Archive for December, 2007

Dec 31 2007

Quote of the Day: Mike-Catastrophe Part 4

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

Mike: You’re positive you’re not an alien?

Catastrophe: Do aliens frequently speak fluent English?

Mike: Decryption programs applied to radio transmissions can do surprising things.

Catastrophe: I was checking football club rankings when you found me. Unless aliens are frequently interested in football…

Mike: You’d be surprised. You follow football?

Catastrophe: Sometimes. There aren’t any good teams around here.

Mike: Name three.

Catastrophe: Good teams? Arsenal, Man U and Newcastle.

Mike: Please. If you ever need to make up sports teams in the future, I recommend going with animal names, not randomly selected adjectives and nouns. “New castle?” “Man you?” That doesn’t even make sense!

Catastrophe: …

Catastrophe: You don’t get out much, do you?

This is the final part of a four part series. You can see part 1 here.

No responses yet

Dec 30 2007

Conversation of the Day: Mike-Catastrophe Part Three

Catastrophe: When I said that I was a cartoon character and not an alien, I meant it.
Mike: A cartoon character?

Catastrophe: Well, a facsimile of a cartoon character. The mutagen is presumably influenced by subconscious mental states like memories and impulses. It was the day of the goddamned Hegemon parade and the effing balloon had come loose and trashed my car. So it was on my mind.

Mike: You expect me to believe—

Catastrophe: —not really, nor do I care. What you believe is completely besides the point. The only thing that matters—the only positive thing, anyway— is that at least it wasn’t Peaceachu.

This is part 3 of a four-part series. You can see part 1 here or part 4 here (after 6 PM US Central on Dec. 31).

No responses yet

Dec 30 2007

List of Superpowers

Generic Physical Superpowers

  1. Superstrength
  2. Speed
  3. Durability
  4. Agility/reflexes
  5. Healing/regeneration
  6. Supersenses
    1. Sight/hearing/smell/taste/touch
    2. Sensing danger (spider-sense)
    3. Sensing other types of events (dishonesty, murder, etc.)
  7. The ability to remove senses (like inflicting blindness, etc.)
  8. Longevity/immortality


Forms of Transportation

  1. Climbing/wall-crawling
  2. Swimming/water-breathing
  3. Flight
  4. Teleportation
  5. Exceptional leaping (e.g. the Hulk)
  6. Phasing/intangibility


Time-Based Abilities

  1. Temporal manipulation (like The Matrix)
  2. Time travel
  3. Prophecy


Elemental Control/Manipulation

  1. Basic elements (fire, water and/or ice, earth, wind)
  2. Electricity
  3. Light
  4. Darkness and/or shadows
  5. Gravity
  6. Magnetic forces
  7. Radiation
  8. Energy
  9. Sound
  10. Nature


Generic Mental Abilities

  1. Skills and/or knowledge
    1. Popular categories: science, mechanical, computer/electronics, weapons-handling/military, driving, occult/magical.
  2. Super-intelligence
  3. Resourcefulness (“I’m never more than a carton of baking soda away from a doomsday device”)


Psychic Superpowers

  1. Telekinesis (moving objects mentally). Can be restricted to a particular type of material (e.g. metal for Magneto, paper in Read or Die, deadlines for B. Mac, sand, etc).
  2. Telepathy (reading minds)
  3. Mind-to-mind communication
  4. Mind-control
  5. Possession (total mental control)
  6. Memory manipulation (may include creation/alteration/deletion)
  7. Mentally generated weaponry/objects
  8. Mindblast
  9. Ability to locate someone mentally
  10. Forcefields
  11. “Psychometry”–the ability to learn things about the past or future of an object by touching it


Biological Control

  1. Acid/poison
  2. Controlling plants and/or animals
  3. Shapeshifting (animals).
  4. Shapeshifting (people)–mainly useful for disguises/stealth. In some executions (e.g. Clayface), the user’s body can create weapons or otherwise modify itself for combat.


Miscellaneous Talents

  1. Elasticity
  2. Self-destruction
  3. Self-liquification
  4. Gaseous form
  5. Growth/shrinking
  6. Self-duplication
  7. Invisibility
  8. Absorbing someone else’s powers
  9. Negating someone else’s powers
  10. Luck manipulation (good luck for hero and/or bad luck for enemies)
  11. Illusions
  12. Pocket space–the ability to hold and remove objects so that only the user can retrieve them. It could be used for carrying really heavy equipment, hiding valuable and/or stolen and/or highly explosive goods, concealing weapons, smuggling candy into movie theaters, removing a hostile explosive, etc.
  13. Ability to control density



I’m working on a guidebook about how to write superhero stories. If you’re interested in superhero writing advice, please sign up for the email list so that I can let you know when it comes out. Thanks—it’ll be easier for me to get published if I can show that many people are interested.




2,080 responses so far

Dec 29 2007

Conversation of the Day: Mike-Catastrophe Part 2

Mike: We have a non-optional orientation program for aliens. This is very simple. If anyone asks, say that you’re not an alien.

Catastrophe: I’m a cartoon character.

Mike: That was easy, wasn’t it?

Catastrophe: …

Catastrophe: Wait. There are aliens on Earth?

Mike: Uhh… no?


This is part II of a four part conversation. You can see part 1 here or part 3 here.

No responses yet

Dec 29 2007

On Bhutto’s Assassination

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I don’t have anything substantive to add, but my father met Ms. Bhutto during their time at Oxford.

One response so far

Dec 29 2007

Superhero Questionnaire

This questionnaire will help you design a superhero or supervillain for a novel or comic book.

Continue Reading »

290 responses so far

Dec 28 2007

Amusing Links

Agent Orange presents his link of the day and a related public service announcement for crocodile-Americans.

