Archive for April, 2008

Apr 30 2008

The Karate Wedding: Pennsylvania’s Gift to Western Civilization

Published by under Comedy,News

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.

The Associated Press provides us this lovely nugget about a wedding that featured a karate kick from the groom to the bride. (“That’ll teach you to ask for a prenuptial!”)

PITTSBURGH– A newlywed couple spent the night in separate jail cells — she in her wedding gown — after police said they brawled with each other, then members of another wedding party, at a suburban Pittsburgh hotel.

The fight started Saturday night after a reception when he knocked her to the floor with a karate kick in the seventh-floor hallway of a Holiday Inn, according to police. It escalated when she attacked two guests from another wedding party who came to her aid, police said.

The melee moved to an elevator and then to the lobby, where the couple threw metal planters at the two guests of the other party, causing minor injuries, police charged.

“It was pretty wild,” Ross police Sgt. Dave Syska said.

Would it surprise you that alcohol was involved?

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Apr 30 2008

Using Google Analytics to Promote Your Book Intelligently

Authors, particularly new and unproven ones, have to use promotional events to drive sales. Google Analytics can provide useful information about which cities are worth promoting in. The conventional wisdom is probably that the most readers for the typical book can be found in large cities (NYC, Chicago, LA…) But you can probably do a lot better than just hitting up large cities.

For example, we’ve tabulated our numbers for January 2008 and found that Atlanta and Toronto currently have almost as many Superhero Nation readers as NYC.

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Apr 29 2008

Funny Insurance Ads

Funny insurance ads

This is part of a life insurance ad that I found very amusing.

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Apr 29 2008

A bizarrely amusing fan-made music video

Published by under Blaxploitation,Comedy

Someone used The Sims 2 to make a music video for the Men in Black theme. Normally, I think efforts like this are hackish. But this one was quite funny, particularly from :48-55. If you were writing the script for the music video, it would be like casting IRS agents as dancers and then telling them to improvise Thriller.

I also found the series of bunny hops at around 1:25 perversely amusing.

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Apr 25 2008

A hard-learned lesson for superheroes…

Superheroes should never ask “are you thinking what I’m thinking?” The answer is never helpful.

But where could you find that much nitroglycerin at this hour?

Dr. Darpa

Unless your IQ has tripled since we’ve last spoken, probably not.


You are now.

Mr. Mental

Don’t flatter yourself.


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Apr 25 2008

Quotes of the Day: What is Science?

Science plays heavily in many superhero stories. So, today, instead of coming up with some pithy quote about science, we’ve used others to do so for us.

What is science?

Hocus pocus, but with less hand-waving.

— Agent Orange

Always being within a carton of baking soda of a doomsday device.

— Dr. Darpa

Like Hollywood, except without the beautiful women, oversized budgets and snappy outfits. Actually, it’s not like Hollywood at all, besides the explosions.

–Dr. Savant

A series of triumphs over unpleasant realities.

— Jacob Mallow

Pretty awful. Stick to game theory.

— Catastrophe

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Apr 24 2008

Two Magical Words

Agent Orange: I have learned something important about mammals. Two quasi-mystical words will put a mammal into a hypnotic stupor that will force him to believe anything.

Agent Black: You’re crazy.

Agent Orange: I am prepared to demonstrate my new-found learning of mammalian psychology. First, I will greet a victim-mammal of your selection. Then you will make an outlandish statement. And I will administer the two word hypnotic spell.

Agent Black: Let’s see it.

Five minutes later.

Agent Orange: Greetings, Mammal-Darpa! We have learned something intriguing on our latest posting.

Dr. Darpa: What?

Agent Black: We were attacked by robotic, flesh-eating airplanes.

Agent Orange: IN JAPAN!

Agent Black: … !

Dr. Darpa: Egads! How did you survive?

Agent Black:

Agent Black: NO!

[end] (If you’d be interested in reading a related article, “Stuff Mammals Like: Japan,” please see more.

