A Voice From The Middle

marineOver the past two days, I ran a series of blog posts about common sense and the Second Amendment. I didn’t initially set out to host a series, but the voices that rose in response to my first article are just too important to keep silent. Today I’m featuring guest blogger Craig Harbision, who is one of the top machinima producers and contest sponsors in the community. He’s also a Marine (ex-Marine if there were such a creature, but I’ve heard they don’t exist. Once a Marine, always a Marine, right?) He tells a fascinating and enlightening story about his experience with firearms and gun laws. His words initially appeared in the comment section of Sandy Hook, The Second Amendment, And The Walking Dead Zombie Disease, but since many people read only the main article and skip the comments, he agreed to let me publish them in the form of a guest post.

A quick note of interest before his post, though, is a video shared on Facebook by Kristine Lee, another incredible machinima director and someone I consider to be a personal friend. I did a little digging into the authenticity of this video and am happy to report it is 100% legit. An ABC News article covered the story in July of this year.

(Sound effects have been added but the video is original footage from the internet cafe security cameras.)

–Craig Harbison

I am neither a liberal nor a conservative, pacifist nor war-monger, pro-gun nor anti-gun control. I would classify myself as a little of each.

I spent 14 years in the Marine Corps. I served proudly and honorably. I was trained in the use, care and respect of several different types of rifles and pistols. Before entering service I had only shot a weapon a couple times. My dad owned 2 firearms, a .22 longrifle and a 12 ga. shotgun. He never talked about them. He never let me shoot one nor did he ever train me on their use. His only words on the subject were “Stay out of my closet, keeps your hands off them or I will turn your ass so red you won’t be able to sit for the rest of your life”. Needless to say, I went into his closet several times to look at, to hold and to feel those guns.

I was 17 the first time I fired a weapon. I was living in Arizona working as a mechanic at a gas station at the time. It was a Mini 14 owned by a coworker and his family. I went out with them a few times to ride the sand buggies, atv’s and just have fun. On one trip, they brought along the Mini 14. Kevin instructed me how to hold it, point it, where the safety was, everything about the rifle and it’s power. I finally learned to respect the weapon and know what it could really do. It took a friend instead of a father to educate me. I never said it before but in reality, my dad failed me by not teaching about the weapons.

I have owned several rifles and pistols over the years. The first one was a Ruger Blackhawk revolver. I bought it right after my 21st birthday in 1982. I took it out for target practice several times in Virginia with some fellow Marines. I became a very good shot with it. I did get a scare once, but not from firing it. I was driving to the area we shot our weapons one Saturday when I was pulled over by a local cop. There was something wrong with one of my tail lights if I remember correctly. While talking to me about the infraction he noticed my gun case on my passenger seat. He ordered me out of the vehicle and proceeded to open the case. He commented on my choice of weapons and we briefly talked about it. He then informed me that he was supposed to confiscate the pistol and issue me a ticket. What did I do wrong? I did not have a trigger lock on the pistol. A trigger lock is just that: a lock that attached to the trigger and trigger guard to prevent the trigger from being pulled. It required a key to remove it. He ‘cut me husk’ and gave me a chance to coply with the laws at the time. He said that I was to get a lock within a week, call him or show up at the station and prove to him that I had indeed bought the lock or he would issue the ticket and come after me to get the weapon. Legally he should have taken the pistol and given me a ticket but as a young Marine (he was a former Marine) he gave me the chance.

Was the officer right or wrong? Both. He was supposed to enforce the law but bent it in my case. That brings me to my main point. Gun laws. In the United States, between local, state and Federal levels, there are over 1000 laws pertaining to firearms on the books. Less than 10% are enforced. If the laws in place were more stringently enforced, I am sure there would be less firearm related incidents taking place. Adding new laws or restrictions will do nothing as long as the people entrusted to enforce the laws don’t. As has been mentioned by you and others, banning the weapons won’t solve the problem either since those who don’t care about the laws, or are ignorant of them (as I was with the trigger lock) will still be able to get the weapons and use them as they see fit.


Unexpected Thoughts On Gun Control–A Liberal Pacifist Weighs In On Violence And Fear

When author Chrystie Bowie–an outspoken liberal and confirmed pacifist–first mentioned writing a response to yesterday’s blog post, I was cautious. While I welcome intelligent debate in comments and forums, an actual article regaling the benefits of a nationwide gun ban is not something I care to publish.

When I read the draft she sent me, I understood how silly my knee-jerk assumption had been.

The truth is, common sense is common sense no matter what an individual’s personal convictions or political leanings might be. That was the heart of my post yesterday–that for America, it’s a really bad time to go brain dead. With every word she wrote, Chrystie proves that being enlightened has nothing to do with being liberal or conservative. Nothing to do with being aggressive or passive. It’s a quality of human nature, rooted in sentient intelligence and personal character. She states in her article that she writes to “halfway back up what [I was] saying and halfway present an argument different from [mine.]” She and I might differ when it comes to other viewpoints, but on this particular issue, we agree one hundred percent.

I am very proud to offer a platform for Chrystie to speak her mind. I sincerely hope her article goes viral.

A Pacifist Weighs in on Violence and Fear
–by Chrystie Bowie

I am an online friend of Rhonda’s and subscribe to her blog. We agree on many things, including the misunderstood nature of people with Asperger’s Syndrome and also the need to stand up for one’s beliefs. I’m not quite as disturbed as she is by the changing face of the American culture, but I do get her point.

I embrace change. The one that created the constitution and freed us from British rule is one Rhonda and I would both stand behind. The influx of immigrants that brought my Irish ancestors here during the Potato Famine is something I owe my existence to. I look out on a good day and see so much beautiful DIVERSITY, it makes my heart swell with pride for my home, the land of opportunity. People will continue to come to this country and bring new viewpoints. America is my home, but I welcome others here because this is the Land of The Free … or we hope it is.

You see, freedom means more than being unencumbered by rules. It also means the freedom to be accountable for your own actions. And you can’t be accountable for your own actions if people don’t give you a chance to determine your own destiny and to help your children find their own way in the world.