The Annals of Crocodile Failures, 94th Edition

Lions, buffaloes and crocodiles do battle for control of a Kenyan wildlife refuge. This film is rated PG… Pretty Gruesome. The crocodiles make their inglorious appearance at 3:30, but they’re so ineffective that the (mammalian) commentators only notice them at 3:38. Unless you enjoy watching lions play two crocodiles silly, I recommend skipping ahead to 4:30, which is when things get rowdy on the land. “They’ve got ’em surrounded” (5:45). I also enjoyed the sudden appearance of Superlion– he flies– at 5:45.
6:30 is outlandish and further indicates how completely pathetic the crocodiles were in their brief appearance. Any creature that is unable to cripple a baby buffalo is hereby banished from the reptile class. Experts at Palomar University, one of the world’s leading reptological institutions, have found that:

The class Reptilia [Reptiles*] includes turtles, snakes, lizards, alligators**, and other large reptiles…

Let’s face it, crocodiles: even turtles and snakes*** count as reptiles. But not you*. (Don’t snicker too hard, mammals… the lions did not make a persuasive case for your phylum).

Not to fear, crocodiles: although you are no longer reptiles, you may technically qualify as amphibians****. However, both mammals and reptiles will remain ashamed to share a subphylum with you.


*clarified for the benefit of crocodiles. Not that I think it will help.

**Unsurprisingly, saving the best for last. Incidentally, 99 % of reptologists agree that alligators > lizards > snakes > amoeba > crocodiles. As for the last 1%, if you are ever so horrifically unfortunate to find one of them, escape quickly. (Even if you’re a mammal—it’s not worth finding out if it can spread across species). Say whatever you need to. “I need to sharpen my claws (fingernails)” or “my scales (skin) require polishing.”

***Crocodile sympathizers may dispute that snakes are more worthy of the reptilian name than crocodiles. And we can speculate about the psychological disorders that might prod them to do so. But the fact remains that snakes can eat hippos (not for the squeamish). And, furthermore, snakes have their own baseball team, with which I am not familiar, and dominate a city with which I am.

****Assuming they’ll have you. Don’t hold your breath.

No responses yet

Dec 28 2007

Conversation of the Day: Dec. 28 (Mike-Catastrophe Part 1)

Setup: Catastrophe is a statistician that has been transformed by a mutagen into something uncannily similar to a character on a hit cartoon show, Hegemon (“Gotta kill ‘em all!”) Mike heads the Office of Special Investigations’ efforts to conceal extraterrestrial life and mistakenly believes Catastrophe is an alien.

Mike: Hello.

Catastrophe: I’m reading.

Mike: This’ll only take a second.

Catastrophe: Time’s up.

Mike: …

Mike: Let’s say five minutes.

Catastrophe: That’s 30000% of your original request. Is talking with you really more important than the club rankings?

Mike: And considerably less likely to get you pushed down the stairs.

(This is part of a four part series). After 6:00 PM on 12/29, you can read part 2 here.

No responses yet

Dec 25 2007

Joke of the day

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This is based on what a friend in the Peace Corps claims is a true story.  

The presidents of two African countries—let’s say Togo and Nigeria—meet in Nigeria.  The Tongan is surprised by how nice the Nigerian’s house is. 

“Nigeria is so poor,” the Tongan said.  “How can you afford this estate?”

The Nigerian points out the window to a bridge spanning a river. 

“See that bridge?  The World Bank give us a huge amount of aid to build it, but not all of the money was spent on the bridge.” 

The Tongan thought about his shabby home and nodded.  “That seems like a really great idea,” he said. 

The next year, the Nigerian was visiting the Tongan and was astonished to learn that Togo had an absolutely luxurious palace.  He asked the Tongan how he had improved his house so much in a year.

The Tongan pointed out the window to a barren desert, rolling as far as the eye could see.  “See that bridge?”

2 responses so far

Dec 24 2007

Character Quotes: Catastrophe/Dr. Berkeley

Dr. Berkeley is a mathematician that Jacob Mallow hires to complete a project that relies heavily on numbers theory. Unfortunately for Berkeley, the project is actually an attempt to build a weapons-grade mutagen. Whoops. Several accidents later, he is mutated into a dead ringer for Katastrophy, the supervillain in a popular Japanese cartoon show.  In the aftermath of his mutation, he has to escape capture from his former employer and devise a serum to restore his humanity.


When designing a character, it’s critical that your audience discern key characteristics about each character.  Did the quotes help you associate Catastrophe with any particular characteristics?  Which ones?  Some variation of self-assured, eccentric and calculating probably made your list.  Did you get discontented as well?  

16 responses so far

Dec 24 2007

Defeated by Google, Pt. 2

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I’m still doing pretty well in the Google searches that I’m specifically optimizing for– queries like superhero story, superhero novel, superhero parody, superhero satire, etc.  Here are a few of the searches where I’m doing surprisingly badly.

  1. #3 for “Superhero Nation.”  DAMN YOU TIME.
  2. #3 for alligator superhero — I wish I were making this up.  Fortunately, the search is pretty insignificant (only two so far).  Relatedly, I’m at #4 for mammal superhero and– not surprisingly– #1 for mammals superhero*.
  3. Not in the top 50 for government superhero
  4. #14 for agent superhero

*If I ever get published, I’m virtually positive that Amazon will use “mammals” as one of Superhero Nation’s statistically improbable phrases.  By my count, the first half uses it six times (it’s Agent Orange’s tagline).

No responses yet

Dec 21 2007

Quote of the Day: Dec. 21

Evil-Corp Publishing Presents: So You Want to be a Supervillain!

1. If you ever capture your opponents, kill them immediately. If possible, execute them yourself—leave nothing to chance. “But how will my most hated enemies see my glorious schemes come to fruition?” They won’t—they’ll be dead. That’s the point. Have their descendants serve as slaves and/or witnesses to your undying greatness.

2.  As attractive as doomsday devices are, they don’t provide a very credible threat. Would you really destroy the world you live on? Even the UN will laugh at you rather than recognize the magnificence of your doomsday device. For a nominal fee, however, you can buy EvilCorp’s InstaWorld Kit*. Then the only question is this: would you rather have a billion dollars or the chance to get rid of the UN?

3. Villainous devices will work only once. You will only be able to shrink/zap/body-swap with a cabbage/etc. to a hero once. Any subsequent attempt to use the device will end in disaster. If the hero survives the first use, switch to conventional weaponry and ready your escape pods.

4. If any minion suggests any plan that involves monkeys—simian minions, devolution rays, etc.—shoot him immediately. If possible, feed him to real minions, like sharks or animated trash compactors. On the list of most mind-boggingly inept supervillain schemes, “monkey business” ranks right around invading the US with Amazons and killer bees.

