Overpromising and Underdelivering

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This post deals with a few major topics, one of which is the 90’s Christian band dc Talk. If they aren’t your jam, that’s cool, but I think there are some important points for everyone by the time I finish.

So today was the big day. Most of you probably weren’t even aware of it, but over the last week or two, the Facebook page for 90’s Christian supergroup dc Talk suddenly got busy. Considering the social network didn’t even exist last time they put out an album in the late 90’s, this was curious. About a week ago, they posted an image with one thing on it — 2017. A teaser video soon followed with other Christian artists questioning whether the news was too good to be true. All that led to a “Major Announcement” today at noon.

I, as well as a ton of Christian music fans, kept refreshing their site today ready for the announcement. Would it be a new album? A series of YouTube videos? A reunion tour of sorts? Whatever any of us thought, it would surely be blown away by the announcement. dc Talk was HUGE between 1995 and 1999. When they split up they were still at the height of their popularity and all three of the members continued their careers with solo albums that transitioned into very successful post-band careers for most of them. Today Toby Mac has had perhaps the best career of the three, but Michael Tait is now the lead singer for the Newsboys and Kevin Max recently helped resurrect Audio Adrenaline from retirement.

So.

The announcement came…and landed with a Thud.

dc Talk would be reuniting for…a cruise. A one week cruise that would cost — at minimum — $699 per person.

Social media outrage, considering the Christian audience, was huge.

The top comment on Facebook for the announcement video: “Seriously, that’s it? Now I know how Ralphie from a Christmas story felt when he decoded the message with his decoder. A lousy commercial.”

I know I had expectations. I was actually at the final dc Talk concert in 2001 when they briefly reunited while all doing their own music. I was on board for almost anything. Almost. This was not it.

To be fair, I think the announcement is cool, I just am not game for a cruise at that pricepoint and the hype for it was overblown for that announcement.

Christian music not your thing? Let’s talk superheroes.

Two major superhero movies have released recently. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War. Both did well at the box office to start their run, but I think its definitely fair to say that one of them will be remembered a lot more fondly than the other.

When they announced Batman fighting Superman in a movie, they promised a lot. They plastered that logo all over Comic Con that year and had people put it on their Most Anticipated lists years out from its eventual release. The two greatest superheroes in comic history, squaring off? Sign me up for that.

And then…it was okay. Meh. After seeing the trailer, I was primed, but most of the best parts of the movie were verbatim from the trailer. The set-up was wonky for their fight and ultimately didn’t pay off like I would have hoped. I don’t want to dissect the movie too much, but I’ll say I had a number of issues with the movie, but ultimately I would say I enjoyed it. More good than bad. But…

In both the case of dc Talk and BvS, the case is clear. They OVERPROMISED and UNDERDELIVERED.

Now…let’s crack open Captain America: Civil War. In many ways this is a response to DC’s BvS tale. The top two heroes in Marvel’s Universe going at it and fracturing their teams apart. Unlike in DC’s movie, the folks at Marvel accomplished a phenomenal feat — a highly entertaining and intelligent action movie. And the trailer? It was great, but it left SO much for audiences to unpack for themselves.

If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about, but the Airport scene in Germany…in the trailer it is really given the briefest of mentions. But that scene. That scene. In 17 minutes they gave us everything that BvS didn’t.

But even then the movie kept giving and giving and giving. The final act was emotionally brutal and in its own way, even more thrilling than all the action that preceded it.

Marvel OVERDELIVERED.

And thus, I come away from these three events with this lesson: When you are giving an audience something, don’t promise what you can’t deliver. If you’ve got the goods, the audience will find usually find you anyway, so try not to overpromise.

There are a number of other lessons to be learned from the releases of these two movies, but we’ll stay away from those today. Instead, just make sure that if you are going to promise the world, you deliver what the audience expects.

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Perception is Reality

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When I was taking radio broadcasting classes in college, I was taught one thing that has stuck with me, even as I left broadcasting behind.

Perception is Reality.

I think there is a lot of truth to that. We create perceptions in the minds of other people and in their mind, the truth is born. Case in point — when we were taught this, the example we learned was about the noontime show on the college’s radio station. The show was called “Lunchtime Diner” so something like that. Whenever there was not the current radio singles playing, the DJ would be talking with diner noise in the background. The noise was pre-recorded and you could hear people talking, busboys cleaning up tables, forks and knives clinking — you know, diner noise. All prerecorded.

Yet the station would get call after call asking what restaurant the show was live broadcasting from. Listeners wanted to go there and eat while we broadcast this show. All just movie magic with a pre-recorded track playing while a guy talks between songs.

