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Friday, June 27, 2014


Sorry, folks.  I'm on vacation this week!  As much as I would love to regale you with another tale, I've run out of buffer and need to build it back up.  So, I leave you all with a science lesson!  sure, it might be long, and old, but it remains awesome!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Hollow Point

This is the second part of the story started here: Captain Blaze.  It is meant to show how the Point of View changes everything.

Emily Henson was a good woman.  I could always trust her to keep me informed when something big was going down, and from the way she sounded over the phone, I had a feeling this was big.
"Hollow, is that you?" she asked as he shone a flashlight around the parking deck.  I could see how much she was shaking.
"You're sure you weren't followed, Em?" I asked as I stepped into the light.
She let out a sigh of relief.  "Yeah, I'm pretty sure.  Listen, I can't stay long.  Something big is going down."  She stepped closer to me, turning the flashlight off and plunging us both into the dim light that came form the street.  "It's this contract we've been working on.  It's supposed to be a hydrocarbon detector, you know, for oil.  But it doesn't add up,  The military is interested.  I know they might be able to use some but... the other day I was digging around and found out what's in them.  Hollow, it's weapons-grade plutonium.  And a lot of it – far more than we'd need to detect hydrocarbons."
I looked around.  The sunglasses I wore to cover my face weren't normal sunglasses.  They offered me a view of the world unhindered by shadows.  Thankfully, I didn't see anyone hiding in the dark.  "You think they're going to make them into weapons?"
"No," she said, shaking her head.  "I found out today that the military is shipping these overseas.  But they're not going to where the oil is; they're going to Korea.  Hollow Point, I think General Hauser is planning to sell these under the table.  Selling plutonium is regulated, but these detectors aren't.  I think they're trying to make a profit off of a weapon.  They might even want to start a war with this stuff.  They're shipping it tomorrow at the docks, 115.  I… I didn't know who else to turn to."
"Don't worry.  You came to the right man.  I'll take care of it."

It wasn't hard taking out the guards.  I'm sure they were expecting an attack, but they certainly weren't expecting me.  Finding the cargo container wasn't hard, either.  General Hauser was never good at subtlety.  I'd donned my newest suit, an exoskeleton filled with nifty gadgets, and it was a good thing, too.  As soon as I'd finished cutting a hole into the side of the container, a light shone on me and I heard a familiar, self-righteous voice.
"Hands up!  Step away from the cargo."
I rolled my eyes.  "Captain Blaze…" I said between my teeth.  The last thing I needed was for hot-head to get in my way.
"Hollow Point.  You're in over your head this time.  Come quietly, and maybe the DA will go easy on you."
"Blaze, back off.  You don't know what you're doing, and I don't have time to explain.  I need to take this back to where it belongs," I said as I rushed into the container.  All I saw was a box on a pedestal, but my suit was giving me readouts that I'd never seen before.  This had to be it.
There was a deafening impact and soon part of the roof was being torn away.  Blaze's fingers reached through the holes and I felt the container start to lift.
"Are you crazy, Blaze!?" I called out and grabbed the box.  It heaved as my suit adjusted to its incredible weight.  The pedestal shifted and began to beep.  A countdown.  A short countdown.
I'd never run so fast in my life.  It didn’t hurt that my suit was built for speed.  My body practically flew out of the container, ripping my trench coat right off.  "Get out of there, Blaze.  This isn't about who wins!" I called out, but I never slowed down.
There was nothing that could catch me, at least that's what I thought.  But after I passed by a corner, something went wrong.  A blockade of cars.  Then another.  I felt like I was being herded, forced to move down narrower and narrower roads to keep from collided with things.  When I'd finally found the room to slow down, my suit failed.
"An EM Pulse?" I asked no one in particular as the box fell to the ground.  I collapsed under the weight of my exoskeleton.  A small crowd had gathered around the intersection I was lying in, but none of the onlookers dared to get close to me.  Then he arrived.
"Darn it, Blaze!  Let me go!  These things aren't what you think.  They're dangerous and I can't let them fall into the wrong hands!"
"Save it Hollow," Captain said with that all-too-familiar look of smug justice on his face.  I  watched helplessly as he picked the box up.  He was talking, but I was too busy getting out of my exoskeleton to listen.
"What's this?" he asked.  I looked up and saw the lid had been removed and Blaze was reaching into it.
"No!  Get out of there!  It's too…nngg.. dangerous!"  I managed to wiggle myself free and ran up to him.  I grabbed the lid, which lay on the ground nearby, and rammed my body against his, pushing him away from the box.  The lid slid into place, but it was too late.
Captain Blaze was holding a small sphere.  This was no hydrocarbon detector.  My goggles flashed into life and the exoskeleton behind me twitched.  The only thing I could see through the goggles was a radioactivity warning the like of which I'd never seen before.  This wasn't even plutonium.  It was much worse.  The words "FATAL DOSE" appeared before my eyes, then the goggles died again.
"Does that look like an instrument for detecting oil to you, Blaze?"  He shook his head.
"I've never seen one, but I don't think this… it burns."
The ball fell to the ground with a thud.  "It's bad, Blaze. Whatever this is, I think it's already killed us."
Blaze looked at me in horror.  Suddenly the power turned back on in my suit.  It thrashed about for just a moment.  I walked over to it and started put it back on, wiggling my body into it.
"What are you doing?" Blaze asked.
"I'm going to put this thing back in the box and bury the box where it can't hurt anyone."
He stood up and winced as he picked the ball up and put it back in the box.  I could see that it had left his hands burnt.  "I'll do it," he said.  Then he flew off.  I couldn't have stopped him, the idiot.  If he was taking it to the military, I wouldn't be able to catch up to him.  But instead, I watched as he streaked brightly across the sky and splashed into the ocean.  He never came up.

