Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tales From Gundarland Sales Explode

Sandra Elfenheimer from our Gundarland bureau in Dun Hythe reports that sales of Hank Quense’s collection of short stories and novellas is now on the best-seller list at the Scrolls and Blacksmithy shop.  S&B is the largest scroll seller in the country and carries scrolls from a number of exotic places including Earth.
Quense’s book was translated and copied onto scrolls by the ex-monks employed at S&B and the scrolls fill an entire scroll bucket. In the last month, three Tales From Gundarland scroll buckets were sold setting a new sales record for a foreign publication.
S&B Owner Ian McBlowhard, a dwarf, told FNN, “Folks like the humor and satire in the book. Although it purports to take place in Gundarland, readers know Quense is really talking his own planet, Earth, where ever that is.  The readers know folks in Gundarland wouldn’t behave like the characters in the scroll bucket.”
Unfortunately, the scroll buckets are sold out and new ones won’t be available for a while.  Interested readers will have to buy a print or an ebook version.  A list of book sellers can be found here.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Vatican unveils long-lost epistle.

FNN's religious reporter Matthew Mark Lukejohn is at the Church Of The Blessed Elbow in Hoboken, NJ where Cardinal Giuseppe Rizzo from the Holy Office in the Vatican will speak about the newly discovered ancient writings uncovered in Rome.  "I am inside the church and I can see Cardinal Rizzo as he mounts the steps to the pulpit. He looks over the worshippers and starts."

"My bothers and sisters in God, I bring you good news.  Recently, our researchers in the Vatican uncovered a very old chest hidden behind some of the vast treasure stored in our basements.  When they opened it, they found a scroll.  Once the scroll was unrolled and translated it was found to be a letter written by Saint Tedious to his flock.  

"I have elected to disclose the contents in America because it is so relevant to this modern society and the anguish its citizens are experiencing.

"Saint Tedious was a hermit who lived  in the desert and survived only through the generosity of the nearby villagers who brought him meat, bread, vegetables, unwatered wine and honey cakes several times a week lest he curse their flocks and crops.   In his epistle he instructs the villagers on the role of women.  Speaking as God's representative, he wrote that the role of women is to bear children, maintain a home for her father or husband, obey their commands and to be silent."

"At this point, the mumbling of many women in the church interrupted the cardinal and he glared at them."

"Saint Tedious emphasized the last, that women should be silent.  Murmuring and mumbling is not being silent. I am your spiritual father and I command you to be silent.

"I have it on good authority that our Holy Father will use this discovery to write a new encyclical ordering women to follow Saint Tedious' instructions under pain of excommunication."

"A number of women are leaving the church causing the cardinal to talk loudly in Italian or perhaps Latin.

"The Cardinal has now switched back to English.

"The independence and resistance of American women must cease.  I urge the men in this church to vote for the Presidential candidates who support our cause of returning women to their proper role in society."

"Cardinal Rizzo has slammed a fist on the pulpit railing and stormed out of the church. This is Matthew Mark Lukejohn.  FNN will update this story as more details became available."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

FNN Investigative Report

A survey by the FNN research team has uncovered a potential scandal that crosses all income groups in every state in America.
In a telephone survey of a thousand households, 85% reported that their furnaces or heating systems only developed trouble during cold weather.  The other 15% were homeless or couldn't afford fuel and so didn't use their heating systems.
A separate study queried air conditioner owners.  An astounding 87% reported their air conditions only gave them trouble during hot weather.  The remainder didn't have homes or air conditioners.
The Consumer Alert Bureau believes these statistics reveal an insidious plot to rip off consumers when they are most vulnerable; when they need their furnaces and air conditions the most.  FNN was unable to determine if this is a planned manufacturing defect or if the troubles develop from a different cause.
What ever the cause, we urge you to contact your Congressman and demand a Federal investigation by the Consumer Protection Agency.  A Congressional investigation or two would have the added benefit of giving Congress something useful to do.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Character Development

(C) 2007 Hank Quense
(Originally published in Writers Journal September 2007)

