Celebrate and Honor Juneteenth

Happy Juneteenth, everyone! This is a holiday I had no idea existed up until a few years ago. Like with most things relating to the Black experience in America, I was completely clueless. So, today instead of pontificating on my own ignorance and rending my clothes and beating my breast and demonstrating my teary-eyed resolve to fight racism and police brutality, I’ll shut up and devote some time to learning about this day and what it means.

 

Please take a moment and do likewise.

 

Go here to read about the history of Juneteenth.

 

Go here to watch a Vox video about Juneteenth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s no going back to normal

I am so fucking done with normal. I am so over normal. Everyone keeps talking about getting rid of Trump so we can get this country back to normal. Everyone keeps asking, what will our economy look like when the pandemic is over and we can get back to normal?

If you’re asking that, let me spoil it for you. There is no normal. There is no going back. “Going back” is the very thing that got us to this point. It is the very thing that got Trump elected. “Make America Great Again” meant trying to go back to a time when the U.S. had a booming economy and everyone who wanted one could get a good job and everything was great… for white people.

Is that the normal we’re hoping for? Our government is killing black people and putting immigrants in cages (just the brown ones, though) so I’m guessing it is.

There is no going back to normal. Normal is shit. If normal is something you have to go back to, it’s already something you need to leave behind.

The direction society should be heading in is forward, always. It’s dangerous. It’s scary. It’s painful. It’s also the only direction there is and the only direction that holds hope for everyone.

 

Pictured: Forward

 

While the oceans are heating and the ice caps are melting because we’re throwing pollution into the air like aerosolized confetti after a Super Bowl, is it better to find new ways to do business with less pollution contribution or to say “fuck it, let’s go back and throw even more confetti”?

When kids are being gunned down in schools by people carrying automatic weapons, is it better to take a hard look at reinventing our second amendment rights or just say “fuck it, let’s make more guns and put them in schools”?

When education isn’t teaching people the difference between truth and fiction and is failing to train our youth for the workforce, is it better to reform it and increase funding or just say “fuck it, let’s take away textbooks and teach kids that there’s a man in the sky”?

And when we see black men being murdered in the street by cops equipped with as much body armor and weaponry as combat soldiers, do we reach out and force our police to adopt new and better methods of policing or just say “fuck it, let’s give the cops a few tanks, too”?

 

Pictured: Backward

 

A couple of years after Black Lives Matter first got started, I worked with a number of black men and women at the pizza shop. One young woman would occasionally shout “Black Lives Matter” at police officers who would come in to get a slice. Occasionally, they would shout back “All Lives Matter” but it never escalated beyond that. One day, the manager got an order from a customer to deliver several pizzas to the police station as a gift – this was shortly after a group of officers were shot in Dallas. Anyway, I was dispatched to deliver them and this young woman wanted me to be sure to tell them “Black Lives Matter” when I dropped off the pies.

Well. Hmmm. It didn’t seem to me to be the best day for it, but I sympathized with her. I dropped the pies off with the same courtesy I give all customers and that was that. When I got back to the shop, she was not pleased. I explained (or tried to) that picking a fight with our local police force over what the police in Ferguson or St. Louis are doing is just stupid. You should be making allies with them, not enemies. I’d be happy to walk down there and stand beside her as she talked with them about better methods of community policing, but I was not about to shout slogans that would only make them feel antagonized.

I still mostly believe that, buuuuut…

But I see now that I was making excuses. It’s fine if I don’t want to shout “Black Lives Matter” at a policeman, but have I done anything at all to encourage fair and responsible community policing? Nope. Nothing. I was waiting to be recruited, to be asked, to be approached directly, like I’m some kind of benevolent landlord who waits for his serfs to lodge complaints before taking them before the king.

Now, THAT’S privilege.

I now realize the debt I owe to the society I live in and in how many ways I have not being paying my fair share. I’ve voted. I’ve advocated on social media. I’ve given to charities and social and political causes. But I’ve never once dared put my privilege on the line.

And I’m sorry it’s taken me this long. And I’m sorry for the blame I share in the loss of lives that my privilege has blinded me to. Because there have always been things I could have been doing all along. I could have easily found out about them if only I had cared enough to look.

View at Medium.com

(Check that link out when you get the chance. There are things there anyone and everyone can do.)

I only hope that it’s not too late, because I’m beginning to see that society moves forward whether you want it to or not. The reality is that you really don’t have the choice to “go back to normal.” When Trump was elected, I had friends talking openly of rebellion. No one was advocating it, they were just saying the country looked to be on course for one. I said we better hope not, because in a rebellion it isn’t the poor and disenfranchised who win, it’s the people with the most guns.

And that ain’t the poor and disenfranchised. It never has been and never will be. The best bet for the bottom 80% in this country is for our system of laws to remain intact and to work within it rather than tear it down.

But now? With the system being bent and twisted by a deranged president and a for-profit GOP?

Ennnnnhhhhhhhhh… I’m starting to question. Maybe I’ve missed the signs. Maybe I’ve become one of those holding on and trying to go back instead of realizing that it is, in fact, time to change. And maybe violence and destruction is the way things will change. And what will come of that change will be new and definitely not normal… but maybe also better?

I hope I’m wrong. I really do. Not the change part (I hope there’s still time for peaceful, progressive change) but the violent part. Rebellions are wars and wars are awful. There’s all this fire and death and you can’t get a decent ice cream sundae if your life depended on it. It sucks.

