For The NYC Department of Education…

So, according to this report, the NYC Department of Education has decided that 50 words they have deemed as “offensive” and “unsettling” need to be removed from any standardized tests students might be exposed to. Not profanity, mind you, but everyday words. Because the students might feel “unsettled.”

Good lord.

Anyway, I could harp about the idiocy of this for days (and those of you who know me, know I could keep going like the Energizer Bunny on this) but instead, I decided to do a little bit of public service to both the NYC Department of Education and to those students who now feel shortchanged by the lack of such a variety of words on their ever-thrilling standardized tests. If you click the link above and read the article, you’ll see the fifty words that they want removed. And below, you’ll see a little Lawson snippet I just wrote this morning that uses every one of them. Because, y’know, being the sarcastic prick that I am, this was too good to let pass.


The Stupid: A Satirical Lawson Vampire Story Snippet
By Jon F. Merz

  “They’re pretty sure it was sexual abuse.”
  I looked up from my drink and eyed Niles. “What-an abusive parent?”
  “No, seems he had a fondness for sheep.”
  “Someone should have made sure he stopped drinking after the tenth beer,” I said. “What happened – birthday boys gone wild?”
  “I wasn’t there,” said Niles. “It’s not typically my scene where any sort of championship belching is a factor.”
  “You’ve got standards. That sort of behavior can spread like a vicious cancer if it goes unchecked.”
  “Exactly why you’re getting the case,” said Niles. “The Council wants this stopped. Yesterday, if Ava had her way.”
  The bar was filling up quickly with the after work crowd. I saw several women dressed in pencil skirts and crisp white blouses that caused a tsunami of hormones to flood my system. Niles must have noticed because he cleared his throat.
  “Lawson, if I could get your attention back to the topic at hand-?”
  “Sorry. Was I staring?”
  “Like someone gawking at Kim Kardashian. Give it a rest already.”
  “At least I won’t have to worry about my kids having to deal with celebrity. What a bitch that must be, huh?”
  Niles sighed. “Try not to go off on a tangent. I swear some day you’re going to make me start smoking again.”
  “I never knew you smoked.”
  “Not many people do,” said Niles. “And it was a long time ago anyway. I kicked them to the curb, but every once in a while.” His voice trailed off. “You know…it was an addiction.”
  “I had that same problem with internet porn.”
  “You did?”
  I shrugged. “Nah, just kidding around. But I knew someone who was hopelessly addicted to collecting stories about serial killers. Had newspaper clippings all over the walls. Scrapbooks. You name it, this guy was nuts for the gore of the stories. Really sick.”
  “Anyway,” said Niles, taking a sip of his Grey Goose and tonic. “Ava wants you on this case right away.”
  “Why is she dying from some horrible disease or something? What’s the rush?”
  “This sort of thing can’t be allowed to continue. You know that.”
  “I’ve tried to divorce myself from getting emotionally wrapped up in this craziness. Used to be it was tolerable, but it’s an epidemic now.”
  “It’s evolved,” said Niles. “And that’s the real problem. It’s not like it simply popped up overnight. And someone was finally paying enough attention to realize that if this isn’t stopped then we’ll all be the worse for it.”
  I leaned back, enjoying the way the luxurious leather chair made me feel like a million bucks as it conformed to my back and hips. “I want a bonus.”
  “A bonus? You’re crazy.”
  “This isn’t my usual job. You know that.”
  Niles sighed. “And what sort of bonus are you asking for?”
  “Monte Carlo. I want to go there. Have the Council set it up. First class air travel, a luxury suite, and fifty thousand dollars to gamble away every last cent. I want to splurge a little.”
  “You want an arm trophy with that? Something in blonde perhaps?”
  “That would work. Just make sure she doesn’t look like some painted tart on Halloween, all right? I like class.”
  “I’ll make sure we don’t grab some homeless bum.”
  Niles took another sip. “The target lives in Westchester. You familiar with the area?”
  I shrugged. “What’s to know? Wealthy enclave north of Manhattan. More homes with swimming pools per capita than most northeast towns.” I sipped the Bombay Sapphire and tonic. “So, who am I hunting?”
  Niles leveled a finger at me. “You know, you scarf those drinks down like most people eat Doritos. It’s a wonder sometimes you can even shoot straight.”
  “I am a wonder,” I said. “But it takes an awful lot to knock my ass. I just enjoy the taste.”
