Manuscripts Burn


"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

How to Write an Author Bio

I was delighted earlier this week when rock star super-agent Janet Reid followed through on a vaguely delineated promise she made me six months ago and bought my newest release.  She then upped the ante by posting about it on her well-trafficked industry blog.  I'm hoping this turns out to be a big break, but I suppose time will tell.

In any case, on the blogpost Janet praised my author bio, pointing out that every single aspect of your web presence is part of your marketing.  A weak bio might not hurt you, but a clever bio certainly can get your name in front of people - I'm proof positive of that.  So I can't give you a magic bullet for how to write a strong bio, but I can tell you how I wrote mine and that might at least give you a shove in the right direction.

So, here is my current bio:

Stephen Kozeniewski (pronounced "causin' ooze key") lives with his wife and two cats in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie. During his time as a Field Artillery officer, he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star. He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor's degree is in German.

First of all, this bio is actually a shortened form of the bio I originally wrote when BRAINEATER JONES was first released.  Let's look at that now.

Stephen Kozeniewski lives with his wife of 9 years and cat of 22 pounds in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie. He was born to the soothing strains of “Boogie With Stu” even though The Who are far superior to Zep, for reasons that he doesn’t even really want to get into right now.

During his time as a Field Artillery officer, he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star. The depiction of addiction in his fiction is strongly informed by the three years he spent working at a substance abuse clinic, an experience which also ensures that he employs strict moderation when enjoying the occasional highball of Old Crow.

He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor’s degree is in German.

So, what's up with the changes?  Well, first of all, I wanted to cram as much personality into my bio as possible, and I didn't realize until a bit later that this is just way, way too long for the bio of an unknown author.  Stephen King?  Sure, maybe you want to know all about him.  Someone like me?  Three sentences is plenty.

So I cut out the second and fourth sentences entirely.  I still think they're clever, of course.  I wouldn't have included them even in the initial draft if I didn't.  But when you look at this, is talking about my musical taste (and my dad's, for that matter) really important?  No.  And it could turn people off.  In a very, very early draft of my bio I said something about wanting to punch Adele in her golden throat.  But you know what?  That not only alienates Adele fans, it also comes off as misogynistic, and really doesn't say all that much about my musical tastes anyway...and, frankly, my taste in music is not really defining for this book.  A book about a garage band?  Sure.  A book about a zombie detective?  Not so much.

As for the fourth sentence, I cut that for the opposite reason.  It does say a lot about why I wrote BRAINEATER JONES.  But I've since written other books, and my substance abuse background doesn't really matter for those.  I love the "depiction of addiction in is fiction" line, but I haven't really depicted addiction since BRAINEATER.  So that got the heave-ho.

What about the other minor changes?  Well, I realized after my tenth anniversary that I either had to update my bio every year or leave that line out.  And when I got my second cat, I decided to jettison the "cat of 22 pounds" bit.  Sure, it's a nice bit of flavor to know I have a gigantic behemoth of a cat, but for one thing, his weight also fluctuates (not so much that I would need to change the line, but still) and for another, look how clunky the line becomes: "Stephen Kozeniewski lives with his wife of many years and two cats, one of which is many pounds."  That's just not very punchy. 

So I guess my first suggestion is to keep your bio short and punchy.  I think three sentences is ideal.  I've read hundreds of author bios since I wrote mine, and each one I at least partially mine for good ideas.  (So there's another tip for you: start checking out author bios on Amazon or Goodreads or, hell, just amble down to your local bookstore.  Pick out what you like and don't like from those.)  After reading so many I noticed that overall the length is generally pretty static.  I noticed, at a minimum, the super long ones, like mine originally was.  And not in a good way.

Now let's unpack what I kept.

Stephen Kozeniewski (pronounced "causin' ooze key")

Here's another change I made.  People quite frankly can't pronounce my name.  I've always known this was an issue, and it was one of the things I had to take into consideration when opting out of a pen name.  Sometimes I regret it, but, you know what, it's not the worst thing in the world.  Ta-Nehisi Coates won a National Book Award.  A weird ethnic name is not going to fuck up my career.  Plus, I think the mnemonic is clever, especially for my horror work.  I also thank the Maker that I never went with my original aural comparison, which was Bill Cosby.

lives with his wife and two cats in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie.

This section humanizes me.  Almost every author mentions their family and pets.  Like I said earlier, the 22-pound thing was great, but I just couldn't quite stuff it in.  So this section is a bit bland.  That's why I decided to spice up the location with a little personality.  I debated for a long time how specific to get with where I live.  Some authors just say "somewhere in the American south."  Others get down to the city, or, in some cases, the neighborhood they live in.  Ultimately, because several of my books have to do with zombies, I decided to take a balanced approach and go with Pennsylvania, which is relatively specific, and tack on the Romero reference.  It would be more effective if I lived in Pittsburgh, but, seriously, I'm not moving to Pittsburgh for the sake of my author bio.

During his time as a Field Artillery officer, he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star.

If you break down my bio, each sentence focuses on something different in my life.  Sentence 1 is about my family, Sentence 2 is about my professional history and awards, and Sentence 3 is about my education.  Is this a perfect construction?  No, not necessarily.  But it works for me, and I think it suggests a well-rounded person.  I'm not obsessed with my cats, and I'm not obsessed with my military service either.  A second suggestion I would make is to outline the three most important things in your life and write a sentence about each, then punch it up until it's perfect.

