Pius Rules for Writers

I was recently asked what rules, as I reader, I wish writers would follow. I came up with a few.

Rule #1: Don’t preach at me. Tell the damn story…

I think this is self explanatory. Heck, even Star Trek IV, which is straight up “save the whales,” did a fairly good job of this. It was mostly a character driven comedy: let’s take all of our characters as fish and through them so far out of the water they’re in a different planet, and watch the fun start. Even the whales that must be saved for the sake of all of Earth are little more than MacGuffin devices, there for the story to happen.

But 2012? Or The Day After Tomorrow? Or Avatar? Kill me now.

Serious, I went out of my way to make A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller about the history of a Church, complete with philosophy, and it somehow still managed to be less preachy than any of these “climate change” films.

Rule #2: Don’t make up your own history, claim that you’ve done your research, and then NOT share your research.

You are not Dan Brown. I don’t tolerate it FROM Dan Brown, and I will waterboard the next schmuck who does that. Anyone want to test that threat? I’m a freaking historian. I know when you’re lying, you morons!!!!!

No, seriously, there was a novel that spent most of the time dealing with a question of “Did Pontius Pilot fake the resurrection???? Gasp!”  The answer was no. But at the end of a book where I wanted to feed it through a paper shredder because of how crappy the history was, his conclusion? “I did my homework. But I won’t tell you what I made up, so do your own homework.”

NO. That is NOT how this works, you douche bag. At least give us a list of authors where you got your BS history, because the only thing I saw in that novel that was even remotely historically accurate was that there was a Roman Empire, and a Pontius Pilate.

Heck, I took my own works cited page for my own novel into an entire post on my own blog, not to mention making it a five page author note at the back of the book. It’s not hard, people. Really, it’s not.

Rule #3: If you have an action sequence, HAVE an action sequence.

I don’t need a blow-by-blow fight, but I need something. If your concept of a “fight” is “they fell to the roof and struggled with each other until they fell off,” I will hurt you. Jack Higgins did that, and after that, I knew his Sean Dillion series was doomed. I was writing like that when I was 16, for God’s sake. And I think I did it better then. I do it much better now. It was just lazy.

In fact, how about details, hmm? A page that is nothing but dialogue — and most of that a few words a sentence — is boring and hard to track. At least give me a sense of what they’re doing. Give me dialogue tags. Pretend that we might want to know who’s saying what to whom.

Granted, I tend to go overboard in the other direction, what what do I know?

Rule #4: If you have a chapter, it has to be more than a paragraph long.

If you only have snippets from a mad serial killer, we might forgive you if this is done for a handful of chapters. If it’s your entire novel, you should be beaten to death with the hard copy…. I’m looking at you, James Patterson, your books are twice as long as they need to be because the chapter number is half a page, you put a little text under it, and do it again for the next chapter. STOP. IT.

Rule #5: Vampires only sparkle IF THEY’RE ON FIRE.

I shouldn’t need to explain this by now. And if I have to … here, read my books. You’re welcome.

Rule #6: Fantasy authors, please, for the love of God, if you’re going to have a system of magic set in a modern environment, please explain where magic comes from.

Ahem: Dear Madam Rowling, where do wizards get their powers FROM? Why do they actually need wands? Why can some spells not require any wands?  A paragraph over your 7 novels would have been fine to explain any of this. I’m certain that no one would have minded if you stole a few lines of dialogue from Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire.

Rule #7: Stop giving me stupid villains. Just stop. Please.

Rule #7b: Stop giving me insipid heroes. Just … don’t.

Rule #7c: In fact, Stephen King, just stop writing entirely.

Rule #8: While we’re at it, SOMEONE HAVE AN ORIGINAL IDEA.

I don’t care if you’ve been a bestseller for 20 years, stop pumping out books like they’re an obligation. I’m looking at you King … Higgins … Patterson … Pat Cornwell … I mean, please, Nora Roberts does consistently better and original ideas than you twits, and she’s a ROMANCE NOVELIST.  Gah!

Rule #9: Stop with the utterly dark nonsense.

I’m tired of the same dystopian universes, the same miserable outlooks on humanity, and the same anti-heroes. Snake Plisskin only works once. Twice if you make him into a Metal Gear character. After that I’M BORED. You can give me an anti-hero if he’s well-developed, likable, smart. You can stop giving me the same depressing, dark, amoral character who actually HAS no character development.  Even my book Codename: Winterborn, which has been compared to Escape from New York, went out of its way to describe how society works, how people live, how there’s an economy. I never want to see another Escape from New York or Terminator universe unless they’re in the Escape from New York or the Terminator universe.

Rule #10: Stop, stop STOP making professional soldiers into sociopathic Redshirt canon fodder while the plucky hero WITH ZERO COMBAT EXPERIENCE gets out alive.

Thank you.

Attacking Allies

This has been a very strange week for me, but probably not for the reasons you think. This blog isn’t even in reference to any one thing in particular, but a common theme that I’ve noticed over the past seven to eight months. It’s become a trend to attack people on one’s own side. Yes, for those of you keeping score at home, you can include attacks on me if you like, but that’s only a fraction of an overall picture that I have yet to mentally grasp.For the record, yes, I am aware that there is a post that apparently goes after me. I have not read that post. I will not read that post. I’ve read small slivers that have been excerpted by my defenders. So, on advice of council, Mr. Finn is not available for comment, nor will he be. Thank you. Moving on.

