The Star Spangled Banner performed by a Vet and legend of Rock ‘n’ Roll!

Happy Memorial Day, everybody!

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Words an author should never say

Muhammad Ali could call himself the greatest. Authors? Not so much.

There’s a bit of a brouhaha that’s been… “brouhaha-ing” in the fantasy community for a couple of days that I just caught wind of today thanks to a post on Fantasy Faction by Marc Alpin titled The Man Who Thought He Was King.   It seems there is an author by the name of M. R. Mathias who uses his real name, Michael Robb Mathias Jr., as the publisher for his books.  The short version of events that led to the unrest is that Mr. Mathias is upset his post promoting one of his titles was moved to a spot on the forum for self-published authors.   His argument is that the fact he publishes his own books doesn’t make him a self-published author.  It makes him a small press.

Why is he running from the self-published moniker?  It’s a term invented by the publishing industry decades ago to demean authors who paid to publish their own books.  I understand Mr. Mathias’ frustration being associated with the s-word.  Let’s face it; it comes with a lot of baggage.  I even disavowed it once.  I was invited by some students to speak to their creative writing club.  Before the students arrived, the woman in charge of the club spent several minutes telling me she was so discouraged by all these self-published authors ruining the industry. She was an otherwise pleasant lady so I let the comment slide and simply said that she might want to get used to the trend because it was here to stay.  She looked horrified by the notion.  The problem came during the Q&A session with the students.  They asked me how I got published.  I looked at the woman and scrambled for an answer that would not embarrass her or make me feel like an idiot for being one those authors who is destroying the publishing industry.  I simply told the students that I was an indie author and described the process I go through with my agent to try to get bigger publishers interested in my books.

So, I do understand why Mr. Mathias doesn’t like being called a self-published author.  People still use it as a derogatory term.  But, I’m afraid that’s where my empathy for Mr. Mathias ends.  He committed the worst of sins in his defense of his outrage. He claimed to be a great writer, a better writer than some established traditionally published authors in the fantasy genre.  Writers cannot claim their own greatness.   Why?  Because no one will ever agree with an author that claims they are great.  It is a surefire way to flood the online universe with reviews that rip every aspect of their books apart.

Aplin actually makes a great commentary on this particular strategy incorporated by Mr. Mathias:

It throws up an interesting debate in regards to how a self-published author attracts an audience. Typically, self-published authors send out copies of their books and interact with the community in the hope that, after a few people have read their book, word of mouth will spread and they’ll gain a readership. However, as with other media – you have those rock stars and models who get famous because of their self-destructive nature or their willingness to make outrageous statements. Can this work in book publishing?

The answer to his question is no it can’t work.  It shouldn’t.  Self-proclaimed greatness isn’t the way to build a fan base in the world of publishing, but it’s the perfect way to attract critics.  Building an author brand is incredibly tedious, but it’s not difficult.  It’s really simple.  I can describe it in six steps.

1. Publish

2. Promote with humility

3. Acknowledge compliments

4. Don’t respond to criticism

5. Study your craft

6. Repeat steps 1-5

That’s it.  It’s not rocket science.  The “self-destructive” behavior may give you a short term bump in sales, but it will do damage to your brand over the long run.  I get the sense that Mr. Mathias felt as though he was backed into a corner and as a result, he felt compelled to defend himself and the more he did the bolder his statements became.  I don’t know him personally, but I’ve seen other people respond the same way.  It’s human nature to want to defend your good name.  His best approach would be to release a mea culpa and back away from his own greatness.  The good news is his brand can recover if he makes the right moves.  It’s evident that he is committed to publishing because he is fairly prolific.  The industry needs his kind of enthusiasm.  Here’s hoping he survives this fray and gets back on track.

I’m R.W. Ridley, and I am not a great writer, but I’m working on it.

Don’t cancel Awake, NBC!

Could the show be too original for broadcast television?

I’m a little perplexed at NBC’s decision to cancel Awake.  I know it’s ratings related, but whatever happened to letting a show build an audience.  Awake is a great show.  The storyline is original, the writing is spot on, and the acting is fantastic.  In fact, Jason Isaacs may be the best actor on television.  They even managed to make you forget that kid from That 70s Show that plays his partner in one of his dream/awake states is that kid from That 70’s Show.

Wake up, NBC!  Don’t cancel Awake!

Facebook has a Save Awake group if you feel the same way I do about the show.

The Avengers – Yet another review

I sneaked (snuck if you’re the informal type, and snucked if your the informal type who knows nothing about grammar) out on Tuesday afternoon and saw The Avengers movie.  I couldn’t bear to go see it in the evening in a jam-packed theater with a horde of cell-phone-using … patrons that wreak havoc on my easily distracted brain.  It makes author want to smash!  Which brings me to the best part of The Avengers movie, the Hulk.  I’m not the first to say it.  Many a geek-a-fide moviegoer has said the same thing.  In fact, it’s sparked a debate on how to make a good Hulk movie.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am such a fan of the Hulk I didn’t mind the two previous films on the big green goon.  The worst part of those two films wasn’t the Hulk or the actors playing Bruce Banner.  The worst part was the idiotic military back story that was supposed to provide the compelling conflict.  It was just stupid.  The Hulk works in a solo story when it’s Banner trying to lead an ordinary life and your basic street thugs pick on the wrong person. The military/government interest in the Hulk can’t be the driving force of the story.  It’s way too cliché. It can be a secondary plot that keeps Banner on the run, but making it the focal point of the story is a big mistake, IMHO.