So here we're looking at Sentence 2.  I've always thought "army officer" sounds juvenile, and just "officer" is a little unclear to the average reader, so I went with "Field Artillery officer."  You know I was in the military in some capacity, even if you're not 100% sure what the Field Artillery is or what an officer does.  I talk about the places I lived, to suggest a little bit of worldliness.  I'm not just some shut-in who's never left PA: I've been to Oklahoma and even overseas.

Now, the Bronze Star bit is tricky.  When you're writing your bio, think about what awards or honors you've earned.  Were you valedictorian?  Have you got a Hugo, Nebula, or Bram Stoker?  You should probably mention those, instead, then.  But until I've earned some kind of major writing award, the most impressive decoration I've received is my Bronze Star.  I want to let people know I wasn't just Lynndie England over there, I was actually decorated for service.

But as almost any veteran will tell you, it's hard to say these things without feeling like you're bragging.  I wouldn't even say I'm sure I deserve my Bronze Star.  Partially that's true: a lot of guys got a lot less and contributed a lot more than I did.  But partially it's impostor syndrome, too.  I'll never feel like I was a brilliant Soldier, even if maybe I was better at it than I ever felt like.

So I decided to split the difference again.  I think the "due to what he assumes was a clerical error" bit suggests humility, but is tongue-in-cheek enough that you know it wasn't really a clerical error.  It's modesty bordering on silliness bordering on false modesty, which I know is a tricky needle to thread, but I think it's better than outright arrogance.

He is also a classically trained linguist,

Here in Sentence 3 we get into my education.  I am a (admittedly half-assed) linguist.  Why bring this up at all?  Well, again, I don't have any awards or honors from my education.  I wasn't valedictorian or summa cum laude or anything like that.  But I did study language.  And since I'm asking you to read a book I wrote, I want you to believe that I understand what I'm doing when I put pen to paper or finger to keyboard.  Sure, some of the best novels in history came from the school of hard knocks.  But that's not where I learned to write.  And I've always liked the term "classically trained" because it sounds elegant, although I have no idea what it means.

which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor's degree is in German.

People don't actually say "classically trained linguist."  I mean, it sounds similar enough to "pianist" that it still rolls off the tongue.  But again I clarify exactly what I meant with that rhetorical flourish: I have a degree in German.  I've studied language.  Trust me when I say I can take you on a journey of words.  But also this section goes back to the (false?) humility of Sentence 2.  I want you to know that I'm a linguist, but I also want you to know it's really no big deal and I'm not really just some starched shirt.

So, there you have it!  A breakdown of how I wrote my author's bio.  The only other suggestion I can give is to keep revising it, keep using different words to tell the same piece of information until what you have is perfect.  If you're anything like me, you've probably done this to try to condense an overlong tweet down to 140 characters which still says what you want it to.  Just revise, revise, revise, reword, reword, reword until you have a scintillating gem.

What about you?  Any suggestions, tips, tricks, or ideas for writing an author bio?  Feel free to share in the comments!

Monday, December 28, 2015

By George

I've been wondering lately what it must be like to be George Lucas.  I've never wished George ill will.  To be honest, I try not to wish ill upon anyone.  That being said, a lot of people do seem to be taking the success of "The Force Awakens" as a chance to dogpile on ol' George.

And that really gets me thinking.  It gets me thinking about art and an artist's duty to his audience, and an audience's duty to the artist, and all kinds of fuzzy, complicated, artsy-fartsy type bullshit.

But back to George Lucas.  I have always, even back to the '90s when I first started thinking about such things, believed that George Lucas was someone whose reach exceeded his grasp as a storyteller.  As a technician, it's been pointed out by better people than me that George has done more for filmmaking than just about anybody short of Edison.  But as a storyteller his skills have always

So looking at "Star Wars" (I should probably call it "A New Hope" for clarity's sake, but old habits and all that) I have always seen a story that was not all that great which was redeemed by groundbreaking special effects.  Even as a kid I remember always thinking the first hour or so, which consisted of the cybernetic equivalents of Bert and Ernie wandering around a desert and complaining, was incredibly dull.  Then the action gradually ramps up and by the time of the breathtaking dogfight finale all is forgiven.

And it's interesting that I use that word: forgiven.  A lot of watching "Star Wars" - even the original three films - is about forgiving transgressions.  We forgive George the Ewoks.  We forgive George the parsec mistake.  We forgive Luke being whiny and we forgive the lack of women and we forgive the code-switching and we forgive and forgive and forgive because...

Why exactly?  Because we have fond memories of it from childhood?  Probably.  Because it's ultimately exhilarating?  Yeah, a bit of that.

I've always felt that George Lucas was someone who could land on the green with one stroke every time, and then whiffed seven strokes in his short game.  You can see it in every single movie he's ever made.  He is a genius when it comes to knowing what would make a great, compelling setpiece that people will want to watch, and then he always fucks it up in the minutia with pillow talk about sand.

Every time George has had a co-writer - "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Revenge of the Sith" spring to mind - all those issues seem to just get ironed out.  I mean, it's no great issue to admit you have a weakness.  George is great at the mythic scope stuff, he's just not so brilliant at the piddling little details of human interaction.  I can think of artists with far greater glaring holes in their skillsets.

