Category Archives: What I’m Doin’

I’M GIVING AWAY FREE COPIES OF ALL MY BOOKS!

IF YOU WOULD LIKE A *FREE* COPY OF SOME OF MY BOOKS, they’re available at Smashwords.

I was gonna space this out over several days, but what the heck, these coupons have an expiration date on them, so let’s get it all out of the way at once

Just go here to find a copy of my book, “It’s Not Rocket Science.” All ya gotta do is go here https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/591078 and then use the coupon code VF97F when you’re purchasing it. “It’s just that easy!”

“The Care and Feeding of Nightmares” is my most recent collection, and I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. Go here https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/571923 and use the code NT98B

“Ice Cream and Venom” is my first collection of short stories. Go here https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/591073 and use this code VZ84U

“The Bones of an Angel” is another collection of short stories. Available here https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/591080 and the code is PM79U

“The Undead at War (And Other Stories)” is my most popular book. Just go here https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/591076 and here’s your code MJ37R Larry Niven even blurbed one of the stories in that book.

“After Conquest” is a novel I co-wrote. Go here https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/584212 and the coupon code is UW73B

There’s also a book of my poems and lyrics on there called “Everything is Something’s Food,” but I’d reccomend you all avoid that one. It’s pretty bad. No coupon for that one, it’s always free. I couldn’t actually take money from people for that one in good conscience ūüôā

If you have friends who you think might be interested in this stuff, please feel free to spread this information around.

Thank you for your consideration!

If you’ve been curious about my books, but didn’t want to shell out the cash, now’s your chance to check it out! If you didn’t know that I wrote, well, hey, what the heck, it’s free, right? Might as well check ’em out.

The only thing I ask is that if you do grab a copy of a book, and if you actually decide to read it/them, please post a review on Smashwords and/or Amazon (You don’t have to have purchased a book on Amazon to review it). I don’t even mind if it’s not a particularly glowing review, just please post something no matter how short.

I’m Giving Away Free Copies Of All My Books!

If you’ve been curious about my books, but didn’t want to shell out the cash, now’s your chance to check it out! If you didn’t know that I wrote, well, hey, what the heck, it’s free, right? Might as well check ’em out.

The only thing I ask is that if you do grab a copy of a book, and if you actually decide to read it/them, please post a review on Smashwords and/or Amazon (You don’t have to have purchased a book on Amazon to review it). I don’t even mind if it’s not a particularly glowing review, just please post something no matter how short.

What I’m Writing In 2017 (God Willing)

Good morning! Happy New Year.
 
After taking last year off from writing, I am officially working again as up about half an hour ago.
 
Some of you may recall my friend Jim Graham, who was the author of the “Scat” series surrounding the increasingly bizarre adventures of a 23rd century US Marine. If you don’t, the first couple books are currently free, so check ’em out.¬†
 
Anyway, he was about 80% of the way through the fourth book in the series, “Big Pharma.” Several months ago he told me he was dying of cancer, and asked me if I’d please finish the novel for him. I said, sure, obviously, and that was the last time we spoke before the end came.
 
Anyway, my friend’s book is the priority above any off my projects. I sat down this morning with a copy of the first book, (“Scat”) and started reading it. By the end of chapter 1 I had two full pages of notes.
 
Basically I think I’m going to re-read the entire series before I set pen to paper (“Finger to Keyboard?”) because I want to make sure I don’t introduce any continuity errors. I want it to follow his story, his style, his vision. I want it to be his book, not mine (Though I’ll gladly accept the “With Randall Schanze” co-credit on the cover that he promised me). Also, it’s British. I don’t want the novel to suddenly turn American. I want it to maintain the cadence and feel of something written by a Brit (Even if that does mean the American protagonist regularly says things like “Bugger” and “Sod off.”)
 
It’s a little daunting. Generally I write and that’s it. It pops out of my head. I write involving stuff I know, or stuff I just make up on the spot. Having to do a ton of research isn’t my normal style. I can do it, I will do it, but the length of time between me deciding to write one of my own stories, and actually starting on one of my stories is seldom more than a few hours. Here it’ll likely be a week or two, assuming real life doesn’t get in the way.
 
And I’ve still got no idea what the plot of “Big Pharma” is. I have the manuscript. I started to read it, but decided it needed to re-read everything from the beginning so I could be in proper context and mindset when I started.
 
Let me give you an idea what a great guy Jim was, though: As he was dying, he said that he had a pretty loyal core of fans who read all his books – moreso than me – and that he hoped my name on his project would increase *my* readership. No, really.
 
It’s an honor to be working on this.
 
In the larger scheme of things, I have several projects I’d also like to have finished this year, to make up for taking last year off. After Jim’s novel, I intend to finish my own longsuffering, way-too-ambitious novel, “The Fall of St. Grissom,” which I haven’t touched in more than two years. I’m going to be co-writing a sequel to “After Conquest,” I’ve got my obligatory annual book of short stories, and possibly a novel about my time in the very weird Accelerated Christian Education system in the 1970s.
 
