Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On the Publishing Industry Part Two: The Future of Bookstores

So bookstores have been dealt a pretty harsh blow. Borders went under, and lots of other brick and mortar stores have either followed suit or are swirling the drain. Amazon continues to sell more and more of the books people are reading, and epublishing has cut out the bookstores from the process entirely.

As I see it, there are a few options for the bookstores to follow in the coming days. I'm going to try and lay it out as clearly as I can and hopefully I will not attract anyone's ire. Here goes nothing...

Option One: The Borders. This option involves more or less doubling down and continuing to try and keep the business going as usual. Ignoring the changes going on in the electronic market, the bookstore tries to squeeze more cash out of the writers and publishers supplying it with material. As time goes on and profits remain dismal, the store tries last minute attempts to adapt, perhaps even throwing grand sales in a grasping try to catch up to where their competitors already are. They end up going the way of Blockbuster, Hollywood Video and Borders, closing their doors in defeat as the market leaves them behind.

Option Two: The Hybrid. This option relies on diversifying the product the store sells. Barnes and Noble seems to have relied on this one extensively, developing not only its hard copy books, but also music, board games and the Nook. That last one was probably the more important one, because it helped put a hand in the territory that Amazon's Kindle had occuped alone for so long. As a result, the bookstore continues to make enough profits in order to survive, but not much else will change in its relationships with traditional publishers and authors. The only real difference is that in addition to the product coming from self-published authors will be lined up alongside traditional authors, in the electronic half at least. Self-published authors may still get exluded from hard copy bookshelves though, so no real change there.

Option Three: The Comic Book Store. Rather than continuing as a hardline corporate institution, the bookstore starts to rely on local and cultural appeal to continue functioning. They feature hard copies not only from traditional authors, but also local epublished authors as well to appeal to local audiences. Book signings, book readings, tables for writing groups or book clubs, and other add ons might draw more interest to the physical building. Online, the bookstore forms a strong relationship with print on demand companies as well as the usual publishers, so that they can get at least a small amount of profit through that source. They might even communicate directly with self-published authors to get signed copies of books in their stores like collector's items. All in all, the bookstore becomes more of a cultural icon, a gathering place for people who enjoy books, than a commercialized business venture.

So those are the three options that I see availble. There are probably more, but these seem to be more likely than the rest. Obviously, any of these changes are going to effect how publishers and writers run their side of the business, so that will be the purpose of the next post. See you then!

Monday, August 29, 2011

On the Publishing Industry Part One: The Situation

So those of you who have been following the conflict over the current state of the publishing industry (who by the way are entirely nerds) know that the battle lines have apparently been drawn between those who support "traditional" publishing and those who are going full speed ahead with the new concept of epublishing. Some on one side use the argument that the epublishing sphere is producing a bunch of crap that will crowd out good literature and ultimately harm the industry as a whole, while the epublishers are crowing about the apparent downfall of the publishing companies that have acted as gatekeepers for so long and the birth of a new era of freedom for writers as a whole.

I think in a lot of ways the industry has changed permanently, but the conflict we are seeing between self publishers and publishers, editors and agents isn't helping any of us adapt to the change.

First off, a distinction needs to be drawn between the publishers and the distributors. You have to keep in mind that for the past who knows how long, the only way a book could be sold was through a bookstore, and that most of those bookstores were chains owned by a handful of companies. Publishing companies were the people who developed relationships with those distributors and got the books from the authors hands to the stores. They were almost like the union for writers as a whole; they were big enough that the distributors had to listen to them or lose out on product, and for the most part I believe that they tried to guarantee the fair treatment of the writers producing the product they sold. The agents who represented the authors were likewise part of that process.

Unfortunately, that bargaining all too often came out in favor of the distributors. As I heard it described to me, the bookstores kept the lion share of the profits, while the author, agent and publisher basically divided up the small remainder. It was the needs and demand of the bookstores that moved books in and out of shelves in less than a year, that told publishers that if a book didn't sell they would have to ship it back and store it at their own cost, and that generally bent things in the advantage of the distributors. Writers are very often known as being poor, but I doubt the publishing company was the reason for it. It was likely the fact that the publishing company could only get so much out of the bookstore before they were simply turned down.

