Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Halloween's probably my favorite holiday.  I haven't been religious for quite some time, so the more religion-oriented holidays don't carry the same weight they once did for me, which leaves only the secular (i.e., "fun") portions of them.  And no holiday has more fun associated with it than Halloween.  It would probably even be fun for me if I didn't have kids, but of course seeing them get so excited about dressing up and trick-or-treating just adds to the appeal.

May all your treats be yummy and your tricks fun!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Today's Blast From the Past

Just over a year ago, a major new patch was released for World of Warcraft.  Patch 4.01 paved the way for the Cataclysm expansion, ushering in major changes to the game's talent trees, classes, and user interface.  Just like every patch before it, Patch 4.01 was said to have destroyed World of Warcraft forever!

Yes, the article is humorous, but some people took me seriously.  Read the article here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Free short story, "Attachment"

Be sure to head over to my Free Fiction page, where you'll find my short story, "Attachment," available for a limited time.  It's a unique take on commission retail sales.

Enjoy!  It'll be replaced sometime in November with a selection from my NaNoWriMo novel, so read it while you can!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Blast from the Past: Tips to stop bullying

An oldie but a goodie:  Tips to stop bullying, written after a series of harrowing incidents my son went through during his first month of middle school.  His situation became bad enough we even decided to homeschool him last year, although he has returned to school this year with only a few minor issues.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Blast From the Past: Halloween Safety Tips

With Halloween fast approaching, I present to you a timeless article with tips on being safe during this spooky time of year: Halloween Safety Tips for Salvation of Souls

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

City of Heroes enters F2P market with a vengeance

It’s getting rarer and rarer these days to find an MMO that gates its content entirely behind a monthly subscription fee.  World of Warcraft, of course, still does (and probably always will), but other popular MMOs have lately adopted a hybrid subscription/free business model.  Dungeons and Dragons Online and Lord of the Ring Online were among the first of the big MMOs to offer free play options.  Perfect World Entertainment’s Champions Online has been this way for awhile now, while another of their games, Star Trek Online, will be very soon.  DC Universe Online will also soon be moving to a hybrid business model.

The grandfather of superhero MMOs, Paragon Studios’ seven-year-old City of Heroes, recently switched to a hybrid model.  While theirs is similar to those of the other games mentioned above, Paragon Studios seems dedicated to giving both their subscribers (aka VIP Players) and free players much more value than most MMOs out there.



Announced in June, City of Heroes: Freedom (as the game is now called) moved quickly through a closed and then open beta before offering a headstart for current subscribers.  The free-to-play floodgates then opened up on September 27th, and the game, as they say, would never be the same.

Unlike most games that have or are implementing hybrid business models, City of Heroes actually rewards former subscribers and other players who make even a small monetary investment in the game.  This is accomplished through a three-tiered player structure.

Free Players are those who have never maintained a subscription to City of Heroes and haven’t made a purchase from the new in-game Paragon Market.  While Free Players can created a highly customizable character and experience most game content (even leveling all the way to the level cap), they are extremely restricted when compared to the other player tiers.  For example, Free Players cannot use most of the game’s chat channels, enter Mission Architect missions, or take part in the Inventions System.

Premium Players are former subscribers or new players who make even a single purchase from the Paragon Market.  Several of the restrictions that Free Players have are lifted for Premium Players, depending on where they fall on the Paragon Rewards ladder, a system that replaced the old Veteran Rewards.

VIP Players are those who maintain current subscriptions to the game, and have none of the restrictions that the lower tiers have.  VIP Players also have free access to the Going Rogue expansion content, even if they didn’t previously purchase it, as well as some (but not all) new powersets, and special content such as the new Signature Story Arcs (released monthly).

To generate revenue, even from “free” players, Paragon Studios has created the Paragon Market, which can be accessed from within the game.    The intention is that there will be new items added to the Market each week, and so far they’ve kept to that.  In addition to the exciting new melee powerset Street Justice (which must be purchased even by VIP Players), they’ve added costume pieces like the Circle of Thorns set, firefighter hats, and a spooky Halloween costume bundle.

