Sunday, June 22, 2014

Interviewed by Paige

Been a slow month for me for blogging, and for that I apologize.  While I thought that being temporarily unemployed would mean more time for writing, it hasn't quite done that.  Instead, the stress of the job search and preparing to move and so on have done quite the opposite. 

That said, I'm pleased as heck to present you with an interview I just did for Paige's (ElectivelyPaige) blog.  No, I won't reproduce it here; there's no point having the exact same bits in the exact same order in two spots of the blogosphere. 

I will, however, be happy to linky:

Please, go read.  It's one of my better interviews, I think.  Paige asked some good, fun questions.


Monday, June 16, 2014

On Review

"Some of my favorite critiques of my work come from reviewers on Amazon dot com." - Mark Twain

I know, I've posted about this before, but it keeps coming up like deviled eggs that were left in the fridge for a day too long.

The topic: reviewing authors' work somewhere others can/will read it (like Amazon or Goodreads)

The short discussion: pretend like it's Nike and just do it.

The longer version: if you read something and enjoy it, the best thing you can do to thank that author is to take the time to write a review on sites such as Amazon or Goodreads.  I know, I haven't reviewed every single work I've read, either, but I've reviewed many of them.  I keep telling myself that I'm going to go back and do the deed for those I read way back in the past, but I think I'm kidding myself. Still, I make a point, these days, of reviewing what I finish reading.  With me, it's the Golden Rule. 

With me asking it of my readers, it's more a case of begging for the delectable help.

The biggest thing that kept me from reviewing works in the early days was, purely and simply, a myth propagated by reverse psychology.  Specifically, I always figured that I wouldn't want to receive anything but a 5 star rating (out of 5 stars), and if I were to give a review, I wouldn't want that author to think I was dissing them, and so I didn't wish to assign anything less than that.  Most works, frankly, don't deserve 5 out of 5 stars in a critical review, and so therefore I was stuck not reviewing most works.

It's a myth, I tell you.

Specifically, it's a myth that authors don't want to receive anything less than 5 stars.  Okay, some really don't, and I get that.  Many of us, though, react quite favorably to a well-written review of our work, 5 stars or no.  That's because many of us have read other works before, and we recognize that not everybody likes everything about every work--and further, we recognize that that's okay. 

Example:  I very recently found a fairly new review (um, yes, I used to check my reviews every single day, but though that's a perfectly normal habit for a new author, it's unhealthy as crap) on my prequel novella, Undercover Truths - Undercover Lies.  I whooped and hollered in joy at reading it.  Please look below to see why:

"The only reason for a four versus five stars is that I have this pet peeve about female characters that appear strong and independent but immediately fawn when an alpha male looks in their direction. Anyways, The first novella set the stage for the subsequent series. I liked how it set out the relationships of the key characters and provided some back story. The second novella is post technology and provides the transition of how Stacy became a God. I haven't read the series but am now intrigued to see how it all unfolds. The writing is clear... It moves the story along. The plot is clear... It doesn't keep the reader wondering. This author's work will certainly be on my list of future reads."

Now, lookit.  "OMFG it's only 4 stars instead of 5!  What a rotten review; this will ruin my ability to sell this book and make me stop authoring to go live in a van down by the river eating government cheese!" is what I'd've imagined would run through my head years ago.  You know what experience has taught me, though?  That's completely not what ran through my head when I read the review. 

I mean, 4 stars out of 5 is pretty good, for one thing.  But you see what else is in this review?  It details what the reader liked (clear writing, clear plot) and what she didn't like (my abuse of the main female character).  That kind of information is priceless for an author!  For a reader, too, incidentally--as a reader selecting books, these are precisely the kind of reviews I like to read.  But as an author, I want to send this reviewer a personalized thank-you note. 

It's awesome. 

Now, this reader didn't like the way I abused Stacy.  That's okay, really.  It's better than okay.  Fact is, what she's complaining about is precisely how I wanted it to be.  See the beauty?  The critical comment on this review means that I succeeded.  Yes, some people don't like that.  I get that it's her--and others'--pet peeve.  But in order to tell the story of how Stacy came to be the antagonist in--well, I won't ruin the plot--my books, that's how she needed to be.

So please, again, write reviews.  It's the kindest, bestest gift you can give an author, really, whether or not you put all five stars on it.


PS--no, Mark Twain didn't write the quote above.  I'm just seeing if you're paying attention.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Daddy's Day

"It is a wise child that knows its own father, and an unusual one that unreservedly approves of him." - Mark Twain

"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished in how much the old man had learned in seven years." - maybe Mark Twain, maybe not.


So, a dear friend posted to Facebook a very thoughtful comment about how "any male with functional gonads can be a father, only a full grown man can be a 'Daddy.'"  He'd lost his father at a young age, and I'd also lost my father at a young age, and so a discussion ensued.  Much of it centered on the distinction between "Daddy" and the other forms of fatherly address.