Now the internet has officially revolutionized the industry, almost on accident. Suddenly the bookstore is not the only place to find books. In fact, it's almost a second choice behind Amazon and other online stores, where electronic books and actual hardcopies by the thousands are available at the click of a mouse. The effect has been devastating to the distributors who have had a lock on the market for so long. Long invincible chains like Borders are literally vanishing almost overnight, and the publishing companies which had spent so long developing ties with those stores are suddenly left hanging in the wind, with the likelihood of unpaid bills piling up behind them. It's probably going to end up with a balance that favors writers much more heavily, but for the time being it's chaos.

Friday, August 26, 2011

On the Seventh Book

Ah, Kingsley. Probably the best story ever formed by the mating of two alternative rock songs, an episode of Castle, and the quiet bother of an hour long commute.

Okay, so there were a lot more influences on the story than just that, but those were the main ones. It was one of those fusions of ideas that came together all at once, and I really couldn't argue with the result.

Basically, I came up with the idea for The True Adventures of Hector Kingsley while I was on my way home from work one night. At the time, things were a little bit stressful. I was now working at the emergency room, and at the same time I was starting to volunteer at a research lab in order to stick my toe into the water for that career path. I had discovered that Christmas with the family was not in the cards for this year, and I had already begun my time driving an hour to work and back. On top of that, Em and I had been working opposite schedules for about two and a half months, which was more than a little discouraging. All in all, I was stressed out, working hard and missing my wife.

Also at the time my wife was discovering her interest in steampunk. She had gotten into the genre by buying Leviathan by Scott Westerfield (curse you shiny cover, you were irresistable!). The genre was apparently the spiritual home that she had been looking for, and it was fun to watch her geek out over the various stories and styles she found. I found myself drawn to the genre as well, though for the most part I hadn't thought much about writing it myself.

Cue the Castle episode. It was a normal episode about a murder involving a steampunk club, but it was fun to hear the main character's description of the genre as a whole. It was something to the effect of "steampunk is a combination of the romanticism of Victorian times and the ingenuity of future design", which kind of resonated with me. After all, in those times you didn't need a research grant to do science, you just picked up a snail or something and said "How does this thing work?"

Then came the night that I was driving home, exhausted, and came up with the idea of writing a story in a universe where they had discovered something that brought out the inner side of people. Something that made monsters out of psychopaths and vampires out of addicts. Something that made wheels turn on their own and engines run without obstacle. The idea would only work in a steampunk setting, and the character I came up with to fit it was based on the song I had on in the car at the time. Hector Kingsley, investigator, came to life in all his sarcastic, stuffy glory.

I started writing a little bit at a time in the midnight hours when I got home. Little by little the story developed. A second song gave me Patricia Anderson, aka Mustang, and the story just took off. When I had enough of it down, I sent a bit of it to the writing group and found a pretty positive response. Encouraged by the reaction, I started to write a little bit more, eventually sprinting through the story in March to finish the first draft and taking most of May to do the second. It went from a story I was basically writing to enjoy myself and entertain Em to an actual honest to goodness novel, and is probably the best thing I'd written so far.

So go figure. Life is strange, but sometimes the twists it gives us are really, really good. :) Hope all is going well for you guys, and I will see you later!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Driving in Houston, Part Deux

So the other night I was driving along, minding my own business, and eagerly getting closer to arriving at home for the night. Traffic wasn't too bad, which was wonderful, and I was able to drive at a pretty decent pace--below the speed limit of course (cough cough).

I saw a little motion in the cars ahead of me and looked over to find a car that seemed to be completely out of control. Not as in moving around a bit inside the lane out of control. I mean swerving completely across five lanes of traffic and nearly colliding with the concrete divider out of control. The driver literally pulled out of the swerve just barely in time to avoid a messy crash, swerved back into traffic and across two more lanes before finally settling into something resembling a sane driving course.

In the process, they cut off three different cars--one lucky guy got it twice--and scared the crap out of all of us. I've never seen an entire section of traffic look disapproving before, but you could almost feel the collective "What the crap are you doing?" in the air. The crazy driver slowed down under the sheer shame of it, and most of his fellow drivers accelerated to leave him safely in their dust. Drunk, asleep or just plain cracked out, at the very least they didn't sideswipe me as I edged my way past them a few moments later.