And that is why I am writing this blog post to halfway back up what Rhonda is saying and halfway present an argument different from hers. Don’t go into this post assuming I’m for or against what she’s saying. Go into it ready to hear my words as a standalone point of view that I’ve decided to share …

When I heard about the Sandy Hook Massacre, my liberal bleeding heart did exactly what it is known for doing. It bled. I wept over the pictures of the twenty slain children and their fallen teachers. I couldn’t bear to stare at the mural someone painted of Santa Claus standing in front of Newtown with a sleigh full of presents, his face buried in his gloved hands while the reindeer bowed their heads in sorrow. I shook with disbelief that someone would be capable of something so heinous. I started looking through the pictures of my family members at that age, realizing how small and innocent we all looked, including these pictures of myself:

Chrystie 6

The first one is me the Christmas I was six … I was the same age then as the twenty Newtown children who will now be receiving coffins for Christmas and Hanukkah. The second picture is my mother and me standing outside the Rotary Club on the day I received a scholarship to college in my senior year of high school. She was so proud of me that day. I was so happy to make her proud. I was able to give her that joy because I wasn’t mowed down by a gunman in my first grade classroom as a little girl.

Chrystie 17

The shock and fear I experienced as I looked through pictures of my childhood after hearing of the tragedy was unbelievable. I cried so hard. For days. And at night, too.

But I have to admit, even though I’m a pacifist, it never occurred to me that the problem was gun control issues. Yes, the problem might have been that Adam Lanza’s mother decided to keep guns in her house with a son she once warned a babysitter not to turn your back on, even to go to the bathroom. But to say the problem is that ANYBODY has a gun is kind of unfair, don’t you think? Even as a radical pacifist, I can see this.

Don’t get me wrong, I dream of a world without guns and other weapons. I often visit intentional communities where everybody there has made a pact of nonviolence. And that works for them and I love being there … but here’s the catch. They all chose to agree to those terms and their community is small enough to build that kind of trust. The gun-free world I dream of, it’s one where weapons aren’t needed, not one where responsible people are made to feel like criminals because they choose a different path than mine.

You just cannot FORCE people at the national or even state level to abide by those things if they don’t want to. They have to want to be that way or else a higher power is telling them what to do. And when you start telling people what to do and how to think … well, that’s a slippery slope that never leads anywhere positive.

In fact, it often leads to resurgent violence and no pacifist should want that. I certainly don’t.

How well did banning alcohol work in the Prohibition? How rich are other countries getting from the marijuana market right now? And that’s just recreational drugs. Someone who’s stoned, what are they going to do? Sit on the couch and eat a bag of Cheetos while laughing at Family Guy?

Forcing something as dangerous as guns onto the black market makes me a little more nervous. Creating a taboo takes away one of the few things I think may actually work: education and awareness and creating a healthy respect for the dangers of mishandling firearms. If guns are illegal, the people getting their hands on them will never have had a chance to learn to handle one safely. Am I the only one who sees this middle viewpoint between ‘ban all guns’ and ‘give every adult one automatically’?

This is all about fear on both sides. Fear is the problem here. Guns don’t kill people. People with their index fingers on triggers kill people … so educate these freaking people, don’t tie their hands behind their backs with mandates.

I don’t like guns, personally, but I’m going to share with you my life-altering experience the afternoon I gained a better awareness for them. It stands out in my mind as one of those days that my horizons broadened and my world got a little bigger. First thing to know is that I work with a lot of men … funny, smart, kind, video-gaming, gun-enthusiastic young men in their early-to-mid twenties. They make me laugh. They make me cringe. They take me out of my college-educated, book smart, female, point of view and make me see things through their eyes.

And one of them lured me to the gun range one warm April afternoon and encouraged me to shoot some of his ‘babies’ off.

He warned me ahead of time that he was bringing his 50 Caliber Rifle, but if I was uncomfortable with it, he also had some tamer guns. I wasn’t exactly excited to go with him, but I stood in front of my Jeep at our meeting spot that day and waited for him to pick me up. I didn’t know what to expect, so I refrained from wearing my usual tie-dye motif and opted instead for an old pair of camouflage pants and a faded, green-and-white shirt. I figured that made me look properly ‘gunsy’.

When we got to the range, the first thing I noticed was how collected and respectful everybody was. Nope, no ignorant hillbillies whooping to the sky as they attempted to shoot baseball caps off each other’s heads. There was a man that could have looked comfortable wearing a suit. A dad with his teenage son, being very specific about exactly how to load their gun safely. Oh, my mailman. My mailman? He gave me a smile and a nod as my friend and I got out of the car. I even sensed a tinge of sudden comradery when he recognized me.

My friend started pulling cases out of his trunk that looked like they harbored odd shaped violins. The way he smiled so proudly, as he kept looking over at me with earnest anticipation, was kind of endearing. He wanted to convert me.

“And this one,” he proclaimed as he pulled the biggest case out. “This one is my 50 cal. I call her The Queen.”


“Because when she speaks, everybody listens.”

What else could I expect from a gun enthusiast? I rolled my eyes.

After watching him fire some of his guns, I was finally convinced to try some myself. It was actually kind of fun. But what really struck me was how responsible all the people around us were being. When one person needed to go ‘up range,’ everybody stopped shooting and multiple people took advantage of the lull, chatting and joking as they walked. When I accidentally turned to my friend with his highpoint in my hands, the shooters on both sides of us reacted strongly. My friend jumped into stern dad mode and corrected me sharply, all the while smiling an embarrassed apology to everybody else. I felt like a little girl who’d done something inappropriate and hadn’t realized it until I was scolded.

These longtime gun owners did not play around about safety. They had years of experience to pass on. Years that would go to waste if they ever found their guns outlawed.

Towards the end of our visit, my friend finally got The Queen out. The other shooters began to stare at us again, but it wasn’t irritation at me. It was a reverent curiosity for the giant rifle my friend was erecting in our stall. My eyes widened. That damn thing was as long as my leg. The arms of its tripod looked like little branches. My friend smiled and pulled out a box holding the ammunition. Cracking it open, he tilted it toward me to look in. Glaring back at me were rounds as long as my index fingers and as fat as sausages. Ok, so I got a little freaked out.

When he fired The Queen, I finally understood what he meant when he said ‘everybody listens.’ He had never been joking that he planned to use it to force people to obey him. No, he literally meant that when that rifle went off, and the percussive shock wave hit my chest and sent a butterfly through my stomach, everybody at the range stopped what they were doing, put their safeties on, and came over to check us out.

