Is Arrested Adolescence the Problem?

Occasionally I come across a video on YouTube that inspires me to consider a problem from a different angle. Last night was one of those videos. It was on the subject of personal development and its host correctly observed that some people are never taught responsibility.

One of the problems I have long struggled with are the broken, paranoid workplaces we tolerate in these United States, but I believe I am slowly zeroing in on the problem.

I discovered relatively early that I would never be able to rely on a job to provide for myself or a family. It wasn’t long after the CFO of the gigantic company where I had just started my 401k became the target of an investigation for cooking the books that any hope of a long-term career was swept away into ashes like the unfortunate heroes in the last Avengers film. We all live in a short-term economy now where jobs are acquired and discarded (or swiped) like paper towels, and are about as valuable.

Because my working life started out in a brokerage firm, I’m a little more sensitive to money topics than most. I recognize, for example, that motives gravitate to money. If something makes a person $2 rather than $1, they will do the former in almost every circumstance, no matter how theoretically destructive it may be to themselves or others. Money is the lens through which you can accurately discern nearly any motive.

So when trying to determine the why of a situation, I almost always start by asking “which option gets the decision maker more money right now?” Why was Toys-R-Us burned to the ground? Because it was worth more cash dead than alive. Why are so many women working now? Because employers can keep more money if they use 100% more staff as an excuse to underpay both men and women.

Why are so many people having trouble finding stable careers? Is it possible you’re worth more unemployed than employed?

This isn’t a simple topic, because it weaves together a number of problems into a cohesive whole. For openers, we have tremendous trouble getting people to take anything seriously in this country right now. The juvenile constituency we apparently turned the Internet over to at some point is far more interested in making rude noises and throwing things at others than they are in tolerating grown-ups or their boring ideas. That’s why sites like The Onion and Reddit and imbeciles like John Oliver have a place at the table (and a perceived security council-esque veto) in our vital public discourse. People who behave in a grown-up manner are treated with either ridicule or suspicion, at least until everything goes to hell, then all the kids run to dad to make it all better. That’s fine in the average family. When the kids outnumber the dads three million to one it’s a little tougher.

This is a symptom of the larger problem of arrested adolescence. Much of the confusion we are experiencing in this country right now is a result of the total absence of grown-ups. The rest is the result of the hostile and bitter reaction many have to the sudden introduction of grown-ups into what was previously adolescent chaos, much like the early return of parents to a teenage house party.

These problems are most pronounced in our workplaces, where the absence of grown-ups isn’t just an entertaining diversion, but a direct threat to your family’s survival. I’m fairly certain I don’t have to go into the dangers that await the average family with no income in America. Forty years ago, a man or woman could rely on their career as the anchor in their life. Today, a job is more often a liability, since its sudden withdrawal can create far more intense problems than just poverty.

If it is the case your boss is one of these arrested adolescents pretending to be a grown-up in our society, is it possible that he or she is motivated more by avoiding mistakes than failure? Most people realize you can do everything right and still fail. This is proven in every athletic championship. Sometimes you just get outplayed. It is for this reason we can conclude failure isn’t necessarily a mistake. Failure doesn’t demand blame.

Mistakes, on the other hand, always invite blame, and in the workplace, blame can be fatal, especially if it is wielded by an over-emotional adolescent obsessed with protecting themselves. We’ve all witnessed the favorite defense of every child in the court of parental law: “He made me do it!” Well, if those kids never grow up, this can become a theme in the workplace. Where these kinds of people gather, all productive enterprise is replaced by frenzied attempts to gain political advantage, and the best way to gain political advantage is to mold blame into a weapon and use it to corruptly dispatch rivals. Sound familiar?

It reaches a point where people will do anything or say anything to avoid taking responsibility. They become paranoid and pledge their very souls to choosing failure over mistakes whenever possible. The reason they do this is because they were never taught that the proper response to a mistake is not to overturn the table, but to evaluate it and learn to avoid it in the future.

The alternative relegates everyone to a life of idle waste or missed opportunity, because none dare act unless forced. When these people are put in a position where they have to hire people, they face the ultimate risk of having to trust others, which intensifies their paranoia to unbearable levels. How can you trust anyone in a world where all is lost if anyone makes even the slightest mistake?

We have all experienced being perfectly qualified for a job and not being hired, only to find the same job re-advertised days later. Why does this happen? Because the hiring manager is paranoid about being blamed. The hiring manager is very likely an arrested adolescent who is terrified they will be exposed as someone who really doesn’t know how to do their job. They don’t know how to lead others, because they were never trained to be a leader. They can’t take responsibility for a mistake. They can’t look their boss in the eye and say “I made the call because I thought it was the right thing to do and I was wrong.” It’s completely beyond them, because they never grew up. They were never taught to be responsible. There are 19-year-old privates first class in the U.S. Marines more capable of taking responsibility for a mistake. Why? Because that PFC outranks other marines. He or she was trained to be a leader and to be responsible.