Now I'm stuck here in this hospice, dying slowly and painfully.  The doctors tell me there's nothing they can do.  They try to make me comfortable.  But I am captured by the thought that, even in his death, that man was denying me.  I would die in steps, as a villain.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How to be a Successful Rube!

They say there's one born every minute.  But suckers aren't really born or made... they have to be given the opportunity to turn themselves into their namesake.  And those people providing those opportunities are the scum of the Earth.

You'd think that most suckers deserve what they get.  After all, who buys a "Rolex" that just "fell off the truck" for $100?  Suckers, that's who.  But not all suckers are also idiots.  Plenty of them are trying to get an education, and the charlatans who prey on them know that this is their weakness.

They can been seen in colleges across the country, colleges that are increasing their tuition, increasing the number of students, and lowering standards so they can pump out one useless degree after another and soak up government money.  They promise a "college education" on the cheap, but the quality of that education is sub-par to say the least.  My brother fell for one, an online degree that provided nothing but debt.  So he took the hard route and found out where successful people in his field got their degrees, then enrolled there.

But writing... that is another world.  No college on the planet can guarantee that someone will be on the New York Best Seller list.  Sure, Harvard credentials might help, but more often than not, it is not what you learned at Harvard, but rather the fact that you garnered some media attention due to the fact that you went to Harvard and decided to be outspoken about something.  Just look at writers.  They come from every walk of life, from the affluent to the destitute, the college educated to the not-quite-GED.  Successful writers have had tons of classes about writing and teach it in universities, and they have had NO writing classes yet still create best-sellers.  There is no cookie-cutter writer.  Each one is as different as the stories we weave.

But it is understandable that, when some company, magazine, or author offers the secrets to writing success, plenty of us writers sign up.  I have seen this happen far too often.  Writer's Digest is a magazine that writes articles for writers, but it is not free.  Who would offer such advice for free, after all?  Of course, the "good" articles, often labeled things like "10 mistakes that will kill your manuscript" or "Habits of a best-seller" all cost a considerable amount of money for what is essentially an opinion piece. The editors and writers at Writer's Digest have no more secret insight into what makes a writer successful than my cat does.  If they did, publishing houses would come to THEM to find out the secrets and turn them into millionaires.  Yes, publishing houses.  They also don't know the secret.  Sure, they have some clues and can influence somewhat - the more money pushed into pre-sales and ads, the better - but no one could predict the runaway success of J.K. Rowling.  If publishers knew the secrets, they'd use them to find consistently superior writers.

There are others.  I recently discovered a writer/blogger who went from 0 to over 100k followers in 2 years following his "3 simple steps."  Sure, it took him many years BEFORE then of trial and error, but in only 2 years he got a ton of followers.  I looked at his offerings as well, and found that they are sound advice that lack enough specifics to be really helpful.  And, shortly after reading them, realized that he was starting up his own online course to teach you how to do it too, starting at only $600.

A fool and his money...

Now I'm not saying that what these people are selling is not helpful to someone, or that their advice didn't work for some people.  The trick that this author/blogger used may well have worked for him, but that does not mean it will work for you.  I find these sorts of people, who want to rid struggling wannabe authors of their meager funds, to be deplorable and despicable.  Writing is not something that makes a lot of money.  If you are writing for the money, do yourself a favor and stop right now.  This is a labor of love for us.  It is a rare and wonderful thing when a writer is able to support himself and his family completely on his writing.  Want to know something many successful writers have had in common?  Benefactors/money.  They didn't have to worry about where their next meal was coming from.  They were freed up from these concerns so they could really write!  Others have quit good-paying 9-5 jobs to take the nightshift at a local supermarket simply so they had more time to write.

