Friday, February 28, 2014

Books: Not Just Brain Food

I learned to read when I was three. (I probably figured it out from Sesame Street.) According to my mother, I was in a butcher shop with her when I read the brand name off of the refrigerated display case. A woman next to us turned to my mother and asked, "Did you know your daughter can read?" No, my mom didn't know that, but she's had plenty of opportunity to watch me read ever since.

Books are good for teaching you lots of facts, and yes, I've spent free time reading textbooks and encyclopedias. But there's more to books than facts; there's also fiction, getting to know people who never existed who live in places that never were. One of the things I love most about fiction is experiencing life through someone else's eyes. Doing so can help you develop empathy for others. For example, I didn't know much, if anything, about gays/lesbians before reading Gossamer Axe, but that book raised my sympathy for them.

Book aren't just brain food; they can feed your heart and soul too.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

You Can't Copyright A Title...

...which is why I'm calling my next book "Star Wars Episode VII: Harry Potter And The Avengers."

I recently was checking to see if there were any new reviews for any of my books on Amazon -- that's the authorial equivalent of googling oneself -- and I came across this:

Which is a screenshot of a new series, made just for Amazon, called (of course) "The After."  It's a series by Chris Carter, the guy who did the X-Files a million years ago.

Which is bad news for a guy like me, who (a) did not do "X-Files", (b) doesn't have Amazon backing him financially, and (c) has a book called "the After."

(Note the lower-case "t" starting the book title when I write it.  That's the actual title of the book: the After.  But when I did the cover, Amazon wouldn't let me lowercase it probably because (as I only just realized now) I used all-caps in the title.)

My "After" is a 448-page book about a woman who dies and in her afterlife goes on a quest of sorts to try to leave and get back to life, helped by William Howard Taft and her young son.  Chris Carter's After is about

Eight strangers are thrown together by mysterious forces and must help each other survive in a violent world that defies explanation

Wikipedia also says it's post-apocalyptic.  Of course it is.

This is actually not the first time this has happened to me.  Back in 2007 or so, I wrote a serialized story about an astronaut drifting in space and thinking back on how he got there.  I posted that on a blog, and then later put it into a book, publishing it on Amazon on April 5, 2009.

I called that story "Eclipse":

Because, you know, science, plus it had to do with the sun plus there's a whole actual reason in reading the book that you come to realize why it's called "Eclipse" etc. the point is that when I first started writing Eclipse in 2007, I didn't know that someone called "Stephanie Meyers" would in 2009 publish this:


Copyrights -- which protect your intellectual property the very moment you publish them (so putting a story onto the Internet grants it copyright status immediately, and you don't necessarily want to pay to register it, but that's for another posts) -- don't protect titles, slogans, or short phrases.  That doesn't necessarily mean you can copyright your book using popular slogans, either -- you can't say "It's the real thing" because slogans, logos, and the like are subject to trademarks, not copyright.

So why don't you want to simply call your book "Breaking The Walking Dead Bad By Neil Gaiman"?

Three reasons, two sort of obvious, one not.

First, calling your book something that seems an obvious bid for publicity, page rank, or sales figures might backfire with readers and with internet companies.  Google, for example, used to (and might still) punish pages that tried to game the system by removing them from search results; retailers might do the same, or readers might simply decide that your book is more marketing stunt than real book.  I read once, for example, a (non-spec fic) book called

but I was more drawn by that subtitle than the title, and I'm not sure that trick would work on other books. (I also don't remember really anything about the book, other than I think it was about a librarian?) (That lack of memory, too, is probably unrelated to the title.)

Reason two is that readers who are drawn to your book by the title might be more than turned-off by finding out that it's not what it purported to be.  If you really were to call your book "Star Wars Episode VII: Harry Potter And The Avengers," and it had nothing to do with those things, either readers would read the book description and not buy it at all, or (assuming you lied in the book description) would be angry when they found out your book is in fact about a scuba diver who falls in love with a mermaid, but isn't accepted into her world because merpeople don't believe that humans exist and if his love ever confesses to her family what's happened they'll think she's crazy (COPYRIGHT ME, 2014), I'm pretty sure the beauty of your story and it's inverted expectations will be lost on those readers who wanted more lightsabers and/or Hulk.

Reason Three is more subtle but possibly the most important.  If you go to Amazon right now and search simply for "the After" or "Eclipse," you won't find my book anywhere on the first page of results.  The same thing happens with Google.  And probably every search engine.

This is not that big of a problem, as it's unlikely that I will find readers by them randomly searching for a title they don't know exists, which is to say: if you are looking for a book of mine, you probably already know the title and won't end up being confused.  But it does mean that people who hear about my book might have more trouble than usual finding it, and that's not good.  Why have my book buried behind a bunch of other similarly-named books?

My past naivete shows by what I assumed would happen when the "Eclipse" name-doubling occurred: I figured people googling "Eclipse" would come across my book, too, but I quickly learned that search results don't work that way.

(A better way to have your book found is to use good keywords, advertise a lot, and, as I'll discuss in an upcoming article in the magazine, pay Amazon a lot of money.)

