Advice From a Master

"If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write." -- Stephen King - On Writing

Friday, May 24, 2013

Interview with J. Michael Straczynski

J. Michael Straczynski is a man of many firsts. Back when the Internet was unknown to everyone except a tiny number of techies, geeks, wealthy dilettantes and nerds, he was the first showrunner (Hollywood-speak for a television show’s executive producer who handles day-to-day operations) to go online and interact with fans.

He was the first – and will likely ever be the only — scriptwriter to write 92 out of 110 episodes of a show, his brilliant creation “Babylon 5.” B5 was the first television show meant to run a certain number of seasons, five, with a definite beginning, middle, and end, and included dynamic storylines the characters and multiple, overlapping story arcs. Long form television writing is now common thanks to Straczynski.  He did it first.

He is probably the first journalist to cross over into a successful television career, likely the first journalist and television writer to cross over into mainstream comic book writing, and absolutely the first television and comic-writing journalist ever to become a major Hollywood screenwriter.

Other “firsts” include developing his own comic book line (Joe’s Comics), his own multimedia studio (Studio JMS), directing his first movie and creating an original series for Netflix.

The word “first” applies to Straczynski in many ways, including as a fiery, intelligent defender of the First Amendment.

From 2009 to 2010, students, faculty members, Sun journalists, and concerned citizens fought with a corrupt Southwestern College administration and governing board to keep the First Amendment Freedoms of Speech, Assembly, and the Press alive on the campus. In 2010, when the administration attempted to strangle the newspaper by tying its purse strings around its throat, Straczynski responded by undermining the administration the best way possible – financially.

It was definitely the first time that had happened.

And now, for the first time, an unbridled, warp speed first person Q&A interview with the 2013 Southwestern College Honorary Degree recipient:

First Amendment Warrior

In September 2010 Straczynski personally funded an issue of The Sun after former superintendent Raj Chopra and his vice presidents attempted to block publication. The issue broke the story of construction contract corruption involving college board members and administrators.

Sun: In the fall of 2010, the Chopra administration dug up a never-used print bidding policy to force the Southwestern College Sun to prevent printing a controversial issue. You stepped in and paid for the entire issue. Why did you feel this was necessary?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Scholarship Awarded from Worthy Organization

I just wanted to announce that I've received a scholarship award from San Diego Association of Black Journalists. This is one of the city's most worthy journalism organizations, and I'm proud to have won. But I have to say, the fact that my colleague from the Southwestern College Sun, Alexis Meza, has also been awarded one.

Alexis is a Sun sportswriter who has been chasing down a vast number of recruiting violations among the SWC basketball team. Pop over to the Sun website to check out a little of his work.

We'll be awarded scholarships on April 19 at a scholarship reception hosted by SDABJ at National University.

If you want tickets, all the contact information is on the fly

Sunday, January 6, 2013

"Melbourn's Storm" Is In Print!

LORE volume 2, number 2
My short story, "Melbourn's Storm," is now in print, in the periodical LORE, volume 2, number 2. If you are looking for a little dark reading, check out the book -- now on sale at the LORE website and on

...and in case you do pick up a copy of the book, or you already have, how about stopping by Amazon to do a real, honest review? Nothing will do a publisher better good than a good review or two.

(And need I point out to the morally sound readers of this blog not to write a bogus one? I thought not.)

Twelve great tales inhabit these pages:

"Enshrined" - Bridget Coila

"Finny Moon" - Keith P. Graham

"Congregate" - Steve Rasnic Tem

"One in a Billion" - Colin Heintze

"Asylum" - Stephen Mark Rainey

"The House of Dreams" - Nyki Blatchley

"Electric Souls on a Starless Planet" - J.P. Boyd

"Lost in Darkness" - Jeremy Harper

"Melbourn's Storm" - Nickolas Furr

"Can Spring Be Far Behind?" - Jeff Samson

"Tumor is the Night" - Corey Mariani

"Nzambe" - Denise Dumars

Plus an awesome cover by Christopher Allen!

