The Super-Mansion

The conclusion of The Sure Bet King took place at a Los Angeles super-mansion. My current WIP is also focused around a super-mansion. The super-mansion is one of those setting places that I just love. They’re (impractically) big, they can have a lot of stuff, and they can have very different themes.

The closest thing to an official definition of a “mansion” is “a luxury home at least 5,000 square feet in size”. Super-mansions are even more nebulous, with their only real distinguishing feature being their bulk. My own definition is “it’s a super-mansion if any one room in it is bigger than an entire normal mansion”.

About The Incident: Blog Update

So, the long-feared Russian all-out invasion of Ukraine has begun. I kind of suspected this would happen when A: 75% of the Russian Army, including units from Eastern Siberia, was moved to the border, and B: The Kremlin began making knowingly impossible demands. Frankly, knowing what I know now, it’s kind of miraculous that it took thirty years to get this far.

(And no, Ukraine couldn’t have kept its for all intents and purposes unusable nukes it technically inherited, and it still did the right thing in not trying.)

Fuldapocalypse will continue as normal, as fiction is not real life. I will refrain on commentary as even the well-informed and honest accounts can be subject to confusion. However, I will say that when it became clear that war was inevitable, I made the very deliberate decision to pivot away from my Soviet-Romanian “big war thriller”, and not just because of the general concept or even the area. Having a massive, high-tech, Russian-led army striking against a former client whose only effective resistance is urban and unconventional warfare is a little too on the nose-in fact, the scenario is so similar that you could basically do a find and replace for “Belarus” and “Bulgaria” and change nothing else.

Thankfully, I do have some very good news. The pivot away from that concept to a follow-up thriller involving gambling, mansions, nuclear weapons, and dirty black ops in Southeast Asia with aged characters from The Sure Bet King has gone beautifully. The plot for that has finally clicked, and I’ve been making excellent progress there.

Another Missing World War III Tale

There’s another type of story that seemingly just doesn’t appear in the conventional World War III niche (as far as I can tell): Stories centered around those with neither political or military capability. And by that I don’t mean the opponents in later Tom Clancy novels. The poor innocents caught up in the heat of war are often used in historical wartime fiction, but seem at best only in parts of conventional Fuldapocalypses (ie, Bannon’s wife in Team Yankee).

I think the biggest reason is well, no real incentive to do so. I don’t really have the best knowledge, but I can speculate that historical fiction writers don’t need to use an inherently contrived “Cold War hot but not that hot” setup to tell such a story. There’s plenty of historical conflicts that readers will understand better, and if a fictional one is needed/wanted, making it small, contemporary, or both can offer more of a hook.

So it’s a catch-22. The subgenre would benefit immensely from outsiders bringing their perspective. But most outsiders, even cheap thriller writers, don’t have much motive to write such a thing.

The Similarities Of Two Seemingly Different Activities

What I like about my favorite simulation games is that you can set up a situation and see how it plays out. Sometimes it’s an obvious situation, and sometimes you legitimately don’t know. Sometimes it’s legitimately relevant to contemporary issues, and sometimes it’s a total gonzo fantasy. I did think that writing fiction was different-until I actually wrote multiple books.

In the spectrum of “write completely as you go along” to “meticulous plotting”, I’m somewhere in between. I do make outlines and character lists, as much as so that I don’t forget them as for any other reason. But my final products have frequently either diverged from the outline or incorporated something not in them. Reminiscing on that has made think “a-ha, so it really isn’t that different from a sim.”

It involves me setting up a situation (which is to say the basic plot and main characters). Then it involves me seeing how that situation plays out over the course of me writing and editing it. It is fascinating to look back on my completed books and see how their development unfolded.

On Sports Betting Media

The legalization of sports betting in the United States has brought about a wave of media devoted to it. And even in the offshore era, there were no shortage of websites talking about gambling. After looking at sports betting media, it didn’t take me long to sour on it. Even with less direct knowledge, it came across as being extremely shallow at best and, more often, something sinister seeming. It felt like trying to goad people who knew basic sports trivia into playing a stacked against them game (even back then, I knew the fundamentals of how gambling worked).

