Is is the Veteran who gives us Freedom

American Flag

It is the Veteran

It is the Veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the Veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the Veteran, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the Veteran, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.
It is the Veteran, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the Veteran, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.
It is the Veteran, who salutes the Flag,
It is the Veteran, who serves under the Flag,
To be buried by the flag,
So the protester can burn the flag.
Author: Anonymous

Happy Veterans Day to all who have served, and those serving today, and their loved ones.

“Palace” of the “King”- part 3 of 6

Below is part 3 of my continuing fantasy/sci-fi short story. The total is 7 pages. I’m taking a bit of a summer vacation right now, but I hope you will enjoy the story. Big announcement when I get back. All you authors and readers, stay tuned!

TWO HOURS LATER Cutter leaned back against the wall, ripped his shirt off, and allowed Tonya Redding, the Chameleon’s nurse, a five-four woman with reddish-brown hair, sharp auburn eyes underneath brown eyebrows, and a lot of spirit, to treat his wounds. After giving him some Novocain gel she moved her gloved fingers towards the piece of wood stuck in his ribcage. He struggled to get away but Tonya held him down. She was not nearly as strong as him but she was able to make sure he didn’t break free and let the wood splinters dig further into his skin.

Not that it mattered to Cutter anyway. They didn’t know his genetic code was devouring his body. They didn’t know he had agreed to allow himself to be permanently mutilated in order to live just a little longer, to give his body just enough life to take a single chance to stop the “King” from bringing some terrible ruin to world. But, as he sat back and let Tonya do her work, he knew any one of these battles would be his last; either he would be killed by an enemy or by his own body. Either way, he had no hope to see a war-free world in his lifetime.

All he could do was allow Tonya to patch him up just well enough to let him complete the next step of the mission. He knew she wouldn’t be able to do much; her best medical equipment was at the Chameleon’s hidden base in eastern Montana, where Pyrotek was now. She had to make do in a rickety wooden shack somewhere at the foot of the mountains with only as many supplies as Pyrotek could have delivered by drone.

Tonya gave Cutter some antiseptic to kill harmful bacteria on his skin and some ibuprofen for his pain. She ordered him to rest, but he couldn’t relax-the buzz of adrenaline hadn’t worn off yet. Everyday pharmaceutical drugs had all but disappeared under the new economy; these drugs were rationed in favor of producing more antidepressants, barbiturates, and steroids to keep the mercenaries fit and able to battle without feeling the negative emotions of the pain they were causing to themselves and others.

“How do you feel?” she asked. Cutter sat up.

“I’m fine,” he said. He groaned: the pain inside was really starting to hurt- and it wasn’t the pain of having some splinters in his body. “I need to smoke.”

“No you don’t. Smoking kills, you know.”

What do I care at this point? He thought as Tonya finished applying bandage gauze to the spots on his skin where the wood had penetrated. I don’t know long I’ve got but it ain’t much.

Cutter cleared his throat loudly and turned his head so he could cough out mucus into a bucket filled with ice chips next to his bed.

Grooosss!” Tonya exclaimed, smacking him with one of her gloves. “Cutter! That’s the ice I was going to use on your joints! Well, now you can feel your phlegm on your knees!”

“Yea, about that,” Cutter said indifferently. He looked around for a box of cigarettes but couldn’t find any. “Where’s my Parliaments?”

“No smoking!” Tonya exclaimed. Cutter was prepared to move but he soon felt the Novocain’s effect begin to sink into his skin. He groaned again and sat with his back upright against the wall.

Four hours later Cutter finally had his cigarette. Tonya relented and let him smoke one– and then promptly whisked the carton away before he could tempt himself into taking a few more.

The remaining Chameleons were gathered around a single night table in the center of the room when Cutter joined them. A six-two African American man from Chicago with a 1980s-style Mohawk and a bulky muscular body covered by a Kevlar suit removed a small lamp from the table and tossed it aside. The Chameleons called him Kevlar. No one knew what his real name was.

“This is it, then,” he said in a deep Chicago accent. He made sure to face the rest of the room so he could let them feel his presence. “We all that’s left.”

Cutter moved his eyes from left to right: Cherise Wright was the only woman in the crew, also African-American but five-six, lean, and with a scowl on her face she had so often Cutter assumed it was a permanent fix; she was also the only surviving Chameleon who went by her real name (or at least what she told everyone was her real name- in this brave new world, verifying personal information was almost impossible, let alone pointless). Then there was M.K., a slender six-foot-tall Algerian national who moved to America three years before the wars broke out. A defected former mercenary, he snuck away from a bloody mission in the ruins of downtown Denver and found Cutter, who was there trying to shut down a New Age Global Armor Tech production factory; Spezzna, who had washed some blood out of his hair and looked otherwise uninjured; and Rigatoni, a short Italian-American from New Jersey with big biceps and calves but who was sometimes referred to derogatorily as “noodle”, and that wasn’t for squishy muscles.

Kevlar removed a smartphone from his suit and placed it on the table while everyone else gathered around. This device was able to be tracked only by the satellite Pyrotek had put into orbit a year earlier- a structure disguised as a piece of space garbage from the not-quite-completed International Space Station. All other signals to the device were jammed.

