Friday, April 18, 2014

Book Trailer: The Adept Series

The book trailer for the Adept Series is now live:

Learn more about the magical Adept Series on my webpage.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave

I watched 12 Years a Slave last week and have spent the time since thinking about this powerful movie.  There is probably no one in what is commonly referred to as "The West" (i.e., Western Europe, Canada, and the U.S.) who needs to be convinced that slavery is a very very bad thing.  But, not 300 years ago, it was ubiquitous and the victims weren't all from Africa (the word "slave" comes from "Slavic" as in the peoples of south-eastern Europe, where for a long time Europeans got a lot of their slaves).  For about the last 100 years that there was slavery in the West, it coincided with a building consensus that it was very wrong.  The barbarity of slavery collided with the idea that "all men are created equal."

The movie, 12 Years a Slave, is based on an autobiographical novel about a free black man who was sold into slavery unjustly and accused of being a run-away slave.  In his twelve years as a slave he had owners who were reasonably good to their slaves.  But his last owner was a man who took out his insecurities on his slaves, including one beautiful female slave he regularly raped.

Like owners, overseers (the white plantation employees who supervised the slaves) were both good to the slaves or cruel.  Imagine all the bad bosses you had having the power of life and death over you.

The movie is bookmarked by a brutal beginning when Solomon Northup, the free black man, is punished for being a run-away, and an even more brutal climax.  This movie is well made, has many fine actors and performances, and shows that, in the words of Roy Batty from Blade Runner, "Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave."  You can see the fear every slave feels: fear of saying or doing the wrong thing which will bring them a flogging, whipping, or lynching.

12 Years a Slave does a better job than any other movie I've seen about what it was like to be a slave in the antebellum South.  And when you realize you need to look away from the screen at the reality of it, you realize just how bad slavery was.  And is, as there are still places where it is practiced, ironically, mostly in Africa.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Depression: An Insider's Perspective.

I am type-2 bipolar with dysthymia.  I don't make a secret about it and I am not ashamed of it (I'll get into reasons why in a bit).  I am on three medications to control both the bi-polar and the dysthymia (because lithium didn't work for me; or rather, it worked too well).

Dysthymia a type of depression defined as depression that lasts two or more years.  It can be slightly depressed with episodes of major depression, or very depressed.  With my bipolar my dysthymia was major depression occasionally interrupted by mania.

Today I want to talk about depression because I think it is very misunderstood by a lot of people.  And if you are a writer and your character is depressed, you'll want to understand that character.  So today I shall bare my soul.  Well, sort of.

Everyone get's a little "blue" every now and then.  Your girlfriend breaks up with you.  Your job sucks.  But it passes after a few weeks or even a couple of months.  This is "situational depression" where you are depressed for some good reason.  There is a slight risk of it turning into major depression, especially if it lasts longer than two months.  But mostly people get over it and get on with their lives.  It's a natural response to a sad situation.

Then there are people such as me.  I'm depressed nearly all the time (without meds).  I called it "floating depression" because it seemed there was this dark cloud hovering over me ready to rain on my parade at any time.   I could be in a happy, joyous occasion and feel sad.  This is not due to a character fault, a personality weakness.  It's due to the chemistry in my brain.  I probably inherited this chemistry judging by the mental illness in my family history.

This is like being type-I diabetic or having epilepsy.  It is nothing to be ashamed of.  It is not the fault of the person that they are depressed.  Telling them not to be depressed is like telling a diabetic to not be diabetic.  It won't happen.  Like the diabetic needs treatment, so does the person who is depressed.  Someone once asked me with horror in their voice, "Aren't you dependent on your drugs?" and I said "Yes, very much so, just like a diabetic is dependent on insulin."  Should the diabetic feel guilty about taking insulin?  They why should I feel shame for being "dependent" or my psychotropic drugs?

But what does depression feel like?  It ranges from feeling "blue" constantly to feeling life is completely not worth it and you might as well end it.  I used to wake up every morning contemplating killing myself.  And the side benefit was, I wouldn't have to go to work.  I'm not sure this is because I was depressed, but I would cry at movies.  Forrest Gump made me ball like a baby at the end.

I guess to know how depression feels, imagine being your saddest for not minutes, hours, or even days, but years.  No matter what nice or wonderful things happen to you, you are still sad underneath.  It's as if you live in the sunshine but shadowy hands are constantly dragging you down into a river of sadness.  And there seems to be no escape.

Depression is a serious mental disorder that you need to treat if you experience it for more than a couple of weeks.  I'm not a doctor nor a psychiatrist, just a guy who knows what it likes to be depressed constantly.  I am so happy I got the meds that keep me from being depressed and keep me from having manic episodes.  Maybe later I'll write about what being manic is like.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Clean Cars

Years ago I was in Anchorage Alaska.  It was a beautiful July day with blue sky and nary a cloud.  You could see the amazing mountains that surround this city almost as if they were close enough to touch.  And every single car I saw was filthy dirty.  Not a little dusty, not a few bugs on it, but filthy.  And I thought, "I should introduce these people to the concept of the car wash."  Then, as we drove through the streets, I saw a car wash.  It looked new and modern.  Well, except for the weeds growing between the crack in the concrete and that the building was empty.  It was obviously out of business.