So these hiring managers make the backwards decision to pass on a perfectly qualified employee on the off chance they might be mistaken. Either that or they ask that candidate for evidence of such unattainable perfection that it can’t possibly be delivered truthfully.

As a result we all end up living in a world where, at least as far as a corps of adolescent hiring managers are concerned, we are more valuable unemployed.

The Plight of the Gifted Child

We’ve all encountered gifted people in our lives. We’ve also all encountered athletic people. Some are faster runners than others. Some are better at certain sports like swimming or baseball. We’re used to physically gifted athletes. We enjoy watching when they play games on television.

The mentally gifted, on the other hand, we don’t understand as well. In fact, some people are downright suspicious of them. Their minds operate on a different level than others. They often speak rapidly, as if the volume of ideas they are trying to communicate is too great and their words are too few. They come up with ideas in much the same way the rest of us breathe. Some of those ideas are hard for us to understand. Sometimes they don’t make any sense at all.

For people of average intellect, encountering someone who is much smarter can be most unsettling. Sometimes it can lead to outright hostility. This is because people of average intellect have no idea what it is like to have a mind that is constantly in motion. They also have no idea what it does to a person when they discover nobody can understand their ideas. The gifted learn to avoid sharing their thoughts. They avoid conversation. They become isolated and sullen. They don’t understand why everyone seems to hate them. It becomes terribly painful. They are ostracized and eventually they destroy themselves.

The hostility I speak of comes from fear. It is really not all that different than encountering someone in a wheelchair. There is an atavistic reaction everyone has to someone who is different. But with gifted people there is another dimension. There is a defensive emotional reaction. “Oh, you’re so much smarter than everyone else, huh? Well, I’m not dumb!”

Reacting this way is exactly like walking up to a pro football player and saying “oh, you’re so much stronger and faster than everyone else, huh? Well, I’m not crippled!” Does that sound silly? It should. Just because someone has gifts you don’t doesn’t have anything to do with your worth as a person. Everyone has gifts of one kind or another.

I can speak with some experience in these matters because I was a gifted child in elementary school. I completely skipped first grade. While this might sound like a great achievement, the practical result was I spent my entire academic career a calendar year behind all my classmates. I could do the work, naturally, but I often struggled to keep up socially. This was in addition to the problems I faced because of the way I think and the imagination I have. I started reading very early in life. My parents were motivated to encourage my academic achievements. I was also an only child, so I learned to rely on my mind more than most.

I can exhaust people in a conversation. I often find I have to exert considerable effort to throttle my “bandwidth” so to speak. I can riff off other people’s ideas instantly. I often leapfrog a sequence of six or seven steps to reach what might seem to be a totally unconnected conclusion in seconds. I freely synthesize ideas into new ideas in mid-sentence, as if my current thought and the other thoughts are all being processed simultaneously. For me this is all perfectly natural, like walking or typing. Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion it engenders intense discomfort in others. I can’t go full throttle. Ever.

Many people might think these gifts would be a glorious advantage in life. Being able to think so rapidly and come up with such amazing ideas so quickly must be such a wonderful experience! The truth is for most people like myself, it is a social and professional disaster.

One of the recognized forms of being “gifted” is something called “synesthesia.” The best way to describe it is to imagine what color a certain sound is. Synesthetes hear colors and feel scents. When asked to describe their sensations to others, it is extraordinarily difficult. Gifted children and adults face exactly the same kind of problem.

As a society we go out of our way to accommodate special needs students in school. We do this so they can keep up with the mainstream of the class. A laudable goal. But what do we do if we have a student that is far ahead of their classmates? What if that student is far ahead of their teacher? Let me describe what that experience is like so you can understand the problem better.

Imagine for a moment a fifth grader who has no friends at school. She has an IQ of 175. Her teacher doesn’t understand what she is saying half the time. Her parents love her, but they can’t engage with her mentally because it is exhausting for them. They do everything they can to find ways to let her advance academically, but there is only so much they can do. The other kids make fun of her because she sounds like the teacher when she is called on in class. They can’t understand her either. She always says such weird things. What a strange girl.

Inside that girl’s mind, ideas are forming and expressing themselves as images, sounds and colors on a constant basis. When I say constant I mean constant. It never turns off. If she gets absorbed into some train of thought, she can go for hours without rest or food. The volume of material she can produce, whether it be written, or drawn or spoken, can be astonishing. We all know nobody is ever going to read the 18 pages she wrote. Well, what if someone did? What might they discover in her words?

