Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Egypt, a Year and a Bit On

Over a year ago, I blogged briefly about the revolution in Egypt and the fact that we all should be grateful that violence played rather a small part - though not to those killed or injured, to be sure, or to Mubarak - in the overturning of the old regime.

Today, real elections have been held. However, as I listen to the news reports of the apparent refusal of the military to support Mohammed Morsi, the reputed victor,  or even to allow him to be certified by holding the results in secret until some unannounced date, I am reminded of the first line of that post: the easy part is done.

And so it appears. Right now, it looks as if the military and the Muslim Brotherhood will duke it out on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. I hope that's not the case, and that the respective parties can find common ground which will allow the democratic process to proceed. The time to contest an election is not following the polling. To influence the outcome, a contender, or his or her party, must connect in some way with the people, offering them clear choices which will make their decision to support you an easy one. Like it or not, that seems to be what the Muslim Brotherhood has done.

If Egypt is to truly be a democracy, certify the results and permit the victor to take control. Put any proposed new constitution to a popular ratification. The test will come when the next elections are due. In a democracy, the citizens will have the opportunity to judge for themselves the success of the governing party, and then either rescind their approval, or confirm it. If the governing party refuses to allow elections, that is the time for the military to step in.

The time for influencing this election is past. Set your sights on the next one.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Back in the Old Days

Well, a year and a half ago, when I still thought I might get a job...

I was also signed up for, as I've said in the past. One of the authors whose early version I had the opportunity to read is Sharon Bayliss, and Lo and Behold! She's taken The Charge to the next level. It will be published by Curiosity Quills Press later this year. So, Congratulations, Sharon!

The story has changed considerably, she says, but I still recognize the character introduced in the first chapter as one she and I had several exchanges over during the course of the critting I did for her. It was even then a solid work, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again, all grown up and out in front of the world.

In the Critique Partner Spotlight Series, she is kind enough to give me, as well as the other readers and critters who helped during the story's early days, a 'thank you' post on her blog. You should go and read it, because there is also a link to The Charge. She's included a snippet from Chapter One which you should find interesting.

Thank you Sharon, both for the chance to read your story, and for giving me space on your blog.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Interview with Becka Sutton!

 Becka Sutton is the author and publisher of two web-serials, The Dragon Wars Saga and The Haventon Chronicles, and she's also converting Dragon Wars to ebook format. The first of these, Land of Myth, is now available in several convenient formats. I've been reading Dragon Wars since early in its on-line life, and find it thoroughly enjoyable. Since Land of Myth went live last month, Becka's on a tour to raise awareness and I'm very happy to provide a stop for her, in the form of an interview with questions that range from the sublime to the... not so sublime. 

The format of this interview:
First, I have some writing and author related questions.
The center section deals with more project specific topics. Since Becka publishes two web-serials, I asked some related questions.
Lastly, a selection of random questions, so we can get to know her a little better.

me: Why did you get into writing/become a writer?
Becka: When I was eight we used to do little creative writing projects in English. On parents' night my teacher told my mother that I had a talent for the English language that verged on the astounding for my age. I asked what would be astounding and was told writing a novel at that age. So I set to work writing a novel. I seem to remember it was some Mary-Sueish thing about a girl who had to go on a quest to win the hand of a fairy prince which would end a curse that had been placed on her homeland after they burnt someone as a witch generations ago. As the chapters were only a paragraph long, it was really just a short story, and the plot was totally incoherent. I misplaced it when we moved a while later. But I kind of caught the bug then and haven't stopped writing since.

As a teen, I wrote my first proper novel length story in a stack of exercise books my mother bought me for the purpose. It was a tad less incoherent but still awful. I burned it ages ago. The second one as well.

me: Why did you decide to go into Indie Publishing?
Becka: That's a difficult question. I think it was the realization that most writers, whether Indie or Traditionally Published, didn't make a living at it, so in the end this was mostly about fun that might, with hard work and a following wind, bring in a little dough. Keeping control of my work seemed like more fun than hawking it around and having all the creative decisions taken away from me if I managed to sell it to a publisher.

me: Can you give a synopsis of your current WIP (Work In Progress)?
Becka: Which one? Apart from The Dragon Wars Saga and The Haventon Chronicles, I'm currently working on the outline for a traditional fantasy about an asexual female navigator in an island culture – I think that might be this year's NaNoWriMo Project - and a set of Science Fiction flash fiction pieces about the first contact between humans and an alien species from a planet where the thalassogen is sulphuric acid and who want to buy Venus.

