Reality TV, Shallow Characters, and Book Reviewers

I HATE REALITY TELEVISION!

In my humble opinion reality TV will be the death of television. Obviously, not many people agree with me – as far as I can tell – but I still feel that way. Every week some new reality show is being proclaimed the next big thing on some station or another.

Is there really a need for another dancing show, another “family feud” show of some sort or another, or another “improvement” show about some off-the-wall subject or “fix it up” type thing? And do those same things really have to invade our books as well?

So, here’s my question: Are reality shows, in-depth characters, and complex characters more for the reader or the professional critic?

Before you completely disregard the idea, see if this makes more sense than you think.

I used to like home improvement shows. Watching a team go in and fix up an old house for a client was kind of fun. Not my favorite way to spend an evening, but interesting when I took the time to watch. Even watching a group change the life of some needy family was alright. But then came the company that couldn’t seem to live together as they flipped a house for resale, the team that fought for three fourths of the show before pulling off the impossible just before the hour ended. Shows that could have lasted for half an hour were stretched to a full hour as we watched employees fight with their bosses, friends come nearly to blows as they tried to accomplish some task, and companies who seemed to be totally dysfunctional until ten minutes before the end of the hour when they would suddenly get their act together just enough to finish the task for that week.

“Face Off”, “Hot Set”, “Flipping…Wherever”, and any of the car makeover shows would be pretty good – if they were only half an hour long and just did what their name implies. But instead we have to put up with half the show being all about who’s mad at who, which person involved is going to turn on what other person, and who’s going to be kicked off because they don’t “play nice”, or can’t work under pressure, or get too distracted to do their job because of some big emotional trauma. At that point I find myself throwing up my hands in despair and exclaiming, “It isn’t worth wading through the garbage to get to the good stuff.”

Now that “reality mindset” is invading other parts of television as well. With the “success” of “Lost” everybody seems to think that we have the template for designing a great show. The result is, we don’t seem to be able to watch a weekly serial that doesn’t possess a large quantity of “reality” elements – for those of us that don’t like those elements — tough, get used to the new reality (pun intended).

I realize that there may not be another person in the world that feels that it’s all a big, crazy “emotional roller-coaster”, but I have to believe that there are others out there that are wanting an escape from reality rather than more of the same when they watch a show, or read a book. Are you looking for an exciting, action-filled conflict between good and evil, a larger than life hero who is able to show us how things can be rather than how they are? If so, it’s you and me against the world, baby!

It may be shallow, it may be cliche, and it may be unacceptable in today’s market; but it’s a lot more fun. I grew up reading westerns that always had the same type of cowboy who could be counted on to do what was right, even if we didn’t know much of anything more about them. Is there really only a market for pieces that make you think real hard or concentrate intently to finish it? Is there a place for shallow?

And that brings us to “shallow” characters.

What defines a shallow character in a work of fiction? Is it a character that we cannot get “inside the head of”, or is it something else? There is no doubt that a well-defined fictitious character should be one that we can feel for, interact with, and root for as they attempt to overcome a larger than life obstacle. But do they have to be so “flawed”?

It seems like the characters that are “superior” and “well-rounded” are often the same type of characters that I really don’t want to spend a lot of time with. While a great villain is one that we can connect with in some way, do we really want a bad guy that’s like us? Is there something more “real” about a hero who struggles with character flaws rather than having a strong moral compass? Is a protagonist “deeper” if they see things in shades of gray rather than seeing them in black and white?

I have what I believe is a legitimate question for you; do we really need characters that are so “real” that they become people we wouldn’t want our sons and daughters to date? Is there a place for a simpler, purer, less “layered” hero or Main Character?

So, now that I’ve stated my case – and possibly turned off every published author who may choose to read this piece – let’s move to the main point. Actually, it’s just the third point (in true alliteration style), but maybe there’s some way in which we can make it the main point.

I have no idea what it’s like to make a living as a critic. To constantly search for the best of the best, to compare everything read or seen, must be a difficult way to live. I can’t imagine what it’s like to compare every book, every piece of music, or every bit of food, to some standard; but I can ask what the standard is.

I just watched a few of the early episodes of the serial “Survivors”. If you haven’t seen it, it’s the story of a small group of people who survive a world-wide pandemic. They are forced together as complete strangers, and must attempt to survive and start a new life and world. When I got done watching, my wife – who had just been listening as she worked on the computer asked a simple question, “Is there anything happy on the show?”

My answer, “They just had a birthday party, isn’t that happy?”

I was enjoying the fact that they were trying to learn to live in a way, in a world, totally impossible to understand. She was very concerned that a large part of the show focused on the unpleasant part of that quest for survival.