“Can you see me?” Pyrotek’s voice said. The screen was black at first but a moment later they all saw their genius engineer’s unshaven face and blue eyes covered by thick glasses. “Okay, great.”

“What’s the plan?” Cherise said. “At this rate we’ll be dead before we crash the Labyrinth.”

“I sent KeyKey out a few hours ago into the mountains to get a head start on the next phase,” Pyrotek said. “There’s a path which must’ve been built some time ago, a dirt path through the mountains which so far as I can tell…” he moved away from the screen for a moment and then returned. “Is at least nine miles long. Five human guards on the path but they’re just patrolling, private military company I think but KeyKey couldn’t get a good read on them. They’re spaced out a mile and a quarter mile apart so you can take them out without alerting the others. Once you get to the other side you walk about…one mile to The Palace, and it looks to be about…three miles from end to end.”

“What’s in there?” M.K. asked.

“Ummm…” Pyrotek turned his head again. “I can’t tell. It appears to be open-air but some type of fog keeps blocking my view of the actual inside. All I can see is the outline of this so-called Palace. Cutter, you and the others need to be careful. If I can’t get a reading on what this place looks like I can’t help you. If this fog doesn’t clear out, then KeyKey’s solar-powered battery may not be able to recharge in there and he can’t help you.”

“Got it,” Cutter said. “Thanks, Pyrotek. Stand by.”

“My pleasure.” Pyrotek kept his line of communication open but moved to and from the screen.

Cutter started to cough hard. He tried to control himself but his coughs grew so violent he fell to the ground, using one arm to prop himself up as he kept coughing.

Cutter!” Kevlar yelled.

Cutter staggered to his feet and felt his insides ready to heave. He moved as fast as his decrepit body could go towards the edge of the cabin and vomited in the corner. No one approached him as he bent over and panted.

“This isn’t good,” Cherise said as she bit her lip. “Cutter, if you can’t move, then you should stay behind and let us go.”

“No,” Cutter said. He coughed again but now he felt a little better- but if he could get a cigarette he would feel a lot better. “I’m going. We need to do this. We need-“ he coughed again and stumbled as he made his way back to the table.

“Kevlar, give Cutter his shot,” Pyrotek said through the phone.

“Give me-“ images of needles penetrating his skin entered his mind.

“You got it, Tekkie,” Kevlar said. He kicked Cutter’s right knee, causing him to yell and fall to the ground, clutching it. Before Cutter could stand up, Rigatoni and Spezzna held him down while Kevlar took a syringe filled with green liquid out of his suit.

“Hold him real still,” Kevlar said.

“STOP!” Cutter ordered.

Hold him!” Kevlar shouted over Cutter’s voice. There would be no cleaning wipe, no disinfectant. Kevlar jammed the needle into Cutter’s bicep and he gasped as his eyes closed and saw only black.

He blinked a few times and noticed the hut looked darker than usual. He blinked again and thought he saw some light from the corner of his right eye. He turned his head and saw Kevlar and Cherise surrounding the table and talking to it in low voices. He figured they were talking to Pyrotek.

He lifted his body up one hand, then one arm, then one foot at a time. Outside he saw darkness and inside he saw Rigatoni, Spezzna, and M.K. asleep on the ground. He cleared his throat and Kevlar and Cherise turned to face him.

“You’re ill,” Kevlar said somberly. “That’s the third one of these I had to use on you in the last two days.”

Hunnnhhh.” Cutter moved to the table and sat next to it. He felt his insides vibrate like guitar strings.

“How are you feeling, Cutter?” Pyrotek asked.

“Fine,” Cutter said untruthfully, and somehow he had the feeling Pyrotek knew it too because he cleared his throat very obviously and said, “I think you should tell them.”

“Tell us what?” Cherise asked. “Cutter, are you alright or not? If we’re going we gotta go. Now.”

“I’m…” he was prepared to tell them, well Kevlar and Cherise. But he did not want to let them down. “I’m fine for this mission.”

“If somethin’s up you gotta say it now,” Kevlar said. “Pyrotek, what’s the deal with Cutter?”

“He’s…” Cutter braced himself for Pyrotek to blab. “Very ill.”

“We know that,” Kevlar said.

“He’s dying very quickly,” Pyrotek said with a hint of sadness.

Pyrotek!” Cutter shouted. For a brief moment he felt well and strong, but as soon as he stopped talking the pain returned and he laid down on the ground.

“Dying?” Cherise asked. The worry in her voice was unmistakable. “Cutter, how long has this been going on? And why didn’t you tell us before?”

“I didn’t want to,” Cutter said. He felt around his suit for his cigarettes but couldn’t find them. “We need to keep focused on the mission, not my problems.”

“Your problems are our problems,” Kevlar said. “You’re the Chameleons, Cutter. All this stuff about shutting down the global war economy, about stopping this so-called King from building a new monstrosity on the graves of the dead, this is all you. We joined because of you. We fight and risk our lives because we believe in what you believe in too. Without you, man, there ain’t nobody ready to lead.”

“You’ll do well enough, Kevlar,” Cutter said. He put his hands on the ground. There had to be cigarettes somewhere. “You’re ready to take over when my time is up.”