This has been another episode of why Houston drivers are awful and why my commute is terrible. I hope you guys are driving safe, and I'll see you around...hopefully.

Monday, August 22, 2011

On Supporting Good Causes

So I find myself in a quandry. As some of you know, I really like webcomics. There are several out there that I enjoy, from Schlock Mercenary to Girl Genius (and yes, yours too Aneeka) and checking up on those stories has given me a little habit to enjoy as the week goes on.

My particular moral dilemmma currently has to do with one of the webcomics I read. The author actually runs a site with multiple comics on it, and some of them have become my favorites over the years. He speaks a lot on faith and heroism, which is something I always enjoy in my stories. He's also a super-conservative right wing Christian, which means that every so often he goes off on subjects that he finds threatening. Most of the time it is just some old fashioned humor, but occasionally he will drift into vitriol every once in a while. For the most part I had decided to tolerate his personal flaws and respect his work as an artist. In fact, I was actually planning on buying a bit of advertising space on his site, both to support him in his work and to promote my own work.

Things kind of took a new turn recently. The author of the webcomic also has a blog attached to his comics, and he has recently been posting an awful lot of anti-Mormon stuff. You know the kind--the creepily hateful websites with claims to know "actual" Mormon history, the old chestnuts about Mormon "secret" doctrine, the delightful distortion of half-truths for effect. It surprised me to see him not only posting it, but also advocating the material, basically acting as a parrot for these things when he could have been making the comics I enjoy.

I had always been aware that he wasn't necessarily a fan of Mormonism, which was something I could deal with. After all, many of the webcomics that I follow have authors whose viewpoints differ quite a bit from my own. The difference for me is between speaking up for your own views and spreading gossip and rumors about another's views. I had always been happy to hear about his faith, about the principles he believed in, because in a lot of ways they mirrored my own.

At the same time, I find it hard to support or read from an author who is actively spreading lies about my own beliefs, in a manner that won't permit reasonable discussion. I literally felt sick to my stomach as I watched the comment threads bascially denegrate into a pit of hate and bigotry, knowing all the while that any comment I would make would either be deleted or merely feed into the spirit of contention. Any intentions I had of buying ads on the site evaporated, and at this point I am wondering if it is even worth continuing to read his comics at all. It's not like I don't have other things to be doing, and I wouldn't want to approve of that kind of discourse about any person's faith, let alone my own. Given the political situation, we're probably only going to get bombarded by more of this stuff in the coming days, and the last thing we need is more.

So yeah, quandry. Let me know if you guys have any suggestions, and I hope you have a good week. See you around!

Friday, August 19, 2011

On the Sixth Book

After Wolfhound, my next project was based on a new idea I had developed based on a dream I had. You may already see where this one went wrong.

My dream had me playing a game of Zelda. I'm a bit hazy on the details, but the supporting characters were urging me to get to the end of the level before the boss broke free and ruined everything. Lazy sod that I am, I kind of laughed to myself, mid-dream, and said "Silly people. The boss never gets free. He just sits there until I decide to beat the crap out of him."

When I woke up, it occured to me that a videogame where the boss does get free would be an interesting project. At the time I was still unemployed and games have always been a hobby of mine. So I decided to come up with a videogame where that aspect would be included. Along the way it kind of morphed into some kind of proto-MMORPG monster where players would attempt to build and defend a realm against the demonic monsters that would undermine and destroy it.

By the end, I had a pretty neat setting and background, but unless some interested millionaire stumbles along I probably will never get the chance to put it into production. Given how many successful companies already have MMORPGs out, and how risky it can be to start one (i.e. Tabula Rasa) I don't know if anything will come of it in the game arena.

Yet I had a setting and world built, so I thought why not use it in a story? At that point I wasn't sure I wanted to do a lot of science fiction yet, and the temptation to slip back into fantasy for a while was alluring. So I started the project, now known as The New Realm, and poured effort into it like water on a fire.

Thus began the dreadful experience of writing a setting story. It was awful. Characters changed names, back stories and abilities. Plot events shifted like sand beneath my feet. By the end of the story, I just wanted to finish the thing and be done with it for a while. Even now thinking of going back to it sends a ribbon of pain through my skull. By the time the story shuddered to a delightfully disconnected halt, I was more than ready to take a break after a while. New Realm has been officially shelved since I finished it, even though the occasional inspiration strikes to add some detail to its background. I might eventually go back and work on it again, but for the time being I have other more interesting projects to tinker with.

