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:
Journals:
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 Amazon.com 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:

THEY ARE ALL TRUE.

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.

Enjoy.
  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.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sen, My Shinto Shrine Maiden

A few days ago, I commissioned a graphic artist to bring to life the character of Sen, one of the main characters in my novelette, The Shrine War. Sen is a nine-tailed kitsune, the head Shinto shrine maiden of a temple to Inari Ōkami in a densely wooded forest near Mount Tomuraushi on the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

After sharing some story segments and my own mental impressions of the character, Kalika graciously crafted two separate versions: the first of Sen in her daily appearance as a miko as she serves at the shrine. However, on festival days when she and her sisters dance in the Kagura-den, they die their hair black and allow two long braids to hang down so they can twirl as they go through their graceful movements.

I am delighted with Kalika's vision and I hope you will be as well. You can see other examples of her art style here.   
Regular appearance
Hair style for festival days

Currently, The Shrine War is part of The Dogs of War anthology edited by Fred Patten. It is my hope to release an expanded version of The Shrine War later this year along with The Inugami, a companion story. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

My Life Choices May Have Denied Me The Stars...


(Note: If this little discourse interests you in what playing Traveller might offer, Traveller-RPG is a Facebook interest group that is a wonderful place to start.)

I love role-playing games. In fact, at one time in my life, I may have loved them a little too much.

I was introduced to Gary Gygax's Dungeons and Dragons in 1977 when studying for my Master's at Shippensburg University. I then got involved in other tabletop role playing games such as Call of Cthulhu, The Morrow Project, and then what became my favorite, Marc Miller's Traveller.

The Game Master for Traveller was the late Jim Forrest and with Jim moderating the game, I, as retired Merchant Marine Captain Heinrich "Himmel" von Geobbels, plied the starways trading illicit goods among the stars and trying to avoid the legal clutches of the Third Imperium. 

The day Himmel died attempting to rescue his stranded crew was a day of actual grieving, but I appreciated what I had learned from him. It's hard to get worried about the real annoyances of life when your ship is on fire or you're wasting away in some backwoods planet in a third-rate Imperial jail.

There are many observations said about writers that have a modicum of truth to them, one being that many writers write for an audience of one: themselves. What follows is an essay in the form of a dialogue, a form known as the Socratic method. Though I rarely write for myself, the reader should be able to grasp my main point if they are even remotely familiar with the concept of role-playing games, a diversion that consists of two or more people creating a genre story using dice, pencil and paper and a rule book. One or more of the players operates in the game through an imaginary character. These games can be “one-evening” affairs or can be played as campaigns that can take years.

An Evening Visit
by Alan Loewen
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Friday evenings are always peaceful around my home, this one especially so. My wife and three sons had traveled down to visit our elderly neighbor while I sat alone in a comfortable chair in the den staring intently at the computer screen. A large glass of some carbonated beverage at my right hand, I allowed the evening to casually slip by into the past while I idled away the time.

The interruption to this irenic scene came as abruptly as it was shocking. I felt the sharp edge of a blade thrust against my throat, just under the chin. With a gasp of pain, I felt the edge press even more deeply just shy of actually drawing blood.

Out of my peripheral vision I followed the blade edge, a long, sharp rapier, and saw who held the hilt for my second shock in as many seconds.

The man holding the rapier to my throat smiled down at me, a smile that contained neither warmth nor humor. He looked exactly as I had seen him last: tall with a waist thickening toward a girth so common in men over 50, and dressed in a somewhat casual type of uniform, a mixture of black and shades of brown. His black mustache and goatee showed no trace of the gray that streaked his hair, hair that he wore long and tied back in a ponytail. Dark eyes looked at me with all the warmth of flint.

Heinrich von Geobbels—”Himmel” as his friends and enemies called him—should have been a ghost. He died twenty-four years ago. Yet, here he stood before me in flesh and blood. Another surprise as he had never existed except in my imagination.

