A Better Lie

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It has taken eight years of work to get my first novel ready for publication and now, I can finally announce that you can pre-order a special early edition of A Better Lie through my IndieGogo campaign. There are only 100 copies. Each is signed and numbered.

A Better Lie is a novel about a handful of employees at a flower shop who start selling alibis to their customers as well as flowers. It’s also about an affair that gets out of hand and a heist connected to the Russian mob. On top of that it’s a bit of a tour of Tacoma.

I’m the sort of person who believes you should get an idea of what you’re buying before you buy it. So in that spirit, I’m sharing a special short about a character from A Better Lie. Let me introduce you to Augie.

– Jack

Augie

by Jack Cameron

“This is a great apartment…”

There was a pause after he said it. Augie was fairly certain the boy could not remember his name. Augie didn’t mind. He wasn’t sure of the boy’s name either. Tony, Troy, something with a ‘T’.

He watched from the bed as the boy walked around his apartment. The boy had his shirt off. Augie was enjoying the view. This boy was probably half Augie’s age with skin so white it looked like milk. He had that farm-boy-in-the-city look to him. Augie wondered how many times the boy had done this sort of thing. The boy picked up a framed photo from the dresser. Augie almost forty years ago standing next to his friend Daniel. Dan the man. It didn’t matter where they were, Dan could score enough reefer for him and all of his friends. The photo was taken in Quang Tin Province, Viet Nam. Two weeks later Daniel was dead. Shot by a sniper.

“Whoa.” The boy said, “Is this your dad?” Augie couldn’t help but smile. He’d be sixty-eight in a month but he didn’t look it at all.

“How about you stop playing with my stuff and start playing with me?” The boy smiled and crawled into bed with him.

Augie woke up around one in the morning. The boy was gone. He got up. He checked the top right drawer of his old oak dresser. His wallet and keys were still there. He glanced around to make sure nothing else of value was missing. He noticed a Post-It on his front door. It just said, “Thnx. Put my # in your phone.”

Augie grabbed his cell phone and checked the contact list. He had well over three hundred contacts in here. He went to the T’s but nothing jumped out. Oh well.

Augie smiled. As finding companions online went, this one was fairly successful. They both seemed to have fun. No one was hurt and all was well with the world. He opened the refrigerator and found that he was wrong. The boy had taken something. His last beer was gone.

Awake and thirsty, Augie threw on some sweatpants and a t-shirt. He grabbed his wallet and keys and walked out the door. It was a nice night. And MSM was only a few blocks away. He decided to walk it. The MSM Deli was known for great sandwiches and one of the best beer selections in the city. It was also open 24 hours and frequented by police officers.

As Augie passed an alleyway he noticed a short, jittery looking guy standing near the entrance of the alley. Down the alleyway about a hundred feet further, there was a large man doing a bad job of hiding. The jittery guy began to approach Augie and then stepped away. These guys were two of the worst muggers Augie had ever seen. If Augie were even ten years younger, he might cause these guys some problems just on general principle. But as it was, he kept on walking.

At MSM, Augie selected a can of Wingman Ace IPA. It was a Tacoma brew and Augie liked to buy local. He paid the cashier, who put the can in a brown paper bag. Augie stepped out of the place, opened the can, but kept it in the bag. He took a long drink as he passed a police officer walking in. If the cop were a hard ass, he could have given Augie a problem, but cops didn’t usually bother the customers of MSM without good reason.

Augie spotted the jittery guy again about half a block away. Still standing in the alleyway. Augie finished the can before he got there and tossed it on the ground. He wanted his hands free if this turned into something. The jittery guy stepped into Augie’s path.

“Y-you…you got a light?” Augie eyed this guy trying to determine if he was already high or shaking due to withdrawal. Whatever the case, this guy was dumb as a post.

“You don’t have a cigarette.” Augie looked back into the alley. “Where’s your friend?” “Wh-what?” “The big guy. I’m supposed to reach in my pocket for a smoke while the big guy approaches me and then demands all my money or something, right?”