So if you get a chance, pick it up. If you can, write a review. If you can't, let me know what you think. All y'all readers who have stuck with me know how much I treasure your feedback. Thank you!

Monday, August 20, 2012

"Melbourn's Storm" to Appear in LORE Magazine

Some of you already know this, but some of you don’t: my short story, “Melbourn’s Storm” will be published in the September 2012 issue of LORE magazine.

That makes that my first paid professional fiction sale. And yeah, I’m pretty over-the-moon happy about it.

Not this issue. The next one. 
But instead of strutting around and crowing about what a great job I did on this magnificent piece of literature… I’d rather thank the many people who took time and effort to help me turn this slightly odd piece of dark fantasy fiction into what it is now.

“Melbourn’s Storm” gave me fits and nearly drove me around the bend, but in the end I was lucky. I had friends who read the different versions, offered feedback and criticism, and gave me instructions on how to improve it. I always said I’d thank them, and this seems the best way to do it.

First of all, thanks to the members of North County Writers of Speculative Fiction, who were the first folks I shared the story with – and who immediately put me to work improving it:  Meghan “M.O.” Muriel, Rilan White, Stephen Prosapio, Melinda Layden, Linda Lee Franson, Gregg Pirazzini, and Alix Lamb.

Secondly, I want to thank both Tony Durham and Casey Oliver for being the first folks on this blog to say, “That’s pretty good, but…” This was only Tony’s first help with this, and Casey remains the one online-only friend who offered to help.

Thirdly, I have to give a huge “Thank You!” to several folks who beta read the story when I had completely frozen up – unable to finish corrections and fix the problems that existed inside it:  John David Carter, Jim Griffith, Jim Case, Glen MacDougal, Laura Brooks, Tony Durham, Leif Hassell, and Tom Beck.

Lastly, I need to think Liza Smith. Because it is she who puts up with me muttering and cussing as I write, growling as I delete details, reciting lines of dialogue again and again until I’m satisfied. It is she who lets me occasionally hijack entire conversations to seek her advice on what design a door should be, on the spelling of a character’s name, or on whether or not that much-parroted line of dialogue actually makes sense.

I also need point out that these hijacked conversations usually occur at relatively unimportant times – like while we’re traveling by car on vacation, at a restaurant out for dinner, spending time with friends, or about three minutes after she’s just fallen asleep.

I’ll probably never do this again; it seems odd to do so. But from the bottom of my ink-stained heart, I’d like to thank each and every one of you for giving me that kind word or kick in the pants I needed at just the right time.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mass Murder - Wisconsin Sikh Temple

From End Apathy's MySpace page
The murderer this time was Wade Michael Page, a 40-year old US Army veteran, white supremist, and neo-Nazi. He killed 6 people, and critically wounded 3 (as of now) -- including one police officer -- in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

Page was apparently a member of at least one skinhead/neo-Nazi group, End Apathy.

This charming man almost certainly acquired his firearms and ammunition legally -- and very likely referred to himself as a "responsible gun owner."

I remain steadfast in my belief that it's time that we take the first step in enabling these psychotic jackasses to murder peaceful strangers in churches, restaurants, malls, theaters, and schools, simply by taking away the tools that they use to commit these murders.

Go ahead and read this...

Mother Jones' Mass Shooting Map and Timeline

And remember! While you're reading that, please thank God that there was a "responsible gun owner" with a conceal-and-carry permit on hand to stop each and every damn murder.

Or remember that the only "responsible gun owner" on the premises was the murderous thug who killed all those people.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Guns, Murderers, Armchair Warriors, and Other Bullshit.

I’ve owned guns before. I’ve fired them at targets, and down in the old creek beds, and out in the quarries. And I’ve taken the safety courses. You know, the ones that “responsible gun owners” claim gives them the right to carry concealed handguns, “pack heat” in a crowded office, and somehow anoints them with the ability to know exactly when and where to open fire on a bad guy, thus saving the lives of everyone else and (conveniently) getting them maximum prime-time coverage on Fox, MSNBC, and CNN.
Responsible gun owner?