Memorable stories always have memorable characters.  These figures are complex and display a number of traits that the reflect the character’s humanity.  They are much more than the sum of physical attributes because the authors have delved deeply into the inner workings of their nature.
These types of characters contain a myriad of facets, both the physical, external ones and the non-physical, internal ones.  The facial features are an obvious physical aspect.  Dress habit is another.  In my opinion, these external facets are not as important as the internal ones.  These internal aspects of the characters are the ones that grab the reader’s attention because they turn the characters into unique human beings.  In addition, these internal facets dictate how a character will react to various stimuli in the story.  If these reactions aren’t consistent with the character’s inner traits, the character will be viewed by the reader as a phony.  As a consequence, these internal aspects are the ones that consume most of my time when I am developing a new character for a story.
Character background
A writer must develop the background of her character in order to understand what makes the character tick.  This understanding is essential to develop the correct responses to story situations.  For instance, a character who dropped out of high school will be unbelievable if he uses quantum mechanics to explain how the aliens transported money out of a locked bank vault and a sickly protagonist can’t use physical violence to subjugate the antagonist.  However, a character raised in France can use French words and phrases without sounding snobbish to the reader.
How much background is required?  This is open question.  I use more than a page of background to define a major character in a short story and a paragraph or two for a minor character.  As a rule of thumb, the more important the character is to your story, the more background you require.  The deeper you plan to probe into the character’s psyche during the story, the more detail you need about the character’s mental composition.  Conversely, the more you know about the character’s mental makeup, the easier it is for your story to probe deep.
Philosophical Outlook
An important nonphysical feature of my characters is their philosophical outlook.  This element is one of the first that I give to my new character since it influences other aspects.  For instance, a reader will not believe in a cheerful character who is supposed to be a pessimist.  Similarly, a morose character will make a poor (i.e. unbelievable) optimist.
This attribute also influences the way the character thinks and defines the character’s reaction to some story stimuli.  Assume, for instance, a protagonist with a pessimistic philosophy who is faced with a monumental plot problem.  When her sidekick makes a suggestion, she responds, “Yes!  That’s it!  Let’s do it.”  We now have a protagonist who is who acting inappropriately.  She reacted as an optimist.  A pessimist would respond with, “What a dumb idea.  That’ll never work.”
Besides pessimism (reality is evil) and optimism (reality is good), I use a number of other philosophies for my characters.  These include individualism (personal freedom and autonomy), materialism (reality consists of matter only), mysticism (reliance on and belief in creeds or faiths), nihilism (social and economic order is corrupt), and pragmatism (emphasizes consequences and practical results of one’s actions).  Definitions of all of these can be found in number of books including dictionaries.
In building a group of characters for a story, I ensure that the characters have a variety of philosophies.  A lot of conflict and humor can be achieved by giving the protagonist and the sidekick conflicting philosophies such as pessimism and optimism or mysticism and materialism.  This last pair pits a character with a strong belief in faith against another who doesn’t believe that faith has anything to do with events or results.
Readers must empathize with the protagonist of your story, otherwise, they won’t care what happens to him.  For empathy with a character to occur, the reader must conclude that the character shares some human values with the reader.
Empathy (understanding) must not be confused with sympathy (pity).  The reader must say to herself, “This gal is like me.  I want her to solve her problem.”  A protagonist who kicks puppies, and cheats the blind news stand worker is not going to gain a lot of empathy from readers unless he has some other traits which balance these negatives.  If this puppy-kicking character has a conscience and  regrets his actions as soon as he does it, he may have a small chance of gaining the reader’s empathy.  If this character kicks puppies because a brain tumor has damaged his personality, then the reader will be might be to excuse such unkind acts, knowing they may be involuntary.  A further problem with a puppy-kicking protagonist is trying to develop an antagonist who is even more obnoxious.  With a nasty protagonist, the reader may establish an empathetic link with the antagonist.  This results in a reversal of the usual reader allegiance with the reader now hoping the bad guy wins.  If the protagonist wins, as he usually does, the reader is left with an empty feeling that something is wrong with the story, and that it was a waste of time to read it.
On the other hand, a character who constantly moans, “woe is me,” may get sympathy but the reader won’t develop empathy with this whiny fellow.  For instance, suppose your protagonist faces a series of difficulties not of his own choosing.  He can struggle to keep his head above water and gain empathy or he can blame others for his misery and possibly gain sympathy.  The first is the stuff of good stories, the second isn’t.
For the reader to like and root for the protagonist, he must display traits that are admired by the reader.  These include courage, virtue, competence and  amiability.  Of course, the protag may be lacking in one or more of these characteristics at the beginning of the story and find or develop the attribute at the end of the story.  As an example, a character, faced with solving a dangerous plot problem, may agonize over his lack of nerve.  At the end of the story, he overcomes his fears and finds the courage to face the danger.
To me, these are small bits of action that make characters more human.  Under certain emotional or stressful conditions, the characters will fall back on these habits.  One character may curl her hair when she is deep in thought or concentrating.  Another character may drum his fingertips on a table when upset or angry.  Once you’ve identified the idiosyncrasy to the reader, it can become a signal about the character’s mental state.  When you show this woman sitting at a table and wincing because she curled her hair too tight, you don’t have to tell the reader she is reflecting on a problem; the reader knows that.  Similarly, the guy’s furious thumping with his fingers indicates to the reader that he is angry and the author doesn’t have to tell it to the reader.
But don’t confuse these idiosyncrasies with normal habits.  A character that is always adjusting his glasses is not displaying an idiosyncrasy, he is showing a habit, and he does it without thinking about it.
Linking an idiosyncrasy with a physical attribute is a powerful way to build reader identity with a character.  Suppose you have a protag with a visible facial scar.  Whenever he fingers the scar, the reader knows he is thinking about the knife-wielding assailant and hoping to get revenge.  Another example is a pronounced limp.  If the injury was caused by the character freezing in fear at a crucial moment, every time the character messages his knee he recalls his failure and fears.  Perhaps the story can hinge on him facing these fears in another test.  These linkages can be used with either the protagonist or the antagonist.
Like ordinary people, story characters must be complex.  The more complex these characters are, the more compelling the readers will find them.  While this certainly applies to the protagonist, don’t neglect to build a multifaceted antagonist.  A complex protagonist struggling against a cardboard antagonist will leave the reader feeling that something is missing. 