So is going free-to-play good for the game, or bad?  When it was first announced, some players expressed misgivings, but it seems like most of those concerns have fallen by the wayside.  City of Heroes is more accessible than ever before, and player excitement over the “extras” from the Paragon Market would seem to indicate that the Market is a great moneymaker for Paragon Studios.  I think the move to Freedom will end up being very good for City of Heroes.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Study on Catholic priest abuse completely misses the point

Perhaps not surprisingly, a study commissioned by the country's Roman Catholic bishops to analyze the pattern of clergy sex abuse completely overlooks the real issues of the scandal.  The authors of the study say it's not homosexuality, celibacy, or an all-male priesthood that caused the abuse.  Instead, they point to the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s and say that priests who were ordained in the 40s and 50s were ill-prepared to handle the societal changes.

I guess I'd take their claims more seriously if more people who took part in the sexual revolution thought it was okay to have sex with boys between the ages of 10-14.  The study also spends some time arguing semantics, saying that many of the abuse cases weren't technically pedophilia since a lot of the victims may have gone through puberty before they were molested.  I'm not sure it matters a great deal if the kid was 10 or 14; abuse is abuse, and it's made even worse when it's done by someone using religious authority to inflict it.

Whatever the real reasons behind the individual priests' misbehavior, the larger problem is the system that was in place that allowed -- I might go so far as to say encouraged -- the misbehavior to continue.  Not only have bishops been ordered by the Vatican to not report abusive priests to the secular authorities, but there has also been very little in the way of internal discipline for these monsters.  In the majority of cases, abusive priests were simply moved to other parishes where they could continue their abuse.

The evil here goes all the way to the top of the Catholic Church.  The man who is now Pope, Joseph Ratziner, personally covered up many cases of abuse in the name of what was best for the Church.  Ratzinger certainly doesn't deserve the adulation or the respect given him by the world's Catholics and should be held accountable for his part in damaging thousands of young people.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

RIP Typewriters?

The Internet was all atwitter yesterday when news broke that the last factory still producing typewriters was shutting down and halting production.  The time-honored machine, which, needless to say, produced most of the literary classics that we all know and love, had finally met its end at the hands of computer keyboards.  Just as video killed the radio star, it's been obvious for some time that the computer age had killed the "typewriter star," but yesterday it became official.

Except the typewriter isn't quite dead.  It turns out the plant featured in the above referenced news stories wasn't the only one still making typewriters.  Swintec, for one, is still producing them (they have factories in China, Japan, and Indonesia) and apparently doesn't plan on stopping in the near future.

It's been some time since I've used a typewriter, but I still have my old Smith Corona electronic model upstairs somewhere collecting dust.  It was a Christmas present from my parents when I was about 13 or 14, and it was one of my favorite gifts ever.  I find myself with a sudden urge to get it out, dust it off, and try typing up a story the old-fashioned way.

Of course, I'd still have to get said story digitalized... how else would I e-mail it to a magazine or upload it for the Kindle?

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Undertakers: Rise of the Corpses by Ty Drago

When I first heard of THE UNDERTAKERS: RISE OF THE CORPSES, a new YA novel by Ty Drago, it sounded like something right up my son's alley.  Teens and pre-teens forming an underground organization to battle zombie-like creatures?  What twelve-year-old wouldn't enjoy that?

Well, it turns out I enjoyed it quite a bit, too.  I wanted to read it to be able to discuss it with my son once he'd read it, but I found myself drawn into the story very quickly.  Yes, it's a Young Adult novel, but I've read "big boy" novels which left me with less of a feeling of that essential human connection than UNDERTAKERS.  Who among us, after all, can't relate to being twelve years old?  Who among us didn't have fantasies of being important or saving the world at that age?

Drago's writing is clear and fast-paced.  The concept, which seems familiar at first glance, is anything but.  Will Ritter, the twelve-year-old main character, wakes up one morning and suddenly begins seeing some of his neighbors and teachers as their true selves -- walking dead people.  He's soon whisked away by the Undertakers, a group of other kids who can also see these "corpses."  With one important exception, no adult is able to see the monsters as they really are, so it's up to this group of teens and pre-teens to save their city and, eventually, the world.

I would highly recommend UNDERTAKERS to anyone who has a child in middle school, especially if said child struggles to actually, you know, read.  As I mentioned earlier, though, anyone who enjoys a fast-paced story with a unique take on a familiar concept will find a lot to like in this book, no matter their age.

