Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

Let's just scoot right past the part about me neglecting my blog and give you an update.

I am hip-deep in prose, my friends, hip-deep. I assure you that my idleness on the Rumba is in no way indicative of literary turpitude. The opposite is true: I've been in literary frenzy, a jaundiced spider, all limbs and hunger, spinning verbal webs in hopes of catching a reader's attention six months from now. Or twelve, if I keep hitting bumps in the road.

And there have been bumps. I guess you could say I had writer's block--but I've never liked that term. I didn't have trouble with the writing part, it's just that what ended up on the page was shit. This inevitably turned to wallowing and then sniping at myself. Thankfully, I had a few short stories to edit and send out, so rather than flogging myself, I turned to those. Maybe I'll get a bite. I'll tell you if I do.

My main project, however, is a novel. And it is progressing. I tried to keep it small and contained, but as always, it keeps growing. A description would be difficult, since that inevitably leads to a comparison with other novels, which is really just a comparison with other authors, and that, to paraphrase the Desiderata, can only lead to vanity or bitterness

If a promo person put a gun to my head and demanded an answer, I guess I'd describe it as the love-child of Joss Whedon and Patrick O'Brien, with Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman for godparents.

Said fictitious publicist would probably pull the trigger at that, and rightly so.

Here's a little taste of what I've been working on (with certain names expunged to reduce the spoiler-effect):

           A shrill whistle cut him off. With deep water beneath them, Nauv was mustering all hands for the funeral. She looked half a corpse herself, though she still managed to stand straight and speak in a clear voice.
            Tybalt apparently accorded dead men the same respect as live women, for he wore his shore clothes now, the ones with delicate lace at the chin and wrists. Heelah had the same thought, donning a torc of silver for the occasion. It contrasted with her dark scales nicely. The rest of the crew did not change. Reynard wouldn't have had to anyway, given his preference for black.
            Yonn removed his hat and nudged Zalira to do the same. She pulled it off quickly, smiling with embarrassment. She still wasn't used to men's clothes or the etiquette that came with them, but thankfully, no one seemed to notice.
            After the usual platitudes were spoken, a few men came forward and said some nice things about -------, who was apparently an amiable drunk that had never picked a fight in his life. Mostly, though, the crew just shuffled awkwardly and tried not to look each other in the eye. When there was nothing left to say, Nauv commended his body to the deep and they dropped him in with a splash. As the black water swallowed him there were murmurs among the crew, hushed words that sounded like a prayer.
            Yonn glanced around quickly--the wizarding lords hated religion in all its forms--but at that moment the musketeers stepped to the side and discharged their guns with a roar.
            The smoke lingered in the air for a heartbeat then vanished.

            Nauv did not formally dismiss them; she just put on her hat and went back to the quarterdeck. No one commented on the captain's absence, but Zalira could see from their eyes that every jack there had noticed.


As you can tell, my priority right now is to work on additional fiction, so the blog is really just going to serve as a place for me to post the occasional update on progress. Hope you don't mind and even if you do, have a happy new year anyway.


-Christopher Beats

Monday, November 18, 2013

Another Monday

As you probably have noticed, these posts are getting kind of sporadic. I've started a new project and am putting most of my energy there. My goal is to have a finished MS off to a publisher in less than seven months. I've got a lot of responsibilities right now but still feel that I'll never transition to full-time unless I can get two novels done in a year.

Wish me luck.

In the meantime, I was driving down a moonlit highway the other day and my iPod decided "Ghostriders in the Sky" would be apropos. I always loved that song as a kid. When I learned to play the saxophone, I dug out a piano book shortly after and belted it out whenever I got the chance.

Of course, it's most potent when it's sung. The melody is great but the lyrics are downright awesome. The more I write, the more I find myself paying attention to lyrics and these are great lyrics. Songs are like haikus in that you must choose what absolutely matters instead of just cluttering up your art with everything that fits. You can see this in "Ghostriders"--they don't mention the usual cowboy getup or anything, but instead mention the sweat which makes their shirts stick to their backs, underscoring how this is difficult work.

I could go on, but it would be awful to spend more time talking about a song than it is long.

They've got a bunch of versions on Youtube. Go check some out.

Monday, November 4, 2013

update

Sorry about the lack of updates. In the universe of my mind, stars have spun wildly off-tilt and exploded, their scattered remains condensing into balls of rock and water, germinating on their thin surfaces the delicate business of empires and history, growing the love and hate and sacrifice that make a planet a world.

Also, I've been thinking about pirates and wizards...


Monday, October 14, 2013

One More Reason I'd Like a Time Machine

Fiction's been a comfort lately, probably because after the aliens have blasted Mount Rushmore or the zombies have begun their own movement (Occupy Everything), the politicians set aside their petty differences and actually do what they're supposed to. The country right now makes me think of Nietzsche: "Under peaceful conditions, a war-like man sets upon himself."

I had this professor in college that loved Nietzsche. She even handed out these three stapled pages of sayings, which has been why for the last ten years I have had a Nietzsche quote for everything.

Speaking of Nietzsche quotes, I happened to purchase a game this weekend, which I already own, except now it's an "enhanced edition." If you haven't already guessed from my mention of Nietzsche and enhanced edition, I refer to Baldur's Gate. I don't have a lot of time for games right now, but my better half is a huge Bioware fanatic and like all Bioware fans, she views Baldur's Gate as the Citizen Kane of video games, the platonic ideal of digital storytelling. Of course, maybe the real reason we bought it was because Steam was selling it for $5. You can't even go to a movie for $5 anymore.

Anyway, the shocking part of this tale is how much fun I had playing a game from last century.

Nostalgia is probably a big part of it. I have many fond memories of playing this game a decade ago with my brothers. When my wife and I got married, someone got us a laptop. Right after the operating system came Baldur's Gate, as if the machine would be a naked, empty husk without it.

I'm left wondering how much is nostalgia and how much is just plain quality. Graphics, while important, are still trumped by gameplay, storyline, and dialogue. It's a lot like black and white movies, actually. If a later viewer can get over their biases involving special effects and color, all kinds of stories open up to them.

So will colleges one day have courses with titles like "20th CENTURY COMPUTER GAME CLASSICS"? Will pretentious coeds in black turtlenecks argue about the symbolism of Bhaal over cups of bitter espresso?

All I can say is: God, I hope so.



EDITED 10-15:  Corrected "Baal" to "Bhaal." I guess the writers at Forgotten Realms didn't want the ancient Phoenicians to sue them for copyright infringement or something.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Farewell to Donovan

Well, I officially got confirmation from Carina Press that the Magnocracy Series will not be continued.

If I felt more strongly about telling Donovan's stories, I would look for another publisher or even consider self-publishing. Problem is, the third novel starts a plot arc that would take multiple books to finish. I just can't embark on a project like that without some hope of payoff, so the third novel is getting shelved. Maybe one day I'll go back to the grime and the adventure, perhaps I might even tell Moira's story, but right now I have other worlds I'd like to visit, worlds that might reach a wider audience. Frankly, I thought Vacant Graves was a nice standalone, so I'd rather not mess it up by introducing a conflict I'm not going to resolve.

For those of you who read and enjoyed the Donovan books, I am sorry. Unfortunately, writing is a business and it was a product that just didn't sell. Hopefully you will enjoy my next project even more.


Thank you for reading,


Christopher Beats

Monday, October 7, 2013

Drinking in the drink


The light conditions weren't ideal but I couldn't pass up the chance to take this with my phone.





It's a manatee enjoying freshwater from a hose at the port in Canaveral. I've noticed they gravitate to where boats dock for the freshwater. I've even seen friendly boatowners actually use their hoses to "scratch" the manatees' backs as well.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Mythical...Beavers?

As you can probably guess, I'm really into folklore, legends, and fantasy. I've always been a big fan of imagination, particularly mythic-level imagination. My bookshelf reflects this. I have a few books about animals and a lot of books about history, but there is an enormous section devoted to stuff that never really existed.

With the arrival of children, I looked at all my fantasy and folklore books with a new eye. I mean, if an alien visitor popped down and perused my library, he could be forgiven for thinking that dragons and manticores were real. It's not like this stuff comes with a disclaimer or something.

So I was naturally curious about how this would fit into raising a child. Being a parent means spending an inordinate amount of time worrying about things which you probably don't need to worry about. One of these things for me has been what will happen when a child who needs to be schooled in the Real World encounters the make-believe at such a young age. We had a few story books when I was little, but they were colorful, childish things that sat on the kids' shelf. My parent's bookshelf, meanwhile, was stocked with professional-looking natural history books and a row of staid encyclopedias. The was an inherent difference between childish imaginative stuff and adult reality.