  “Your target used to play with the Jets. Does that alter how you’ll handle the situation?”
  “Should it?”
  Niles shook his head. “He had more sacks in his rookie year than anyone else in the league. I’d say that means he’s pretty formidable.”
  I sniffed. “He doesn’t play anymore, does he?”
  “Tore his ACL and had to retire young. Or he was fired. I forget which.”
  I nodded. “My point. He won’t be as mobile as he once was.”
  “You’ve made bad assumptions before.”
  “Niles, I don’t really think I need to bring in a lot of firepower here. No sense using a nuclear missile when a simple knife will do the trick.”
  “If I had to peer into my crystal ball, I’d say you won’t be using a knife. That’s not your style.”
  “True. It’ll be a pistol.”
  “Just make sure your target doesn’t get wind of it ahead of time. The last thing I need to explain to the Council is how your mark developed clairvoyance or something just prior to the hit.”
  “Like the Council would really care as long as it gets done.” I finished my drink. “They’re too busy arguing politics and who is going to get to be in charge next. It’s disgusting.”
  “I realize it might not hold the same allure as say, pornography-“
  “Who said anything about porn?”
  Niles frowned. “The blonde arm trophy will probably fit the bill.”
  “I said I wanted her to be classy.”
  Niles sighed. “Regardless.”
  “Seriously, if she looks like she’s from the projects, I’m not going to be happy.”
  “Lawson, forget your quest to become the new Jay-Z for a moment, would you?”
  I smiled. “Beyonce’. Now that would be something. Booty bootylicious.”
  “Forget it,” said Niles. “She’s not even a vampire.”
  “Then she’s perfect.”
  “Sex is your religion, isn’t it? I mean, you seriously worship it in ways I don’t think other people do.”
  I leaned forward. “Niles, I’ll let you in on a secret: while the Council might think I was put on earth to be a Fixer, I’ve always believed my real role is to be an awesome lover to as many beautiful women as possible. To me, there’s nothing quite like the rush I feel when I transport a woman to another time and place through the use of sex. It’s like straddling time and space.”
  “Straddling being the operative word,” said Niles. “You ever think about fasting for a while?”
  “I wouldn’t do well with a strict fast. But maybe something like Ramadan. You know, you only fast during the daylight hours. Once the sun goes down, it’s all good.”
  “You should have been a rock star. Tommy Lee could take notes on how you handle women.”
  “Let’s get back to business,” I said. “What if this guy smells me coming. What’s the likelihood he’ll run away?”
  “Zero. He’s a fighter. Plus, he’ll want to protect his merchandise.”
  I frowned. “I knew slavery was problem for other countries, but I didn’t expect it be so prevalent here.”
  “And given the recent events that show our kind are involved, I’d say it’s only going to become more of a problem. Hence the Council’s desire that you take immediate action to contain this. We’ve also gotten reports that the slave trade is funneling money off to a variety of terrorist groups – specifically Shining Path and Abu Sayaf.”
  “Wonderful. This mission gets better sounding by the minute. You make sure that bonus is in place, will you? By the time this is over, I’m going to look like I just overdosed on a marathon of Jersey Shore episodes.”
  “Do the job, Lawson. I’ll keep my end of the bargain.”
  “See if Ava’s available.”
  Niles looked at me like I had five heads. “You aren’t serious.”
  I smirked. “Why not? She looks like she could use a vacation. Plus, she’s kind of hot.”
  Niles leaned back. “Are you feeling all right? You can’t stand Ava.”
  “Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t sleep with her.”
  Niles shook his head. “You need a companion, Lawson. Ever think about getting a dog? A cat? I can recommend a good shelter. A buddy of mine works in a no-kill place. Good animals. They could do wonders for you.”
  “I’m fine,” I said. “So, is this supposed to look messy?”
  “Like how?”
  “Like I bash his brains in with a hammer and let the roaches and rats feats on his remains?”
  Niles pursed his lips. “I think your usual method will suffice.”
  I chewed an ice cube and then set my glass down. “All right then. I’ll be off.”
  “Just like that?”
  “Just like that.”
  “Well, you’re not some sort of wizard, Lawson.” He slid a picture across the table. “Even you need to know what your target looks like.”
  I glanced at the photo and slid it back. “Text me his address.”
  “Anything else?”
  I thought for a moment. “Yeah, make sure the airline to Monte Carlo stocks Bombay Sapphire and limes.”