Continue Reading »

7 responses so far

Apr 24 2008

A 75 Word Review of Soon I Will Be Invincible

Here are several quotes from the book Soon I Will be Invincible. Which character says them? You have three choices: a mutant cat created in a lab accident, a genius millionaire turned businessman and a whiny teen idol. If you expect this will be easy, you obviously haven’t read SIWBI.

This is all geek stuff.”

Maybe you should be at work, then. Spend some time on the streets.”

He always looks fine. I know you two kept in touch.”

Darkness? Crime, you mean.”

You honestly think there’s something behind this.”

“We haven’t seen a serious threat for almost a year. I’m almost bored.”

The first four are from the mutant cat and the last two are from the genius businessman. If you’re wondering why a mutated cat would use phrases like “geek stuff,” you’re not alone. I’d like to note that none of these lines actually came from the whiny teen idol, but most of them sound like they should have.

(You can read our much longer SIWBI review here).

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Apr 24 2008

Five Story Arcs (Central Plot Structures)

This article will help you organize the plotline of your story or novel.

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75 responses so far

Apr 22 2008

Worst Queries

Published by under Comedy,Superhero Nation

Somehow, I suspect that the individual who got to Superhero Nation by Googling Air Force Office of Special Investigations business cards didn’t stay very long. [I hope he wasn’t at work– B. Mac]

We also got a query for do alligators have thumbs? . Turning to our resident reptologist, P.G…

No. Although alligator feet bear some superficial resemblances to human hands, they aren’t really used for much except traction.

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Apr 21 2008

An Interesting Business Proposition from Cote d’Ivoire

Published by under Comedy

FROM [name removed]
EMAIL [removed]




From B. Mac
Washington, DC

Dear [Name]

As luck would have it, I’ve been waiting for just the right venture partner, a canny operator that properly appreciates the value of randomly soliciting business partners through amateur writing contests.  I can’t imagine anyone I’d rather involve in a 7 digit* transaction than someone who identifies himself by an initial and writes under the login name “SuperheroNation.”
(*8, if you use real money).

I have enclosed the deposit information for my Paypal account. Please deposit the 7.5 million and I will see to it that you receive your 85%.

B. Mac

P.S. Isn’t Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa?

One response so far

Apr 21 2008

Death’s Sweet Embrace (A Typically D.C. Story, with Assassins and Gelato)

Agent Black stumbles into the Special Investigations lunchroom, his face and suit covered with ashes, dust and blood.

Captain Carnage: You look like you done tried your IRS mojo on a Texas woman.

Agent Black: Would you rather have Agent Orange drive a car or handle a submachine gun?

Captain Carnage: Is that a trick question?

Agent Black: Do I look like I’m feeling tricky right now?

Captain Carnage: Well, is Agent Orange in a combat zone on another continent, or is he somewhere where a red light actually means something?

Agent Black: Washington, DC. In my car.

Captain Carnage: Hotdamn, kid. I wouldn’t get in a tank if I knew O.J. was driving it. Give him the submachine gun, I reckon it’s less likely to hurt nastylike when he gets you killed. Those damn reptiles, they drive like everyone’s limbs grow back.

Agent Black: So, I was driving Orange. He was late to a meeting on Capitol Hill.

Captain Carnage: Hooh boy. I like where this is going.

Agent Black: We got a red light and Agent Orange says something like “why are you stopped? Keep moving, keep moving, dummy.”

Captain Carnage: Alligators reckon green and red’re the same color. When they talk about traffic lights, y’just gotta take it like Congress talking about collateral. They’re talking, but they’re not really talking, y’reckon?

Agent Black: Well, uhh. I’d heard about the green-red colorblind thing before. So I said “shuddap, I know we’re late.” And then the back of our car exploded.

Captain Carnage: Rocket launcher ambush?

Agent Black: Ambushes.

Captain Carnage: Many?

Agent Black: Four cars.