This and other fiction writing articles can be downloaded from my free fiction writing articles page.  

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New Jersey Declared Corruption Free

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Stacy Conundrum,  the FNN political reporter, filed this report from the capital building in Trenton, NJ
The independent Corruption Investigation Commission (CIC) has announced its findings after an exhaustive three-year investigation.  The Commission could not identify any corrupt politicians at any level of the state government.  The investigation covered elected officials and appointees to various boards and regulatory commissions.
Maurice Blowhard, the head of the Commission, said he and his staff interviewed dozens of politicians and regulators.  "We asked tough questions," Blowhard said.  "We pulled no punches.  We asked them straight out if they ever took money from people looking for favorable treatment.  We asked them if they ever gave out political favors.  We asked them if they issued regulations that favored special interest groups at the expense of the public. You can see from these questions that our Commission wasn't fooling around.  We went after the truth. Much to our surprise, all of the people interviewed, every single one of them, swore the answer to all the questions was 'No'.  They vehemently proclaimed their dedication to public service and would never do anything that would compromise their reputations."

The announcement went on to say that the CIC's twenty-million dollar annual budget was money well spent since it served to put the voters' minds at ease.  "The voters can now rest assured that their public servants have their best interests in mind while they hold office."

Blowhard, a major contributor to all political parties, was appointed under the previous administration and has an annual salary of $750,000 .  Serving with him are his daughter, a grandson and a nephew, ". . . the best people I could find to fill the posts," Blowhard said at the time the Commission was formed.

