GoOgle glAss–Look Where You’re Going, Masses

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By Shawn StJean

Ah, maybe I’m just paranoid.  Hell, it’s not like Star Trek has EVER successfully predicted future technology run amok before {cough, cough cell phones, body scanners, lasers, cough, cough}. . .

So jack in, and Go Ogle  in public today (ogle Dutch,  frequentative (oogen  to make eyes at, derivative of oogeye (compare Low German oegeln, German äugeln )  : To look impertinently or stare in an inappropriate manner at something or someone

But be careful where you point that thing: or don’t be surprised when a POV-video of you getting your lights punched out turns up on YouTube.

Zombie Fiction or Vivid Talent?: ABNA’s Top 500 Amazon Breakthrough Novelists reach Quarter Finals

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By Shawn StJean

While this contest undoubtedly warrants continued support from all involved, this year I’m adding a political dimension to my announcements.  Aside from the obvious tactic of identifying undiscovered–one might say, buried–talent in the cheapest way possible by the Amazon would-be monopoly, is the fix in at the ABNA?  Are the top contestants going to inevitably turn out to be those who stick with the safest, recycled, cliched plots and characters?  Are we in for more angsty vampire fiction, or do any true innovators lie among those who make the final cuts?  For those who fall aside at this point, it may seem like the “most unkindest cut of all” today, especially if you’ve dared to differ: you’ve created fresh antagonists and plots, written in an experimental style, and/or recombined familiar elements in unfamiliar ways.

So let’s see how many metaphors I can mix into one FTW cocktail:

This post is for those not moving on: Don’t Despair.  Don’t Eat Your Own Hearts Out.  Your rewards may not reside in the material realm–this year, at least, or in the hive of the Amazon universe.  The carpenter never raises the floor to match the level of the nail sticking out above it–he always beats the nail down.  But don’t go down straight.  To Hell with the carpenter–bend, and let him trip on you.  And keep that hard head!  We’ve got enough drones in this Borg Cube of a publishing industry already. . .

link to QF list: http://www.amazon.com/b?node=332264011

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Homage to the late Michael Turner for the above image from Witchblade #150, a superimposition over?/under?/behind? the cover to issue #1.  Talk about a fresh spin on an old concept!  

One Among Thousands: Poem by Shawn StJean

 

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Most nights, the stars seem many, and cold and aloof

And perhaps more beautiful for the distance

Flung like paint-spatter across a canvas of void,

The journeywork of the gods.

To embark and cross the sea to any single one, even that closest one

Laying down a blanket of russet across the bed of ocean,

Might diminish the whole, and,

The passage being too daunting to try,

I stay at home, in safe harbor.

 

Yet, my own work takes me out some days,

I mend and loose my sail, untangle and lower the net,

Hoping to catch enough to make a meal, or more.

And despite every good omen, once in a while,

Once in a span of years,

I’m caught by current and wave and wind,

Thrown out of reckoning, into abysm.

 

Strange islands brood there, through the spray,

Among the darkening, under black clouds.

The luxury of choice fades

With the glow of light diffused

When night returns, and settles.

 

Any landfall is a blessing, then:

A beach of sand pebbles in the grasp,

Fresh water collecting in pools.

Things quiet: thunder recedes, like tide.

 

I sprawl close under the beaten hull,

Shivering, exhausted, and pray

not to hear the beat of drums.

 

 

A single, clear star wakens me, with its pulsing

Somehow big and close, whispering a word through the night-surf.

 

Solitude, perhaps, but I’m no longer alone.

 

That star is a friend whose orbit I’ve chanced to enter,

Calming my blood with its gravity and even heat, and its thin, focused ray.

 

The passage home lies long, beset with dragons, maybe,

So I linger here, while I may, my own sinews knitting, before dawn,

For stars that peek through the storm curtain on a lone castaway

Come far, and few between.

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By Shawn StJean

 

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award time again: 2014′s Second Rounders announced

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By Shawn StJean

For many fledgling and Independent publishers and authors, Spring means CreateSpace’s Amazon Breakthrough Novel (ABNA) contest is in full bloom.  As many as 10,000 initial entrants in five categories (General Fiction, Romance, Mystery and Thriller, Young Adult Fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror) are cut to 500 for the second round.  These novelists have just been announced–check the lists to see if your book, or the book of a friend, appears on it: http://www.amazon.com/b?node=332264011

For Indie Writers, this contest represents the pinnacle of their ambivalence toward the traditional publishing establishment (hence the speeding bullet illo, above).  On the one hand, it’s a ruse for Amazon to locate and identify the best new talent, and lure them with the promise of an exclusive publishing contract with Createspace.  It’s free, and thus doubly enticing.  The exposure alone, for folks getting to the higher rounds, may be worth it.  And, oh yeah, prizemoney: enough to keep a frugal young writer from getting tossed out of the coffeehouse for another year.  On the other hand, there’s the inevitable crash of defeat and disillusionment when one doesn’t go forward: “It’s all politics, it’s rigged, my stuff is better than those lousy winners, why do I keep throwing pearls before swine, I’m wasting my life. . .”  Hey, that’s competition, Bub.  If you can’t stand a little flesh-wounding, get off the shooting range.  You’ve probably already discovered, or soon will, that you’re as much a book marketeer as a writer of books.