In the end, the title of your book counts for a lot; in this month's magazine (our first issue!) I'll have an article that talks about how your title impacts your book sales (so watch this blog for information about that issue, coming out March 1), and this is yet another thing to think about: does your title come too close to another title? Is it likely to be mirrored by another title in the future, because it's so common?

I know, I know: like you needed ANOTHER thing to worry about.

Briane Pagel did actually write "the After" and "Eclipse," which have nothing to do with the apocalypse and/or sparkly vampires.  Find them here, on Amazon.  He also wrote a series of 250-word stories each called Skyfall, after Andrew Leon complained that the James Bond movie of the same title had nothing to do with the title.  You can find those here.  He's currently working on a set of stories expressly titled after sci-fi classics, the first of which is called The Thinking Man's Blade Runner, because the only thing worse than cribbing someone else's title is to do that and then imply your story is smarter.  Find that story here. He is a contributing writer not just here but at Inky, which publishes unique, compelling short stories and essays.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What I Learned From Reading

It's tempting to say, "Well, of course, I learned everything from reading," but that wouldn't really be true. I didn't learn to walk by reading, and I didn't learn to play kickball by reading, and, really, I didn't learn most of the stuff I did as a kid from reading. But there are some significant things I did learn from reading.

For example, I learned to read by reading. And I see some of you looking at me funny, now, but just give me a moment. See, there was this book that my mom used to read to me when I was a kid. It was some kind of counting book, and, no, I don't remember the name of it, but I did, at the time, memorize it. So, one day, I was sitting there on my bed, and I was looking at the book and reciting it as I turned the pages, and I had an epiphany: the words I was saying matched the words in the book. I remember very clearly working out that first sentence and matching the words and remembering them. I was three or, maybe, just turned four. But I figured out the reading thing by sitting down and doing it and was a pretty advanced reader by the time I started kindergarten.

Also, I learned to question things from reading. Granted, I did have some help from a couple of really excellent teachers with that, but "The Lottery," by Shirley Jackson, had a huge influence on me in that regard. There was an almost tangible realization that those in authority over us could tell us to do bad things, and I learned that "why?" is a powerful word.

So, yeah, I could talk about all sorts of things like that and about facts and points of view and that I'm not the only one from planet Xenon (which is a story for another time), but, instead, I'll say the most significant thing I learned from reading is how to talk. And, yes, I could talk before I could read, so let me explain.

I am from the South. The deep South. I was born in Texas and grew up in Louisiana. People from the South speak in a particular way. I do not speak that way; I do not have a Southern accent. My family does. All my friends I grew up with do, but, somehow, I do not.

Of course, I didn't realize I lacked an accent until I was in college, but, hold on, we're not quite there, yet. When I was in high school, I was in a play; it was a melodrama, and I played a country sheriff. A country sheriff with an accent. The fact that I had to have a coach to help me speak my lines with a Southern accent should have been a clue to me that there was something going on, but I didn't clue in. I mean, no one had ever said anything to me about me talking differently, so I didn't notice that I did. This thing with the play was the first time anything about how I talked came up, but, I guess, everyone was just used to how I talked, so no one said, "Hey, why don't you have an accent?" so I didn't think about it.

One of my best friends in high school was born in Vietnam. He moved to Detroit when he was around seven and to Louisiana when he was in middle school. English being a second language for him, he had an accent. Not a Southern one. Yet. When we were in college, he and I took a road trip to visit his childhood friends in Detroit (and see some other parts of the US, but Detroit was the first stop). My friend was going to school in Texas (A&M) and had quickly picked up the distinctive Texas twang. Even I had noticed and had kidded him about it, because it was kind of amusing to hear his developing Texas accent over his Vietnamese accent. Anyway, we got up to Detroit and his friends were having a big party-ish thing for him, and they were making fun of his Texan thing when, kind of suddenly, they all turned on me (seriously, it was like six or seven of them at once) and said, "Where are you from?"

Theoretically, they knew where I was from. They knew my friend and I had gone to high school together and that we were both in college in Texas. They knew I was from the South. So I was like, "Texas..." And they said, "No, where did you grow up?" And I said, "Louisiana." And they said, "No, where were you born?" And I said, "Texas." And they said, "No, where did you live when you were a kid?" And I said, "Louisiana." And they did not believe me.

Basically, according to them, I had no accent. None of them could place where I was from, and I had to show them my driver's license for them to even believe I lived in the South, but I don't think any of them believed I grew up there. My friend had this Texas thing going after being there only about a year, but I had nothing. After we got back from the trip was the first time I noticed that the people I went to school with all had accents.

But I still didn't realize the extent to which I didn't have an accent. I mean, I still just sounded like me to me, and my family all sounded the same and all of that. It wasn't until my wife met my family that I discovered just how much I don't talk like them. My wife could barely understand them. Actually, she couldn't understand about 75% of what my brother said and kept having to ask me to translate. Needless to say, I found that quite amusing.