But, yeah, it’s strange to see people who are theoretically on each other’s side to tear each other apart. I saw Superversive Science Fiction and the Pulp Revolution people go after each other for several weeks, if not several months, and I’m still trying to figure out where the hate was coming from in the comments (I must stress the comments). Hell, I’m still lost with where the disagreements were coming from. In Appendix N, I saw enough overlap between Superversive fiction and Pulp that I thought that Pulp could easily be labeled the action-packed variety of Superversive. The authors themselves had no animosity towards one another, but wow, the comments on those parts were just a little angry.

So, this has been going on for a while, spread out over multiple places on the internet, and I still don’t get it.

There is the usual “X is not us, I must distance myself from X.” Though I don’t think that Pulp or Superversive ever really had a lot of declarations that one is the other. I see a lot of overlap between the two, but I see few others who do. So I’m strange. Big flipping shock. There is the Sad vs. Rabid debate … but that was so clear, I did a blog post on it that was fairly short. Granted, the post at the time is hilarious in retrospect, but that’s another story. The point is, that the differences were so plain and clear that anyone who couldn’t see the difference was either ignorant or lying. I can’t even say “stupid,” because I think even the moronic could see the difference.

You can even go into politics and see this. You have Republicans spending more time attacking the “Alt-Right” while you have Leftist psychopaths running around burning books, rioting, assaulting anyone who supports the first amendment, all while calling themselves “anti-fascist”… talk about irony … and shooting republicans.  But what are some right wingers spending their time discussing? Two protesters show up and disrupt the “Let’s kill Trump” Julius Cesar play in the park for two minutes, and that’s what’s getting a lot of ink. And, again, it’s right after a nutcase shot up a bunch of GOP politicians during baseball practice … but somehow, the important thing is that they focus on two people who interrupted a play for two minutes. Huh.

I’m a historian. There is a history where wars of independence are usually followed by civil wars. America was lucky in that we managed to hold off on our civil war for over 80 years — luck and a lot of quality politicians who never died (It felt like Clay and Calhoun lived forever). World War II saw the alliance of three people who were at each other’s throats just twenty years before….yes, there was a bit of shooting between Russia and the remaining allies post-revolution. The point is that the US, the UK, and Russia all looked at Germany, and eventually all joined forces to crush Hitler. THEN they spent the next 50 years going after each other.

The counter example to this is the Chinese Civil War. If you remember, the Pacific end of World War II had Japan invading China during their civil war. The communists were, at least, smart enough to fight the Japanese, while their opponents were trying to fight both the civil war and the Japanese. The “People’s Republic” shows you who ultimately won that. The opponents currently run Taiwan.

In the wider case of the GOP, I look at the decision to treat folks who are not against them as the enemy, while there are people THROWING MOLOTOV COCKTAILS AND SHOOTING AT THEM, I have to scratch my head.  Seriously, people, is there a widespread issue of being unable to have the self preservation instincts of Joseph flipping Stalin? When there are people actively shooting at you, deal with them, THEN deal with whatever internal problems there are between you.

That’s why one of the smartest things I’ve seen over the past few months was the end of the Superversive v Pulp debate — Jeffro and Anthony Marchetta saw that the comments were becoming angry, and they shut it down before things got out of hand. Again, there was no true animosity between them. The debate was a debate. They disagreed on things. It helped with blog hits. When it starting going negative, it stopped. The end.

So, yeah, 2017 has been strange. I don’t quite get why those who are technically on the same side go after each other. I don’t get it, I never will get it, and I just wish I could. Hell, even my own personal experience lately is confusing, even to me. Hell, if I can’t even figure out how to quell the storm I’m in the center of, comprehending the logic of the other situations is far beyond me.

Though, to end this on a more positive note, the post title, “Attacking Allies” in this case means two different things. One, attacking your friends. Two, allies who attack on your behalf.

In my own little circle, it has been made strange not by blog posts attacking me, but by people who have extracted their own conclusions from people defending me. Erroneous conclusions. But they are made even more strange by who is throwing these additional accusations. In one case, it is a Facebook friend who I’ve actually done things for out of friendship. He had a kickstarter, and I used time on my podcast to bandy his wares. He was unfairly attacked in a Facebook group by a psychotic harpy, and I had a choice to become a moderator of the group, or defend someone I liked and respected. I chose the latter. He has reciprocated over the last few months by becoming increasingly hostile while interacting with me less and less.

So … huh?

I mention all of this because the confusing thing about it is that, at the end of the day, I actually don’t care about this turnaround. One of the more vociferous voices against me, who I thought was a just and honorable man, turns out to be merely angry. I am actually surprised my my own reaction. Usually, I would expect to be shocked about this sudden but (apparently) inevitable betrayal. But, again, much to my own surprise, I realize that if this is how one goes about treating one’s allies, who needs them? It is time to focus on something else. If an “ally” attacks you … then the “ally” is no longer worthy of your attention. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune are annoying, but when someone is throwing a Molotov cocktail at your head, some things are a little more important.