Kevlar sat down next to Cutter and Cherise sat in front of him. “We’re all mortal,” Kevlar said. “You, me, all of us. We all goin’ to the same place and we don’t know when or how soon it’ll be. But as long as we’re here we might as well make the most of it. Even you, you sick old man.”

Cutter forced a smile. A few tears came down from Kevlar’s eyes, but he wiped them and managed to hold himself together. Cherise, normally tough and worry-free, turned her head and moved her hands to her face. Cutter heard sniffling even from the phone, but when he got up to look, Pyrotek had stopped, clearing his throat to speak.

“Well you’re here now,” he said. “Cutter, KeyKey’s finished mapping the pathway to The Palace. You have to go now, before dawn. It’s the only way you’ll get the jump on the guards patrolling the path in front of you.

“And how long until dawn?” Cutter asked.

“Six hours, and you have to go twelve miles to make it to The Palace. The later you wait, the more enemies you can expect to encounter.”

“Then let’s go,” Cutter said. He tried to stand up but needed Kevlar’s help. “Wake the others up. We need to go, while I can still move.”

“Palace” of the “King” part 2 of 6

Below is part 2 of my short story, appx. 7 pages. Feel free to comment or share. Enjoy!

Cutter allowed himself three minutes to recover. When he felt as good as he figured he was going to, he lifted the wood panel off and moved back into the living room towards the kitchen. He moved briskly to the kitchen window and peered out: four Closterim, performing what appeared to be patrol duty. He spent the next five minutes studying their movements until he figured out a path he could take to sneak past them and make it to the other side of the street. There were three houses but one of them looked destroyed; Spezzna was not likely in that one. One of the other two had boarded up windows which Cutter, knowing Spezzna, took to mean that was where he was hiding until help would arrive.

He picked a precise time when the Closterim split into two pairs and had their backs turned to each other. He jumped out the window and navigated around broken glass and burned-up cars until he was halfway across the street. A Closterim guard suddenly turn its head towards him and Cutter ducked underneath the engine of one of the smoldering cars.

“Is something there?”  The Closterim said in a metallic voice as Cutter’s heart almost stopped at the sound of it. A couple of seconds passed, and he felt a rush of adrenalin enter his blood. As the cyborg approached his hiding spot, Cutter prepared himself to get up and fight, but the Closterim guard walked by without looking underneath.

“What did you find?” Another Closterim said from far away in the same metallic voice.

“Nothing alive.” The Closterim near Cutter kicked the ground and a small piece of hard dirt popped up. A Sun Sword slammed into the ground and twisted around to form a small hole but, just as suddenly as they had come, the Closterim patrol moved away and Cutter breathed a sigh of relief.

He waited a few more seconds and slowly moved out from underneath the engine, his eyes darting in all directions for any signs of other patrols. They were moving closer but they were still not facing him. Cutter crawled back underneath the smoldering vehicle and went out the other side. He crawled fifteen yards until he was on the blown-up pavement on the other side of the street; the Mirror Suit was successfully hiding his body from the cyborgs.

There was another smoldering vehicle- a minivan- half-way on the pavement near the house Pyrotek assumed Spezzna was hiding in. Cutter moved to the side of the minivan facing the house and waited for the Closterims’ patrol route to take them away from his side of the road. He pulled out a Finger Mirror-named for its three-way angles and finger size- and peered around the front passenger’s side of the van. Once he was certain no one was looking, he crawled through the grass until he reached the front door of the house directly across the street from him. Incredibly, despite the immense destruction to North Point, the grass in this yard was still green.

An underground water system, he thought as he used the ASL to cut a hole in the door. After entering he used the green laser to seal the hole. That means the original source of water is still clean and flowing. If I find it we can get drink refills before moving on to Red Valley. That thought reminded him of how very thirsty he was.

Cutter heard a chirping sound behind him and he jumped; he instinctively reaching for his K-24 and pointing it into the empty, broken down house in front of him. The chirping disappeared and was replaced with the eerie silence of an abandoned house which had gone through more than most houses go through in their lifetimes; the ceiling had several cannonball-sized holes, exposing the orange sunlight from the outside. Furniture was overturned and on the ground was a photo which had only the bottom half of people’s bodies visible. Cutter had the feeling something else was in the house with him. The Closterim were patrolling the street outside, so it couldn’t be them; his thoughts turned to the Delightful Devils Platoon- four women who had been sent to Hell and back and, in their rage and misery, allowed their bodies to be transformed into machines in order to let their human bodies live their remaining days as physically pain-free as possible while they searched for the one responsible for their agony. And Cutter had heard, because he had been involved in blowing up a nuclear power plant near New Davenport where the women were from, that he was the one they held responsible-

The chirping came again and sounded like a monkey this time. Cutter tapped his built-in phones. “You can send KeyKey,” he said to Pyrotek. “I’m alone.”

