Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Another Source of Instant Gratification!

If you've been slavering to read The Last Protector, but have been determined to do so on your Sony e-book Reader, slaver no longer! Just hop on over to the Instant Gratification section of the Last Protector page, and there you'll find a link to the Sony e-book Store site. Or, if your need is too urgent to click through two links, just CLICK RIGHT HERE. Thrills, adventure, romance, and the world's strongest hair spray are just seconds away!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

NaNoWriMo, One More Time...

I went to the end-of-the-event "thank goodness it's over" party for National Novel Writing Month (the Naperville chapter of it, anyway) over the weekend, and picked up a couple more small insights into the ways in which NaNoWriMo reminds me of software projects I'd worked on (I've written two previous posts on the subject; you can read them here and here).

First, I heard from a few people that I'm wrong to assume they start with a blank piece of paper on November 1 and just start writing like mad. Many, it seems, plan for one or two months (some longer than that). They sketch out characters and setting, come up with plot, maybe even outline the whole book so that they're all ready to start hammering out words when the month officially begins. Hmm. At this point NaNo begins to look a lot like the coding step of a software project done under an old-fashioned waterfall model, doesn't it?

Let's look at this for a moment: some forty years ago, Fred Brooks observed that coding accounts for perhaps one-fourth to one-sixth the total effort in a software project. Another quarter-to-third is taken in design and architecture (if the project's being done well), and as much as a half is spent testing and bug-fixing. So, if somebody spends two months before NaNoWriMo planning and outlining (that is, designing), and three months afterward editing (testing and fixing), then producing an actual book that's ready to submit for publication should take about six months. Of course, most NaNo participants admit to banishing all other activities during the month of November, so it might be more accurate to say they get two months' worth of work (at a more "normal" level of activity) done during the NaNo event, which would suggest an overall book cycle of two months planning, two months (at a normal pace) writing the draft, and four to six months for editing and fixing.

So what? Well, probably nothing in the case of NaNoWriMo, as people are just doing this for their own amusement. But perhaps it is a symptom of a human behavior that shows up in projects as well: the tendency to see "the project" as only the stage where something countable is being made, and thereby underestimate its overall size. NaNoWriMo, like the coding stage of a software project, is the part of the iceberg that's above the surface. Perhaps that's why so few NaNo books have made it into print: when participants finish the month of writing and see how much work remains, they just quietly give up. Rather like software projects that get into unit test, only to find out how much work actually remains, and quietly fade away.

Then again, perhaps so many NaNo novels don't ever get through editing simply because their authors aren't interested in editing. Peruse the NaNoWriMo forums, and you'll see a lot of messages in which people are already planning or counting down to next November, already talking about the next novel they're going to write. Rather like people I knew who liked to write code, but didn't particularly like to do design, architecture or testing. Go figure.

So, what's the point? I'm not sure. David Schmaltz thinks I've got enough here for another article, but so far all I've got is a series of observations, particularly observations of similarity. Where's the aha!, the insight, the point? Stay tuned...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The World Turned Upside Down

Some things in life you just expect will never change. The sun comes up in the east, goes down in the west. Spring follows winter. The Cubs fold in September, and the Bears drive the length of the field, only to stall out on the four-yard line.

And in political scandals, my brother's observation holds: Republicans get into trouble over money and power, while Democrats get into trouble over sex. 'Twas ever thus. Bill Clinton's dalliances in the White House led to his impeachment; George Ryan's bribe-taking landed him in the Big House. Gary Hart's run for the presidency ended aboard the good ship Monkey Business; Richard Nixon's presidency ended with the Watergate break-in.

Of course, there have been a few signs things are getting out of whack--Republican Larry Craig got into a spot of trouble in an airport men's room, while Democrat William Jefferson was found with ninety thousand bucks he shouldn't have had. But Craig didn't actually do anything more than tap his feet the wrong way in the presence of an undercover cop (word to the wise: do not turn on your iPod while in a public restroom), and Jefferson's ninety grand were stashed in a freezer, of all things (a pro like Jack Abramoff would have had that money safely stashed in the Cayman Islands). These could be seen as aberrations, the exceptions that proved the rule. And anyway, the Natural Order of Things quickly reasserted itself as Democrat Eliot Spitzer had to resign as governor of New York after being caught hiring prostitutes, and Republican Ted Stevens was convicted of taking bribes. Ah, reassuring normality...