In my case? I have a novel out. So if someone would like to attack me, go ahead, you have free reign, because I really do have better things to do. I’m busy, damn it. I hope to have seven books out by the end of the year. But I do suggest you watch out for my friends… some of whom I didn’t even know I had.

Once upon a time, I blogged about an incident in high school where everything had fallen to crap. The strange thing then, as now, is that I had people rallying to my defense who didn’t know me. Or, people who had been paying attention to me well enough to realize how much BS was going on around me.

Now it happens once again. Where people who I though barely knew of my existence have rallied to my defense against people who I thought knew me. It’s been a great comfort just knowing that there are people out there who actually don’t think ill of me. Where there are people looking at the same situation that I am, and coming to similar conclusions: the conclusion being to tilt one’s head and go “What the Hell?”

And these are people who have jumped to my defense.

I hate trite sayings. I hate cliche. I hate overused fortune cookie wisdom. But it really is true: those who stand by you don’t need evidence, and those who stand against you won’t accept it. Several month ago, I have offered several of my detractors evidence and conversation to prove that rumors about me were untrue– they rejected even looking at it. When several people who came to my aid wanted to back me, I offered to show them the same evidence — they didn’t need it, they just believed me. And of those people who have come to either my aid, my defense, or just comfort, not a single one has asked me to justify their faith in me. Not a single one.  It’s embarrassing to realize that I’m not certain that I would be that good a friend.

When my publisher, Russell, first jumped into the fray, I made some sort of comment that boiled down to “Ah, yes, this sort of thing with an author damages the brand.” His response was a quick and easy, “Nah. I’d do this even if you weren’t one of my authors.”

When things like that happens, it’s difficult to be a cynic. I actually have faith in humanity again.

So, thanks should be made to Dawn WitzkeJim Fear, Russell Newquist, Injustice Gamer Alfred Genneson, JD Cowan, Jon del Arroz, Jeffro Johnson, Cirsova Magazine, the Puppy of the Month Book Club, Mr. Oghma, as well as the moral support I’ve gotten from authors at SuperversiveSF. And, as always, His Tankness, Tom Knighton, whose brief exchange helped more than he could know.

In some cases, it’s nice to look out over the lynching party and seeing the people who haven’t joined in. Even if they don’t jump in and try to stop it, it’s reassuring to know who isn’t party to it.

Anyway, I know I’m leaving some people out, but after the first dozen, I lose track. It became a bit of a furball on Twitter after a while. The hash tag was amusing though. If I haven’t mentioned you, it’s just because there were so many. And I thank you all.

It’s good to know that the ones who hate my guts are actually in the minority. Just loud.

Illegitimi non carborundum

Anyway, if you’re interested, A Pius Man might just be your cup of tea.

And, if you’ve done that….

The Dragon Awards are open and ready for nominations, and I have a list of suggestions you might want to take a look at. If you already  have a good idea of what you want, just click here to go and vote for them. The instructions are right there.

A Pius Man, Chapter 1: A Pious Cop

Yes, you’re reading this right. You’re about to get a look at the first, redone chapter of A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller (The Pius Trilogy) (Volume 1).

You might remember that I pulled this one from the shelves when I signed with Silver Empire Publishing.

And right now, it’s up for order from Amazon.And if you have no idea what A Pius Man is … wow, you have to be new here. It ate up ten years of my life, and the best use I have ever gotten out of my Masters in History…. okay, that, and writing the biographies of older vampires.

But here you go, here’s the first chapter. When you’re hooked, order it. Or preorder it. Or something.

Anyway, there will be more to come on A Pius Man in the coming days. You have been warned.

Chapter I:

A Pious Cop

Giovanni Figlia stood in the lobby of Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport in a solid black polo shirt and a black suit jacket. The color scheme made him seem shorter than his 5’9” height. His hand ached for his Beretta to reassure himself that he was still armed, but instead he ran his fingers through his thick dark hair.

It must be something about Americans that brings out the Clint Eastwood in people.

He scanned the crowd for his target, comparing each face with the photograph he had memorized down to the dots on the color printout: hazel eyes, brown hair, Germanic cheekbones, not bad-looking. Wilhelmina Goldberg, a former member of the Americans’ National Security Agency, with degrees in esoteric languages and mathematics, had transferred into her current profession some time ago, and was supposed to be good at it.

Now all I have to do is hunt her down.

Looking for me?”

Figlia looked down. Three feet away from him stood a woman just under five feet tall. He recognized her as Goldberg; she wore black jeans and a tight-fitting, long-sleeved turtleneck. Over one shoulder she carried a duffel bag as large as she was. She also dragged a wheeled suitcase as big as Figlia.

Io ho pensato che Lei ha…supposed to be in formal attire,” he said in his own combination of Italian and English. He glanced at her. “Not attracting attention.”

She replied in crisp, formal Italian. “On the former, you thought wrong. As for the latter…” she looked down at her chest and shot him a look. “If 28B passes for attention-getting in Italy, you people need to open a Playboy, pop a Viagra, and get a life.”

Giovanni Figlia stepped to one side. “This way?”

You lead. I don’t want you stepping on my equipment. You want this job done, we’ll need this intact.”

