Friday, September 15, 2017

So Kitsune Aren't Perfect Little Angels?

For new readers:
  1. One of the myriad species of Japanese yōkai, Kitsune are Japanese foxes blessed with sentience and multiple tails. There are two types: yako who are regular red-furred field foxes and white-furred zenko that are charged with serving the goddess Inari in her shrines. In my story, they are anthropomorphic and walk on two legs.
  2. One of the myriad species of Japanese yōkai, an Inugami is a familiar for evil Daoist sorcerers created by taking a normal dog and perverting it through torture and death. In my story, they are anthropomorphic and walk on two legs.
In writing The Inugami, I have a quartet of kitsune coming to attempt to kill the titular character and I had to find a way to delay them. Now in the first installment of The Shrine War, all my kitsune shrine maidens are perfect little angels without a flaw in the bunch. In The Inugami, not so much.
Haruka hung up the phone, her claws sliding off the plastic. In the mirror of the inn’s room she stared back at herself in her fox form, ermine-colored fur showing her to be a common yako, a kitsune of no special heritage. No matter how many tails she added to her present two, she would never amount to anything when compared to a zenko, a white-furred celestial fox dedicated to serve the goddess Inari. In the mirror, she watched her two male companions, both yako as well, attempt to calm down the three-tailed Inari shrine maiden they had hired to deal with the Inugami.

The celestial had never left the Inari shrine where she served and her first foray out into the dangerous world of humanity had her discover sake for the first time. Her insistence on downing an entire bottle of the rice wine had not settled well. Fortunately, the inn was run by yōkai for yōkai so the celestial’s drunken demands for more wine resulted only in embarrassment and not in exposing their existence to humans.

“Fumiko-sama, there is no more sake in the inn,” the one male kitsune said, bowing deeply. “Please rest. We already are delayed on our urgent journey.”

Fumiko blinked her red-rimmed eyes that stood out in sharp contrast to her glowing white fur. “I tell you...,” she said, slurring her Japanese heavily. “I tell you that I now know why Inari gets offerings of sake. That is certainly wine for the kami. I tell you, I want more!” The celestial paused as her eyes suddenly grew larger. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Haruka buried her muzzled face in her paws.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Calling All Botanists!

ADDENDUM: The tree has been identified as a Princess Tree (Paulownia tomentosa). You can read all about it here and here. Thanks to everyone who sent me information. Every suggestion led me closer to the answer.

This plant is on the property of Green Ridge Village in Newville, Pennsylvania. The plant sprung up by itself and they have absolutely no idea what it is. Even the local newspaper published pictures of it without anybody able to come forward and identify it.

Could any hobbyists, gardeners, botanists, or herbalists identify this very remarkable plant.

It stands at least ten feet tall with leaves that are almost a yard in width. As you can see, the bark of the stem is speckled.

We are rather certain it is not a triffid.






Thursday, September 7, 2017

Wanna Read My Slenderman Story For Free?

Well, of course you do. And all you have to do is click on this masterfully crafted link right here.

Anyway, there's nothing good on TV so you might as well.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Five More Poems For Your Enjoyment

More poetry that I have written over the years. Please remember that ALL RIGHTS ARE RESERVED.


Alice Remembers the White Knight

I would step through the mirror once again,” she said,
“As a sacrament
to unrequited faith.

And writing of you with compassion,
my words will spill on the pages
with all the might of snowflakes.

And when my pen is emptied,
I will walk into the sky to find my heart
for it is there you will be waiting.”



Jordan Draws

Ink flows and
an ebony line forms
a face, an eye, a mouth,
the artist's desire made
corporeal—a faint echo
of a Divine hand when
it sketched its heart
on the virgin soil
of Eden.



The Wizard and the Poet

Incantation muttered, the stars
Have gelled in positions ordained.
The candles lit, the words uttered,
Sacrifices made.

The adept pauses, but no
Reality bends to firm will.
With a curse, retorts are shattered
And symbols undone as are years of labor.

The poet pauses with pen in hand
Then writes worlds into existence.
Crafting reality with artful phrase
And creating universes with words.

No demon-haunted wizard can match this power
No mumbling incantation half as strong.
Impotent all before the writing poet
Who wields his words in majesty and awe.



Maiden With Horn

She walks among the roses, sunlight
Glittering off opal and pearl.
He sees through the blossoms
A delicate body of wreathed
Alabaster, distillation of sylph
And maiden.

“Alms!” he cries and the
Silhouetted vision pauses.
“Alms! Bless this poor man’s
Soul.”

A whisper returns, “Do you ask
Or give?

“May we not do both?” He weaves
His web of words, “Come and
Enrich my heart.”

Her retreat quickens his spirit.
He follows the shadowed vision
To a wooded glade.
Under an ancient oak, he sees
The body of a girl, the face of a myth.
Her spiral horn shines in the setting sun.

By wonder transformed, the
Novitiate lays his head, his
Life, his alms, in his
Mistress’s lap.


