Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Daily Word Count of Famous Writers

And now we know why they are famous.

We also know that Michael Crichton was not human.

By the bye, if you are an author, do not compare yourself to these people. That is an exercise in total futility. What you do is what you do. What we learn from this is that writing is best as a daily habit whether we are doing 100 words a day or more or, if life has its challenges, 100 words a week.

It's all BOCHOK: Backside On Chair, Hands On Keyboard.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Treasure of the Llanganati Mountains: An Excerpt

Many times as a writer I've been given the sage advice to "Write what you know," but as a writer of fantasy, dark fantasy, and science fiction, I find that a tad difficult to put into actual practice. I really don't know that much about magical beasties, interstellar travel, and arcane practices, but I do have an active imagination and I've been blessed with a life rich in experiences.

A picture of the beautiful and deadly Llanganatis.
From September, 1980 until January, 1983, I had the pleasure of living in Ecuador employed by Radio HCJB in their English Language Department. For a country bumpkin from south-central Pennsylvania, Ecuador was, for all practical purposes, a journey into my own personal Middle Earth, and the experiences and tales I picked up there have entered many a tale.

One of the most interesting tales was the secret of the Llanganti mountains, an incredibly hostile stretch of Ecuador that purports to hold the buried treasure of RumiƱawi, an Incan warrior who hid mounds of gold, platinum, and jewels from the Spanish conquistadors. It is also rumored that up to the 1960's, there had been reports of giant ground sloths living in the Llanganatis, living ancestors of the Megatheriums that went extinct 12,000 years ago, until they themselves joined their ancestors in extinction, hunted down by the native people.  (By the bye, do follow the links above. They are fascinating.)

Many a treasure seeker has wandered the Llanganatis searching for the treasure and paid with their life or their sanity.

So, fascinated by the tales that I heard, I began to weave my own until responsibilities made me put the work aside. However, for your pleasure, please enjoy the following excerpt of the very rough draft that served as the work's prologue. 

Chronicles of the Old Dogs: The Treasure of the Llanganati Mountains
by Alan Loewen


The two men ran through the jungle underbrush, gasping for breath in the terror of their exertion. Ignoring the prick of thorns and the sharp-leaved vegetation that ripped at skin and clothing, they bolted through the bushes and around the trees in a mad dash for their lives.

Suddenly, by some unspoken mutual consent, they collapsed against the fallen trunk of a huge tree eaten partially away with thick moss and fungus. The air was heavy with humidity. Thin sunlight filtering through the canopy overhead gave everything a weird green tint.

"Do you hear them coming," one man gasped, almost in tears. His English was marked with a heavy German accent.

"No," the other man gasped out, "but we wouldn't hear them coming anyway. I can assure you we aren't safe yet." The second man would have been handsome except for the old scar that tracked across the entire left side of his face.

With a whimper, the German reached into his pockets and pulled out a small gold statue that he sat on the trunk of the tree.

"What are you doing?" the man with the scarred face asked.

"I'm hoping that those things chasing us will stop for this," the German said, his breath coming easier. "It's gold. It's heavy and it's weighing me down. It may give us the few seconds we need to get away."

Scarface shook his head in the negative. "That won't work, We need to give them something more attractive to make them stop."

The German looked at his companion quizzically. "What?" he asked.

Scarface did not reply, but suddenly swung his left fist in a broad uppercut directly to the German's jaw following it with a right to the solar plexus. With a barely audible groan, the German dropped to the ground, the wind completely knocked out of him.

Without another word, Scarface grabbed the statue, jumped over the log, and disappeared immediately into the thick brush.

The German lay stunned, his mind screaming at his body to get up, to run. Unable to move, he finally did the only action available to him. Ignoring what might be sharing the jungle floor with him, he attempted to force his way deeper into the forest mold under the trunk of the fallen tree.

Suddenly, two dark shapes burst through the brush and leapt over him and the tree under which he lay. The German froze in terror. Trying not to gasp for breath, trying not to scream, he lay still.

Moments later coming from some distance away, the German heard his traitorous companion begin to scream. He squeezed his body deeper under the trunk and waited until the screams abruptly stopped.

