Sunday, March 27, 2011

Interview on I Need Friends Friday

I had the very special treat of being interviewed by Sarah M. Eden for her "I Need Friends" Friday.

I'll have to say, it was one of the coolest interviews I've done. All of the answers I gave were off the cuff, so hopefully that will explain why some of them are odd.

Who is Sarah M. Eden? Well, from her webpage, this is how she describes herself:

"I'm not normal. I'm an author. I spend enormous amounts of time avoiding responsible things like cooking dinner and doing laundry and making vital phone calls. Instead, I fill my days with making up stories, talking to voices in my head, and laughing hysterically at my own wit. Like I said, I'm not normal."

Actually, based on her comments, she seems like a very normal
author to me--at least she shares many of the same characteristics
from other authors I have gotten to know.

Her latest book is called "The Kiss of a Stranger".
More information about it can be found here.

As for more information on Sarah,
you can visit her website here.

As for the incredibly fun interview with yours truly? It can be found here.

Oh! And as a special added bonus, there is an incredibly life like drawing she did of me as part of the interview. It's not to be missed!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

KiTE : A Novel in Earth Orbit By Bill Shears

I wasn't sure what I was going to experience when I started to read KiTE (yes, spelled with a lower case "i" on purpose--which is as quirky as the rest of the book) by Bill Shears. And now that I've finished reading it, I'm still not sure what I experienced --if that makes any sense.

KiTE is a science fiction book that doesn't take itself too seriously. Mason Dash, who is basically a outer space garbage man, plays the antihero of this tale--and KiTE is the name of his spaceship. I kept thinking that his character may have been influenced, either consciously or subconsciously, by Arthur Dent from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. He's very peculiar. In fact, as the main character, he was almost a bit too peculiar for me. He acted in ways and said things that were clever and interesting, but perhaps too much that way. I had a hard time relating to him as a character, which, unfortunately translated into me not really caring about him.

He has two main women in his life, sort of. One is his wife, Janet. The other is his computer assistant (for lack of a better term) named Shelia. Though she is a computer program, Shelia takes on a life of her own, and is an important character in the story--though she lives inside a computer. And she's not alone.

A big part of the story is the emergence of another computer life form on the spaceship KiTE. He changes his name over time as he develops into being, and ends up with the name He_Ra. He's pretty ambitious, and looks to take on more and more power.

A good chunk of the story deals with these computer characters, which again, made it a bit tough for me to follow. I have a basic grasp of technology and how computers work, but even then, I kept wondering what rules these computer programs were playing by--meaning, what defined what they could or couldn't do. I'll openly admit I'm very opinionated in this area--if I don't understand the basic rules characters play by, I have a hard time enjoying the "game".

The actual main plot of the book seems to take a backseat to the creative characters Mr. Shears has created. When the "twist" of the book is revealed at the end, I found myself smiling. It was certainly clever.

What I enjoyed most about the book was the parallels I drew from what was happening in the book to what is happening now around us. There is most certainly a social commentary about work place relations, interpersonal relations, greed, fear and power underlying throughout the book.

KiTE isn't a long read, clocking in at 234 pages. There are some adult situations and some language, so I'd rate the book as PG-13. I will give the following praise to the book: it's like nothing I've read before. The author stays true to the tone and pacing of the book, which is always a plus.

As for who would enjoy this book? I'd say people who are a bit on the technical savvy side who also enjoy reading solid science fiction--while at the same time have a sense of humor. If you don't fall into that category, I doubt you'll appreciate what this book offers.

For more on the author Bill Shears , click here.

To order KiTE, click here.

Disclaimer: I did receive a free copy of this book for reviewing purposes. However, this did not influence my review. Also of note: I wrote my review before reading any other reviews so any similarities are purely coincidental.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Book review of StarScout Rising: First Trail by Gary Darby


That's the word that kept running through my head as I read this book. There is no doubt that author Gary Darby is intelligent. I was amazed over and over again at Darby's explanations of some fairly complex scientific subjects in the framework of the story. These explanations were done where they enhanced the story, and didn't detract from it. If anything, it gave the book a sense of credibility many sci-fi books lack.