All of that to say that the only thing that set me apart when I was a kid, from everyone but, specifically, from my family (them being the biggest influence on me and all), was reading. Even when I was in elementary school and my highest priority was playing outside with my friends, I still spent hours every night reading. When I got to fifth grade and got transferred to another school for the gifted/talented program and had to ride the bus everyday, my reading increased and, again, in middle school where I tended to read myself through my classes. The only explanation I have for my lack of accent is that I read so much that I actually picked up my speech patterns from the books I read not from the people around me.

And that's what I learned from reading.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Star Wars in Me

Star Wars changed my life. I don't mean that in some metaphorical sense, either. Seeing Star Wars (because it was just Star Wars, then) at age seven was like discovering I had grown up inside of a little box thinking that that was the whole world and, suddenly, having the walls come down. Or, maybe, like seeing a movie in color for the first time if that movie was The Wizard of Oz. Everything seems normal, the same old black and white, until Dorothy wakes up in Oz and... color! I was captivated as soon as those words started scrolling up the screen.

I was so captivated that I wouldn't go to the bathroom. And I really had to go to the bathroom. The urge hit before they got off of Tatooine, so I was sitting there "holding it" through nearly the entire movie. And there were so many people there and so much crowding trying to get out when the movie was over that my grandmother (yes, my grandmother took me to see Star Wars the first time I saw it (she was unimpressed as far as I remember)) couldn't hear me telling her I needed to go. And, then, there were my parents there to pick us up, and, still, no one was listening to me saying I needed to pee. Not until we got all of the way out of the mall that the theater was in, and, I have to say, there are no bathrooms on parking lots (but, maybe, that should be a thing?), and I couldn't wait till we got home even though home wasn't that far away, and I was told to go behind the trash dumpster. Which did not make me think of tentacle monsters at all. Actually, it didn't, but I kind of wish it had.

Anyway, the world was not the same when I came out of that theater as it had been when I went in, despite the fact that the need to "go potty" hadn't somehow ceased to exist.

I was the kid that knew more about Star Wars than anyone else. I had more of the toys. I had books and magazines about Star Wars. Factual stuff, I mean, not just the slew of Han Solo-inspired novels of the early 80s. If anyone had a question, I was the guy to ask, and, if you were having an argument with someone, I was the one that could settle it. That's mostly never changed, although I don't keep up with all of the Expanded Universe stuff the way I used to, and, sometimes, my boys will come up with something that I have no clue about. Because, you know, now they have all of those books about Star Wars that I had when I was a kid plus a whole lot more, but I haven't read any of the new ones.

There's one thing, though, that I have always avoided, at least when it comes to Star Wars (and, well, pretty much everything, these days): spoilers. There was an event:
Not too long after Return of the Jedi came out, Lucas announced that he was not going ahead with the prequels as he'd intended. Instead, he was getting a divorce. Not by his choice. At any rate, it took the hyper out of his drive, and he decided that he'd been doing only Star Wars for a decade and he needed a break. Somewhere in reading about this (I think I was standing at the magazine rack in an Eckerd Drug Store), I read that Lucas had said something about a duel between Kenobi and Vader that resulted in Vader falling into a pool of lava (on a volcano planet) which caused his disfigurement. I was not more than 14 at the time, but I remember feeling very strongly, "I don't want to know this."

And, yet, that one thing stuck in my head for the next 20+ years until I saw it on the screen in Revenge of the Sith. However, in all other matters with the prequels, I stayed away from spoilers as much as possible. I quit visiting the Star Wars sites I frequented prior to the announcement of the prequels specifically to avoid spoilers. And, more than anything else, I did not imagine how I thought things would be or engage in talk with people about that stuff. I think, more than anything else, that that is why I've never had any issues with the prequels. I just didn't have any preconceived notions about how I thought things ought to be. Disappointment is the only thing that can result from that.

And that's how I'm approaching Episode VII, too. Not that I think there's anything wrong with what we've been doing this week on Indie Writers Monthly, but I know that if I start trying to come up with what I think should happen that I'll get invested in that and there lies The Road of Disappointment. I'm already scared enough of J. J. Abrams and his red matter, so I don't need to add any of my own expectations into that mix.

However, I do love Briane's scene on the bridge. That felt very Star Wars to me.

Episode VII: A Real Fake Movie!

A few weeks back on his Scouring Monk blog, Tony Laplume posted his idea for Star Wars Episode VII.  Eventually I got thinking that might be a fun creative writing exercise.  I decided to see what I could come up with.  Obviously it's not going to bear much resemblance to whatever they do put on the screen, but that's not the idea.  The idea was to use my own creativity--or lack thereof.

I decided to take what I consider a fairly realistic approach.  I also decided to incorporate a few parameters:
  • Use the old characters, but sparingly
  • The "Expanded Universe" is no longer canon, but I can cherry pick things from it to use
  • Approach this like a real movie, so we need some action set pieces, particularly a space battle and lightsaber fight
  • Avoid too many cutesy and/or racist characters
  • Finally thanks to the prequels the whole Star Wars series became about Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader.  The prequels detail his fall and the original trilogy his redemption.  What could come after that?  I figured that would have to be repairing what he's destroyed, which would fall to his children.