Not so with my bookshelf, which has caused me to wonder if my kids will have trouble differentiating truth from fantasy. I suppose I could go out of my way to say "this is made-up" when we encounter this stuff in a story, but that gets kind of exhausting and, as a storyteller myself, I feel like it's a betrayal to interrupt the sacredness of a narrative to say the narrative is a lie. A preface or afterward to that effect is fine, mind you, but footnotes are for academic works, not stories.

At any rate, as it would happen, the eldest had already begun to pick up on real/make-believe divide without any comments from me. Unfortunately, he came to the wrong conclusion altogether.

We were walking around a lake the other day and came across a fallen tree. This initiated a discussion about beavers, an animal that appears in one of his favorite cartoons. To my complete surprise, the child interrupted the discussion by saying "But beavers aren't real."

Yankee readers may be a little perplexed by this statement, so I should clarify: this park was in Florida. I don't know if it's the weather or the alligators, but beavers don't like it here. Since the child had only seen beavers in a cartoon, he jumped to the weird but understandable conclusion that beavers were make-believe, same as dragons. Though his thesis was wrong, this was a really good moment for me because it reminded me that even young children have a pretty good B.S. sensor and cartoons, thankfully, push that sensor into red.

I tried of course to explain to him that beavers are real and that his father had, in fact, seen beavers before. He didn't seem convinced, though, so my wife has suggested we find a zoo and settle it that way (frankly people like us always look for a reason to go to the zoo).

My own encounter with beavers is an interesting story. I was in Alaska when I was 19 or so with my folks. The first time I saw a beaver lodge out the window of our rental, I demanded we pull over so I could see if there was a beaver around. My parents were floored. To them, beavers were nuisance critters. Why would anyone want to see them?

To a Florida boy, though, beavers are pretty strange. They may be rodents, but they're giant rodents. Giant aquatic rodents. Plus they build things. Giant aquatic rodents that build things! How could anyone not be excited by them?

My parents didn't pull over, but eventually we went hiking near a beaver lodge. I tiptoed off the path, got my camera out (these being the days when one's camera was not also a phone) and made my approach. I saw a widening wake in the water and....

PAT! PAT! PAT!

Nothing.

I looked around for a minute then went back to my mom on the trail and told her about the noise.

"They slap their tail on the water when there's a predator around," she said. "It's a signal to hide."

"There's a predator around?" I looked around excitedly.

"Yeah." She gave me a significant stare.

I must admit that it took me a minute to comprehend her.

Monday, September 16, 2013

This Morning

This morning, shortly after waking up, I went outside. The sky was wispy with gray clouds and I felt a cool easterly. Something about the angle of the sun, the color of the sky, and the flavor of the breeze combined to say "Autumn is finally here."

I say "finally" because I live in Florida. Every summer as the thermometer rises, I go outside in my shorts and say "This ain't so bad," determined to not let it get to me. I power on through those sluggish, moist weeks, convinced that if I can just be optimistic enough, the temperature won't matter.

But it does matter. Optimism is fine in June, but by August I am sick of the heat. I hide in my domicile, ceiling fan whirring overhead, staring out at the bleached, foreboding terrain, worried I may be called outside to do something or that the unthinkable will happen and the A/C will break down. You see, Floridians aren't afraid of hurricanes because they may hurt us. No, we're terrified of losing power for two weeks in August, a common occurrence after a bad blow. So many power lines will get knocked down, so many transformers blown up in green technicolor fury, that we must employ outsiders to fix it all. You can always tell when a big one's hit because the interstates are suddenly clogged by caravans of out-of-state electrical trucks. I don't care if they are collecting overtime; those men are saints.

This year, the weather has had the opposite effect. We've had a number of near-misses, which aside from refilling the aquifer, has also given us the boon of overcast, almost-cool days at the end of summer. And Florida is perpetually worried about drought, so it's nice to complain about flooding for a change. It's funny how hurricanes, so terrible when they strike directly, can be so beneficial when they graze you.

Looking up now, I see very little to worry about in the months ahead. The sun will ease down into the southern sky, becoming more laid back, less harsh. Most of our clouds will blow away and leave a pale blue sky, clear and clean-looking, a contemplation of the infinite.

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Certain Kind of Bias

I hope last week's holiday went well for everyone. As you can tell, I didn't post, for which I am sorry. I didn't get to it because I was busy working. On Labor Day. The irony was not lost on me.

A few weeks back I drove up to see Lake Okeechobee. I've lived in this state for most of my life and never seen its largest lake. That made me feel like I'd failed as a Floridian.

So I crammed the family in the car, rode I-75 west and when it became Alligator Alley I took a turn onto US 27 and hurtled north through sugar cane country under a clear blue sky. You might expect the road here to be small and poorly maintained, but you'd be wrong. The highway is wide and smooth, a massive artery pumping semi-trucks full of sugar and sod down to the glittering coastal sprawl of Broward and Dade counties.

Lake Okeechobee proved underwhelming. The southern rim of the lake looked surprisingly similar to the Everglades. I wasn't expecting an inland sea or anything (okay, maybe I was), but I wasn't prepared to breathlessly climb that berm just to see...more sawgrass.

Here's a picture if you don't believe me. That open water you see is only there because it's a dredged channel for boats.



It's a sad lake that lets a palm tree grow in it.

The trip wasn't a waste, though. I had a nice picnic by the quasi-lake and, although there wasn't much open water, there was still a cool breeze, something to be appreciated this time of year in Florida.

Besides the picnic, I was glad for the drive. Seeing those cane fields laid out horizon to horizon reminded me the role sugar has played in South Florida's history, and its hard not to be impressed by the pump houses and canals which keep this marsh dry, even if they have screwed with the ecology.

I hate to end on a dark note, but it was also educating to see some of the trailers up there. They occupied a narrow band between the cane fields and the town, crammed together along narrow one-lane roads so close together that if someone wanted to borrow a cup of sugar (which they probably helped grow), they'd only have to open a window and reach over into the neighbor's kitchen. All of this just miles from a posh hacienda which belonged, no doubt, to the owner of the plantation.

Am I the only one who notices this stuff?

Monday, August 26, 2013

'Cause how you get there's the worthier part


I watched the Madrid Express pull out of port the other day. I've always found freighters exciting. Any kind of ship, really. Some might not see adventure in cargo-hauling, but I sure do. Besides the fact we badly need men and ships like this, there is a sheer awesomeness to powerful machines carrying stuff around.

I love semi-trucks, too. Maybe it was from watching too much Transformers as a kid (Optimus Prime was a favorite), but I suspect my love of big rigs is a parallel to my fascination with huge merchantmen. I especially love to see trucks blasting down a dark highway when they're streamlined with lights.

Part of it, I'm sure, is the romance of  nomads going hither and yon and all that. Or it could be because I'm named for the patron saint of travelers. I've traveled a bit myself of course: lived on Oahu, been to Europe, Alaska, both coasts of America but deep down I'm a sedentary kinda guy. And we sedentary folk look to the travelers with interest...and more than a little envy.

Authors even more than regular folks. I mean, writers know that the mere notion of travel is enough to make a story interesting. People don't need to save the world or defeat monsters, they just need to go places. Smokey and the Bandit and Firefly aren't about heroes, but they sure are fun to watch.

This puts me in mind of a documentary I was watching from the BBC. The host encountered some camel drovers as they made camp for the night. These men trekked up and down war-torn Sudan through searing deserts without air-conditioning, iced frappaccinos or even a roof over their heads at night. When the TV host asked them how they put up with it, they responded with something to the effect of "Put up with what? This is the best life there is."

I suspect they know something we don't.

I'll full-circle this post and end with a quote from Lao Tzu, courtesy of Loreena McKennitt: "A good traveler has no fixed plan, and is not intent on arriving."



(Full-circle because the post heading is a quote from Firefly.) 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sandcastles

I used to know a Guy. Several decades ago, he sat next to me in a couple classes and wrote the occasional story. He noticed that I wrote, too. I never really saw it as a competition. My earliest stories were written purely as entertainment--for me.

I suspect he did, though. Eventually, the Guy stopped writing. Maybe it was just a phase, I don't know. But later, the same guy picked up the guitar. A mutual friend did as well. This mutual friend was pretty talented and after a little while of playing together, the Guy stopped playing guitar altogether.

