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.

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):

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Belinda McFate: The Literary World's Weakest Female Character!

My Apologia

Years ago I attended a writing seminar that said weak literary characters should never be part of a story and if a man dared to write a weak literary female character, then hanging was just too good for him.

I disagreed and here is proof that you can write stories with a weak literary female character.

They’re just not very good …

Please don’t hurt me.

Belinda McFate: The Literary World's Weakest Female Character!

The door suddenly collapsed and rats flooded the room.

Belinda jumped up on a chair, held up the hem of her dress, stamped her pretty little feet, and screamed like a ... well, like a girl.

"Where's a man when you need one! I need a man!" she screamed.

Sadly, men, chauvinist pigs that they are, will have nothing to do with weak women.

Eight hours later, Belinda pulled the last of the scrambling rats out of her once glorious golden mane and flung it out the window.

As she wrapped the ragged remains of her $2,000 dress around her, two delicate diamond tears beaded in the corners of her emerald green eyes to begin their course down her blushing cheeks.

She shook her little delicate fist for effect and suddenly the universe held its collective breath as the miraculous was about to happen.

Pretty little Belinda McFate was going to make a declaration.

"The next time, “she said. "The next time I need somebody to help me ..."

Her eyes flashed green fire as she set her perfect jaw in determination, "I ... shall ... scream .... louder!"

The Return of Belinda McFateThe Literary World's Weakest Female Character

Belinda McFate's hands trembled as she read the instructions on the back of the package of Ramen noodles.

"Boil two cups of water," she read aloud. Her pretty bow of a mouth turned into a pretty pout as her eyelids trembled with tears. Why do they have to make the instructions so complicated?

She paced the room of her tiny apartment willing herself not to cry. "Boil two cups of water," she whispered to herself. "Boil two cups of water."

She stopped her pacing, sighed, and realized she really, really needed a man to help her. Sadly, she grabbed the bag of noodles and a sauce pan, walked out into the hallway and timidly knocked on the door of the adjacent apartment.

The door opened and Belinda's emerald eyes shot open to take in masculine magnificence.

He stood bare-chested in the doorway, clad only in khaki pants, and top-of-the-line hiking boots. He had his brown hair trimmed to perfection and she knew if she could only touch his chin it would be as smooth as her own. She allowed her vision to wander down his bare physique, past his massive chest, down his slim waist and abdomen with its clearly defined muscles.

"Wow," she said, her voice barely a squeak.

"Yes," he said, "I have that effect. What can I do for you, miss?"

She held out the saucepan. "Could ... could I borrow some boiling water?"

The man looked down at the saucepan and saw the package of Ramen noodles dangling from her right hand.

"Well, now, pretty lady," he said with a smile that made her knees go weak, "I think I can help you here. Come in."

He took the saucepan from her and the package of noodles. "Ah, yes. Ramen noodles. Man food. Let me show you how I cook these."

She followed him into the kitchen that looked more like a gourmet restaurant. The man poured water into the saucepan from the sink's faucet, opened the package of noodles, added them to the water, and then opened the spice packet and sprinkled the contents on top.

Taking two potholders, he grabbed the two handles of the saucepan and gave them to Belinda. "Now hold that pot just like that," he said.

Then taking her face between his two strong hands, he kissed her, long and slow with passion and Belinda’s eyes wouldn't close because they too wanted to know what had hit them.

Their lips parted and he stood back with a smile.

"Wow," she said.

"Well, sweetheart," the man said as he turned and took a shirt from the back of a chair and put it on. "My testosterone is calling me to Cairo."

He grabbed a fedora off the kitchen table and flipped it casually over his head. "I trust you'll see your own way out."

Belinda's lips tried to move. She tried to say, "Please take me with you" and "Hunka, hunka burnin' love!," but the only word that came out was another high-squeaking, "Wow."

"Yes. Quite." And with that, he dove out his open kitchen window and she heard his feet going down the fire escape and out of her life.

Belinda smelled something delicious and looking down saw the pot in her hands was boiling quite merrily with Ramen noodles ready to eat.

The End of Belinda McFateThe Literary World's Weakest Female Character

Belinda screamed as she stood on her tabletop. The ninjas that had just burst through the windows surrounded her doing unnecessary katas and flourishes as bad guys are want to do when they have a pretty innocent cornered.

