Giving a Gamer Fangirl What She Wants

 [The Grammarian, lexicographical superhero, is in his civilian guise of Alex Graham, rare book dealer. The scene opens as Alex is wrapping up a visit to the research facility of Prof. Kate Hunter, materials scientist. During his visit, he met Dr. Angela Fong, a postdoc in Kate's program.]

As they were leaving the section of labs, a voice called from behind.

“Um, excuse me, Mr. Graham?” Alex and Kate turned toward the stairs.

Angela Fong was running to catch up with them. Since she’d left the lab coat behind, Alex could see that she was wearing an orange T-shirt that read “Gordon Freeman Lives”.

He groaned inwardly, then squared his shoulders for the inevitable. He hated being recognized this way. Usually, being out of context was almost as good as being invisible.

“Mr. Graham? You are A.I. Graham, aren’t you?” she said, her voice hopeful.

“In the flesh.”

“Oh my God, I can’t believe this! Mr. Graham, I am a huge fan, just a huge, huge fan! I knew you lived here in town, but I never thought I’d meet you in person. God, this is so random! I saw you in Montreal last year, at WorldCon? You would never believe how many hours I spent playing your games. Mine Strike and Laser Colony Assault and -”

Alex cut her off. “I’m glad you liked them. But they weren’t just mine, of course. A lot of great designers worked on those.”

“This is a huge honor, Mr. Graham. Really. I can’t tell you. I grew up playing your games. They must have cost me a full point off my GPA back in high school!”

“Well, I’m glad I didn’t do you any permanent damage. It’s nice to meet you, Angela.” Alex turned to go, but Kate, missing the cue, scuppered his attempted escape.

“So, Angela, how do you know Alex?” she said. “Do you collect first editions?”

“First editions?” Angela’s face screwed up in confusion. “Uh, no. I’m not really into the retro gaming scene. No offense, Mr. Graham. They were great games, fantastic for the time. I’ve got a few of them on emulators, but I don’t collect the old first edition cartridges.”

She grew visibly more uncertain as she spoke. Kate’s look of confusion had deepened into complete mystification. Alex just hoped that his growing irritation wasn’t showing the same way.

“I meant rare books,” Kate said. “Do you collect rare books?”

It was Angela’s turn to be mystified. “Um... no. Why would I be interested in rare books?”

They looked at each other uncomprehendingly for a moment, before simultaneously turning to Alex for help. He made a show of checking his watch.

“Oops, look at the time. I’m afraid I’ve got an afternoon appointment, going to have to run soon.”

“Hey, are you going to be working with us?” Angela said. Her face lit up like a kid promised a pony for Christmas. “That would be fantastic! I’m sorry I didn’t really get a chance to talk to you upstairs and show you my work. But I was just so, you know, flustered! I mean, my God, it’s just a regular day in the lab and to see A.I. Graham himself come walking in. Talk about things being out of context! It’s like getting dumped into a boss fight on the first screen...” She smiled and leaned forward, inviting Alex to share the joke.

Reluctantly, he gave the expected response: “... armed with just a crowbar.”

Angela dissolved into delighted giggles while Kate stared at them, completely at a loss. Alex laughed politely while he tried to work out a good way to detach himself. In some ways, gamer fangirls were worse than fanboys.

Thrown off-balance by the entire interaction, Kate tried to regain some footing in the conversation. “I don’t understand what you mean, Angela. Working with us? Alex was here for an informal tour, a social call. There’s no professional involvement.”

“Oh.” Angela’s disappointment was clear. “That’s too bad. Still, I guess it doesn’t make very much sense, does it? I mean, the work we’re doing in Dr. Hunter’s lab is all about stabilizing charge displacement of quantum tunneling effects, and isometric boson vector alignments, physical stuff like that. I wasn’t aware of any direct applications to the video game industry.” Her face brightened again. “Unless it’s some kind of adaptation of your on-the-fly polygon frame-rate substitution algorithms to advanced computer simulations? Like maybe of that venturi modeling you used for Blades of the Assassins?”

What a typical gamer, he thought. The young woman just would NOT take a hint!

