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|Friday, June 14th, 2013|
|On Seeing The New Hobbit Trailer
Saw the new Hobbit 2: Medieval Boogaloo trailer. Was particularly amused by one overwhelmingly fraught exchange between Legolas and the non-canonical elf, which basically went like this:LEGOLAS: "It is not our fight."NEW ELF: "It is our fight."And now I find myself hoping that the rest of the conversation goes:LEGOLAS: "Is not!"NEW ELF: "Is too!"LEGOLAS: "Nuh-uh!"NEW ELF: "Uh-huh!"LEGOLAS: "Well, neener neener neener. But in Elf."
|Wednesday, June 12th, 2013|
The thing I disliked most about Star Trek Into Darkness is that it exemplified all the stuff people point to as bad game writing. We had a series of action sequences devoid of context (but with jumping puzzles), strung together by static expository speeches. We get profound logic gaps that demonstrate a disconnect between the world and the narrative. And we get, perhaps most obnoxious of all, the deliberate outsourcing of any character development to audience nostalgia. When it comes time for the audience to learn who Khan really is, the film literally phones it in, asking the viewer to remember all the stuff Khan did in Star Trek II. We never learn about the Eugenics Wars. We never learn a single thing Khan did, bad or otherwise, except for a throwaway comment from Admiral Robocop that the 300 year old guy he thawed out was a bad dude. And to be fair, Admiral Robocop isn't exactly the most reliable witness.
Consider, too, the reactor scene, an inversion of the one from Wrath of Khan. It's Kirk who "dies", Spock who shouts "Khaaaaan!" and the whole thing gets turned on its head so that the audience can nod along and get its nostalgia centers stimulated. Except when we first saw that scene, it was genuinely moving. Long before franchises took over the multiplexes, we witnessed the death of a beloved character, one that we honestly thought was going to stick. There was no context for Spock to come back, and so his sacrifice felt genuine. With Into Darkness, we know the cast is signed for a few more flicks. We know that there's no way they're killing off Kirk because this thing's a cash cow. We aren't moved, we're manipulated, and not well.
And then there's the lack of context. Other people have gone over the repercussions of the way in which Kirk gets resurrected, but it's symptomatic. In every scene, in every sequence, there's a profound disdain for what was done and said as recently as the last shot. Khan rides a spaceship into a many-times-9/11 destruction of San Francisco and people are calmly getting onto trolleys three blocks away. Two massive Starfleet ships duke it out inside lunar orbit and nobody bothers to check it out. Kirk's supposed to fire a bunch of torpedoes at the Klingon homeworld from the Neutral Zone, except, hey, we find out later that instead of fuel they'll full of frozen dudes and wouldn't have been able to go anywhere. Starfleet communicators that offer less functionality than my antique Blackberry. On and on and on. But hey, who cares when we can have an action sequence of Sherlock and Sylar jumping from oddly shaped flyer to oddly shaped flyer (and is it just me, or did those things look like they came out of someone's Warhammer 40K models box?) zipping around a should-have-been devastated San Francisco, or a Wow Moment of the Enterprise rising from the oceans of a planet that's about to blow the living shit out of itself in a way that would certainly take out the Enterprise, or a far-future government on the brink of war that doesn't bother with the sort of basic security measures (like helicopter no-fly zones near VIPs) that we've got now.
So I didn't like the film. I wanted to like the film. I wanted to enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the carefully crafted fanservice of the first Abrams Star Trek. I wanted to enjoy Benedict Cumberbatch chewing scenery and possibly turning into a space otter. I wanted very much not to have to write this. But having shelled out IMAX prices to watch someone indulge in the supposed worst excesses of my industry - again, lack of context, lack of consequence, meaningless action sequences, offshoring character development to franchise history, and long expository speeches that fill in backstory, poorly. And no, I don't think this is what game writing is - it's what we get accused of. And it's bad writing, and to see it in a film I had high hopes for was saddening.
|Tuesday, June 11th, 2013|
|Wednesday, June 5th, 2013|
|Tuesday, June 4th, 2013|
|Random Thought On Community, Season 4
Basic law of physics - you can tell where a particle is, or what direction it's moving in. You don't get both. And the same holds for characters in sitcoms.
