About My Book

Learn more about my first book, Six Pack: Emergence.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Amazing How Far The Journey Has Gone

As the year approaches its end, I look back and am amazed at how far I've come with my journey as a writer.

The excitement of finding somebody who was willing to take a chance on my novel, that runs through my body as I write this (my thanks to Clean Reads for giving me that opportunity!). Not only do I have a publisher who gave me the opportunity, but I've met a few other writers who are part of that publishing family and a few have agreed to be beta readers for my planned second novel.

On top of that, I've got ideas in mind not only for the third book in the series, but a potential spinoff book and an idea for a different novel that would not be associated with the series at all.

With the new year, though, comes the task of finishing whatever final edits are needed to my first novel and what I need to do to promote it. I will say that I have some ideas in mind that should not only allow me a chance to talk about my book outside of the blog, but allow others who have published works to talk about their novels. (Regarding that, I will have more details in the weeks to come, I promise!)

It's hard for me to believe sometimes how far I've come with my adventures in novel writing. I had a chance to meet some good people with the Kansas Writers Association, get some ideas and feedback, learn what it took to craft a good pitch, then try it out during Pit2Pub earlier this year, and explore what tips and advice other writers have. Along the way, I've sampled the works of other authors who have either self-published or had works published by Clean Reads, not only finding out what ideas go through their minds, but how they craft voice, dialogue, pacing and everything else that's important to a novel.

Where the road goes from here, who knows, but that's part of the excitement of novel writing. You never know where the journey in publishing will take you, just like you never know where the journey in writing a novel will take you.

I won't have a blog post next week because I'll be spending the holidays with my family, but in two weeks, I'll let you know more about some of the ideas I have in mind.

In the meantime, best wishes to you, no matter how you celebrate the holiday season.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Get To Know The Six Pack Series: David Spencer

And now for the next character profile in my Six Pack series: David Spencer.

David is 18 years old, has brown eyes and a buzzcut. He has a muscular build and competes on the secondary school's track team, throwing the shot, discus and javelin. He is in a relationship with Stacy Sanders and knows that she is the person he wants to spend his life with. His parents were killed in a construction accident when he was young, so he values any close relationship he develops with another person.

David is shy and quiet, a contrast to his facial features and build that suggest he would be a gruff individual. I relate to David because I'm shy, too, and it sometimes takes me a while to warm up to people. Though David considers everyone in the Six Pack to be his friends, he sometimes wonders how much his relationship with those other than Stacy matter. But he is protective of them and others. He doesn't want to see anyone else get hurt.

As you would guess, he gains the power of super strength. That power, combined with his unwillingness to hurt anyone, sometimes made for an interesting dynamic. I thought it would be interesting to explore the idea of an individual who is physically strong but has a quiet demeanor about him. That made for an interesting dynamic, too. David may be powerful, but he's more like a big teddy bear.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

My Thoughts On The DC CW Crossover

Last week was the big crossover between the four DC TV shows on CW (what's been dubbed the DCW Universe by io9) and I thought it delivered what the writers promised, even if CW's advertising was misleading.

CW promoted it as starting on the Supergirl episode, when it was really just the last few seconds of the show when the crossover came into play (though it was teased in a couple of earlier spots), but the writers and producers said that the crossover would actually get underway with The Flash episode.

I thought the episodes of Flash, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow each delivered in their own ways and the overall storyline arc worked so well that I could forgive some of the minor issues that the episodes had. Trying to balance so many different characters and cover multiple storylines and milestones was a challenge, but I think the creative team behind the DCW Universe pulled it off.

Some random thoughts about the crossover.

* It was great to see the Flashpoint arc started on The Flash addressed in a major way. Starting with Barry Allen having to own up to how much he screwed up the timeline, to getting a good pep talk from Oliver Queen about how Ollie might have done the same thing given how he lost his parents, to Barry coming through to save the rest of the heroes when they are subjected to mind control by the Dominators, all leading up to Barry willing to sacrifice himself to ensure the world remains safe from the Dominators, was great writing and story telling. And that his fellow heroes were unwilling to let Barry sacrifice himself, regardless of what happened, showed how much they valued Barry not just as a hero, but as a friend. Well done, Berlanti, Guggenheim and company.

* The 100th episode of Arrow didn't devote much time to the crossover plot, but boy, did they ever find a clever way to tie in the Dominators storyline to the ongoing saga of Oliver Queen and the other characters who originated on Arrow. By far, the best scenes were those between Oliver and Thea, in which each of them saw things differently at first with this "reality" in which they were united with family and loved ones they lost, to the point that Oliver was fine with Thea staying behind so she could be happy. True, they shifted quickly back to her joining with Oliver and the others to escape, but it led to a satisfying fight scene in which Thea, Sara and Oliver each get to vanquish a personal demon, and then they, Ray and Diggle having to escape from a spaceship (something I don't think anyone could have anticipated on Arrow when it first launched) only to be rescued by the Waverider was so cool.

(By the way, Thea has been nothing short of awesome this entire season, from being the perfect conscience for Oliver in reminding him about his duties as mayor, to her refusal to give up on Quentin Lance and his battle with alcoholism, to her whole arc in the crossover with the touches of how much she wants to come out of retirement to fight aliens and being the one who figures out how to launch the alien cruiser to escape. She has become my new favorite character on Arrow, because she's been so well written this season.)

* The Legends episode wasn't centered around the LoT cast, but it's understandable. Still, they managed to find enough to give the Legends their due, as they have to go back in time to get more information about the Dominators, plus you had the subplot with Martin Stein realizing he now has a daughter he doesn't remember (one that came from him telling his younger self to not ignore his wife). I do think the Stein storyline with his daughter was a bit awkward, but never saw it as Stein wanting to erase her from history as much as it was Stein finding it hard to relate to her knowing how her existence came to be. We shall see how things get resolved on Legends now that his daughter will be a recurring character.

* It would have been nice to have Supergirl featured more, but when you consider she's the one who could mop up the bulk of the situations the heroes found themselves in, it's understandable. It only leads to the issue of some fans being unsatisfied because the most powerful of the heroes gets shortchanged. This was the case in the animated Justice League series, in which the criticism was that "Superman is a wimp" because the writers kept having him taken out of battles so they can give other characters their due. Here, the case was "Supergirl is a bench warmer" in which there are several instances of people not trusting her or feeling awkward around her, so she's off to the side in important scenes. With that said, the writers still found enough ways to get her involved, ranging from her having fun in the training sessions (in which the other heroes learn how much she lives up to her billing as Supergirl) to the interplay between her and Heat Wave (the antihero of the Legends and the one person you figure Supergirl would hardly consider to act like a "good guy"), there was plenty to enjoy about her involvement. We'll get to see a Supergirl crossover with The Flash later in the season, but they planted some seeds to make you want to see the eventual Supergirl crossover with Arrow.

* Having the crossover end with a moment between Ollie and Sara was a great reminder about how this whole thing got started. Had it not been for the success of Arrow, there would be no Flash series. And if it hadn't been for the popularity of Sara's character, there might be no Legends of Tomorrow. And all of that was what led to Supergirl becoming reality and the DCW Universe being what it is today.

* The Ray Palmer "she looks like my cousin" line about Supergirl was a great "geek out" moment, tipping the hat to Brandon Routh (who protrays Palmer) and his previous role as Superman.

* And, of course, the crossover had to close with Ollie and Barry, each relating to what they experienced and how much better they've become for it.

I haven't been this thrilled with live-action superhero material since The Avengers hit the screen. Some minor issues aside, the crossover delivered and then some.

Get To Know The Six Pack Series: Linda Russell

My profiles of Six Pack series characters continues with Linda Russell.

Linda is 18 years old and is black (African-American) with straight black hair and brown eyes. She became best friends with Stacy Sanders in secondary school. Linda is fascinated with technology and has always wanted to explore what it's all about, but given her status as a "middle achiever," she was often dissuaded from pursuing that interest. She is energetic and enthusiastic, but is often impulsive. She is friendly and outgoing, but when she talks, it can range from one-liners to endless babbling.

Linda is a talented sprinter in track, so it's only natural that she gains super speed. She is, by far, the most fascinated with the powers the teens develop and believes they can be a means to achieve greatness. She's driven to prove herself to a fault, given that everyone from her parents to her professors told her she needed to "know her limitations." But she has a good heart and is loyal to her friends.

I'm like Linda in that I am sometimes impulsive and tend to babble. But what I like most about Linda is that she's one of those people who believes she can be so much more than what she is told by others. I also think she provides some needed lightheartedness in a story that deals with some dark material.

And I think there are more people out there who are like Linda than even I may realize -- the type of person who has big dreams but gets dissuaded from doing so. I think it makes Linda a sympathetic character, one that I hope people will relate to for more than just her personality.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Get To Know The Six Pack Series: Brad Lawson

Moving on with my series about the Six Pack characters, let me introduce you to Brad Lawson.

Brad is 18 years old (you've probably noticed a pattern... the Six Pack members are the same age). He has a lean build, short, blonde hair parted to the side and ice-blue eyes. He is classified a "low achiever" in secondary school. Students are grouped into "achievement levels" based on their test scores. However, Brad has always shown an interest in science and nature. I think of him as somebody who is smarter than people think, but he doesn't test well.