Still, it would make one heck of a cool videogame though...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On Running up Mother

Don't worry, the post title will make sense eventually. I promise. :)

Back in high school, our track and cross country coach had a saying: "The longest distance you will ever run is the one between your ears." What he meant, of course, is that no matter how hard it is to run any particular race, the mental battle is the hardest part.

When he laid out our cross country course, Coach Cohen made sure it reflected that. Every part of the course carried its own particular mental challenge--from the start that took us right up a pavement hill to the finish that tricked hasty runners into a final all-out sprint half a mile from the finish line--but none of them were quite as painful as Mother.

Mother was a trail named for who knows what reason. Our course was filled with trails like that, from Ice Cream to JV, but I always tended to imagine that Mother got its name from the first half of the vulgar, instinctive reaction of the runners who first encountered it. The trail came about two thirds of the way through the three mile course and it started out easily enough. Just a short, mildly difficult incline that you had to run up before you reached a slight turn to the left. A lot of runners, especially those who hadn't run the course before, would sprint up that first little hill and make that turn, fully believing they would have no trouble reaching the top.

The turn was the trick you see. No sooner did you make that turn than a monster confronted you. It was a sharp, long incline that seemed to stretch on forever, and you could see every painful inch of it the moment you made the turn. I remember more than one competitor coming to nearly a dead halt the instant they were confronted with that sight, and I have to admit that I often looked forward to blasting past runners who had so overconfidently sprinted past me a moment ago. It was the ultimate test of your endurance and mental fortitude, and I think I will remember running it the rest of my life.

At this point in my writing career, I think I'm running up Mother all over again. I've made it a pretty decent part of the way through the set up phase. I've got three different novels, and I've set up a writing schedule that will let me get two more done by the end of the year. I know I write well, and I am excited to start breaking into the finish. At the same time, I've turned the corner and realized that it's still going to be a long haul until I start seeing profit and benefit from it all. It's daunting to think of everything I have left to do, and it makes me wonder if the Lord will help me last that long.

At the same time, though, Mother's the wrong time to decide to quit. The best thing I can do is push harder, make it to the top and keep going. Otherwise it'll all have been for nothing, and I'll have to watch some other dirtbag sprint by me as I putter around the trail. So, head down, arms pump, time to hit it hard. Cause, if there's one thing I learned from cross country, it's how to make it up a hill.

This has been your regularly scheduled philosophical rant. More interesting posts will return Friday. See ya!

Monday, August 15, 2011

August Update

Alright, here's the situation before I descend into the morass of writing that has consumed me lately.

You know that 3rd draft of Kingsley I was working on? It's done now, though I will still tinker with it. Thanks again to all of my alpha readers; your contributions were greatly appreciated. Next on my list is a query letter revision and a synopsis that I can send out to some traditional publishing agencies and companies. We'll give the regular market some time to take up the series before I go it alone with Kingsley.

Badger proceeds on schedule, despite constant interference from the opposing forces of over-motivation and procrastination. Distraction has made an occasional appearance as well, but we've broken the 50k mark as of last week, and I intend keeping the book on track for a Sept 10th first draft finish date. The story is going relatively well for a first draft, but I think I've grown to hate the clunkiness of my first pass at the stories I write. Compared to the much more improved version on the second run through, it just seems very much unfinished, which tires me a little. Oh well, such is the process of writing.

Iron Angels is still making its way through the writing group. I think I'll probably continue submitting sections until the first draft of Badger is done, and then revise a quick 3rd draft to prepare it for alpha readers. So far its going pretty well, so hopefully I didn't mess it up.

As for Wolfhound, we have cover art! Or at least, a sketch for it. It looks awesome, but I'm going to wait until it is more finished before I post it up for everyone. After all, I don't like people looking at my first drafts, so why would I do that to the artist? Just rest assured, its super cool! Also, with the 3rd draft of Kingsley done, I'll be switching to a quick 7th draft of Wolfhound in preperation for the copy edit.

In other news, Seraphina now has a neck, a hunger for rice cereal and a temper. Life is always getting more interesting... See ya!