He led. Goldberg moved forward. “You’re Gianni, right?”

Mi chiamo Figlia, si.” I’m Figlia, yes.

I’m surprised,” she told him. “You’re the head of this outfit; why would you meet me?”

Figlia shrugged. “Because I like to get out of the office every once in a while. And we’ll be working together for a while. We might as well get used to each other, starting now.”

Done. Where’s our first stop?”

The Vatican.” Figlia stepped around more passengers just getting in and made his way to the automatic doors. It was still dark outside, despite the fact that it was 6:30 in the morning.

What are you packing?” she asked.

Figlia blinked. “This is Italy. What do you think?”

Wilhelmina Goldberg rolled her eyes. “Beretta, then.” She looked around before answering. “I just got on a plane from Spain with security that’s a joke. I’m carrying a Sig and they didn’t even notice. Forgive me for wondering about Europeans.” She pronounced it Euro-peons. “We’re not exactly in a safe business.”

When Giovanni Figlia stopped at a four-door silver Jetta, Goldberg shrugged. “Not a bad little toy. You own it?”

Depends on my wife.” He smiled. “Come on, I’ll load the bags.”

Goldberg laughed. “No way in hell, buddy. I’ll manage. You just start this thing up.”

Once she loaded herself into the passenger seat, he sped away.

You know, I’m halfway surprised that you carry outside of your target area.”

Figlia glanced at her briefly. “You expected me to live on a hundred-acre leash? Check my gun at the colonnade?”

Given your line of work, I’m surprised they allow you to have a gun.”

Don’t worry, we’re allowed to shoot back. There are some situations where force is required. Mind if I ask you something?”

She shrugged. “Whatever.”

What’s your religion?”

I’m Jewish…Orthodox,” she added as an afterthought. “My parents say an Orthodox Jew is a ‘real Jew’ … you don’t want to hear what they have to say about the others.” Goldberg shrugged. “So, tell me a little bit about what you do here.”

They continued to discuss their mutual professions, the conversation punctuated long enough for her to look out at the city and take an occasional photo with her iPhone. He began to decelerate as he followed the Tiber River and hung a right onto the Via della Conciliazione, making a right in front of the colonnade, onto Via Ottaviano.

It led right to their target, the Vatican.

At that moment, one of the buildings exploded in a massive fireball, dropping glass, brick and debris down upon their car in a shower of destruction. A moment later, another object smashed into the hood of Figlia’s car, smashing the windshield, and denting the hood in front of him.

Giovanni Figlia instinctively swerved away from the explosion, and braked hard. The object on his windshield stayed there.

After a few seconds, Goldberg and Figlia got out of the car and studied the scene, wondering if it was safe to go check the damage. She bounced up on her toes to check what had killed Figlia’s car. It was the body of a young-looking, olive-skinned male…without a face.

Between 25 and 35?” Figlia asked.

…Sounds like a serial-killer profile,” she answered.

Figlia grunted and again wanted to reach for his gun. He glanced at the short, pixie-like woman and muttered, “Damn Americans. Here for fifteen minutes and Dante’s Inferno rises to surface level.”

The only carabinieri in the area ran to the scene, leaving his motorcycle behind. He let out a small string of curses, ran back to his vehicle, and immediately radioed for help.

The police were the first responders, followed immediately by the fire department. The firemen quickly moved to douse the flames with the fire hose. Giovanni Figlia tackled the main man on the hose, grabbing him before he could attach the hose to its water supply.

What are you doing?” the fireman shouted. He tried to fight back, but Figlia had already locked one arm into place, totally immobilizing him.

You’re going to wash away all evidence of the bomb,” Figlia growled. “Use a fire extinguisher or buckets.”

The other firefighters didn’t know what to make of him. He was an utterly unremarkable fellow in basic black. With the addition of a white collar, he could have been wearing a priest’s uniform … if the material were better. He wasn’t even that big, but held the burliest member of their team immobile with minimal effort.

Figlia shoved the firefighter aside, and reached into his inner jacket pocket before someone shot up. He pulled out a wallet and flashed his identification, as well as his badge. “Commandatore Giovanni Figlia, Vatican’s Central Office of Vigilance. That body over there is dead, and not only is my car a secondary crime scene, do you see that line?” He pointed to a white painted line on the cobblestone street. “Sixty years ago, the Nazis put that line down to clearly mark the territory. This side, right now, is Rome.” He sidestepped to in front of his car and pointed toward the colonnade of St. Peter’s Basilica. “Where I’m standing now is Vatican City.”

Wilhelmina Goldberg laughed. “Now you see why American cops call firemen the evidence destruction unit.”

The fireman scowled at her. She was short, so she wasn’t a member of Figlia’s security force. Her dye job was obvious and ugly, so she wasn’t working for the Vatican. Her accent sounded more like American actors trying too hard to sound like she was from New York City, and so became a self-parody. “And what are you? His puttana?”

She shook her head, unconcerned as she reached into her pocket. “First of all, you’re thinking more like a Calabrese.” She pulled out a leather wallet of her own and flipped it open. “Second, I’m a consultant: Wilhelmina Goldberg of the United States Secret Service.”