But now, along comes Ill-Annoy governor Rod Blow-dry-o-vich, he of the expensive hair and more-expensive daily commute, upsetting the natural order of things with a bribery scandal that makes George Ryan look like a Boy Scout. What gives? Is this nominal Democrat really a Republican at heart? Or has the world really turned upside down?

NaNoWriMo, Revisited

Two whole weeks have now elapsed since I "won" National Novel Writing Month by convincing the automated word counters that I had composed 51,000 alphabetic strings separated by blanks and punctuation. A couple posts down, I compared the NaNoWriMo process to some software projects I've seen (not necessarily successful ones), particularly the emphasis on producing quantity, the intentional avoidance of testing and fixing (that is, re-reading and editing), and the assumption that the quality can be put in later.

Since then, I've had a couple more thoughts about the process. First, I found that I am going to have to do a major restructuring of my NaNoWriMo book if I want to whip it into publishable shape. I organized the major objects (that is, the scenes and chapters) in a more or less chronological order, so the point of view flips around. However, this gives a lot of stuff away too early, and makes it hard to see the characters develop. So I'm probably going to rearrange things, so that the story is told entirely from one character's point of view up through the point where everybody's in the same place together. Then, if I can make it work, I'll go back and catch up the essentials from the other characters' points of view. Hey, if Tolkein could make it work in Lord of the Rings...

Software people have a word for this: refactoring. You've got the right collection of interacting objects, but they're arranged incorrectly. Re-arrange them, adjust the interactions, reorganize the stuff so that it works the way you want it to.

I'm still stuck on the idea that it ought to be possible to write the 50,000 words of NaNoWriMo without simply ignoring quality, though. This leads me to wonder if I could apply the principles of agile software development to a book-writing sprint. The relevant concepts are these:
  • You build incrementally. Each new addition represents a meaningful new "story."
  • At all times, the thing you've built is functional. In the case of software, this means that you always have a working system; each addition simply extends the set of things it'll do. In the case of growing a novel, it means (I think) that you start with a simple story or scene, which is a complete tale in itself, but which grows in the telling.
  • You test continually. Each new feature is accompanied by tests to assure that all the old stuff still works. I think for a high-speed novel, this would require working in teams--I read yours while you read mine, every day.
I have no idea whether this would work, but I think it'd be interesting to try. And it gives me an excuse to attempt NaNoWriMo next year...

Monday, December 1, 2008

How Do Vampires Eat? Depends...

Between substitute teaching in a high school (at the time the movie Twilight hit the screen) and doing National Novel Writing Month, I've been exposed to a lot of chatter about vampires lately. I think the movie's number one at the box office this week and it seemed as if something like half the NaNoWriMo books involved them in one form or another. People seem to have a romantic attachment to the old bloodsuckers (oddly enough, they don't have the same attachment to leeches, which are arguably more useful than the undead).

I've never been quite as enamored of vampires as characters. For one thing, the physics always baffled me: how can a 150-pound human turn into a 200-pound wolf and then into a three-ounce bat? There's this little thing called the law of conservation of mass. Well, Andrew Fox dealt with this question in his most entertaining book Fat White Vampire Blues. I'm not going to give away the secret, but I will say it's a very satisfying resolution of the physics question.

But now, courtesy of NPR's Science Friday show, we've got a new problem in vampire engineering: fluid flow. According to biology professor and author Bill Schutt, blood is a pretty thin soup--almost entirely water, with a little bit of salt and protein, and no fat at all. Which means that vampire bats (and other creatures that live on blood) have to consume a lot of it. Which in turn means they have to get rid of a lot of water--if Dracula empties his victim's veins, he's going to ingest a gallon of water, which is about four times what an average person excretes in a day. No kidney stones for the undead, I guess, but a major disposal problem. According to Schutt, vampire bats solve this problem by simultaneously feeding and peeing. Well, doesn't that add a little something to the romantic vampire mystique?

However, I've never seen a vampire movie (or read a vampire book) in which the undead unzip before dining, so the question arises: do vampires just possess the world's largest bladders? Or are they all secretly going around in those NASA diapers, the ones that hold a full day's worth of urine?

