Advice For Writers: Add Explosions

During the past several years I have rediscovered my love for writing fiction that first surfaced when I was a young fellow in grade school and wrote a story about throwing a teacher out of the window. A story that inspired a banner that the teacher made and hung over the blackboard for years that read “Creative but Positive.” I’m sure for many parents that visited that room for parent-teacher conferences, that banner seemed a bit odd for a 5th grade classroom. That was when it all began and it continued in spurts throughout my school years until one day I graduated and abruptly stopped writing.

Stopped until one day while attending Visible Music College I wrote a short story for a class and the professor took me to lunch later and told me that I should go to college for writing. This, as you can imagine was greatly encouraging, but I had no love of higher education and my writing went dormant for a long time again. However, in the ensuing years as I was writing songs for bands I was in or for my solo work, the need to write stories began to well up in me again. After several more years of neglecting to actually start writing the science fiction story that my brain had been crafting while I toiled away in a meaningless job that did not otherwise engage my brain, I finally forced myself to put pen to paper. Or 1’s and 0’s to the computer as the case was.

What flowed out of that and is still flowing out of that is a science fiction story that has become far grander and more satisfying than I could have imagined before I started. It isn’t finished yet, not by a long shot. Starting a family, having a full-time job, occasionally still writing songs, publishing a non-fiction book and getting into board game design can definitely cut down on writing time. I am certain that the previous sentence may appear to many as someone making excuses for not finishing what I set out to do. If you have that perception, then you are absolutely correct. Because along with those perfectly legitimate and equally satisfying uses of my time there were plenty of lazy days full of watching television, playing video games, wasted time trying to be an internet marketer and whatever else the brain can come up with to do anything except be productive. If there is one thing I can hold onto as a shred of dignity as a writer it is that I have kept writing, kept developing that story that has been building in me for many years now. I may write sporadically, but I keep writing.

Sometimes writers get stuck however. Sometimes the story you are telling reaches a point where you are in the middle between Point A and Point B and you are not sure how to complete that journey. At least not in any compelling sort of way that makes the reader actually want to come along for the ride. I have discovered a rather useful writing device to help me through those times however: Add explosions. Do something so remarkably dramatic and unexpected that your story and your characters can’t help but be pulled along by it and get to Point B whether they wanted to or not. Your characters might be bleeding and full of scars by the end but get them there!

Some of the more seasoned writers, perhaps those who enjoyed that higher education path to writing,  who may be reading this will likely dismiss the previous paragraph as the advice of a novice to other novices to rely on cheap literary devices to advance a plot point. They might be right, but it makes for fun story telling and certainly more engaging to read. When chapter 1 of my sci-fi book started out rather slowly and with nothing to grab the reader’s attention I realized that I needed to start the book with a chapter that takes place earlier in time than what was presently chapter 1. The result was a new chapter that is easily one of my favorites in the book and is full of action, explosions, and space pirates. While working on a chapter far later in the book I realized with a sudden certainty that one of my favorite characters needed to die. It was unexpected, even to me, and it made the story better. Literal explosions may not fit every fiction theme, say a love story for example, but adding something unexpected that does fit your theme can be a great way of getting you through a rough spot in your story.

So my advice to my fellow aspiring writers that are stuck in the middle of their story: Add explosions. Blow some stuff up.


Tim Yordy Board Game Designer?

Whenever I am fortunate enough to take a vacation from work I often make time to work on some of my musical pursuits. This is of course fit in around family activities. That wasn’t the case this time around however. On my first day of vacation I got an idea for a simple strategy board game for my son and I to play. It only took about 15 minutes to make but I enjoyed it so much that ideas were quickly filling my head for a more complete game based on the concept that I had introduced with my son.

Over the last couple weeks I’ve added things, removed things, tweaked and reworked elements of the game until what has emerged is a pretty complete strategy game.

