Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Cage Year One

My Cage was a comic strip that I enjoyed reading on the King Features' web site. The problem with King Features is they only permit you to read seven strips each month (unless you buy a subscription). And they only syndicated this strip for 2 1/2 years before canceling it.

So I was happy to learn that the authors have published this anthology of the first year's strips. My Cage is about Norm Platypus, an aspiring writer who sells out and takes a job as a cog in the corporate machine. Most of the supporting characters are a bit one dimensional, almost like they're representative of archetypes instead of people. But the interaction between these archetypes is really well done and makes for some great humor. The humor comes on a range of topics, from light & friendly insults to nerd culture and even a bit of existentialism. One of my favorite strips poked fun at the anthropomorphic nature of the comic strip characters while explaining why a mouse would keep a dog for a pet.

Two disappointments: 1) I was disappointed in the print quality of the book. The original strips were in color, but the book is in black and white (only the cover is in color). Also, the print quality is bit grainy. 2) Also in the second year, some strips suggested that the My Cage take place after the disappearance of humans. I wasn't able to access enough strips to find out the real story. So I was hoping the book would shed some more light on the mystery. No such luck.

Still My Cage Year One is a good collection of enjoyably funny strips. So it's worth the price. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Magic of the Guitar

A collection of thirteen classical guitar songs from various composers, including Bach, Beethoven, Debussy and Pachelbel. (The performers are not identified.)

The music is gentle, soothing, and beautiful. It's not quite meditation music, but relaxing enough to serve as such. It's also a great CD to play while preparing for bed at night. It will help you sleep.

I also learned from this CD that Bach's Bourré can be played much slower than I had been playing it and still sound quite lovely.

I recommend Magic of the Guitar to anyone who enjoys meditation or classical music, or to anyone who just wants to relax for an hour. For guitar students, the CD also provides excellent examples of how these songs should sound.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Prospero's Children

It's rare that I decide not to finish reading a sci fi novel. But I decided not to finish Prospero's Children.

First of all, I think the book was mislabeled. Even though it's clearly a fantasy, this book should have been in the young adult section. The protagonists are 16 and 12 years old, suggesting that the book was aimed at readers of the same age. Jan Siegel does a wonderful job of creating an environment, setting a scene and even a mood with elaborately descriptive text.
But her characters fall flat.

Fern, the main character is a typical 16 year old who suddenly finds herself able to do magic without any training. She finds herself in the middle of a tug-of-war between much older powers all searching for the key to ancient magic. Of course, Fern finds it first. Then it's stolen and she has to get it back. This is the point where I quit reading. Fern's motivation was poorly developed and I didn't care if she got it back or not. Ragginbone, who takes on the role of Fern's mentor, has less passion than a rock. Alimond, the first villain, in spite of being hundreds of years old, is careless and spiteful; no challenge even for a 16 year old. Azmordis, the second villain, is more subtle and calculating, but he's dull and without motivation.

Overall, the book was boring and was becoming a chore to read. I quit about 1/2 way through.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Marketing to Women

Marketing to Women: How to Understand, Reach, and Increase Your Share of the Largest Market SegmentMarketing to Women: How to Understand, Reach, and Increase Your Share of the Largest Market Segment

I wanted to read this book because I produce a unique line of adult hypnosis recordings for women and I need help reaching and selling to women. Unfortunately, I didn't find any new or phenomenal marketing strategy I could use. But I did find the book interesting and useful in a way the author probably didn't intend.

This book spends a lot of time illustrating the differences in the way men and women think about products, the way they gather and evaluate information, and the way they make purchasing decisions. In the end, it's easy to understand why you emphasize how the products make a woman's life easier or less complicated, and why third-party product reviews and word-of-mouth are such important parts of a marketing campaign for most products. These strategies not new. Even as an novice marketer, I had already tried to adopt them. But now I understand more about how to make them work [with products like cell phones and computers]. Unfortunately, with my uniquely sexual products, word-of-mouth isn't an option. And only small niche magazines are willing to post reviews.

But while this book wasn't as helpful to me in marketing as it would be to someone with a more mainstream product, it has become helpful in my fiction writing. As a man, I struggle to develop and write believable, 3-dimensional female characters. In the past my female characters were either indistigusiable from men (their thoughts and actions were pretty much the same), or they were 1-dimensional sex objects (they became idealized sexual fantasy characters)

Marketing to Women so clearly illustrated the differences in ways that men and women approach problems, that it has helped me develop and write more unique and gender-believable characters. So now while I'm writing my first full-length erotic novel, I can write a female character who is caring and supportive while still being strong and sensual... and hopefully unique.