When that fifth grade girl looks at a park, for instance, she doesn’t just see the pond and the ducks and the trees and grass. She also sees butterflies and flowers and a purple sky and glorious white horses prancing. A moment later she sees a magnificent bird the size of an airliner. A moment after that she sees an outdoor ball with gowns and princes and pleasant music and garlands all around. All that happens in the space of 30 seconds. The other kids just saw ducks and a pond, grass and trees and they ran off to play. The girl just stands there enraptured by her own imagination. Suddenly there is a castle that soars into a sky full of stars and planets.

She desperately wants to share what she experiences with others, but she will never be able to, because they don’t understand why she is talking about princes and ponies and a purple sky. They just want to play dodgeball. What a strange girl she is.

She can see colors in her mind that don’t exist in our world. Think about that for a minute. If you saw a color in your imagination that doesn’t exist in the real world, how would you describe it to someone else? You couldn’t. Now what if you really wanted someone else to experience what you’ve experienced? How frustrating would it be for the other person to be impatient or suspicious of you? What if they didn’t want to be your friend any more? What if all the other kids in school behaved the same way?

That’s what it is like to be a gifted child. The loneliness is unbearable.

What happens when gifted children grow up? Well, I’ll tell you. They either become visionary one-of-a-kind entrepreneurs or they become supervillains. There’s no middle ground. Why? Because society won’t let them be anything else.

In our current paranoid workplace culture, anyone who stands out for any reason is immediately targeted for punitive action. The “corporate culture” will not tolerate troublemakers, and there is nobody on Earth more likely to make trouble than someone who has a lot of new ideas and talks in meetings too much. They are the people who improve things and get the attention of the boss, who *gasp* might reward them.

Resentment spreads. Envy follows. “No good know-it-all making us look bad–” We’ve all experienced it. We’ve all lived it. What happens to the smart guy at work? I’ll tell you: He’s not going to last long. Eventually the average members of the team will join forces and get them fired so things can go back to the way they were before that loudmouth started giving the boss ideas.

Effervescent imagination and visionary ambition are not high on the list of corporate priorities. They want scriveners who will show up on time, do their thing, pick up their lunchbuckets and go home, and if they can manage to keep their mouth shut for the majority of the time they are at work, so much the better. Remember that girl from the fifth grade? Her magnificent birds and prancing horses aren’t going to be received by her co-workers they way she thinks. The more she tries to spread her own wings and reach for her own potential, the more hate she is going to inspire in her colleagues. That hate will eventually find its way to the boss, where it will be corruptly formed into a weapon and used to destroy her.

By now you might recognize what I’m describing here. It’s called bullying. It’s exactly the same thing that happens to the little kid with the glasses at school. He can read at a 12th grade level, but that doesn’t stop his average fourth grade classmates from throwing his books over the fence into the mud, or taking a hammer to his bike, or stomping on the glasses his parents could barely afford. He’ll also find no refuge by complaining to the teacher, because he or she is tired of his know-it-all attitude too.

Simply put, it is incredibly easy for a gifted child to reach a point where literally everyone but their parents is their enemy. Now it’s not just unbearable loneliness. It’s open hostility. The gifted person’s interlocutors won’t say it, but they are thinking it because the film Office Space was not just a comedy. It was a documentary.

The metaphor I like to use when describing this characteristic of the human race has found its way into a number of science fiction stories. In the story there’s a plague or some kind of complex problem that the really smart doctor or scientist is racing against the clock to solve. Outside their tiny lab is the fearful rabble, who have been driven into a frenzy thinking the smart guy is working against them. Smart people are bad and dangerous, you see. Moments before the scientist has their breakthrough, the smudged filth-covered idiots break into the lab and smash everything. The scientist is beaten bloody and is forced to watch as all is lost. Pretty standard stuff. Very dramatic, but also instructional.

85% of people have an IQ below 115. Put bluntly, 115 is not genius-level. 100 is average. While 115 is above-average and probably occasionally capable of unique insight, it isn’t genius-level.

What this also means is that five out of every 30 people or so have an IQ above 115. One out of every 30 people has an IQ above 130. One in 1000 has an IQ above 145, which is considered genius-level. Einstein is estimated to have had an IQ of about 160.

This means a medium-sized elementary school class has five superior intellects on average, and a large high school has two certified geniuses at any given time. Most people have never thought about this issue this way.

What is most distressing about all this is the following hypothetical question: How many great advancements have been forever lost to humanity because these gifted people have had their metaphorical labs overrun by idiots? How many of them found that their gifts were better invested in maintaining a low profile and avoiding problem solving because it saved them from losing their jobs? How many were tormented and provoked into violence or vendettas by bullies or bureaucrats?

How many of them couldn’t hold a job because their co-workers or boss (or both) wouldn’t tolerate them? I’m pretty sure I don’t have to go into what becomes of someone when they can’t hold a job in America. One of society’s most consistent big businesses these days is guiding unemployed people and debtors into jail.

