That Thing Where I Draw: Sunflowers

Well, the votes are in and you are looking at the new Author's Echo (unless you're in Reader, Facebook, etc., in which case everything looks exactly the same). I like this layout better (less clutter). Though I wish Blogger had more font choices for the blog title. Oh well, it's not perfect, but it's free. So who's complaining?

Not me.

Anyway, today's picture was commissioned by my wife, Cindy. It's the second largest picture I've ever drawn (about 10"x15"), which may explain the sometimes-poor attention to detail (I have a short attention span, sorry). But my wife likes it, and it's good practice for me in oil pastels.

Your Call: New Look

After God knows how many years of the same thirty-eight templates, Blogger has finally joined the 21st century with, not just new templates, but customizability (thanks to fairyhedgehog for the heads up). That means (1) I wasted my entire Saturday morning playing with it and (2) Author's Echo is about to get a new look.

But I can't decide on a background (I'll tweak fonts and colors later). I figured, since you guys will probably be looking at my blog more than I do,* you should be the ones to decide. I've narrowed it down to the four choices below; click the images for a larger version. The poll is at the end (if you're reading this in your e-mail, RSS reader, on Facebook, etc. you'll have to click through to vote).

* Most of my interaction with the blog is through the dashboard and e-mail, honestly.





(If you can't see the poll, click here).

Thanks for voting. Feel free to make further comments in the comments, as I reserve the right to ignore the results of the poll in favor of a really persuasive argument.

Why Bad Reviews Don't Matter

I figure I should post this before my writing gets out there. Before someone thinks this was triggered by a bad review of my own work. It's not.*

First, let's start with a given: There is not a single book, song, or piece of art that is universally loved (or hated). I think we can agree on that. The Bible? Simultaneously loved and hated. Manet? Unappreciated in his time. And believe it or not, some people hate U2 (I know!).

From this, we can assume one of two things:

  1. Some people just don't understand great art.
  2. Art is subjective.

If you've been around here for a while, you know where I'm going with this, but let's stick with logic. The first supposition can be true if and only if, for a given work of art, all those who love it are by some measure "educated" in what is good art, and all those who hate it are not. I don't think that's true. Unfortunately, I can't really prove it in a single blog post, so if you want to argue with me you're just going to have to provide a counter-example.**

Art is subjective. That means all reviews, good or bad, are a matter of opinion. Saying that the characters in Ghost Force were flat, dull, and indistinguishable only means that the characters didn't speak to YOU (or, in this case, me... I didn't like that book). Saying the writing in The Shack was awkward and annoying only means the writing bothered YOU (or me again, although I did like the ideas).

Now I don't think a blog post in my obscure corner of the verse will help reviewers express things as their opinion (though they should), but I say this for you writers out there, and everyone else involved in art of any kind. Bad reviews can't hurt you. At best, a bad review is something you can learn from. At worst, it just means someone didn't get what you created.

And that's okay.

Art moves people, but everybody is moved by different things. A friend of mine hates (HATES!) Finding Nemo, while I consider it a powerful movie. Is my friend wrong? Uneducated? Totally blind to the genius that is Pixar? (Yes.) No! My friend just isn't moved by themes of fatherhood like I am. And why should he be? It's not his heart. There's nothing wrong with my friend, with me, or with the movie. It is what it is. It moves whomever it moves.

You hear this all the time: you can't please everybody. We use it to dismiss a critique that makes us upset, but think about it. If you can't please everybody, it means you don't have to. This is freedom, folks. It's the freedom to write what you love. The difficulty lies, not in making people understand, but in finding those people who already do.

Of course you will continue to work on your craft. Of course you will strive to write something that many, many people can identify with and enjoy. To me, that's the fun of growing in this art. But in the end, you'll write what you write. You'll move whomever you'll move.

And if that jerk on Amazon doesn't get it, that's okay.

* It's actually a preemptive attack on FUTURE bad reviews. How's that for passive-aggression?

