Massive Fiction

So you know that secret project that I keep talking about on Twitter and Facebook? Here it is.

Massive Fiction is a Kickstarter project aimed at helping people learn how to write. It’s based on the educational concept of scaffolding: rather than having to do all the work on your own, supports are put into place so that you only have to add certain pieces.

In this case, we’re writing three novellas (by me, Dan Wells, and Marion Jensen). These will establish the world, characters, conflicts and backstory. Then six other authors (Kiersten White, Larry Corriea, Brodi Ashton, Erin Bowman, Jessica Day George, and J Scott Savage) will each create story stubs: first pages or first chapters that will give you a launching pad for starting your own story.

This can be used in a classroom setting: a teacher could assign students to read one of the novellas and then use one of the story stubs to start a creative writing project. Or, it could be used by more advanced writers: take the world we’ve created and run with it. It’s all going to be presented under a Creative Commons Attribution license, so you could even take what you’ve written in our world and publish it as your own.

And, if you’re just a reader, not a writer, you’ll still get three great novellas to read. Take a look at our Kickstarter page and donate if you can.

GOING DARK Cover Reveal and ARC Giveaway

I’m giddy to show you the cover to GOING DARK, the prequel novella that will come out one month before BLACKOUT. I love everything about this cover–the design, the colors, the parallels to BLACKOUT–it’s just awesome.

There are two ways to enter the ARC giveaway contest: first, leave a comment in the comments section below. Second, tweet about the cover using the hashtag #GoingDarkCoverReveal. I’ll pick a winner at random on Thursday morning. (NOTE: the ARC giveaway is for BLACKOUT. I don’t have ARCs of GOING DARK.)

Anyway: COVER!

Highly Scientific Survey: “Kiss, Marry, Kill” with Superheroes!

In this week’s edition of our Highly Scientific Survey, we decided to play the age-old slumber party game of “Kiss, Marry, Kill”. It’s pretty self-explanatory: Who would you want to kiss (i.e. make out with, etc)? Who would you want to marry? And who do you want to kill? However, instead of talking about the kids at school we’re in love with (or hate), we focused on superheroes. We had 95 respondents from Facebook and Twitter, in a pretty even split between males and females. The results are below.

 

Male Responses to “Kiss”. For some shocking reason, animalistic tight bodysuits seem to lead the pack. (Granted, EVERYONE is in a tight body suit.) The three top votes are known particularly for their martial arts, which probably means something. I’ll let you decide what. (Note: someone entered Mystique in the “other” box. She’s not really a superhero–she’s a supervillian. So she doesn’t count.)

 

Male responses to “Marry”. Catwoman, Batgirl and Black Widow fall way off the radar and are replaced by more tradtionally nice (perhaps mature?) women. Kitty Pryde, for those who don’t remember her, was played by Ellen Page in X-Men 3. We also get the All-American Values type women with Wonder Woman and Supergirl, a trend we’ll see continue in the Female responses to “Marry.” Also: two people want to marry She Hulk, because they’re braver than I.

 

The female responses to “Kiss”. The Avengers seem to be doing quite well for themselves, with the notorious womanizer Tony Stark leading the one-night-stand category, which seems very appropriate. I think Wolverine, Batman, and Thor kind of fit the Catwoman-Batgirl-Black Widow model, of the dangerously-sexy type. Also: someone wants to make out with Michaelangelo? His mouth is as wide as his whole head. This perturbs me.

 

Speaking of All-American-Values, here are the female responses to “Marry”. The female respondents may like to play around with the bad boy, but it’s Captain America that they take home to meet the folks. Also, just like with the males, we have a female who wants to marry a Hulk. My hat’s off to you!

