My new short story, "Cuddly Furballs of Contentment" is available online, for free, right now, thanks to the fine folks at Interstellar Fiction.
Which means you now have something to do for the next twenty minutes.
Wednesday, May 01, 2013
My new short story, "Cuddly Furballs of Contentment" is available online, for free, right now, thanks to the fine folks at Interstellar Fiction.
Saturday, March 09, 2013
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.
Posted by Erik at 9:41 PM
Thursday, February 21, 2013
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.
Posted by Erik at 10:26 PM
Saturday, February 09, 2013
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.
Posted by Erik at 10:14 PM
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
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.
Posted by Erik at 4:12 AM
Friday, March 16, 2012
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.
Posted by Erik at 9:01 AM
Thursday, October 13, 2011
When you come across some poor, unfortunate rich person who seems to be very, very upset that they do not pay enough taxes, send them here. It's a link to the address where anyone can send extra money to the US Government. And, unlike regular tax payments, they even let you have a say in where the money gets used.
So give them this address. Then hang around, anxiously waiting to see whether or not they start filling out a check. Offer to help them. In fact, maybe instead of just giving them the address, we should hand out pre-addressed, stamped envelopes.
For the record, despondent, non-tax paying billionaires have not been stepping up. According to this article, the total of all voluntary gifts to the US Government in 2010 was a mere $316 million dollars, which wouldn't even show up as a blip on the federal budget.
And yet, it's not that billionaires aren't generous. According to this article, the 50 richest and highest donating people in the US, the so-called "Philanthropy 50," was $3.3 billion. And that much higher number is reportedly the lowest number in years--it's gotten as high as $50.7 billion, one year when Warren Buffet gave $36.1 billion to the Gates Foundation.
The nation as a whole gave away almost $291 billion last year, so again, less than 1% of that was deemed worth giving to any government organization.
It just seems to me that, when the billionaires or private individuals are deciding how their money could do the most good, they think of places outside of Washington DC to do the job.
Right? Wouldn't you? If you wanted to feed hungry kids, would you cut a check to the federal government or would you donate money or time to an organization like Harvesters?
Once upon a time, that was how we did it. We didn't expect the government to feed our poor--we recognized it was an act of charity, one that everybody should participate in, and we did it through private organizations. Go re-read A Christmas Carol, and see what means people are using to try to help the poor.
The current Occupy Wall Street crowd would have you believe that conservatives believe in keeping all the money for themselves, and exploiting them. This simply isn't true. Conservatives believe giving should be done by everybody, to anyone they want, and that the government will just mess it up. I think most Americans agree the government would just mess it up, which is why so few of their giving dollars go to the government.
But do Conservatives put their money where their mouth is? The book Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism makes the case they do. George Will pointed out some of the book's more surprising claims:
Although liberal families' incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household ($1,600 per year vs. $1,227).
I was actually shocked to find that, from a liberal perspective, this not only wasn't impressive, it was disappointing. That charities are not seen as organizations of compassion, but as the death throes of dying societies. Ralph Nader said, "A society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity." That's an absolutely mind-boggling statement to me. Let me see if I can explain why.
To me, and I would think to most people, charity is an act of mercy and compassion. It's recognizing that someone is in need, recognizing that I have more than enough for my real needs, and giving to them. It's both an act of gratitude for what I have and love for the other person. When I'm the receiver, it's humbling and a chance to be grateful and a chance to feel like I'm cared about.
Justice is about making sure people get what they "deserve." It's usually seen in context of punishment for wrongdoing, although it can also mean someone has earned a reward. In some ways, it's the opposite of mercy and charity. It just means everyone gets what they are deemed worthy of.
So never mind the crazy irony of taking away things someone has earned and calling it "justice." This so-called "just" society would actually be eliminating altruism and kindness from giving. It would simply be doing what it thought was "fair." Would we be giving to this person because of love? Or because of compassion? No, it's simply because they deserve it.
But at the same time, the money we take from the wealthy would be taken out of anger and vengeance, money they didn't deserve. Money that, inherently, they had taken immorally.
In other words, there is no obligation on me, as the recipient, to have to feel grateful any more. I'm merely being given what I was owed. I don't have to look on the person who I got this money or food from with any degree of appreciation that they figured out how to get it or that they saw fit to give it to me. I get to look at them as simply selfish for having tried to accumulate the money to begin with and relieved that someone finally took it away from them.
It's everything I know and understand about charity, everything I've experienced both in giving and receiving, being turned on its head.