So here we go with what I tentatively call Episode VII:  Darkness Rises (The little numbers you see throughout are footnotes.)

It's 25 years after the defeat of the Empire and the Republic is back in power.  On the planet Corellia1, 18-year-old Ben Antilles lives a relatively mundane life with his father Wedge2 but like Luke Skywalker he dreams of more.  They have an argument about him joining the Republic fleet or whatever and Ben goes off to mope.

When he comes home the place is shot up and his father is dying on the floor.  Before he dies, Wedge gives his son a hologram disk and urges him to hurry up and get out of there.  But Ben is too late!  He runs headlong into his father's killer, a badass bounty hunter who basically looks like a cross between Boba Fett and Darth Vader3.  There's a chase through the city before Ben narrowly escapes.

Eventually he doubles back to where his father kept his old X-wing fighter from the war.  It has a generic astromech droid that comes with it.  Ben takes off and goes a ways until he has to stop somewhere for fuel4.  While there, he finally has the droid play the message.  On it his father reveals he's not really Ben's father.  It turns out Ben's real name is Ben Skywalker, but when he was young, his mother was killed by an anti-Jedi assassin and so Luke decided to do what Ben Kenobi had done and give the kid away to his old friend to keep safe somewhere out of the way5.  The message says that since by now Wedge must be dead, Ben should go to Coruscant and look up his aunt Leia Organa-Solo, who can help to keep him safe.

Ben ends up landing in a rough neighborhood of Coruscant.  He runs afoul of some of the local wildlife, but is saved by a girl about his age.  She reveals that her name is Jaina Solo6.  Jaina takes Ben to the much nicer neighborhood where her parents retired to after helping to rebuild the Republic.  First they meet C3PO, who's basically the butler these days, who then wakes up Han and Leia.

They talk the whole thing over and Leia tells her nephew he's welcome to stay while they clear things up.  Ben doesn't want to just sit on his ass, but in the end acquiesces--or seems to.  With only 3PO to watch them, Ben and Jaina easily sneak out to do some sleuthing on their own.  They go to the archives or something to try to figure out what happened to Ben's parents.  Apparently after his wife died, Luke decided he needed to go search the galaxy for other potential Jedi to make sure the flame wasn't extinguished if someone got to him.  There's not much solid to go on.  As the kids wander around, they don't realize they're being watched by Darth Fett!

Meanwhile, Han and Leia (mostly Leia) meet with the latest president to enlist the Republic's aid.  The guy promises he'll do everything he can to help them find Wedge's killer and the great Luke Skywalker.  Outside, both Han and Leia are uneasy--something about the guy seems off.  In his office a short time later, the president contacts an unseen superior to give a progress report.  He assures his master all loose ends will be wrapped up soon.

That night Ben awakens from a bad dream.  Jaina tries to comfort him, but then Darth Fett smashes into the place!  With the help of Han, Leia, and Chewie they drive Darth Fett off.  But now they have to hit the road again, so they all pile into the Falcon, which miraculously still works7.

They head to some rocky planet where Lando is running a mining operation.  They enlist Lando's contacts to find some information on who's trying to kill them, but there's nothing.  That night, Ben hears a voice claiming to be his father luring him away from the others.  It's of course a trap by Darth Fett.  Jaina's been following along, so she watches the Fett man take Ben away and then goes to get her parents.

Where they're going isn't much of a secret when an Imperial Star Destroyer shows up in orbit.  Ben is taken aboard while the ship plans to level the planet from orbit to wipe out any loose ends.  The Falcon and whatever local defenses Lando can scrounge together go up to engage the Star Destroyer and its fighters while Jaina is dispatched in a small ship to escape the Star Destroyer's jamming and call for help.  There's some fancy flying involved, but eventually she's able to get out part of a message before her ship is damaged.  Will it be enough?8

Meanwhile, Ben is taken to a cell in the brig to wait to be delivered to the Empire or whoever.  While in there, he hears another voice, this one different than the one that lured him out.  A short time later, the door to his cell is sliced open by a lightsaber!  There's an old guy in a brown robe there who claims he's there to rescue Ben.  Since the other option is to stay in the cell for possible torture, away he goes with the stranger!9

Meanwhile the space battle continues to rage.  While Han and Leia might like to go look for their daughter's ship, there's no opportunity.  On board the Star Destroyer, Ben and the stranger make it to the hangar, but of course Darth Fett is there to meet them!  [Cue "Duel of the Fates"]  The stranger and Darth Fett begin to fight.

The battle is going poorly for the good guys, until help arrives!  Ackbar and a flotilla of Republic ships are there to save the day.  Han and Leia find their daughter, who's none the worse for wear.

Meanwhile, Darth Fett is wearing the stranger down.  He finally gets the stranger down and is poised to strike, but Ben suddenly yanks the stranger's fallen lightsaber off the floor and with his mind uses it to cut off Darth Fett's lightsaber arm.  In the commotion, Ben hurries the stranger into a shuttle to escape.  They manage to get away just before the Star Destroyer goes into lightspeed to escape the Republic ships.