While ideas for board games have crossed my mind in the past, this is the first time I have had such a complete idea and actually turned it into reality. Below is a picture of the first paper prototype of the game that I played with my son. It’s not much to look at and the board design has come a long way. And of course the game won’t actually use plastic army men.

I’ve playtested the game a handful of times and that’s what has led to most of the changes that were implemented so far. To give you an idea of the gameplay: It’s a two person game wherein each player is given 12 soldiers and some of those soldiers are given random special abilities. On each players turn they are able to move or shoot based on a limited number of allowed actions per turn. There are also several different types of terrain in the game that change each time it is played and this also affects what strategies each player may try to use. Similarly there are random events that are activated by specific squares on the board. These Events can either be a positive or negative thing and so players must choose wisely whether they want to chance putting a soldier on one.

Ultimately, I hope to find an avenue to release the game publicly. I’m still a long way off from that however. The next steps are to continue to test and tweak the gameplay, continue to work on the graphic design of the final board and of the Event and Ability cards, and to design the play pieces themselves.

Once all of that is done I will need to have a professionally made prototype to allow me to promote the game for public release when the time comes.

It feels a little early in the development process to be discussing all of this in a blog post but I need an outlet for my thoughts on the game other than people who are close to me, because I’m sure a couple of them are tired of hearing about every little update I make by now. đŸ™‚


Society of Virtue Half-Off at Smashwords


Just wanted to give everyone a quick heads up that I am currently offering a coupon for 50% off of my book The Society of Virtue over at Smashwords.com. The coupon code is SSW50 and it’s valid until July 31st, 2012. So if you haven’t grabbed  a copy yet, now is the time to do it! I appreciate everyone’s support.

I’ve also been considering writing a follow up to the book since before I even published The Society of Virtue. I don’t want to do it just for the sake of putting out another book though and I want to make sure I have a really solid concept and vision of what the book will be before embarking on the journey of writing it. There are other books I’m working on however and as time and diligence permits, I will have those finished and published soon enough.

But all of that is beside the point. Go grab a copy of The Society of Virtue today for half off!

Buy it at Smashwords.com Remember to enter the coupon code SSW50 at checkout.

Official Society of Virtue website


Given The Opportunity, Many Would Choose To Be Nazis

There’s a very sad story coming from Perryton Independent School District in Perryton, TX in which students in a 10th grade history class each year were given red ribbons to wear and wearing the ribbon signified that those students were Jews. The purpose of this activity was to learn about the holocaust and this was to be achieved by allowing all the non-Jew students and faculty to do what they pleased with the ‘Jewish’ students. Things like picking up trash, being taken outside and sprayed with a hose, crawling across a hot running surface, and carrying other students.

That last one is where this innocent game of school sanctioned bullying gets ugly. One former student, Andrew Yara,  allegedly suffered some pretty serious injuries including a dislocated hip after being forced to carry students much larger than himself. That student is now suing the school district for unspecified damages.

There’s something bigger here though that is just waiting to be recognized. That something is this: Given the opportunity, people will gladly act like Nazis. In spite off all the history lessons, stories from our grandparents and WWII documentaries the simple truth is that if a governing body (in this case the public school district) makes it legal to mistreat and harm another group of citizens (the ‘Jewish’ students) then there will always be a segment of society that will gladly due so. I think we sometimes tend to look back through history’s various atrocities and think that the people involved must have been so completely evil. But here in this little town in Texas we have a glowing example that the potential for evil resides in all of us, it’s our choices in the face of that potential that determine who we become.

Yes, some of the students may have learned that life as a Jew under Nazi rule was pretty terrible, but how many more students learned how gratifying it was to be a Nazi? How many learned that being a bully is fun when the people you are bullying don’t dare fight back? In Germany the Jews faced death, these students faced a failing grade if they didn’t comply with everything the ‘Nazis’ wanted them to do.

