I Owe Miley Cyrus an Apology

A video made the rounds last week of Miley Cyrus and Jimmy Fallon, dressed as Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, singing “Islands in the Stream.” It’s two people going to great costuming- and set-design lengths to have some silly fun, which is what TV should be, really.

In the process of having that fun, though, they inadvertently showed us how skilled a singer Miley is, as well as the difference between a professional singer (Cyrus) and a talented amateur (Fallon). I’m not taking anything away from Jimmy, I’m just saying you can really hear how good Miley is next to him.

I owe her an apology. I thought she was all post-production. Obviously, that is not the case. Miley is, to quote the song, the “real thing.” Watch this.

When you listen to Fallon sing the intro, I think you’ll agree he does a respectable job. He’s not too pitchy, he looks relaxed, we’re all having fun. Then Miley starts singing and all of a sudden we get a look at what a pro can do with a voice.

For me, the difference is in her ability to jump from interval to interval. Whereas Fallon needs a few microseconds to jump from note to note, Miley’s notes are sharp as stair steps. Granted, Fallon is also putting on a scratchy Rogers impersonation, which only makes his job harder, but still.

When Miley leans back and gets into her full voice it’s pretty amazing.

Miley, I hereby publicly apologize for not giving you the full credit you and your skill deserve. Well done you.

Wonderbook Literary Open House Wrapup

I thought it might be fun to gather some of my local Atlanta author friends and have a relaxed hangout, and I’m pleased to say I was right about that.

I grabbed my pals Jonathan French, Catie Hogan, Robert Bevan, and Bobby Nash. We all piled into my friend Boyd’s coworking space in Candler park called Wondershop, and we put a sign outside to let people know that they could find authors within.

And lo! Not only did people come in to see what we had going on, but they bought books. They also chatted with the authors and even plunked their names down to be included on mailing lists. It was pretty cool.

It went so well that I’m considering trying something a little more ambitious next time. Overall, I’m emboldened that people were so willing to come in and find out what we were up to. People want books, it seems. Paper ones, even!

This bodes well.

I’ll read work at WONDERBOOK on Saturday

I started wishing there was a small, laid-back literary event that I could go to with a bunch of my local writer pals. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything like that to be had so I had to make it myself. I present WONDERBOOK!

On Saturday (Sept. 30th) we will take over Wondershop, the coworking space in Candler Park. It’s going to be a relaxed hang-out with some great writers. There will be baked goods on hand plus used books for sale. Facebook event link here: https://www.facebook.com/events/861539410663038/

Candler Park fest will be going on just down the street so we expect lots of foot traffic. I’m planning to read a little of Santa vs Krampus. The other authors also will read some work if they feel like it.

I hope you’ll stop in and say hello!

How to Make A Decent Author WordPress Template Maybe

WordPress is like a robot companion who fights alongside you, facilitates your livelihood, but also might explode into a cloud of fart gas and flying turds at any moment. You might be wondering: “How the hell did that robot get so full of organic fecal matter?” Sorry. That information is proprietary.

The fact is, though, WP is still the best. Authors need the dynamic ability of a framework like WordPress, even if that means a flying plop from time to time. Is it flatus? Just a touch.

It’s unfortunate that our products (paper books, kindle, etc.) are arranged in what a painter would call “portrait mode,” rather than the much more internet-friendly “landscape,” but books are older and better so fuck you, computers.

A Book Sellers Theme

I started chasing the idea of a portfolio-style home page when I saw Chuck Wendig’s web site some years ago. (I call him Chucky Wendy.) I hunted around in his source code to find the name of it, bought it, and used it for years myself.

Chucky Wendy’s theme is called “Yin and Yang.” It’s on Envato here.

There are a couple of things I like about this theme. Overall I think the design is great, but it’s not really made for authors. As you can see, the portfolio images are landscape orientation, so you can’t see all of the book cover unless you click on the whole thing. That’s not ideal.

Another thing I don’t like is that clicking on the book image takes you to a page on your web site where you are obliged to describe your book to your reader in hopes that they’ll click yet again to be taken to Amazon or Kobo or Honest Bobs Sweet-Ass Book Hut.

The path to purchase is too long here.

Warning: Sales Douche Talk Ahead

I wish I could just write books and have checks appear, but since I’m a one-man operation — with the love and support of my wife and family, of course — I have to do everything: writing, marketing, and sales.

I want my path to purchase to be as short as possible. If I can entice a potential reader to click on the image of my book — ಠ__ಠ — I want them to get to the “buy” button before they think, “Wait, I’ve never heard of this guy. Humorous Fantasy and Science fiction? What the butts?!”

I also don’t want to confuse potential readers by making them wonder if they should buy my book on Kobo, nor do I want to make them laugh out loud by suggesting that they’d buy books at a Barnes and Noble.