What happens when a genius decides they want to get back at the people that hurt them? Considering the weakness and inadequacy found in most of our civic institutions, one imagines the worst. Ultimately our government’s only tools are incompetence, clubs, guns and explosives. They move from one to the next until the problem is “solved.” Very much like the cro-magnons that smash the lifesaving lab. Oh, some smart guy is pissed off because he can’t find work? We’ll send some armed gorillas ’round to shut him up.

For my part, I found an outlet for my intellect through writing and works of fiction. I have been politely (and in some cases impolitely) dis-invited from the modern workplace because I don’t fit in. I’m academically qualified to teach, but if you think the average workplace is paranoid, you really don’t want to experience the average public school.

You see, I go to work to accomplish something and get paid for it. That really isn’t a high priority for most employers nowadays. They are far more interested in nerf guns and wearing Hawaiian shirts to demonstrate how much of a “team player” you are. If you don’t participate in the reindeer games, the boss will laugh and call you names. And then fire you and upend your life.

At this point it’s easy to imagine this article serves no purpose other than to complain about a problem human beings have always faced. But I have a solution. I have a path to success and happiness for those children who find themselves cut off from the mainstream because they were born too smart. My solution might even serve as an option for those adults who have struggled with their gifts all their lives. It really is very simple and it wouldn’t cost much at all.

Gifted children should be advanced to their own classroom on occasion and assigned a teacher who is trained to deal with their rapid-fire attention span and high-speed/low-drag imagination. The gifted class should be equipped with whatever they ask for: Toys, games, computers, tools, raw materials, books, videos, whatever. It should be the ultimate elective class. Completely self-directed. They ask, teacher gets. Let them spread their wings and see how far and how high they can really soar.

If you are finding yourself experiencing resentment, stop for a minute. Let me explain why this is important. When gifted children play, they are likely to come up with things that we can’t imagine. A properly equipped “gifted students lab” might be the site of an invention no amount of corporate capital will ever be able to buy. These kids will try to build things none of us would dream of because they don’t know any better. They don’t know how hard it is. The best part is they just might pull it off. And then what?

Symphonies. Patented electronics. Aircraft. New kinds of fabric. Soft drinks. Pet feeding machines. Cakes and cookies. Woodworking. New kinds of engine fuel. Works of fiction. Art. Skits. Weather stations. Radios. Human footsteps on Mars.

All of that might happen in a matter of months, and in the process those children, freed from their society-imposed shackles, will finally be able to create as they wish. Why should we put up with it? Because we will all share in their achievements. I’ve always said “give me three motivated geniuses and a million dollars and I will solve any problem.” Every elementary classroom in America has five superior intellects and every high school has two geniuses. What could we have if we would just let them be who they already are?

Where might that little girl fly on her magnificent colorful bird and what if we all could follow?

Four Dangerous Mistakes Employers Make in Job Ads

If you hire people, contract with freelancers, or are looking for help, you might have occasion to advertise a job on any of a number of web sites or even in newspapers or trade magazines. Why? Because you want a variety of candidates from which to choose the best new employee or contractor.

All too often, you will miss the best candidate because you made a fundamental mistake with your job ad. Hiring has changed, to be sure. Most employers think they have an insurmountable advantage and all the power, and they are utterly wrong. Everything you think gives you an advantage in the marketplace as an employer can be flipped around and used against you by faster moving candidates just like a Judo move. The truth is you have no advantage. The harder you squeeze, the fewer good candidates you’ll attract.

Let’s get something straight right off. Your candidates can survive without a paycheck a lot longer than you can stay solvent. What’s your daily burn rate, boss? Exactly.

If you are one of the many employers who whine constantly that you can’t find qualified people, take a good long look in the mirror. You’re liable to find the person responsible. In the meantime, if you are willing to admit you aren’t perfect, and you can avoid these four mistakes, you may find you have much greater success.

Passion

Do not ever use the word “passion” or “passionate” in a job ad. If you are using either of those words in your current ads, stop it. Right now. Human beings are passionate about two things. One of them is payday, and the other isn’t the job you are offering them. This might hurt your feelings, but your employees don’t care about your company or whatever it is you do all day. For the most part, they never will. Your business is important to you. The paycheck is important to your employees.

When you hire someone, you are paying them in exchange for work. That’s it. They don’t want to be your friend. They don’t want to join your righteous crusade to change the world. They don’t care about anything but paying their bills and going home on time. Let them live their life and you run your business. Stop making them pretend to be obsessed with whatever it is you think is important. In the long run, you’ll get better employees who will probably do a better job.

By the way, since payday is one of the things that makes people passionate, if you really want your employees to get excited about something, give them a raise. It’s probably been too long since the last one.

Precious

If you put little “gotchas” in your job ads, like waiting until the second-to-last line to include important instructions like “put your favorite color in the subject line or we won’t review your application,” you are being what freelancers call “precious.”