Perception is Reality.

We made a scene in people’s minds with a few simple tools and tricks and people were CONVINCED this restaurant was real.

How can we take this and spin it forward? If we can do this with a stupid pre-recorded track (it looped! If you listened closely, you could hear the same diner patron cough over and over!) then what are professionals in the media doing? What about the professionals in…sports? Entertainment? Politics?

Just pause for a moment and think about things that creep into your Facebook or Twitter feed? On a whim, I went through my Facebook feed and jotted down the headlines I saw from any post or video. Here are the first ones I saw:

“This May Shock You: Hillary Clinton is Fundamentally Honest”

“Pet Hedgehogs Who Are A Little Stuck”

“Kesha blasts body shamers in bikini photo”

“No charges against dog owner in mauling death in CA”

“Ebola meth? Police joke nets at least 1 drug arrest”

Maybe you’ve seen some of these stories. With so many of today’s news stories, they are painting a picture from the get-go. There is so little objective journalism anymore simply because they are roping in the readers with an intentionally provocative headline. The media (social and otherwise) is creating a reality that may or may not be there. 

But, maybe you haven’t seen these stories, either. That’s another aspect of our society that we shouldn’t overlook. We are so segmented. Our television choices (or lack thereof), social media, and altogether media consumption reflects that. When I was a kid, we had 4 TV channels, and one was PBS. We may have also had a couple independent channels that showed primarily syndicated shows (if you don’t know what those are, ask your parents). Either way, when you watched a TV show, you could be sure that most of the kids at school were also watching it, or that half of the office could talk about it around the watercooler. How many people watched the finale of M*A*S*H*? LIke a billion? (Quick research says just under 106 million viewers — WOW.) How many people watch Game of Thrones? A great audience for them is…8.1 million people. Less than 10 percent of the audience, yet it is considered to be a HUGE audience. Maybe that’s not right…how about the biggest audience for a network show? The Big Bang Theory averages….just under 15 million viewers.

We have dozens of TV networks, and even then, video games, social media, and other activities are taking numbers away. We get holed up and contained in our own little social bubbles and are CONVINCED that other people feel the same way.

Perception is Reality.

Let’s say the only thing I watch is ESPN. When I go to work, I’m surprised how many people aren’t as enamored as I am with the University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball team, or how Matt Harvey’s elbow will hold up this season. I have a deep knowledge of all things sports, but my knowledge of housing trends on HGTV, of stock prices from Bloomberg, of political races from any of the news networks…all that knowledge is nothing. Just vapor. I would be totally ignorant of all of that. And most people wouldn’t want it any other way. Don’t put politics in my sports! Don’t inject race relations or music or history into my enjoyment of a 3-4 defense!

The more we segment our society, the deeper those divisions get.

When these things overlap, we as a society literally cannot handle it. Look at the protests in Chicago that shut down the Trump rally. Look at any Trump rally. Just look at any debate on Facebook. When people are confronted with an opinion that doesn’t jibe with their preconceived ideas, they FREAK OUT. Names are thrown about — Communists, Socialist, Liberals, Radicals (and those are the ones I can print in good conscience!) — without even knowing what the names mean and without taking a moment to consider the potential truth in the other’s idea.

Thirty years ago, we all would’ve watched the Republican Debate, because it would have been the ONLY thing on TV. Now, we get the highlights in a 30-second clip we get from our most Conservative friend on Facebook, because we were playing Call of Duty, or were watching House of Cards. We’re more interested in a fictional President than the actual one.

What’s the fix?

I don’t know — but if we continue to let the media paint the candidates one way or another without us actually studying the issues for ourselves, we deserve what we get. If we want to choose our next President, we need to actually decide for ourselves what we want. Do we want pithy soundbites that mean nothing? Or do we want actual change?

Remember — Perception is Reality. A lot of people talk about how one candidate says what he means. Fine. Except he means to win the election without caring if he fulfills anything said in this calendar year. We are the generation that grew up with Google. Act like it and use those computer skills. Find the truth. Get past what the world is telling you through the filters on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Even there, you are shown what is “popular,” not always what is correct or what you might want to see.

It’s what you perceive. Is it accurate? Is it reality?

You decide.

Brother to Brother

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unnamedThis week is an exciting one for me and my brother Paul. We spent a good chunk of the last year working on a novel together and we’re releasing it officially on February 4 (Thursday). That book is called Blink. It is centered around Agent Smith, one of the top investigators for The Utility Company, a government agency that takes on the strange and weird cases. What Smith and his team tumble into is an inter-dimensional conspiracy of sorts.

