A History Lesson

Totally and completely unrelated to any current political platform being offered up by any major American political party, I offer up this brief history lesson.  As you may recall, my day job is teaching social studies, and historians (yes, I call myself a historian.  Yes, it’s pretentious as all get-out.  No, I’m not going to stop) like to think that, if folks bothered to actually listen to us once in a while and learn the lessons of the past, maybe we could stop repeating the dumb mistakes our great-great-great-great-grandparents made.  Or maybe we’d still make the same mistakes, but we’d make them with more interesting fashion choices or something, I don’t know.

Today, we’re going to talk about the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, a set of laws so wrongheadedly-awful that they actually killed an entire major political party.

The United States in 1798 was in a weird situation.  Under President John Adams, the country had some major decisions to make about foreign and domestic policy.  Britain and France were having a bit of a to-do over in Europe, and the United States wanted to sell stuff to both of them but didn’t want to get dragged into the conflict.  To that end, President George Washington had made a statement of neutrality one of his last major acts as Commander-in-Chief.  Washington was no fool, of course: he knew the US wasn’t up for a major conflict so close on the heels of the Revolution.  Neutrality allowed the US to keep selling things to both countries without having to pick a side.

Adams and the Federalists would try to take things further, though.  Using their win in 1796 as some sort of mandate to draft policies of isolationism and anti-immigrant fear-mongering, the Federalists in Congress created a series of laws, the Alien Acts, that gave the president the power to deport immigrants for (essentially) whatever reason he wanted, prohibit new immigrants from entering the country, and make it vastly more difficult for immigrants to become naturalized citizens (the less-discussed Naturalization Act, as part of the laws collectively called the Alien and Sedition Acts by most history textbooks, lengthened the time you had to be a legal resident of the nation from seven years to 14 years…two years longer than most immigrant worker visas lasted at the time).

The Sedition Act was even weirder.  It made it illegal for newspapers – or, well, anyone – to criticize the government in any way, punishable by jail time and fines and all sorts of lovely stuff.  All the sort of stuff you’d expect from a group that definitely thought it was doing the right thing, right?

Now, there are some ulterior motives behind laws.  The Alien Acts were designed to keep out “undesirables,” such as the Irish, who were not sending their best (to hear the Federalists tell of it).  It was surely no coincidence that the Federalists’ political rivals, the Democratic-Republicans, included more immigrants in their ranks.  Surely these laws were just spite aimed at weakening their opponents?  No political party in the United States would ever do that!

Anyway, turns out those laws were seriously unpopular.  Adams and the Federalists lost the election of 1800 to Thomas Jefferson (with a little help from the only other major Federalist in the country other than John Adams, Mr. Alexander Hamilton), and the Federalists were basically a non-entity on the national level after that.  Hell, the next couple of decades saw nothing but Democratic-Republican candidates win the White House.  They didn’t call the 1810s the Era of Good Feelings because everyone liked how itchy their wool suits made them feel.  It wasn’t until the populist jackass Andrew Jackson took the office that another national political party, the Whigs,  would even emerge to challenge the Democratic-Republicans.  It didn’t help that Martin Van Buren was all mutton chops and no action, or that Jackson killing the Second Bank of the United States destroyed the only federal fiscal regulatory tool the government had and ended up precipitating the Panic of 1832 (the event that killed Van Buren’s presidency), but that’s all a story for another post.

My Favorite Photograph

I like taking pictures. I’m generally not great at it, but I still enjoy taking the odd snapshot when the mood strikes me.

There’s one exception to my photographic mediocrity: a picture I took in Sleepy Hollow, New York, several years ago when we’d gone up to visit my wife’s family. We were being all touristy in the village, checking out the churchyard cemetery where Washington Irving (of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman fame) is buried. The church itself was quite old and rather lovely, that it was closed at the time. Undaunted, I used my phone (and a photography app called Hipstamatic) to take a picture through the window. I ended up picking up a reflection from te window, creating an effect that I was tremendously pleased with:

I was afraid I’d lost this photo when my laptop hard drive crashed last year, but thankfully I’d posted it to Facebook and was able to recover it from there. 

Lazy Summer

I’ve been pretty lazy so far this summer.  I spent the first couple of weeks of it sleeping in (or getting up, driving my wife to work, then coming back home and taking a long nap) and binge-watching several shows on Netflix.  The past couple of weeks, I’ve been driving for Uber, which has been a novel experience.