Time permitting, I’d also like to revise my book of lyrics and poetry, “Everything is something’s food,” to be a little less sucky and a good deal longer, and re-issue that as a kind of second edition. I’m toying with the idea of a short book *about* the deservedly-forgotten series, “Man from Atlantis,” and I’ve toyed with the idea of putting out a book of grade-zed movie reviews, a’la “The Golden Turkey Awards,” which I thought might be fun.
 
We shall see.
 
Anyway, “Scat” and Jim come first. Check back here for progress reports. I’d like to thank my readers (I’m hesitant to claim I have fans) for their continued interest and their patience in 2016.

How I wrote a story about the tides and got labeled a Racist

Assuming there are any planets out there that are capable of supporting human life – which there probably aren’t – it’s unlikely they’re going to be like the endless array of Star Trek and Stargate planets, which all look like the west coast of the US and Canada. Or all those Dr. Who planets that look like a strip mine in Wessex.

I mean think of all the variations you can have in planets: heavier gravity, lighter gravity, bigger oceans, smaller oceans, no moons, one moon, two moons, five moons, a different colored sun, the amounts of inert gasses in the air, different lengths of day and night, and a jillion other things that could be different. Ever since I started reading Larry Niven’s “Known Space” stories as a kid, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of worlds that are only marginally habitable, or otherwise bizarre.

One of the questions that’s always interested me about this is what kind of psychological effect it would have on people, both the colonists and their kids. This is a subject that seems largely overlooked in the genre. Given that we evolved for a very specific set of environments, it didn’t seem to me like you could just turn that off and accept a¬†planet that looked like a Yes album cover, no matter how cool it might look.

I invented the planet “Gagarin.” It’s pretty similar to earth, but it’s got two moons. One is about the size of Mars, the other is about the size of our own moon. As a result the tides on Gagarin are insane – a minimum of six hundred feet – twice a day. Think about that: Mountain ranges become island chains, then go back to being mountain ranges twice a day. There’s even a tide in the air, with the pressure gradually going up and down several PSI in time with the tides. And off course there’s the local exotic stuff: plants that have hair instead of leaves, weird animals, that kind of stuff, not to mention a thing in the sky that is way huger than humans are used to expecting in the sky.

Stick with me here…

For colonists on Gagarin, I dropped rural American Southerners. There were also a good number of Russians and Chinese – also rural – but the overwhelming majority were Southerners. Why? Because Southerners were low-caste enough that no one on earth would really miss them or care if they died. Such is the way of colonists through much of history: “Let’s ship off the undesirables.” This was a one-way trip for the 750,000 people I dumped there.

Well, once they got to Gagarin there was an epidemic of suicides. It wasn’t that the place was uninhabitable. As long as you stayed well away from the waterline, it was actually more hospitable than earth. It was just that it was¬†strange. There’s a limit to how much people can adapt to, and how quickly. Food that doesn’t taste right, air that doesn’t smell right, not¬†bad mind you, just different. The sun is a little too small in the sky. The stars are different at night. There’s that bigass moon in the sky, feeling like it’s going to fall on you at any moment. Add to this that they had to leave family and friends and most of their stuff behind, and were living in tents, and, well, it’s a recipe for mass psychosis, right?

Which brings me to the point of the story:

My “Gagariners” were so homesick, so starved for¬†anything from their old lives, that they eventually chose the rebel flag as the symbol for their planetary government.

Well, duh, what else would you really expect a bunch of homesick rednecks to do, right?

This was not an uncontentious choice. Several people expressed extreme displeasure over it, but most people didn’t. In fact, even most of the Black people – who made up like a third of the colony – were on board with it, too.

“Why the hell would you do that?” you ask. Well, it wasn’t to be offensive. The very clear point of the story is to show how people can be sooooooooo far from home, both physically and emotionally, that they’ll cleave to¬†anything familiar. There are hundreds of examples of this: the terrified kid on the first day of preschool who won’t let go of the little scrap of paper his mom gave him, the terrified Jew in a death camp desperately holding on to a star of David, Buzz Aldrin holding a communion service on the moon (really!), you name it. It’s human nature to grab on to what’s familiar and hold on for all it’s worth, until you get used to your new surroundings.

Those embers from the fire are important. They help us hold our heads together. They keep the monsters away. Of course they’re almost always arbitrary, and their intrinsic meaning isn’t the important thing. The important thing is familiarity. The more unfamiliar your situation, the more anything familiar becomes desperately important, be that thing good or ill, well, if it’s a good symbol you chose, so much the better. If it’s a bad one, well, any port in a storm, right?