The third rounders (quarter-finalists) will be announced on April 14.  For now, hearty Congrats to all those moving forward, especially friend of the blog and the author of Tetherbird, Emily McDaid!  And for those who didn’t make the cut–just KEEP WRITING!

 

Celebs and the Super Bowl: The Selling Out of Real Talent

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By Shawn StJean

I had done my best to forget the numbing spectacle of the Super Bowl for another 10 months, but as I recently thumbed through a paradoxical magazine that juxtaposes features on eco-friendly homes with advertisements for upscale/luxury products to fill them up with, I was reminded–by a full page spread–that the iconic figure of Morpheus, a lead character from the Wachowski Brothers’ Matrix films, functions these days as spokesfigure for Korean-based KIA’s new luxury sedan , the K900.

The TV commercial and the print ads are amusing enough, but the concept–”Challenge the Luxury You Know”–among other patent allusions to Hollywood’s dialogue–may as well be a riff against “the Devil you know” (Cadillac, perhaps?).  In the television ad, Morpheus as concierge offers a wealthy couple the “blue key” or the “red key” –as if they’re the type that would take the latter, under any circumstance.  What follows is an even sillier, operatic orgy of vehicular destruction, and, the corporations would have us believe, it’s all in good fun.

I have no issue with the car companies, or any product manufacturers, competing, and employing every rhetorical means to persuade us of their superiority (hey, when you watch the Super Bowl, you oughta know what you’re in for.)  But, as anyone who frequents this blog knows, I’ve a special place in my heart for The Matrix.  It has made some seminal ideas of Socrates, through Plato’s philosophy, accessible to twenty-first century citizens of the planet.  We need them.

But like this?

Are some writers, thinkers, ideas, and people themselves, inviolable against parody, especially in the service of commercialism?  Laurence Fishburne, who plays Morpheus, thinks not.  He granted an interview discussing the advertisement, and some of his remarks are more revealing than the ad itself.

“All my heroes are doing commercials now:  James Earl Jones, David Bowie, Malcolm McDowell, Sam Jackson. . .actors of weight.”  Hmm. So the great Morpheus, the paragon of free thinkers, follows the crowd now?  Or is that Fishburne talking?  Appearance and reality do blur here.  Is he somehow less free of market forces?

“In The Matrix, it’s like, reality is what you perceive, it’s in your head, blah, blah, blah. . .” It’s more like the actor is struggling to remember, or it’s not a concept worth articulating.  Perhaps the bodily weight he’s put on through a decade of prosperity has clouded his Kung-Fu.  In any event, Mr. Fishburne certainly has come a long way from seventeen-year-old “Clean” in Apocalypse Now.

I imagine this sounds like a personal attack on Fishburne and his choices, but fundamentally it’s not.  I’m drawing attention to the debasement of important cultural values of the West.  There was a time not so long ago when actors/personas of “gravitas” didn’t transfer their charisma, admiration, and authority to corporations.  So why now?  Are all rules out the window?  Do they really need the money that badly–or has public trust become just another commodity to be leveraged?

But, Hey, I can hear someone objecting, didn’t the Matrix trilogy make Warner Bros. like a billion dollars in the first place?  So where’s the paradox in one commercial entity washing the hands of another?

For my reply, I’ll enlist the aid of another cultural icon:

Venerable songwriter Bob Dylan also featured in a commercial during that same ball game, and some might say the difference is merely in degrees of propaganda: he encouraged viewers to buy American cars (Chrysler ones in particular.)  But there’s a distinction worth making.  There’s more there than a hip guitar beat and a series of jingoistic catch phrases/images (one girl wrapped literally in an American flag.) Whether one views the approach as pure patriotism or crass exploitation of sentimentality, a higher reality lurks here. It’s a policy of isolationism that’s defined Americans since Plymouth Rock and which, for better or worse, kept us on the bench during World Wars One and Two, until very late in those games.  Since then, we’ve abandoned those policies in favor of trade deficit, unlimited debt, War on Terror, world economy, world bank, world police force.  And how’s that working out for us?  To me, Dylan’s choice to endorse isolationism, whether right or wrong, is to stand for something real: a defensible philosophy. “Let Germany brew your beer; let Switzerland make your watch; let Asia assemble your phone; we will build your car.”  After all, those are quintessential American jobs he’s talking about–and even if, with all the imported materials in Ford, Chrysler and GM products, and the “foreign” autos assembled in U.S. plants today, the situation isn’t as simple as Dylan presents it, it’s still a solid concept: keep your business among your neighbors, and they’ll be around to buy back from you.  They’ll have retained the means, the freedom, and the pride to do it.

