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Monthly Archives: January 2011


Matthew Alexander Contest Whiners

matthew-alexander-contest-whinerThe three whiners (heh) of the Matthew Alexander contest have been picked and summarily emailed to death. Actually, they have only been emailed once but I’ve been told that my emails are pretty awful as to induce immediate termination of the reader’s life. Congratulations and enjoy Withur We.

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Typing Is Believing — Jer’s Novel Writer

Words, not Word.

I mentioned Jer’s Novel Writer before but I thought it deserved its own post.

Previously, maybe like a lot of other wannabe writers, I used Microsoft Word to write my book, which is not unlike swatting a fly with the broad side of a barn and only scraping its wing. Word was designed for business office needs and isn’t agile enough to handle large swaths of text and keeping organized very easily the things needed for book writing, particularly on the fiction side.

Additionally, being on a Mac limits my opportunities for smaller or independent apps. I’ve read tell of Scrivener and FastPencil and all of these and some other one that blanked out your entire screen except for your story’s text, but I either had to pay (I tend to be Depression-era cheap) or it just didn’t feel right.

But I eventually did find one, which was Jer’s program. It’s specifically designed for fiction writing: you can create chapters, quickly make notes a link them to certain parts for review, make a character database with descriptions, and there’s a general area where you can jot down random notes and categorize them. The best part I’ve found so far is the outline, which displays all your chapter and the first few lines. Usually I’m able to tell what the chapter is about from the first line, so it’s easy to navigate the entire manuscript.

The best part is that it’s free, although there’s an official nag window (Jer’s verbiage, not mine), that goes away when you pay.

Read more about Jer’s Novel Writer here, but caveat emptor: it makes it ridiculously easy to write, so instead of spending time slaughtering chickens on Farmville or plumbing for tweets about last night’s Daily Show you’ll be wasting away the hours being creative. Not worth it!

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Book Giveaway and Interview: Matthew Alexander

withur-we-interview-contest

The story is simple: I first heard about Matthew Alexander’s libertarian sci-fi debut, Withur We, while lurking and sort of participating in the forums at mises.org. I read the first two chapters of the free online version and checked the perfect reviews on Amazon — and, after consulting some tea leaves (drinking coffee) and tickling chicken entrails (cutting and marinating some fowl flesh) — I emailed him to do an interview. He responded and even offered to give away three signed hard copies of his book. Read the interview and then sign up for the contest, but only after tossing a virgin or two into a volcano (making sure your Compaq is plugged in).

Since you are a first-time novelist, what made you decide to make your first book Withur We? What were some of your motivations?
Matthew: Withur We is my first published novel, but I wrote a few when I was a youth. Growing up I read fantasy almost to the exclusion of anything else. It wasn’t until I developed a love for cinema that science-fiction became my primary interest. At the time I began writing Withur We, my experience with science-fiction in literature was limited to a handful of novels. I am in the process of expanding this experience.

I think science-fiction is a great format for a libertarian author, and when I made the decision to novelize my beliefs – shortly after I came out of the closet as an anarchist in January of 2005 – I never had any question about what genre it would be. There were, as you can imagine, a multitude of details to work out, but the genre was not one of them and was never second-guessed.

On the Withur We site, it’s mentioned that the protagonist, Alistair Ashley 3nn, isn’t an eloquent public speaker. As an introvert, that interested me. Without revealing too much of the plot, what were the reasons for giving him this characteristic?
Matthew: Part of it was the necessity of making a human character. It seems that people with high aptitudes in certain areas pay for it with deficits in other areas. The classic example is the genius mathematician who can’t tie his own shoes. Alistair has intelligence that is well above average and is also physically gifted to an extreme degree. I needed a character with high aptitude in these areas to write the novel, but I didn’t want to make a Marty Stu, as they are called (although I wasn’t familiar with the term at the time). Alistair has deficits in other areas, one of them being a fear of public speaking.