 

AND there won’t be any more episodes of Stranger Things. It’ll be bad, is what I’m trying to say.

 

But if Trump wins re-election this fall?

I’m kind of thinking that’s going to be curtains for these here United States. Oh, democracy might survive. The free market might survive. Liberty might survive.

But the U of the USA? Enhhhhh… not where I’d put my money.

Be well, everyone, but also be involved. Never doubt that your peaceful push might be the one that sends us all in a better direction.

 

 

 

Revelations in Crisis

So, first off, I need to issue an apology. In my blog post last month, I talked about pizza delivery in the time of “the Corona Virus” and that was very wrong and bad. It’s the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. Apologies to Corona Extra and Grupo Modelo. I wasn’t contacted by anyone or anything, but I understand they’ve all but given up fighting the tide of misinformation.

It’s not in the beer, people! It’s in your friend’s beer. Don’t drink your friend’s beer. Label those red solo cups. Also, don’t go to keggers! What are you even doing? Stay home!

Drink by yourself. Do it.

It’s amazing how clogged my social media feed is with people observing just how much more alcohol they’re drinking these days. Some people even half-jokingly recommend regular drinking as an effective coping mechanism for facing this bizarre new world in which we find ourselves. I think by the time this is over (whatever “over” actually means) we’re all going to need to spend some time in rehab drying out.

 

I’ll see you there. Cheers! (Image credit: Finding Amanda)

 

Anyway, that’s just one of my crisis revelations. Another is that it seems we’re all learning that we don’t need nearly as much stuff in our lives as we thought we did. Social distancing has made each of us loathe to go out shopping. Add on top of that the huge hits the economy has been taking and the internet scam artists preying on our weaknesses and it’s even made us hesitant to shop too much from home.

I went to the grocery store the other day and it was all but cleaned out. They had been doing pretty well staying stocked since the beginning of the crisis, but that day it looked like about a third of the shelves were bare and even the shelves that had stock were riddled with gaps. But just between you and me… I kind of like it? Is that weird? I mean, I’ve never needed twenty different brands of whole wheat bread, so it’s kind of nice when there’s only three or four. It’s calming, in a way.

Don’t mistake me. I’m not advocating for less choices in the marketplace or some sort of artificial limitation on enterprise, but I am definitely saying true happiness comes not from having more but desiring less. Someone said that once. Someone other than me, I mean.

And speaking of me, which is something I rarely do in person but very often do online, I’ve noticed my experience with the pandemic is somewhat out of phase with the rest of my generation. This isn’t terribly unusual for me. I’ve always been just slightly out of step or late to the party with any given phenomenon that affects people near my age group. I was born a member of Gen X, but I never really got into 80’s synth pop. I went to college right when the grunge wave hit, but didn’t care for it. I bought my first flannel about five years after it went out of fashion. After graduation, people were getting jobs in a booming tech market and I was working in a bookstore.

And it’s similar to my experience right now. Not to make light of a tragic event, but… well…

This is just weird.

While most people seem to be either out of work or confined to their quarters and coming up with cute and crazy ways to occupy their time, I’m busier and making more money than I ever have (since leaving the white collar workforce anyway).

I’m paying half what I used to pay for gas. I’m getting one a half times (at least) the amount of tips from delivering pizzas as I was before the stay-at-home order. I’m about to receive my biggest tax refund ever as well as a stimulus check. And on top of all that, I’ve picked up a writer-for-hire contract. For maybe the first time in my life I have more money than I know what to do with and I can’t even go to a casino to piss it all away in classic Dan fashion!

It’s bordering on bizarre how much Matthew Broderick and I look alike with each passing year. (Image credit: Finding Amanda)

It’s like the universe is conspiring to make me financially stable. Because, let me tell you people, this is exactly what it would take.

Again, not trying to make light here. I’ve been spreading the wealth by buying gift cards to local restaurants, getting take-out, giving money to friends in need, etc. Doesn’t feel right to be profiting during this time, so I’m making sure I give back where I can.

But still, it just kind of feels like my teens and twenties all over again, y’know? Everyone my age is talking about a shared experience and I just missed it and can’t really figure out how to share in it as well without being a poser so I’m sort of standing on the outside and nodding along as if I get it and I’m cool.

Again, classic me.

On a more serious note, the last crisis revelation I’ve had is one I’ve been wrestling with quite a bit lately. Why am I more comfortable with living in a surveillance (or police) state in order to fight a pandemic than I am in order to fight a war on terror(ism)? Admittedly, I’m engaging in a bit of hyperbole, but I think it’s an important topic to consider.

On the face of it the answer is obvious: body count. But I think it goes a little deeper than that and it bears giving some extra thought. Sure, the threat is much more real and deadly than terrorism, but it’s also much less racist. If the war on terror wasn’t just a thinly disguised war on immigrants and minorities, I might be more willing to suspend some of my civil liberties to fight it. That is to say, if we treated domestic terrorism nearly as seriously as international terrorism, I’d likely be more amenable to the idea of things like unwarranted phone tapping or email/text seizure. Maybe. Not to mention stricter gun control. Definitely.