This is of course just a very small example of government sanctioned mistreatment of one group in favor of another. There have been real world examples in our country in the past and there are still some today as well as some even worse around the world. I don’t really know what this public school had hoped to accomplish by giving students the ‘Red Ribbon’ assignment. But I do know that it illustrated just how depraved humans can be, all anyone has to do is give us permission. The choice of right and wrong is always available though and I’m sure that many students at Perryton high-school didn’t participate in the bullying. Then again, the Nazis highest level of votes in German elections never even managed to get above 44% and even with less than a majority, their power was mighty indeed.

The little town of Perryton, TX has given us some insight into the human condition that modern society doesn’t like to acknowledge: Deep down inside, without the arresting influence of divine grace, we are very likely to choose evil over good. One good thing that has come from Andrew Yara suing the school district: The Red Ribbon assignment has been killed. Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, at least more students won’t have to take part in this ridiculous be bullied or fail project.


The Society of Virtue: Thirteen Character Virtues That Can Change Your Life

society of virtue thirteen character virtues that can change your lifeAs I alluded to in my previous post, I have some exciting news that I would like to share. A few weeks ago I finished up work on my first book! Its entitled The Society of Virtue: Thirteen Character Virtues That Can Change Your Life. I worked on it over the past couple of years in between other projects but when 2012 began I knew that it was time to make The Society of Virtue a priority and finally get it finished.

The book is inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s list of thirteen character virtues that he had devised and had intended to create a secret society based on. Franklin never did get the chance to create his secret society but his ideas live on. The Society of Virtue is an original work that pays tribute to Franklin’s ideas and carries on the spirit of them with improved personal character through adherence to thirteen virtues.

The Society of Virtue is currently available from all of the major online book retailers and will soon be available in some of the smaller ones as well. Here are links to purchase the book:

Buy it on Amazon

Buy it on Barnes & Noble

Buy it on iTunes
(currently only available in the iBooks app, not on their website)

Buy it on Diesel eBook Store

Buy it on Smashwords
(in a variety of eBook formats)

As a special bonus for people who buy The Society of Virtue I’ve included in the book a special password that will grant access to a members only area of The Society of Virtue website. Once there, readers can enjoy downloading a variety of special bonus content.

I hope that you will consider buying a copy of The Society of Virtue. Not simply because I want it to be successful from a sales point of view, but also because I believe there can be real benefit to in the lives of those who choose to follow through with the pursuit of the virtues.

 


Where Desire Meets Ambition

I’m just a few weeks late with my New Year post but I’m sure you’ll forgive that compared to the six months that have gone by since I posted anything new on here.

My last post way back in July mentioned that I was going to be moving and that move finally happened in late September. It’s amazing how long it can take to find a house and then you’ve essentially got another month’s worth of waiting while all of the other paperwork is taken care of. But we finally did move in September and the ensuing months have been kind of crazy with getting settled in and then leading into the holidays after that.

Life is getting back to normal though and that’s where today’s post finds me. I generally come up with some kind of theme for my life for every new year. Sometimes I post that theme publicly and sometimes not. Most times I don’t know what that theme means until something happens through the course of the year that makes it plain to see. 2012 is a little different though. I knew what my theme for the year was going to be back in November some time.

Unlike previous years, it’s not some vague nebulous concept that could be fulfilled in any number of ways. No, this year’s theme is direct and challenging to myself. This year’s theme is The Year of Accomplishment. What that means to me is finishing up writing projects that have been hanging around for awhile. It means recording a new music album for the first time in over five years.

I debated for awhile whether or not to publicly share this year’s theme for myself because it’s very goal oriented and relies on my working very hard to achieve those goals. But in the end I decided that not sharing it would make it easier on myself to not follow through. Of course, random life events or God’s intervention might completely derail these plans but I’ve found that most often in life if I don’t accomplish something it’s because I didn’t really put the effort into it that it needed.

As 2012 unfolds I hope to be able to share many completed creative projects with you. There’s at least one that I will be sharing on here in the next couple weeks. I was working hard to start the year off right by finishing up a writing project and that’s part of why this post didn’t happen sooner. Stay tuned.