So when I see someone trying to take my money to tell me how to be a better writer, I want to punch them in the gut.

Like everything in life, there is no fast-track, no cheat, no instant-win.  It takes dedication and hard-work.  Want to lose weight?  Change how you eat and how you exercise... for good.  There, I saved you from another useless diet fad.  Want to be an Olympian?  Spend nearly every waking hour with the right coach perfecting your talent.  Want to be a writer?  Write, then write some more, then write some more.  And while you're at it, read.  And interact with your fans when you get them.


There IS some good advice out there, however, if you are truly determined to follow this crazy path.  Sadly, it, too, is generally NOT free.  And telling the difference can be hard.  So I will offer up some of what I have learned.  Once you know the mechanics of a good story, develop a strong sense of grammar, and learn how to take criticism (i.e. know how to write), only then are you really ready to take this step.  As I am not yet published, I also recommend you take this with a grain of salt.  I am learning still, too.

First, try to do some research into the publishing industry you wish to find yourself in.  There are authors you could contact, publishing houses you could call, courses you could take (yes, not all courses are out to get all your money.  Just don't go for an online course or a college that treats itself like a Starbucks), and plenty of free blogs you could read.  Join online writing communities and ask questions.  Consider buying a book on the subject (but I would recommend only one or two, so do your research, look at the reviews).  If you can't afford what someone is asking, don't fret!  You can probably figure this stuff by the seat of your pants as it is.  There's nothing quite like diving in head-first.

Next, join a critiquing group.  They are usually cheap or free (mine is $5/year).  Go a few times and see if you like them.  These groups often have established authors in them who can offer invaluable, sage advice.  And they will help you improve your writing!  This is a real community of writers that can offer real help.

If you are having trouble writing your book, there are a few tools you can learn that will help.  So far, the BEST and more encouraging place I've found is Jim Butcher's old, never-updated livejournal.  This thing is a true goldmine.  And I'm sure with a little research, you can find other authors with truly helpful, and free, blogs.

After all of this is said and done, you have the daunting task of learning how to LIVE like a writer.  There is no course I've ever seen that will teach you this.  If you want to be successful, all the self-help books and publishing articles in the world can only take you so far.  To truly excel, you have to learn what works for you.  I have found one book that I highly recommend, which is filled with great advice that I am starting to implement into my life.  Brick By Brick, by Stephen McCraine.  Plenty of it is up for free on his site, but scroll down a little and you can find a $5 PDF version.

The ultimate step, from what I can tell, is both the easiest and the hardest.  Don't quit.  Don't let self-doubt bring you down.  Don't let poor critiques tear apart your career before it starts.  Don't give up because it is too hard.

Just keep writing.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Captain Blaze

"Hands up!  Step away from the cargo."  With a simple point of my finger, my powers coalesced into a bright spotlight that shone down on the shipping container.  "U.S. Government" was emblazoned on the side, along with a variety of Hazmat symbols.  Military men lay around it, unconscious, or worse.  A smell of ozone and gunpowder filled my lungs.  Part of the container had a large hole neatly bored into it, and standing just inside was the hunched figure of a man in a trench coat.
"Captain Blaze…" The voice was dripping with evil.  As the figure turned, he brought a hand up to block the light, but I could still recognize the unmistakable figure of my arch nemesis.
"Hollow Point," I said with a sneer.  "You've outdone yourself this time.  Come quietly and I'm sure I can convince the DA to give you a lighter sentence."
"You don't understand!" he said and backed away.  The flak jacket and weapons he wore disappeared into the darkness of the container.  "I need to take this!"
I had a feeling he wouldn't come with me.  My feet lifted off the ground and I swiftly flew to the top of the container.  "Have it your way," I said and reached down to touch the metal top.  A moment later, and I could feel the energy rushing into my hands, heating them up to the point that they glowed white and sank into the melting metal.  Then they cooled as I gripped tightly, ready to lift the shipping container off the ground.
But I never had the chance.  It rocked a little and Hollow Point jumped out.  His coat had been thrown off, revealing a metal exoskeleton.  "Nice try, Blaze.  But this time I win!"  In the dim light of the streetlamps overhead, I could just make out a box in his arms.