*Life not included.

No responses yet

Dec 20 2007

Quote of the Day: Dec. 20

OSI DIRECTOR KINO:  There’s always one thing I’ve wanted to know.

AGENT ORANGE:  How I eat with a mask on.

KINO:  …

KINO:  Yuri Rastonovitch.  How did you convince him to cooperate with us?

ORANGE:  He was a Gators fan.

KINO:  …

KINO:  He was a KGB agent!

ORANGE:  Gatar never fails.


No responses yet

Dec 19 2007

Reality–Time Nexus

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Times named the Youtube Snowman one of 2007’s People That Mattered, alongside such real winners like a man that jumped into a subway track to save a guy going into epileptic shock.   This is what Time had to say of the Snowman…

Everyone knows that technology is changing politics—from the raising of money to the framing of messages to the distribution of attack ads. Nothing drives it home, though, like presidential candidates tackling a question about global warming posed by…a snowman. Undignified, Mitt Romney called the mini-movie creation of two unemployed Minneapolis brothers. But a better name might be ‘democracy.’

Actually, a better name might be “stupidity.” People like the Snowman have created a political climate where it is advantageous to attack the questioner rather than address what may very well be a meaningful topic (global warming).  Another political distraction… exactly what the country needed.

Time’s Man of the Year Award went to Vladimir Putin.  Runners-up included General Petraeus, JK Rowling, Hu Jintao, and Al Gore.  I find the Putin selection a bit puzzling.  The rationale is that he’s been consolidating power in Russia for some time now, undoing what what was left of democracy, etc.  But, unlike Hu Jintao, in the long term what his government does (or does not do) will probably matter very little.

I’m a huge fan of Rowling’s work– I frequently cite Harry Potter to illustrate principles of solid writing– and I’m familiar with Jintao’s work as well.  But I think there’s no question that the only one of these figures that will be discussed a generation from now is General Petraeus.  If we have, in fact, reached the point where a Western army can defeat a (remotely) nationalist insurgency, that would probably be the most significant change in warfare since at least the atomic bomb.  General Petraeus is like a one-man Manhattan Project.

Not to slight culture!  but Harry Potter just isn’t that important.

I think that a feat in global warming akin to what Petraeus appears to have pulled off– or is at least appearing to pull off– would be to convince some significant number of Western government to actually meet their Kyoto obligations.  Talk is cheap but, like most policy goals, environmental reform is not.  In the absence of any tangible progress along that front, I think that the Gore selection should have been postponed.

Did you know that I won Time’s Man of the Year in 2006?  I put it on my resume… it was great for a laugh.  🙂

No responses yet

Dec 18 2007

Upcoming Post: The Dragon and the George Review

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Luke of Edmonton asks: your reviews are pretty harsh. Which books do you like?

Good question. In fantasy and science fiction, I really liked The George and the Dragon, which is close enough to the other books I’ve reviewed that I’ll probably be able to justify a review of it. I’ll try to get that up at some point.

No responses yet

Dec 18 2007

Eragon Review

Eragon is one of the worst novels I’ve ever read.  But let’s look at the positive: how can Eragon improve your writing? It can help you identify and fix problems in character development, story structure and plotting. For example, let’s look at its characters.

1) Eragon

Eragon is the prototypical Chosen One. Unfortunately, he never really grows into something more than someone destined for great things.  Why does his dragon come to him?  Because he was destined to have a dragon.  Why does he decide to stop Emperor Palpatine, err, Galbatorix? Because he was destined to.  Why will he eventually get the girl and save the world… well, I could go on.

A strong character has traits that drive the plot. In His Majesty’s Dragon, Temeraire the dragon is a radical abolitionist and supporter of dragon rights, which leads him to (spoiler– hold your cursor here). That doesn’t feel contrived at all, because Temeraire’s morality clearly dictates that he should perform that action. This works because his character traits cause the plot. Temeraire is rebellious, so he should act rebelliously.

Eragon’s characters do not drive the plot. They act as the plot needs them to.  Eragon is a wuss, until he learns that he’s really a hero.  What causes that change?  His great destiny, apparently.  Being driven by destiny makes him passive. Let me show why that’s a problem.

Saphira (the dragon) comes to Eragon for no particular reason. Eragon doesn’t do anything to get his dragon. That wastes an opportunity to show us what he’s capable of, and why he deserves to have a dragon. His Majesty’s Dragon used the experience much more effectively. Captain Laurence’s ship captures Temeraire’s egg.  Instead of the dragon being an honor and privilege, the dragon is something the characters want to avoid. The unlucky handler will have to live away from civilization and work in a dangerous, filthy profession. The crew draws straws and a 14-year-old sailor draws the dragon. When Laurence sees that the kid is struggling with the dragon, he decides to sacrifice himself by taking the dragon instead.

This shows us several things about the characters. Lawrence is a compassionate and loyal leader.  He’s brave.  He was not passively destined or chosen to have a dragon– he chose to take Temeraire.  He has realistic concerns, like worrying about not ever being able to see a play again.  In short, Laurence is both heroic and relatable.  We even learn something about Temeraire: he has standards and cares who his partner is.  Unlike Saphira, we can relate to him as something more than just an animal.  My problem with Eragon is that there isn’t any reason Saphira comes to Eragon.  Worse, I can’t think of any reason that I would advise Saphira to pick Eragon.  He has no traits that suggest he would be a valuable partner.

2) Saphira

Temeraire from His Majesty’s Dragon is a fantastic example of how a side character can drive a plot and develop the main character. But Saphira is a case-study in cardboard.  Saphira makes most Pokemon look three-dimensional.

Consider the following: Pokemon (successfully???) characterizes Ash’s Charizard as lazy and disrespectful, which is fairly impressive given that he doesn’t say anything intelligible.  Saphira has every advantage but she is actually worse-characterized.

Strong characterization depends on readers being able to associate characters with key attributes. Han Solo is selfish but loveable. Charizard is lazy. Temeraire is idealistic and rebellious. Saphira is nothing but a flying pack animal.  

Wasting Saphira in this book was particularly egregious. She’s on the front cover, and the only selling point of Eragon is that the book has a dragon in it. If all the superheroes in Superhero Nation were as boring as she is, we’d have a real problem.

