Archive for March 2012

Starving Artist Alert

Today I published my first novel. Today I am officially a starving artist.

You can find my novel, Rising, here on Smashwords:

And here on

Now, I'm not starving and this isn't my first novel. It is the longest thing I've ever published, and if it doesn't sell I could some day starve. Maybe. Being a bohemian is a wonderful lifestyle, but starving, not so much.

This is, if I can remember correctly (and I cannot), my fifth novel-length work. It's the first one I've had the guts to publish. But then maybe it's not guts we're talking about, but just old fashioned don't care.

That's what it really took in the end. I had to shelve my perfectionism. There wasn't anything I was dissatisfied with by the time I got to draft #5, but I could have waited. I could have taken three months and let my eyes rest, then go over it again with a fine-toothed comb.

Instead I decided to jump in head first, daring the water to be two feet deep. After the slog of editing I've done, I can't say that I care anymore. If it flops, if it succeeds, if I write another one, if I don't.

I will write the sequel, and both books will succeed, eventually. In fact, this one has already succeeded, because my only goal was to publish it. Selling it isn't on my radar right now, and I'll certainly write better books in years and decades to come, assuming I'm still alive and able to think clearly enough and have the function of my fingers.

I'm glad this is over now. I'm glad I can go back to writing at a snail's pace, taking my time, doing things right. I don't need to pressure myself this hard for a long time, and I won't. I'll get things done, slowly, and in the years to come I'll amass quite a collection of pulp fiction for your enjoyment.

It's certainly a joy to write this stuff.

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Rising Cover Art

A big, huge thanks to Camille Pedraja for taking the time to redesign this a bit. This is my final cover for "Rising", which should be published in a week or so, if all goes well and I don't run into formatting and technical issues.

This is Camille's redesign. As you can see I took some liberties with it, turning the "target" design into a maze, adding the dots, as well as the cloth background. It was her idea to put my name in the bottom right corner and get rid of the "By". We collaborated well together in the end, but we were not the only ones with ideas. If Aaron Sawyer (who is a pretty good cover artist himself!) and others hadn't spoken up about the original, we would have never tried for another version.

This was the best draft of our "first" design. I like it, but there are obviously problems with it and overall it just doesn't do anything for me.

I manipulated nearly two dozen separate covers trying to find the right one. It was a lot of work getting this cover done, but Camille and I finally did it, and really like what came out.

Art, whether it's writing or drawing, is a lot of trial and error. There's a lot of work that goes into making even a passable product. I don't know if the "Rising" cover is great or just average, but the work was well worth it.

It is very rewarding knowing you've done the work, and can be satisfied with the result. For a perfectionist like me, being satisfied with anything is a great big step up in the world!


Copyright and Piracy

[“Artist”, “creator”, and “writer” are interchangeable terms throughout this post.]

I would like to begin by saying simply that the copyright is here to stay. It will not change. We cannot even end daylight savings time, we will not end copyright law, which many artists support, not to mention many lawyers and politicians. This blog post is not in response to a fear that we may lose our copyrights, but to the illogical position of those who say we should.

This debate is too large to cover in its entirety here, so I will not attempt to do so. I'm open to change, but find most of the arguments lacking. I believe in a free and fair society, but don't feel copyright law will effect the outcome of that ideal.

My biggest argument against ending copyright is the issue of plagiarism. If there are no copyrights, are there going to be plagiarism laws? Why would there be? Under our current system, plagiarism is guarded against by our copyright laws. Would this issue be addressed? To listen to those arguing against copyright laws, it doesn't seem as if it would be.

I am also at odds with the idea that copyright harms creativity—the opposite of this is actually the case—and that if something can be easily duplicated, it should be free for anyone to use. This is a weak justification for theft, that because the original product is unharmed, it's okay to copy a song, a story, or movie.

I do not feel that copyright laws should be limited to seven or fourteen years, as some have suggested. As an artist, I would like to own my work for my lifetime, so that when I'm older I can continue to have exclusive rights to sell it.

Piracy concerns me. I feel that if someone creates an idea, they have the right to own it. Just as someone has the right to own something they buy. But I am firmly against SOPA/PIPA and ACTA. None of these bills would have addressed the real issue behind piracy, and would have smothered the internet, possibly destroying it as we know it today.

Something I've noticed, but am not sure if it's true “generally”, or only for those I have spoken with, is that most of the pirates I've met (some I call friends), are not usually artists. They do not write, paint, make music. They are consumers of art, of entertainment, and do not seem to empathize with the plight of the “starving” artist.


