Too Big To Fail

by kalbzayn on February 2, 2010

The mortgage mess has really screwed our schools up. Budgets are tightening and nearly collapsing all over the country. Extracurricular programs like sports, music, and art are scrambling to stay alive which is just ridiculous.

Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security and interest on the national debt cost a ton of money and there is very little that can be done with them, especially if no meaningful health care reform happens. Military spending is another big bucket. According to our 2010 budget, about half of our “discretionary” spending is going to the Department of Defense. Discretionary must mean something different than what I think because I’ve heard politicians, including the President, say that military spending is not eligible for cuts.

The Department of Defense will be getting about $667 billion this year. The Department of Education will be getting about $47 billion from the federal government. That doesn’t include state and local money, of course.

In 2000, there were about 70 million kids and adults enrolled in school at some level up through grad school in the United States. That’s got to be higher today, so let’s say 100 million.

As of 2008, the United States accounted for over 40% of the entire worlds military spending racking up $607 billion. The next closest country was China at about $85 billion.

Let’s say we were going to make military spending truly discretionary and cut it in half. and take that money and toss it into the Department of Education. That would give the Department of Education an extra $333 billion and would leave our military spending 3 times higher than the next nearest country.

That would give about $3,300 for each and every student in any level of education all the way through grad school. The estimates that I found about how much the schools budget for each kid in kindergarten through high school seem to be between $5,000 and $13,000. An extra $3,000 would probably go a long way at educating our country.

But if we cut the military spending, think about all the jobs that would be lost with no hope of finding that many jobs out in the non-military world. It seems like the military has officially become too big to fail.

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Changing directions

by kalbzayn on November 25, 2009

changing_directions

Quick update of very little importance.

This site will no longer be about writing fiction. At least not mostly. I’m taking it back over as my personal, write about anything that will take more than 140 characters blog. Like for example, it has started raining since I started writing this post. Is that a bad omen? Well that’s not more than 140 characters so maybe that’s not the best example.

I will be starting a blog solely about writing fiction and reading novels soon and I’ll mention that when I get around to it.

photo credit: CoCreatr

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A good writing critic is awesome

by kalbzayn on October 30, 2009

monkey_typing

I pounded out a quick short story the other day and sent it around to a few friends for suggestions and critiques. That’s pretty big for two reasons. One, I rarely finish writing and editing a story. Two, I rarely get feedback before killing the story or dropping it somewhere on the Internet.

A few of the people wrote back some nice words and a few light suggestions that were genuinely helpful in polishing the story that was in front of them.

One person, however, really kicked the story around. She asked questions that forced me to confront the motivations of the characters and the theme of the story which were things that I didn’t really consider when writing the story.

She also had ideas about where I could provide more concrete descriptive details and how I could work with those details. She also made me realize that there were details that I added to the story that weren’t achieving the effect that I was intending.

She will be getting bugged by me to look at the stories I write in the future.

I’m going to sit on these ideas for a little while before writing my next draft but I am completely excited about finishing this story for real and doing a nice, full rewrite.

In the meantime, I have a bunch of short stories that I have a few notes for here and there. It’s time to start doing some brainstorming and write my next story.

photo credit: kevingessner

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Book Review – The Steel Remains

by kalbzayn on October 13, 2009

I read Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon a little while back on the recommendation of a friend. I loved it. It’s a very excellent science fiction book that I would add to any “must read” type of list.

A few weeks ago, I was at the library with the kids and saw that Richard Morgan had a fantasy novel in the new releases section. I decided to see how well a gifted sci-fi author could transition to fantasy. The book is called The Steel Remains.

The plot of the book takes places after the humans have fought an epic battle to rid the world of some really powerful lizard creatures. In the aftermath, there are various power struggles and political pickering going on in the world. A few of the heroes of that last war are now trying to move on with their lives with varying degrees of success.

As the plot unfolds, we learn that there is another non-human group that is causing trouble and three of the old heroes will have to help organize another stand for humanity.

The characters are not your average everyday fantasy dungeon warriors. Two of the characters (one man and one woman) are homosexual. And they are all emotionally scarred from what has happened to them in the last war.

They also like to say “fuck” a lot. Profanity in a story rarely bothers me except when it seems added for shock value. In fact, I once had to edit a short story in my high school creative writing class for a few too many “fucks” in a story that was supposed to be read out loud to the class. But if that sort of thing bothers you, well you’ll probably have many other things in the book that would bother you and you should just stay away.