I’m just saying it’s hard for me to take the threat of international terrorism seriously when a group of fat white guys in camo toting AR-15’s can pull into town in a pick-up and it’s called a “protest” but if a group of brown people did it we’d call it a “race riot.”

“Damn guv’mint take away mah bump stock just when I need it to fight the virus!” (Image credit: Business Insider)

The virus doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care about your race, ethnicity, nationality, religion or politics. It doesn’t care if you support Israel. It doesn’t care how you feel about abortion. It doesn’t care if you think a hot dog is a sandwich.

It isn’t even human.

So, okay. A pandemic deserves a greater amount of tolerance for the curbing of civil liberties from us than the war on terror. Fine. But how far does that go? Do we accept a police state in order to save three percent of American lives? If so, for how long?

Or flip it. Do we identify the three percent of Americans most susceptible to succumbing to the virus and force them into house arrest so the rest of society can get back to “normal”?

The truth is, I don’t have a firm answer. I believe some restrictions need to be maintained until the healthcare community can tell the rest of us “okay, the worst is past” and we can travel about freely again without too much worry about spiking the curve. But at this moment, if we don’t have any restrictions the stupid people who will no doubt refuse to follow any safety guidelines will not just hurt themselves, but also the rest of us. If the number of people needing hospitalization spikes, the hospitals get overwhelmed and can’t offer as many services as before. At that point, you become just as likely to die from a broken leg as the virus because you can’t get help in time.

Add on top of that very real concern the scary prospect that the faster the virus spreads, the faster it mutates. The faster it mutates, the more likely it is that it could turn into a far more lethal version of itself, not to mention making it more difficult to find a vaccine.

So, some restrictions are necessary. I think we need to accept that we’re living in a new world and there isn’t any going back. Not truly. Not completely. The myth of American exceptionalism is over. We’re just like everybody else. We need to figure out how to live better, both for ourselves and for each other. We need to accept that we are a part of the global community and not somehow above it.

And we really need to get the healthcare situation in this country straightened out. I mean, come on…

Pizza Delivery Confidential: Corona Virus Edition

Hey, there. Listen. I know things are a little messed up right now and likely to get even further messed up, but don’t let it get you down. Easier said than done, I know, what with this COVID-19 thing being an invisible, amorphous cloud of fear and anxiety hanging over (and sometimes on) our heads, but it’s important to keep your spirits up. These are times that test your character. Gotta step up to the plate and put a brave face on. But how to stay calm and collected in a time of massive confusion and dread?

Fear not! I have just the thing! Two things, in fact! I bring for you these things two…

One is pizza and the other is a story. Now, the first thing I can’t deliver to you personally unless you are reading this from a location in the immediate vicinity of Arlington, Massachusetts, but I can assure you that your favorite local pizza shop is open for business (although maybe not in California or New York, sorry). Call them and treat yourself to a fresh, hot pie! You’ll be helping to keep them in business during this troublesome time. Restaurants run on a pretty tight margin. They simply don’t survive if bad times persist for too long and once they shutter the odds are long they’ll ever reopen without significant assistance. Since it kind of looks like this virus thing isn’t going away anytime soon, do your best to help out your favorite local eateries.

The past couple of weeks have been weird down at the pizza shop. The week before last, when there was that run on the grocery stores, we saw almost no business. Everybody was hunkering down, eating their groceries and building forts in their living rooms out of toilet paper (probably). All of our big catering orders (for company lunches and events and such) were cancelled for the foreseeable future and we were sure we were going to close soon.

But then this past week we received a deluge of delivery orders, which has been great for yours truly. I don’t know if it’s enough to keep the place open, but it was encouraging to see such generous support from the local community. We’ve started offering “Touchless Delivery” to encourage more people to order. This is where instead of coming to your door and handing you your food, I just leave it at your door and text or call you to tell you it’s arrived. About half of my deliveries are touchless now. It’s okay, a little weird. Often I’m entering someone’s porch or apartment building entrance (Is it a foyer? That doesn’t seem right) and leaving the food without ever seeing or talking to anyone. It’s a little like what I imagine delivering food to a space station must feel like.

 

Yeah, hi. Pizza delivery. Look, I’m outside but the call box isn’t working. Can you buzz me in?

 

AND YES I WANT TO DELIVER FOOD TO A SPACE STATION!

And riding around town during “rush hour” when the streets are nearly deserted definitely feels odd, but also very nice in a lot of ways. Less angry drivers. Less car horns. Honestly, the main impediment to traffic flow these days is the geese. I think they’ve noticed we’re not zooming around as much as we used to. They’re crossing the roads whenever they want and aren’t in any rush about it. It’s post-apocalyptical, but in a cute way, y’know?

 

All is our dominion. Remain in your homes.

 

But seriously, get yourself some take out or delivery. If not pizza, then how about some Chinese food? Did you know you actually CAN’T get corona virus by eating Chinese food? It’s true! So maybe make it a pizza and Chinese food.

And then go take a walk, fatty. I kid! I kid because I care. Seriously, don’t forget to get outside and walk or jog or bike or whatever you’re into. You need to keep those endorphins pumping and this thing isn’t airborne, so just make sure you give everybody some space out there and you’ll be fine.

And then go home and read a book! Or perhaps a short story? It just so happens I have one right here. Or did you think my little report about Delivery in the Time of Corona Virus was the story? Ha-ha! No. No… that’s… hmmm… certainly could be a story, now couldn’t it? Maybe just give the geese lasers to juice it up a bit…

 

You think me unarmed, do you?