I have had serious financial struggles. And I have been the recipient of kindness. Most of my furniture has been given to me. I have never bought a refrigerator in my life--I've always had people give me their refrigerators when they bought new ones. When I moved into my home, a virtual battalion of men from my church showed up and filled and emptied the moving van in a matter of minutes. When I was struggling with money in the face of medical debt and other issues, my church provided food and other assistance. It's one of the most humbling, gratitude-inducing things in life, to have someone else do things for you that you aren't owed or haven't earned.
In other words, there was nothing like being the recipient of charity to make you realize that you don't deserve it.
That's not to say we shouldn't do it. It just means we should do it in a way that always recognizes that it's precisely because it isn't deserved that it's so awesome, that it's precisely because it's an act of mercy, not justice, that it's an act of compassion and love.
Complaining about other people's behavior will not change your world nearly as quickly as changing your own.
Want to make a real difference?
Occupy Harvesters. Occupy Second Harvest. Occupy the Salvation Army. Occupy your kid's school. Occupy your local blood bank.
Far from being an inadequate salve on an unjust society, these are the places that a genuinely compassionate, giving, kind society are born.
Posted by Erik at 5:49 AM
Friday, April 29, 2011
All this talk about the birth certificate is so frustrating to me.
Listen, everyone who is mad that Obama "had" to show his birth certificate:
You know how you think it's all those right wing talk radio nuts who wanted him to show it? That they wouldn't shut up about it? How the President, in his speech, said people were talking about it instead of real issues?
I listen to a lot of right-wing talk radio.
No one, not one single radio talk show host who I've listened to in the past two years was an advocate of the birther theory. None of them. Not Michael Medved, not Hugh Hewitt, not Larry Elder. Not even--believe it or not--Rush Limbaugh. Not even--prepare to gasp--Glenn Beck. I barely even listen to Beck, but I heard his show the day before Obama surprised everyone with his birth certificate, and he was doing an extended segment making fun of people who believed that Obama was born somewhere other than Hawaii. I believe he (or someone else on the show) used the words, "I have enough documentation that I am more sure Obama was born in the United States than anyone here in this room with me."
Are there people (like Trump) who doubted, despite the evidence?
Sure. Just like there are people on the left who think, every single year, that we will suffer global environmental disaster in the next ten years. They've been saying that since I was in high school, and they're still saying it today.
That doesn't mean it's what most on the left think. It doesn't mean it's what the left wing pundits are saying.
And it certainly would be ridiculous to point at those people and say, "This is what everyone on the left thinks."
Obama had already proved he was born in the U.S. He didn't need to prove it more.
And even if he really, really felt the need to prove it, he could have had some undersecretary or flunky do the press conference, or, at most, just had the press secretary release it at the regular White House press briefing.
So remember my rule, adapted from a Dave Barry quote, regarding how to figure out the truth: It's usually the opposite of whatever the politician or corporation is going out of their way to convince you of. If Coke and Pepsi are spending tons of money to convince you that one will make you popular and the other will make you an outcast, it's probably all just fizzy sugar water.
And if the President won't shut up about his birth certificate and how he wishes people would stop talking about it so he can get back to the issues of the day, there are probably issues of the day he really, really doesn't want people talking about.
So can we give it a rest, for heaven's sake?
If you think you still need to talk about it, because you have to complain about the "huge masses" of people who were calling for it, you can relax. Not nearly as many people gave a rip as you think.
If you think you still need to talk about it because there's something still worth talking about, nothing I'm going to say is going to change your mind anyway, so I'm not really talking to you.
Posted by Erik at 9:15 PM
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Note: I wrote this article for a writer's group I'm in, but thought I'd share it here, too. Click the post title for the full text.
My 8 year old daughter made up a knock-knock joke a couple of weeks ago using some of her spelling words. It goes like this:
Emma: Knock Knock
You: Who's there?
Emma: (Very seriously) Never forget.
You: Never forget who?
Posted by Erik at 11:44 PM
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Text of the speech Lincoln gives:
The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.
What constitutes the bulwark of our liberty and independence? It is not our frowning embattlements, our bristling sea coasts. These are not our reliance against tyranny. Our reliance is in the love of liberty, which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands everywhere. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors.
At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? Shall we expect some trans-Atlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined could not, by force, take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point, then, is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, [that] if it ever reach us, it must spring [from] amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we [ourselves must] be [the] author[s] and finisher[s]. As a nation of free men, we must live through all time[s], or die by suicide.
Let reverence for the [law] be breathed by every American mother to the lisping babe that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in primers, [in] spelling-books, and almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay of all sexes and tongues and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly [at] its altars.
[And] let us strive to deserve, as far as mortals may, the continued care of Divine Providence, trusting that, in future national emergencies, He will not fail to provide us the instruments of safety and security.
Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.
Posted by Erik at 7:35 PM