“No, I’m afraid not,” said Alex. This was really not a conversation he wanted to be having, not in front of Kate. He very pointedly looked at his watch and said, “Hey, I’m really going to have to run if -”

Oblivious, Angela said, “I mean, the algorithm modeling in those games were fantastic. The blood spatter effects alone meant I had to buy a new video card. It cost me a fortune, but it was... worth it...” She trailed off, finally becoming aware of the social cues in front of her. She blushed again, an even deeper shade of red than in the lab. They stood in an awkward silence: Alex anxious to be rid of his admirer, Angela’s sudden embarrassment finally overcoming her excitement, and Kate looking back and forth between them, trying unsuccessfully to understand their conversation.

Alex cleared his throat. “Well, it was nice to meet you.” He put a hand on Kate’s arm and guided her toward the hallway door.

Angela stuck out her hand for another shake. “Oh God, the pleasure was all mine, all mine!” She pumped Alex’s hand, hesitated for a moment, then leaned in. In a conspiratorial voice, she said, “I know this is TOTALLY none of my business and you can absolutely tell me to buzz off, but just between you and me... is ‘Blood Lance: Halls of the Damned’ gonna have cloud-independent NPC controlling intelligence, or is it gonna be parallel behavior isoforms?”

Alex gritted his teeth. Clearly, he wasn’t going to get out of this without throwing her a bone of some kind. He leaned in close and spoke in a voice that was melodramatically low and confidential.

“Well, the NDAs with Lighting Stryke Entertainment mean I have to be pretty tight-lipped. I’ll tell you this much, though: when you fill out your party roster, you’re going to need a necromancer. And keep at least two equipment slots open when you go into the Caves of Ice.” Alex made a dramatic gesture of sealing his lips. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

Angela threw up her hands. “OH, MAN!” she shouted. “Oh, man! I knew it! I knew it! The boss fight is the Frost King, isn’t it? Back from the Pit of Stygian Fire, and thirsting for vengeance? I knew it!”

“Remember, you can’t breathe a word about this. It’s still in final development.”

“Oh, no worries, Mr. Graham. I’m great at keeping secrets.”

Kate laughed. “Angela here is one of the co-investigators on some of our privately funded research grants. She’s excellent with confidential information.” Angela blushed again at this praise.

“Is that right?” Alex said. He considered for a moment. “Listen, we’re going to be releasing a limited beta of the Caves of Ice level. It sounds as though you’d be the kind of person who could really put it through its paces. You’d have to sign an NDA, but if your gaming rig is up to it, I’ll see if I can get you in the pool of beta testers. Interested?”

“Are you kidding? I’d love that!” Hardly able to contain her excitement, Angela scribbled her name and e-mail address into a small notebook from her pocket, tore out the page and thrust it at Alex. With many more protestations of disbelief and delight, she finally left them, fairly dancing down the hallway.

Alex and Kate watched her go. After a moment’s awkward silence, Alex turned and went quickly through the doorway that led to the foyer. Kate ran after him.

“What the heck was that all about?” she said.

“Nothing. Just some pre-release viral marketing,” Alex said, not stopping to explain.

“Viral what? Alex, I mean.... THAT. The whole thing. That was as excited as I’ve ever seen her get. I thought she was going to ask you for your autograph. What in the world were you two talking about?”

He limped down the stairs toward his car. “It’s not important, Kate. Come on, I’ll take you to lunch.”

“Well, it might not be important, but it’s surprising as hell, and it’s too early for lunch. How did she know you? And what was all that about video games?”

Alex sighed. “That’s just another line of work I do. More of a hobby, really.”

“Oh. OK.” She blinked, then frowned. “Wait, no. Not OK. From the way Angela was acting, I got the distinct impression that you’re practically a rock star. That doesn’t sound like some little hobby for when you’re not running your bookstore.”

He shrugged. “I just take on assignments from the video game companies as I want to. Only the stuff that interests me.”

“You design video games?” Her voice was incredulous. “When you’re not locating first editions and restoring old manuscripts, you design video games?” She looked him up and down. “You don’t look like a computer nerd.”

“I am a computer GEEK, thank you very much, despite my normal human appearance. And no, I don’t design the games themselves. I’m a consultant, contributing plot ideas and occasionally assisting with the scripts. Mostly, though, I work with the programming team to polish the physics code.”

“The what?”