You can view the book trailer for UNDERTAKERS here, and purchase it by clicking the Amazon.com link above.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

An old friend

I'm not the most prolific writer in the world.  Sometimes my lack of output really depresses me, making me feel like a failure and making me write even less.  And I've noticed a cycle in my writing.  I'll work on short stories for awhile, chip away at a couple of different novels, and then I'll always come back to my oldest (original) story but never actually finish it.

It's a pretty classic soft science fiction story about the end of the world and what happens afterwards.  It's been "finished" several times since it first made itself known to me, at around 12 years of age, but as I grow as a writer I always find ways to make it "better," to expand upon the original story and subsequent versions, and so it's never really been finished.

That needs to change.  I know most writers can relate to the idea of a piece of work never truly being finished, but I need to get this story out there.  I feel like I need to set it free in order to be able to move past it.

I'm still working on putting together the previously mentioned Kindle short story collection, but my old friend needs me so that's where my primary focus is going to be for awhile.  Until it's done.  And I mean it this time.

Oh, and I have a new article up at Yahoo's Associated Content:  Skills for Effective Careers in Management.  May as well put all those years of retail management experience to use somehow. :)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ebook formating issues

As I mentioned yesterday, I have a good assortment of stories to include in my upcoming Kindle short story collection.  I've even narrowed down my choices so that the overall collection has a fairly consistent theme.  One of the hardest things I'll need to do, I've realized, is learn the ins and outs of formatting for the Kindle (and potentially other ebook readers, down the road).

It's not actually that learning to format for the Kindle is difficult; it's not, really.  The hard part comes from the pressure to get it just right.  Even though the good thing about ebook publishing is that anyone can do it, the bad thing is also that anyone can do it, and this leads to a lot of poorly written work being put out there.  Whether my work is "good" or not is something I'll leave up to the readers, but making sure it looks good on an ebook reader is something that's almost entirely up to me.

One thing that's at the same time scary and exciting about self-publishing is that the author has complete control over the presentation of his or her work. When you're published by a traditional publishing house, most (if not all) of the editing and formatting is handled by them.  With self-publishing, not only do you have to create compelling stories, but you also have to make it as error-free as possible.  The more errors you allow to creep into your finished product (whether grammatical or formatting), the harder you're making it for yourself to be taken seriously as an author.

I realized how hard it must be to ensure a perfect translation to the Kindle format while reading Stephen King's UNDER THE DOME.  There were a few places when the formatting went a little wonky, where a return or a line break appeared to have been inserted in the middle of a paragraph.  It didn't cause more than a momentary distraction, but I admit feeling a small amount of trepidation that even a Stephen King book could contain errors on the Kindle.  On one hand, it could reduce the pressure to get things just right, but on the other hand, I'm no Stephen King.

As the ebook and self-publishing platforms grow, it'll be even more important to get presentation just right.  Authors who can both craft good stories and create good presentations will be the ones who win out in this exciting new era of publishing.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Importance of theme

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm putting together a short story collection that will be available for the Kindle.  I've got plenty of stories ready to go, more than enough to "fill" a collection that I'd feel comfortable selling for 99 cents (the price point I'm thinking of going with for this collection).  One problem I'm having, though, is that I tend to genre-hop a fair amount.  Granted, my favorite genre is the sort of character-focused soft science fiction that Orson Scott Card primarily writes, but I've got a good amount of fantasy and urban fantasy stories as well.  I don't want to just throw a bunch of unrelated work into a collection just for the sake of filling up pages.

Most of what I consider my best work tends to feature characters that aren't your typical hero-type.  My main characters tend to have a dark side, and maybe shouldn't even be someone you should root for.  I'm thinking my first collection will focus on these types of characters and stories, and be mostly (if not entirely) science fiction.  Now to come up with a name for it...

April Fools' Day

I love April Fools' Day.  I don't typically play many pranks myself, but I love journeying through the Internet every April 1st to see what various game and media companies are doing to commemorate this special "holiday."

Blizzard Entertainment, producer of World of Warcraft, never fails to disappoint.  Each year they issue announcements about upcoming features for their games, some of which are so well-crafted that many players are taken unawares and actually believe them.  One year, they announced that a new race for an upcoming expansion was the Wisp, and would feature permanent death (i.e., if you were defeated in battle, your character was permanently dead with no hope of coming back to life).  This year, they've announced a couple of new "features" for WoW, as well as a new way to play StarCraft and an app for Diablo that may cause demonic possession and athlete's foot.

