Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Quick Lesson On How To Not Like Something.

You know what I have zero interest in?


I'll probably never watch another zombie movie in my life.

You know what would be a rather silly direction to go with that particular feeling?

Something like: "No one should ever make another zombie movie ever again because now that I'm tired of zombies, everyone should be tired of zombies."

Dear internet: feel free to bookmark this post to reference later, should you be looking for a stopping point in your efforts to not like something.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

On the idea that Evil is more honest than Good

A while ago, I posted about clouds. And with that post about clouds, there was a quote from C S Lewis, a quote about how we're often led to believe that we should dismiss things that make us feel joy as being fluffy and sentimental, while negative experiences that make us feel unsettled or fearful or depressed are "the way things really are."

I want to talk about a related idea, which is this:

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Dragon and the Princess - A Counting Book - Now on Kickstarter!

Hey, folks!

So, Logan Uber, my brother-in-law, has a publishing company.  And recently he had good success with an alphabet book he published, S is for Ska: A Musical Alphabet Book by Geoff Munn, author of the comic Kiosk Life in Neutral.

The book had good success, so Logan wanted to see if he could repeat it with a counting book.  He recruited me to write the thing, and Mina Sanwald, an illustrator and animator out of New York, to draw the thing.  She's pretty awesome--she's worked with Bill Plympton and does a lot of work with Copic Markers-- I don't mean drawing, I mean stuff like how she's taken over the Copic marker twitter account this weekend to cover New York Comic Con.

Naturally, me being me, I wasn't going to turn in "One apple. Two dolphins" and call it a day.  I wanted this book to actually have a story.

But I also knew the book wasn't really going to be about the words--it was going to be about the art.  Logan actually got his start selling prints, and part of the goal of this project was to produce a lot of pictures that people would also want to buy to put on their wall.

The result was a lot of fun.  It was a lot like comic book writing in the sense that I was trying to create visuals that would be interesting, but not get so in-depth about the visuals that the artist just felt like they were drawing my picture.  In some ways, this project was about restraint.  Tell the story in few words, because it was really about the pictures and the counting, and evoke cool pictures, but leave enough to the artist that she could have fun with it.

You can get Mina's thoughts on the project here.

Because this is 2013, we're launching the project on Kickstarter.  You can get the eBook version for $5, and there are still some chances left to get the softcover and eBook bundle for $15.

Go check it out.  There's even a video where I talk about why I decided to go with a Dragon and a Princess and a couple other things.  There's sketches of the artwork and a bunch of other things to see.

Any support you can give by backing, linking, or sharing is super appreciated.

Check it out at

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Logical Fallacy of the Day

Logical fallacy of the day: "If someone doesn't agree with the way you want to solve a problem, they don't care about the problem."

Example: You work in the birth unit of a hospital, and you and a co worker realize that every night, rats are running around in the nursery. Some have even made it into the bassinets with the babies.

That evening, you discover that, to solve the problem, your co-worker is duct taping the babies to the ceiling to keep them away from the rats. 

"I don't think that's a good idea," you say.

His response: "So I guess you don't care if the rats eat the babies."

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Only Thing Wrong With Free Comic Book Day (And How To Fix It)

Free Comic Book Day is great.

If you haven't heard of it, it's a once a year celebration of all things comics, when a bunch of comic book stores give a way a bunch of free comic books.  And some comic book stores go all out, hosting massive events with costumes, comic book creators, and other fun stuff.  My local comic book shop, 4 Color Fantasies in Rancho Cucamonga, goes all out. Here's a video the amazing Kurk Kushin shot a few years back that will give you some idea:

Looks amazing, right? Bounce houses, free hot dogs, kids in costumes. They've even had "pro" style wrestling exhibitions. My kids almost always dress up, and deciding what to wear is a bigger deal than Halloween.

And Free Comic Book Day is doing its job--I've brought friends and family who otherwise hadn't set foot in a comic book shop, and gives the kids a gateway drug to the comics.

So there's no reason not to go. You should go. It's always the first Saturday in May, the day after the premiere of that year's first big comic book related blockbuster movie. Seriously, go here and find out where your local comic book shop is, and put it in your calendar today.

So if I'm telling you that you have to go, whats the problem?

The problem is that the books aren't really free. Not to the comic book shop. Or to the publishers. And that means there have to be realistic limitations on how many comics each person can actually take. And that can be disappointing.

Go here and you can see all the comics that are supposed to be available this year. As of this writing, there are 52 comics that are available. They cost the comic book store owner around 12 cents to 50 cents per copy. So if the shop were to get everybody all 52 issues, that would be at least 10 bucks a person. For a shop getting a couple thousand vistors, like 4 Color, that would mean at least $20,000 in costs that day. Add in the free hot dogs, bounce house rental, the cost to fly in the visiting talent--yeah, you just can't give everybody everything.

There's an article about the difficulties FCBD costs can have for shop owners here.