Just like in Altered Carbon, there is a fair amount of very graphic sex in The Steel Remains including a couple scenes involving one of the homosexual stories. Again, if that kind of thing will make you angry then you should stay away from this book.

The fight scenes were frequent, violent, vivid and brutal. There was a lot of focus on smaller one-on-one or a couple people against a small group. Since the book is the first book of a trilogy, it will be interesting to see if the plot opens up to larger scale battles or stays with the smaller fights. I actually prefer the smaller fights because the big battles in books tend to drown out a lot of the actual characters in my opinion.

The overall writing in the book is very gritty. It is hard to imagine the story without picturing lots of grays and sepias. It is executed beautifully to fit the mood of the characters and the mood of the civilization they are living in.

All in all, I would recommend The Steel Remains anybody that likes edgy writing. I will definitely be checking out the next book in the series when he gets around

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Something I learned while reading a bunch of books

by kalbzayn on September 18, 2009

I have been reading a lot over the last several months. Like between 6 and 10 books a month which is way more than I normally read. Staying off the internet at night really does free up a lot of time.

I’ve also been reading a lot of different kinds of books. Sci-fi, fantasy, horror, classics, modern mainstream fiction, even a couple plays.

Almost every famous writer that talks about learning to be a better writer mentions that you need to read a lot because you will learn things that work and things that don’t work and you’ll get a better feel about how books, plots, characters, etc. are put together.

I learned something pretty big for me over these last few months.

Most of the writing I’ve done in the past has been really short stories. In something that short, you introduce the character, the problem, the setting all in one big shot gun and then really quickly wrap it up and walk away.

So when I try to write something longer, I have a tendency to introduce the character, the problem, the setting, and start working toward the solution all in the first few pages with horrible results.

The big thing that I learned is that novel length fiction provides plenty of space and that the plot should unroll quite a bit more slowly than I have a tendency to do. Early chapters can be used to show things about the characters or the world rather than having them working on fixing the big main problem.

If the character spends some time working on their normal everyday life, that gives the plot plenty of time to start tormenting the character before the character has a chance to start fixing the problems.

Which gets to what I learned about my writing shortcomings with all this recent reading.

I have a tendency to have characters that don’t get beat down nearly enough. Since they are working on fixing the big problem so early in the plot, they come across as people that can fix problems fairly effortlessly which leads to very boring stories and characters.

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Novel Writing Software

by kalbzayn on May 6, 2009

I downloaded some new novel writing software to help with a kids chapter book that I started the other day. I decided that it could be helpful to use it to transition from plot idea, to outline and then to finished draft.

Good novel writing software lets you do neat things like track which characters, locations, important items are going to be in which scenes. That’s a huge perk for me. I have trouble keeping track of things like names for the minor characters and where I left those characters if they are left out of a couple chapters.

The software that I’m using (yWriter5) is lets you keep track of each scene in a chapter as it’s own entity. That’s a little overkill for me in this early chapter book because pretty much each chapter is just one scene but would be very helpful in a more complex plot.

The really cool part of using novel writing software is that it lets you keep track of all of your notes, easily bounce from scene to scene, keeps track of word counts of each scene and chapter but then when you are ready to mail it to people to read, you can easily export it to a format that Word can read so that you can email it to your proofreading buddies.

Something like this would be awesome for NaNoWriMo where you have to keep track of a lot of things on the fly as you rush through the first draft.

Have you tried using any novel writing software before? What did you like or not like about it?

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The 4-Hour Work Week Review

by kalbzayn on April 28, 2009

I read The 4-Hour Work Week recently. It’s a pretty light and kind of strange read.

Pros:

  • Light read. Fast and relatively short.
  • Inspiring. It really does make you want to start your own business and live the new rich lifestyle he preaches in the book.
  • Great personal touches. The book lives within Timothy Ferriss’s world. He gives very real examples of his very real life. I have no idea how real any of that is but it definitely comes across as authentic and personal.
  • Tons of resources listed with websites, phone numbers, emails. If you decide to follow his pattern, you definitely will not be lacking for people to call to get started.

Cons:

  • Very targeted business model. Ferriss made his money selling things online running a drop-shipping type of business. It seems a stretch to extrapolate a lot of the information outside of that model.
  • First phase is getting your job to let you work away from the office which is not realistic for very many people…unfortunately.
  • Just seems too easy. This isn’t really a knock for the book but it makes it hard to take seriously. He almost comes across as too confident that it will work for anybody.

If you are considering buying The 4-Hour Work Week it is available at:

Please visit Amazon’s site for more information about the Kindle 2.