“I saw,” Pyrotek said as the two-foot-tall robot monkey rolled up on its tiny rubber wheels and gave him a happy look using neon lights embedded on its face. “KeyKey tracked the Closterim’s movements and uploaded them to Brickwall.” This was the name of Pyrotek’s computer server, named so no one would be able to identify his computer system unless he wanted them to. “There are still eleven Closterim in town, eight on patrol, and three breaking through houses. Cutter, I think they know some Chameleons are still alive and around. The three Closterim got rid of their Sun Swords and are carrying FAMAS G-5’s instead. That’s a newer assault rifle model which works better in dark places.”

“What are you saying?” Cutter gripped his K-24 more tightly and moved closer to a wall parallel to the front door where he could get the first jump on anything which entered it.

“Cutter, you had better find Spezzna, and fast.” The urgency in Pyrotek’s voice was unmistakable. “Based on data KeyKey sent me you have…about six minutes, I’d say, to find Spezzna and get out of there. I’m sending a Magpul Bushido Series X motorcycle into the backyard of the house you’re in now. Hurry! The Closterim are about to enter the house right behind you.”

“Got it,” Cutter said. He picked KeyKey up and the cyber monkey giggled happily as though it was a real animal and not a robot. “KeyKey, track the Closterim and send their movements to my GPS.” KeyKey’s voice recognition receptor translated Cutter’s words into something it could understand. It darted into the living room and through a hole in the wall leading to the outside world, using its tripod-like leg sections to lift itself into the exit.

Cutter pulled out a Wave Reader, another one of Pyrotek’s inventions, designed to convert transmitted signals into written intel, as though a radio signal could arrive and form a website page. He would use this to translate KeyKey’s radio waves into a map he would use to track the Closterim’s movements.

He took a quick look around the house and checked the second floor to see if Spezzna was here, which he was not. He had now four and a half minutes until Pyrotek estimated the Closterim would reach him. Cutter went back to the first floor and faced the southernmost wall-perpendicular to the front door-on the opposite side of the house. He used the ASL to open a hole in the wall. He didn’t bother to seal it; within the next ten minutes he would either be fleeing by motorcycle to the Red Valley, or he would be dead.

Cutter ran fifteen feet to the next house and began cutting through this wall. As he worked he heard heavy footsteps- the Closterim patrol was approaching his location.

Cutter kept his calm and kept chipping away. His chest was pounding harder than usual- his body had been healed but the surgeons had never been able to completely put him together again…

The footsteps became louder and the sound of a FAMAS G-5 firing sounded far too close for comfort. Cutter took a look to his left, and then channeled his impulse to panic into an even more zealous focus on the wall he was busy opening. Without hesitating or worrying about the Closterim he finished opening the hole- just as the Closterim’s footsteps indicated they were now within view. Without looking, he leaped through the hole and tumbled along the floor of what appeared to be a dining room as a siren-the Closterim’s signal to alert allies of a living, hostile body-wailed from outside.

“SHIT! PYROTEK!” Cutter yelled into his built-in phone. The wails grew louder and from outside more earth-pounding footsteps were heard. He heard some heavy panting from outside the wall where the hole was- the Closterim who had spotted him would soon attempt to face him one-on-one and keep him occupied until they could overwhelm him by numbers alone.

In front of him the dining room had an open wall which appeared to cave in a little like a hallway- that was probably the basement. He moved towards it and looked to his right. There appeared to be a staircase on the other side of this wall- the steps to the second floor. He coughed hard; the pain in his back was getting worse.

If Spezzna was in this house and fully understood Chameleon evasion tactics, he was likely on the second floor- near a window where he could jump out if he was otherwise trapped. Cutter darted to the right and heard the Closterim behind him slash through the wall. In a few seconds they would completely cut through and begin to track any skin that shed to pinpoint his location. He moved to the right and turned out to be correct; there was a narrow wooden staircase, with fifteen steps, to the second floor. He bound up, three steps at a time, until he reached the top. Below, the Closterim’s footsteps were heard from the dining room.

There were four rooms on this floor and their wooden doors were all closed. Cutter held the Wave Reader and moved its rotating button until he was able to locate KeyKey’s radio waves. Within four seconds he detected a faint signal in the third door down.

He charged the third door and simply plowed through it. Wood splintered and the brass doorknob rolled onto his foot and away. He fell onto a piece of jagged wood still attached to the door frame when he hit it and felt it jut his rib cage. He fell awkwardly onto the jagged wood piece and felt it jut into his ribcage. He groaned in pain and fell to the ground.

“Cu…er!” Spezzna’s energetic voice rang in and out of his ears. Cutter’s eyes became blurry but he saw a mop of brown hair come towards him. “You c…n m…ke it!”

Cutter ripped the wood piece out of his ribs but he knew immediately there were splinters. He was going to need medical attention before travelling to the Red Valley. But for now he just had to find the motorcycle and escape-

Spezzna got up and Cutter saw he was limping; Spezzna still managed to toss one of his EIG’s towards the staircase. They heard an explosion and what sounded like Closterim mechanical suits getting fried. Spezzna was only about average height, and his legs were not strong enough to carry his sturdy, muscular upper body, but he had no trouble picking up the taller, but feeble, Cutter and moving him to the window.

Hang on, Cutter!” Pyrotek exclaimed. “KeyKey’s coming!