To get people acquainted with both of us, I decided to solicit questions on Facebook on Monday. What follows is a joint session in Google docs where we answered them live and together. It is fun, crazy at times, and sometimes painfully honest. Oh, and our sister (Betsy Baker) crashes the party. A LOT. Don’t mind her. She means well…

Let’s get cracking!


 

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Us (Will on left, Paul on right)

Jon Frater asks: How about we start with: whose idea was this book, anyway?

W: OK. Ready Paul?

P: Sure. Wait. This is a book? How did that happen?

W: Uh. Not quite sure. It originally just started as a random Facebook post. My forehead was dry, which I guess I found funny or odd or something and I posted about it. I did it the next day and the next day and then they started a life of their own. Like 19 or 20 days later I had a legit story on my hands but it wasn’t right. Then Paul stepped in…(that’s your cue)

P: “You can call me Mr. Smith.” That one little statement sparked something in me. I wanted to know more about Mr. Smith. Where did he come from? How did he come to know about the character Will was writing about? What kind of agency did he represent? Knowing the way Will was approaching things I had an inkling that he didn’t know any of the answers, so I wrote a bunch on my own, submitted to him and…

W: Yeah, you make me sound like a doofus, but that’s cool. No…I really hadn’t even considered much about Agent Smith’s background. To me when I wrote him, he was a cog. A piece of the machine to get my main character to do things. But when Paul presented me with his piece — essentially a parallel story with Smith and his people, it was clear that Smith should be the protagonist. It would have been stupid to keep Smith as the secondary character. And because of that altering of perspective, I believe it made this book what it is, and it will hopefully propel us to write more about Smith and the Utility Company in the future. (It does say Book 1 on the cover after all. No pressure)

That it? We good with that question? yeah.

Bill Matthews asks: I think that you should allow your sister to ask each of you some questions … or tell your tales about both of you growing up.

P: I’m scared.

W: I am really unsure about this. Let’s move on and hope this doesn’t come back to bite us.  

Samuel Peralta asks: Who’s on your dream cast for the movie?

P: Martin Freeman for Nik?

W: oooo…that’s almost eerily perfect. I know he’s been in the new Fargo so he can do an American accent, so I think I would be totally down for that. Agent Smith. I could go with a number of different actors, but let’s go out of the box and say Chiwetel Ejiofor.

P: And…., we’re done folks. Chi. is. awesome.

W: I really didn’t actually include a ton of descriptors for the characters, so there is a lot that can be flexible. Paul’s right. Chi is awesome.

Preston Leigh asks: What was the writing process like? Did one person give plot ideas and the other write the story?

P: One guy goes write, write, write. Other guy eats popcorn and says, “Yay! You’re awesome!” First guy flames out, says, “I’m tired” or “I have no @%$&* clue where this is going.” Other guy takes over.

W: Essentially. But I don’t like popcorn.

P: Or cheese.

W: Oh. I do love cheese. But Paul’s pretty well spot on. We…have a terrible writing process. We could have finished writing this book about 4 or 5 months earlier if we were actually dedicated. We had some basic plot points (usually Paul felt the need to have some kind of outline) and then I usually broke them.

P: yep

Judah Ball asks: Having a little personal insight to your family I know distance between authors was a roadblock. How did you overcome that hurdle?

W: I don’t recall a hurdle. Do you?

P: FaceBook messenger and Google Docs are our friend.

W: Friend is singular. You mentioned two things. That should be friends. Also…where is that hurdle? (But Messenger and Google Docs enabled this when 10 years ago it would have been impossible)

Deirdre Gould asks: Did you give each other Noogies to resolve editing disputes?

P: Can one give a noogie to another person 1500 miles away?

W: Metaphorically. I think. Can you feel that?

P: Ouch.

W: SUCCESS.

Betsy Baker asks: Paul, your birthdays are just eight years and one day apart. How did you feel When he hijacked your party that year?

W: Here we go. Ladies and gentlemen. If you are still reading, I apologize.

P: I’m supposed to remember my 9th birthday? I have enough trouble remembering yesterday.

W: I certainly don’t. Yesterday I mean. And I think she means your 8th birthday. When I was born a day later. She means you had the BEST PRESENT EVAR.

P: I think we had a pretty good tradition of sharing birthdays in our family. We made a pretty big deal about it actually, so it was cool. and EVAR, yep.

Betsy Baker asks: Will, how has your brother influenced your writing style? Do you remember any specific tortures that may have brought you down this path?