But I think because of the initial success of "Star Wars" (again, I mean "A New Hope") George never realized or refused to acknowledge his shortcomings.  I mean, imagine trying to tell Taylor Swift right now about the weaknesses in her songwriting.  She'd probably look at you, pat you on the head and say, "I think I'm doing all right, sweetie."

And perhaps rightly so.  But it wouldn't make the weaknesses go away.  And in thirty years who knows, maybe Taylor Swift won't be able to coast by on being the powerhouse Taylor Swift anymore.  Maybe she'll write a song and realize that the entire music industry has already internalized all of her tricks and she's left sounding like a bland copy of herself.

And I think that's basically what happened to George Lucas.  I mean, from 1977-1999 he was George Fucking Lucas.  The guy who did "Star Wars."  The guy who did "Indiana Jones."  And if he said put in a weird, vaguely racist, Jamaican monkey-frog thing, by God you were going to put in a weird, vaguely racist, Jamaican monkey-frog thing.

And when the sequels came all those glaring errors in the original trilogy that we had spent 22 years forgiving, came into focus.  "Phantom Menace" wasn't released into a vacuum.  Neither was it released in 1984.  It was released in 1999, when Hollywood had already grokked all of George's secrets and tips and tricks, and with releases like "The Matrix," had already exceeded it.  (Now if you want to get into a story about forgiving shit because of good special effects, I could write a whole other post on "The Matrix."  But I digress.)

I've never thought the prequels were all that bad.  It's become very haute coutour these days to shit on the prequels.  I've even seen videos making the rounds where people are walking out of "The Phantom Menace" for the first time and they are exhilarated and excited and openly joyful about how much they enjoyed it.  And these videos are meant to make laughingstocks of those people for enjoying what are now generally reviled films.

But here's the thing: I don't remember anyone shitting on the prequels when they first came out.  Everyone enjoyed them, loved them, much the same way we seem to be enjoying and loving "The Force Awakens" right now in the two weeks since it came out.  It was only with time that the vitriol against the prequels began to build up, and I think it was partially because we kept hoping that Episode II would redeem Episode I, and finally that Episode III would redeem Episode II and Episode I.  I still think Episode III is an objectively good movie, and there are vast swathes of Episode II and even Episode I that I enjoyed.  But what was missing?

Forgiveness.  Maybe the kids who were ten when they first saw it will grow up to be people who forgive the prequels all their flaws.  Probably not, though, because as I mentioned, Episode I wasn't released in a vacuum.  In 1977 there was literally nothing else like "Star Wars" and there wouldn't be, couldn't be, even, for many years.  Forgiveness was baked into its DNA.  If you were a kid in the '70s or '80s, Star Wars stood head and shoulders above anything else available at the time.  For a kid of the '90s, Star Wars was just one among many other spectacle movies - some, like "The Lord of the Rings," even eclipsing them.

So, the emperor's (no, not Palpatine, it's a metaphor, meathead) nakedness was laid bare.  George Lucas was a SFX pioneer, but as a storyteller, he left a bit to be desired.  And his myth had grown so powerful that people wouldn't even challenge him.  I maintain to this day that all the elements for a great - not just serviceable, not just good, but truly great - series of movies is all there in the prequel trilogy.  With a really solid edit from a really good script doctor, we would probably be talking about how great the prequels were instead of how lousy they were except for a couple of thrilling setpieces.  So George was a victim of his own myth in a way.

I don't think it's fair to excoriate him for it.  And now that "The Force Awakens" seems to be everything we ever wanted from a new "Star Wars" movie people seem to be practically dancing on George's grave.

I could go on about how it's more than immature, it's unfair, because this is a guy who gave you a lot of joy and really changed a lot of lives.  But I think we probably all know that inherently.  And I could go on about how it's certainly premature, because I have no idea how time will treat Episode VII.  Fifteen years from now will we be comparing it to Episode IV or Episode I?  I can see it going either way.  Remember those people from the viral video praising Episode I?  That'll be us in fifteen years.  Perhaps we'll seem prescient, or perhaps we'll seem silly.

And yet, for all its failings, the prequel trilogy was a new story.  It didn't lean heavily on the first trilogy.  I mean, at all.  Say what you will, but George absolutely told a new story.  And fans reviled him for it and said, "We wanted more 'Star Wars,' not whatever this new garbage is."  So J.J. gave them more "Star Wars," whatever that means, and I can already see the cracks in the seams as people begin to point out how derivative "The Force Awakens" is.  So which way was right?  George Lucas gave us something new, and we reviled it.  J.J. Abrams gave us the same old same old, and we seem to be happy...but how long until the pendulum swings and we start reviling it again?  What about ten years from now when we've had a Star Wars movie every year?  How derivative and creaky will all this shit seem then?  Will we be kicking ourselves, wishing we'd left it up to George who at least had a vision, at least was an auteur, rather than kicking our beloved childhood story up to Disney, who, let's make no bones about it, is a corporation looking to monetize our nostalgia?  Are we going to regret letting Disney run "Star Wars" into the ground?  Or will we perhaps just be so happy being force-fed what we told Lucas for years we wanted, that we'll just take our medicine and enjoy it?