The answer to that question is, of course... depends.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

National Novel Writing Month as a Software Project

Well, my National Novel Writing Month project crossed the finish line the day before Thanksgiving: 50,000 words in the file (lovingly counted by NaNoWriMo's computers), a beginning, middle and end (lovingly checked by me), and something resembling a plot, characters and setting. In NaNoWriMo parlance, I am a "winner," though all it entitles me to is the little graphic (at right) saying I'm a winner. I'd rather have a nice fat publishing contract... Oh, wait, I already have one of those--and if I'd been paying more attention to what I should be doing, I'd have spent the month promoting The Last Protector. Oh well, writing, especially in a sort of social event context, is more fun.

Okay, so I put fifty thousand words, most of them in more-or-less grammatical sentences, into a document that (I think) tells at least the rudiments of a story. So what? To be honest, I'm not sure myself. Certainly, I don't have a novel here, at least not yet. Maybe not at all. For one thing, a novel is longer than 50K words (The Last Protector weighs in at about three times that). The Shape of Things (my current working title, subject to further change) will need to at least double in size before I consider it worthy of trying to sell.

More important, before I'd be willing to toss a manuscript at a publisher or agent, I'd need to believe it really tells a story, complete with beginning, middle, and end, interesting characters and situations, puzzles and solutions, conflict and resolution, sin and redemption... y'know, all those things that make a novel a novel and not just a collection of unrelated events. And that's a place in which the whole NaNoWriMo philosophy sort of lets me down. The NaNo system stresses only producing a large number of words on a short schedule. The "plan" includes a quota of 1667 words a day; do this for thirty days and you'll cross the finish line on the last day. There's a nice animated display on the website, showing your daily progress. Attend one of the "write-in" events, where people gather to urge each other on toward the elusive goal, and you'll be swept up in "word wars," races to see who can create the most words in a fixed period. Fabulous (your valuation may vary) prizes await!

But what about quality? The words are counted by a machine, and if the machine counts over 50,000, you're a "winner." That's that. Matter of fact, the NaNo pep-talk emails remind the writer to avoid time-wasting things like editing, revising, even going back and seeing if the stuff you wrote yesterday makes any sense at all. "Never look back! November is for writing, you can edit in December." In part, this is a simple technical issue: the only thing the software at NaNoWriMo World Domination Headquarters can actually measure is the number of words you wrote. It can't determine whether those words are put together into actual sentences, let alone whether those sentences fit together to tell a story. (In truth, the software doesn't actually count words; it counts clumps of characters separated by spaces and punctuation. To a word-counting program, "xyzzy" is a word.)

It reminded me of working in the software industry, where I often saw projects that "managed" (and I put the word in quotes for a reason) by setting arbitrary goals (like 50,000 words in a month; or 300,000 non-commentary source lines by four programmers in one year), making a linear schedule (1667 words a day, or 375 source lines per programmer per day), and obsessively counting the one thing they can count (words, or lines that pass the compiler's syntax checks). Testing can be done later; this part of the schedule is for filling up files. Next month (or next year), we'll find out if any of the stuff worked. Or, to be a bit cruder, both NaNo and the software industry seem at times a lot like toilet training: you don't care how much the stuff stinks; all that matters is where, when and how much gets produced (thanks to Jerry Weinberg for that pungent metaphor).

In defense of NaNoWriMo (but not of software projects), I should probably note that a lot of people who take the "50K in 30 days" challenge are people who haven't been taught how to write a long piece, and for whom the greatest challenge is to get past the terror of the blank page. The "never look back, never edit" advice does at least keep writers from spending the whole month re-doing the first two paragraphs in search of impossible perfection. (Of course, there's something to be said for getting the first few paragraphs as perfect as possible--they're the first thing that agents, publishers, editors and often readers are going to look at. If you don't hook 'em here, you won't hook 'em at all, and it won't matter how good the rest of your book is. That's why the opening of The Last Protector got rewritten close to a dozen times.)

Nevertheless, the problem remains the same: just as you can't test quality into fundamentally bad software (though this doesn't stop a lot of projects from trying), I don't think you can edit quality into a crappy novel. Unless your "editing" ends up being a complete, end-to-end replacement of plot, characters, setting, dialogue--the equivalent of the old auto-repair advice to unscrew the radiator cap and drive a new car under it.

I found I couldn't stick to the NaNoWriMo discipline of "never look back, never edit." I kept going back and changing things when I wrote something on page 57 that required a specific setup back on page 35. And then I discovered what wretched crap page 35 was--what was I thinking when I wrote this--and so I rewrote a few hundred words to make them even marginally decent.