Everyone reunites on the ground and it's then Ben finally learns that the stranger is his father.  It's not a happy reunion at first.  Ben stomps off to be on his own until Jaina talks to him and helps him to understand his father just wanted to protect him from the kind of stuff that just happened.  Eventually Ben goes back to his father and they make up.  Then Luke tells him that he's found some others with Force ability and wants to take Ben back with him to Dagobah so he can learn to be a Jedi.  Ben somewhat reluctantly agrees.

A short time later, back on Coruscant, the president is in talks with his superior.  Things obviously didn't go how they wanted, but it's of no consequence.  Their plans are still on track.  Then we pull back to see the bad guy's superior is a blue-skinned alien with bright red eyes and wearing a white uniform.  That would be Grand Admiral Thrawn if you never read any of the Expanded Universe novels.10

Roll the fake credits!

Hurm, it probably would be better if I could involve characters like Chewie and R2D2 some more, but for the most part I think it achieves my objectives.  Maybe I can get them more involved with Episode VIII, wherein I also reveal that Darth Fett is really Ben's zombified mom, Mara Jade.  "No, I am your mother..."  Nooooo!  That's not true...that's impossible!

Anyway, my ambitions are probably a lot smaller than a movie studio's and obviously influenced by the Timothy Zahn books of the 90s.  Which really if the actors were a little younger I'd wish they just adapted those first three books.  Alas that spaceship has already gone to lightspeed. 

1:  Tatooine is so played out by now
2:  Nod to my brother who's always liked Wedge
3:  How awesome would Boba Fett with a red lightsaber be?!  No disintegrations, just decapitations!
4:  Among other things...
5:  And unlike the prequels he actually changes the kid's last name so any idiot with the equivalent of Google can't find him!
6:  But she doesn't have a twin brother.  There's no room for extraneous characters in my fake movie!
7:  I'd leave it out, but it's tradition.
8:  Duh, it's a movie.
9:  Have you figured out who the stranger is yet?  It's like soooo difficult I know.
10:  This is what I mean by cherry picking the Expanded Universe.  No fake Star Wars sequel of mine would be complete without him!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

I Know the Title of the Next Star Wars Movie!

We are supposed to, I believe, discuss our plans for the newest Star Wars movie that Disney is producing. You know, if we had the power to do such a thing. Of course, Patton Oswalt has already cornered the market on the ultimate SW sequel (see vid below, please, it's an outake from one of his appearances on my favorite sitcom, Parks and Recreation, where he uses his filibuster time to wax eloquent about SW Ep VII - except the vid below is ANIMATED!). 

Briane and Sandra have already done theirs, I’ve read PT’s, and so know where he is going with his take.  

I think Andrew has decided not to participate. I think due to his close and personal relationship with the parties involved, but don’t quote me on that. 

No, this take, is my own. So I present for you, the perfect SW movie.

Please, dim the lights first.

Episode VII

A Party At Chewie’s Hut
A False Beacon
A General Alarm
The Sith of Venice
The Sith of Venus
The Sith of Vesuvius
The Sith of Pelo Tamor
A Broken Vow
A Howl of Descent
Weekend at Bernie’s Chewie’s

Jesbus! This is hard. I’ll leave the title alone for the moment. So let’s all stick a pin in that, and remember to come back to it later. 

In my version, the opening shot is…


Um, something where a ship, er… crashes?

Yes, it’s a crashed ship. A recently leveled up Luke Skywalker crawls out, he finds Han, young, handsome Han, and he himself has grown old, he realizes that he’s accidentally travelled BACK IN TIME to the period just prior to A New Hope. 


Yes, and Luke must now go on a Back to the Future sort of quest, to make sure that Vader doesn’t blow up Alderan before the Jedi Zombie defense gets enacted - it involves the corpse of the Emperor that they have to use, like in the Weekend at Bernie's, to convince him not to blow up the planet . Because there will be zombies. Probably. I don’t know. Somehow Kirk falls in love with Luke and they have babies, the end.*

Wait, what happened? 

You know what, I might not be the best idea man for this movie. But just in case JJ is reading this, I can elaborate on any points here that you’d like me to.

For a fee. Also, those titles above are mine, you can’t use them.

*For the insanely curious, here is a real back of the envelop blurb type idea for Ep VII:
Han and the gang have discovered that something more sinister than the emperor has been playing puppet master to the Rebels in order to overthrow the empire. Now, with the imperial forces in disarray, and the rebel forces much to weak to fight a another war, a new evil rises.

Because Padme had TRIPLETS!

That's the new title! Triple Play

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Top Ten List of Things/People Who Should be in the Next Star Wars Movie

We've been challenged (again!) this week to share our thoughts as to what should be in the next Star Wars movie. Although I've seen the movies and read a few books, it's been a long time since I've done either, and I'm not sure anymore what's canon and what isn't. Also, I'm not going to write scenes as Briane did so well, because, of course, who can follow Briane? So, instead, here's my Top Ten List of Things/People Who Should be in the Next Star Wars Movie:

10. A new villain/villains: Specifically, I propose they create a race of energy beings that can counter the Force, or even feed on the Force's energy. Let's call them Chlordivores for now. Perhaps they can even possess flesh-and-blood beings in pursuit of their goal. I think such a race will shake up the Jedis and give them a real challenge.

