Thursday, June 22, 2017

Excerpt From The Inugami

In my current work in progress, The Inugami. Kelly, an American studying in Tokyo, discovers an Inugami living in the crawlspace of her rented apartment. An Inugami is an anthropomorphic dog, a familiar for Daoist sorcerers created through evil magic.

In this scene, Shadō reveals that in the ground behind the apartment, there is a box buried that contains secrets from her former master:

Note: This is an unedited rough draft. The final version may be dramatically different.

Kelly refused to let the Inugami dig up the backyard with her claws. The thick mud would have necessitated another bath and the promise of another shower calmed Shadō down where Kelly felt safe leaving the creature alone in her living room while she ran to the nearest hardware store for a shovel.

When she returned, it was to find the Inugami restless and trembling and looking at the crawlspace entrance. It only took a few moments to discover what the creature’s problem was and a good five minutes to teach Shadō how to use a human toilet.

Later in the backyard, the Inugami wandered the small patch of bare ground, her furred hands outstretched, her eyes closed, using other senses to discover the exact location of what they sought.

In a few moments, Shadō sighed with satisfaction. “It is here,” she said. “It calls to me.”

Grateful, the hardpan had turned to mud, Kelly began the process of digging while Shadō looked on impatiently. After digging a hole almost two feet deep, Kelly’s shovel hit something solid. An hour later, she had effectively made the hole large enough to reach in and pull out a large wooden box, four feet long and two feet wide, covered in what seemed to be hard tar. She lay the box, unusually light for its size, on the ground. On its top, a large Japanese symbol stood out boldly in yellow paint.

Shadō put her hand on Kelly’s shoulder. “You must not open it.” She pointed to the symbol. “I cannot read, but my former master told me what it says. It is a curse on any who may open it.” She looked up at Kelly with a wolfish grin. “But I am already cursed.” And with that, Shadō wrestled the box open.

Inside lay a sword. Kelly recognized it as a katana with a black sheath that had been polished until it gleamed. Strips of white cloth and a larger black garment cushioned the sword. Off to the side near the sword’s handle lay an old book looking as if it would fall apart at the merest touch.

“I can read the title,” Kelly said. “The Book of the Golden Crow and Jade Rabbit.”

“Yes,” Shadō said, her voice trembling with excitement. “It will teach you the art of becoming an onmyōji. And here are my fighting clothes and my katana.” With trembling fingers, she reached in and gently drew out the sword.

“The sword is named Makaze,” the Inugami whispered, her voice filled with awe. “Evil Wind. If I draw it fully, it cannot be resheathed until blood is drawn, but I can show you a small portion of the majesty of its blade.”

With a click as the katana left its sheath, Shadō revealed the first two inches of the blade. The sunlight reflecting off the polished metal made Kelly’s eyes water.

Immediately, the air was filled with the sound of a human being in great torment, its screams and cries filling the air.

With a cry of terror, Kelly clamped her hands over her ears to try and drown out the sounds of unspeakable suffering.

With a sharp snap, Shadō sheathed the sword, the cries of an anguished soul turning off like the click of a switch. “My apologies, Master,” Shadō said. “I should have warned you that the sword sings.”

Book Covers As Greeting Cards

Marketing for any author, regardless of being self-published or going the traditional route, is a task that is unavoidable. For the introverted and the shy, marketing is seen as a necessary evil. For the extroverted, promotion can be overblown and annoying. Finding the perfect balance between too little and too much is no easy task. No author wants to be merely the world's greatest secret and yet, no author should want to be an annoying pest.

Recently, I ventured the idea of turning my book covers into greeting cards with a blank interior. And the samples are below. The programs I used in their creation were a combination of Microsoft Word, Paint.Net, Adobe Acrobat Pro, and the free Avery plug-in for Word. Detailed instructions are below:

I used the following:
  1. Matte White Greeting Cards from Staples (compatible with Avery 3265) 
  2. The title and author's name was placed on the print using Paint.Net, a free graphics program from  (see IMPORTANT note below)
  3. I used Microsoft Word using the Avery template creator that is free from the Avery website.
  4. I then saved the finished document as a .pdf file and using Adobe Acrobat Pro, turned the graphics in .png files. (I chose .png format over .jpg as it has better clarity.)
Note: The program is free but has a slightly steep learning curve. However, do NOT download the program from ANY website other than the one in this message unless you really, really hate your computer or are a huge fan of malware.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Inugami Progress Report

I regret I could not work on The Inugami for two months due to pressing urgencies from my work and extended family, but this morning I did go through the first 7,927 words and edit them. 