“Wh-who are y-you?” The jittery guy took a few steps back.

“You’re not wrong.” Augie heard from behind him. As he turned around, he felt the punch. It hurt like hell, but he pretended not to notice. He stayed standing, though he wanted to fall. He wanted to show these guys he could take a punch.

“Wait.” Augie said. He could taste blood in his mouth. He ignored it. “You should know something first.”

“What’s that?”

“Two things. One, you’re going to have to beat me unconscious or dead because I’m not giving you anything.”

“What’s the other thing, tough guy?”

“You’ll win. I’m too old to stop you, but I promise you, before the fight is over, you’re going to lose an eye. Possibly both. I will make it my final act in this world. Now I’ve got about eighty bucks in my pocket and a couple of maxed out credit cards. You decide if that’s worth wearing a patch the rest of your life.”

Augie got ready to kick this guy in the crotch as hard as he could. Then the guy said, “Taylor, forget this guy. Let’s go.”

Augie spit some blood on the ground and smiled. That was it. The boy’s name was Taylor.

END.

To read more about Augie, pre-order A Better Lie at IndieGogo.com.
(Link not working? Copy this: https://bit.ly/2LSG0MI  )

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My First Book Is Going Out of Print And That’s A Good Thing

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It was 2006. I wrote a book about all the mistakes of my 20s. It was fun to research, write, and release. I had dozens of conversations with people I might never have met otherwise. At one point, I even had a meeting with a producer from Hollywood about making a Ruin Your Life movie.

Ruin Your Life is meant to be a humorous manual of bad but not hurtful behavior. For the most part I think it still succeeds in that.  But there are portions of the book that I find myself unable to defend. Initially I thought this would mean cutting the objectionable parts and reissuing it, but I think cutting parts out of Ruin Your Life runs contrary to the spirit of the book. So I think the responsible thing for me to do at this point is stop publishing it. I have contacted my publisher to have the book be taken out of circulation. It will be out of print and I doubt I will be putting it back in print.

Ruin Your Life had a good run. It sold hundreds of physical copies and thousands of digital copies. I’m happy for the experiences that happened as a result of that book and apologize to anyone who was hurt by anything I said in the book. As always, the reason I portrayed things one way or another was I thought it would be funny. No harm was meant.

For anyone still wanting to get a copy, it is still available on Amazon as I write this. By this time next week it definitely will not be and it could be gone any time between now and then.

Thank you, everyone for your support. Rest assured that my next book, a novel will be out by this time next year at the absolute latest.
– Jack Cameron

Kickstart Your Kickstarter

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A few years ago a friend of mine invited me out to lunch to talk about a Kickstarter campaign he wanted to do. I did some research and gave him my thoughts on crowd funding in general and what I felt would make a compelling and successful Kickstarter campaign. He succeeded in raising over $100,000. Since then I have consulted on dozens of projects. These consultations have been everything from a quick once-over to fully controlling the entire campaign. In every case, the campaigns I worked on succeeded.

Initially this seemed like a promising thing. If my advice was helping these people succeed in making thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of dollars, maybe I could make a few bucks of my own consulting on Kickstarter campaigns. Unfortunately, the one problem with this is that most individuals who are launching Kickstarter campaigns do not have money to spare for a ‘Kickstarter Consultant’. Often when talking to potential clients they would be incredibly generous and passionate about the project and my working on it until I mentioned wanting to be paid for my work.

This led me to create Kickstart Your Kickstarter which is now available through Amazon.com. This simple e-book is much of my Kickstarter expertise distilled down into an easy e-book with just the necessary information one might want if they were going to start a Kickstarter campaign. And because I know that Kickstarter creators rarely have money, I’m selling this short little e-book for 99 cents.

I will not get rich selling this book, but you may very well get rich after reading it.