Now, there's nothing wrong with trying new things and then giving them up. You gotta find what fits, y'know? But it's sad when a person gives up on something just because they aren't instantly the best at it. To quote Max Erhmann:




The competitive spirit can be a good thing, but not when it ruins things. This thought makes me think of sandcastles.

Now if you go to Seaworld (or just Google them, I suppose, since that's probably a little faster and easier for you), you can see professional-grade sandcastles, hardcore deals with discernible towers and windows and battlements, so real you expect to find little sand-soldiers manning the walls.

When I make a sandcastle, though, it looks less like a castle and more like what you'd get if a cement truck disgorged its contents while traveling at high speeds down the interstate.

And yet I still make them. These elephant-droppings don't last, either. Out of laziness, my castles are always built below the tide line, where the water has made the sand easier to mold. I guess if I were a medieval lord, I'd be the type to build my fortress right next to the quarry just to speed things up. Anyway, this proximity to the water means my work is swallowed by the sea that much sooner.

So I know that, no matter how much work I put in, how much sand I get on my elbows or how much sweat burns my eye, the product will always go the way of Atlantis.

It doesn't bother me, though. It's life in miniature. Time is the biggest sea of all, wiping the beach clean century after century. That might depress people, but not me. If all of our sandcastles are going to be swallowed up the same, why waste time comparing yours to others?

Just build and enjoy.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

You'll Have to Google It

Had a family emergency this weekend, hence the late post.

I'm currently afflicted by a spectacular strangeness, a simultaneous twin ear worm that combines "When I'm Gone" (from Pitch Perfect) with "La Seine" (from A Monster in Paris). I've only seen one of these movies. I'll let you guess which one.

Now one might expect these songs to compete with each other, creating a horrific neuro-cacaphony but they actually go together quite nice, at least in my head. No, the problem is they won't stop. At all. My entire exhausting morning I've carried this insane soundtrack around with me.

I've generally heard that hearing your ear worm or even better, singing it, can get it out of your system.

But what to do when it's two songs? I guess I could fire up Netflix on the Wii while running YouTube on my phone...but timing might be an issue, since my mental composer can apparently speed things up or slow them down to fit the songs together.

The singing would be even more difficult. I have a single rather manly voice, while this bizarro medley requires two decidedly feminine ones. Don't even ask me about pitch-I have the octave range of an asthmatic on a broken harmonica.

I suppose as madness goes, this isn't so bad. Just keep me away from empty cups.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Things I Think About When I Can't Sleep

I've had fairies on the mind lately. I was thinking maybe I could stay up late at the next full moon and catch a few. Then I could take them home and put them in a terrarium (or, more appropriately, a feyrrarium).

I have to admit, there will be hurtles. What do pixies eat, anyway? Mushrooms probably. I already know what they drink: dewdrops and moon-wine. I hope they're teetotaling fairies, though. This is Florida. We have a lot of dew but not much lunar alcohol.

They'll probably bring clothes with them but I'll make sure to collect gossamers in case they want to make more. Will they make their own or will I be expected to tailor for them? Where can I buy a millimeter-long needle?

Exercise may be a problem. I doubt they'll use a hamster wheel. Maybe I could buy a leafblower and rig up some kind of wind-tunnel for them to fly in. Tiny earplugs will be necessary if I do that.

Frankly, I'm more of a free range guy anyway. I trained rabbits to use a litter box, so maybe I can figure something out for fairies. Will they use chamber pots or should I have to rig up plumbing for them?

The free range solution presents other problems. I was able to thwart rabbits (and small children) by putting troublesome objects up high, on shelves. Since fairies fly, where will I put items they can't have?

There's also my cats. Free range fairies would hypothetically share a house with two highly-evolved hunter-killer units. Now the Kitten (what I call her--even though she's grown up) is quick and tenacious, but she's small. They could probably give her a few shilelagh-whacks to let her know they mean business and everything will be fine. The ol' fat tom is another story. At first one might think he wouldn't be a problem, since he's blind. But if the fairies are the invisible kind, he may be the only one of us who can catch them. I mean, he's spent the last year developing his non-visual sense organs, becoming like one of those blind Kung Fu master-hermits you see in the movies, only smaller and fuzzier. He might go after the fairies just to show them that invisibility is a shit power when your pursuer is blind. He's like that, the jerk.

There are moral questions to consider as well. I'm not usually one to catch animals for domestication. I'm more of the visit-the-pound kinda guy. Plus, unlike a lot of pets, fairies look a lot like people. It'll be harder to convince myself they're undeserving of constitutional protection. I'd have to call them 'wards' instead of pets, like I was from San Francisco or something.

Finally, there's the fact I'd have six-inch hedonists in my house. Would they keep me up at night, dancing and playing little instruments? How loud are pixie instruments, anyway? I suppose I could soundproof a room for them. Or institute a curfew. And what about the delicate subject of fairy fornication? I mean, if the legends are any indicator, fairies like to copulate. A lot. They have to be, given the fact they're always trying to pawn their kids off on us. Anyway, when my offspring and I saw two grasshoppers at the park last week it was pretty easy to say "that one's getting a ride from his friend," which was technically true. But I don't think that explanation will work if the child walks in on a live-action diorama of a Roman orgy.

Well, the Con column is pretty robust so far, while the Pro column consists mainly of "They have pretty wings" and "I already have a cage" with a few slight variations.

Not every idea is a keeper, right? I'll get over it.


I do have a nice yard, though. Maybe I could lure in a troll....




*Besides the obvious influence of too much children's television, I was partially inspired by this book I read as a kid. It had advice on how to find, trap, and then domesticate supernatural critters like werewolves and vampires.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Updates, Tropes, Musings

I don't know what to write about today, so I'll just update you on my work.

For those of you who enjoy the Donovan Schist stories, the third installment is well beyond the idea stage. It has actually been smelted, forged, and beaten into something resembling a story. It's still a long way off from publication but I just thought I'd let you know that the series is alive and well. Or alive anyway. This is Donovan we're talking about, not the Care Bears.

That poor guy is something of a damage-sponge, isn't he? Someone, upon reading Cruel Numbers remarked how in noir the protagonist is always beaten and bleeding by the end. I hesitate to make sweeping generalizations, but it definitely seems to be the case with noir I've written.

I realize this, as I glance back over the third story, and I worry that I'm falling into the Trap of Tropes. I tried hard to make Vacant Graves satisfyingly different than Cruel Numbers without compromising the world or characters. [SPOILER ALERT] The next one takes place in Manhattan again, so certain similarities to the first are inevitable, especially the physical state of Donovan by the end.

I've given it some thought and I think that the persistence of noir characters is kind of their draw. Nothing illustrates persistence like soaking gunshots with a stiff upper lip. Noir characters are by their nature anti-heroes, so we can't look for moral behavior to make us like them. They might do a good deed every now and again, but it's really their survival that keeps us interested, the David vs. Goliath aspect of a single human taking on a brutal system.

Or maybe we just enjoy reading about Donovan's pain, I don't know.

At any rate, I'll let you know when I have a date for the next round of Donovan-torture-prose.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Circles or Something

"This show is a lie, son. Don't believe it. Tinkerbell is really a bitch."

I'm not usually that guy, but this was one of those rare moments I couldn't help myself.

Needless to say, my wife was not pleased.

But it was the truth, goddammit. The Tinkerbell I remember was a bitch. She pulled people's hair and colluded with the enemy. Yet now Disney started this complete whitewash  that depicts her as--gasp!--a nice fairy.

It raises a bunch of interesting questions for me. On the in-universe, ridiculous side: why doesn't Tinkerbell appear on Jake and the Neverland Pirates, especially during "The Return of Peter Pan" episode? Maybe it's because she ditched Peter Pan and, in going on her own, has turned over a new leaf and become a nice fairy. Maybe Peter Pan was making Tinkerbell mean.

Alright, no more in-universe speculation, I promise.

As a case study in changing archetypes, Tinkerbell is fascinating. In many ways, her resume at Disney has paralleled the earlier trajectory of fairies in popular folklore.

Just like the Tinkerbell in 1953's Peter Pan (and the play before it), fairies in premodern literature weren't very nice. They were, in fact, downright mean. Remember Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream? He was actually kind of scary. A character tells us that Puck "frights the maidens of the villagery" and will often "mislead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm."

He wasn't a pixie-dust throwing, lovable little cherub. He was a shape-shifting lunatic. The only thing that protected all of us from this pint-sized psychopath was Oberon and let's face it, the Fairy King wasn't a philanthropist either.