Amazon’s page for my book is ideal. The Createspace paperback, Kindle version, and Audible versions are all right there and I don’t have to maintain a blurb on my website in addition to the one I already rewrite occasionally on Amazon.

Enter the Amazon Link Builder plugin.

I hate plugins!

Yeah. Plugins suck. Sure, they add features to WordPress. Features like “unexplained crashing” and “security vulnerabilities.” But this one is written by Amazon and my little red wagon is, for good or ill, hitched right to that star. Might as well ride on.

My theme is called Snaps, which is free for download here, but the home page content is made using Amazon Link Builder.

Once you’ve installed Amazon Link Builder you’ll have to hook it up to your Amazon Associates account for it to work. Note that you can’t transmit associate links in an offline manner, so no podcasts and no emails. But that isn’t a problem for my home page.

The Amazon Link Builder adds this button to page/post editing screen.

If you play around with that, you’ll see you have a few options for how to display your books. I made a custom template for mine that removed the price stuff and just showed the books cover. Here’s what my template looks like on Pastebin:

And here’s the CSS to go with it:

This creates a workable gallery of my book images that take clickers straight to Amazon. If those people buy something, I get a few cents as an associate. It’s not much money, but then, I’m a professional writer so I’m not really in a position to leave pennies lying around.

That’s it for the book section of my home page. Below that is a list of my latest posts using a shortcode generated by the Ultimate Post List widget. Easy peasy.

Hey! I hope this helps you.

15 Names for Science Fiction/Fantasy Characters

Feel free to use these in your work if you like. You don’t have to credit me if you do, but I’d love to hear about it. Also, I want a walk-on role in your TV/movie adaptation.

  1. Tarn Bwango
  2. Debbil Flot
  3. Scinious the Vile
  4. Soup Clatter
  5. Bowneedle
  6. Zekchiff Ustle
  7. Futsie Canwhistle
  8. Duntson MacGibbon
  9. Shedley Farson Feltree
  10. Dupp
  11. Salubrious Cheddar
  12. Missie Emstein
  13. Slam Chockrock
  14. Becky “Beck the Wreck” Wreckler
  15. Phil Boot

Yes You Can Be Like Me, A Competitive Professional Zip Liner

I would say the best thing about being on the cutting-edge of a developing sport is that a lot of the stuff I’m coming up with now will have whatever name I give it forever. You know, like Tony Hawk and the 900.

These days on the pro zip lining circuit we’re seeing the Purple Dangler, the Cat Scratch Feeler, Woozy Bandits, Forceful Bummers, Bone Drafts, 720 Nut Lathe. I heard Skye Tanner’s working on a Dipping Wick into a Toot Your Horn and her local line is only 100 meters long, so… I can’t wait to see that if she can pull it off. We’re at that level where it’s almost not, like, a competition anymore between us. We just try to learn from and be fueled by one another.

Obviously, we both want to win super bad though and we’re great competitors too, though, totally.

One of the moves I’m working on now; damn I can only think of like three lines in the world long enough for me to complete the whole thing. It’s really mind-blowing, you know? When you get to this level of competitive professional zip lining?

It’s not at all too late for you to get into this stuff. In fact, I welcome the competition. CrossFit people, gymnasts, martial arts people… Anyone with good mobility and high athleticism can learn to be a professional zip liner. If you work hard you might even be able to go pro like I did.

For me, it all started back in college when I was running the canopy tour at Big Walking in the Shenandoah valley. It’s crazy that I got my start in the Eastern U.S. like that because we just don’t have the big lines where I’m from like they do around Boulder where I live now. Humble beginnings, right?

Of course, I started on the line like any other kid: turning upside down, doing the Spider Man, then the Reverse Spider Man. I thought I was hot shit. Then I saw a kid pull off a Double Dutch into a Flippy Whisker and I lost my mind. Once I saw that I knew anything was possible.

If you don’t have a competition going near you — hey! — start one. Talk to someone with a line, organize a date, and throw up a flyer. If I’m in the area, the prize money’s right, and it fits my training schedule, I might just come by and show you how the big boys do it in competitive professional zip lining.

I’m abandoning my coffee table book “Stupid Birds of North America”

I was helping my brother-in-law move furniture. It was a long few days because of a death in the family. Trying to lighten the mood, I started riffing on how much I hate birds, most of all the Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), which should have its genus and species renamed to Branta assholis.

My riff worked. We laughed.

Fact is, birds — beau’iful plumage! — can be pretty terrible. They eat each other. They shit on themselves. The list goes on.

I thought it would be funny to write a parody of a bird watching field guide that hated birds species by species using copious photos. I still think it’s hilarious.

In order to get the photos I need, however, it’s necessary to rely on Creative Commons images. There are tons of these, which is great. The downside is, as I understand the license, if I use the images I’ll have to release my book Creative Commons as well.