True to form, Lance Bullet, Belinda's next door neighbor, burst through the front door.

He deftly tossed his fedora into the face of the nearest ninja and the resulting second of distraction allowed our hero to send the ninja smashing into another from a blow from Lance's strong right fist.

Flipping his steel pen out of his coat pocket, Lance deftly flung it as a dagger into the chest of another black-clad assassin and as the killer fell to the floor, Lance ducked just in time to allow five shurikens to sail over his head and embed themselves into the body of another.

With four down, the remaining ninja looked about at his fallen comrades and then with several deft back flips, launched himself out the window into the alley below.

Lance dusted off his hands as Belinda stared at the carnage about her. "Well, now," he said, "I've rescued you from interdimensional demons, Illuminati cultists, alien abductors, and now it's ninjas." He looked about at the limp bodies and sighed. "The only way I'm going to get any rest is to just marry you once and for all."

"Wow," Belinda squeaked.

They found a Justice of the Peace and though they had to deal with the sudden arrival of a Martian warlord who fancied Belinda as his new slave, the ceremony went without incident.

That night, Belinda and her new husband prepared for a romantic evening.

She slipped into an almost invisible next-to-nothing. Lance slid into bed and patted the space beside him.

Belinda smiled. "I'll be right back," she said coyly.

Walking toward the kitchen through the dark living room, she casually reached up and plucked a Hashashiyyin from the ceiling where he had suspended himself by his fingers and toenails.

"I will use small words so you can understand," she said, her hand in a firm grip around his throat. The happy, cute smile never left her face. "Tonight is my wedding night and if you or any of your ilk disturb me or my husband, I will make you hurt and make you hurt in a way you've never experienced."

She pulled him close so he could look deep into Belinda’s emerald green eyes that spoke of unmentionable cruelties. "All Lance can do is kill you, but I'm a woman," she said casually. "I can make you wish I had just killed you outright."

She let the assassin go and he hastily backed up bowing and muttering apologies until his backside hit the door. In a flash, the door opened and closed leaving Belinda alone in the comforting dark.

+ + +

Lance looked up from his bed to see his new bride carrying a pot full of water and a package of Ramen noodles. "Let's make supper," she said with a wink.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Sophomoric Story Segment That Spawned A Popular Essay

Many years ago, I wrote an essay entitled To Touch Real Magic and after this blog entry, I would encourage you to read it as it is my major apologia for writing.

But what triggered the crafting of the essay is a story in itself.

Back in the early 90's when I started writing in earnest, I wrote for a small group of friends, using ourselves as characters in the stories. They were silly attempts at comedy and sophomoric at best. One of the fictional characters was Molly Ladanyi, a newspaper reporter who was something of a klutz and getting herself into very embarrassing situations.

The first story was A Very Strange House followed up by a sequel I entitled The Chupacabra. Aside from the segment below these stories will never be released publicly though many will recognize a more sophisticated Molly Ladanyi appeared as the main character in my seminal work, Coventry House.

Anyway, I so enjoyed writing the segment below, I actually felt guilty over putting a fictional character in such a humiliating situation. Also, I confess I was rather shocked at my own immature audacity.

So I apologized to my friends and the one wrote back immediately saying if he was physically present, he would slap some sense back in me.

Thus, the essay was born. You really ought to read it.

So, with the warning that what follows is tawdry silliness, allow me to introduce you to my favorite literary creation:

"I am so sorry, Madam, but your luggage has been temporarily misplaced."

Molly Ladanyi sighed and started to fill out the proper forms. In her first thirty minutes in San Juan, her traditional bad luck had once again reared its ugly head. Fortunately, she only expected to be in Puerto Rico just long enough to write the article her boss had assigned her and then she could bask in the tropical sun for a few days and follow her own personal agenda.

Dressed primly in a peasant blouse and ankle-length skirt, Molly picked up her two cameras, her laptop, and purse and walked through the airport customs searching for the men who were to meet her. Her last run-in with them at a haunted house in Maryland had turned into an embarrassing disaster. This time, she said to herself, I will convince them I am a professional news reporter with class.

She saw two of them waiting for her at the bottom of the long escalator. She pulled up their names from memory; Joshua Nozzi and R. Austin Smith. She waved serenely and stepped on the escalator, setting her heavy purse by her feet. Smiling and standing behind the security gate, they waved back.