Music, Moving, and Self-reliance

Things are about to change drastically in my life. It’s a good change I believe, though I’m sure that there will be something of an adjustment period. The change I speak of is that my family and I are moving about 60 miles away due to a job promotion.

The promotion is a good thing of course. We are leaving behind the farm house that we’ve called home for more than six years. I have mixed feelings about that. Up until a few months ago we hadn’t really given serious thought to leaving here but the situation has changed and we’re excited about the future and the possibilities that lie ahead. Though life will certainly be different.

Though we are still searching for a new house at this time, we assumed early on that wherever we end up that it would be unlikely we’d be able to take the chickens with us. So we’ve already sold them. It was bittersweet seeing them go. I enjoyed having chickens these past couple years but I’m not gonna lie, the idea of not having animals at home to take care of is an attractive one, at least for now. I could see raising chickens again some day, but for the time being this is a serious blow to my not too seriously pursued pursuit of self-reliance.

It’s also an opportunity to find new avenues to pursue some measure of self- reliance however. What exactly those may be I won’t know until we’ve found a house and I know what is possible there.

Then of course there is the consideration of my music. It seems like I spend more time dealing with roadblocks to recording my songs than I do actually recording them. I really don’t know what to expect yet on this front since we haven’t found a house yet. Long term I think without animals at home that I will actually have more time to accomplish music. On a brighter note, I recently won an iPod Touch in a lyric contest and it seems that I may be able to use it as a little mobile studio which should be fun.

That’s pretty much the summary of what is going on right now. In other news, my first book is getting published soon. I’ll have more details on that as the date draws nearer.


This 4th of July It’s Time to Declare Our Independence, Again

Something tragic has happened in America. We currently face a threat inside our own borders that we’ve not had to face in a long time. No, I’m not talking about Muslim extremists. This enemy is far older, at least for us here in the States.

I’m talking of course about the British. They’re no longer coming, they’re already here. Don’t believe me? This really is an insidious plot that went almost unnoticed, but I’m here to reveal it to the world. This 4th of July it’s time to declare our independence once again.

Independence from people like Gordon Ramsey who is making a fortune on screaming and cursing at Americans and telling us we don’t know how to cook. When was the last time you heard anyone say “Hey, let’s go eat British tonight.” I’m pretty sure that sentence has never been uttered. You know why? Because British food sucks.

Independence from Jaime Oliver who thinks he needs to be the food police and tell us how to feed our children. So what if America’s youth are starting to look like puffer fish? It’s really part of a secret strategy to have plenty of fat stores in preperation for the coming food insecurity issues that will face the world in coming years.

Independence from the people on Super Nanny. They enjoy telling Americans that they don’t know how to raise their own kids. Anyone ever seen the nannies’ kids? I question whether or not they have children of their own. And have you seen most of the women on that show? Perhaps Jaime Oliver should head back across the Atlantic and offer some food advice to his fellow Britains.

Then of course there is Simon Cowell. He’s been on American TV for nearly a decade hurling insults at our tone deaf youth and telling them they don’t know how to sing. Has anyone ever heard Simon Cowell sing? I thought not. I believe his overly critical attitude towards vocalists is a way of trying to cope with his own failed aspirations as a singer.

Is this really what our forefathers died for? Wasn’t their blood shed in order to give us freedom from these bossy Brits? The worst part is that American money is filling the bank accounts of these unwanted Englishmen. Wasn’t that the main point of the American Revolution, to avoid giving Britain our hard earned money? Now we do it willingly. For shame America. Somewhere buried in the earth, what’s left of George Washington’s decaying corpse is shedding a metaphorical tear. This 4th of July assert your independence and reclaim your freedom by turning off these television programs. It’s the Patriotic thing to do.


Misinformation and The Main Street Fairness Act

There is a currently a big push in this country to pass into law the “Main Street Fairness Act”. The purpose of this act according to it’s supporters is to force online retailers to charge sales tax for all purchases, not just for sales made in the state where the online retailer has a physical presence. The claim is that online retailers have an unfair advantage over traditional brick and mortar stores by not charging sales tax.

