Thursday, July 28, 2011

I Cannot Cognitate

Everyone know what cognitive dissonance is? If you wanted, you could look up the real definition. I prefer to define it more philosophically than a dictionary would. I think of it like this: It’s the gift our brain gives us. It allows us to believe crazy things that we know aren’t true, but still lets us to think we’re being perfectly rational by believing them.

Wow. My definition sucks. Not only does it suck, it's most probably incorrect. Still, the universe is a weird place, and in order to survive, and even thrive in it, nothing says we have to understand it. So our mind allows us to believe contradictory things, it’s what makes a cult, after making a doomsday prediction that fails to materialize, grow in adherents after that failure is evident (a real phenomenon btw). 

The scary thing is that we all do it to a greater or lesser extent. Folks believe that science is a bunch of hogwash, but are blissfully unaware that playing angry birds on their smart phone is a miracle of quantum mechanics – well, that might have more to do with ignorance than anything, but still, the point stands.

So I’ve tried hard to identify this in my own life. What do I believe that contradicts other beliefs I have? I believe I’m the greatest writer of my generation - and at the same time a hack of unparalleled incompetence, and I don’t just vacillate between the two, I seem to hold both opinions simultaneously. But that isn't a very good example. When it comes to writing I am aware I'm a mess. 

Anyway, anyone else find that in their own lives? Are there any members of the flat earth society out there that also have circumnavigated the globe?

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Whole Month's Worth of Stuff - In One Post!

Wow. I have tried and failed at my last three attempts to post something. Not because I can’t figure out how to schedule posts (which I can’t, they say they’re scheduled – then they sit there as the scheduled time passes right on by), but because I cannot seem to write a post.

My mojo has left me.

I’m not saying I’ve got blogger’s block again, that never left me. No, instead, I’m saying that I can’t seem to write a coherent post. I’ll write them, read them, then delete them, deeming them unfit for humans to read. I’m finding this whole blogging business to be a big mess of confusion for me, and organizing my thoughts into a single, cohesive narrative is hard.  So I’ll just post a few notes.

On Writing

I think I’ve outlined a tentative plan for what I’m going to try to accomplish this summer on the writing front. I wrote quite a bit over the weekend and feel appropriately smug about that.  I can thank the heat for my burst of activity. It was too miserably hot to do yard work, which can take up a great deal of my weekends.

On Reading

I finished up Cindy Borgne’s Vallar, a fun read that I hope others check out. Then, quite by accident, I started reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I intended to read A Dance with Dragons but I was out and had some time to kill and had to thumb through my Kindle library on my phone. I’ve been building it up for a while now. I’ll see something I know I want to read go on sale and I’ll pick it up. If the big publishers ever catch wind of my buying habits once books get under $5 then watch out. I’ll be broke.

Anyway, I’m a third of the way through this new book and am committed to seeing this through. I like the premise. Now Jim Butcher’s Ghost Story comes out tomorrow. That means I’ll probably push back George R.R. Martin’s epic another week as a result. Oh well, I’ll just have to wait a bit longer to find out how much almond milk noble Tyrrion drinks over the course of 1000 pages or so.

Funny, I remember when I used to read science fiction exclusively. If I saw this reading list of mine as recently as a year ago I would have flogged myself for it.


I’m still having thoughts about self-pubbing something. If I can handle the formatting I think it may be two works set in the same universe that are shorter in length. A novelette and a longish short story. Combined I believe they’ll be between 20 - 30k words long. Hopefully folks won’t feel robbed if I ask them to hand over cash – who knows, if I can do it, I might throw in some artwork as well. We’ll see, my plans in this area are pretty nebulous. I have a strong inclination to send stuff out via more traditional places. But I think I can use the education this will offer. Especially if I plan on putting something novel length out there soon.

