Monday, February 19, 2018

Incident at a Mausoleum: A True Story

On my honor, this is a true story.

Some years ago, my wife, sons, and I were visiting friends for the day. Going out into their backyard for a breath of fresh air, I noticed a cemetery just a block away on top of a hill. What struck my curiosity was the sight of a lone mausoleum sunk into the hillside.

Family name deliberately blurred out of respect and consideration
Fascinated by this solitary resting place separated from the other graves, I walked over to explore. Aside from a name on the padlocked iron sheet that formed the door, there were no distinguishing characteristics, not even a date of birth and death.

There were ventilation holes in the rusted door and curious, I peered inside to see if anything was visible.

Nothing could be seen but a dark interior. However, you can imagine my stunned surprise when from within the tomb, I heard the distinct sound of movement.

I jumped back and immediately scolded myself soundly for my overactive imagination. Carefully, I leaned toward the ventilation holes and once again, the unmistakable sound of movement came from behind the door, a sound like grave clothes brushing against stone.

My overactive imagination took full sway. Though I don't believe in ghosts, for one fleeting moment I entertained the possibility. I even considered that somebody may have been imprisoned within the mausoleum and left to die and I was hearing their desperate attempts to communicate.

Running back to my friends' house, I strode into the kitchen were they and my wife sat at the dinner table talking.

"That mausoleum over in the cemetery?" I began in haste. "The one you can see from your backyard?"

Oh, yes," my friend's wife said. "I've told my children to avoid it. It's completely full of snakes."

"Snakes! Why did it have to be snakes?"
Addendum: I found myself back at the cemetery today to officiate at the interment of a very dear individual and when I saw the mausoleum, the memory of my encounter came back in a rush. I took some quick pictures and decided to share them on my blog.

I was able to research the mausoleum. It contains the remains of only one individual who was interred in October 1922.

If any of my closest friends and neighbors recognize the site, please, out of respect and consideration for the family, do not mention its location or the name of the deceased in the comment section of this blog.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Let Me Show You Some Magic

From 1975 until 1979, half of my annual income came from doing stage magic. Classed as "semi-professional" by the Society of American Magicians, I covered Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey mostly doing shows for nonprofits like churches and libraries. I had the money for a levitation and a guillotine and I had a killer mentalism routine. I also invented an illusion where two audience members cut another audience member in half using thick ropes. I'm retired from magic now, but it doesn't take much to get me to dust off the old props and do a show for a family-friendly nonprofit.

However, I'd like to do a magic trick for you now. Please read the following:
Marie blinked up at the bright pink Martian sky through the protective glassine dome. After a week in transit staring only at white spaceship walls, the sudden expanse gave her a touch of agoraphobia. I wonder if I’ll ever miss blue, she thought. I wonder if I’ll ever care.


Marie jumped, staring at the customs officer. An android, he was humanoid in form, but clearly a robot. “Y…yes?” she asked.

“Do you have any baggage to declare?”

Marie sighed. “Only these two.” She motioned toward the two small carry-ons at her feet that contained her only possessions. Not to mention the twenty-eight years of baggage I carry in my head.
Now that, Gentle Reader, is my finest illusion. Using only 111 words, in your imagination I transported you to Mars where you have never been and put you into the head of a person you have never met and who doesn't exist. With just five paragraphs, I took you out of your reality and plopped you into one I created.

I have racked up some really nice magic shows. I have left audiences dumbfounded and I have received accolades and awe for my illusions. However, all of that is nothing compared to what I just performed for you right here on your computer/tablet screen.

This is why I love writing for you. This is why I write solely for entertainment. I don't want to change your life. I don't want to pound any philosophy into your head using my work as a bully pulpit.

I just want to do a magic show for you.

So hang on. I've done some nice shows for you in the past, but I'm working on some doozies. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Note of Encouragement for Writers

All writers come with baggage. 

If you suffer from procrastination, emotional and/or physical wounds, self-defeating or self-destructive behaviors, crippling moments of doubt and despair, there is something you need to remember.

Your reader knows nothing about this. They only see the finished product. 

Most of my readers don't know my professional vocation, my list of failures, my years of rejection slips, my failed manuscripts that I have buried as a service to humanity, or years of mental challenges caused by rampant depression. They only see my finished works, the stories that I have written for their enjoyment. 

And it's the same for you. Your readers see the work, not the writer.

When you write and your Internal Critic attempts to sabotage your work, with failures and shortcomings of the past and present, remind it that your readers don't know you and carry no suppositions or prejudices as they read your story whether it be a short story or a massive trilogy of encyclopedia-sized tomes.

They only see your plot, your characters, your world, and your tale as a whole.

So write your best because your present work uses your failures and successes of the past as energy and ideas and rest in comfort that your reader is only interested in your story, not who you are.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Tuckerization in Incident at a Japanese Inn

Tuckerization is the practice of incorporating one's friends into an existing work as either a favor or as a friendly jest. Sometimes, only their names are used and sometimes their characteristics are used to flesh out a character.

Source: Dungeons and Dragons Monster
Manual, Gary Gygax, 1977.
In my work in progress, Incident At a Japanese Inn, the third part of The Shrine War, the Tsuta Ryokan that serves as my Japanese Guest House, is operated by a rakshasha, a mythological creature from India that in my story comes in the shape of an anthropomorphic hookah-smoking tiger.

He is based on my friend, Dave Hill, whose Internet persona from the first day I met him years ago was a scuba-diving tiger. And after a little bit of research, I discovered Dave's name in Japanese is Oka Debiddo. I hope he enjoys his little inclusion into my fanciful tale as, in my humble opinion, I think Dave would make a wonderful proprietor. 