I listened to the conversations and, while I don’t remember exactly what everybody said, I do remember the feeling of community I felt coming off these people. I remember how my friend patted The Queen a few times while he talked, the way a pet owner would show off their beloved dog or cat. He loved that 50 Caliber and I could tell it wasn’t a deranged obsession but more of a respectful affection.

He turned down a few requests from some of the shooters to get behind it for a round or two. That’s why I was kind of touched when he asked if I was ready to give it a try. He hadn’t let anybody else shoot it, but he looked like he wanted me to. I got the impression he would have been a little offended if I didn’t. So I sat down in the chair and wrapped my tense arms around the massive rifle. He showed me how to take the safety off and told me to go ahead when I was ready. I put my finger on the trigger and kind of pulled … then chickened out … then kind of pulled … then chickened out … then …

After almost thirty seconds of this, my friend leaned in and spoke the truest words I’ve probably ever heard. “You know, dear,” his carefully disciplined, ex-military tone found its way to my ear past the other guns popping. “Sometimes it’s just as dangerous to be afraid as it is to be reckless. If you’re not ready, you should get up.”

“No, no! I’m ready. I’m good now. Give me another chance.”

He backed up again.

And this time I pulled the trigger. I released that finger-long bullet so far down range, all I saw was a poof of dirt, far out in the field, as the recoil planted that rifle into my shoulder so hard that it scooted me and the chair I was sitting in back several inches. I was completely in shock. It took me a minute to decide whether I liked the experience or not. Eventually my answer came, kind of as a surprise to me as well, in the form of a loud, triumphant, “WHOOOOO!”

That’s right folks … it was the hippy with her arms wrapped around a 50 Caliber Rifle, glasses askew on her face, that hollered to the sky like a backwoods hillbilly, as serious gun owners stared at me like I lost my marbles. My friend was kind of embarrassed for the second time that day. But I will never forget the lesson I learned that warm afternoon from people I would have never thought to spend time with had I not opened my mind and let them show me their world.

Getting back to this issue of fear in light of the recent massacre, another thing bothers me just as much. A female friend I know said to me today, “I just don’t even know if I’m comfortable raising my children in this world anymore.”

Where exactly is she planning to go? Have they approved warp travel to a mysterious colony on the moon that I’m unaware of?

Then she said the one thing I was hoping she wouldn’t. “You know, you’re lucky you don’t have any children.”

Now that was a double punch right to my heart. First of all, on a personal note, I actually happen to be saddened by my status as a childless woman. I have recently been finding my days without a little one at my side to be a lonely existence. Secondly, it was kind of annoying for her to say that childless people shouldn’t bother having any children just because bad things take place in this world. What if I believe I have something positive to pass on to a child that may help negate the bad things?

What if my future child wants to be cop? Or a teacher, possibly a teacher who would sacrifice his or her own life to protect little kids from harm? What if I’m supposed to bear the person who finally finds a blanket cure for all types of cancer? Or becomes the person who defeats HIV, once and for all? What if my child, despite the fact that I’m not very religious, grows up to become some kind of missionary in a war-torn country and brings a message of hope and perseverance to those struggling? Why would I voluntarily remain childless out of fear and not only leave my own life incomplete but maybe even their future husband or wife’s?

Fear. That’s the problem here. It’s not about guns or whether children have a place in this sometimes nasty world. It’s about what happens to people when fear determines their choices and what happens when they are in a position to force those limiting decisions on others.

The way I see it, gun control and protecting our children have a similar analogy. It’s like having a pool in your backyard. That pool is cool, fun, and refreshing. But it also can be dangerous and children have died in pools when people aren’t careful. So you have two choices. You can build a fence around the pool, restrict access to it, make a child afraid of it … downplay its benefits while spitting fire and brimstone about the dangers. You can do all those things, but they will find a way to get into it if they want. You can try to save them by forcing your will on them and hoping it helps.

Or you can show that child how to swim and educate him or her on the responsibility of engaging in an activity that poses such risk. Is it too much to ask that people, even children, be expected to take some responsibility for their own decisions instead of having them made for them? I don’t think so.

It’s like a very wise person said to me once, “Sometimes it’s just as dangerous to be afraid as it is to be reckless.”

Sandy Hook, The Second Amendment, And The Walking Dead Zombie Disease

flagI am an American. I love being an American; while I admire and harbor good will toward many other nations, this is my home. As an American, I was heartbroken over the twenty children who died last Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But I was also angry. Outraged. Furious enough to break the political silence I have maintained through countless political elections and hot button debates.

America is on the verge of political meltdown. Whether it happens in our lifetime or our children’s lifetime remains to be seen, but it’s inevitable. Too many standards, too many core values have been swallowed by political correctness and liberalism that is every bit as rabid as the extreme right. Common sense is out the window, and a generation of people who have never been oppressed, never tasted war on our own soil, and never known true hardship is now making decisions for the rest of us. It’s frightening how reckless some of them can be with our Constitution and the principles this country was founded upon.

I am not against sensible gun control. I support background checks and waiting periods, concealed carry permits and required training. But the buzz about stricter gun laws scares me to death. Nowhere, at any time, has a ban on guns produced a drop in violent crime. In the past few days, I’ve probably reviewed every statistic on this issue that has ever been published. What I’ve discovered is that even statistics appearing to support gun control fall apart when you start pulling at the seams.

TNT online magazine reported today that: “The rate for murder by gunfire is 100 times that of the United Kingdom and only Colombia has a worse record for gun violence than the US. Every year, 17,000 people are killed in America, 70 per cent of them with guns, and nearly 20,000 people commit suicide by shooting themselves.” Read article here.

But what about other statistics that TNT Magazine—and every other news outlet I know of—have failed to report? The statistics I have never seen are numbers that reveal how many of those crimes were committed by people who legally owned the weapon they used, versus how many were committed by those in possession of the weapon illegally. If they were committed by a person in illegal possession, then even the strictest gun laws would have been useless in preventing those crimes.