3) Brom/Murtagh

These characters came right out of Central Casting. Brom is the Friendly Storyteller and Murtagh is the Mysterious (But Friendly) Stranger. Both serve essentially the same role, to provide wisdom and insight to the brash and clueless Eragon. Conveniently enough, one enters as the other dies.

4) Galbatorix

I’ll preface this by acknowledging that I’m fond of many supervillains.  I write stories about them, too. So you might argue that it’s hypocritical for me to criticize Galbatorix for being one-dimensional. On the other hand, you could also argue that “wow, if even a superhero novelist thinks Eragon’s villains were superficial, they must have been truly awful.”  Indeed.

Galbatorix is the villain and he doesn’t have any motivation other than being EVIL. He’s like Green Goblin, but without the nifty armor. As far as cartoonish villains go, Galb is a particularly bad one. And not bad like Darth Vader was bad, but bad-like-Gigli bad.

There are two main ways to make a villain interesting.

  1. Ideological power—when the audience vaguely sympathizes with the villain’s objective (separate from his means).  This worked particularly well in The Rock, for example.
  2. Badassery—a combination of swagger, flavor and/or whupass.

Galb had neither of these, but the best villains usually have both.  For example, Darth Vader and Doctor Octopus are obviously badass, but Darth Vader is also ideologically powerful because his villainy stemmed from a noble desire to create order. Doctor Octopus (in the movie) wanted to vindicate what his wife died for.  And he had 6 arms.

Cliché fantasy races

The author of Eragon stole his elves and dwarves so blatantly from Lord of the Rings that Tolkien should have been credited as a co-author. Many fantasy novels draw on Tolkien’s conventions, but usually they try to make up for that by adding their own spin to the source material.  For example, if you were writing a book set at a magical university like Hogwarts, you could make it feel fresh by using a new perspective.  Instead of focusing on a precocious young wizard, maybe you’d look at the teachers or the administrators or campus security or the admissions office instead.  Eragon doesn’t do anything like that.  It ends up feeling like LOTR fanfiction.  With Pokemon.

I could say more, but you couldn’t pay me enough to go back to Eragon.  This book and its sequel* are best enjoyed as an expensive alternative to firewood.

*It has two sequels, but I’ve only been unfortunate enough to read the first.

80 responses so far

Dec 17 2007

Remember, you heard it here first…

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Miami will beat the Patriots next week.

This week, the Patriots played the League’s second-worst Jets and came up with only a 20-10 victory.  For Tom Brady, New England winter is like victory kryptonite.   Brady had 140 yards, 1 interception and no touchdowns.

AND… Miami pulled off its first win of the season!  They are now 1-13.  Good job, guys, but don’t get satisfied yet…  New England is next week.

No responses yet

Dec 16 2007

Bad Writing Question

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Quick question: which fictional character is better characterized:  Eragon’s dragon, Ash’s Charizard or a limp noodle?

I will make the counterintuitive argument that Charizard is actually better than the noodle.  He has a defining characteristic– laziness– and he gets slightly better lines than Eragon’s dragon.

(For new readers:  I hated Eragon… I’d write a review explaining why, but it would take me a lot more than 4000 words and I absolutely do not want to ever see that book again).

  • Absolutely cliche plot.  JRR Tolkien should have been credited as the co-author.
  • PAINFULLY bad characters– including a wasted dragon that is worse-characterized than a Pokemon.
  • The Chosen One.  This is actually a problem I should write about.  I will, after finals.
  • Montana Syndrome.  Did you know the author was from Montana?  Believe me, after the first ten pages of the characters trudging through a hellish, howling wasteland, you’ll figure it out.  This is closely related to NYC Syndrome in superhero stories, but NYC has the advantage of being remotely interesting and somewhat less desolate than Montana.

    • It’s never a problem to write what you know… as long as what you know isn’t painful (I hope Tom Clancy is reading this).  Tom Clancy’s sub chapters are so painfully parochial that I skip through them now.  “But how do you know what’s going on?”  If an enemy ship disappears from the plot, chalk it up to the sub and move on.

29 responses so far

Dec 15 2007

Sorry guys!

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I don’t anticipate that I will be able to post again until Wednesday night.  My finals schedule is catastrophic.  But I will leave you with this curse from Dubai, the Las Vegas of the Middle East:

“May your life be as interesting as Girls Gone Wild: Tehran.”

No responses yet

Dec 15 2007

Black Ops



The viability of meeting federal diversity requirements with inorganic means

Situation recap: Staffing issues unique to the Office of Special Investigations, like a strong base of nonhuman applicants, render it difficult to meet congressional standards on (human) minority employment.

Furthermore, it displeases Congress greatly that recruiters (apparently regardless of their race) appear to pass over African-American candidates. The Civil Rights Commission guidelines has ruled that avoiding life insurance claims is not a valid reason to discriminate on the basis of race…

In the 1980s, Research and Development had been working on PROJECT ROBOT, a series of combat-androids. We discontinued the program after field tests in Nicaragua revealed that our prototype was a sociopathic Sandinista that had been plotting to escape for years, but we have resolved that bug. As a temporary solution to contemporary issues, we can resume production of the androids with several specs relevant to HR’s goals.

  1. Variant skin-tones
  2. Variant dialects– including “Will Smith” and “Bernie Mac” (However, OSHA regulations have forced us to suspend testing of “Chris Tucker”).

I present to you PROJECT BROBOT. Let me suggest a few guidelines about using the androids.

  1. We hosted several European scientists last week. One of the prototypes heard several of them speaking in Spanish. He became very… odd. I would highly recommend not putting them in a Spanish-heavy environment. In fact, I would recommend not letting them out of the office at all.
  2. Leaving them within easy access of scissors or staplers could be problematic. (Or coffee-pots. They are remarkably resourceful).
  3. If at all possible, I would recommend giving each robot a bodyguard unit, ideally armed with electromagnetic weaponry (in case other robots attack?).

Additionally, we have noticed that Brobots have a considerably shorter lifespan than the control group. Researchers on the floor above us are conducting acoustical research. We learned that when their piano crashed through the ceiling, discontinuing work on Prototype 7-B. In another incident, a guard adjusted his belt and accidentally knocked off his holster, causing his pistol to hit the ground and discharge a bullet. Prototype 4-C will be missed.

