Weapon of the Week: Wakizashi

The wakizashi is the Japanese short sword.

Seen here is the crappy one that I own. I say it’s crappy, because this is the kind of thing that you can spend infinite amounts of money on, and this one was the cheapest possible one I could get that met my weak criteria. Those criteria were: full tang, carbon (not stainless) steel.

I’m not going to go into the history of the wakizashi, because other web sites do that just fine and people get #cra about their Japanese sword trivia and I don’t need them writing letters, you know?

What I will tell you is this. You can impressively cut through full gallon jugs of water with it, leaving them “in place” with the water pouring out on all sides. You can saber a bottle of champagne with it. It’s sharp enough that if you got in close quarters with someone and the edge got pressed against either you or them, it would quite happily make a new hole in your body with hardly any force behind it.

Here’s something you won’t read on other websites. It is entirely possible that last year someone was involved in an office prank at Google, one component of which was that during a particular meeting, someone joined that meeting via videoconference from their backyard, wearing a tuxedo jacket and a full-head bunny mask. They had a wakizashi in hand. Maybe even this very wakizashi you see before you. For the length of the meeting they engaged in various shenanigans, without comment, steaming it live into the meeting, including blindly throwing fruit into the air and cutting it to pieces with the sword before it hit the ground.

This may or may not have happened.

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Dog pic of the week: Boston Terrier

Looks at this magnificent creature. Just look at it. This is the Boston Terrier. In trying to decide on the right picture to represent the breed, I was at a loss. The breed has so much personality and it shows on their faces and the way they carry themselves. It means that each one of these dogs has something unique about the way they look. I’d find one pic and think “Oh, yes, this one is perfect,” but then I’d see the next and think the same thing. So you get this goober. Is it the best? Not sure. But to me, it shows the enthusiasm and personality of the breed, and that’s good enough.

Don’t even get me started on the puppies.

Check out this image search link.

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Starting a sequel

I’ve been not-working on the sequel to Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog for several months now. I think it was in August that my brain finally started to clear from publishing LFBD in February of 2016, giving it space to start chewing on the themes for the next one.

I had a working title (The Inversion Mechanic), based on some stuff that happens in the book, but I never really liked it. “Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog” is admittedly an odd title, and I didn’t feel that TIM was sufficiently unique. I wanted them to be different, but to match in strangeness.

In trying to take my own writing advice (see Writing a Novel: Part 1) I resolved that I wouldn’t even start plotting until I had the three recommended attributes. I mean, I had some very broad strokes in mind for the plot, but no details. The three things, if you’ll remember, are:

  1. Memorable or interesting character
  2. An idea that sparks the imagination
  3. Some scenes that are awesome/will stick with the reader

I already had #1. Lincoln, Fox and Babd are all interesting. Gwen is back. Some other folks from LFBD are dead, so they’re not coming back. Char plays a much bigger role, and we meet some new people, good and bad.

I’d also already come up with a couple of new things for #2. Big ideas that will be interesting when they are introduced and that will play an increasingly important role as we move through the longer story.

It was #3 that I was sticking on. It was tough. Without detailed ideas about the plot, I was finding it difficult to visualize the arresting moments and cool images. Of course, trying to do it that way was stupid, and doubly stupid because that’s not even how you do that and I know it. It’s easy to forget things.

What I needed to do was to look around me and find things that sparked my imagination outside of the context of my story and characters. That’s the kind of stuff I’ll be able to write about with passion. An image that comes to you after a random train of thought. The thought of “No! That’s not the way to do it!” when watching/reading someone else’s work and they almost land it, but not quite. Stuff like that.

I’ve managed to collect a nice handful since then. So I think I’m ready.

Buy Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog on Amazon.com right now, or get the first half for free right here if you're still on the fence (.epub download to read in iBooks, Google Play Books, etc.)

Technical Self-Publishing Pipeline: Part 4

You’ve worked your book to within an inch of its life with an editor and your beta readers. You’d like to put the whole thing together. The goal is to come out of this process with a single document in the .epub format. You can load an EPUB doc straight into Apple Books and Google Play Books, and you can now use it as a direct content source for Kindle books.