W: I guess this is directed at me, so I’ll answer this one. Uh……..Paul was usually pretty cool to me. I don’t know about you, though. But he was 8 years older than me so by the time I got to the point of knowing anything at all, he was already too cool for school, so it wasn’t really until adulthood that we became BFFFFFFFs.

Betsy Baker asks: Paul, younger brothers are notorious pains in the touckus. You’ve suffered this one for well on 36 years now. What is the greatest lesson you have learned from this pain in your butt?

P: Water. It goes under the bridge. Stop taking things so serious.

W: There’s water under your touckus? (and I think the spelling is toochus. maybe touk-us. IDK. Can we not say butt?)

P: I don’t know where you’re taking-us…

W: I don’t think she knows either. 😉

Betsy Baker asks: Will, your handle, has been, in the past, CheeseWill. Please tell us, what is your favorite cheese? The world wants to know!

W: Cheese. There are lesser cheeses or greater cheeses. All the cheeses are wonderful and prized.

Betsy Baker asks:  Paul, knowing how much you love Kraft Velveta, how do you feel about Howard Starks apparent love of processed cheese food?

P: Iron Man’s dad rocks?

W: I think Betsy is confused. I think she’s referring to the part in Captain America when Howard is talking about fondue. Fondue is not a processed cheese food. If I’m incorrect, tell me in the comments cuz I’m confuzzled.

Betsy Baker asks: We grew up with a father who was very much into Science Fiction and Fantasy books. Both of you, which of dad’s favorite authors were also your favorite authors? How did that infuence your current writing style?

P: Isaac Asimov, Ben Bova, David Eddings, Raymond Feist, Terry Brooks, Piers Anthony, David Brin, Anne McCaffrey, Alan Dean Foster, Orson Scott Card, Andre Norton, Larry Niven, Tolkein…  endless really. There are so many books I’m thinking of that I can’t place the author at the moment. I think I just have this deep bank of resource inside my head. As to style… that’s still evolving. But, I know when something’s good when I see it.

W: Asimov. Heinlein. So many others. As for current writing style…….hmmm…I don’t know. I mean the last thing I wrote was a robot story that I really wrote as an homage to Asimov. So probably very influential.

W: Okay Betsy. Thanks for hijacking this perfectly good thread. Anyone else?

Betsy Baker asks: Growing up I remember a time in kindergarten when I the school held a haunted house. I became scared and wouldn’t budge. The school had to call Paul out from his 6th grade classroom to pull me out of the haunted house. Will, do you have any similar protective brother memories of Paul?

W: Sorry. My brain isn’t braining right now. I’ll come back to this one if I can think of anything.

Betsy Baker asks: Will was always an advanced child. He was in multiple advanced level classes in school and somehow always managed to place high in the Pinewood Derby competitions. Paul, how do you see Will’s drive and competitiveness coming through now?

P: Hmmm…. I think it shows up in different ways. He’s driven and committed. He grabs on to the thought of what he wants to do and he pursues it. He’s committed to family and he’s great with them.

W: When I see a pizza, I commit. ALL THE WAY.

Betsy Baker asks: Piggy-backing on a question above a little bit, Will, how do you see Paul’s protective older brother nature come in to play now?

W: We’re really getting deep here, aren’t we. Paul is like the older brother I never had. Wait…he IS the older brother I do have. Anyway…I guess if we’re really looking into it that much, he does try to focus me when I’m flying all over the place on a plot point. He was the one who really directed much of the story in Blink and I honestly believe most of the better points of the book are because of him.

Betsy Baker asks:  Paul moved out of the family home far sooner than any of us would have liked. For a time, though, he lived quite close to you, Will. For writing purposes, I imagine that kind of distance would have suited you much better. How has technology helped and hindered your writing process?

W: OK. Background story time! When we lived in Arizona, Paul left to go to college. Because that’s what you do when you graduate high school. A couple years later we left Paul in Arizona because Dad got a new job in the Chicagoland area. YEARS LATER Paul decides the desert is too hot and when I am graudating from college, he takes a job an hour away from me for two years. We did a lot of stuff together like eating pizza and watching Blade II while he lived close by. Technology…we discussed earlier. Read that.

Betsy Baker asks:  Some of us know that your upcoming, highly anticipated, novel Blink involves inter-reality travel. Knowing that sliding is already a commonly accepted form of inter-reality travel, would you rather hurdle through a mirror, or slide like Quinn?

P: What about folding? Or entering new planes of reality by near-death experiences? or being stabbed in the eye? A simple stroll through a mirror sounds great.