And after finding out more, studying more, and getting the spark that would lead to The Sure Bet King, I feel weirdly proud to say that well, I was completely on point. The conflicts of interest are there. Sportsbooks themselves and their loss share affiliates (people who get others to sign up to the books in exchange for a share of the house winnings) obviously have no direct incentive to help punters win and much motivation to help them lose. There’s a reason why sportsbooks hype up the people who hit a monster parlay/accumulator (where multiple outcomes all have to win), because those are where the house has the biggest edge. The idea is to get Joe Sportsball Fan to be convinced that if he follows his gut and knowledge of trivia, like how Aaron Rodgers doesn’t have that clutch spirit, then the jackpot will be his.

Even more innocently, I think (no pun intended) that even without this conflict, a lot of sports betting shows are just basic sports opinion pieces given a gilded gambling coating. The indispensable “Sports Truth with William Leiss” channel (who I actually thanked in the dedication to my book, and with good reason), has two videos showing this, which is dubbed the “think tank.” There isn’t any actual statistical analysis (not that most sports hosts could really do it beyond “Oh, he’s hitting .230”), just stuff like “I think that the Giants offense isn’t ready yet so I think the Colts will cover.”

Then there are the few sharp bettors who are (of course) magnified on social media. To be honest, after seeing what it entails, I would chose one of my old jobs that involved hauling carts back to a rickety old, cramped supermarket, often in bad weather, for six days a week, in an instant over being a professional sports bettor. It just feels almost wasteful, like a strange form of slumming from people who have the drive and/or intelligence to succeed at other careers that are far less zero-sum and far more relaxing. Learning that a lot of the “sharps” win not by being better handicappers but by a combination of manipulating the lines and doing the equivalent of coupon-clipping and bargain hunting, further drove my opinion down.

In fact, despite me maintaining every bit of negative feelings for the sleazy tactics of the bookmakers, I actually began to take their side to an extent regarding the banning/limiting of winners (one of the most vocal complaints from the sharps). And it wasn’t just “oh, they have to make money.” It was more like “oh, they have every right to keep munchkins from plundering them. Good for them.”

And then there are the touts, or tipsters. These pick-sellers are nearly all scam artists, and when I saw how they worked, I knew that one would be the perfect topic for a novel. Touts got amplified because for the longest time they were the only sports betting figures who could operate semi-openly (see the infamous infomercials), and they took advantage of it post-legalization.

Finally, there are the various governments who treat sports betting as a tax-producing cash cow. New York is particularly ham-fisted in this regard, which is even more counterproductive because there’s the far more lenient New Jersey right next door. So yeah, there’s that too.

So I came away from my research with even less regard for the sports betting industry than I had before-and more of a feeling that it would be great subject matter. So I wrote my first full-length novel about that very topic. And I had lots of fun doing so.

The Tiers of Fighters/Opponents

So, boxing (and to a lesser degree mixed martial arts, though that is an inherently higher-variance sport) has developed a sort of tier system for its numerous fighters. Title Bout Boxing, through its auto-scheduler enabling you to run numerous simulated matches, is good for determining just how good fighters in one tier can fare against those in another. What I’ve found is that cheap thriller opponents can also fit into these categories.

  • Tomato Cans. The bottom of the barrel. They’re set up in deliberate squash matches, most often for the purpose of artificially inflating a fighter’s record. Or providing a spectacle. Tomato cans are always ranked as “0” in Title Bout Boxing, and the only way they can defeat any kind of significant fighter is through an injury/cut/occasional fluke knockout.
  • Journeymen. The middle of the pack. These are the low-tier filler fighters which everyone has to pass through, and which define the median that people diverge from. In Title Bout, they’re ranked 0-2, and aren’t quite as hapless as tomato cans against clearly superior opponents.
  • Gatekeepers/Trial Horses. These are fighters intended to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Barring the above lucky moments, they aren’t expected to credibly challenge for a title themselves. But they can determine if a prospect is all that or not. In Title Bout, they’re typically ranked 2-4.
  • Fringe Contender. This is where the lines start to blur. In-game, they’re a 5-7 ranked fighter who can occasionally win against superior opponents “legitimately” (I’ve found that being able to win via decision is a mark of legitimacy, as are knockouts/TKOs that aren’t due to cuts). Often they’re genuine champions by national/regional standards.
  • Contender. 7+ ranked fighters in-game who can consistently win legitimately, even at low percentage chances overall, against other contenders. I chose the game’s 7 rating as the line because that’s the in-game rating of Ingemar Johanssen, widely considered one the weakest world champions ever.

As always, perspective is important. Even tomato cans are better at punching than any normal person, and the difference is simply a matter of degree. Someone good by lower standards can still be the equivalent of a tomato can against an all time legend.