Wednesday, November 17, 2010


You may recall the little dust-up in the Town of Orange concerning the use of the town's public transport system to transport students to a private Christian school -- an agreement made by the former town manager without the knowledge of most of the town council.

Well, according to the Fredricksburg Free-Lance Star, the story gets even better. In the most recent council meeting,
Greg McGowen, transit manager with Virginia Regional Transit, the nonprofit owner and operator of the bus system in Orange and many other localities told council members that former Town Manager John Bailey had told him the council would agree to the bus being used by students because members had children who attended the school.

None of the council members have children in the school, and Bailey did not consult the council about the arrangement.

The council fired Bailey Sept. 20.
The town council voted to discontinue the service at the end of the December, but as mayor, Chuck Mason said, "The issue was that the bus was being taken away from the people it was meant to help. But we left the door open for the school to come back with an alternative, such as buying or renting a bus."

Which, in my opinion, is what should have been the arrangement from the start.

Monday, November 08, 2010

A directory of literature (kind of)

So as I've been plugging away at my current National Novel Writing Month tome, and posting my progress on social media sites. Folks have been asking if they can read my latest work. Well, no. "The Army of Crime" isn't finished yet, and not really ready for public viewing.

However, a fair number for people (OK, mostly friends) have asked about the book I finished for last year's NaNoMo, and the one I did for the year before that.

Fair enough. Here they are.

First off, though, a little background: just thinking about novel writing seemed an imposing challenge to me, especially when I thought about all the great literary novels already written.

So I lowered my standards.

I've always been interested in the pulp literature of the 1930's, and was intimately familiar with the style. So more as an exercise than anything else, I decided to write my own pulp.

The initial story, "Murder Squad" was framed by a back story. In a forward I talked about discovering that my great-uncle Ralph (I really had such a relative),  a renowned non-fiction author of the 1950's (totally fiction) had a secret pre-war career as a pulp magazine author. He worked for a minor magazine publisher, and created a hero pulp character -- Raven -- to compete with the more popular Shadow, Doc Savage, and the Spider.

It was a lot of fun to write. So much so, that I couldn't resist writing another book with the same characters (or rather, I discovered another manuscript from great-uncle Ralph in the attic).

When I started the National Novel Writing Month event, I knew that time was of the essence. So I did a third novel about Raven. And then last year a fourth. And this year will be the fifth. I actually have about 20 outlines for Raven novels, taking the character from 1936 to the start of World War II, when many publishers (including my fictional one) discontinued their pulp magazines due to the paper shortage (and the rising popularity of comic books).

Below are links to all the novels. One thing to keep in mind: while the writing is done, the editing has yet to start in earnest on any of these. I've tried to clean up as many mistakes as I can find, but there may be some plot points that need fixing, chronologies that need tweaking, and other structural issues a professional editor would see and correct. It's only after they've been edited that I will officially offer them to the world (and you'll see them on Amazon).

Murder Squad
Men mysteriously die of a weapon that doesn't fire bullets! Toy police badges are left at the scene of the crime! What does it mean? Can Raven solve the puzzle before becoming the next victim?

The Crimson Cypher
A dead thief found in an isolated farm yard clutches a coded message in his hand -- a message that pits Raven and Crow against a merciless army of killers in an international race to rescue Police Commissioner Rowland from certain death and save America from saboteurs!

Death in Five States
A beautiful young heiress is trapped in an express train full of killers! Can Raven and Crow reach her in time as the train of doom hurtles across the country, leaving a trail of murder behind it?

The Purple Doom
A mysterious figure holds sway over New York society. His demands are simple: pay to live, or die the horrible death known as the Purple Doom! And after Commissioner Rowland and MacGuffey are attacked, Raven must fight alone to stop the Purple Doom from destroying an entire city!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Election Day Fallout

Now that the election's over (and my head's had a chance to clear), I'd like to talk about an unfortunate side-effect of the process (and no, this isn't about actual results). I'd like to know if others acorss the country experienced something similar this election cycle.

I live in the 7th District of Virginia, where our House of Representatives race was between Eric Cantor (R), Rick Waugh, (D), and Floyd Bayne (I). Comcast, our local cable provider is located in the next town over, also located in the 7th District.

The biggest city in the area is Charlottesville, which is located in the 5th District. That was the battle ground of both parties, where Tom Perriello (D) fought to keep his seat against Richard Hurt (R). In addition to both local campaigns taking out ads, both national parties did so too, as well as many special interest groups, political actuion committees, and even some asstro-turf movements.

Our local cable provider uses the Charlottesville stations for its ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox feeds. Which meant I saw back-to-back-to-back-to back political ads for/against Perriello or Hurt. I didn't mind too much -- all of those ads were just part of what was being broadcast in Charlottesville.

Now the local Comcast provider, like others throughout the country, has the option of preempting ads on the cable channels to insert locally produced commercials. I expected to see some ads from either the Cantor or Waugh campaigns on those channels. No dice. All available slots were taken up with Perrirello and Hurt ads. So even on Scy-Fi, AMC, the Food Network, and TNT I was subjected to two or three of these 5th District ads at a time.