Most sitcoms are about who the characters are. They're static, they're comfortable, and the humor comes from those familiar personalities interacting with new situations or in new combinations. That's the baseline - we know who these people are. They may learn valuable lessons in their 22 minutes, ones which are often forgotten by the start of the next episode, but really, they don't change much. The newness from episode to episode comes from outside forces acting on the characters - a guest star arriving, a sudden windfall or debt, a job loss or a new love interest who won't stick around long enough to become a regular cast member. Not every sitcom does this for every episode, but by and large, that's the blueprint, and it's why you could pretty easily pull a plotline out of King of Queens and drop it into Married With Children, Everybody Loves Raymond or The Flintstones with minimal modifications necessary.
Community started out like this. The first few episodes were easily recognizable - quirky hottie teaches uptight, jerky guy how to be a better human. Recast Gillian Jacobs with Jenna Elfman, and we've seen it a dozen times before.
But then something funny happened. Maybe it was the Halloween episode, where they took the usual "old guy does dumb thing trying to be hip" trope and extended it beyond all rational comprehension, topped off with a side of Batman. Maybe it was the psych experiment episode, which in any other show would have ended with canned laughter and a round of hugs as Abed and Annie chuckled off their mutual misunderstandings. Instead, what we got in both cases was character change, the recognition on the part of one character that they had affected another, and visible growth.
And with that, Community's characters were in motion - we could see where they were going, but not who exactly they were at any given moment. Troy was in transition from self-absorbed jock to affable nerd to burgeoning adult. Britta went from true believer to self-doubt to finding a purpose. You get the idea. But there was never a sense of destination, only that these people were actually changing as a result of their time at Greendale and with each other.
Then Season 4 rolled around. New show runner, half-season mandate - not the best of circumstances. And the new guys looked at what they'd been given and they made the only choice they could. Faced with a potentially hostile, fanatical fanbase and ridiculously complex premise for a sitcom, they chose not to continue the characters on their arcs. Instead, they focused on who the characters were - Pierce the aging, lonely racist, Abed the weird guy who likes TV, Annie the type-A personality with a crush on Jeff - and they locked these personalities down so that weird situations could be thrown at them, instead of having their own trajectories lead them into weird situations. I mean, we even got an episode with a guest appearance from a fossilized pop singer, which felt like it was right out of the "Very Special Episode of Blossom" playbook.
That's not to say that these episodes were poorly written, or that the new showrunners are bad people. Season 4 was frequently funny and always well-acted. There were episodes where I laughed as hard as I ever did at classic Harmon stuff. But it wasn't the same show, and everyone watching knew it, even if they couldn't quite put their fingers on why.
And now Harmon's back. Maybe he's changed in his year's hiatus. Or maybe his approach to the material has. Maybe his plans for the characters have altered. I don't know. But if he gets the characters moving again, I'll be watching.
|Friday, May 31st, 2013|
|Extra Credits - Charnel Houses of Europe
This week's episode of Extra Credits over at Penny Arcade focuses in on some of my back pages, specifically Charnel Houses of Europe: The Shoah. It's a very kind piece, and a humbling one, and it means a great deal to me that the book is still having an impact on people nearly two decades on.
Of course, there's the usual nonsense in the comments - there's always nonsense in the comments - but that's sadly to be expected these days. I'll let you judge for yourselves
|Reading, Light and Otherwise, on a Serious Topic
It's public knowledge by now that both of my sisters have been diagnosed with cancer. They are, as one might expect, dealing with this in different ways. Marla, the elder of the two, has been interviewed by media outlets as diverse as the Raleigh News & Observer
, and she has handled those interviews with grace and aplomb.
My youngest sibling, Becky, has taken a slightly different tack - a "cancer blog" called Becky Vs. Cancer
. It deals with what she's going through. It's also shoot-milk-out-your-nose funny. So check it out.
|Tuesday, May 28th, 2013|
|Me, Talking About Things
As part of the launch hoopla for VAPORWARE, I did a bunch of guest posts and interviews at various sites. These include:
Chuck Wendig's TerribleMinds
, which on any given day is required reading for any working writer
Suzanne Johnson's Preternatura
, where I talk about being a multi-classed writerGnome Stew
, where I talk a bit about what GMs can learn from gamedev
An interview by the fine folks over at The Qwillery
An extended interview by the Gentleman Gamer
And there are a few more coming...