Google usually gets in on the fun, too.  This year they've announced Gmail Motion, a new way to use Gmail dependent on body movements.  Seems the whole full-body experience is all the rage these days when it comes to computing.  The mouse and keyboard are getting up there in years, after all.  Funny or Die, last year taken over by Justin Bieber, this year pays homage to Rebecca Black, she of that awful, horrible Friday song that's gotten over 70 million hits on YouTube.

It's gonna be a fun day. :)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Why self-publish?

I've been writing fiction now for more than 25 years.  It started out as something just for fun, and didn't amount to much more than what would today be termed fan fiction.  After a little while, though, I started to create my own characters, worlds, and stories, and the dream of being a full-time writer has weaved itself in and out of my consciousness for the last couple of decades.

I currently write for both Examiner.com and MMOSite.com and, while I do receive payment for my services there, it's not exactly enough to live on.  And even though getting paid to write is pretty cool no matter how you go about it, it's still not fiction, which is where my heart is.  I have been paid for my fiction before (see "One More Time," available both on my website and also as a 99-cent Kindle story), but again, I'm a long way away from giving up the ol' day job.

Even though I would love to give up that day job and rake in tons of dough from publishing contracts, I've always said the more important thing is to get my work out there for people to read.  It's not that I don't believe in my work, or that I have something to say that some people might find enlightening or important, but I'm also realistic and realize the odds of that happening through traditional channels are against me.

I'm currently working on a short story collection that I'll be publishing for the Kindle and perhaps other e-book readers.  I'm going to see how that goes and then will work on publishing a couple of novels (two of which are all but finished).  This blog will chronicle my efforts and experiences along the exciting road of self-publication.

Writing what I know

“Write what you know.”  It’s a familiar phrase to anyone who has ever had an interest in writing, and to most who’ve ever had an English class.  Followed to the extreme, it doesn’t always make sense, especially for fiction writers.  I’m not sure how much Orson Scott Card really knows about sentient pig-like and bug-like aliens (Speaker For the Dead) or how much experience Stephen King has had with supernatural beings who take on the form of dancing clowns (It), but I’m guessing neither of them have witnessed such things first-hand.  Of course, the point of most fiction is to show how people like us would respond to extraordinary circumstances, so the “write what you know” part of those stories is in creating characters who think and feel like real people encountering the fantastic.
Much of my writing has focused on themes and situations similar to those of Card and King, but lately I’ve been playing around with more mundane matters.  This has been happening slowly over time, as even stories I consider science fiction have really been “about” more than just the fantastical elements.  My short story, “Attachment,” currently making the rounds looking for a home, will strike a chord with my office supply store coworkers and anyone else who works in a retail or sales position.  ”Empty Chair” is a ghost story, but there’s a lesson there that’s very important in the real world.
I’m currently working on a story that’s not slated to have any real elements of science fiction or fantasy, which is pretty rare for me.  As such, I’m a little more nervous about how it’s going to be received than I am my other work.  This new one also hits a lot closer to home than anything I’ve ever done, and I’m struggling a lot just getting the words out, even though the story itself more or less popped into my head whole cloth.  A few people who are close to me will recognize themselves in it immediately, although not completely, both out of respect for them and the needs of the story, and I’ll be sure to let those people read it to get their feedback.  I know writers use the experiences of those around them as fuel for their stories all the time, but this story is so personal and painful that I feel like I owe a first reading to them.
It’s funny that back in the day, when I first started realizing I wanted to be a writer, I had these long-term fantasies about where I would be, career-wise, at different stages in my life.  None of those have come true, of course, as 25 years or more into it I’m still struggling to find even a moderate amount of success.  But I never imagined that I would have been interested in writing stuff that didn’t take place on a spaceship, or on another world, or that didn’t involve some form of time travel or ray gun.  It’s not really a new direction for me, as the novel that I hope to kick start (again) and eventually get published features all of those elements.  But I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about truth and What Really Matters lately, and I think “writing what I know” will help me express a lot of my thinking on those subjects.  Hopefully, the experience will translate to my science fiction as well.  People don’t read Orson Scott Card to hear what he has to say about pig-aliens, after all.