Those safety courses? Yeah, they’re jokes. “This is the trigger. This is the hammer. This is where the bullets go. This is the pointy end. Don’t point it at anyone unless you mean to shoot them with it. Or want to impress them. Or want to impress yourself. Or want to show off your dick size. Or just goddamn feel like it. Okay, everybody, sign here and let me write up your passports for a better, heavily armed future!”

Yes, I am dismissing them outright. They’re pathetic. 

I owned a pistol into my 20s. At one point I got rid of it and never quite felt the urge to get another. As I aged, the world got uglier. Columbine. Jonesboro, Arkansas – my birthplace, where elementary school kids opened fire on fellow students. Pearl, Mississippi – four miles from where I lived at the time. I felt less and less inclined to tolerate a firearm.

Then there was the massacre at Virginia Tech. While listening to the coverage on NPR, I had my epiphany: it takes a disturbed or evil person to shoot up a school, but it takes them having a gun to do it. 

Now we have James Holmes murdering a theater full of people there to see the newest Dark Knight movie. And literally as events are unfolding, conservatives and gun nuts are howling: “Don’t you dare politicize this!”

In a nutshell: fuck you.

This is political. This is about Americans’ rights to not be murdered in class, or in a movie, or on a playground, or in the streets. 

I’ve heard all the arguments, and I’m sick of them. I’m sick of hearing people defend mass murderers, all in the name of “freedom.” So I’m just going to say this.

I don’t care how you twist the Constitution around. It’s been changed to stand up for the times. As it was written, it also prevented women from voting and blacks from being citizens. We changed that crap because we knew it was crap. However, the “strict Constitutionalists” insist on trying to hold onto their guns due to a half-understood, half-sentence in that document.

And I don’t believe that if you’d been there and you’d had a legal, concealed weapon in your waistband, that you’d have been able to stop him. It is the height of hubris to think that you could. So many of these armchair warriors seem to think that a gun is a magic wand – and they’ll automatically win. Base stupidity. This guy was dressed in tactical armor heavy enough to hold off most cops. Instead, I suspect that 99.9% of the people that wanted to have a weapon there would have killed bystanders and probably gotten themselves killed as well. Furthermore, I expect that the actual .1% of the people who were trained and qualified to actually take out this guy are probably glad they never had to do it.

Lastly, I want to say this. I hear again and again and again about outlawing guns being a “slippery slope toward giving up your other freedoms.”

Bullshit. Total, complete, utter bullshit.

The slippery slope argument almost never stands up, but in this case it’s the fact that the gun nuts have it wrong. Owning a gun in America in these times is the position on the slippery slope. Your insistence on owning a firearm is the slippery slope leading to your right to own that gun being more important than my right to be safe in public.

On second thought, that’s not even a slippery slope anymore. That’s where we are.

Call me what you want. Believe what you want. But I believe it’s time that we joined the 21st century and the rest of the world in getting rid of these terrible killing machines. And if you still want to have them, hold them, carry them, and love them, then I might suggest that Sudan is closer to your mindset than the civilized world is.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Farewell to James Bailey - to Jimmy, J, Victor, and All His Other Names

On June 29, a friend of mine from years ago died. We still haven’t officially heard the cause of death, but his health was fragile, he was living in a nursing home, and he knew he was at great risk.

James Bailey was only about eight months older than I am; he died at age 44.

Let me be clear: this isn’t about me, my health or my reminiscences. It’s about choices – the choices that we make, good and bad. It’s about the choices made by Jimmy, or James, or J – as I called him in our last few conversations.

I helped an avid RPG community in Jonesboro, Arkansas to grow back in the late 80s, early 90s. And by RPG, I mean real dice-rolling, sitting on couches eating greasy food and drinking Mountain Dew, 12-hour marathon game sessions gaming. There was none of this online video gaming where your best friends are folks you’ve never met from New Zealand and Buffalo. These were people we invited into our homes.