Where Unicorns Walked As Men

He sat at the bar with untouched drink
And babbled about lost lands of opal towers,
Perfumed air, and unicorns that walked as men.

We mocked this poet racked with fever-dream,
Lost in visions and rum. “And you returned to this?”
We asked.




Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Apple Lady: A Poem

One of my first poems. Based on a true incident.

All except the last stanza. At least, that is what I would like you to believe.



The Apple Lady

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


The night echoed a choir of crickets
Accented by an aroma of earth.
The moon washed the old orchard clean of color.

He ignored my protests against the chill,
The night, this vigil among the trees.
"Do you believe in wonder?" he asked.

My lie came easily.
"I lack imagination."

"In my twelfth year, " he said,
"I saw her among the trees
Clothed in autumn leaves
Hair red as autumn apples;
Her eyes like autumn frost."

I shook with more than cold.
"We should be home
With beer and friends,
Forget childhood dreams
And childhood lovers."

I left him standing
In moonlight and leaves.

With the rising sun
We found him fused
Into the bark of an old apple tree,
Taken in a wooden embrace,
A gentle smile on his lips.

A Book Is Like A Garden

Researching Far East proverbs, I came across this gem and had to immortalize it.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Immortality of the Written Word

“Writing for immortality is not a good idea” ~ H.J. Jackson in her new book, Those Who Write for Immortality: Romantic Reputations and the Dream of Lasting Fame

Around my neck, I wear a Chinese coin on a leather thong, one that comes from final days of the Song Dynasty under Emperor Huizong. I can amuse myself for hours considering how the metal smith would react if he knew one of the coins he created would last for 900 years and end up hanging around the neck of another human being whose race, culture, language, and technology would leave him in a combination of terror and awe.

But then, it also makes me wonder how the authors of the past would react if they knew their books lasted well beyond their own lifetimes such as Plato, St. Augustine, H. P. Lovecraft, and others.

And that brings me to a book I just completed reading yesterday. Browsing in one of the most disorganized used book stores I have ever encountered, I came across an old beat up paperback with the title, The Mark of Pak San Ri written by one William Stroup. Because of my love for Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu novels, I took a chance and purchased the paperback  expecting it to be a cheap knockoff. In fact, the author makes bold mention of the fictional character of Fu Manchu in the story.

It's not the best book I have ever read, basically a very formulaic pulp. Richard Quinn is an ex-G.I. living in postwar Seoul in South Korea when he witnesses a murder. The rest of the book is his attempt to solve the mystery behind the crime as he tries to keep one step ahead of of Pak San Ri's assassins that appear to be about 50% of the entire population of Seoul. The events of the story follow a precise formula:
  1. Quinn ignores good advice to stay out of trouble.
  2. He gets into a fight with the Korean crime lord's minions.
  3. He gets knocked out.
  4. He comes to, facing certain death.
  5. Quinn is rescued at the last moment by his friends or the U.S. military who are looking for him or just happen to be in the right place at the right time.
  6. Repeat this four more times.
A typical pulp story, there is a lot of violence and sex and Quinn gets knocked out so many times in the story, you wonder how he survives without a terminal concussion. He also gets branded with a hot iron, kicked, beaten, and even takes two bullets just because he can, but like a good Timex watch, he takes a beating and keeps on ticking.

But it's a fun read if you can get beyond the pulp tropes and the illogic of it all.

SPOILER ALERT!

I will give kudos to the author for revealing that Pak San Ri is one of the most beautiful women in all of Korea. I didn't see that one coming. (Hold down your right mouse button down and skim it over the darkened part to read the concealed spoiler.)
 
However, the point of this essay is not about bad writing, but the author William Stroup. I wanted to see what else he had written and that sent me into the dusty corners of the Internet to discover there is very little to discover about the man. From what little I can gather, William Stroup was born around 1903 and passed away sometime near 1966. It appears The Mark of Pak San Ri is the only work he ever wrote and only one of the seventeen paperbacks published by the short-lived Book Company of America (Beverley Hills, California). Stroup lived in Hermosa Beach, California, but it is not known for how long. Because of the novel's intimate references to army life as well as Korea, I assume Stroup served in the Korean Conflict while in the army. However, if the birthdate is correct, he would have been in Korea during his early 50s. A search of military archives reveal nobody named William Stroup.

So the gentleman disappears in the mists of time, his sole novel being his own literary immortality.

I do not write for immortality. I write solely to entertain, but I confess that it amuses me to think that maybe someday, some decades in the future, some blogger may comment on one of the novels or collections he or she discovered while traversing the dusty, narrow aisles of some disorganized used book store.

Time will tell.




Monday, August 28, 2017

Fifteen Super Short Stories



Many years ago when Livejournal was the Facebook of the day, a meme made the rounds of people asking others to recall when they first met. Well, let's just say I have a wild imagination. Enjoy.