You’ve been working in Google Docs, with each chapter in its own doc. This is because working with a single, monolithic doc can be a real drag on the performance in Docs. Fortunately, a kind soul wrote a Docs add-on that will grab up all of the files in a Drive folder and merge them into a single file appropriate for export as an EPUB.

If you want to just install and use the add-on, hit this link.

If you’re more careful and want to examine the source code to make sure it’s not slurping your banking information, you can get the source here and add it as a script in your own doc.

To use it, put all of your individual chapter docs into a single drive folder. In that same folder, make a new doc that house the merged text. The add-on will make an entry in the Add Ons menu called Collate Document. Select that, then select Collate for Export. Depending on your internet connection speed and what kind of computer you’re using, it can take a while for the script to chug through your whole book.

It collects the files in the directory in alphabetical order, so it would behoove you to name your files like:

Chapter 01: Millie Gets a Wombat

Or somesuch.

The “01” part is key though. If you just make it Chapter 1, when the script goes to order things, you’ll get chapter 1, followed by chapters 11 through 19, followed by chapter 2. That’s because computers are dumb.

It will also stick page breaks between each of the docs it inserts.

When it’s finished, you can add front matter — title page, credits, dedication, copyright notice — whatever you want. Just make sure that you insert page breaks for each new piece you add so that they don’t all just scroll together once they are a digital book.

Finally, click the File menu, then Download As… and choose EPUB Publication. This will do exactly what it appears to — provide you with your entire book in EPUB format.

In the next piece of this series, will look at how to use that EPUB to get your book up and running on the Kindle platform.

Check out the first three parts of the series at the links in this very sentence!

Buy Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog on Amazon.com right now, or get the first half for free right here if you're still on the fence (.epub download to read in iBooks, Google Play Books, etc.)

Pittsburgh Pic of the Week: The Strip at Night

In the first half of the book, Lincoln and friends visit the Strip District of Pittsburgh at night twice. While this isn’t the most high quality photograph, this is a really good representation of what it looks like down there.

This is exactly what I was picturing when they all exit the movie studio. So now you know!

The photo is CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Nick Normal 2015

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Weapon of the Week: Marlin 1895/444




This is the Marlin 1895/444. Based on designs from the 1890s, this is a modern update that fires the Marlin .444 cartridge. Guides and scouts in bear country carry these, because the Marlin .444 is bad ass and kills bears.

The cool thing about this gun though is that the design is lever action. After you fire a cartridge, you flip the whole trigger guard downward then back up to chamber another round. The rounds are held one after the other in the tube below the barrel. If you know guns, you already know what lever action is. If you don’t, you’ve probably seen them used in westerns.

The lever action is an interesting holdover from its invention in the 1890s. At the time, everyone else had single-fire weapons. You had to entirely reload every time you fired. It took a while. The lever action repeater changed all of that.

Since then, there are more and better designs for things like this. A bolt action rifle is more durable and more accurate. A semi-automatic rifle has a higher rate of fire and reloads more easily. So why do these guns persist?

I think it’s because they’re cool. And just look at this thing. It’s gorgeous.

I want one. 😀

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Magical Ways to Die: Kinetics

I think that what ended up becoming Kinetics in the LFBD universe was the discipline that really led me down the path of “But! But! But! If the wizard could do this then they could easily do that!!” Basically, the fact that magic using (or super powered) characters in fiction could move things remotely, either with a spell or some kind of brain powers, but they never really leveraged that stuff to its full capacity.

Look. If you can pick up a penny and fling it around with some kind of telekinetic force, why can’t you grab a penny-sized portion of someone’s brain and fling it around inside their skull? Any telekinetic character (or one who exhibits similar magical abilities) who gets captured/in a tough spot/whatever in which their life is in danger and they just don’t activate a remotely-operated TK blender inside their opponents’ skull is an idiot and deserves to die.

Sure, you can come up with reasons it wouldn’t work. But I don’t want to hear them.