I had my own circle of friends I gamed with. Jimmy had his regular gaming friends – colloquially called the Goon Squad. By and large, we mingled, but didn’t really mix. Jimmy was the rare one who did. I often was the DM (or gamemaster), and I regularly sought out people to play. After seeing how much he brought to a game, I invited Jimmy to come join mine.

Jimmy was intelligent and artistic, a bit of an oddball who sat cross-legged on the couch with his hands full of dice, waiting for a chance to pounce physically or verbally into the game. He created “Victor” for our AD&D Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game – an ex-gladiator turned refugee. He threw himself into gaming with gusto. He was friendly with everyone, he took an active role, and he was a pleasure to have around – which was surprising, given some of his issues.

Two things in particular stand out from that game campaign. One time Our Heroes needed someone to cover their escape. Victor said, “I’ll do it! I’m used to fighting a few guys at once!” Jimmy turned his character around and ran directly at the pursuing hordes of Non-Player Character villains. 

He didn’t have a weapon, but he attacked, all flying fists and brawling. I allowed him about one round of heroic butt-whupping before I, as the villains, had to pound the hell out of him. He barely survived, but the other guys got away and regrouped.

On a second, more infamous occasion, the party found themselves on an island floating a mile above the surface of the world. I designed it so that a magical spear was powering it. I described how the spear hovered in a beam of blue light, the chamber was at the center of the island, and how it hummed spiritually as they gazed upon it. I’d planned the campaign so the island could be moved, and they were going to pilot this thing to another location to fight a few huge battles.

Didn’t work. Victor decided he wanted the spear, so he took it. I couldn’t stop it, so I sent the island plummeting to the surface, forcing the rest of the characters to figure out how to get out or die. Yes, Jimmy actually sent an entire campaign crashing down just because his character had an impulse problem.
In character and in real life, he would make up his mind and there was nothing you could do to change it. It was noble in a way and tragic in others.

Jimmy had diabetes when he died. It had gotten so bad that he couldn’t walk. During a Facebook conversation, he told me that when the diabetes had set in, he developed nerve trouble in his feet and stomped the floor of his apartment in anger. This broke a blood vessel. He already could barely move, and with the open wound on the bottom of his foot, he was afraid of getting an infection. To avoid this, he chose to go into the nursing home and get help.  

Infection was a real fear. Jimmy had truly awful habits. He would eat the greasiest, nastiest, sweetest chunks of lard-and-chocolate flavored garbage he could get. His culinary habits were gross. His friends tried to get him to eat something healthier – anything! He ignored us. That was his choice. And yes, his cholesterol was sky-high at the end.

Jimmy was also… unclean. He lived in the same apartment for about twenty years that I know of. And I doubt he cleaned it more than once or twice a year. It was filthy. But it wasn’t just that; Jimmy didn’t like to bathe. People gave him grief about it. I had to start telling him to get a shower before coming over to my games. He fussed, but insisted on coming. He cleaned up and we were all astonished at how genuinely handsome he was. I think those once-weekly showers were all he got.

These were all choices he made. If they didn’t kill him, they certainly didn’t help him any in the long run.

I left Jonesboro in 1994. I’ve remained friends with some, and close friends with many others. Jimmy was one of those I failed to keep up with. Last fall, after a couple of decades, I wanted to check in on him. I’m in the process of rewriting a novel and wanted to consider using his character, Victor. A mutual friend, J.T. Benton, told me how Jimmy could be found and what had gone on in his life.

I reached out. We became FB friends and talked a few times. He admitted to obsessing on RPGs so much that he pushed most of his friends away, and he was aware that he was responsible for virtually all of his medical problems.

Jimmy had lost touch with almost everyone. But during that time, he made one huge defining decision. While he was sick and away from everyone he knew, and under the care of the nursing home, he admitted to himself he had a different identity.


He said (and I’m quoting from our conversation here), “After becoming a veritable hermit for a while, I've came out as a transgender woman, but haven't gotten anywhere in my actual transition due to my doctor and financial issues.” His body couldn’t have handled the medical changes, even if he could’ve afforded them.