Intelligence Gathering 101

In feudal Japan, the ninja families that conducted covert operations throughout the Warring States period were set up with three different levels. At the bottom of the network, the field operative was known as the “genin,” and it was his/her job to gather intelligence. This information was then passed up the hierarchy to the middle man, the “chunin.” The chunin acted as both a manager of genin and a cut-out, preserving the secrecy of the network if one of his agents was caught and tortured for information. The genin could only realistically give up or compromise certain aspects of the network, but not enough information for the network to be completely dismantled. At the top of the network sat the jonin. It was the jonin’s job to analyze all the information his network had collected and then take appropriate steps to influence happenings and occurrences such that they benefited either the ninja family itself, the community, or even the feudal lords the ninja sometimes worked for.

To this day, the nature of intelligence gathering has largely remained unchanged. Operatives are sent out to collect “raw” intelligence and then send these fragments of data back to headquarters. Computers and satellites suck in massive amounts of information and then stream this back to headquarters as well. You could liken the intelligence gathering process as a whale with its mouth open as it swims, sucking in enormous amounts of plankton. But intelligence gathering operatives only see a FRAGMENT of the information – and usually NEVER the whole picture.

Once the data is gathered, it then needs to be analyzed. This is where experts examine the data and then, based on seeing MORE fragments, begin to form the barest sketch of what the whole picture looks like. The information is further refined – indeed, it is often “tailored” to the expectations of leadership – until a detailed picture forms about the situation.


What is critical to understand about intelligence gathering is that it is simply that: gathering. It is not “analysis.” And problems happen when operatives or wanne-be ninja start thinking they see or know the whole picture and then attempt to analyze the data they’ve overheard or seen or otherwise been witness to. This forced analysis happens for a variety of reasons: it could be ego (“I want to be the top guy here and earn praise and attention from my leader”); it could be inept behavior (“I’m going to do my leaders a favor and analyze this data for them”); or it could be a fault on the part of leadership in not giving out clear directions (“I’m not sure what they want so I’d better give them my opinion on this information.”) Sometimes, it’s a critical failure involving all three.

Here’s an example: you and a partner are conducting surveillance on a garage in an inner city neighborhood popular with a certain Middle Eastern nationality. You’ve been directed to “sit on” this target and report back what you see and hear. One of you watches while the other one catches a bit of sleep, gets food and drink, etc. Then you switch off. You have “eyes-on” the entire time.

Twenty hours into your surveillance, you see two men approaching the garage carrying a large green trash bag. Both men are in their late-20s, athletic, wearing long beards, and seem “switched on” to the surrounding area (meaning they are aware enough to be able to spot anything out of place in their environment). They enter the garage at 1430 (2:30pm) and leave at 1700 hours (5pm). During the time they were inside the garage, a strange smell wafted out and there were sounds of drilling at various points. When the men left, they carried nothing with them. They exited the alley on foot and disappeared around the corner.

A proper intelligence gathering report from this team would look like this: “Team A5 reports that two men of apparent Middle Eastern extraction in their late-20s, athletic and with beards, entered Target Location Bravo at 1430 carrying a large green trash bag. While inside Target Location Bravo, Team A5 noticed strange metallic smells in the air, along with the noise of drilling. The two men left Target Location Bravo at 1700 hours carrying nothing and exited via alley 3-B on-foot. No further information at this time.”

An IMPROPER reports would look like this: “Team A5 reports that two Afghani men with Taliban-style beards who looked like they trained with weights entered Target Location Bravo at 1430 carrying a large green trash bag that looked like it had some lumpy pieces of metal inside. While they were inside, Team A5 noticed a metallic burning smell like melted copper wire and the sound of drilling. The two men left the building at 1700 hours carrying nothing and exited via alley3-B on-foot. No further information at this time.”