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Rabbit, Run…that dragon is going to get you

by kalbzayn on January 2, 2009

I’m reading Rabbit, Run these days. I’m also thinking about my own writing pretend plans. I started wondering why nobody seems to write Literature (with a capital L) set within the framework of made up worlds.

All of the sci-fi/fantasy seems to be so over the top, action/suspense based that the characters are often pushed into the background while we get wowed by the tech, magic and world building.

I’ve got to believe that characters in fantasy settings have other personal issues other than their parents died when the hero was a baby leaving him with mysterious origins. Shouldn’t these characters be people struggling through divorce or raising kids or losing their full time job or trying to balance their jobs, hobbies and midlife crises.

That seems like it would be a fun thing to write.

I remember reading a Tad Williams interview where he says that he wrote his fantasy series because he didn’t really like what was out there and figured that he should write something that he would like to read. Maybe I’ve finally find my calling.

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Back on the eBook bandwagon

by kalbzayn on November 3, 2008

I started reading eBooks a few years back. I used to have a Palm Tungsten E2 Handheld which was a great device for reading eBooks. Eventually, I dropped the device a few to many times and the screen broke. My fault, not the devices. I’m pretty clumsy with things like that.

Earlier this year, I bought an ASUS Eee PC which has just been incredible for basic web browsing and story writing.

Back in the good ol’ Palm days, I used to buy my books from Fictionwise.com. They are not only still in existance but they have bought up some of the other eBook sellers over recent years.

I decided to look into getting myself set up to read eBook on my Asus EeePC and ran into a quick problem of not being able to install the eReader software that supports the main format that most of the Fictionwise books that I buy comes in. If you happen to buy the Windows XP version of the Asus Eee PC
, this isn’t an issue. The eReader software runs perfectly on Windows.

If you have the Linux version, however, you can run the eReader using a layer of software called Wine. Wine is an easy to install Linux program that allows you to install and run Windows applications. The eReader software works perfectly under Wine. It took me less than 2 minutes to install the eReader software.

So now, in addition to having a great little laptop to browse the internet, check my emails, and write stories, I can also read eBooks which I actually prefer over reading paper books. One of my favorite features is the auto scroll feature which is not available on the Kindle and other pure E Ink devices because of how those readers preserve battery by not refreshing the page except when the user tells it to change pages which leads to amazing battery capabilities.

I expect the Kindle, Amazon’s eBook Reading Device, to become immensly popular over the rest of this year and next. Oprah is starting to promote it and it seems to function pretty amazingly as an eBook reader. I considered going this route but decided that for me, the Kindle was not the best option.

The Kindle does do an amazing job of displaying text and handling all of the functions of being an eBook reader but that is all it really does. For the same price, I can get a fully functioning laptop that would let me read a lot of the same books. I am very excited that the Kindle is about to gain some common acceptance, though. As people grab ahold of any eBook reader, the demand for eBooks in general will increase which will hopefully encourage more publishers to release more of their books as eBooks.

Sony also has an eBook reader. Their Sony PRS-505 Portable Digital e-Reader System will probably not be as common in America as the Kindle but any push for competitors for the Kindle will be good for the eBook industry in general.

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NaNoWriMo – After A Few Days Off

by kalbzayn on August 25, 2008

My target of 50,000 words by the end of the month has completely fallen apart. Extra hours for a work project and a couple freelance WP consulting projects took priority over the last week or so. I’ve decided to start a little business do WordPress theme modifications, plugin configurations, installations, upgrades, etc. So when a couple projects fell into my lap, I had to spend time with them.

Anyway, where does that leave my book.

As of last night, I’m around 21,600 words with a week to go. I spent some time yesterday writing one sentence descriptions of each scene that NEEDS to be in the book to get from where I am to writing “THE END.” Then I wrote a couple of those scenes.

I have about 12 more of those to go. Each will be between 250-1000 words. By Sunday night, I will write “THE END” but the ending will be quite a bit rushed. I should be between 30,000 and 35,000 words which is short but not too shabby.

In the end, I’ll be left with something that I could reasonably edit into a decent novella or spend some time doing some real rewriting and adding to convert into a novel. I’ll let it sit for a couple months before I decide whether to try to clean it up or just leave it as a finished first draft.

Once thing I am learning is that I can reasonably write a rough draft of a novel in a month or two which is just amazing to me. When I done with the project on Sunday, I write a post with all the things that I’ve learned about my ability to write a story and a novel.

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