Giovanni Figlia looked around frantically, hoping no one else would try to wash away the evidence. A shiny silver object caught his attention, and he narrowed his eyes, focusing on…the cover for a hotel serving tray?

And,” he continued, “the explosion radius extends into my jurisdiction. I have a body and half a crime scene over here—you only have half a crime scene, I win. I’ll head up there myself, if you don’t mind…and if you do, too bad. Frankly, if you’d like to do something useful, secure the street!”

Figlia caught a familiar sight at the edge of his peripheral vision. The black cassock of a priest was more than enough to identify him as such from thirty yards away. It looked like the priest gave the crowd more attention than he had given the scene of the crime, which was odd—most of the time, far too many people wanted to look at the destruction. At that distance, the only other detail he could make out was the man’s silver hair.

Padre! Venga, per favore!”

The priest looked up, then left, then right, and finally, he shrugged and stepped forward cautiously, eyeing the building as though he wanted to make sure it wouldn’t collapse.

What’s with the priest?” she asked, sotto voce.

He might be able to provide a barricade between you and the polizia when they arrive. Have him standing by ready to give the corpse last rites, while you snap photos of the body. I suspect we won’t get another chance for pictures after this.”

Goldberg gave him a look as though he had sprouted three heads. “You want a murder case?”

He flashed a Casanova grin. “I’m going to check the room. Stay close to the priest.”

She raised an eyebrow. Before she could make a scathing remark, Figlia bolted into the damaged hotel and flew up the stairs.

*

Wilhelmina Goldberg looked over her shoulder at the body-covered car, absentmindedly tapping her iPhone for photos. “And I thought this would be a nice, quiet little trip—some consulting, audit security, but no, I get the one cop on the planet who makes Hoover look mildly sane,” she muttered in English.

Excuse me,” came a gentle voice from right next to her, also speaking in English.

She adjusted her line of sight to the priest, only a foot away from her, and tried not to jump. Do priests in Rome get ninja training?

The priest was … odd. He had a piercing set of violet eyes. And while his hair was solid silver, there were only a few lines on his face, so he couldn’t have been older than forty. If she were sending out an APB or a BOLO for him, she would have actually said he was only about 5’6” – maybe 5’8”, she was looking up at him, and his shoulders were slumped.

Goldberg bunched her lips, trying to figure out how to speak to a priest over a corpse. “Uh. Hello …Father … could you wait a moment while I take a few pictures of this poor schlub?”

He nodded. “Of course. Are you a friend of Gianni’s?”

She shrugged and turned to the corpse. Goldberg twisted her lip and stepped around the priest to get back into the car. She slid onto the seat and clicked at the corpse through the windshield, getting every possible angle with her phone.

Click. “I’m a consultant.”

From … New York, I presume by the accent.” Click. There was another flash from the phone flash. “I grew up there … briefly. It’s an odd story.”

Click. “I don’t doubt it.” You’ve decided to spend the rest of your life without sex, so you must be odd somehow.

So what kind of consultant work do you do?”

Click. She checked the quality of the photos, and then slid out of the car. “Security.”

I’d ask how you know Figlia, she thought. But he called you Father without using a name, so I’m guessing he only knows you because of the outfit, and you only know of him because he’s papal security.

*

Ah. Of course,” the priest answered.

Commander Figlia wouldn’t hire out some lone American gun-toting security hack, he thought. You’re Secret Service, aren’t you? Not very talkative, either.

They turned the body over once she had taken all of the photos she needed.

The priest knew exactly who this man was, and knew him well—his entire life story, in fact. He had been raised as a red-diaper baby in a family loyal to the brigate rosso, the Italian Red Army.

He performed the last rites over the body, blessing him as he went on into the next world. Rest in peace, you schmuck.

*

Giovanni Figlia walked into what was left of the hotel room, and he took it in with a sweep of his eyes. On the floor was another dead man, a hole clearly visible under his chin. This second corpse—Gerrity, according to the hotel people he passed on his way up here—was on its back, hands out like a crucified martyr. Furniture had been scattered across the room, thrown against the wall, much of it shattered.

Figlia rubbed the back of his neck. “Benone, a double cross.”

One of the hotel staff in the hall raised a brow. “Scusi, signore? Non capisco.”

Figlia waved at the room. “The spherical pattern of the bomb suggests a normal explosive, not plastique—plastique tends to be directional. Besides, you can smell the black powder, si? Maybe homemade.”

He looked into the ceiling, and saw silver forks embedded like shrapnel, surrounded by other pieces of metal. I wonder if it matches the tray lid that landed outside. Below the forks were wheels, separated by a flat metal sheet pressed into the carpet.

Serving cart,” Figlia muttered.

Che?” a bellboy asked. What?

He carefully stepped around the body and pointed at the sheet of metal. “The lower level of the serving tray, beneath the forks.” His eyes flickered across the room as though they were tracking a soccer ball. “Not to mention the silverware in the walls, the bed, the floor, as well as the plate fragments—either he had a grand celebration with an American fraternity, or they came from a full room-service cart that exploded.”