– Jack Cameron

The Myth Of Fridays

friday-083Most people who know me know that I’m an atheist. I try to be the sort of atheist who does not believe God exists but does not really care too much what your religious beliefs are as long as you don’t force them on other people (especially me). My girlfriend is a practicing Pagan. In the past I have been a Christian and a Quaker. If prompted I will tell someone that I feel we are all on a path of discovery when it comes to religious beliefs and that those paths are all different. I will say how it makes little sense to me to argue that you are wrong simply because you are on a different part of the path than me.

That sure sounds nice. And it is something I try to keep in mind. But there is a nagging thought in my head. A variation of this though is in the head of every atheist I have ever talked to. It’s the thought that gives atheist a bit of an asshole reputation. That thought is, “How can otherwise intelligent human beings who demonstrate the ability to think rationally, apply evidence, and use logic believe that there’s an old man in the sky who created everything in the universe but only cares about us and did this all in six days as recently as six thousand years ago?”

I have never found a satisfying answer to this question and so I have employed mental tricks to avoid the thought. The typical mental trick I try is that I pretend religious friends and family are playing different Live Action Role Playing (LARP) games. Each religion is a game with a set of rules and it’s all centered around an imaginary afterlife that you get when you die depending on how well you play the game while you’re alive. From a believer’s perspective I can understand how condescending an insulting such a concept is, but understand the idea here was to keep that annoying question out of my head in an effort to be nicer to those who believe and not bug them with that question.

Of course this too has a problem. If I manage to convince myself that it’s all a bunch of LARPers, then the lie I’m telling myself is that every believer knows deep down that God is not real and their religious convictions are illusions. And if I’m not careful I end up saying things to let them know I’m in on the joke. A joke that they aren’t actually telling.

Then something happened. I read a book. The books was called Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind by Yuval Noah Harari. There’s a lot in it but one of the more surprising things to come out of reading it was the concept of myth. Not just myths like Thor or Zeus but myths like nationality and money and days of the week. These are things that have no objective value but only exist because we decide that they do. Really there’s about as much evidence that today is Friday as there is that there is a God. Friday isn’t REAL. It’s an agreed upon myth. There is no scientific test that will prove it is Friday.

The problem for an atheist like myself then becomes what myths are acceptable and what myths aren’t? There’s no real way to live in society without accepting the myth that printed fabric paper has value as do digital numbers in a bank account. Not one strand of DNA in me can be definitively called ‘American’ because America is simply a place we’ve all agreed exists but is actually just a part of a land mass that we have all agreed to call North America. Why is it I would never have a problem with someone believing it’s Friday but I would have a problem with someone believing that a God created them? I wouldn’t think someone just isn’t very smart or at the very least they aren’t intellectual if they still believe in Friday.

I don’t have any answers here. This is just something I was thinking about and I figured I would share it.

– Jack

Eye In The Sky Movie Review

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A suicide bombing is going to happen. It will kill at least eighty people and seriously injure dozens more. You know who is going to do the attack. You know where they are right now. And you have the opportunity to destroy the house they are residing in. You can stop the next headline before it happens. The only catch is that you can only do it using a missile and that missile will kill not only everyone in the building. It will kill an innocent child. What do you do?

This is the situation depicted in Eye In The Sky, a movie starring Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, and Aaron Paul. Eye In The Sky is a fascinating movie in that it’s basically one long scene happening all over the planet at the same time. British intelligence have a plan to capture some terrorists using surveillance provided by a local spy on the ground in Kenya, a drone operated by the Americans from Nevada, and facial recognition provided by a base in Hawaii. As we bounce between these places we watch as various parties determine the best course of action.

I imagine that they chose British intelligence for the driving force behind this because anyone who knows anything about drone warfare done entirely by Americans would know that there would be no debate about what should be done. We would simply kill the bad guys and to hell with the collateral damage. (Anyone who thinks I’m mistaken about this should check out what we did in 2009 in al Majalah.)