I have news for you. On any given day, there are several dozen new ads for work for whomever it is you want to hire. You might think that your offer of money for work is rare enough that it gives you the power to dangle people and play games with their job applications, but it isn’t and it doesn’t. Most good candidates will just hard next and go elsewhere without even bothering to apply.

Your job ad is a preview of what it’s going to be like to work for you. If you’re already playing games before you’ve even met your candidate, and you’re tossing their application for childish and frivious reasons, why should they take working with you seriously? How many great applications and great candidates have you thrown out? Is that how you run your whole business? For your customers’ sake I certainly hope not.

The truth is good, highly qualified grown-ups are not going to tolerate gotchas and game-playing. This is their income and career we’re talking about. This is something they likely take rather seriously. If it is clear you don’t take it seriously, they’re going elsewhere, and they should. That leaves you with the not-so-qualified candidates, which is probably not what you wanted.

Birthday Cakes

If an application to your company requires documents in a particular proprietary format, pictures, video, tests, filling out elaborate online forms, recordings of your co-workers singing the company song, choreography, charts and graphs, cover letters on expensive stationery and costumes, you are the kind of employer who wants your candidates to bake you what freelancers call a “birthday cake.”

In the current hiring climate, candidates are required in some cases to send out dozens of applications a day. This can go on for weeks and sometimes months at a time. Why is this necessary? Well, it turns out the people doing the hiring have all kinds of reasons to throw out applications that have little, if anything, to do with a candidate’s qualifications, experience or education. Job applicants didn’t make it this way. They are just trying to adapt to the world as it is: An adversarial world created by employers.

Since dozens of applications a day is essentially the only way they’re going to find work, job seekers are required to standardize. They don’t have time to bake each employer a custom birthday cake, nor do they have time to entertain hiring managers. When they see a long list of little goodies they must include in the care package they are expected to send HR (while knowing full well it will probably be heaved into the trash the moment it arrives), they have to weigh the advantages of sending one application over the next 30 minutes with sending six. See if you can guess which option wins every time?

At best, birthday cakes should be step five in the hiring process. Be happy with a resume and an e-mail address. Or learn to be happy with candidates who are a fair distance south of the top-tier. Choose one.

Blivets

You know what you get when you stuff six pounds of s*** in a five pound bag? You get a blivet. You know what you get when you mash six job descriptions together and post that as the skill requirements for the entry-level temp position you are advertising? The same thing.

Good job candidates can tell when you are overreaching with your job descriptions. They’ve been there and done that, and in a lot of cases they know more about the job than you do. When they see long unrealistic lists of requirements, overinflated educational requirements and inaccurate and sometimes fictional experience levels, they just move on. Their job is not to train you to manage people properly, and if you post a ridiculously overdone job ad, they know working for you isn’t going to be much better. In the meantime, you’ll be left with the people who don’t know any better, and that’s not going to look good on those expensive business cards.

Lose the Ego

Hiring managers have a bad habit of letting their ego override their sense of reality. They also have a lot of trouble admitting when they are wrong. People do not have to put up with you, even if you are waving money in the air. They can also tell nobody wants to work for you if you post the same ad in 12 different cities six times a week.

The Internet may give you an endless fountain of resumes, but it also gives your candidates an endless fountain of job ads. The best candidates will look for hiring managers that give them confidence. They will look for ads written by competent professionals. They will bypass ads that lord over applicants with burdensome nonsense. If you write such ads, you’ll get the runner-up, not the champ.

Be the competent professional. Your next round of hiring will be far more successful. Black out.

There is No Better Web Host Right Now

Have you noticed Amazon’s cloud offerings? For most people, the dizzying array of services being offered can be confusing, but there is a humble little option right in the middle of that big shelf called “Lightsail” you should be aware of, especially if you’re running your own web site.

Lightsail allows customers to buy a remote server month to month. Installed on that server is some variant of Ubuntu Linux, and it is hooked up to a network that is so fast you simply won’t believe it.

What can you do with a remote Ubuntu Linux server? Well, you can run a world-class web site with it. You can install and configure web server software like Apache. You can install a content management system like WordPress and run it on a database like MySQL. You can install an e-mail server like Postfix and retrieve your e-mail with an application like Dovecot. Amazon will give you a best-in-class e-mail relay with a service called SES.

Basically you can have your very own web/e-mail and even cloud server with SSH access for a tiny fraction of what you’re probably spending on web hosting right now. As an added bonus, that server is going to be lightning fast. Why, you can even have secure http with a Let’s Encrypt certificate. Won’t cost you a cent. In all other respects, it works just like standard Ubuntu, which means it is rock solid, reliable and has access to the Debian repository and its some 20,000 applications.

As someone who has had at least one web site live continuously since 1995, I can tell you this is the best hosting option I’ve ever seen. It’s affordable. The performance is unmatched and without putting too fine a point on it you can do literally anything from an application development standpoint.