“It’s the software that drives the way the players and characters move on-screen. A lot of games have characters that look wooden or jerky. Mine move more naturally, more believably.”

She looked at him in silence for a long time. Finally, she said, “You’re kidding, right?”

Alex’s mouth twisted into a wry smile. “I admit, it doesn’t really go with the rare manuscripts dealer image, does it?”

“But how did you get started doing it? Was it just a slow day at a book auction and you decided to start writing computer code?”

He frowned a bit, until he realized that she was teasing him. A bright twinkle had come to her eye that made his heart kick in his chest. It was an unfamiliar sensation. Not at all unpleasant, just... unfamiliar.

“No, the other way around,” he said. “I used to be a serious code monkey. I had a flair for writing code that made things move on-screen with terrific effect. Games that had my code looked better and sold more copies than games that didn’t. I worked on a lot of projects for a lot of different people, including some of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley.”

“So if you were so good at it, why’d you quit?”

“Oh, there are lots of reasons to quit a job.” Such as the death of everyone you ever cared about. Images of smoking blood and charred metal forced their way into his mind. He forced them back out. “Sometimes you just get... burned out.”

Read more in Verbosity's Vengeance

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On Slow-Filling Aquifers

I have a blog post mostly written, which I was going to post yesterday. I got distracted before finishing it, thank goodness. When I went back to finish it, I realized that it was not so much a blog post as it was a message. Sent from my subconscious to my waking mind, I needed a little time and distance to recognize it as such. I shelved that post and wrote this one instead.

What was the message? It's best interpreted as, "Stop trying to be a writer. Either BE a writer or give it up entirely and move on to other pursuits."

My writing is on hiatus for a while. Attentive readers of this blog (if any still exist) will note that my blogging is, too. With NaNoWriMo looming on the horizon, I'm left to wonder if that's exactly the kind of kickstart I need, or if it's only another gasp of onanistic futility.

The truth is that I've got nothing. I can tell you what I'm thinking and feeling at any given moment, but it seems I've completely misplaced my ability to make up things about people and places that don't exist. With that absence of ability comes, not just a reluctance to once again stare at a blank screen, but a fearful recoiling from the writing process.

Everything besides writing feels more relaxing, more pleasurable. What gives me pause (and what makes me continue to hope I might one day be able to write again) is that few other things are more satisfying, or give me anything close to the sense of accomplishment. After fighting this hiatus, this down time, this forced literary layoff, I've decided to give in to it and take rest from it. Willfully eating lotuses? Perhaps, but I find myself on an island where lotuses are the only things to eat.

Why so dry, guy? It's possible that my aquifer is just slow in refilling, but it's also possible that my life has too many fresh wells drawing too much water. For that, I have to wait for the world to turn and turn and turn again before I can again take up my pen.

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Halfway to ninety

Since today is my birthday, I spent a little time in the last few days doing what I typically do around birthdays: thinking about where I came from, where I've been, where I am, and where I'm going.

I turn 45 today, which means I'm at the point where I stop checking the "30 - 44" box on demographics forms, and start checking the "45 - 60" box. My considerations necessarily turn on the fact that I'm starting to sneak up on the midpoint of my life. (At least I hope I'm sneaking up on it, and haven't passed the halfway mark years ago.)

The conclusion of my ruminations? It's been a complicated road so far, with setbacks and false starts, but overall, I'm a lucky guy with much to be thankful for.
  • My family and friends love and cherish me, and will show me that love and respect when I don't ask for it, and sometimes even when I've fallen short of being an ideal person.
  • Most of my colleagues and coworkers like me and respect me. The few that don't? They value my work enough that they choose not to mention not liking and not respecting me. Can't ask for more than that.
  • I'm not hungry, I'm not ill or infirm, I'm not crippled by debt, and I'm not without options and opportunities for the future.
  • I add value to the world with my work and my volunteer efforts. Sometimes a lot, sometimes only a little, but I'm on the positive side of the ledger.
  • My writing is pretty good. Granted, it sells about as well as a half-cup of cold coffee, but market success isn't the be-all and end-all of valuation. Maybe someday my writing will add some value to the world, too. Stranger things have happened.
If this is the midpoint, then at the end of my life, I'll be an old codger, looking back from 2059 on the past 90 years, wondering how I could have been so green and immature back when I was 45. Regardless, I'm happy with the life I lead, and with my place in it. Happy birthday to me.