Editing has started, though it’s going slowly.  I’ve made it to page 11 (of 118) of the manuscript.  Admittedly, most of the editing for The Hidden Throne (book 2) will go pretty quick, because this book has already been through three rounds of self-editing.  It was the only novel I ended up self-publishing, after all.

I have signed contracts for THT and a short story, both of which will appear sometime next year.  So that’s pretty exciting!  It does mean I need to get on the stick with the editing.

I’ve got a month or so left before I have to report back to school for teacher inservice.  In that time, I should be able to get THT edited, and maybe get some more work done on book 5.

In the meantime, though, I have to go.  Season Three of Bojack Horseman ain’t gonna binge-watch itself!

Summer Break

It’s been a relaxing summer break so far.  I haven’t accomplished a fraction of the things I wanted to do yet, but I keep telling myself there are several weeks left in the break and I’ll probably get around to most of them eventually.

Today is going to be a big writing-related day.  I’ve got a couple of contracts for upcoming releases to look over and sign (new stories for next year!  Hurray!), a non-fiction article to proofread and edit, and it would be good if I made some progress on editing book 2.

I did buy a new guitar amp yesterday, apropos of nothing.  A basically brand-new Fender Blues Jr. owned by an older gentleman who’d bought it but never took it out of the home.  Got a nice deal on it, too.  The second-hand musical instrument world can be a mite expensive on occasion; a big reason I grabbed this particular amp was that it was the cheapest I’d seen one of them on craigslist in quite some time.  Everyone wants $500 for their battered and hard-used amplifier, and they always think they’re doing you a favor by offering up such a bargain.  But you can buy one of these amps new for just a little more than that, so it ain’t quite the deal they claim.  This guy offered what was essentially a new amp at far less than his competitors on craigslist, so I grabbed it.  I’m looking forward to making the neighbors complain about the noise.

I should also mention that I’ve set up a Patreon page.  Not for my writing, mind you, but for my webcomic.  It’d be nice if that started earning me a bit of extra cash.  Feel free to check it out; I recently redid the reward tiers and made things more comic-relevant, so it’s worth taking a look at.

Heavy Heart

Photo (C) 2016 Ting Shen

I spent last night sitting in my living room, my heart filling up with grief.

It sorta felt like that all week, honestly.  Terrible things keep happening out there, and I feel completely powerless to stop them.

I’ve never had to deal with fear of the police.  Sure, I get anxious when a cop is driving behind me, and one time in high school an off-duty officer in an unmarked car chased me across town at midnight, but I’ve never believed the police were just searching for a reason to pull me over or that there was much of a chance I would die if I didn’t do exactly what they said.  I’m a straight white male (or “the lowest difficulty setting,” according to author John Scalzi), and that stuff just doesn’t usually happen to guys with my skin tone.

The fact that I can qualify that statement with a snarky reference to my pasty-pale skin is kind of sickening.  No one should have to worry about being shot by a cop just because their taillight is out.  No one should have to explain to their kids that you have to behave absolutely perfectly when interacting with a cop to avoid being killed, and even then you may still get shot.

And none of that is to say that cops deserve to get shot, either.  My uncle was a cop in Tulsa for years.  He’s a big, gruff-sounding teddy bear of a guy.  He looks and sounds imposing as hell, and he once took out a chainlink fence with a guy who was resisting arrest (or so the story goes), but he also tries to break up fights between teenagers (he’s in his 70s now) to help prevent bad things from happening.

I’m an empathetic person.  Watching people be upset upsets me.  Other people crying will switch on my waterworks in a trice.  And this morning, as I go about my usual business, there’s a part of me that just wants to curl up and mourn.

Featured image (C) 2016 Ting Shen.

Independence Day!

Happy Fourth of July, folks!  If you live outside of the US, happy Monday, I guess, a pair of words that’ve never gone together in the history of ever.

Getting To Know You: Eddie Hazzard

I thought it might be fun to give you guys little introductions to some of the characters you’ll encounter in the Hazzardous Pay books.  We’ll start today with the hero of our story, Eddie Hazzard.

Eddie is too damn clever for his own good.  He’ll be the first one to tell you that, too.  He sounds far more educated than he actually is; he likes using big words and proper grammar and punctuation.  This might be the real reason he drinks constantly: grammar.  Not a dark and mysterious past that will be slowly unspooled over the course of several novels.  That would be boring.

