Saturday, September 26, 2009

On Vacation - Because I Can

As of tomorrow, I will be on vacation, flying down to sunny Florida where the Mouse is in charge and Internet access runs about twenty bucks an hour. Naturally I won't be updating during that time, which I'd feel worse about if I'd ever gotten a regular update schedule going in the first place. If you are reading this, I hope you'll be willing to check back in a week or so, and thank you very much for your patience.

Where writing is concerned, I'm not optimistic. A theme park can be a marvelous wellspring of ideas, I'm sure, but it doesn't work as well when your wife is getting annoyed about the repeated stops to jot down notes. "But honey, how else am I going to remember what that man was screaming while Chip and Dale beat on him with the official Disney bats" is unlikely to pass muster.

No, I learned my lessons about note-jotting in Cooperstown. But I will be bringing the digital recorder, just in case.


Author's Log

Nothing to report but shame and failure. I'm bringing a notepad and pens along on vacation, though, to ensure more shame and failure.

Current Reading

I just picked up the first book in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series, Storm Front, to read during the R&R portions of next week. It's been a series I've been curious about for a long time but never got around to reading, but a review of the comic series adaptation in the latest Fantasy & Science Fiction finally pushed me over the edge. Once I get back, I'm going to owe Charles de Lint either a thank-you or a beating.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Blog Fail

Well shoot. Fifteen days gone by with no blogging, very little writing done, almost no sleep, and a brand new hole in the sofa courtesy of my Pembroke Welsh Corgi.

It's undeniably been a busy two weeks, but I've had plenty of time to unlock achievements in the Batman game, so that's not really an excuse. If I want publish something, I have to shift my priorities a few degrees away from video games and into editing. I've got at least three stories that are just begging for more time and effort.

On the plus side, I have gotten some quality daydreaming in during my commute, and I should be able to get a few good posts done in a short time once I actually put fingers to keyboard. Look out for some reviews of writing books in the not-too-distant future. Also a possible essay on health care: not because I want to write it, but because the whole thing gets me so (let's be charitable and say "passionate") that I don't think I have a choice.


Author's Log

I wrote about 500 words on the biology of elves, fairies, pixies, goblins, hobgoblins, and brownies. Nothing that's likely to see print, but useful background notes nonetheless.

Regarding submissions, my super-short story for Writer's Digest didn't make the top five. My short story pitch remains in limbo, where it's been for the past two months plus two weeks. Not entirely unexpected, but I'm looking forward to either a deadline for the full story (to shoot some adrenaline directly into my motivational glands) or a rejection (to end the freaking suspense already).

Current Reading

Still working my way through the Sookie Stackhouse novels, and currently on book four. Charlaine Harris really is getting better with each book. In addition to that, I reread Terry Pratchett's Going Postal and Making Money, two excellent books in the Discworld series that don't require a whole lot of background knowledge.

I also tracked down a copy of The Strain, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. In some respects it's a back-to-basics vampire novel, in that the bloodsuckers are unquestionably evil, undead monsters that have no problem eating their loved ones. In other respects, it's innovative: del Toro expands concepts he first tried out in Blade II into a unique, terrifying new breed of vampire. Honestly, I haven't seen vampires this interesting in fiction since Brian Lumley's Necroscope series.

Being the first book in a planned trilogy, the ending isn't entirely satisfactory, and some of the plot relies on characters making bad mistakes that they should be smart enough to avoid. But the prose is good, the vampires are scary, and the sense of impending doom only increases with every page. Recommended for fans of Harry Keogh and haters of Edward Cullen alike.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

An Independent Book on Politics?

First off, can I put a disclaimer here? I don't want to talk politics on this blog. I don't like getting my blood pressure up. I'm making an exception here for a book which represents something increasingly hard to find in the modern news.

What You Should Know About Politics... But Don't, by Jessamyn Conrad, calls itself "A nonpartisan guide to the issues". For the most part, it succeeds in this goal. The book opens with a chapter explaining how politics in America works, focusing on elections and the division of political parties (and the divisions within political parties). It also covers some ongoing controversies in elections, including voter fraud and gerrymandering.

Every remaining chapter in the book covers a single issue:

-Foreign Policy
-The Military
-Health Care
-The Environment
-Civil Liberties
-Culture Wars
-Socioeconomic Policy (Immigration)
-Homeland Security

Each chapter starts with a background on the issue, followed by a description of current debates on the subject. Arguments on both sides are presented in a dispassionate, fact-focused manner, identifying and describing positions one by one. None of the issues are described in depth, but each subject gets enough detail to form a basis for further research. The health care chapter, in particular, is an excellent introduction to the current debate, and should be considered a must-read.