Though these laws apply to all online retailers, Amazon has clearly been the target because of it’s huge market share. Several states have already passed laws requiring online retailers to charge sales tax if a sale originated from an affiliate for the retailer in that state. States like Colorado, Arkansas, Illinois, and Connecticut have already passed the so called Main Street Fairness laws and Amazon’s response has been to cut ties with affiliates in those states.

Who is Actually Behind the Main Street Fairness Act?

Now that I’ve set the background for what this law intends to do, let’s take a look at some of the misinformation surrounding it. First of all the name itself, like so many things in government, is kind of a misnomer. Politicians and special interest groups are fond of using the term “Main Street” to suggest small business and as a separate thing from the big businesses on “Wall Street.” This couldn’t be further from the truth with the Main Street Fairness Act. Currently Wal-Mart, Target. Best Buy, Home Depot, and Sears are all spending millions of dollars to lobby politicians to pass this bill into law.

That doesn’t sound much like “Main Street” to me. The name of this coalition and the scare tactic advertisements that they’ve been running show a clear intention to deceive the public about who actually holds an interest in this bill being past.

Do Taxes Hurt Local Businesses?

This is one of the more humorous if unintended aspects of this law. Some of the same politicians who are pushing this are the same ones that want high business taxes. Yet by the very existence of the Main Street Fairness Act it’s pretty much an admission that taxes hurt businesses.

The idea that online retailers have an advantage over brick and mortar stores because they don’t charge taxes is a bit misleading. Thinking about all the online purchases I’ve ever made I’m not sure that there was ever a time when not having to pay taxes influenced my buying decision. The truth is that for many product categories online retailers charge significantly less then local ones. There are of course exceptions to this but for many items, it’s just stupid to buy it locally. If you want an example just go look at how much a USB flash drive or digital camera memory costs at an local retailer compared to online retailers. You will likely pay double the price if you buy it locally.

The other factor in purchasing online is selection. Local retailers are limited buy how much square footage is in their store. Online retailers though, especially Amazon have very large warehouses which can hold more than 10 times as many different products as a local retailer can hope to provide it’s customers.

The issue with online retailers performing so well, has little or nothing to do with whether or not it’s customers pay taxes, contrary to what the special interests and politicians would have you believe. It’s convenience, price and selection.

The Problem With Individual States Passing Laws

There is an inherent problem with individual states passing anti-online business laws. For one, shoppers don’t know where the affiliate is located when they click on a link to go to Amazon or another retailer and so the amount of tax they will get charged could vary a great deal and the shopper won’t know this information until they go to checkout. For example if Tennessee passed a law like this, I’d be pretty ticked off to find myself getting charged 7% sales tax when if I had any prior-knowledge I would have just avoided clicking on an affiliate link at all.

The second problem is that there is potential for double taxation. Let’s just use Amazon as an example again, since they are clearly the target of these laws. Amazon is based in Washington state. So if an online shopper who lives in Washington purchases something from Amazon, they would be charged 6.5% sales tax. But what if that shopper clicked on an Amazon affiliate link from a person that happened to live in Colorado. According to Colorado’s anti-online business law they want to be paid sales tax as well.

There’s also another potential for double taxation. Many states have what is called a Use Tax. This means that citizens are supposed to report online purchases and pay sales tax. So if a person living in Pennsylvania buys something online through an affiliate in Colorado, then they could potentially end up paying sales tax twice.

These kind of issues are a lot of why Amazon has simply been cutting ties with affiliates in those states. I should also note that Amazon has been pushing for the federal government to make one unified sales tax law that would eliminate these kind of issues. The federal government though doesn’t have a whole lot of interest in pursuing it because ultimately it’s money that they won’t see either way.

And one more little twist on this concept is that many states allow individual cities and counties to charge their own sales tax on top of the state sales tax. So what happens when local politicians decide that they want a piece of the pie too?

