April 20, 2008

A Slice of PIE: Thomas Nelson Opts for Blockbusters ONLY

As announced last Wednesday (Wednesday, April 23, 2008):

the blog of Michael S. Hyatt, President & CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers:

“As you may have read in Publishers Weekly or the Tennessean, yesterday we laid off slightly less than 10% of our workforce. This was not an easy decision. It fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say this was one of the most difficult decisions of my tenure Thomas Nelson.

“Of course, layoffs are not that notable, especially in the current economy. You can’t open the paper without reading about companies laying off thousands and—in some cases—tens of thousands of employees. Sadly, it’s now become routine. Until it happens to you. Or someone you care about.

“But, honestly, our layoffs weren’t the result of the economy. They didn’t happen because we had a bad year. (Our fiscal year ended March 31.) To be sure, it wasn’t a great year. But it was decent. We saw modest growth on the top line (about 4%) and really good growth on the bottom line (about 14%).

“So then, if it wasn’t the economy, why did we feel the need to layoff these good people? Because we have changed our business strategy:

As I have previously announced, we are cutting our new title introductions in half for this year.
This change is designed to align us with a shift in the marketplace toward fewer titles generating more of the sales. It will also enable us to invest most of our resources where we can generate the biggest returns.”

As the publisher of such mega blockbusting Science Fiction, Fantasy, Thriller and Horror authors as Ted Dekker, T. Davis Bunn, Jerry B. Jenkins and Stephen Lawhead, it's sad to note here that it appears, despite the softening language, that Thomas Nelson will ONLY be opting to publish


A sad day for Christ and His followers when business concerns outweigh the leading of the Holy Spirit...oh, I know that have to make a profit, please stockholders and put food on the table. But...but...but...I noticed Mr. Hyatt didn't mention anywhere, "After much prayer and fasting..." or "During prayer time for us and our staff, we feel the Lord leading us to..."

Sad, sad, very, very, sad...

STAR TREK vs STAR WARS: Who Mourns for Democracy?

For all its vaunted egalitarian democracy, no one on the USS Enterprise ever cast a vote in an election -- at least not in any episode I can locate. The Federation Council just seems to have its delegates appear out of nowhere, listen to people talk, stop assassinations and censure captains. Never once are proceedings of merit displayed.

For all we know, the shape-shifting, evil Founders appoint the Federation Council then manipulates it to do their bidding. STAR TREK never once shows us government in action. Rather it shows Star Fleet waging war at every turn with a "fire at will" attitude.

At least STAR WARS shows government happening. In fact, we know from episode one, that the body politic can take out a Chancellor (related to the German government-type chancellor rather than University of La Dee Dah type) with a vote of "no confidence". We also know that on at least one world queens are elected officials rather than ascendant (though in OUR galaxy, queens become monarch either by marriage or birth and are typically rulers for life).

In STAR WARS, for all its mercenary vigilantism and heavy breathing sorcerers, emperors make some attempt to let us know that government works -- however poorly and no matter how prone it is to coup d'etat and corruption.

STAR TREK talks democracy but exhibits a face that is military junta in all but name with members wearing military uniforms as often as not. If not junta, then it's clear from the movies and shows that Star Fleet is the be-all and end-all of Federation civilization. Even Memory Alpha, the STAR TREK trivia site has trouble pinning down the actual location of the Federation Council Chambers -- stating that they're either in Paris or San Francisco (my guess is that there was a transporter accident and the Council resides in both places...)

STAR TREK's vague Federation Council sounds as if it's a situation ripe for abuse. At least in the STAR WARS' Republican Senate, even the bad guys have to cut through the red tape of bureaucracy.

Which one sounds more realistic to you?

WRITING ADVICE: Absolutely Basic Plot

For me to reach the end of my story, my bottom line with plot is the "O" word.

I know, I know, you're an organic writer and you have to write as the spirit moves you or the muse sings to you or when you're in the mood.

But most writers know that the Spirit blows where it will, the muse is fickle and "the mood" is sometimes as elusive as holiday cheer at 3:30 pm Christmas Eve.

WHEN these disasters occur, you need a back up plan. Somewhere, written down, you need your Outline with the basic plot of your story.

Donald Maass in WRITING THE BREAK OUT NOVEL (2001, Writers Digest Books), says that a plot must have five basic elements: a sympathetic character, a complex conflict, constant development, a main event or climax and a satisfactory ending.