If you have never played what is called a role-playing game, you cannot possibly comprehend what I am saying. With Heinrich , my alter ego, we roamed the galaxy in a game played with paper, pencils, and dice, a game that stretched on for two years. During that time, I lived through this created character exploring worlds, fighting enemies, fleeing the agents of a despotic interstellar empire, and trading exotic goods across a dozen alien systems.

He perished with the roll of an unlucky die. Attempting to save his crew marooned on some backwoods planet, he cobbled together a rescue ship much like Frankenstein’s monster. Sadly, the ship could not handle the stresses of Jump Space and Heinrich perished with it.

I grieved. I moved on. I forgot.

Evidently, Heinrich hadn’t.

“You’re not real,” I managed to say. The blade pressed even tighter against my throat. Evidently, my imagination stood on the verge of killing me.

“Okay,” I said. ”I’m willing to entertain the idea you’re real.” The pressure of the blade lessened.

Suddenly, with a flourish, Heinrich whipped the rapier through the air away from my throat and sheathed it in one smooth move.

“Good,” he said, his voice a baritone with an edge as sharp as his sword. “Now that we have that settled...” He crossed his arms and leaned back against the wall. “I’ve wanted to have a chat with you for some time.”

Gingerly, I fingered my throat surprised to feel no sticky moisture of blood. I remained silent. I did not know what to say.

“Let’s see?” he mused, “I came into existence twenty-six years ago and since my untimely literary demise two years later, I’ve had no choice but to observe life through your eyes. I thought it high time I step out and offer you a friendly critique.”

“But you died,” I said. “I remember.”

“Oh, yes. That. Remember that I died in a game, a hodge-podge of dice and paper and rule books with a referee. No, my friend, you’re not rid of me that easily. I came to birth in your mind and I will live as long as you do.”

My mind jumped ahead to some disturbing possibilities. “So you’re saying I have multiple-personality disorder?”

Heinrich's lips pursed together tightly. “No, I said no such thing. You’ve not calved me off your main personality. I’m not a part of you. I am you.”

I shook my head. “I’m sorry, but I just don't get it.”

“I’m not surprised. All your friends thought they were merely playing a game ignoring any real-life consequences. In retrospect, you have to admit, what we did eventually became more than just a game.”

“Yes. It did,“ I responded. “I became addicted. That’s why I haven’t touched a role-playing game in decades.”

Himmel nodded in agreement. “Yes. You played a lot of hours, yet like most addicts, you never thought of the reasons why you invested so much of your life into your obsession.

“Eventually you came to believe you simply lived vicariously through me, but the power of imagination is a lot stronger than what you realize. You weren’t living through me, you truly lived in that make-believe universe. I was the mask you wore. And since I am you and you are me, dying in that make-believe cosmos didn’t really kill me off.” He smiled grimly. “Do you know what I represent?”

The sudden change of subject threw me off balance. “I don’t know,” I answered. I thought for a few moments remembering the adventures and the actions I had done through my alter ego. “Could you be that expression of myself that lives without limits.”

Heinrich laughed, the first real laughter since he appeared. “Close, but not close enough. I have limits because you have limits. The game had a rule book and life has a rule book. Try again.”

I looked at the man in front of me. What did Himmel represent? Something I lacked? Or something I had that I suppressed?

Suddenly, the answer came. “You’re me without fear!”

Heinrich laughed again, this time a hearty belly laugh from a man not afraid of what people thought of him. He clapped me on the back almost sending me sprawling out of my chair. “Close enough. I’m merely that expression of you without irrational fear, but let’s put it in a positive light. I’m you living out a life of rational courage.”

A sudden thought came to me, an inkling of a doubt. “In the game you...I...we...whatever, did cowardly things. We broke the law. We cut and run. How can you call that courage?”

Heinrich leaned toward me, the intensity of his eyes focused on mine. “The parameters of the game demanded those scenarios, but even in the game we did courageous things. But now I’m talking of real life. Here. Now. Do you know that when a baby is born, it only has two fears: the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling? All other fears are learned experiences." Himmel leaned back again against the wall and folded his arms. “Should I speak to you of fear of rejection, fear or failure, or even fear of success?”