 

Since “Kill” isn’t necessarily gender-specific, this first graph is everyone’s responses to “kill”. It’s a bit hard to read, but you’ll note that Cyclops is a pansy and everyone hates him. (He got my vote.) It’s also amusing that Robin comes in second, since he dies so often in the comic books–we must all enjoy watching that. The Punisher and Rorschach ought to die because they’re horrible people, but what’s Scott Pilgrim doing up there? What did he ever do to you?

 

The male responses to “Kill”. We can see that they’re the ones leading the campaign against Cyclops. I would assume Aquaman is killed because he’s a bit of a fishy joke. I’m not sure about the reasoning for The Crow. Too goth? An interesting note: men are very unlikely to kill women; however, as we’ll see in the next graph, women are not nearly as reluctant to kill men.

 

Female responses to “Kill”. Man, women don’t like Robin. I also find it somewhat interesting that Catwoman ties for 2nd place, and took 1st place on the Male Kiss category. Is there a correlation?

 

Anyway. We had a lot of fun here today, but one thing is no joke: Don’t actually kill any superheroes. The management of this website does not endorse that at all. Or one-night stands. Or marrying Hulks.

My Geeky Hobbies: Warmachine

This is probably of little interest to most of my readers, but a couple authors (Dan Wells, Larry Correia, Howard Tayler) and I play the wargame Warmachine, and I’ve been meaning to send them pictures of my painted miniatures. The traditional color scheme for this army is white and pink, which looks terrible. I did mine in red, black, and gold. (Apologies for the poor lighting.)

My favorite part: on these last guys, the spells on their scrolls are Traguna, Makoidies, Tracorum, Sadis, Di, which is the spell from Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

How Close Are We To More Killings?

I’ve been thinking about what to say about the Sandy Hook tragedy, but my mind has been too cluttered and conflicted. It wasn’t until tonight that a comment on Facebook suddenly helped me make sense of things.

Most of you by now have likely seen or read the article titled “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother”, which has been spread all over Facebook and Twitter. In it, the writer, Liza Long, describes being the mother of a mentally ill teenage boy–a violent boy she can neither control nor understand. The article is very good, and makes important points about the current state of mental healthcare in the United States, and about the culture of violence.

But my uncle, Frank Matheson, made the following comment on Facebook, which really moved me:

“No, she is not Adam Lanza’s mother. Her story makes it even more inexplicable why Adam Lanza’s actual mother would stock her home with multiple semiautomatic assault weapons, fail to secure them, and teach her son to use them.”

I’ve long been a gun rights advocate. In fact, 2nd Amendment issues are one of the few reasons I have refused to register as Democrat and still remain unaffiliated.

But something needs to change.

As regular readers of my blog know, I have multiple mental illnesses, the worst of which has led to violent self-harm, and I have been voluntarily hospitalized in the search for help.

I remember very distinctly when my mental illness hit a new milestone, and I told my wife I had the urge to bleed from my head. (My self-harm is a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and I get these intense urges that flood my thoughts and it takes everything I can do to not act on them.) My wife set to work going through my office/workshop, gathering up every possible weapon she could find–and there were a lot: Exact-O knives, box cutters, chisels, scissors, awls, drills, wire cutters and more. She filled a large tupperware bin with these tools and took them away for weeks, until I had talked to my psychiatrist, had adjusted my meds, and no longer felt those urges.

The scary thing is that I’m a normal guy. I’m married. I have three kids. I not only have a college degree, I have a graduate degree. I’m a published author. I’m a god-fearing church goer. And yet I was overwhelmed with the desire to self-harm so completely that I had to ask my wife to save me from myself.

And–and this is where it gets very uncomfortable–it’s not like it stops there. I’ve had suicidal thoughts. And, once, when things were at the very worst, my mental illness put the following thought into my head: “You should kill yourself–and your whole family.”

I know. Uncomfortable, right? Unthinkable. Unimaginable. And yet that thought appeared in all its OCD madness.

Fortunately, I had enough sense to immediately call the doctor and get immediately treated.

And do you know what his first questions were? First: Have you made a plan? And second: do you have access to a firearm?