Note: For readers like me: "Isaac Asimov has coined the term 'thalassogen,' by which he refers to any substance capable of forming a planetary ocean."
"Isaac Asimov; 'The Thalassogens'; Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 39 (December, 1970):94-104."
Quoted from Robert A. Freitas Jr.,in Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, Sacramento, CA, 1979;

me: What is your biggest inspiration as a writer?
Becka: I find inspiration everywhere. I'll come across a fact somewhere – documentaries, books, Wikipedia, random conversation – and my brain runs away with it. Music is another big one. I'm not a writer who has soundtracks for my stuff but having the radio playing when I'm writing or outlining helps me focus.

me: What is your writing process? (ie: outline, notecards, etc)
Becka: I tend to worldbuild like crazy. My head is full of worlds. Then I notecard my outline. Then I lose the notecards and write by the seat of my pants, XD.

More seriously, I worldbuild a lot and I sometimes notecard but I usually have an outline in my head even when I don't have it on paper.
me: What was your motivation in publishing web serials?
Becka: It sounds weird but I sort of fell into the web fiction scene on Twitter and next thing I know I'm thinking that seems like a fun idea and trawling through my WIPs to see what I want to post.

me: What advice would you give a writer thinking of beginning a web serial?
Becka: Have a buffer and a regular posting schedule. Be prepared for a hard slog to build up your number of readers.

me: I think Dragon Wars is a success, but that’s from the reader’s perspective. What would you do differently, if you had the chance?
Becka: Success is always relative. I'm not Amanda Hocking (though I can dream) but I have awesome fans like you who were willing to fork up the dough to make the book happen. That's a big success in my book. 
What would I do differently? I'd probably look into the promotion side more. Making the world aware of web serials and books is not easy. Then again I'm still not sure what I'm doing on the marketing side of things – so if I had done that I'd probably still be waiting.

me: What’s your feeling about an author producing multiple web serials?
Becka: Well speaking as an author currently publishing two at the same time I don't have a problem with that. It is a lot more work than just doing one. On the plus side, updates draw people.

me: Why did you decide to publish Dragon Wars in the more traditional format of ebook and paperback? Any advice to offer from that experience?
Becka: A lot of people don't like reading huge chunks of text on a website so I suspect that some people are put off by the huge archive they'd have to read through. It's also easier to read an ebook or paperback anywhere once you have it. Websites require not just a computer but an internet connection to browse the page. On top of that I wanted to give my fans the chance to own a copy of the story they've supported so long. Plus there's just something immensely satisfying about holding your own book in your hands.

Advice? Work out how you're going to fund it. Self-publishing is more affordable now than it has been historically but it's still not free to do it properly. Every penny you spend is one you have to make back. I was fortunate in that while my IndieGoGo campaign didn't reach target it did make enough to cover everything so the first book has broken even before going on sale. Not losing money equals a big success. :-)

And some fun questions to see what Ms Sutton likes:
me: What three toppings would you mix into/put on top of your ice cream?
Becka: I tend to eat my ice cream plain. Also usually chocolate ice cream rather than anything else.

me: What is the coolest animal in the world?
Becka: The wolf or possibly the cheetah.

me: Who do you think would take the fight - Captain Kirk, Captain Jack Sparrow, or Captain Crunch?
Becka: Undoubtedly Captain Jack Sparrow – he's such a trickster archetype.

me: What is your favorite type of food? (IE: Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Italian)
Becka: A toss up between Chinese and Italian. I'm also rather fond of curry.

me: What is one thing on your bucket list? (Bucket list = things to do before you kick the bucket.)
Becka: I'd love to visit Japan.

me: Any closing statements? :)
Becka: Thanks for hosting me. :-)

Art for Land of Myth

Becka also shared her bio:
Becka Sutton is a self-described crazy cat lady, but she’s not very good at it: while she is crazy she only has one cat. She was born in Britain in 1972 and has lived there her entire life. In her early teens she started scrawling fantasy stories in exercise books her mother bought her to stop her scribbling in her school books. She hasn’t stopped writing since, and she credits writing as the outlet that allowed her to recover from the nervous breakdown she had after her parents died.

Her other interests include reading, listening to music, attempting to draw, growing her own vegetables and looking after the aforementioned Pumpkin cat.