“No,” I answered quickly,my cheeks reddening, “but we acted bravely in a game. This isn’t a game. It’s real life.”

Heinrich’s eyes flashed with fury. “I’m not talking about the game!” he said, his voice rising to a shout. “Forget the game and focus on this life...our life.” He gritted his teeth together, took a deep breath, and spoke more calmly. “I will be blunt. You gave up living in a game twenty-four years ago. Now you’ve given up living in real life.”

“I...” The need to defend myself rose strongly, but I’ve always had a problem with a need to speak with integrity. “I...“ I paused. “No...you’re right.”

I faced away from him. “Fear is the opposite of faith, love, courage,” I said mechanically, “but life changes things. I’m older now. I have a wife, children, a home, responsibilities. I live in a society where courage is viewed as misguided altruism.”

Again, Heinrich laughed without humor. “Petty excuses,” he spat.

I felt his hand on my shoulder and his voice took on a gentler tone. “I know you. You do the best you can do and then worry that it might not have been enough. You look forward to an uncertain future that is demonstrably hostile to you and your loved ones and the beliefs you hold sacred and you tremble. You wake up at night consumed by worry. You’re terrified that your very fear alienates those around you, including those you love. Yet, you’ve come this far. You’ve beaten a number of the odds and had some fun doing it.”

I smiled. I couldn’t help it. “Yes. I survived Ecuador, Costa Rica, inner-city Baltimore, asthma...and kids...so far.” I looked up at him. “Courage is not something that you can conjure out of thin air. How do I get it back?”’

Heinrich once again took up his position, leaning against the wall. “You didn’t lose your courage. It’s layered over with fear. You regain it with small triumphs and work from there." He paused for a moment. "So?” he asked. “What’s the one thing today...just one thing that you’ve avoided or put off just because of fear?”

I didn’t even need to think about it. I shut my eyes and shook my head with a smile. “I know what it is,” I said, scratching my head. “It’s only been keeping me up for the last three months.”

“Then,” Heinrich’s voice whispered. “Just do that one thing today. Face your fear. Get it out of the way. Do the best you can and be content in that, and then move onto the next challenge. Build up to your bigger challenges, your bigger dreams." Again he paused, his voice becoming almost wistful. “Do you remember that one item you wrote on that fifty-year long goal sheet that you filled out when you were still a teen? That one item you didn’t show to anybody or ever tell anybody?”

Again it came to me immediately. “Yes,” I said, remembering that indescribable longing that came over me when I wrote that one impossible dream. “Yes, I do. I wrote that before I died I wanted to dance on the mountains of the moon.”

Heinrich nodded. “Big dreams keep us going. Even if we never make it, I suspect we’ll have fun reaching for it. And if we do make it, remember...it will be me dancing with you.”

When I looked up to say thanks, Heinrich was no longer there. I blinked and turned to face my computer screen and realized that wasn‘t quite true. Heinrich von Geobbels stared back at me from the screen’s reflection.

There are many dreams, wishes, accomplishments I want to achieve, some that people would consider ridiculous, immature, a waste of energy, but who really knows? Life is stranger than what we know. Maybe someday, just maybe. You really don’t know. You really can’t say it’s impossible. Maybe someday, people walking the streets in fear will look up at the moon with dread and apprehension in their eyes, unaware that on the highlands of the Sea of Tranquility, Himmel and I are dancing.

Monday, April 17, 2017

And Sometimes I Win Big Time (Sax Rohmer Find)

In Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, I haunt a used bookstore and have occasionally scored some good finds.

Imagine my surprise when I walked into The Book House today and they had a used copy of Sax Rohmer's, The Golden Scorpion!

With a 1920 copyright, it was published by the A. L. Burt Company in New York through arrangement with Robert M. McBride & Company. I admit it's rather beat up, but I'm thoroughly delighted with my find and I personally consider it a steal at just $5.00.

You can get it legally for free as an eBook at Manybooks and if you follow the link you'll discover I reviewed the book way back on March 29, 2008:


From the creator of Fu Manchu (who makes an unnamed cameo in this story), The Golden Scorpion is a tale of 1920's England and Dr. Keppel Stuart who is sucked into the investigation of an international conspiracy group headed by the Golden Scorpion.