Friday, August 12, 2011

On the Fourth Amendment: The TSA

So, you can probably guess how this blog post will go.

The TSA, for those of you who don't use planes, is the federal enforcement agency responsible for airport security. Supposedly they've also been entrusted with the security of other passenger routes like bus systems and train stations, but their influence is a lot less clear there. The TSA is most known for the security checkpoints and screenings people go through on their way to commercial flights.

As further background, the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right of US citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. This amendment is what compels most law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant in order to search your person, your belongings and other such things, and even more especially, in order to be able to detain you and your belongings in the interest of the law. The warrant has to be issued by a judge, who must be convinced by the law enforcement agency that there is reasonable cause for a search/seizure.

Unless you're the TSA.

I don't mean to criticize the responsibility of the TSA to keep American flights safe. After Sept 11th, I doubt that anyone is ignorant of the threat to air travel by terrorists, both foreign and homegrown. Like most law enforcement jobs, it is probably a bitter, thankless job where you get treated to no end of irritated people who depend on you to guarantee their safety.

At the same time, I think that the TSA has taken a step too far. Their ability to unrestricted searches of US citizens goes far beyond the rights the Fourth Amendment has granted the government. They basically ignore the need to obtain warrants, to identify reasonable suspicion for frisk searches, and basically any kind of limit on executive power. It's gotten to the point that when the legislature in Texas tried to pass a law limiting the searches on travelers in Texas airports, the TSA threatened to shut down the airports completely. Basically, the TSA now has the ability to search any citizen without a warrant, confiscate their property without intent to return it, or even suspicion of criminal behavior, and then threaten the states of the Union with an air embargo unless they comply.

I imagine that the writers of the Constitution did not intend for any executive body to have that kind of power. They had already endured that kind of thing when England was conducting warrantless searches of their homes in order to find smugglers and rebels. Surely they knew, as we should have known, that granting any law enforcement agency that kind of precedent would lead to abuses.

And it has. There have been many reports of travelers harassed by TSA agents, theft by TSA baggage screeners, and worse. All in the name of security that, by all tests and accounts, the TSA isn't actually able to provide. Check after check of TSA procedures has shown them as ineffective in preventing bombs, guns, or other threats from boarding the plane.

All the while, the searches grow more and more invasive, and the restrictions of the freedoms of our citizens continue to grow worse. First it was removing shoes, then no liquids were allowed. Then we were occasionally required to get an X-ray photo of our body--basically a virtual strip search--or submit to an extremely invasive pat down. For those who think that the level of security we currently have will stop where it currently is, there is now talk of some terrorist groups supposedly trying to implant bombs surgically. How long before the TSA decides an actual X-ray will be needed to determine that nothing is tucked away in our stomach lining that could be a threat?

The saddest part is that the people who've provoked this response, the terrorists who have started this whole thing, are idiots. They're more likely to set their own underwear on fire than bring down a plane these days, and normally the private citizens flying with them are able to stop them short anyway. Yet they've managed to intimidate us into believing that this kind of violation of our personal privacy and our inherent rights is necessary to provide security when we travel.

I don't mean to make the lives of the people working at the TSA more difficult. I understand that most are just people going to work and doing their job, and that the whole thing is done under difficult circumstances. The fact is, though, that it seems like we're forgetting precisely who's in charge here. The TSA works for us, not the other way around. As much as the people who believe the TSA has been granted the authority by Congress to do this kind of thing would like us to forget it, the rights they are abusing are not somehow merely tolerated by the government, or granted to us by our benevolent leaders in Washington. They are inherent rights we enjoy as citizens, and when it comes down to it, neither Congress, nor any other branch of the United States government, has the right to suspend them.

There are threats to our safety, and terrorists have targeted our airlines frequently in their efforts to bring down our liberty. I know that as much as anybody else does. At the same time, there has to be a better way to secure our safety without giving up our liberty, or as Benjamin Franklin said, we will deserve neither. For my part, I would rather have my freedoms threatened and risked by a foreign foe than robbed from me by a tyrant close to home.

At least, that's my ranting opinionated stance. What's yours?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

On the Fifth Book

My fifth book is one that I've already discussed fairly often on this blog, and hopefully it will be the one I publish this December.