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Setting a book aside

This book I'm working on just isn't coming together. The plot is OK, but the ending is weak. More importantly, while I have plenty of bad things happen to my MC - whipsaw events that make the action rise and fall - I'm not sure I've really given the reader any reason to care about him. This book has me stuck, scratching my head. Who is this guy, anyway? And why are these things happening to him?

I have lots of notes for revisions to put into this first draft, but my enthusiasm to do so is low. I'm not sure what I want this book to say, so I'm questioning myself at every page.  This tells me that I need to quickly whack these changes in, then set this text aside for a while and work on something else.

The suspect that the working on something else is going to be critical. Merely taking more time isn't working; I'm spinning my wheels on this book, not making any progress. Maybe when I come back to it, the fresh eyes will let me see more clearly what needs to be changed.

Follow me and find me around the web:
My books (click the cover for more info):

Send me your email, if you dare

Periodically, I get email intended for some other Tony Noland. I know of Tony Nolands who live in Minnesota, Kentucky, Indiana, California, etc., etc. (I also know of an evangelical rock and roll minister named Tony Nolan. I sometimes get email for him, too.)

I've developed a canned response to these emails. Sometimes the sender corrects their records, sometimes not.

Using AutoHotKey (which I've talked about before), I simply type:
This automatically expands to:
You've sent your e.mail to the wrong Tony Noland. I'm guessing you want the Tony Noland who is a dad or coach or neighbor or who is otherwise someone you know and/or work with. Instead, you sent it to me - the writer who lives in Philadelphia, PA.

While this won't do you much good with respect to your subject of interest, it DOES give you the chance to check out any of my books on Amazon or to go read my blog at My books cost less than a latte, and they are all a great way to use your Kindle or Kindle app!

I hope you're able to find the right e.mail address for your Tony Noland, and correct your records for future e.mails. I'm sure he's sad not to be hearing from you!


I click SEND and go on with my day.

Have I ever gotten any sales this way? Not to any great degree. Perhaps some other Tony Noland - a car salesman, a soccer coach, a politician, an art thief, etc. - might buy one of my books purely from the novelty of reading something written by his namesake/doppleganger. Regardless, it makes responding a lot easier than retyping a long reply each time.

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What's in my WIP?

Because Sabrina Zbasnik tagged me, here are the opening lines of Chapters 1, 2, & 3 of my WIP. (This is WIP, so don't expect any happy families all alike.)

Chapter 1. "If he'd said the job was going to be easy, I'd have been even more vigorous in my efforts to get out of it."

Chapter 2. "I sat for hours in the ER of the only hospital in Joppa, a regional care facility that gave the simultaneous impression of being both newly renovated and distressingly shopworn."

Chapter 3. "Let's cut to the chase: I completely screwed it up."

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Changing course

I've not been satisfied with sales of my book, so it's time to make some changes to the marketing. Those roll out today.

In the meantime, I'm working on my next book. I'm told that the best marketing strategy is to keep publishing books and built your list, so I am.


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The nuclear option

It seems that saying "Screw it, I'm done with this writing thing" is part of the usual drama and angst that many writers go through. This is usually followed at some point by a return to the page and the world of words.

But under what circumstances would you actually make it stick?

An addict desperate to get clean will gather up all the drugs and flush them down the toilet, gather up all the paraphernalia and throw it into a dumpster, pack a bag and leave town to get away from the peer group of users, dealers, pimps and prostitutes that encircle a life of addiction. Sometimes, they get clean; other times, they only recreate their former life in a new place.

I've heard of would-be writers admitting defeat and taking steps to burn the bridges behind them. Take down the blog, recycle the notebooks, delete the files from the hard drive, pull the books from Amazon, cancel the accounts on twitter and goodreads.

Get clear. Get clean.

What would make you do it?

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The horror of old work

I'm cleaning out my desk, recycling enormous piles of old paper. Among the detritus is a complete anthology of science fiction stories which I never got around to publishing. Spaceships, aliens, antimatter, Victorian automata, black holes, time travel... this anthology has it all.

Intrigued, I read through them, letting my own words come back to me across the years.

