Awful Intent update: the villain’s goal and motive

Posted by John Brown on November 24th, 2014

Some may be wondering why my progress bar on Awful Intent isn’t moving.

It’s not moving because I don’t yet have a goal and motive for my villain that I both care about and believe in.

Thrillers are driven by the villain’s goal. Here’s how they work. Bad Guy wants something and goes after it. That something always poses some threat or nastiness to someone else. When thinking about THOM types (see my Story Turns presentation), the core story drivers for thrillers fall squarely in the threat category, often with a lot of mystery thrown in, but the threat is driving the plot. Sometime after that, Good Guy comes along and can’t just walk away, either for moral (a kid has been abducted), professional (it’s my job), or physical (I’m on a boat and can’t get away) reasons. But the Good Guy has no reason for acting or setting goals without the Bad Guy’s plan.

So no villain wanting to do some dastardly deed, no story.

I know the immediate thing the villain wants to do. But why? To what end?

Sure, I could supply the most common reason, but that, in this case, isn’t zinging me. I need a twist.

I’m being vague about all of this because I don’t want to give any of it away. The bottom line is that I’m working on it, practicing a bit of zing hunting and creative Q&A.

For me, knowing basically where I’m going and caring and believing in it, is the key. I don’t need to know everything. Just a sketch of the general motives, goals, and plots, characters, setting, and then the awesome zings that pique my interest. When I have that, the machine hums with electricity, and I can write, write, write. But I don’t always have it all. I’ve found it comes in waves. Or, if you think about it as a journey up some mountain path, it comes in legs (as in leg of the journey).  So I develop, get the insight which shows me the way ahead, write to the end of my invention, struggle, get another insight, then write to the end of that bit of invention, etc. Sometimes the struggles are small, sometimes larger. Sometimes the ground covered between rough patches is long, sometimes shorter.

BTW, went to Southern, Utah to do a bit more research on the area. The action is going to take place in the area of Alton, Glendale, Orderville, and Kanab, Utah and points eastward of that line into the Staircase wilderness. Here’s an idea of what that area looks like. These are the cliffs just south of Orderville.

If you click on the Google link above, you can see more photos of the area.



No, You Did Not Get a Mandate

Posted by John Brown on November 8th, 2014

“Mandate” is one of the stupidest words used in politics today.

You keep using that word

A mandate is an order, a command from the boss. A requirement.

Some restaurant owners mandate their employees wash their hands after using the bathroom. I personally like restaurant owners who mandate that.

States mandate that people who drive cars have car insurance. I like that mandate as well.

But do political representatives receive mandates?

When a politician wins an election, does he or she receive a mandate from the people?

For example, when Obama spanked John McCain in 2008, and the Democrats swept into power, did they have a mandate from the American people to enact certain legislation?

Obama had 52.9% of the voters behind him. McCain had 45.7% of them.

Many Democrats at the time claimed a mandate from “the American people.” But if you know some elementary school maths, you’ll quickly recognize that 52.9% is nowhere close to 100%. Or 90%. Or even 70%.

52.9% is close to, well, 50%. That’s half. As in half a pizza. Here’s a visual for the maths-impaired.

Half a pizza

Clearly, 52.9% is nowhere close to “the American people” or “voters.”

But this was lost on politicians who had the brain capacities of gerbils. They thought the elections magically evaporated the will of 45.7% of the people. They though the other half had suddenly disappeared. They thought government by and for the people meant government by and for half the people.

Hold on, John. In the Senate, Democrats won 57 seats, Republicans 41. In the House it was 257 to 178, or 59% to 41%.

Yeah, like I said. About half.

But such maths were beyond them. And so they began to push through legislation that only half the country wanted. Sometimes much less than half, as in the case of Obamacare.

They weren’t governing America. They weren’t leading America. They were leading half and oppressing the other half because they had “won the election.”

So, my fellow Americans, should winning an election give you the right to force something onto the other half of the populace they don’t want?

Is this what America is all about? Is that the freedom from tyranny we celebrate every fourth of July?