 

But no! No, you’re not getting off that easy. I’ve decided to retire one of my stories from the magazine submission circuit and post it on the blog so anyone and everyone can read it for free. There are actually a couple that I was considering, but I went with the one story I’ve written that actually doesn’t have a sad ending because that’s not what we need right now. It has somewhat of a downbeat ending, but I wouldn’t call it sad.

And it’s short. Won’t take up too much of your time. Hope you enjoy it. You can find it HERE.

That’s about it, I guess. Oh! I also have a bit of writing news to report. Although I continue to work on short stories and Grant Scotland Six, I have recently been contracted to do some writing for a computer-game-developer-who-shall-remain-nameless on a title-that-shall-also-remain-nameless. Still very early, but work has begun and I am very excited!

It’s nice to have a bit of good news to report these days, yes? Hope you find some good news for yourself while we weather this storm. Be well!

Review: Star Wars Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker

WARNING: This is a full review of the movie. As I did with The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, I will start things off with a short section that talks in very general terms about my feelings regarding The Rise of Skywalker and I will avoid writing any spoilers. The second half of the review, clearly marked with a picture of Mark Hamill gazing heroically into the distance, will include a more detailed analysis of the film, spoilers and all.

 

THE DIET SODA REVIEW (ZERO SPOILERS!):

I’ve been looking forward to this movie with some trepidation. After I had heaped enormous expectations on Last Jedi, I had been inevitably disappointed with it. My opinion of that movie remains largely the same: I respect it for what it tried to do and enjoyed it as a fresh Star Wars experience, but the inexpert storytelling makes it hard for me to recommend it to anyone. But when I was writing my review of it I realized I had built up a lot of expectations for the movie ahead of time and perhaps that wasn’t fair. I resolved not to do the same for this movie and that strategy I believe paid off.

Because this movie is in an impossible position.

Not only is it trying to wrap up the storylines of episodes VII and VIII, it’s also trying to serve as the capstone to the entire Skywalker Saga. No small task. Some leeway should be granted here if they don’t quite get it right. With such a huge burden on its shoulders, it seems like the best this film could hope for would be to “not suck.”

And I think it’s safe to say it doesn’t suck. I think it’s fair also to claim that it underdelivers on concluding every plotline satisfactorily. That’s because that would have been impossible in a 2 hour 22 minute movie. You’d have needed at least 3 hours to give good weight and expoisition to everything.

But weight and exposition is not what Star Wars does well. It does just a little bit of brooding and a tidbit or two of backstory or explanatory techno-jargon or whatever and then we’re off to the next chase, the next fight, the next confrontation. This film does just enough at each plot point to fill us in on what we need to know and then it’s off to the races once more. Obviously, this results in a movie that is almost breathless in its pace, which is both a good and a bad thing. Because while I appreciated the efficient storytelling, I was also a bit bored by it, quite frankly. However, this stems mainly from the lack of care that I have for these characters and less so from the story structure. I’ll explain more below, but the trio of Rey and Finn and Poe never really came together for me like Han and Luke and Leia.

 

They’re like the cover band that just kind of tries too hard.

 

This isn’t to say they weren’t enjoyable to watch, it’s just that I wasn’t invested in them. They all had something to do and they were at last doing things together (unbelievably, for the first time in the series) but I just didn’t really buy into their chemistry. It might simply have been because there wasn’t any or it might be because the series never quite let go of it’s original trio. Perhaps a bit of both.

Regardless, I enjoyed this film, not just as a Star Wars flick, but also as a complete movie. I found a couple of surprise revelations, plot points that had been murky before were cleared up and there was the requisite blaster fights/light saber duels/space ship battles. All fun and satisfying, if perhaps straying a bit too far into the unbelievable at times.

But most importantly, by the end of the film, I felt like it had succeeded in becoming a capable capstone on the entire saga. The major mysteries had been revealed. The major characters have answers to their deepest questions – well, the force-wielding ones anyway. The galaxy feels irrevocably changed by the momentous events just concluded.

I don’t think it’s the movie that any of us was really hoping for, but it is the movie that adequately eulogizes the franchise. You have to remember, Star Wars was never meant to be an epic series. It was always meant to be a revisit of the classic cliffhanger short films writ large onto scripts borrowing heavily from Kurosawa. They’re space westerns, samurai sci-fi, not some Tolkien-esque chronicle set amongst the stars. But, the problem is, we loved them too much. We wanted them to be so very much more than lightsaber duels and exploding space ships and funny droids. In fact, we insisted on it. And in so doing we set up our own disappointment.

So, go and see it but you’d do well to keep in mind that it’s just Star Wars, not Lawrence of Arabia.

 

Luke of Tatooine.

 

 

THE ROOT BEER FLOAT REVIEW (BRIMMING WITH HEAPING SCOOPS OF CREAMY SPOILERS)

And that’s a good thing, because one of the key things that made Lawrence of Arabia great was that we all loved Lawrence. He was ill-suited to his uniform and didn’t quite fit in with his fellow officers and perhaps was a bit mad. He was all the things we all feel every day we’re alive, especially when he was occasionally brilliant.