** HA! Passive-aggression again!***

*** You know, these footnotes are getting kind of passive-aggressive.

Show vs. Tell, in Which My Son Teaches Me About Writing

Writers are always told, "Show, don't tell." The other day, one of my 3-year-old boys gave me an object lesson on why that is:
DADDY: Nathan, that was naughty. You're on a timeout.

NATHAN sits on the step and cries for like an hour.*

N: Timeout over?

D: Your timeout will be over when you're quiet.

Nathan stops screaming for an entire breath.

N: Nathan's quiet already!

D: If you have to tell me you're quiet, you're not quiet.

But you know, sometimes it's okay to tell too.

DADDY: What are you eating, Nathan?

Nathan opens his mouth as wide as he can.

D (holding stomach): Thanks.

* Not actually an hour.

Books I Read: Catching Fire

Title: Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Published: 2009
Content Rating: PG-13 for violence

After barely surviving the Hunger Games, Katniss finds herself in even worse trouble. The Capitol blames her for uprisings in the Districts, and they want her to fix things on her Victory Tour. She has no love for the Capitol, but the last thing she wants is for anyone to die because of her, least of all her friends and family back home. But when a simple show of respect for a Hunger Games' ally triggers a minor rebellion, she doesn't know what to do. Can she make things right? Could she run away with those she loves? Or could she become the leader the Districts are aching for?

I was worried about this book at first. I thought the Games themselves were what I loved about the first one, and I wondered if any political tension would be as compelling. About the end of chapter 3, though, I was just as hooked. Turns out it's also the Big Brother-esque Capitol that I like -- the realization that the only happy ending would be if the Capitol was overthrown, while chapter after chapter the Capitol proves that will never happen.

So I really liked it. Every time I thought the story was slow or predictable (which was rare, but it happened), something occurred to make me sit up and go, "No way!"

With one caveat: I felt like Katniss was kinda thick-headed towards the end. It's not that she should've seen the end coming (I didn't see most of it coming either), but once it came Katniss just didn't seem to get it, even after it was explained to her. I guess it's her character -- she never figured out about Peeta until the end of the first one either -- but it felt overdone to me in this one. It didn't ruin the book for me, but if she doesn't pick up on things quicker in the third one, I might be upset.

Azrael's Curse

Cindy and Anica are home now, which is totally awesome. It also means I'm alternately busier than ever and totally bored/napping (much more the former). And for whatever reason, I don't feel like blogging much about writing. Life just feels a lot bigger right now. Don't worry, I'll get over it.

So I'm cheating today and pasting my query for Air Pirates, also known as Azrael's Curse. Feel free to fill the comments with criticism or praise if you like. Just don't be a meanie head.

Dear Agent:

For Hagai’s twenty-first birthday, his mother sends him a stone that gives visions of the future. But why did she send it, and how, since she was killed eighteen years ago? Hagai’s not exactly a hero -- the bravest thing he’s ever done is put peppers in his stew -- yet when the stone shows his mother alive and in danger, he sets out to find her.

Air pirates and sky sailors are also after the stone, and Hagai soon loses it to a wanted sky’ler named Sam. Sam wants the stone to help him avenge his father, but it only shows him one thing: his own death. Hagai, he learns, receives many visions. So when Hagai tracks Sam down and demands he give the stone back -- politely, of course, because Sam has a knife -- Sam offers him a job instead.

Now Hagai, who grew up wanting nothing to do with sky’lers, is crew to one and fugitive from both pirates and police. He’s not sure he can trust Sam, and the stone haunts Hagai with visions of his own death. Nonetheless, he’s determined to change the future and find his mother, if it’s not already too late.