No, you can’t read the novel she scrawled as a teen – she burned it long ago because it was awful.

Follow Becka on Twitter:
Her website:
For information about purchasing her book: (this is the hub page on the site that links to the various places it can be found)

So, thanks Becka, for helping to fill the blogging void this Friday with humor and advice. I appreciate the responses and the information. Along with following The Dragon Wars Saga, I'll be looking for more on your flash fiction series, and your navigatrix sounds fascinating as well.

This interview format based on one used by JE Medrick.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Pantsers Part 2

I posted last week about the cast size problems I've had by not controlling my characters, letting them do as they please while wandering along the story arc.

Of course, the new characters feel that they are as important as the ones I started with, the ones who brought them to life. They bring their own story arcs, with which they are enamoured. To tell the truth, sometimes I'm equally enamoured of them. But the main story doesn't take this interference lightly. Or positively.

I'm still learning the discipline to either cut these extraneous arcs out, or change the main arc to embrace them. A bigger issue for me in recognizing these side arcs as what they are: superfluous. It's one of the things my beta readers do that really helps-even if I would rather they thought everything worked just fine! It's better that they be honest, after all.

Only peripherally related: does anyone else have difficulty rewriting scenes? Once I've written something, I better back it up! For the life of me, I can't create it for a second time. It's like the muse says 'I gave you the clue once, it's your job to keep track of it. Don't bother me!'

Comments welcome below.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Originally written August, 2006.

I learned last Sunday that we’d lost Nick. Donna, Kathryn, others of his family, Ina and other co-workers, we’d all lost him. I wrote to Donna that day of my sorrow, and my hope that she and Kathryn would be able to forgive Nick, as he apparently took his own life. The news made me re-evaluate my feelings on suicide.

Like most experiences, I have probably suppressed bad events with Nick, for I certainly don’t recall any, except of course the one that defined the last two years of his life: the death of his son, Eric, on Valentine’s Day, 2004. I was sitting downstairs checking my email when I read Nick’s message that he had terrible news to share: that Eric had died. It was Saturday. The next day, I flew to San Francisco for the Intel Developers’ Conference. While I tried to call Nick, and failed, I did talk to my boss. He was thinking of going out for Eric’s service, which would be on Thursday. From the IDC, I flew to Seattle Tuesday night for a meeting — Boeing, I think — and then back to Ontario Wednesday night. I stayed overnight before the morning ceremony at Bobbitt Memorial Chapel, the same place where Nick’s service was today.

Eric’s service was filled with his peers, several of whom spoke with conviction of their loss at his death. Along with other co-workers, I had a few minutes with Nick and Donna as they tried to meet with all the visitors to the chapel. I drove from the chapel to Nick’s home in Yucaipa; perhaps fifty or sixty others did likewise. It is a pleasant home, set on the side of a hill in a residential neghborhood. Pines in front, stone walls in the front and back and a flagstone patio beyond the kitchen to the backyard.  I stayed a bit, spoke again to Nick (But really, what do you say?) and left to drive to Las Vegas to catch my flight back home. My life continued.

Other times were much more pleasant—how could they fail to be? Nick joined Numerix Corporation as an application engineer in the mid 1980’s. During her college selection phase, I took my daughter to Chicago to visit Northwestern and DePaul. While we were there, Numerix was setting up for a trade show; Nick was involved in arranging the equipment and the booth. I recall her smiling as he worked, first kidding with me, then showing her—terrified of math ever since inaccurate Advanced Placement recommendations—a book on prime number theory and telling her his hobby was computing ever larger new primes. It is safe to say she was taken aback rather than impressed, but she enjoyed his company more than less, both then and when she briefly worked at Mercury.

My history of customer involvement started at Numerix, as I did not only design and development work, but also pre-sales and post-sales visits. By the nature of the beast, this led to knowing the Sales Group (including AE’s) and attending Sales Meetings with them. Those were held in a variety of places, and I remember Nick's invitations to come out and spend every evening shooting pool, drinking cold beer and talking. The pool and talking parts of that held true for almost every Sales Meeting we both attended. One place where our plans were overcome by events was the last Numerix Sales Meeting in Orlando, when the plan to accept an offer by Mercury was revealed, and their CEO talked about the opportunity. I had rented a Mustang convertible, and after the formal meeting, we cruised Orlando, talking about what would happen once we became one with our heretofore competitor.