I didn’t go into this movie expecting much. It’s directed by Gavin Hood who did Wolverine: Origins. Though he also did Rendition. Eye In The Sky is much like Rendition in that it takes a page out of our questionable foreign policy actions and explores it a bit. Unfortunately, much like Rendition, it’s fairly forgettable. Part of this is because it never bothers to humanize the terrorists. We barely hear a word out of their mouths. They are just bad guys putting together suicide vests. It never gets into who they are or why they’re doing what they’re doing. Eye In The Sky asks the important question, ‘Should we be willing to kill innocents in order to save more innocents?’, but it doesn’t ask or answer, ‘Who are these people who are so willing to kill themselves in the name of radical Islam?’

It may be that I’m asking too much of a mainstream Hollywood film. But if you’re going to get into the morality of the war on terror, I think it’s worthwhile to look at how our actions often help create the very things we’re supposedly trying to stop. It’s fairly simple to say that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few and so we should just accept that innocent children are sometimes killed in order to stop worse things from happening, but such a viewpoint ignores the consequences of those actions. It ignores the part where killing a child leaves a father and a mother who will not blame radical Islam for the death of their child. They will blame the West. Imagine some attack from a foreign government killed your government and then you meet a group that wants to conduct terrorist attacks on that same government. How easy is it for you to agree to help? This movie asks important questions but it ignores questions that are just as important.

Eye In The Sky is a worthwhile movie and I was glad to see it if only to watch Alan Rickman on the big screen one last time. It was also nice to see Aaron Paul in a non-Breaking Bad role. And Helen Mirren is always a joy to watch. I just wish they would have done more with the subject matter.

– Jack Cameron

Superman (1978) Movie Review

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Last night I decided to watch the 1978 Superman movie. This could arguably be considered the first serious superhero movie. At the time it was the most expensive movie that studio had ever made. They filled the movie with some of the biggest stars of Hollywood. They had Marlon Brando playing Jor-El. They had Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. They had Jackie Cooper as Perry White. The special effects were state of the art at the time. They had Mario Puzo, the writer of The Godfather writing the screenplay. And lastly they had Richard Donner directing. He had just done The Omen and would later go on to do Lethal Weapon and Goonies among others.  Superman went on to be the 6th top grossing movie of all time in 1978. It was a gigantic hit that spawned three sequels. (Four if you count Superman Returns.) But was it a good movie?

Superman takes a very linear approach to telling the story. It starts on Krypton with the sentencing of Zod and his two compatriots to the Phantom Zone followed by the Jor-El sending his infant son to Earth just before Krypton is destroyed. Ma and Pa Kent find the crashed ship and rescue the child who instantly shows that he’s not normal by lifting their truck. We then quickly move on to Clark Kent’s teenage years where we see that he keeps his abilities mostly to himself. Shortly after Pa Kent dies, Clark goes into the frozen wasteland with a mysterious crystal that builds his Fortress of Solitude. He stays here for at least twelve years and then emerges in Metropolis as reporter Clark Kent.

And this is when we first really see Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman. The first thing I noticed is how well Reeve embodied the Clark Kent character. He’s bumbling but friendly. He clearly wants to help wherever he can. When he meets Lois Lane and she doesn’t like him, he’s completely confused because the idea of being competitive just isn’t in him. We know all of these things because they were so clearly established earlier in his not playing sports though he knows he can win.

We get our first real look at Superman when he saves Lois from a helicopter crash on the roof of the Daily Planet. She falls. He catches her. And then he catches the helicopter when it falls. This particular sequence still looks great almost 40 years later. In fact it looked better than most films these days look because none of it is computer generated. The helicopter clearly has substance and weight. It’s just a weight Superman can handle. Here again the acting ability of Reeve helped sell this as he just does these things with the confidence of someone who is aware of his abilities. He’s specifically not showing off as that’s something Pa Kent would have never approved of.

There are problems with this movie. There’s a terrible song/poem recited by Lois Lane (played by Margot Kidder) while she’s being flown around by Superman. There’s also the absolutely ridiculous bit where Superman makes the world spin the opposite direction to turn back time. It’s so absurd that it totally takes me out of the movie. But while those issues are significant, the rest of the movie works wonderfully.