But although I’ve tried I cannot name a single character in these latest three films I give a solid piece of excrement about. Not one. The two most powerful ones come to mind first, Rey and Kylo. Kylo, I guess, came closest for me, but probably more due to Adam Driver’s performance than any real appeal of his character. I could have stood to watch a trilogy about how Kylo goes on a journey from light to dark and back to light again, exploring the eternal battle between Jedi and Sith, but that wasn’t what we got (not in the main, anyway). We pretty much just got Darth Vader 2.0, but Driver delivered it well enough to keep me from rolling my eyes.

Rey was also somewhat compelling, but mostly because she was an enigma. Once that enigma was unraveled, she was Luke Skywalker 2.0. Daisy Ridley did an okay job of acting, I guess, but she spent more time running and jumping from place to place in this movie than actually emoting. I don’t know what I wanted from her, to be honest, but when she found out she was a Palpatine, instead of taking even a single second to look into family history to find out more about her parents, she just decides to go kill the not-quite-dead-yet-feeling-much-better Emperor.

And why were her parents killed? If they were the only ones who knew where Rey was, why kill them? That made no sense to me and it should have made no sense to Rey.

Disappointing. Certainly a betrayal of her character. However, it wasn’t surprising. This movie needed to keep moving, so if her eventual decision would have been to destroy the Emperor anyway (like, for real this time!) then Abrams and company obviously felt they could ignore any curiosity she might have had about her parentage.

And basically that became the axis that the entire movie, as well as the entire series, turned on. The resolution of the saga became the resolution of a Palpatine v Skywalker generational conflict. Honestly, I don’t think that’s a bad way to go. The only problem is that wasn’t the way the conflict had been painted in the Last Jedi. In that movie, we were very definitely supposed to believe it was a conflict between haves and have-nots and Rey was the daughter of nobodies. If we had been given more of a Palpatine v Skywalker set-up in Last Jedi, then maybe Rise of Skywalker would have been in a better position to finish gracefully instead of rushing everything.

Because everything was very rushed. Poe, Finn, BB-8, Threepio and R2 were all shuffled around the screen so fast I could barely understand what they were saying, much less afford a moment to care. Were we supposed to care about Poe and Finn? Did their own internal struggles in the past two movies (Poe with hubris, Finn with self-doubt) mean anything? Oh well, too late. And what about Rose? She was shown as the embodiment of the backbone of the resistance in Last Jedi, the everywoman. Was I supposed to care about her? Because she had about as much screen time as your average turbo laser in Rise of Skywalker.

Don’t tell me Abrams and Johnson are cool with each other’s movies, because if you watch the films you can see they are very fucking obviously not.

But although I have my problems with it, I liked the movie. Although the pacing was too fast, it at least was consistent. The structure of the story progressed in a largely logical manner and the resolution of the movie’s main conflict (Palpatine v Skywalker) was a nice way to end the main conflict of the entire series (Jedi v Sith).

I also appreciated the send-off for Leia. It didn’t look to me that they needed to do too much CGI, if any at all – aside from the flashback scene, obviously. She died redeeming Ben Solo, which was one of the ways I wished for her to go out. And then, because he died in the end, one could argue that she ends up losing everything for the sake of her rebellion, a touchingly tragic note for her life to end on, which was also something that I wished for. And it was nice to see Harrison Ford come back to shoulder some screen time to help complete the redemption arc for Ben/Kylo so that they wouldn’t have to have CGI Leia do it. I appreciated that and it gave me the warm and fuzzies.

RIP Carrie Fischer. We miss you.

The movie also fills in some missing information from the last two movies, albeit in very broad strokes. We are given to understand that Palpatine “made” Snoke and the First Order as some sort of preparation for the day his granddaughter ascends to the Imperial Throne. Now, what makes this foreseen eventuality any more legit than the other he also foresaw (Luke killing Vader to become his new apprentice) we don’t know. Maybe he assumed they would both happen, since one doesn’t preclude the other, but after Vader threw him off (down?) the Death Star you have to think he must have started questioning his own foresight, right?

Anyway, we at least got some sort reason for the First Order’s being, so that was nice.

The climax of the movie was good, but like with the rest of the film, not as good as it could have been:

Kylo battles the Knights of Ren. Cool! Wait, who are they?

Rey kills Palpatine, which was exactly what he wanted, but somehow doesn’t become a Sith, because some sort of ritual hadn’t been performed? Really? That seemed plot-convenient, although you could argue the Emperor kills himself in his rage. I guess that’s fine, but that whole scene needed more. Who were all those people in robes? Sith? Real Sith or dead Sith? Who were the Sith? Were they ever a race of actual beings or just a name given to Dark Side types? I know what Star Wars canon says, I’m just saying the movie gives us way too little, but I mostly blame the prequels for not filling us in more about the Sith.

 

Frogs? Were they frog people? Ducks? What about a cross between a frog and a duck?

 

But back to the film at hand… Everyone in the galaxy shows up at the critical moment with a spaceship to fight the First Order fleet, which was a nice “hey everyone does actually care about fighting tyranny” moment but then the fight lasts all of seconds. Really? For a series-ending space battle this was some weak sauce.

And at the end we are given to understand that the galaxy is saved! Again. “Everyone in the galaxy is rising up” says Poe. They weren’t before? I’m sorry. Wasn’t there a reborn Republic after the fall of the Empire? Did we not hear that in Force Awakens? What have they been doing this whole time?