I don't know.  I don't have any answers.  And I've barely even touched on what was supposed to be the original topic of this essay: what it must be like for George Lucas to be treated like dogshit and scraped off our collective shoes after giving us "Star Wars" for Christ's sake.  I imagine he must be a bit sad, and, yeah, he made buku bucks, but he basically had to sell his baby to do that.  But, then again, hadn't he already pimped out his baby?  It's hard.  It's a Gordian Knot.

But how about that fucking lightsaber fight, huh?  Against the guy with the power gauntlet?  And the lasers were all like, "pew pew?"  Pretty fucking cool, huh?

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Linguistics of "Krampus" and "Star Wars"

By now you've probably seen the Yuletide horrorfest "Krampus," apparently the first of many Krampus-themed movies coming our way in the next few years.  While most viewers were enjoying the gore, the humor, or both, as a former language student I was of course particularly fascinated by some of the linguistics lessons "Krampus" had to teach us.

I found of particular interest how "Krampus" tackled the subject of code-switching.  And while fanciful Christmas demons and murderous toys are a bit far-fetched, "Krampus" was surprisingly accurate in its portrayal of the code-switching phenomenon, in contrast to the vast majority of movies which feature it.

So what is code-switching?  Code-switching is the linguistic term for carrying on a conversation in two different languages in tandem.  (Think Chewie and Han in any of the "Star Wars" movies.)  In reality, code-switching is an exceedingly rare phenomenon.

Imagine, for instance, a Russian businessman and a Chinese businessman meeting without translators in, let's say, Beijing.  It's a good bet the Russian businessman was sent on this trip because he has a strong knowledge of Mandarin.  The Chinese businessman sent to meet him also likely has at least a fair knowledge of Russian.  That's just good business on the part of both companies.  But since the meeting is in China and all around everyone's knowledge of Mandarin is strongest, they'll probably communicate in Mandarin exclusively.  Reverse the particulars and they'll likely communicate in Russian exclusively. 

Point being: even if both parties are fluent in both languges, they'll usually communicate in only one.  Why?  Well, picture yourself at the office working on paperwork when the phone rings.  You have to "switch gears" from paperwork-processing mode to phone-answering mode.  The phone call essentially acts as an interruption.  And when you return to your paperwork, it'll take you a moment to find your place again and recall what you were doing.

Genuine code-switching is like that.  Every time the Chinese businessman says something in Mandarin, the Russian businessman would have to translate it in his mind into Russian, then respond in Russian.  Then the Chinese businessman would have to translate that into Mandarin, and then respond in Mandarin.  It's much easier for both men to just stay in the same "gear."

Now let's back up a little.  Let's say our characters are meeting in Tokyo, a "neutral" location, and they're both only semi-fluent in the other language.  Another way they may communicate is with a patois.  A patois is a blending of one or more languages.  Across the Caribbean, for instance, there are various regional patois which are blendings of English, French, and sometimes the aboriginal languages and the languages of the African slaves.  So the Russian businessman will attempt to speak in Mandarin as much as he can, but will insert Russian words where his vocabulary fails him.  Similarly, the Chinese businessman will respond in Mandarin, but may be forced to clarify more complicated words with their Russian equivalents.  Basically, the two are creating a Venn diagram of shared understanding.  Neither understands their second language perfectly, but since they both have a lot of overlapping knowledge, they can effectively communicate.

Now at this point you're probably saying (and rightly so) that this example is bullshit, because most international business is actually carried on in English.  And you're right.  English is the most studied second language in the world and for the most part when two non-native English speakers meet, English will be their strongest shared language.  In the modern world English is what's known as a lingua franca or trade language.  Lingua franca itself is a fascinating term.  It's a Latin term, and Latin itself was once the lingua franca of the Christian world, because a priest in France and a priest in Poland would both speak liturgical Latin.  But lingua franca itself means literally "French language" and harkens to a time not so long ago when French was the trade language for much of the world. 

But since the time of the ascendancy of the British Empire over the French, and the rise of the United States as a cultural and military superpower, English has replaced French and Latin as the trade language of the world in general.  Everyone, for instance, watches Hollywood movies, often subtitled rather than dubbed.  (Much to the chagrin of many national film industries.)  The average American could probably easily go through life without ever having to be exposed to another language if they don't want to, except maybe in a mandatory school class.  In much of the rest of the world, though, there are years of mandatory English classes in school, and a non-American can expect to be exposed to a great deal of English-language entertainment, and likely will have to do business in English. 

There are, of course, regional trade languages.  Hindi, for instance, is the lingua franca of India (although, due to British colonial and American cultural-colonial influences, it is also largely being supplanted by English.)  Only roughly a quarter of Indians (258 million) claim Hindi or a Hindi dialect as their native tongue, yet Hindi is the lingua franca and official federal state language of India.  So someone who grew up speaking the Gujarati dialect should theoretically be able to go to a Bengali-speaking province of India and communicate in Hindi.  Looking at the world as a whole, though, English is the most common lingua franca.

So, now that we've established what code-switching is not (it's not speaking in a patois, it's not speaking in a shared language, it's not speaking in a lingua franca) it becomes clearer what it is.  Han carries on his conversations exclusively in Basic.  Chewie responds entirely in Wookiee.  Neither indicates any difficulty understanding the other.