Eddie is half-Cherokee, half-European mutt.  He doesn’t know much of anything about his father, except that the man didn’t hang around after getting Eddie’s mom pregnant.  Eddie’s pretty philosophical about his family, though the philosophy is mostly, “Dear sweet Jesus, keep me away from all of them, they’re crazy.”

Physically, Eddie is about 6’1″, broad-shouldered, and in his mid- to late-30s.  Eddie got his mother’s complexion and hair, though he doesn’t seem to take very good care of personal hygiene.  “Unkempt” is the word that springs readily to mind when you see Eddie.  He’s starting to get soft around the middle – too many liquid lunches, and breakfasts, and dinners – and he’s a habitual smoker, despite the fact that almost the entire city of Arcadia has outlawed tobacco products.  He’s still fairly athletic, though he’s prone to serious coughing fits and a short wind when it comes to endurance tasks.  He likes to dress like a walking anachronism: gray suit, tie always loosened and the top button of his shirt undone, and a battered, stained old trench coat over it all.  He also wears a fedora, because sometimes narrative conventions are stronger than fashion sense.

Like so many pulp heroes before him, Eddie’s strength isn’t that he’s the strongest, or the smartest, or the fastest.  About the only thing he really has going for him is that he’s a determined guy, beneath the apathetic facade, and a loyal friend and ally.  He can also take punishment, soaking up pain and damage and still getting back on his feet.

If you peel away all the layers, you’re left with a guy who wants to see justice happen, even if it means bending a few rules.  Especially if he can get a decent paycheck out of it.

Featured image is the original character sketch of Eddie Hazzard by Adam Askins.


I’m still neck-deep in the first draft of Book 5, but I was chatting with my publisher the other day and she asked when she could expect to see Book 2.  She wants to go ahead and get it placed on the calendar for next year.  The publisher has added a couple of new authors in the past few weeks, which means more releases, which means forward planning becomes a must.

And that also means that, today, I started going over The Hidden Throne and doing some edits and revisions.  It’s going to take some time – there were a couple of plot threads that I left dangling in The Invisible Crown that I want to pick up and weave into Book 2 (see how I extended that metaphor?  Yeah, that was good), and just some general clean-up and revision on a book that I haven’t touched in over a year.

I have an uneasy truce with editing.  It’s far from my favorite part of writing, but I recognize its importance.  Sure, I know an editor will look over the manuscript once I pass it along to the publisher, but it’s sorta like those folks who clean their houses before they have a cleaning service come in to clean.  You don’t want the pros thinking you’re a complete slob or crap at this thing, so you do your best to have everything all tidied away and make sure the proverbial underwear isn’t hanging from the metaphorical lampshade when the house cleaners arrive.  It’s sorta like that.  I’m sure there will still be a few missing words here and there, typos and misplaced commas and run-on sentences and things like that.  I’m sure there will be bits that need revision and work when the manuscript gets back to me.  But I still want what I send out to be as polished as possible.  Plus, there’s the new bits I want to work into it before it goes out.

So, the long and short of it is, I’m in editing mode for the next week or two at least.  It’s probably for the best, because I was about to hit a wall in Book 5’s progress, and I need a little time to recharge the ol’ batteries.

Anyway, if you hear a scream of eternal suffering from Northern Virginia, that’s just me editing.

Wrapping Up

The end of another school year is upon us!  Praise be!  And for only the second time in my adult life, I’m not working this summer!

Well, I am.  Just not, y’know, at work.

This summer is actually shaping up to be a busy one.  I’m actively searching for tutoring clients and editing clients (hint hint), and I’m planning on doing an awful lot of writing.  Here’s the writing plan:

  1. Make some changes/edits/alterations to Book 2 and get it sent off to the publisher so we can start on the editing process and get it placed on the schedule for next year.
  2. Work on some of the old Hazzard short stories so we can work something up with all of those.
  3. Finish the first draft of Book 5.
  4. Maybe write some new short stories?
  5. Maybe write one of the other novel ideas I have kicking around in my head?\
  6. Profit.

Now, that last one is probably going to be the sticking point, but you get the idea.  Lots of writing time scheduled!  I should designate a space in the house for writing instead of just, y’know, sitting on the couch to do it.  There are too many other distractions (like the X-Box and its access to games and movies and Netflix).  Plus, I’ve got this nice desk up in the bedroom that never gets used (except as a flat surface upon which to stack random junk, in which capacity it’s used constantly).