On April 6th, I shared the first 6,000 words with nine attendees at the monthly meeting of the West Shore Christian Writers' Fellowship. This morning I went through their suggestions and the result is a tighter, better-organized version of the first 11 pages that now enjoy greater clarity and pacing. 

The 12,000-word Shrine War novelette is too short to release on its own so my goal is the release both The Inugami and The Shrine War in one book. Interestingly, The Inugami may even exceed The Shrine War in word count, but together they will be worth their combined weight and justify their purchase. Since I write solely for entertainment, I want my readers to get a lot of bang for their buck.

I wanted to express my gratitude to the members of the monthly writers' group I am so privileged to attend. Having been together for almost two decades, the group has formed into a gathering of eclectic writers who know how to critique a story without changing the author's voice. Such a group is rare and I'm pleased and delighted to be part of its fellowship. I hope all the writers who read this blog are blessed with such a gathering of like-minded authors.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

My Facebook Rant

I was rather surprised to discover how negative, insulting, and derogatory my Facebook feed was this morning so I would like to share with FaceBook what I believe are facts and what I call True North principles.

Dear Facebook:
  1. Yes, I disagree with President Donald Trump quite a bit, but I refuse to indulge in the histrionics that he is Hitler or the Antichrist. Under our current system of government, one man simply cannot bring down a country. To believe otherwise only demonstrates either your debilitating lack of knowing how the US government works or your serious need for medication. And I can maturely disagree with somebody without coming across as somebody so socially inept that I convince people my mental age equals my shoe size.
  2. Yes, I will someday die. I may go via the vaccinations I had as a child, or the Diet Coke I drank yesterday, or the nachos I bought from a questionable vendor, but the reality is that life is neither safe or sane. I'm not getting out of here alive. Neither are you.
  3. Yes, as an author I have not yet sold 250 books and I may even be considered a hack as my motive for writing is solely to entertain, but I don't need your expensive course to learn about marketing or how to trick my readers into buying bilge. I respect my readers far too much.
  4. Yes, as a member of the ordained clergy (1), I am probably doing many things wrong, but God is bigger than my ignorance and my stupidity and I cannot believe that in spite of my own hubris, I can actually bring any of God's divine plans to a grinding halt.
  5. Following that line of thought, no, I am not a perfect husband, father, son, U.S. citizen, Christian, or even a perfect human being. Neither are you, so please do me the honor of shutting up and reminding me of the painfully obvious. I am doing the best I can. Sorry to be such a disappointment to you, but to speak truth, you have become a major disappointment to me. You know, Facebook, you used to be fun. Now you are a tedious bore.
This rant is officially over. Let's move on to better things.
(1) Yes, some of you readers might be surprised that I am a member of the ordained clergy (even though I write fantasy, dark fantasy, horror, dark fantasy romance, and satire). And because of that, my Facebook is filled with advertisements and posts that tell me how much I suck at pastoring even though I've been doing this since 1976.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Becoming an Armchair Shinto Scholar (Researching The Shrine War)

The proposed cover for The Shrine War
When editor Fred Patten asked me to contribute to his anthology, Dogs of War, I was very excited when we agreed on my crafting a tale about a group of kitsune shrine maidens (anthropomorphic foxes) defending their shrine against a group of invading Inugami (anthropomorphic dogs).

Tragically, when I sat down to begin outlining my story, I suddenly realized I knew nothing about Japanese mythology, Shintoism, or the least bit of information on kitsune or Inugami.

So, I did what I do best: I started doing some very intensive and extensive research. Eventually, I learned enough to write a story that Fred accepted, but I am now expanding the story as well as another that takes place in the same timeline. I hope to release the novelette with its accompanying short story later this year.

I have always enjoyed researching topics that I have a true interest in and the list of resources I cobbled together has enabled me to craft a story that dances close enough to Japanese mythology so as not to offend anybody with a passing familiarity with the topic of yōkai.

Admittedly, I am writing about a Japan that exists more in my imagination than reality and I have taken great poetic license with the kitsune and Inugami, but my hope is that people will enjoy the work enough to forgive my literary shortcomings.

So for your reading pleasure, what follows is a list of the resources I used. If you would like to delve into the world of Shinto mythology and Japanese culture, I hope you find these resources as enjoyable as I have:

Books currently being read:
For books and articles in the public domain, the links will take you directly to websites where you can download the book for your own perusal. Other links will take you to where you can get information for either ordering the work or getting info for interlibrary loan.

I hope you enjoy exploring Japan and its mysterious creatures as much as I have.