Now, these reports aren’t too dissimilar. In fact, to the untrained eye, they’re pretty much the same. But report two is a bad report because the GATHERERS stopped gathering and became ANALYSTS instead. Even more dangerous to the operation is they became analysts without knowing what the WHOLE PICTURE is.

Bad intelligence is what happens when your operatives stop being OBJECTIVE about what they see and become SUBJECTIVE. At that point, they stop being an asset to the operation; they become a LIABILITY.

Look at the reports again: the first reports mentions the men are of “apparent Middle Eastern extraction.” The second report states they are “Afghani.” But how do the operatives know that, short of breaking cover, exposing themselves, and demanding to see identification? They don’t. They simply assumed that because the men look Middle Eastern and wear beards like what Taliban members wear, they must be Afghani. Report one states the men were “athletic” while the second report states the men “looked like they trained with weights.” Again, unless this team trailed the men to the local gym and saw them putting up three hundred pounds on the bench, this is incorrect. Worse, report two states that the green trash bag the men carried looked like it had “lumpy pieces of metal” inside and during the time they were in the garage something that smelled like “melted copper wire” seemed to be burning. This is where operatives start seriously compromising the integrity of the operation because now they are giving their opinion that these two guys are potentially building something in this garage and it’s no far leap to think it could be a bomb. Before you know it, units are scrambled, helicopters are buzzed, and a team takes down the garage only to find these two “suspects” are running an electronics repair shop out of a rented garage. There’s no bomb. There never was. But now the operation is blown because everyone within five miles heard all the ruckus and knew there must have been someone around spying on them.

Contrast this with a proper report that objectively states what was observed and analysts are better able to make decision and leaders can then make better decisions about how to act. In this case, more surveillance determined that the men were doing repairs out of the garage. Target Location Bravo was deemed not dangerous and the team was quietly pulled off the target without exposure or compromise, redirected to another suspect location, and the operation continued.

Gathering intelligence properly demands an individual with the ability to master their ego and make careful OBJECTIVE observations untainted by their personal desires, inclinations, etc. An improperly trained operative – or worse, someone who THINKS they’re a trained operative/ninja/superspy – dirties the waters and prevents the formation of a clear picture. Think about how many times in your own life a friend has come up to you and said something like, “Hey Jimmy said he thinks that Tanya’s not going to band practice enough. He seemed pretty pissed when he said it. Guess that means he thinks Tanya’s a crappy clarinet player.”

No. It doesn’t.

It means Jimmy said Tanya’s not going to band practice enough.

That’s it.

What your friend has missed is the context of the situation and other key tidbits of information. Instead of objectively stating what happened (that Jimmy then went on the state that Tanya’s not going to band practice enough because she lives in the next state and the commute time is really long preventing her from getting to band practice as much as she would like) your friend has colored the information he’s given you with his own subjective interpretation on the event. Now you think Jimmy’s pissed at Tanya, your friend thinks that, and soon others will, too. All because your friend wasn’t smart enough to properly gather information. USEFUL INTELLIGENCE was distorted into USELESS GOSSIP because your friend only saw one fragment of the information and then simply assumed he knew the entire picture – when he didn’t.

Any fool can gossip. It takes no skill and no effort to do it. It shows no mastery of self; it displays all the insecurity, all the failings, none of the self-discipline, and none of the control of ego that is required to be a good intelligence gatherer.

Tragically, we see bad examples of intelligence gathering all around us. In recent years, the invasion of Iraq is a perfect example of bad intelligence gone wrong all the way up to the highest levels of leadership. When you have people being ordered to “refine” intelligence until it meets the needs of leadership, then you have a very, very bad problem on your hands. And the result was a war we should not have been involved in, thousands of lives lost, and billions of dollars that could have been better spent on our own country.

On more personal levels, we are surrounded by people who gossip each and every day. Their own lives are so tragically pathetic that they seek praise or some manner of self-worth by insinuating, assuming, and obfuscating the truth of a situation until they think they have gained some degree of power or somehow bettered their position within the group.

In fact, all they have shown is how utterly incapable they are of being an asset to a team, how completely enslaved they are to their egos, and (in the case of ninjutsu training) how little they understand about the lineage they claim to study.