Fortunately, our hero has a greater hero helping him: Gaston Max, a French forerunner of James Bond.

The result is a rather exciting tale of cliff hangers and otherworldly beautiful women.

Pulp fiction at its most pristine.
You can read more about the fascinating history of this work by going to this link at Black Gate.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

My First and Last Interview

Years ago I had a very old blog entitled, The Literary Equine. One of the features was a weekly Friday interview of authors entitled, Seven Questions for the Horse. Reviewing the old records I found a large amount of old entries that I had forgotten over the years.

So among all the interviews, lo and behold, I found one that I did for a nameless soul many years ago. So against my better judgement, here is the first and last interview I ever had with me as the subject and is also the reason I don't do interviews:


Full Name?

Craig Alan Loewen

State of Residence?

Pennsylvania

Occupation?

Three actually: clergyman, parlor magician, author

Children?

Three sons.

Have you ever kissed a chicken?

What?

Have you ever kissed a chicken?

What kind of question is that?!?!

Look, here's the deal. I ask the questions and you answer them.

You're nuts! These are supposed to be questions about my favorite colors and what music CD's I own and my likes and dislikes. Nobody else has to answer questions about chickens!

Okay, okay. Be a twit. What's your favorite color?

That's better. U'mm, deep blue.

You ever kissed a deep blue chicken?

That's it. I'm out of here.

No, no, no! Come back! I'm sorry; you win. I promise not to ask any more questions about kissing chickens.

Really?

Yes, really.

Promise?

Scout's honor..

Well...okay.

Ever kissed a pig?

WHAT!?!? Well...I...umm...

YOU'VE KISSED A PIG!?!?

Well, it was a church camp dare in front of over 100 kids. I was the director that summer. How could I say no?

Whoa. I really have a different picture of you now.

JUST ASK THE BLASTED QUESTIONS!

 

Okay. Any romantic liaisons with poultry?

Okay, I'm outa here.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Why, Yes, I AM A Grammar Nazi

Let's take a look at a meme:


A brief glance pokes fun at a mother's failure to prove she is a good mother. That's the spirit of the meme, but it fails terribly because it misplaced a comma.

As it is written, the mother is asking the little girl if she is a "good mother Susan." Now I have no idea what a "good mother Susan" might be, but it sounds like one of the names from the British Isles that people would call the local hedge witch.
"Morning, Elias, and where do you be going this fine morning?"
"Me cow's doing poorly and I'm off to see Good Mother Susan for a poultice."
Now you already know what the meme creator meant. The mother was asking her child, "Am I a good mother, Susan?" and the child corrects her by saying her name is actually Amy and general hilarity ensues.

I know what you're thinking. Why make a fuss over such a trivial error? It's a meme, not the Declaration of Independence.

But you need to understand one salient fact. Words, grammar, and sentence structure are my currency. I'm a writer whose sole ambition is to write entertaining stories, but if the elements of grammar are beyond my ken, then my stories go unread because they are unreadable.

I put as much work in my Facebook posts and blog entries as I do my stories. And, yes, I make hordes of errors, but I will not hesitate to correct them as soon as possible. I've pulled my books off of Amazon simply to correct one typo and then resubmit them.

Yes, I am that fanatical.

Seriously, the English language to me is wonder incarnate. As I wrote in my fictional essay, To Touch Real Magic,
"Well, gentlemen," Alan said to the empty air. "I know you’re here and reading this and have seen my perspective on the craft of writing, but before I go, I would like to share with you one closing thought.

"The ancient bards and troubadours saw actual magic in the ability to communicate with words. The Greeks called it the Logos. Norse legends say Odin gave up an eye and hung himself on the World Tree for a night of suffering and agony so he could win the secret of the runes and all the power inherent in what became the Norse alphabet. The Jews refuse to say the entire name of God or even write it out fully out of respect for its power.

"I will not bandy metaphysics with you, but I’ll simply say that I agree with the concept of the magic of words.