Several hours later, terror still kept him prisoner under the log, even ignoring the one snake that traveled along his side while he lay completely still. As the sun was setting, he finally began to entertain the thought that a miracle might allow him to escape the Llanganati Mountains alive.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Jersey Devil: A Review

Published by The Middle Atlantic Press in 1976.
With well over 60,000 copies in print in a myriad number of editions, James F. McCloy's and Ray Miller, Jr's work on New Jersey's most famous bogey is the predominate study on the Jersey Devil.

Starting with the conflicting tales of the Jersey Devil's origin, the core of the book is the third chapter with a detailed description of the events of January16-23, 1909 when New Jersey and the surrounding area erupted with dozens of Jersey Devil sightings.

Though a number of sightings could be attributed to hoaxes or hysteria, the authors have provided maps showing the majority of sightings follow a logical, linear path. Whatever it was that terrified the citizenry that week, leaving footprints and dead and wounded livestock and pets in its wake, it was certainly real.

A number of skeptics claim the creature people claimed to be the Jersey Devil was actually a Sandhill crane (Grus canadensis), but that takes too great a step of faith. New Jersey is not included in the proper range of the bird and it winters far south from the areas in which the sightings took place. Though the size and general shape of the Sandhill crane does mimic the size and shape of the Devil as reported by eye witnesses, why did none of the witnesses use the phrase "a large bird" in any of the reports? With all the people that saw the creature, you would think somebody would recognize a large bird and as the Great Blue Heron is native to New Jersey, they had a similar example for comparison.

Some people think the witnesses mistook this bird for a monster.
I do not claim to know what it was the good people of New Jersey saw that week, but to claim they mistook a bird for a creature out of a fever dream is incredibly insulting. If anyone is interested in what I believe is the only realistic explanation of high strangeness, I would encourage the reader to study the works of the late John Keel and his theory of "ultraterrestrials."

Note: On August 5, 2010, I started logging the books I read to completion; The Jersey Devil is #222 on the list.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Steampunk Cthulhu: Mythos Terror in the Age of Steam: A Review

As a reader of anthologies as well as a writer who has been published in a number of them, I can say that for those whom the gods (Elder Gods?) destroy, they first make them an anthology editor. Far too many anthologies suffer from a number of ailments such as stories that do not necessarily fit the theme or are very uneven in quality, or the editor's ego gets in the way of final product.

I picked up Steampunk Cthulhu: Mythos Terror in the Age of Steam, edited by Brain M. Sammons and Glynn Owen Barass with a shrug, fully expecting the typical anthology with its typical flaws and I can say with unequivocal delight that I struck a gold mine.

The 17 stories collected here are mostly very high quality tales where the authors do the very difficult: combine the myriad aspects of the Chtulhu Mythos within the steampunk genre and make it look flawlessly easy.

Those Above by Jeffrey Thomas takes place in a world where the sky above is filled with an eldritch horror that feeds on dreams and steampunk technology appears to have come to the rescue of the hapless humans that live below. At least that is what appears to be the case.

The Blackwold Horror by Adam Bolivar tells of a folklorist traveling to England's West Country to research its tales and legends and spends a frightful night with the host and staff of Blackwold Abbey.

No Hand to Turn the Key by Carrie Cuinn tells the tale of an alternate future where humanity has been wiped out by Mythos horrors leaving only automatons behind to defend what remains of Earth's human legacy. The result is a touching tale of sacrifice and hope in the face of overwhelming odds.

The Reverend Mr. Goodworks & the Yeggs of Yig by Edward M. Erdelac is the story of a traveling preacher who is more steam-powered automaton than human as he seeks to rid the American Old West of a cult that has taken root in the town of New Valusia, a cult bent on world domination.

Carnacki – The Island of Doctor Munroe  revisits the occult world of detective Thomas Carnacki, first created by English fantasy writer, William Hope Hodgson. Other writers have expanded on Hodgson's creation, but author, William Meikle, has remained true to the Carnacki tropes while  avoiding the stale creation of a pastiche.

Pain Wears No Mask by John Goodrich is a fascinating tale of several air pirates determined to steal the Crown Jewels that are kept on board the airship of England's reigning monarch. It is a tale of greed and corruption and The King in Yellow.

Before the Least of These Stars by Lee Clark Zumpe is a beautifully crafted tale of a man trapped out of time in a world where humanity is under attack by the Old Ones from the sea.