Thank God I could say no to both. Thank God I had a doctor who knew my case, and who I could reach with ease. Thank God I had a wife who I could confide in, who would help me get treatment.

I can’t say that I know the perfect solution to stopping mass shootings, to preventing the Adam Lanzas of the world from committing their heinous acts of destruction. But I can say this:

1. In four months, my health care coverage (COBRA) will expire, and no other insurance provider has yet been willing to cover me. The denial of health care coverage for the mentally ill has to change. It simply must.

2. I could get a gun if I wanted to. No law in place would stop me. While I’m mentally ill–while I’ve been hospitalized–the hospitalization was voluntary, and that does not put me in a database to fail a background check.

Stopping shootings is not going to be as simple as creating a new law or two or three or ten. But we CAN, and we MUST take actions to address at least some of the problems. We can make sure the mentally ill have access to treatment. We can make sure that guns are harder to get.

And there are non-legal actions we need to take, too. We need to be more responsible. We don’t know all the details of the Sandy Hook case, but imagine if Adam Lanza’s mom did something as simple as putting her guns in a safe and not give him the combination? Or use gun locks and not tell him where the key was?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. We can’t simply legislate our way out of this problem. But we can’t throw up our hands in defeat, either. We must act, as individuals, as states, and as a nation.

I Sold Two More Books!

The announcement today from Publishers Marketplace:

Author of VARIANT, Robison Wells’s next two books, including a sequel to his forthcoming YA thriller BLACKOUT about superpowered teenagers helping the US military fight off terrorist attacks and full-scale invasion, again to Erica Sussman at Harper Teen, in a good deal, by Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger (world)

Here’s how this breaks down: my original deal with Harper was for three books: Variant, Feedback, and another book to be named later. That third book became Blackout, as described above. So this new deal is for two more books: a sequel to Blackout (currently untitled), and another book to be named later. (This deal also includes a novella, part of the Blackout universe, which will likely be released a month before Blackout. It will likely be ebook-only, but we’ll see.)

So anyway, I’m super excited.

Also: the cover to Blackout is AMAZING. I can’t wait to show you, but it’ll probably be several months before I can.

In summary: YAY!

Readers Don’t Owe Authors Anything

There’s an image that’s been making its way around the internet, popping up in both my Facebook and Tumblr accounts. It kind of drives me a little bit crazy. Here’s the image in its entirety:

So, let’s begin with the positives. First off, there’s nothing wrong with liking or reviewing or rating a book. I LOVE it when someone likes or reviews or rates my books. I even like the occasional bad review, especially if they’re fun to read. (My favorite bad review: it was completely negative and then said “I will give it credit because it’s an idea I haven’t seen before; but maybe I haven’t seen it before because it’s a really bad idea.” That’s a great review.) So, anyway, yes: reviews and likes and stars are awesome.

But:

Let me make that bolder:

BUT:

Readers do not owe one thing to an author. This is an attitude that I see often in writers circles, and it infects authors from the lowliest of indies to the most popular of bestsellers: that the author worked really hard on the book, so readers ought to like it for that reason alone. To quote the image above: “It’s a lonely journey to embark on just to tell a story, yet the personal costs are huge.

You know what, though? Writing is just work. And while I certainly don’t mean to downplay my own profession, writing is REALLY GREAT. It’s the dream job. Even back when I wasn’t writing fulltime, back when I was right out of college and working as an accountant at a lumber yard and writing in my spare time–writing was great. It was fun. That’s why I was doing it. As the image above says: “It’s a labor of love.

Besides that, you know what else is “a lonely journey” with huge “personal costs”? Just about any career. I got my MBA before my writing gig took off, and I can name dozens upon dozens of people who work harder than me: dozens of people who work longer hours, under higher stress, for much less recognition. And you know what? Every one of those people are just as personally committed to their dreams, be they entrepreneurship or business success or promotion or building a company from the ground up, they are just as committed to their dream as I am to my writing.