As for VAPORWARE itself, you can find it at the JournalStone site
, where getting the paperback gets you the ebook free as well.
|Thursday, May 23rd, 2013|
|A few kind words...
from some of the folks who've read it:
Vaporware is life in the world of games, raw and real from a writer who did his time in the trenches - with a supernatural twist that'll make you think twice about late night log-ons and who is really lurking behind the avatar on your screen...
-- New York Times bestselling author James Swallow
A meticulous image of the real games industry so detailed that you'll just assume the supernatural must be part of it. So immersive it makes you want to go check on that video game your spouse is spending so much time with...
-- Mur Lafferty, author of THE SHAMBLING GUIDE TO NEW YORK CITY
Imagine you’re sitting at a bar, surrounded by videogame industry veterans. They’re telling war stories about their past projects, the kind of stories you’d never see repeated in interviews or online magazines, the kind that are insider legends. Everyone’s laughing out of shock or horror at some of the stuff we go through to release a game before Richard Dansky launches into his tale. That’s when everyone shuts up, because Rich is telling a story, and when Rich starts talking, you know it’s going to be a hell of a ride….
-- Lucien Soulban, writer, Far Cry: Blood Dragon
Richard Dansky uses his background in video games to breathe realism into his characters, concepts, and environments. The result is a 21st Century techno horror story that manages the near-impossible: to be both geektastic and incredibly cool.
-- Rio Youers, author of WESTLAKE SOUL.
Richard Dansky writes about passionate, complex, flawed, and completely believable people in this absorbing novel about the toll of caring so deeply about your art. Very highly recommended!
-- Jeff Strand, author of DWELLER
Nobody knows the messy collision of writing and game development better than Richard Dansky. And for anyone who's ever poured heart and soul into a creative project only to watch it die, Vaporware is hauntingly, and almost uncomfortably, familiar.
-- Jay Posey, Writer, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
|Tuesday, May 21st, 2013|
Friday, the fine folks at JournalStone will release my novel VAPORWARE. It has been described as a "video game ghost story", a sort of Fatal Attraction for the digital age where being "married to the job" means something a little different and a lot more dangerous. You can find it at the JournalStone site
, or at amazon
, or any number of other fine purveyors of reading material.
So why write a book about making video games? It's not just a case of "write what you know". I know a lot of things, entirely too many of them relating to who's playing shortstop for various minor league baseball teams. It's a question of "write the stories that you can tell because you know them well."
And I know making video games well. I've been doing it for fourteen years, working on big games and small ones, smooth projects and rocky ones, best-selling titles that won Game of the Year awards and projects that got canceled and dropped by the wayside. I've got stories, and I've heard stories - from friends, from professional peers, from long-term industry veterans and people who left the industry after one product cycle. And I've heard the stories people outside the industry try to tell - yet another "video game monster escapes!" or "get zapped into a video game and fight monsters!" story that leaves behind the most interesting thing about video games.
No, not interactivity. That's the most interesting thing about the games themselves. But the really interesting thing about games is the people who make them, and what they do to make something go from notes on a whiteboard to fully realized experience. It is not, contrary to the commercials you might see, as simple as "tightening up the graphics on level three". It's long work and it's hard work and it asks as much of you as you are willing to give it. Sometimes that's a late night. Sometimes that's a weekend. Sometimes that's 80 hours a week for months on end. And why we do it, and why we keep on doing it - that's the interesting thing, and sometimes it's the scary thing.
At least to me.
And that's a little of why I wrote VAPORWARE.
|Monday, April 22nd, 2013|
|Snowbird Gothic Stories 14 - "The Deep End of the Shallow Water"
Tuesday night, I’ll be appearing at NC Speculative Fiction Night at Atomic Empire in Durham, NC with fine folks like Justin Achilli, Matt Forbeck, Steve Long and many others to celebrate, among other things, the launch of the new issue of Bull Spec. And I will of course have copies of Snowbird Gothic available for purchase, if you’re in the area and want to swing by.
“The Deep End of the Shallow Water” is another Halloween tale from Storytellers Unplugged. Now, as noted previously, I am a big fan of all things monster-huntery and Sasquatchy and ghost-investigatory and you name it. Do I believe in it? Not so much, but I love the concept, the trappings of this bootstrap pseudoscience. I mean, who exactly decided that EMF meters detected ghosts? And yet, here we are with the idea as gospel, at least in certain circles.
