May 28, 2013

The non-poet poet's best friend

Today I took a break from work and revisited not only the light verse on this blog but also the 60 or so poems I put on a private blog a couple years back. I expected to find a collection of amateurish, embarrassingly lame attempts. What I encountered, however, was a delightful olio of wit, cleverness, and wordplay, spiced up with a few dashes of powerful imagery.

At first, I loved what I was reading. I wrote that! I remember that! Ha ha, yeah, brilliant!

Then, I got real sad. Why? Because I haven't written more than two or three poems in two years. And reading those tickled me so much that I think it's a shame I stopped.

I used to carry a rhyming dictionary to and from work every day. Once or twice a week, I'd take it out on the train and use it to kick-start some goofball poem. Over the years, my old rhyming dictionary became so tattered and brittle that it eventually fell apart, so I replaced it with this pocket one (pictured).

But after a year or so, I stopped carrying that. I got caught up in writing my novels. I lost touch with the playful poet that I so much enjoyed reading today.

Just now, I dug the rhyming dictionary out from behind some Dave Barry and Bloom County books on our bookshelf. I'm moving it to my work bag next to my journal. And when I get a couple dozen more poems together, I'll clean them all up into an anthology.

After that, I might revisit my Unlucky 26 (a non-published POD version pictured here). The children of Marrow Moor really deserve to have their stories shared with the world so other children won't suffer the same gruesome fates.

When I pick up that rhyming dictionary, I feel like I'm reconnecting with an old friend. The kind that, when you go out for coffee, just sits and listens to your stories, and when you get stuck, he comes up with exactly the right word that sends you spinning off onto a whole set of new stories.

May 21, 2013

Nerds and Nepal, a mini travelogue of two weekend fairs (blog)

Last weekend was "fair weekend" for us. Saturday we visited the Maker Faire in San Mateo for the first time, and Sunday we dragged the boys to the Himalayan Fair in Berkeley. I would love to live in the neighborhood where the Himalayan Fair took place, but I doubt I'll bother going back to Maker Faire.

Maker Faire
I had high hopes for this after looking at the web site and hearing rave reviews from more than one friend. We expected crowds and were prepared for an all-day affair, but frankly I left feeling that it had all the charm of Comdex with all the discomforts of Disneyland. That is to say, it was devilishly crowded, terribly expensive, and frequently felt as much like an extended sales pitch as a demonstration of wicked coolness.

We started the day arriving at the remote parking lot which had nearly nonexistent signage (which led to many people parking in the wrong lot and getting expensive tickets), then waiting in line 45 minutes for the shuttle bus, which took about 20 minutes to get us to the drop-off point, which was a 10 minute walk from the main gate. All this time, for the price of admission, my expectations were building. This many people must mean it was going to be truly awesome.

The Faire had some pretty awesome things. Watching the Coke & Mentos guys do their fountain was fun, but to see the three minutes of action we listened to a 20 minute lecture we could barely hear, along with 400 of our sweatiest friends. The stage was raised so almost everyone could see, but throughout the day it became apparent that if you really wanted to see a demonstration or show, you had to get there 30 minutes early (or more) and wait. With seating nearly nonexistent throughout the grounds, it gets tough not only on an old guy like me but also on teenagers.

I especially liked the life sized Mousetrap game board. Clever and quirky, and as a feat of raw ridiculousness it really raised the bar to epic heights.

I never did see a 3D printer in action, and the robot competition area was fun but chaotic (it seemed to be a VEX-like competition, but it was unclear where the teams came from). We missed but the flying drones exhibit because we got tired of waiting for it to start, and the main exhibit hall was so crowded between the booths that even if you could get close enough to see an exhibitor's stuff you were constantly jostled and pressed by people trying to get through.

Overall, had we planned it better we may have had a better experience, but for $30 a person for a day pass, and then an overpriced lunch and drinks ($3 for a bottle of water!), I don't see any point in going back next year. Or ever, really.

Waiting in line for the shuttle builds skepticism.

STILL waiting in line for the shuttle.

Go Bears! The Cal version of a solar car.

Life sized Mousetrap. Cool.

More Mousetrap. Still cool.

Exterminate! Exterminate!

Himalayan Fair
The next day was a totally different experience. We found parking in Berkeley relatively easily, walked four blocks through a cute little neighborhood to a lovely, well shaded park, to be greeted by festive music, bright colors, and free admission.

Granted, our expectations were lower than for Maker Faire, but the payoff was far greater. The beautiful day was made more beautiful by the colorful strings of prayer flags and the stream running through the park. The food was very good (though we were hoping for Nepali or Tibetan options to go with the Indian), and the people were terribly friendly. It had an air of community to it. Even in the hot, crowded booths it still seemed happy and pleasant.