Guns are never going away. You can outlaw them, crush them, smelt them—no matter what measures we take within our borders, other countries will make sure our black market dealers and criminals have a never ending supply. Then, with criminals armed to the teeth and law abiding citizens empty handed, violent crime will skyrocket. Don’t believe me? Take a few minutes to watch the following video:

In contrast, the Georgia city of Kennesaw (a suburb of Atlanta) put a law on the books in 1982 that requires every head of household to be a registered gun owner. Despite dire predictions that the town would become the stage for a “Wild West Showdown,” crime rate plummeted, and for twenty-five years Kennesaw has reported zero fatal gun-related incidents. Read about it HERE.

To up the ante and study this phenomenon on a larger scale, one has only to consider Switzerland. Male residents are not only required to own guns (and females highly encouraged,) but are trained by the government to use them. Yet the gun-related crime rate is so low there that statistics are not even kept. “. . .despite the wide ownership and availability of guns, violent crime is extremely rare. There are only minimal controls at public buildings and politicians rarely have police protection.” (BBC article)

I am baffled at how so many intelligent, educated Americans can overlook facts as clearly presented as these. Are they blinded by fear? Addled by a Dr. Spock upbringing? Hypnotized? Brainwashed? Infected with the Walking Dead Zombie Disease? There is simply no argument any rational person can make in the face of such overwhelming evidence.

A comment exchange about the following picture illustrates the same lack of functional intelligence I speak of.


Lovely image, very artistic and suggestive. But here is where the line is drawn between grass roots common sense and idealistic delusion:

One person commented: “SCARY, scary image! (My own cat, a Maine Coon, scratched me today on his way down from my arms – his accidental power in a bigger cat would be fatal.)”

An idealistic dreamer commented: “look at the tiger….there is no violence in this moment…only love.”

I commented: “Thank God for glass!”

But what I really wanted to say was: “What planet are you on, moron? ‘Love?!’ You really believe that? Then why don’t you take your own kid and plop it down in front of a live tiger with no glass between them, and see how much ‘love’ comes out of THAT encounter!”

Have some people’s brains turned to oatmeal? All I can say is I sincerely hope that person’s comment was meant to be tongue-in-cheek.

This brings me to the Second Amendment: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” How many of us realize—I mean, truly, deep down at the gut level understand—that this was written to keep our nation from being overthrown by tyranny? How many of us even know the true definition of tyranny? And how many can relate the concept to us—spoiled Americans—who become outraged if something as trivial as our “right” to spit on our own driveway is infringed?

Some readers will scoff at the idea of foreign invasion. But leave us defenseless and see how long it takes before some nutty third world leader tries. Or worse—a nation with a stronger military force than ours. Think we are such a superpower that no other military would dare challenge us? Between military budget cuts and a nationwide ban on guns, that scenario is not only possible, but likely.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is often credited (perhaps erroneously) as having said, “You cannot invade mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind each blade of grass.” Whether or not he actually said this is no real matter; somebody said it, and proper accreditation doesn’t dilute or strengthen the meaning. This is the same concept behind a statement I saw posted elsewhere on the Internet: “The anti-gun folks won’t like to admit this, but there is a reason why these mass shootings occur in schools and malls but not police stations …. and you know what that reason is.”

It bothers me that our government would consider disarming all U.S. citizens, or severely restricting our right to own and carry weapons. What bothers me more is how many U.S. citizens are so eager to hand over a constitutional right, as if it does not exist to protect the very freedoms they exercise when speaking out against current laws. Even more worrisome is that once we start chipping away at the Constitution, where will we stop? There are so many layers of concern in this gun control issue that one blog post can’t begin to explore them all. But I hope I’ve at least covered the basics.

I’ll leave you with this: in a perfect world, maybe guns would never have been invented in the first place. Who knows. But this world is far from perfect, and intelligent people deal with a situation the way it is, not the way they wish it could be. I wish we could all be pacifists. I wish we could all see tigers and babies playing peacefully together without three-inch glass between them. But that is not the world we live in, nor will it ever be no matter how many of our freedoms we surrender to idealism.

Feel free to share, redistribute, link to, or repost this article. I retain all copyright, but grant license for republication in the effort to disseminate information about this topic.

Good News And Bad News

Several days ago I had a major software crash. No permanent damage to the software or my laptop, but I lost more than two weeks of work on my latest machinima project. As both a writer and a pathological talker, I find myself utterly without words to express my level of frustration. The sets, the characters, the animations. . .just gone. Corrupted file, irretrievable data.

What really sucked about the ordeal is that I did have a backup file. I almost always do. But whatever it was that caused the corruption had been saved into it, too, therefore–like the original file–it would no longer open. Lesson learned? Save in stages. Make backup copies of a project at every step of the way. This takes up a lot of space on the hard drive, so use an external storage device if necessary. But back up in duplicate. In triplicate. And make a fresh backup every time you add something new to the scene.

I’ve almost recovered now, both psychologically and in terms of progress. But it was a setback I didn’t need. Authors waiting for their trailers have been very patient with me. Voice actors eager for another credit to put in their portfolio have been patient with me, also. But everyone has a limit. I fervently hope I don’t learn where anyone’s is because of this.

On to brighter news: many of you know I’ve gotten involved with a snowballing movement called “The Independent Author Project.” This is a coalition of independent authors (those not represented by agents or publishing houses) who are determined to level the playing field when it comes to marketing and sales. I won’t go into all the details here, as they are clearly defined on the main website. The Independent Author Project

Everyone is welcome to join—traditionally published or self—but the focus is and always will be helping the independent writer achieve success. Various skills germane to editing, publishing, and marketing are offered for exchange or for a fee, and strong emphasis will be placed on elevating the reputation of indie books in general. This will require a shift of attitude on the part of many independents as well as a very focused, very driven effort to improve quality and put forth the best product possible.

One thing some indies are doing to create interest in the movement and promote their own books is a raffle and giveaway. You can find more information about it here . This site shows you the books offered as prizes and tells you a little more about the purpose of the giveaway. I’m a little surprised there isn’t more information about the books themselves or their authors. Still, a free prize is a free prize.

Happy raffling!