That was another thing I enjoyed about this book. It was a science fiction book in the truest sense of the meaning. Often fantasy and science fiction are lumped into the same category, but they are quite different. I bought into the situations in StarScout Rising: First Trail because they were all believable in the world he created. Having somewhat of a scientific background, I saw how Darby had taken things that could be scientifically possible and incorporated them into the day to day life of the characters. Just as we would talk about cell phones and the internet, Darby's characters refer to Life-Sensors and Ion Cannons.

The primary character is Del Baldura, a sixteen year old in training to become a StarScout. While Del's story is the primary one of the book, there are several side stories and characters that enlarge the universe where this story takes place. Del finds himself in charge of a group of junior scouts in training when things take an unexpected turn. I don't want to give too much a way, but the trials that Del face are complex and not always black and white. He has to balance what it truly means to be a StarScout against his primal human nature.

There are many cool references throughout the book that I enjoyed: the two thousand stripling warriors--the Gadion Faction--the Scout Oath and Covenant. Not knowing what these are references to won't spoil your enjoyment of the book, but those that do "get it" will understand.

I applaud Darby for all his hard work and effort he put into the book. Like any craft, you get better at it the more you do it. The action sequences later on in the book were especially well developed and paced.

The only two things that I found to be a bit distracting was the overall flow of the book and the untraditional way the book concluded.

Let me explain.

There are twenty five chapters in the book. The longest chapters are toward the front--with one clocking in at fifty-two pages. Toward the end, the pacing is better, with chapters more in the ten to twenty page range--a couple as short as five pages. There is nothing wrong with short or long chapters, but I found the pacing was more enjoyable toward the end.

Secondly, the book introduced a lot of interesting characters and storylines. It asks many questions, but gives few answers. Granted, this is volume one, which means I hope to get answers to the questions at some point in time. After I finished the book, I kept looking at the end to see if some more pages had magically appeared, but alas. . .

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I could tell the author loved the story and the characters--which translated into me enjoying them as well. As I stated before, this is a true science fiction book. The closest work I can compare it to would be The Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C. Clarke. It's a science fiction book with compelling characters that at the same time isn't afraid to challenge the reader to imagine what the future may hold.

Disclaimer: I did receive a free copy of this book to review, but that in no way influenced my review.

StarScout Rising: First Trail can be purchased here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Deceit as a marketing tool

There is a term called "puffery". Ever heard of it? Maybe not. Have you seen examples of it? Oh yes, you most certainly have.

Puffery is a nice way of saying, "Okay, this product is making a claim that we really can't prove or disprove, so it really isn't against the law."

Heck, the US Federal Trade Commission even has definition for it: "a term frequently used to denote the exaggerations reasonably to be expected of a seller as to the degree of quality of his product, the truth or falsity of which cannot be precisely determined."

What are some examples of such a thing, you may ask. (Even if you don't ask, I'm going to show ya)

If there is actually a product that can do this, why are there so many wrinkly actors on TV?

It's the neon sign that really gives it credibility.

I'm glad it specified it as Planet Earth. I guess that's so we don't confuse it with Earth, South Dakota.

Ah, so they finally made their best pizza ever. I'll bet within a year we'll see they have a different pizza that is "new and improved." (By the way, which is it? New or Improved? How can it be both?)

These people have gone as far as to name their brand "World's Best". After all, millions of pounds of cat poop can't be wrong.

So what inspired me to write about this subject? I got a letter today that was addressed to me in normal handwriting. It was a smaller sized envelop--one that you would send to a friend. There wasn't a return address on it, which has me curious. I opened it up, and inside was a folded up newspaper page with the following sticking note:

"J? Who the heck is J?" I'll sometimes get stuff like this sent to me if it has a blurb about my book or about something I'm a fan of. I open it up and behold! (Granted my scanner isn't big enough for the whole page)

I don't usually call out people or companies by name, but I'm going to make an exception this time.

Shame on you Leith AutoPark Chrysler Jeep of Cary! It was obvious that you were trying to make me think that a friend sent me this incredible news--when in fact, it was all a marketing ploy. Was it illegal? No. Was it ethical? No. Would I want to buy a vehicle from someone trying to pull a fast one on me?


Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Saint Patrick's Day story

In honor of that holiday that has become yet another reason to get plastered, here is my favorite Saint Patrick's Day story:

Two men are sitting at a bar, celebrating Saint Patrick's Day. One of them turns to the other and says, "You look familiar for some reason. Do I know ya?"

The other man responds, "Ya know, you look familiar to me too. Where ya from?"

"I'm from North Clover Town," the first man says.

"No foolin'! I'm from North Clover Town too! Where did ya go to school?"

"I went to Saint Mary's."

The second man looks shocked. "No foolin'! I went to Saint Mary's too! Who was your teacher?"

"Her name was Sister Constance. I swear I still have bruises on my knuckles from her ruler."

Examining his own hands, the second man says, "Oh, aye! I still remember that ruler!"

"We must have gone to school together! When did you go?" the first man asked.

As the second man starts to count on his fingers to figure out how long ago it was, the owner of the tavern comes up to the bartender and says, "All right then lad, I think the O'Dooly twins have had enough to drink."

Now remember, Irish is not the same as Scottish. Need a friendly reminder? Watch the clip below:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Too much "motion" in motion picture

I get teased now and again about being the only man living in a house full of women (meaning my wife and my four daughters). But I really don't mind. Granted, instead of the rough and tumble of boys, we deal with the screaming and emotions of little girls. Again, it's all part of being a parent.

However, there are times when even I need to go and do manly stuff--you know, "be a man". Which reminds me of a very fun song from Disney's Mulan.

Most of the time, to feel manly, I'll go to a movie that is targeted for the male gender. You know, action / adventure stuff with things blowing up and often there are aliens involved.

One such movie came out recently: Battle Los Angeles. From what I gathered, it was about the earth being attacked by aliens with a big battle happening in Los Angeles. With the special effects they can do now, I thought, Heck, why not. It may be fun.

Here is one of the trailers for the movie:

(I included a short one--you can thank me later)

With my training in TV production and my ever developing skills as a writer, I can, at times, be critical of the production work or storytelling. There is a very clich├ęd opening where you are thrown right into the action, only to be stopped a few moments later with ominous words on the screen saying something like, "24 hours earlier. . ."

This is done quite a bit, and so I'm not overly critical (though having a story start out with a dream sequence which has you believing it is real drives me nuts) and Battle Los Angeles started that way--boom! Right into the action.

But within the first few minutes of the film, I noticed the approach they filmmakers were taking. Basically, every shot had movement--in a herky, jerky way. Close ups of people talking had the camera panning and tilting randomly. I gather the effect was to convey chaos and uncertainty. While I feel that can be effective in action sequences, does it work for a whole movie? My opinion would be a resounding "NO!"

When people are sitting in an office talking about one of them retiring, what's up with the herky, jerky movements? When you are having a tender scene where someone is bearing his soul, does it work? No!

All these movements have an undesired side effect for me. I tend to get motion sickness fairly easily (something I passed on to my second daughter) and so trips on planes, or to the amusement park and the like require that I take motion sickness medications.

Maybe it is just me, but I don't think I should have to take one before going to a movie. Battle Los Angeles was so bad in this regard that I ended up leaving during the final big action sequence for two reasons: 1. I was getting sick to my stomach. 2. I really didn't care what happened--the movie was that bad.

I'm sure I got some strange looks as I was leaving the theater during the final conflict, but I'm sure the looks I got when I was throwing up in a garbage can outside the theater from motion sickness were even stranger.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A new form of slavery?

I recently had a chance to study the Fair Standard Labor Act (of FSLA as it is commonly called). Here is a quote from the web page:

"The FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) is the Federal law, sometimes called the overtime law insures that wages are paid for all hours worked and that all overtime hours, overtime pay and collected unpaid overtime due is paid to wage earners."

Like most laws, there are many different aspects to it. I won't bore you with the details, though I will give a few examples.

Let's say you live 5 miles from where you work. Let's also say that it takes you 10 minutes to get there.
Now, to make things interesting, you are assigned to go to a training class which is 55 miles away and it will take you an hour and a half to get there.

As I understand the law, you would have to get paid whatever time it takes you to get there, minus the time it normally takes you to get to work. So in this example, it would be 90 minutes, minus 10, equaling 80 minutes. Yes, you would be paid 80 minutes of travel time.