W: Glory…who said anything about getting stabbed in the eye??! That sounds horrible. There is a bit of a B-movie horror vibe to the first quarter of Blink, but from then on, there is more of a straight up chase movie theme going on. In a lot of ways, I guess I borrowed from Star Trek’s mirror universe. Or Fringe. Which I didn’t even realize until after I’d written most of the book. Or co-written, as it were.

Betsy Baker asks: You’re both fathers and you’re both teachers. What is the one thing you seem to teach over and over again no matter if it’s your students or your kids? What is the one thing you have to relearn over and over no matter if it’s your students or your kids? How has that affected your writing and how has that made you a better writer?

P: No mixing of day job and whatever this is. No. Nope. Naw…. ok. this might have taught me patience there….

W: I have to tell my kids to put their names on the papers. I don’t know if that helped anything though.

Betsy Baker asks: Star Wars, Star Trek, Star Gate? Why?

W: Why choose? I would like a sci-fi nachos with all three. And extra guac.

P: Stargate Deep Space 9

W: …Episode VII

Rysa Walker asks: Each should ask the other why mom/dad loved him better. It’s a classic. 

W: Easy answer.

P: Matthew.

W: 🙂 (In hindsight, I think both of us read this question as who did Mom/Dad love better. Ooops)

Betsy Baker asks: You’ve both written some pretty fun stuff now. What character that you’ve written would you trade places with and why?

W: There are definitely a few I WOULDN’T trade places with. That’s for sure. Hmm…Maybe Bek from my story The Control? Maybe Franz in Requiem?

P: I wrote a story that I’m hoping Sam Peralta has seen for the Drifting Isles Chronicles. I really love the character I wrote for that one. He’s my take on Indiana Jones.

W: Cool story, Bro.

P: Bek is quality. There’s something to admire about him.

W: Yeah. I might be biased.

Adam Venezia asks: Will – how does co-writing a novel work? I’m real curious about the logistics of it. Who does what?

W: Did we already kinda answer this? Guess we should put out a FAQ.

P: Yeah cool.

W: I will say that I think you have to co-write with the right person. It wouldn’t work with everyone. We have fairly similar temperaments so neither one of us got bent out of shape when we didn’t get done what we said we’d do. We both like to write, but family and careers sometimes have to take priority, so this book wasn’t always Job #1. For us, we both were laid back enough to make it work.

Harlow C. Fallon asks: Here’s a question: If you (Paul and Will) could go back and change one thing in your life, what would it be, and why?

W: Letting our sister into this interview. LOL! (just kidding! sorta!)

P: Dang. That’s waaaaaaaaay too loaded of a question. If I had to do it all over again and had to make one choice again, it might be to have gone to Illinois with my family back in 1990. It would have been a different adult life. Totally.

W: Dude. That was a long time ago. You’re old. As for me….I don’t know. I hate to change things because there are so many other things that could change based on that one thing and I think even our failures make us into who were are. I worked for about six years at the local newspaper before I started teaching. I dug a huge hole for myself financially, but I learned so many things that I use as a teacher and a writer today.

P: Sure. I see the point. I wouldn’t want to change the last 13 years, but the 14 years before that….?

W: Tempting. For sure. If you could go and accelerate everything that you did right…that would be ideal.

P: If I only knew then what I know now….

W: Stupid hindsight.

…..

W: Is that it? You got any questions for me?

P: I think the crowd was a better interviewer than I could ever be. Good job crowd. Good job Will.

W: I agree. This was fun. A long thing, but fun. Look for Blink on sale Thursday in your local Kindle store.

The Best Things I Laid Eyes on in 2015

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So a few weeks before Christmas, I put out my “Best of” list for short stories, fully intending to do the same for books and movies and who knows what. Then…I didn’t. But, I don’t want to leave it all hanging out there, so I’m combining lists and putting out a “Best Things I Laid Eyes on in 2015” list. You’ll find movies, books, places, people and more. I tried to think of the entire past calendar year, but I know I missed a thing or two I loved. Forgive me. So…here’s my list:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

bb-8_14e2ad77I’ve seen the newest Star Wars film twice now and yet it seems like we’ve just shaken hands. I can’t even tell you how many times I saw IV, V, and VI as a kid. We had the movies on VHS and I watched them over and over and over. I loved them all and when Lucas re-released them in theatres with the latest effects, my dad made sure all of us kids were sitting in the seats.

Then the Prequels. Ugh. Like so many others I wanted to like them. Like so many others I was disappointed. I barely remember watching them and I know I’ve only seen Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith once each. And I know with the final movie I only saw it so I could say I did. There was no hype. No anticipation. No excitement.