Get ready!” Spezzna shouted. He dropped Cutter to the ground and shattered the glass with a sidekick. Cutter felt tiny shards hit his Mirror Suit and bounce harmlessly off. Spezzna picked him up again and they moved slowly out the window.

A shrill mechanical pitch whirred and Cutter knew KeyKey had caught up to them. The cyber monkey emitted a pitch which knocked the Closterim down and made them clutch their ears. The sound was harmless to human ears but, as the Closterim were mostly machine now, their sound receptors could not handle high pitches nearly as well as humans.

Spezzna moved them to the roof. Cutter struggled to speak, but he managed to find his voice: “Spezzna! There’s a motorcycle one house down to the right!”

Spezzna grunted but he managed to carry Cutter in his arms until they reached the end of the roof.

“Get ready Cutter, I’m dropping you,” Spezzna warned.

“Drop? Wait, Spezzna-“ Cutter tried to grab Spezzna’s flak jacket but he missed and was dropped to stories onto the grass below.

He rolled around and immediately sensed no broken bones- whatever underground irrigation system was keeping the grass moist was doing its job. Spezzna tumbled himself and they both rolled around until they were able to stand up. Above them KeyKey’s high-pitched wails shattered glass and the Closterim screamed even louder; their cries sounded robotic, but Cutter knew, from his experience facing them, their pain was human.

Cutter felt like his brain had moved a bit around his skull. He held his head with one hand as he and Spezzna raced towards the house.

“Incoming!” Pyrotek’s voice said through the built-in phone.

Cutter looked up and saw a crate crash into the ground and break open break open, revealing a large, black motorcycle that had its engine running. Above them a silver drone the size of a four-door sedan flew off, leaving behind a trail of wake turbulence.

Spezzna, who was less injured, reached the motorcycle first. The moment Cutter successfully stumbled to the motorcycle and sat behind Spezzna he yelled “hold on!” and they took off, racing off westbound into a setting sun. Somehow-barely-they would survive to see it rise again.

My op-ed in the newspaper: Do you agree or disagree?

I had an op-ed published in The News Journal yesterday. The NJ is a Gannett company newspaper, the same company which owns USA Today. The topic was downloading and supporting indies. Please read and comment on it. Now, as I am on good terms with the editor, I did promise to get his page some traffic, so I will post only the first half of the roughly 700 word article here. Read it, and let me know what you think.

Please consider the indie before downloading

The letter Taylor Swift wrote to Apple asking the company to pay artists whose music is streamed during customer’s free trial period shed a light on a continuing battle between digital creators and consumers that don’t want to pay for digital work.

Many musicians applauded Swift. Large companies like Apple, Google and Spotify routinely make money off others’ talent and do as much as possible to compensate as little as possible. You can go online and read horror stories from musicians who had hundreds of thousands of streams for their songs on those services, but whose royalties barely cover one night at Dover Downs. This is especially a problem for so-called “indies,” or people who create music with a small record label or none at all, and rely on their music sales to earn a living.

Part of the challenge, in addition to persuading people to pay for artists they like, is piracy. Someone decides they like a movie, song, e-book, or game and upload it without permission to file sharing sites where artists get nothing for their work. Even worse, these sites make it easier for someone who doesn’t respect intellectual property rights to just take an artist’s work and start selling it illegally without compensation. This is a problem for all creative industries, but unlike multinational corporations, indies are unable to fight piracy at all.

Unfortunately, those who are not creators tend to assume that if one isn’t making money from their work, then their product must not be worth buying. The problem with that belief is, in the age of diffused media, being discovered by enough people to earn a living becomes more difficult without money, endorsements or name recognition. This has resulted in many unknown creators giving away a lot of work for free, in the hopes of being discovered. As the public became overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content, and as if the ease of finding stuff for free was just too easy, the incentive to pay any creator disappeared.

Read the rest of the article here 

We Don’t Say Thanks Enough

Our lives are routinely full of distractions, not only with work, family (if you have one), school (if you’re still there), but also writing, blogging, tweeting, exercising (hahahaha!) and whatever else it is going on. We gain followers online who sometime who sometimes become friends, and occasionally we fend off haters. But rarely do we remember to say thanks.

On Saturday, America will commemorate the 71st anniversary of D-Day, when thousands upon thousands of brave men were orders to cross the English Channel and land at Normandy, at one of five beaches where the Nazis were fortified and waiting. Despite the massive casualties, the Allies persevered, and ended up over-running the Nazis and their allies, many of whom were forced to shoot at the Allies from bunkers. This brave sacrifice led to the eventual collapse of the German Army, though the Soviets advancing on the east contributed  greatly. To all those who served, and who died, we say thanks.

However, today’s thanks is about you, the dear reader. I’ve now passed over 2,000 reads on this blog, and 60 followers. Every week this number grows, and it encourages me to keep blogging. We all do what we can to try to make it.

So thanks again for reading my blog, and I look forward to reading yours!

When I Met Beau Biden

For those of you not from Delaware, or who don’t follow the news, Vice President Joe Biden’s son, who had the same name but was called “Beau” to distinguish himself from his father, passed away yesterday at the age of 46.

Whereas his father is known for being bombastic and outspoken, Beau was more reserved and cordial. I actually met Beau, and given who he was and how he affected my job responsibilities, I want to use my blog to share a few thoughts about him.