The book was published in 2008, so there's a strong focus on the Bush administration debates. I thought this gave the book a slight lean to the left, but I may be projecting my own opinions onto the text.

Overall I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants an unbiased introduction to modern politics (and quickly, before the whole thing changes again). I'd also recommend it to people who suspect that CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News are lying to them, and always have been.

(Hrm... This probably could have been an Amazon review.)


Author's Log

Still early, but so far today I've dictated notes (maybe 15 minutes' worth) on a short story and my novel. Tonight I'll be revising my super-short story for the Writer's Digest competition and submitting it over the web.

Current Reading

Just finished reading Grey Seer, by C.L. Werner. This is a very "niche" book: It's set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe, and features the primary antagonist from the long-running Gotrek and Felix series in his own adventure. If you have any idea what all that means, this book comes highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Terrible Dictation

What follows is (mostly) raw dictation from my morning and afternoon commute. Consider yourself warned...

Today I’ll be attempting to write my blog via dictation. I have my tape recorder in my car, it is 6:29 a.m., I am currently driving to work, I am stuck in a red light, because that appears to be my fate in life. As per usual I can’t seem to catch a break in traffic, no surprise there, but it doesn’t matter, we are going to carry on!

The reason I am attempting to write this via dictation is that I spend about an hour commuting to work every day, so I have about two hours I could spend writing every day going to waste. There I am going to try the dictation system. This is a digital recorder from Olympus, makers of what I hope are very fine systems.

I decided to go with digital instead of tape in case by some chance I want to do a podcast later on in my career. Probably a pipe dream (especially judging by this audio quality), but if this works out who knows?

Note to self, midway through drive: Advantages of dictation I can drive while doing this without wrecking my car, always good to find out. This doesn’t seem too long so far, I can max out at about 40 minutes a drive, which is not too bad to listen to in the evening. I can hear myself on the dictation, with headphones it’ll probably be easier. I do need to speak up a little bit, but I don’t think there’s going to be any help for that. A better solution would probably be to move the tape recorder somewhere a little closer to my mouth.

The claim that I could hear the dictation was made based off of speech I recorded while stopped at a red light. While driving, engine noise killed most of that next six minutes of my recordings. Lesson learned: Hold the recorder close to your mouth, and stop every minute or so to mark your place, or suffer the terrible consequences.

And no, you’re not missing much of anything in those six minutes.

Finally, it’s pretty easy to pick this thing up and just make a quick random note anytime I want to which is excellent news because frankly that is exactly what I bought the damn thing for, and if it’ll work for at least a month I think it’ll pay for itself! (Metaphorically speaking: I don’t expect to make too much money off my writing until I get the damn novel out, and that looks a little less plausible every day... but we will persevere!)

Note to self: I’ve arrived at work only a little bit late, and I haven’t crashed my car, and I’ve recorded a fair amount of stuff to write about later this evening so I consider this a success. We’ll be trying a little bit more with actually writing some stories on my way home.

Note to self, starting back home: I am surprisingly nervous about diving back into this whole recording idea, especially when it comes to recording actual story. I guess there’s really no way to get over the whole “staring at the blank page” thing. Goal is going to be getting some of the Warhammer 40,000 fiction I’m working on and hopefully will be paid for at some point so I can get it into a workable state. I’m going to try and get some of the newer sections down on this recorder so I’ll have something to start with when I get home and get over that damn nervousness. So far it does not seem to be working. We will hope that situation improves.

Note to self: Try to keep track of what it is you’re babbling every couple of minutes, and remember to use the rewind feature to get past some of this crap.

Note: “Little kor’vesa” is a pretty good term to refer to gun drones. Try to find a place to use it.

This is going to be a hell of a lot rougher than I’m used to. Get ready.

Time flies when you’re recording stuff as you drive!

Had a pretty good run, but now traffic’s all jammed up on 50. Can’t say I’m surprised.

I think I’m falling in love with the sound of my own voice.

I have no idea how much of this I’ll actually be able to hear. A fair amount, actually, I was holding the mic close to my face this time around.