Not so here. There are haters, but they can forget about trying to get me to hate it. It checked all the boxes for me and established new characters I care about. A re-tread? Hardly. Similar storybeats, but so was Harry Potter. So have been stories throughout the ages. I am an unabashed fan and I don’t care who knows.

Weapons of Mass Deception by David Bruns and J.R. Olson

weaponsmass_cvr_lrgBruns and Olson have a great book on their hands, I think. Reading this book brought be right back to the hours and hours I spent reading Tom Clancy’s books when I was in high school and college. Clancy had a knack for telling a complicated story with complex international political ramifications and making me care about it. With Weapons of Mass Deception, Bruns and Olson have done the same. The book is a tremendous achievement and I can only hope that the two coordinate their efforts again to give us more books like this down the road.

Jessica Jones / Daredevil

David-Tennant-Jessica-Jones-Poster-Doctor-Who-BrasilI’m lumping these two together. The first two Marvel properties developed for Netflix and both were daring (pun intended) and showed us a side of Marvel we didn’t know we would ever get on the screen. In Daredevil we got a great introduction to the dirty underbelly of New York and were made aware early on that anything goes. Daredevil showed us that in violence, but keeping with the theme of Murdock’s blindness, a lot was kept in the dark and at night. That violence was brought to light big time in Jessica Jones. I loved Jessica Jones. I think I liked it better than Daredevil and that is saying a lot. As a father of a pre-teen girl, I am worried about the world she’ll grow up in and the boys she may date. As a high school teacher, I see a lot of borderline abusive relationships as well. In Jessica Jones, we see those relationships personified in the villain Kilgrave. What a performance and in a way it’s a shame what the end result was for his character. I’m looking forward to what Marvel and Netflix will be cooking up for us in 2016.

Chicago Architectural Tour

BoatTour2_NatalieTaylorI went on a school trip to Chicago early in the summer and one of the things we did was this. If you ever get the chance, it is a great trip up and down the Chicago River with historical context for nearly every one of the buildings along the shore. There is a lot of new building going on and the new Trump Tower gets its fair share of criticism, but I daresay that is part of what has spurred the new developments along the route. The day we went ended up being a lot colder than we anticipated, but I still wound up fascinated by what I saw and heard along the tour.

Constitution/Warrior by Nick Webb

warriorThese books were great. So great that when I was buying Christmas gifts, I bought them in paperback for my dad. He’s hard to shop for, but he’s a military space sci-fi nut, so I knew I was safe with these books. I enjoyed Constitution, but I wasn’t sure what Webb would give us in the follow up. Wow. He really set up a complex and interesting backstory for each side in the conflict (and there are many more than two) and set up a potentially explosive third book in this series. If you like action and intrigue in your science fiction, check out Nick Webb’s books.

Ant Man

The last movie I remember smiling about so much in the theatre before Star Wars was Ant Man. Such a great movie. Really impressed me with its humor and vibe. Just as Daredevil and Jessica Jones redefined Marvel for the TV audience, so did Ant Man for films after the success of Guardians of the Galaxy. I love the nods to Avengers and how it all fits in with the larger universe without feeling too small.

My Newest Book Cover

Coming Soon…. Check this out:

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The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott

I’d read the book by Andy Weir last year so I can’t credit that here, but the movie exceeded all my expectations. I have been burned too many times by books turned into terrible movies, and so when Scott managed to turn The Martian into not only a decent movie, but a GREAT movie, I was thrilled. Matt Damon did a fantastic job and I thought the changes made from book to film were slight and appropriate for the conversion to the movie theatre.

ALL the short stories

11160045_10207031928225789_1011873126454258904_oI read a lot of short stories in 2015. A LOT. I already did my Best of list for just short stories, so I’m not going to rehash them here, but if you like short fiction, you need to check out the Future Chronicles curated by Samuel Peralta. Some great works by a lot of amazing authors. (Myself included, Full Disclosure.)

My Family

Over the summer I had the opportunity to see a lot of family. My wife and I went on a joint vacation to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge with her parents. Unlike some, I do like my in-laws and we had a great kick-off to the summer and good stories for years to come.

We also had a family reunion for my family. My sister lives a couple states away and my older brother is over 2,000 miles away, so getting us all together is easier said than done. Fortunately it worked out and we all met at my parents’ home for a few days. Unfortunately, my 99-year-old grandmother passed away in North Dakota the same week, sending my parents off to handle that business. All of my siblings were able to make it for the funeral, but it did put a bit of a damper on the overall summer get-together. Regardless, it was a great time to see people I don’t typically get to see.