Code-switching as depicted in "Star Wars" is actually fleetingly rare.  As I said, even if a conversation is initiated by code-switching, both parties will usually settle into a single, shared mode of communication.  The reason it happens so much in "Star Wars" (R2-D2 and C-3PO also code-switch, as do Jabba, Greedo, and some of his other minions) - or, well, I should clarify, the in-universe reason it happens so much in Star Wars, at least according to the old EU canon - is that humans are incapable of speaking Wookiee, and vice versa.  Artoo, similarly, is unable to communicate except through beeps and whistles. 

The "real" reason of course, is so we can understand what our favorite alien characters are saying without subtitles.  For some reason (I'll avoid opining on in this blogppost anyway) American audiences are extremely loath to have to read anything in their movies.  A few fleeting subtitles filmmakers can get away with, but too many extended foreign language sequence usually relegates a film to the arthouses.  (I'm generalizing here - "Inglorious Basterds" got away with it, but for the most part, studios try to avoid subtitles as much as possible without being completely disingenuous.) 

With something like "Star Wars" that is targeted to kids who may not even be able to read subtitles and general audiences who largely despise doing so, code-switching is a convenient way to have aliens speaking an alien language and imply the content of their speech.  In fact, this has become something of an art form in Hollywood.  Just look at "The Force Awakens."  (Spoiler alert?)  In one scene, a Resistance medic tends to Chewie's wounds, and by her responses and Chewie's subdued speaking, we gather that he's a bit of a whiner and she responds as she would to a young child or pet.

So now we know what code-switching is not, we know what it is, but when does it really come into play?  Well, interestingly enough, another holiday movie this year that I would otherwise have difficulty calling "accurate" in any meaningful sense, got the phenomenon of code-switching correct.  Genuine, no-shit code-switching mostly occurs in multi-generational immigrant homes.  In "Krampus" the grandmother, called "Omi" (just a diminutive for "Oma" or "Grandmother") spoke German almost exclusively.  And her son and grandson replied to her in English almost exclusively. 

Obviously both parties understand both languages or code-switching wouldn't work.  In one scene, the father comforts his mother in German.  And in another scene, Omi switches over to English because she wants everyone to understand her story about Krampus.  So why does code-switching occur at all?

I've generalized a lot in this blogpost (it's hard not to when you're trying to condense massive linguistic concepts down into a few short, hopefully readable paragraphs) so I hope you'll forgive me if I generalize just a little bit more.  I think of code-switching as the result of "letting your hair down" at the end of the day.  We all, to one extent or another, put on a little performance for the people in our lives.  I wear a tie to work, and a shark costume to conventions, and neither is quite the real me.  I'm polite to customers on the phone when internally I'm cursing them out and sometimes I curse out my friends when internally I love them deeply but we live in a culture where guys can't just say that.  (Sober, anyway.)  Our lives are all, to some extent, performance art.

But in your home, with your family, you can be yourself.  Sure, some of our affected behavior (maybe most of it) is for the benefit of our families.  But at a certain point at home you become the real you.  Maybe you change into sweatpants.  Maybe you stick your hand on your crotch, Al Bundy-style.  And maybe, just maybe, even if you're the perfectly integrated immigrant who speaks English all day at work and at play, you finally relax and switch over to your mother tongue.

In an immigrant home the parents (and sometimes even grandparents) who emigrated grew up speaking their native language.  English will always be their second language.  Most of our capacity for language learning is closed off by the age of thirteen.  (Which, yes, makes our foreign language education in this country a complete disgrace since we hardly even start by twelve - but I digress.)  Fluent though I may be in German, until the end of my life I will always have an American accent when speaking German, because I learned it after I was thirteen.  German will always be my second language.

Consider though the children (or grandchildren) of immigrants.  Even if their parents' native tongue (let's say German, as in "Krampus") is exclusively spoken at home, every time they go out they'll learn the tongue of their home - let's say English.  And then comes school, and English comes hard and heavy from the age of 5 or 6 up.  German - the mother tongue to their parents - becomes just that thing I have to know for when Mom's yelling at me.  Gradually English becomes the native tongue of the children, as they are exposed more and more to English.  They talk to their friends in English.  They watch English language TV.

And so in multi-generational immigrant households we find the almost unique situation of shared understanding of two languages, but one generation considers German their native tongue, and the other considers it English.  Hence we have true code-switching.  At the end of the day, Mom and Dad will yell and grouse or even express their love in German.  And son and daughter will respond in English, because when their hair is down at the end of the day that's who they really are.  Our good friend Mary Fan recently wrote a fascinating blogpost which taught me something new: when her parents got mad they would yell about "you Americans."  Interesting that her parents considered her of a different culture, isn't it?  Just one of many reasons I find code-switching such a fascinating phenomenon.