In general, the stylistic choices I made way back then are not the choices I would make today. That's perhaps putting it kindly. One choice I made back then is exactly the same as I made today: the best place for this collection of stories is an undisturbed grave.

To my credit, however, I certainly seem to have written with a great deal of enthusiasm.

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Blog tour: Meet my main character

I’ve been tagged in the Meet my Main Character blog tour by my pal Icy Sedgwick .
Here are the rules:

The taggee must write a post answering the same seven questions about their MC (main character). Then the taggee becomes the tagger and chooses five other authors.

I debated using this opportunity to talk about my WIP, but since it's still too far from completion for me to have a publication date, I'll talk about "Verbosity's Vengeance" instead.

1. What is the name of your main character? Is he a fictional or a historical person?
The Grammarian, aka Alexander Integrity Graham, aka A.I. Graham. The Grammarian is a costumed superhero, so definitely fictional.

2. When and where is the story set?
The story is set in the present day, on the streets of Lexicon City. It's a lot like Chicago, mixed with bits of Philadelphia, Sao Paulo and New York.

3. What should we know about him?
He's a very human guy with superhuman abilities. His powers are based on language constructs. such as words, punctuations and grammar. He can project a full stop to block a grenade, punch through steel with an acid remark, or spray a mass of commas to silence a crowd. The raw material of his power is his intelligence, which can also be used for purely physical effects. By diverting his mental capacity into strength, agility, speed-healing or other super-abilities, he can do amazing things... just not too many at once if he wants to stay coherent.

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?
The Grammarian can handle his arch-nemesis, Professor Verbosity. Tracking him down and stopping his latest plan is only a matter of detective work. What really screws things up is the interference of the Avant Guardian, an incompetent, rookie superhero eager to make a name for himself among Lexicon City's heroes. The Grammarian is patient, and he's out for justice; the Avant Guardian is splashy, and he's out for quick fame. Their clashes only serve to help the Professor Verbosity and another supervillain new to Lexicon City. Amid this action, the Grammarian (in his real identity as Alex Graham) is pursing a romantic relationship with a scientist with an interest in superhero technology. When her interest rises to the level of obsession, the entanglements with the damage caused by the Avant Guardian's bungling (and the Grammarian's attempts to set it all right) initiates a terrible cascade of events that threatens the entire city.

5. What is his personal goal?
Stop the villain. Save the city. Hire a sidekick. Get a date for Saturday night. Not necessarily in that order.

6. Is there a working title for this novel and can we read more about it?
The book is "Verbosity's Vengeance: A Grammarian Adventure Novel". It's available at most retailers: Amazon, Smashwords, iTunes, Barnes & Noble and in other formats directly from me.You can also read about "Verbosity's Vengeance" and discuss it on Goodreads.

7. When can we expect the book to be published?
It came out last September, with good reviews. As of this date, it's averaging 4.60 stars on Goodreads and 4.7 stars on Amazon.

Now, I get to tag a few people. They are:

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Word Crimes - nerd love

Weird Al Yankovic has knocked one out of the park with Word Crimes. There are so many beautiful little bits here to warm the cockles of a grammarian's heart, like this:

Watch it in all its glory!

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You don't want me around anyway

Much ink has been spilled on SFWA's decision to side unconditionally with Hachette in calling out Amazon for being a big, mean corporation that is putting their own profits ahead of the profits of other big, mean corporations the interests of helpless authors. In general, this reads as a slap in the face to indie authors who are publishing their own sci-fi and fantasy works without waiting for permission. In contrast, it seems that most of the defense of Hachette is coming from the big name, guaranteed best-seller authors that make Hachette most of their money.

Ironically, SFWA has recently been taking comments on allowing self-pubbed authors entry. That is, they're maybe, possibly, thinking about doing some discussion at some point about deciding on just how high to set the bar. Some of the discussion about just how high to set the bar reminds me of how the Russian judges view ice skating by anyone who isn't Russian. I think this comment sums it up:
Marc Cabot

If, upon review, the work is professional, the applicant can be admitted.
Punchline of an old joke, modified for context:
Poll Worker, Incredulous: “You can read that?”
Indiepublisher, Resigned: “Yep. It says ain’t no independent authors gettin’ in here today.”

SFWA: proudly slamming the car door on its own fingers since forever.