No responses yet

Dec 14 2007

Quote of the Day

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Actual quote from a philosophical texts (Agents, Causes and Free Will): I want to look at two different objections [to my thesis.]  The first of these, and by far the most popular, is spurious.  Since it is spurious, I will bury it in a footnote.7

I wish I could make arguments like that.  The counterarguments to my thesis are so shoddy that I will say I’m burying them.

No responses yet

Dec 13 2007

Quote of the Day

AGENT ORANGE: “Hello, you’ve reached the Office of Special Investigations Human Resources switchboard. If you are an OSI employee looking to make a benefits claim, please press one to learn how we stay under budget. If you are interested in serving a long and fruitful life and keeping America safe, I recommend the FBI or the military. If you are interested in an extremely fruitful and less than extremely long life keeping America safe, please press two. If you need to speak to me about other matters, please press three.”


ORANGE: “Hello, you’ve reached the Office of Special Investigations Human Resources switchboard. You have indicated that you wish to speak to me. If that is correct, please press one. If you wish to have a productive evening, please press two.”


ORANGE: “Hello, you have reached the Office of Special Investigations Human Resources switchboard. You have indicated that you do wish to speak to me. I suspect you don’t mean that. But, in case you do, you will only have to press 98 more keys before you can page me. If you are sure that your message is worth your time and mine, please press five. (I couldn’t let you hit one every time, right?)”

*Eighty-five minutes later.*

ORANGE: Hello, this is Agent Orange…

Journalist: …

Agent Orange: Hello? … I’m hanging up now.

Journalist: NOoooooOOooo! The Files. I need… The Files!

Agent Orange: What the hell are you talking about?

Journalist: The vast treasure troves of data you’ve got on everyone.

Agent Orange: Oh. Those files.

No responses yet

Dec 13 2007

A Guide to College Majors

Biological Engineering
Popular Courses: Introduction to Biology, Remedial Chemistry, Organic Chemistry for Athletes
Available Jobs: Zoo cage-cleaner, supervillain
Appropriate response to someone admitting his child is a bioengineer: “That’s OK. Med school isn’t for everyone.”
Political Science
Popular Courses: The Cold War and Sports, Methods and Norms in Brazilian Basket-Weaving, Lunch
Available Jobs: ???
Appropriate response to someone admitting her child is in poli-sci: “Which law schools is he looking at?”
Chemical Engineering
Popular Courses: Crack Processing, Meth Lab Management, Smuggling
Available Jobs: Narcotics manufacturing, McDonald’s de-greaser
Appropriate response to someone admitting his child is a chem-eng: “I’m so sorry.”
Popular Courses: Cooperation and Teamwork, Collaborative Methods, Shirking Responsibility
Job Prospects: Similar to chemical engineers, but without the real-world meth skills.
Appropriate response to someone admitting her child studies economics: “What a coincidence! My company has an opening for a position that does absolutely no work.”
Popular Courses: Is Time Travel Possible?, Metaphysics of Kantean Logic, Guided Readings in Other Philosophers No One’s Ever Heard of
Job Prospects: None. There’s no reason to hire a philosophy major over a hard-working high-school graduate. Or a vagrant.
Appropriate response to a job application by a Philo major: “Did I choose to throw out his resume or was it destiny?”
Popular Courses: Methods in Moleculo-chemical Physicality, Biofeedback and Physiologicality, Sneering
Job Prospects: Similar to those of the Biological Engineer, but the Pre-Med can boast that he lasted a year in med school.
Appropriate response to someone admitting her child is a Pre-Med: “Is it too late to switch majors?”

28 responses so far

Dec 13 2007

Military Casual Fridays

Published by under Uncategorized

Some of the better unit badges ever.  Get a load of these.


When everything’s on the line, uniform standards slip a little.  


Uhh… routine training exercises?  

Love the bomb, biatch!  



Somewhere, a Human Resources staffer is taking notes.   



I wonder what Agent Orange would say?  “The Q stands for Quality.”  


This unit was probably deployed to Tokyo at some point.  


Not quite Snakes on a Plane, but close.  

I’m from the government…

THE REAL DEAL!  I think it’s Greek.


EL DORADO:  It ain’t just a fountain of youth! 


Actually, this was a badge for the Russian Spetznaz.  You can tell by their choice of logo that they, unlike most Russian forces, were actually effective.   

This next one includes some rough language.

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Dec 12 2007

Improving Your Beta Reviews

This article will focus on how to find beta reviewers and how to get beta-reviews that are more useful.
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Dec 11 2007

Writing Without Scenes

This article will discuss some benefits and drawbacks of writing a chapter without scenes and some common problems of sceneless chapters.

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Dec 11 2007

Quote of the Day

CAPTAIN CARNAGE: Congress has rescinded its approval of waterboarding. We need alternate forms of data extraction.

MIKE: Telepathy?

CARNAGE: Not likely.



MIKE: Mindblast?


MIKE: We could ask real nice…

ORANGE: Are sensory deprivation and uncomfortable sitting positions still available?


ORANGE: As long as we’re thinking hypothetically…

CARNAGE: Of course.

ORANGE: I have an idea… a technique that draws on sensory deprivation and a decidedly uncomfortable position and is somewhat more likely to scare someone shitless than a wet t-shirt. Additionally, it draws on our agency’s species diversity. I believe the risk of decapitation is negligible, but I’d like to test it first. Mike, could you fetch me a melon the size of a terrorist’s head?

*Mike gets up to leave.*


ORANGE: I call my technique “Unhinging Jaw.”

MIKE: Wait, I want to hear this.

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Dec 10 2007

Holliequ’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

What I’m writing: A fantasy novel. Two teenagers from our world – Victor Coburn and Zoe Stockton – are somehow transported into another. There they find themselves on a quest for forbidden knowledge, mixed up in a war, and ultimately called upon to help save all creation. (That sounds really bad written like that. I’ll think about it a bit more…)

Target audience: I’m not aiming at a specific gender right now. Age range is probably something like 13 – 16.