Brad's father served in the military and was killed while overseas. Between the loss of his father when Brad was young and what Brad believes are the schools predetermining what his role in society will be, he has a skeptical, sometimes pessimistic, view of life. He finds it hard to trust other adults, thinking they have their own agendas in mind rather than what's important to him. But even though he is a "low achiever," he became friends with Tyler Ward even after Tyler was designated a "high achiever" after the two bumped into each other when they first enrolled in secondary school.

Where I relate to Brad is that I tend to be a skeptic when approaching something, though with Brad, it's more pronounced because of his life growing up and his perception that he's not allowed to explore his interests because other people have their own ideas. But what I like about Brad is that he learns to overcome his doubts and figure a way to trust people, even if he doesn't always agree with them.

Brad not only formed a friendship with Tyler, but with Jessica Harrison, who saw him on enrollment day and thought he was cute. I explored his friendships with both of them and liked how he not only learns from them and how he can grow as a person, but the way he observes how the other two act and helps them to grow as people, too.

He gains enhanced vision, which comes from his marksmanship skills. This was probably the most difficult of the special abilities to write about, because it's tough to illustrate how he's able to focus on objects from a great distance, or how he can precisely hit targets. I tried to make up for that by focusing more on who he is as a person and how good he is at observing how other people interact.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Get To Know The Six Pack Series: Stacy Sanders

I continue discussion of my characters in the Six Pack series with Stacy Sanders.

Stacy is 18 years old, has blonde hair that she always pulls back in a ponytail, blue eyes, and she is Tyler Ward's longtime best friend. The two grew up next door to each other and think of themselves as siblings. She enjoyed climbing trees when she was young and, when she went to secondary school, took up gymnastics. Those activities helped her improve her agility and balance. Consequently, she gains the power of enhanced agility.

As for her personality, she's calm, optimistic, level-headed and friendly. She tries to find the best qualities in everyone -- the trait she shares with me. She's the type of person who wants to get along with everybody and does her best to show patience. It's rare that she will get upset or angry. Most of all, she values the importance of family and bonding with other people.

I wanted a character who kept a positive outlook despite the dystopian world in which the book is set. Stacy may struggle once in a while with her optimism and wonder if things will progress the way she hopes they will, but most of the time, she finds her optimism justified.

I think her relationship with Tyler is important because I think everyone who has natural leadership qualities needs somebody to fall back upon and be reassured that he or she made the best possible decision. That's what I found Stacy provided for Tyler, even if she might not agree with his decisions. I also touched upon her relationships with the other Six Pack members because I liked how she interacted with each of them. I think she's the type of person that few would say they dislike. She has a way of connecting with anybody.

The enhanced agility was a power that allowed her to be more physical than some of the other characters. I don't picture as being a tall girl, but she is athletic, so I believe she could handle herself well in such situations. Her power did present a challenge as to the situations in which she could be useful, but I think I pulled it off well and, hopefully, readers will agree.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Get To Know The Six Pack Series: Jessica Harrison

Continuing with my series of posts about the characters in my forthcoming novel Six Pack: Emergence, I want to talk about one of the main supporting characters, Jessica Harrison.

Jessica is 18 years old and has long, wavy brown hair and brown eyes. Her mother died when she was 10 years old and she became somewhat distant from her father. She is intelligent but has a stubborn streak -- a trait that runs in my family. But she has a big heart and tries to empathize with the plight of others. She has leadership skills but finds herself ranked behind Tyler in school. She tells herself that it could have been her at the top of the class, but struggles with the idea that she could be jealous of him.

Jessica's stubbornness is the trait I most identify with in her. I often think that the way I would like to do things is the way things should go and I'm sometimes resistant to changes in my life. That describes Jessica pretty well -- she's been used to living life one way and finds herself adjusting to a new life. I can imagine a lot of people would have difficulty adjusting to changes in their life, though. I think we all get into a comfort zone with the way things are when we grow up, but when we enter a new environment, it can take us by surprise.

Jessica has a deep interest in the fine arts. She likes to sketch, paint and create works of art and her career interest leans toward architecture. Her ability to create things with her hands and mind, along with her intelligence, leads to her gaining the power of telekinesis. It was something I didn't want to overdo, though. I limited her usage of it to situations in which I believed it was warranted and didn't want to use it for jokes. I believe Jessica is the type of person who will try not to use her power unless it's necessary, though there are moments in which may use it out of frustration.

When I wrote the book, I found myself empathizing with Jessica more than my other characters, because she wants so much more for herself than what she thinks she's received. But as she learns the truth about society and herself, she starts to realize she's been in a good position and she doesn't need to worry about what could have been. She probably showed the most growth among my characters and I hope readers see it the same way.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Get To Know The Six Pack Series: Tyler Ward

Now that my upcoming novel Six Pack: Emergence is heading toward publication, I thought a good way to promote the book would be to talk about some of the characters.

These will be short posts in which I talk about characters and what inspired them. Regarding the main character and the five primary supporting characters, they each have a little bit of me in them. That's typical for a lot of book characters, though -- at least one of their traits will be shared with the author.

So let me talk to you about the main character, Tyler Ward.

Tyler is 18 years old and has dark brown hair and gray eyes. Those physical traits are one I share (well, I used to share with the hair before I started shaving my head). He is intelligent and inquisitive -- not only is he good at absorbing information, he wants to learn more and doesn't stop asking questions. But while he learns information well, he doesn't always put what he learns into practice well. He's the type of person that could memorize the instructions for putting together a complex piece of machinery, but when he tries to put it together, he can't get it to work.

He has natural leadership skills but is sometimes reluctant to use them. Most of all, he questions himself a lot and sometimes wonders if he made the right choice.

Along with the physical traits, Tyler shares the intelligence and inquisitiveness I have. As far as his role as a leader goes, I like to think of him as most of the best leaders throughout history -- those who struggled with issues and what was the best way to go, even as they did well in getting people through tough times. I know a lot of people look for leaders who represent the things those people would like to be, but while those people get the perception the leaders are those things, you often find out those leaders weren't always like that. That didn't make them bad leaders; that made them human.

Tyler gains the power of mental telepathy. It was something I had fun with when I was writing the book and I hope people enjoy what he does with it. It was one part of the book where I took a chance with some things, so I'll be interested to see what people think when the book comes out.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Publisher Was Found... So Now What?

November, as most writers knows, is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) but, while I had hoped to participate, my recent agreement to have my first book published by Clean Reads has changed those plans.

Long story short: I had to spend some time completing pre-edits on my first book before sending it back to Clean Reads, so I had to delay other writing projects I had planned.

Instead, I'll be using the month of November to accomplish two things: To spend some time talking up my forthcoming book and to complete the third edit of my planned second book.

Regarding the first book, I can tell you that it will first be released as an e-book and will be available through multiple sites (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, iTunes) but it has to hit a certain threshold before it will be made available as a print book. I don't have a date of release yet -- keep in mind things are still early in the publishing process and I'm still working with the staff on edits as I speak.

As for what I plan to discuss about the first book, I want to talk about the characters I created and what went into creating them. One thing I can tell you is that all of my primary characters have a little bit of me in them (that's not unusual among writers) but I worked in other traits I've observed in other people (as many writers will tell you, observing the actions of others is often how they come up with characters).

As for the third edit of my second book, that may come along slowly given that I am needing to prioritize my first book. I'm hopeful, though, that I can work in enough of the second book to get it finished by the end of the month.

I can tell you my excitement level has increased knowing that I'm that much closer to having a published novel. I hope to build your excitement and interest, too.

For everyone who has stopped by the blog, thanks for following me and being patient as my journey into the publishing world has progressed.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Why Do We Hate Editing?

I read a recent blog post from Ani Alexander, 17 Signs That You Are A Writer, and found that I could relate to the majority of the traits she described. One stood out in particular because I was in the middle of pre-edits on my novel in preparation for publication.

That would be point number 15: "You hate editing."

Whenever I wrote stories for newspapers, I never liked editing my own material. I often told people that I didn't always catch mistakes in my own writing. But as I thought about what Ani wrote, I wondered if there was more to it than the claim I made about editing.

So I thought about some reasons why I didn't like to edit and I imagined that many of those reasons apply to other writers. Here are those reasons that sprang to mind.

1. Editing can be more time consuming than writing.

When I write, my thoughts shift to putting the fingers to the keyboard and letting words spill onto the screen. I fall into a rhythm and keep moving, sometimes not wanting to stop until everything I want to write is finished.

Compare that to the editing process, in which we must go over what we wrote, fix mistakes or ask ourselves if that's the best way to write something or if there's a better way. Sometimes we notice an error and understand what needs correcting, but if we read a sentence that doesn't sound right, we start thinking about what would be a better way to write it. We can then lose track of where we are at if we think too much about that.

Writing, to me, is a smoother process than editing. The smoother a process is, the more likely it will be completed in a short time. A rougher, tedious process takes more time to complete, and that's what I find editing to be.

2. We start questioning ourselves.

Let's go back to the previous point. We read what we have written, come across a sentence that doesn't sound good and ask ourselves if there's a better way. That's when we may ask ourselves if we are cut out to be a writer and why can't we write the perfect sentence the first time around.

It's not unusual, though, for any human to review something he or she did and, if something didn't look right, to ask what could have been done better. Questioning ourselves is not fun to do and sometimes we'll struggle with a decision we made the first time, but reconsider upon further review.