The Truth About The Money

The states that have been pushing this Main Street Fairness thing most heavily are those with big budget shortfalls. So instead of trying to balance their budgets with cuts, they are seeking new sources of revenue. When Colorado passed their version of the anti-Amazon bill, Amazon severed ties with 4,000 affiliates in that state. Something that they said they would do if Colorado passed the bill.

Recently I’ve been hearing scare tactic radio advertisements from the Main Street Fairness Act people here in Pennsylvania. And that’s really what got me thinking about all of this. So let’s use Pennsylvania as an example now.

Pennsylvania has a 6% sales tax and some of the politicians would like to see Amazon give them that money. Here’s the thing though: Amazon affiliates make anywhere from 4-7.5% commission on sales that they generate with 6% more of a typical average. So 6% of Amazon’s sales made through affiliates is already coming into the state. The problem that state governments have though is that the money isn’t going directly to them.

Those sales commissions are going to individual citizens and small internet businesses. You know, the REAL main street people. The Main Street Fairness Act has nothing to do with protecting Main Street. In fact it hurts Main Street. When Amazon cut off 4,000 affiliates in Colorado that money stopped coming into the hands of private citizens and the state government didn’t see any of that money either because the sales stopped happening through those in-state affiliates. Everybody lost.

Amazon also operates many warehouses around the country. Four in Pennsylvania alone. I don’t have access to how many employees that adds up to but I would venture a guess that it’s at least a couple thousand with much higher than that around Christmas time. Obviously providing several thousand jobs in a state is huge and state politicians would be stupid to ignore that. I don’t know how much income these employees collectively make but I do know that there would be a decent amount of state income tax generated from all those people working. Not to mention the money they make gets spent in grocery stores and things like that that generate more sales tax revenue for the state.

So it’s pretty clear that Amazon brings a lot of money into the state, it’s just not getting into the hands of the government as efficiently as they would like it to.

Amazon avoids warehouses being considered a physical presence in the state by setting these warehouses up as separate companies. This is probably the only area where someone could maybe fault Amazon in this whole process.

So What Should States Do?

Maybe a better question would be, what could have they done 10-15 years ago? The fact is that many states lack any really significant player in the online retail world being based in their state. Consequently their constituents are spending money that benefits businesses somewhere else in the country. This is the real thorn in the side of politicians that have gotten behind the Main Street Fairness Act.

Their states are not setup for success in the ever growing online business world and money is leaving their state with no real plan of what to do about it. So instead of trying to foster online business development within the state, politicians are trying to squeeze money out of online retailers based in other states. Most notably Texas tried this. They handed Amazon a bill for $329 million in sales taxes. Amazon responded by closing its distribution center in Texas. Government regulation killed jobs once again.

Most states didn’t recognize what the future held for the internet a decade ago and so did nothing to try and bring businesses into the state. There is still hope though. The internet is still relatively young and there is room for all kinds of competition between online retailers. Instead of punishing businesses out of state and individual affiliates in the state, a better approach would be to make the tax laws as easy to deal with as possible so businesses want to operate within Pennsylvania or whatever state is considering going down this road.

What Can Be Done?

For now state governments should be content with the 6% commission that Amazon affiliates bring in and with the thousands of jobs provided at Amazon warehouses. While at the same time, they should push the federal government to create one standard law for all online retailers and states to follow.


New Album from My Band 2 Hour Drive


It’s been a long time since I’ve released any new music and I’m glad to be able to do so today. My band 2 Hour Drive just released a six song album on Amazon Mp3. It’s available for only $5.34. Click Here!

For those of you who don’t follow my music news very closely, 2 Hour Drive is my band that I do with Joe Quatrone. It’s primarily an internet band but we do get together when we have the opportunity.

I really do hope to get new music out more regularly than I have in the past, but we’ll see what happens. For now please go take a listen to “Lift Your Hands” and consider purchasing it. Thanks