About My Book

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

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.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

"Very" And Other Words To Avoid In Writing

As I browsed Twitter this morning, I ran across somebody sharing an article about 15 Words You Need to Eliminate From Your Vocabulary to Sound Smarter, written by Jennie Haskamp.

The article makes valid points about the way we can improve our writing. I wanted to bring up a couple of the selections because I think we writers need to recognize them as the ones I suspect we often use in our first drafts. In fact, a couple of them are words I used more than I would like.

Very: It's not the first word Haskamp mentioned, but I mention it first because this is the one adverb writers should stop using. Only exception: Dialogue. "Very" is the one word in which I would say that there is no reason to use it other than dialogue. You can get your point across in other ways.

That: Here's a word I've tossed often into my first drafts, but upon review, realized I could eliminate and the sentence is fine. It's a good way to reduce your word count without taking away from your story.

Went: We use this word often in conversation. So I think it's OK to use it in dialogue because it's how people talk. But when we described action, we should be specific. He walked to school. She drove to the store. He boarded the bus on his way to work. She entered the movie theater. All examples of how we can write action without using "went" as we may do when we talk.

Really: Dialogue only. "Oh, really?" That's something people say all the time. Otherwise, it's a variant of very.

Literally: The list of instances to use this word would be short. Besides, why bother writing "I literally couldn't get out of bed" when you get the same point across by writing "I tried to get out of bed, but couldn't move a muscle."

Stuff and things: Either describe what they are or don't mention them. If it's "stuff," it probably isn't important to the story.

Irregardless: Let's review this one. The prefix "ir-" and the suffix "-less" each have a negative connotation. I suspect people use this word because they are thinking about the words that have the "ir-" prefix. Irresponsible. Irrational. Irrelevant. Those words are associated with negative or undesirable traits, so people may think "ir-" has to go in front of "regardless" if they use it in reference to the negative or undesirable. However, think of the words that have the "-less" suffix. Careless sounds like a bad thing, but flawless does not. As for the "ir-" prefix, what about "irresistible"? You use that to describe something you love, right? So it's possible for a word to have a prefix or suffix with a negative connotation, but describe a positive trait. All you have to remember when you describe something as "not" or "without," you only need one such prefix or one such suffix to describe it.

I'll throw in another one I try to avoid: Ended up. That was a word pairing I used often in early drafts of my self-published book Small Town Sports Beat. When I reviewed early drafts, I saw many instance in which I wrote "ended up." I rewrote most instances to eliminate that phrase and the sentences were fine. Since then, I've worked to cut down my usage of the phrase.

What are some of the words you think should be avoided when writing? What words do you find yourself using frequently in your writing that you believe you should reduce?