You know who has a lonely journey with huge personal costs? The guy who scraped together enough money to buy a Burger King franchise. Or the woman who sunk herself into debt and put off temporary pleasures so she could get through dental school. Or the carpenter who hangs drywall for years while he’s waiting for his own custom furniture business to take off. In other words: everyone is making a lonely journey. Everyone pays huge personal costs. And yet there’s no Facebook plea of “Please give my Burger King franchise a great review on Yelp, because I try really hard!” And there shouldn’t be.

Readers don’t owe anything to authors. It’s completely the opposite: authors owe everything to their readers.

A couple years ago I wrote about attending a concert where the crowd just wasn’t into it. I was infuriated–this was one of my very favorite singers, and my town wasn’t showing her the kind of attentiveness she deserved. But then she changed her show, singing some of her older songs, trying to connect–and when it worked, she did the same song a second time. And then she said, cheerfully: “My job is to make you happy.”

She knew the truth. She knew that SHE was the entertainer, and WE were the paying public. We’d paid to be there, and we wanted a good show, and she was bound and determined to give us one. And she did, and we loved it.

THAT’S the attitude that authors should have, rather than begging for positive reviews. That’s how writers get better, and it’s how readers get happier. And the happier those readers are, the less writers will need to beg you to give them a rating.

Books and Music and Movies, Oh My!

So, the awesome news is that my next book, Blackout, has been turned in to my publisher and is in the revision process! It’s coming along marvelously, and I have to say that I’m extremely happy with how it’s turning out. I don’t know how other authors are, but I always start a new project wondering how I ever even managed to write a book before, let alone a good one. So it’s always nice (and, admittedly, rare) when the first draft comes out so well.

Anyway, once the book was done I breathed a sigh of relief and the dove headfirst into a pile of books, music and movies that I had been ignoring while I was writing. Here are a few thoughts.

Books

The Bourne Identity, by Robert Ludlum

I am an enormous fan of the Bourne movies. I think I’d put the trilogy (I haven’t seen the fourth one yet) into my top five favorite movies. (In fact, I have, if you look at the FAQ and see what I listed.) Anyway, I’ve always heard that the books are completely different from the movies, but I figured: they have to be kind of the same, right? I mean, they are based on them.

Well, the sad truth is that the book is kind of… crappy? Am I allowed to say that? I know these are beloved, and I’m probably blaspheming, but this really does seem to be a case where the movies far outshine the book.

Spoiler warning!

The big issue I have with the books is that Jason Bourne just isn’t very competent. Sure, he’s a good fighter, but that’s really all he is. He’s not inventive, he’s not a strategist, he’s not brilliant and clever. He’s just good in a fight. And that’s disappointing. In one of the more egregious examples, he lets Marie (the girl who starts as a hostage and becomes an ally, similar to the movie) plan an operation. I’m all about girl power, and I like that Marie isn’t incompetent (instead of the wandering, down-on-her-luck Marie of the movie, the Marie in the book is a doctor of economics and a high ranking official in the Canadian government), but she isn’t the super soldier that Bourne supposedly is. And yet he lets her decide timing, who stands where, when action should be taken. The Bourne in the book is practically incompetent: a boring nobody who can only be heroic when something snaps in his brain and briefly turns on his Super Soldier mode–and then he goes back to being a nobody.

Anyway, I admit I have a pro-movie bias in this franchise. But I’m trying to be as objective as possible when I say: the Bourne movies really improved on the source material.

On The Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta

It seems that the concept of fragmented, boarding-school-style societies have popped up all over books these days: think of the Houses in Harry Potter, the Factions in Divergent, even the gangs in Variant. It’s becoming a common trope, especially in genre fic, but I’ve never seen it used so well and so meaningfully as in the contemporary YA, On the Jellicoe Road. The book is Austrailian, and the three factions are the Townies (kids who go to school in the town), the Cadets (the kids at a military school), and the Jellicoe students (kids who go to a private boarding school on the Jellicoe Road).