On another level, there is something going on here that encapsulates frustrations I feel as a libertarian. Alistair cannot get people to listen to him, at least not outside his circle of family and friends. But he does finally find himself in a position to make a difference with his actions. The physically gifted warrior/philosopher cannot sway the masses with pretty speeches, but he can teach by example, and that is what he does.

One of the dangers, I think, of fiction — especially science fiction — is that you can present any theory or idea as the most favorable, because you can “game” the fictional universe to your favor. Were there times when you thought that you were making the characters too good or too bad, or the general writing too preachy? How did you reconcile that with writing a good science fiction story?
Matthew: An excellent point. As for the characters, I was determined not to make another Atlas Shrugged, a novel I adored but which does have flaws. I never felt that Ayn Rand was fair to characters she disagreed with; I actually like some of my socialist characters (Gregory Lushington comes to mind). There are two people I would describe as thoroughly evil; the rest are, I hope, various shades of gray.

Preachiness is another concern in a novel whose protagonist preaches his morals and philosophy. The characters with whom I disagree defend themselves commensurate with their innate ability to do so. Let’s face it: socialists can be good debaters and however wrong I imagine them to be, they usually can preserve their dignity in an argument. Alistair does not ride rough-shod over his opponents. Once or twice they even leave him a bit tongue-tied. I hope that this effort to be fair to all my characters allows me to preach what I believe – generally through Alistair – without making the novel itself preachy.

As for “gaming the universe” – a good term – I think I created a pretty hostile environment for libertarianism. Without giving away too much, I’ll say that Alistair does not waltz over his enemies and create libertopia.

I’m fairly new to Austrian economic theory, and there’s a lot to learn (and unlearn). How would you describe it to someone like me? Don’t be afraid to say “anarchy”…
Matthew: Austrian Economic Theory and anarchy are certainly related, but not all anarchists are Austrians and not all Austrians are anarchists. The Austrians have a different approach to epistemology, meaning a different approach for getting knowledge. Mainstream economists usually try to imitate the hard sciences, while Austrians approach economics a bit more like philosophy. We hold as axiomatic the insight that human beings have goals and act to meet those goals. We hold it as axiomatic because the very act of disputing it would itself be proving the axiom correct. This is the one, truly a priori part of Austrian Economics. We also recognize that while a physicist is dealing with matter, forces and energy, an economist is dealing with a decision making unit, and therefore the economist cannot always, or even usually, imitate the way a physicist approaches his problems.

There is so much more to it, but that is the fundamental difference. It’s not that we reach difference conclusions – there are times when we somewhat agree with the supply-siders, for instance – it’s how we come to our conclusions. Our approach is radically different.

In your opinion, what aspect of Austrian libertarianism (private property, little/no government, voluntary/contractual society, etc.) is the most prevalent in Withur We?
Matthew: The one idea I would like the reader to come away with is that all relationships should be voluntary. When a society, which is made up of individuals and their relationships with each other, bases its relationships on coercion, rather than consent and private property, it can destroy itself and other societies.

What do you do for a “real job”?
Matthew: I do a lot of work with immigrants, originally as a Spanish interpreter but my role has expanded of late. Much of Withur We was written during the down time waiting for clients.

Are there plans for a sequel?
Matthew: Indeed there are, although Withur We was conceived as a stand-alone novel. The plot for a sequel practically writes itself, I would say. However, my next book, which I am almost ready to start writing, is not going to be the sequel.

To win one of three signed copies of Withur We, all you need to do is subscribe (email subscription) to my blog via the form in the left column — also, thought it’s not necessary for an entry, please direct your interest to Matthew’s twitter and facebook. The winners will be chosen at random, and the contest ends at 8 AM next Sunday (1/30/11). If you’ve already subscribed and want to enter the contest, just send me an email: jay@jaydinitto.com, and you’ll be “in there” like Prego.

EDIT: Contest is now closed but there are still bananas at your local grocer.