He pointed out the shattered window. “Our amico on the street wore a busboy’s white coat; assume the cart was his. The cart is in the center of the room; too far inside if he was lugging dirty place settings all over the hallway. He would have stayed outside in the hall and collected them. This person on the floor is dead from the nice neat bullet hole under his chin. Given the position of the cart, it had to have been pulled around this man’s body—the poor fool probably opened up for his killer.” He made brief eye contact with the men out in the hall. “That killer is, by the way, the one who ruined my car.” He waved at Gerrity’s corpse. “At least this man’s killer. Who killed the busboy is another quandary. He was killed with the explosion from his own cart, so it is either stupidity on the busboy’s part, or murder on someone else’s.”

Figlia walked over to the window, and shouted out, in English, “Signora Goldberg, look around for a pistol! I’ll check up here!”

He stepped back from the window, looking back as he did so. He opened up his cellular phone and hit autodial. “Veronica, bella, could you please bring the team down to the hotel?”

Veronica Fisher smiled; he could hear it in her voice. “Which hotel?”

Outside the colonnade,” Figlia told her. “Follow the smoke; we have a bomb, black powder composition.”

Some priest playing with leftover fireworks?”

A double homicide.”

Fisher paused a moment. “Gianni, isn’t the hotel outside our jurisdiction?”

The body isn’t. You’ll also have to process what’s left of our car.”

Fisher, who was Figlia’s forensics expert as well as his wife, paused a moment. “The bomb destroyed the Jetta?”

No, the corpse did it.” Figlia paused for a moment, wondering if that was a double entendre, as the corpse had done both the first murder and the destruction to the car. Perhaps in American English. “I’ll have the locals secure the crime scene.”

You sound like the FBI back home.”

Heaven forbid. A più tardi. I won’t be here when you arrive, I have a guest.”

You picked him up?” Fisher asked.

Figlia furrowed his brow. “Him?”

There was some light laughter. “You weren’t sent to pick up Hashim Abasi? Remember, the Egyptian coordinating with you about Josh’s visit … what am I, your secretary?”

Figlia felt like the dead man had it easy. “I’ll get him as soon as possible.”

*

The Secret Service agent, Goldberg, leaned against the door of the dead car, glancing at the priest. “When did he start thinking he was a homicide detective?”

The priest said, “You should ask him about it sometime.”

Commander Figlia dashed out of the hotel and waved at Goldberg to follow him. She offered the priest her hand. “It’s been nice talking with you, Father…?”

Francis Williams, of the Compania.”

Ah, a Jesuit.”

The priest smiled. “Just call me Frank.”

So, have enough fun yet? Just click here, and you can order it.

And, if you’ve done that….

The Dragon Awards are open and ready for nominations, and I have a list of suggestions you might want to take a look at. If you already  have a good idea of what you want, just click here to go and vote for them. The instructions are right there.

The Love at First Bite series. 

The Goal of the Superversive

For Throwback Thursday (a little late)–at the request of some of the other folks here–here, again, is our statement of exactly what it is that Superversiveness stands for and wishes to accomplish.

Subversive Literary Movement

Any new venture needs a mission statement. So, what are the goals of the Superversive Literary Movement?

Well…let me tell you a brief story.

As a child, I distained Cliffsnotes. I insisted on actually reading the book. I would like to instill the same virtue in my children. But recently, I made my first exception.

My daughter had to read Steinbeck’s The Pearl for class. We read it together. She read part. I read part. The writing was just gorgeous. The life of the people involved drawn so lovingly. The dreams the young man had for his baby son were so poignant, so touching.

Worried about what kind of book this  might be, I read the end first. It looked okay. So, we read the book together.

Turns out, I had missed something—the part where the baby got shot.

Not a happy story.

Next, she brought home Of Mice and Men. We started it together. What a gorgeous and beautifully writing—the descriptions of nature, the interaction between the two characters. A man named George, who could be off doing well on his own, is taking care of a big and simple man named Lennie, who accidentally kills the mice he loves because of his awkward big strength. In George, despite his gruff manner and his bad language, we see a glimpse of what is best in the human spirit, a glimpse of light in a benighted world.

The scene of the two camping out and discussing their hopes of someday owning their own little farm, where Lennie could tend rabbits, was so touching and hopeful, so filled with pathos and sorrow, and so beautifully written. Steinbeck is clearly one of the great masters of word use.

But I remembered The Pearl.  I glanced ahead, but this time, I looked more carefully.

On the next to last page, while discussing how their hoped-for little farm with rabbits is almost within their grasp, George presses a pistol against the back of Lennie’s head and shoots.

Now, in the story, he does it with a terribly heavy heart. He does it for “a good reason”—Lennie accidentally killed someone, but…

That doesn’t make it better.

I sat there holding the remains of my heart, which Steinbeck had just ripped out and stamped on. The devotion of this good man George had led to nothing. All their golden hopes turned to dross, sand.

And it wasn’t just the end. The book was full of examples of “the ends justify the means” type of thinking – such as a man killing four of nine puppies, so that the other five will have a chance.

Very realistic? Check. Very down to earth? Check. Very “the way of the world”? Check.

Why give a book like this to children to read? What are we trying to teach them? That life is difficult and meaningless? That sometimes its okay to kill something we love for a “good reason”? That life is pointless? That dreams and hopes are a sham? That no matter how you try, you cannot improve upon your circumstance, so it’s better not to even hope? (That was what The Pearl was about.)