The Republicans won a great victory in this year’s election, taking back the Senate and expanding their seats in the House. In the Senate, it will probably be 53 to 45. In the House, 244 to 184.

But does this mean the American people have clearly given them a mandate to enact certain legislation? Does it mean they’re supposed to ignore the other half of the country and ram legislation down their throats they don’t agree with?

I’m a true blue conservative. Or true red, or whatever the color is. After the last six years, I never want to have legislation rammed down my throat again. And I’ve also come to the realization that I never want to do that to the other guy.

America hasn’t given the Republicans a mandate. Nor, as President Obama recently claimed, have they given Washington a mandate to “get stuff done.”

Getting stuff done is exactly the problem.

We don’t want you to get stuff done.

We want you to get stuff done that the vast majority of us agree on!

But, John, does that mean you want us to compromise on our principles?

No. I don’t want to compromise. I’m not interested in going along to get along. But I’m also not interested in a representative government that fails to represent HALF of us.

Here’s my proposal. Let’s go back and start over.

Let’s get rid of Obamacare and put something in its place that at least 60-65% of us can agree on. Maybe 70% of us. It won’t be a liberal weed dream. It won’t be a right wing vision of glory. But whatever gets enacted will be something all of us agree are good things.

And it will force us to win others to our way of thinking if we want to get the rest of the stuff we think is so splendid.

But, John, what if folks can’t agree?

Then we don’t enact. This forces us to use persuasion. It forces is to think win-win. It forces us to behave like a nation that loves freedom.

Immigration. Do we want an American where the president acts like a tyrant and forces something down half of our throats? Or do we want to enact something 65-70% of us can agree on?

The budget. Let’s roll back all the nonsense and get a spending plan that 65-70% of us can agree on.

What about the 30%? I don’t want to oppress them, but 100% ain’t never gonna happen. Let’s be practical. Besides, requiring a large majority means Washington will be at least by and for most of the people. And that’s better than what we have today.

So, do we have a mandate? If anything, I would hope the mandate would be to do stuff that represents America, not one party.

Edit 11/10/2014

And today I find this–an explicit example of the gerbil-brain thinking I reference above. This fine fellow is one of the architects of Obamacare, explaining that the law was written in a way to bamboozle the American voter. What we need in Washington is honest debate and persuasion. Not duplicity and lies. I’m appalled. This is the get-stuff-done-I-have-a-mandate mentality. Not the get stuff done that most of us agree on approach. These folks have completely misunderstood the purpose of government.

Posted in Blather

Lindybeige Rocks!

Posted by John Brown on October 29th, 2014

I’ve been watching Lindybeige videos for a few years now. Lindybeige is the online name for Nikolas Lloyd, a smart, funny geek of the re-enactement, fencing, and RPG line. He’s got a youtube channel that is chock full of videos in which he makes witty and insightful points about ancient and medieval warfare, archaeology, dance, and anything else that takes his fancy.

For example, have you ever seen folks pushing each other about with swords? Is that realistic?

Interesting, what about pushing in a shieldwall?

Food for thought, isn’t it? It makes me want to go read up on shieldwalls. Were they really as he concludes they were? But enough about history and conjecture. What about the truth? What about science? For example, if you believe in science, must you also believe in a certain approved list of theories?

But surely that doesn’t apply to Global Warming Theory, which is now called Man-made Climate Change because the warming bit never panned out. No?

Wow, and he even accepts the data on the warming. Okay, enough about the truth. Back to fantasy geekiness and weapons in fantasy worlds that make sense.

I love this guy. If you’re a fantasy geek and haven’t yet begun to watch Lindybeige, you’ve got a lot of enjoyment ahead of you.

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Mitty, Non-Stop, and The Winter Soldier

Posted by John Brown on October 13th, 2014

the-secret-life-of-walter-mitty-poster-bigThe previews for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty didn’t look interesting at all. Furthermore, I’m not the biggest Ben Stiller fan. He’s a fine actor; I just haven’t been in the audience for a lot of his movies. Then someone I know recommended the film, and I decided to give it a go with Nellie.

