Today Only, Get The Sam Branch Christmas Special Free

photo credit: Joseph Jayanth via photopin cc

photo credit: Joseph Jayanth via photopin cc

Because it’s Christmas Eve and I’m feeling jolly, today you can get your free e-copy of The Sam Branch Christmas Special. Right here! But better grab it quick, because after today, they come down!

For Kindle: Get it HERE

For Nook and other .EPUB friendly readers: Get it HERE

Happy Holidays everyone!

Update: Free day has come and gone. Hope you got your copy while it was free! Merry Christmas everybody!


Is Authenticity a Dead-End?

photo credit: Funkybug via photopin cc

photo credit: Funkybug via photopin cc

Authenticity is one of those terms that haunt creative circles. You hear about how you need to be more authentic, or find your authentic voice, or how so-and-so is so authentic. I think that authenticity is an overblown notion. After all, at our most authentic, human beings are actually pretty miserable, unbearable creatures.

Think about it, authenticity is when you strip away all of the pretense and reveal the unvarnished person. That describes people during the first 5-45 minutes they are awake. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m no bundle of kittens during my first hour of consciousness. I know this. I actively avoid engaging with other human beings during that hour because of it.

When you strip away all of the pretense, you discover the not-so-secret truth that people are flawed. They have short tempers or biases that make you uncomfortable. You discover that they’re a lot less charming in private. Authenticity is simply the revelation of things that good manners and social mores are designed to smooth over.

My hypothesis is that people don’t actually want authenticity. What they want is something that feels genuine and is consistent. Take Tom Hanks, for example. By all accounts and evidence, he is a grounded, decent human being. Those facets of his personality come through in interviews and people’s reports of private interactions with him. He feels genuine and he does so consistently.

That doesn’t mean that he isn’t cranky before that first cup of coffee. That doesn’t mean he lacks personality flaws. The exposure of those things would be authenticity. He wouldn’t benefit from that and, frankly, neither would anyone else.

Tom Cruise, by contrast, doesn’t come off as genuine. He feels authentic. The couch-jumping, Scientology, Brooke Shields and…and…and…all of it reads like someone who chooses not to hold back the things most of us do. He wears his flaws right out there on his sleeve and has been soundly punished for it in terms of public perception. The irony is that, when Cruise isn’t being authentic, he’s reportedly a nice person.

I’ll grant you, most of us don’t live under the kind of scrutiny that Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise face on a daily basis. Most of us wouldn’t ever want to live that way. The lesson, however, holds true. I may have very strong feelings about political issues and expressing them would be a blow for authenticity, but it doesn’t serve my readers to expound on my political leanings.

Holding back inflammatory or obnoxious thoughts and impulses may be inauthentic, but it isn’t a failure to be genuine. It’s an acknowledgement that some ideas are inherently divisive and have no place in a professional forum. It’s recognizing that we refrain from some behaviors for the very good reason that it’s polite to do so. Holding back those things doesn’t alter my basic personality. If I’m a curmudgeon, that will come through. If I’m essentially kind, that will come through. That is genuine and that is something to which readers can connect.

I think that maybe it’s time for us to worry less about being authentic and spent more time working to be genuine. I suspect that you’ll connect better with your audience and connect with the right audience for what you have to say.

Official Update: Blog Move News

As promised, here is the official announcement regarding the move of this blog to its new home at I think I’ve got the technical ducks mostly lined up and I’m expecting to make the transfer on Saturday, November 23, 2013. As I said, if I do things right, all of the old URLs should automatically redirect to the correct post at the new URL. I will keep you all updated about the status of the move.

Ring the Bell: Making a Commitment to Help End Violence Against Women

I ran across this article (source: Yahoo news) about Patrick Stewart the other day . I’ll admit, up front, that I clicked on the article because it had Patrick Stewart’s name in it. As a Star Trek fan from WAY back, I’m always curious what the various Trek cast members are up to in their post-series lives.  Stewart’s call came as part of the launch of a program called Ring the Bell, which asks men to make a commitment to “to take concrete action to end violence against women.”

We’ve come a long way as a culture in a lot of ways. While racism still exists, it no longer enjoys the kind of widespread endorsement it once did. We no longer accept that brutalizing children represents an appropriate method of discipline. (A caveat here: I do think the Dr. Spock-inspired belief that any physical discipline represents abuse is erroneous at best.) The unspoken rules that kept business the domain of white men have lost much of their force, although the white, male-dominant culture of business still persists in many ways.

One place where we have fallen down, as a culture, hell, as a species, is in terms of violence against women. When women get beaten up by their boyfriends or their spouses, we shake our heads and bemoan how sad it is, but we don’t act. We try to pretend that what happens behind closed doors isn’t our problem. When women get raped, we put the women on trial and do our best to assassinate their characters. This creates a culture in which women are afraid to speak out. They are afraid, and rightly so, that they’ll be accused of being a slut or somehow “asking for it.” The persistence of the very idea that women can asked to be raped demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of what rape is about and a disgusting cultural ambivalence about stopping violence against women.

