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.