Note to self: Learn to press the stop button a little bit earlier than after you’ve been sitting there silently for a minute thinking of the next thing to say. If you need to think of the next thing to say, you can think of it while it’s not recording. Voice activation: Learn to use it.

There’s been some kind of damned accident on 50. There’s a helicopter in mid-air, expect this is a bad one.

I can stand to organize these recordings a little better... but I can’t be bothered.

Alright, taking it back a minute or two to when Boga was selecting a landing point...

Just realized that I’ve written a fair amount of this before, and I still have a draft to look over to make sure I’m not throwing out anything I want to keep.

Almost home, calling it a day for this recording session.

Final thoughts: Recording and dictating work, so far. The recorder seems to be really effective for getting stuff done while on the road. It is not necessarily the best means of revision, as I’m not really getting a hell of a lot done that I’d be proud to call finished cope without a second, third or even fourth draft. On the other hand, I’ve got a lot of new stuff to write so I might as well get it done.

I do seem to be able to get better details out of myself through speaking. I have to think about the way things look, how they sound, taste, smell, feel. I'm spewing out a lot of crap, but that's better than writing down just a little crap and having to spin new, good stuff out of nothing when revision time rolls around.

The actual dictation is less trouble than talking on a cell phone, so my driving hasn't suffered.

Overall I'm calling the first day a success. I got a lot of stuff down on tape, and we'll see how transcription works out.

Transcription took a little under an hour for everything above, which doesn't include any of the actual story I got down on tape, or anything that got lost in engine noise. I think the best way to proceed will be to do a few days or a week of recordings, then take the weekend to transcribe and tighten up whatever I come up with.

Sorry for the rough style. Trust me, the actual tapes were worse, although I got a kick out of hearing my frustrated past self venting into this little machine as some jerk cut him off, again...


Author's Log

I got at least fifteen minutes of workable recordings towards the Warhammer 40,000 story. Also, yesterday I drafted a 750 word short story for a contest that closes on Thursday. Today I made some tentative edits, and I'll be finishing it up for submission tomorrow.

Current Reading

One good political book that I think deserves its own post, which I'll be getting to soon.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Well, I seem to be getting focused on reviews here. Still, if I'm going to review a video game, it might as well be an awesome one.

Batman: Arkham Asylum has you play as Batman. The Joker has taken control of Arkham Asylum, and you have to beat your way through its inmates, make your way past the island's security measures, and stop the Joker from unleashing an army of madmen on Gotham City.

It's a simple premise for a Batman game, and it's almost perfectly executed. Picture this: Four thugs are patrolling a room with machine guns. A direct attack is suicide, so you use a grappling hook to perch on a gargoyle. As one of the thugs passes underneath, you swing down, drag him up, and leave him dangling from the gargoyle shouting for help. You find another perch as two of the other thugs run to investigate. That leaves the final thug isolated, so you glide through the air and execute a perfect kick to his head that leaves him cold.

By the time the remaining two thugs get there, you're back in the shadows. They're discussing what to do next in panic-stricken voices. You can see their mood, and they're terrified. You pull out a Batarang and get ready to go to town...

And that's maybe a minute of gameplay.

The voice actors and character designs are excellent. Mark Hamill in particular remains the perfect voice for the Joker; you hear a lot from him, but it never gets old.

Puzzles are challenging, but not cripplingly so. The Asylum is massive, but you'll generally be able to figure out exactly where you need to go to continue the game's story.

Arkham as an environment is gothic, brooding, slightly mysterious, and almost definitely haunted. Speaking of which, special mention goes to the Scarecrow sequences. When Batman gets dosed with fear gas, he experiences progressive hallucinations, causing the asylum to gradually twist into a hellish environment where Scarecrow himself takes on a godlike, nightmarish aspect. These hallucinations also explain Batman's origin about as well as any comic book or film ever has.

If you have an XBox 360 or a Playstation 3, I can't recommend this game enough.

Author's Log

Wrote about a page of character notes for the novel today, a stream of consciousness conversation with myself trying to figure out what job my main character should have. Nothing that's likely to ever see the light of day, but vital nonetheless.

Current Reading

Crooked Little Vein, by Warren Ellis - I'm enjoying this book, but it's completely insane, totally twisted, and I don't feel safe sleeping with it in the house. It's a whirlwind tour of the most depraved parts of the American subculture, which also manages to point out that the bits we think are normal aren't quite right either. Recommended for Gonzo fans and most sexual deviants.