Marketing to Women is a good book and worth reading for both marketers and fiction writers. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Joy of Writing Sex

The Joy of Writing Sex: A Guide for Fiction WritersI've read more than a dozen books on writing, and The Joy of Writing Sex: A Guide for Fiction Writers is one of my favorites. I don't remember when I read the book, I don't even know what happened to my copy. But I clearly remember the good advice and two of the examples used to illustrate that advice.

Having read a few dozen (hundred?) erotic stories, I can safely say that most read essentially the same. You could copy the scene from one book to another with little to no changes.

Benedict describes how to write unique sexual scenes by basing the description in the characters' perceptions. One of the best examples is short scene described from a musician's point of view. The sex is described in musical terms of 'beat', 'harmony', and 'rhythm'. Another example is about an immigrant woman. The sexual scene, as described from her viewpoint, shows the contrast between the room she's currently occupying and where she previously lived.

I haven't done justice to the examples. You have to read them to see how they work and why they provide a unique reading experience. But I can tell you that Benedict's advice, writing in terms that are unique to your POV character, is good advice for any fiction writer. And her examples illustrate her advice excellently.

I recommend The Joy of Writing Sex to all aspiring writers (especially you guys at mcstories and

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

Agent to the Stars was the 4th Scalzi book I've read and enjoyed. This is not hardcore science fiction like Old Man's War. It's a light farce in a sci fi setting, like The Android's Dream.

The Yherajk are an alien race that want to start diplomatic and trade relations with Earth. Except that they have a problem. They look like jell-o and smell like rotting fish. Scalzi's main character, Thomas Stein is a smart, ambitious and capable Hollywood talent agent. He's a rising star within the agency where he works. So he's the perfect choice to facilitate humanity's introduction to an alien race. He becomes their agent.

The action proceeds from 'a typical day in the life' to absurd, through tragedy, to even more absurd. The writing is smooth and engaging, the characters are very likeable. Scalzi also includes a bit of a philosophical discussion about the morality of the alien's ability to possess and control other sentient life forms; just enough to stimulate the reader's mind, but not so much as to distract from the characters or the enjoyable story.

This book is a fast, easy read. Anyone who enjoys sci fi or light farcical comedies will enjoy Agent to the Stars

Sunday, November 28, 2010

D'Addario Composite Guitar Strings twang

D'Addario Pro-Arte EJ46C Heavy Nylon Composite Classical Guitar StringsA few weeks ago,  I was trying to play a song with several whole notes held while playing a small scale, and I couldn't sustain the whole notes long enough. So my guitar teacher suggested I try the D'Addario Pro-Arte EJ46C Heavy Nylon Composite Classical Guitar Strings.

These strings do seem to have a longer sustain than the strings I was using before, but I didn't like the initial tonal quality. When I first put the EJ46C strings on my guitar, they had an awful twangy tonal quality.  It took about 2 1/2-3 weeks for that twang to disappear. Now they sound better, closer to the soft mellow tone that I prefer. (Except the G-string, of course)

I prefer the tonal quality of the D'Addario Pro-Arte EXP44 Extra Heavy Nylon Coated Classical Guitar Strings, but the fact is, I do have relatively weak fingers, and I find it more difficult to hold longer notes on these strings. Not sure if I'll go back them or try to find something in between.

Edit, Jan 4, 2011. I've had the strings on my guitar for a few months now. And I like them even less. The sound quality seems to be affected by the atmospheric humidity. The drying the air, the worse these strings sound.  

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Parallelities by Alan Dean Foster

Parallelities by Alan Dean Foster

I consider myself to be a casual/occasional fan of Alan Dean Foster. I've read about a dozen of his books and found them all to be moderately enjoyable.

Parallelities is about a sarcastic and imaginative tabloid reporter who suddenly begins traveling through parallel dimensions. The plot is hardly original. Heinlein's Job: A Comedy of Justice used the same plot, as did the Star Trek TNG episode, Parallels. However, where STC was a serious episode, and Heinlein was poking fun at religion, Foster pokes fun at someone else who really deserves it, tabloid reporters.

Foster's character, Max Parker is an arrogant, sarcastic and imaginative writer with no social conscious or professional ethics. He embellishes his stories for entertainment value and has no qualms about it. So it is both poetic and supremely ironic that his life suddenly becomes even more fantastic than the stories he writes. Moving swiftly from one world to the next he never has time to adjust or get his bearings. He meets his counterparts, then aliens and their counterparts. The events/worlds get more and more absurd. And because things are happening to himself, there is no outside verifiable source, he is not allowed to write about what's happening. Ironic, yes?