On the Weather

How hot was it last weekend? My dog, er, my larger dog, has a bell she rings when she wants to go outside. This weekend she got in the habit of ringing the bell, then once I opened the door she would stick her head out, put a single paw on our deck, and promptly decide it was too hot and back right up until she was inside again. I agreed with her. I also learned she can hold her pee for a really long time. Good girl.
Barking is awesome. You should try it.

The bad side is that she usually goes outside to bark at stuff, she discovered that she could now bark at everything from inside a cool, comfortable place. Our bay windows look out over the neighborhood so she has a great view of all the stuff that pisses her off. She barked at the mailman, the movers down the street, the ice cream truck, a cat, a dog, another dog, a bird, my neighbors, and at least half a dozen things I couldn’t figure out. On a side note, my dog barks really loud.


I’ve been thinking of putting a real photo of me as a profile pic. Everything I have online is a sketch, The one I’ve been using on blogger is also my Facebook profile. I have a Thor sketch I use on twitter, an Astronaut sketch on Goodreads, even a batman sketch as my work email avatar. So, the hidden face of Rusty may be revealed to the world soon. Everyone hold your collective breath.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Why I Don't Review Books... Plus, A Book Review!

You know, there was a time when I used to review books. What a royal waste of time that was. I stopped after reading a particular self-published book that I thought was a piece of garbage and ranted about how awful it was. I felt bad about it afterwards and made a sorta promise to either say something nice or nothing at all going forward. I mean, I write too. It takes guts and a thick skin to put your stuff out there for the world to judge. What if someone read my book and not only didn’t like, but actively went out there and called me hack. Ugh.

So, I try not to review books anymore. If I only say nice things about books then who would believe me if I never mentioned a book that I didn't like? I want to be an author, a published one, it feels like a conflict of interest for me to be judging the worth of something. Especially if I’m not too certain I can handle if it were my work being judged so harshly. However, sometimes something comes up and I want to just say a few words about it. I think I’ll try to refrain from reviewing books by folks I know, even nominally, and probably avoid most small press/indie authors altogether. But I feel like reviewing something from one of the big boys is fair game for now.

So, I’ve read Patrick Rothfuss’ books over the past couple of months. Is it possible for novels to annoy you and thrill you at the same time? I love the world, the story, and the characters. But I get that sinking feeling that the author is trying to drive a point home to me, the reader, and is almost mocking me for not being smarter.

The story of these books are essentially the life and times of the greatest Wizard to ever live, I guess. A legend that is spoken of with hushed awes by anyone who ever speaks of him at all. I guess it’s like the respect given to Voldemort – but if he were a good guy. Well, I guess that makes him more like Harry Potter.

In fact, I don’t think that’s a bad comparison, *spoiler alert* he’s an orphan. His young life after losing his parents is awful. He goes to a school of wizarding where he learns, often better than his professors, how to wield magic.  All while trying to discover why his parents were killed.

I get annoyed with the story though because a pattern starts to develop early on where he starts off poor and ignorant, then learns until he either becomes quite competent at something, or masters it altogether, falls ass first into money, then he gets swept away into a new environment or setting, becoming penniless and ignorant all over again. Rest assured, he'll build his way up to greatness again.

The ways that this pattern becomes annoying is that each segment is so detached from the previous, the books feel more like a series of loosely connected novellas moreso than true novels. At times I wondered why in the world he wouldn't use the skills he developed in an earlier part of the book to help himself during latter portions when those skills could have been used to save himself from a lot of grief.

And eventually, I grew tired of it. Not so tired that I stopped reading, but tired enough that I as soon as he would wrap up some dilemma I would hope the remainder of the book was was going to focus on some of the larger story threads the author introduced. But no, just another adventure. There were too many coincidences in his life for me to fall hook line and sinker into the world of these books.

They’re good, I’d recommend them, but they aren’t perfect.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ebook Armagedden

Well, I’m glad that all that writing advice has been purged from my system. Good riddance. I do highly recommend everyone run out and listen to episode 177 of the Dead Robot Society podcast now – where they interview someone who has some really interesting things to say about the publishing industry – and by interesting I mean dead on scary. Seriously, I was unfamiliar with the person being interviewed, but I found some of the most chilling information I’ve ever heard being presented about agents and publishers.