I’m not trying to politicize Fishburne’s particular brand-fealty–it might have been Ford just as well as KIA.  My point lies more in the dilution, or rather the dismissal, of a fundamental truth.  Addiction to comfort, security, and luxury, over Truth, is one of those very “shadows on the wall” Plato and the Wachowskis warned us against.  This isn’t homage, or even parody.  It’s contempt.  And it insults the American consumer by waving his own illiteracy in his face.

Yes, The Matrix franchise has about as much surface resemblance to Plato’s Republic as the Super Bowl has to an actual football game: it’s one big show.  But for all the window dressing, beneath the TV sales, the betting pools at work, the 6-hour pre-game, and the bottomless bowls of nachos and empty calories, there’s still something there, a fundamental set of values.  Football is a worthwhile activity, for American youngsters especially, and their families.  The Matrix, for all the car chases and bullets flying, presents an unpalatable set of considerations to the young people of today: you don’t have to exist as a wage-slave penned up in a cubicle, jacked in to what amounts to a milking machine, for 1/3 to 1/2 of your functional life, all for the possibility of some intermittent pleasure and luxury.  An automobile, after all, following a home and the decision to have children of their own–will probably rank as the third weightiest financial commitment of their lives.  The payments will keep drivers working, and tractable, and docile.  But, before they buy in, they can still choose Red/Reality–it’s not as pleasant, and the vinyl doesn’t feel like “real” leather.  But hell, leather is skin: whether cowskin, pigskin, or the human variety.  It likely came off the back of the guy in the cubicle next to you.

Decide for yourself:

KIA K900 Super Bowl TV Ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ob-wn52Dkmk

Fishburne’s Interview: http://on.aol.com/video/laurence-fishburne-on-playing-morpheus-for-the-kia-super-bowl-commercial-518103767

Dylan’s Super Bowl TV ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlSn8Isv-3M

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Indie Authors Defiant: What Are We, and Why, and Who Wants to Know?

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By Shawn StJean

In part this post is a response to my friend Emily McDaid’s ruminations awhile back, Why Do We Do it?, http://emilymcdaid.com/blog/12/why-do-we-do-it and to anyone feeling a similar crisis of spirit over your chosen, unremunerative path.

I’ve been teaching English for 22 years, and every Autumn I find myself reviewing whether I think it’s still worth it–okay, so I’m a bit early–it’s been a tough year. 

My best students are often the most concerned about their grades.  I always tell them, “Do your best, and the grades will take care of themselves.” To me (who was a college student myself for 10 years,) this referring them to a higher standard seems so clear.  But from the undergraduate perspective, and given the pressures and competition of the job market out there, I can empathize with their concern. 

Now, as an Indie author, try this one on for size: “Do your best, and the sales and reviews will take care of themselves.”  Seems hard to swallow, right?  Yeah–now we can really feel my undergrads’ point-of-view. 

‘Cuz writing is no more about making money than going to college is about grades.  College is about learning, making friends, drinking too much, sleeping in the wrong bed, finding out excuses won’t work anymore, doing your own laundry, not eating right, throwing a frisbee, flirting, and. . .learning.  Writing is all of that, too, and more (I’m fairly certain they still offer courses in writing, so it’s no coincidence.) 

Writers have a higher standard to uphold, and that makes us a bit freakish.  The Amazon reviews will be unfair, the good ones mysteriously vanish, sales slump or never start, favors go unreturned, the blog doesn’t get enough hits, it never ends, and it’s all so much damn work. 

You aren’t writing for fame and fortune.  You aren’t.  If those things are in the cards for you, they’ll come like the pot that boils, unwatched (I love to mix metaphors.  Take that, corporate editors!)  You’re doing it for a dual-higher purpose.  One: You’re doing your mite to keep literacy alive on our small planet.  Once we lose it–the ability to communicate at a level above the blurb, to ponder our purpose in words, to think in other than cliches, to access the records of our own fitful past, to force those dormant neurons to fire into life so that our heads actually hurt from the brain growing, a useful pain very few human activities can produce–once we lose those, we’ve lost civilization.  And we don’t want to find out what replaces it–worse, we don’t want our children to find it out for us. 