The Promised Messiah by D.J. Tyrer revisits the world of the King in Yellow. An inventor has created a machine that writes poetry. In his home, he has invented a machine that channels horror.

by Christine Morgan is a story of an advanced steam-powered submarine with a worthy crew of sailors and scientists sailing to retrieve a meteor that has fallen in the ocean. It is something far, far worse.

The Flower by Christopher M. Geeson is a tragic retelling of the American Civil War with steampunk weapons and a historical twist that puts the tale solidly in Lovecraft's mythos.

Tentacular Spectacular by Thana Niveau is an odd and horrific tale about corsets. That's all I'm going to say.

Fall of an Empire
by Glynn Owen Barrass & Brian M. Sammons is a sprawling tale starting with a female thief worthy of her own series. After her failure to achieve her objective, the story flashes ahead a few years where a Lovecraftian horror is now ruling the world through the British Empire. Unless three rebels bring its reign of horror to a close, humanity has no future remaining.

The Baying of the Hounds
by Leigh Kimmel unites Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla as they team up to bring the world back to normal after one of Tesla's experiments goes horribly wrong.

Mr Brass & the City of Devils
by Josh Reynolds is the story of a Pinkerton detective who is more automaton than human and his urgent mission to stop a cult from unleashing a world of horror upon the Earth. In the tale we revisit the Mi-Go, the creature from Robert Bloch's, The Shambler from the Stars, and the ghostly reptilian race from Lovecraft's, The Nameless City.

The Source
by D.L. Snell tells the tale of Corwin Carroll, an inventor of steampunk weapons for the armies of the American Revolution. However, he learns that inquisitiveness and the drive to invent without thinking out the repercussions has a price.

Happy Birthday, Dear Cthulhu
by Robert Neilson is a story of another weapons manufacturer who discovers that Mythos horrors make great fuel for his steampunk creations. But somebody else wants his discovery for themselves and they are more than willing to kill for it.

The Strange Company by Pete Rawlik is the last story and a hodgepodge reminiscent of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen using multiple characters across the Mythos tales.

All in all, if you like steampunk and you like tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, Sammons and Barass have done a superb job in putting this anthology together. It appears they have partnered for others with the blessing of Chaosium Press and I look forward to their future offerings.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Rock And Rule (1983): A Review

The war was over... The only survivors were street animals — dogs, cats and rats. From them, a new race of mutants evolved. That was a long time ago. Mok, a legendary super rocker, has retired to Ohmtown. There his computers work at deciphering an ancient code which would unlock a doorway between this world and another dimension. Obsessed with his dark experiment, Mok himself searches for the last crucial component: a very special voice. (Opening narration to the 1983 US version of Rock and Rule)

In the late 80s, watching late night television, I came across an animated film being broadcast called Rock And Rule. The story centers on a wannabe rock group consisting of four anthropomorphic dogs: Angel, Omar, Dizzy, and Stretch living in a future dystopian world where all the humans have died out. Angel comes to the attention of the super-rocker, Mok, who is in the declining years of his popularity. Determined to exact revenge on a fickle public, he has dedicated all his efforts to summon a demon from another dimension that will make his last show a real killer attraction. Literally.

And I was fascinated. I set out determined to find a copy and it was not until the late 90s, a friend of mine gifted me with a DVD of the production put out by Unearthed Films. They have since released a two-disc Blu-Ray collectors edition that you can purchase here.

Before I continue, one caveat. The Motion Picture of Association of America did not come up with the PG-13 rating until a year after Rock And Rule was released. The film, with its blatant drug references, fleeting nudity, use of strong language, and some fleeting disturbing images puts the film squarely into PG-13 territory. This is not a movie for the kiddies.

Let me be honest. Rock And Rule is a glorious train wreck of an animated film and for good reason. Nelvana, a Canadian animation studio, didn't have much of a script to go with and the story and characters were changed on the fly. According to my DVD's liner notes, the crew behind Rock And Rule went straight into production "without a solid story and a completed screenplay. Indecision on the part of the producers was rampant. Constant re-writes and script alterations invariably took their toll on everyone from animators to camera operators. Whole sequences were cut, leaving months and months of work lying on the editing room floor and the bottoms of dumpsters. Numerous retakes of both minor and crucial scenes became commonplace; characters were redesigned and completely reanimated from scratch, long after the scenes they were featured in were already shot."

And the story gets worse from there.