We didn’t have high hopes. I mean, look at the movie poster. Does that get you excited? She thought it was going to be dumb. I thought it was going to be dumb. But after five minutes, we found ourselves enjoying the characters and story. We finished it, both of us absolutely delighted. I liked it so much I corralled my two daughters into watching it with me. Then I watched it again. I think I watched it four times total. And I enjoyed it as much, maybe more, each time.

Walter is a great guy who has had to play it safe and practical his whole life. When his and his co-worker’s jobs are threatened, he takes action and finds himself on a journey that starts in, ta-dum, Greenland. The movie’s got adventure, a slow-burn romance, and a cast of funny and quirky characters. But it isn’t mad-cap humor. It’s not a gushing love story. It’s something else. Something that left me feeling like my life had been leavened with a fine light joy. Give it a shot; I think you’ll be glad you did.

* * *

non-stop-movie-posterThe previews for Non-Stop with Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore looked great. I’m happy to report that it was every bit as good as the previews promised.

Neeson plays a federal air marshal. While on a flight from New York to London, he gets a text telling him that unless 150 million dollars is transferred to an offshore account, someone will die every 20 minutes. But it’s not so easy finding the killer. The deaths are almost inexplicable. And things soon start to spin out of control.

This movie is filled with surprises and suspense. And it moves. Thrillers normally move quickly, but this one was on turbo. But that doesn’t mean the story was a bunch of light and noise. Quite the contrary. The writers skillfully balance the mystery, action, suspense, and even the character backstories. A lot of folks liked Taken. I liked this better than that film. In fact, it’s one of the better thrillers I’ve seen these last few years.

* * *

winter-soldier-poster-no-maskI’m a superhero lover, have been since I was a kid watching the Superfriends cartoon every Saturday morning. But I never know if I’m going to enjoy a superhero movie. I love the genre, but for some reason so many of the films go for effect over story. It drives me nuts. The movie ends, the lights turn on, and I sit in my seat and go “huh.” So I’m happy to report that Captain America: The Winter Soldier actually delivers.

I cannot say the same for Captain America: The First Avenger, the first in this series. That movie fell apart halfway through the film. The beginning was this wonderful story about a runt trying to do his duty and volunteer. The second half lost all its heart and turned into one big yawn. So for those of you who didn’t like that first film, know that this is a case of the sequel being far better than the original.

In this one, SHIELD, the organization that directs the Avengers, comes under attack from within. Captain America and Black Widow have to uncover who is behind it and stop them before it’s too late. There are a lot of cool visuals and awesome action scenes. For example, I loved how Captain America “parachutes” into the opening mission. I enjoyed watching him and Black Widow fight in their distinctive ways. But the film didn’t focus on the tech or the super powers. It focused on the characters and the story. The plot includes a number of delicious surprises and reveals. There are funny moments and some poignant ones. And not only did this movie, unlike the first one, develop a single story all the way through, but it also echoes with our current search for national security.

If you liked Iron Man and Iron Man 3, I think you’ll enjoy Captain America: The Winter Soldier.


Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Posted by John Brown on October 5th, 2014


Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is the finest book I’ve read in some time.

It’s tells an engrossing and true World War 2 story about Louis Zamperini, who started out in life as a steal-and-run trouble-maker. He was a kid who’d try the patience of Job. His mother tried to reform him to no avail. His father administered spankings, but physical punishment seemed to have no effect. Louis was constantly in trouble with neighbors, school mates, cops, teachers, store owners.

Louis’s older brother thought Louis would succeed if he were to just receive some positive attention. He thought track, a very popular sport at the time, was just the ticket. Louis loved his brother. In 9th grade he tried running, but the workouts chafed, and then one day he had an altercation with his parents. Louis figured the train would take him away from all his problems. So he ran away, hopped a boxcar, and very quickly learned the freedom of the rails wasn’t freedom at all. It sucked.