A Dog’s Life

Hi everyone. Today I have a special guest blogger–my friend Carol’s daughter Mariel. Mariel didn’t set out to be a guest blogger, she simply wrote an assignment for her AP English class. Yet her topic is so poignant, her writing so powerful, that it deserves to be seen by all readers who ever loved an animal. I hope you enjoy this stirring essay. Get the hanky. You’re going to need it.

One November day, a six-year-old collie surprised her owners with a litter of thirteen puppies. One died, but the other twelve were healthy enough to be advertised “For Sale” in the newspaper. I had just turned age five when our family set off one cold, snowy night before Christmas to claim a collie puppy. We arrived a mere 15 minutes after someone else claimed the flawless male collie Dad wanted to buy. All the big, perfect looking males had sold so quickly, there was only one male left, a clumsy little chunk with a shy personality, an odd white spot on his rump, and a crazy splotch of brown off-centered in the white ruff on his back. We hesitated. Dad admired the white stripe running up the puppy’s nose. Mom said we could name him Blaise for his blaze. Somehow the name made it official. All twelve puppies swarmed around our feet, untying our shoe laces with sharp little teeth. Max, the proud father, looked like TV’s Lassie, but he was big enough to topple me with one swish of his bushy tail. I was just about eye level with teeth, as Mom put it. Did we really want a dog? Max sniffed me and pushed his nose into my hand, inviting me to pet him. He didn’t smell too good. I was a little relieved to learn we had to come back in January instead of bringing one of these wild little furballs with teeth home that night.

My mom carried on about the perfect male we missed out on by fifteen minutes. She kept looking at the website that showed photos of all twelve puppies. One of the females looked absolutely perfect. Mom got one of her ideas. “The perfect toy for a dog,” she said, “is another dog.” Dad pretended not to hear, but the collie breeder mentioned that our Blaise had paired off with one of the females and they seemed to do everything together. Yes, the perfect little foxy girl was Blaise’s best friend­, said the seller. The magic word “discount” rattled Mom’s head, and somehow, she guilt-tipped Dad into believing that poor timid Blaise would freeze, or die of loneliness, unless we let his sister come home with him. I had visions of not one but two collies untying my shoes with their teeth and toppling me with their big wagging tails. Blaise and Bailey lived on our deck, in a little house Dad built for them. One spring day, we saw lion-sized footprints in the snow and realized they belonged to Blaise. About the time I moved into a bigger bed of my own, Dad had to build a huge doghouse and pen for our growing collies.

Bailey pranced around like a golden princess with a puffy white collar. She would run up and topple Blaise because he was clumsy, obese and easy to tip over. We tossed Frisbees, balls and other toys for the dogs to fetch, but Mom’s idea had backfired. The best toy for a dog is another dog, all right, and that meant the dogs didn’t want to play with me. But that was okay. I still wasn’t sure about these enormous furballs who would almost yank my arm out of my socket when I tried to walk them on a leash.

The following year, I was in kindergarten. In dog years our collies were seven, about my age. One year later, they were teenagers. We kept growing until Blaise and Bailey only came up to my hips. I was big enough to hold my ground and open my arms when two full-grown Lassies came running up to the school bus to greet me. Other kids on the bus would ask me how we could tell them apart, but to me it was obvious. The smaller, cuter dog, Bailey, would run up and tackle her big, goofy brother. She always pushed Blaise out of her way so we’d notice her instead of him. Mom was wrong about the perfect dog. Bailey always seemed anxious, sad, or worried that Big Brother was getting more food or more attention. The shy one, the chicken boy, seemed so human when he gazed into our eyes. He was the sweetest, happiest, gentlest, best dog ever.

We went on many long walks and rides in the van. We ran out of code words. If anyone put their shoes on, Blaise pranced in and out of the garage, singing his funny, high pitched whine that sounded like efforts to form words. If we drove off without the dogs, he and Bailey would wait for us like a pair of lion statues outside the front step. Blaise was always the first one up and running, standing right in front of the van so we had to brake for him, then slowly walking up the driveway to show off his herding skills. “I’m a collie. I know the way. Follow me, follow me, here is the door, the van goes right here.”

My brother Miles grew up and left home while the dogs were still strong and playful. Soon, their faces started growing gray. On walks, instead of yanking my arm out of its socket, they lagged behind me. Then came the day when Blaise couldn’t get to the top of the driveway. In dog years, he was older than my father. My sister Claire graduated early from high school and studied in Spain for a year, and I was old enough to drive myself to school now, but the canine welcoming committee (as Mom called them) didn’t come running like they used to. Blaise would groan and keep me waiting at the garage door for him to get his hefty body up and out of the way of the car. His bark got so quiet, he sounded like an old man in a nursing home.

Blaise seemed to know we were counting the days until Claire came home. He watched and waited. Sometimes he couldn’t get up and Dad had to carry him into the garage at night. Finally, the day came for us to drive to Chicago and get Claire from the airport. When we came home that night, Blaise didn’t get up and do his clumsy walk with the wagging tail to greet Claire. He just lifted his head and looked at her, then put his paw on her lap. We carried him into the house, even though he’d vomited all over himself. By morning, he had lost all control and smelled like death. This was the day of Claire’s golden birthday. As the day wore on, Blaise just lay there, refusing to die. “I’m here for you,” he seemed to say. “I will never leave you, no matter what. And if you leave me, I’ll wait here until you come back.” Mom said we had to drive him to the vet and set him free from his mission to love us all the days our lives.

We sobbed over pictures of him as a galloping puppy, the size and shape of a cement block. Unlike his perfect-looking sister, he never looked anything but happy and uncomplaining. From kindergarten to the end of my sophomore year of high school, from trike riding to driving a car, I grew up with a big fuzzy lion who was always there to greet me as if I’d been gone for a year, not a day. Every single day of his life, that dog seemed thrilled to see us. If we just said his name, he’d lift his ears and gaze at us as if there was nothing greater to ask of life than for us to notice him. Well, unless it was for us to say his name and hand him a chicken bone, or sneak him into the house when Dad was away.