Pirates focus their arguments on corporations, on book publishers, the music industry, and Hollywood, as well as drug manufacturers and other technology sectors. These industries push the pirates, and the pirates push back.

Caught in the middle are people like me, and many artists far more successful than I am, yet aren't “rich” enough to not be personally effected by theft or the loss of their copyrights.

Writers write (and painters paint, and singers sing) for many reasons, but there are two reasons that stand out. It is fun, and there is always a sliver of hope that we can do this for a living.

Let's say an author spends two years writing a novel. She's invested hundreds of hours into this project. She's woken up early, stayed up late, missed dates with friends, spent less time with her children, sacrificed her health. She does this because she know it's her work, and will always be.

Introduce the seven year copyright. After seven years, anyone can steal use her story, which she's spent so much time on, and sell it for their own personal profit. The author would get nothing from them, and her own sales would have to compete against theirs.

If Simon and Schuster liked her story and published it without her, she would not be able to compete with their marketing department, or with the investment they could put behind her novel—their book.

Pirates make the argument that corporations are ruining the world, ruining creativity, stopping the free flow of ideas, and yet they don't realize they would give corporations the legal right to steal use a creator's work, be it art, writing, or music, and sell it.

The irony is that corporations will benefit the most from no or limited copyright laws, for they will have the most resources to take advantage of the situation.

Some see freedom in this. I see anarchy.

Apply this philosophy to physical objects. You would no longer be able to tell someone they cannot enter your home, drive your car, or sleep with your wife. Nice world we would live in without ownership, isn't it?

But what difference is there between physical objects and abstract ideas? In my opinion there is none in the context of copyright laws and piracy, because both objects and ideas have the same impact upon the world we live in. Both ought to be protected.

When a pirate argues against copyright laws, what I really hear is that artists don't have the right to be paid for what they create.

Apply this logic to the real world. What destroys creativity, hard work, and fulfillment more, the right to ownership or the freedom to take?

In this dystopia, an auto worker has the right to a job, and even the right to payment. But he has no exclusive right to his income. He can work 40 or 50 hours a week, but then anyone can sweet-talk the boss and take his paycheck.

If the auto worker lost most of his paycheck to people who didn't do the work, would he work as hard? No. He'd slack off. The auto industry would suffer, consumers would suffer.

Yet that's exactly what pirates are suggesting artists do. We creators should give up our work to people who aren't creative, but who have enough business savvy to come in, take our creations, and sell them for their own personal profit.


Those at the top want to keep what they have, and those at the bottom want what's at the top.

I believe those at the top have every right to keep what they've earned, and those at the bottom have every right to work to get what they want.

I don't believe people at the top should use their money and power to dictate to governments, to prohibit freedom of speech and expression for everyone just because a few are stealing something from them. Nor do I believe the people at the bottom should be lazy and take what is at the top instead of creating their own ideas, their own products, their own future.

I seek the Middle Way, and the system we have now is that way.

Copyright law is far from a black and white issue, and having freedom and having laws are not mutually exclusive in this context. Those who believe copyright laws limit us should take a look at Wikipedia and Linux, and remind themselves that people are opting out of their right to copyright what they create, benefiting society, and that those who do not choose to opt out, and instead sell their ideas, are also benefiting society.

Copyright is not saying that “Because I wrote a book, you cannot write a book.” It's saying “You cannot sell my book as your own.” There's a difference there, an important distinction. Copyright does not destroy creativity, collaboration, shared ideas, or freedom. It fosters and nurtures these ideals.

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The Dangers of Friendship

I had to end a friendship with a guy I grew up with, who was at one time my best friend. We lost track of each other for years, and I finally tracked him down and connected with him again. I hoped—though I had learned by then that digging up people from my past was a risky proposition—that we could rekindle our former brotherhood.

The beginning of the end started with a comment I had made. It was my misunderstanding. I thought he meant something other than what he really meant, and though I was agreeing with what I thought he meant, I was actually disagreeing with him, since he meant the opposite.

A simple misunderstanding, but also a lethal one, for he was in no mood to forgive and forget, even after I apologized and explained what had happened. Someone really hurt him, he was determined to take it out on me.

He was angry with me, posting obscenity-laced comments about my place in the world. That I had no right to talk to him, that I didn't go through what he went through, that I was ignorant, asinine, and self righteous. He pulled the Kurt Cobain book out and accused me of being fake.