Anyway, the experiment in high-speed writing is over for now. I have some loose ends to tidy up, a few stub scenes to flesh out, and then I'm going to put the thing away for at least a couple months. With any luck, I'll be able to concentrate on selling a few more copies of the book I have in print, so that my publisher will want to consider the follow-on book (which I also didn't work on during November because I was doing NaNo, sigh). When I come back to it in February, I'll decide whether it's the seed of a real book or just a dead raccoon in the middle of the roadway.

Speaking of the roadway, perhaps the nicest thing about finishing the NaNoWriMo project yesterday is that I got to spend today out on the road on my Harley. Sunshine, pretty-nice-for-late-November temperatures, and $1.57-per-gallon gas made for a lot more fun than sitting in front of a keyboard sticking words together. (And it's supposed to be equally nice tomorrow. Whoopee!!)

CONSUMER ADVISORY: the book advertised for sale on this page was not created using the NaNoWriMo Method. I did The Last Protector the old-fashioned way, lovingly crafting, writing and rewriting every word over a nine-year period.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Halfway There, and Finally Ahead Of Schedule

Yesterday I hit two milestones in my "NaNoWriMo" (National Novel Writing Month) project: I passed the halfway point (25,000 words written), and for the first time my end-of-the-day word count was above the "scheduled" number of words for this day (that is, at the end of the 16th day, I had 27,400 words written; the schedule says that at the end of that day I needed to have at least 26,667 written to reach the goal of 50K by November 30).

Of course, a fair number of those 27.4K words are probably crap; this is the downside of the whole NaNoWriMo idea. I doubt that many of these written-in-a-month books will be in anything resembling publishable shape by the end of the month. Or the end of next year, for that matter. I'm not making any plans for the thing I'm writing as a part of this event. When I'm done, I'll put it away for a month while catching up on other writing matters (I promised Karina Fabian an article or two on the corporate religion of "Spafuism," from The Last Protector). Then I'll decide whether there's anything there, or whether the month was pretty much wasted...

For the time being, though, I'm just enjoying being ahead of schedule for once...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Four Down, Forty-Six to Go

I signed up for this "National Novel Writing Month" thing, the object of which is to write a whole novel (50,000 words) in the month of November. Of course, cranking out a book in such a short time almost guarantees the actual writing will be crap, but that's not really the point; the point is to demonstrate that you can slap together a story and get it all the way to the end in a remarkably short time. If the story itself turns out to be good (something you won't know till you reach the end), you can always edit the prose into something that's not crap. Or so goes the theory.

50,000 words in 30 days means a daily average of 1700 words. So, by midnight tonight I should have about 7000 words done if I'm to stay on track. Right now (just before 1pm), I'm only at 4000 words. The weather has not been cooperative, by which I mean it's been warm and sunny and I'd rather ride the Harley or paddle the kayak than sit inside writing. But fortunately, with the demise of Daylight Saving Time on Sunday, I have lots of dark hours in the evening for writing.

Anyway, I thought I'd let anybody who reads this blog know I may not be writing many entries this month. Then again, it's been nearly a month since my last entry, so NaNoWriMo (as it's known) may slip by without even being noticed...

Monday, October 6, 2008

This Is Why I Love Computers

In this election season, we're pretty used to seeing candidates and their supporters stating utter absurdities as if they were obvious facts, on the order of "the sun comes up in the morning." But as good as the politicos are at deadpanning insanity, they don't begin to compare to a computer. Here, two bits of absurdity I found in the last few days.

First, from the Weather Service. Note Friday's forecast:

Slight chance of nothing? Sounds like my social life.

And then I got this warning from a writers' conference message board:

I think relativity's involved here. It must be that I can post a message every thirty seconds as measured by the bits flying around inside the computer at something very close to the speed of light. Thanks to Einstein's time-dilation effect, that works out to about every ten hours from my (relatively) stationary perspective.

Well, that's one way to shut me up.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Second Part of ProjectsAtWork Article is Now Up!

The concluding installment of my two-part war story about project failure is now up on the ProjectsAtWork website. Called "How Many Miracles?" it addresses the question of just how many "great leaps forward" can a project need for success and still have any chance of actually working. Click here to read it.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

New Article on

My newest article on project management is now up on the website. It's called "Old Ware Stories," which is a bit of a pun on both the fact that it's something of a "war story" and the idea that in addition to software and hardware, this project involved a component of "old-ware"--people, systems and processes that had been around so long that they viewed change as "change everything except how we do our jobs." In other words, change everything--without changing anything. It's a story of late-blooming requirements, organizational and personal rigidity, and the effect of geometry and geography on a project's success.