Well, hopefully I didn't bore you too much and hopefully you even learned a little something about some of your favorite holiday movies this year.  Until next time, cats and kittens.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Quintessential EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED Post

EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED is now available in e-book and paperback formats through the following fine booksellers:

Barnes and Noble

Here are the other places around the net where you can find EKD:

Evolution of the cover on Across the Board
A cover reveal on Manuscripts Burn
A release announcement on SFFWorld
A mention in Lily Luchesi's interview on authorsinterviews
A spotlight on Book of the
A mention in Lily Luchesi's interview on Nerd Girl
A review on Zigzag Timeline
A review on The Reader's Hollow
A review on Literary Aficionado
A review on Long and Short Reviews
A review on Literary Litter
A review on Kelly Smith's Reviews
A mention on The Most Sublime Things
A review on the United Federation of Charles
Named Sci-Fi Book of the Month March 2016 by Long and Short Reviews
A review on The Bookie Monster
An interview on the United Federation of Charles
A review on Cellar Door Lit Rants and Reviews
A review on Analog
A review on The Most Sublime
A review on Tome Tender
A review on Christine Morgan's blog
A mention on My words and pages
A review on The Bookie Monsters
A review on My words and pages
A review on Adventures in Absurdity
A review on the San Francisco Review of Books
Included on Andrew Hiller's Best Books in 2017 list

Monday, December 21, 2015

Friday, December 18, 2015

Cover Reveal: MIRANDA'S RIGHTS by Lily Luchesi

As you know, we here at Manuscripts Burn are big supporters of indie author Lily Luchesi.  And for some unclear reason Lily doesn't downplay her relationship with us (as one would expect would be best for her career.)  So it is with great pleasure that we reveal the cover of her upcoming novel:


The dead don’t always rest easy...

Retired detective Danny Mancini is haunted by nightmares after he found out that paranormal creatures exist. All he wants is to forget them…especially a certain half-vampire. When cursed werewolves show up trying to kill him, he is forced to go back to the Paranormal Investigative Division for help against a powerful old enemy. What he was not expecting was a dead ex showing back up after twenty-six years.

Coming on January 8th, 2016 from Vamptasy Publishing

Cover art by Rue Volley

About Lily Luchesi:

Lily Luchesi is a young author/poet born in Chicago, Illinois, now residing in Los Angeles, California. Ever since she was a toddler her mother noticed her tendency for being interested in all things "dark". At two she became infatuated with vampires and ghosts, and that infatuation turned into a lifestyle by the time she was twelve, and, as her family has always been what they now call "Gothic", she doesn't believe she shall ever change. She is also a hopeless romantic and avid music-lover who will always associate vampires with love, blood, and rock and roll.

Her interest in poetry came around the same time as when she was given a book of Edgar Allan Poe's complete work. She then realized that she had been writing her own poetry since she could hold a pen, and just had not known the correct terms. She finished her first manuscript at the age of fourteen, and now, at twenty-one, has two contributing credits in anthologies and her debut novel, STAKE-OUT (Paranormal Detectives Series Book One), was published by Vamptasy Publishing on May 19th, 2015. Book two, MIRANDA'S RIGHTS, will be released on January 8th, 2016.

She has a short story, "Undead Ever After" in the Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly anthology LOVE SUCKS (released on June 13th, 2015). Her first erotic short story, "Have No Fears", was published in the Hot Ink Press anthology NAUGHTY BEDTIME STORIES: IN THREE WORDS on October 10th. She will also have a short erotic horror story, "The Devil's Dozen", in the upcoming Hot Ink Press anthology DEATH, LOVE, LUST which will be released in February of 2016.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Monday, December 14, 2015

Holiday Gift-Giving Guide #4: BRAVE NEW GIRLS

Best for:

- girls in grades 5-10
- science fiction fans
- fans of math
- fans of science
- fans of computers

Available now at Amazon!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Holiday Gift-Giving Guide #3: THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO

Best for:

- horror fans
- Walking Dead fans
- Russian literature fans
- classical literature fans

Available now at Amazon!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Friday, December 4, 2015

Seven Things You Won't BELIEVE This Blogger Doesn't Use Facebook For

For those of you who don't know me IRL...or even IFL, I guess...I am unabashedly addicted to Facebook.  I know not everybody is, and a lot of people who are actively deny it, but I don't see the point.  I love TV and I love Facebook, and I'm under no illusions about the value of either, but I'm not going to pretend like I don't love them, either.

That being said, people misuse Facebook all the time.  Because as useful as it can be - as a distraction on the john, for crowdsourcing answers, even for keeping in touch with people - Facebook lends itself to rampant misuse by people who lack either manners or, at a minimum, shame.  So here are some of the worst abuses of Facebook which you need to stop doing immediately.

1.  Talking About Your Miscarriage

Or your divorce.  Or your domestic abuse situation.  I'm not saying "be a quiet victim" or anything even remotely like that.  I'm saying if this is something you would normally share with the cops, or your doctor, or only your spouse and closest family members, why the fuck are you sharing it with your plumber and that co-worker from three jobs ago?  I mean, Facebook?  Really?  You want to share your most traumatic life experiences with 900 of your closest friends and spambots?  Why?  For sympathy?  Mostly it just seems awkward.  Should I "like" the fact that you miscarried?  Comment on it if I barely know you?  Or, even worse, comment on it if we're close friends instead of calling or going over to your house with a casserole or something?  And if we are close enough friends that you want me to know about your horrible trauma, why did I find out about it on Facebook instead of via a more personal method in the first place?