I never did see any ads for the candidates running in my district. And since our local news comes from Charlottesville, I never heard anything about the 7th District campaign on any station that Comcast provided.

Of course, I did my own research through the Internet, and tried to use other news sources from Richmond to find out what was going on. But I wonder: how many people still rely almost exclusively on TV for their information. And how many ented the polls in my district and saw the roster of candidates for the first time?

Did it make a difference in the results? Probably not. Cantor was pretty much a shoe-in. But would the race have been closer? Hard to say. The only information Comcast chose to give me was for a race I had no vote in. Now how does that serve the local customer?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

What Would Jesus Toot?

An interesting problem arose recently in the small town I live in. It's one with a number of issues bundled together, yet most of the players can only seem to see one aspect of it.

The Town Of Orange Transit (TOOT) is a subsidized shuttle bus service. For twenty-five cents, residents in the town can catch a ride around town and to certain locations outside of town.

At the most recent town council meeting, it was revealed that the former town manager had made arrangements with the Cornerstone Christian School, located seven miles away in the next county to provide transportation to and from the school. Since there were a significant number of students who came from Orange, it seemed like a good idea to those involved in that decision.

The majority of the council knew nothing of the arrangement until it was called to their attention -- primarily due to a complaint by a regular rider that the bus wasn't on its regular route at its scheduled time because it was transporting these students.

A heated discussion followed. Parents of the children involved didn't see what the problem was, and wanted the service to continue. A few of the council members (including the cousin of the headmaster) thought everything was fine. But most of the council was very uncomfortable with the decision, although in the end they agreed to let it stand -- at least temporarily.

Personally, I wouldn't have had a problem with the school renting the bus and paying the driver's salary to make the run. Then school funds would be used to transport their students -- not public money.

It would also be different if the bus stop in Madison County was, say, in the center of town of Madison and other people in addition to the students were using the bus to travel to Madison. With other riders using the service to do their shopping or go to work in Madison, TOOT would be serving the general public. But this bus is going out to the school for the sole purpose of transporting these students and only these students -- there's nothing else around it. So the town of Orange is in a real sense underwriting the transportation costs for a private Christian school.

But for me as a Christian (worse yet -- Presbyterian) the issue of the separation of church and state was trumped by a comment made in the meeting. The grandmother of one of the students -- and part of the county's more prominent families -- said:

"The parents of these students are more important to the tax base of the town than the elderly and underprivileged people of this community."

Wow. I am hard-pressed to find any Christian thought in that statement.

After all, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." (Matthew 25:40) 

So however the elderly and underprivileged are treated in Orange by professed Christians, so (by proxy) do they treat Christ. A disturbing point to miss in any discussion involving Christian education... 

Monday, November 01, 2010

Where's Ralph? Writing again

Well, it's November, and time for me to start my annual National November Writing Month novel. The goal is to create a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I've managed to do it the past two years, and for some reason, feel strangely confident that I can do it again.

So where are those other masterworks? Still not ready for prime time, I'm afraid. I consider my NaNoMo novels practice works, giving me an opportunity to hone my writing skills. I like the near-impossible deadline as it keeps me from second-guessing myself. Should I just describe the table, or craft it as a metaphor for modern life? Doesn't matter. Clock's ticking, just write something.

The other problem with my novels is that, in my opinion, they are so specialized that they would appeal to a very, very, very small number of people at all. All of my NaNoWriMo novels are homages to the hero pulps of the 1930's. So to really understand and appreciate what I'm doing, you really have to:

1) Be familiar with pulp literature of the 1930's, as it was published in popular magazines of the day.
 Most of it was never reprinted, save by small specialty presses, so chances are the average person has never run across any examples of this genre.

2) Know what a hero pulp is. It was a specialized pulp magazine sub-genre, based on a heroic character.
Each issue would feature a lead novel of 30,000-60,000 words about the character. The Shadow is a good example. So is Doc Savage and the Avenger. Both of them had their adventures reprinted in paperback series in the 1970's (but how many people know or even read them?).

3) Know the style well enough to understand what I'm doing.
This is the hardest part of all. I'm not making fun of the purple prose and breathless action sequences dished out by Walter Gibson, Lester Dent, Norvell Page and countless other authors. These aren't pastiches. Rather, I'm celebrating the accomplishments of these authors by trying to write in a style that is authentic as possible to their work (without imitating it).
I'm taking my characters and situations just as seriously as they would. I'm not putting in any deliberate anachronisms, nor slipping in any type of modern subtext as a wink to the reader.

So given such a small audience, I know I'll never see any of these on a New York Times best-seller list.

So what about self-publishing? With e-books, its certainly easy enough, but there's a final step that needs to be taken. Before I would consider it, I would have these manuscripts professionally edited. I think they're basically good, but I also know that I don't see everything. I know why that character's in the room, but did I communicate the reason to the reader? I'd like these to be an enjoyable read, and that's something that editing can ensure.

In the meantime, though, I'll be banging away at this month's novel. I don't have to answer to any accountant to justify why I'm writing this instead of something more commercial, nor do I have to explain to an editor just what the heck happened in the last chapter. It's all unfettered fun, and I expect to enjoy every minute of it.