If you need web hosting, take a look at Lightsail. Learning curve will be a bit rough at first, but there are dozens of walk-throughs on how to set up the software. The results are worth it.

On Sourcebooks

The proper balance between illustrations and words has been a controversial topic for writers for some time. As authors, we rely on words to communicate, and to the extent we need illustrations, we limit them to book covers.

There is a reason for this. Imagery, animation, illustration work, and getting the look of something right is almost as time-consuming as getting the story right. As authors we end up with a trade-off. Either we spend hours making what will never be better than an amateur illustration combined with an amateur attempt at compositing typography and effects, or we spend that extra time working on the words.

The old cliche “a picture is worth a thousand words” isn’t quite accurate. A picture is worth more like half a day and at least one derailed train of thought, and for me, that can add up to more like six thousand words. That’s ten percent of a medium-length novel, and that can be expensive. Really expensive.

I’m fond of saying I have an unlimited special effects budget. But I only have that if I stick to my knitting. The very moment I open Photoshop or GIMP or whatever, the limits on my special effects budget become overwhelmingly apparent, and the limits on the time I have to fiddle and adjust and tinker become even more apparent. Every hour I spend on that illustration is 1500 words I didn’t get written today.

As authors go, I’m relatively experienced with graphics tools. I know GIMP and Photoshop well. I’m a fair to middling Blender user, and I’ve got journeyman skills with the tools in the Adobe Suite. I’ve had to develop those skills over the years as I’ve worked on video game projects, animated ads, audiocast projects and so forth.

But now, my business is books, and if I’m going to be good at something, it’s going to have to be writing and not gee-whiz graphics. I’m well aware of what happens when you overspend on graphics and underspend on script.

So on to the sourcebooks. You might ask what a sourcebook is? Well, it’s where I gather all the information that doesn’t necessarily make it into a story as is. It’s where, for example, I list things like a character’s favorite school subject, or a fighter pilot’s most prestigious accomplishment or award. It’s where I take what is two-dimensional and make it three-dimensional. It’s where I find out who a character really is before they get to that important scene readers care about most.

The sourcebook is where I describe all the creatures in a fantasy story, or all the enemy starships in a science-fiction story. I also build maps (without graphics, believe it or not) and name all the locations on various planets or realms where adventures take place. Readers appreciate it when stories get their own details right from chapter to chapter.

You would be surprised at just how much source material you can produce writing a 98,000-word fantasy novel. Every character has to be accounted for. Every treasure and creature has to be written before they can be included in the story. I have a list of nearly 100 starships in my Captain Jason Hunter series. It’s nice to be able to look up their names instead of trying to keep them all straight by re-reading previous chapters.

One of the most popular features of some of my past web sites have been the character profile pages for my LadyStar warriors. My Featured Creatures™ have also been popular, and I think some of the source material I’ve composed for Starships at War will be interesting for readers too. The thing is, those past sites had tons of graphics, which are among the things I can no longer produce in the quantities I need.

I want to start putting my sourcebook material up on my site, but I don’t have the time or the budget to illustrate it all. Naturally, I already have most of it written, but with thousands of pages of material, there is no way I can generate graphics in that kind of volume. There’s also the issue of mobile readers. Even if I could get the illustrations done, making them look right on desktops and mobile devices will consume incredible intervals of time I should be investing in new chapters and new stories.

So I have to make the trade-off and sacrifice graphics in favor of words. This is fine with me as an author because I’d much rather write my creations. I’m sure some readers will be disappointed I won’t have a pretty picture to go with each page. Perhaps someday I will find an artist to illustrate what I’ve imagined here and have the budget to do it well. In the meantime, I hope you’ll understand if I go easy on the multimedia extravaganza so I can get everything written that needs to be written.

Look for new material from my sourcebooks soon. Black out.

Strike Battleship Engineers Chapter Fifty Eight

The following is a free chapter from the first book in my Starships at War military science fiction series Strike Battleship Engineers

Captain Darragh Walsh silently regarded the main viewer on the bridge of DSS Rhode Island. Two watches had been dismissed by now, and his XO was becoming more and more concerned. She stood near him, pretending to be looking at the same thing he was.

“Sir, with all due respect, you need rest. If we go into hard action, the fatigue–”

“Give me that D-rad reading again, signals,” Walsh interrupted.

A pause. “Zero Zero Six. No detectable delta from baseline since the last synch, sir.”

Nessa saw her captain curse under his breath. “What is it?”

“He’s modulating his engine emissions. I thought we were going to catch him at the edge of the atmosphere and at least get a course track,” Walsh growled. “But every bloody time he shifts his emissions and disappears before our navicomp can get a waveform. Keep driving him, helm. Get us in closer.”