Years ago, my teacher asked the advanced black belt training class on a Friday night to research the concept of what the moon on the water meant. As is so often the case, Mark, who runs the Boston Martial Arts Center, provides some amazing lessons to his students, but some are more difficult than others. This was one of them. I walked away from that night wondering what he meant about the moon on the water. He’d also been talking about “ego-hooking” lately – using it to illustrate how we so often get caught (hooked) by our own ego and trapped by it and our own insecurities/expectations, etc. instead of progressing. I thought there might be a connection between the two topics and proceeded to study it accordingly. A few years later, it finally made sense.

There’s a direct connection between being enslaved by your ego and one perspective of the concept of the moon on the water (there are other perspectives not germane to this conversation). The moon on the water is just that: the moon’s reflection on the water. IF you’re objective and unhindered by your ego. If you’re enslaved by your ego – to your subjective wants/needs/desires – then the moon on the water becomes something else entirely. And the more subjective you are about it, the further away from the truth you travel.

For those who want to understand intelligence gathering, or those who purport to study ninjutsu, the mastery of self and ego is of paramount importance because you cannot be objective if you haven’t first cleaned out your own mental/spiritual closet. Until you take the time and effort to make sure your own mirror is polished to accurately reflect the truth of who you really are, you will never be able to accurately and objectively report the truth of any other situation. Cleaning out your own junk is hard and it can take years to do. But until you do it, pretending to be anything of an intelligence gatherer/ninja/superspy is simply masquerading as something you most definitely are not.

Wacky Wednesday

It’s been a while since I’ve celebrated how awesome my fans are. So I thought today would be the perfect day to do that. I’m on a push to have new readers discover my writing and become fans, so with that in mind – and if you’re interested – I’ll be doing a bunch of giveaways today throughout the day. There are several ways you can win something:

1. Buy my ebooks

Jon on the Kindle | Jon on the Nook | Jon on iBooks | Jon on Smashwords

Now, when you buy my ebooks, make sure you send me a copy of the receipt so I can log it into my special Wacky Wednesday spreadsheet. Your receipt won’t have any confidential data like charge card numbers or anything (or you can just take a snapshot of the receipt with the date (today) and what you bought) and you should send this receipt to me at this email address: jonfmerz AT gmail DOT com

2. Subscribe to my FREE monthly newsletter by typing your email in the box below and clicking submit – it’s EASY!

Email Address

3. Retweet on Twitter and be sure to include my handle @jonfmerz in your retweets.

4. Share my Facebook Fan Page on Facebook / Share any links to my ebooks on Facebook and then be sure to mention me in a note or something on your profile page, encouraging others to check out my work, “like” my page, etc.

5. Oh, and be sure to Like my Facebook Fan Page!

6. Follow me on Pinterest and Re-Pin My Boards.

And throughout the day, I’ll be pulling random names and giving away some cool stuff, including signed copies of my books, cover flats, and more. Nothing too insane (it’s only “Wacky Wednesday” after all) but enough cool items to make participation fun. Check out the pic below to see what you could win – including the ULTRA-RARE “Dumbass” Cover Flat for THE FIXER, in which the genius working assumed my name had an H in it and printed a whole bunch. (This incident is also known as Jon’s First Publishing Rant)

Everything gets a nice personalized autograph and I send it right out to you for years of enjoyment. And of course, the value will skyrocket when I get incinerated by a giant solar flare during my audition on the next season of America’s Got Yodel.

All right! Get going! The first winner will be announced soon!

Dear General Electric

Dear General Electric,

Earlier today I had an MRI to check out a section of my intestinal tract. That necessitated me being placed into one of your lovely machines for nearly an hour. Thanks to the search-and-rescue training I’ve gone through in the past, I don’t suffer from claustrophobia – which meant that instead of freaking out being enclosed in that tiny tube, I had ample time to make some observations on ways you can improve your product.