Wolfhound was a new experience for me in a lot of ways. With the exception of my aborted Star Wars fanfiction early in my attempts to write, virtually every story I had done had been fantasy genre. In fact, I had never really considered writing science fiction after that, even though a lot of my favorite authors wrote in the genre.

I guess in large part the decision to change things up came from the condition I was in at the time. My writing on Brellan's story had kind of stalled a bit, and I hadn't worked on Jakeson's book in months--almost years. It had not been the best of years for me. Graduation had kind of ended my time at BYU with a whimper instead of a bang, and our move to Houston had not turned up the opportunities that I had been hoping to find. Rejections from medical schools were coming in fairly regularly, and I began to question whether that was the type of career I wanted anyway. All in all my outlook on life was...well, let's just say it wasn't good and leave it at that, okay?

So in the middle of feeling a little lost and confused, I remembered something from my teenage years when things were, needless to say, better. It was kind of an obscure memory, but it was what I needed to have at the time. I had written a talk for church and it went fairly well. My dad had asked to see the paper I had written it on when we got home, so I gave it to him and walked into a different room. When I came back I remember my dad looking up from the page and saying to someone else "This is why he should be a writer!"

Not much of a memory, I'll admit, but my dad has something of an effect on me at times. I decided that since he had always been there for me before, I might as well give it a try as long as everything else was crashing and burning.

Starting out, I hit on the idea of writing a story about a hero along the lines of Captain Moroni. That kind of story would have to be science fiction, if only because fantasy doesn't fit that kind of character as easily from my perspective. The next idea was to have it on a ship modelled after the USS Constitution, a ship that has always kind of captured my imagination. With a name like 'Old Ironsides' how could it not? Bit by bit, the pieces came together for me, and I had the idea for a story. Jacob Hull's introduction to heroism and war was a pretty standard action adventure story, but I worked hard on it, and if I do say so myself, it turned out pretty well. Of course, once it's on Amazon you should probably buy it and find out for yourself... heh heh heh.

So that's the background on the fifth book. If only the sixth book had gone nearly so well... See ya!

Monday, August 8, 2011

On Juggling

So yeah, I found myself unable to stay away from Kingsley for so long, and I've wound up revising the current draft of the book using the edits that people have sent me so far. I've been doing about one chapter a day, so I should be finished by two weeks from now.

At the same time, I've been sending sections of Iron Angels in for the writing group to tear apart. That story has surprised me by actually becoming interesting, to the point where my wife actually wants to actually find out what happens at the end. Her current favorite from me is still Kingsley, but I think that Iron Angels has kicked Wolfhound out of the number two spot. It seems likely that the romantic element is the reason for that, but lo que sera, sera.

While all of that is going on, I'm also plugging away on Badger. I think my feet have finally hit ground on the project. This part of Jacob's story moves a bit slower since there is less combat and more politics, but now we are getting to some of the exciting part. Time will tell if the sequel will demand as much revision as the original did. My hope is that I've managed to approve enough that it will not, if only to preserve some of my planned writing schedule.

That's what we're looking at so far, so prayers for support and sanity would be more than welcome. Believe me, I'm going to need them...

Friday, August 5, 2011

On the Sixth Amendment: Casey Anthony

Well, hopefully everyone already knows the background to this little essay. Casey Anthony was, at the very least, a very negligent parent whose actions eventually led to the death of her child. She was subject to a very public trial a la OJ Simpson where the prosecutors attempted to prove that she had murdered her child. After a very long media circus, the world was shocked when the jury found her not guilty.

The trial itself I won't get into, because I honestly didn't care enough to pay attention. The jury's decision was based on a lack of evidence presented by the prosecution, and while they might have convicted her of negligence, that wasn't the crime she was put on trial for. What bothered me was that in the aftermath, several people began to say that the trial was evidence that trial by jury was no longer called for, especially if it yielded such unjust results.

I think most people would hesitate to go that far, but there is a growing sentiment that juries are no longer the best way to give justice her due. Many people tend to think that juries are easily swayed to let murderers go free, or that they too often get hung up on technicalities, or that they are simply inconvenient for the rest of the populace to deal with. Many people seem to prefer the kind of justice you find on Judge Judy, where a single authority figure simple decides who was right and who was wrong without consulting a jury.