I want photographers to get all the credit and monetary compensation they deserve, so I’m totally down with how Creative Commons works. But I can’t justify the time it takes to lay out each one of these pages in InDesign. I don’t mind work, per se, but I need to make money.

Rather than just shelve the project forever, I present it here for your enjoyment.

I’d intended this to be around 200 pages long, featuring two-page spreads on 100 birds.

If you’re affiliated with a publisher who’d like to see this project completed and can offer me money and help with licensing so that I can continue, I’d love to finish this.

Here is a PDF of the first 7 birds. Images below.


You can see from this list of credits why this project is a bit of a nightmare licensing-wise.

Licenses used:

Images (Name, Photographer, Title, Link to image, license):

  1. Mr. Quacks, Ray Dumas, “Black Duck,” https://www.flickr.com/photos/rtdphotography/3056956923/in/photostream/, CC BY-SA 2.0
  2. Charlie, Dick Daniels, “Female’s beak is dull green,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_black_duck#/media/File:American_Black_Duck_female_RWD6.jpg CC BY-SA 3.0
  3. Chadwick, Andreas Trepte, “Canada Goose,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada_goose#/media/File:Kanadagans_Branta_canadensis.jpg CC BY-SA 2.5
  4. Androose, Daniel D’Auria, “Flying,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada_goose#/media/File:Branta_canadensis_-near_Oceanville,_New_Jersey,_USA_-flying-8.jpg CC BY-SA 2.0
  5. Burt, Alan D. Wilson, “Blue-Winged Teal” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue-winged_teal CC BY-SA 2.5
  6. Burt (Again), Dan Pancamo, “Blue-Winged Teal” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Blue-winged_Teal.jpg CC BY-SA 2.0
  7. Dan the Hand, Francis C. Franklin, “Falcated duck, Anas falcata, at Martin Mere, UK” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falcated_duck#/media/File:Falcated_duck_1.jpg CC BY-SA 4.0
  8. Portia, Dick Daniels, “Female falcated duck” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falcated_duck#/media/File:Falcated_Duck_(Anas_falcata)_RWD3.jpg CC BY-SA 3.0
  9. Bernie Feathers, Bill Bouton, “A rare falcated duck, a “vagrant” from Asia, that arrived at CA’s Colusa National Wildlife Refuge in December 2011” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falcated_duck#/media/File:Falcated_duck_(6602072861).jpg CC BY-SA 2.0
  10. Checking a US $20 used by a Falcated Duck, Scott Nazelrod, “US $20 under blacklight” https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_$20_under_blacklight.jpg Public Domain
  11. Pat, Benjamin Keen, “Monteverde, Costa Rica” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_guan#/media/File:A_black_guan.jpg CC BY-SA 3.0
  12. Burke, Charlesjsharp, “Black guan (Chamaepetes unicolor), Bosque de Paz, Costa Rica” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_guan#/media/File:Black_guan_Bosque_de_Paz.JPG CC BY-SA 3.0
  13. Flippy Whipple, Kathy & sam, “A Grey-headed Chachalaca near Rancho Naturalista, Cordillera de Talamanca, Costa Rica.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey-headed_chachalaca#/media/File:Ortalis_cinereiceps_-near_Rancho_Naturalista,_Cordillera_de_Talamanca,_Costa_Rica-8.jpg CC BY-SA 2.0
  14. Bud & Turdwhiff, Joseph C Boone, “Gray-headed Chachalaca photo taken at Rancho Naturalista, Costa Rica.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gray-headed_Chachalaca.jpg CC BY-SA 3.0
  15. Durglas, Charlesjsharp, “Male great curassow (Crax rubra) on the Fortuna river, Costa Rica” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Great_curassow_male.JPG CC BY-SA 3.0
  16. Bippy, Arthur Chapman, “Great Curassow (Crax rubra) at Summit Park, Panama. Photographed on 5 April 2002” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Crax_rubra_(Great_Curassow)_-_female.jpg CC BY-SA 2.0


Book Report: An Unattractive Vampire by Jim McDoniel

Glittery vampires have had their day. Even Tom Cruise’s Lestat, with his frilly cuffs and meaningful glares, had his moment in the — forgive me — sun.

Mr. McDoniel’s main character, Yulric Bile, would happily crash something very heavy into the lot of them. For that, he must be our new favorite vampire.

The vampire Yulric has awakened after quite a long time under the earth to find that vampires are now sexy, preening TV stars with a code of conduct and no taste for proper violence. This irritates him, as it should.

This book is a hilarious (but not glittery) look at an ancient horror. It’s a great example of what a humorous book can be, not to mention a great example of what a vampire book can be.

If you’re into my brand of dark humor, weird fiction, things that go fart in the night, you’ll enjoy this one.

Go get “An Unattractive Vampire” on Amazon, then tell the author you liked it.