The Dark Man/The White Night by Desmond Doane

26105206A different kind of books than Webb’s offerings, but still just as compelling. If I was going to put out a Best Books of 2016 list, I really think The White Night would have held the top spot. Who is Desmond Doane? That’s the penname for Ernie Lindsey, an accomplished author on his own, but for these horror/supernatural books, he wanted a little edge he couldn’t provide as himself, so Desmond Doane was born. The first book is good, but the second…man, I couldn’t put it down. There was a moment – and you’ll get there too – when I read it and I had to send a message to Ernie cursing him out for what he did to me. I couldn’t wait to write up my review for it and I am strongly anticipating the third book in his Graveyard: Classified series in 2016.

Humbird Cheese, Toma, Wisconsin

humbird-cheese-mart-910750A must stop on our family trips to North Dakota. On our way up for the funeral, we had to stop here. If you love cheese, this is a great place with free samples of nearly all the varieties of cheese. Me? I love a good smoked cheddar and buffalo wing-flavored cheese curds.

Collider Movie Talk on YouTube

We ditched the Dish this year. After over 10 years with either Dish Network or DirecTV, we finally cut the cord so to speak. We rely on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu for most of our traditional TV viewing. However, I’ve come to expect one show each day – Collider Movie Talk on YouTube. Each day, John Campea leads a panel discussion show to discuss movie reviews, box office returns and general movie news. It isn’t dry – each of the hosts have their own unique brand of humor and their passion of movies and genre movies in particular is infectious. In addition to Movie Talk, they also produce weekly shows for comics (Heroes) and Star Wars (Jedi Council) as well as a plethora of TV show recap episodes. If you like entertainment news that isn’t just Kardashian this and Kanye that, check this out.

Things I Think – December 2015 Edition

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Been a while…sorry about that. Had a story due a couple days ago I was obsessing over…tried NaNoWriMo (and failed, but I’m okay with that)…had my yearly evaluation…Thanksgiving…stuff…you know.

So to try to ease my way back into the blog, I thought I would go (mostly) lighthearted with a random buckshot of thoughts rolling through my head right now.

  • Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson is the best instrumental Christmas song. Hands down. Proof: 
  • Just finished Jessica Jones yesterday. Wow. I thought Daredevil was edgy, and then I watched JJ. It was phenomenal. I’ve read a number of articles that talks about how Kilgrave is essentially representing domestic abuse and what happened in the past couple years with Gamer Gate (here’s a good one: LINK) and they couldn’t be more right. As a high school teacher, I see this with young couples who are testing their limits and too often we try to get the girls out of those type of relationships (and a boy or two as well), and they keep on getting sucked back in. It’s hard to see and disturbing in Jessica Jones’ case as well. There was some criticism of her as a character by a Facebook friend last night and I can understand that, but I think we initially have the same thoughts about women in these situations. “Why are they staying? Why are they acting like that? Can’t they just be happy?” I think (without spoiling too much), that the Jessica we see down the line will be different after everything she goes through in these 13 episodes.
  • I think I might be able to just drink Diet Mtn Dew for the rest of my life. Maybe.
  • I have two tickets for Star Wars: The Force Awakens for Friday, Dec. 18 for me and my daughter. CAN NOT WAIT.
  • Every month there is a new edition of The Future Chronicles put out by curator Samuel Peralta. If you haven’t read any yet, the latest — Galaxy — just dropped the other day. Just $1.99 for a limited time and a huge collection of space-based stories. My brother (and co-author on our upcoming novel), Paul will be one of the featured authors in The Cyborg Chronicles, releasing at the end of December. Great books — check them out.
  • How about that Bears-Packers game on Thanksgiving? I know…I know…the general trend isn’t going the Bears way, but allow me a moment of joy. (Also a note…first NFL game I’ve watched since Week 2. We ditched the Dish in September.)
  • 26105206I’ve been a giving a lot of thought on my best books of the year and Ernie Lindsey’s alter ego is probably getting a lot of First Place votes from me. Which book? Maybe this will give you a hint…
  • Black Friday was still crazy, but I think Internet shopping has dramatically changed things. There were decidedly less people than I’ve ever seen and the crowds tended to be fairly civil. Of course, the news wants the insane videos so we got that, but I think those tended to be the exception rather than the rule.
  • It is impossible to diet in November and December. Maintain, yes, but to actually diet and intend to lose weight? Forget it.
  • I am not a fan of Thomas the Train (or Tank Engine for you Trainheads out there. ;).
  • Not that it needs to be said, but Adele is amazing. I could listen to her sing the phone book.
  • Speaking of, who uses the phone book anymore? Maybe I should say I could listen to Adele sing my contact list from my phone. Better.
  • And…that’s it for today. Tune in next time for a smattering of my thoughts.