I tried to be diplomatic about it. I apologized, I explained where I was coming from. He got hostile and paranoid. I finally decided that if he wanted “real”, I'd give it to him real. I didn't sugar coat my last message to him, but told him exactly how I felt about his behavior. I told him to grow up, that he was being an asshole about the situation. I told him I don't have a crystal ball, that I would forgive him, and move on, but I didn't need the negativity—the abuse, really. And I said that friendship is a two way street, that friends must give and take equally.

He kept repeating that it was his turn to stand up for himself, that no one could walk over him anymore. I listed the insulting things he had called me and told him, “if you want to stand up for yourself, do it against your enemies, not your friends.” I don't know who hurt him, but in his blind anger, he couldn't understand that I was just caught in the middle, hoping to help.

He didn't want real as much as he thought he did. He defriended me. (To be fair, I asked him to, if he could not respect me.)

His last words were “no regrets”, but he must have been talking about himself, because I'm having major regrets.

He told me to think about what I did, and I have, a lot. It was the last thought before I drifted to sleep, and it was the first thought when I woke up this morning.

My “friend” is a taker. Many of us know the type, but there's more to it than what many might think. He's had a very difficult life, dealing with an abusive stepfather, school bullies, homelessness, drug addiction. Many people who go through events like that learn to take care of themselves first. They're often more self-centered and greedy than people who didn't have to fight to survive. I don't blame him for it, but am very sad I couldn't help him.

I'm also very sad that he saw in me an enemy, someone out to get him. I remember how excited I was when I tracked him down early last year, after 12 years since the last time we spoke. I listened to his story, I tried my best to give him positive vibes. I encouraged him. The only time I wasn't available to him to talk was a few months at the end of 2011, when I had to get offline to take care of my own problems. I wasn't available to anyone.

But sine I've been in touch with him, I do not remember him ever coming to me for anything. Not to ask for advice, not to give me advice, not to tell me about his life, or to ask about mine. Not to chat, whether about life in general, the future, or the fun times we used to have as kids wrecking our neighborhood (we wrecked that neighborhood thoroughly!).

I started all of our conversations. I was the one reaching out. He had no time for me, yet on his way out of my life, his biggest complaint was that I wasn't a real friend.

Now, I don't claim to be the best friend in the world. I don't claim to even be a good friend. It's too much pressure involved in living up to those expectations. I try my best to be nice to people, but I don't always. I have an ideal, but I don't always meet it. But I do try, and I do care, even when I am too pissed off and compulsive to do anything productive.

What a friend is and should do is different for many people. We all have different expectations. I don't feel that my expectations are too high. I keep my friendships loose. I've learned that friends are not always there for me, whether they want to be or not, and I'm not always there for them, whether I want to be or not.

I've walked away from many friendships, sometimes because they were negative forces in my life (as this one quickly turned out to be), other times because I or they moved (a product of being an Army brat), and still other times for no good reason at all. People grow apart. We change. I see friendships as living things. We must nurture each other to grow, but even then we sometimes grow bored of others. There's always someone new waiting to replace the old. I think this is an immensely positive thing, because it allows us to recycle ourselves and others. Why attach ourselves to old friends, when we each can be of better use for other people?

I'm sad that this friendship ended like it did, but I'm not down and out. I'm not going to pack my bags and quit on the human experience. I'm not going to be bitter about it. I have a lot to look forward to. So I don't get along with one person? I know of many who would give me the benefit of the doubt, who would try to mend the broken bridge. That's harder for people who have had a difficult life and don't yet have their head above water.

I take people in stride. I seek to understand them, what motivates them, why they react to what they do, and the way they react to it, if only so some day I can stop being the central character in my own drama. I've had a lot of friends in my life, and I've learned something from each of them, but I've learned the most from the ones who many wouldn't consider good at all.

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My Inspirations

My inspirations don't come predominantly from fiction. I am often inspired by video games, movies, and television. Final Fantasy VII and VIII, and other RPGs, concepts like The Highlander and Blade Runner, all of those goofy 80's werewolf movies, the awesome science fiction I've seen, and just about anything to do with Merlin, Star Wars, and Star Trek.

My greatest movie inspiration is the “Wizard of Oz”. It hooked me on fantasy at a young age. I have watched Dorothy dozens of times. I finally read the book as an adult. The book is better in many ways, but it didn't give me the same nightmarish imagery as the 1939 film.