That said, there has to be some kind of constraint, otherwise a trained praecant with a Jones for Kinetics would be unstoppable. Let’s first apply the normal power laws, because magic in LFBD is an actual natural force. Just like sentics, you obey the laws of physics. You need less energy to generate a narrow effect, and assume a falloff that’s the square of the distance. Note in LFBD how Lincoln calls for the kinetic force to be wide spread from Fox and at something like a two foot range it pushes a person into the dirt and breaks bones in their face, but when operating on a more narrow band, it’s the equivalent of a horse kick. Also, on a sufficiently narrow band, we see it cut like a blade.

What we don’t see Lincoln do with Fox though, is move something remotely. It’s just linear projection of force. So, it makes sense that it’s harder, maybe a lot harder, to use kinetics at a distance but not have it affect the things between the source (the praecant) and the subject. How much? I’m not sure. That’s where we get to make some kind of judgment call that helps us to limit this.

Let’s posit that to generate force remotely, we have to have some kind of atomic or even quantum trail from the caster to the subject. In order to not really affect anything in between, you have to keep it ridiculously narrow — say, one qbit. But to get enough energy to your destination to make the effect you want, you need to pump that much energy — enough to act on the whole mass you want to move — through the pathway that’s only a single qbit at any given spot. That’s hard.

And (I’m obviously not a quantum physicist) there will be some kind of resistance or back pressure.

If you want to move something remotely without affecting anything in line of site, it’s hard and requires a bunch of energy or a ton of finesse. That goes up with the square of the distance.

With the kind of energy Fox has available, that’s not going to be an option.

However, a trained Kineticist with good reserves and some hanging spells will be able to, say, puree someone’s brain from a hundred yards, as long as they’re still. Make it a moving target, and it’s even harder.

As you can see, when you introduce some physical laws into the mix, things become a lot more balanced. A praecant with a major in kinetics doesn’t necessarily rule the world, or become the most amazing assassin ever, although they could with the right preparation.

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Influences: Jim Butcher

In 2014, I was laid up for a week with the flu. I spent a lot of time on the couch, and ended up binge watching the decent-but-not-great Canadian TV series The Dresden Files. It only lasted a single season, but it entertained me for a couple of days. A few months later, I was looking for something to read, and found out that the TV show was a loose adaptation of a series of novels by Jim Butcher.

The first book of the series was on sale on Amazon for something like $1.99. In fact, the first several books were on sale. I shot through them, then ended up buying the rest at the “regular” price of $7.99 a piece. So, nice job Mr. Butcher. You deserve every penny.

What did I like about the books? Obviously, the writing is engaging. It’s an interesting story, well told. I think what I really liked though was that it was a pure adventure story. There was no pretension. It wasn’t exactly pulp, but it certainly had pulp elements. I was tired of reading heavier stuff. Plus, it was just cool.

Over time, it was able to evolve and do some of things with character and format that only long-form serial television has been able to do. Things that stick out in my mind are Harry managing to convert the mental image of Lasciel instead of her converting him (if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean) and Karen drawing one of the Swords during the assault in Mexico. Shivers. Awesome stuff, and it’s stuff that you have to build up to over years and years.

I had some gripes with the series, but they went away the longer it ran. The first several books there were some elements and turns of phrase that I’d rather an editor had stomped on a bit more. But overall, the whole vibe was great.

It’s what got me thinking about the urban fantasy genre, and, if you’ve read the post on the origins of LFBD, it was around this time that I wondered if the genre would be a good fit for my ideas.

Unlike looking back on Roger Zelazny as an influence, where I see more and more elements of his work popping up in mine, I tried hard to differentiate LFBD from Butcher’s universe. Within urban fantasy, there are some natural problems that crop up,  and there are really only a handful of ways to handle them. Because LFBD and Dresden were in the same sub-genre, and because my original ideas had some similarities baked in (a gun-toting hero with a dog) I wanted to make sure that the similarities ended there.

So, thanks to Jim Butcher for opening my eyes to the genre that ended up being a great landing site for my own work.

Buy Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog on Amazon.com right now, or get the first half for free right here if you're still on the fence (.epub download to read in iBooks, Google Play Books, etc.)