Preferred style of reviews: Spare nothing, but please try to be polite about it.

Best references: My favourite fantasy novels are probably The Belgariad and The Mallorean by David Eddings, but I’m pretty sure I’m writing for a younger audience, haha. Least favourite work . . . I’m probably going to get lynched for this, but the Lord of the Rings trilogy by Tolkein. Only because I felt the narrative was a bit of a drag and a lot of the characters (particularly the women) were a bit flat. All that said, I loved The Hobbit.

[start story]

Victor swore loudly as a motorcycle raced past, only inches from his feet. The roar of the engine faded into the city traffic as the machine disappeared altogether. Victor quickly lost his scowl, shrugging as his dark eyes resumed their former activity: searching for some way through the maze of cars filling the street. Even though the traffic was basically at a standstill, he had trouble convincing himself that it was safe to cross the street – mostly because of people like that motorcycle rider. Very few motorists, it seemed, paid close attention to 16-year-olds trying to cross the road.
–I think pumping up his motivation might make him more interesting in this paragraph. Good description, though.

After a few seconds more of tentative steps forward, and then hasty steps backwards, Victor sighed and gave up. He glanced at his watch, groaning as he realised that he was already late for work – about seven streets away. Not only that, but his Dad had a meeting in just under an hour and had, somehow, managed to leave all the materials he needed at home.
–Much better, I think.
–I think that the urgency here might be assisted by faster-paced sentences. What would you think about “He glanced at his watch. He was already late for work, seven streets away. And his Dad had a meeting in an hour and had somehow managed to forget all his materials at home.”

Annoyed by the thought that he was going to be late to work because of his forgetful father, Victor didn’t pay much attention as he raced down the street. Instead, he concentrated on exactly what torture he’d put in place for motorcyclists when he was mayor of the city, no, Prime Minister. As he hurried up the steps of the grand office building his father worked in, he had just decided that having their bike torn in to scrap metal before their very eyes would be a suitable punishment for dodging traffic.
–“having their bike torn in to scrap metal before their very eyes would be a suitable punishment.” I”d recommend tightening this a bit. “tearing their bikes into scrap metal before their very eyes would be suitable punishment.”
–I’d think about replacing the phrase with “mayor of the city, no, Prime Minister” with just “Prime Minister” or “mayor” because I think it paces better.
–“had just decided” would probably be smoother as just “decided.”
–I really like the detail about him thinking about tearing their bikes into scrap metal. The humor is subdued but effective.

He opened the doors and entered, mind elsewhere, and he was embarrassed to find himself walking straight into somebody else. “Sorry, wasn’t looking where I was going,” he began automatically, beginning to crouch and gather the papers the person had dropped.
–I feel that this scene is a lot easier to place geographically than the last version.
–“mind elsewhere” sounds kind of awkward or, alternately, British. I’m not sure whether it feels awkward to me just because I’m American or whether a UK/Canadian/Australian/NZ publisher would react similarly.

“That much is obvious.”
–I think this is very smooth. I like the word choice.

Another pair of hands joined his in trying to gather the documents together, but Victor wasn’t paying attention to them any more. He knew that voice. The boy stared in shock at the girl he had bumped into.
–The first sentence here seems unproductive. It could probably be removed.

“Zoe? Zoe from history?”
She rolled her eyes. “No, it’s Zoe from Mars. Honestly. Did Michelle’s stupidity start rubbing off on you?”

–I love this. She strikes me as very well-characterized and more than slightly humorous.

He started moving again as a tall man in a sharp suit pointedly walked around them to get to the door; Victor had forgotten that he was blocking the entrance. By this time, Zoe had managed to gather nearly everything together – she was, of course, Zoe Stockton, and therefore everything she did was done better and quicker. At least, that was what you’d think if you heard the teachers singing her praises; she wasn’t quite as bad a person as they made out. Victor was even willing to forgive the mention of his ex-girlfriend, even though that ship had sailed and been blow apart weeks ago.
–I think the first sentence here helps give us an idea of what’s going on around them, but could probably be shortened.
–The punctuation in this paragraph strikes me as a bit, umm, exotic. There are two semi-colons, many commas and two sentences separated by a hyphen.

“What are you doing here?” Zoe asked him suspiciously, tucking a stray strand of red hair behind her ear.

“Dad was working on some advertising thingy for hours last night,” he explained, “But, being useless as he is, he forgot to take it with him this morning.”
–I really like the word “thingy” here. It really makes him sound like he’s in over his head.

She smiled and shook her head. “Like father, like son.”

“Hey, I’m no where near as forgetful as Dad,” Victor protested.
–This may just be an American thing, but I’d recommend condensing “no where” into one word, nowhere.

“You always forget your homework.”

“Yes, but – that’s homework. It doesn’t count.”

“Very true,” Zoe mused, “You wouldn’t do it even if you did remember.”

He shrugged. “Yeah, well, why waste my time on something I don’t need to do?”

She sighed. “One day, Victor Coburn, I’m going to find out how you manage to do so well in school without trying at all. But not today. See you around, maybe.”

“Why, are you here all day?” he asked, surprised.

She paused long enough to give him an answer. “I’m helping my Mum.”

–There’s a lot of back-and-forth dialogue here, interrupted only briefly by elements other than what the characters are saying. It may be more evocative to mention more about what the characters are doing, what’s going on, the scenery, etc.
–I’m not quite sure what to make of the detail that Victor does very well in school. It may be inconsistent with the characterization of him as a kind of bumbling kid that forgets everything. On the other hand, it’s not so inconsistent that I think it’s particularly important to revise or remove the detail. What do you think?

Then she dashed out of the doors and down the steps to the street. Zoe Stockton was always in a rush. Victor shook his head; he couldn’t understand the need to hurry all the time. Then he suddenly remembered that he had about 45 minutes before Dad’s meeting started and about 15 minutes more before the boss arrived at his own workplace and realised he wasn’t there on time. The boy eyed the lift regretfully as he ran for the stairs, ignoring the strange looks he got from people in the lobby.
–Is the word “then” at the start of this paragraph necessary? I think that the action– her essentially running away from him– would be more sudden and dramatic if it weren’t initiated by a “then.”