9. Ghosts of Jedis: Have a scene where Yoda, Obi-wan, and even Darth Vader (still a much more impressive name than "Anakinn") battle the Chlordivores.

8. Betty White as a Jedi mentor:

(I have no idea who originally created this image, which I found on Pinterest.)

7. New weapons: Sure, the lightsaber is awesome, but will they work on these energy beings? How about a weapon that can drain energy from the Chlordivores? Alternatively, we need a way to trap them.

Then again, something like this would be cool too:

6. New planets: For starters, maybe they should design planets that have more than one type of climate. As for what I'd like to see, perhaps settings underwater, or worlds sustained by UV light instead of the visible spectrum. The latter might be hard to film since it would be so dark, but maybe you could use bioluminesence as a light source.

5. New aliens/artificial life forms: I won't go into designing these here; I need to save some ideas for my own work.

4. Characters from the first six movies: Luke, Leia, and Han are obvious choices, even if they're older. R2-D2 and C3PO as well should come along for the ride.

3. The next generation: I remember reading in Timothy Zahn's books that Han and Leia had twins; I think they were a boy and a girl. What are they up to now? What are their skills? And did Luke ever have kids? Gotta pass on those midichlorians, after all.

2. The family black sheep: Maybe one of the kids has no talent for the Force, or maybe he/she wants to do something else with his/her life, something the older generation might disapprove of--until it turns out this talent or skill is the only way to defeat the Chlordivores. I want a protagonist who's complex enough to develop over a movie or three.

1. More named female characters: It's about time this franchise tries to pass the Bechdel test.

What do you want to see in the next Star Wars trilogy?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Star Wars: Episode VII. (Selected Scenes)

PT thought it'd be cool if we all wrote our own ideas for what Star Wars: Episode VII should be.

PT was right. Here's mine.

SCENE: Interior starship, looking down a boarding ramp.  The ramp leads onto a desert landscape that is empty but for dunes in the distance.  All is quiet, at first, but we hear a rising sound, slowly growing louder.  As the sound swells we realize it is voices, screaming and yelling, and from offscreen a woman [UKENA ARTON] strides into view, her back to the camera.  As she arrives at the top of the boarding ramp a gigantic crowd of people, thousands, comes over the top of the dune.

UKENA [speaking into commlink on shoulder]: ...said we've got only 35 more minutes before the corona reaches us and this planet really is charcoal and BANTHA FODDER LOOK AT THEM ALL.

Monday, February 17, 2014

RE Branding

On my old blog I once posted about how back in the heady days of 2012 I split my literary empire into 4 pieces.  I created 3 pseudonyms that didn't have my name in them at all.  The idea was that certain types of books would go to each author and then I'd have other, more recent books under my own name.

Now I've decided to bring some of these books back in from the cold to put them under the warm, solid roof of the P.T. Dilloway brand.  (Attention:  Sarcasm overload!)  Basically it occurred to me that it would be better for the books and my sales if these were under my name, where they might be found easier.  Because unless you go out there and promote your pseudonym (or reveal your real name behind the pseudonym ala JK Rowling) it's hard for anyone to know your books exist.  Whereas if they're under my name then on the off chance someone downloads Chance of a Lifetime or Girl Power or whatever for free, maybe they'll want to read more of my books and click on my name in Amazon and see some of these others.  Couldn't hurt, right?

The good thing is that with self-publishing it's somewhat easy to do that stuff.  You don't have to sue a publisher to get the rights back or anything like that.  The hard part is having to redo the covers and files to change the name.  The covers were especially tricky for me since I was like two computers removed from the one I made the originals on and I couldn't find some of the same graphics.  In some cases I think that was a good thing as I could find better graphics--at least to me.

Then of course I had to find all the files in Word--or just download them from Smashwords.  It seems fairly straightforward to change the name on the title page, but doing it like 10 times is kind of annoying.  Especially when you have to load that stuff back onto Smashwords, then Amazon and B&N.

Anyway, here's a little before and after:

The oldest books in my catalog I'm still using a pseudonym for because they aren't that well-written and thus I don't want them under my roof.  Let people think Eric Filler is a terrible writer instead of P.T. Dilloway!  (Though they probably think that about both.)

There's today's lesson in #branding for indie publishers.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

New stuff by authors we like.

Andrew's son Phillip Leon is still a kid but has outsized talent.  He's written the second of two short stories (at least the second of two that I am aware of), and it's good enough that I published it on lit.  It's a glimpse into what looks to be a pretty fascinating, and unique, sci-fi world.

