Thursday, February 22, 2018

Armed Teachers—Why Not!?

The answer to the gun problem—more guns.
There are some very practical reasons that arming teachers is not a tenable or viable solution, and none of them have to do with gun control or my personal position on the matter.  Let’s just touch on three:

Economics—According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are currently "3.2 million full-time-equivalent (FTE) teachers". A new Glock 9mm runs between $450 and $550 (depending). Assuming Federal government lowest bidder and bulk buy at $300, that's a $960,000,000 price tag (yep, almost a billion dollars in initial expenses). This does not include the cost for "standard" training (whatever that would be), certification and re-certification, or coaches (I'm a walk-on coach and gun owner), part-time and substitute teachers.

Moral/Ethical/Religious—The base assumptions is that teachers unions and school districts would just go along with this. They wouldn't, BUT requiring teachers to become efficient with firearms will definitely go against a high percentage of teachers' moral, ethical, and/or religious considerations. The Selective Services Acts and the Supreme Court have already made it clear that no one can be forced to carry weapons in the service of their country.

Practicality—There are already guns on campuses. The federal Gun-Free School Zones Act doesn't apply to anyone who is licensed by the state/county/city of the Federal government to carry a firearm—such as police who patrol campuses, or CCW permit holders. In most mass shooting cases, there has been a firearm near or present. In most of those cases, the "good guy with a gun" scenario did not play out for any number of reasons.

None of this discusses the additional risk or putting a firearm in every classroom on every campus. The increased likelihood of accidental shootings, or of students doing something incredibly stupid. In the case of active shooter incidents, there's as much a chance for teachers to shoot the wrong person, or to be shot themselves as law enforcement moves in to secure the area.

The number of issues and scenarios where things can go wrong VASTLY outweighs any even slight increase in potential safety.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Iron is Magic?

Evil fairies?  Bad.  Evil fairies with firearms?  Worse.

What’s the deal with Fairies and iron?

Back in the bad-old-good-days or yore, before things like flush toilets, toothbrushes, and a general understanding of bacteria and hygiene, folk could be forgiven for a general lack of knowledge about things that we now know almost unconsciously.

Steel is just an alloy of iron and carbon.

Why is this better?  Well, compared to iron or bronze, steel has a higher tensile strength.  Pure iron, while stronger than bronze, is still reasonably malleable, comparatively easy to bend and deform.  Heat it up, add some carbon, and BLAM-O!, you get a crystal lattice at the atomic level that renders this iron alloy into a versatile component that can be incorporated into anything you heart (and the strength of your arm) can create.

It’s the BLAM-O part that threw our Classical Antiquity and Early Medieval forebears.

Because the process wasn’t known or understood, iron, when being worked by a smith, would sometimes just turn into steel.  There really was no BLAM-O part.  When it happened, it seemed to be beyond the smith's control. A smith thought he was making just another iron axe head or sword, but suddenly he had something stronger (and sometimes more brittle). Once smiths actually knew the process (or at least followed the steps that worked) it might seem like magic had just occurred.  They certainly wouldn't have thought that their iron was anything other than iron.

The only way to stop a bad elf with a gun?
You can see how, especially to outside observers, the process of ironworking would seem complicated (because it was), and possibly—with all the burning and time involved and offerings to the gods and whatnot—even magical. Use against supernatural beings would seem to be right in line with these spectacular gifts, especially if you had a weapon with a decent ratio of iron and steel, making it both strong and flexible, hold an edge, turn other blades, etc. The Ulfberht swords are a really good example of this, so legendary in their abilities during the 9th to 11th centuries that they were often sought after, and there were many forgeries of inferior quality.

So, what do you do when you’re confronted with a Fairy, or something that looks like it’s of the Fairy?  Whip out your magical iron (steel) sword and cut that things wings off, then go home and brag.  What do you do if you're writing urban fantasy and fairies are now running amok, tearing up convenience stores and generally trying to poke holes in your favorite major organs?  Load up your iron-round Glock, pull leather and go to work shooting them!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Solo No One Can Hear You!

Long, long ago, in a multiplex far, far away . . .

