failures of the past and they’ll say, “These are different times!” You try to talk about future risks and they’ll assure you, “If things go bad, we’ll change them,” or, “It’s only temporary!”

There’s an amazing biography I once read about Lyndon Baines Johnson, by Unger and Unger. LBJ had a technique that was named “The Treatment.” The picture above is LBJ administering it, and you can see a few more if you like. Just looking at those pictures makes me want to say, “Back off.”

Exactly what “The Treatment” was isn’t easy to define, but can best be described as a kind of emotional overload.

One summarized description was something to the tune of a tempest, powerful and thunderful shouting followed by rainy tears. It would be a whirlwind of dizzying emotional highs and bottom-of-the-sea lows. He would shake his fist violently at you before gently touching your arm like a dear friend. Statistics would pour out of his pockets. Smoke would come from his ears. Threats and compliments, praise and malice would all come from his mouth.

It’s similar to books on applied psychology, akin to business or dating/pick up. But the difference between the businessmen and players against LBJ here is the fact that you could not ignore LBJ. In a business meeting or bar setting, you could always say no and walk away, so often these businessmen and players learn to be more subtle and cautious. But LBJ was always in a position of power, sandwiching Senators and Congressmen between a rock and a hard place.

The purpose of “The Treatment” goes right back to the same pattern I’m talking about. It is an emotional power play to get the “patient” of “The Treatment” to focus strictly on the now.

I’ve heard pundits on both sides explain with a snobbish tone how the facts and reasoning rest on their side. But politics is about a system whose changes hinge on relatively few, key moments. We vote for our leaders but once every few years. Given the difficulty of removing one from established power and the relatively long term gains from short term work, is it any real surprise that the most politically successful seem to be those who can create enough emotional charge to blind us from our reasoning and logic?

I have heard a phrase once that goes, “You can’t fool everyone all the time.” But in politics, you don’t have to fool people all the time. Just any time.

Job Hunt and Writing Women

A brief update today. My day is not as productive as I hoped. I needed a few moments to write this out as to help me focus.

On the job hunt, I’ve got a really good one tomorrow. It’s a phone interview plus an assessment test I have to take. My Java studying has not been successful as I had hoped. I study but screwed up an assessment test last week that really ruined my Friday.

I’m determined, however, to finish everything on my “to do” list this week. And it is a very long list. Some of it is day-to-day, including working out, writing and studying. I’ve added cooking at home to cut back on expenses and to eat better. Besides this, I also have a number of other chores that need doing, such as getting my passport and doing my taxes.

I made time to do some writing this week. Or rather, I’ve set aside five sections of my list with 1,000 words a piece. What’s made this new piece more difficult is that it is:

1) More political, focused on the issues of a kingdom.
2) Takes place in an Arabian fantasy theme.
3) The main character is a woman warrior.

Now, that last one throws me. Anyone who claims to know what is going on in a woman’s head is absolutely lying, even if they are another woman. They don’t want you to know. And many will tell you they don’t like the thought of someone to have “cracked the code” on the mind of women.

The Yoga Master 5000.

Robo-Ripley, rip!

So I ask, why bother? Don’t get in her head. Let her have her secrets and just look at the action, at what they do. Besides, what people do is what really defines them anyway.

For every awesome strong female lead, there are probably a handful of bad ones. It’s pretty hard to do a great action heroine, but I can still think of a few examples. Sigourney Weaver in Alien and Aliens certainly was. Sometimes, certain actresses do well in that strong support role, like Lena Headey who played Leonidas’ wife in 300.

I can list off bad heroines, but why bother? In scientific theory, one can learn more from mistakes and failed theories than one can from a theory that is proven correct. But in engineering it’s the other way around, as those successful theories are widened and improved upon, expanded and further uses and applications are found.

Considering that I’m drawing inspiration from games like Diablo and stories like Berserk and 1001 Arabian Nights, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not pioneering a new frontier. So I’d rather figure out a character that works drawn from successful and interesting heroine, rather than try to devise a new archetype.