Bailey took it surprisingly well, this new business of being our only dog, not having to push Blaise out of her way for food or attention. When I drive home from school, she’s still watching for me by the front door, but now she is almost as clumsy as Blaise always was. The two litter mates who matched like a pair of salt and pepper shakers were supposed to be here until I left for college. They weren’t supposed to grow up and grow old so much faster than I did. Pets should last longer than ten or twelve years. I still don’t believe Blaise is dead. I think he’s just gone, like Claire was gone, but he’ll be back again. Whenever we drive down the long driveway, I almost see him galloping over, tail wagging, overjoyed to see us. He’s always there, just around the corner, or on his dog bed on the garage floor. A flash of gold, like honey-onyx, with a creamy white ruff and shining brown eyes, will rise up from the green grass again. He is not dead. He’s just sleeping somewhere. No matter how many years may pass, I will still see Blaise rising up from the grass, tail wagging, showing us to the garage door. Hello, hello! Follow me, I know the way!

OUTLAWS Official Trailer

I just went live with Bill Weldy’s trailer for Outlaws. Yay! This production gave me the opportunity to experiment with many new techniques and choices. I am especially proud of the water effects I achieved and the actions scenes using iClone’s “reach” feature along with multiple particle systems. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, no worries. Just enjoy the end result!

OUTLAWS Official Trailer

Now I move right along to Wind Over Troubled Waters, the first novel in Edith Parzefall and Francene Stanley’s Higher Ground series. I am particularly excited about this project because it gives me the chance to work with diverse accents and ethnicities. Already–just from the few sketches I’ve done of the main cast–I’ve learned that lighting all these different skin colors will be quite a challenge. . .especially when they’re all onscreen at the same time. This is going to be a fun project for me, and I can’t wait to get started in earnest.

I’ll post some pictures from the set as soon as I have the main cast properly assemble–and clothed. They’re all naked as baby mice right now. LOL!

Enjoy Bill’s trailer!

Congratulations Vikas Wadhwa!

What’s the next best thing to winning a contest yourself? Seeing the most deserving competitor win! There is justice in this crazy world after all.

Vikas Wadhwa (Clear Box Studios) took first place in the Amazon Studios Seed Book Trailer Contest with his entry “Grinning Demons.” It’s a live action, beautifully filmed piece that captures every essential element of the novel and sells it convincingly. I told Vikas early on that if his video won, I would celebrate with him. And indeed I am doing just that! For all the awful gaming and bias that went on during the contest, I have to say that Amazon got it right when they chose the grand prize winner. Ania Ahlborn, you are one very lucky author!

I was born and raised in the Deep South. Vikas’ video opens with the line, “We’re Southerners.” Oh, boy! Did he ever get my attention with that one. And the rest of the trailer does not shirk when it comes to delivering on the promise of a “Dirty South.” With every frame, we are drawn deeper and deeper into a dark, desaturated world that oozes creepy from its pores, from willow branches dragging the ground to the dead-eyed children who stare right through the camera. Not to mention the fact that the young Jack Winter is a carbon copy of the adult Jack Winter, an attention to detail you seldom see even in big-budget Hollywood productions.

And the actress who plays Aimee Winter. . .oh, my goodness, does she ever sell her character. Actually, there isn’t a bad actor in the bunch, but I suppose it’s because she has so much screen time that I find her so memorable. Vikas, you did a heck of a job casting these roles. I predict great things for your future!

Now here’s the best part: Vikas Wadhwa is a NICE GUY. He’s very approachable, unassuming, and maintained his perspective and his professionalism throughout the entire fracas spawned by those SCAD students. This is more than I can say for myself; I completely popped a cork. But I usually do when bullies take over the playground.

I don’t know if Vikas is interested in producing more book trailers or if he has his sights set on the box office, but for live action filmmaking, I would love to channel some business his way. I know a lot of professionals in the writing community, but I don’t have any particular influence over them. Let me just go on record as saying that if I am able to afford a live action trailer for my own novel, Vikas Wadhwa will be the very first person I contact.

I also want to mention that after the contest, I received an email from Vikas that contained one of the kindest and most encouraging messages anyone could have sent. I won’t quote it here, but what he said to me validated every bit of effort I have put into building this niche for machinima book trailers.

Congratulations, Vikas! You deserved the win!

To see his winning video, which is now the official trailer for Ania’s novel Seed, follow the link below and make sure that Video #68 is active in the view window. I’m not sure how long this link will be active on Amazon’s site, but I will try to keep a working link somewhere on this blog.

Grinning Demons–Clear Box Studios

After The Contest–Amazon Studios And The Seed Book Trailer

Whew! All I can say is that I’ve never been happier to see a deadline come and go.

Midnight, August 31, was the closing date for the Seed Book Trailer Contest sponsored by Amazon Studios. I’m happy to report that despite the organized, persistent one-star attacks by SCAD students and their friends, my video (watch on YouTube here) survived this deadline with a 3.8 averate rating out of. . .well, seventy-one or seventy-two. I’m not sure which time zone Amazon was using, and ratings are still trickling in even now. I’m thinking that Amazon will use the averages logged at that date and time and discard more recent ones. But who knows. Amazon clearly didn’t honor their own rulebook in this contest from the get-go, so I have no idea what to expect with the scoring process.

Mine was not the only entry to be targeted. When studying the patterns exhibited by the worst vote-stacking offenders, it quickly became apparent that a specific strategy was in place to bloat Video #29’s average “just enough” to keep it higher than all others. Then, when another video’s average overtook it, several more supporters of #29 would swoop in with one and two star ratings to drag that competitor’s average back down. This was very consistent and very predictable. So other contestants and I began doing some digging and discovered a very tightly woven network of SCAD students (Savannah College of Art and Design) who all seemed to be working together on behalf of Video #29’s uploader. We put together some documentation using social media, blogs, and websites that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that at least thirty vote-stackers were affiliated with each other prior to the contest, and that some of them most likely participated in the actual production of video #29.

Is this surprising? Not in the least. What shocked and horrified me was Amazon’s outright denial that contest gaming was afoot. Despite repeated attempts by several participants–including me–to correspond with Amazon and provide them with proof of our claims, Amazon steadfastly refused to address any wrongdoing. I’m pasting here a copy of the last correspondence I had with Amazon Studios (to date), which was a canned response that did not acknowledge my request to submit the documentation we had collected.

“Hello Rhonda,

Please allow me to express my apologies for any frustration you may have experienced.

Thanks for bringing these reviews to our attention. We’ll read each of the reviews and remove any that violate our guidelines. Any reviews we find outside our guidelines will be removed within 48 hours.