With writing, we are able to change things that didn't work in the first draft. But each time I review a draft, I keep asking myself questions. And those who keep asking themselves questions may dread reviewing anything they have done, lest they start to wonder if they got it right.

3. We notice mistakes others make but don't like noticing our own.

Have you ever read a published book, article or essay and noticed a mistake? We're only human and, while we try to get all mistakes corrected in our writing, an error or two may slip through. But because of my writing experiences, I get hung up on misspelled words and grammatical mistakes. And when I read a book and notice such a mistake in a published work, a small part of me feels annoyed.

That's no different from how most humans judge one another. If somebody brings you the wrong order at a restaurant, you notice. If a cashier incorrectly rings up the price of an item, you say something. On it goes... we notice the mistakes others make and want them corrected.

But when we go over the things we do ourselves, and don't get them right, we don't like it if somebody points it out. And so it goes with our own writing: We review what we wrote, we notice the mistakes and we don't like it. So we don't look forward to editing, because it forces us to recognize our own mistakes.

4. We realize we have to cut stuff we don't want to.

Ah, the writing advice that gets passed around: "Don't be afraid to kill your darlings." Every writer is told to prepare to cut something out of a story if it doesn't make sense, it doesn't add to it or it seems unnecessary.

Often, those things we are told to cut are characters we loved, plot devices we thought were so cool or scenes we enjoyed writing but, upon further review, didn't move the story forward.

I don't think there's a writer out there who enjoys "killing their darlings." It's an unpleasant process, but it's often a necessary part of the process. But I imagine most writers don't look forward to it.

5. We realize we aren't perfect.

Everybody wishes they were good at everything, never got anything wrong and receive all praise and no criticism. But we are human beings and we will get things wrong and must accept criticism alongside praise.

The editing process is one of many reminders that we don't always get it right the first time. In some cases, it may remind us we don't get it right at all. Even with all my writing experience, I make typos and don't always put the comma in the right spot.

While most people realize that nobody's perfect, that doesn't stop us from acting like we should be. That's especially true for certain professions, whether it's those who work in them or those who are served by them.

And when it comes to writing, I like to think of myself as somebody whose writing is just the way it needs to be, because I'm the one who wrote it. But then comes the editing process, which is the unpleasant reminder that my writing may not be as good as I thought.

I imagine some of you will relate to these points, but perhaps you have others. Or maybe you are one of those writers who loves to edit as much as you love to write. What are your thoughts?

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Deal Is Done!

Did I say last week on Twitter I'd have a blog post but it would be delayed? I did, didn't I?

So a lot of things got in the way and I didn't get this up as soon as I wanted to, but now I can share the details.

I've signed a contract to have my novel published!

Earlier this week, I signed a deal with Clean Reads to publish Six Pack: Emergence. I spent the what free time I had the past few days finishing pre-edits, in preparation to send a final manuscript to the publisher. Of course, there are other forms I need to complete to get the process going.

But the good news is that I cleared a major hurdle toward getting my novel out into the public's hands. I can talk more about the novel itself and what it's all about and not so much about my adventures of trying to find somebody willing to take a chance on my work.

In the weeks to come, I hope to sit down and talk more about what inspired me with my novel, the themes and the characters.

It's exciting to know that a published novel will soon be reality. Now all I need to do is make sure everything is ready to go and find out if people like my work or not!

+ + +

On a sad note, the president of the Kansas Writers Association, Kurt Campbell, passed away about a week ago. I am dedicating the novel to him... Kurt offered to be a beta reader and gave me plenty of insight about how to improve the writing and some plot points. I remember the first KWA meeting I attended in July 2015, how he welcomed me aboard and showed enthusiasm for writing. I owe him a lot for how far I have come.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Spare Us The Cutter

When I was in my 30s, I rediscovered new wave music from the 1980s and ran across multiple songs that I had heard many times before and found held up well, and other songs that I had never heard before but was glad I discovered.

Among the groups I discovered was Echo and the Bunnymen. One of their songs I enjoy is "The Cutter." I didn't think much about the meaning of the words, though, until I did one of those searches for the lyrics and ran across discussions about what the lyrics meant.

One of the best interpretations I saw is in the comments here. Scroll down and you'll see the comment that, to sum up, says the song is about how the band is trying to make an impresion in the music industry, but that all depends on those who decide to give big breaks, when those in charge may have little patience for the band's ideas.

Sounds a lot like a writer trying to break into the publishing industry, doesn't it?

First you write something, but you need others to read it and those people might not agree with your ideas and concepts. After you spend time editing, you have to find either an agent or a small publisher willing to take a chance on you, and both types can be tough to please. If you do get an agent, the agent has to find a publisher for your work and the large publishers might have their own ideas about what does and doesn't work. Even if you go the self-publishing route, you might not find enough readers who are willing to take a chance on your imagination.

Of course, had Echo and the Bunnymen not taken their chances and pushed forward, they never would have landed a recording contract. And even if Echo and the Bunnymen didn't reach the heights of, say, The Beatles or Led Zeppelin, the fact they did break through and found an audience when they did made them a success. That they stuck it out with their goals to make it in music is a testament to them, and when they were "spared the cutter," they got their chance and it paid off.

It can be frustrating for us writers to roll out material and not find anyone willing to take a chance, but we must remember to stick to our goals in writing and, when we are "spared the cutter," we get a chance to find that audience, wherever it may be. And when we do find that audience, we are a success, even if we don't reach the heights of the most popular books written.

I'll leave you with The Cutter. Maybe it will rekindle your interest in new wave music.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Another Week Of Quick Notes

Just a few quick notes this week.

* I finished the second draft of the second book in my planned Six Pack series earlier this month and it's a little more than 60,800 words. I'll be polishing up the draft in the coming weeks before I start looking for beta readers.

* As for the first book, I'll have to follow up with a couple of the publishers about their interest from Pit2Pub. I've been talking enough about the first book that I want to get it out into readers' hands soon. If there's no interest, it will be time to look at other avenues.

* I have at least one idea for another book I plan to try out during NaNoWriMo. Yes, I think this is the year to give that a shot and see what develops. No, it won't be related to anything about the Six Pack series, but I am thinking this one will be told from a first-person point of view.

* Meanwhile, work has picked up and I've been kept hopping. Last Thursday was a high school golf tournament, followed by volleyball matches. I had to write those stories Friday morning, then had the afternoon off to get errands finished, then had a football game to cover. On Saturday morning, there was high school tennis, writing the football story and spending the afternoon at a volleyball tournament out of town. Back to town I came and I have a story to write that evening. So there's plenty of writing for me even when I'm not writing novels or short stories.

But as they say, any writing you can do is a good thing.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

15 Years After 9/11, What Have We Really Learned?

Fifteen years ago, terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Back then, I was living in Raton, N.M., and was paying down debts, so I had no cable television, my Internet was limited to dial-up and I had no cell phone -- and at that time, social media was, more or less, the Internet message board. So I didn't learn about the attacks until I reached the office that morning. I can remember feeling numb most of the day, distracted from work and spending more time browsing CNN's website or the message boards I visited.

Each year on Sept. 11, Americans are asked to reflect back on what happened and to "never forget." But it's worth asking ourselves what we should "never forget."

It's certainly worth remembering the importance of our public safety officers, the firefighters and police officers who ran into the World Trade Center towers to rescue people. Public safety officers know the risks that come with their jobs and that they can't predict what will happen when they do their jobs. So, yes, it's important to remember the important role those people play in our lives.

But it's also worth asking what other lessons we should learn from that day. Most Americans don't have much understanding about the Middle Eastern region and the United States' involvement there. The United States has been involved in that region since after World War II and, prior to that, there was little, if any, relations between the United States and that region. It wasn't simply because of isolationism; it was because the United States had little reason to be involved there and the nations at the time had little reason to concern themselves with the United States.

That changed after World War II. The Cold War started and the United States' primary concern was to stop the spread of Communism, meaning that it got involved in nations in which there was worry that said nations could become friendly with the Soviet Union. The nation of Israel that we know about today was founded and viewed by some Middle Easterners as unnecessary involvement by certain countries in their region. Along the way, several Middle Eastern countries recognized the power and influence they could wield over the United States' desire for oil. Those factors have led to multiple events through the nearly 70 years between the end of World War II and the 9/11 attacks -- events in which Americans had varying levels of interest, but all were a part of the chain of history that led to what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.

And since that time, the United States has only increased its involvement in the Middle East with no signs of it ever ending. To paraphrase statements I read this morning about the events of Sept. 11: They put the United States at war, but with what, the United States didn't necessarily know what it was at war with. To be more specific, the United States could point to Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, who took responsibility for the attacks, but what the United States may not have understood was exactly how such threats could be taken down. And that led to a series of events that have made for more instability in the Middle East and new threats arising, even though Bin Laden is dead and al-Qaeda's power has been at least reduced.

If we are truly to demonstrate what we have learned from the events of Sept. 11, 2001, I believe we need to ask ourselves if the approach we have taken the past 15 years has really worked, and not simply wonder if it's only because we didn't work hard enough. While nobody is going to argue that the 9/11 attacks can be anything but an evil act, we need to understand the events that led to it (which are far more complex than we realize) if we are to ensure such events don't happen again. And that requires more than enhanced security or nation building, but identifying the root of the problem and determining the best way to address it.