How Am I Different Than Before 9/11?

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black-nwr-9-11-never-forget11With this year’s anniversary of 9/11, I didn’t necessarily want to just rehash where I was on that date (although I’ll never forget working at WONU-FM as a morning show producer watching it all happen and then helping to report it on a radio station). I’ve been down that road repeatedly. It is helpful to revisit the past and to understand we all share a similar story from that day. We can all remember where we were…what we were doing…how we felt.

But what I wanted to spend a few minutes today on was who I was then compared to who I am now. In a way it’s a very difficult assignment. The lives we lead are continuous, leading us constantly along an edge — a cliff — of who we are now compared to who we used to be. But I think I can accurately answer some things about the “me from the past.”

I always loved history and geography (I teach both of those subjects at the high school level now), but what 9/11 did for me was open my eyes to the lives of those in these strange and distant lands. Sure, there was the initial hate and desire for revenge, but we also were able to see the women and children who had been kept in a state of fear and repression in the old Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. We were suddenly made aware of the oppressive governments in the Middle East — some that operated from a basis of Islam, and some that merely used Islam as an excuse, a smokescreen.

At the time, I was a newly-minted college graduate. I had mastered four years of post-secondary education and came out on top. I knew what I needed to know to make it in this world, and then 9/11 came and shook me to the core. Who were these people that had spent years planning and plotting to kill and hurt us? You could easily dismiss them as simple radicals who operated outside of their religion (and for the most part be correct), but by slapping a label on them you would be ignoring the reality of their lives. You would be ignoring what led to their feeling of hopelessness so much that they felt they needed to lash out at America.

Out of the discovery of what was actually in the Middle East, what happened? Many things — invasions and wars. Some may have been justified, some not. That isn’t a discussion for today, but ultimately what those 19 terrorists started 14 years ago has led eventually to Saddam Hussein being taken out of power in Iraq. It’s led to the Arab Spring were numerous despots saw their power they held get taken away from them. It’s led even today to the Refugee Crisis that has dominated the news lately. Our actions do not happen in a vacuum. They have long and sometimes unintended consequences. Did the terrorists hope to destroy and cripple the U.S. 14 years ago? I believe they did. In the end, if they could see the chaos they unleashed in the Middle East, would they repeat their actions? I’m not so sure.

But again, as I look at myself and the person I am today, I know that the events of that day changed me. I became more empathetic. I saw people on TV as people. When I saw the grainy forms falling from the Twin Towers, I cried for those who felt no other option than to plunge hundreds of feet to their deaths. When I saw the anguish from family members searching in vain for those who would never return home, I couldn’t stop my emotions from getting the best of me.

And why would I want to?

It hurt when I saw those things. I wanted to cry with every additional second I watched television that day and the next few days. I felt an emptiness in my stomach for the lives that were shattered and broken on that day. But for all the pain I felt, I am grateful. I am a changed man, discovering a world outside of my own shell. Before that day, I mostly was concerned with myself. In this post-9/11 world, I think I have more sensitivity to the pain around me. And that pain, while it hurts in the moment, leads to more compassion, more love, more of what it really means to be a human. Not just an American, but human. Our nationalities are an accident of birth. I am lucky beyond belief to be a native of this country, but what if I had been born in North Korea, or Afghanistan, or Liberia? How are they deemed less worthy of a life than me just because of the country of origin?

I suppose in some ways, this also helped open my eyes to adoption as well. I was still three years away from being a father for the first time, but after that, my wife and I decided adoption was what we wanted to do for our second child. In a pre-9/11 world where I was oblivious to the plight of the areas of Not-America, would I have done this? I don’t know, but somehow I doubt it. And my life is richer for it. Some of the moments in the adoption process were difficult, but at the same time, I am not sure I would have made it though them were it not for the emotions I felt as I sat in front of a TV 14 years ago.

Today I spoke to one of my classes about 9/11. I thought I would make it through just fine, especially since the seniors in high school were just 4 years old when it happened. We didn’t share the event. But as I spoke and the room quieted down, I realized the trauma is still with me. As it is with most every American who went through that day. I don’t like it, but I don’t want to give that up, either. As John Green has said, “That’s the thing about pain, it demands to be felt.” I got choked up talking about what I experienced on that Tuesday, but it helped make me into who I am.

How am I different? I’ve changed in so many ways it is just ingrained in me. Of course, I would never wish 9/11 to happen, but with it, I believe it helped transform me into the man I am. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone on this day. #neverforget