AZRAEL'S CURSE is a 90,000-word science fantasy novel, available on request. It's written to stand alone but has series potential. My short story, “Pawn's Gambit” -- set in the same world as AZRAEL'S CURSE -- is due to be published in BENEATH CEASELESS SKIES. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Adam Heine

I noticed at least one agent wanted the story described in one single paragraph. So here's the super-condensed version. I think I might like it better, but I'm still too close to it to tell (what with having written this version like 20 minutes ago):

For Hagai’s twenty-first birthday, his mother sends him a stone that gives visions of the future. But why did she send it, and how, since she was killed eighteen years ago? Hagai’s not exactly a hero -- the bravest thing he’s ever done is put peppers in his stew -- yet when the stone shows his mother alive and in danger, he sets out to find her. Hagai joins a crew of wanted sky sailors, becoming fugitive from both pirates and police. He's not sure who he can trust, and the stone haunts him with visions of his own death. Nonetheless, he's determined to change the future and find his mother, if it's not already too late.

My New Distraction

You may notice I missed a post yesterday. That's the first post I've missed since I decided to have a schedule, but I have a really good reason:

Also without the crying:

Her name is Anica Joy Heine, and she's going to ensure I never get anything productive done again.

And actually, I'm okay with that.

Seriously though, this space will be quiet until Friday, when I will attempt to present the appearance of normality once more. I'll be online, I just won't be writing anything new or witty. Which I guess is the same as always, but...

You know what? Whatever. I have a baby girl!

Goals, Dreams, and Settling

Dreams (as I'm defining them today) are what you want to have happen. Goals are what you make happen.

Dreams are as big as you're imagination. Goals are what you can accomplish today.

Dreams come first. Goals are how you get there.

Say your dream is to own a big house on the ocean. How do you get there? You can't say, "I'm going to own a big house on the ocean by the time I'm 30." Not without a plan.

Your goals are the plan. Get a good job -- one that leads to better jobs, better salaries. Save money. Make a budget. These are goals. They can get you from where you are now to where you want to be.

If you mix up dreams and goals, you're in trouble. Dreams are sometimes out of your control. If your goal is to be married by the time you're 35, then on your 35th birthday you might find yourself settling for someone less than ideal. You can't control who you meet, whether or not you fall in love, whether or not they're the perfect person for you.

But you can make goals -- small, accomplishable things that are under your control, that will make that dream more likely. Don't date jerks. Don't kiss on a first date. Don't marry anyone who hates Star Wars. Stuff like that.

Like my dream is to get published. It's a dream, not a goal, because it is largely out of my control. What I can control is how much I write, how well I write, how much time I take with my query letter, how many stories and novels I send out. So my goals are along those lines: write X words a day/month/year. Revise my query letter at least Y times. Query N agents within M months. Write Z short stories this year. Find Q more letters for variables. These goals won't ensure I get published, but they will improve my odds. More importantly, they are entirely within my control.

And I don't put a timeline on my dream. If I said, "I will get an agent before my third novel" or "I will be published before I'm 40" then I set myself up for disappointment. It's entirely possible I will never be published, simply because it's out of my control. If I put a timeline on it then, just like marriage, I'll end up settling.

So I won't. I'll keep trying, making new goals and hitting them, as long as it takes. But I'm not going to settle on my dream. Hopefully you won't either.

So I'm curious: what are your dreams (as much as you want to talk about them here, of course)? How are you planning to get there?

Books I Read: Kindred

Title: Kindred
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Genre: Science Fiction
First Published: 1979
Content Rating: R for beatings, whippings, and attempted rape

Dana, an African-American writer from the 20th century, is transported to pre-Civil War Maryland to save the life of a white boy named Rufus -- the son of a slave owner and Dana's ancestor. As Rufus grows older, Dana is called back again and again. Each time, her stay is longer and more dangerous. She refuses to be treated as a slave, but she has no rights and no help -- quiet submission is often less painful than the whip. But as Rufus grows meaner and more possessive, Dana must decide if slavery is worth her life, or his.

This is a dark book, but really powerful. It's an amazing look at slavery through the eyes of a woman born free in 1979 California. Dana is forced to decide what she really believes about slavery and herself. There are many times when she thinks she would do anything rather than be enslaved, whipped, or even raped, but when it comes down to it, the choices are much harder to make in reality. Rufus is an interesting character too. Alternately generous and vicious -- totally racist but less so than many others of his time -- it was difficult to hate him even when he did terrible things.