So as you reflect on the events of 9/11, by all means, remember those who lost their lives and remember the role public safety officers play in our lives. But don't forget to consider what really needs to be a proper response to ensure stability in the Middle East and reduce the influence of extremist organizations who push violence as their means to an end. That may be a more difficult thing do than raising a flag and thanking people for their service, but it's something that we should never forget to do, as much as we never forget those who lost so much that day.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Examples of Character Voice

I've talked about my participation in e-wrestling previously and wanted to present a couple of examples of my work there to illustrate what voice is all about.

E-wrestling is a hobby in which people write about a character who happens to be a pro wrestler. Like a character in a book, those who create e-wrestlers need to think about the backstory, the personality, the temperment and the viewpoint of the character. What differs from a book is that the characters interact with characters that other people have created, as opposed to the characters all created by a single writer.

I'm going to present two examples of my writing from e-wrestling, these from the most recent show of the e-fed that I am part of. While I won't proclaim either example to demonstrate what the best writing is all about (and neither one would be written in most books exactly as they are presented), they will give you examples of the same person writing two different characters and finding a different voice for each.

Take a look at the examples and see if you can distinguish between the two.

EXAMPLE ONE: Supernova is a character who is an homage to the professional wrestler Sting. His gimmick is similar to Sting, in that he wears face paint and is intense in his interviews and mannerisms. The interview is Sweet Lou Blackwell, an homage to pro wrestling backstage interview Mean Gene Okerlund.

[We go to backstage where Sweet Lou Blackwell stands in front of an AWA backdrop.]

SLB: What a card we have at SuperClash tonight, in which we will see all four titles go on the line! And the first of those title matches involves the World Television Championship and a rivalry that has been ongoing for almost a year... the champion, Shadoe Rage, is set to meet my guest at this time, Supernova!

[Supernova walks onto the set. His face is painted black and yellow, resembling a flame. He wears a black jacket with yellow epaulets on the shoulders and a big, flaming, yellow sun on the left side near his chest. He also wears his black tights with yellow flames running up the side and black wrestling boots, each with a small, fiery sun on the sides.]

SLB: Supernova, tonight you will get one more chance at the World TV title, and this time around, there will be no time limit! You told everyone at the start of the year that you were setting your sights on championship gold, but one obstacle in previous meetings with Shadoe Rage was the time limit expiring. Tonight, that will be one less obstacle for you to face. How do like your chances?

S: Sweet Lou, it's interesting how you bring up history, how you bring up what I told everyone at the start of 2015, that I had set my sights on becoming a champion! You know, that video package that aired on All-Star Showdown showed me in action against Calisto Dufresne, the man who held the National title back in 2011 at SuperClash III! That was my first real shot at a title, not just a spot in a tournament, and some people thought that, even though I came up short of winning the gold, it was only a matter of time before I won a championship!

[He looks at the camera.]

S: But as some might say, history sometimes gets in the way. I had to deal with a lot of obstacles to getting back into the title hunt... obstacles like William Craven, Royalty, The Unholy Alliance and the Wise Men! Now, don't get me wrong, Sweet Lou... I understand that the road to a championship isn't going to be smooth, there are some bumps you've got to get over and you might get off course at times, but as long as you learn from those things, you get better at what you do. That means, when the time does come for another shot at the gold, you've grown and you've learned, which makes you better prepared for another shot. But you know that it hasn't been that easy since I first got the shot, do you, Sweet Lou?

SLB: As I've mentioned earlier, the time limit got in the way a couple of times.

S: [slight laugh] Yeah, there was that, but there was more. But sticking with what you're talking about, Sweet Lou, the first couple of times there was that question about what would have happened if Shadoe Rage and I had gone into overtime! And the next time we sought to answer that question, along comes the Dead Man's Party, who decides to crash the party and not allow Shadoe Rage and I to settle the question! And, once again, I understand that sometimes you have to deal with an obstacle in the road if you want to eventually get yourself championship gold, but what happened instead after Rising Sun Showdown?

[He looks at the camera once more, his eyes narrowing.]

S: Shadoe Rage starts looking for excuses, looking for ways to avoid, spent more of his time facing guys who, while they are good people, weren't exactly what you would call the top contenders, all because Rage was picking his opponents. Heck, when I was sitting on the sidelines waiting to get doctor's clearance to return to the ring, the only guy he faced who would be a worthy contender was Rex Summers... a guy I don't like, a guy who doesn't like me, but I will admit that he's a great wrestler. And yet the only reason Rage faced Summers was not because Rage wanted to, but because he had to, and he still couldn't get the job done without taking a shortcut!

[He shakes his head.]

S: And nothing annoys me more than watching a champion who makes a mockery of everything by picking and choosing who he faces instead of getting in the ring with the guys who have proven their mettle... and especially when he did everything he could to do to avoid facing me and erase the doubts that I can tell are in the back of his mind! [Deep breath.] You know, I'm about to use that language that George Carlin says you can't say on TV. You take it, Sweet Lou!

SLB: Well, Supernova, let's not forget that it was Shadoe Rage who put you on the shelf for several weeks when he hit that running knee to your head, moments after you jumped him and tore his robe apart. You know that Rage takes a lot of pride in his pomp and circumstance, as it were. And I think we both know Rage is none too happy with you interrupting his planned video package with a package of your own. Rage could very well want to put you on the shelf again, this time for good!

S: Sweet Lou, I know that Rage is a dangerous man. I realize he's only getting hotter under the collar with each passing day that he can't shake me off! But Rage had better realize that I have as much reason to be hot under the collar as he does! I already sat on the shelf for months at a time after the Wise Men made me a marked man. And the only reason I didn't show up sooner was because a man by the name of Jim Watkins not to reveal all your cards right away and wait for the right moment. This time around, I didn't need to talk to Jim Watkins to know that the only thing to do was to get back in that ring as soon as I got the green light from my doctors. And I knew that the only thing there was to do was to make Rage realize that when you try to take somebody out of this sport, you better keep both eyes open at all times because you never know when that somebody may come back for your hide!

[Supernova takes another deep breath.]

SLB: Supernova, one other matter that should be addressed is that the TV title match, like all other title matches, will have a special guest referee. None of those guest referees have been identified yet. There's been speculation that the guest referee could be anybody past or present in the AWA, maybe somebody who has never appeared in the AWA! How is that going to play a role in this match tonight?

S: All I'm gonna say is that whoever has the job of being the special guest referee better realize that he's got a hungry challenger. A challenger who's hungry to get his hands on a man who has been avoiding me like the plague! A challenger who's hungry to take down a man who has been handpicking challengers who aren't among the best instead of clearing the doubts in his mind about that one opponent he can't put away! A challenger who's hungry to even the score against a man who would rather put me in a hospital bed than prove he has what it takes to beat me one on one! And a challenger who has been in the AWA for more than six years, who has given his blood, his sweat and his tears to this fine organization, and is really hungry to get his first taste of championship gold!

[He pounds his chest a couple of times.]


[He cups his hands to his mouth, howls and walks off the set.]

SLB: Ladies and gentlemen, there is no doubt Supernova is ready, but the question is, will he come away with the title that he is after? Back to you, Gordon!

EXAMPLE 2: The Gladiator is an homage to professional wrestler The Ultimate Warrior. His gimmick is that he believes himself to be a gladiator from ancient Rome. The interview is Mark Stegglet, who represents a general backstage interviewer without a distinct personality.

[We go to backstage where Mark Stegglet stands in front of an AWA backdrop.]

MS: Later tonight, fans, we will see a match that has been billed as The Irresistible Force Meets the Immovable Object. Two men who are undefeated in singles competition since their arrivals in the AWA will come face to face for the first time. On one side of the ring will be the massive King ONI, under the management of Dr. Harrison Fawcett, and on the other side of the ring will be this man, The Gladiator.

[As if on cue, The Gladiator walks onto the set. He is dressed in black trunks with matching kneepads and wrestling boots. He wears a Roman gladiator helmet and...]

G: Aaarrrggghhh aaarrrggghhh aaarrrggghhh.

[...he's doing that. He paces back and forth in front of Mark Stegglet, continuing to growl.]

MS: Gladiator, you have torn through the competition since you have arrived in the AWA. But back at the Rumble match in Hawaii, you crossed paths with King ONI for the first time. Since then, all signs pointed to you and he coming face to face in the ring. But 10 days ago, ONI and Anton Layton attacked you and left you laying. What is your condition going into tonight's match?

[Gladiator grunts and growls for several seconds before he speaks.]

G: They have told me that there is no honor among thieves, and what happened 10 days ago proves beyond a shadow of any doubt that Harrison Fawcett and his mongrels have no honor. Men with no honor can never understand the path of a true gladiator, unlike my gladiators who continue to follow me into battle day in and night out. Anton Layon and King ONI might have hurt me, but they have failed to stop me. Failed to stop me on my journeys through these lands, failed to stop me on the path to this moment that is almost upon us, what you refer to as an irresistible force against an immovable object.

[He turns to the camera, raises a finger and raises his voice.]


[And then...]

G: SNORT snaaarrlll SNORT!

[...that happens and Gladiator goes back to pacing behind Mark Stegglet.]

MS: Still, Gladiator, you heard the comments from Harrison Fawcett. In the past year alone, he has not only influenced King ONI, but the likes of The Lost Boy, Porter Crowley and Anton Layton. And now, tonight, he says he will add you to his collection!

[Gladiator stops pacing and turns to Stegglet, Gladiator's voice lowered again.]