Captain Carnage: Hot damn! So you had to pick between driving or shooting. Damn sure he ain’t doing the driving. He makes NASCAR look like bumper cars. You know he once managed 8 digits of damage with a golf-cart?

Agent Black: I believe it.

Captain Carnage: Since you survived, I reckon you gave him the gun. But how did he shoot it? His hands are big enough to palm a rifle.

Agent Black: I took the gun.

Captain Carnage: But that means…

Captain Carnage: !

Agent Black: I long for death’s sweet embrace.

Later that day:

Agent Orange: Greetings, mammal-Mike!

Mike: The Captain said you had an interesting day today.

Agent Orange: I met a wily mammal-gelatoier.

Mike: A gelatoier?

Agent Orange: A mammal that sells gelato. He introduced me to the seedy and sinister gelato underworld by tricking me with a gallon of orange-flavored gelato. That was very interesting. No doubt Mike-flavored gelato would interest you. But his alleged “orange” flavor was not even remotely similar to my real orange flavor, which proves that it was a foul ruse. I also seem to have lost feeling in my digestive tract. In retrospect, I have concluded that gallons of orange gelato are better-suited to mammals than cold-bloods.

Mike: I think Carnage was referring to an attempted assassination with rocket launchers.

Agent Orange: Oh, there was that, too.


Mike: Don’t you think that was a little bit more interesting than the gelato?

Agent Orange: (Mammals). Before today, I had not ever been offered gelato, let alone gelato that was (purportedly) in my flavor. But assassination attempts are a dime a dozen. In fact, perhaps the gelato was an assassination attempt.

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Apr 18 2008

“Join us and survive the undead hordes”

Published by under Comedy

Good salesmanship involves a call to action: do this and you will get that.

The Zombie Defense Coalition probably has the best call to action I’ve ever seen. “Join us and survive the undead hordes.” YES.

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Apr 16 2008

Quote of the Day: Tuesday

Agent Orange, paraphrasing Groucho Marx: “Outside of an alligator, a rocket launcher is certainly your best friend. Inside of an alligator, I’d recommend a gun.”

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Apr 15 2008

Did you know…

Published by under Writing Articles

that John Quincy Adams kept a pet alligator in the White House?

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Apr 14 2008

A hilarious short story

Published by under Writing Articles

I highly recommend Selling the General, a wacky (and free!) short story about a publicist that works for a genocidal dictator. Its characters are strange enough to be funny but normal enough that you can relate to them on some level.

STG is well-written and have I mentioned that it’s free?

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Apr 13 2008

More Proof Gators Cause National Strength

Web Gumbo provides a great picture of his unit mascot. You might wonder what a Marine mascot does. Deliver pep talks? Rally the fans? Please.

Agent Orange, our mutated alligator, says that “it’s not surprising that they turned to an alligator when they needed someone to scare and bond with Marines. Here you can see the gator playing Marco Polo with a Marine that is obviously enjoying the gator’s friendly and sociable company.”

Lash retorts retorts that “if the guy’s actually enjoying anything, it’s probably the thought that he will soon not be dangling over a watery grave.”


No responses yet

Apr 13 2008

Organizing a Web-Site

Seth Godin had an interesting, brief post on organization. He finds that alphabetical order is not the best way to organize most things– he argues that relevance is a better measure of organization than arbitrary letter rankings.

I think that applies to sites as well. Most blogging platforms organize posts chronologically by default, but that’s a terrible way to organize information. If someone leaves and later returns, it will be virtually impossible for them to pick up where they left off. If you wanted to send an article you read yesterday to a friend, your only hope is to search through all the posts again. The only strength of chronological organization is that it’s relatively easy to tell when there’s an update.

Avinash at Occam’s Razor has a better approach: a site-map. He splits his articles into a few rational categories and then orders articles within those categories chronologically. That’s effective because it ties articles together in a logical way. If you liked his first article on web analytics, you can run down the list and find ten more in a row. Avinash’s site-map wisely includes dates. That, too, is effective because it helps readers quickly identify if there have been updates and where they can be found.

