Wednesday, July 19, 2017

My Shrine War Word Cloud

A word cloud of The Shrine War. Will be using it to make a glossary when I release the novelette as an eBook. I used Wordle to help in its creation.

Monday, July 17, 2017

My Favorite Short Genre Films (Viewer Advisory)

I am becoming more and more impressed by the quality of the short genre films I am finding on the Internet, especially on sites such as Vimeo and YouTube. Below, I have listed some of my favorites.

Note that if I post a warning about the content, I'm not being facetious. Some of these films are quite disturbing and you should exercise wisdom and take personal responsibility for clicking on the link.

The Gate is actually a public service announcement with body horror warning the viewer that purchasing pharmaceuticals over the Internet can be fatal and maybe even worse. The calmness of the meeting where they are discussing certain incidents is in sharp contrast to the scenes of what happens to those poor unfortunates who purchase performance enhancing drugs from a non-regulated website. Not for children.

Robot and Scarecrow is a combination of science fiction and fantasy telling the story of a love affair between a robot who performs at music festivals and a living scarecrow. Well done with excellent special effects.

An animated series, Betsy Lee's No Evil follows a rich, many times confusing, story line about anthropomorphic spirits who guard the world against evil. The simple animation hides complex characters and a wonderful example of fantasy world-building. I would recommend you watch the series with closed captioning on as sometimes the dialogue can be a little muddled.

Oats Studios is Neill Blomkamp's venture to create experimental films. None of them are for the squeamish as they all feature graphic body horror. Zygote is no exception and it displays one of the most creative, frightening, and disgusting monsters I have seen on film in a long time. Dakota Fanning plays Barkley who, along with one other survivor of a mining enterprise in the Arctic Circle, attempts to survive a monster who is composed of dozens of body parts cobbled together by other miners who were possessed by the entity. Rakka and Firebase are two other films available and all feature top name actors like Sigourney Weaver and Steve Boyle. These three films are not for children.

What can you say about David Lynch's film, Rabbits, that dozens of other people have not written about at length in a desperate attempt to understand the film? Here's my advice. Don't try to understand it. Just watch it.

Friday, July 14, 2017

I Hereby Give You Permission To Write Total Crap

Want to know the secret of being a good writer? It's really simple.

Write a LOT!

And when you write, the finished product will stink to high heaven.

Just keep writing.

And slowly, it gets better.

And then you make your first sale.

I know many an artist who has incredible potential, but they simply are afraid of looking at their first works and seeing utter garbage.

Don't worry. That's what it's supposed to be. That's its job. Its only purpose is to give you real life experience and as the late Bob Ross would tell you, you're not making mistakes...just happy accidents.

So, I give you permission to produce regardless of its quality. Ignore the critics both internal and exterior and keep plugging away. It works and I do not say this as a paid salesman, but as a satisfied customer.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Break Out the Torches and the Pitchforks!

I am going to pontificate on writing.
(An aside: This is written somewhat tongue in cheek and I make suppositions that are not hills I will die on. Keep that in mind before you go all snowflake on me.)
Have you noticed that most of the characters and narrators of my stories are female? Have you ever asked yourself why?

Of course you haven't! You never noticed until I just mentioned it!

But I'm going to tell you why anyway and then I'm going to tell you how all female literary characters in the world are boiled down to just two stereotypes.

And who might they be?

Wait for it ... wait for it ...

They are Alice in Wonderland and Little Red Riding Hood.

At this point you are now screaming at your computer monitor, spittle dripping down the screen as you express your precise thoughts on my lineage, but hear me out because it's true.

But first, let me tell you the reason I enjoy writing about female characters is because females are much more fascinating characters as they have a greater range of response to their environment.

Let's take Little Red Riding Hood for a moment (but not too far as she is going to be a major topic in a few moments).

When the hunter meets the wolf, his reaction is to kill it. That is what most men do in the literary genres in which I write. They approach a conflict and beat on it until it lies down and assumes room temperature.

Red on the other hand, females have a potentially greater range of interesting reaction. Case in point:

"All the better to eat you with!"

"So many available choices here," Red thought.
At that, Little Red Riding Hood:
... screamed in terror before disappearing into the lupine maw.
... begged for mercy trying to negotiate for her life.
... pulled the stiletto out of her garter belt and gave the wolf a second grin from ear to ear.
... grinned maliciously and said, "Not if I eat you first."
Then suddenly, the woodman burst through the window and
... beat the wolf with his axe until it lay down and assumed room temperature."
 Give me Alice or Red any day; you can have the woodman, but moving on ...

Now, as I said, all female literary characters are either Alice in Wonderland or Little Red Riding Hood in one of their thousand plus disguises.