While P@W is publishing this yarn as a "case study," I'll caution that it's not rigorous or objective in the manner of a good university-course case study. It's more a "view from the trenches," or even a view from the one particular trench I found myself in. Other people, in other trenches, might have seen things differently.

Click Here to read the article. requires a (free) registration. It's worth it; there's a lot of good project management stuff on this site.

A second installment is coming, and I'll announce it here when it comes out.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Tastes Great/Less Filling?

Dr. Bob Rich begins his review of The Last Protector by saying:
This is the best fantasy book I have ever edited. Or is it science fiction?
OK, debating fantasy vs. science fiction is kind of like debating tastes great vs. less filling*

But let me propose this simple test, based on the idea that in fantasy the supernatural intrudes into the natural world (gods, demons, spirits, magic and such are part of the story), while science fiction takes place entirely in the natural world:
If something gets destroyed by a lightning bolt from heaven, it's fantasy.
If the same thing gets destroyed by high explosives, it's science fiction.
Case closed. For now, at least...


*Tastes great vs. less filling: Of course, if we're talking about "light" beers, the answer is "neither"--most "light" beers are pretty devoid of flavor, and so over-carbonated that you inflate like a balloon after a couple.

Monday, September 8, 2008

More Stuff Moved, and Another Deleted Scene

I moved a bunch more stuff today, and now there's actually an organization of sorts to this site. This page,, is my actual blog. Then I've got a few one-entry blogs, danielcstarr-lastprotector, danielcstarr-tech, danielcstarr-bikes, danielcstarr-beer, which contain links to stuff about the book, my writings on project management and software, my motorcycle adventures and my favorite beverage. Then there's another pseudo-blog that's just a collection of pages containing stuff like the deleted scenes, biographies and such. With any luck, I've actually figured out how to organize this stuff.

But enough about the mechanics of maintaining a web site, on to some fun stuff. There's a new deleted scene out there, a rather silly disco song. Probably a good thing I cut it from the book, but fun to sing, especially after a few beers. You can read it (and sing along) by clicking HERE.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Movin' In...

Because Google's decided to migrate users of their Google Pages service to the new Google Sites, which doesn't seem to quite do what I want, I've been in the process of moving my stuff from there to a collection of blogs here. So, all the posts below this one were actually brought over, and so while they're all officially from September 6, the titles contain the dates they were actually added. Of course, I still have a ton of work to do, moving over stuff related to my software and project management writings, and the rest of the deleted scenes from The Last Protector, but I think I see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Oh, wait, that's a train headlight...


I've got a simple page-hit counter on this page (it's that little number at the bottom of the page), and I've seen a strange thing the last few days: most of the hits to this page have been coming from the page in which I describe my technique for replacing the rubber engine-mount isolators on my old tube-frame Buell. I have no idea why this is happening, and I don't collect anywhere near enough information to actually figure out who's looking at the page or why, so it might be nothing more than a statistical cluster. Or, perhaps, there's some sort of plague out there, all those bad rubber donuts? If you've got a clue, drop me a line at danielcstarr (at)


I finally got off my duff and wrote up a "war story" article for the ProjectsAtWork website. Look for it to be published in September (I'll add a link at that time). It's partially about the lengths people will go to in order to preserve their comfortable way of working... even if it means falling well short of the project's goals.

Writing this piece got me thinking about the great myth that we humans spread from Africa to occupy the whole planet because we're so adaptable. We must adapt well, the thinking goes, since we live everywhere from tropical jungles to Arctic tundra, from sea level to mountaintops.

But in truth, I don't think we adapt very well at all. We can't grow fur, let alone grow and shed in a cycle matched to the weather (something many dogs can do). We burn in the sun, freeze in the cold, dry out in the desert. Drop a naked human into the Arctic, or the desert, or onto a mountaintop, and he's dead within hours. Physically, we're pretty optimized for 60-90 degrees Fahrenheit, not too dry, not too wet, and we really don't do too well outside that environment.

The real secret of our so-called "adaptability" is our trick of taking little bubbles of our native African savanna environment with us. The igloo in the Arctic, the lean-to in the jungle, the air-conditioned shopping mall in Phoenix--these are all examples of how we take little micro-environments with us. So is an astronaut's space-walk suit, of course--or the Shuttle or Soyuz capsule, and the Space Station both are visiting. Or, more prosaically, the respirator that a farmer wears when heading inside the composting silo (where there is typically too little oxygen to support life) to do a repair.