At some point (scholars usually say the Victorian Era) fairies were transformed from sociopathic pygmies to cuddly children with wings. Ironically enough, Tinkerbell was, despite her bad attitude, one of the "new" fairies. Her own career, meanwhile, was the process in miniature: she went from a bipolar ball of hate to this CGI'd blond who just wants to do the right thing.

Some folks in Internetland write about the change to fairies in a smug manner, as if the original scary fairies were "real" and modern people are dupes for imagining fairies could be nice. It's that same sort of smugness people use when they complain about "sparkly vampires."

But art doesn't exist separate from its audience. There is an undeniable sort of Heisenberg relationship between consumer preference and artistic creation. If readers enjoy the new archetype, at what point do we acknowledge it has changed? Let's be frank: I don't really like my vampires to be reflective. But if every new book adopts that trope, if the bulk of readers decide they want to be able to find vampires in the dark with a strong flashlight, who's to say they're wrong?

The new Tinkerbell movies are up to number four, so someone's buying them. There are four nice movies about Tinkerbell and a mean one. At what point does the nice Tinkerbell become the real one? Does the Mean Tinkerbell character get extra consideration because she's older or does the 4-1 ratio matter?

Of course, there's other Tinkerbells out there. Disney is only one permutation of the Peter Pan story. But the point remains: archetypes change, same as everything else. We can't expect ideas to be stagnant any more than we can expect mountains to resist erosion.

For those who dislike this simple reality, look at this way: when the archetype goes in a direction you don't like, now you have the chance to be unique. When all vampires are disco-balls, you have the chance to introduce scary ass opaque leeches and shake things up.

But then, of course, Team Glitter will have the right to complain when the bloodsuckers go dark again. And the cycle will repeat.

Anyway...I am, to an extent, a fan of the post-Victorian pretty fairies with insect wings and a sweet disposition. But deep down, I like the scary ones too. So rather than choose my poison, I figure I'll dodge the cycle and just use them both when I get the chance.

I'll let you know when that time comes and you, in turn, can let me know if it works.



Monday, July 15, 2013

Veneers

Every once in a while, you stumble on a story that makes you wonder if Hobbes was right. I remember the first such story I encountered, probably about twenty years ago. As a kid I read the newspaper every day. My interest began with the comics, sparked onto the horoscopes and advice columns, then caught enough oxygen to fan across the entire paper like a scrubland fire.

This incident caught my attention when I was in fourth or fifth grade and blew my little mind. I wish I could link it, but this was an Orlando Sentinel article from twenty years ago.

Anyway, you'll have to trust my memory (a dicey proposition, I know). The facts are pretty simple though: one group of Central Florida golfers (Tribe A) tried to play through the hole being used by an earlier group (Tribe B). Tribe B took offense, words were exchanged, and the two groups attacked each other. One of the men hit another with a golf club. The club broke, which might have deterred a lesser man but not this guy. He then used the broken golf club to stab his opponent repeatedly. Nobody died but the stab victim went to the hospital. The rest, of course, went to jail.

I must've read that article a hundred times, laughing harder and harder with each pass. Golf was supposed to be this civilized endeavor, the hobby of refinement and here were these bruisers going at each other like a Five Points street brawl.

The incident didn't just provide humor for me. It was one of those emblematic stories of my childhood, a frank bit of evidence that some people--no matter how they dress or act--are animals. Maybe more than some, I don't know. Ask me on a good day and I'll say they're in the minority. On a bad day I'll tell you it's everyone.

I'm reminded of this because of a recent event in Brazil, which you may have heard about. If you haven't, here's the link. Every part of this story is bad. Each step of the way, you think "This can't get worse" and yet it does...right up until the gory finish: a blood-splattered triumph like the end of an Assyrian siege.

I realize that they take soccer, er, futbol, very seriously down there but this is shocking nonetheless. It's harsh evidence that the social contract is frail, that civilization is a thin enamel easily scrapped away by the slightest provocation.

There is a counter argument, of course. Rousseau would argue childhood is nasty and competitive, turning docile creatures into monsters. He would argue society is the real source of savagery, driving people to do the things they do.
 
I won't pretend to have an answer. Even if I did, I'd probably disagree with it tomorrow. And that answer would probably be depressing as well, which leaves me with no choice but to end this post with a picture of Oolong the Pancake Rabbit:

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Apologies

It's been a busy week. I finally found some time for myself and ran into those two out in Davie.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Graffito

It's singular for graffiti, in case you didn't know. Graffiti is an interesting topic. I am annoyed by graffiti, except the odd case where it's art, and yet I love to read ancient graffiti because it crystallizes how the common folks felt when the sources otherwise leave them mute.

Maybe I dislike graffiti now since people don't have to spray paint signs to get their point across, they can instead find a computer and use this fancy new invention called the internet.

Or maybe I'm just a hypocrite.

Anyway, I was at a hospital much of this week (hence the late post) and, given the amount of coffee I imbibed, the restroom was a frequent scene for me. This hospital had peculiar locks. They swung the opposite direction of how locks usually swing. I couldn't tell you now what direction locks should swing because it's such an intuitive thing that you never think about it until faced with an oddball lock. Now I know I wasn't the only one who noticed this problem because the first bathroom I used (2nd floor surgical prep) had a black marker notation (including a helpful arrow) scrawled on the wood around the lock. I chuckled and felt vindicated that someone else noticed this irritating reversal of the norm. Later, I was visiting someone in a recovery room (3rd floor) and THAT restroom also had helpful graffiti on the door. This notation, however, was in a different hand and a different color marker. Apparently there's no shortage of markers in hospitals, so administrators should get their locks right if they don't want helpful graffiti all over their bathroom doors.

All of this puts me in mind of college. I stopped once to use the bathroom in Engineering and was pleasantly surprised to find equations and a Tolkien quote scrawled inside the stall, showing that although engineering students had different taste, they were no more mindful of college property.

My favorite college incident, however, was to be found on the 2nd floor of the UCF library. Some joker decided to attack fraternities with his pen, instigating a graffiti-war between Greeks and non-Greeks (seriously, we should call the latter 'Trojans').

I've never quite understood the need to divide and subdivide into tribes and clans, but I read with fascination as these two groups rattled their spears at each other with vulgarity and witticism. The conversation was so delicious that I went to the next stall and read it's interior as well. The vicious battle had, to my delight, spilled over into this stall as well, though there was a significant neutral addition: a helpful chart someone created giving people the opportunity to rate their bathroom experience. Later writers added categories to the chart when they felt their particular type of bowel movement wasn't represented.

I guess some contemporary graffiti has delighted me as much as ancient, so it's fair to say that I'm not as anti-graffiti as I thought. Graffiti tends to be either troublesome and distracting or interesting and witty, in other words, it's art.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Nonexistent Soundtracks

So this weekend I was editing Donovan Schist and listening to Fiona Apple on I-Tunes. I summed it up later to my friends like this: that computer was so noir I needed a flashlight to type with.

A lot of authors talk about what they listen to while they write. I'm an eclectic listener, so that's hard to nail down, but generally when I visit the Magnocracy, I listen to dark stuff. Tool, Evanescence, Chris Cornell, even John Coltrane (especially Coltrane) have all played midwife to my Steampunk. It's kind of surprising then that I hadn't thought to use Fiona Apple before. I keep trying to come up with a "That chick is so noir..." but don't have a good ending for it. Just watch the music video for "Paper Bag" and you'll know what I mean.

Of all the genres out there, noir in particular has a strong association with music: sleazy saxophones and slow-fingered pianos...beautiful women with husky voices and low-cut dresses. Rock Star Games knew it when they made LA Noir. I enjoyed the game's plot and all but honestly, my favorite part was driving through around listening to the murmur of a deeply depressed trumpet.

One of the huge drawbacks to writing Steampunk noir as opposed to the other kind is that I can't bring jazz in. I suppose I could--it's my world right?--but somehow it just doesn't fit for me. Schist's alternate timeline, like our own 19th century, just isn't ready for jazz yet.

If the Magnocracy stories were a movie, though, I'd have to use something, right? So if you're curious, I've always thought "Pegasus" would be a great theme for Donovan. It's underutilized, it's mellow and it's just plain awesome (I'm kinda surprised it isn't covered more often. Here's a link to a high school band giving it a go if you're curious).

Monday, June 17, 2013

Would truly accurate cosplay include the scent?