Lieutenant Boyle moved to the tactical station and had the duty officer pull up the orbital track. “How accurate is our position map?”

“There’s five thousand miles of play along every vector,” Walsh replied without moving. “I could flush him out of there, but it will take all our birds.”

“What are our chances with energy only?”

“Too risky. Energy targeting is a toss-up as long as his cloak is operational. The Mantids, on the other hand–”

“D-rad spike. Zero One Four. Right on schedule.”

“You keep playing me, you bastard,” Walsh muttered. “One way or another, you’re going to make a mistake, and I’m going to be there when you do. Helm, steer four degrees starboard. Maintain your velocity.”

“Aye, captain. Helm answering. Course now four one mark one. Clock cycling two zero zero. Back to our original track.”

The malevolent shape of Walsh’s destroyer banked quietly and then resumed her course along the extreme outer edge of Bayone Seven’s magnetic field. The dark side of the planet’s atmosphere was peaceful, which only made things more difficult for the Rhode Island. As long as the chemical composition of the atmosphere was predictable, a cloaked ship could remain practically invisible indefinitely. The alternative was the “stock market” of tactical officers. They needed conditions to change in much the same way stockbrokers needed prices to change. Up or down didn’t matter. All that mattered was what they could buy or sell while conditions were in flux. It was when the readings changed that the slight difference between the new and old would reveal clues as to the position of a cloaked ship. If Rhode Island caught a solid waveform, her enemy would be reduced to background radiation and a debris field so fast they wouldn’t have time to realize they were dead.

“Steady as she goes, helm.”

Walsh stood resolute. Aside from his words, it was hard to tell if he was even breathing. Boyle cycled and re-cycled the tactical map, applying every overlay she could think of. Nothing brought up more than the edge of the planet and the same spectrographic analysis pattern for the atmosphere. Now she was cursing under her breath.

“Tactical. Identify readings at planet’s edge. Analysis, quickly,” Walsh ordered.

Boyle relinquished the controls and the tactical officer focused the ship’s short-range sensors on the darker patch at the edge of the planet’s terminator. “Low pressure zone in the atmosphere, sir. Could be a high-altitude storm of some kind.”

“Latitude?”

“Forty-one degrees north approx–”

“Helm! Hard-a-larboard! All ahead emergency flank speed!”

The Rhode Island’s pilot narrowly avoided an embarrassing accident at the sudden shout from her captain. She shoved the controls and rammed the throttle forward. The destroyer dove back to port and exploded towards the planet surface.

“Missile warning! Threat board! Vampire! Vampire!”

“Countermeasures! Now!” Walsh grabbed an overhead handhold to steady himself as the deck pitched under his feet. Lieutenant Boyle was thrown against a bank of sensor readouts. She grabbed the shock harness on the second sensor officer’s crash couch to keep from slamming to the deck.

High-speed breakaway transmitters rocketed into space as Rhode Island rolled away. A deadly anti-matter torpedo screamed through the deflection zone only a few hundred yards from where Walsh’s ship had been a moment before. The warhead impacted one of the countermeasures and detonated at a range of 65 miles. The shock knocked out every light on the bridge. For several chilling moments, the only illumination was the glowing red threat indicators. The captain’s voice shouted in the darkness.

“Tactical! Bring us up fast!”

When she could see again, Boyle noticed Walsh was still forward of the pilot’s station, watching the display like a hungry vulture.

“Forward launchers two and three! Target the trailing edge of the storm at zero six!”

“Affirmative! Warhead ready indicators missiles two! three–!”

“Fire blind! Push him, tactical! Push him!”

The lethal warship banked back to starboard and accelerated towards her fading target. A pair of agile Mantid-class birds screamed from Rhode Island’s forward launchers and tore through the orbital track like demons with rocket engines. A moment later concussion warheads detonated, causing devastating spherical explosions each of which tore a million tons of gas and debris out of Bayone Seven’s exosphere and then vaporized it in a twelve-million-degree hypernova. Waves of feedback plasma energy shook the angry Skywatch ship like an avalanche.

“Weapons detonation! Range zero point two!”

“Readings! Quickly!”

“D-rad indicator zero one five! No change!”

Boyle was back at tactical. Watching. Reading. Looking for anything that she could use to suss out even a hint of the enemy ship’s course. But it was like looking at a calm ocean from the beach. There just wasn’t anything there for the Rhode Island’s sensitive tracking instruments to get hold of. She moved quickly back to her captain’s side.

“We didn’t even get a firing position.”

“He’s got a scorch mark in the seat of his pants now, lieutenant,” Walsh said with a sinister tone in his voice. “He takes another shot at us and I’m going to give him a set of bite marks to go with it. Helm, resume orbital track. Back to our original course. Ahead one-half. Reload forward launchers two and three and arm warheads for short-range engagement.”