His father was normally happy to see him, but as Victor burst through the door he jumped and frowned at his son. It was only after Victor handed over the massive briefcase and his father’s memory stick that the expression cleared.
–I’d suggest switching “frowned” with a more quizzical expression.

“Oooh, I would have missed that during the meeting,” his Dad chuckled (though Victor didn’t see how it was funny), ruffling his son’s dark hair as he had done when he was small. “Thank you.”
He batted his father’s hand off and ducked away. “Yeah Dad, whatever.”

–the parenthetical phrase here is awkward. It’s a long sentence already.

“I’ve seen Clara Stockton’s daughter around today,” Mr. Coburn told his son, almost casually, as he carefully placed the briefcase on his desk. “She’s a nice girl.”
–This seems like an awkward way to introduce the dad’s feelings about Zoe. It may be slightly less awkward if the son brings him his briefcase AND something that Zoe asked him to take up that way.

“She’s alright,” he replied warily.

“Quite pretty, too.”

Victor groaned. Not this again. “Dad!”
–“Not this again” seems to be from Victor’s perspective rather than the narrator’s.

“I’m just saying,” his father answered defensively, holding up his hands. “It’s, you know, an observation.”

“Not a very subtle one . . .” Victor scowled, annoyed by his father’s words – although it wasn’t so much his words as the tone behind them. His Dad was of the mistaken belief that he hadn’t quite “gotten over” Michelle yet and, apparently, a new girlfriend would solve this problem. Even if his father had been right – which he definitely, definitely wasn’t – then Zoe Stockton was not the solution.
–If the tone is what annoys the boy, then it would probably help to mention the tone when the father is first speaking the words.
–“was of the mistaken belief that” could probably be “mistakenly believed that”
–Depending on your style, a zany metaphor or simile might be in order at the end of the paragraph. “Zoe Stockton was not the solution, any more than Victor was a jelly doughnut.”

As his Dad started to say something else, Victor looked at his watch – and grimaced. “Dad, I’m really sorry but I’ve got to go.”

His father looked at the clock on the wall. Scowling, he said, “Christ Vic, didn’t your work start 10 minutes ago? Can’t you keep better time?”
–Haha, I like this.

“Well, I had to come a different way to give you all your stuff for the meeting!” Victor protested
The man’s angry expression dissolved. “I should have known that would be the explanation. I’m sorry; you shouldn’t have to look after your old Dad like this. If I’d remembered everything this morning like I was supposed to . . .”
–I don’t like this paragraph. First, the father comes to appreciate the son’s efforts too quickly. Second, I think that the relationship between the father and son would be more interesting if the father appears to blame the boy for being late to work (when we know that it’s really the father’s fault).

“Yeah Dad, that’s great,” Victor said, concentrating on edging towards the door rather than listening, “Look, save the rant for later, okay? I’ve got to run. Good luck with your meeting!”
–Not necessary, I think.

Without letting his father get another word in, Victor opened the door and stepped outside before slamming it behind him. He felt a little guilty about running from his Dad without even saying goodbye properly, but he was late and getting later by the second. This thought spurred him on as he threw himself down the stairs, hoping that he’d be able to make it to work before he became grounds-for-firing late.

He reached the first floor without incident, dodging around astonished office workers like the rugby star that he was. Victor was starting to feel a little more optimistic about keeping his job when he ran into Zoe Stockton again – literally.
–I’m having trouble visualizing him as a rugby star, but OK.

“Ow!” The girl exclaimed loudly, crashing to the floor and dropping the large stack of files she was carrying. Victor stood sheepishly amongst the mess as she glared up at him. “What the hell, Victor? Are you out to get me today or something?”
–I love her lines here.

“Sorry,” he muttered, helping Zoe to her feet. “I’m not having a good day.”
“You really didn’t have to tell me that,” she answered sourly, “I think I could have worked it out for myself.”

–Her lines may be longer than necessary here. You could probably cut out her first line and use her second instead.

Victor sighed and simply started collecting the files together again as quickly as he could. After a moment, when she’d realised that he was intelligent enough not to get into an argument with her (not right now, anyway), Zoe started to help.

It took well over ten minutes, because Zoe insisted on putting back all the papers into the right files (how she knew, Victor had no idea, and he suspected she was guessing with half of them. He also suspected she would blame those ones on him). By the time it was done Victor looked like he was dancing on coals – every second in Zoe’s company that dragged by reminded him that he was getting closer and closer to a lot of trouble at work (with a capital T).
–I’d recommend axing the phrase “with a capital T.”

He was relieved when the task was finally done. “I’m really sorry about that, Zoe. Anyway, I’ll see you around, I’ve got to–”

“I don’t think so,” Zoe interrupted thunderously, “You are not getting away with this that easily!”
“But I’m late for work,” Victor protested, inwardly groaning as he imagined just what more delay would do to his welcome.

–I dislike some of the phrases here. thunderously is a kind of intrusive word… inwardly groaning seems kind of superfluous…

“Well I don’t care! I’m injured!” she retorted, tossing her hair and glaring. “Besides, aren’t you on the rugby team? This should take you half the time it would take me.”
–“I’m injured!” Haha!

“There’s a big difference between rugby and carrying a bunch of folders–” he began.
Zoe evidently wasn’t listening. She picked up all but three of the folders and dumped them into his arms. “Stop whining and get moving. My Mum’s office is on the tenth floor.”

Victor groaned. “Zoe, I’m going to be so late it’s not even funny . . .”

“Well you should have thought of that before you crashed into me,” she answered. “Come on, we’ll take the lift.”
–Comma after well, I think.
–“Well, you should have thought of that before you crashed into me.” Haha!

–What would you think about ending the chapter here?  I didn’t find the next two paragraphs very productive.

He snorted bad-temperedly. “Well, thank God for small mercies. At least we can take the lift.”

Victor Coburn found himself being dragged to the tenth floor, hoping that Zoe’s demands wouldn’t make him as late for work as he suspected they might – not that he could just walk off after running into her like that. And, in all honesty, at this point it probably wouldn’t make much of a difference anyway.