I've been rereading Dune. I do that every few years, usually when I feel like there's something about Dune I might have forgotten. I realize there are people out there who haven't memorized Frank Herbert's masterpiece, including some who haven't even read it.

All I can say is: I don't understand those people. Like, at all.

The last time I read it a couple years back, it was just after hearing that Star Wars was a rip off of Dune. At first, I kind of agreed with that statement, but after exhaustive conversation with various Star Wars fanatics, I moderated my opinion and decided that Dune was just very influential.

This led to an interesting exchange while I was arguing with one of my brothers (a favorite pastime, if frequency were any indicator).

"How come nobody ever dresses up like Dune characters at conventions?" I asked. "I always see Jedi and Halo characters, even the most obscure anime, but never Mentats or Fremen."

As always, my brother had the answer: "Yeah, I can see it now: 'That lightsaber is nothing, man. Check this out: I can drink recycled pee.' "*





*As always, a simple Google search turned up websites discussing the precise scenario I was talking about.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Another Trip to the Metaphysical Zoo (Mature Version)

So I get up this morning, go onto the internet and brace myself for the usual flood of partisan vitriol and sniping. Imagine my surprise when I find the discussion topic of the day (at least for some people) is whether or not a prisoner in California should be allowed to read werewolf porn.

The article--and people I know--express surprise that some folks are interested in werewolf porn. Um, I mean erotica. Werewolf erotica.


What's interesting to me is that people seemed surprised by the book itself, not the actual legal controversy.

To put it simply: Human beings are strange. We're also creative. And we bore easily. Those three things make for a beautiful, confusing, and at times terrible, world.

Fantasizing (especially sexual fantasizing) is largely about visiting places you won't go in real life. This isn't new this decade; it isn't even new this century. Most anime fans love to giggle about tentacle porn (really--it's a thing). Well I've got news: it's been around a lot longer than La Blue Girl, my friends. Don't believe me? Check out this article on Wikipedia (be warned: it may be 19th century art but it's also pretty graphic).

The whole werewolf-on-human action discussed in the California case is just a modern permutation of a very old fantasy. In Brazil, they have long told stories of weredolphins that come ashore to crash human parties and get laid.

Brazil isn't alone in the horny-aquatic-mammal genre, either. Ever heard of a Selkie? They're seals in Scottish folklore that take off their skins to resemble humans so they can have babies with us. Tragically, the stories all seem to end with the Selkie getting blasted by hunters (making me wonder if the myth represents some kind of cultural guilt over killing such an adorable animal).

No foray into weird supernatural sex would be complete without mentioning Greek mythology because, as Freud noticed, those guys had a story for every kink imaginable. Did you know where the minotaur came from? And then there's the original power-goes-bad CEO himself, Zeus. In an era before Rohypnol, shapeshifting was the next best thing. Just off the top of my head, I can remember Zeus becoming a bull, a swan, even a ray of sunshine. It's almost as if half the Greek myths were actually written by a sleazy private detective hired by Hera as he gathered dirt on the celestial rapist for a pending divorce case.

I think I just got a book idea...


*And somehow I didn't get to Furries, which I know isn't necessarily a sexual thing but always seems to come up in these conversations anyway.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Misty Marsh Hop

So we were lost. Not the scared-out-of-your-mind, panicky lost but that kind of lost you get when you veer off the path in a familiar area.

My buddy Angel* and I had decided one afternoon to drive into Seminole County and kick around near Geneva. For those that don't know, Geneva is a wooded area broken only by horse ranch and pastureland, where the Econlackhatchee snakes drunkenly through thick palmettos and brooding cypress. When the rains come it can be hopelessly mired and flooded. When the sky's been clear for a while, though, it makes for nice hiking.


The trail we used didn't have a lot of amenities. You might say it had none, unless you count a parking lot as an amenity. Anyway, it wasn't long before we were thirsty. As was often the case, we didn't plan very well. Neither of us had brought water.

We trudged through the scrublands, encountering filmy pools and sluggish tributaries of the Econ. We were so thirsty that even that water started to look good, which, if you've ever seen the Econ, will tell you how incredibly thirsty we were.

The Econlockhatchee River isn't spring fed. It is a river of runoff, a stretch of water so steeped in cypress knees and pine needles that it has turned a black or brown color, almost like tea. And I won't mention the things I've seen floating down it, in case you've eaten recently.

So we were semi-lost and very thirsty, off the trail and beginning to feel that our afternoon was a waste. We trudged in the general direction of the car and wished it were over.

Then something happened. We broke out of the woodlands and crossed a pasture. As we paused to rip the stickers from our socks, a dog came bounding out of the grass. It was a pitbull mix, a friendly guy with a short white-brown coat and a perpetual smile.

Angel liked dogs but wasn't very confident around them. I was used to large dogs but had that uneasiness around pitbulls that many people have. This dog, however, was quite friendly and within minutes we realized he wasn't a threat.

Shortly after we met the dog, two people emerged from the treeline. The dog ran to them happily and then back to us. The pair followed their dog over and fell into step beside us.

"Hi," they said. "Do want some oranges?"

It was a guy and a girl about our age (early college). The guy had his shirt slung over his shoulder, displaying a lank, pale torso. He had wild black hair and a scraggly beard. The girl, meanwhile, was an attractive brunette wearing a long, beautiful skirt that she bunched apron-like before her to carry the citrus.

"Absolutely!" we said, taking the fruit.

Without any introduction or explanation, they told us about their walk, how they found this dog wandering around and an abandoned grove where the fruit was just falling off the trees uneaten. So the girl filled her skirt with citrus and they ambled along, glad to find someone to share it with.

As it happened, the pair normally came to this area for the drum circle. It was early for a circle, though, so they'd decided to wander a bit. Angel and I were familiar with the drum circle--a couple of our friends were into that stuff--so we chatted with them about music and how great the park was. They talked a lot about the "energy" of the drum circle, of the naked power that comes from beating dry animal skins beneath a full moon.


More than a decade later, I stand in my kitchen and I bite into a California orange and I'm sad because Florida citrus is vanishing fast. A California orange is good. And it's clean: you can eat it with your fingers and hardly get a drop on you.

But the Florida orange is a glorious mess, a fragrant water balloon which explodes when you open it. That decade ago in Geneva, I was covered in juice. My fingers were sticky, my chin glistened with it. But I wasn't uncomfortable, in part because I was so damn thirsty. But also because it was hard to be self-conscious with these amiable strangers, with this smiling shirtless guy and this absolutely beautiful girl in a long skirt. They didn't care how we looked, all that mattered was that they got to share the fruit they found.



It was without a doubt the best orange I have ever eaten.





*A pseudonym. As you will one day see, not all of my "Angel" stories will be flattering.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

It's Not Just About Restrooms

You ever think about gender and aliens?

I do, especially when I've been watching Star Trek or playing Mass Effect. Quite often in science fiction, the female aliens have feminine traits that parallel humans. When you think about it, that's a little weird.

Human females--mammalian females in general--share certain traits that make them identifiable as females (more or less--individuals always vary, but I'm speaking to the curve here). Outside of our taxonomic class, though, things are different. Among reptiles, females are often larger than males. And there are spiders where the male is so small he'd make a nice lapdog for his mate. There's also at least one species of fish where the male lives inside the female like a parasite! Size isn't the only thing that can be different: seahorse males carry the babies, not the females (they have a pouch like a kangaroo).

So why is it most science fiction races have a simple male/female distinction where the females tend to be physically smaller than the males, have higher voice pitch, and often display the exact same sexual dimorphism as humans (a sophisticated way of saying their broads are broad where broads should be broad)?

There are exceptions, of course. The Empire of Man series reverses how the genders developed. The humans encounter an alien race where one gender has an, um, apparatus which injects ovum into the other gender, who in turn inseminate the ovum on their body and carry the fetus. Technically speaking, these "males" contribute the egg, so on Earth we would classify them as female. Because the ones who actually contribute the sperm are the ones who get "pregnant" though, they are the ones relegated to the status of second class citizen and homemaker (this particular alien society was not very entitled about gender roles). The humans in the story settle this question by referring to the aliens who possess egg-shooting apparatuses as male, since they go to war, rule cities and just generally swagger around like pricks. Which means the authors simply reversed gender assignment. There were still definable males and definable females--an unavoidable dichotomy with an inherently unfair power dynamic.

This raises an interesting question: if we encounter aliens, should we classify gender by social role or by biological reality?