While reading the book, I thought it went on a little too long. But as I think back on it now, I realize that the length worked for Foster's purpose. Parker isn't just shifting into parallel worlds, he's descending into madness, a personal hell where he can no longer tell what is real and what is fake. It's the perfect punishment for a tabloid reporter, or any reporter who embellishes their reports for entertainment's sake.

If you're a fan of satire, poetic justice, irony, or Alan Dean Foster,Parallelities is worth reading.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Heart of the Dragon

I've mentioned before that one of my listeners suggested I read some paranormal romances. So this week, after reading Allan Steele's Galaxy Blues, I picked up Gena Showalter's Heart of the Dragon.

It's a bit of rollercoaster ride switching from sci fi to paranormal romance, but also a bit enlightening. Steel introduces his main characters by their actions. Gena introduces hers by their emotions. Steel describes his character's escape from a space ship with detailed descriptions of the character's actions supported by his thoughts about those actions. Showalter's characters spend the first few chapters fighting unexpected sexual attraction and arousal. Their passion and their reactions to that passion are the main focus of her writing.

As a man, of course, I find it more enjoyable to read about space ships and alien encounters. But I did learn something very interesting from reading Heart of the Dragon. Showalter's characters experience intense sexual desire beyond their understanding or their control; as if their bodies had already decided to mate, and it just took a while for their minds to catch up. The overwhelming intensity of their passion made them feel more alive than anything else in their lives. The whole story reminds me of forced arousal sexual fantasies.

In these fantasies, a lover/seducer arouses your body beyond your control. No matter how hard you try to fight it, your body becomes driven by mind-numbing arousal, and all you can do is lay back and surrender until your body gets what it needs. There are at least two differences: 1) in sexual fantasies one person is deliberately trying to arouse the other, where Showalter has both characters fighting a mutual desire, and 2) in a sexual fantasy, it usually only takes a few pages for the seduced to be overcome, and Showalter's characters require most of a novel. But the primary plot is still about fighting your own body's desire.

When I wrote Demon Seed, I wrote it as a forced arousal fantasy. And I had thought (foolish man that I am) that this genre was completely separate/different than romance stories. But now I understand why my listener said the recording would appeal to readers of romance novels. Although the storytelling styles are somewhat different, the genres do overlap.






Monday, April 26, 2010

Dark Lover by J.R. Ward

I don't normally read paranormal romances, but after a conversation with one of my customers, I thought I should look into it. On her recommendation, I started reading Dark Lover (Black Dagger Brotherhood, Book 1). And I have to say, I was a bit surprised. This is not what I expected from a romance novel.

None of that sappy pining away for the perfect lover. No mushy courting or poetry. Ward's hero makes women feel raw animal lust beyond their control. He turns two women's brains to instant mush just by his presence. In fact, the women's responses in at least two scenes very closely resemble many scenes in the mind control porn at The Mind Control Story Archive.

Naturally, Ward's hero is better developed and much more interesting than any character found in amateur porn. And the provoked lust is just a small component of her stories as a opposed to the focus of mind control porn. But now I understand why my customer said that my hypnotic audio stories would appeal to the same audience as Dark Lover. We both 1) aim to develop sympathetic and identifiable characters, and 2) aim to provoke intense erotic feelings in our characters and our audience.

The backstory for Wrath, the male lead, was also very interesting. This is a strong, but flawed character who doesn't understand his own worth. He is the hereditary king of the vampires, but he has refused to accept the throne because he blames himself for his parents death. After 300 years of living alone, he is surprised to find a woman that can make him feel any emotion beyond self loathing. And it is through the desire to be worthy of that woman that he finally starts to accept that he might be worthy of more himself.

I found the villains of the story to be superficial and a bit forced, but they played a crucial role in Wrath's decision to become more than he previously was.

Overall, Dark Lover is a fairly good book. Enjoyable even for those of us who'd rather read sci fi than romance.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hegel Texts And Commentary: Theology

Hegel Texts And Commentary: Theology

Bad typography and bad layout make this book nearly impossible to read. I've read about a dozen introductions to various philosophers, and this was absolutely the worst one. The book is so poorly laid out, that you can't even tell where some paragraphs begin and end. The translation is on the left pages, the commentary on the right pages. But there's no change in typography between the pages, so the section headings and text seem to jump incoherently.

If you want to learn about Hegel philosophy, I suggest finding another source.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Shadows in the Starlight by Elaine Cunningham

Shadows in the Starlight (Changeling)
I picked this book up at the library. Didn't know that it was a sequel to another book which I hadn't read. In fact, I didn't figure that out until I was halfway through the book.