One of the things I couldn’t help but notice after watching both Superman movies from Zack Snyder is that not only is Richard Donner’s Superman in this first movie not lethal, he’s practically non-violent. He restrains himself over and over again throughout the movie. Even with dealing with Lex Luthor himself, Superman drops him off in the prison yard with hardly one mark on him. This Superman is about helping and protecting, not beating people to death. He’s….what’s the word I’m looking for? A hero.

Synder could also learn a thing or two about franchising from Donner’s 1978 Superman. This was a movie made at the same time as Superman II. We meet Zod and his companions in the opening scene. We see them flying through space in the Phantom Zone as infant Kal-El heads to Earth. And that’s it. There’s no 15 minute scene in the middle of the movie that makes no sense. There’s no one looking at pertinent files in the middle of the action to give upcoming clues to something. It’s just two very small scenes that establish who the baddies are for the next movie without obstructing this movie even a little bit.

This Superman movie had its faults, but it managed to feel like Superman throughout the entire movie and most of the movie still holds up today almost four decades later.

– Jack Cameron

15 Minute Story #31: The Pipe

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Heather walked up to her daughter’s room. Paula was at school and wouldn’t be home any time soon. If you asked her, Heather would say she didn’t snoop and respected her daughter’s privacy. In truth, her equal bouts of paranoia and curiosity resulted in Heather snooping every chance she got, whether it was going through her husband’s photos on his phone or making sure her teenage daughter wasn’t getting into trouble.

It didn’t take long. She found a tin made for breath lozenges in Paula’s underwear drawer. She opened it and found a tiny glass pipe, a plastic bag with pot in it, and a lighter. Heather smirked. She wasn’t surprised. Heather had come home smelling of pot more than a couple times in the last few weeks.

Heather considered her options. If she confronted Paula about it, Heather would have to admit to snooping. If she did nothing she was condoning it and while Heather didn’t feel pot was really all that bad, it seemed wrong as a parent to condone such behavior. She could just take it and not say anything, but that would just mean there’d be a new pipe next week.

There was another option. Heather hadn’t smoked pot in years. She laughed out loud at the idea. She sat on her daughter’s bed. Heather unsealed the plastic bag and took a pinch out, stuffing it into the pipe and lit it. She took a deep breath, held it, and let it out with a small white cloud.

Paula decided that it was in her best interests not to attend Biology Class today. Mr. Brendle was always a bit too attentive to his female students and Paula simply wasn’t having it. Instead she decided she’d get baked. Unfortunately, she’d left her pipe at home.

She quietly unlocked the back door and listened. She heard nothing. Her mom was probably taking a walk. Paula took a few steps up stairs. She thought she heard giggling but decided it was her imagination trying to freak her out since she didn’t want to get caught skipping.

Paula got to the door of her room, walked in, turned around, and shut the door.  She walked over to her dresser and screamed out loud when she noticed her mom sitting on the bed.

Heather watched Paula with amusement. Heather was snooping (and smoking). Paula was skipping school. Heather made a decision.

“Here.” Heather said, passing the pipe. Paula sat down next to her mother and took a hit, smiling.

Words by Jack Cameron
Illustration by Ossaín Ávila Cárdenas

About 15 Minute Stories
It’s good for writers to write every day, but it’s easy for life to get in the way of that. One solution I read about recently was to write a 15 minute piece of short fiction every single day for a month. You may not have time to do NaNoWriMo every month, but if you like writing, you can always find 15 minutes.

So for the month of January, I’ll be writing and posting pieces of very short fiction that I took 15 minutes to write. I’ve asked that my friend, Ossaín Ávila Cárdenas join me by taking 15 minutes to draw an accompanying image for each story.  Ossaín is one of the owners of a local zine shop in Tacoma called The Nearsighted Narwhal