So, I’m again evaluating how much effort I should be putting into being traditionally published. I think I’m going to take a manuscript from the closet and spend a month or two revising and editing to get it as publishable as I can and throw it out there and see how it goes. I have a decision to make as to what I want to put out there. I can maybe put out a couple of short stories, a novelette, a novella, or a choice of several novels in varying degrees of readiness.

I was thinking of putting together a few of my shorter works into a single volume and using that as a way to learn some of the nuts and bolts of putting something out there in the various e-formats for cheap while I see which novel I want to spend some time on before self-pubbing. I might still change my mind again about it all later, but for now I think that’s the path I’m going to try.

So as I peruse self-published novels on the Kindle, I can’t help but notice a pretty big disparity in pricing. I’ve seen the range from $14.99 for a beautifully crafted, yet homemade, e-book, all the way down to .99. Most in the $3 – $5 range. I’ve paid for, and read, self-published novels that were an editor’s worst nightmare and some that were brilliant – but those aren’t necessarily reflected by the price being charged.


If you have self-published, or are considering it, how do you decide the price point for an e-book?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Thing About Adverbs

In my last post, I made a snarky comment about the suckage of adverbs. Actually, I made mention of the fact that 87% of all writing advice on the internet boils down to not using them. A host of comments about said advice got me to thinking about why they're not so good. And then it hit me.

Adverbs suck because they are like nuclear energy, an answer to some problems, but also a weapon of mass destruction. Here, let me explain my thought by example.

Jimmy ran down the hallway.

Okay, in the previous sentence we learn something interesting about Jimmy, he was running. The sentence serves its purpose by conveying essential information about the character, namely that he is running. In a vacuum this is fine, but perhaps there is more going on here, you know, subtext. So, in the hands of our nameless author this becomes an opportunity to insert something subtle into the scene.

Jimmy ran plaintively down the hallway.

There, now it's all literary.Of course, the problem with something like that is I, the reader, have no idea what in the world to conjure up as a mental image now. What does plaintive running look like? I think the mythical writer is trying to be more descriptive, more precise, but instead, they confused matters. Adverbs, they may not suck in of themselves, but they really go a long way towards making things worse when used indiscriminately.

How should that sentence read? Well, I have no idea really. If I were to try my hand at writing a sentence that told that someone was sad, and running, then I would probably expand it into two sentences.Like this:

Jimmy tore down the hallway as fast as he could, his arms and legs pumping like pistons in a revving engine. He blinked back his tears and tried not to wonder if he was too late.

Granted, I've never been much of a wordsmith, and if I were to really try to improve on it I'd probably drop the simile altogether and maybe throw something else out there about his heart racing or something.

But the point is that single word, plaintively, sought to convey a lot of information but made things worse - probably have been better off if it were just nixed. If my melodramatic version was too much, then I'd rather just say 'he ran'. I'd rather be a bit too bland than over the top.

But like many powerful weapons, adverbs are enticing, and they hold so much power that it can be hard to resist. Then they blow up and you've irradiated your whole story. So, like gun safety, sometimes it's just easier to say to avoid them altogether instead of using them wisely.

That's my take anyway. Do with it what you will.
Adverbs again? Don't make me do more math.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Advanced Writing Tips

I write, but don’t like to write about writing too much. There are plenty of folk who actually know what they’re talking about that have tons of good advice, some that have a touch of bad advice, and an assorted few that, if you were to do what they say, might ruin you.

I think I’m more like the latter of the three.

I’ve seen so many lists of things to be avoided I couldn’t possibly count them all – but then I read a bestseller and I see almost all those ‘don’ts’ done over and over again by folks like George R.R. Martin, J.K. Rowling, Patrick Rothfuss - bestseller’s all - then it dawns on me; Those rules don’t really matter, well, they do, but not as much as we’d all like to think. I think I’ve figured out the big secret.