The prologue was great. Good introduction to the characters. But then it fell apart. Gwen is handling 3 separate and unrelated cases and her attention is too divided to let the reader develop any interest in any of her clients. Seemed like most of the book was discussions about things that happened 'off stage'. I never did catch the reason the Medical Examiner was killed, and I was very annoyed at the heroine revealed the solution to the missing woman's case. (not enough details given for the reader to figure it out with her).

Unless you a fan of Cunningham's other books in this series, don't waste your time.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Radio Free Albemuth by Philip K. Dick

I originally wrote this in Jan 2004, but the local newspapers refused to publish it.

I recently read Philip K. Dick’s novel, Radio Free Albemuth. In this book, Dick speculated what might happen if the people accidentally elected a paranoid fascist dictator as the President of the United States. Dick died in 1982, and his estate published the book posthumously in 1985. But it’s amazing how closely his vision resembled the events of 2002-2003.

Dick’s villain, Ferris F. Freemont, traveled the country speaking of threats from subversive elements out to destroy the United States. Like Hitler in the 1930s, he used patriotism and fear to rally the people behind his cause. He created the Friends of the American People (FAP). A Nazi-like organization that got people spying on each other in order to ensure their loyalty to the President.

Dick’s three protagonists were a novelist, a singer and a record company executive. Since recording artists often have the ability to inspire people’s passions and rally them to a cause, FAP wanted to prevent the singer from recording any music that might criticize the President. They blackmailed the writer into spying on the record executive, and the record executive into spying on the singer.

As I read Dick’s novel in March 2003, I couldn’t help noticing the similarity to the Dixie Chicks’ controversy. President Bush was traveling the country in 2002 spreading fear about Al Qeada’s and Iraq’s potential for attacking American citizens. Bush said it was essential that we start a war with Iraq. And when a recording artist, Natalie Manes of the Dixie Chicks, criticized Bush’s position, the country jumped on her.

Political commentators and several major news organizations blasted her. "Support your President," they insisted. "Doesn’t he deserve your support?" they asked rhetorically. Political commentators harassed her for weeks. Bush’s supporters sent threatening letters, staged protests, and burned her CDs. They pressured her into backing down and apologizing for exercising her right to free speech.

Although Natalie Manes backed down, many other people stood their ground. Janeane Garofalo, Martin Sheen, Mike Farrell, Tim Robbins and nearly 100 other celebrities banded together and continued speaking out against the U.S. starting a war with Iraq. These people weren’t just fighting for peace, they were fighting for their Freedom of Speech.

The founders of the United States declared that freedom of speech was a basic and inalienable right. Opinions expressed at the time reflected a belief that without the freedom of speech, there could be no true liberty. If the ability to pursue liberty is a measure of human welfare, then our welfare has been under a malicious attack by those claiming to cherish it.

Like Dick’s fictional FAP, the mainstream news media can sometimes act like an oppressive watchdog organization, spewing propaganda under the guise of patriotism and unbiased reports; and doing everything possible to discredit or silence other voices. Dick’s novel shows clearly how losing the freedom of speech can create fear and mistrust among people, and how people ruled by these emotions become afraid to stand up for their rights, or the rights of others. They become afraid to openly question even the most obviously false rhetoric and propaganda.

We must never let these things happen to us.

Natalie Manes showed us that we need to stand up for our Freedom of Speech or it can be taken from us; and with it, our liberty. Tim Robbins and other celebrities show us that we can still stand up and fight for our Freedom of Speech and our liberty. But celebrities cannot do the job for us. We must all maintain the ‘eternal vigilance’ necessary to become aware of these attacks on our freedoms, our liberty and our welfare.

The United States remains a rhetorical battlefield in which we must continually fight for the right to create a better society. We are all soldiers in this fight. Together we all must stand up for our beliefs and continuously fight to protect our Freedom of Speech. When Americans fight to protect the Freedom of Speech, we contribute the most to general human welfare.

 Radio Free Albemuth is an inspired social commentary that everyone should read.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Classics for the Guitar in Tab by Jared Walker

Classics For The Guitar In Tab: A Collection of Classical Pieces for the Guitar

I bought this book in 1996 and taught myself to play about 1/2 – 2/3 of the songs in this book before starting lessons. It's a fairly good book for beginners with a sampling of easy, intermediate, and difficult songs from several of the most renown composers, including Sor, Carcassi, and Bach. The book provides each song in both standard notation and tab; in large easy-to-read print; making it a good book for beginners.

I did spot a few errors in the fingerings. But for the most part it's a fairly good book. (Although my guitar teacher hates it.) The downside (for the author) is that all the songs included are in the public domain and most can now be found online for free.