G: Harrison Fawcett speaks yet another false prophecy, but this time it is no surprise at all. For he cannot understand the power I have harnessed from the forces I answer to! From Minerva, who gives me the wisdom to know right from wrong! From Diana, who keeps me focused on the objective at hand and never lose sight of what is in front of me! From Pluto, who reminds me how those he oversees were never worthy of being a true gladiator and to stay on the right path! From Mars, who gives me the strength I need to give me the edge in every battle I have had! And from Jupiter and Juno, who have made me understand that every obstacle, every setback I may endure, is only done to make me stronger and help me overcome whatever lies ahead!

[He turns back to the camera, raising a finger and pointing at it, and his voice rises once more.]


MS: Still, Gladiator, nobody has defeated King ONI since his arrival in AWA. He has seldom been taken off his feet... in fact, even MAMMOTH Maximus had a difficult time doing that! How do you overcome a monster such as ONI?

[Gladiator raises a finger again, his voice grows louder.]


[He lets the last syllable hang for several seconds as he walks off set, holding his arms skyward.]

MS: The Gladiator sounds confident, but will he be able to overcome the King? Gordon and Bucky, let's go back to you!

Did the two above examples sound like different characters to you? If so, then I have accomplished the task of finding the voice of each character. Each character is different in terms of background, personality and beliefs, so finding the proper voice for each character helps convey those things.

Now think about characters that you might create for a book. Would a teenager who struggles to fit in have the same voice as that of a teenager who is popular among classmates? Would a private investigator talk the same way as an elected official? How might a baseball player talk up things compared to a boxer? Or how would somebody working the cashier in a fast food joint talk about things compared to the person who owns the restaurant?

The trick to finding the voice for a character is to understand what makes the character tick. This can come from factors ranging from the background to the life experiences to the personality to the interests of the character. Once you understand those things, you will get a better idea of finding the character's voice.

And when your writing makes it clear how each character communicates, it's easier for the reader to recognize what makes each character unique. It comes closer to what real life is like, in which people not only talk in different accents or dialects, but in tone, volume and choice of words.

Finding a character's voice requires practice. You may have to write a character several times before finding it. Once you know what the voice is like, it becomes an easier task and it makes for stronger writing.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

KWA Anthology Short Story: No Pressure

Last week, I told you about the release of the Kansas Writers Association anthology, which you can still purchase through Lulu or download through Amazon (it's no longer a free download, but it's still a low price and you support KWA). Because I retain the rights to my work, I have made my submission available on my blog.

You can read it after the jump. Feel free to leave feedback if you wish. If you enjoy it, please consider purchasing the anthology and help support KWA. Thank you.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Life Of A Writer Goes On

This is the time of year in which I'd like to get more things done with my planned novel series but other projects and activities pull me away.

School is underway here in Kingman, Kan., and with it comes the host of fall sports programs the student athletes play. Football, volleyball, golf, tennis and cross country -- it means I have five stories to write about Kingman athletics and two to three each for two other schools in our coverage area.

Consequently, that's where my writing duties are focused, meaning I haven't had as much time to sit down and focus on the second book in my planned series. I did complete the first draft of it back in July and am now into the second draft. I have written 31,090 words in the second draft, leaving me just shy of halfway done. With any luck, I can some more work done this (Sunday) afternoon, after having spent most of Saturday with other activities.

The good news, though, is that my first work of fiction has been published -- though it's not the first novel in my planned series. (Still waiting to hear back from publishers queried but fingers remain crossed.) It's a short story in the Kansas Writers Association anthology, Kansas Dreams. The Kansas-themed anthology features more than 20 authors who contributed short stories and poems.

The anthology is sold to raise funds for KWA and may be ordered through Lulu. However, the anthology is available as a free e-book download through Amazon until Aug. 24. If you do enjoy the collection, kindly consider buying a copy through Lulu -- it doesn't cost much and you'll be supporting the KWA.

In the meantime, I do plan to pull out a few examples of my writing from e-wrestling in the next week or so, as part of a discussion about what voice is all about. And I may talk about what inspired the short story I wrote for the anthology.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Gawker Had Its Faults, But Don't Celebrate Its Demise

Not everyone was a fan of Gawker, but nobody should be celebrating its demise. And while I've previously written about the issues with how Gawker approached journalism, that by no means justifies the end of its existence.

Gawker's bankruptcy came on the heels of a successful lawsuit filed by Hulk Hogan for publication of a sex tape. The Hogan lawsuit was bankrolled by Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook. Gawker outed Thiel as being gay. In the wake of Gawker's bankruptcy, Univision bought most of its sites and staff but did not purchase the Gawker name or archived content.

Gawker had more than its fair share of stories designed merely to draw eyeballs to its website and its "everything is fair game" approach to reporting stories raised plenty of questions and criticism.

As a journalist, I find it's important to ask myself whether or not something is newsworthy before publishing it. If Peter Thiel had been running a Ponzi scheme, it's not only newsworthy but it's a journalist's duty to report it. But is it really newsworthy to out Thiel as gay, even if it is true?

It's not illegal to report something that isn't newsworthy, nor can somebody sue an outlet for libel for reporting something that's not newsworthy if the item is true. (In order for a plaintiff to succeed with a libel claim, it must prove what was reported was known to be false and that actual malice took place in reporting.) But the mindset that anything that is true must be reported is what leads people to losing respect for media outlets, especially if they believe the media outlet only cares about how many people read the content, not whether it actually serves the public good.

But for all of Gawker's faults, its demise should still concern journalists and the general public. Gawker has had more than its fair share of strong reporting, reporting that was absolutely newsworthy. For example, Gawker was vigilant in obtaining information about Hillary Clinton using a private e-mail server for classified government material -- news that even the most ardent Gawker critic would have a hard time arguing shouldn't have been reported.

It's reporting like that which gets threatened when somebody like Thiel comes along and bankrolls a lawsuit for somebody like Hogan, even if Thiel and Hogan had legitimate claims that the stories Gawker reported about them were not newsworthy and, in the case of Hogan, the information Gawker reported was illegally passed on to the outlet. But even if Gawker engaged in questionable tactics, the outlet did not deserve, for practical purposes, to be sued out of existence.

Gawker's demise could have serious ramifications for what happens when another outlet considers reporting news about a wealthy individual. While responsible outlets should discuss news received and whether or not it benefits the reader to report it, the fact so many outlets are owned by corporations who may be leery of lawsuits might result in CEOs advising journalists who work for them not to report on anything that might get an outlet sued.

It would be easy to say that journalists need to carefully consider what should and shouldn't be reported. In fact, that was good advice for Gawker and what amounted to a "no holds barred" approach to reporting on whatever a public figure or official did or was like.

But there is as much to worry about when an outlet is essentially shut down by somebody who arguably held a grudge against the outlet -- even if some of his claims against the outlet are valid. Because you never know when the next person holding a grudge tries the same tactic, when that person may not have a valid claim at all.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

How Your Progress Can Motivate You

The other day, I got a lot of yard work done. I have a large lawn at the house I rent and there are several bushes surrounding the house.

Because the lawn is large, and I don't have a riding mower, I have to stop in between sections of mowing to take a breather and drink some water. When I do, I observe how much of the grass has been cut and how much is left. It reminds me that, while there is still plenty of work to finish, that I have already accomplished a lot. And though I sweat a lot and may sometimes get frustrated, looking at what I've done helps me remember to finish the task.

It's the same with the bushes and growth I've cleaned up along the sides of the house. I can only stuff so much trimmed shrubbery into the trash bin that gets rolled to the curb each week for pickup. Once again, I can see that there may be shrubbery that still needs trimming, I can observe how much I've already trimmed and the progress I've made. Though I have to wait a few days before I continue, I know that some work is out of the way and I'm that much closer to finishing the job.

Most tasks are not finished in the blink of an eye. They take time to complete, sometimes longer than we might want them to be. But the important thing is to examine how much you have completed, giving you that reminder that much has been done and that the rest will come with time.

I find it helps with writing to keep track of the words you have already written. Keeping a running tally of how much you have written each time you sit down can be a good incentive to getting the rest of the work done. You'll sometimes find yourself amazed about how much you have completed, which should motivate you to keep going until the work is complete.

You might not get to it in one day. Few novels are finished in a day. A short story, on the other hand, should be finished in a day, but sometimes you may want to take a break from that writing. Writing 10,000 words in one sitting isn't easy, just like mowing a large lawn in one sweep may not be easy unless you've got the right tool for the task. And for most of us, I suspect we aren't planning to write 10,000 words without stopping.

But regardless of how you approach your writing, remember that what you have accomplished is what's important. Knowing how far you've progressed with a work might be the incentive you need to finish the job. Before you know it, that job will be completed and you'll feel good about what you have accomplished.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Real Lessons Of The 1876 Presidential Election

The other day on Twitter, Jake Tapper shared a couple of tidbits about the 1876 Presidential election, namely about James B. Walker, who ran on the American National Party ticket (a third party) and Samuel J. Tilden, the Democrat nominee who won the popular vote but lost the election. 

Tapper was one of many people who wrote about the hotly-contested 2000 Presidential election, one that is still being debated to this day. But Tapper’s tweets prompted me to read up more on the 1876 Presidential election, in which Tilden won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote to Rutherford B. Hayes.

Before I begin, I don’t believe Tapper’s intention was to blame Tilden’s loss on the American National Party. But some people remain adamant that Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the 2000 Presidential election, so those people could fall into the same argument for the 1876 election.