To him, "Daddy" is what fathers are, and I get that.  In my case, I lost my father after I was at that middle age where I'd asked him--to a mirthful reply, as I recall--whether I was old enough to switch from "Daddy" to "Dad." See, to me, it was a big deal to make the change.  A boy, I thought, calls his father "Daddy."  A young man calls his father "Dad," at least in the literature and the environment I was in at the time.  To me, it was my change, not his, that sparked the switch from the childhood "Daddy" to the youthful "Dad."

It was a milestone.

Similarly, as I read the many Facebook tributes to Fathers, Dads, and Daddies old, young, and no longer with us, I'm struck by the differences.  Some, like my afore-mentioned friend, lost fathers at a far-too-young age--four, in his case.  At that age, my Daddy was one very important thing to me. 

As I got older, though, Daddy, and then Dad, became more.  I got ten years more with my Dad than my friend did with his, and I can't imagine not having had the time to discuss, to learn, to grow.  Yes, with his illness it was some rocky times, but Dad was the one who taught me, with a simple banana, what it means to love.  He's the one who taught me not to jump at emotional arguments, but rather to examine all sides.  He taught me to canoe, and to swim, and to read the lay of terrain without ever needing a map.  He was a great Dad.

And then I remember my twenties with my Mom, how the relationship blossomed into one between two adults, and I wonder what that would have been like with Dad.  I read posts and see pictures of friends taking walks with fathers who made it to the autumn season of their lives, and I can't help but wonder what that would be like.

I'm not envious, not really.  I do hope they recognize how special the time they have with their parents is, though.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Philosophical Questions For Modern Warfighting: a Cadet's Nightmare, a Writer's Dream

So, a friend of mine from West Point (yay, Tom Deierlein!) posted to Facebook the other day--wait, this takes a second or two more of explanation.  Tom's a West Point classmate, and a veteran who served honorably, left the service, got called back, earned a Purple Heart in a horrible way, and now runs a company that helps veterans with businesses.  The guy, to my opinion, deserves the highest, goldest star a veteran can possibly earn, especially since I've read Stoneheart by Baer Charlton.  You need to read it, too.

No, really--if you're a veteran, or you know a veteran, or you care about veterans, and you haven't read Stoneheart, you absolutely need to do so.  Click my link above, buy a copy (which will help an independent author, and a veteran, immensely) and read it.  I teared up several times reading it, and you probably will too.

So anyway, back to the topic at hand.  At West Point, we learned a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff.  We learned to march, for example.  Yay, marching!  We learned to do X sport in our PE classes.  Yay, volleyball, lacrosse, and--um, aerobic dance!  We learned manners, and nutrition.  Yay, yeah, whatever.  We learned honor (and, as a Dean, I've mentioned several times that our honor code at West Point was enforceable largely because we spent many hours in honor training).  We learned gymnastics.  We learned military history, and that has been, believe it or not, more useful to me as a civilian than it was to me as a junior Army officer.

We learned about the ethics of warfare.  Granted, it was in a "PY" class--eww, philosophy--that started with a bunch of logical stuff, but we eventually rolled over into the questions of "what makes a war just?" and "what makes actions within a war just?"  And no, they're not the same questions. For example: was it just that we (the U.S.A.) were in Viet Nam?  Yes, I believe--stupid, it was, but just, it was, too, at least at first.  Given that, were all of our actions there just?  If you look at My Lai, then--well, no.

See what I mean?

So given that, my buddy Tom posted a link to ten questions that should be asked at West Point.  Generally, I like the questions.  Now, I'm not so sure about the questions needing to be asked at West Point; they're fairly philosophical, after all, and the responses will vary over time (as they will have since I was there, myself).

That said, if you're entering into service to our nation, you really should consider the ethical questions posed below.

  1. What is the difference between a terrorist and an insurgent?
  2. How do unmanned systems impact modern battlefields?
  3. Where are the human cognitive, psychological, physical limits with respect to combat?
  4. How does information (Big Data and You Tube) affect the conduct of war?
  5. How should we measure tactical effectiveness in counterinsurgency operations?
  6. How does seapower and airpower contribute to landpower?
  7. In what ways does strategic culture influence military operations?
  8. How does logistics impact military operations in expeditionary campaigns?
  9. What is the proper role for civilians in military operations?
  10. What does "victory" look like in modern war?

For future military leaders, the questions asked above are tough to answer.  For writers, on the other hand, these are a gold mine.  After all, conflict is a writer's baseline requirement.  It's like oxygen to a human.  You can't even exist unless you have oxygen, if you're the one, or conflict, if you're the other.

And what better source of conflict than the previous set of questions, eh?

Hope you enjoy!


Friday, June 6, 2014

Life is Like A Game: Minesweeper

As I sit here preparing for a Very Important Call, I find myself keeping my mind active but distracted from the stress of the moment by playing one of my old favorite distractions, Minesweeper.  It’s a game that has come as part of Microsoft Windows since at least the dark days of Win 3.1.  Or was it 3.11?  You know, it was the version that required you to edit the autoexec.bat file and--well, never mind. 