And so thestory is about a couple of those monster hunter type guys, setting up shop in a spot where a monster is clearly an impossibility even if you believe whole-heartedly in that sort of thing. You don’t get lake monsters in lakes that you can walk around in an hour. You don’t get lake monsters in man-made lakes next to airports that aren’t technically old enough to drink. You don’t get monsters in tame places, Loren Coleman’s famous account of the cryptid kangaroo that beat up a Chicago cop in the early 1970s aside.
But that’s not what the story’s about. Really, it’s a tip of the hat to the whole notion of horror itself, of being afraid of the dark even though we know there’s nothing scarier in there than last year’s fashions. We know there are no monsters out there, but we keep looking anyway because we want them to be there, and that desire overrides our common sense when the lights are low and hour is late.
There are no monsters in the reservoir near RDU, which is what I based the lake in the story on. There are heron, and cranes, and ducks and geese and cormorants, and there’s an eagle who commutes between there and Lake Crabtree. There are fish, I presume - all those birds have to be eatingsomething - and frogs and salamanders and most likely freshwater mussels or something of that ilk, too. I don’t think it gets much deeper than six feet at any point, and I certainly don’t think there are any monsters.
But on a day when the skies are dark and the wind’s whipping along, when something is agitating the herons and they take off with their great GRONK-GRONK-GRONK cries echoing off the trees, when the water washes a little closer to the road than maybe it ought, well, that’s when you look at the water and you wonder, did you actually see something moving underneath the waves? Something fast? Something big?
But you’re going to look back again anyway.
|Monday, April 15th, 2013|
|Snowbird Gothic Stories 13 - "For The Autumn Queen..."
There’s not much too the origin of “For The Autumn Queen”, just an image.
The story was originally posted at Storytellers Unplugged, a group blog of 30 or so horror writers who’d each contribute one essay a month (give or take) on writing. And for a few years there, the tradition was that for Halloween, instead of doing essays we’d do flash fiction, preferably something suitably scary, with a dash of literary. That’s where “Unhaunted House” first showed up, and “Deep End of the Shallow Water”, and of course, “For the Autumn Queen”.
It’s also where I posted my essay about the day I sold soft-core pornography to a bunch of nuns, but that’s a whole other story.
But in any case, “Autumn Queen…” was inspired by seeing the wind blow a bunch of dry leaves across my driveway. They weren’t quite dried out completely, so they tumbled over one another and banged off each other and generally gave the impression of being both together and actively involved in where they were going. Once that conceit was in my head – an army of dried leaves, headed off to war – other questions soon followed. Like, who were they fighting for, and what was their command structure, and how would they fight?
And then, because it was supposed to be a Halloween story and thus as creepily disturbing as possible, I brought a small child, doing the most innocent small child thing possible, into this mess. I mean, we’ve all pressed leaves in kindergarten, right? Found a couple of nice ones, sandwiched them in wax paper, and stuck them into a book (generally one of Mom or Dad’s largest and heaviest, only to completely forget the leaves for years and discovered them later at the least opportune moment possible). It’s cute and it’s harmless and it’s innocent, which is of course why I had to turn it into something with terrible, terrible consequences.
And I wonder why my mother keeps asking when I’m going to write something “nice”. Current Mood: blah
|Monday, April 8th, 2013|
|Snowbird Gothic Stories 12 - "Unhaunted House"
This is the latest in the continuing series of stories-behind-the-stories for my collection Snowbird Gothic, now available in hardcopy as well as ebook. This installment features a shorter piece (with a longer explanation), "Unhaunted House"
“Unhaunted House” came from painting the kitchen. Well, technically the kitchen and the den, which, like the rest of our house, had been decorated with consummate skill in colors that looked like nothing so much as an explosion in a sherbet factory. Whichever previous owners of the place had done the place up had done it seriously; they’d just done it in a collection of colors like sea foam green and lavender and pink and so forth that Melinda and I vowed to get rid of as soon as humanly possible. The bedroom which became my office was the first target: it went from “lavender with pink trim” to “deep red with dark grey trim” right after we moved in. But other rooms took time, and we still haven’t gotten around to doing something about the dining room with its combination of blue silk wallpaper above the wainscotting and grey/yellow/mauve/azure plaid wallpaper below. That’s partially because we’re afraid of it.