It’s all about the story. It trumps everything. Using cliché’d dialog can be annoying, characters that behave stupidly is infuriating. But of those three authors I mentioned above, all have moments that make me frustrated, in the case of Patrick Rothfuss, I find I roll my eyes a lot. But I keep reading. And so do lots of other folks. Why? Because they tell great stories.

But, I do read a lot of those helpful tips and have been collecting them mentally, trying to summarize the thousands of posts I’ve read over the course of my time on the internet, then I mixed them with my own personal wisdom and have finally summed them up into a few short do’s and don’ts.


Write something awesome


Write something awesome that contains adverbs. Adverbs cancel out awesome. It’s math. An exception can be made if you use awesome adverbs, but those are rare.

You can thank me later.

Well, who would have thunk? The math adds up, adverbs do suck

Monday, July 11, 2011

A few things came to mind today, nothing coherent, but instead a jumbled mess of random. So, here is post that is similar in spirit to how I feel at the moment.

Have I mentioned the weirdness that is Governor Tarkin (from Star Wars) and John Tyler, the former US president? Time travel? Perhaps. If I recall correctly, John Tyler was counted as an enemy of the U.S government later in life. Talk about partisan politics. If Peter Cushing, the actor who played Tarkin didn't have such a notable and public life, I would have suspected them to be the same person.

Actually, one of my favorite pastimes is trying to figure out who looks like who. My facebook page has a photo album dedicated to friends I think look like famous people. Don't know why I'm always doing that.

Also,  on occasion, my work email will get out to world at large by mistake. No harm done, but then I’ll get something that I just can’t make heads or tails of from time to time, like this:

I’m at a loss for words, truly. There is no context to put that email in. I got it, it made no sense. I just clipped an image of the end because it pretty much sums up the vibe I got from the whole thing. It's like that post I did a few weeks ago where I ran a phrase though a translator several times before posting it. Why would someone send me this?

Unfortunately, I’m also at a point in my life that I’m either going to have to break down and buy some fat clothes, or I’m going to have to lose weight… when is the right time to give in? I’ve been puttering around in my current clothes for the past year and every single pair of pants I own has lost its button, one pair has lost its zipper, and I’ve learned that if you try to fool the pants by having the button replaced so it offers more comfort to the ever growing wearer then it will look very strange, putting buttons on the very edge of the fly makes for an ugly look.

I hate Monday's. 

Oh well, off to have a pop tart sandwich and ask myself how I could possibly be gaining weight.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Who's the Smart Guy?

Are you smarter than a 5th grader? Are you sure?

There is a whole world of weird waiting behind the looking glass of measuring intelligence. And it's been on my mind lately. I'm not sure why, just has. I've been running low on post topics lately so I thought I'd yap about how smart we all are for a moment.

So,when we look at someones IQ results and say Tiffany has an IQ of 114, therefore she is smarter than Billy Bob, whose IQ is only 103, Right? Well, maybe.

Those of us with higher IQ’s probably hope so. It’s the one thing we can brag about. But there is some controversy about how well an IQ test works. I mean, does the test reveal how smart you are - or how much you've learned? There is a difference between the two.

I won’t get into the details much, but will only say that devising the tests are notoriously complicated and heavily debated. In the truest sense, modern IQ tests come from an attempt to determine how well kids were developing. If Timmy, my 10 year old wunderkind could score as well as a most 14 year olds in a standardized test, then he clearly was a little bit ahead in the game. Or, to put a label on Timmy, if he were a typical 10 year old, then we’d say his IQ was 100 – if he was as smart as a typical 14 year old, then his IQ was 140.

Tests like that worked pretty well, but then the parents wanted to know if their spouse was as dumb as they seemed and wanted a similar test for them too, and then things got weird. If you’re 29, but are as smart as a 35 year old, does that mean anything? No. So, welcome to the bell curve.