+*+*+

In late October, 1918, shot down just five miles behind the German lines, DeBray and I hid in the burned out remains of an old manor outside the deserted village of Château de Chambord. Our self-imposed imprisonment was relieved by a well-stocked wine cellar and a deck of cards with the 8 of Hearts missing.

For weeks we regaled ourselves with tales over bottles of Bordeaux from such vintages as Lafite Rothschild, La Conseillante and Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. Playing poker, DeBray ended up owning all of France.

Weeks later, desperate to rejoin our unit, we drank the last, cast fate to the wind, and ran into the night in a mad attempt to breach the lines from behind.

The next morning we found ourselves near frozen in a potato field, our heads pounding.

A farmer told us the war had been over for weeks.

+*+*+

"Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law states ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’" Stoker waved his hands like an orchestra conductor and created a herd of snow-white unicorns out of whole cloth. "Let’s applaud cerebral implants."

Another wave and gryphons joined the dance.

"I just can’t seem to be able to do that," I complained. I waved my hand and a dyspeptic unicorn smelling of old fish appeared and promptly melted into a greasy puddle. "What am I doing wrong?"

Stoker snapped his fingers and the puddle congealed into a pretty fairy who soared away on streaming wings trailing ginger and violet. "How are you building them?" he asked.

"Just like you. One molecule at a time."

"Ah!" he said with a nod. "There’s your problem. Your building blocks are too large. Start with smaller particles."

"Particles?" I asked. "What particles?"

"Elementary, my dear Loewen. Elementary."

+*+*+

I journeyed to Saint Kitts hoping the Caribbean sun would burn away my ennui. My paints had dried in my mind; my soul remained a blank canvas.

I heard her where she sang to herself in the front door of a little beach shanty. “My name is Tracy.”

She showed me mysteries in the tide pools and the sea caves. We explored the vendor stalls and I bought her a straw hat. We fed the pigeons in front of Saint Martin’s. She taught me how to drink Margaritas and how to laugh once again.

That night on my easel, I painted wild arabesques of color, pirouettes of pastels. Inspired fantasies flowed in watercolor.

The next morning, the beach stood empty, no trace of the shanty or its muse.

My watercolors are now famous, my best capturing her features with brightly-colored pigments mixed with my tears.

+*+*+

He sat in my counseling chair like it was a throne. “Humanity has grown weak,” he said grimly. “We gave them their chance, but they squandered their stewardship for bread and circuses. Now it is time for our return until humanity learns its responsibilities anew.”

I nodded and wrote “Delusional” on my notepad.

He stood and I cried out in surprise and awe as his eyes changed from human to the large orange slitted orbs of a tiger.

The receptionist burst into the room. “Dr. Loewen!” she asked, “What happened?”

I sat staring at an empty chair. “The old gods have awakened,” I whispered.

+*+*+

“My problem,” Razz said, reaching for her sketch pad and pencil, “is that I have too powerful an imagination.”

To demonstrate, she drew a butterfly that suddenly shimmered and flew off the page. I watched it flutter about my counseling office.

Razz shook her head in despair. “My apartment is filled with bats, unicorns, fairies, cartoon characters; all of them about the size of an eight by eleven inch sheet of paper.”

I meditated for a moment and then wrote out my prescription. Razz read it and smiled.

The next day, she returned grinning. “I never thought of drawing Aladdin’s lamp,“ she said. “I used my last two wishes to solve my problem.”

I twitched my nose. “Let me guess. Because you doubted his powers, you wasted your first wish on turning me into a giant green rabbit?”

“Bingo!” she said.

+*+*+
I remember it like it was yesterday.

It was tea time in Bejing and we had sat down for a quiet time of refreshment at Madame Chin's when the Tongs attacked.

I never knew you were so adept at self-defense with nothing but a pair of chopsticks.

Five minutes later, you rejoined me at our table, flicked somebody's spleen off the tablecloth and resumed your tea as if nothing had ever happened.

"Where ..." I gasped, "Where did you learn such martial arts?!?!"

You simply smiled at me over your cup of steaming Jasmine tea. "I see you never ate lunch at the Fullerton College cafeteria."

+*+*+

I remember it like it was yesterday.

When the Amazon Women from Mars invaded, Earth was thrown into total turmoil.

Fleeing the rubble of what was left of San Francisco, I found you walking among the wreckage.

"Those alien women are coming!" I cried. "We need to hide!"

You just smiled as you pulled out your ray gun. "Sorry, old chap, but I was one of the advance spies. Mars needs men."

Mars has such a pretty pink sky.

+*+*+

I remember it like it was yesterday.

There she stood on the balcony overlooking the lawn and you pushed me out into the moonlight where she could see me.

"Call her name," you said.

"E-e-e-s-Esmerelda!" I called, my voice shaking.

In the shadows you told me the words of love to woo her and I followed your advice and then and there she pled me her vows of true love.

"I'll be right down!" she cried gaily. I almost wept for joy.

She ran out into the dewy lawn and the moonlight and I reached out to hold her in my arms. Suddenly she saw me and with a cry of despair, she stopped and suddenly began to weep. "I thought you were Alexander!" she wailed.