We talked about it. He knew no one in the LGBT community. Though he never said so, it was clear that he had avoided telling most of his friends about it. But he seemed to have opened up, and was okay with people talking about it.

While I was chatting with Jasmine Bailey on Facebook, I experienced a form of cognitive dissonance. I had no issue with his identity, but the onscreen avatar he chose was of a doll. I find dolls hard to relate to, and my memory of him was of a young man. I respected his decision, but needed to stabilize that dissonance. He agreed to let me call him “J.”

There are things we’ll never know about J. He forced people away from him and dropped below our horizons. I never asked him (sorry, I can’t help but use that pronoun) if he was transgendered, or transgendered and gay, or if he even knew how to define himself. I assumed he’d just tell us some day. I don’t know now, but honestly, it doesn’t matter.

J… Jimmy… Jasmine… chose a life that led to its inevitable end. But before that end, he chose to take on a new identity, to embrace a gender role that he preferred. That is wonderful.

A few months ago, I told him that I was going to use Victor in a book. I’d made up my mind that that character would bring something that nobody else could. I was planning to mingle Victor with some of his own characteristics – to create someone that was impulsive, odd, loyal, artistic, and endearing. 

When I told him, J responded, “I would be both flattered and honored if you used Victor in a story, so please do.” No writer can ask for better. 

From what I’ve been told, J was mentally and psychologically in a good place when he died. He was active in online gaming. He communicated with people he knew. It appears that he simply began to feel sick and was sent from his nursing home in Marked Tree to St. Bernard’s Hospital in Jonesboro. 

He was buried directly in a cemetery just south of Blytheville, Arkansas. There was no funeral, no service. J.T. Benton’s family is paying for his grave marker. 

Back when we were all friends, Jimmy seemed a simple kind of guy. But on reflection, it’s clear that he was far more complex than we ever would have guessed. It happens a lot, I’m afraid; those people we think we know, we know only a part of. I’m happier knowing more about him now than I did back then. 

Though we were never close friends, I'll miss him. Despite his faults, he was a genuinely good guy. Regardless of who he was when he died, I will still think of him as that intelligent oddball who sat cross-legged on the couch, dice in hand.

I never met Jasmine, never really had the time to get to know her. But I got to see a shadow of her as J. I got to talk with her, and I’m glad I did. 

I suspect that some of his friends will be upset that I’ve written this. That’s their choice. I can’t say I’d blame them. But J felt strongly about his identity and talked openly about it. He lived with his choice, and he had no problem with people knowing who he was.  

I think he’d be happy that someone is writing about it – the good, the bad, and the personal. For what it’s worth, that’s my choice.

Monday, June 11, 2012

"A Year in Ink, Vol. 4" Wins Best Anthology/Collection at San Diego Book Awards

It's an excellent feeling to be part of an award-winning anthology. That's about all I have to say about that. Winners listed here.

Friday, June 1, 2012

"A Year In Ink, Vol. 4" Nominated for San Diego Book Award

Last year, the good folks at San Diego Writers, Ink. published its annual anthology, A Year in Ink, Vol. 4. I had submitted a piece and was delighted that it was accepted.

I just found out that a couple weeks ago, the San Diego Book Awards Association nominated Year in Ink for a 2012 award: Published Anthology/Short Story Collection.

If I seem ridiculously pleased, it's because one of my short stories is in an award-nominated anthology - and the award is being given by a serious literary association.

You can bet me a buck that's going in my new submission cover letters. Hopefully I'll have to change that to "award-winning."

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I Feel a Little Stupid

There are moments when one’s brain simply betrays you. I had one of those about a week ago, when I realized I had something I desperately wanted to say. The problem was I had no platform from which to say it. You may blink.

It took almost an hour before I remembered I had a blog, a platform of my own. This told me a few things.

1. I have spent way too long away from the Washroom – so long that I’d forgotten it existed. That’s bad.
2. I’m thinking about blogging my thoughts again. That’s good.
3. I should be smacked. That’s right.

I’ll be back in a day or two with some thoughts, and a few ideas, and maybe a plan.

Apparently I have a few things to say.