I continued to attend Sales meetings, as the position I accepted with Mercury involved even more customer input than I’d had with Numerix. However, the Mercury sales guys are just jealous of their customers, so I kept in contact with them, and of course the AE’s, all of whom were friendly, Nick most of all.

Remembering little things.

One of the perks of attending Sales Meetings was the unique tee shirt given to those present. Since Nick had attended all the meetings, he had the largest collection, and he brought to subsequent meetings a selection to choose from. The president was always interested to see which ones Nick wore.

Nick, as moderator at the back of the room, holding up the signs: 15; 10; 5; Quiet! to let speakers know when their time was up.

Trying to convince him to get a ‘real’ sports car to replace his Corvette.

Phone calls to check an innovation he wanted to try on a customer; unlike some sales associates, Nick was willing to check feasibility before advertising it. And he was willing to listen to problems with his ideas. If there were issues, they usually evolved from information he didn’t have, rather than an error or misunderstanding. He was always excited to be helping a customer solve his problem in the best way for this customer. Nick was easy to work with if you kept that in mind.

The past five or so years, he traveled less to be at home more. For him, even customer visits in Southern California took extravagantly long times due to traffic. With less on my plate while traveling, I was willing to drive halfway to meet him out in San Bernadino (near the I10 and I15 junction) at a Japanese restaurant where we could get sushi. When I got out for VITA meetings in Long Beach, or a customer visit in LA (defined for this purpose as between Simi Valley and San Diego), I’d arrange to drive out there to meet, have sushi and just talk. I enjoyed it; I hope he did as well.

I have always been of two minds about suicide. My aversion to the act varies inversely with the age of the person involved: at young ages, under the early 20’s perhaps and certainly for 12 to 16 year olds, suicide seems much too drastic a step taken far too early, before the wonders of life can possibly be manifest. To me, this argument holds less and less water as the person ages.

But, if the guess is correct—I’ll never know for sure—Nick had other demons. Eric’s death brought him depression; he never said so but used terms which one smarter than I might have recognized. Perhaps it was something else entirely, but not in my knowledge. Was it that, in death, Eric became more important to him, perhaps, than Donna or Kathryn, or others who now miss him so?  Was he right to focus there, decline to participate in our lives any more—as Chief Joseph said: “I will forget no more forever!”

My thoughts remain conflicted. I fear that because I wasn’t available, or as feeling as I should have been, perhaps I contributed to his depression. I feel a sense of loss in my mind and head. While my parents have both passed on, I thank God I’ve not had the pain of the death of a child. Even friends of mine have been exceptionally healthy, I guess, and lucky. The exception: before Nick’s death, Paige, an eight year old daughter and granddaughter of friends, with Down Syndrome and a host of other problems, died… She spent months in hospital suffering from leukemia first. Her passing seemed to me a pointless exercise in something—failed medical technology, faith, I don’t know. From the faith point of view, it just didn’t seem at all fair to put her through all that and then withhold the benefits. I think a little the same with Nick. I’d like to have some assurance that he’d tried everything he could to resolve the pain and loss he felt before taking that final step.

My loss is selfish: I like Nick; I don’t want to not have him. I hope that he did exhaust the possible alternatives before taking the final step on this plane. If he did, I can come to grips with his decision. But without having talked to him, I’ll never know. That’s the root of the problem. I want to be convinced that his disease was, in fact, incurable, and I’m not. But that doesn’t change the world.

I believe my feelings about suicide remain unchanged. While I would not choose it myself, it grows more acceptable—to me—as age increases; that it is a decision to be honored if made after other viable alternatives have been exhausted.

Goodbye, Nick. I already miss you. 8/25/06

Those of you who have looked at my book, Mercenaries: A Love Story may have noticed the dedication; this is some of the backstory to that dedication. I also thought it appropriate because Nick was the first person to read Black Sky, Dry Rain, the first part of that saga. Like any good reviewer, he was willing to say what he thought didn't work. I wish he'd had the chance to see it now.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Coming Attractions

Early next week, an essay originally written in 2006.

And Friday! A guest appearance by Becka Sutton, whose graciously consented to answer a few questions on what makes her tick, and why, as long as I'd mention that she's offering Land of Myth, Arc One of The Dragon Wars Saga both at Amazon and at her own website, Firebird Fiction.

I'll also try to add some thoughts to the Pantser post I did last week.

Check back or follow my Twitter.