First, though, I submit to you that you do not know these characters at all. First, it is possible you haven't really read Lewis Carroll's loving tribute to Alice Liddell and think the sanitized Disney version is "close enough for government work." Well, you're wrong. You don't know Alice like I know Alice.

And as for Red? I'm not talking about the sad moral pastiches from Charles Perrault or the Brothers Grimm. Oh, no, no, no. I am talking about the primal story where Little Red is not a nice little girl at all. You don't know Red like I know Red.

Let's compare the two, shall we?
Alice is the embodiment of innocence. Red is as guilty as sin.
Alice is wise and intelligent. Red is smart enough to get out of trouble, but gets in trouble easily enough.
Alice ponders moral dilemmas. Red says, "Morals? Morals? Aren't they a type of mushroom?"
Alice is the prim and noble embodiment of upper class Victorian morality. Red says, "If it's got at least two legs, it's mine!"
Alice is discerning. Red is gullible.
Alice lives by an external standard of what is right and wrong. Red is into "situation ethics."
Alice is basically courteous and kind. Red is so self-centered, she borders on pathology.
Now, at this point you're once again screaming at the computer monitor accusing me of being a bit harsh on poor Little Red, but please remember that I am talking about the original stories. It really does boil down to one simple, succinct sentence:

Alice is a good little girl. Red is a bad little girl.

But let me tell you the real story of Little Red Riding Hood, not the sanitized versions of Perrault or Grimm, but the first story of Little Red that has never been told to children, the primal oral tale as it was first told many, many years ago:
A woman had finished her baking, so she asked her daughter to take a fresh galette (French cake) and a pot of cream to her grandmother who lived in a forest cottage. The girl set off, and on her way she met a a werewolf.

The werewolf stopped the girl and asked, "Where are you going? What do you carry?"

"I'm going my grandmother's house," said the girl, "and I'm bringing her bread and cream."

"Which path will you take?" the werewolf asked. "The Path of Needles or the Path of Pins?"

"I'll take the Path of Pins," said the girl.

"Why then, I'll take the Path of Needles, and we'll see who gets there first."

The girl set off, the werewolf set off, and the werewolf reached Grandmother's cottage first. He quickly killed the old woman and gobbled her up, flesh, blood, and bone—except for a bit of flesh that he put in a little dish on the pantry shelf, and except for a bit of blood that he drained into a little bottle. Then the werewolf dressed in Grandmother's cap and shawl and climbed into bed.

When the girl arrived, the werewolf called out, "Pull the peg and come in, my child."

"Grandmother," said the girl, "Mother sent me here with a galette and a cream."

"Put them in the pantry, child. Are you hungry?

"Yes, I am, Grandmother."

"Then cook the meat that you'll find on the shelf. Are you thirsty?"

"Yes, I am, Grandmother."

"Then drink the bottle of wine you'll find on the shelf beside it, child."

As the young girl cooked and ate the meat, a little cat piped up and cried, "You are eating the flesh of your grandmother!"

"Throw your shoe at that noisy cat," said the werewolf, and so she did.

As she drank the wine, a small bird cried, "You are drinking the blood of your grandmother!"

"Throw your other shoe at that noisy bird," said the werewolf, and so she did.

When she finished her meal, the werewolf said, "Are you tired from your journey, child? Then take off your clothes, come to bed, and I shall warm you up."

"Where shall I put my apron, Grandmother?"

"Throw it on the fire, child, for you won't need it anymore."

"Where shall I put my bodice, Grandmother?"

"Throw it on the fire, for you won't need it anymore."

The girl repeats this question for her skirt, her petticoat, and her stockings. The werewolf gives the same answer, and she throws each item on the fire. As she comes to bed, she says to him, "Grandmother, how hairy you are!"

"The better to keep you warm, my child,"

"Grandmother, what big arms you have!"

"The better to hold you close, my child."

"Grandmother, what big ears you have!"

"The better to hear you with, my child."

"Grandmother, what sharp teeth you have!"

"The better to eat you with, my child. Now come and lie beside me."

"But first I must go and relieve myself."

"Do it in the bed, my child."

"I cannot. I must go outside," the girl says cleverly, for now she knows that it's the werewolf who is lying in Grandmother's bed.

"Then go outside," the werewolf agrees, "but mind that you come back again quick. I'll tie your ankle with a woolen thread so I'll know just where you are." He ties her ankle with a sturdy thread, but as soon as the girl has gone outside she cuts the thread with her sewing scissors and ties it to a plum tree. The werewolf, growing impatient, calls out, "What, have you finished yet, my child?" When no one answers, he calls again. "Are you watering the grass or feeding the trees?" No answer. He leaps from bed, follows the thread, and finds her gone.