Finn leads a desperate ground battle to destroy a strategically important target, which was okay, I guess. Although, it seemed kind of unnecessary once the big fleet arrives. You also got the obligatory shot of a charging herd of animals, which seems required of all Disney movies.

If any of this is sounding familiar, it’s because it’s basically the plot of Return of the Jedi, but you kind of expected that going in, didn’t you?

And now I’m sounding like I didn’t like it again. Sorry. I watched this movie while suffering from a chest cold. Made me a little irritable. Also, I wasn’t thrilled with the size of the theater’s screen. Add on top of that a kid a couple rows back from me who wouldn’t shut the fuck up and it sort of spoiled my mood. So, take all of that together and I still walked out of there saying “yeah, that was all right I guess” and I take that to mean I liked it.

I kind of want to end this with my own eulogy for the Skywalker Saga but I’m not interested in saying anything too grand. I think the general motif of choosing your own identity is essential even if it’s hard when dealing with family and expectations is a very fine thing to portray in a space opera. It’s not terribly complicated, but it is a life lesson most people have to grapple with every day. So, there. That’s my Star Wars eulogy.

I’m looking forward to seeing it again, but probably not until it hits Disney+. You should go see it in the theater if you haven’t already. Just make sure you bring your anti-brat spray and maybe a decongestant or two.

Spy for a Vicious Circle now available!

The fifth installment in The Adventures of Grant Scotland is now available on Kindle in paperback and e-book format!

 

Grant goes to the beach! At night. With a lot of bad guys. And no plan. Probably fine.

 

And within a week you should be able to find it on Kobo, Nook and Apple. I tried to time the release to synch up across all platforms, but it looks like that’s basically impossible without a preorder period these days. I swear it didn’t used to be this complicated! Oh well. Now I’ll definitely make sure book six will be available for preorder when I finish it so I can achieve a true “launch” day.

And when will that be? Well, I’m not sure. My original plans for next year had involved writing the first draft of a non-Grant Scotland book (I have a couple of ideas I’ve been kicking around) in the first half of the year and also spending some time revising the sci-fi book I wrote last year with the idea of getting it ready to shop around to agents. After that, I’d finish the year by writing book six of the Grant Scotland series (AoGS6) with an eye towards publishing it some time summer/fall 2021.

But I’m tempted just to push ahead and spend the whole of next year focused on book six. It’ll probably be bigger than any of the previous books, because I’ll be wrapping up the series – or at least I’ll be wrapping up the major plot points of the series. I may want to write further adventures with Grant down the road, but I know I want to end this series now. At this point it’s soaking up too much time and resources and preventing me from shifting into the next phase of my writing career; developing a presence in the traditional publishing world.

So, we’ll see. I’m taking November and December to noodle my thoughts around, do some outlining, write some short stories and just generally brainstorm. I’ll let you know in January which big project I start work on first.

In the meantime, please enjoy Spy for a Vicious Circle! I basically wrote this book twice. I hope it was worth the effort. I think it was. I’m satisfied with how it turned out and how it sets up the final book, but as is always the case, you the reader will be the ultimate judge.

So long for now and Happy Thanksgiving!

Gobble, gobble.

 

Notes from the Self-Pubbed (Issue #10)

Remember my U.S. distribution list BookBub promotion for my omnibus, The Unlikely Spy? Well, it went off without a hitch and got me so excited I almost peed my pants, except I wasn’t wearing pants so I … ahem.

 

Jeff knows what Dan did.

 

Nevermind that. The point is, I sold so many copies that Unlikely Spy rocketed to the top of the Hardboiled Bestseller list on Amazon for like three straight days. This was cool, but also unexpected, since I had completely forgotten I had put it in that category. Strangely, it didn’t even show up in General Fantasy (the other category it is “shelved” in) but I’m thinking that category doesn’t really exist as a sales category. I may have to do some tinkering there. Anyway, it was very cool to see the #1 Bestseller tag next to my book for a little while and watch the sales numbers jump.

The actual numbers for the promotion period (which I define as the week of the sale plus three weeks) turned out to be a little less exciting. Not disappointing, but certainly not life-altering. Let’s dig into it.

Oh, a note before we start – the numbers from distributers other than Amazon are going to look a little different from last time, because it looks like Smashwords (who is my publisher/distributer for Kobo/Apple/B&N) isn’t getting as precise information from its retail affiliates as it used to for some reason. The numbers are all there, but the who and when aren’t 100% accurate. I think they will become more accurate over the next few months, but the affiliates all report their detailed figures differently and at different times.

 

The numbers, raw and unprocessed:

Title on sale: The Adventures of Grant Scotland, Volume One: The Unlikely Spy

Sale period: October 11th to October 15th

BookBub ad (Oct 11th) promotion cost: $516

 

Total units sold via Smashwords 10/11 to 11/8 (sale and non-sale units combined):

Kobo: 32

Apple: 94

Barnes and Noble: 106

Smashwords: 2

 

Total SALE units:

221 copies of Unlikely Spy @ .60 royalty each

 

Non-sale units sold:

11 copies of Greedy Villain @ $2.50 (approximate) royalty each

2 copies of Unlikely Spy @ $6.50 (approximate) royalty each

 

Amazon: 10/11 to 11/9

Total SALE Units: 771 units @ $.35 royalty each

 

Non-sale units:

Dead Empire: 2 units @ $2.71 royalty each

Troubled King: 2 units @ $2.71 royalty each

Wayward Daughter: 1 unit @ $2.71 royalty each

Greedy Villain: 17 units @ $2.71 royalty each

Unlikely Spy: 4 units @ $6.85 royalty each

 

The numbers, refined and pressed into delightful ducats:

Smashwords royalties (60% across all distributors)

Unlikely Spy (at sale price): $132.60

Greedy Villain: $27.50

Unlikely Spy (at regular price): $13.00

Total Smashwords revenue: $171.10

 

Amazon royalties (30% @ sale price, 70% @ regular price)

Unlikely Spy (at sale price): $269.85

Dead Empire: $5.42

Troubled King: $5.42

Wayward Daughter: $2.71

Greedy Villain: $46.07

Unlikely Spy (at regular price): $27.40

Total Amazon revenue: $356.87

 

Total in sales from sale period and post-sale period (as of today):

$527.97

…less $516 in expenses means I made $11.97 off the promotion. A shade less than the last two Bookbub promotions, but still a net profit. BookBub comes through again! Yay! On top of that, I sold around a thousand copies of The Unlikely Spy to new readers and I’m selling a copy of Greedy Villain almost once a day. That’s by far better than my kinda-sorta one copy a week average I had going before the promotion. And I predict that pace will continue, especially with the release of Vicious Circle later this month.

Overall, I’m happy. I also had some borrowed page reads, but not as many as I did last promotion. I think it’s time to ditch Kindle Select for a while. The borrowed page reads never seemed to do much for me. Taking the first three books off the program will also allow me to republish them at other distributers and hopefully find some new fans that way. Up until now, Kobo/Apple/Nook readers had to start the series with the omnibus, which I think is still the best way to do it but some readers prefer to go one book at a time. That puts a lot of pressure on Dead Empire, which I think is the weakest book in the series in terms of quality of writing (it was my first – I was younger then) but there are still scenes and moments in it that I like very much and I think can still hook a reader in even if the novel as a whole is less than stellar.

It might be worth rewriting it, but I’m just not interested. It was the best book I could write at the time and I’m satisfied with that. And in terms of managing my writing time, I prefer to tackle new projects than return to old ones.

And speaking of new projects, Vicious Circle is coming out SOOOOON. VERY SOOOOON. Like, I’ve-got-a-marching-band-and-a-cannon-waiting-in-the-wings SOOOOON.

 

“Oooookaaaay… Who’s got the grapeshot? CONFETTI! Of course, I meant confetti. Hey, where’d the band go?”

 

 

 

Spy for a Vicious Circle cover reveal!

That’s it. That’s the post.

 

 

Adventures of Grant Scotland Book Five will be titled Spy for a Vicious Circle and it should hit the virtual shelves at Amazon, Kobo, B&N and Apple on or shortly after Thanksgiving. I’m very proud of this one! I truly think it’s the best one yet. You’ll have to let me know what you think. Look for it on the 28th of November.

I was tempted to try to orchestrate some sort of preorder for this book, but I ran out of time. I finished the final revision yesterday and handed it over to my editor today. When she finishes correcting my grammar and spelling and making sure I don’t sound like a raving lunatic and all the manuscripts get uploaded, there will only be a couple of weeks to wait, so setting up a preorder program hardly seemed necessary.

Too bad. I was looking forward to trying it. I’ll be sure to arrange a preorder for Book Six, which is not even started, so don’t even ask about it. I’m not even thinking about it. That’s for January. For the next couple of months I’ll be basically writing short stories and coming up with new book ideas to explore next year.

And for today, for the first time in a long time, I had absolutely no plans and no work that had to be done. Nothing. It felt… weird. But GOOD weird, you know? I took a nice long walk. That’s not unusual for me, but what is unusual is that this time I had nothing on my mind. Usually there is some plot or character motivation problem I need to work out. And that’s fine. That’s good, too. But it felt very relaxing to just walk around and look at trees. It’s peak foliage here, the one time of the year I swear even my colorblind eyes can see all the different tints and hues and such.

Well, that’s it. I’m going to get back to loafing now.

The Unlikely Spy is on sale for $0.99

Heyo! It is I, your friendly deliverer of tales of daring-do and pies of delicious pizza. Have I got a deal for you! The Unlikely Spy, Volume One of the Adventures of Grant Scotland, is now on sale for a mere $0.99!

You can find it at these fine e-tailers:

Kindle.

Nook.

Kobo.

Apple.

That’s the first three books of the Grant Scotland series all wrapped up into one neato potato e-volume and sold to you for less than a cup of gas station coffee! And reading it won’t be nearly as hard on your stomach!

Uh… I mean, it won’t make you sick.

Ack. I mean, it won’t make you poop.

 

It won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth?

 

Damn, I suck at self-promotion.

Anyway, hop on this deal like it was a jumpy castle, because it is TAKING OFF!

The sale lasts through Tuesday the 15th, so do not despair if you are somehow reading this on a device that can’t immediately connect to your favorite e-book retailer.

Bye (buy) now. Have a great weekend. Pick some apples. Read some (my) books.