"History is filled with the names of men who sought the occult power of creation; Rasputin, Saint Germaine, Cagliostro and others. But I dare say to you now that if we craft an exquisite sentence, we have achieved more than all the incantations of Aliester Crowley combined.

"All the cabalistic mechanizations of Paracelsus never brought him any closer to the act of creation that we so easily achieve when we dare to put pen to paper or hand to keyboard.

"The writer who seeks perfection of his craft and continues to write comes across more wonder and magic and awe than any witch, warlock or sorcerer that ever mumbled a midnight charm.

"Thank you for allowing me to share my magic with you, even when it has been nothing more than droll slapstick. You have honored me deeply. I look forward to returning that honor when you share your writings with me.

"So let’s all together, in our own private worlds of our own creation, snap our fingers and say ‘Let there be light!’"

Alan laughed and snapped his fingers.
And there was light.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

I CAN MAKE YOU RICH!

Just a few minutes ago I received an advertisement from an author who claimed to have written 250 bestsellers IN A ROW. She offered to teach me how to replicate her success.

Oddly enough, I never heard of her, but I confess I was impressed with her output. So, I looked said author up on her Amazon author's page and her LinkedIn page.

Question for you: how do just three books (with rankings #97,106 Paid in Kindle Store, #198,136 Paid in Kindle Store, and #1,270,056 Paid in Kindle Store respectively) turn into 250 bestsellers IN A ROW?

The essence of her offer was to teach me "how to start a movement with your message." As I have stated many times, I write only to entertain and I refuse to turn my books into a bully pulpit. I fear the good author has very little to teach me.

However, upon continued meditation, I realized that if I just threw honesty and integrity to the winds, I could come up with my own scam! I mean... educational package for writers.

So here you go. I hope you catch the point amid the sarcasm.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Challenge of Writing The Inugami (With Samples)

(Note: Please be aware the samples provided are still part of the rough draft and may be changed substantially in the final release.)

The challenge of writing The Inugami as well as its predecessor, The Shrine War, is that the story takes place in a world that has a different culture, religious view, ethics, and social customs very different than mine. And though I knew a few Japanese people, I have never had the pleasure of visiting the country.

So before even putting hand to keyboard, I spent weeks reading up on Japanese history, historical mythology, Shintoism and Buddhism, culture, and language. I lurked on Internet discussion forums and asked questions risking the wrath of forum trolls, but I learned quite a bit.
Hours later back in the apartment, Kelly stocked the pantry and small refrigerator with food when there came a knock on the door. She opened it to find an elderly woman bearing a covered plate, bowing and greeting her in flawless English.

“Welcome to our little neighborhood,” she said. “I have brought you some Daifuku.”

Kelly took the plate with both hands and bowed. “Thank you,” she responded. “Please come in?”

She stepped aside, but the woman nervously looked past her into the house. After a moment, she stepped inside and removed her shoes. “Arigato,” she said and bowed again. “Suzuki Haruka.”

Kelly bowed again, a nonstop exercise in a country where respect was highly valued. “My first name is Kelly,” she said, “and my family name is Robbins. I am honored to have you here.”
 Progress on the story is slow because I try to put myself in the shoes of a person who has lived in a different world. Add the mythological worldview and things become complicated quite quickly. 

In the first draft of The Shrine War, I mentioned the incense burning in a Shinto temple. However, according to a famous work on Japan, Shinto temples do not use incense. In a future release of The Shrine War, I have removed the reference and alluded to the prohibition in The Inugami.
Within minutes, her neighbor had returned with a fistful of sticks. “That’s incense, isn’t it?” Kelly asked.

“Yes,” Haruka said. “Remember when I said that Japanese believed in ghosts? Well, we believe in a host of odd creatures. Do you know what yōkai are?” She continued without waiting for Kelly to respond. “There are literally hundreds of mystical creatures and monsters that fill the Japanese mind. Yōkai are supernatural creatures and they have various powers and they all look different, but regardless, there is one trait they all have in common. They absolutely hate incense.”

“Is that why the temples use it?” Kelly asked.