There is more to the 1876 election than that, though. But the bigger issues that impacted the 1876 election are still relevant today and, in fact, were exposed as much in the 2000 election. Those issues go back to this question: Who counts the votes?

So let’s examine some of the events leading up to the 1876 election, the election itself and what was happening “behind the scenes” when voters went to the polls, how votes were tallied and what led to a resolution that some might argue was an unconstitutional solution.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Yes, John Oliver Is Right About Newspapers

John Oliver had a 19-minute segment about newspapers on his latest edition of Last Week Tonight. His segment was really his tribute to the work local newspapers have done, while recognizing that they are declining for a host of reasons.

His segment prompted a negative response from David Chavern, the president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, which in turn prompted remarks from journalists such as Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post, who pointed out that Chavern missed the point of Oliver's segment.

As somebody who has written for small-town newspapers for 20-plus years, I have observed changes in technology and approaches to news gathering and have had multiple ideas bounce through my head about what local newspapers can do to survive in a changing world. I know that technology is making this difficult. I know that print ad revenues have plummeted and online ad revenues haven't been enough to make up the difference.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

2016 Election: How To Convince The Undecided

I've written several times about the upcoming Presidential elections and why voters are really acting the way they are. This week, I figured I'd examine this in an unconventional way:

I am an American voter who is unaffiliated with any party (that wasn't always the case, but I'll get to that). I have written for newspapers for 20-plus years and have some insights into the world of journalism and what's going on with mainstream media. I follow writers and pundits of differing backgrounds who have strengths I admire, even if I don't always agree with them. And while I have made up my mind that I'm backing Gary Johnson in the 2016 Presidential election, that's not stopping me from paying attention to what else is happening in that or other upcoming election.

So I'm going to give you a little more insight into how you convince an undecided voter to back the candidate you back. I'm doing it in what might be called "interviewing myself." But I'm going to do my best to break down what voters like myself are thinking and how you might be able to sell some of those voters on the candidate you plan to vote for.

Let's begin!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Updates On Fair Weekend

The Kingman County Fair was this past weekend and kept me busy, so I don't have a specific item to discuss this week. But I do have a few updates.

* I finished reviewing the first draft of my second book and hope to start the second draft this week.

* Still waiting to hear back from a few of the publishers who expressed interest in my #Pit2Pub pitches. I understand it can take a while for some of them to get back on submissions (I can only imagine how many they had to review). But as they say, patience pays.

* I have submitted a short story to the Kansas Writers Association anthology, which should come out later this year. I'll let you know when it's to be released. Once it's out, I may share the short story here on the blog.

* For those curious about what I discussed during my presentation about superheroes during the KWA meeting a couple weeks ago, you may find it here.

* I'm thinking about sharing some of my writings from the e-feds I've participated in. My thought is that it would be a good way to demonstrate what "voice" is all about. I will have to dig out some of the promos I've written (some of them were written many years ago) and see which ones demonstrate "voice" the best.

* I'm trying to decide what to write for NaNoWriMo. I don't plan for that to be one of the novels in my planned Six Pack series, but I have some other ideas that have run through my head. It depends on which idea I think will work the best.

* Finally, is it just me or has this year's U.S. Presidential election given people many ideas for potential novels? Seems to me that reality is stranger than fiction!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Why I Endorse Gary Johnson

I have written previously about the frustrations many American voters are experiencing and why that has led to the movements behind Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. I have also shared thoughts on the Presidential races before. Now, I am ready to endorse a specific candidate.

Before I get to that, I will say I was interested in the candidacy of Sanders simply because I saw him as the one candidate in the two major parties who I believed would get the discussion going where it needed to go. For example, I do not believe Sanders would ever deliver on making college tuition free. However, I believe that, by bringing up the point, it would force lawmakers to take a closer look at why tuition rates continue to rise. Only a small minority of Sanders supporters believe free college education was realistic, but the majority of those I read about who backed him simply wanted the issue of rising tuition fees and student loan debt addressed, even if it didn't result in free tuition.

My belief in a candidate that I believe will get the political conversation going in the direction it really needs to go, is one of many reasons I am endorsing Gary Johnson for President of the United States. I voted for him in 2012 because I believed he was the best candidate for the job. When Johnson announced he was seeking the Libertarian Party nomination, I kept an eye on him again. Now that Sanders will not be on the Democratic Presidential ticket, my choice became clear: Gary Johnson is the person I believe who is the best person for the job.

Make no mistake: I do not agree with where Johnson stands on every issue. However, I also recognize that no President has ever gotten everything he wanted. That is how it should be. But the task of the President is to get the conversation steered where it needs to go and to surround himself with the right advisers who will guide him in that direction. If the President believes a bill before him is unacceptable, he may veto it, and if Congress overrides the veto, the President's conscience remains clear. If the President suggests an idea, though, he is within his rights to try to convince Congress his idea is a good one. Congress is not compelled to act, but that shouldn't stop the President from making suggestions. And I believe Johnson will make an honest attempt in both areas. If he has an idea, he'll suggest it and try to persuade others, but will recognize it's up to Congress to take action. And if Congress passes a bill he cannot support, he will veto it and, if Congress overrides, he will recognize that's how the process works while maintaining his disagreement. (Remember, one does not have to agree with a law in order to enforce it.)

As for where Johnson stands on certain issues, I will address those where I support him.

* I am glad that Johnson has maintained that he never actually "created a job" while serving in elected office. Johnson is correct that no politician has ever "created a job" unless that politician passed legislation to create or expand an existing agency. Where government really has an influence in "job creation" deals with taxation policies that encourage all types of business growth rather than skewed toward corporate America (tax subsidies) or policies that have the net effect of discouraging people from attempting to start a business. I believe Johnson understands the real difference between good regulation and bad regulation and that he will work to remove as much bad regulation as possible while ensuring regulation that truly protects people stays in place and that resources are devoted to better enforce those regulations.

* I back him on term limits. The biggest problem we have are the number of politicians who seek elected office solely because they want to get to Washington. We need to make it clear that elected office is designed to be where you serve the citizens for a brief period, then return to whatever job or private pursuit you originally held. Not only will term limits inject new ideas into government, but they should discourage those who have the idea of becoming "career politicians" or utilizing their time in Washington in hopes of getting employed by a special interest group.

* I back Johnson with regards to identifying wasteful spending. While I do not believe one should cut areas of the budget willy nilly, I believe Johnson will carefully consider what areas can be cut back without compromising government services overall. We need to recognize that there is wasteful spending in the military and much of it does nothing to help those who serve in the military unless they happen to be a high-ranking official and that we do need to examine social security, Medicare and Medicaid and find better ways to reform these services that doesn't involve what amounts to a patchwork job.

* I support his general ideas for non-interventionism and recognizing that much of the instability that is evident in the Middle East came as a result of the United States' direct involvement there. Most people fail to understand that extremist movements don't spring up just to spring up; they do so in response to certain events that they don't like. Scaling back our involvement in the Middle East is more likely to have an effect on easing the influence of extremist movements than increasing our involvement ever will. More importantly, our focus should be on working to improve relations with certain nations so they will take a leadership role in the Middle East and work to discourage extremist beliefs. A nation like Iran may not trust the United States, but trust is a two-way street and the United States has done just as much to give Iran reason to distrust it as Iran has done to the United States.

* I support his beliefs on immigration because I believe they will lead to a simplified system for welcoming immigrants to this country and that they would direct our policies toward what the idea behind immigration should be about: To get immigrants to become productive citizens of the United States, not to be used as an excuse for cheap labor.

* I support his ideas for criminal justice reform, the legalization of marijuana and his ideas for rehabilitation efforts for any others who use illegal drugs. It is past due for us to admit that the War on Drugs has failed, just as Prohibition failed many years earlier.

* I back his ideas for what really can be done to encourage protecting the environment. In the long run, I believe that innovation is what will make alternative sources of energy more viable, but I do not agree with the idea of using federal money to promote one source at the expense of another, nor will I support the use of taxation (whether it's increase or breaks) for that purpose. We should not subsidize oil companies, wind farms, coal mining, solar companies, natural gas companies or any other energy source, regardless of what one thinks about the sources and its impact.

* I support his stance on abortion. It's not something I necessarily agree with and I favor banning third trimester abortions unless the woman's life is in danger. But I agree with Johnson that it's best for the government to stay out of it for the most part.

* I support his stances on personal freedom, internet freedom and security and I believe he will steer the conversation back to "with freedom comes responsibility" and that he will ensure that policies are implemented accordingly, in which the government will punish those who abuse those freedoms but will not spend its time acting like watchdogs who act like every American can't be trusted.

There are issues on which I do not agree with Johnson. I do not believe it is possible to go to a consumption tax alone to fund the federal budget, but I believe Johnson will steer the conversation toward simplifying the tax code and finding a way to allow for a federal sales tax to be implemented as part of the funding process. I disagree with most of his stances on education, though I would back him on opposing any attempts by the federal government to entice states to adopting certain standards or curriculum. Johnson does not get into his stance on minimum wage but I suspect his stances would lead him to not support it, while I support a minimum wage increase with certain conditions.