Anyway, off to go email my publisher about what we’re going to do with all the short stories and Book 2!

The Quiet One

I was a quiet kid.  Spent most of my time reading books, as shocking as that may be.  Sure, I could get loud and boisterous when I wanted to; my brothers and I were famous for yelling at each other when we were fighting, which happened pretty frequently.  But, on the whole, I was a shy, introverted individual who spent most of his time lost in his own thoughts.

It’s kind of bizarre, therefore, that so many of the things I enjoy doing now are performative.  I mean, I spend my days teaching, which is 90% performance, 10% planning, and 5% knowing when to pick your battles (those may not add up right; I teach history, not math).  In my free time, I’m either drawing, writing, or playing music, all of which I end up putting up on the internet somewhere (or sending off to my publisher so she can get books made out of it).  It’s like, in order to balance out my natural inclination to be withdrawn and isolated, I’ve chosen to put this massive chunk of who I am – my creativity and my effort and my enthusiasm and my dreams – out there where anyone can criticize it however they want.  I don’t know if I’m just masochistic or what, but it’s a little odd.

I’m still a rather quiet person.  I can spend hours not saying a word, or hours talking non-stop, depending on my mood.  For instance, on the morning I’m writing this, I’ve said maybe two dozen words since I got up.  I may end up talking a lot more when my students come in, or they may spend the period working quietly and independently on their assignments.

All I really know is, you have to watch out for the quiet ones.  We contain multitudes.

Bad Poetry (A Poem)

I spent (or misspent) a good chunk of my youth writing really bad poetry.

Now, I can admit that it was bad, ’cause most of it certainly wasn’t good.  But, in keeping with internet memes I see on a near-daily basis, you gotta get the bad words out so you can get to the good ones.  If that’s true, I’ve got a lot of really excellent words coming up.

In celebration of remembering that I still somehow have an active livejournal, I present to you a new poem about writing bad poems.  I hope you enjoy it.

“Bad Poetry”

Everyone should write bad poetry in their youth

Something to look back on in your dotage

And cringe at

Share it with your children and loved ones

Only once

Then put it back in the shoebox

You took from under the bed

And burn it as an offering

To who you once were.


Experiment with form

Play with iambs and meter

Couplets and triplets

Haikus and free verse monstrosities

Toy with structure

and design

capitalization (and unnecessary punctuation)


Follow all the rules

Break all the rules

It’s poetry

That’s what it’s designed for


Above all, be passionate

Be fiery

Write words wringed from your soul

Vomit them up on the page

As if you had no choice in the matter

As if keeping them inside

Would light a bonfire in your belly

Revel in the joy or the angst of it

Because the worse it is, the more you felt

The more you felt, the more you lived.


Influences, Part 2: Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes

I loved the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes.  Growing up, it was always the one comic I looked forward to reading more than any other in the newspaper.  My freshman geography teacher in high school read them to the class first thing every morning.   He also – mind you, this is just speculation – added a bit of something extra to his coffee every morning.  But it was his last year before retirement, so I think he was a little beyond caring at that point.

My own comics reflect more than a little influence from Bill Watterson’s masterpiece of sequential storytelling.  I’m nowhere near his mastery of facial expression and body language, and I’ve struggled to achieve his seemingly off-hand skill at suggesting a very detailed background with a few simple strokes, but he gives me something to aim for.

Above all, though, I fell completely, head-over-heels in love with the Tracer Bullet character.

(c) Universal Comics Syndicate

A lot of my approach to the tone and rhythm of dialogue and narration in the Hazzardous Pay books owes a pretty massive debt to Calvin’s imaginary private eye.  When I imagine Hazzard’s world, there’s more than a healthy dose of Tracer Bullet in there.

(c) Universal Comics Syndicate

Tracer Bullet may not have been the most frequently-recurring character in Calvin & Hobbes, but he was always one of my favorites.  Tracer’s look, his implied heavy drinking and chain smoking (crazy to think this was a comic strip that ran in thousands of papers, was viewed by millions of people, and featured a kid imagining he was smoking and drinking), his over-dramatic narration…they’re all pieces of Hazzard now.  Just as Watterson was doing an over-the-top homage to the film noir of the Golden Age of Hollywood, I like to think Hazzard is an homage to the beautiful absurdity of things like Calvin & Hobbes.

And they’re a damn-sight better than any of Frank Miller’s noir-influenced comics.