Here's the beginning of the story:

The Language of Nythos
by Phillip Leon

Dampness. Darkness. Silence. Silence most, above anything else. The great tree rose above Leo, tall and strong, silence radiating from it. Towering above him as though threatening to squash him with its might. A long, broken branch leaned close to the ground. With a deep breath, Leo slowly climbed up the branch.


Friday, February 14, 2014

My Boyfriend Destroyed the Earth! As a Valentine's Present!

This week, we're all trying to put up a short, Valentine's related story on the blog. I was flummoxed as to what I could possibly put up. Because this is not my best topic. But when I read Briane Pagel's hand written story early in the week... I fell in love with it, and decided it would be awesome to tell the same story from the POV of the object of the mad doctor's affections.

I wanted to do it all in the style that Briane did his, but time got away from me. So I had to write the story on this post, then sketch out a few quick scenes in the 20 minutes or so I had before I just had to go to bed. As always, grandiose plans, shoddy execution.

Regardless, I've got what I got. If you want context, please go read his story first. Then come back to this one. Enjoy.


IF YOU'VE FOUND THIS NOTEBOOK and you aren’t a crazy mad-scientist that’s hell bent on turning me into your personal sex-slave, then have I got a story for you. I know why the world ended.

 Hi. My name’s Cindy. And this, is a story about a boy. It’s not every day that a girl meets a fella that has more doctorates than he’s had girlfriends. But, then again, not many people have met Dr. Awful.

And in case you’re curious, that isn’t a nickname, his actual name is Awful. He said his immigrant grandparents stepped off the ship upon arriving in America and took one look at the statue of liberty and were full of awe. Or, they were Awe-full. In their broken English, they’d decided to change their name to Awful. By the time they figured out what it meant, they’d already been given Social Security numbers, had jobs, lives, and decided not to worry about it.

 So, it was probably his destiny to destroy us all.

 When we met, he was standing in the park, hands in his pockets, and looking like someone just kicked his puppy. It was a warm, summer afternoon, and he had the faint smell of ozone about him. You know it, kind of that burnt rubber scent that makes you think there’s just been an electrical fire. He was staring at this device he had in front of him, sort of like an old fashioned moon-shining still and moon lander. As I approached, the smell grew stronger, I think it was embedded into the pores of his skin. It comes out of his sweat, like someone that’s eaten too much garlic.

 “Are you okay?” I asked.

 He didn’t look at me, but shrugged his shoulders without removing his hands from his pockets. “Just testing something. It didn’t work.”

 “That sucks.”

 He nodded.

“Better luck next time then,” I said. “Oh, you’ve got a valve lying in the grass, maybe it fell off.”

 He went from despair to elation as it dawned on them that he’d not manufactured a dud, he’d just not assembled it correctly. That time, that first time we met, I’ve played it over in my head a thousand times since then. He never saw me, not even one time. He looked at his feet, at his machine, at the sky. Not at me. It was odd, as he was odd. Strange man.

 A week later, I was at my office, I’m a sales woman for a small healthcare company that manufactures catheters. These are novel devices, as they are lubricated with a proprietary compound that is as close to frictionless as any that science has ever discovered. So slippery that the biggest difficulty was in making the compound not just slide right off the tubing of the device. You know, because it’s too slick to stay on the device.

 They figured it out. It works great, now you jam a fire hose from someone’s throat to their rectum and they’d not even feel it sliding down their esophagus. A real breakthrough.

 Seriously, doctors are impressed.

 So I was there, getting ready to leave the office to hit the road for the day and he was there, just outside the front entrance. Holding a bottle of perfume.

“Hello Cindy,” he said, “I’ve brought you a gift. My ‘thank you’ for rescuing me when we last met.”

Before I could respond, there was a cloud of something in the air. I whiffed, and suddenly, nothing really seemed to matter anymore. Except for him.

My stomach went aflutter and I saw Dr Awful for the very first time. Really saw him. And I loved him for it.

"I've given you something," he said, "something to make you love me."

"I love that you did that," I said.

And that's how it began. Little did either of us know that his homemade date rape drug only worked for a short time. Within days, I was questioning our relationship... within a week I was planning my escape.

I don't know what gave it away, I really don't. But he knew I was up to something. It was when he had me tied to a gurney that he told me he'd make me love him again. I wanted him to understand, to really understand, that he was a monster. So I told him, "Not if you were the last man on earth."

He backed away, shocked, hurt, so much so that he couldn't look at me.

And that's when I escaped. The man didn't even bother locking the door. He was working on something on the other side of the lab he wouldn't look in my direction. Seeing him so hurt, even if he was a monster, made me feel sorry for him. That it was so easy to get out of my restraints made me think he really didn't want me there against my will, or maybe it was because he believed I wouldn't leave him.

Despite myself, I cried as I ran. I dared a single look back as I fled. And I saw him, standing in the doorway of his lab, the door open, watching me run.

A week later he was outside my office again, blowing more perfume in my face. It didn't work this time.

A few weeks after that... things started getting weird. And the world started to go crazy. People were dying, so were animals, plants...

And me. I knew I would be dying soon too. So I began this journal. Just so you would know. It was my boyfriend. He's the one that killed us all. Because of me.