As Delaware’s Attorney General, he made government accountability a staple of his administration. As Caesar Rodney Institute is, at its core, a government accountability and transparency advocate, it was important to us to use Delaware’s FOIA laws to access information. In news which will not shock the world, some of Delaware’s state agencies made turning over information at our request tedious and painful, or cited reasons they weren’t going to. Beau, however, affirmed CRI’s right to obtain the information we requested, and in the years before I came to CRI, helped us get the information we wanted, with a phone call from his office to the agency in question.

In 2011, Beau made it clear to CRI the AG’s office would support CRI in our public records request if any state agency tried to prevent the release of any information we requested under our rights under Delaware’s FOIA law. This support helped me personally, because I utilized Delaware’s FOIA law several times while Beau was in the AG’s office.

Knowing that Beau would side with CRI over state agencies when it came to the majority of open records requests made my job easier and on one occasion I did call his office to report an issue and someone (not him, but in his office) spoke to the agency in question’s representatives and reminded them of his support for our rights. This came despite us generally being at political odds with one another. I sincerely mean it when I say that knowing we had Beau’s support for these public records made doing my job easier.  I felt confident during the roughly two and a half years he was AG that I was able to submit FOIA request and have his office on speed-dial (not literally, but you get the idea) should any agency give me an unnecessarily hard time. This kind of respect for the public’s right to know is important for government accountability.

The first time, and the only time, I actually spoke to him was in 2013 when my then-boss sent me on a mission to the University and Whist Club in Wilmington where he was speaking at a public event about, fittingly, Freedom of Information Act requests. Some Delaware-based reporters and nonprofits were unhappy by how certain agencies were moving in responding to these requests, and Beau had a roughly 40 minute Q&A presentation about how he respected journalism and organizations like CRI (He did not mention us by name) who are involved in holding government accountable to the public, and he said he wanted to be that bridge between the government agencies and the people they serve. I filmed him from the side of the room, and one several occasions he looked like he was afraid of ruining my shot even though it was he I was filming.

After he was done talking and the room broke out into multitudes of conversations, he came by to ask who I was and where I was from. Knowing him only by reputation, I introduced myself, wondering if Beau, upon hearing the name of the Caesar Rodney Institute (which liberals generally do not like), would awkwardly shake my hand and hastily move on. Instead, he shook my hand with confidence, and we talked for maybe half a minute about what I was doing and I told him I appreciated his office’s efforts to support FOIA requests. He thanked me for my words and said he was happy to help any organization which was just “trying to do your jobs serving the public”. Yes, I know it was not some epic words we said to each other, but it still was cool for the younger me to be able to talk to a high-ranked elected official, and the son of a Vice President, at a public forum where he was relatively unprotected and was candid about walking around and speaking to people.

I will conclude by saying I actually liked Beau, to the extent I knew him or dealt with his office. He was taken from the world tragically too soon, and at this time I offer my condolences to the Biden family and wish them well.

No joke: I got a Request for the Rest of My Manuscript!

Unfortunately I found out yesterday morning, and so I was unable to post until the evening of the 31st (had some birthday greetings to give out today! Props to my QU people). Today is a terrible and ironic day! But yesterday when I came back from work I received an e-mail to my personal account from one of the agents I had queried saying the following:

“Dear Samuel:

Thank you for including me in your agent queries. After taking the opportunity to read the first ten pages of your upper-middle grade manuscript, ANA BRADAN IN THE POOKA’S LAIR (her site specifically requests the first ten pages) I am very very interested in reading more. At this time I would like to go ahead and request the full manuscript, which you must upload to our server (name and instructions deleted).

Due to the volume of queries I receive and other services I must provide my current clients, I require eight weeks of exclusivity to read your manuscript, with the first day beginning on the date you upload your manuscript. This will ensure that I will have plenty of time to carefully consider your project and give it the feedback it deserves. Should I decide that your project is right for me, I will consider asking you for the exclusive right to sell your manuscript on your behalf.”

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me (yada yada).

Thank you again for sharing your work with me.”

(name not included for obvious reasons, like I don’t want her to Google/DuckDuckGo me and think I’m the type who blabs about everything)

Now here’s the kicker: Some of you who have never been published before might think I overcame the “hard” part. I don’t want to go too much in detail because I’m still new to the process, but I do know the odds are still very low of this agent, or any other, asking for exclusive representation rights.

One prominent literary agent publishes a news letter which, until recently, I was receiving. She said in 2014, she received 35,000+ queries. Of those 35,000, she asked for 46 partial or full manuscripts, and signed ONE new client.

You read that right. ONE out of over THIRTY FIVE THOUSAND. For you non-math majors, that’s a 0.00002857% success rate. Even just 1 out of 46 is 0.0217% chance of being selected, or 2% out of the 0.01% chance of having a partial or full manuscript request.

*note: This is NOT the agent who said yes. Granted, the agent with the 35k queries is one of the most popular agents (because she’s well-known), and so her getting so many requests but asking for so few books is not to be unexpected, especially since she still has to represent the clients she already has. But while some agents are more open to new clients than others, the chances are low everywehre. They were always low, and always will be low, so long as there are book publishers who aren’t Amazon.

