Monday, August 29, 2011

I Need a New Title

Help!  I need a catchier title for this blog.  I'm tired of seeing my full name in every Google search result that references my blog.  I'm thinking something like: "Mel's Something" or "The <blank> of Mel" or maybe an acronym like "My Ever Lasting Blog."  (That spells MELB.)  I'd also like the title to be short so people will see more of each individual post titles in the Google Searches.

I first started out with "Mel-o-rama's Writing Blog."

I quickly changed it to "Mel-o-rama's Club of Aspiring Writers."

And now it is "Melvyn Windham - Aspiring Writer."

Any ideas?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

USPC Puzzle Championship 2011

I've been a little busy lately--tidying up stories and preparing for this year's USPC Puzzle Competition.  This Saturday starting at 1PM, I will join hundreds of other geeky types in solving as many puzzles as possible in 2 1/2 hours. 

You score points for every puzzle you solve correctly.  I think you get around 400 points total.  In 2007 (or 2008) I tried this contest for the first time and scored 70 points.  Then I missed a couple of years due to conflicts. 

I tried again last year with the goal of breaking 100 points.  I was doing great.  I earned 70 points in the first hour, with a full 1 1/2 hours left.  Then something happened.  I froze!  I couldn't finish another puzzle.  Then in the last ten minutes, I decided to end with one of those "count the triangles in this picture" puzzle.  I thought I had the right answer, but was off by one.  They took off 5 points.  Final score = 65.  NOOOOOOO!!!!!!

This time I'll do it.  100 points!!!!  Bonsai!!!!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

NPR Top 100 SFF Stories - Results

A couple of weeks ago, NPR asked for your votes for the top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Titles.  The results are in and here they are.

Just for the record, here were my ten votes and how they fared:

#1) Lord of the Rings
#3) Ender's Game
#5) Dune Chronicles
#7) Fahrenheit 451
#8) Foundation Trilogy
#12) Wheel of Time
#24) 2001
#30) Clockwork Orange
#36) Time Machine
#Didn't make it) Tales of Alvin Maker

How did your favorite books do?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Syfy Summer 2011 Report

Are you, like me, enjoying the Syfy summer?  I'm currently watching four of their shows.

Alphas: A pleasant surprise, this show has turned out to be very entertaining.  The dialogue is intelligently written.  The characters are interesting and remarkably consistent.  The powers are still a little confusing (such as Rachel's ability to figure out what angle the bullet came from in the Pilot, an ability she hasn't used since--now that Hicks can do that stuff).  The villain(s) are cool.  And what exactly is happening at that Compound where they send the bad Alphas?

It feels like anything could happen, and even any of the main characters could go bad.  I predict it's going to be Gary.

My only complaint: is this show really in the same universe as Eureka and Warehouse 13?  This show is on such a higher level, that they would be better off not associating with these other shows.

Eureka: I'll keep watching as long as they keep showing this show, but I wouldn't miss it if they took it away.  The shows are still funny, but the science is getting weirder and more "don't worry--we have a new technology to fix this"-ish.  Carter's solutions are also becoming more, "All these other geniuses really didn't come up with that idea?"-ish.

The mission to Titan doesn't interest me that much.  In fact, I keep asking myself, "Isn't this Eureka?  Why don't they just go to Titan?  They haven't prepared for anything before!"

I do like the Beverly taking over Allison's mind story line.  Though, I'm having trouble remembering why Beverly was evil.  That was like Season 1, and they never went back to it until now?  Does she know about the time change?  And why did her evilness survive unscathed through the time change?

I won't think about it, and I'll just enjoy... just enjoy... just enjoy...

Warehouse 13: This show remains funny and fresh.  I like the new Myka without glasses.  Also, the chemistry is building between her and Pete.

The science behind the show still drives me up the wall.  Why should the fame of a person cause items that they own to inherit strange powers?  And wouldn't more people come to know about this and become used to it?

I won't think about it, and I'll just enjoy... just enjoy... just enjoy...

I like the new guy, but he's boring.  He's "Mr. Poopypants," the Abbott to everyone else's Costello.  He's quiet, and he's Buddhist.  He also happens to be gay.  Yes, I initially rolled my eyes at another show's attempt to jump on the latest bandwagon; but if we are to have the token gay dude, these writers are doing it right.  It's not preachy and "in your face."  He's not complaining about how different he is and about how nobody understands him.  He's just a different person leading a different, yet normal life.  It even made for one funny interaction when Pete took off his shirt in front of him.

Haven: I would worry if they aired my show right after WWE wrestling.  Is Friday night the night that Syfy shows go to die, now?

I do enjoy this show, even though some of the episodes are hit and miss.  The two Audreys story line is very interesting, and I'm wondering where they're going with this.  And where did that spooky building disappear off to?  That was cool and Stephen King-y.