The truth is that this question is kind of uncomfortable because it brings to light how arbitrary our own social roles are. If the aliens land here first (or are watching our television signals from afar), what must they think about our gender dynamics? Do they nod their head or do they laugh? Do they heap scorn on us or do they envy us?

One thing is for certain: it's going to be (or is) great material for some alien's dissertation.



If there's a sci fi franchise that you think approaches gender from an interesting standpoint, throw it out there in the Comments.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Circles


First Flashback:
I'm sitting in the History Office of a certain university. I was on desk duty, one of the many tasks I picked up to pay my way.

Two friends--fellow grad students--drop by to keep me company. They sit on the Big Red Couch and chat about games they've been playing, specifically the latest first person shooter for their consoles.

"God, it's frustrating," one tells me. "These little punks just stomp us. Like you step out of your base and you're dead. It's so humiliating to be killed by a thirteen year old."

"It isn't just being killed by them," the second chimes in. "It's how they act. They taunt you while they're winning. It sends me into a rage. If I could ever find one of those little prepubescent pukes..."

"What makes you think they're thirteen?" I ask.

"We can hear them," the first friend says. "Over voice chat."

The second rolls his eyes. "We'd be able to tell even if they weren't talking. One of the little bastards was called ChiefSlappahoe."

"Wow." I sigh. "Who does that? Who gets to the Log-In Screen and says 'what I really need is a handle that combines misogyny with a pointless ethnic slur'."

"I'll tell you who," one of them says. "A little punk in dire need of a beating."



Second Flashback:
I'm talking to a guy about his son. The lad's taken to playing the X-Box 360.

"But I had to disconnect the internet," he says. "I won't let him play PvP anymore."

"Really?" I frown, because he doesn't strike me as the censoring type.

"You wouldn't believe the language. They say the most hateful things to my son."

"Any reason or were they just being trolls?"

"Oh, well, it's because he kicks their ass. He wipes the floor with them. It's kind of sad, actually."

"Really? Your boy is like seven and he's beating these kids? How old are they?"

"If their voices are any indicator, about thirteen. And they can't stand it when they're beaten by a younger kid."


***
There's a lot of quotes that might apply: reap what you sow, he who lives by the sword, yadda-yadda-yadda.

I just love to imagine that somewhere a raging tween threw his controller down and shrieked impotent curses through blinking fiber optic tubes at the dead-hand seven year old who carpeted the digital ground with ChiefSlappahoe corpses.



Monday, May 13, 2013

Things You Don't Hear

Living near a busy street can be odd. You get used to the drone of cars. When that drone isn't there, it's absence is palpable, as if the world is holding its breath.

You go out onto your porch and see the cars aren't there. If your neighbors aren't around, the situation starts to get even weirder.

"Where are the cars?" you ask. "This isn't Sunday morning. This is Friday afternoon. There should be cars."

No cars come and the dark voice in your head starts whispering.

This is it. The zombie apocalypse has arrived.

Still no cars come.

Just as you begin straining your ears to hear the pitter-patter of a barefoot madman, the neighbors come out and start grilling. Friendly chatter wafts over the fence with the smoke and you spot the shine of chrome on the street again.

You realize that the apocalypse isn't coming today.


Maybe with a little regret.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Shameless

In case you didn't know, I am on Facebook.

If that's your scene, consider giving me a "Like."

I feel I should mention it because Facebook keeps pressuring me to do better, like an angry PE couch shouting at me from the bleachers.

Subterranean Neighbors

It occurred to me that I haven't talked about my neighbors on the Rumba. They live in the hole next door.  Here is one of them on his front porch:

Sometimes, when I wake up in the middle of the night I can hear them. They circle the house and scream in the darkness. It drives the cat crazy, as you can imagine.

Occasionally when it rains, they drop by my front porch (where they are always welcome) and say hello.

Once when I let my dog out in the front yard at night, one of them swept down from atop my mailbox and screeched at him. It was probably just reminding us that I was violating our county's leash laws.

I don't let the dog out front any more at night, which I think is pretty nice of me. I wish they'd reciprocate by using somewhere other than my mailbox to defecate.

Some folks only know how to take.

As I was writing this blog, I discovered that they're being evicted. Apparently the vacant lot isn't going to be vacant anymore. My other neighbors--the human ones--informed me that a team is coming out in June to humanely move them out of their burrows.

So instead of being a happy post, apparently it's going to be a bitter-sweet tribute to them (you know, one of ecological eulogies).

I am going to miss these little guys. South Florida, as I like to say, is an asphalt prison. The sprawl just crushes you. I am a guy who grew up playing manhunt in overgrown orange groves. I remember gleefully scratching my legs up, pushing through razor-edged palmettos to get at the very best blackberry patches. A day was wasted if I didn't come home bleeding and filthy and covered in sweat.

Don't get me wrong--South Florida has tried very hard to have good parks. But those parks, manicured lawns with a background din of car-horns, just can't compare to the oak hammocks, pine uplands, and cypress sloughs of my childhood. I think it's great that the neighborhood kids have safe places to play basketball and tennis. But they're not for me.

Those little owls have been a reminder that Nature is still out there somewhere. The oddest part is that, the species as a whole is a lot like me. Apparently they are largely from the central region of Florida. Development pushed them south where they learned to live in the spaces around canals (and the occasional vacant lot). Like me, they were driven here by circumstance.

I've watched the same family of owls for almost three years now. Every year I see the pair of them come and have children. Or maybe I'm seeing their kids, I don't know. What I do know is that this last year, they had five babies and all of them survived to adulthood, which I thought was pretty amazing. One day I woke up and there were all these feathered golf balls hopping around the entrance to their burrow. Fast forward a few months and the field is now alive with owls. The babies have grown up and dug new burrows all over the field. As I said earlier in the post, at night I can hear them circling my house, marking their territory with eerie cries in the dark. I make it a point to watch for owls when I drive around and I have never seen this many in one area before.

I suppose I should be thankful I got to see them at all. And happy that they prospered and will be removed humanely. But I can't shake the feeling that this is a loss.

Probably because that is exactly what it is.


(click the pic to enlarge)






*I wonder if our culture had encountered burrowing owls first if we would call the other kind "tree owls."

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Difference of a Decade

There is a saying from the Tao Te Ching:


The farther you go, the less you know.


When I first read that line, I thought it meant that all you needed to know was at home. The most important truths are right here; they require no adventure or education to appreciate. Love and inner peace are the best goals of all, so we should stay close to home and value what we have.

But as I spent a decade in multiple states, getting my degree and seeing the world, I encountered new things and, being open-minded, new ideas. I realized how finite I am, how difficult it is for a little creature like me to know everything.

And so the line changed. It meant that travel throws you into chaos and uncertainty, demonstrating that you can't know anything at all; knowledge itself is an illusion. We should seek out new experiences in order to challenge ourselves. Uncertainty is the price of wisdom.

I've never read any critical analysis on this line and in a way, I don't want to. I suspect that Lao Tzu, wily old rascal that he was, would just smile if I asked for clarification.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Acting and Writing

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to act in a play.

The school hired a new drama guy and he wanted to start the program with something big and splashy, so he chose everybody's favorite: A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was perfect for a Hawaiian college, with its playful nature and lush setting.

Naturally, I wanted to be Puck. I got Demetrius instead.

Which was fun. Even if it wasn't my favorite part, it was a major role and I got to work with an awesome group of folks.

So why does this matter to the Rumba?

Believe it or not, acting and writing have a lot in common. One of the most important things in theater is to think about what the character would have said if someone else weren't talking. In many instances, you have to have a "fake" line prepared in your mind that you're about to say before another character cuts you off.

It helps you understand your character better and makes dialogues more believable. Nothing shuts down suspension of disbelief like awkward silences. It also creates a fun scenario where the actor who is supposed to speak must shout over the other actor, making things much more dramatic.

Writing first person narratives is a bit like acting. You jump into a character's shoes and try to imagine the world from their point of view. The story becomes a mental play as you consider how the main character will react to situations, what they will say and think and feel.


My advice to is to take part in a play sometime. You'll get lessons you weren't even looking for.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Johnny Rode Shotgun

I had to do a bit of driving this weekend, some it through areas with less-than-ideal radio stations to listen to. I won't call out any counties by name--I'm sure they're lovely places off the interstate--but let's just say the sermons were heavier than the metal.