The CIC also recommended that it should be kept in place to continue monitoring the political landscape.  It proposed a budget increase of 25% so it could increase the monitoring at the local level.  "We need to assure the voters that mayors and town officials are just as honest as the politicians at the state level," Blowhard said.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Read an Ebook Week: Discounted Strange Worlds ebooks

In honor of Read an Ebook Week, all my ebooks published by Smashwords are heavily discounted (except the ones that are already free)  Go here to participate: 
Here are the discount codes to use at checkout.
Tales From Gundarland: 50% discount: code REW50
an award winning collection of six humourous short stories and two novels
Zaftan Entrepreneurs: 50% discount: code REW50
A first contact story with a difference: aliens and fantasy creatures
Zaftan Miscreants: 50% discount: code REW50
The craziness continues.  The gundies and zaftans square off in deep space
Brunnhilde’s Quest: 25% discount: code REW25
Wotan (Odin) has a big problem.  He’s lost control of the Rhinegold.
Build a Better Story: 50% discount: REW50
Have a story to write?  Read this book first
Mini-Collection: 100% discount: code RE100
Three of my best short stories

10 Great Fantasy Short Stories: 50% discount: code REW50
This collection includes three new stories, never before published

Saturday, March 3, 2012

FNN Report: New Republican Initiative

This report was filed by our political reporter, Stacy Conundrum. 

Senator Santorum's information officer today held a press conference to brief reporters on the main thrust of the candidate's new campaign.  Ira Babcock told reporters that Santorum is convinced the major problem with the country is the amount of unbridled liberty that citizens have.  Babcock quoted the Senator, "Liberty must be tempered with responsibility. People can't decide on their own what is permissible.  It is the responsible of the authorities to rule on what is allowed.  Once that guidance is in place, our society will become much more focused on what is important and what is counterproductive. This will restore America to its former greatness and glory."
Babcock explained that after Santorum is elected President, he will pass legislation that will make crimes out of major sins.  "This is a time honored procedure.  History is filled with examples of states enforcing religious restrictions."
When a reporter asked if this amounted to a new Inquisition, Babcock answered, "Not at all.  All of the Christian religions have agreed to staff and fund a new Holy Office.  Its job will be oversee the population and point out sinners to the civil authorities.  That is all the Holy Office will do.  It will not be involved in arresting or questioning of these suspected sinners."
In reply to another reporter's question, Babcock said the campaign has the approval of many Republican leaders and he is confident that it will become the main plank in the platform developed during our convention in August.
FNN will follow this breaking news and issue further reports as necessary.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Now Available: 10 Great Fantasy Short Stories

Do you like fantasy short stories?  Do you like them told with humor or satire? Then get a copy of this new ebook. It's filled with fantasy stories told with humor and satire.  The stories range all over the fantasy landscape.  Some take place in Gundarland, some in Manhattan and one in Camelot.   

10 Great Fantasy Short Stories is now available from Smashwords.  Other ebook distributors will follow soon.

You can watch the trailer for Macbeth: the Sequel at this link

Here is a list of all the stories.

House of Atreus.  Meet Agamemnon, King of Mycea, and the conquerer of Troy.  He’s been sent to the modern world by Zeus.
Manhattan Monsters: They are a undead softball team playing in Central Park.  Really.
Recipe for Revenge:  Burga the Warrior Cook seeks revenge on a food critic.
Romeo and Juliet: You’ve probably read this storyline a hundred times.  What’s different about my version? He’s a dwarf, she’s an elf.
Yuletide in Camelot: Entertainment for the feast is provided by Sir Tristan, the world’s worst singer, the Knights of the Round Table Folk Dancing Troupe and the Saxons’ Men Choir.
Inter-Racial Musical Playoffs: Unscrupulous wizards try to fix a band competition.
The Bronze Fleece: Travel to ancient Greece and join Jason and the Argonauts as they undertake a quest for the legendary fleece.
The Rainbow Bridge: Loki is summoned from Asgard and runs into a big problem.
MacBeth: the Sequel.  The Wyrd Sisters have to save their pet from the Laird of the Loch.
Saving the Shore: Find out what happened to the descendants of the Ring Bearer.