I was the best man at your wedding.

+*+*+

I remember it like it was yesterday.

"Stay behind me," you yelled as we stormed the beach.

Bullets knit a tattoo of death around us, and though other men's lives were forfeit that bloody day, we made it to the first line of dunes.

"There's a pillbox just over this hill," you said. "Wait here until you hear the grenade go off," You grinned at me like it was a picnic outing.

Far over head, ack ack guns burst in colors of black and gray as Allied bombers flew deeper into enemy territory to deliver the death they carried in their wombs.

You rolled over the dune and I heard an explosion, but little did I know it wasn't the grenade you had yet to throw.

With a war cry, I stood to run over the dune and took a round in the gut.

When I came too, you were standing over me putting away the suture kit back into the med bag. "I had to jury rig you back together, but you'll be okay."

To this day, I still taste steel canteen when I belch, but you saved my life. I don't think I've ever thanked you.

+*+*+

I remember it like it was yesterday.

The undead had holed us up in an old Domino's Pizzeria. I and the three others were a screaming, lunatic mess, but you kept the rest of the survivors calm by finding what was left of the store's supplies and jury rigging some pepperoni pizza for morale as well as strength.

It was that evening when Dave carelessly showed himself in front of the big glass window.

Next thing we know, ravenous zombies had broken through and it was every man for himself. You stood on the counter and dealt final death to the undead with the biggest pizza cutter I had ever seen.

You got away. The rest of us didn't and I hope you still have the pizza cutter 'cause I'm coming for you and I'm getting really tired of eating nothing but brains and watching pieces of me slowly fall off.

+*+*+

You were cool, calm, and collected in your three piece silk suit. I sweated and twitched and looked like I had crawled out of a Salvation Army bin.

You were an old hand at the spy business. This was first outing.

She was slim and blonde and her legs went all the way to the ground and she wore a red dress that fit like it was her skin.

You swept her off her feet. I sweated and twitched and hiccuped.

When she betrayed us later than night, you smooth talked your way into having her release you from your bonds. She cried and kissed you, provided the keys and you swept her away to Istanbul where she now works as your new sidekick.

It seems you forgot your old sidekick. The bomb went off and now half my body is now metal and plastic.

I'm now the new Mr. Big and the world's #1 Bad Guy and when you and your new partner come to take me out, you'll find that all my sidekicks are ugly old men you won't be able to sweep off their feet.

I would write more, but it's 10 o'clock and I have to go oil myself.

+*+*+

I remember it like it was yesterday.

The clues given to us by that dying Mountain Shuar Indian had led us to the greatest treasure trove of all. The hidden gold of the Incan leader, Rhumunauhui.

We stood inside the ancient Incan temple and, because of my ignorance, I needed you to read the ancient pictographs on the wall.

"Yes," you said. "The treasure is behind this door. You open it and I'll nip outside to fetch more flashlight batteries.

The treasure was there just as you read, but you got the gold and I got the curse.

You now live in regal splendor, but I'm just a pile of amorphous slime and if it takes me all night, I'm going to ooze through that front door keyhole.

I'll see you in the morning.

+*+*+

I remember it like it was yesterday.

I had watched you walk past my place of business for weeks and one day I had to test my fortune.

You came strolling up the sidewalk and I knelt in front of you holding out a bouquet of true black roses and a box of bon bons made by Belgium chocolatiers from rich cream from virgin cows as I professed my undying devotion.

You looked at me with a withering glance bordering on pity. "You, sir, are beneath my station."

Today I drown my sorrows in absinthe, but I bear with pride the marks your stiletto heels made when you walked over me

+*+*+

I remember it like it was yesterday.

The Tyson Mansion was the Mount Everest of haunted houses and nobody had ever explored its arcane mysteries without going completely mad or failing to survive the night's adventures.

At two in the morning the apparition appeared, a grisly horror from a madman's worst nightmare.

In my panic, I dumped my attache case and threw everything I had at it: holy water, onions, crucifixes, sacred symbols, wolfsbane ...

Unaffected, it glared at me with malevolent evil.

You casually walked up to the monstrosity, looked it straight in the eye, and said, "I don't believe in you."

It vanished in a puff of skepticism.

+*+*+

I remember it like it was yesterday.

Of all the coffeehouses in all the forgotten corners of the world, you had to walk into mine.

Carlton at the piano played The Lady of Shallott in E minor. You stood elegant in a little off-the-shoulders number wearing a perfume that blended the best of jasmine and cinnamon and cardamon.

I treated you to a Coffee Cream Chantilly, my house specialty and we spent the night sampling arcane coffees from across the world.

In the morning, you excused yourself to powder your nose and when a half hour returned I realized you weren't coming back, especially when I noticed that you had so entranced me you had taken my wallet, my watch, my rings, my Saint Brendan medal, and my truss. You were good!