These are the kinds of problems Ring the Bell hopes to begin changing. As with so many problems, the changes can’t start with laws or government, both of which have proven unable or unwilling to get the job done. As most of the violence done to women is done by men, Ring the Bell says the solution has to start with men. It is up to men to instill in their children, through word and deed, the immutable idea that women deserve to be treated with the same basic dignity and respect as men. Moreover, women deserve this not as a boon, or a gift, or largesse from men, but as a basic human right.

It is up to men to intervene, non-violently, when they are aware of violence against women. Men must educate other men about why such violence is wrong. We must be willing to donate our money and our skills and our time to stopping this violence. We must be active, engaged, and communicate the message that violence against women is unacceptable. This is what Ring the Bell is all about and they are asking men to make a public commitment to these goals.

I have made the commitment to do my part in bringing an end to violence against women. Will you make the same commitment?

Show your support for ending violence against women by making your public commitment here.

Trying to make sense of the senseless

Something awful happened last night. A young woman, my cousin, was murdered. I don’t know the details. I don’t know that I want to know the details. I doubt that details would help. I didn’t know her well. It’s like that with your extended family. As kids you see each other at the obligatory family gatherings, once, maybe twice a year. You ignore your elders, as the young are prone to do, while your elders roll their eyes at the naïve self-importance of youth. Maybe you pass a few hours chatting, comparing notes on school and this teacher or that coach, and then you go your separate ways until the next family gathering.

Time passes and you wander out into the world. Words, stories, tall-tales and mundane minutia filter back to you about each other’s lives, primarily though the voices of your parents and siblings, with all the well-intentioned filters that go along with that. Collegiate victories of GPAs and scholarships, or the well-worn paths of relationships gone bad and good, first jobs and quit jobs and maybe a mad foray into the world of entrepreneurship, these become the stock in trade. It’s all so very normal and very regular.

What strikes me now is that what I recall about her includes nothing about her schooling, or her work, or romances. What I recall now is that she was so very, very alive. Not over-the-top, manic energy alive, but just brimming with a sometimes serious, sometimes cheerful, indefatigable sort of energy. She had a quick smile and offered it freely. In a world that so often seems populated by people who are dull, gray and can find no reason to smile, the loss of her quick smile seems that much deeper a loss.

It would be easy for me to lament how little I knew her and how I never will now, but death doesn’t give us easy answers. We had different interests and our lives were moving in very different directions. Some people we will only ever know slightly and, for better or worse, she was one of those people in my life. Her death saddens me, because I knew her in some small way, but it would be false to act as though my sadness resembles true sorrow. That right is reserved for those who knew her best and loved her the most, her immediate family and close friends.

It always seems that, in moments such as these, we’re admonished to put our anger away. Yet, of all the things I feel right now, the strongest is anger. I’m angry about the naked selfishness of the man who killed her. I’m angry that someone I remember as bright and good has been swallowed up by the great unknown that comes next. I’m angry because acts like this have become, not the exception, but something so regular that we are numb to them, save when they touch us personally. I’m angry because someone will give inevitable, self-righteous counsel that my anger is wrong and I should seek to forgive and show compassion.

It’s only been a handful of hours since I learned about this and this is where I’m at right now. I’m sad and angry and I don’t know what comes next.

3 Strategies to Improve Your Writing

originally published 5-27-2012

In my bid to provide you not only with entertaining blog posts, but also useful information, today I’m going to cover three key strategies for improving your writing. These are not secrets that I gleaned from ancient yogi’s high in the Himalayas, just straightforward tactics that any writer can employ to strengthen their writing.

Strategy #1 – Expand your knowledge base

Yep, this has nothing to do with the act of writing, but it has everything to do with more effective writing. It can be so easy to get caught up in the craft of writing that we forget that writers must actually write about something. Pick a topic that you find interesting and spend two weeks or a month or a year and learn about it. Read articles. Read books. Watch documentaries. As you ingest all this information, it gives you an entirely new set of material to work into your writing. It also exposes you to the way in which other people write, speak and think about material. That is never a bad thing.

Strategy #2 – Read Aloud

For reasons both sad and predictable, the tradition of reading aloud has almost entirely fallen away. Why read aloud when we can watch TV or movies or go see a play where the actors effectively read aloud for us? Yet, reading your own writing and the writing of others aloud can teach you a lot. Think about it. Even when discussing fiction, we still use sentences like “That author really knows how to tell a story.” Until the last few centuries most stories were passed along through the oral tradition. You’ll pick up flaws in your writing by reading it aloud that you would never catch simply by rereading it on paper. It may not be conscious, but readers recognize it when writing strays too far from how human beings actually communicate verbally. People don’t follow the rules of grammar as stringently in their speech. For you fiction writers, read some of your dialogue out loud and ask yourself if you could imagine anyone you know actually saying those words that way. Reading aloud can also help you to tap into a better understanding of cadence in writing. Try it out for a few weeks and see how it affects your writing.