The kitchen, for its part, was done in white wallpaper with green vines with pink flowers running vertically. Around the top of the wall was a border that also was white with different green vines and different pink flowers, and that flowed into the den, which was done up in sea foam green wallpaper the approximate thickness of an Arby’s sandwich. We decided, not unreasonably, that it had to go, and started getting quotes on having those two rooms stripped and repainted professionally. What we learned was that no one was interested in taking our money. The quotes we got for doing two rooms started above $3000 and escalated rapidly, to where it quickly became obvious that no one actually wanted the job. Why no one would exchange goods and services for our money became a bit of a running gag between myself and Melinda, and the best answer that we could come up with was that the hideous wallpaper was actually some kind of mystical ward that imprisoned interdimensional boojums so that they could not wriggle free and wreak havoc on the local HOA.
Then we started stripping wallpaper, at which point Melinda threw me out of the house so I could go to WHC in New York and she could work in peace and quiet. Long story, really, but I’ve since learned that there are good times to call home from a con and bad times to call home from a con, and “while you’re drinking absinthe out of a goblet made from a human skull and your wife is home painting the kitchen” definitely gets filed under “bad time”.
But the idea of mixing unspeakable horror (fictional division) with unspeakable horror (home renovation) stuck with me, and that got me thinking about where that might go in a story. And one of the ideas that came out of it was this: What if it wasn’t the house that was haunted, but the lot the house was on? Or, in shiny happy suburban terms, the lawn.
It is, of course, only a flash piece. Attempts to draw it out just felt like they were diluting the creepy, and I’ve always liked the hard stuff neat. There’s a time and a place for a slow build, and there’s a time and a place to just get to the point. And so this ended up short, if not sweet, but very much to the point.
What happens to the family in the bathroom after the story ends? I’ll let you decide. But the property did get itself relisted. Current Mood: blah
|Sunday, March 31st, 2013|
No Snowbird Gothic tales today, as I'm back home from the all-devouring maw that is GDC for 24 hours before heading off to Toronto for work. However, I promise later this week there will be an update, with the added caveat of me explaining that I do not now and never have wanted to kill Gary Braunbeck. So there's that.
I returned home from GDC to find books waiting for me. Lots of books. To wit:
- The New Hero
- Stoneskin Digest #1
- The Lion and the Aardvark
- Snowbird Gothic (hardcopies)
So I am feeling very prolific right now. Then again, that may be the lingering effects of the redeye back from San Francisco.
|Saturday, March 23rd, 2013|
|Snowbird Gothic Stories 11 - "The Road Best Not Taken"
As you might have heard, I’m a big fan of bigfoot. Not in the “I have a religious conviction that there is a large hairy man-like thing hiding in every patch of woods in the continental US large enough to hide a cheese sandwich in” sense, but rather in the “I find it a fascinating mystery”, and both the cultural and scientific aspects of it intrigue me. I mean, sure, I livetweet Finding Bigfoot
every Sunday because the show’s so damn funny (and the team on it seems categorically determined to engage in behaviors that would chase off any sasquatches within the broadcast area). I have a shelf full of books on cryptozoology, I own a t-shirt with a picture of a bigfoot holding a spatula on it and emblazoned with the word “Chefsquatch”
, I’ve made a Finding Bigfoot parody video with wife and friends
, and I think the Bigfoot episode of Venture Brothers
is one of the funniest things ever broadcast.
And yes, I think it would be fantastic if there really were a new species (or two) of primates out there in the wilds of Oregon, or Australia, or Nepal, or wherever, and yes, I do know people whom I like and respect and trust who say they’ve seen a critter with their own two eyes. But I don’t think every sound in the forest is a bigfoot telegraph system, I don’t think every blob on a thermal view is a sasquatch, and I love me some empirical evidence that we just don’t have yet.
I guess two things really got me into bigfooterie. One was the original In Search Of television series, hosted by Leonard Nimoy as he killed time waiting to guest star on Fringe. That was my first encounter with the Patterson-Gimlin footage, and the casualness of the individual captured – human in a suit or sasquatch – made an impression. It’s the original “I’m Walking Here”, with a side of “and I could rip your arms off if I felt like it.” In a younger, less snarky world, that felt really cool.
The other thing that really made an impression was the Edgar Pangborn story “Longtooth”
, which is about a local sasquatch-type critter in a small town. It’s not gory. It’s actually rather moving. And there’s one bit in it that, when I first read it, absolutely froze my blood. If you can find it, I recommend reading it. It may not have the same effect on you that it did on me then, but it’s still an elegant piece of craft, and a thoughtful one.