Now, the fact of whether you feel like I do or like my wife, it does bring up an interesting point: Is one right and one wrong? Is one better than the other?
If I were a critic watching the same show, wouldn’t I naturally tend toward one viewpoint or the other? Is it possible to completely set aside the way we would naturally respond, in order to address a conflicting way to respond?

So, here’s my real question: Have we, in an attempt to find the next block-buster, best-selling book, tried to establish criteria that only truly fits under the category of what we like?

Yeah, I know, that’s an oversimplification; but there’s usually some truth in the simple. It seems that if we have to come up with some elaborate story to explain something, it might have some problems.

So, what is it? Is there some particular criteria that determines a best-seller? Are there certain things that can be written into a story that will assure it’s success? Or is it much more subjective than that?

What’s your feeling on the matter?

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The Value and Place of Critiques

or…

“What in the World is THAT All About?”

I would have to admit that I like to know what I’m doing, and for other people to know – or at least think – that I know.

I doubt if you struggle with that. Or maybe you do?

If that’s the case there’s a couple of things that have to be accomplished:
1. We have to have a working knowledge of the thing that we are supposed to be knowledgable about.
2. We have to make people believe that we know more than we actually do, in some situations.

Maybe that seems a little bit pessimistic, or a bit dramatic, but I think it’s probably more accurate than most of us care to admit. To do what we do, to try to make a life as a writer, we have to try to convince ourselves that we are at least somewhat expert in the whole area.

While you’re thinking about that, trying to digest whether you believe me or not; let me tell you a story.

I have the tremendous pleasure – most of the time it’s a pleasure – of teaching art to junior and senior high students at a local school. The joy of imparting even a little bit of knowledge to these young people is coupled with the opportunity of being around their infectious appreciation of life. In a word, I love working with young people.

The other day I sat across the table from a young exchange student who was working on a very impressive “Ironman” project. It combined paper mache’, acrylic paint, and lighting. The paper mache’ was done in such a way that Robert Downey Junior’s arm actually extended off the page.

I’m sure you’re incredibly impressed with this information, but that’s not what we really want to address. Later on the student had to perform a fairly simple procedure. What would have taken me about five minutes stretched to fifteen minutes or more; and this student has by no means a “do it on my own” personality.

Here’s the point we want to consider: When we believe we know what we’re doing, we have a tendency to develop a “blind spot” in areas we don’t have knowledge about!

Now, let’s go back to the idea of our desire to be “knowledgable” in the area of writing. We naturally will have a tendency to think that we have a handle on how to write. We just normally believe that our writing is superb until someone with more information lets us know that we’re wrong. Until someone points out a blind spot we will not know it’s there.

For that reason critiques become absolutely essential for every author, but especially for the pre-published writer. While every person who has done any writing needs to coontinue to address these blind spots, for the published author that has been partially accomplished by the company’s editors. Meanwhile, the self-published – or unpublished – writer will continue to have those same blind spots, and they may not be addressed. At that point, critiques become even MORE invaluable when self-publishing. If we don’t embrace a strong – even “harsh” – critique we will have a tendency to pass those blind spots on to the reader (a totally unacceptable practice if we desire to have that reader ever read anything else we publish).

So, the value of critiques cannot be overstated. But should we simply incorporate everything said about our writing into our work?

Time for another story…

Several months ago I submitted a small introduction to my upcoming book for critiquing to a very quality critique group. I received several very helpful responses, and one pretty painful one. This particular person proceeded to inform me that several ideas from the book had not been researched sufficiently. The words were along the line of “now you can see why research is so vital in one’s writing”.

This person, I think they had a desire to be helpful, had no idea that I had spent months researching the particular subject being addressed. I knew I was right, I just hadn’t included all of the information because I wanted the reader to discover many of the points this person had made as they read.

So, we have several points that must be considered as we critique our work:

1. Remember that the editor or one doing the critique is not omniscient. They should be willing to say that their information and ideas are limited. The truly professional people in this area always seem to make that statement, and the really good ones seem to be able to make you believe that the idea was really your idea to begin with.
2. Make sure that the one doing the critique is not trying to recreate your writing in their image. You have your own voice, and a critique should never destroy that. It seems to me that there is a tendency to see a particular approach, or audience, as the only one that matters in our current publishing environment. Just because 80% of readers are female doesn’t mean that all of those readers want only romances!
3. Play to your strengths while considering the possible improvements that an opposing voice can address. It sure seems that a particular author has plenty of room to write a work of staggering genius without that work having to fall within a certain parameter – it just has to be REALLY good.
4. Make sure that you end up feeling good about the story you have told.

So, there’s my beliefs on the matter of critiquing. Having said that you must understand that I am one month into the three month process of having my first book edited for publication. Check back in two months, these concepts may have changed greatly!

