Patterns Within Patterns

bali rice fields

It takes a damn good Villain to sustain a lengthy series. Petty criminals can be tracked and detained within the space of an episode, but a Voldemort or a Darth Vader can push your hero to the brink.

Arguments about what people should or shouldn’t do only distract from the reality of what people are actually doing.

Life is what happens from 9 to 5. Evenings and weekends are just commercials that break up the regularly scheduled program.

You can fake love, wealth and happiness, but you can’t fake fitness.

All I have to do to become a poet is read every poem ever written, starting with Homer.

What people/characters want is usually very different from what they need.

Life imitates life. The start of a new year is like the first flowers after a bitter winter, which is like a fiery sunrise after a moonless night, which reminds us of birth, which is like waking up after a long nap, which feels like forgiveness, finite youth, and limitless possibility.

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How to Make a Character

pengubengan road

The boxcar full of innocent people is hurtling toward the cliff. Superman wants to save them but WAIT! Lois Lane is on the cutting board, the laser inching closer and closer to her exposed neck. What’s it gonna be Superman – your love or your duty?

Everyone pretty much agrees about life’s core values. Is FAMILY important? Yes. Is GOOD WORK important? Of course. What about SOCIAL JUSTICE? What about PERSONAL HEALTH?

Yes yes yes. There’s not much room for debate here. We all nod, love and truth amen.

But a novelist tortures his characters by making them choose one value over the other. It starts to get interesting when you ask someone, “which value is more important – FAMILY TIME or PERSONAL HEALTH?”

Superman usually figures out how to succeed in both. But us regular people have to decide: should I take the money job that requires me to work 12 hour days? Should I skip the gym membership so I can spend evenings with my grandparents in the nursing home?

These decisions always hurt. They differentiate you from the people around you. These decisions are the structural support beams for the building that is your Character.

The Martial Arts

 

I love practicing the martial arts for three reasons.

  1. The workouts kick my ASS.
  2. What I’m learning is practical. I travel a lot, and I like the idea that I could protect myself and my family if needed. Basketball is crazy fun for me, but it isn’t useful in the same way.
  3. My instructors and partners are good people. From what I’ve experienced, people who practice these lethal art forms are honest and hard working. The culture is one of deep respect.

Last year I practiced Jiu Jitsu and right now I’m practicing Muay Thai. Here’s a short word on each art form:

Jiu Jitsu is the art of grappling on the ground. If you go to youtube and type in “street fight”, you’ll see that eventually every fight ends up on the ground. Jiu Jitsu teaches you what to do once you’re down there. If you are on top, how do maintain your control? If you are on your back, how do you A) get back to your feet, or B) attack from your back?

Muay Thai is a specialized form of striking. In Muay Thai you learn that your body has 8 weapons: two fists, two elbows, two knees, and two legs. You learn how to dance in front of your opponent, how to protect yourself from strikes, and how to throw your own combinations. Throwing an effective punch is harder than it looks on TV. On my first day of Muay Thai training, I spent a long time learning how to stand.

From Taekwondo to Judo, Karate, Boxing, Kick Boxing, Wrestling, there are a lot of fighting disciplines. But it’s clear that some disciplines are more useful than others. UFC fights in the 90’s and early 2000’s proved that a well trained Jiu Jitsu fighter has a very good chance of out-matching a striker, even a bigger and stronger one.

UFC fights are fascinating from an intellectual perspective because they attempt to answer this question: If two people face off, and all other things are basically equal (the fighters are the same size, there are no weapons, both fighters are healthy, etc…) who will win? Which fighting technique, or combination of techniques, is actually the most effective? UFC fighters are today’s Roman Gladiators. They really do “fight to the death,” but the referee’s job is to intercede exactly at the point that death is imminent.

I never thought I’d be a die hard UFC fan, but since when did Mrs. Fanny Fate ever give a shit about what we thought we’d grow up to be?

Observing Mountains: Monday, August 10th

“Tell me again” said the boy, “what exactly are we doing out here?”

“We are just taking in the scenery,” said the old man. “Do you see the mountains in the distance? The snowy peaks are brilliant this time of year.”

The young boy scoffed. It was 10 o’clock at night, his ass hurt from sitting on the stone pavement, and he couldn’t see any mountains. He couldn’t see anything, not even his own hand in front of his face.

The old man continued, “The goats and the deer like to visit the river under the cover of night. The forest is alive with movement. Can you see them, moving between the trees?”

The young boy looked in what he guessed was the right direction. He kept waiting for his eyes to adjust, but the darkness was too complete. He said helplessly, “I might as well have my eyes closed.”

“A wise idea!” the old man said, “Maybe then you would strain less.”

“If you say so.”

“Now tell me, what do you see?”

“Still nothing.”

“But you saw the mountains earlier this afternoon, did you not?”
“Yeah. After lunch when we sat here, I saw them pretty good I guess.”

“And what do you remember?”

“I remember… lots of trees. Pine trees, really green ones. You said something about the tree line. And I remember seeing how there were a lot of trees but then suddenly they stopped, and above them was just snow and rocks.”

“Good, what else?”

“Um… I do remember the river. You told me it was called snake river and I said, ‘it looks pretty straight to me’.”