And.... I think I love him for it.

Valentine's Flash Fiction

Today's Valentine's Day, so here's a romantic flash fiction story that was part of the We Are Now collection from 2012.

Last Dance
I survived two tours in the Pacific, but I couldn’t survive the walk from the bus station.  I stepped off the curb on Flatbush, heard the screech of brakes, and turned to see the front grille of a Packard six inches away.  I didn’t even have time to scream before it hit me.
I ended up on the pavement.  I tried to move, but I couldn’t.  I could hardly breathe.  A fat guy knelt down in front of me.  He must have been the driver, because he said, “Oh shit, I’m sorry, buddy!  I didn’t see you!  Oh shit…”
Everything started to go dark.  With every ounce of strength I had left, I whispered her name.  “Emily.”
Then it all went dark.
Next thing I knew, I was in a white room.  The wallpaper, carpet, and even the chairs were all white.  The man on one of the chairs was decked out all in white too, right down to his beard.  He nodded to me.  “Hello, James.  I’ve been expecting you.”
“This is Heaven?”
“It’s more like the waiting room.  If you’ll just have a seat—”
“Hold on, pal, I can’t go to Purgatory or Heaven or none of that right now.  I got a date.”
“I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do.”
“Nothing you can do?  But you’re St. Peter, right?  You’re a big shot in the Bible.”
“Be that as it may—”
“Maybe you can take me to see the big man, then.  Could he send me back?”
“I’m afraid that’s not allowed, Mr. Cabot.”
I wished I still had my rifle on me.  “Listen, fella, I promised Emily I’d be there tonight.  She’s been waiting for this over a year now, you dig?”
I didn’t have my rifle, but I did have my wallet in my pocket.  I took out the picture of Emily I’d kept ever since I left for basic training.  Behind it was the letter she sent me after I told her I was coming home.  Her parents had booked the American Legion hall and invited all our friends and family for a big welcome home shindig.
Emily’s letter talked about how she was going to get a new dress made for the occasion.  “I want something special for our first dance,” she wrote.  We’d gotten married before my last deployment, but there hadn’t been time to do more than go to the justice of the peace before I had to ship out.  This was supposed to be the first time we’d get to dance together as husband and wife.
I showed the picture and letter to St. Peter and explained it all to him.  “You got to send me back.  Just for tonight.  I can’t let her down.  Please.”
St. Peter thought about it.  He looked at the picture again.  Then he nodded.  “I’ll make you a deal.  I can give you time for one dance.  Let’s say a half-hour.  Got it?”
“I got it.  Thanks, pal.  I owe you.”  I shook his hand to seal the deal.
The next thing I knew, I stood at the doors to the American Legion hall.  I could hear the band inside going full tilt.  I saw my uniform was all fixed up, not a trace of blood on it.  I caught my reflection in the glass and saw there wasn’t a scratch on me.  “Thanks, Pete.”
I couldn’t see her at first.  I had to fight my way through a sea of family and friends slapping me on the back and shaking my hand.  I mumbled my thanks to them while I looked around for Emily.  Finally I asked my dad, who pointed to the corner.  “She hasn’t moved all night.”
She wore a powder blue dress that matched her eyes.  Her red hair seemed to glow in the light.  This might not be Heaven but she looked like an angel.
 “What’s a pretty lady like you doing in the corner?” I asked.
“James!  You made it!” She leaped into my arms and kissed me again and again on the cheeks.  Then she finally pressed her lips to mine, something I’d looked forward to a lot of sweaty, lonely nights in the Pacific.
The band started into, “I’ll Be Seeing You.”  I’d heard that song a lot overseas and it always made me think of Emily.  Maybe Pete had put in a request for it.
“May I have this dance?”
She gave me that shy smile of hers, the one I’d fallen in love with.  “All right.”  Everyone backed away from the dance floor as we eased our way onto it.  Emily clung to me, her fingers digging into my back.  “I’m so glad you’re finally home.”
“Emily, I can’t stay.”
“But the war’s over.”
“I know.”
“Then what’s wrong?”
“In a few hours, the police will come to the house.  They’ll tell you I got hit by a car, that I’m dead.”
“Dead?  But you’re right here.”  Tears came to her eyes.  “I don’t understand.”
“After this song is over, I have to go.”  I ran a hand through her hair.  “You’ll be an old lady before I see you again.”
“James, no.  Please don’t go.”
“I’m sorry, honey.  I don’t have a choice.”  From the song, I knew I had only a minute left.  “Let’s enjoy what time we have left, all right?”
“All right.”  She clung to me even tighter and put her head on my shoulder.  We glided around the dance floor, but I didn’t see anyone else, only Emily.  As the music faded, we ended up in the center of the dance floor, kissing for all it was worth.
I felt my body start to tingle.  I didn’t have much time left.  “I’m sorry, honey,” I whispered.  “I got to go.”
“James, no—”
“I wish I could stay, kid, but I can’t.”  I tilted her chin up to look her in the eye.  “I’ll keep my dance card open for you.”
And then I was gone.