Keep it all. It's a small price to pay for the pleasure of your company, but please return my heart.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Wolf Hunter: A Short Story

What happens when you combine Norse mythology with Japanese manga? I'll let you decide.




Wolf Hunter
by Alan Loewen
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


My name is Vidar, the son of Odin.

You do not remember Ragnarok, the final battle between the Æsir, the gods of old, and the Jötnar, the forces of chaos. I remember it well.

I saw the cosmos destroyed and reborn and so very few survived. Then the Fates decreed the new world arising from the ashes would never remember the old. They changed the memory of mortals, even in dreams, so no evidence existed of the glory of Asgard except as tales for children.

Yes, I remember Ragnarok when god and giant slew and slew and the killing ended because there were no more to kill. The only survivors were myself, my brother, Váli, and Magni and Modi, the sons of Thor.

We had given ourselves up to the Fates, to let the Norns play out their cruel hand, but we have not died. We have watched the eons flow by us like water and, to our surprise and delight, Mjolnir, Baldr, and his brother Höd have been reborn. As Asgard now lies in uninhabitable ruin, the reborn have joined us in Idavoll.

Hod still stands gifted with prophecy and, some moons ago, he cast the wooden slips. They revealed to us that, as we have returned, the monsters will also someday return: Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent, and the giants, Surtr and Garmr. And the divination has also revealed the ultimate cruelty of the Norns. Fenris the Wolf has already risen from Hel to walk Midgard once again.

At Ragnarok, I saw Fenris kill my father, Odin. In my grief and fury, I tore the wolf's jaws apart. Hod told me that Fenris was reborn in a far away land called Japan, so taking the guise of a mortal, I walked Midgard determined to kill the demon again.

This new land was strange. The people, the customs and their gods were peculiar and I tried my best to walk unseen. Yet, I delighted to discover the people in this island nation have an understanding of honor that I treasure.

Hod's prophecy and my oath led me like a beacon. In my inner self, I could sense Fenris lurking in this place. I could smell him. Having already killed him once; I was eager for the opportunity to kill him again.

Finally, in a busy city the people call Tokyo, my senses told me to sit in a park and wait. Taking my place on a bench I ignored the people walking by keeping my eyes on the park entrance where I knew Fenris would appear.

The moment I sensed him near, the old grief and rage drove me to my feet, but then I stopped in disgust and dismay.

A group of silly young girls had entered the park, giggling and laughing and blocking my view of the monster surely behind them. Yet, I could feel the demon wolf's presence as you mortals feel the hot summer sun on your skin.

It was when the Japanese school girls reached me, I realized the beast was in their midst. I clenched my fists and searched the group for it, but when it met my eyes, I froze in surprise.

And then I laughed. For the first time since I buried Father Odin so many millennia ago, I roared in my sudden knowledge that the Fates can be capricious to those who are evil as well as those who stand on the side of honor.

The dark eyes of a young school girl met mine filled with surprise at my outburst, passed over me in ignorance, and I watched her continue on her way.

I will not kill a child, no matter what her soul may have been in eons past. Maybe someday when she reaches adulthood, she may remember what she is, and if that happens, I will be ready.

Until then, I drink mead in Idavoll and I and my brother gods toast the Fates who we now know have a sense of black humor to temper the horror they weave of our lives.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Meet My Inugami


Courtesy of Hero Forge Custom Miniatures, I designed a 3-D image of my Inugami based on my description in The Shrine War and its sequel, The Inugami.

Depending on size and quality, I can purchase an unpainted figurine from $19.00 all the way to $219.00.

If you're a gamer, you can waste a lot of time at this website designing and playing about, but it sure is fun.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Is It A "Poisoner’s Cabinet" Or A Home Medicine Chest?

Imagine if you will that, having won the lottery, I used the monies to open a little museum of morbid curiosities. Allow me to show you the first exhibit:


This is quaintly known as a "poisoner’s cabinet" and when a German auction house made it available for bidding it was described as follows:
“A Hollow Book Used As A Secret Poison Cabinet. Historism, 17th-century style. With original, finely embossed parchment cover. Intact book clasps, the pages glued to a solid piece with a central rectangular cavity. The inside finely worked, providing eleven drawers of various sizes and one open compartment. The front of the drawers covered with colored paper and fitted with flame-carved frames, the knobs of silver and ebonized wood. Handwritten paper labels with the Latin names of different poisonous plants (among them castor-oil plant, thorn apple, deadly nightshade, valerian, etc.). Incl. greenish bottle bearing the label “Statutum est hominibus semel mori” (“It is a fact that man must die one day”). Glued to the inside of the cover an old etching of a standing skeleton bearing the date “1682”. Size of the book 36 x 23 x 12 cm [14.2 x 9 x 4.7 inches]. Elaborately worked Kunstkammer [cabinet of curiosities] object with strong reference to the memento mori [a reminder or warning of death] theme.” (Bookaddictuk, 2014) 
However, it may not have been all that it was advertised. The eleven cabinets were marked with names of herbs that were certainly poisonous, but they were also herbs used for medicinal purposes. The listed herbs are:
  1. Hyoscyamus niger (Henbane) 
  2. Papaver somniferum (Opium Poppy)
  3. Aconitum napellus (Monk’s Blood, aka Wolfsbane)
  4. Cicuta virosa (Cowbane, aka Water Hemlock)
  5. Bryonia alba (Devil’s Turnip, aka Mandrake) 
  6. Datura stramonium (Jimson Weed, aka Devil’s Snare)
  7. Valeriana officinalis (Valerian)
  8. Daphne mezereum (Spurge Laurel)
  9. Ricinus communis (Castor Oil Plant)
  10. Colchicum autumnale (Meadow Saffron, aka Naked Lady)
  11. Atropa bella (Deadly Nightshade aka Belladonna) 
Aside from the Valerian, all of them are considered deadly, but in minute doses, they served as important medicines for serious illnesses.