Best Regards,

Adele S.”

My reply:

“Amazon staff can “read each of the reviews” all day long, but until you investigate the collusion perpetrated on your contest I don’t believe anything will be resolved. How Amazon can ignore or dismiss the blatant beat-down of other contestants administered by personal friends and schoolmates of (names removed) is baffling, especially when Amazon Studios consistently removed innocent five-star ratings from my entry (Ryan Sizer, Fae Hill, Gary Thompson, others I can’t remember.) Amazon Studios also retracted my right to vote for excellence (Video 39) by stripping my heartfelt five-star rating from him. He is aware of this, by the way. Also, my husband was deprived of his right to rate other contestants and systematically had his ratings removed. Naturally, his comment and rating was removed from my entry, yet “(name removed))” obviously a family member of (name removed,) has been allowed to remain in the ratings contest-wide. This demonstrates a clear bias on Amazon’s part, not just the fraudulent voting patterns among supporters of 29.

The prejudicial way this has been handled throughout the contest does not reflect positively on Amazon Studios. It appears that certain participants get a free pass for behaviors that others are penalized for. When one digs a little deeper, one learns that the “free pass” group is a collection of students from SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design,) exactly the type of creative souls Amazon Studios might wish to entice and recruit as permanent members of the community. This begs the question: is Amazon Studios part of the collusion also, or at least using “participation guidelines” to sift through potential talent and handpick future contributors? I certainly hope not.

A copy of this correspondence will be forwarded to a network of at least 200 professional screenwriters and authors, as well as to Ania Ahlborn herself. Each individual receiving it is already aware of the questionable circumstances surrounding this contest and many have expressed their concern to me personally. Winning this competition is not on my radar–never was. Building a relationship with Amazon and establishing a niche platform among other creative talent was the primary goal. Yet what I witnessed has appalled me. I expected better from Amazon.”

It bears mentioning that today, more than 72 hours after I registered my complaint, none of the ratings that clearly violate Amazon’s “participation guidelines” have been removed.

Will any of this be sorted during the final scoring process? Who knows. The only thing at stake is a $500 gift card for Amazon purchases. The $3000 winner will not be determined by ratings, but by an independent panel of judges and Ania Ahlborn herself. Were I among those judges, I would select any one of of several other entries over mine. I am not kidding when I say there were some really, really good videos submitted.

But here’s where the rubber meets the road: most authors cannot invest $3000 in a book trailer, and even that seems a little on the cheap side for some of the excellent videos uploaded late in the contest. I won’t argue that some of the more professional directors and filmmakers blew the wheels off my little machinima. . .but realistically, who can afford them? It is very doubtful that any of those filmmakers are looking to corner the book trailer market. They’re looking to make a name for themselves as. . .well, filmmakers.

And more power to them. I support their endeavors one hundred percent.

Still, somewhere along the way, the focus was shifted from “what’s best for the author” to “what’s best for the filmmaker.” In a contest like this one, perhaps that’s fine. But in the long run, none of the authors I know would tolerate the broad creative license so many uploaders took with Ania Ahlborn’s material. What set me apart from every other contestant is that they know filmmaking. I know writers.

As far as my video versus video #29, I can tell you that:

A) Not a single animator (that I know of) liked my machinima; most didn’t even recognize it as machinima, period.
B) Not a single writer (that I know of) liked video #29.

I could spout volumes of opinion about a bunch of digital arts students who have no clue what machinima is or what it’s for. But you don’t want to hear that. More germane to this blog is my take on all the professional writers who preferred my direct, true-to-the-novel approach rather than #29’s obscure interpretation of the novel’s synopsis rather than the novel itself. And if the writer is the client, shouldn’t their expectations trump all?

I never expected my machinima entry to be well-received. In fact, it performed far better than I ever would have hoped. Machinima has long been the red-headed stepchild of the 3D animation world. Traditional animators routinely scoff at its technology. I have no problem with that. I am infinitely more concerned with responses from the end consumer (the authors themselves and potential buyers of their novel who might watch its trailer) than I am with any reaction from digital arts students who only want to win prize money so they can upgrade their gaming system.

The good to come from this? Well, one example is the online magazine post I found in my inbox this morning. Among all the other articles that span everything from 3-D animation to movies to photography was a blurb about my machinima entry “mingling” with an Amazon contest. You could have knocked me over with a feather. This tells me that despite all the negativity surrounding the contest, my original goal of exposing machinima to the mainstream was not only met, but exceeded. Let’s not forget that author Ania Ahlborn will get a very professional, very well-done book trailer out of this whole ordeal, and even though it won’t be anything I produced, she’s still making inroads into the new world of e-publishing and internet marketing that many of us writers will someday tread. Go, Ania! You’re blazing a trail for all of us. 🙂

Amazon Studios–A Den Of Unprofessionalism

Rather than go into extensive detail, I’m simply going to blog verbatim my profile from my Amazon Studios account. I am sorely disappointed and disiullusioned by the gaming that has been allowed to dominate that contest.

“I want to go on record about the fracas surrounding this contest. I have never seen so much unprofessionalism in all my days, nor have I seen contest moderators that allow it continue for so long.

I feel that I am not in control of my entry any more. People are rating and commenting things that blow my mind. Does the negative campaigning bother me? Not so much. I’ve already gotten everything I hoped to gain from entering this contest. But so much ill will and discord…whether anyone at Amazon Studios wants to believe it or not, this does seem to all center around one particular uploader and a group of his friends from a certain art school. Too much proof has been presented to me to believe anything otherwise.

At the end of the day, we should all remember that this is about A NOVEL. An AUTHOR. Exploring new marketing and promotion options, NOT about whether machinima is better than motion graphics or vice versa. Everyone but me and a small handful of other participants seems to have completely forgotten this. Now egos are dominating the contest, and both public and private unprofessionalism (via Studio Mail) are setting the tone. Sadly, these are the impressions I will take back to the writing community, that this is the kind of dog and pony show you get when dealing with Amazon Studios.

Back to my profile:

I am a storyteller. A writer first, a machinima director second. I believe story trumps all else–no matter how eloquent the prose or how impressive the camera work, without a story, all you have is empty words and wasted frames.