What possible good is such a message doing our children?

Maybe if a child grew up in posh circumstances and had never seen hardship—maybe then, there would be a good reason for letting them know that “out there” it can get hard.

But this was my daughter—whose youth resembles that of Hansel and Gretel, and not the fun parts about candy houses and witches. There are many things she needs in life—but pathos-filled reminders of how harsh life can be is not one of them.

The book was also full of cursing. I’m not sure I would have noticed, but my daughter kept complaining.

I closed the book and refused to read any more of it. I told her we’d find the answers online. She ended up getting help with it from her brother (who had been forced to read the book at school the previous year) and from a friend.

I’ve seen some of the other books on the school curriculum. Many of them are like this. In the name of “realism,” these works preach hopelessness and darkness.

They are lies!

So, you might ask, why does it matter if our children are being fed lies? They’re just stories, right?

What do stories matter?

Stores teach us about how the world is. They teach us despair, or they teach us hope. In particular, they teach us about the nature of hope and when it is appropriate to have it.

So why is hope—that fragile, little flutter at the bottom of Pandora’s jar—so important?

Because hope needs to be hoped before miracles can be requested.

In life, some things will go badly. True. Some things will go well. But what about everything in between? What about those moments when hope, trust, dare I say, faith, is required to make the difference between a dark ending and a happy one?

If we have been taught that hope and dreams are a pointless fantasy, a waste of time, we might never take the step of faith necessary to turn a dark ending into a joyful one.

Think I am being unrealistic, and my head’s in the clouds? Let me give a few examples.

Example One:

I heard a story on the radio the other day. A woman named Trisha is dying of cancer. She has an eight year old son named Wesley and no one else. No close friends. No relatives. No hope for her son.

Trisha met another Trisha…the angel who ministered to her in the hospital in the form of her nurse. When the news came that her illness was terminal, Trisha worked up the courage to do something astonishing. She asked her nurse: “When I die, will you take my son?”

The nurse went home and spoke to her husband and her four children. They said yes. They not only agreed to take Wesley, they took both Wesley and Trisha into their home, caring for them both as Trisha’s illness grows worse.

What if Trisha, laying in her bed in pain, had not had the faith, the hope, to ask her nurse this question? What would have become of her little boy?

If Trish believed the “realism” preached by Steinbeck and other “realists”, she would never have had the courage to ask her nurse for help.

Example Two:

Don Ritchie is an Australian who lives across from a famous suicide spot, a cliff known as The Gap. At least once a week, someone comes to commit suicide there.

Don and his wife keep an eye out the window. If they see someone at the edge, Don strolls out there. He smiles and talks to them. He offers them a cup of tea.

Sometimes, they come in for tea. Sometimes, they just go home. On a few occasions, he’s had to hold someone, while his wife called the police. Sometimes, the person jumps anyway.

Don and his wife figure they’ve saved around a hundred and sixty lives.

What if Don had believed that hopes and dreams are dross, and he never walked out there? What if he had spent the years standing in his living room, shaking his head and cursing the fact that he bought a house in such an unlucky place?

There are people living lives, perhaps children born who would not have been, merely because Don did not give up on those caught by despair.

Example Three:

Andrea Pauline was a student at the University of Colorado. She traveled to Uganda to study microfinancing for a semester. While she was there, she discovered that some of the local orphan children were being abused.

Andrea refused to leave the country until the government did something. She received death threats. She would not back down.

The government of Uganda took the forty-some children away from their caretakers—and gave them to Andrea. She and her sister now run an orphanage in Uganda called Musana (Sunshine). They have over a hundred children. (Matthew West was inspired by her story to write the song Do Somethinghttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_RjndG0IX8 )

What if Andrea had believed the things preached by Of Mice and Men and The Pearl?

What if she had come home to America and cried into her pillow over the sad plight of those children back in Africa? What if she pent her time putting plaintive posts on Facebook about how the sad state of the world and how blue it made her feel?

Over a hundred children, living a better life, because one teenage girl refused to give up hope.

This is what the Superversive Literary Movement is for—to whisper to the future Trisha’s, Don’s, and Andrea’s that miracles are possible.

That hope is not a cheat.

The goal of the Superversive is to bring hope, where there is no hope; to bring courage, where without courage, hope would never be manifested.

The goal of the Superversive is to be light to a benighted world.

The goal of the Superversive is:

To tell the truth.

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The Iconic Hero and the Superversive

I make no bones about the fact that I prefer Sean Connery when I’m talking about James Bond movies. It’s not merely that his take on the character is consistently entertaining, but that it’s consistent period from film to film. This is a man who knows who and what he is, does not apologize for it, and has no issues with what he does; he lives for the mission, and believes in the mission. It’s nothing like Danial Craig’s Bond at all. Robin D.
Laws identifies this as “The Iconic Hero”, and explained in this 2012 post why this is a valid characterization choice:

While a dramatic hero follows a character arc in which he is changed by his experience of the world (examples: Orpheus, King Lear, Ben Braddock), an iconic hero undertakes tasks (often serially) and changes the world, restoring order to it, by remaining true to his essential self.