There’s all the same kinds of things you’d find in a Variant or a Divergent or even a Harry Potter: wars over territory, fights between faction leaders, invasions and diplomacy. But the difference between On The Jellicoe Road and all those other books is that On The Jellicoe Road is intensely personal, and intensely character-driven. There are deep and serious mysteries, but they’re all about what happened to this character, or what memory is that character suppressing, or what terrible personal tragedy happened long ago to shape the way things are now.

I always like to say that I’m not a fan of contempory YA or literary fiction, but then I’ll run into a book like this that completely blows me away. It’s such a completely different experience reading it than most of the books I read: so much more rich and dark and emotional and personal. It makes me wish I could write half this well.

Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer

I read this one about two months ago, and kept meaning to blog about it: it’s a pop-science look at where creativity comes from, and how our minds develop ideas, and how the brain works.

And then it was revealed recently that the author, Jonah Lehrer, who I’ve loved from other books (like How We Decide) and podcasts like RadioLab and This American Life, did something unethical in this book: he made up some quotes that fit his narrative, and attributed them to Bob Dylan.

The book aside, it’s made me wonder a lot of ethics. As far as I can remember, the book would have been just as strong without the fictional quotes; they simply added a little flair. Why would such a successful up-and-comer like Lehrer–he’s only 31!–resort to something so stupid?

I don’t know. It makes me want be more attentive, more cautious.

And it sucks all the more because Imagine was a great book.

Mind Games, by Kiersten White, and Taken, by Erin Bowman

I recently read these two ARCs. I plan to blog about them in more detail later, but let me just say that Erin Bowman and Kiersten White are both brilliant.

Music

“What We Saw From the Cheap Seats”, by Regina Spektor

I’ve been familiar with Regina Spektor for years, but never a huge fan. That all changed when I heard this new album, What We Saw From the Cheap Seats. I wish I was more of a music critic so I could speak intelligently on the subject, but I can’t. Instead, I’ll let the lyrics speak for themselves. This is the song “All the Rowboats”, which presents a museum from the point of view of the artwork.

All the rowboats, in the paintings They keep trying to row away And the captain’s worried faces Stay contorted and staring at the waves They’ll keep hanging, in their gold frames For forever, forever and a day All the rowboats, in the oil paintings They keep trying to row away, row away

(I’m having trouble embedding the YouTube video today, but here’s the link: All The Rowboats)

I’ll also say this album has two songs that are immensely meaningful to me. I won’t say what they are. Just listen to the full album. It’s terrific.

Movies

Hunger Games

I finally got around to watching the movie, now that it’s out on DVD. (I’ve been eager to watch it since its release, but my agoraphobia and I don’t go to movie theaters.) I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. There were so many ways they could have screwed this up, but they managed to do the book justice while also making accomodations for the different medium. (I particularly liked how they would cut to Caeser Flickerman for commentary and background information. It was a clever little bit of writing that managed to maintain the depth of the story while not bogging us down with out-of-place infodumps.)

Other thoughts:

  • Cinna was underused. Why get Lenny Kravitz and then give him nothing to do?
  • Haymitch was perfect. As was Effie Trinket.
  • Gale’s audition: “Show us your pouty face.”
  • Jennifer Lawrence is pretty hot.
  • This is a little thing, but I liked the cornucopia. I could never picture it in the book.

TV

Breaking Bad

I started watching Breaking Bad halfway through season four, so I watched as far as the end of season three and then waited for four to come on Netflix to catch me up. And then, the day it appeared on Netflix, I stayed awake THE ENTIRE NIGHT and watched season four straight through.

Man, this is the best dang show on TV.