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Story ideas

I had a story idea this weekend. This is notable only because it's the first such idea to present itself in a long time. Good enough to be worth writing down? Possibly, possibly not. At this point, any idea is a welcome half-cup of water to be drawn from a well that's been dry for a long time.

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I ran a 5K. Now what?

Not me. Close, but not me.
I ran my first 5K last Monday. It was OK. Not a huge milestone or a great accomplishment, as some of my friends predicted. Certainly not "life-changing", as one of my marathon-addicted relatives assured me.

It was OK.

I started running in February (or maybe March?) with the "Couch to 5K" app for my phone. The description reads:
Get off the couch with the OFFICIAL Couch-to-5K® training app from! This oft-imitated program has helped thousands of new runners move from the couch to the finish line. Spend just 20 to 30 minutes, three times a week, for nine weeks, and you’ll be ready to finish your first 5K (3.1-mile) race!
I can attest that this is just how it went. When I started, the training program had me run for 1 minute, walk for 2, run for 1 minute, walk for 5, etc. The initial workouts weren't bad, even for a couch potato.

Each week's workout got progressively harder, but never ramped up quickly enough to be beyond my capabilities. It was just enough of a stretch to make it a challenge to be overcome. By the end of the nine week program, I was regularly running more than 5K, three mornings a week.

Perhaps that's why my first official 5K race was anticlimactic. I'd already run that distance several times, so there was no physical accomplishment to speak of. I had no intention of challenging anyone for primacy in the standings, so my time didn't matter much, either. It was slower than my normal training runs, but I wasn't surprised by that.

My left leg hurt the morning of the race, but since my leg had been hurting for weeks, I knew that the pain would go away once I started running. Endorphins, probably. Besides, this was my first registered 5K, and I didn't want to forgo it, or quit after only the first mile. The upshot is that I ran the race anyway, start to finish.

Did it give me a newfound sense of accomplishment and wider vistas of pleasure at having done what I'd set out to do?

No. The most lasting impact of it has been the unremitting, bone-deep pain just south of my left hip. Not a muscular pain, it feels like a hard bruise. Since there's no discoloration, I can only assume I've done something to the bone. The frisson of tough guy pleasure at the thought of having run a 5K on a fractured leg is small compensation for the constant pain.

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10 Reasons Hobby Lobby Won't Cover Contraception

Since Hobby Lobby is a person now, I asked him (of course it's a HIM) why he won't cover contraception for his females employees. He gave me 10 reasons:

10. Because I don't want you to have it.

9. It's against my religious beliefs.

8. My worldview does not encompass women having the same priority as men.

7. "Volitional performance" only applies to penis, not uterus.

6. That costs me money.

5. All that "women's stuff" is just ick.

4. Because if SCOTUS falls for this, we can bar transplants, too. Which are even MORE expensive. Duh.

3. Go make me a sandwich and don't worry about reason #3. You wouldn't understand it anyway.

2. Nobody in MY family ever used contraception, and this is a family business. With family values.

1. Because AMERICA!

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Editing on the road

I like to make comments on a manuscript with pen and paper, with the classic three-ring binder my preferred format. It gives me room to write long notes on blank paper, make marginal and interlineal notes, and draw frowny faces and multiple exclamation points for really bad writing.

Don't judge me until you've walked a mile in my word processor.

This system works well: notes in longhand, typing in edits and changes on the computer. The one time it doesn't work is when I'm trying to edit a manuscript on an airplane. In general, airplanes are great places to write; they present an atmosphere of monastic isolation for hours and hours on end.

However, while a paper notebook, iPad or small laptop will fit on an airplane fold-down tray, it's too narrow to accommodate my binder when it's open. I've wrestled with this for a while, without success.

Until now.

Presented above is my solution for using a three-ring binder on an airplane fold-down tray. With this one change, the binder fits perfectly. Both sides are squarely on the tray, so I'm neither causing it to flop off the right edge when I write notes, nor am I sticking the left side into my seatmate's drink.  For editing anywhere else, e.g. at a desk or table, it functions as a standard binder. Plus, the front cover remains long enough to keep the pages from getting dog-eared when the binder is closed.