There's one scene in particular I want to share with you. Dana (the narrator) is talking with a mute named Carrie, another slave. Dana feels guilty for saving Rufus after all the terrible things he does to her and other people. Carrie reminds her that if Rufus died, things would be much worse; all the slaves might be sold off, families would be separated.

Carrie stood looking down at the crib as though she had read my thought.

"I was beginning to feel like a traitor," I said. "Guilty for saving him. Now . . . I don't know what to feel. Somehow, I always seem to forgive him for what he does to me. I can't hate him the way I should until I see him doing things to other people." I shook my head. "I guess I can see why there are those here who think I'm more white than black."

Carrie made quick waving-aside gestures, her expression annoyed. She came over to me and wiped one side of my face with her fingers--wiped hard. I drew back, and she held her fingers in front of me, showed me both sides. But for once, I didn't understand.

Frustrated, she took me by the hand and led me out to where her husband Nigel was chopping firewood. There, before him, she repeated the face-rubbing gesture, and he nodded.

"She means it doesn't come off, Dana," he said quietly. "The black. She means the devil with people who say you're anything but what you are."

I hugged her and got away from her quickly so that she wouldn't see that I was close to tears.

Content ratings based on what I think a movie might be rated, if the things shown in the book were shown in the movie. Ratings are very subjective, and I don't always remember/notice things. If you're unsure whether the book is right for you, do some research so you can make your own decision.

That Thing Where I Draw: We Do Hard Things

A few months ago, I wrote a post about how I don't like the word "talent". It's a post about how I learned that I shouldn't quit something just because I'm not good at it right away, or because it's too hard. Natalie told me she had framed the saying "We Do Hard Things". I loved the idea: we don't quit when something gets hard -- hard things are what we do!

I wanted a picture like that in my house, but I didn't want just the words. It was five months before I figured out what I did want:

"We shouldn't be here at all, if we'd known more about it before we started. But I suppose it's often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo... I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for... But that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually...

"But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't. And if they had, we shouldn't know, because they'd have been forgotten."

It's Not You, Wilhelm. It's Me.

I remember the first time we met, Wilhelm. It was in this HyperCard game back in the 80's. You were the sound that played when I did something stupid and died. This sound.

Back then, I liked you for who you were -- I had no idea you were famous. To me, you were just "that scream I assigned as my computer's shutdown sound."

Then one day I was watching Star Wars. A stormtrooper got shot, and I heard you as he fell down a shaft. When I asked you about it, you told me everything. "I'm an old joke," you said. "They call me the Wilhelm Scream." You mentioned some old movies you were in -- the kind I'd have seen on MST3K -- before George Lucas found you. "And you know how GEORGE is about inside jokes."

It was kind of awesome. You were a big deal, and I was in on it. I'd be watching a movie with my friends and be all like, "Hey, I know that scream! That's the sound from when the bad guy died in Temple of Doom." My friends thought I was cool.*

* You have to know my friends.

That was twenty years ago. Now...

See, it's not your fault, Wilhelm. You haven't changed a bit in 58 years. It's me. I just... Sometimes I want to watch a movie in peace, yeah? Without you opening your mouth. I know, I know. It's your job. But it's like. Every. Single. Movie. You scream in Fifth Element, Pirates of the Caribbean, Tears of the Sun, Kingdom of Heaven, Sin City, all three Lord of the Rings movies...

I can understand some of them, I guess -- Indiana Jones, Avatar, Tropic Thunder. But New Moon? Anchorman? The Pacifier? You were even in an episode of Mythbusters for crying out loud!

And it's not just my movies; you're in all my kids' movies too. Even when I'm not watching, I hear you in Kung Fu Panda, Cars, even Up and Bolt. Heck, my daughters were watching Prince Caspian the other day IN THAI, and I heard you from the other room!

So, it's too much. You were cool and all, 20 years ago. But I think it's time we saw other people, or movies, or... If you could just not be in movies at all anymore. Ever. That would be great. Maybe we could talk then.