We already know that the blond Audrey is the fake one.  She just doesn't know it yet.  She's really Lucy.  ;)

Where are they going with the Duke's wife story line?  (I'm a couple of weeks behind on this show.)  She looks like she could make a fun bad guy, but right now, she's just a boring character.

I just hope they wrap up the big questions this season, as it may not begin a 3rd season.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Review - Ayn Rand - Atlas Shrugged

Everyone should be rewarded for their own work.  That is Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged" reduced to one sentence.  It is a doctrine of which no one can argue.  At 1168 pages, Rand eloquently challenges nearly every moral concept known to man. 

For example, one character states that he wishes he could kill Robin Hood for all the damage he has caused, and he spends several pages explaining why he steals from the "poor" to give to the "rich."  Yes, it sounds appalling the way I write it, but Rand helps it to make sense.  The character doesn't really want to kill Robin Hood (whose cause may have been just), but rather despises politicians misusing the legend to support redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor.

Dagny Taggart is the Operating Manager of Taggart Transcontinental.  Her brother, James, is President of the railroad.  Though they work together, they do not see eye-to-eye.  James always wants to do what's moral in the sight of men--help people when they're down; lobby for legislation that's for the common good; thwart greedy people.  Dagny just wants to do what is necessary; find solutions that are mutually beneficial for both parties; and make lots of money.

This is how Rand introduces the characters and then she turns things around.  The reader quickly learns that Dagny is actually the "good guy," and James is the "bad."

This is where I come to my first complaint.  Practically every character in this book falls under one of these two molds. 

#1) The camp of James.  These are the ones who claim to be moral--to do what is good for all mankind.  However, they are all lazy, shifty-eyed, all-around scumbags.  They also happen to be the politicians who are in charge.

#2) The camp of Dagny.  They don't pretend to be moral, but they are noble.  They always stick to their word--well, most of the time.  It is very difficult for them to lie.  All they want is to earn an honest buck and receive the rewards they deserve.

One can't help to think that the James-ites would be called Democrats today, and the Dagny-ites would be Republicans (or more correctly Tea Partyists).  Because of this unfortunate binary setup, the book loses a lot of credibility and the ability to persuade.  It wreaks of a gigantic straw-man argument.  In reality, we have many good, noble "Democrats," as well as many shifty-eyed, greedy "Republicans."  In my opinion, the existence of these characters (absent in her book) would have served to greatly challenge her theories, and make for more persuasive arguments.

My second complaint: a full 10% of the book is philosophical monologue.  It's fun to read if you happen to be a student of philosophy, but as a plot advancer, this technique fails miserably.  The first such monologue happens around page 410 (in the most recent Plume paperback edition) when Francisco speaks at an informal party.  He orates 5 full pages on why money is not the root of all evil.  And everyone listens!  A madame says shortly after the speech, "Well, it's certainly a funny way to talk at a party!"

I thought that the 5 pages was bad enough, but it gets worse, especially in the second half of the book.  One monologue lasts over 60 PAGES!  That was one part I skimmed through.  Then I realized that Rand often repeats herself.  If she tried to publish this today, her editor would have helped her to trim all that fat.

My third complaint: I did not find Dagny to be the ultimate role model.  I believe in her views, but I question her moral makeup.  She doesn't hesitate to sleep with any man that she considers to be powerful.  When a more powerful man comes along, she'll dump the previous man to go after the next.  With these strong Tristan und Isolde overtones, I couldn't help thinking that Dagny was a slut.  Her lack of loyalty toward one particular man rubbed me the wrong way.  She never expresses remorse for her decisions, but rather she praises them.

I suspect this is really Rand's attempt to rationalize her own affairs.  But her arguments lost me.  If her ideal world necessitates these affairs, then I seriously need to rethink her philosophy.

A corollary third-and-a-half complaint is that the Dagny camp failed to demonstrate any charitable acts.  In fact, Rand devotes a whole chapter against the idea of being one's brother's keeper.  I know what Rand was trying to express, but if you take her arguments to the extreme, it turns into a form of Nazism, where anyone who is unable to produce isn't worth anything.

Regardless of my complaints, the book does have its strong moments.  It contains some wonderful vignettes, such as the self-contained short story of Kip Chalmers and the Comet on pages 584-607.  There are also plenty of moments where you can't help cheering with the "good guys." 

This is a book everyone should read, if not for any other reason, than to at least become familiar with Rand's philosophical ideas.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Why I Created a Facebook Fan Page

About three years ago, I received a phone call from an old BYU friend named Ronald.  He told me that I really had to get on Facebook and see all the pictures he posted.  I told him I'd think about it.  I had been out of touch with my old buddies, and I was hesitant to join another "Classmates."  A year later, I finally relented.  I joined Facebook.  I got in touch with many old friends.  It was almost like reliving my former childhood.