As a black-on-white, pocket-knife-and-duct-tape modification, it's a hack in the Brutalist style, but the function-over-form aesthetic appeals to me. You Pinterest types are free do the same thing with precision-cut X-acto knives and color-coordinated tape.

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Oceans of red ink

I finished the initial pass of corrections to my WIP first draft. This consists of pretty basic stuff, such as:
  • determining the genders of certain characters
  • the existence (or removal) of other characters
  • deciding on the balance of furious vs. suicidal for my MC
  • settling on the spelling of names
  • flagging the big sections of tell, tell, tell so I can replace them with show, show, show
  • noting where I need more action, better dialogue
I still need to decide if my MC is merely alone in the world, or if he's "my ex-girlfriend is standing right over there, I can see her but not talk to her" alone.

With a binder full of marked up hardcopy, the next step will be to start rewriting the text to implement these corrections. I also need a better ending, but I'm confident that will come.

At some point, I'll have to post a few pictures to explain how I solved the problem of using a 3-ring binder on an airplane fold-down tray. It's an elegant solution, even if it does involve duct tape.

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I Hate Strong Female Characters

My pal S. E. Zbasnik asked for some space on my blog to discuss an important issue: how women are presented in fiction. The issue is most problematic in fantasy, science fiction and adventure fiction, but can be seen across genres and types of media. As someone who made it a priority to write independent, kick-ass female superheroes to go along with my independent, kick-ass male superheroes, I'm happy to present her guest post, below.

I Hate Strong Female Characters

Like nonplussed and literally, the phrase “strong female character” has come to mean its antithesis. When people hear it they picture a full fleshed out woman with her own wants and desires. What they get is a woman in a mini skirt and thigh high boots that occasionally punches people.

But, and this is vital, that strong female character, cannot actually save the day. Her entire existence is for the main male hero. She may be spunky and sassy and is always met beating up some guys, but the second she teams up with MMH (main male hero) she abandons everything in her life to help him on his quest. Perhaps she manages to get captured and somehow fully forget how to fight allowing the MMH to do all the cool stuff while she sits around in a metal bikini.

Strong female character is a buzzword. People know it’s something audiences want, so they throw it in for anything. Have a female character? Well, she’s a strong female character!

But, she’s only got three lines and you didn’t even name her beyond “Busty Hottie?”

Yeah, but look, she totally stabbed that one bad guy in the eye. Strong female character!

I stated once that “if your female character doesn't exist outside of the prism of your male character's existence, you do not have a ‘strong woman.’”

Quite a few male writers had to rush to my somnolent twitter feed to inform me I was wrong (of course I am, I'm just a girl), that all of their characters are strong females because they hit things. Sometimes they hit things really hard. Maybe one's like a B cup, a large B cup of course. And then they drop the bomb, “well it passed the Bechdel Test so they're all capable characters, can't accuse me of sexism.”

Let us break down the Bechdel test for those who have yet to hear of it.

In order to pass all you need are

  • Two named women
  • Together in a scene (only one scene necessary)
  • Talking about something other than men
That is bloody it. The point of it was to show how rarely movies passed, that so much of media falls upon the 25:75 ratio. One Sue Storm to the three other fantastics (soulless scientists not withstanding). It was to give data for how rare it is for women to exist outside or to have a point beyond the main male character’s purpose.

The test was supposed to draw attention to the dearth of female characters, instead so many men found it a convenient excuse to prove they can't be accused of sexism.

Throw in a character named Candy talking to another named Mandy about how awesome shoes are, then back to the guys actually saving the world. Boom, Bechdel Test passed. This is a totally feminist work with three dimensional women.

I'm not a big fan of playing the reverse game, but imagine the utter shit fits thrown if all you needed to prove you created a fully fleshed out three dimensional male character is that you have

  • Two named men
  • Together in one scene
  • Talking about something that has nothing to do with women
This Brochdel Test is passed by, oh, just about every movie in existence. Men can have pasts, they can have motivations, desires, needs, wants outside of sex.

Women have that one scene where the love interest gossips with her best friend, who will probably never be seen again.