I like playing Minesweeper, is all.

As I play it, I find that it’s an effective metaphor for life, especially in light of the reading I’ve been doing lately.  I've gotten into a book titled The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday.  I won’t go too much into the book, itself, because frankly I think you need to read it directly instead of getting any sort of shorthand version from me.  Still, I’ll say that it’s a great book about how to conquer life's little challenges. 

Its main them is also not entirely different from arguments I’ve made in my blog, specifically about success as a writer.  My point, generally, is that most overnight successes aren’t.  Stephen King, for example, wrote about his path to success in On Writing, and it was anything but overnight.  He took years getting to where he is now.  Part of that time requirement, of course, was the simple act of building up the chops that have now propelled him to his rightful place among the most-recognized authors of all time, and part was perhaps luck, and part was just--oh, I don’t know, the way of life.  Regardless, it sure wasn’t overnight.

Have you played minesweeper?  I started way back when, on my first real desk job after I left the Army.  That’s why I know it was there prior to Windows 95; this was a couple of years before Windows 95 existed.  And while I’m on the subject--remember how Windows 3.1 sucked?  It had all sorts of glitches and stuff you couldn’t do, and if you managed to move a window completely off of the screen it was nine quarts of hell trying to get it back on the screen.  Then came Windows 95, and it sucked, too.  I remember there being a page in my Official Windows Curriculum book that discussed memory tuning, and in the Instructor’s manual a little note on the side said “Note: this doesn’t actually work.”  Hilarious stuff, that. 

So yeah, each version of Windows has had its problems.  Generally Microsoft has made it better, but that’s truly debatable with some versions (don’t get me started on Vista).  And yet Bill Gates has been--what?  Oh, right, an overnight success; just ask any of the kids who’ve grown up with Windows as their primary operating systems.

Back to minesweeper--I started way back when, and I quickly got tired of the Beginner and Intermediate levels and went on to Expert level.  It's a grid of tiles, 16 high by 30 wide, under which 99 mines are hidden.  Click on a tile without a mine and you’re good.  Click on a tile with a mine, and you’re dead, game over, done. 

Simple game, right?  And yay, it has hints.  Each time you click on a tile without a mine, it turns up a number that identifies how many mines it is adjacent to.  Yay!  Easy now, right? 


The numbers are, at first, quite a mystery.  You see a tile with a 1 on it, and you think, “well, that’s not a lot of help.  There are eight tiles beside it, and one of those has a mine.”  Then you see a tile with a 4, or a 6, on it, and you think that’s even less help. 

As you start to play, though, you realize that in combination, the numbers on the tiles really are a great help.  Experience teaches you to recognize patterns--ferinstance, when there’s a string of 1s interrupted by a single 2, you know there are two mines, each next to the 1-tiles adjacent to the 2.  You mark those, and you move on. 

Experience, then, is key to the game.  Well, except when it’s not.  If experience were the key to the game all the time, by this point I would be winning every single stinkin’ one of them.  I don’t, though.  Why?  Because no matter how quickly I can do the pattern recognition required, there’s always a point where I just really have no idea where the next mine is.  I’ll have it narrowed down to one of two squares, or two of four, but I still have only a 50% chance of getting it right.

That’s where the similarity to life smacked me in the face.  No matter how much we already know about the patterns of our lives, there are still times when we really have no idea which tile to click on next.  We can do what most do--shrug and walk away.  Or we can risk it, and click on one. 

Then the mine goes boom and we lose.  Game over!

But you know what?  In minesweeper, as in life, losing isn’t permanent.  We start a new game, and though it can be a pain to go through again and clear the field, it’s something that the more we do it, the better we get at it.  And then we hit a mine again, and it sets us back, but that just means we start with a fresh field once more.

Sometimes it gets pretty dark, too.  I mean, most of the game you’re looking at strings of 1s, 2s, and 3s, knowing there are a few mines peppered among the adjacent squares.  Sometimes, though, you get a whole cluster of 4s and 5s, and ohmygodthemines!  Funny thing about those spots, though, is that as dark as they seem, they’re usually the easiest to figure out when you look close enough.  Then, when you do have it figured out, there's no feeling like busting through that series of high numbers to find open field behind. 

Sometimes, too, I take a mental nap.  You know what I mean?  I'm just clicking along, and suddenly boom!  That, or I just plain miss the spot.  Then I clench my fists and say "but I knew that one was a mine!"  Doesn't matter; I clicked it, game over.  Show me someone who hasn't done that in Minesweeper, or, for that matter, in life.  I dare you.  So what do you do, stop playing and hang your head in shame?  Nah, you click the button to start over, right?

Eventually--and rarer than you’d expect for someone who’s been playing the game for twenty years--I win one.  Oh, what a moment for rejoicing that is, too.  And then I note the time it took to win that one and set off to win another one, only faster.

See? Life is like Minesweeper.

Have a great weekend, and here's hoping that all your tiles have numbers on them!