In any case, the combined impact of those two tumbled me into a lifetime of being at least interest in sasquatches, and one of the things that meant was that eventually, I’d write a bigfoot story. (I’ve also co-authored a bigfoot novel with my friend J.C. Hay, but that’s another story) And the idea came out of reading bigfoot case files on the BFRO site
Now, if you have not read these, I highly recommend them. Most are pretty straightforward cases of “I heard something in the woods and I think it was a bigfoot”. Some are “I saw something in the woods and I think it was a bigfoot”. And then there’s the stories like the poor guy who went out to a farm in Oklahoma, where a family claimed bigfoots were trying to break into their house to get into their venison lockers, or the one where the guy driving up the west coast had a bigfoot stick its head in his car and yell “BLEARGH!”. And then there was my personal favorite, which is about a guy who accidentally hit a sasquatch with his car.
Now that’s too good to let go. The image stuck with me – what do you do when you hit something that doesn’t exist? Tell your insurance company? They’re going to deny that “hit mythical creature” claim. Back over it to make sure it’s dead? You’re going to need a bigger boat for that. Check to see if it’s all right? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be the one asking an eight foot tall primate how it feels after I’ve hit him with a sedan.
So that’s where “The Road Best Not Taken” comes from. In retrospect, the title’s a little wordy for something in that kind of laconic voice, the literary reference maybe a bit much. But the story, I think, goes to some deep places. The fear of being lost and out of our element, the fear that comes from being utterly without context, and that hairsbreadth crack of separation from normality that you’ll feel for the rest of your life, even if you do escape back into the quote-unquote real world.
To my knowledge, the Great Dismal Swamp is not known for sasquatch sightings. What reports there are in North Carolina tend to come from further west, where the animals were called “woolyboogers” or “boojums”, and one particular specimen acquired the nickname “Knobby”. But that’s OK. One of these things might still be out there in the swamps. And one would be enough.
And as always, you can find Snowbird Gothic in hardcopy
at Amazon, and at the Necon EBooks site
. If you do read and enjoy it, I would humbly request you leave a review, so that others can be reassured that it's not just a collection of stories about trees.
|Monday, March 18th, 2013|
|Things, Stuff, Events
In book news, Snowbird Gothic
is now available in paperback
! And, if you're reading this, you know about the ongoing series of stories-behind-the-stories which appear in this same space, so I won't bend your ear about them.
We have a release date for Vaporware
: May 24th. And there's still time to get in on the contest over at Goodreads, where they're giving away copies
of the book.
Friday I'll be speaking at the Oxford Writing Festival
, in Oxford, Ohio. It looks like a great lineup of speakers and I'm honored to be a part of it.
Next week starts off with the Game Narrative Summit at GDC
, which I'm privileged, along with Mary DeMarle, Lev Chapelsky, Susan O'Connor and Tom Abernathy to be on the advisory board of. We have a spectacular bunch of speakers this year, and I'm very much looking forward to being there. After that is GDC proper, and once again I'll be running my Game Writers' Round Tables.
In April, we have the East Coast Game Conference
, and its first-ever Writing Track. I can't tell you who we have lined up yet, but I'm very pleased and humbled by the caliber of folks who've said "Yes".
And in case you missed the news, I've signed on to do some writing for the estimable James Wallis' Alas, Vegas
project, which has me literally squeeing with evil, evil glee.
|Friday, March 15th, 2013|
|Snowbird Gothic Stories 10 - "Small Cold Things"
Today's story backstory, "Small Cold Things", originally appeared at Angel McCoy's site Wily Writers
, where I still occasionally do a turn as guest editor. Stop by this month and you can see my selections for the Cryptofiction issue, though if you want to read the story behind the one cryptofiction piece in Snowbird Gothic
, you're going to have a wait a while. Sasquatches come to those who wait, after all.
Also, I'm pleased to note that hardcopy versions of Snowbird Gothic
are now available from amazon.com
. So if you're been waiting to pick it up because you wanted that fresh new book smell, you now have your chance. But I digress...