(Regarding minimum wage, I support a package deal that would increase the minimum wage, end the withholding of income tax from paychecks and make the first $50,000 for all individuals income tax free, to go along with implementing a federal sales tax and using the minimum wage increase to get more people off the welfare and Medicaid rolls. All one has to do is look at how many Wal-Mart employees are on welfare and Medicaid to know that those are not simply there for people who are too lazy to get a job -- a stance that I do believe Johnson agrees is a ridiculous assertion.)

However, I believe Johnson will get our conversation going where it needs to go. I do not see Hillary Clinton able to do that, given that she lacks political savvy. There is a real sense of distrust for her, even if there are voters who find her preferable to Donald Trump. But I see Clinton as not being able to steer the conversation where it needs to go and not being able to convince legislators or the public about her ideas. While I will acknowledge that some will oppose her because she is a Democrat or because she is a woman (or both), I believe she will fall too easily to the prey of special interest groups (read: the elite and well connected) and will not keep herself focused on ideas that will truly lead toward solutions that will help the average citizen. Furthermore, her hawkish foreign policy is something I cannot support.

As for Trump, he's nothing but an orator. It goes without saying that somebody like that is going to talk the talk but be unable to walk the walk, not because Democrats oppose him or many minorities oppose him (although they certainly do), but because Trump simply does not have the leadership skills to get legislators working on solutions. Name calling might echo the frustrations some voters feel, but it has never led to solutions and never will.

 I refuse to accept the idea that my endorsement of Johnson is a endorsement or vote for either Clinton or Trump. First, the notion that a vote for somebody other than Clinton is a vote for Trump, or that a vote for somebody other than Trump is a vote for Clinton, is less about voting for somebody than it is about voting against somebody. Second, it waters down third-party candidates into a simplistic narrative rather than examining every factor that goes into every election. If you look at the big picture rather than a part of it, you'll find out that one factor by itself hasn't really decided our recent elections. Third, we must consider that many GOP voters are not going to vote for Trump because they don't like him, and the same goes for some Democrats who will not vote for Clinton for the same reason. I expect more GOP voters to vote for Clinton instead of Trump than Democrats to vote for Trump instead of Clinton, but the fact is, those who usually back one party but won't back that party's candidate had made up their minds when the primaries started that they wouldn't back that candidate. But the truth is that there are always those party members who choose to vote for a candidate other than the one nominated because they don't care for that candidate and that's not changing any time soon. (And the belief some hold that a political party must be "pure" in its views is one of many reasons why I no longer am a member of a political party.)

Finally, the biggest reason why I reject the notion that voting for Johnson is a vote for either Trump or Clinton is because I believe that every person needs to vote for the candidate he or she believes is the best person for the job. If more than two candidates are running, even if those third party candidates aren't high profile, I believe voters owe it to themselves to at least consider what those candidates have to say. Since I started looking closer at third party candidates, I have liked Johnson and the ideas he brings to the table and I believe he is the best person for the job.

I am appalled at the behavior of certain Republican and Democrat voters who act as though one has to get on board with the candidate who holds that party's nomination and conform to whatever that candidate has to say. While I do not believe they represent the majority of Republicans and Democrats, their behavior is not going to convince me that their party's candidate is the best one for the job, and more importantly, that behavior is going to do more harm than good to their party in the long run.

I reject any notion that I have to get behind a candidate simply to prevent somebody else from getting into office. I do not reject the notion, though, that if people believe the candidate they want to vote for is the best person for the job, that they should not do so. If you truly believe Clinton is the best person for the job, that is your decision. If you believe the same of Trump, that's your decision, too. I may not agree with you, but I will acknowledge it is your decision and will not send you on a guilt trip for it.

But that is why I will state that I am happy to endorse Gary Johnson for President, because I believe he is the best candidate for the job. Ultimately, that is what matters the most to me and I stand by my endorsement.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Does YA Dystopian Fiction Have A Future?

The recent news that the final movie in the Divergent series, Ascendant, will become a TV film instead of a big-screen release, may raise the question about whether or not young adult dystopian fiction has any future.

My interest in young adult fiction rose after I read The Hunger Games series and, yes, that played a role in spurring my ideas for the books I'm writing. But given what's happened with Ascendant and the poor reviews that The 5th Wave film received, could I be having second thoughts?

The short answer is no. The explanation is that I don't believe what happens in the film industry always reflects what might interest readers.

At the last Kansas Writers Association meeting, after my presentation about superheroes, author Stephanie Storey talked to everyone about her new novel, Oil and Marble. Storey is a TV producer in Los Angeles and talked a bit about what goes into writing a screenplay. She explained that they need to be written so that studio executives will turn the page every time and that, with every book adaptation into a film, things have to be cut.

Those two points sound like two issues writers face. Every writer wants to have a book in which readers keep turning the pages and every writer, at some point, has to cut something from a story that either doesn't fit or advance the plot.

But when books are adapated for the big screen, the challenges to draw viewers don't come from the writing alone. Acting and directing mean as much to getting people to watch a film. If a film doesn't have those elements in place, you are less likely to keep the audience interested. Compare that to a book, in which the reader will use his or her imagination to determine what the characters' voices sound like and how they visualize the characters interacting with everybody.

Storey brought up another point: When you are putting together a film or TV show, you are working with multiple people and those who handle the writing won't always get everything they want. That applies to an extent to novelists, but not as much as to TV writers. While anyone from an editor to a beta reader may suggest a change or revision to a draft, the final decision rest with the author most of the time. Not so in the world of TV and movies, as Storey explained.

So when people adapt a book to the big screen, those people have a bigger task ahead of them. They have to get a lot of people to work together to put many elements into place and deliver a product in which viewers won't have to use their imaginations regarding how people's voices sound or what the landscape looks like.

If the acting doesn't convey the emotions that people felt when they read the book, it's harder for people to accept the film product. If certain elements in the book don't make it into the film and those who read the book believe those elements meant a lot, they won't appreciate the film like they did the book. Fans of the book may not like it if a scene is rewritten to the point that they believe the characters aren't consistent with who they are in the book.

I believe what made The Hunger Games films hold up is that the film writers did a good job of streamlining the books so that the main theme remained intact, Jennifer Lawrence was strong in the role of Katniss Everdeen and the visual effects added to the world building Suzanne Collins did in the books. Compare that to Divergent, in which I thought the first book was good (though not as good as Hunger Games) but the film never held my interest and I thought most of the actors didn't do a good job with their roles (which I would blame the directing as much as I would blame the acting).

But just because the Divergent films haven't done that well at the box office doesn't mean the trend of young adult dystopian fiction is fading. That's determined by book sales, not movie ticket sales. I think there's a still a place for this type of fiction, but it needs themes and ideas that readers can relate to.

Whether or not I have the concept that readers will like remains to be seen. But I don't believe I, or anyone else, should be discouraged from trying. Using the film industry to measure what people are or aren't interested may be useful, but it shouldn't be the only factor or the biggest factor. The biggest factor should be the novelist writing what interests him or her and letting readers decide for themselves what they think of the product.

It goes back to another bit of advice I heard at Smallville ComicCon: Yes, someone else has done it before. Do it anyway. You never know if readers may be interested in your take.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Talking About Justice League: The New Frontier

I gave the presentation at the Kansas Writers Association meeting yesterday and my topic was superheroes. One of the graphic novels and animated films I recommended was Justice League: The New Frontier.

I have watched the animated films many times over. I have yet to read the graphic novel (it's on my list, though!) but know enough about it that it covers so many different issues, yet manages to tie them all together into a single theme.

New Frontier touches upon many issues that date back to the 1950's and early 1960's: The Red Scare, McCarthyism, space exploration, U.S. involvement in world affairs, racism and discrimination. The overall theme is how superheroes of different backgrounds, nearly all not trusted by the government, must come together with that government to fight an entity intent on destroying humanity.

The film boils down hundreds of pages of work into a 70-minute film, and like all films, it doesn't cover everything the novel covers. But it's an example of work that still holds up long after its release, and long after the 1950's ended, because many of those issues remain. They have taken different forms but the roots are the same.

None of the characters are said to be "in the wrong" in every circumstance. Even the entity called The Center has a valid argument: Humans have engaged in destructive behavior ever since they came into existence, so how can the earth survive if that behavior continues?

This was one of the points I brought up during the presentation: Superheroes shouldn't start out as being "in the right" while their opponents are "in the wrong." The question to explore is what ultimately determines that the heroes are "in the right." Regarding New Frontier, what determines that is, although the superheroes and government agents have different ideas about how to serve the people, they believe that all life is precious and there will come a day when things will be better. They hold a sense of optimism, difficult as the struggles may be, compared to The Center's outlook that the earth's situation is hopeless if human beings aren't removed from the equation.

For comic book geeks like me, I imagine most of us would agree that New Frontier is excellent material. For anyone who has never picked up a comic book, New Frontier is a good place to start.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Pit2Pub Pitches And Other Notes

This Wednesday is Pit2Pub and I've prepared several pitches that I will roll out that day.

I thought I'd give people a sneak peek at the five pitches I have in mind and get feedback from anyone about how they sound. Keep in mind: Pit2Pub is on Twitter and pitches need to be no more than 140 characters, including the hashtags.

* One drink controls society. Another drink gives six teens powers that could change society.
* Teen Titans meets Divergent.
* Little would they realize how much they would discover just by having a drink.
* They took a drink that gave them powers. But do they have the power to change a nation?
* Six teens uncover a secret about society, but after sharing a drink, they uncover so much more.

