Ad Eyes in Foil & Phaser's 'Divide and Conquer'

I'm pleased to report that a much-polished and improved version of my science fiction short story Ad Eyes is available now for free in Foil & Phaser's Divide and Conquer eBook anthology of science fiction and fantasy!

Ad Eyes is a disturbing story the war for advertising attention taken to scary new heights, as Terry finds himself fighting to take his eyes off of just about every ad he comes across in his daily life.

The anthology contains a number of other fantastic works of sci-fi and fantasy as well. It's the product of Foil & Phaser's NaNoWriMo collaborative workshop effort, and all of the collected stories are well worth your time and attention.

Divide and Conquer is available at Goodreads and at Smashwords.

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Geek & Sundry

I love living in the future. I really do. One of my favorite things about this future we’re in is how huge geek culture has become and how it continues to explode with great content, like Felicia Day’s brand new Geek and Sundry channel over on YouTube.

The Sword and Laser

Geek and Sundry first came to my attention by way of The Sword and Laser, a fantastic fantasy & sci-fi book club/audio podcast/GoodReads forum hosted by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt. Some weeks ago, they announced that they were bringing S&L to video as part of Geek and Sundry, so of course I had to check it out.

Sadly, The Sword and Laser won’t be airing on the G&S channel for another couple of weeks, but G&S itself launched today and they’ve got a bunch of other shows that are well worth checking out.

I’m the One That’s Cool

Firstly, Geek and Sundry is Felicia Day’s channel, so you’d better bet The Guild is represented. They’ve gotten together and made another music video, this one about the injustices many geeks had to endure in their formative years at the hands of “cooler” peers, and the cultural reversal that has left geeks increasingly popular lately. It’s a fun song and video, though by far the most serious of the releases they’ve done to date, dealing as it does with issues of bullying and abuse.

The Flog

Felicia has another show, this one a weekly solo effort. The Flog debuted today, where she talks about stuff she’s into, highlights cool things she’s found around the internet lately, and goes out and tries things she’s always been interested in, sometimes for the first time. In her debut episode she goes out to learn the basics of blacksmithing. Now I’m no stranger to blacksmithing and crafting in general—I wield a mean pick in Minecraft—but she was doing this in the real world for once, not in a video game. She forged a real iron fire poker, and has it up for auction to benefit the FDNY Foundation. Pretty awesome stuff.

Table Top

Felicia got Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Eureka & The Big Bang Theory) to host a show all about table top gaming. Yes, they still make games you don’t play on computers or consoles! This one is the longest of the shows I sampled at half an hour plus individual one to two minute interviews with each guest player afterward. It’s well worth the investment.

For the first episode, Wheaton has guests Grant Imahara (Mythbusters), Jenna Busch (Girl Meets Lightsaber) and Sean Plott (Day[9]TV) on set to play Small World, a German-style fantasy board game that’s something like Civilization meets Settlers of Catan with some Dungeons & Dragons thrown into the mix. You watch them play, get a feel for the game and how much fun it can be, get some instruction on the rules and some tricks for good play. It looks like it’s going to shape up to be a really fun show. It’s supposed to air every two weeks, alternating on Fridays with The Sword and Laser.

Dark Horse Motion Comics

The last show I checked out today was Dark Horse Motion Comics, where they take actual comics and give them just enough animation to kick them off the page and into the video realm, with voice acting, sound effects and ambient background music to present the stories in a whole new light. Whether this one is for you will depend a great deal on whether you’re into the comic being adapted; this first one, The Secret, is maybe not my cup of tea, but I could easily appreciate how the format would (and will) appeal on a series that I’d be more inclined to follow.

Geek and Sundry isn’t the only such channel to pop up. Chris Hardwick, aka the Nerdist, has something similar in the works. I’ll undoubtedly be checking that out shortly too.

Reading Out of Left Field

A while back I posted about self-imposed deadlines and my experience with the Goodreads Reading Challenge for 2011. One of the problems I’ve had since then was a shortage of time and a lot of books left to read.

This has turned out to be a mixed blessing/curse in itself. I read a lot of books and I’m a very fast reader, but if I want to finish the challenge on time, I have to read 15 more books in 10 more days. To do that, I’m being forced to read some VERY short books. Right now I’m going through a whole pile of R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps books.

I’m totally okay with going outside my comfort zone to read books I normally wouldn’t consider, so the fact that these are aimed primarily at younger kids doesn’t bother me. In fact, I’m finding it to be incredibly worth while as a source of writing lessons.

Some takeaways I’m finding as I go through them:

  • Don’t waste a lot of time describing things your audience is already familiar with.

I write in a make-believe universe, so I have to describe a lot, but these books take place in what is arguably the real world, or at least one that’s supposed to convincingly look like it. Detail is kept to a minimum so that kids reading these books can easily substitute images from their own minds and make the experience more invovling and more personal, all the more important since these are horror stories for kids. Making it personal makes it VERY effective.

  • Give characters some strong, easily identifiable traits.

Usually this is done through dialogue; maybe a character has a catch phrase they repeat a lot, or yells a lot, or speaks largely in questions. Maybe it’s something done outside of dialogue, such as a character with a sprained ankle who has to walk with a limp constantly. These traits help the reader immediately latch on to the character and help make him, her or it memorable.

  • Keep the action moving.

I’d estimate these books come in at roughly 20,000 to 25,000 words apiece. That’s NOT a lot of words for an entire book - NaNoWriMo books are typically 50,000 words, and those are very short for a finished novel. A more typical length for a book for adult readers is roughly 100,000 words. 

This means the Goosebumps series have to be very tight and concise, almost more like a long short story or novella. No time is wasted on trivial details. If something is described at all, you can be sure it’s going to play into the story somehow.

The more I read outside my usual stomping grounds of science fiction, science fact and fantasy, the more determined I am to read even more widely. It’s amazing how much you can pick up from a kid’s book.