I recalled when General Hauser approached me earlier that week about the transport.  They'd been expecting someone to attack it and wanted my assistance.
"It's a new type of hydrocarbon detector.  It can find oil deeper than ever, over a larger area, and with greater accuracy.  This could single-handedly solve American's fuel crisis for the next hundred years."
"And you're worried someone will want to steal it?" I asked.  The harsh light overhead hurt my eyes as I tried to look into the General's face.  I felt more like I was being interrogated than debriefed.
The general leaned over the white table, placing his hands on it as he glared at me.  "These detectors use a highly radioactive source to work.  If they fell into the wrong hands, there's no telling what will happen.  The military has put what resources are available to protecting this shipment, but you and I both know how hard it is to stop a Super.  All of our Supers are engaged overseas, so we need you, Captain Blaze.  America needs you."
"I'm here for America."

Blaze was moving fast.  It was no wonder the soldiers were down; they wouldn't stand a chance against an ambush at that speed.  I tried to fly after him, but the moment my hands left the container, an explosion rocked it and bent metal in sharp curls.  I came to my senses a few seconds later with a sliver if metal in my hand.  Rage boiled over and the metal melted and fell to the ground.
"Hollow Point!" I called out and took to the air.  Sirens were sounding downtown.  In moments, I was on top of them, pointing my spotlight down on the scene below.  There was Hollow Point, caught in my own ambush.  I smirked.
A line of cars blocked his route through the street, but that wasn't what stopped him.  Behind the line of cars I had the city prepare an Electromagnetic Pulser, something I'd been working on for months.  Hollow Point lay in the street, struggling to remove the exoskeleton he had donned.  I couldn't have planned it any better.
"Darn it, Blaze!  Let me go!  These things are dangerous and I can't let them-"
"Save it, Hollow."  I descended slowly next to him.  He had dropped the box and was even having trouble lifting his own arms.  The only thing he could reach was a blow torch, which I'm sure he used on the container.  "These detectors are going back to their owners."  I picked up the box carefully, but it was indeed heavy.  Too heavy.  It slipped from my grasp as pain shot through my wounded hand.  The lid slid off and Hollow Point winced.

"What is this?" I asked, peering into the box.

Saturday, June 7, 2014


The small picture of Jess was the only thing that kept me going in those dark days of mud and death.  I kept it in a small locket she'd given me the day before I was deployed.  Whenever we had to bunker down under enemy fire or crawl face first in blood and grass just to get some strategic position, I'd keep the locket held tight in my fist or around my neck.  I kept it open at night so I could read her every letter I wrote.  She was there when our battalion got crushed, when I got shot.  The last thing I looked at before they cut off my foot was her serene smile.  She kept me going.

Or so I thought.

From the moment the dirt on the runway crunched under my shoes in my hometown to the final awkward, difficult steps up to her front door, all I could think of was how much I wanted to hold her.  I hadn't told her I was home.  I wanted to surprise her.  But when I knocked, she didn't answer the door.  I didn't know who he was, but he was wearing her perfume.

I still have the locket with her picture in it.  I know now that she couldn't wait forever, that she had to move on.  Now, the locket represents an ideal, a love we once shared, a love that still drives me on to this day.

Sunday, June 1, 2014


I recently had the opportunity to see my twin brother graduate from college for the second time.  It turns out that the degrees we got from our previous college are hardly worth the paper the diplomas are printed on.  So, my brother decided to pursue his dream career in computer animation and went to SCAD (Savanna College of Art and Design).  SCAD, in case you didn't know, is one of the big wigs. They have REAL people in the industry teaching REAL techniques on REAL equipment and software for REAL problems and projects.  Students get hired into good positions regularly.  In fact, my brother has just earned an imdb page.  It's not up yet in case you were wondering.

I am, of course, quite proud of my brother for sticking with it and doing what he loves in spite of hardships.  And his career is only beginning.  In the years to come, I fully expect to see him in the credits of major films, perhaps as lead designer or animator, or perhaps as CEO of his own animation studio.  I think he could do it.

It made me think about my own life and what is happening in it.  Where am I going and am I going about it in the right way?  I don't have the answers.  I know I'm doing a good thing being a stay-at-home dad and pursuing my dream of being a writer.  But I could do better, at both.  During the commencement speeches, I realized that one of the things most of the successful people have in common is that they were single.  So my hardships in my career will definitely be different from theirs, as I am decidedly married and parenting.  I have more limited time and flexibility; I cannot travel the world on a whim, I don't have the money to start up a company, and I won't spend 14 hours a day perfecting my craft.  But I have support.  I feel that I've been a little lax in revising my book.  I have to redouble my efforts.  I need to learn how to act like a professional.

My brother wants to start on a new project in the next few weeks and is looking for ideas.  I plan on sending him a few.  Who knows?  I may end up with my own imdb page.  This could be an opportunity for both of us, and it is one I feel we need to explore.  But I will not abandon my book for work on this project.  I will simply need to organize my time better.