1. Get a better soundtrack: while a certain demographic of folks may indeed find the roar of Atlas 5 rocket engines soothing and akin to the lapping of waves on a tropical shore, the majority of us do not. Given all the amazing technology we have available in this country, is it really absolutely necessary for your machine to sound like the backside of an Imperial star cruiser? The choice of sounds for the various imaging going on seems like a buffet of panic-inducing samples from a nonstop slasher movie fest. Wouldn’t a calmer patient bring about better results? Or are you actively trying to have people freak out while in the confines of your machines? How about a nice series of wind chime sounds? Maybe some bells? You could make it like the old department store elevatorswhere the woman with the nice voice used to tell you what floor you were on: “Ding, ding…now examining…your large bowel.” Oh, and your soundtrack featuring the woman who told me about a thousand times to “breathe in, breathe out, hold your breath, relax” today needs to be recorded better and the volume increased so she can be heard over the firing of the ion pulse cannon and the rabid dwarves hammering somewhere down near where my feet were. Just sayin’…

2. Cushions: Look, I’m still fairly spry at 42 years old, but a lot of the patients who use those MRI machines are infirm, elderly, and frankly pretty frail. The old Chinese woman who shuffled in for an exam today looked like she’d break apart in a slight breeze. With that said, the “death tray” (as I like to call it) is about as comfortable as lying on nails. For the entirety of my exam today, I had to have my arms back behind my head resting on a thin lip of hard plastic that only exacerbated the pins-and-needles numbness in my arms during the procedure. Again, these machines have to cost what – $5 gazillion bucks or something? How about springing for a few dollars worth of cushion and padding to make your patients more comfortable? And maybe offer patients the option of getting a back massage while they’re at it using those wooden roller seat covers like the cabbies in New York use. Oh, and lose the air conditioning – I was freezing in there today. Maybe put a nice heating pad in there to help with the relaxation.

3. Appearance: As much as I’ve always dreamed about inserting myself in the afterburner of an F-15, the imposing sight of your machine does little to make people feel at ease. How about painting a giant smiling face around the opening? Maybe invite the local 5th graders over to paint daisies and birds all over the entrance to the tube? Or make it look like what it is: a giant eyeball that will see right through you. Break out the mascara and get some eyelashes on that thing. That would be totally cool. Also, lose the dull cream color. I just drank that Barium Sulfate crap and don’t need to be reminded of how it looked. Get some of the guys from the local chop shop to come over and put some flames on that thing. Maybe a nice neon green or metallic blue. With racing stripes.

Look, I get it: your machine is incredible and it does indeed save lives. For that, I’m extremely grateful. But instead of only focusing on the machine, maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to focus on the patient, too. After all, most people using your MRI machines are there for some potentially serious stuff and they’re already worried enough. Anything you can do on your part to lessen their worry, insecurity, and fear at being rolled down the vanilla throat of Gangor the Magno Monster would no doubt be incredibly appreciated.


Coming Soon…

With March drawing to a close, I thought it would be a good time to update you all on what will be coming out for the rest of the year, what I’m working on, and assorted tidbits like that. So here goes…

Current Works-in-Progress

  1. Mission: Malta – this special novella for newsletter subscribers is running each month, but I’m going to be finishing it shortly and putting it out for sale so those fans who want to read ahead can do so. It will still be free to newsletter subscribers, but if the chapter-per-month thing is too slow, you’ll be able to grab it ahead of time.
  2. CODENAME: Belladonna – Talya’s first spin-off novel from the Lawson series. Hoping to have this finished sooner than you think 😉
  3. Shadow Warrior: The Undead Hordes of Kan-Gul – this is the first book in the alternative Earth sword & sorcery series I’m writing for Baen Books. The first book is due to my editor by June for a Spring 2013 debut in bookstores everywhere.
  4. The Next Lawson Novel – yep, it’s in the works. And no, I’m not revealing the title yet because I want to surprise all of you. Because, y’know, I’m a devious tease…
  5. Lawson: Ten Year Retrospective – a special ebook of the past ten years of Lawson Awesome.
  6. YA Series Proposal – Lots of research going into this, so stay tuned.
  7. Adult Thriller Series Proposal – no supernatural craziness in this one. Just straight up violence, mayhem, and assorted chaos.

With that list in mind, be on the look out for new releases from me around the following months:

May 2012
July 2012
October 2012
December 2012
January 2013

And maybe one or two extra surprises…I know, a lot of teasing here, but good things are definitely ahead. So stay tuned and alert to my Facebook Fan Page for all the latest. And be sure you sign up for my FREE newsletter to get even more tidbits.