But here is why I love the film:
  1. In its early years, Nelvana was one of the best quality animation studio on the block and a list of their shows can be seen here. Rock And Rule was the first feature length animated film ever made principally in Canada.
  2. The soundtrack features songs from Debbie Harry (of Blondie fame), Iggy Pop, Cheap Trick, and Lou Reed.
  3. It was furry before furry became cool (and then ostracized).
  4. Not made for the kiddies, even though the message of the film (love conquers evil) is as saccharine as you can get.
  5. The film is unrelenting in its dystopian darkness (part of it takes place in Nuke York...that's not a typo).
  6. Mok is clearly based on Mick Jagger, the character's full name being, Mok Swagger. Oh, yeah. That's subtle.
  7. The animation is just fun to watch and some of the background art is exquisite.
 You can watch a documentary on the making of Rock And Rule here. Be aware this link may disappear. We are talking about the Internet after all.

Angel on keyboard, Dizzy on drums, Omar on lead guitar (and lead vocal) and stretch on bass guitar. And in case you're interested, they are all dogs.

This is Mok. He's the bad guy and, just so you know, he's a cat.
This is the demon Mok summons using Angel's voice, all because his last concert was not 100% sold out. Now I may be wrong, but in my humble opinion, this is not how one endears the fans to return.

Of course, Angel isn't doing this willingly. Mok drugs her and uses a special collar around her throat to force her to sing the demon up. Insert a snarky comment of your own on Mok's fashion sense.
Stretch and Dizzy (real name: Alphonse). Dizzy can't drive and ends up driving twice in the film. He wrecks both times.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

When It's Superbowl Sunday and You Have No Life

Something I wrote on Superbowl Sunday, February 2, 2015. For newcomers to the blog, for those of you who know me only as a writer of humor pieces and dark fantasy, the revelation may come as a shock that my day (and night) job is that of a clergyman. You have been warned.

The following story is true.

Last night, cursed with a TV that no longer receives a signal and an Internet provider that is so slow it takes two days to download a one page text file, I found myself unable to watch the Super Bowl for the first time in many years. I wandered about bored and listless until my wife told me to go do the biweekly grocery shopping. So with shopping list in hand, I drove to the local supermarket.

I should have known by the scarcity of vehicles in the parking lot that something was amiss, but when I walked into the store I discovered to my complete surprise that I was the only man there.

Dozens of women stared at me in consternation mixed liberally with surprise.

As I made my way through the fruits and vegetables, I could hear their whispers … “What’s a man doing here in this store tonight?” “Think there’s something wrong with him?” “I bet he has leprosy.”

It was when a young mother told her young daughter. “Don’t look at him, sweetie. He lost his Man Card” that I spun about and stared them all down.

“I’m a church pastor,” I said in a firm no-nonsense voice. “I don’t have television and I have no social life.”

I heard audible sighs of relief and then the ladies went back to doing what they were doing before I entered the store.

And gentlemen, I received an education tonight. While we men watch football, hurling epithets at the screen and clogging our arteries with delicious chunks of fat, our lady folk are down at the local supermarket lounging in the aisles, painting their nails, sampling the bruschetta, and debating the subtleties of Edam versus Gouda. Oddly enough, there was a pillow fight going on in Aisle 6, but when they caught me staring, they made me move on.

As I came to the end of my shopping, once again, a sudden hush came over the women. I looked up to see a nervous man standing at the entrance clutching a shopping list in his trembling hands. “My TV broke!” he said to them in explanation. “And … and I have leprosy!”

The ladies, relieved at his explanation, then proceeded to ignore him and went back to their activities.

I wandered over to the man and gave him a once-over. “Forgive me, sir,” I said, “but as a former missionary to the leper colonies in New Jersey, you don’t look like you have that disease.”

Nervously looking about, he leaned close to my ear. “Well, you see,” he whispered, “… the truth is … I’m really a pastor.”

Later we chatted while freely sampling at the pickle and olive bar and compared notes and came up with a game plan.

Next year, we’re taking a lesson from the ladies. We’re going to get all the pastors together and party hardy at a nearby coffee house while our parishioners are either watching Super Bowl XLX or lounging at the supermarket.

Much fun will be had. Much coffee will be spilled. Many donuts will be consumed.

And it’s my job to bring the pillows.