The old man laughed. “Yes, very good. Now keep all of that in your head, and try to also see the animals that are moving through the forest, the owls and the squirrels and the mice and especially the goats and the deer. The goats are small and muscular, grey like shale, with stubby horns. The old ones have beards like men. The young ones stumble here and there. The deer have a longer, leaner body. They move lighter across the ground, skipping and bouncing more than trotting. All of them are thirsty; and they can smell the water.”

“Yeah,” said the boy after a while, “I mean, I guess I can imagine it pretty well. But I see the deer coming from one side, and the goats coming from the other side. Kind of like two armies approaching each other. But I don’t know if it’s really like that.”

“It might be.” said the old man, “now try and see what happens next.”

The boy drew his knees up to his chest and leaned forward. He scooted off of the stones and onto the grass and that felt a little better. He turned and looked in the direction of the old man, but of course he could see nothing. He tried to listen for the old man’s breathing. The silence started to make him uneasy. He was afraid that maybe the old man had left and he was all alone.

So he asked the old man, “can the animals see in the dark better than us?”

“Well,” said the old man, from somewhere close by, “they certainly have a lot more practice now don’t they?

The boy thought about this for a minute. Then he asked, “So how long are we going to stay out here?”

Kindle Unlimited: Tuesday, July 7th

Kindle Unlimited from the Reader’s view:

Kindle Unlimited (KU) is like “Netflix” for books. If you pay a $9.99 monthly fee, you can rent and read as many books as you would like, just as long as the book you want happens to be enrolled in the program.

I love the unlimited program and I’ve always gotten my money’s worth. Once in a while, KU doesn’t have the book I want. But most often they do.

If you read a lot, KU is an easy choice. Or if you like to find what’s new on the market, what’s popular in your genre, and get turned on to new authors.

Kindle Unlimited from the Author’s view:

In July, new changes went into effect regarding the way that authors are paid for the books they enroll in the KU program.

The way it used to work is, Amazon would count their earnings at the end of the month, and they would divvy up the money equally between all the authors. To qualify, your book had to…

  • get rented
  • get read at least 10% through

If your book got borrowed and even partially read, you would receive a credit for that. $1.30 is a ballpark number I’ve heard thrown around in the past. It could have been higher or lower of course, but you could make that amount per each “purchase” of your book. Of course the reader is getting your book for “free” by paying $10/month to Amazon.

In July, Amazon changed the way they pay out authors. The still take the total monthly earnings and divide them between all authors. But the units are different. Now authors get paid by the amount of pages read.

It’s still the same money getting passed around, but the divvying up process has changed.

The change at first glance seems to benefit longer books. Because if you have more pages to sell, then you can earn more money, right?

An important point that I got from Hugh Howey is that, in this new system, longer books aren’t favored. The truth is that the old system favored shorter books. Now the playing field has been somewhat leveled. With the “10% read rule”, it was easier for short fiction borrows to get a piece of the pie.

I personally don’t have any money in the game. I just think it’s interesting. Lot’s of people are upset and arguing about the changes, and that makes sense because those authors have a lot to gain and lost by it.

It seems to me that Amazon’s recent change will better reward authors who write quality work. The units are “pages read”, so it doesn’t benefit an author just to get a reader 10% through the story. It benefits the author to write a gripping book all the way through.

Long books or short books doesn’t matter. You could write six 10,000 word short stories, or one 60,000 word novel. As long as the content is great and readers are interested, those authors will be rewarded.

***

Once again, it seems to me that Amazon made a change to their program that ultimately benefits readers and incentivizes authors to keep writing quality material.

Publishing Revolution: Wednesday, July 1st

I haven’t yet broken into the self-publishing world, but I really love what the whole movement stands for.

Amazon and the global marketplace. Kindle and Ebooks. Shopping online. Anyone can be an author. Anyone can be a reader. Writers talking directly to readers. Writers publishing a LOT of work quickly. Readers consuming more and more. Specialized genres and niches. Stories easily translated to other languages and cultures. Listening to Audiobooks. Renting books on Kindle Unlimited. Podcasts and Meetups and Facebook groups and Nanowrimo and all of it.

What Youtube did for movies, what the Ipod did for music, and what Amazon is doing for publishing – all of these changes are good because they make it easier for artists to reach consumers.

Any innovation that encourages creativity is a good thing in my book. Everyone has weird quirks and interests, and now thanks to the internet we can connect to other people who are just as crazy as we are!

I like to follow authors who are real people. The experience shouldn’t stop once I finish the book. I also expect to to find them on facebook and twitter, and read what else they have to say on their blogs or newsletters. When I find somebody I really like, I devour their content as fast as they can put it out.

I listen to self-publishing podcasts every day. I’m sure I’ve tried them all, but new ones keep popping up.

What annoys me is when I hear people still arguing about “traditional publishing” versus “self publishing.” And asking those silly questions like, “is self publishing legitimate?” or “I still need the validation of a traditional publisher.”

Those debates are downright silly. They’re played out. The new generation doesn’t care about who published what or where it came from. The new generation has a natural talent for sifting through a lot of bullshit and finding the good stuff. Anything is possible for the new generation. We want it faster, sharper, transparent, no BS, democratic, respectful, well-intended… and we want it all immediately.