And for the mileage? It's the same concept: the miles you travel to get to the training (55) minus the normal miles (5) for a total of 50 miles. Most companies pay a set rate per mile for employees when using their own car.

And that's not all. If you work more than 40 hours in a week, you have to get paid overtime for that week. You can't shave off the time the following week, even if it is in the same pay period, to make up the difference.

And the government is serious about these rules. When I worked at a certain grocery store in college, a memo was sent out that workers had to be assigned more work than they could do during their shifts so that they would stay busy, but no one was allowed to get overtime. So many of the workers, fearing to get in trouble, would clock out when their shift was done, but would stay to finish their work, off the clock. Yes, this made the press later, and a lawsuit was filed. I was contacted to see how much time I worked off the clock, so I could get part of the settlement. How much did I get? None. I refused to work off the clock--though sometimes I would get in trouble for not finishing all my work.

And then there was the manager at a certain fast food restaurant I worked at in high school. His method of "encouraging" the employees to finish for the night was to clock them out when their shift should have been done and then have them work on their own time until the job was done. He tried that exactly once on me--a night when we were down two people. The moment he clocked me out, I dropped the broom on the ground, took off my apron and left the building. The next day, I came to work, with the manager and general manager there to talk to me. Long story, short: that manager never clocked people out again.

There is one major exception to the FSLA. It is a term I've come to hate. It is "exempt employee"--meaning you don't get paid by the hour, but rather, you get paid a salary. All those FSLA rules don't apply to exempt employees--and many employers know this and abuse it.

I've heard on more than one occasion that once you become "exempt", the company basically owns you. They can make you work as many hours as they want--demand that you are on call 24 /7 and there is nothing you can do about it--unless you quit, and who in their right mind would quit a job when 1 out of 10 people are out of work?

Is it just me, or does being an exempt employee sound a lot like slavery?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The name game

Ever wondered how or why an author picks the names they do for their characters? I'm sure you'd have as many different answers to that question as there are authors.

I'm sure some authors pick names because they sound cool. One of the TV shows my wife and I really enjoy is Castle. Strangely enough, the show has nothing to do with Medieval times. Rather, the main character's name is Rick Castle, played by one of my favorite actors Nathan Fillion (from another one of my favorite shows Firefly).

Rick Castle is an author of murder mysteries. He creates a character named Nikki Heat based on one of the NYC detectives he shadows on her job. Why Nikki Heat? Well, you'll have to admit if you are imagining an attractive and smart NYC detective, Nikki Heat works better than, oh, let's say Bertha Flabbersnoogle.

Actually, I've often found names seem to be picked on how they sound. Some classic examples are in Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The name Scrooge sounds to me like an old curmudgeon. At the same time, would the name Tiny Tim have the same impact if he was named Tiny Emerson or Tiny Rocko?

When I pick names for my characters, I do something a little different. I actually research what the name means. For example, in The Hidden Sun, there is an owner of a candle store named Chandler. Do you know what the name Chandler means? Well, it means "candle seller". True story!

But it isn't enough to have the name mean something. It also has to look and /or sound like the character. That is the tricky part, but it also helps me create characters that are unique.

And then there are reasons people name their kids the way they do. Sometimes they are named after friends or family members. For example, my middle name, Lloyd, is from my maternal grandfather. My little brother? He was named after my paternal grandfather.

For our children, two of my four daughter's first names are directly from friends and family members, while the other two names, we just liked in and of themselves. In all cases, their middle names are directly from friends or family members.

Sometimes parents name their kids with all the same first letter. Like Quinton, Quinn, Qadir and Quetzalcoatl. (You have to be creative if you use the letter "Q")

For my wife and I, we did it sort of backwards. Each of our girls' names end with an "e" sound, like Kimberly. And even then, not all their names end with a "y". Did we do that on purpose? Not at first. It just sort of worked out that way for the first three. As for the forth one? Yes, I will most certainly say that played a big part in picking her name.

Just for giggles, what would you name a tall male, slightly balding on top, with hazel eyes and a quick smile? If you come up with a good name, you too, could be an author.