We're not above stealing from other, better-adapted creatures, of course--one of the first things we did when we headed into the colder regions was to borrow the fur from native animals. Heck, once we ate him, that polar bear didn't need his fur anymore.

The furthest extreme of our adapt-the-environment-to-our-comfort habit is the good old science fiction concept of terraforming. Tinker with the atmosphere of Mars, add a little carbon dioxide to trap heat, and in a few centuries (or so it goes in the stories) you've got an earth-like planet where people can stroll about without those uncomfortable space suits and respirators.

All of which leads me to an alternate formulation of this whole global warming issue. The "Gaia hypothesis," hopelessly oversimplified, says that all life on earth fits together to form a single organism, which adapts itself and the planet to be more conducive to life. Well, what if global warming isn't just an accident or the product of corporate greed? What if it's the human species unconsciously altering the entire planet to expand the range in which we're comfortable? Not to say it's working all that well, given the expansion of deserts and coming submergence of coastlines. Then again, if Siberia were to become a comfortable grassland like the Great Plains of North America, it might represent a significant expansion of our range. Who's to tell? I guess we'll find out if we live long enough. And it might make for an interesting SF story...


My sister-in-law came over yesterday, with a copy of The Last Protector, and asked me to sign it. Of course, I wanted to write an appropriate note above the signature, and since Marj is big into sewing, embroidery and the like I figured I'd put in a reference to a scene on page 56 where Scrornuck (for those of you who have just joined us, he's the hero of the story) gets out needle and thread to patch a rip in his kilt following a battle. But when I looked, I found the mention of sword-swinger-as-garment-worker was gone, apparently snipped out in one of the many passes I made through the manuscript to remove "unnecessary" words. Oh well...

Speaking of deletions, I've put another entry on the deleted scenes page. When I first sold The Last Protector, Scrornuck had a friend in his home land, a guy named Schaughnessy. Somewhere during the edits, Schaughnessy went away, a victim of the need to keep the book down to a reasonable length. But I liked the character, even if there wasn't any good reason to keep him in this book, so I've put his two scenes on the website. Enjoy! (Note 9/6--still haven't moved all the deleted scenes. Give me a few days, please!)


We Struggling Authors are always looking for a free, or at least cheap, way to push the product. One of the most obvious and simple is to stick a plug for the book into the signature line of your email messages. Seemed an obvious thing, several people recommended I do it. And so, a few weeks back, all my emails started sporting this line at the end:

Action! Adventure! Romance! And the World's Most Perfect Beer Container!
All this and more in Daniel C. Starr's Debut Novel, "The Last Protector"
NOW AVAILABLE from Twilight Times Books
Visit to find out more

Now, I can't say I've seen a huge increase in website traffic since putting this ad into my email. More interestingly, since adding the signature-line ad, I've had three different people reply to my messages by asking, "by the way, can you send me a link to your web site?"

So much for advertising. Or, maybe I've just learned something about the engineering mind, as all three of these people were engineers...


I was doing more research for the Beers of Grand Taupeaquaah page, trying to resolve the question of whether the "Heavy Red Lager" consumed in the book is more closely approximated by the Irish Red from Carlyle Brewing or the McCarthy Red from Emmett's Ale House (don't you wish you could drink beer and call it "research"?). And this led me to revise the entry for "Batatat's Stout," naming two different beers--one to describe Batatat's on tap, and another to describe it when served up in the World's Most Perfect Beer Container. This in turn led me to research how the "widget" cans used by Guinness and others work, and to ask myself just how the Batatat's container manages to chill and churn the beer, and then automatically dispose of itself when emptied.

This is a problem about writing "science fiction," or what I sometimes call "technological fantasy," versus "pure" fantasy--if I were writing pure fantasy, I could just explain it away as magic. But if it's SF, there has to be a mechanism, and preferably one that doesn't violate too many laws of nature too blatantly. It's OK to have a little BS, like the "hyperspace" or "warp drive" of space-travel stories, because you can always say that while we haven't discovered them yet, nobody's proven they're impossible. On the other hand, you don't want to set your story on a helium-filled balloon floating in the atmosphere of Jupiter, because what we already know about Jupiter (its atmosphere is 80 percent hydrogen and 20 percent helium) tells us the blimp would sink like a rock. Oops.