I've seen every possible way of handling this by comic book shops.

One shop in Riverside limits to two per customer, with a rule of "I get to pick one and you can pick the other." In some ways this is silly--since "the one I I get to pick" is always the same book, a family of four, like mine, leaves the shop with four identical copies of one title, which does not actually increase his chances by four times that my family will end up buying that title. It just means he missed an opportunity to market us a few different titles with free copies of another book.

Other shops just put a limit of, say, five books per person, and I consider that pretty reasonable. It's all "while supplies last" so if the 500 people who came before you all got the copy of the Star Wars comic you wanted, you're going to have to settle for something else. I mean, since I'm being given the comics for free, I have absolutely zero right to say I'm being given free stuff wrong.

(And that goes for the guy in Riverside, too. I honestly should just shut up and say thank you.)

Now, obviously, not all 52 of those comics are going to appeal to everybody. But there are a few, shall we say, crazy people who are going to want nearly all of them.

Yes, I fall into this category.

Some comic book shops have found ways to take advantage of this to good effect. For example, 4 Color teamed up with a G.I.Joe cosplay group call the Cobra 3rd Nightwatch last year to host a Free Comic Book Day blood drive, and everybody who donated got to get "all" the comics as a reward. In this case, "All" just meant one of every comic on the table when you finished your donation which, isn't really "All." (Again, I hope I don't sound like I'm complaining about this. This is the best Free Comic Book Day offer I know about in SoCal, and I hope they do it again this year.)

There should be a way for folks who want to "try" all the comics to be able to "try" all the comics. And it shouldn't have to cost the retailers extra.

So what's my idea?

The Free Comic Book Day website should sell the free comic books to the public.

Not "sell" in the traditional, charge full price sense. But it should cost a little more than it costs the retailers.

And it should be treated exactly like it's treated with the retailers.

Say a teacher wants to get 30 Smurfs comics to give as "presents" to their kids. Let them buy 30 if they pay 20 or so cents an issue plus shipping.

Say a parent wants to throw comics in to all the presents he gives away at all the parties his kids get invited to. Let him buy 50 issues at 25 cents a pop, plus shipping.

And if some crazy guy wants to try them all, let him order all 52 for like $25 plus shipping.

The publishers get what they want--more books in more hands, and at less risk. These books were specifically asked for, unlike the books that some retailers get stuck with, which can sit in boxes at the retailer's location because nobody wanted them, even though the publisher printed them at a loss.

More people get to try more comics, and, if they like them, more comics get sold.

In this case, the "shipping and handling" would have to be bumped up a little to include some money to pay for the boxes, labels, and some temps to fill the boxes. But that's the nature of "Shipping and Handling" anyway. (Actually, in most cases, Shipping and Handling also includes the cost of manufacturing the product.)

So give it some thought, comic book world. Let's get more comics out there and more kids reading them.

Because, in the end, that means more kids reading at all.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

More Great News!

I have more great news!

You're probably sick of seeing people who disagree with you here on the internet.

Well, guess what?  Now, thanks to anti-bullying measures, you can do something about it!

All you have to do is label the person who you're opposed to as either hateful or a bully.  Then, you can go rally up a bunch of people who hate that person and go try to intimidate them off the internet through threats and name calling!

I know, you were worried that with anti-bullying sentiment, that kind of stuff would be frowned upon.  But don't worry!  It's actually totally okay, as long as you're doing it in the name of anti-bullying sentiment.

Which is a big relief for everybody.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Well, It's Been A Long Time Coming . . .

Well, I know this has been a long wait, but I have good news!

As of 3:40 pm this afternoon, we officially reached the point where, as a society, it is completely acceptable to completely extrapolate every single attribute of a person based solely on one viewpoint we may have heard that they have.

Prior to 3:40 pm this afternoon, there was one hold out--an old guy who still thought that people are kind of complicated, and that, just because you know one opinion a person holds doesn't even mean you really know why they hold that opinion, let alone what other opinions they might hold--but he died of a heart attack suffered trying to shovel his own driveway out from the snow. We are now officially in the clear.

So get to labeling people, jumping to conclusions, painting swaths of people with one brush, and neatly categorizing people as "good" and "bad."  There's nobody left to have a problem with it!

And if they do, they're just intolerant spam-for-brains who hate baby dolphins.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

On Right and Wrong

Not everything is a moral issue.

It absolutely not a matter of right and wrong whether that girl with the long, pretty hair wears her hair up or down, for example.

If you make everything that is slightly different than what you would have done out to be a crime, you are, in fact, being evil.

Because while not everything is a moral issue, this is.

Friday, March 16, 2012

How to be a "Wise Reader"

So, your friend who's dying to become a writer has shoved a manuscript in your hand and asked you to read it for them.  How hard can that be, right?  You've done this a lot before.  You've done it in school, you love to read books in your free time.  And you're very opinionated.