Psychiatrist visits are not a sign of mass murder

On a more serious note:

I know that the media is desperate to report something about the movie theater shooting, but I’m really annoyed by the current headline that’s making the rounds:

CNN: Colorado suspect was seeing a psychiatrist

FoxNews: Court papers reveal Colorado shooting suspect was seeing psychiatrist

NYTimes: Colorado suspect was getting psychiatric care

ABCnews: Colo. suspect was seeing a shrink

I find this reporting horribly offensive, irresponsible and damaging. We know NOTHING about what he was seeing a psychiatrist about. NOTHING AT ALL. Nothing has been released. And yet it’s being reported everywhere, because the media (and our society as a whole) has decided that seeing a psychiatrist is a sign of a deranged mind. “Aha!” says America! “He was seeing a psychiatrist! That explains SO MUCH!”

But it doesn’t explain anything, because seeing a psychiatrist is not a damning sign of craziness, or a precursor to murderous behavior, or a conclusive sign of ANYTHING AT ALL.

Legitimate, non-murderous reasons real people might see a psychiatrist (not comprehensive):

Eating disorders Claustrophobia Generalized Anxiety OCD Depression Sleepwalking Alzheimer’s Mourning Substance abuse Nightmares Perfectionism Dyslexia Pathological Gambling Stuttering Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia (like me)

My point: So the Colorado shooter was seeing a psychiatrist; SO WHAT? Implying that seeing a psychiatrist is relevant to this case–WHEN NO FACTS ARE KNOWN–paints every person with a mental illness as a potential mass murder. Which is BULLCRAP.

This is why people are afraid of admitting to mental illness. It’s why very sick people refuse to get help–because they’re afraid of the stigma.

It was GOOD that this shooter was seeing a psychiatrist. I have no idea what the reason for his visits were, but seeing a psychiatrist meant he was trying to get help. I wish MORE people were willing to see psychiatrists. But that’s not going to happen as long as society views psychiatric patients as ticking time bombs. So STOP IT.

4 Comments 28 July 2012

On a more serious note:

I know that the media is desperate to report something about the movie theater shooting, but I’m really annoyed by the current headline that’s making the rounds:

CNN: Colorado suspect was seeing a psychiatrist FoxNews: Court papers reveal Colorado shooting suspect was seeing psychiatrist NYTimes: Colorado suspect was getting psychiatric care ABCnews: Colo. suspect was seeing a shrink

I find this reporting horribly offensive, irresponsible and damaging. We know NOTHING about what he was seeing a psychiatrist about. NOTHING AT ALL. Nothing has been released. And yet it’s being reported everywhere, because the media (and our society as a whole) has decided that seeing a psychiatrist is a sign of a deranged mind. “Aha!” says America! “He was seeing a psychiatrist! That explains SO MUCH!”

But it doesn’t explain anything, because seeing a psychiatrist is not a damning sign of craziness, or a precursor to murderous behavior, or a conclusive sign of ANYTHING AT ALL.

Legitimate, non-murderous reasons real people might see a psychiatrist (not comprehensive):

Eating disorders Claustrophobia Generalized Anxiety OCD Depression Sleepwalking Alzheimer’s Mourning Substance abuse Nightmares Perfectionism Dyslexia Pathological Gambling Stuttering Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia (like me)

My point: So the Colorado shooter was seeing a psychiatrist; SO WHAT? Implying that seeing a psychiatrist is relevant to this case–WHEN NO FACTS ARE KNOWN–paints every person with a mental illness as a potential mass murder. Which is BULLCRAP.

This is why people are afraid of admitting to mental illness. It’s why very sick people refuse to get help–because they’re afraid of the stigma.

It was GOOD that this shooter was seeing a psychiatrist. I have no idea what the reason for his visits were, but seeing a psychiatrist meant he was trying to get help. I wish MORE people were willing to see psychiatrists. But that’s not going to happen as long as society views psychiatric patients as ticking time bombs. So STOP IT.