Here’s why: There are fewer than 1,400 literary agents in America, and far fewer overseas. That’s not a typo either. Now how many people want to be published every year? Remember both the already published with new material, the aspiring published, and even the deceased who still have royalties coming in which must be collected and distributed.

Given that math, the odds are very low you or I will get a deal. But we’ll see! Hopefully the agent likes my book.

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silly reader, did you really think I got a request for more material from anyone who isn’t related to me in some way? Let me get back to you in a few months/years/decades if/when I have a “bigger platform”,a few literary awards, and/or the “right” connections or the “right” book at the “right” moment. Or, if I ever self-publish a book and sell so many copies I get query letters instead of the other way around. Which probably won’t happen due to who I am, but it is what it is.

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PS: For the record, I have hit well into the double digits for total rejections, including short stories. Granted, a couple of those rejections are my fault for not properly spell-checking or for not following editor’s directions, and I do acknowledge the sheer volume of authors to publishers/agents makes decision-making challenging. Right now, due to personal situations, mostly dealing with work, and future plans, I’m not able to send out any more query letters. I have, however, continued to write in my spare time.

Interview with my Fangirls

My fangirls were going to interview me on Thursday but they were so excited by Conference Championship Week on ESPN they forgot to do it on Thursday, so they got it in today prior to the NCAA Tournament Selection Show at 6pm.

I appreciate all my supporters so I am glad to repost this transcript from our phone interview.

Background: Kiki and Gemma run the popular job boards website lartfries.com. The site helps connect Liberal Arts majors to job opportunities with their BA degrees (as opposed to making my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee). I met them three months ago and showed them the draft of one of my newest books, with a publishing announcement to be made in July (pending my publisher’s response). They became such great fans they made it their second job to tell everyone about my book so by the time it gets released I’ll have a decent-sized following to begin promoting it. They have a weekly podcast called K & J Minute Magic.”

Transcript has only modified spelling errors or uses of grammar.

KIKI: Hey Sam, thanks so much for doing this!

ME: no problem.

KIKI: so we’ll start off with the first question: Where did you get the awesome idea for this book?

ME: (laughing) From the manatees living in a giant tank in my parent’s basement…but seriously, a lot of them come from everyday ideas. My secret is that I combine multiple ideas which make sense but are done in such a way that it’s almost impossible for my exact idea to have been done before. You know the saying how every idea’s been done before? That’s true to a basic element, but when you add these different elements together you end up with a unique story people can rally around.

As for this particular one…I like satire and comedy, but also book which really reflect the way we look at our world. I hope when the announcement comes people will be interested in this concept because it’s relatable. It’s not your everyday story or even your typical magic/wizard/dragon novel. It isn’t your typical mystery or young adult dystopia with vampires, etc. But it’s something I expect people to really connect with and feel like they learned something from.

GEMMA: Following up on that, I have to say, your writing style is kind of…different (laughter). It’s easy to read but it doesn’t look like most novels I’ve ever seen before. Not as heavy on the narration or adjectives but you don’t like to miss details. Tell us more about it.

ME: Well, Gemma, you’re right. My writing style isn’t the kind which wins literary awards. It’s not because it sucks or anything, but because I am not much of a “prose” writer. Sometime during the 1950s and 1960s there was an academic focus where literature was supposed to change from the really long-winded narratives like you see in work by Charles Dickens or Herman Melville or even in Stephen King novels. The idea was to shorten books and “get to the point.” What I call prose, however, is not this: I mean that there’s a particular writing style favored by literary types, like when you see “so and so remembered her days as a young child, playing in the grass…etc.” Or when characters or narrators spend a lot of time reflecting upon society or some issue in the book. I find it boring and I want to move on. Yet I find this is the most common style in a lot of literature I read, whether for teens or adults.

Another problem is, if I don’t write the topics the critics find interesting, they aren’t going to be interested. which book do you think is going to be more popular: A book about a young boy who marches in Selma and gets sprayed by a fire hose, or a young boy who runs around throwing ninja stars at people who complain about our country being screwed by the politicians, while they do nothing to stop these politicos? By this description the first one is a “superior” novel. But we ought to actually read the books before judging. How do you know the second one may not be better? Personally, I think I’d be more interested in book 2, but then again, I don’t give out awards.

GEMMA: So you’ve never won any awards or been published professionally before?

ME: (laughing) No awards for fiction writing. I have been published before, but as a journalist, communications director, and as a columnist. Never as a fiction writer. Not even in one of those little-known e-zines with the $10 honorary payments. Heck, not even on a site for no money. Someday, maybe.

KIKI: How do you find time to write while holding down a full-time job?

ME: It’s not easy, and those of us who work for a living know once you dedicate a large portion of your day to working and living, the motivation to start writing drops. Especially my job, which requires a lot of time in front of a computer screen or on a mobile device. The last thing I want to do most days is come home and sit in front of another screen to write 2-3 or more hours a day.

Realistically I probably get about 2 hours a day during the week, maybe 3 on weekends. In terms of word count, I’d say I average 1500-2000 words a day. Some days I get very little done. Some days I go “in the zone” and can go to 5000 or 6000 words. But those are the exception, not the rule.