This is what Facebook has been known for, and it is its main attraction.  But that's not all Facebook can do.  You can also create your own Fan Page.  I had resisting doing this for almost a year, worrying about my friends saying, "Oh, that Mel!  He's so vain!"  But then something clicked this week as I attended the monthly Press 53 Center for Creative Writing Publisher's Group Meeting.

If you're serious about wanting to get published, you need a Facebook Fan Page.  The typical private profile just doesn't cut it.  How does a Fan Page work?

First off, you do need a private profile.  That's where you post all your "private" and intimate stuff.  Then with the profile, you can create a Fan Page.  All you have to do is scroll to the very bottom of the Facebook page and click on "Create a Page."  Their instructions help you through the rest of the process.  Your private profile becomes an administrator of the newly created Page.

A Fan Page is just like a private profile, except for the following differences:
  • A Fan Page is entirely public.
  • Anyone can post on your Fan Page, though you have the power to delete posts.
  • Instead of Friends, Fan Pages have "Likes."  That is, people come to your Page and Like you.  The Page cannot Like them back, though it looks like you can remove people.
  • You cannot send Messages through your Page.
  • A Fan Page comes with extra features, such as paid advertising (where you pay for ads to appear--I'm not doing that until I have something to sell) and Like buttons you can put in your blog (look--I have one now in the upper right hand corner!).
  • You can assign other Administrators to your Fan Page and they will have the same rights and privileges that you have.
 But why create a Fan Page?  Why can't you do it all with your private profile?
  • A Fan Page provides a place to put your "Public" stuff, while your private profile remains "Private."  That is, now with my new Page, it'll be much easier to keep the two separate.  If I want to talk about my breakfast or my odometer readings, I can do that with my private profile and only my chosen friends can see.  My book and music stuff can be moved to "Public" where everyone can see.  (In fact, I've taken my private profile off of Facebook's search.  A new person searching for me will see the public Fan Page.  When I see that person Like my page, I can decide whether or not to invite them to be my Friend on the private profile.)
  • A Fan Page is the perfect place to put all that annoying stuff like "Buy my books!"  I don't have any books to sell at this moment, but I do have all my blog posts showing up on my private wall.  Once I get 50 fans, I'm going to turn off the feed to my private profile.  Then my Friends can choose whether or not they want to be annoyed with my blog posts and upcoming solicitations.  They will see all that stuff if they Like my Page.  If they just want to be friends, they'll continue to see my private posts, and they won't think I'm some crazy Amway-ish person.
  • A Fan Page invites open discussions.  Supposedly you can add discussion threads.  (I haven't looked into those yet.)  Plus I already mentioned that anyone can post on your Page.
So, if you're already on Facebook and you're an aspiring writer like me, you should also consider creating a separate Fan Page.  Prepare yourself today for what's about to happen in a year in your future career.  :)

Friday, August 5, 2011

NPR - Vote for the Top 100 SFF Stories

Now's your chance to vote.  NPR is putting together their list of Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Titles Ever Written.

To vote, click on the link and choose your favorite 10 books from the list.  I've put in my vote.

Update 8/18/2011: Check out the results, and my further comments.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Press 53 Author/Member Dinner and Soiree

This past Wednesday, the Press 53 Center for Creative Writing held their first Author/Member Dinner.  Valerie Nieman and Marjorie Hudson were the two featured authors.  Over dinner they talked about their books, told stories about getting published, and opined on the process of writing.  Each participant received a book from each author: Blood Clay and Accidental Birds of the Carolinas (watch for reviews in a couple of months as soon as I finish reading them).

The food was good.  The company was nice.  Valerie and Marjorie had a lot to offer.  Valerie is a sci-fi writer turned into a gritty Southern fiction writer.  Marjorie is a creative non-fiction writer turned into a Southern short fiction writer.  Both of the books listed above deal with the concept of strangers visiting the South, though approached in two entirely different ways.

I left the event ready to write my own stories, after having been inspired by their success stories.

After dinner came the Summer Soiree, which was free and open to the public.  It was a great opportunity to socialize, make contacts and have a good time.  Here are a few pictures, courtesy of Kevin Watson's camera and several photographers.

Valerie Nieman and Me
Marjorie Hudson and Me

Kevin Watson (Founding Editor of Press 53) Doing Something
Sarah Lingley (Press 53 Intern) and Me: Future Writers of America
Stacy Hope Jones (Press 53 Center for Creative Writing Director) and Valerie
Soiree is Another Word for Party
Steve Mitchell (in back) Shows Off a Stoic Pose
The Center for Creative Writing is a Happy Place
Touring the Center - That's Dicy McCullough Off to the Right
Stacy and Me
Beware of Redheads
Sisters in Crime
Valerie and Sarah