Besides the Hulk, the best part of The Avengers was… almost everything else.  Hats off to Joss Whedon for pulling off an impossible feat; making a much anticipated film that lives up to the hype. I’m usually bothered by the mix of CG characters and actual human characters, but the action was so non-stop and engrossing it didn’t bother me this time around.  Whedon is an excellent storyteller, and he deserves every bit of success and praise that is being tossed his way.

The worst part of the film is Captain America.  I’m sorry, but the cornball, clean-cut superhero type is soooo boring, and it’s really hard not to giggle endlessly at his costume.  It’s the same feeling I got when William Katt donned his super threads in The Greatest American Hero.  It’s just hokey.  They tried to make Captain America a little more tormented and modern, but every time I saw him on screen in his getup, I wondered why they didn’t have him in something that was a little less 1944 and a little more 2012.  They even made a point of saying they updated his costume, but they didn’t update it enough.

The Avengers is well worth the price of admission.  In fact, it might be one of those films worth seeing a couple of times… as long as there aren’t people in the crowd updating their Facebook status during the film.

BTW – If you’re too young or too sophisticated to remember The Greatest American Hero, here’s a little taste.

A special Mother’s Day post – A message from my late mother

Feeling loved!

You shouldn’t be surprised that a writer with horror leanings would write a post featuring a message from his dead mother on Mother’s Day, but you might be surprised that this isn’t a macabre entry.  On April 3 of this year I had a very vivid dream involving my mother.  For those of you who don’t know, Mom passed on April 29, 2011.  Obviously my subconscious was aware of the coming anniversary of her death, even if my conscious mind had blocked it from my memory.  I was blissfully unaware of the coming milestone. So, on April 3, 2012, my Mom visited me.  Yes, it was  a dream.  Yes, the dream was obviously influenced by a program I watched on PBS that night featuring Dr. Wayne Dyer where he spent a significant amount of time talking about the afterlife.  But, I can honestly say that it was the most vivid dream I have ever had, and it was perhaps a little more than a dream.  It was a message, a message that reveals a little bit more of itself everyday whenever I’m confused about how life is supposed to work.

The dream had many elements that had nothing to do with Mom, but towards the end my Dad and I checked into a hotel in Asheville, NC (a fancy hotel – $400/night). I went to the lobby and Mom was there. She looked healthy and happy. I sat down and talked to her, and very early in our conversation I said, “Hey, wait a minute. You’re dead.” She smiled and said she came back because she knew I was worried about her. Here’s what I remember about our conversation in the dream. (BTW – The wording is to the best of my recollection. She said a lot without saying it if that makes sense. It was as if I could feel the meaning of her answers).

Me: How are you feeling?

Mom: I feel loved.  There is no fear on my side.  There is only love.  There is only a sense of belonging.  That is the truth.

Me: Your world sounds much better. Why even have two worlds? Why can’t we all just live in your world?

Mom: You have to learn how to appreciate love before you can live in a world that is only love. You can only learn to appreciate love by going through the trials, tribulations, and triumphs that exist on your side.

Me: Are you always with us? (Us being her family)

Mom: I am with you when you feel and express love. And when I’m with you it’s not how you think. I’m not hovering above you taking notes on what you’re doing or influencing the outcome of some event. I am a part of the channel of love. I have no choice but to be there. We’re all there with you during those moments. If you’re experiencing hardship, focus on love. When you do, you can take comfort that not only am I with you, but that everyone on my side is with you. There is no greater power that can influence the outcome of an event because it won’t change the event itself. It will do much more. It will change you and for the better.

Me: What is love?

Mom: Love is/are those moments when you feel like you belong. The more you do to make someone or something feel like they belong, the more you feel like you belong. They feel loved. You feel loved. That is love.

Me: Is there a God?

Mom: Yes, and God is only different from the rest of us on my side by one simple aspect. There was never a time when God did not appreciate love. God has always known that there is no value in love if you do not appreciate it. God feels infinite joy when the rest of us discover the truth, that the only true state of being is love.

That’s it. That’s all I remember about our conversation. At the end, I could see her fading back to her side. I kept questioning her as she drifted away, and I could see her consulting with the others on her side before she answered. She smiled throughout. She was happier than I have ever seen her.  I woke up feeling really good about where Mom is, and I’ll never worry about her again.

BTW – The weird thing is that on the one year anniversary of my mother’s death I sat in a motel lobby with my family, and we all gave a toast in her honor.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!  Thanks for the message!

Did the North Carolina ban on same-sex marriage go too far or not far enough?