My wife and I are cat people. For most of our marriage we were a three-cat household - her girls Tika
and Storm, and my Giant Evil Cat of Evil, Ember
. Ember passed away last year, and we still miss him. He was 17 when he passed away. Tika's now 18, and Storm is a relative spring chicken at 14 or so. Which is a roundabout way of saying that we had 3 elderly cats, set in their ways, living in one house. All three were set in their ways, and there was, shall we say, some friction, which the cats resolved in the way cats usually do: by making the humans clean up after them. Which we did, if not always entirely cheerfully, because love not only is blind, it also frequently holds its nose. (Note: To be fair, our problems of this sort started before Ember moved back in with us from my parents'; neighborhood toms had apparently availed themselves of our cat door and set about claiming our living room in the name of Mars.)
All of which is a nice way of saying that we love our cats dearly, even though under a black light the living room carpet looked like a Santana album cover. (Note: We no longer have carpet in the living room).
Now, I like to think we have understood this is part of the package deal with cats, and have cleaned as necessary with good cheer. You agree to make a pet part of your life, after all, that's a responsibility, not a convenience. And I think that both Melinda and I would agree that we very happy to have had our cats for all these years.
But I can also see how for someone else, this sort of thing might not be accepted as part of the deal, how it could be used by one partner to bludgeon the other in a million different ways. And I can see how, in a world with magic, that could go horribly, horribly wrong.
The ending of this one is something I always had trouble with. I think, ultimately, I like cats too much, and I tried to be a little too nice to my protagonist, vis-a-vis the solution to her "cat problem". Of course, trying to be nice doesn't always work out the way one wants it to.
|Sunday, March 10th, 2013|
|Snowbird Gothic Stories 9 - Fat Man On An Airplane
Today's piece is "Fat Man On An Airplane", originally published in Sinisteria: Horror for the Hellbound
. This is the latest in the series of stories-behind-the-stories in my collection Snowbird Gothic
. I'm on the road now for work, so this particular tale seemed reasonably appropriate.
As always, if you enjoyed the collection please take a moment to leave a good review at amazon or goodreads. Thank you!
Airplanes are, at best, temporary communities. The people on the plane are united by precisely one thing – the desire to get to the place on the other end of the flight. Sure, sometimes people travel with friends or loved ones or teammates or whatever, but odds are good that any given air passenger is flying solo, wrapped in a personalized cocoon of of oh-God-just-get-me-on-the-ground-before-t
ck-again. We have no reason to get to know our fellow travelers. We have no reason to want to get to know our fellow travelers, and there is almost no chance that we will ever see any of our fellow travelers again. We are not flying together, we are just coincidentally flying next to each other.
Except, of course, for the guy who’s sitting next to you and wants to chat. We all know this guy; we on occasion may have been this guy. Occasionally, he’s interesting or funny or amusing, or thoughtful. More often, hes annoying and omnipresent, and there’s no way to detach yourself from the conversation short of a thinly painted “Could you please just shut up?”, because you’re on a plane, and darting for cover in another corner of the room ain’t an option. And at that point, the ride devolves into one long, endless loop of pleaseshutuppleaseshutuppleaseshutupwple
But there’s one other thing – these conversations never carry off the plane. You touch down, you shake hands and say “nice talking to you”, you maybe exchange business cards, and then that’s that. They’re out of your life forever, you’re out of theirs. It’s like it never happened.
I spend a lot of time on airplanes. I’ve had a lot of these conversations. Some of them – the time I taught the drummer for a British rock star how to play Carcassone on the iPad, the three hours spent chatting with a former air traffic controller – have been fascinating. Many more…have not. But always, once the flight ends, the conversation ends. No consequence, no followup, no meaning.
Which is where this story came from. What if one of those conversations really did have meaning? What if it had power? What sort of change could it make?
I don’t know what’s after the guy on the ground. I don’t think he’ll ever know, either. I don’t think the people chatting on the plane will ever understand what they did. Then again, that’s our world – distant effects of small things, consequences for strangers, keeping your life at a safe distance from those you affect intentionally or otherwise.
I fly home from Toronto on Friday. I’m hoping no one’s sitting next to me.
|Wednesday, March 6th, 2013|
|Snowbird Gothic Stories 8 - Jeremy's Castle
“Jeremy’s Castle” was originally written for a Yard Dog Press
anthology called Flush Fiction
, a smorgasbord of flash fiction pieces from the various folks in the Yard Dog stable. Yard Dog, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, is a regional Spec Fic press run out of Arkansas by the marvelous duo of Selina Rosen and Lynn Stranathan. YDP published my first non-tie-in fiction (about which you’ll read more later) and I have been told with some seriousness that I am, and I quote here, YDP’s “token Yankee”.