This time, though, I came prepared. With a CD. A Johnny Cash CD. I grew up hearing 'Ring of Fire.' And my older brother made me sit through a few of his ballads, like a 'Boy Named Sue' (which, if you didn't know, was written by Shel Silverstein). I liked everything I'd from him so far and it was time to expand my musical repertoire a little.

Turns out, Johnny Cash is great road trip material. As I drove alone down that dark highway, the trip came alive with ballads about miners, auto workers, murderers and yes, unfortunate men named Sue. It was less like listening to a CD and more like getting tall tales from a friendly passenger trying hard to keep me from falling asleep.

It worked. It's easy to stay awake when you're laughing or cringing or wondering what on Earth is going to happen next. That's the beauty of a good ballad--it's more than just a catchy tune, it tells a story. And as you can imagine, I love stories.

The only problem now, of course, is that I know all the endings. I guess I may just have to go out and find other albums I haven't heard yet...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Perchance to Dream

~Another True Dialogue~
Enter ME and THREE YEAR OLD. We look up at the morning sky.


3 YR OLD: Look! The moon!

ME: Yes. Isn't it pretty?

3 YR OLD: Yeaaaah! We went there last night.

ME: You did? What was it like?

3 YR OLD: Blue.





Monday, April 1, 2013

A Sentimental Journey, Part II

When last we left our hero, he'd succumbed to the siren's call of Madison Avenue, finding himself obsessed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Rather than wait for the Michael Bay movie, though, he decided to plunge into the past and look at where this franchise started...

The Palladium role playing game was good. Despite the fact I had no intention of playing it, the book was fun to read and had neat illustrations (no surprise, since Laird and Eastman did most of them).

But I wanted more. This was an early version of the Turtles, a version that wasn't sanitized for young eyes. But it still wasn't the original vision.

While I was probing the internet for a copy of the RPG (out of print, so I had to get it used), I stumbled on Volume I of the comic. Apparently, they'd put all the original run into a hardcover. Rather than hunt down individual out of print comics, I could just grab this.

I hesitated. It was thirty bucks. I hadn't purchased a comic in twelve years, not since my brief fling with Moon Knight. (Well, except for Serenity. As a dedicated browncoat, I bought those comics to try and assuage the pain of its untimely demise.)

Suffice to say I'm not a hardcore comic book guy. It's not that I have anything against them--I think they're a perfectly legitimate form of expression. But the problem is that their cost-to-entertainment is a bit high. I'd buy a Serenity comic for over ten bucks and then burn through it in twenty minutes. Novels, by contrast, cost slightly less and entertain me for days.

I realize I should've stopped with each page and taken in the beauty, read those comics with Zen-like attention. But I'm impatient, like an old time photographer, I stand breathless over the chemical bath, waiting for the plot to develop before my eyes. I want to know what the character is going to say next. I want it now, now now. I am the guy who spent an entire Christmas with my nose stuck in a book. Because I just had to read Eyes of the Dragon in a single day.

Enough about my hang-ups. Long story short: I bought it.

It came promptly, though I didn't even order express delivery (it's unpopular to say so, but the United States Postal Service kicks ass, doesn't it?). When I opened the parcel something magical happened. The past wafted out of the package and blew me back through the corridors of time, to the game stores where I frittered away my youth.

The hardcover edition positively reeked of glue and ink and wood pulp. It smelled like more than just a comic book--it smelled like those luxurious RPG books I'd devoured as a child. It smelled like afternoons spent ambling through strange stores with even stranger books on their shelves.

After that little introduction, I could not help but love this book.

And it didn't let me down. The straight forward black and white art is perfect. It's gritty and imaginative and makes me feel less guilty about reading quickly. I was told there were some major differences between the cartoon and the comics but they weren't as big as I expected. The comic is definitely more violent. But the comic book Turtles aren't psychopaths--they still capture muggers alive. The hacking and dismembering is reserved for life-and-death struggles with their assassin-enemies, the Foot.

The most interesting difference, I thought, was in April O'Neil. In the cartoon I saw she's a journalist. In the comic she's a computer technician, which explains a lot. Really, why would a television reporter wear coveralls?

Overall, the main characters are actually pretty similar. I may get pilloried for saying that, but I can see what I liked about the show paralleled in the comics. That said, I haven't seen any of the later TV shows and, for that matter, have only a spotty memory of the 1987 series.

Splinter, by the way, is absolutely awesome in the comics. He's got a good sense of humor and is drawn in an almost creepy way, which I appreciate, since he's an enormous rat that skulks in a sewer. I've always had a fondness for Splinter. I remember his toy quite vividly: he was bent over and had a cane-sword. That little surprise was magical--I honestly thought the TMNT creators had invented it.

I have a favorite Turtle but truthfully, Splinter is my favorite character in the series. That insight was interesting when combined with my reaction to Star Wars: Yoda was my favorite character in that franchise. I've even been known to argue about who Yoda could beat in a fight, which was a lot easier before those new movies came out and settled the question (without my input, I might add).

If I'm allowed a bit of groundless psychoanalytic narcissism, I'd say that even as a child I was drawn to the mentor archetypes, that I've been interested in teaching and learning from the get-go. One time when I was at a college campus with my mother she told me that out of all her children, she knew I'd end up there.

So the next time I teach Freshman World Civ, I'll know I'm channeling my inner Splinter.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Sentimental Journey, Part I

First I have to say: sorry about the missed posts. A cold laid me low, which was upsetting because I thought I'd already filled my quota of sick days earlier this year.


Without giving away enough information to make me blush, I'll say that I not only lived through the Eighties but have conscious memories of that period. With that in mind, you can probably guess which stories and toys shaped my young mind.


Everybody talks about Star Wars. No denying those movies and toys were a major impact. Everybody talks about their Star Wars toys. There's another franchise, though, that we hardly talked about. Until now, that is.

Maybe I should start at the beginning.

My kid got a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle in a Happy Meal last month. It was Leonardo, only with wooden swords instead of metal ones. At first I was mad at this desecration. Leonardo, after all, was my favorite. After a bit of thought, though, I figured this was a good thing. With wooden swords maybe he'd be able to actually use his swords against something other than a robot. Maybe the writers wouldn't be as shy about him thwacking somebody if it wouldn't cause dismemberment. Musashi used a wooden sword, right? Anything Musashi did is by default awesome, so this time I will not play the curmudgeon.

The toy itself seemed innocuous. Father and son now shared a story (sort of). Everything was fine.

Only it wasn't. That little piece of plastic was actually a harbinger, a green idol sent by the capitalist cabal into my home in order to shape my dreams.

I started thinking about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A lot. I joined a crowd of internet zombies, shuffling and stumbling towards the latest manufactured bit of zeitgeist.

I noticed art on Facebook. A friend posted a link to an awesome tribute website. It might have been eerie, these synchronicities, but I knew better. A movie was coming. The promotional wizards were hard at work, weaving digital incantations atop their glass towers, binding our collective will to the latest moneymaker.

Sometimes, you fight the wizards. They can lead you astray. Remember Jurassic Park? The promotion sorcerers, like drug dealers, just want your money. They don't care if you're satisfied afterwards. They don't care if the product leaves you wanting.

Well, this time I had a way to give in without seeing a Michael Bay movie. This time I could act on the compulsion in my own way, without going to the cinema. (Of course, my willpower really didn't matter anyway. I don't have anyone to watch the kids, so movies are out...)

I remembered that the Ninja Turtles were the product of a comic book, not just the cartoon. So I scoured the internet and found that intersection between my childhood interests and my adult interests--an RPG about the TMNT.

It was put out by Palladium. I have a lot of friends who like Palladium, so I don't want to diss it. But the system never really hooked me. There are aspects I like but whenever I imagined using it I realized that I would have more fun using my old standby.

It was a simple production, slim and battered, with the grainy black and white illustrations that were so common in the early days of role playing. Truth is, I miss them. All the game books today compete with video games and free digital content, so they have glossy pages full of color.

Color illustrations have always been problematic for me. Executed correctly, they are beautiful. But fall short and they look tacky. In my opinion, the last decade of gaming has produced more tacky than beauty.

There was a simplicity to the early RPG art. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles exemplified this. Given the vaguely goofy subject matter, the stark black and whites gave it a bit of class. This is a story, after all, about bipedal turtles using martial arts. One of the villain-groups in the book are psychotic teddy bears with telepathic powers. If they'd been rendered in color, I probably would've laughed at them. But draw them darkly, without color, and they are the stuff of nightmares.

The psychotic teddies were also a playful reminder of the Eighties zeitgeist. In case you were wondering, their name was the Terror Bears. I'll let you make the connection.