Needless to say, all rights are reserved on the segment that follows and it is to be considered a rough draft. The final entry may be dramatically changed:

Christopher stared at Oka Debiddo with growing trepidation.  
The tiger smiled behind the counter, sprawled on his stool. The creature then put the stem of the hookah to his lips and set it bubbling as he inhaled a deep breath. Smiling, the smoke trickled out from between his jaws and ascended to join the existing haze at the ceiling. 
“You are not yōkai, sir,” Christopher asked, his voice faintly quavering. “May I ask your origin?” 
The tiger lazily leaned forward, his face uncomfortably close to Christopher. “No, I am not yōkai. I am rakshasha, from India.”  
“I regret I am not familiar with your kind,” Christopher said, hoping his courtesy would pacify any ire caused by his curiosity. “India is a far cry from Japan.” 
Oka sat back on his stool and took another languorous puff from his hookah. “I was found many years ago when a cub by a Buddhist monk named Vasubandhu. As I was living proof of the reality of his worldview, he took me in and raised me almost as if I was his natural son. And we toured through India, Tibet, China, and Korea spreading the wisdom of Gautama Buddha. We eventually ended up in Nippon." 
“And when was that?” 
The tiger puffed thoughtfully on his pipe allowing more smoke to wreath his striped face. “I have not thought of that for awhile. When you are immortal, one loses oneself in the current of time.” He drummed his claws on the counter. “I think it would have been at least one thousand, six hundred years ago. And when my adopted father passed I became the proprietor of the Tsuta Ryokan.” 
Christopher felt relief at the creature’s expressed amiable feelings toward its human master and allowed himself to relax. “So,” Christopher asked, “as an immortal, do you ever miss your father?”  
The rakshasha shook his head and patted his stomach while grinning voraciously. “I assure you, I carry Vasubandhu with me wherever I go.”

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Incident at a Japanese Inn: An Introduction

Now that the rough draft of The Inugami is complete, as I edit it, I am already doing research for the next section of my braided novel.

Incident at a Japanese Inn takes place inside the walls of the Tsuta Ryokan, a Japanese guest house made by yōkai for yōkai. In the first two sections of the novel, The Shrine War and The Inugami, I introduce the reader to only two types of Japan's hundreds of yōkai: Kitsune (illusion-casting anthropomorphic foxes) and Inugami (anthropomorphic canine slaves created by a dark and evil Daoist sorcery). I also very briefly introduced two onis, generic Japanese dæmons.

In An Incident at a Japanese Inn I am opening my literary universe to a number of yōkai races:
  • Tengu, a sort of bird-like creature
  • Nekomata, a fork-tailed cat
  • Tanuki, raccoon dogs and I will play down their...let's say, prominent assets.
  • Yanari aka House Creakers: little tiny goblins that make the floors of your house creak.
  • Mujina, a shapeshifting badger 
Unfortunately, Japanese folklore only contains a very few of actual races. the vast majority of yōkai are singular entities restricted to a very specific locale such as a city gate or a specific river, so I may take my liberty as a writer and make up a yōkai of my very own.

As always, stay tuned. The adventure will be a lot of fun.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Odd Tales of Wonder #7 Is Released!

From the editors of Odd Tales of Wonder:

Odd Tales of Wonder #7 is now available! The print edition is available here and the Kindle edition is available here.

Why am I excited about this? Because it contains my story, Through the Black Andes, a fantasy tale based on a real location in south-central Pennsylvania:

Also, once again, I appear in a magazine next to Vonnie Winslow Crist. We've got to stop seeing each other like this! ;-)

Here is an excerpt from Through the Black Andes and though the story is fantasy, these three paragraphs are based on historical fact:

The name Black Andes was first given to this primordial stand of pine and from its first discovery, hunters and charcoal makers made every excuse to avoid the area. Birds never called out or sang there. Game avoided the area.  
On cool autumn nights, the men of Big Flat would let their dogs run loose to harass the local wildlife. As they told tales and drank bootleg whiskey around a fire, they would listen to the baying of their hounds. Each hunting dog had its distinct voice and they would listen to the baying of the hounds content to follow the chase from the intensity of the cries and the direction from which they came. Occasionally, the hounds would tree a cougar, bear, or raccoon and—if the spirit moved—the men would leave the fellowship and warmth of the fire for meat and fur.  
However, the hunters quickly learned to steer their nightly activities well away from the Black Andes. Any hound foolish enough to pursue game into the sanctity of the pines would simply never return. And no hunter ever found the bravery to plunge into the eternal darkness of the stand to discover the fate of their animal.

Part Three of The Shrine War to Begin Soon!

On Saturday, January 6th, I wrote the words, THE END, on the completed rough draft of The Inugami.

At 12,970 words, The Inugami is only 970 words longer than The Shrine War, but together the two novellas make up one complete novel in word length.

And I'm not done yet. The third part has yet to be written.

Incident at a Japanese Inn will begin shortly, but not until I have completed reading Oliver Statler's 1961 work, Japanese Inn, his love song to the history of the Minaguchi-ya, an ancient inn once located in the city of Okitsu.

In the former stories, I focused solely on kitsune and inugami, two types of yōkai from the folklore and mythology of Japan. The third story takes place in a mythical inn that I have named Tsuta Ryokan, a Japanese guest house that is operated by yōkai for other yōkai. And as there are thousands of different types of yōkai, I am letting my imagination run wild.

Stick with me. It's going to be an incredible ride.

The book cover is adapted from a woodblock print by Japanese artist Toyohara Chikanobu  (1838–1912) and is in the public domain.