While I'm sure some people skillfully allow plot to grow with naturally from one event to another, I'm not gifted in that way. I need an outline spread out in front of me to keep an eye on so that I'll safely reach my final destination: The End.

April 15, 2008


Couple of things before I launch into my Flashicle:

1) Nobody knows what a "Flashicle" is, so it never gets googled. I'm changing the lead to WRITING ADVICE FLASHICLE...just so I'll get googled by people looking for writing advice.

2) Bruce Bethke, a friend of mine both on and off the Web, said on his blog on Wednesday, April 9, 2008: "So blogging takes the back burner. Yet blogging can't take the back burner, can it? I mean, ya gotta keep those clicks coming! My readership drops off exponentially every day I don't post a new and substantial article, but only rebuilds linearly when I resume posting meaty, beefy, daily chunks. No wonder bloggers are committing karoshi at the keyboard..." (http://rantingroom.blogspot.com/) I will be blogging more regularly with a few new features.

And now, back to our irregularly scheduled blog...

My first thought about people not commenting on my flashicles was that it was because I wasn't popular (wah, wah, wah). My second thoughts a few nights ago were that it was because I wasn't blogging often enough (see above).

All this thought about a new PIE led to wondering what a reader might SEE when they click on my webpage. Originally, they would have seen something about me, something about my archives (not very impressive) and something about my links. I changed all of those around and added a few of my writing credentials.

As well, I noticed that my PIEs got more comments when I took on icons like Star Wars, Star Trek and religion. While I've always tried to tie religion and SF together, my ICONS haven't been big enough, so in the future look for me to pound on DUNE, MILES VORKOSIGAN, PETER HAMILTON and JOHN VARLEY. And look for the titles on their works to be displayed a bit more prominently.

Last of all, I'd just like to say that the writing hints I throw out have been an attempt at distilling the wisdom of what I've read from the REALLY famous people. Not necessarily new stuff, and certainly not my original ideas. Rather my intent has always been to MAKE IT INTO BITE-SIZED PIECES. Now that I've done some redesign, we'll see what happens.

For now, I'm going to stay with the simple formatting -- it's clear, it's clean and it doesn't do much to detract from what I have to say. Besides, two people I respect immensely -- author Bruce Bethke and agent Nathan Bransford ( http://nathanbransford.blogspot.com/ ) use the same one I picked. So, there, *thbttthbtt* (comic book alliteration for that sound you make with your tongue when you're sticking it out at someone.) That's all for now. Nothing particularly irritating here except when I got a little whiney there...

April 3, 2008


"If they're more advanced than us, they should be nearer the Creator for that reason," said Pastor Dr. Matthew Collins as he pondered the Martian invasion in the 1953 classic, WAR OF THE WORLDS. When I first heard this line years ago, I was thrilled. As an evangelical Christian with a bent toward SF and (admittedly small doses of) F, I felt deeply connected to this sentiment.

I knew that H. G. Wells was probably spinning in his grave at this misrepresentation of his work. I thought that the belief in God exhibited (in the 1953 version) by Uncle Matthew, the two hymns ("Now Thank We All Our God" and "Abide With Me") as well as "...God in his wisdom..." gave secular credence to my beliefs. I also happen to believe that these sentiments were the reason Speilberg, Friedman and Koepp destroyed a church in intimate and loving detail as the "martians" emerged from the ground in their 2005 remake.

But lately, I'm less sure that Pastor Dr. Collins' observations had as fine an implication as I first thought. Were Haskin and Lyndon actually trying to say that as technology moves Humanity forward, we will BECOME more like gods? If so, then my rejoicing has turned to bitter ashes and sackcloth of mourning because I was seduced by this fraudulent "man of God" -- who was actually a Man of the god Science. Science as Religion isn't a new idea. Asimov uses it in FOUNDATION, the original "first" of the 10 book Foundation Series. While the span of time is unrelated, the culture that spawned the movie (1953) and the books (1951) is the same: an Age of Wonder in which Science could do no wrong.

Is the message of WOTW (1953) that technological advancement equals spiritual advancement because our understanding of the universe leads inevitably to a deeper faith in God? Or is it that technological advancement equal spiritual advancement as Man works to BECOME God?

It no longer matters what Haskin and Lyndon meant -- for good or ill, the latter is where our culture is now. We seek to use every means at our disposal to create ourselves as undisputed rulers of the universe -- and much of our SF/F supports and reflects that effort. Pastor Dr. Collins' words might then be recreated as well: "If we've become so advanced, we should nearly be the Creator for that reason."

Sackcloth and ashes, anyone?