I like Superhero Nation’s organization– a combination of widgets and chronological ordering– but that clearly pales before a real map. If you look at the widget on the left labelled “Writing About Superheroes,” you can see that we’ve only included links to six articles there and then added a link to a map for our superhero writing articles. Widgets are a great start, but they will probably grow inadequate as you accumulate content. How many widget-links can you use before people’s eyes glaze over? Probably 20, at most. But we have 500 posts (including 120 quotes of the day and 60 articles on writing).

One response so far

Apr 10 2008

Surreal Photoshopping of the Day

Published by under Art,Making Art

I was looking through my computer today and found this picture. Eek.

There is nothing wrong with this picture, particularly if you like desolate, bleak prairies. I’m more of a radioactively cartoony New Zealander myself. Enter the Photoshop saturation tool.

In radioactive New Zealand, even the water glows. And the rocks are blue!

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Apr 09 2008

6 Problematic Character Traits (and how to use them like you want to)

These six character traits will probably make your readers groan… but they don’t have to! Find out how to turn self-guilt, rebelliousness, moral perfection, dishonesty and intelligence into winning character traits.

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4 responses so far

Apr 08 2008

Quote of the Day: Leaders, Money and Power

“A leader who is poor is a poor leader.”

Carlos Gonzalez

“If you were a good leader, you wouldn’t need any money.  Worshipers and soldiers–ones worth having, anyway– cannot be purchased.  If you think the difference between a real military force and a gang is shiny tanks and well-pressed uniforms, you might as well shoot yourself and spare us the trouble.”


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Apr 07 2008

Formatting Problems?

Published by under Superhero Nation

Over the past few days, our bounce-rate has spiked upwards from about 58% to about 70% and the average time-per-viewer has dropped by about 45% (ouch).  The only significant change I can think of is that we moved to WordPress 2.5 over that time.  I haven’t noticed any major formatting problems on my computer, but if you’ve seen something that looks hard to read or otherwise weird, please let us know by leaving a comment or e-mailing us at   (replace _at_ with @, of course).

Thanks for your help!

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Apr 07 2008

Evil, Reptilian Kitten-Eaters

My opponents have claimed that I’m an “evil, reptilian kitten-eater from another planet.” Well, I’m not evil. It attacked me.

–Agent Orange, mutated alligator and self-defending ailurophage

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Apr 06 2008

Scene of the Day (B. Mac’s Temporary Return!)

B. Mac gave me this to post. He says he will be healthy enough to return to full-time status within a few days.

Agent White, junior recruiter: Mr. Smith, I have no doubt that you are an excellent IRS auditor, but I’d like to know more about how an accountant might be qualified for this agency. What about killing. Have you done any of that?

Gary Smith: No, sir.

Agent White: Have you ever seen someone die brutally? A de-limbing, perhaps?

Gary Smith: No, sir.

Agent White: I see. You seem like an excellent fit… for the IRS. I’m going to do you a favor and ask that you leave now. You would break in ten minutes here and you probably wouldn’t even be the first.

Gary Smith: …

Gary Smith: Is that a request or an order?

Agent White: …

Agent White hits his intercom button.

Agent White: Agent Orange, could you step inside, please?

Agent Orange, a hulking mutated alligator, enters the room.

Agent Orange: Greetings, mammals! Mammal-White, Mammal-Smith.

Agent White: Sir, could you please describe to Mr. Smith what your job is here?

Agent Orange: Indeed! I’m the head recruiter and trainer. I determine who enters training and then how best to systematically destroy them. We’ve reduced our mortality/psychosis rate to a historically low 6%!

Agent White: Mr. Smith, so far Agent Orange has broken six Navy SEALS, five Force Recons, ten Army Rangers and so many Special Agents we’ve stopped counting.

Gary Smith: But no accountants, I bet.

Agent Orange: …

Agent Orange: When are you available to start?

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Apr 06 2008

A breakthrough!