"Special" is on the far left and far right
I won’t get into the mathematical part of the bell curve because a) It’s complicated and b) it isn’t necessary… you just have to look at it to understand:

See, easy breezy. You’re IQ is an indicator of where you fit into the population at large, based on your test scores. The funny thing about it is, it’s just assumed that the population as a whole fits onto a bell curve just like the one pictured above. Whether we are talking about IQ scores, or foot speed, or how tall we are. People at the far left or right hand side of the curve are outliers, folks that are way smarter (or faster, taller, whatever) or dumber than the population as a whole.

So, then why is it I’ve never met a person who’s IQ is less than 120? Well, I think it’s for a couple of reasons. No one wants to brag about their IQ score if they’re looking at a 94. The other thing is that IQ scores that we see when we take a test… they aren’t really accurate. And they’re probably too high.

What? You mean that 167 you got on that online IQ test you took last month, right before they offered you exclusive membership to a high IQ society for $75 a year, might not be accurate? That’s a given. But even if we take a honest to goodness, real life, really hard, IQ test, and score a whopping 130 on it. That might not be your IQ.

Why? Because you have to fit on that bell curve. Not a lot of folks score a 130 – something like 1 out of 50 folks are that smart. If too many people are scoring high, then your IQ is ‘normalized’, which means your score might be 130 – but you really are a 122.


Anyway, the real reason any adult wants to know their IQ should be so they can look down on people that have lower scores than they do. So if you don't know yours then carve out a few minutes to take one online, then take your number, look it up on this chart so you can see how rare your intelligence is in the world. Then fell good about yourself.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Summer Movies: Part Deux!

Previously, I mentioned some of my Netflix movies I'd seen recently that were either flat out bizarre, or just so awful I feel like I could have hastened the Apocalypse just by watching them. But now I wanted to share a few gems I found hidden deep within the bowels of the Netflix colon.

And they're all Kung Fu movies. Awesome.

First, I know what you're thinking, of course they were awesome, they're Kung Fu. But I have to tell you that they're not all created equal. Some aren't so good.

Ip Man & Ip Man 2 stunned me with... well, they are kung fu movies, you do know what you're getting into with that, right?

These are based on the real life master of kung fu... Ip, I guess, I didn't bother to look anything up about him on the internet, as I learned all that was necessary by watching the movies. Essentially, he defeated the Japanese occupying forces in WWII and then moved to Hong Kong, where he then defeated all the Kung Fu masters there, and then the toughest British boxing champion in the world... and just to make it fair, he agreed to... well, I won't give it away.

Oh, then he decided to train Bruce Lee.

Okay, if you haven't seen a kung fu movie before you may not realize this, but typically, the heroes tend to be larger than life, so some of the exploits may get slightly exaggerated. Still, these movies do have heart. My wife watched them and really liked them.

The filmmakers do a good job of making an invincible hero vulnerable. He's too proud to beg, but hasn't the money to survive. He takes menial jobs and refuses help from those who could provide. He tolerates his wife bickering about how much time he spends kung fuing. These are very enjoyable movies. Please watch.

Moving on.

Next up is Chocolate, look, this movie isn't great, it isn't awful mind you, but it wasn't one of my favorites. What it did have though, is the best stunt choreography I've ever seen. I still don't know how they did some of the things they did in that movie.

Anyway, it's about an autistic girl who has a real gift for kung fu. Watch the clip and see some of the greatness for yourself.

Finally, I watched The Man from Nowhere. Holy cow. This isn't a kung fu movie per se, it's more of a revenge tale. But I really enjoyed it. The plot made sense, not perfect sense, but nothing that was so distracting that I was rolling my eyes. It's a story about a guy with a mysterious and troubled past that is doing his best avoid the world. But a little girl forces him to step up and be a hero. Damn good movie.

So, when you're tinkering around and looking for something actiony - you could do worse than some of these flicks.

Okay, I'll try to not talk about movies for a while.