So what do you think? A tool for the professional assassin or a convenient way to keep one's medicine cabinet close at hand?

(Note: Most information on this intriguing find was taken from this article.)







Thursday, August 3, 2017

My Road Trip - Day 344

I found this vignette by accident with some old computer files.

Some literary attempts were meant to be lost forever, but I was never that smart...



My Road Trip - Day 344
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



It's Day 344 of the road trip searching for Stauros, my long-lost twin brother who had been kidnapped at a young age by Amish gypsies. I had heard a rumor he was making a comeback on the Amish Rake Fighting Circuit and Pinto and I were heading out to Cleveland where we heard we could get into the secret Amish games if we dressed in suspenders and wore black hats.

Now, however, Pinto and I sat facing each other across a booth in some seedy greasy spoon named Joe's Armpit and I'm on my fifth bottle of vanilla flavoring.

"Well, Pinto," I said, "Ol' buddy, ol' chum, we just might be at the end of this quest." I downed the rest of the bottle and motioned for the waitress. As usual, Pinto, being the silent type, just sat in the booth across from me and stared at me stupidly. He was a man of few words, but had an overpowering presence, normally, because in the 344 days we had been together, I had never seen him once shower or shave.

The waitress came over. "Hey," she said. "I need to know if you're driving. You're hitting this vanilla pretty hard."

"Not to worry, pretty lady," I slurred. "My friend's driving."

She gave Pinto the once over. "Sir, you do realize your friend is a sheep?"

I reeled back in sudden anger. "Lady, I'll have you know Pinto and I have fought side by side against octogenarian Harley-Davidson riders and shared the same bunk in Baghdad! He ain't no coward."

The waitress rolled her eyes. "I didn't say he was a coward. He's a sheep. A Merlino. A woolly quadruped. Technically a ewe."

I pointed at Pinto and laughed. "Hey, Pinto! This pretty lady's got all metaphysical on me. She says I'm you!"

At that, Pinto rolled out of the booth and wandered away on all fours. I never saw him again.

The angst hit like a ton of bricks. "Well then just walk away!" I blearily screamed at his receding woolly backside. "Go ahead! Just ... walk away or ... trot or ... or whatever."

I burst into tears. "Ya think ya know a guy," I wept to the waitress. "You share everything, your toothbrush, your eyeliner, and then your best friend turns out to be a sheep and he leaves ya in some dive!"

The waitress looked at me, pity in her eyes. "Here," she said putting a bottle of vanilla flavoring in front of me. "This one's on the house, but you should know we only serve imitation here. There's not a drop of alcohol in it."

She turned and walked away.

I wrapped my fingers around the bottle, my knuckles whitening in my fury and determination. I was going on to Cleveland. I was going to find my long-lost twin brother.

Suddenly, the front door burst open and about twenty beautiful women somersaulted into the diner. They parted and another woman walked through their midst, her sequined cheerleading outfit blazing so brightly I had to squint against the glare.

"We are the Victoria's Secret Cheerleading Squad," she announced loudly, "and we're here to take a hostage!"

Every man's hand shot up and the diner was filled with cries of "Take me! I'm available!," but the pretty lady was having none of it. She saw me in my booth and pointed. "You!"

A blow from a pompom sent me into darkness.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Just a Reminder About Reviews and What I Can Do For You


Writing in relationship with today's Internet has brought about significant changes in the relationship between writers and readers. Though I make no bones about writing solely to entertain my readers, I would love to garner a larger audience as well as income from my writing.