Some News and Some Random Thoughts

Hello again, gentle readers! I just wanted to add a quick update on what’s been going on with Grant Scotland as well as post some thought nuggets about how the summer went and how my writing is progressing and how it’s important to practice good oral hygiene. Wait, sorry. That was my dentist talking. It’s been a while between visits and this latest one she got in my head a bit about taking better care of myself. But that’s not today’s topic! You’re not the boss of me, Dr. Richardson!

Well, okay, maybe when you’ve got me upside down in that chair, blasting away at my calculus with a sonic scaler you are, but not anytime else!

A sonic scaler! It cleans your teeth with the power of sound! Even dental instruments are getting sci-fi these days. We live in the future.

 

Dentistry 2020. [Image credit Cyberpunk 2077]

But enough about teeth. Let’s talk about Grant Scotland. Hey, guess what? You know those Bookbub promotions that I’ve done in the past, the ones where Bookbub would only let me advertise internationally and never domestically? Well, I just got the word here at Grant Scotland HQ (also known as the closet-sized office attached to my bedroom) that Bookbub wants to do a domestic promo!

WAHOOOOO!

This is kind of a big deal. Bookbub’s domestic subscriber base is about twice the size of its international one. As an aside, did you know they’re based in Cambridge? They’re practically right down the street from me! I wonder if they like pizza…

 

It’s not a bribe. It’s a free lunch. And since there’s no such thing as a free lunch, then this never happened. Capiche?

 

Anyway, this means more exposure and more sales, but it also means I can finally get an honest-to-god crack at getting myself a core audience. I don’t mean to slight the international crowd – I’ve gotten some great support and feedback from Aussies, Canadians and UKers – but Grant Scotland is more of an “Americanized” style of fantasy story-telling, so I’m eager to see what my reception will be.

What do I mean by Americanized? Well, I borrowed from some very modern and American sources for inspiration, i.e. Glen Cook’s works, Raymond Chandler, Robert Parker, the Burn Notice TV show, the Bond movies (yes, I know he’s a British invention, but the movies are very heavily Hollywood-influenced). Anyway, my take on serial fantasy is certainly not unique, I’m just saying it’s very intentionally more New World than Old World.

So, I will once again price the omnibus at the insanely low price of $0.99! That seemed to work just fine last time, so hopefully it’ll turn out even better with a brand new audience. I guess we’ll see. The promotion starts October 11, so if you still haven’t taken the opportunity to enjoy some Grant Scotland adventures, look for The Unlikely Spy to be on sale all Columbus Day weekend.

And as for Book Five, I can reveal that I am about 90% done with rewrites. I’ve got a couple of scenes to drop in and then one last revision pass for spelling/grammar/stupidity and we should be good to go. Oh, and it also has a title. Not going to reveal it yet, though. I’ll wait for the cover reveal (coming in October, hopefully!) And I’m still looking to hit that Thanksgiving Day launch date. I don’t predict any problems, but I’ll let you know if there’s a delay.

And I’m excited! I can tell my writing has grown stronger over the course of writing Grant Scotland. This book might be my strongest, most cohesive storytelling. I know, that sounds boring. You might not even notice, but I do. Character motivations drive more of the plot, long-planted plot seeds grow from seedlings to blooms, tension is built and resolved in a little more orderly fashion, etc. Good stuff. My Force powers are growing, but I am not a Jedi yet.

Over this past summer, I’ve been concentrating on writing better as well as writing more. The first few years I was mainly concerned with quantity. I had spent a lot of my life not writing, so I had to make up for lost time in that regard. I’m still doing that, probably will for the rest of my life, but that’s mortality. It’s a bitch. We’re all up against the clock.

 

I said it’ll be done when it’s done, Death! Cop a squat and chill!

 

Ummm… yeah, I digressed there. Sorry. But quality! Quality is what I’ve been making time for recently. Some writers argue that quantity trumps quality in writing and a compelling case can be made for that, but I’m pretty sure you can’t ignore quality completely. Maybe you can skate by once you’ve established a core audience, but I feel you should always be looking to improve, even if only for your own sanity. I mean, if you can’t take some measure of pride in your work, well… Why do it?

A perfect case in point is Ernest Cline’s recent book, Armada. Now, I loved Ready Player One, although I acknowledge its faults. Cline is a bit of a clutzy writer and the nostalgia was heavy at times (although I forgave him that because I know he was equally damning as loving of gamer-geek culture) but overall I thought the concept was fresh and timely. Also, I’m insanely jealous at how naturally he seems to be able to write about people playing video games. He absolutely pulls me in and makes me feel like I’m participating in whatever game his characters are playing.

I can’t do that. I’ve tried and I just can’t. I always make it sound too vague or too technical. So. Jealous.

But Armada? Not going to lie. This book is a flaming bag of crap. It has all the signs of having been rushed out to capitalize on his Ready Player One success and the buzz over the movie. The characters are stick figures borrowed from cheap Hollywood stereotypes and the plot makes not even one shred of sense. And the author knows it! At several points he has the main character actually thinking to himself “None of this makes any sense.”

Because it doesn’t! Even when the big reveal happens and some things get explained (mighty thinly), there are still gaping plot holes and inconsistencies. That’s quantity over quality. That’s the author leaving a note for himself on the page to go back and fix it, but probably never getting the chance to do it because the profit-driven publisher needs the book released yesterday.

I hope he recovers a bit of his game and gets his groove back. I’ll be rooting for him.

Talk to you all again soon! Going to be a busy fall!