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Christian Aliens

Imagine the following scenario with me.

After years of scanning the universe for years for any sign of intelligent life, the unbelievable happens – we receive evidence that there is a very advanced race that is wanting to make contact.
Unlike most of our sci-fi movies and books, these particular aliens indicate that they would like to make contact on the planet we call Saturn.
Following a frantic deep space race undertaken internationally a ship is built and a crew assigned for the voyage.

Here’s where it gets a bit weird.

When the ship arrives in orbit around Saturn, they find that the race has already been there for some time, has created a landing area that is prepared for just this event, and is looking with great interest at how our ship will respond.
The crew arrives on the planet to find that, not only are they peaceful and advanced far beyond us, but many are what we would refer to as “Christians” as well. Complete with an understanding of a omnipotent, triune, omnipresent God; the idea of a Savior Who visited their planet to bring salvation and eternal life; and the concept of “original sin” and “eternal damnation for any who reject that salvation.
Unlike the planet Earth, a large majority of inhabitants of this planet have accepted the gift of salvation, and live their lives in a desire to work out that salvation in the way in which they respond to that gift.

Do you believe something like this is possible?

In a new book that I am working on I am forced to address this idea, and I am interested in hearing how others would respond to the following questions:
1. How would this revelation impact your worldview?
2. What are the implications of this on relationships with this race?
3. How would you respond to a resident of this planet and member of this race?

Responses to one or more of these questions would be appreciated.

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4. Unmanned military airplanes will continue to evolve.

Do names such as “Global Hawk”, “Predator”, and “Prowler” mean anything to you?

More than likely you’ve heard those names associated with the “War on Terror” or our ongoing military missions around the world. You are probably familiar with the fact that these are UAV’s or Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles

Let’s look at a few of them a bit:

ImageA. Global Hawk
Global Hawk is big. 116 feet from wingtip to wingtip, and 44 feet long; 8490 pounds empty and 22,900 pounds fully loaded; flies 400 miles per hour; and has a flight ceiling of 65,000 feet.

Global Hawk is powerful. With the ability to create a virtual battlefield, this plane is changing the way the US wages war. TheUAV.com website says, “During OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom), the Air Force also developed a full “reachback” capability for the Global Hawk, in which the UAV and its sensors were operated remotely from Beale Air Force Base, California, reducing Global Hawk’s logistical footprint in the field by more than 50 percent. Global Hawk crews used Internet-style chat rooms to stay in touch, literally forming “a worldwide virtual crew.” These chat rooms provided effective command and control over a weapon system that was spread across the globe. – Italics mine.

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B. Predator
The main workhorse in the UAV arsenal, this machine has a payload capacity of over 400 pounds, 24 hours of on-station time, can fly to 25,000 feet, and has the ability to provide that reconnaissance in any weather and either day or night

A second thing that makes this plane impressive is the fact that it can carry ordinance and can be either remotely operated or fully autonomous. This is a powerful weapon as well, but it’s still 49 feet wide and 27 feet long. There is still a hole.

The hole that needs to be filled is that of something which can be quickly and easily placed in the field – anywhere:

C. ER/MPUAS (Extended Range/Multi-purpose – Unmanned Aircraft System)
“MQ-1C Gray Eagle”

The C-130 transportable unmanned weapon that allows the military to have an intelligence asset in an area at the ‘drop of a hat’, this machine is unique.

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D. X-47A
With the amazing advances going on in this area, the way that unmanned flight is impacting data gathering and battlefield reconnaissance, what comes next?

The site theuav.com gives this explanation of the X-47A, “Northrop Grumman designed and built the X-47A with its own funds to demonstrate low-cost, rapid prototyping; robust unmanned vehicle management; and tailless aerodynamic qualities suitable for autonomous launch and recovery flight operations from an aircraft carrier. Lessons learned from the development and testing of X-47A will be used in support of the company’s X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System UCAS program. Built largely with composite materials and powered by a Pratt & Whitney JT15D-5C engine providing 3,200 pounds of thrust, X-47A measures 27.9 feet long with a nearly equal wingspan of 27.8 feet. The X-47A incorporates advanced autonomous flight control laws to account for directional control of its tailless design. The X-47A was designed in El Segundo at the Western Region business area of Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems. The vehicle was built at Scaled Composites in Mojave, Calif.”

This is the most fascinating one for me, and the inspiration behind the squadron of attack UAV’s in the book. The logic behind it, “If we remove the pilot from the plane, couldn’t that plane perform some pretty amazing aerial combat maneuvers?”

The debate over taking the pilot out of the plane has gone on for years, and I think it makes sense that we need a fighter PILOT in a fighter PLANE. But what about extremely high risk missions, or if we could put the pilot in the plane visually but not physically? It seems to me that we are only a few years away from planes that are flown from a console in a safe area while the planes themselves do battle in places where their human pilots could never go.