2.  Talking About Politics

Aside from your basic "don't talk about religion or politics at a dinner party" advice, there are two reasons why I particularly despise political "debate" on Facebook.  First of all, politics are complex, which is why on the rare occasions when I do want the public at large to know my political thoughts for God knows what reason, I usually use my blog.  In a blog article you can cover some of the nuance of a subject.  Facebook is good only for the crassest form of bumper sticker politics.  Second, the sorts of political conversations that FB posts engender are pointless at best and terrible most of the time.  For one thing, your friends probably mostly agree with you.  Remember, we're self-selecting our friends on FB, although even when we're not, most of our real-life friends are people who grew up in a similar place and environment to us.  Most of my friends are from suburban Philadelphia.  Sure, I've got some army buddies who come from rural Alabama, but for the most part my own wall, where I'm posting my theoretical political posts, is home turf.  So you end up with these "conversations" that are basically 500 people agreeing with you, shaking their heads, and clucking their tongues.  And if you're "lucky" one of your friends from outside the zone will jump in and attempt to defend a different point of view.  Then they either turn into a flame bot or get bullied into shutting up by your friends who do agree with you.  Facebook is not a germane place for adult political conversation.  It's just not.

3.  Talking about God

Again, most of our discussions of politics and religion are best saved for face-to-face and should be excluded from polite discourse whenever possible.  But that being said, the religious (and, let's be frank, irreligious) stuff on Facebook is just terrible.  And why are you posting about all this stuff in public anyway?  To show off?  To look like a great person in front of your co-religionists?  I know there are many faiths and many people of faith (and atheists) guilty of this, but I'll leave you all to contemplate the fairly universal wisdom of Matthew 6:5-6:

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.  But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

4.  Mentioning That You Went to the Gym

Or, worse, describing your workout.  Nobody cares.  Gym rats are unimpressed.  And you're just making non-gym rats feel bad.  Do you think you're inspiring people to go work out?  You're not.  You're making them feel bad.  If you want to inspire people to exercise, why not say something like, "It's a beautiful day so I'm going running.  Anybody want to join me?"  I mean, that's ham-fisted enough.  But saying, "I just did fifty burpees" (and, yes, it's always burpees because these sorts of people invariably think burpees are impressive) benefits no one.

5.  Posting Memes

I hate memes.  They're stupid and gaudy.  They're like bumper stickers.  I guess they're slightly superior to bumper stickers because they don't fuck up your car's resale value.  Still, I wish memes had never been invented.

6.  Posting Pictures of Your Food

First of all, this is what Instagram is for.  But second of all: don't do it on Instagram either.  Nobody cares what you're eating.  You know how that gym rat in #4 refrained from posting his workout regimen for you, fatbody?  Refrain posting your disgusting fat-soaked meal for him, okay?

7.  Posting GIFs

Whether you pronounce them "gif" or "jif" the fact remains: fuck you.  I don't want to get epilepsy from looking at my Facebook feed.  Static images, people.  Static images.  And if I see a video that sounds interesting, I will click on it and watch it.  GIFs are like the bastard child of a migraine and a video loop.

What about you?  What do you despise?  Listicles?  People opining about Facebook?  Make sure to subscribe and then let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Ho Fucking Ho

It's around this time of year (and by "this time of year" I mean late November/early December) that I start to get accused of being a "Grinch" or a "Scrooge" or even (in a level of hyperbole that makes me sound like an '80s children's cartoon villain) that I'm "allergic to joy."  So, I figure, what the fuck, I might as well talk about it on my blog where I can make my point and you can tell me how wrong I am in the comments.

So when I was a kid, Christmas was one day.  December 25th.  Not only was it only one day, but it was the most special, magical day of the year.  Christmas was so special, in fact, that the day before was so riddled with anticipation that it was a special day, too: Christmas Eve.  Imagine that: a day so special, so noteworthy, that just the fact that you were almost there was worth celebrating.

As long as we're talking about the way things were way back in the 1900s, "Black Friday" was almost exclusively a technical term that people in retail used.  It was the day you either got out of the red and into the black (accounting terms for being in debt vs. drawing a profit) or else you were fucked and your business would probably shutter.  Sure, it was the de facto biggest shopping day of the year, but that was more a matter of nobody ever thought about Christmas until Thanksgiving was over, and then since you probably had Black Friday off started your Christmas shopping.

And thirdly, this may be almost impossible to believe now, but if you didn't celebrate was no big deal.  I remember I couldn't have been older than five or six and I had already begun to understand that since Christmas was a Christian holiday, not everybody celebrated it.  I asked my mother how to handle that, and I remember her saying, "Well, if you're with your family like Uncle Ken or your grandmother, you know we're Christians, so it's okay to say 'Merry Christmas.'  And if you're not, you can wait and see if they say 'Merry Christmas' to you and then you can say it back.  Or if you're not sure, just say, 'Happy Holidays' because that includes everybody."

Sounds like some pretty sane goddamn advice, huh?

I used to love Christmas.  When I was little, sure, I got excited to the point of pissing my pants about what kind of new toys I would get.  And every Christmas morning was just this astonishing time when it felt like you were set for a whole year or longer.  If there was going to be a new video game system, it was going to come to you at Christmas, and that was just years and years of play.  If there was going to be a new bike, or a new movie or just about anything that would be awesome and last forever, it was going to come at Christmas.  Birthdays were nice, and sometimes you got nice things, but they were never as nice as what you got at Christmas.  Birthdays were something to get excited about a few weeks ahead of time.  Christmas was something to be excited about all year.