So that’s why I did it: Not to be offensive, but to show how people react under stress, or at least one way they can. ¬†I was pretty proud of the story. I thought it was well written, and it went in an interesting direction, and dealt with stuff seldom seen in Science Fiction. Not the best thing I ever wrote, but pretty good.

I’ve written a lot of stories, and I’ve deliberately pushed some boundaries with some of them. There are places I will not go, but to me SF is all about asking questions and dealing with the answers whether you like ’em or not. I didn’t consider this story to be controversial all. It’s very clear what’s going on, and why it happens. It’s also made very clear that this is not an objectively desirable choice, but it worked.

Of all the stories I’ve ever written, this is the only one to ever get me hate mail. I mean really vicious stuff. All of it, curiously, from white guys. I’m not saying “Hey, Black people are cool with the rebel flag.” I doubt they would be. I don’t really know or care what the color of my very few readers are. I did find it interesting that only white guys complained, though.

I don’t have a solid hypothesis as to why. I suspect that it’s because an issue can be so contentious that some people can’t look at it objectively. Even if the story clearly, objectively says one thing, they see the forbidden bit, and immediately take it to mean exactly the opposite.

I was pretty shocked by this. I’m not even remotely racist, and the thought of being labeled one really upset me. I thought about changing the story, but anything else I substituted for that damn flag lacked the punch to make it work. I thought about just pulling the story, but it’s a neat idea. Then I thought of what Harlan Ellison said (Paraphrasing) ‘when the story is published, it isn’t yours anymore. It belongs to the audience, and you can’t say ‘oh, I didn’t mean that’ or ‘just let me change this one bit’.’ I agree with that. I did it, it’s out there, and I’ll just take the consequences. ¬†Is that wise? Hell, I don’t know. Obviously I don’t know anything. I was just trying to tell an interesting story. Fortunately, I suppose, no one ever reads my books.

It is odd, however, that a person’s reactions can become so rigidly programmed that they can’t accept contradictory information. I’m not saying I’m better than these people. I’m sure I’ve got some symbol or thought that triggers me the same way. I just find it odd, is all, that out of all the offensive and weird crap I’ve written,¬†this comparatively trivial thing was what set people off.

But anyway, that’s the story of how I tried to write a story about really funky tides and ended up getting labeled a racist.

If you’d like to read the story and decide for yourself, and maybe discuss it with me, the story is called “The Cetian Sky”, and it’s included in this book here¬†https://www.amazon.com/Undead-War-Other-Stories-ebook/dp/B018Y1LRFS/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8 (Which, just to bring things full circle, contains a story that Larry Niven liked. Not this particular one, though)

 

Goodbye, Republibot (2008-2016)

Once upon a time two friends and I started a website called “Republibot.” There is a tendency among people on the far right, be it religious or political or both, to view Science Fiction as liberal, bad, and maybe even sinful. Our mandate was to show them that there was nothing to be afraid of, and that, just like most other good things in art, it’s open to everyone.

I don’t know how well that worked. Most of our readership ended up being Libertarian, with a lot of liberals, too. They liked us, though. A lot of our regular readers seemed to show up intending to make fun of us, then be rather shocked to discover that we weren’t name-calling or picking fights or plugging those dopey “Left Behind” books. Instead we were writing insightful, respectful articles, explaining complex concepts to people who probably hadn’t been exposed to them before, writing serious reviews, publishing original fiction, interviewing interesting people, and stuff like that.

I should mention that I’m not now, nor have I ever been, a Republican. I did pretend to be one on there, though I felt increasingly icky about it over time, and eventually dropped the pretense. The goal was a public service, though, not an agenda. We were just trying to show people “You don’t need to be afraid of this. Some of it might actually be good for you.”

So: Five years as head writer/editor, literally MILLIONS of words written, hours a day on it, and of course we never made a dime. We never got as much readership as then-small sites like Topless Robot and some others, which is weird because we were honestly doing better work. We lacked a budget and the media connections, I guess. I dunno.  Pretty much sums up my whole life right there: I beat my brains out trying to make something good, and end up with nothing to show for it, except maybe carpal tunnel and some depression.

I don’t know if I should go into the things that happened, but about three years ago I quit the site, and it was handed over to a new interim editor. Readership and content plummeted, which isn’t too surprising as the new editor was only keeping it running until a permanent replacement could be found. Time ground on, and not only was a replacement not found, but I don’t think the site owner was even looking. (As was repeatedly pointed out to me, I was only a hired gun. An unpaid hired gun at that). A year after I left I came back as a favor to the beleaguered new editor to contribute one guest column a week. I left at the end of that year.

They decided to ‘put the site in amber,’ so to speak. That is: they kept the content online – oh so much content – but didn’t allow new content, nor comments, nor anything else. I was, of course, disappointed. I’d spent so much of my life on that damn site, you know? I was one of the founders. I quit, but that didn’t mean I wanted it to fail. I wanted it to go on and be successful and have a life of its own, just without me having to do 90% of all the work. So: Disappointing, but at least all that stuff was still available, including the fun comments conversations.