The entertainment was hit or miss. One group of drumming guys who I think might have been warming up for their dance demonstration, displayed a charming lack of rhythm. And the guy pouring free tea (for a donation with all funds going to a charity) was unclear on whether he was pouring Chai (as we suspected) or Chia (as his sign said).

Gotta love parking on YOLO street.

Shady goodness, photo taken from where we sat and ate our lunch.

Sam found a cool spot to sit while Mom shopped.

Festive colors!

More festive colors!

Music on the Big Stage.

Sam, caught in a not terribly flattering candid moment, examining the posters of the Himalayan range.

Ethan doing a quick sketch while waiting for the momos to arrive.
All in all, I would return to the Himalayan Fair every year but not bother with Maker Faire again. Maybe that's because I would love to relive our wonderful week in Nepal, but I have no desire to pay for a semi-pro version of Comdex.

May 16, 2013

I have more than 12,000 people NOT on my email list. You could be one of them!

Good thing I make my living in fundraising because I'm really bad at this book promotion thing.

I published Semper over a year ago, and with nearly 12,000 copies in circulation I am only now setting up a real email list. Maybe that's why Forsada (the sequel to Semper) has only 1,900 copies out in its fourth month.

See the entry form over there on the blog's right rail? You can sign up there.

When my list gets to 100 people, I'll give away a signed copy of Forsada to a random subscriber. Already have Forsada? I'll give you a signed copy of my next book if you prefer.

When my list gets to 500 people, I'll give away two more signed copies and a $25 gift card (either Amazon or Starbucks, your choice).

I'll give one additional entry into these drawings to anyone who tweets or posts this to facebook. Two additional entries for a Goodreads or Amazon rating. One more for a text review on Goodreads; one more for a text review on Amazon. If you blog your review, that's two more.

Please sign up. I don't send much email. And I'll never give out anyone's email address. I'll use it to announce new releases, appearances, and contests I have. I won't post blog updates; if you want to follow the blog, there's a feedburner over there as well.

May 13, 2013

she's a girl, not a woman. fifteen will get you twenty, dude.

Remember way back last week when a man was arrested for having sex with a minor?

A women's water polo team.
I am sad to say I did not
personally take this photo.
The man was a girls' water polo coach at our local high school. I don't know either the girl or the man, but from the rumors shoved down my throat, this seems to have been consensual. (The law, of course, insists that a minor cannot consent, so  the dude is in big trouble for his galactically awful judgment. I don't excuse him. Not one bit.)

But here's the thing. The high school administration, and the local sports community at large, are as guilty as anyone in this.

I'm a writer. I think words matter. The difference between "infant" and "toddler," for example, is huge. An infant isn't mobile, can't pull an unattended knife off a kitchen counter and stick it into an electrical outlet (or into a little brother). Infants are cute when they cry. Toddlers are Terrible, all the time. We all know it without any more information than the words infant and toddler.

What about the difference between "girl" and "woman"? Girls are innocent and naive. They're Laura Ingalls. They fantasize about being Disney princesses swept away by Prince Charming, and they wear fairy wings even when it's not Halloween. Women, however, have a gritty, world-wise toughness. They listen to All Things Considered, count points, and have credit card debt. They understand that romantic comedies are shelved under Fiction.

The article linked above, you may have noticed, referred to the arrested man as a "girls' water polo coach." Our high school, however, consistently refers to our girls' sports as women's teams. When I was growing up, I was on the boys' track team, not the men's track team. Why are we in such a hurry these days to treat our kids like adults? Why can't we let them be kids?
Kinda says all we need to know about that, doesn't it?
Maybe I'm old fashioned, but when the participants are minors, I think they should be called boys and girls, not men and women. The coach was told, over and over, that he was coaching women. The girls were told, over and over, that they were women. What, exactly, did the administration expect to happen?

May 7, 2013

My #teen #scifi #ebooks just 99c through may 15 (stock up for summer)

Yeah, it's a discounted period. Because you missed the free download period last week, which about 1,000 people did not miss. I don't know where you were, but I can tell you I'm never relying on you to tell me when the train's gonna leave the station.

Easy enough to get my ebooks, just 99 cents through May 15. Why May 15? Why not. Then it's back to the stratospheric price of $2.99. I know, only the one-percenters can afford that. So you'd better act fast. Quantities are limited. (not really, but I've always wanted to say that)

Here's where you can get them:

Buy it for 99c at its Amazon book page

Dane, in line to become Southshaw's thirteenth Semper, knows of the nuclear war that devastated the Earth three hundred years ago. He understands the Book of Truth and has heard his father's sermons every Sunday since he could walk. But as his sixteenth birthday approaches, he's faced with a choice he never expected to have to make: Should he obey his cruel, fundamentalist uncle and twelve generations of Southshaw Truth, and take his rightful place as Semper? Or should he follow his heart, risking exile and death, to seek and unearth the real truth? An exotic huntress, a mythical ghost-man, and a tailor's daughter hold the keys to his answer. And to the survival of Southshaw itself.