When Molly approached the bottom of the escalator, she gracefully knelt to pick up her purse allowing the hem of her ankle-length skirt to become trapped by the motorized stairs as they disappeared into the floor. With all the irresistible force of the cosmos, her skirt, held up only by an elastic band, was pulled down around her hips and thighs.

Screaming wildly, trying to hold on to her purse while clutching at her modesty, she lost her balance and went sprawling on the floor at the bottom of the escalator. Within heartbeats, the inexorable motion of the machinery pulled her skirt off where it disappeared into the floor. The terminal was as silent as death except for the sound of motorized gears shredding her pride into individual fibers.

Suddenly, the silence was shattered when one little boy pointed and laughed. "Mira!" he cried with joy. "Mira! Es Donald Duck!"

Near tears, Molly stumbled to her feet, gathered her stuff and walked to the gate with as much dignity as she could muster, wishing she had selected plain panties that morning instead of bikini underwear bearing the repeated face of a Disney icon. Sadly, her peasant blouse was slightly cut in a midriff style which barely covered her navel let alone her taste in lingerie.

Joshua and Austin stood in stunned silence, their eyes irresistibly drawn to the small duck faces that maniacally stared back at them. "Strange," Austin muttered to Joshua. "Their eyes seem to follow you no matter where she moves."

"Shall we go, gentlemen?" Molly asked icily, trying not to break down in tears in front of these men she had wanted so badly to impress. Joshua motioned toward the door. Leading the way, Molly walked out into the bright Puerto Rican sunlight ignoring the laughter and jeers and delighted cries of "Es Donald Duck!"

ADDENDUM:  Karma has reared its ugly head. After posting this, all my Google ads are centered on women's underwear. How am I to explain this to my wife?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Let's Play A Game!

Many an individual has claimed that I am eccentric and I suspect maybe I am. What follows are several statements that are true, but one of them is false. Can you guess which one?
  1. Except for when I wear a tie, inside my shirt I wear a 900-year-old Chinese coin around my neck on a leather thong.
  2. The first movie I saw in a theater was Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) starring Pat Boone and James Mason.
  3. The first six years of my life were spent living in the Bonacker world and culture.
  4. My first "hero" was Dr. Benton C. Quest from the 1964-65 animated TV show, The Adventures of Jonny Quest.
  5. From 1977 to 1979, I was an avid player of the tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons.
  6. I once was an international radio personality.
  7. From 1975 to 1979, a substantial part of my income came from performing magic shows and the Society of American Magicians listed me as "semi-professional."
  8. I do not have a gall bladder, an appendix, tonsils or adenoids. This is why some people believe I'm "not all there."
  9. Though not a vegetarian, I enjoy the challenge of cooking vegetarian foods.
  10. My paternal grandfather was a Ukrainian refugee fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution.
  11. I absolutely love good ginger beer, my criteria being that "if you scream while it's going down, it's good stuff."
  12. Even though a clergyman, I proudly display on my office wall a large print of  J. W. Waterhouse's, The Lady of Shalott.
The Lady of Shalott
So, have you guessed which one is not true? Well, take your cursor and highlight the black line below while holding down the left mouse button and the answer will be revealed:


Sunday, April 30, 2017

Unsettling Experiences And High Strangeness

Allow me to start this piece by saying that I do not believe in "ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night," yet I confess in my 62 years I have had some very strange experiences that do not neatly fit into my worldview. Some of them I have shared on this blog so allow me to encourage you to put on your Skeptic Hat and share some of my experiences with you. Some of them might seem quite droll, but others might tickle your desire for the occasional weird story tempered with the knowledge that I affirm I directly experienced each one. I will leave it to you as judge, jury, and executioner to pass judgment.

  1. The Woman Who Carries Her Dead
  2. There is A Place ...
  3. Ranger Loewen vs. The Night People
  4. Alan Loewen vs. The Oak Fairy
  5. Alan Loewen vs. The Haunted Staircase
  6. March of 2017 Was One Weird Month 
  7. A True Story Wherein I Glimpse Real Wonder  
In the weeks ahead, I hope to add to my collection. I collect "unique" experiences like most people collect stamps.