The werewolf gives chase, and soon the girl can hear him on the path just behind her. She runs and runs until she reaches a river that's swift and deep. Some laundresses work on the river bank. "Please help me cross," she says to them. They spread a sheet over the water, holding tightly to its ends. She crosses the bridge of cloth and soon she's safe on the other side.

Now the werewolf reaches the river, and he bids the women help him cross. They spread a sheet over the water—but as soon as he is halfway across, the laundresses let go. The werewolf falls into the water and drowns.
And there we have it: a sordid tale of cannibalism complete with strip tease and strong sexual overtones.

You'll never read Little Red Riding Hood the same way again will you?

And here, Alice meets a psychopath.
As for Alice, she, on the other hand, is a very smart and very good little girl even when Humpty Dumpty threatens to kill her ...

What? You say you don't remember that part? Well, it's there, but it is so subtle, it's easy to miss:
Alice felt even more indignant at this suggestion. `I mean,' she said, `that one can't help growing older.'

`One can't, perhaps,' said Humpty Dumpty; `but two can. With proper assistance, you might have left off at seven.'
 Keep reading it. You'll get it eventually.

I confess that almost of my young ladies are Alices. I have to deal with so many Reds that they all get rather tawdry and boring after awhile. I think the only time Red has ever showed up in my stories such as The Pond, The Furry Con Murder Mystery, and Sheila.

The rest are all squeaky clean as befits my literary daughters.

You are now free to clutch your head and scream, "Paul, you are out of your mind ! Your great learning is driving you mad." (Acts 26:24)
(Side note: I once was asked on a panel why I wrote so many female characters as if I did not have any right to do so. I confess I was puzzled at the question and I did not give a satisfactory answer. I give one now.

The reason so many of my characters are female is that the tale would simply not work if the character was male.)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

I Blame Lewis Carroll

Nightmare fuel for young Victorians
It cannot be denied that my love for the weird and the numinous permeates all my work and recently I have been pondering the trigger that started it all. Admittedly, my personality leans strongly in that direction, but as I reviewed my childhood, one memory that stands out is one day finding in the library a book of nonsense poems. Most of them made little sense and had very little impact until I came across Lewis Carrolls' The Hunting of the Snark. I suspect I could not have been older than 10 years at the time.

I had been familiar with Carroll because I have always adored his Alice stories having read them multiple times as a child and even today in adulthood. Though I found the 1951 Disney movie to be charming in its own right, I always found it disappointing as it never captured the sheer magic of Carroll's actual work. So when I discovered The Hunting of the Snark written by one of my favorite authors, I dove in with great joy and a lot of eager expectation.

"Just the place for a Snark!" the Bellman cried,
   As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
   By a finger entwined in his hair.

"Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
   That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
   What I tell you three times is true."

In the tale, I found wonder, humor, magic, but unlike the Alice stories, my childish mind also found sheer terror, especially when my imagination was fired by the famous illustrations by Henry Holiday.

The opening of this nonsense poem introduces us to a crew of ten members (whose names all start with the letter 'B'): a Bellman, a "Boots", a Bonnetmaker, a Barrister, a Broker, a Billiard-marker, a Banker, a Butcher, a Beaver, and a Baker. In their quest , the crew lands on an uncharted island to hunt for the Snark in a manner most unique:

They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care;
   They pursued it with forks and hope;
They threatened its life with a railway-share;
   They charmed it with smiles and soap.

However, there is one small complication. The Baker reveals that he received a prophecy before the trip that if he encounters the Snark, but discovers it is actually a different creature called a Boojum, his fate will be terrifying.

"'But oh, beamish nephew, beware of the day,
   If your Snark be a Boojum! For then
You will softly and suddenly vanish away,
   And never be met with again!'

This illustration still freaks me out.
I'll leave you with three guesses as to how the poem ends.

The result to my young mind was to create a world where the laws of logic don't work or else work in a manner of ironic absolutes. Nightmare fuel to say the least, and the poem created in me a fascination for the mystifying and the sheer wonder of what some philosophers call the mysterium tremendum. It is, thanks to Lewis Carroll, that I am best known for the quote, "The world is not safe, nor is it necessarily sane."

But the valley grew narrow and narrower still,
   And the evening got darker and colder,
Till (merely from nervousness, not from good will)
   They marched along shoulder to shoulder.

Then a scream, shrill and high, rent the shuddering sky,
   And they knew that some danger was near:
The Beaver turned pale to the tip of its tail,
   And even the Butcher felt queer.

Yet even then, like Carroll's intriguing worlds of nonsense and fantasy, I cannot deny that life contains a sense of beauty and the shadow of something greater than our existence. Nonsense it may appear to be, but not nihilistic. 

You can read Carroll's entire poem here, but to read it with its original illustrations, I would encourage you to read the entire work here.

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 glyph 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.