I'm crossing my fingers that Pit2Pub will lead to the foot in the door into the publishing world. I've read many of the success stories and appreciate what Kristin Van Risseghem and Ann Noser have done to give aspiring authors a chance to be published.

On another note, I finished the first draft of my second planned novel last week and will let it sit for a few more days, before going through it and determining where it needs improvement. Because the first draft is only a little more than 40,000 words, I'll need to expand it. All I need to figure is what should be added without dragging the reader down. The good news is I might not have to cut anything from this book!

And at the Kansas Writers Association meeting this Saturday, I'll be giving the presentation about superheroes and how writers can make them characters people can relate to. I have the outline finished, but need to put it into a final draft.

Finally, I've had more ideas for novels that are separate from my current planned series. Recent events in the news gave me some ideas, perhaps ones that could become finished products during NaNoWriMo.

Ah, the life of a writer.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Why The System Isn't Working

To put it mildly, this has been a troubling July and we are only just a few days into the month. From the news that Hillary Clinton will not face charges for her mishandling of e-mails and classified information, to the news about the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, it's been, to put it mildly, an ugly week.

Before people get tuned up about how the situations above are not related to each other, hear me out. I am not saying they are related. But there is a theme rolling through this country about how many United States citizens don't trust the government and its institutions these days. Regarding Hillary Clinton, she served as Secretary of State at the time of her deeds, she has previously served in the United States Senate and she is the Democratic nominee for the Presidency. Therefore, she is part of the government. As for the deaths of Castile and Sterling, they both came because police officers shot them. And like it or not, police officers work for a government entity, so they are part of the government, too.

And in both cases, there is a lot of outrage about how things went down, which goes back, in part, to the perceptions the people have about the government, or to put it another way, that the system isn't working. There may be different reasons why people believe this to be true, but the common theme shared is they see a broken system and are angry about it.

I will say a few things before I begin: I cannot relate to what goes on in the armed forces because I never served, I cannot relate to what happens with classified government materials because I have never held such a position, I cannot relate to what police officers go through in their daily lives because I have not been an officer, and I cannot relate to what African Americans have experienced when dealing with officers because -- and I'm not ashamed to say it -- I have benefited from white privilege.

However, none of these things mean I can't go around saying the system is broken, because I know enough information to see that it is. Nor does it mean I should demonize any of these people; instead, I should show more empathy and recognize situations for what they are, while still recognizing that some things need to change.

Starting with the whole Clinton e-mail ordeal, based on everything I have read, I do not believe that Clinton should be sent to jail. Nor do I believe that FBI director James Comey or Attorney General Lorertta Lynch need to resign. With that said, if one sits down and reads the report, it's clear that Comey believes that Clinton was careless and negligent. At the very least, it would indicate that what Clinton did should at least result in her paying a substantial fine. She may not have engaged in a true criminal activity, but that doesn't mean she shouldn't be held accountable to some degree.

With that said, I have read up on, for example, Army Private Chelsea Manning enough to know that she should not be serving prison time for what she did. Fine her, yes. Bar her from certain tasks and duties, yes. But not prison. And the fact that Hillary Clinton is the one that decide to go hard after Manning with reasoning that basically boils down to "well, it could have done serious damage." That's like saying that a sober person who is responsible for a vehicle crash in which there are no injuries should be slapped with a vehicular assault charge because "well, it could have resulted in injury." And while that may not be the best analogy, I would think it at least gets the point across that Clinton and company overreacted to what Manning did.

Because Manning is an army private, she did not have the connections that a member of the elite and well connected (and that's what Clinton is and it's not up for debate) would have and she was in a position in which it was arguably easier for the government to press its case against her. And when those who are not part of the elite and well connected are, for practical purposes, having to fight the system on their own, it's no surprise they face an uphill battle, which fuels the perception that the system allows people like Clinton to get away with everything while the common person suffers.

As for what happened to Castile and Sterling, I am aware that we don't have all the details yet and that Castile and Sterling are far from being patron saints. And, once again, I will admit I have benefited from white privilege and cannot relate to the ordeals that many black citizens deal with.

With that said, I am appalled that people think there is nothing wrong with police officers assuming the worst in every case they approach. Yes, I know many police officers have lost their lives while performing their duties, but that does not mean they should treat every citizen they approach as the enemy. That may not be what police officers intend, but it's the impression they are leaving, fair or not.

Of course, we must ask ourselves if it's really the officers on the street who are to blame, or the officers who work alongside them and don't speak up. No, I am not talking about the individuals they have shot. I am talking about the people who rank above the officers and have played as much of a role in the issues that plague police departments.

I will say that I would never take a job as a police officer for this reason: I have a temper problem and don't always think straight. (Yes, this may be a surprise to some of you who read my blog, but it's true.) And while I don't know everything there is to know about being an officer, I have observed enough to know that officers need to keep a level head at all times and carefully weigh their decisions.

I think back to the case of Tamir Rice, who died after he was shot by police officer Timothy Loehmann, who was an officer that, at a previous job, had been recommended by the police chief that he be discharged, but choose to resign -- or to put it another way, he quit before he could be fired. I do not know what happened in between the time he held that previous job and what happened in Cleveland, but I have reason to believe that Loehmann suffered from a mental issue that would prevent him from properly doing his job. In other words, I don't think Loehmann should have been a police officer.

So how did Loehmann get the job with the Cleveland Police Department? I don't know that, either. But I've heard plenty of stories about the difficulty various cities have with finding officers. These stories range from the pay not being enough, to qualified candidates seeking employment outside of law enforcement, to city council members who pressure police chiefs to quickly fill a vacancy rather than take time to evalute applicants. And while I realize there is a lot of additional work that comes for other officers when a position is vacant, the worst thing you can do is hire the first person you see for the job.

But there's more to it than just what the officers themselves are doing. We have a system that is built from the top down in which the federal government is funneling money to departments for various types of equipment, all in the name of making sure officers are prepared, just in case. This leads to the militarization of the police, a practice that is going to do more to make citizens wary of the police than thinking of the officers as part of the community.

We have the example of Ferguson, in which the city was dependent on collecting fines to fund its budget, fines mostly paid by poor citizens. That most of these citizens were black did not help Ferguson's case. And, worst of all, the elite and well connected of Ferguson were using those connections to ensure they didn't have to pay fines for tickets, all while the poor, black citizens of Ferguson weren't even allowed to pay installments on fines due and got tacked with more fines on top of what they owed.

Then there was one example that did a lot more to illustrate the problems in Ferguson than people may have realized: An officer was told he could not play basketball with the kids, and by the way, the basketball nets have been taken down because we can't afford them. Not only do the poor, black citizens see the basketball nets disappear, but they are given the impression that the police are not part of the community; they are above the community.

So why should anyone be surprised that Black Lives Matter came about? And why should anyone who wants to proclaim "all lives matter" or "police lives matter" get met with a roll of the eyes or worse? It's clear that many African American citizens are seeing a system that isn't working and they are upset. Any variant of "lives matter" does nothing but give more reasons for the African American citizens to be upset.

With that said, while I recognize that racism remains a major problem in this country, it's not the only one and, needless to say, it isn't number one. Problem number one is the elite and well connected, who never suffer the bad effects of the bulk of policies that are implemented in this country, who seldom can relate to the struggles of the average citizen and who, while some may have good intentions and want to do the right thing, are mostly paying lip service to the average citizen while hobnobbing with their fellow elite and well connected members and continuing to advance bad policies.

That is not to say we should ignore racism -- we need to confront it, difficult as it may be. But we must remember that, as we address racism, we address other issues alongside it. And that means holding the elite and well connected accountable. For those who strongly oppose racism, I ask you to remember that the elite and well connected have done as much to fuel racism for their advantage as much as the hardline racists do. Because the elite and well connected use it not to advance what you believe is important, but to distract everyone else from the other problems that exists.

But regardless of where anyone stands on the issues, we all need to be honest: The system is broken and it is doing nothing to help the common citizen. And the elite and well connected are the ones most responsible. We can no longer ignore this and we need to stop pretending that if we don't let them run the show, they'll leave and we'll be screwed.

That does not mean we go at with an "off with their heads" approach. Instead, we need to find people who truly empathize with the situations the common citizen faces. There have been those in the elite and well connected who, while not perfect, at least showed empathy for the plight of the average citizen. Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner were among those Congressmen after the Civil War who truly empathized with the freed slaves and realized that their work was not done just because slavery was abolished. Franklin D. Roosevelt understood that he couldn't just implement programs; he needed to communicate well with voters impacted by the Great Depression to make sure they knew he had empathy for them. Ronald Reagan understood the importance of empathy, particularly when people were still feeling the sting over the Vietnam War, Watergate and were worried about the Iranian hostage situation.

The two candidates who represent the major parties for the Presidency are nothing like FDR and Reagan. I've already gone over the Democratic candidate, a candidate who has admitted she's not that good at communicating with the average voter, and that's a problem that signals to me she is going to be more like Herbert Hoover or Jimmy Carter. And then there's the GOP candidate, who only reminds me of this Benjamin Franklin quote: "Here comes the orator! With his flood of words and his drop of reason."

Regardless of where you stand on the issues, it's time to start demanding candidates who truly empathize with the average American, not just those who play to the lowest common denominator or those who can't shake the impression they are above everyone else. And that means speaking out more against the elite and well connected. It can start by making them pay attention to how their policies and approaches are only hurting the little guy.