So, that’s my idea. I’d love to hear from you men and women who are in positions to actually talk about these issues with authority. Would you give me your opinions – or read a book that explores this dynamic?

Video: 7-year-old cancer patient runs for TD

Yeah, I love being from Nebraska – when something like this happens.

Big Ten Network

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Remember Jack Hoffman? He’s the young Nebraska fan who’s battling brain cancer and has formed a special bond with Nebraska legend Rex Burkhead. We featured Hoffman, 7, and his friendship with Burkhead on last year’s “The Journey,” a segment included in this post.

[ HOW TO SHARE OUR VIDEO: Learn the easy steps here. ]

Hoffman attended Saturday’s Red-White Spring Game, and he turned out to be the day’s biggest star. Midway through the fourth quarter, Hoffman lined up in the backfield and took it all the way to the house (video above).

That’s some special stuff, isn’t it?

“Oh, there truly is no place like Nebraska,” BTN color commentator Damon Bening said, as the Huskers lifted Hoffman onto their shoulders in the end zone.

This is what spring games should be about. Well done, Huskers!

Here’s the Hoffman segment from last year’s “The Journey”

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5. The division of Antarctica between so many nations is a volatile situation.

Today we meander back to some of the interesting story-lines I tried to include in “South Pole Vendetta”:

Futuristic story lines from “South Pole Vendetta”:
10. The South Pole – no longer inaccessible
9. Heroes don’t have to sleep with everyone who comes along.
8. North Korea is looking for respect and power on the world’s biggest stages.
7. Is there really an ocean of oil under the South Pole?
6. The atlatl is an actual, legitimate, weapon – sort of.
5. The division of Antarctica between so many nations is a volatile situation.
4. Unmanned military airplanes will continue to evolve.
3. Nanotechnology will change warfare in the near future.
2. The Switchblade may be the next generation of military aircraft.
1. Where’s the evidence for global warming?

We’re into some of the top story-lines, in my opinion, as we get to number five.

There are some amazing things related to the division of Antarctica among the nations with an interest there (there is an amazingly large number of them), that I would like to address.

When the rights and privileges treaty was signed in 1961 there were twelve nations with active interests on the continent, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. In the fourteen articles of the treaty a number of important things were addressed, such as:
The area is to be used for peaceful purposes – military presence for research and peace-keeping only,
Cooperation between nations would continue,
“The treaty does not recognize, dispute, nor establish territorial sovereignty claims; no new claims shall be asserted while the treaty is in force”,
All ice-shelves and land masses are covered – but not the surrounding water,
and, “All treaty states will discourage activities by any country in Antarctica that are contrary to the treaty”.

There were others, but these were all important ones.

“The treaty forbids any measures of a military nature, but not the presence of military personnel.” This quote is vital because it is the first important idea, which North Korea is able to exploit in our story.

Various military groups are consistently involved in the activity at the South Pole, and the US and others use the area to conduct extreme cold weather missions in basic research areas. But, there are NO active forces – that I’m aware of – on the continent. A nation could fairly easily invade the place, if there was ample reason and technology to do so; and if they were ethically willing to go against the treaty.

Currently there are fifty member nations; but the US reserves the right to claim areas on the continent – along with Russia. North Korea has also signed the treaty, but their adherence to those treaties seems to be tenuous at best. This brings us to the number five article above. When North Korea decides to invade Antarctica in a desperate attempt to gain cheap oil, the result must be a concerted effort to remove this threat. Of course the use of military force could be debated for quite some time, but the question of defending ourselves as a nation must enter into that discussion. While the US Marshals are currently responsible for peace-keeping, a stronger force would be needed for any action taken against the treaty.

“John Keegan and Andrew Wheatcroft, in their 1986 book ‘Zones of Conflict: An Atlas of Future Wars’, make the point that strategic interests in Antarctica derive from two causes: economic and strategic. Antarctica has great potential economic value, in terms of mineral and oil resources. Strategically, there was continuing concern about keeping the Cape Horn route available for free passage during the Cold War, as, among other things, U.S. aircraft carriers cannot pass through the Panama Canal. The Falkland Islands, Keegan and Wheatcroft go on to say, dominate the Drake Passage, the ‘stretch of stormy water separating South America from the Antarctic’. This was a less publicized factor during the Falklands War.

“However, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and increasing competition for fossil fuel resources, the ‘economic’ rather than the ‘strategic’ rationale is probably more important in the early twenty-first century.”

I’ll let you decide how great the threat of war over Antarctica is, but haven’t we fought a war or two where the question of oil entered the discussion?

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