A couple months ago, I noticed that the site was down. The site owner and I haven’t really spoken in two years, so I didn’t contact that person, but going through a third party I was told the owner was looking for a cheaper server and that the site would return. ¬†I doubted it, but it was possible.

Yesterday I noticed that the URL was up for sale.

It’s gone, it’s not coming back, and everything I did was for nothing.

Sigh.

http://www.republibot.com

 

 

The Cobra Emperor’s Brave Battle With Addiction

[Over breakfast]
Me: “Someone posted a meme on Facebook saying that Cobra was more racially diverse than the Republican party.”
Bey: “Cobra from GI Joe?”
Me: “Yeah. With the exception of Stormshadow, all of Cobra is white.”
Bey: “Cobra Commander is a lizard.”
Me: “Ok, wih the exception of Stormshadow and Cobra Commander, they’re all white.”
Bey: “What does Serpentor count as?”
Me: “A mean drunk?”
Bey: “No, I mean, he’s composed of the DNA of all these huge insane military leaders…”
Me: “And Eric the Red for some reason, who was none of those things. He just killed a guy in a bar fight, jumped town, discovered Greenla…”
Bey: “I know the story, Dad. Anyway, they’re all different races, so what does that make Serpentor?”
Me: “WHAT other races went in to making up Serepentor? The only one I can think of was Genghis Khan. So He’s slightly Asian.”
Bey: “No! Khan was the one they *couldn’t* get, remember? So they had to substitute DNA from Sargent Slaughter. So Serpentor is white.”

Me: So would their plan have worked if they’d gotten Genghis Khan?”
Bey: “I don’t think so. He wasn’t renowned for his patience.”
Me: “Yeah, but maybe there was some aspect of him that Mindbender needed for this big evil emperor goulash that he didn’t get, you know, like Khan would have been the salt in the soup, and Slaughter ended up being, like, sugar in the soup.”
Bey: “Ew. Maybe. Maybe he just offset other disabilities. Dude, just based on the number of Romans that went into making Serpentor, the guy must’ve been born with lead poisoning.”
Me: “Maybe Sargent Slaughter was a functional drunk? One of those guys who are kinda buzzed all the time, but can keep it together during business hours? It seems reasonable to assume most of his other ‘fathers’ were heavy drinker.”
Bey: “…and he didn’t have Slaughter’s ability just put that on the sheld.”
Me: “Exactly! So the episodes of the show we saw were all centering around his conflicts with the Joe team. What they didn’t show were the conflicts of his day-to-day struggles of coping with his alcoholism and anger issues.”
Bey: “Like ordering pizza!”
Me: [Laughing really hard]
Bey [Impersonating Serpentor’s voice]: “That’s right, I want two extra larges, with sausage and pepperoni and anchovies! And I want it in thirty minutes or less! THIS I COMMAND!”
[Now impersonating bored Dominos employee] “Serpentor, we’ve been through this before…”
[Serpentor’s voice again]: “Yes, I know it’s 3AM, and I’m on a tiny island in the middle of the gulf of Mexico and you’re hundreds of miles away. Your guarantee is thirty minutes or less! Now get it here. This I Command!”
[Employee]: “You tortured and killed our last delivery guy….”
[Serpentor]: “Because you failed to live up to your end of the bargain. Pray you do not disappoint me again.”
[Employee]: “The manager has informed me that you’re on our ‘no delivery’ list, at least until you give back Barry’s body. Sorry.”
[Serpentor]: “But you’re the closest one to my house! What am I supposed to do?”
[Employee]: “You’re the most powerful terrorist in the world, and you’ve got your own country. Don’t you have someone there who can make you pizza?”
[Serpentor]: “No. I had my snake-spears swallow their hearts in a vicious rage after they disappointed me by using canned sauce.”
[Employee]: “We use canned sauce, too.”
[Serpentor]: “Really? Because yours tastes fresh…”
[Employee]: “I’ve got other calls to take.”
[Serpentor]: “Don’t hang up on me! I am Serpentor! The Cobra Emperor! I am made up of the DNA of history’s greatest conquerors! And a WWF star. And also Eric the Red for some reason! Give me pizza! This I command!”
[Employee]: “I’m sorry, sir, no. Maybe try Papa Johns or something.” [Click]
[Serpentor, screaming] “Sound the alarm! Alert all our elite strike teams, we are attacking Corpus Christie, Texas! The Crimson Guard will take point! And prepare my hover-chariot! I shall lead the assault myself! THIS I COMMAND!”
[Tomax, sighing]: “I really miss Cobra Commander.”
[Xamot], “I know, right?”