The oft-discussed and little-known point is how much time social media eats into writing. By the time I think about my Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn posts, I’ve already had to think about what I will do with YouTube, Pinterest, and Snapchat (to reach teens). Many authors hate social media- you read their thoughts on writer’s boards or at workshops. They want to write and often point out big-names who didn’t need social media to succeed. My response is, ‘they are the exception to the rule. Plus almost all of them, minus a small number of indies, had more publishing help marketing than you or I do.’ But it is time-consuming, that’s for sure.

GEMMA: How old were you when you first got interested in writing?

ME: My first “book” was written in kindergarten. I would write on construction paper and draw picture. Most chapters were as short as three words or as long as maybe fifteen. They were things like “I like school” or “Sports are fun. Soccer is my favorite sport.” I think I got the idea that I was going to be able to catch Isaac Asimov and the hundreds of books he’s had published. Probably too late for that dream, but my love of writing never diminished. Over time, it got stronger.

Kiki: Who was your favorite writer growing up, and why?

ME: Tough question. I can’t say there’s a “favorite”, but I enjoyed the Encyclopedia Brown books. I also like Hardy Boys and Goosebumps. I guess I would go with R.L. Stine, since I read more of his books than I did of anyone else’s. Stephen King and J.K. Rowling were good writers I liked too. They have very strong styles. I also liked Ender’s Game a lot but I didn’t read that until I was older.

I’m not counting graphic novels or manga, but I was (and still am) a fan of Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, Worst, 300, and comic books. Batman was my favorite superhero since he got around with gadgets and didn’t rely on super speed or strength to get by.

GEMMA: I know we’re running out of time but I wanted to address authors of color. As someone who comes from a diverse background, do you honestly feel it’s easy to make it if your name doesn’t rhyme with “Patterson” or “Brown”?

ME: Yes it’s possible, but that is one thing I noticed is tough to ignore. Unlike music, athletics, or actors, it’s tough to think of a big-name Fiction writer who is Hispanic, Black, Asian, Pacific Islander, or Native American/American Indian/Native Person (I have a tough time deciding what’s the appropriate non-tribal term for someone who’s ancestry can be traced to what we now call the U.S.A. Disclosure, I have ancestry also dating back to pre-Chrisopher Columbus ‘New World’.

KIKI: Oh wow.

ME: It’s true, though it wasn’t America where my ancestors are from. Anyways, it is tough. You always have to wonder if the literature world is ready for a big-name named “Desean” or “Henrique” or “Carlos” or something like that. America is changing, and I suspect down the road people of color will be more represented in literature. But that’s down the road. Today I expect more Anglicized names to dominate the New York Times and USA Today bestsellers list. Not that that’s bad, mind you, but I can completely see why non-White people may be discouraged from thinking they could become a bestselling author. This is a great topic I’m passionate about and I’ll be happy to discuss the next time you interview me.

KIKI: And we will definitely have you back on. Thanks so much for talking to us! We hope to talk to you again soon.

ME: thank you both for having me on.

(audio is not available at this time)

A Sweet Way to Show Your Appreciation for Cancer Research.*

Today is National Pancake Day at IHOP, a day when IHOP invites everyone to come in for a free short stack of buttermilk pancakes. Normally when a business does this they offer free food in the hopes you will come purchase their other products and/or they’re trying to get you into the store so you’ll come back again. IHOP uses this day every year to ask patrons to instead make a donation to one of the charities they support. The Children’s Miracle Network is the largest charity they support, but I am volunteering tonight to support another organization, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Delaware.

Supporting local nonprofits by volunteering or donating, or becoming a sponsor for a nonprofit event, is a great way to build goodwill in the community. A business or individual is not obligated to support every charity-but getting involved in a passionate cause one believes in, or is interested in, essentially functions as free or cheap advertising. If your community has two businesses which provide the same product or service, are roughly equal in price and customer satisfaction, and one is a proud sponsor for events like raising funds for kids with cancer or saving dying animals, and the other is not, which one are you more likely to patronize?

Business support for charitable events, whether it’s for a specific purpose or just to benefit an organization’s yearly objectives, builds brand awareness. You get good PR but also the opportunity to be associated with causes you believe in. Granted, some causes are more controversial but being out there lets people know you’re an active part of the community.

Understandably the nonprofit world has been hit with scandals and embarrassing situations where seniors leaders take huge sums of money for themselves or donations are found to be wasted or misspent. But as someone who works for a nonprofit I sincerely say these nonprofits are the exception to the rule. The overwhelming majority of people who work for nonprofits do not expect top dollar for our services. Volunteer organizers don’t get anything at all! Yet we still give our time and sometimes accept less pay (or none at all) to support what we believe in.

So today, consider a midday lunch break or post-work stop at IHOP, braving the weather and the (hopefully) long lines of people who want to support groups like LLS Delaware, and get some delicious pancakes. It’s a sweet way to show your appreciation for cancer research.*

Bad pun intended

For more information about LLS Delaware, visit their site here.

For more information about the Caesar Rodney Institute, visit our site here.