My Thoughts on Wonder Woman

So, as usual, I’m not going to really give much away. Actually, I’ll give away as little as possible, because my recommendation with Wonder Woman is that you should definitely go see it if you’re a fan of comic-book films.

Seriously. Wonder Woman is a good DC movie. And good movie in general. Really good.

How good? This film is up to Marvel standards. That good.

Am I going to spoil it for you? No. You will see some fantastic acting by Gal Gadot and Chris Pine both. You will see some excellent scenes of camaraderie between the cast, some great scenery shots, and some awesome realism.

Yes, realism. In a comic book movie. One of the things I did enjoy about this movie was that people and clothes got torn up and dirtied up … unlike a lot of films where characters just somehow stay looking perfect through the whole thing.

The fight scenes are also quite good. They could have been better, actually, and this is one of my criticisms. One of the early trailers actually showed a single-shot fight scene that, for whatever reason, was cut into a number of cuts in the final movie, which took away from it.

But even with those minor criticisms, the movie was just great. Good characters, awesome action, nice story … Like I said, it felt like a Marvel movie.

Do yourself a favor and just go see it. It’s great.

Oh, and as a side note: If Colony ever becomes a film or a show, Anna versus anyone else would end up looking a bit like Wonder Woman versus regular folks in this film. A dangerous, very capable Amazon.

Where Amazon Can Improve for Authors and Readers

Well this post has been a long time in coming.

No, seriously. We’re currently on Topic List IX, right? This post was a considered topic back on topic list VIII. Or maybe it was VII. I only started keeping track of carry-over topics with list number IX.

Point being, this one’s had a while to stew. It wasn’t a proper topic for Being a Better Writer, which meant that it needed to get it’s own posting on a day that wasn’t Monday, and so … well, after a few months of looking for time, here we are.

So, to the task at hand, then: Where Amazon can improve. I’ll warn you now, if you’re one of those readers that bears a solid dislike, or a powerful grudge against Amazon for some reason, this probably isn’t going to be the post for you. Likewise if you’re one of those convinced that the rise of Amazon will be the downfall of all that is holy about books and the publishing industry. See, while no company is perfect, from my perspective Amazon’s entrance into the publishing industry, along with its associated push in favor of ebooks and a more open publishing sphere, is a good one. Not perfect, but good.

Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement, and that’s where today’s post comes in. See, I’ve been published on Amazon for several years now, and while I do like their service … it’s not perfect. No, far from it. There’s actually quite a bit of room for improvement, quite a few flaws that really could be fixed up to make Amazon’s publishing—and specifically, their Kindle service—not only more appealing, but easier and simpler to use. And I worry that since Amazon has entered a position of dominance as far as indie publishing goes, they’re simply going to do what they have been doing—which is rest on their laurels—rather than really looking to improve their service on both ends. Because as a platform that I sell my products on, I want my readers to have the very best experience. And if Amazon doesn’t improve, well, that leaves it open for someone else to sneak in offering services and advantages that, quite honestly, Amazon should have added years ago.

Right, enough beating around the bush. To put it plainly and simply, Amazon has stagnated. The only reason that they’re still on top is that no one else has come along offering anything better in large enough quantities to entice Amazon’s authors and clientele away. But the truth is, it’s only a matter of time until that does happen. Anyone who’s used Amazon’s Kindle service has undoubtedly looked at it and thought “You know, this would be so much better if …” and inevitably, the someone who thinks that is going to be in a position to do something about it and create something better. At which point a lot of authors might jump ship to the newer, better service.

Customers, too, because what you’re about to look at is not just a collection of what improvements Amazon needs to make for authors. No, customers need improvements as well … and Amazon isn’t delivering them. Again, they’re resting on their laurels, content for the time being to simply do little or nothing to improve their service. And that needs to change.

So, let’s talk about customer improvements first to Amazon’s Kindle and Self-Publishing services. What needs to be improved that’s fallen drastically by the wayside?

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Fisking an Anti-Amazon Article From the New Republic

Oh boy. I woke up this morning to see this article on the front page of r/books, and you  know … I’ve never fisked anything … but this piece couldn’t be ignored. For those not in the know, a “fisking” is when someone replies point by point to the salient points of an article, offering a piece by piece rebuttal. I’ll let you read the original article first, so you can get it in your mind, but it’s just part of the continuing—You know what? You be the judge. Read the article, then check this rebuttal.

The quoted article bits are both quoted and italicized. My responses are the normal text.

So, let’s get started.

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A Fantastic Quote Concerning Shame Culture

This thought-provoking quote was brought to my attention this last Sunday at one of the LDS General Conference sessions, where it was quoted from a 2016 New York Times article on “Shame Culture.” I’m sharing it because of its insightful look into why the current “shaming” trend doesn’t work, and isn’t a basis for a stable society. Just thought-provoking.

“In a guilt culture you know you are good or bad by what your conscience feels. In a shame culture you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you, by whether it honors or excludes you. … [In the shame culture,] moral life is not built on the continuum of right and wrong; it’s built on the continuum of inclusion and exclusion. …

“… Everybody is perpetually insecure in a moral system based on inclusion and exclusion. There are no permanent standards, just the shifting judgment of the crowd. It is a culture of oversensitivity, overreaction and frequent moral panics, during which everybody feels compelled to go along. …”

“The guilt culture could be harsh, but at least you could hate the sin and still love the sinner. The modern shame culture allegedly values inclusion and tolerance, but it can be strangely unmerciful to those who disagree and to those who don’t fit in.”