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How to Not Be Fat

In this post I’m taking a break from being gaseous about writing or my thoughts one of the dozens (literally…dozens) of books that have been published throughout history to post about your big gut and fat butt. Because honestly, dude and miss, you’re pretty fat and you need to lose weight. Now it’s fine if you want to follow some nutritional or exercise programs — some people do better and need that kind of framework — but it’s not necessary. Certainly, pre-modern man didn’t have a Jane Fonda among their hairy ranks, and they spent their spare time overhead pressing sabretooths, before and after mating. All you need is this post and a nice punch in the face from a loved one to get you going.

EAT
lean meats (fish, chicken, turkey, etc., some say fatty meats aren’t bad) or tofu
vegetables (any/all, some exceptions [see below])
Eggs/egg whites
Olive oil
spices (any/all…sounds weird, but spices do a bunch of good things behind the scenes)
beans, nuts (any/all), legumes, etc.
some fruits
some/little dairy (differing opinions on this)
some/little/no grains (differing opinions on this)
Water (6-8 glasses a day is way overboard…if you’re eating right you get plenty of water from food)
Coffee/tea
Dark chocolate (yes! small amounts)

NO EAT
Corn, potatoes
White flour
Excess salt
Sugar
Soda (includes “diet”)
Fruit juice
Candy
Chips
Most baked goods
Anything not canned that has an expiration date years from now
Everything else you know you’re not supposed to eat

EXERCISE
Depends on your level of fitness, but 3 or 4 days a week of heavy exercise (resistance training and/or intense cardio, and no, walking is not exercise) for 45-60 minutes is good. There’s plenty of programs you can find online. If you’re really overweight, any kind of movement is good, but after a certain point doing more resistance to keep building and/or maintaining muscle mass might be a good idea.

Dudes: no need to get huge and pound your system with protein shakes to be in shape…and stop being scared of salads.

Ladies: don’t be afraid of the weights and the pull up bar. You won’t get bulky unless you’re doping it up. And don’t be fooled by gender-specific marketing, either. What dudes do for exercise, women can do too.

There’s no such thing as “targeting” fat areas. You can’t lose weight in one place, you just lose it.

Don’t buy workout machines you see on QVC. This guy didn’t get in shape by shaking a stupid stick. Free weights/kettlebells/bands/your own body weight and a pull up bar are enough.

SLEEP
6-8 consecutive hours a day. It rebuilds and repairs traumatized (exercised) muscles, relieves stress, makes you actually feel good and more motivated to exercise, and a bunch of other things.

There you have it from a highly amateur source: heed this at your own risk. Some of you may disagree with some of the info here, and that’s okay. I’m not giving bodybuilding advice or diagnosing specific health problems. Take it for what it is.

And now to bookend this post with literature-related references, I will be posting a new interview and contest very soon, but only if you lose 10 pounds. Motivation!

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Grammar Be Difficult

This is more for my own reference than anyone else’s reading this. I tend to get snagged when I’m hitting that sweet typing spot and there’s a simple grammar issue of which I’m unsure of a rule governing it, and I have to stop and think of technicalities instead of letting the words flow. Usually I just end up typing a note (I use Jer’s Novel Writing software, but that is a post for another time), which makes it super easy to insert notes for future reference, but the fact that I need to detour my mind-traffic (they don’t travel very easily for me) is a bugger.

There’s two issues that always trip me, and I can never quite remember the rules. Until now. The first is who/whom, the other is lie/lay.

I will leave it to other sites to go into the technical details, but I wrote one kind of awkward, vaguely sexualized sentence that traps both of these cretinous little insects, Ralph Macchio-style:

Who lays whom, then Who lies itself.

In short, a “who” acts and a “whom” is being acted upon. An actor “lays” things (wink nudge), and something passively “lies” by being placed by an actor. Usually it’s inanimate objects that are “laid”, but you can lay people, as in: “The satisfied zombie laid the brainless doctor onto the gurney.” Sorry for making the prurience a little bit more intense with that one.

That sentence is only for the present tense, mind you; conjugated forms will require something else. If one can stick all of that, along with the “there/they’re/their” atrocity into one grand unified sentence or some kind of stanza, Stephen Hawking will find himself blushing with infatuation.