So, back to the Batatat's container. Is the thing even possible? Well, let's see... the stirring-up thing is obviously not too hard, since it's a product already. As for cooling the beer, decompressing a gas (or better yet, letting a gas that's been compressed to a liquid state flash back) generates a lot of coldness, so that might be part of the system. Cornstarch-based "biodegradable" plastics which just sort of crumble away to dust already exist, as do "smart" materials which can change their properties on command. Stir in a little nano-technology... yeah, I think I can make this work.

But first I'm gonna have another beer. Research, you know.


Movies play them over the credits. DVD's don't make it to the store without 'em. What are they? Deleted scenes! Believe it or not, I wrote a fair number of words that didn't make it into the final book. Some didn't make it because they just plain stunk, but others were pretty good (or at least I think so) but got the ol' heave-ho for such practical reasons as keeping the book from being too heavy to fit in your carry-on bag or too long to read in a lifetime.

Well, if it's good for a DVD, it's good for a book (besides, I spent a lot of time and effort writing 'em, maybe you'll enjoy reading 'em). Click HERE to go straight to my collection of deleted scenes... and don't worry if you haven't yet read The Last Protector. The deleted scenes collection is 100% spoiler-free (though they might not make a whole lot of sense if you haven't read the book yet). Enjoy!


Yep, a couple more minutes of fame for me and my book:

First, a review and interview in the May 18 edition of the St. Charles East High School student newspaper, the Xray. I was pleased that my book got more space than the review of Grand Theft Auto IV (though I admit GTA probably sold more copies in the first five minutes than The Last Protector will in the next year). Click on the image to the right, and you should be able to read the review. Many thanks to Wade Chimerofsky for reviewing the book (at a time when it was 153 loose sheets of paper inside a cover).

And the Daily Herald, one of the big Chicago/Suburban papers, published a nice little article about me and the book in its Tri-Cities/Kaneland edition on Sunday, June 8. The article also appeared in the on-line edition, and you can read it by clicking HERE. Thanks to Dave Huen of the Herald for mentioning me in his column, and thanks to Joan Arterberry-Zavitz for letting Dave know I exist and am interesting enough to justify a few hundred words.

OK, neither of these publications is exactly the New York Times, but at my place in the publishing food chain, I'll take what I can get.


If you've read The Last Protector (or the excerpt that appears on the Twilight Times Books website), you've probably noticed that Scrornuck Saughblade is something of a beer lover. Takes after his creator, he does...

So I got to thinking, just what beers from this world might have inspired the fictional Batatat's Stout, or Black Sunday Lager? There wasn't an easy answer, as there are a lot of candidates--and I haven't come close to visiting all the microbreweries in the country! But, for a first shot, pay a visit to the Beer Tent, and see what I've found so far...


(In honor of April 15)

If you've just gotten that Economic Stimulation Package check from the government, and you want it to do the absolute most it can to help the US Economy, consider spending part of it on a copy of The Last Protector. It's printed right here in the good ol' USA, and the royalty checks will come to me, right here in the Heartland of Illinois. And, as a special bonus, I promise to spend at least some of the money I make from this book on parts and supplies for my old Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

3/25/08 (updated 4/13/08): IT'S REAL. WOW...

The postman brought two packages yesterday. One contained a pair of shoes for formal bagpiping performances, but the other... one hundred fifty-eight six-by-nine-inch sheets of paper covered with words, with a very nice cover wrapped around them. In other words, a pre-publication proof copy of The Last Protector.

Wow. It's actually a book. After eight years in which I saw this story only on a computer screen or as typed pages in an envelope, I can finally hold a real live book in my hand, turn the pages, and read it.

I wonder if I'll like it...

Update (4/1/08): Proofing is done. I found twenty-some typos, which is not too bad for a book of this length. A surprising number of them were missing words, which seem to be related to a word-processor quirk: when I select a phrase to revise, if I move the mouse just so, the word processor (to avoid embarrassing a certain large software company, I'll avoid mentioning it by name) silently adds one word to the beginning of the selection. And if I don't notice this, when I type the revised phrase, I end up losing a word. Oops.

Oh yeah... I did like it.

Update (4/14/08): Proofing the proofed copy is done. Of course, I found that I'd introduced one new mistake when correcting the previous ones, because I didn't read the whole compound sentence carefully enough. Oops. It's a small error, maybe even unnoticeable, so we're going to leave it in the very first press run. The second press run will have it fixed, so those first few copies will become Valuable Collectibles. Right? Right??