When he returned home, defeated, he decided to submit to his brother’s plan. This time it was just what the doctor ordered. Louis ran like mad. He broke records. He got a scholarship to USC and broke more. Louis ran in the 1936 Olympic Games. He didn’t win, but he would the next time they came around. However, the world was in turmoil back then, and Germany and Japan had their own plans which changed Louis’s life forever. He became a bombardier in the Pacific theater.

And that’s where I’m going to stop. The story that awaits you is truly amazing. And Hillenbrand brings it to life with surprising and powerful details. From start to last, I was enthralled. And towards the end, just when I thought the story was over, it took a turn that lifted it from being just another WW2 story with plenty of action to a tale that goes right to the heart of what it means to live. I wept, not for Louis’s pain, as awful as that was, but for something far more vital.

When I first saw the book, its sepia-washed cover turned me away from the tale. But with so many folks talking about it, I thought I’d give the first pages a go. I was delighted, but didn’t make it a priority. Not long after that, my 10th grade nephew told me how much he enjoyed it, and that prompted me to go back (and I’m so glad I did). It’s not that this is a kid’s book or that my nephew has the maturity of an older man. He’s definitely got some reading chops, but it’s not about an advanced writing style either. What is enthralling old and young alike is Zamperini’s story and Hillebrand’s skills in telling it.

How much do I like this book? I’m reading it again, slowly this time, so I can savor every word. Let me recommend you do yourself a favor. If you read one book this year, make it Unbroken.


Indie Thoughts: Authors, We Are Not Amazon

Posted by John Brown on September 28th, 2014

Angry-Tiger-tigers-31737545-1920-1440Sometimes I think some of us indies get this weird attachment syndrome and start thinking we’re Amazon.

Joe Konrath recently hosted a blog-conversation with Lee Child about the whole Amazon vs. traditional publishers thing. The Passive Voice had an active discussion about it as well.  Kudos to Lee Child for yet again showing up and injecting a new perspective into the conversation. It can indeed become something of an echo chamber in the main indie blogs, which I love, but which nevertheless do still tend to sometimes echo. Having someone with his experience come engage and share his two cents was helpful.

One thing his comments reiterated to me is that neither Amazon nor the publishers are in this as the author’s let’s-get-pinky-rings BFF.

I’m not going to carry an ounce of water for Amazon in their fight with Hachette. I’m not going to carry an ounce for the trad publishers either.

I think it’s helpful for all of us to try to understand the truth about the business, and spread that to other authors, but that’s very different from this knee-jerk Defender of Amazon thing that goes on, which seems so very much like Republicans and Democrats turning a blind eye to their own candidates and fixating a hyper-critical one the others.

Case in point: here’s a link to a description of Amazon’s Gazelle Project.

Why do indie authors care? Because we’re Amazon vendors as well.

Look, I love what Amazon has enabled me to do. I love that Nook and Apple are helping enable it as well. But was this Gazelle Project a good thing? A bad thing? If we stand by and cheer Amazon in such tactics, are we essentially standing by and cheering as Germany takes Austria, France, and Poland? Or are we like England cheering the USA coming in with their troops and bombers?

I’m NOT a traditional publisher. And I’m NOT Amazon, or any other retailer. Even when I contract with them. None of us are. I sometimes wonder if some of us have gotten a bit confused about this.

Konrath says don’t worry about the tiger (Amazon) when a wolf (traditional publishers) is gnawing on your leg. But if you’re an indie writer, you have no wolf gnawing on your leg. That’s someone else’s problem. But we are indeed in bed with the tiger.

Why haven’t we seen more posts about the Gazelle Project on the big indie blogs? Lee Child, darling of the traditional publishers, has to point me in its direction? Why haven’t we been more curious about this tiger’s behavior?

Let’s make hay while the sun shines. The tiger seems to be fairly decent right now. He’s not perfect. For example, eBay strangely enough only charges 15% to sell via their site while Amazon charges 30%. But let’s not forget that as decent as he is, he’s still a tiger. And he’s probably not like those poor guys being made to do tricks by Ringling Brothers.


Posted in Blather