Haruka shook her head as she pulled a lighter out of her pocket. “You will only find incense in a Buddhist temple or some of the Christian churches. There it serves as part of the worship. You will never find incense in a Shinto shrine. Not only do yōkai despise it, but the kami themselves view its use as an insult.”
Of course, in all of this, I may have made grievous errors. My fantasy tale, In the Father's Image, took place in London and contained massive errors, but before it went to print I had it checked out by people who knew the city and its subtle culture. I attempted to correct all errors and even after it went to print, I made sure that future editions were as error free as possible. In fact, as I go over old blog entries, if I see an error, I correct it immediately. I certainly have a phlegmatic personality, but when it comes to writing, I wish to master the art. I am always revising.

That will be the same with The Shrine War and The Inugami. If anybody can substantiate an error, I will change it, first because of my perfectionist drive to have an error free product, but because I do not wish to incorrectly portray the country where my story takes place.

 
So having read this far, allow me to reward you by posting one more sample when Kelly sees her house guest for the first time, an Inugami living under the crawlspace of her Tokyo apartment.
Smoke started to come off the incense, the room filling with a musky aroma. Haruka coughed and put her sleeve in front of her face. “Open the trapdoor there,” she said. “Quickly please.”

Obeying, Kelly opened the little door and Haruka carefully dropped it down into the crawlspace. “The floor is dirt and there can be no risk of fire. Now, outside at once!”

Kelly followed Haruka out the backdoor to the small yard, wanting to ask hundreds of questions, when suddenly the outside access door to the crawlspace violently burst open.

What tumbled out moved so quickly, Kelly’s mind could not take it all in, a scream of surprise frozen in her throat.

It was a dog, a big one rolling across the ground, a collar around its neck trailing a chain that disappeared into the crawlspace. Inexplicably, it bore shredded old rags that through the holes, Kelly could see filthy, matted yellow fur. A stench rolled off the creature making Kelly gag.

It was when the creature stood on its hind legs, Kelly felt the scream escaping her paralyzed lungs. Only five feet tall, it bore the shape of an emaciated human being, but with a canine face and teeth bared in fury. It lunged at the two women, but out of the corner of her eye, Kelly saw Haruka throw something at the beast, something powdery and white.

With a yowl of agony, it fell to the ground and writhing in pain, it dragged itself to a corner of the yard, its chain trailing behind it, where it huddled against a corner of the fence clawing at its rags and fur.

Kelly took in a deep breath to release her scream, but Haruka grabbed her arm, hard.

“Do not make a sound,” she hissed. “You will alert the neighbors. Now we have enough problems.”

Kelly fell to her knees, her eyes wide in shock. Her voice had fled.

Wheezing, she forced air out of lungs. “What...what is it,” she gasped.

A smile devoid of mirth came to Haruka’s face as she stared at the thing that whimpered and cowered at the end of its chain. “Something your western mind cannot grasp,” she said, her words hard and cruel. “It is an Inugami. Just as I suspected, the man who lived here actually was an onmyōji, a Taoist sorcerer dedicated to evil. That is his familiar.”

“We need to call the police,” Kelly said.

“No!” Haruka said forcefully. “They cannot help here. This is my work.”

“How...how can this be your work?” Kelly asked, wide-eyed. “How can you even know what this thing is?”

“I was a miko many years ago, a Shinto shrine maiden,” Haruka explained, “but we can discuss that later.”

Haruka approached the Inugami and dropped to a crouch. “Tell me your name,” she demanded in Japanese. “I have more blessed salt in my hand. Tell me or you will burn again.”

The Inugami had curled itself into a ball, but revealed its face and snarled. “I obey no kit…”

“Silence!” Haruka commanded. She held her fist above her head and the Inugami tried its best to cower even further into the fencing. “What is your name? Tell me.”

The Inugami wailed in its misery. “I am Kirai, the creation of Abe no Tadayuki.” Kelly followed the conversation in shock. The Inugami’s voice was clearly female.
Kelly stood and walked backwards until she felt the wall of house pressing against her back.