The Solo trailer dropped and I’m crazy-pumped up about it.  Honestly, I’m more excited to see Donald Glover take on the role of Lando Calrissian than anything else.  Here, take a moment to see what all the fuss is about:

Now, I’ve seen a lot of fan rage over, well, everything.  You can’t log into a social media platform these days and not keep yourself warm from the hate that burns hotter than a thousand desert suns.

Cheesy? Yes. But also yummy good!
Star Wars itself (and the first one was called just that "Star Wars") was always meant as Lucas' love-letter to B-movie serials like "Flash Gordon" among many, many, many others (so is Indiana Jones) but with a budget behind it. It still wasn't the budget he wanted, but it was enough to let him make the film. It worked. Space opera taken "seriously" was a great riff on an old classic. There are enough plot holes in the original film to fill a Super Star Destroyer, but no one really cared, and since there was no internet to really work people up, everyone just accepted the film for what it was—entertainment.

Along the way, however, Lucas started to take himself a bit too seriously. He decided that he had mythology embedded all along, and tried to build off that. He also decided that the real money was in merchandising, and he wasn't wrong. "Return of the Jedi" was as much a 132 minute commercial as it was the conclusion of the series—and it was meant to be the conclusion. Lucas stated in a few places that there would be no more films. And yet, he never stopped making Star Wars. The two made-for-TV Ewok films released in immediate succession to "Jedi" in '84 and '85. Animated series "Droids" and "Ewoks" ran through '86. There has been no end of extended universe stories, the Han Solo trilogy, and most notably the Thrawn series by Timothy Zahn. There have been really great games and so forth.

More entertainment for all kinds of audience members.

That’s really the point.  Since 1977, there has always been an appetite for more Star Wars Universe stories.  From the Holiday Special (egads) to online fan-fiction, there's no reason to suggest that they should end. Thankfully, Lucas let go of the reins. He was always better with the big ideas and not so much with the execution of nuance that makes a story palatable. JJ Abrams, for all his faults, knows how to tell a good story, and was completely able to tap into the original space opera themes and tropes and present them in an updated and exciting way. Rian Johnson did the same with his turn at the helm. I would have preferred he stayed for the next movie, but bringing Abrams back for the stability of this next "conclusion" is not a bad thing. Also, I'm SUPER excited to see a young Han Solo movie. If nothing else, Donald Glover as a young Lando Calrissian is DEFINITELY going in the right direction.

The Force will be with us, always.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Rules Rulez!

Just ask my beta readers!
There are most definitely rules to writing.

Anyone who tells you differently is likely headed for an accident themselves.

Unless their name is Pynchon, or McCarthy, or Rowling, or King—or if you prefer Earnhardt, Schumacher, and Andretti (I had to look those up)—always view this advice with the same skepticism as a fruit-vending snake.

What they probably meant to say is: First know the rules, and then know when to break them.

If you’re breaking them because you don’t know them, that’s as bad as driving the wrong way down the 101 during rush hour while wearing a blindfold, screaming, “All gods are bastards!”

On the other hand, if you’re writing at a good clip, following your roadmap outline, and a character suddenly swerves into your lane, throwing out plot-twists and dialogue, that’s the time to take some decisive action.

Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are as important—maybe even more so—as plot, dialogue, and believable characters. Nothing takes a reader out of a story faster, shattering that illusion of willing belief than a poorly executed line resulting in unwanted hilarity due to lack of solid basics:

“What are you going to do?  Ink them to death?” Jane asked.

“My penis mightier than their swords!” Dick said, thrusting his implement into the air triumphantly.

Nothing throws ice-water on a clever moment as effectively. The odd typo is certainly forgivable—even the Big Five have a certain number of errors in every release, no matter whose name is on the cover.  But repeated errors will start to frustrate and annoy your reader to the point that, no matter how great the story, they’ll walk away frustrated, and perhaps ride to the nearest 1-star review:

I hate wet and reiny days. It rained alot in 1816 .... alot - like everyday    the weather in Europe was crazxy whet and it rained 183 out of the one-hundred-and-thirty days from January to February to March. the onnly thing U could doo without TeeV or anything was to sat. I sat.  I sat and sas and sat.