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Mike Duran Contest Weiner

mike-duran-contest-weinerCongratulations go out to Matt Uhrich, a fellow Pennsylvanian and writer, for winning the Mike Duran contest and receiving a copy of The Resurrection. Happy reading, Matt — be sure to stretch and fluid up before the first page.

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Jesus For President, Moses for Speaker of the House

Josh Dies, vocalist for the band Showbread, has invited people to the band’s paid forum (for free) for a reading and discussion of the book Jesus For President, by Shane Claiborne. It’s not a new book, but it has caused some waves because of its somewhat controversial politics and visual design (I don’t know how something so design-heavy could possibly offer a coherent, complete political statement, but that is secondary).

I don’t think I’ll read it, at least not now, but it will be interesting to follow the discussions. From what I know of the book it’s encouraging American Christians to lean less towards Moral Majority Christianized politics to welfare state Christianized politics. I wonder if anyone in the discussion group will undercut the premise that, instead of using the state’s armed, coercive power to enforce moral law and unnecessary warfare, Jesus would want the church to use it to accomplish a zero-sum-gain wealth redistribution (“pay us or go to jail”). I’m guessing not a lot, if any.

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Only Neil Knows How Women Are

I was listening to one of my favorite Rush albums, Counterparts, the other day, and a line jumped out at me. From “Cold Fire”:

She said, “Just don’t disappoint me
You know how complex women are”

It seemed like the second line could be taken two different ways, and it’s best to describe the difference by rewriting the line. The first way is like this:

You know how women that are complex are.

This implies that some women have the quality of being complex and that they act a certain way because of it. The second, like this:

You know how much women are complex.

This one implies that all women are complex, usually to a noticeably high degree.

Both versions don’t have a huge difference in meaning. I just enjoyed the ambiguity of it.

For the grander context, here are the entire lyrics. I particularly like the parallel construction using “cold fire” in the penultimate section. Lyrics are by Neil Peart and I completely did not get any permission from anyone to reproduce them. Cheers!

It was long after midnight
When we got to unconditional love
She said, “Sure, my heart is boundless
But don’t push my limits too far”
I said, “If love was so transcendent
I don’t understand these boundaries”
She said, “Just don’t disappoint me
You know how complex women are”

I’ll be around
If you don’t let me down too far
I’ll be around
If you don’t let me down

It was just before sunrise
When we started on traditional roles
She said, “Sure, I’ll be your partner
But don’t make too many demands”
I said, “If love has these conditions
I don’t understand those songs you love”
She said, “This is not a love song
This isn’t fantasyland”

Don’t go too far
A phosphorescent wave on a tropical sea is a cold fire
Don’t cross the line
The pattern of moonlight on the bedroom floor is a cold fire
Don’t let me down
The flame at the heart of a pawnbroker’s diamond is a cold fire
Don’t break the spell
The look in your eyes as you head for the door is a cold fire

Love is blind if you are gentle
Love can turn to a long, cold burn…

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Correction on the Mike Duran Contest

If you’ve already entered, direct thine oculars to the note at the bottom of the interview to make sure you are truly, truly, entered — then go whack a badly-rendered effigy of me, pinata-style (I am filled with Hot Tamales…they’re my favorite.).

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Book Giveaway and Interview: Mike Duran

book-giveaway-and-interview-mike-duranEDIT: See the bottom of the post…

Mike Duran is the author of The Resurrection, due out this February 1. He also has written a zillion blog posts about religious belief, speculative fiction, and getting published — and he can probably bench press you. I’ve won two contests that he’s held, so it only makes sense that I do one for his new book. See the end of the interview to see how to win a copy of The Resurrection.

What’s The Resurrection about?
Mike: The story revolves around a remarkably ordinary housewife who inadvertently raises a boy from the dead, and the chain reaction those events precipitate. I have always been fascinated by alleged miracles, and how differently people deal with such allegations. On one hand are those who completely deny that miracles can occur. On the other hand are those who sensationalize everything, and turn the miraculous into a three ring circus. In the middle, are the rest of us who grapple with the intersections of science and superstition, fact and faith. This is a story about people who occupy those extremes, and some who land in the middle.