Alien: Covenent--A Review

Posing with my posse

Went to see Alien: Covenant last Saturday with a pile of friends and family and I thought I would share my thoughts. There are spoilers in this post and some major spoilers in the comments.

It is rather hard to put my thoughts together about this film as my feelings are so mixed. In 1979 when the first Alien film came out I was blown away by the overwhelming emotions of fear, revulsion, and wonder at what I was experiencing. Aliens (1986) came along seven years later and though a very different film, still added so much to the mythos.

As far as I'm concerned, Alien 3 (1992) and Alien: Resurrection (1997) never happened. They were nothing more than nightmares Ripley had in hypersleep while en route to home from the end of the second film.

Alien: Covenant is a direct sequel to Prometheus (2012) so if you have not seen that film, you will miss much of what is referred to in Alien: Covenant and the motivation of the android, David.

The film opens with the spaceship Covenant en route to Origae-6 that they hope to colonize. Along with a regular crew, they have 2,000 colonists in cryosleep and a few hundred human fetuses.

An emergency forces the crew awake early and with a badly damaged ship, they discover that there is a habitable planet closer than their original destination so they change course.

The new planet is the original home of the Engineers, an alien race introduced in Prometheus, but the planet appears to be abandoned. It isn't. David, the android from Prometheus, is alive and well.

My mixed thoughts:
  • Michael Fassbender is an amazing actor. He pulls off two roles in this film, playing David 8 as well as the other android, Walter, each with different appearances, personalities, and accents and he does it flawlessly.
  • Director Ridley Scott should have learned from the disappointment of Alien 3 where the audiences witnessed the deaths of Newt and Colonel Hicks from the Aliens film that characters the audience has an emotional bond to should not be discarded as unimportant. We deserved a better treatment of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw who was the heart and heroine of Prometheus.
  • The source of the xenomorphs is completely revealed in Alien: Covenant. I was not impressed. Somehow the storyline has lost its magic and the xenomorphs have lost a little of their vicious majesty.
  • The action scenes will put you on the edge of your seat, especially as the survivors attempt to leave the planet for the relative safety of the Covenant. That one xenomorph is worse than a tick.
  • I was surprised to discover that some of the trailers contained scenes that were not in the film and not meant to be there. In fact, NONE of the scenes in this trailer appear in the film:
  • The cinematography is incredible. The Covenant's scout ship soaring over the landscape of the Engineer's homeworld is breathtaking.
  • New xenomorphs are introduced and they contribute to an understanding of the evolution of the more familiar monster that we know.
  • The movie moves too fast. There is important information given in the film and it flies by so rapidly, if you blink, you'll miss it. There should have been some more time spent on the revelation of Shaw's fate and why David betrayed her when he said of her that he had never experienced such kindness from another human being.
  • What happened in 2,000 years that the Engineers apparently devolved culturally and were no longer a space-faring race?
  • Why are Ridley Scott's scientists so stupid?
  • The ending was so necessary for the sequel (Ridley Scott has said there will be two or three more), but it was so emotionally a bummer for me.
Share your own thoughts in the comments.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Japanese Fan As Weapon (with photo and video)

In The Shrine War, I introduced Chiyo's expertise in the use of the tessen, a fan that comes in many forms, but in my story has a metal edge sharpened to that of a razor:
Chiyo nodded, her jaw tight and her eyes grim. “They will not get the mirror, sister. Not tonight. Never.” She reached into the left sleeve of her haori and pulled out a folded fan. With a flick of her wrist, it sprang open with a metallic whisper to reveal itself as a deadly weapon, its edge honed to razor sharpness. “I have not used my tessen in years past counting, but should the dogs attempt to enter the honden…” Chiyo spun the fan in her furred fingers, its deadly edge splitting the air with a fearsome hiss and blurring from the speed of its movement as she expertly guided it through a complex exercise. In her left hand, her prayer beads glowed with a dull azure light. Then, with a sudden movement, she flicked the fan closed with a sharp click and the prayer beads once again became simple tiny ceramic and wooden balls strung on a hempen cord. Chiyo slid her tessen back up her sleeve.
Chiyo, in the story, is a master of Tessenjutsu, a martial art specializing in the use of the iron fan.

And it appears that practitioners of the art continue to keep the martial alive today. Not only can you buy a working tessen on Amazon, but there are videos on YouTube dedicated to the art.

The Japanese never fought with the fan open, preferring to use the fan closed for striking or thrusting. However, the Chinese also used the fan and I found one video that has a truly beautiful kata (training exercise):