There are a lot of problems with that kind of a viewpoint. First off, trial by media is much, much worse than trial by jury at finding the truth, and for every sensational murderer that would be convicted rightly by a media circus, twenty innocent people would be convicted as well just to maintain ratings. The fact is, the jury had access to all the evidence, they had instructions to find her not guilty if there was a reasonable doubt, and there was a reasonable doubt that she did it. That meant that in spite of all the moral outrage that Fox, NBC or all the other networks could muster, the lady was found innocent. Whether that's the popular decision or not, that decision was a good one in the eyes of the law.

Second, trial by jury is by no means perfect. We all know that. The system has flaws, and occasionally a person will be wrongly convicted or unfairly escape punishment. The difference is that the jury is one of the few instances where the democratic whole of the United States makes its impact on the judicial process. Its the part of the court system that keeps the judge from being an autocratic tyrant, the lawyers from becoming wheedling lobbyists and the innocence of the defendent from being treated with arbitrary disregard. For example, as I understand it custody of children after a divorce is decided without a jury. It is also one of the more arbitrary judicial cases in our civil law today, where custody is determined almost on a whim.

Thirdly, the people who make up a jury are the same people who vote to elect the officials who run our government. If they cannot be trusted to use good judgment in court, then how can they be trusted to vote wisely? If they are not ready to participate in a jury for the good of a society, how can they still be considered ripe for a draft in time of war to defend that society? To abandon this part of the Constitution would be to abandon our trust in our populace to rule and judge themselves. To lose that trust would condemn any society to tyranny.

At least, that's my take on it anyway...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

On the Fourth Book

Okay, so since I've already plowed through a description of the first three books in my writing history, I might as well go through some of the more recent stuff as well.

My last semester at BYU, I decided to take Brandon Sanderson's creative writing class. I ended up wishing that I had taken it both sooner and more frequently, since that class broke me out of the revision loop I was doing with Guardians of the Past. His main assignment in the class was that I needed to pick a new story and start writing it from the beginning, one section at a time. It meant that I had to write something that wasn't in Jakeson's world, which meant that it had to be entirely new.

The story I ended up with was Brellan. It was a fantasy tale in a slightly darker world where a group of evil magic users manipulated people with mirrors. Basically it was two parts fantasy and one part horror, with the main hero battling all sorts of monsters as well as his own issues to save an isolated little town.

Brellan ended up having a lot of problems. The pacing sort of got lost about partway through the story, which was a major problem because the tension dissipated as well. Brellan, the main character, did not get nearly enough development, and ended up fairly contradictory, and the villain didn't get nearly as developed as she could have been either.

The main problem, looking back on it, was that I tried to include too many types of horror at one time. Brellan was supposed to face fear of rejection, fear of being killed by monsters, fear of becoming a monster, etc. That took the story and Brellan's character in too many directions for it to work out. If I ever get the time, I need to go back and focus the story a bit more on one theme--probably Brellan's fear of being turned into a Mirrorwitch's tool--and run with that. I think it would resolve a lot of the problems of the book in general.

In any case, Brellan was finished the fall after we moved to Houston. There were several months between the end of school and the finish of the novel where I made only halfhearted attempts to finish it, but it wasn't until I started the fifth book that I became determined to bring Brellan's story to a close. Right now the story still exists in its third draft, waiting for me to find the chance to revise it up to snuff. Perhaps someday I'll get the chance...

Monday, August 1, 2011

On Steady Progress vs Leaps and Bounds

So lately I've been plowing through Badger and I've actually managed to stay on schedule (wonder of wonders). I've made some decent progress, and the story has about 32k words at the moment. My current plan is to take it a bit easier for the next week before I start on a quota moderately more difficult.
Even though I've managed to make a little progress with the schedule I have, I've been heavily tempted just to go all out and increase my weekly quota to 15 or 16k words for a couple of weeks, and then downgrade to an easier schedule. It feels like the story is developing very slowly the way I am doing it now, and it gets frustrating at times, especially when I look ahead to everything that I have to do in the next few months. At the same time, that many words would seriously strain my capabilities, so it could be a very bad move.
So which do you guys think I should do? The slow and steady path or the sudden burst of speed? In any case, I hope that you are all doing well, and I will see you around!