How would you describe your writing style?
Mike: Hmm. That’s a tough one. According to the website “I Write Like” writing analyzer, I write like William Gibson. Gibson’s been called the father of the “Cyberpunk” sub-genre, which throws a bit of a monkey wrench into any comparison. I have always been enamored with atmospheric novels and films, especially of the gothic, nour-ish kind. I also have a great fondness for literary books. So if you put those things in a blender and mix them up, I probably write something like “gothic noir” with a twist of Gibson.

Your blog is the first one I’ve ever read that mentioned the subgenre “speculative fiction”. Can you explain it better than Wikipedia does, and how The Resurrection fit into it?
Mike: Yeah, “speculative fiction” is pretty broad. It’s an umbrella term for fiction that involves supernatural, paranormal, and pseudo-scientific topics. In that sense, a whole bunch of genres may fit into the spec-fic category: horror, science fiction, paranormal romance, etc. My novel falls into that speculative fiction category because it contains some paranormal elements (via a specter, premonitions, and a territorial entity) and tinkers with many religious and philosophical questions.

A lot of writers are pulled between actual story writing and maintaining their blog. How do you handle your situation?
Mike: This is a very important issue to me, Jay. And frankly, it’s a very hard balance to maintain. Which is why many published authors either don’t blog or, when they do, they blog sporadically. Seems like every 6 months or so I reevaluate whether I should continue blogging. I usually emerge feeling that I get more out of blogging than I put into it.

There’s several reasons why I think blogging works for me. For one, I concentrate on things that really interest me: writing, religion, philosophy, culture, art. Also, I’m not afraid to ask hard questions, point out the obvious, and challenge the status quo. The reason I point that out is because I’ve discovered that many aspiring authors are rather reluctant to speak their mind and breach controversial subjects for fear of hurting their publishing chances. While I have made my share of enemies, being abrasively honest had also won me a few fans. Also, I approach blogging as a break to my novel writing, rather than as a drain from it. After working on a fictional story for hours, it is refreshing to blog about something totally unrelated. Finally, blogging works for me because I don’t do it every day. I’ve noticed when people blog every day, it tends to show in thinning content.

What are some of the non-writing things that you do or have happened to you that you think inspire your own writing?
Mike: I was raised in a pretty dysfunctional home. My father was an alcoholic and my family kind of fractured because of that. Expectations for me were pretty low growing up and, as a result, I lived “down” to them and fell into all kinds of trouble. Nevertheless, I had some creative talents that always seemed to buoy me during darker times. Writing was one of them.

I asked a rhetorical question in Facebook a while back: “Am I ‘running to’ or ‘running from’?” For me, writing is like running: running away from something I could have been, and running to someone I want to be. It’s definitely escapist, one of those creative outlets that has become cathartic and therapeutic for me.

Do you have any ideas for future books that you’d care to share?
Mike: I am contracted for one more book. My next novel is about a disfigured modern-day prophet who must overcome his own despair in time to seal one of nine mythical gates of hell. It will explore concepts of destiny and identity, the power of words and choices, as well as the tethers between myth and fact.

To win a free copy of The Resurrection, all you need to do is subscribe (email subscription) to my blog via the form in the left column (though you don’t need to, it would be nice if you subscribed to Mike’s blog as well). The winner will be chosen at random, and the contest ends at 8 AM next Wednesday (1/12/11). If you’ve already subscribed and want to enter the contest, just send me an email: jay@jaydinitto.com, and you’ll be “in there” like Prego.

EDIT: Though I didn’t specify, to enter the contest properly you need to email subscribe to my blog, not the subscribe through the RSS feed. I have no way of knowing who subscribes through RSS, so I can’t record entries that way — and I know a bunch of you have already done that. Feel free to unsubscribe from the emails when the contest is over if you feel like it. No evils will befall you if you do so…well, they may befall you for other reasons, but I can guarantee it’s not from this.

EDIT #2: Contest is now closed. Go pole vaulting over playgrounds and extravagantly shower the amazed children with rainbow-colored manna from up your sleeves.

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