This isn’t my typical post.  I have to admit I was dumbfounded by the recent ban on same-sex marriages in North Carolina.  I had high hopes the voters would rebuke the attempt to deny some of their citizens equal rights, but they didn’t.  I’m disappointed.  Not in the voters as much as us, the whole of society.  We’ve failed miserably at being fundamentally American by allowing this to happen.  This isn’t about sexual orientation to me.  Far from it.  It’s equal rights for all.  It’s as simple as that.  These are my random thoughts on the matter.

I’m not going to fault 60% of voters in North Carolina for denying gay and lesbian couples the right to marry.  It’s not a choice I would have made, but I understand that most of them voted based on their religious convictions.  They believe supporting same-sex marriage is dishonoring God, and they are allowed to cast their votes based on any reasoning they choose.  We’ve never made it a law that you can’t bring your religion into the voting booth with you.  I think their choice is misguided, but I also think their intentions are out of a devotion to their religious beliefs.   So this post goes out to the good folks who voted based on those beliefs.

I should start by saying I think it’s unfair to heap the blame for denying equal rights to a certain segment of society just on Christians.  Most religions support discrimination against homosexuality.  Voters from all walks of faith supported the ban on same-sex marriage in North Carolina this week.  The New Testament says very little about Homosexuality or acts that can be construed as homosexual acts.  There’s not even a whisper of a reference to homosexuality in any of the four Gospels.  There are a few references to sodomites and male prostitutes not being allowed into God’s Kingdom in other books of the New Testament, but I’ve got news for you, a good chunk of that 60% that voted against gay marriage in North Carolina ain’t going to heaven if sodomy keeps you out.  And if by specifically referencing male prostitution, couldn’t you translate the omission of female prostitutes as a tacit endorsement of women selling their bodies for sex (as long as it doesn’t include sodomy)?

To North Carolina’s credit, they do have laws on the books that make sodomy illegal.  They don’t just pass laws on homosexual relationships. For instance: you can go to prison for up to two years if you are an unmarried person engaged in fellatio with another unmarried person in private.  “Habitual intercourse,” as an unmarried person is a misdemeanor in North Carolina.  You can avoid prosecution by getting married.  And, if you share a hotel room with a member of the opposite sex for immoral purposes, you are breaking the law.  Ironically, there is no law about sharing a room with a member of the same-sex for immoral purposes.

To North Carolina’s discredit, they do not enforce these laws.  I say discredit because you can be sure officials in the state will enforce and defend vigorously the ban on same-sex marriage.  They will engage in hypocrisy. And, the 60% will applaud their state government for doing so.  I say again, 60% of North Carolina voters will support active discrimination, the denial of a right by the government to residents of North Carolina.  Equality does not exist in North Carolina, based mostly on “laws” established in the Old Testament.

The most oft quoted source to support laws banning same-sex marriage is Leviticus 18:22 – Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. It is very plainly stated that one man can’t get freaky with another man.  Bam!  Case closed. People who quote this verse either don’t know or purposely don’t share what else the laws of Leviticus bans.  Here are a few choice ones people never bring up for some reason (KJV):

Leviticus 19:27 – Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.

Leviticus 19:19 – Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woolen come upon thee.

Leviticus 11:10-12 – And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you: 11 They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination. 12 Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.

This list goes on and on and on.  You can’t see a bunch of people naked.  There are very specific ways you have to plant your crops.  In short, the Bible, not just Leviticus and not even just the Old Testament, is filled with sins we no longer recognize as legitimate.  I am not committing a sin every time I eat a shrimp or pork chop for that matter. If I were kosher, yes, but since being kosher isn’t a law, I can assume someone made the determination that following that particular rule didn’t merit a piece of legislation to uphold because it’s not “sinny” enough. The truth is we (society) only uphold those sins in the Bible that make us feel icky or uncomfortable.  Unfortunately, homosexuality fits into that category.

Here’s my proposal to make this ban on same-sex marriage fair.  Let’s ban everything that is clearly identified as abhorrent or a sin against God in the Bible.  We need to shut down the shrimp, crab, and lobster industries.  The pork industry?  Gone (you can’t eat animals that chew their cud and have cloven hoofs)!  The garment industry? Heavily regulated to prevent mixed fiber blends. Is somebody writing this down because we have got to make a lot changes…

Or, we could just grant everyone the same rights regardless of their race, sexual orientation or religious beliefs.   Somehow, somewhere along the line, I got the idea that’s what America is all about.  I don’t know maybe I missed a meeting or an email that pointed out the exceptions to the equal rights edict on which America was founded. If we are allowed to exclude certain groups from certain rights and privileges, I have a few groups I would like to add to the list.  For instance: I would totally love to not allow people who post on Facebook during a movie the right to procreate.  People who use tanning beds?  Can we all agree we should start weeding those folks out of the gene pool?  And anyone who uses the phrase “At the end of the day,” excessively should not be allowed to participate in a talk show of any kind.

I said all that to say this. The only way you can ruin the sanctity of marriage is by denying consenting adults in love the right to marry. In the eyes of God, marriage between a man and a man or a woman and a woman is no more an abomination than eating shellfish.  Unless you’re strictly kosher, you’d have to agree, right? So, if we allow people to legally eat shellfish, why is it members of the same-sex can’t get married?