As I flipped through the Turtles role playing game, I saw grisly battle scenes, horrific mutants, and, of course, insane scientists. I was reminded strongly of another franchise I loved: Werewolf: The Apocalypse. The TMNT had to have an impact on this game, both in style and content. Even if TMNT wasn't a direct ancestor of Werewolf, at the very least it primed kids like me to play the game. Like TMNT, the original Werewolf had anthropomorphic animals, evil scientists, giant robots, monstrous freaks...a hodgepodge of different genres and stories set in a gritty urban dystopia.

But the potent incantations of the promotional sorcerers cannot be bought off so easily. A battered old copy of a twenty-year old RPG wouldn't dispel them. Besides, this wasn't the original TMNT. It was fun to see how different the RPG was from the cartoons, but it still wasn't the original. This was Palladium's interpretation.

Like Livingstone, I had to find the source of it all.

So I set off to the internet again, card in hand, searching, ever-searching...




(To be continued...)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Scene

[A dark bedroom. 3am. Enter THE CAT].

HUMAN: What? What's going on? Is the house on fire? Why are you on my chest?
CAT: Remember that affection you tried to give me yesterday when I pretended to be asleep?
HUMAN: You were pretending?
CAT: I'll take it now.
HUMAN: What?
CAT: The affection. I'll take all of it. Right now. With interest.
HUMAN: But--
CAT: Tomorrow's too, if you don't mind.

Monday, February 25, 2013

More stories with hauberks in them

I've been reading Ivanhoe in my off-time lately, one of many in my backlog of books to read. Despite my deep and abiding love for chivalry, I somehow made it three full decades without reading it or some derivative thereof. I haven't even seen the movie.

I can't believe Walter Scott was worried about publishing it under his own name. The action is fun and the setting is beautiful. But the dialogue is what wins me over. The personal interaction is just beautiful, on par with Shakespeare, a writer that Scott clearly emulates. I especially love the scenes involving the Clerk of Copmanhubst, a delightful character if ever there was one. Even better than the Clerk is the fool Wamba. Wamba's reminiscent of the jester in King Lear, another favorite of mine.

The prose can be kind of dense for 21st century readers. I realize now why I picked up Rob Roy as a kid and gave up after two pages. I consider myself fairly well-versed in the English language but I had to reach for a dictionary several times with Ivanhoe. To some, that might be a bad thing. To a writer, though, it's like finding new tools he can use later.

Dead Scotsmen aren't the only source of new words for me. I ran into the term rugose while playing a certain card game this month. I had to know what it meant, so I looked it up right then and what's more, my phone actually let me do it. I wonder if this is a temporary detente or if the machine and I are friends now.










I bet you're just burning up to know what rugose means. The simplest answer is "wrinkly."

Friday, February 22, 2013

I'm the guest blogger over at Blue Chocolate Diaries this week.

Check it out.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Your Mission

Hello everyone.

I hope you're enjoying Vacant Graves. I have a favor to ask you. It's not difficult, I promise.

You might even enjoy doing it.

If you like the Magnocracy Series, call your librarian (local, college, or all of the above) and tell them they should acquire it for their E-Book collection.

Most librarians have them now and I want to be clear: Carina Publishing loves libraries. And libraries love Carina. The software is DRM-free and very user-friendly. Libraries get people interested who might not want to gamble money on an unknown author or who might not be able to afford a book to begin with.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Vacant Graves




Well, it has arrived.

Get ready for some coal town action, creepy secrets, and...

What am I doing?

Don't read my blog today. Go read the book!



Monday, February 11, 2013

Hackery

I often complain that the internet is mostly just criticism, a high-tech way to ceaselessly judge each other. I say that so you know what a hypocrite I am. Or maybe because this is less a criticism and more of a warning, take your pick. To my credit I think, I'm not calling anybody out by name.

So here goes.
[It will help to imagine me winking at this point]

Esteemed writers of cinema, cartoons, and games,

Writing believable-yet-entertaining characters can be hard, I know. Thoughtful, witty dialogue is such a drag. And now thanks to that Joss Whedon asshole, people are going to expect more of that.

Have no fear! Instead of challenging your audience's perceptions, just rely on ethnic stereotypes to get your point across!

I've completed this handy table to help you. Simple find the adjective/noun that best describes your character and choose an appropriate accent. Those overpaid actors do the rest of the work for you!

Character is:Accent should be:
CrazyRussian, Scottish
HornyFrench, Spanish, Latin American
Manly/ViolentScottish
Pompous/RichEnglish, WASP
RudeVarious New York City
Scientist/GeniusGerman
Weird/GoofyIndian, Swedish
Witty/CleverEnglish























---End Sarcasm----

My own opinion is that accents are great. But I hate it when stories rely on them to establish a character's identity. I've noticed that a lot of children's cartoons just fall on back on stereotypes with accents (brainy German genius, arrogant rich guy with a WASP accent).

I realize that being 'politically correct' is like leprosy to some people, but seriously, what does this teach our kids? That everybody from Alabama is an inbred hick? That all German people are automatically smart?

I guess maybe I should just chill out. But it seems like when we wonder where prejudice comes from we might not have to look very far or deep to find the answer.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Something warm for my northern readers...

Sent out an MS on Friday and am working hard to get another submissions package out this week. So I'm posting this, since I'm told it's worth a thousand words (it's from my last trip down to Bahia Honda, in the Keys. Great park, by the way):




Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Ramble about Vacant Graves

Vacant Graves is coming out soon and I felt I should say a few things about it. I firmly believe that an artist should never apologize for their work. All art is experimentation, and experimentation is, by its very nature, risk. That said, a little warning never hurt anybody, right?

Well, I've taken some risks with Vacant Graves. There are certain elements in Cruel Numbers that will make no appearance at all in Vacant Graves. It isn't that I was unhappy with Cruel Numbers. But if I'm going to spin Donovan into a series, I'm going to need some leeway. This means that a lot of his adventures are going to occur outside of the city--his 'safe zone,' if you will. For some stories, that translates into a distinct lack of zany Dutch inventors, violent wives, or sarcastic meditations on New York City.

If, like me, you like these things, then be safe in the knowledge that Moira and Verhalen and New York are still there, waiting for the next adventure.

While we're on the topic, there is something else in Vacant Graves I need to address: the technology. I had a decision to make, early on, about how far out of "realistic" science I was going to go with this. The fact is, I love mecholimbs and ornithopters, so 21st century physics are going to have to take a backseat. That's not to say I'm going to ignore reality entirely, though. You'll notice that my steam engines need to get their boiler going (instead of magically turning on, like an internal combustion engine) and that the weight and byproducts of steam technology prevents it from being used in submersibles and ornithopters. For them, I have to go with steam-cranked "kinetic energy banks," or as you might call them, 'springs.'

Yes, I'm aware of the irony. I refuse to put a steam engine into a physics-defying vehicle because I want it to be real. I can't help it. There's a logic to how ornithopters would work, and steam engines don't fit. I guess I have to plead 'poetic license.'

And add that ornithopters just plain kick ass, so we should give them a break.

Anyway, for all this discussion of ornithopters, they don't show up in Vacant Graves. I guess I mention them now because I know they exist in Donovan's world and they don't exist in ours, so there is a certain guilt there, the guilt of a man who loves science and tries to be scientific whenever he can. They aren't the only technology that defies our science, either. Without giving too much away, Vacant Graves is driven by an impossible technology. It is going to set the stage, in fact, for many impossible technologies that will appear throughout Donovan's adventures.

I hope that doesn't bother anyone. The fact is, I couldn't just leave Donovan investigating financial conspiracies and dragging little girls out of brothels. As much as I gussy it up as 'alternate history,' the Magnocracy is really steampunk and steampunk is about the impossible.

You've been warned and, I hope, whetted.


So read on you crazy diamonds.

Monday, January 21, 2013

to the Moon, Alice!

Alright, as you've probably noticed, I don't link a lot of stuff here. I like my blog tidy if I can manage it. That, and I'm a writer, so I feel obligated to create my own material instead of pawning off other folk's stuff.

I am going to make an exception.

If I were teaching right now (in a classroom...since I guess we're all teachers in a way), I would make my students watch this.

I love it not just because it targets conspiracy theorists, the bane of every historian. I love it because it is an example of how our perceptions can be manipulated. Even people who know we went to moon probably never thought about the fact that in 1969, going to the moon was actually easier than faking it.