Rhode Island maneuvered back to her pursuit course and went back to watching and waiting with a full spread of concussion missiles armed.

A chill crawled up Lieutenant Boyle’s neck. No matter how high the rank of the person asking, she knew she would never be able to explain how the captain knew. The ship’s automatic threat avoidance systems never activated. Not one instrument on the ship had registered a thing until the enemy missile was right on top of them.

Captain Walsh folded his hands behind his back, then took a deep breath and exhaled, eyes fixed on the forward viewer.

Reader Opinion: Would a Wiki make you Clicky?

As many of you know, there’s a lot going on in most of my book series. I have an 800-page source book for LadyStar, and my written notes for the Starships at War universe just passed 100 pages. I expect if I took the time to compile it, Kings and Conquests would be close to 100 pages too.

Question: Would it be of any value to you as a reader of any of these three series to have an online resource listing the characters, prominent locations, equipment, ships, creatures, villains, etc. possibly along with art wherever possible? I’m pretty sure it will help me a bit, as keeping track of 1000 pages of source material isn’t as easy as it sounds.

I’m not planning to use the standard wiki software, as I find it far too finicky and over-engineered for what I have in mind.

Instead I’m planning to establish permanent addresses for my books and their corresponding series on my web server. These pages will function as both information resources for readers and as landing pages for any promotions I do. Alongside these pages, I think background details on characters and so forth would be useful and attractive, especially for new people.

So, what do you think? Would you like to see something like this? Leave your comments below and tell me what you’d like to see! Black out.

The Praetorian Imperative

I have for some time considered writing a series involving a wide-scale fleet action, and I’m pleased to report I got a start on it this week. Naturally this will not proscribe continued work on Starships at War. I have at least two more books on deck for that series.

First Praetorian is the historical conflict Skywatch faced in the early era of the Core Alliance. It was my universe’s “Jutland in space.” In this new series, called Destroy All Starships, the defeated Praetor’s shattered belligerents gave way to several smaller collectives of like-minded citizens, one of which is the Victorian Confederacy, situated in three small star systems just beyond the Magellan Frontier. The story in this series will recount the first “aftershock” of the Praetorian war.

The adversaries in the new books will be an aggressively unified front consisting of two already-introduced races, the Sarn Star Empire and the Yersian Unity, along with two new races, the Kraken Decarchy and an as-yet unnamed faction which will be found with Ithis weapons and technology at a crucial point. All of the enemy races will be armed with unique weapons, both ship-mounted and individual, and will have tactics to match.

Our heroes will be joined by the Proximan Kingdom, a feline race with a strong affinity for the code of chivalry and certain medieval sensibilities updated to reflect their advanced exploration and scientific capabilities. All Proximan soldiers are trained with the sword, and I think you will all approve of the direction I’m taking that most ancient of weapons. I’ll give you a hint: their swords don’t glow.

Many characters from Starships at War will return, and will find themselves fighting alongside some new allies, including several new starships, more than a few new ship types, some new technology and weapons, and a fair number of unexpected encounters in deep space. There will be a lot of exploration and discovery in these books, which will make the story just a bit more like “where no man has gone before” while packing in more of the non-stop action you have all come to expect. I’m told action and dialogue are my strong suits, so that’s where I plan to invest most of my focus.

The artificially intelligent gunships I introduced in Fleet Commander Recon have evolved considerably and will be paired with properly trained crews to perform some highly entertaining feats of legerdemain. We’re also going to do some large-scale surface engagements, so the Skywatch Marines will get some time in the spotlight too.

The Praetorian Imperative will be going on pre-order shortly. If you are on my mailing list, you’ll get advance notice and a discounted price. I’ll throw a couple sneak peek chapters up in the Library-Tron too.

I’m planning at minimum a trilogy, so expect an announcement on book two relatively quickly afterwards.

Goodbye Gravatar

Memorandum to the WordPress developers:

I have a 60 second time limit on retarded in my company. I do this because I do not have time to debug someone else’s broken, buggy software. When I want to change my profile picture, and it takes four attempts (after three successful uploads and the WordPress.com site telling me the profile picture was successfully updated) only to discover my “gravatar” wasn’t changed, I take corrective measures.

Since I have 40 years of experience programming computers, those corrective measures consist of me reaching deep into the source code for WordPress and aggressively ripping all the gravatar code out down to the last byte.

Consider this notice the gravatar “feature” has been permanently disabled on this web site with extreme prejudice.

The new editor was yanked out too. When I write, I really don’t need a “user experience.” I don’t want a 20-something to ride up on a scooter, straighten his horn-rimmed hipster glasses and start gesturing at Powerpoint. I just want to write the post. Perhaps soon I’ll write an article about why hammers have handles and why there aren’t a thousand buzzword-hooting idiots chasing VC dollars promising to upgrade handles for a better user experience.

Black out.