Imagine page after page of at that level.  Did you make it through, or are you now curled up in a ball, shuddering at the evil?  We can only communicate if we’re all playing by the same rules.  Stories need to adhere even more closely, so that they can reach the widest audience possible and have the greatest chance of getting the messages through.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The 13 Lives of a Television Repairman by M.D. Thalmann

Here lies the world.
That's one way to do it!
The 13 Lives of a Television Repair Man” by M.D. Thalmann provides a character-driven look at a post-apocalyptic world and the events that led up to it. This is a unique look at post-apoc scifi, and Thalmann uses his narrator, Arthur, to great effect building up to and through the cataclysmic events.

The world has died, and Arthur knows how it happened. In many ways, he caused it. But to get there, and to understand the character and the events, the reader is first treated to a wonderful character, one most people can relate to. Starting in Cold War America in the 1950s, Arthur becomes enamored of the magic of television. While his parents are struggling through their own realities, Arthur finds solace and comfort in the warm glow of an old cathode ray-tube Zenith. Unfortunately, when the Zenith breaks, and his parents can’t afford to fix it, he’s cut adrift. Eventually, Arthur is taken in by a television repairman, who sees promise in the boy, and inadvertently sets things on a collision course to destruction.

Thalmann provides a unique perspective into the life of a man lost and gasping, while trying to make sense of the world and make a living and life for himself. Nothing is ever easy, even being a television repairman. Readers will come to respect that bygone profession, and see the events that led up to the end of the world through the eyes of a wonderful character. There is laughter, tears, frustration, and joy in walking with Arthur through his life, and ultimately to the end of the world.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Conservation of Characters

Tell your sister . . . I'll be back as a young and vibrant Force ghost!
There’s a rule that almost every movie and book series adheres to called “Conservation of Characters.” The thrust is simple: a writer/reader spends time introducing, understanding, and relating to a character as they go through conflicts and resolutions. Because of the limited space of books and movies, Conservation of Characters results in a noticeable and significantly lower percentage of death vs. danger.

Television shows have a lot more room to play with this.  Actors typically don’t want to sign up just to be killed off, but there is still room over, under, through and around this rule.  “Supernatural” plays with this on and off, sometimes “killing” even the main characters, only to have them return after a reasonable story-arc about them being dead.

The point is that it's much easier to change characters over time, through injuries, torture, mental anguish, etc. than it is to realistically kill off that character and have to start the process over.  Because of this, often the twist of a movie or a book can be seen some distance off, as the number of characters a writer can introduce has to be reasonable enough for a reader to absorb.  The number of characters a writer can reasonably kill off is even less.

It’s not a bad thing.  It’s a thing that writers (and readers) should be aware of.

Looking back, I've killed off at least one major character in every genre fiction book I've written. I didn't realize it until I was thinking about this concept. Apparently, I buy into the "writer as bastard" concept and figure that the more fights a character gets into, the more likely they—or someone close to them—are to get killed.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer

“Creatures of Will and Grace” by Molly Tanzer is a wonderful homage to the late, great Oscar Wilde and the only novel he published, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”.  Readers concerned that they need to be intimately familiar with Wilde’s original need not worry.  Tanzer has created a novel that stands on its own, while paying all due respect.

Set in Victorian London, sisters Evadne and Dorina find themselves being introduced to society through Lady Henrietta “Henry” Wotten.  Henry wears tailored pants (gasp), speaks her mind, and lives her life often in conflict with what is deemed acceptable. She is everything a rebellious woman of this era should be, while never quite crossing into the anachronistic of the modern.  Naturally, Dorina is immediately and completely enamored of the older, wiser, and wholly engaging woman.  While Evadne, athletic to the last, finds Henry's lack of conformity uncomfortable to say the least.  Leaving her sister to her own devices, she evades the rule-breaking Henry with the lesser evil of finding a fencing master—her own, personal will.  Almost in parallel, the sisters are introduced to an underground London, where magic and demon summoning are the rule of the day, and darker forces are at work.

The pacing will be slow for some readers, especially those unfamiliar with Victorian era storytelling.  However, the way in which Tanzer develops her characters and world is in keeping with the plot and the source material.  Once all the pieces are in place, the pace picks up, almost too quickly.

“Creatures of Will and Grace” is a delicious glimpse into an alternate history, with all the trappings of Victorian England and its “proper” society.  Between Dorina, Henry and Evadne, readers will be able to peer through the shop windows and see a brilliant reflection of our own world.