Purpose Number Two:  You’re writing because you are a freak.  Somehow the latent and preposterous belief that everyone possesses–that, deep down, you really are special, a unique if garbled snowflake–is actually true.  Why else would you pursue such a pathetic risk-vs.-reward-ratio, against all the common sense that pushes most of the human race to their toolboxes, spreadsheets, trucks, plows, cubicles, and secure paychecks, every day?  Face it: you’re a mutant, an X-Man.  There’s a screw loose. 

And you can think of your reward for reaching toward a higher standard this way: When there’s an errant nail sticking up above the hardwood floor, will the carpenter raise the entire floor to meet it?  What will he do?  That’s right–he’ll drive it down, to the level of all the other nails.  It better have a hard head.

But my feeling is, if they’re going to beat on your head anyway–and they will, ‘cuz everyone’s a nail–you might as well go down hard, and bend, or work your way out again, your best way. 

 As Thoreau once insisted, it’s not enough to be a philosopher, or even found a school and think better, if you can’t live according to your wisdom.  And if realizing that pursuing money is not going to improve your life, but will actually hinder your progress, isn’t one of the first steps in reaching a higher standard, then what in Hell is? (I paraphrase).  

To put it another way: 

If you’re a freak like me, Wave your flag 
If you’re a freak like me, Get off your ass 
It’s our time now, To let it all hang out 

So shout if you’re a freak like me, Don’t apologize 
They can’t hold you down, You were born to rise 
It’s our time now, to come out    -Halestorm

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Humanism Lives Long, And Prospers: Star Trek Continues Review

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 By Shawn StJean

Who says it takes a hundred million dollars to do Star Trek right?

Under the wing of Farragut Films and Dracogen Investments, Vic Mignogna and crew have launched the second episode of their wonderful fan webseries, Star Trek Continues.  It takes place during the final three years of the original five-year mission that ended prematurely when the network cancelled Star Trek in the late 1960s.

All due respect to the rebooted mega-budget studio feature films–sorry, but this is where it’s at: no one is going to get resurrected by “Necrotic-Tribble-Cross-Superhuman DNA,” either.  That kind of technobabble/solution nonsense is for fans of Next Generation and its ilk.

I screened the just-released second episode in the webseries, “Lolani,” with a smile on my face the entire time.  This reaction was part nostalgia, part admiration, and part gratitude for Vic and the gang who’ve devoted themselves to continuing a great tradition of truly humanistic storytelling, even amidst the most technological setting.  I thought it bettered the excellent first episode (featuring the return of old nemesis, Apollo, reprised by Michael Forest).

As with the original series, the episode “Lolani” takes a local incident and extends it not only to allegorical proportions, but retains the Trek romanticism while it resists succumbing to the sentimentalism of dozens of silly imitation shows over the years.  An Orion slave girl, taking advantage of a dispute among her recent purchasers, kills the new owner who would have raped her.  The Enterprise rescues her from the drifting Tellarite vessel, and she proceeds to enchant the crew (Kirk included, naturally) with her pheromone-enhanced wiles.  The rhetoric of gender relations undergirds the script, and the threat of female power remains inescapable, but the story somehow escapes radical feminism and balances its themes in a way that would have made Gene Rodenberry proud.

The episode also does an excellent job creating moral ambiguity: given the laws of the Federation and perhaps even the Prime Directive, the crew is forbidden to interfere with her return to the slavemasters who sold her.  And yet, she gives a face to the thousands still under the thrall of the homeworld’s patriarchs.  Lolani herself, like so many women characters in literary fiction, remains a mystery until the end: part liar and manipulator, part sincere and helpless girl, worthy of the genuine love one crewman gives her.  Of course, the Captain wouldn’t be Kirk if he failed to make a pass at her along the journey.  In fact, many of the old tropes are present for the fans: the Vulcan mind-meld and neck- pinch, for example.  I have to admit to being disappointed that Kirk’s shirt wasn’t ripped during the fight scene–but then again, with a budget smaller than that of the original 45-year-old episodes, and adjusting for inflation–well, those things aren’t cheap.

The scripts of the old Trek were the reason for its longevity among fandom, and this tribute series follows suit.  While some may find the style hokey, I personally applaud the refusal to give in the cynicism and parody that invests so many of today’s remakes.  The production values: sets, costumes, special effects, music, lighting, and even a few stunts–really cannot be faulted by any reasonable viewer.  Some may wish for more professionalized acting, or folks who more closely resemble the original cast members–but naturally this would defeat the purpose of a fan-series, being both cost-prohibitive and elitist.  No one in the troupe’s ensemble cast fails to deliver competence, anyway, and guest stars like Sci-Fi vets Erin Gray and Lou Ferrigno are always welcome.  Naturally, such pros also deserve the thanks of fans everywhere for their contribution to keeping the Enterprise flying.

Visit the Official Site:

http://www.startrekcontinues.com/

And Kickstarter page:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/125377036/star-trek-continues-webseries

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