I think I have stumbled onto something really useful about writing character-voice. I’ll post some notes later today, but my thesis is that distinct phrases are crucial.

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Apr 05 2008

Agent Orange, on Agent Black

“I only gradually realized that Gary Smith was wily for a mammal. That should have been obvious. He was an accountant and, as a rule, accountant-mammals are masters of chicanery and deception. (That is why they, like lawyers and journalists, receive graduate degrees: it takes years to learn the arts of subterfuge).”

–Agent Orange

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Apr 04 2008

B. Mac’s Bookshelf of DOOM

Published by under Book Review

A reader asked for my suggestions on reading material. I fumbled the question by saying something like “it really depends on your taste.” He responded (paraphrased) “obviously, if I had thought that your tastes were incomparable to mine, I wouldn’t have asked you.” Touche!

So, mainly for the benefit of said reader, I have decided to post a photograph of about half of my bookshelf.
My tastes are very eclectic

Of these, I would really recommend only Weapon, Starship Troopers and Black Powder War for the average sci-fi or fantasy reader. (With the caveat that BPW is the sequel to His Majesty’s Dragon, which should obviously be read first).

For readers that are a bit more artsy and literary, I recommend The Best American Short Stories of 2007 (not seen above), which has five stories that I found commendable. “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves”  was extraordinary, “Sans Farine” was distinctly excellent, and “The Boy in Zaquitos” and “The Bris” were pretty good. And, if you’re more literary than I am, you’d probably like most of the other stories, I think.

My next book is CS Lewis’ Surprised by Joy, which has not arrived yet. I’m not sure what to expect. I’m a minor CSL fan and memoirs have always interested me. It looks to be very religiously influenced, but I’m basing that entirely on the front-cover.

I think someone with a casual interest in politics would enjoy Jack Goldsmith’s Terror Presidency and John Mueller’s Overblown. TP is Jack’s memoir about his time as the head of the Office of Legal Counsel. (I hate dropping names, but I feel obliged to offer a personal disclaimer here. I was once one of John Yoo’s coworkers, in one of the remotest senses imaginable, and Jack’s book treats Yoo like a minor villain. My recommendation of this book should not be construed as an endorsement of Jack’s legal opinions or his feud with Yoo. I simply enjoyed his style of writing and think he provides an interesting perspective on legalism and the legal side of the war on terror).

Overblown is a more conventional argument piece. Mueller’s main thesis is that the risks of terrorism have been hyped and that it’s more appropriate to try to mitigate the damage of terrorist attacks rather than try to overspend on defensive measures that are unlikely to be 100% effective. I thought most of this book was well-argued and interesting. (Again, this is not an endorsement of his politics: off the record, I disagree with probably 75% of the book, but that’s immaterial to its quality). I did take issue with what I thought was an exceptionally questionable point about Pearl Harbor, though. (If you’re interested in that, please keep reading).

Continue Reading »

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Apr 03 2008

We have fan art!

I liked this fan-art of everybody’s favorite mutant alligator.

10 responses so far

Apr 03 2008

Quote of the Day

“Life is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”  — Thomas Edison

“Success is 1% swagger and 99% dagger.”  — Cadet Davis

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Apr 03 2008

Everything is Better with Zombies

Published by under Comedy

9 out of 10 writers (good ones, anyway) agree that anything will become better if you add zombies. That’s why Maureen Johnson has expanded her Insert a Zombie contest, where you write a paragraph up to 250 words that takes someone else’s scene and adds some brain-eating.

Scott Westerfeld offers us this take on Charles Dickens. In fact, it is probably the only good thing to ever come of Charles Dickens.

It was the best of apocalypses, it was the worst of apocalypses. It was an age of brain eating, it was an age of shotguns. It was the epoch of damaging the head, or of removing it from the body. It was the season of light infantry weapons, it was the season of dark pursuits through abandoned sewers. We had everything at the local mall before us, but there were too many zombies in the way. In short, the period was so far like the present period—except for, you know, all the frickin’ zombies.

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