Buy it for 99c at its Amazon book page

Lupay isn't afraid of fighting, but what can one girl do against an army? Thousands of Southshawans, whipped into a war frenzy by a fundamentalist demogague, are poised to sweep in and crush her home of Tawtrukk, and Lupay is powerless to stop it. Or is she? Driven into hiding and pursued even into the depths of the mountain, Lupay and her friens do their best to resist. But resistance won't withstand the onslaught forever, and ultimately Lupay must choose: flee into the radioactive barrens of the Desolation, or rise up and fight fire with fire, like the legendary Tawtrukk warrior queen, Forsada.

I'm working on the third and final book in this series, which I hope to publish in the first half of 2014. At this point I'm the lamest of the lame and don't have an email list manager I'm using, so if you want updates on my third book, subscribe to this blog. (I've got a feedburner on the right rail, right over there.)

Well, you can get print versions of these two books as well. Just click through to the book pages above and you'll find the links to the print books.

May 3, 2013

youth protection: it's not about gay people

This year, May is known as the month that the Boy Scouts of America will vote on whether to continue their discriminatory anti-gay policy or to soften their bigotry so they don't officially hate gay kids. (They'll still officially hate gay adults.)

Maybe hate is the wrong word. Maybe fear is better.

No, let's go with hate.

BSA surveyed their members to help guide them in this difficult decision. That survey shows that 51% of chartered councils have come out in favor of being as bigoted as possible. "Don't change the policy," they cry.

The reason so many of BSA's members and leaders feel this way is hard to pin down. A lot is made of potential membership deterioration should gays be let in. Then there are the in-depth analyses of changing attitudes, comparing surveys and demographics from three years ago to surveys today. But mostly it seems to stem from the "Judeo-Christian moral principles" of sexuality being reserved for a man and a woman in marriage. Basically, the religious segment within BSA believe that people shouldn't have sex if they're not married (and marriage is one man with one woman, but that's a different blog post).

BSA already acknowledges that since all scouts are minors, any sexual conduct is inappropriate and therefore forbidden. They wrote that down. It's in their FAQ.

But we also already have laws against adults engaging in sexual conduct with minors. It, too, is inappropriate and therefore forbidden. Why, then, do we need to exclude gay men and women from scouting? Does being gay make them worse at tying knots, planning a budget, building a campfire, carrying a backpack, administering first aid? Does being gay make them unable to teach, to coach, to lead? Apparently, many in the BSA organization think so. Fifty-one percent, to be precise.

This week, a local high school water polo coach was arrested for having sex with a teenage girl. Being heterosexual does not make a person trustworthy.

In the US, two out of five first marriages end in divorce. Being heterosexual does not make a person morally upstanding in that "traditional values" sense.

Out of ten randomly selected Boy Scouts child molestation cases, I found six of the ten were married. It's not reasonable to extrapolate that to the entirety of the population, of course. Presumably, these married men were heterosexual. Being married clearly does not make an adult safe in a position of authority over children.

BSA has put in place many good policies to protect children from predators. No one-on-one contact. Two deep leadership at all events. Regular training of all adult leaders. Many reasonable, smart precautions that protect both the child and the trustworthy adult. Not a single one of these policies requires a heterosexual orientation in order to comply. A homosexual person can follow all these rules as easily and as well as I can.

Being homosexual does not make a person dangerous to children. Being heterosexual does not make a person safe with children.

May 2, 2013

Congressional art contest draws a crowd

Artistic talent skips a generation. My father-in-law was a graphic designer by profession, and pretty good at it. His daughter once drew an owl which looked exactly like a Mr. Coffee. (She was 24 at the time.)

Mr. Coffee
Owl that looks like Mr. Coffee

Then along comes our son, who must have inherited all the talent that skipped our generation. Because he has some mad talent with a pencil. Check out this drawing he submitted to our Congressional representative's art competition recently:

The original is 18 inches by 24 inches, I think. Something like that. It's all in pencil. He wanted to do a drawing that included aircraft from all four military services. I always get this wrong, but I'll try anyway: A Marines Harrier is on top, with an Air Force F-16 on the left and a Navy F-18 on the right, with an Army Cobra helicopter at the bottom.

He entered two contests. One is the Congressional contest where a panel of judges will select the winner from all the entrants, and the winning artwork will hang in Congress along with all the other winners from around the country.

The second contest is our rep's "viewers choice" contest. And the beauty here is YOU CAN VOTE.

To vote for Ethan's drawing, go to this page (a facebook page) and "like" the photo. That's it. None of those "this app wants permission to post on your wall" crap. Just a simple "like." Then you can browse through all the other entries, some of which are quite good.

He's pretty talented, no? Sometimes I wish he'd expand his subject matter (he only draws airplanes, focusing on military in particular), but it's art. The artist has to do what the artist is called to do, right?