 Please consider the following:
  • For any independent author a review is pure gold. The more 3 or 4-star reviews, the better. Five stars should be rare, kept for works of literature that have changed your life or outlook. If you have read any of my works, please post the review on Amazon and Goodreads. Please.
  • Are you involved in a family friendly non-profit or club like a church, library, literary group, women's group, writers group or anything similar? I'm a professional speaker and former radio personality and stage actor (and former stage magician). I know how to speak in public. I can do book readings, storytelling, or lectures on writing memoirs or self-publishing.
  •  I would love to speak at your convention or similar activity. I've spoken at many conventions in the past: Morphicon, Doxicon, Anthrocon, Capclave, and the Greater Philly Christian Writers Conference. And I once spoke at the Library of Congress!
  • Interview me for your blog! Linking to it from my own blog and other social media, I can increase your traffic flow.
Feel free to contact me at magic.by.alan@gmail.com and let's work out the details.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Grave Gate Sample

Many years ago I began work on a sword and sorcery novel I entitled Grave Gate. Unfortunately, other projects moved it aside and I suspect it will be years, if ever, when I return to the world I created. Allow me to share the opening segment of the first chapter with you.

Grave Gate
by Alan Loewen
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The sudden outburst of laughter from a group of very drunk men at a far table jarred Brant’s concentration. He looked up from his game of Maladar to take a quick glance around The Green Man Pub. When one lives their life by the sword, the cost is never ending vigilance unless one enjoys the feel of cold steel between one's ribs. Satisfied that the laughing men, lost in their cups, were no threat, he returned his attention to the game table.

“Are you going to move or concede the game?”

Brant ignored his opponent, his concentration intent on the arrangement before him. Long ago, the lines and tiny squares of a Maladar board had been carved into the stained wood of the table and the colored stones that made up the playing pieces lay scattered about. On the playing field itself, the pieces lay in a very specific and precise order.

He chewed his lower lip in thought. Four copper ducats were riding on the outcome of this little entertainment and his work to construct a pattern of Four Horsemen In The Field was being stymied by his opponent's attempt to construct Dragon In Repose.

In his mind he suddenly saw the possibility of a new pattern. With a sudden grin, he placed a yellow stone on the table, the stones about it affected by its presence creating a ripple effect of colors cascading across the table top.

“Very nice,” his playing opponent said. “Forest Glade in Autumn. I have not seen that pattern in a long time. “However ...” A big, broad hand swept over the table to place a green stone in an empty hole. Again, colors flowed across the board. “Dragon In Repose, sir. I believe the wager was four ducats?”

Brant laughed and shook his head at his own defeat. “Melek, I have no idea how you did that.”

Brant's companion smiled, a rare event, and leaned back in his seat. “The way of a true warrior is to see many moves ahead and be aware of all possible moves by his opponent. I can't talk my way out of troubles like you do.”

Feigning a nonchalance that he did not feel—losing always stung his pride—Brant reached for the small leather pouch he kept in his shirt and took out four coppers.

“Better idea,” his companion said, waving Brant’s proffered hand away. “Buy the next round.”

Brant motioned for a serving girl. “You're too good a winner.”

Melek shrugged. “Only because we're playing Maladar instead of playing at swords.”

“Melek, you’ll never change.”

“Somebody has to keep us alive.”

Brant nodded at one of the serving girls and pointed to their almost empty mugs. After receiving a quick nod in response, Brant looked over at his friend who was busy keeping an eye on the crowd. “You’re also one of the grimmest devils I know.”

Melek shrugged. “I’m still alive.”

Though alert to the quiet activity around them, they were relaxed in each other’s company as only old friends can be.

The opening of the front door suddenly caught their attention and a figure—the hood pulled way down over the face—entered the pub.

“It’s a woman,” Brant said.

Melek nodded his agreement. “The movement gives her away. She’s too graceful. If she’s trying to hide her identity, she should slouch more.”

The barkeep looked up from his attempt to swab the top of the bar in order his guest. He immediately turned visibly pale.

“And she’s rather special,” Melek added, watching the barkeep’s reaction.

The barkeep listened as the figure spoke, his eyes wide with fear, then quickly pointed to where Brant and Melek sat.

“Business or trouble?” Brant asked his companion as the figure turned to look at them.

“Both,” Melek replied.

The figure made its way through the maze of tables, a few patrons looking up with curiosity and then turning back to their personal business. One man, sitting in a position that he could see under the figure’s hood as it passed, made a sign for protection from evil and quickly got up to leave.

“I’m starting to think more trouble than business,” Melek added as his hand crept toward the pommel of his short sword.

The visitor stopped in front of them. Two graceful hands appeared from the sleeves of the voluminous robe and swept the hood away from the face.

The two men stared in surprise.

The hair was long and carmine, the color of a fox’s pelt, framing a face of such absolute perfection the two men wondered if what stood before them was truly real or the craft of an expert sculptor. Overly large violet-colored eyes studied them carefully.

Respectfully, the two men stood and nodded. The pub had become as quiet as a grave. Some of the patrons closer to their table began making their way either to tables further away or even towards the door.

“My lady,” Brant said. “We are honored to have one of the Fox People grace our table. How may we serve you?”

Brant hated the fawning tone he used, but life had just taken an unpleasant turn. Rumor said you did not act rudely to one of the Foxes unless you wanted to die.

Or worse.