79 responses so far

Dec 10 2007

Retardised Whovian’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

What I’m Writing: a superhero novel about the adventures of a teenage waiter/student named Isaac Maehara. Having been abandoned in our universe by his species, he has lived in a foster family for his whole life. Being a separate species has its perks, such as the ability to convert air into energy through mental power and the ability to fly, but Isaac feels a bit cut off because of his secret. When he becomes a superhero known as the Guardian, he has to put up with a blackmailing girlfriend and a villain set on revenge, all while hiding his injuries from his family/friends and making up lies to keep his secret safe.

Target Audience: My target audience is from 12-16 year olds, but I’m not really writing for any gender. I have moments for the girls (a bit of romance and some “aaw” moments) and some for the guys (fights, showdowns and tension). I think it would attract new people to the genre, as well as people who’ve read similar things before.

Author Experience: I’m a bit experienced at writing; I’ve been doing it roughly five years (though the first three years produced nothing but crap), so I’d be “Please be polite, but I can take a bit of criticism.” I’m extremely reluctant to change big details like twists and characterization.

Comparable Works: Mine could be compared to Maximum Ride and maybe Daniel X, both of which are my favourites and the only ones I’ve read.

126 responses so far

Dec 10 2007

E-Mail of the Day


TO: OfficeofSpecialInvestigationsListServ@osi. gov

SUBJ: I’m in reptile hell, wish you were here! And a cheerful December 25 to you, too!

Our idiotic legislative branch has seen fit to direct federal Human Resources branches to “take measures this December to promote diversity through awareness of the cultural practices of diverse cultures practicing December sentiment.*”

Investigation has revealed that OSI agents culturally practice such diverse days as Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Pancha Ganapati, and the Winter Solstice Festival of The Arrival of The Dark Lord Xanthu*. If you are interested in learning about these festivals, get your ass to a library.

If you are reading this, your ass is not in a library because agency e-mail accounts are not for public use and because the consequences for violating operational security are swift, severe and sharp.

Because you do not have access to a library, allow me to enlighten you about the December beliefs of certain tribes of a certain kingdom** contained within Florida in an area that is caught between four nuclear power plants that make Chernobyl look appealing have deflated local property values. “Seminoles?” you ask.***

I’m speaking about a tribe virtually identical to Seminoles in every respect but a few: 1) scales 2) foot-long-teeth 3) a total absence of anything approaching culture or intelligence. We are, of course, speaking about the dwellers creatures of the Jurassic Arc. They are known by many names: manimals, crackodiles, mutated wastes of oxygen. As far as anyone can tell, their main purpose is to serve as the best argument against nuclear power.

Congress recently suggested that, “the government is undertaking a cultural excursion to the crocodiles of the ‘Jurassic Arc.’ Given the dearth of reptile-American federal employees, it is suggested that you partake of said excursion. It is noted that the Office of Special Investigation’s budgetary request is pending.”  

The Jurassic Arc is a fine place to spend a hellish week experiencing the filthy bottom hygienic diversity of the reptile world. National Geographic recently described the radioactive weedarium marsh as “an epic opportunity to explore a self-contained biome that closely resembles the conditions of the late Jurassic.” That all is true, insofar as the late Jurassic had 1) reptiles so vilely repulsive that other species felt the need to flee from or attack them 2) mosquitoes the size of Seminoles (helicopters, not Indians) and 3) a conspicuous lack of deodorant.

Earlier today I met a moonsuited researcher-mammal from the Environmental Protection Agency. He was positively giddy about the “sociological value” of the find here. He asserts that some fraction of the creatures here have quasi-human intelligence. Either his nose is completely dysfunctional or, more likely, the DEA should investigate whatever he’s buying from the crackodiles.

Speaking of “sociological value,” I think that it would be worthwhile to document some conversations to prepare my legal defense.

ORANGE: Hello. I’m Agent Orange.

CRACKODILE 1: Oarings!

CRACKODILE 2: Awwings!

CRACKODILE 3: What’s a agent?


CRACODILE 1: Eh-gint!

ORANGE: Sort of like a primordial lizard, except that I have a higher threshold to wanton slaughter and am much more effective at it.

CRACKODILE 3: What’s a threshold?

ORANGE: Getting lower by the moment.

The following conversation occurs after the three crackodiles have apparently stalked me in the wilderness to discover where I make camp each night.

ORANGE: …you woke me up.

CRACKODILE 1, 2: Hullo!

ORANGE: What are you doing here?

CRACKODILE 3: They wanted to know what your box does.

ORANGE: My computer? It’s a machine that protects my sanity by connecting me to intelligent life.

CRACKODILE 1: Compooder!

ORANGE: GAH! Slowly, put that down… or I will put you down.





Fortunately for the continuation of the crackodile species, the EPA agent happily surrendered offered his computer to me. On day four of our cultural excursion, the EPA man made the egregious mistake of bringing up Christmas. Crackodile 3 then attempted to demonstrate his tribe’s own religious gift-bringing ceremonies. The details are still unclear to me—and I hope they always will be—but the EPA agent woke up the next morning to find what is apparently the severed head of a leopluridon at his feet. The EPA agent attempted to explain to me that night that the ritual rearranging of the leopluridon’s brain tissue is meant to bring good luck.

Other Findings

  1. The next mammal to call me a “peer” of the crackodiles is going to have an unfortunate accident falling down the stairs. Onto a food processor.
  2. The next time someone wants religious diversity, they’re getting a decapitated leopluridon.




***Assuming you’re an idiot.




Here is a series of completely unrelated thoughts.

  1. I am on “an excursion to the [crackodiles] of the Jurassic Arc,” which suggests that my obligation is predicated on the presence of crackodiles.
  2. I laughed so hard during the scene in Aberration when the broad rigs her house to explode and then lures the crocodiles inside.
  3. The crackodiles live in something like a communal hut.
  4. Eglin Air Force Base is an hour’s flight away.
  5. Captain Crash can restation himself and his F-99 to EAFB at his leisure.
  6. EAFB has occasionally had issues with ordnance control. They really need to be more careful.
  7. Captain Crash’s F-99 holds three tons of bunker-busting explosives.
  8. The crackodiles have expressed an interest in flying mammals.
  9. Captain Crash is, in a matter of speaking, a flying mammal.
  10. If any crackodiles are alive by the time Congress allows me to escape, a flying mammal will be restationed to the Jurassic Arc.

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