Strategy #3 – Submit Your Work

This is the scary one. There is no surer way of finding out where your writing stands than through the submission process. You can gauge your progress by the type of response you get. On the whole, there will only be three. If you get a form rejection letter, you’ve got a ways to go. If you’re getting personal notes from editors (even scrawled onto the form rejection letter), your writing has breached some critical quality barrier. That generally means you’ve gotten to the point where getting published is merely a matter of time rather than hope. Acceptance letters mean you’re operating at a professional or close to professional level. I won’t lie. The submission process is brutal. For getting a quick and dirty snapshot of where you stand in terms of writing, though, I can’t think of a more effective way.

On Eureka’s Cancellation

Originally posted 10-18-2011

So, I’m a little late in the game for this, but I’d like to add my two cents about the cancellation of the SyFy series Eureka.  Ever since Sci-Fi changed its name to SyFy in a bid to begin rebranding itself as the network that hates its fan base, it has made a progression of decisions that make little sense. The much, and rightly I think, maligned decision to broadcast “professional” wresting, the reduction of scripted television in favor of “reality” TV programming, and a general distancing from the content that created the network’s viewership in the first place have all mystified me. Yet, there were occasional sparks of light and hope in the brackish swamp of the network’s thinking. The continued production of Eureka was such a spark. The production of Warehouse 13 was another. It was these occasional sparks that allowed me to console myself at the range of changes the network was forwarding as progress.

The cancellation of Eureka, however, is a sad thing for a number of reasons. I won’t pretend that my loss of personal entertainment isn’t one of them, because I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t like the show. I do believe, however, that this means the end of what I consider to be the best science fiction show produced this side of the Atlantic.  When I say best, I mean that in all around terms. This is a show that I wouldn’t hesitate to let a 12 year old watch or encourage a 60 year old to watch. I can count the number of shows I find that to be true of on one hand. It’s a rare thing to find a show that is actually family friendly without being trite to adults or condescending to kids.  It’s also sad to see it go because, hard as it is to imagine, they do actually work in some science content. It isn’t a science lesson pretending to be a show, but they appear to make an effort to talk about chemistry, biology and physics in not wholly erroneous ways. The writing on the show is solid. There’s always a nice mix of humor and seriousness that forwards the plot, maintains the atmosphere, and there’s a solid effort at character development. The characters aren’t static and seeing where they go from here, so to speak, is often half the fun of the show. The cast is clearly a dedicated group of people that put in very consistent performances. Colin Ferguson’s portrayal of viewpoint character, Sheriff Jack Carter, the everyman surrounded by geniuses, is award worthy.

I do realize, of course, that there are financial realities to consider about the show’s cancellation. It’s a fact that science fiction shows are expensive to produce. Even low-grade special effects are comparatively expensive when considered against the cost of throwing a couple (insert stock prop here) on a soundstage and having brooding, male leads spar intensely with (insert random profession here) mumbo jumbo.  Broody, mumbo-jumbo sparring requires no CGI.  To this argument, I can only ask the network heads, do you really think the financial loss you take on one of the better rated, scripted programs on your network is anything compared to the financial loss you will take due to the epic ill-will the show’s cancellation will generate? Clearly, they believe it will be negligible. Perhaps they are right. The loss of Eureka is, however, one less reason for me to tune into SyFy and there are very few reason left for me to tune in. I will tune in for next year’s final season of Eureka. I will probably continue watching Warehouse 13, but I will not be giving any new SyFy programming a test run. I no longer know what demographic SyFy is trying to reach, but I do know that I’m not in it. I’m in the demographic that believes that cancelling well written, family friendly shows with decent ratings is the way to demonstrate how little you actually value your viewers. This is clearly not the demographic Syfy cares about.

Thanksgiving and Writing

Originally posted 11-25-2010

Once more annual turkey consumption day has arrived.  So for all you writers out there, here’s a small bit of food for thought to ponder in your post-gluttony, turkey-induced narcoleptic state.  As a group, writers tend to think that we need to go far and wide to find inspiration for our work.  Yet, family gatherings can be fantastic fodder for fiction.  Rather than getting sucked into the familial gab-fest, hunker down in a corner and just listen.  Listen to the way that family members talk to each other, or over each other, or at each other.  You’ll find out in a hurry that the way real people talk to family members is probably only vaguely related to the way you write it.  There’s shorthand and in-jokes and subtext (good and bad, depending on your family).  Sentences trail off, entire conversations stop when the wrong person enters the room.  Don’t be afraid to integrate some of that kind of talk into your novels, stories and plays.  It will add a degree of authenticity to your characters voices and their relationships.  Now that I’ve had my say, go have a second helping of turkey and take a well-deserved nap.