I despise the always tacked on female character in action movies because she's there for one reason, to polish the main character's penis. Once that's done, she's nothing more than an animated set piece, occasionally transformed into a breathing MacGuffin. Oh sure, maybe she throws a punch or two, taps a stick lightly against a rat of unusual size; but if you removed the male character, she would cease to exist. All her motivation comes down to is making the male protagonist happy (ifyaknowwhatImean nudge nudge); without him around she'd stand blank like a Stepford robot in the kitchen, making sad beeping noises, waiting for someone to switch her off.

No, passing the Bechdel test does not mean you have a fully culpable, capable, or even somewhat realistic female character. If you're uncertain and concerned you could try asking another woman and, this is the really important part, listening to her. Don't ignore the words flowing out of her mouth and mentally fill in her criticism with diamonds/babies/yogurt/chocolate/pumpkin spice latte and change nothing. We've been doing this woman thing a hell of a lot longer than you. We may just know what we're talking about.

So I say we need to have a second level of the Bechdel test; if you are basing the idea that you cannot be accused of sexism upon this test, then you need to pass the second level.

  • Have a named female character
  • Whose life does not revolve around a male character
  • Done. Maybe have some pancakes to celebrate?
I'm guessing, much like the original Bechdel test, most media will fail.

There’s another approach to creating the false “strong female character” that’s grown in popularity as male writers try to shoehorn in a female character but keep all the interesting stuff with men.

We’ll give them a woman who’s trained her entire life to become a ninja chimney sweep. She’s forsaken friends, love, and a normal life to master the secrets of ninja chimney sweeping. She’s harsh, but witty, with a short fuse for those who waste her time. But this story won’t have a damn thing to do with her. No, it has to be about a white guy, mid 20’s with a bit of a pot belly who is almost a total screw up.

But this guy is destined to be the great ninja chimney sweep hero. You can’t argue with it. It’s destiny. Rather than the girl using her lifetime of awesomeness to defeat the dust monster clogging up the lungs of Earth, instead she must lose two-three weeks of her life trying to train a perpetual fuck up. Because that makes tactical sense, to send an untrained and untested rookie instead of the person who devoted her life to it.

It’s the “girls can’t save the world” trope. She may be confident, she may be talented, she may be terrifying beyond anything the villain can imagine, but she cannot save the galaxy. Only boys can do that. So they take that female character they built up and delegate her back to being the prize waiting at home for the real hero to return once he’s finished falling into winning. Sure, she gets a backstory and maybe even a bit of autonomy, but it means jack squat when all she gets to do with that characterization is stand around waiting for a male character to save the day.

Yet, the creators can run around screaming “Look, we made a strong female character.” She can punch really hard. She doesn’t dream about boys. She won’t need any rescuing. She won’t do any saving either, but that’s not important. All that matters is we made one. We didn’t use one, but we made her.

That is not enough. Boys have grown up watching men save the galaxy for eons, but you can’t let a woman do it? Even if its part of an ensemble, she’s relegated to the half naked hottie that goes along with whatever the leader wants. It’s a guy who’s the comic relief, a guy who’s the muscle, a guy who saves the galaxy. The girl waits around for a kiss and punches a few baddies, but not too many. We don’t want to emasculate the hero.

Because this is the overriding fear with every strong female character. If we let her be too impressive, let her do too much on her own, then she won’t need a male to save her.  What if, instead of needing a man, she wanted one around? She wanted one for his friendship, or for his humor, or because he treated her like a person instead of a pile of sexy body parts? Impossible! Give her a stick to swing around, put her in a bikini, and call it a role model for little girls. Done!

This isn’t even touching upon the idea that not all strong women beat people up. Tactics, cunning, or even emotional manipulation can a powerful woman make; but in order for that to happen, a woman would have to be smarter than a man and we’re right back to emasculation terror. Sure, maybe she knows some secret ninja woman moves that allow her to take out a few bad guys. That’s acceptable. But outsmarting some big baddie? Unthinkable!

Girls must always be shown as lesser than boys, even when people are swearing up and down that they’re not by hiding behind “it’s a strong female character.” To admit for a moment that women can be just as capable as men is too terrifying for the average writing crop to admit.

And that’s why I hate strong female characters, who are anything but.


​S. E. Zbasnik has a new book out called The King’sBlood. It’s got some magic, it’s got some witches, it’s got a black heroine in a medieval setting, and it has more puns per cubic meter than a clown car.

Available at Amazon or Lulu

Check out the goodreads page for more information.

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