“I am Arul of the Serinthels, what you call…” she paused for a moment as if the phrase created a foul taste on her lips, “the Fox People.” With a graceful move, she pulled out a chair and seated herself, motioning for the two to join her. “I am in need of assistance.”

“Would you like food or drink?” Brant asked as he took his seat.

“Yes,” their visitor replied. “My journey has been hard.”

Brant motioned for the serving girl who turned visibly pale at the thought of approaching the strange creature, but the lure of copper coins Brant tossed in his hand overrode her reluctance.

Melek swept the Maladar stones into a leather pouch, clearing the table.

“Please bring the lady bread and whatever fresh greens you may have,” Brant ordered.

“Of course, good sirs,” the serving girl said, “and may the lady be wanting some nice, hot …”

Brant’s hand shot up for silence. “Bread. Fresh greens. Water, if you cannot find wine that isn’t already vinegar. That will be all.”

To her credit, the girl had enough intelligence to keep her mouth shut and scurried away to fill the order. Legend stated that one does not offer Serinthels meat and they take great offense at slights real or imagined. It is also said they have long, long memories.

Brant and Melek nursed their drinks waiting for their guest to speak.

“I come from Brathe,” she said after a few moments of silence, her musical voice low and sweet. “It is one of the clan-towns of the Serinthels. Two full moons ago we received word that one of our clan-towns fell to an unseen enemy. Shadows from the night sky descended on the town covering it completely. Since then, the shadows have swallowed up Northross, Celandine, and others.”

Melek raised two fingers from where they rested on the weathered table top. “Are there survivors?" he asked. "How were they attacked? Can you describe the enemy?”

The Fox woman paused for a moment, a flash of irritation sweeping over her perfect face at the interruption. “Few survived and those were the ones fortunate enough to be outside the walls when the towns were attacked. The shadow I speak of is not poetic language. It is a true shadow. When the shadow lifts, the city is littered with the dead.” The voice faltered. “The dead are without wounds. The appearance is that they died where they stood, unaware of the fate that fell on them. Large, unblinking violet eyes clouded over with memory. “Finally, we received an emissary from our enemy. In the terms of surrender, a Serenthelian delegation was ordered to appear before an ancient barrow for a parley. I stood before its entrance just three days ago.”

She waited in silence as the serving girl brought a wooden trencher covered with small hard, black bread rolls, some limp turnip greens, and a mug filled with water.

“Begging your pardon, ma’am,” the girl said, anxiety making her voice break, “this is all we got.” With trembling fingers, the serving girl sat the board in front of the fox woman and immediately turned and fled.

Arul picked at the greens, sniffed her contempt, and then took up a roll and broke it in half. Steam came from the center, and Brant and Melek heard their guest sigh with contentment. They helped themselves to their mugs as Arul broke her fast.

“You said you had been to this barrow?” Brant asked.

“Not alone,” Arul said between delicate bites. “My companions still remain there.”

“Waiting for you?” Melek asked.

“Yes,” Arul nodded. “That is what the dead do best.”

Brant and Melek exchanged glances.

“And you want our help…how?” Brant asked.

“Word of the Free Academy has even reached the ears of the Serinthels. I knew you were homed here in Rollas, and when I asked the barkeep for the leaders he pointed at you.”

She paused waiting for an answer.

“My lady,” Brant said, “we are not an army. The Free Academy only has four members. The work we are hired out for is more…subtle.”

“Yes,” Arul nodded in agreement. “When I and my companions approached the barrow, we did so in pomp befitting Serinthels. We paid greatly for our lack of discretion. Now, I need to return with those who understand subtlety.”

Melek rolled his shoulders from the growing tension, the popping of joints sounding like river ice snapping during a quick thaw. “Before we commit to anything, does this barrow have a name in our language?”

“In our language, we call it Ororc. In your language…” She paused to think. “Yes, I believe it is called Grave Gate.”

Brand laughed in spite of himself, making already-interested eyes and ears around the tavern even more curious as to why a Serinthel sullied itself by walking in the world of humanity. “Grave Gate? My lady, even if it is possible, you don’t have the ducats we would demand for such an undertaking.”

The fox woman reached into her tunic and pulled out a small stone the size of an egg and placed it on the table. “Would this cover the cost?”

Brant and Melek stared at the stone, a perfect ruby the likes of which no man had ever seen. Its heart seemed to beat with scarlet fire even in the dim light of the pub.

“And back to the original question,” Brant said, his own fiery heart in his throat, “what exactly would you have us do for such a bauble?”

“Simple. Walk with me into Ororc as shadows seeking a greater shadow. And when we find it, we will kill it.”

Brant stared at the ruby as it gleamed. “Come, Melek,” he whispered as if he were in a temple, “we must go talk with the others.”

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 that was used to print out the cards.
  5. An extra step, using Adobe Acrobat Pro, I turned the .pdf file into a .png file for posting on social media. (I chose .png format over .jpg as it has better clarity.)
Note: The program Paint.net is free but has a slightly steep learning curve. However, do NOT download the program from ANY website other than the one linked to 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.