I, of course, resent this, and prefer to think of myself as their token carpetbagger.
“Jeremy’s Castle” is also, surprisingly, my mother’s favorite story of all the ones I’ve written. My mother, who stands 4’11” and used to teach English in the New York public school system, has spent years asking me when I was going to write “something nice”. As you might have noticed by now, I generally don’t do “nice”. Not for lack of trying, mind you, but the sum and total of my stories that are not either slapstick or with an attached body count of some sort or another is two: One a fairy tale I wrote for a friend’s daughter, later published in Worlds of Their Own
, and the fairy tale that opens Changeling: The Dreaming 2nd Edition
, with gorgeous illustration by Rebecca Guay
My mom, for the record, loved that story.
But she loves this one, too, and I don’t know why.
Oh, it’s not that I don’t like it. I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever done. I don’t know what deal Jeremy made, but I know that thinking about it gives me chills. I touched enough of that kid’s mind when I was writing him, just those few hundred words, to be very afraid of what would happen if I gave him a few thousand. And yes, this is one of those stories that emerged fully formed, inspired by nothing I could see but determined to crawl onto the page in one fell swoop.
I think I was wise to let it out. And not just because Mom likes it.
But that helps.
And as always, if this piques your imagination you can find Snowbird Gothic for sale at amazon
or at NECON E-Books' site
|Sunday, March 3rd, 2013|
|Snowbird Gothic Stories 7 - "The Mad Eyes of the Heron King"
Sometimes, you get lucky.
Every writer, I’m sure, can tell you stories of times they got unlucky. Of magazines that closed, of anthologies that never hit print, of editors who went offline or publishers who winked out of existence prior to street date. I can think of a few examples from my own history, including the memorable “we’re not publishing the book because the editor got t-boned by a school bus” and having word that a publisher I was signed to was shutting down get leaked literally mid-panel at a convention.
But every so often it goes the other way, as with “The Mad Eyes of the Heron King”.
You can generally tell what kind of story I’m writing by the title. If the title is short, the narrative is going to be straightforward and the story’s going to be plot-driven (see: “Coin Drop” in Dark Faith 2). If the title is long and convoluted, like “For the Autumn Queen...” or “And the Rain Fell Through Her Fingers”, odds are it’s going to be more of a mood/tone piece. “The Mad Eyes of the Heron King”, unsurprisingly, falls into the latter category.
The inspiration for the story came from my daily commute, which takes me over Lake Crabtree in Cary. Now when I say “over”, I mean “over. The lake’s an artificial flood control structure. Most of it is to the east of Aviation Boulevard, which runs through it on a raised berm, but to the west there’s a smaller, shallower marshy area that occasionally lures nervous kayakers, and more frequently features sunning turtles, ducks, and various varieties of herons ankle-stepping their way through the muck. The last is what caught my eye, their dainty, formal body language zipping to the place in my brain where anthropomorphism lives, and the rest of the story came from there. Lots of office buildings are situated tastefully on the shores of the lake (whose waters are so tainted with PCBs that eating the fish therein is considered a Very Bad Idea). Why wouldn’t a corporate nebbish find a nice lakeside spot to sit down in? Why wouldn’t he admire the seeming nobility and freedom of the long-legged lords of this domain? Why not indeed?
Of course, that was the writing. The publishing is where I got lucky. Maurice Broaddus, another member of the far-flung writers’ group known as The Bastard Sons of Mort Castle, was putting together Dark Faith at the time. I, being oblivious, had shotgunned the story out to the group for feedback. Maurice read it and loved it.
Then he said it was too bad it wasn’t faith-based, or he’d pick it up for the anthology.
Then he said maybe it was about looking for faith in something that wasn’t religion.
Then he said, and I paraphrase here, bloody hell, I’m the editor, and I want this story.
And who was I to say no? To do so would have been foolish.
And the Heron King does not suffer fools gladly.
Incidentally, folks, you can now download an excerpt of the book at Goodreads, including “The Mad Eyes of the Heron King”. (You can also enter to win a copy of my upcoming novel VAPORWARE there as well) And as always, if you read and liked the book, please take a moment and