Prevailing creative writing wisdom favors the changeable dramatic character over his serially unchanging iconic counterpart, but examples of the latter remain enduring tentpoles of popular culture. It’s the clear, simple, elemental iconic heroes who keep getting reinvented every generation. Each such classic character spoke to the era of its invention, while also evoking an eternal quality granting it a continuing resonance. We are going to create a new set of heroes who speak to the contemporary world while evoking the inescapable power of the iconic model.

An iconic hero re-imposes order on the world by reasserting his essential selfhood. The nature of his radical individuality can be summed up with a statement of his iconic ethos. It is the ethos that grants higher meaning to the hero’s actions, and a clue to his creator’s intentions. An iconic hero’s ethos motivates and empowers him.

The first paragraph in particular is the mission of a Superversive hero: to restore order to the world. What he does is how he makes that happen, that assertion Laws speaks of, is where the variation lies. In the quoted post, Laws goes over several iconic characters and shows how you can summarize their stories in a sentence by identifying their ethos and how they assert it to restore order to their world time and again. What he doesn’t identify, but nonetheless shows, is that this summary also serves as the basis for every story outline you’ll need in writing stories about those characters that are true and faithful additions to their literary corpus that the readers will accept.

There’s something else that this post, and the concept in it, reveals: how the Enemy subverts the culture. They do resort to making Iconic Heroes into Dynamic Characters, putting them through “arcs” that denigrate their ethos and thereby degrade the characters into agents of subversion to further the Enemy’s agenda. (One need only look at what goes on at Marvel and D.C. Comics to see this in action.)

While stories that have characters changed by the experiences of the narrative are necessary and valuable, this is not a universal requirement. Just look at what’s been done with the Arthurian Mythos to see (a) that it’s not necessary and (b) it’s often done to subvert, degrade, and destroy a targeted culture- and therefore, not to be trusted anymore.

Consider an Iconic Hero when you’re next sitting down to create something, especially if you’re looking to do so as part of a series–writing, gaming, etc.–because you may find it better suited to your objectives than you might think.

Star Wars: When it sucks and when it doesn’t!

Happy birthday, Star Wars! The present I was hoping to get you is not quite ready yet. So instead, inspired by some debates on episode 7 (e7), I’ve recently read, I’ve decided to analyze why the original films of SW worked, and the new stuff less so.

Note that this does not need to affect your enjoyment of any of these movies. However, neither does your enjoyment wash away these stories’ flaws. I myself love to death the movie Pacific Rim but even I can admit that it has some flaws. Likewise even when they are great, we will be cracking these movies open and looking at how they work underneath which can spoil some people’s enjoyment.
Proceed with caution. Extreme nerdity ahead.

Continue reading

When New Is (Not) Best–The Degradation of Grand Master Anne McCaffrey

When I was fifteen, I wrote a fan letter to one of my favorite authors. She wrote back. I still have the postcard. The back was a drawing of a dragon standing before a podium preparing to give a lecture. The title of the lecture was:

Anne McCaffrey: Fact or Myth?

As a teen, I read every book of hers I could get my hands on. I remember walking into the local grocery story with a neighbor when the third Pern book, Dragonsong, came out. A copy was sitting in the spinning rack by the door. I hadn’t even know that there was going to be another Pern book. I was so ecstatic, that this neighbor—who hardly knew me ( I was a friend of her son but didn’t know her well)—bought me the book. That was a pretty extraordinary thing back then.

I was really grateful.

I loved her books. I loved her stories. I thought her science fiction, especially The Ship Who Sang. There were things that happened in that book, science fiction concepts, that I still think about. The thing I liked best of all, however, was Lessa of Pern.

People talk about strong female characters today. Sometimes they mean kickbutt fighters. But when the term first got started, it meant females who held their own, who acted and achieved and accomplished, female characters who were smart.

Lessa was all that. To me, she was the sole female character in SF who really had the qualities I wanted to have. I adored her.

Recently, I was in a store and I picked up a copy of Dragonflight, the original Pern book. I remember thinking, Huh, it probably wasn’t that good. I’ve just glamorized it. Let me see… After all, some of her later books were a bit fluffy. Maybe this early book was just fluff, too, and I had just not noticed. I started flipping through it.

I read an astonishing amount of it before I realized I was standing in a bookstore and embarrassedly put it down.

It was still that good.

Today, author Jon Del Arroz was chatting about his upcoming book on Twitter, and the fact that the title of his book Star Realms: Rescue Run is an homage to Anne McCaffrey came up. A writer at review site SF Bluestocking responded:

I’d recommend broadening your horizons.
Anything written in the last 15 years is
more relevant than McCaffrey’s entire oeuvre.

I don’t know what is more shocking to me:

That this person who supposedly reviews SF spoke so lightly of this Grand Master who changed the field and who still sells today.

That a person who is so old-fashioned as to use the Victorian term bluestocking shows not regard for the past.

That she apparently thinks that my books and Mr. Del Arroz’s books—both written in the last 15 years—are more relevant than Anne McCaffrey’s. (An astonishing compliment, but neither of us have earned such praise, at least as of yet.)

Relevant to…what?

Anne McCaffrey is still relevant, to storytelling, to our field, to life!

And she still sells!

Jon Del Arroz speaks about this incident in his post: The Cult of the New