         —David Brooks, “The Shame Culture,” New York Times, Mar. 15, 2016

Being a Better Writer: Taxes

Fair warning, this is not going to be a happy post. A lot of times I try to deliver good news or positive vibes with my posts, but today? Well, today you’re probably going to leave unhappy. You’ll see why in a bit.

So, you’ve been published! Your book is out in the wild, selling copies and making you dough! Success! You’re on the way to riches, watching with glee and satisfaction as money slowly funnels into your bank accounts or arrives in publisher’s checks.

For many young authors, this is “the end” of the line as far as they are concerned when it comes to money. They wrote the book, and now royalties roll in. End of story, right?

No, unfortunately. It’s the end of the book’s story, but it’s not the end of the writers. Even if they create a one-hit wonder and call it quits afterwards … they can’t just sit back and relax. Because sooner or later, the IRS will come calling.

Now, from my mention of the IRS, you may rightfully realize that yes, I’m speaking about taxes as a US writer, and any specifics that I’m going to offer are going to be focused around my experiences with the US tax system. Which isn’t to say that if you’re not a US citizen you won’t find something to gain from this post, but it may be more general advice than specific. Regardless of where you live, after all, you’re going to have taxes of some kind. They may not be exactly like what I speak of here, but they may be similar.

Anyway, first things first. You will pay taxes on your book sales.

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Merry Christmas From Unusual Things!

It’s that time of year once again.

Okay, so it has been for a while now. This post is probably a little late to comment on the “arrival” of the season, seeing as Christmas Eve is tomorrow, and Christmas Day—Well, it comes right after Christmas Eve. That’s kind of a given.

The season isn’t “coming.” It’s here. And I’ll be honest, it’s one of my favorite seasons. For a lot of reasons. Like hot chocolate. The wondrous drink known as eggnog (non-alcoholic, just to be clear). Upbeat music about finding happiness and joy in family, faith, or even just the most ordinary things (I mean, think about it, what other season gets music that urges us to look at the weather and enjoy it so wholeheartedly?).

But those are all … elements. Things. And to be fair, I can enjoy them any time of the year. So while they’re part the pieces that make up the Christmas holiday … they’re not Christmas itself. They’re not integral. They’re signs of Christmas. By-products.

Because Christmas is about more than just hot chocolate, pretty lights, music, or snow. Thankfully, since I don’t even have that last one at the moment. Or the lights. But I don’t have to, because Christmas isn’t about those things. They add to it, but only because we let it.

Christmas is built, not on those, but on something grander.

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Advent Beware: X-Com Character Pack Preview!

Ever played X-Com? It’s a pretty classic series, hailing from the early 90s, that puts the player in the boots of the “Commander” of an anti-alien task force, tasked with countering an alien threat to life on Earth.

The original trilogy is well-known among PC aficionados as one of the golden series of the early 90s, offering steep, punishing gameplay, plenty of challenge, a brutal-but-rewarding sense of success as you learned to carefully juggle research, politics, and—most importantly of all—your soldiers to beat back the alien threat. Later sequels continued the trend of working with highly interconnected systems that gave players a vast array of freedom (though not success) to work with to counter the alien threat.

Of course, this series is now over two decades old, making replaying some of these older titles more than a bit difficult (not that it was ever easy in the first place). Thankfully, sometimes good things do get to come around again, and in our modern day and age, the series has been rebooted with X-Com: Enemy Unknown, and then the more simply named X-Com 2.

Like all good sequels, X-Com 2 built on the foundation before it, including one of X-Com‘s most popular ones: the ability to create and customize the soldiers under your command, right down to their names, looks, and their biography.

In other words, a determined player could create themselves and their friends in a game, then send them out against the alien threat to see how things shake out. Or create very creative likenesses of favorite characters from other sources.

X-Com 2 seized on this popularity both by giving players more customization options than ever (except when it came to faces, sadly), and by making incredibly easy to import and export character files. Meaning that anyone can invest a bit of time into the character creator and not only enjoy watching friends, family, or heroes try to save the earth in their game, but can share them with others as well so that those they know can do the same.

Right, that’s the background. Mostly for those of you who don’t play X-Com and would otherwise have no idea what this post was referring to.

You can create replications of anyone. Including characters from books. See where this is going, yet?

Yeah. Within hours of acquiring X-Com 2 for myself a few months ago, I’d spent less than three hours playing the game, and more than five hours sitting down and recreating a bunch of characters from my books and work in X-Com‘s character creator.

I’m pretty happy with the results. They’re not perfect, but I’m entirely accepting of that since I get to watch Colony‘s Anna tear through the Advent like there’s no tomorrow.

And you know what? You should be able to too.

Unfortunately, I’m still trying to figure out a way to host the Character Pools so that anyone who’s curious can download and import them (WordPress won’t let me do it without some technical trickery might not even work, and even then would have to be undone by anyone who downloaded said packs), so they’re not available just yet, but I figured I’d give you all a quick look at what you can expect when you add said packs to the game. So far I’ve got two ready for deployment, one for Colony and one for the Unusual Universe (One Drink, etc). I just need to figure out hosting, like I said. I may end up working them through the Steam Workshop. Anyway, let’s give you that look I promised. Some of it may not make sense if you’re not acquainted with X-Com, but a look at a visual rep of some favorite characters can still be fun, right?

And, for legalese, I don’t own X-Com or claim any of the rights to it. Duh.

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