When I was four, I dressed as the Wicked Witch of the West for Halloween. It was scandalous—and awesome! (I have done little cross dressing since then.)

Music is an inspiration to me. Not only when I'm writing, when I listen to the sounds of Guns N Roses or Stone Temple Pilots, but also when I'm not writing. The eerie moods of Pink Floyd or the ancient tones of Led Zeppelin set a pace for my future imaginations.

I'm inspired by art and architecture. Google “fantasy art” and see all of the wonderful designs on the internet. The imagery sets the tone for my writing. Castles, as well, have pushed me in the direction I'm going. I was fortunate enough to interact with castles as a child, living in Germany. How could I touch the archaic, timeless stones and not want to create something equally impressive?

Books have their place as well. Tolkien's “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings”, Anne Rice's “Vampire Chronicles”, Frank Herbert's “Dune”, Stephen King's “It” and “Tommyknockers”, and Lloyd Alexander's “Chronicles of Prydain” shaped my growth into fantasy. These epic novels and series were enjoyable and educational. They've taught me what a good story looks like. They've taught me what makes characters real.

The common denominator of the above media are the images they put inside my mind. They fill the well from which I draw ideas, inspirations, plots, scenes, settings, characters. I enjoy taking the old and adding to it the new—that part of me yet to be tapped, that unique creativity only I have, because only I am me.

I am who I am because of these things. They have shaped me as much as anything else has. They've pushed me into creativity, if only by being so much fun that I needed more. Only I can make more, just the way I want it.

I create for me, to recapture that feeling I had when I was a child, watching Star Wars or reading “The High King”. It's that feeling I seek when I write. If I can return that feeling to those who read my books, I will have completed a circle. The circle is destiny.

Every single creator of the works I've listed above were inspired by others, by men and women or by nature. They emulated that inspiration until they finally emulated themselves. Then they gave the world something new and bold, and inspired new generations of humans.

They returned the favor.

But I have a question. Am I attracted to these things because of the way I am, or am I the way I am because I've been marked by the things I've experienced in film, music, art, and books?

Which came first: the dinosaur or the egg?

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Tornado Spring

The Midwest and Southern United States is geographically unique. Each year we are hit with severe storms. The land is flat and expansive, allowing for devastating winds. During the spring, when cold and warm air mix, the conditions are perfect for powerful tornadoes.

Nature proves stronger than civilization, dominating us each spring and summer. For as winter melts, one of the most formidable natural disasters wakes from its hibernation.

Lacking proper storm shelters, advance warning, and luck, people are killed in small communities across the country. Homes and businesses are demolished. Tornado season is inescapable, but I see a sort of virtue in it, in ourselves. When our neighbors lose everything, when we lose family and friends, it seems the best we  have is brought to the surface.

If only for a moment, we are able to experience what I call an "ideal" society. An ideal society is not one without difficulty, not one having conquered nature or even itself, but one where difficulty and pain is willingly and unconditionally shared by those strong enough to help those who have been hurt.

Not all of us have the means to help those devastated by recent tornado activity. We may not live close enough, have the money, or the time.

There are still things each of us can do that, though they may not have an immediate impact, will eventually flower into something transcending disaster. They are not physical, but mental and emotional. They are mindsets. A change of perspective.

Empathize with those who are hurt.

Appreciate those who help.

Never take life for granted. 

Sending our prayers and money will help, but what is most important  is that we share, if only in our own hearts, the burden others are facing. If we can at least do this, we will have done much more than we realize. Thoughts are our most powerful tools. Our minds are the wells from which actions spring forth.

Slowly we will change the world without lifting a finger or speaking a word. Yet after we have changed our minds, it will be easier for us to help others. The Red Cross will always be full, no one will lack for prayers, neighbors will rebuild, and though we will still face natural disasters, even when we have small personal disasters we will always have someone to turn to.

This is what I hope to someday see. We rise to the greatest challenges, but sometimes are apathetic to the smallest ones. Let these terrible disasters make us better able to cope with the ones we may not easily notice. Let's take care of each other when no one is watching, as we do the community that has lost families and homes, when all the world is watching our reaction.

This starts with remembering the 48 people who have died on Earth this year from tornadoes. 43 of them are right here at home. 5, no less important, far away. There will be more. We cannot prevent nature. But we can adapt and be better people despite disaster, and perhaps because of it.

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