So I asked my Alaska-born cousin, "Don't people wash their cars around here?"  And she said with a laugh, "Alaskans don't care about clean cars."  This much was obvious.

I do care about clean cars.  I like to keep my cars clean.  But where I live this is nearly impossible.  In the winter there's mud from the dirt on the road mixing with snow mixing with the sand the county dumps to improve traction.  Then the state sprays this brown goo deicer on the interstate.  It's supposed to be better for the environment than road salt.  I consider car washing to be part of car maintenance because you don't want those deicing chemicals eating your vehicle's skin.  So I try to wash the car on a semi-regular basis in the winter.

In the summer we have bugs and dust.  I tend to buy light-colored cars so the dust isn't immediately prevalent.  But I did own a dark blue Camaro.  I would wash it, drive it, wash it, drive it, etc.

But the biggest issue we have around here in the summer is bugs.  For instance, on Wednesday I drove
my car about 110 miles from Spokane to my house.  When I left Spokane the car was pristine.  There wasn't a speck of dirt on it.  When I got home, the front was covered in bugs.  And that's not the worst.  Look at the picture at right.  This was taken in August a few years ago.  I left home with a clean car and drove 140 miles (round trip) and when I got home this is what the front of my car looked like.  And most of those bugs were in the last 50 miles or so.  The bugs were so thick at first I thought it was raining.

So, you wash your car, drive it a bit, wash it, drive it a bit, etc.  You can't keep a car clean here in central Washington State.

But I try.  And for the three minutes it's clean and beautiful, it's worth it.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Car Review: 2015 Audi A3 Sedan

Yesterday I had to take my car into the dealer for some warranty work.  They said they would need the car all day and since it was a 110 mile drive to the dealer I said I wanted a courtesy car so I could at least go do something.  They agreed.

I'd like to state that the auto dealer did a very good job on the work and I am very happy with their response.

But the courtesy car they gave me was a 2015 Audi A3 sedan.  Yes, a 2015 model, just introduced into the US.  According to Car and Driver (my source for all things automotive), Audi is hoping to use this car to attract younger buyers who, they hope, will get in the habit of buying Audis and then when they are older and have the means, move up to an A4 or A6 rather then a BMW or Mercedes-Benz.

But if this is the car that is suppose to lure young people to stick with Audi, I don't think they will be successful.

First of all, I could barely get into it.  Now, yes, I am a big guy.  But it wasn't my size that seemed to be the issue but my height.  I put the seat all the way down and still my head hit the top of the door frame.  I had to sort of wedge myself in, making sure my head was as close to the B-pillar (the pillar between the front and back doors) as possible, and still it seemed with each entry and exit I was scraping off hair I could not spare.  But that could have just been me.  Once inside the car I had plenty of room and was comfortable.

Driving the car was not what I would expect from a near $30,000 "near-luxury" vehicle.  The 1.8L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine ran so rough I wondered if was a diesel (it wasn't, I checked the filler cap).  It seriously sounded as if there was gravel in the cylinders grinding away.  Engines are supposed to sound good, not like concrete mixers.

The throttle response was nothing nothing nothing OMG TOO FAST!  It seemed the first few inches of throttle travel gave no response then the car leapt forward as if goosed by a cattle prod.  I was sure people behind me at red lights thought I was sleeping when the light turned green but I was slowly pushing down the gas pedal so the car wouldn't rear-end the car in front of me.

The Continental tires were noisy, especially on concrete pavement.  The trunk was small (it couldn't hold all of our Costco purchases) but, as I said, the interior was comfortable at least in the front seats.

I didn't get a chance to test its handling very much due to driving mostly on crowded city streets and the engine seemed capable to pull the car to speed on the freeway if you could stand the noise it made.  But if someone asked me if they should buy this car, I'd say "no" simply for the engine noise and the throttle response.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Monday, April 7, 2014

Cover Reveal: Gods of Strife

Today we are proud to reveal the cover of the next Adept Series novel, Gods of Strife.  Set in 1976, this fourth book in the series features the same globe-hopping, historical, and exciting action as the previous books in the series.  It will be released May 15, 2014 from World Castle Publishing.
They live among us.  We know they are there.  No government can control them; no authority can stop them.  Some are evil.  Some are good.  All are powerful.  They inhabit our myths and fairy tales.  But what if they were real, the witches, wizards, and fairy godmothers?  What if they were called "adepts" and an ancient evil stalks them?
An assassination attempt on the head of the American Meta Association guild sends adept Peter Branton looking for who wants him and his leader dead.  Finding the beautiful, shape-shifting assassin leads him to his real enemy, an enemy that is much worse and much more dangerous: living gods of Atlantis.  Branton must team with up with his would-be killer and a mysterious warrior to defeat the gods of strife that are intent on starting a war that could devastate all mankind.
 So without further ado, the cover of Gods of Strife:

See the trailer here.

Read an exciting excerpt here.