In another 20 years.

The Board Game Post

A long time ago, I said I'd do a post on board games. Unfortunately (for you, I guess) I could talk about board games for weeks without even trying. I LOVE board games. There's so much I could cover, I hardly know where to start. Consider this a broad overview for the uninitiated (with hopefully-helpful recommendations for fellow board game geeks). If you think Monopoly or Milton Bradley are representative of board games, this post is for you.

We'll start with the basics. Two board games you need to know: Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan.

Ticket to Ride is our gateway game. We teach it to our friends before introducing the harder stuff. You play as competing railroad tycoons claiming railway routes between large cities (American cities, but there's versions for Europe, Germany, and Scandinavia), earning more points for longer routes and connecting distant cities. Gameplay is a constant tension between purchasing routes (before someone else does) or grabbing more cards (so you can purchase said routes). You can learn this game in 5 minutes and still be playing 5 years later (we are).

Settlers is a bit more complicated, but even more addictive. Players compete to settle an unexplored land. They must collect and trade their resources in order to build roads, settlements, and cities before someone else does. With a board that changes every game and multiple expansions, this one hasn't gotten old since we learned it 12 years ago.

But oh my gosh, guys. That's just a cubic meter of ice on the tip of the tip of the iceberg.

Carcassonne. Claim cities, roads, and fields. Bigger cities (etc.) means bigger points. The gameplay is simple (draw a tile, place a tile). The real trick is figuring out how to encourage other players to complete your cities with their tiles.

Agricola. Plow fields, raise animals, renovate your home, all while making sure your family stays fed. Way more fun and complicated than it sounds. A simpler game ("simple" here is a relative term) with similar gameplay is Puerto Rico, wherein you build a colony and plantations in the New World.

Wait, what about pirates? Plunder the islands and blow each other to smithereens in Pirate's Cove (what the heck is a smithereen?). Or bust out of prison in the simple-but-fun Cartagena, which somehow took Candy Land's game mechanics and made them interesting.

Like the party game Mafia? Try Bang! Kill the sheriff (if you're an outlaw) or the outlaws (if you're the sheriff) or everybody (if you're a renegade). But make sure you know who you're shooting at before you pull the trigger; they might be on your side.

Yahtzee fans might enjoy To Court the King. Roll the right dice combinations to attract members of the royal court. Each court member gives you new dice and abilities to help you attract more important nobles, until one of you manages to court the king himself.

Think that's it? We're still WAY above the waterline here. There's like ten games in our cabinet I haven't even mentioned, a bunch more I've played or heard about, and that's not even counting cooperative games!

I should stop before I lose more readers than I have already... But wait! I haven't told you about new versions of Risk yet. Or Lost Cities! Or Citadels! Or Formula De!! Or --


The content of this post has exceeded Blogger's safety limitations. To protect the author from over-excitement, Blogger has ended this post prematurely. We apologize for the inconvenience. Thank you, and safe blogging.

Books I Read: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter 7)
Author: J.K. Rowling
Genre: YA Fantasy
Published: 2007
Content Rating: PG-13 for violence

It's the 7th book in one of the most famous fantasy series of our time. I can't talk about it without spoiling it (not that it matters), but who cares? If you've read the first six, you're going to read it.* And if you haven't, you'll read the other six first and have a pretty good idea of what happens in this installment.

All I can say is this: despite the ponderous camping chapters, the sometimes-awkward writing (that I would never have noticed before trying to be an author myself), and the occasional magical rule-bending for the sake of the plot... at the end I was moved, I was sad, and I didn't want to say goodbye.

Yeah, for all its flaws, the whole series is well worth reading. Happy to talk more in the comments (assuming I'm around; baby coming and all that).

 * Or really, you've already read it. I'm certain I'm the last Harry Potter fan to get to this installment.

Content ratings based on what I think a movie might be rated, if the things shown in the book were shown in the movie. Ratings are very subjective, and I don't always remember/notice things. If you're unsure whether the book is right for you, do some research so you can make your own decision.