THE PHILLY STEAK SANDWICH RULE (and other adventures in cover art)

The print edition of The Last Protector now has a cover! There's a back cover, too, with some nice words from another author. But most importantly, it obeys what I'm calling the "Philly Steak Sandwich Rule" of fantasy/SF cover art: a good cover is like a Philly Steak sandwich: all beef and cheese! Or, to put it another way, all a fantasy/SF cover really needs is a hero with a big sword and a heroine with big... umm... attributes. The picture is by John Kaufmann, the overall design is by Ardy M. Scott, and the endless fussing over the precise placement and shape of letters and such is by me.


Part of the fun of seeing my first novel go to press is learning about the publishing business. Last Friday's lesson concerned the "title data sheet," which is used by book distributors to help convince your local bookstore that they should carry my Magnum Opus. This would seem to be a straightforward exercise: summarize the book, make up some bullet points for marketing, and I'm done. Except... this thing's actually used to help sell books, so I can't really just blow it off, and this is a 150,000-word story that I'm trying to explain in a synopsis of 175 words or less, which only requires eliminating 99.883 percent of the words. But that's the easy part. Next comes the three bullet points, each of which must be under 25 words. I took a shot at it, and wound up with points that were not so much bullets as BB's. Sigh. Couple more drafts, couple more revisions, and I finally got three bullets... though I still think one of them's only a .22 caliber. And finally... the summary, in a whopping 50 words! This is the point where I start agonizing over whether I really need little words like the, an, and so forth.

Suffice it to say I got the job done. But I probably labored as hard on the 300 words of the "data sheet" as I did on any 300 words I've ever written.

2/3/08: I HAVE A FAN CLUB?!

Week before last, my first hour physics class informed me that there is a page up on FaceBook called "Mr. Dan Starr Appreciation Society." What, methinks, an online fan club? For little ol' me?

Some of the full-time teachers advised against having a look, on the grounds that they don't necessarily want to know what their students are saying about them. But I'm just a sub, which means I don't hand out grades, so I figured nobody'd be saying anything really bad about me. Besides, if I'm brave enough to ride a Harley while wearing a kilt (and yes, I've done this), then I'm brave enough to see what's on the "Appreciation Society" site.

Of course, I don't have a FaceBook identity, so I had to get some help from my daughter, a senior in college and an expert on social networking sites. She found the "Appreciation Society" in a few minutes, and it was all rather flattering: over 120 members, some of whom said some very nice things. Plus links to the pipe band's website and the Twilight Times Books site (a lot of the students ask when they can buy a copy of the book. I tell them that I really hope it'll be out before the end of the school year).

There was one small complaint, though: one guy recalled how I'd described Nalia, the book's heroine, as a "medieval Hooters (tm) girl." And so he was more than a little disappointed when the book cover he saw on the Twilight Times website just featured this skinny guy. No voluptuous girl in sight. What happened? Well, the answer is that the book is coming out in two versions: electronic and print. The Twilight Times site is displaying the e-book cover, by Kurt Ozinga. The print edition is getting a different cover, a wrap-around scene by John Kaufmann. It's not officially "done" yet (there are adjustments to size, title placement and other stuff that can't be done till the type is set and the total page count is known), so I can't show the whole thing yet. But... here's a little taste. That more to your liking, guys?


My first article for Projects At Work, Choosing Your Armor, was reprinted in the summer of '06 by Personal Excellence magazine. They didn't pay anything (though they did give me a couple free copies), but they did give me the chance to be published in the same glossy pages as Zig Ziglar and John McCain. Perhaps something will rub off.

The publication included a wee bit o' condensing, though. Well, more than a wee bit. The original article came in at just over 2000 words and began with what I thought was a pretty cool story. Personal Excellence condensed it to just over 600 words and having it share a page with an article about how to vary your workout (which, alas, was not written by Ziglar or McCain).

Here's what it looked like when they were done:

You can't read it, of course. Blogger does this thing (a throwback to the days of 64K dial-ups?) where it scales all pictures in posts down to something under 400 pixels wide. You'd think by now that they'd allow pictures to just display at full size... but you'd be wrong. Anyway, if you click on the image, it should appear at full size, and then you can read the 600 words of the article that "Personal Excellence" kept.

I hope.