Well, reading for an author who wants feedback is a little different than reading for fun or reading for school. When there were writing assignments in school, there were basically two things that people did with your writing after they got done with it.

1. They edited it.  They looked for grammar mistakes, run-on sentences, typos, misspellings, and other errors.  They marked each of these with a red pen.

2. They graded it.  On a scale of A-F, they said whether it was good or bad.

What you are now is different from both of those.  You have become what Orson Scott Card calls a "Wise Reader" and your job is unique.  It's something that nobody in school cares about.

 It's about what you, as a reader experienced while you were reading the story.

Nobody ever cared about that, right?  Nobody ever cared what you felt at the end of Where the Red Fern Grows.  If you were confused in the middle of A Midsummer Night's Dream, that was your problem.  Nobody cared if you found that one chapter of The Scarlett Letter so boring you could scream. 

Well, guess what?  Somebody cares now.  See, your friend wants to be a writer, which means they want to create certain experiences for their readers.  And so what they need, more than anything, is someone who can tell them what it was like to read their story.  What the experience is like right now.

Think of yourself as the first test-passenger on a roller coaster.  You get to come back and say how it felt as you went through each part.  Were the loops too intense?  Were the straightaways too slow?  What was it like?

This means you don't have to worry about finding your friend's typos or grammatical mistakes.  It might be, after getting feedback, the writer is going to decide to cut out the whole scene the grammatical mistakes are in, or combine it with another scene, or do something else all together.  So don't worry about it.

It also means you don't have to worry about telling your friend how to write the story.  There's no need to tell them what to do to fix any problems you have with it.  That's their job--they're the writer, let them figure it out.  Besides, the best you can do is tell them how you would have written the story, not what the "right" way to write it is.  The writer is going to figure out what the "right" way for them is, so let them sweat that.

So all you have to do is let them know what it was like for you to read their story. Laura Christensen has a great blog post on alpha reading here.  She sums up the things you should be thinking about really well.  (I particularly like what she describes as "Impact.")

Author Orson Scott Card  has a similar list, which he sums up in three questions that you're looking for.  As a wise reader, you're looking for when you're asking yourself:

"Huh?" This is when you're confused. Something doesn't make sense.  It might be because you don't understand something about the crazy sci-fi world your friend has created.  Or it might be because you just can't picture what's happening the way your friend described it.  You want to let your friend know anywhere that you kind of lost track of things.

"Oh yeah?"  This is for when the book is straining believability.  All books require some suspension of disbelief in order to work--they're all made up, after all--but this is for when something was a smidge too unbelievable.  Maybe the hero has been shot six times and hasn't fallen down yet.  Or maybe it's that a side character has acted a certain way all through the book, and now they're doing something that seems totally unlike what you've come to think they'd do.  Or maybe your male friend's female characters aren't coming across like women.  Any time something is kicking you out of the story, thinking, "The world isn't really like that," you're doing your friend a favor to let them know.

"So what?"  Who cares?  I'm bored.  I can come back to this later.  These are moments your friend needs to know about.  If you ever find your mind wandering, mark that place in the manuscript.  Even if it's just that you put the story down to go get some food, unless you carried it with you there's a good chance that might be a signal things are slow, and the writer needs to know.  This might be a single scene or it might be a whole sub-plot, but knowing when readers lose interest is gold for a writer.

Now, you might be worried at this point.  "What if my moments are the wrong moments?  What if I'm just bad at this?"

Well, here's the good news:  As Card points out in his book Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy, the Wise Reader is never wrong.  How can you be?  All you're sharing is what you felt and experienced when you were reading the story.  And there's no one on this planet who's more of an expert on that than you.

If you find your friend argues with you, or contradicts you, or tries to explain why that scene you thought was boring should have been interesting, then stop reading for them.  Or, stop being honest.  They're not really looking for help, they're just looking for affirmation.  So if you do read for them again, forget all this and just give them that.

On the flip side, don't take it personally if your friend does or does not make any changes based on things that you suggest.  It might be that other people read the story, too, and in the "vote" of readers, yours wasn't the winning opinion.  That doesn't make it wrong or invalid, and it doesn't lessen your friend's appreciation that you stuck up for your thoughts.  You remain awesome and brilliant and never wrong.

Just like writing, Wise Reading is a skill that develops over time.  At first, for me, I found that I was sometimes looking too intensely for the three questions.  I was just looking for anything I thought anyone might say, "Huh?," "So What?," or "Oh Yeah?" to, instead of being honest about whether I was having to ask those questions.  Other times, I worried too much about what the writer would think of me after reading my review, and that kept me from being honest enough to help.

However, in getting feedback from readers, I've come to realize that the kindest, most generous thing they could possibly do for me is be stone-cold honest even if it might hurt my feelings.  I need to know what I can improve, and having friends tell me is better than just getting a form rejection letter from a publisher.

Because what you're doing really is an act of charity.  Your friend is forever in your debt.  Exploit that for free food whenever you can.