And when I got older, Christmas became a time of deep religious reflection for me.  Easter is, I know, the holiest day of the year, and if you spend all of Holy Week in reflection it can be deeply satisfying when Easter finally comes.  But Christmas was different, I think because of where it fell on the calendar.  Christmas is and always has been a time to forget about the grim bleakness of winter and for one shining day come together with friends and family and cast out the dark.  The religious component of Christmas was similar to me.  You know that one shining star, the Star of Bethlehem, that stands out in the night sky?  That's what Christmas was like.

And of course, as Will Ferrell pointed out somewhat idiotically in "The Legend of Ricky Bobby," everybody loves Baby Jesus.  Baby Jesus is full of potential.  Nailed-to-the-Cross Jesus, well, that's pretty much just a reminder of our collective shame.  Perhaps what was unusual about Christmas, at least to a practicing Catholic, is that a religion which usually acted as a yoke, a reminder of all the guilt we bore, and all the guilt we should bear for all the shit we're constantly getting wrong and that Jesus had to get crucified for, for fuck's sake, but on Christmas that same religion was a source of joy and wonder.  Easter is about glory, but Christmas is about joy. 

Now, I'm not going to blog about sea changes in American religious/political life and that sort of thing.  I'm not even remotely qualified to talk about that.  And neither am I going to talk about losing my faith.  Even for the utterly faithless, spending a nice day exchanging gifts with your friends and loved ones is enjoyable.  I couldn't tell you what caused it, but I can damn well tell you that during the last 25 years, shit has changed.  All of a sudden, Christmas isn't one day.  Christmas is two goddamned months.  As soon as Halloween is over, suddenly storefronts are all Santafied and the radio stations start flipping, one by one, zombie-like, to non-stop Christmas music. 

Suddenly, shopping is a quasi-religious, quasi-patriotic duty.  If you're not constantly spending money on Christmas gifts and Christmas decorations from November 1 to December 24, you're a Bad American and a Terrible Christian.  Black Friday is no longer black because that's the kind of ink you used to indicate a profit in the ledgers - Black Friday is black because of the dark, perverse imp that makes people trample one another for a slightly reduced price plasma screen TV.

Think about that.  In other countries, they riot for water, for bread, for democracy.  In America we riot for the chance to buy shit cheaply. 

Now Black Friday is encroaching on Thanksgiving, and that's barely even a holiday anymore, except as a prelude to Christmas.  Christmas Christmas Christmas.  It's non-stop fucking Christmas.  My special little holiday when I could laugh with my family and even feel close to God has become an abhorrent, corporatized bacchanal.

Not a lot of people argue that Christmas has become too commercialized.  This was a worry of the pilgrims four hundred fucking years ago.  And in a culture that values capitalism and worships the almighty dollar to the exclusion of practically everything else, not loving the commercialized version of Christmas is tantamount to treason. 

So, worse than even being commercialized, now Christmas is politicized.  Again, I could write whole blogposts, whole books, really, about the Christian churches in this country becoming wholly owned subsidiaries of the Republican Party, but let us suffice it to say that I could stand to never hear the ridiculous fucking term "War on Christmas" again.  Guess what?  You don't need gaudy mangers in front of every courthouse and for every clerk in the country to wish you a "Merry Christmas" to "win" Christmas.  In fact, the whole idea of "winning" Christmas is so utterly repellent, so antithetical to the point of a religious, family-centered...

Sigh.  But I digress.

The Starbucks cup thing?  Yeah, I know.  That was intensely stupid, and as far as anyone can tell there was one guy in America who was offended by it, and made an angry YouTube video about it, and that's about where the outrage began and ended.  But how much of my fucking life was taken up by this stupid, non-scandal?  How much of my life every year is taken up by stupid non-scandals?  How come now people are belligerent about saying "Merry Christmas," like they're somehow rubbing it in your face that they're Christians with a capital "C?"  How come "Happy Holidays," which was supposed to be a polite, benign greeting for the public, non-religious sphere, is treated by some people as though I'm saying "Fuck you" to them?

You know what, I don't want to hear about Christmas when I go to the hardware store on December 5.  I don't want to hear about it, I don't want to think about it, and I certainly don't want someone to belligerently shout it in my face.  In case you don't get it: spending two months insisting that it's the "Christmas season" is belligerent.  It's not kind or folksy or welcoming.  In fact, it's the exact opposite of all that.  If it was December 25, or, hell, I'm not that picky, December 23, and somebody on the street said, "Merry Christmas" to me I'd smile and say it back.  Because that's when Christmas is!

Now we have congress insisting that they can't work the whole month of December because religious liberty.  That's not religious liberty, that's being an asshole.  That's trying to take three weeks off for a one-day religious holiday.  I mean, shit, I might understand trying to take a month off if it was Ramadan, which is an actual month-long celebration, but there aren't any asshole Muslims out there constantly shouting "Happy Ramadan!" in my face and bemoaning the "War on Ramadan" every year.  You know why?  Because they keep their religious feelings to their goddamn selves.  And hell, could you imagine the outcry from those same Christmas-pushing lunatics if American Muslims actually did try to start pushing Ramadan like that?  Oh my God, it would be off the rails.

So, yeah.  I'm not a "Grinch."  I'm not a "Scrooge."  I'm happy to celebrate Christmas with my family on December 25, and even a few days before.  But now that we've commercialized, politicized, and bastardized it into this leering, months-long nightmare of enforced joy and constantly shouting about what bad Americans anyone who doesn't want to spend two months celebrating a simple, religious holiday are, I kind of hate it. 
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