So why have I, a writer at heart, gravitated toward machinima? Short answer: machinima is a type of 3D animation based on video game technology, which gives it it’s distinctive look and style. It’s a technology available to armchair animators and does not require extensive training in digital arts. Royalty-free software has been developed for use in commercial application. Workproduct derived from this software infringes on no gaming copyright and is owned exclusively by the creator. In other words, it’s the perfect visual platform for someone who does not aspire to be a professional filmmaker.

I discovered machinima as a storytelling tool in 2010, and since that time have been exploring its uses in the mainstream, not just in the underground communities that have enjoyed it for years. One thing I’ve discovered is its value in the production of affordable book trailers, which are fast becoming a marketing staple for all new novels, especially ebooks.

Most authors do not have an unlimited budget. This means that for most of us, lavish, live-action book trailers employing professional actors and slick editing chops are completely impractical. One must balance the cost of any promotional strategy against the profit it will generate. The efficacy of book trailers is still largely untested in the literary community, although it seems Amazon is beginning to explore them as a viable marketing tool. Still, very few independent authors can take the financial risk involved in creating one.

While today’s audience (myself included) has been deliciously spoiled by Pixar-type animation with its flowing, individual strands of hair and fluid motion capture, that technology is not currently available to most amateur filmmakers. Commissioning a book trailer made with this technology would rival or possibly exceed the expense of a professional, live-action project.

Is machinima right for every book trailer? Good heavens, no. Will everyone adjust to its peculiar brand of animation? Of course not. But based on reactions within the literary community, I can guarantee it’s right for some, and that many writers can envision their own characters “live” on the screen as machinima avatars.

Now, a word or two about myself–yes, I’ve written novels. No, I haven’t sought to publish them. . .yet. The publishing industry has been in upheaval for a few years and I’ve felt no pressure to entangle with it. Amazon brought things sharply into focus in 2011 with the announcement that their ebooks were outselling print copy. Much debate has raged in literary circles about the demise of traditional publishing and the “plague” of self-published ebooks. Personally, I think the kerfluffle amounts to little more than brick and mortar stores (and New York’s Big 6) hitting the panic button when they see their new bottom line.

But I digress. Although I have yet to put any real energy into seeing my manuscripts turned into novels, other works of mine have appeared in various trade publications and online magazines like Amarillo Bay. I’ve been heavily involved in and credited with the revision and pre-publication critique process of several novels including The Messenger, Exposure, The Story Makers, The Rest Of Forever, and Secret Confessions Of The Applewood PTA, all available for purchase on Amazon’s main site. I’m also an active machinima critic for Sims 2 and 3 derivative works, partnering with another adult machinima director to bring the art of storytelling to the hordes of kids who populate that community.”

Chronicles Of A Hermit

A few days ago, a dear Internet friend asked why I’ve been so “quiet” lately online. Well. . .it’s a long story and I won’t bore you with all the details. Let’s just say that I took a little hiatus from blogs, critique groups, machinima, and sorta-kinda from Facebook to take care of a few personal things.

Whew! And now I have. Taken care of things, I mean. I’ve raised a bevy of birds and seen them through a very successful release, finalized a video project I’ve been working on since earlier in the summer, helped my husband develop some cool graphics for a major printing job, and–even though I’d warned him I might not be able to do it–kept working on Bill Weldy’s trailer a little bit at the time.

My payoffs for re-prioritizing are this: last week I was treated to the sight of all four of my baby starlings together at the same time, sitting on the fence in my front yard. All four the same size, all in identical stages of molt–it had to be Melody, Shakey, Big Mac, and Chip. (The nail polish on their little toes has long since worn away.) Melody still drops by every day to eat food I leave out for her and occasionally brings a sibling. This time she brought two. And Chip–well, Chip still lives inside with me. He flies outside from time to time, stays gone a day or two, then comes back to sleep it off just like a partying teenager. That day he flew to the fence and joined his family for a few minutes–too bad I didn’t have a camera handy. That precious group pose didn’t last very long.

My next big payoff was being helpful to my hubby. He can be a tough taskmaster–for me to actually contribute in a meaningful way to one of his projects is actually a pretty big deal. The collaboration between the two of us resulted in some pretty cool designs, if I do say so myself. 🙂

Next, I have practically ALL the content I need for Bill’s trailer meshed and imported. All the motorcycles, the sets, the props. . .I should be able to jump headfirst into filming tomorrow and get this project completed in a matter of weeks. Maybe even days. We’ll see. Hang in there, Bill! I’ll have you a trailer finished yet!

Last but not least, I entered a contest. It’s a book trailer competition sponsored by Amazon Studios, and the prizes are significant. More than that, my credibility as a producer would compound exponentially if I win. Even if I don’t win, the exposure is terrific. It’s for the horror novel Seed by Ania Ahlborn–which is a good novel, by the way, if you like that sort of story. As picky a reviewer as I can be, I would probably give this one at least a 4.5 for character development alone, maybe even 5 stars. The plotting was pretty tightly woven, too. I would definitely recommend this book to friends without any qualms at all.

The contest is judged by the author and there will also be a fan favorite. Viewer ratings and comments are a pretty big part of the package. So naturally I hope some (all?) of you will venture over to the Amazon Studios Seed contest page, watch my trailer, rate it, and leave a comment. My trailer is #21.

Word of caution, though–the website looks simple and straightforward, but it can be a little tricky to navigate. The trailers are compiled into a view list with a clearly marked tab, but each individual trailer has an identical “cover” so it’s hard to tell exactly what you’re about to watch. Mine is, of course, iClone machinima, and it begins with a car traveling down a wooded road. There is a tiny hyperlink below the viewing window that says “ratings and comments.” Once you click it, you then have to register with Amazon Studios, which is simple and requires nothing but establishing a username and password. But once that is done, I can’t find a simple way to get back to the ratings and comments page. My best suggestion is to simply re-click the URL here. Maybe someone more techno-savvy than me will have better luck with the website.

However, I’d sure appreciate your time and trouble if you choose to support me in the contest. My winning would be great, GREAT news for all of us taking a chance on machinima book trailers. If the Amazon community gets on board the idea, book trailers will almost certainly become a successful new cornerstone of the publishing industry.