Sunday, April 17, 2016

Faydra: A Tale From the Fractured World

I can write anything I want, but I can't write everything I want. At the age of 61 where a short story can take as much as three months, my time is limited. Here is part of a story I am shelving and thought you might enjoy the opening paragraphs.

Faydra: A Tale From the Fractured World,
by Alan Loewen

I’m going to tell you how I met Faydra, but I really should start at the beginning. I’ll follow the advice the King of Hearts gave the White Rabbit: 'Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: Then stop.'

Those of us born on what we arrogantly call Earth Prime all remember where we were when the Fracture occurred a good decade ago. Those of us who survived it of course.

I sat in the kitchen of the home I had been born twenty two years previously, freshly graduated from Penn State, and waiting for the job offers to just come rolling in. I had just hung up the phone after speaking to my parents who called me with last minute house sitting instructions before they boarded their cruise ship and I had just made myself the perfect sandwich for my lunch: minced bologna, real mayonnaise, a layer of sweet bread and butter pickles, and a few leaves of lettuce. And then the lights went out literally and figuratively.

I miss that sandwich so much.

When I came to, I lay on the kitchen floor looking over at Hypatia, my Sheltie, licking her lips, her breath smelling of minced bologna, real mayonnaise...well, you get the picture.

I had no idea why I blacked out and still feeling a little queasy in the stomach, I felt no hurry in getting up. I thought that I would just lay still for awhile and then see about maybe getting to a phone, crawling if I had to, and getting an ambulance to come take a look at me. The Biglerville Fire Department only had to travel one mile to get to my house, close enough that on days when the wind didn’t blow I could easily hear the siren calling volunteer firefighters and EMTs to some fire or medical emergency.

I’m convinced the shock of passing out is why I didn’t hear the screaming right away. I lay on the floor considering it, confusing it at first for the Biglerville fire siren, but the siren never paused for breath.

Somebody somewhere was having a hard time and after a few moments I thought I better look into it because the screaming just went on and on.

Carefully, I got up on my hands and knees and when my gut stopped flip-flopping, I crawled to the dining room picture window and took a peek outside.

The human mind has some very elaborate mechanisms for protection, so I could not take in all that I saw right away.

My mind first registered my next door neighbor, Miss Pitzer standing on her lawn with a push mower beside her. Facing away from me, I could not see the reason for her pointing in the direction of her house and screaming until my mind decided to do the great reveal.

Miss Pitzer’s house wasn’t there. In it’s place, stretching as far as I could see stood a forest with trees that would have made the California Redwoods look like twigs.

Standing behind the picture window I craned my head up to see if I could see the treetops, but no go on that plan. Just one of those trees would have met the world’s demand for toothpicks for millennia.

I rubbed my eyes a couple of times, and then made the decision to stand. After a while, with the help of the window ledge, I made it to my feet and after a few moments started feeling better. Tentative steps seemed to work so I went to the back door and with Hypatia at my heels, opened the back door into madness.

Miss Pitzer ignored me as I went to stand next to her. Not knowing what to say to her, I just stared at what must have been a primal wood that would have made Paul Bunyan drool.

The sharpness of the division between her lawn and the wood looked like it had been made with a cookie cutter. Not knowing what had happened to Miss Pitzer’s house or how a wood with giant trees had taken its place, I thought a phone call to 911 would be in order.

And my cell phone would not connect.

Of course it took seven years of suffering and fighting and trying to keep one’s sanity before we ever learned what had happened. When life reached some form of stability, that’s when we discovered the huge crater eighteen miles in circumference beneath the France-Switzerland border near Geneva where the Large Hadron Collider once lay.

The eggheads think a power surge made the universe go flip flop and about twenty three parallel earths became fractured and got all messed up like a jigsaw puzzle.

Now I know you know all this, but I’m telling the story and I’ll get to Faydra eventually. Just let me tell the story my own way.

All I know now is that a forest from some parallel earth ended up as my neighbor and on some other planet in some other universe, Miss Pitzer’s house and her yappy Pekingese sits without Miss Pizer in residence.

I miss my parents.

I miss my minced bologna sandwiches.

The shame that I did not help my next door neighbor is sometimes overwhelming, but does it help if I say I had a bad case of shock? Especially after the sun set and that big spiral galaxy filled up half the night sky and the truth hit hard that we weren’t in the world that we knew anymore. I never saw Miss Pitzer ever again. I never even knew when she stopped screaming. I just hope she’s okay.

Of course, we were lucky. Biglerville found itself surrounded by three other chunks of real estate from three other parallel earths: the primal wood, New Rome (that’s what we call it) where Romans discovered the New World but never grew beyond the Iron Age, and finally, Faydra’s world that we still call Disneyland to this day. Of course, I wasn’t going to meet Faydra for another eight years, but like I said, this is my story to tell. I’ll tell it the way I want.

Anyway, after my fellow small town residents and I endured the initial shock of being plunged back to the 19th century and its lack of electricity and Internet and video games and television and all the other toys that kept us busy, the only joy we had was to discover a world where basically peaceful red pandas lived and walked like human beings.

So New Rome gave us goverment and leadership, Biglerville still had working farmlands and orchards, and once we learned the red pandas weren’t murderous, they kept us sane with their inquisitive friendship.

Unfortunately, some of the parallel Earths that bordered New Rome and Disneyland weren’t very friendly, but unlike the Iron Age Romans and the peaceful red pandas, we of Earth Prime were fortunate. We had guns.

New Rome had to deal with a bordering Earth that would have made H.P. Lovecraft giddy with joy, but the monsters there were not like their literary or cinema cousins. When you shot them, they obediently lay down and assumed room temperature.

Connecting to Disneyland was another world of humans that bore some philosophical crossbreeding between Ayn Rand and Kim Jong-un, but as they had not fought a war in their world for centuries, they could not put up to much of a fight. The pandas just stood aside and let us play target practice. Once we removed the old guard, New Rome stepped in to teach them their version of a Roman Republic and that world seems to be doing better.

It took the better part of seven years for the Fractured World to reach a form of stability, seven years of a lot of wars and a lot of death. The number of suicides from Internet deprivation alone almost wiped out an entire generation.

Ecologically, it will be hundreds of millennia before our new Fractured Earth reaches some form of natural homoeostasis, but until then, we do the best we can. So far, a decade after the Fracture, we’ve catalogued about twenty-three different versions of Earth.

So here we are, a decade after the Fracture and I’m working for Knouse Foods on a plan to expand the orchards into Disneyland when there’s a knock on the door.

And here is where I finally get around to telling you about Faydra.

My Advice to Writers: 4theLuv Anthology Submission

Today I received a general invitation to submit to an anthology.

They wanted a 1,000 to 3,000 word story on the theme of Halloween, but until I went to their website, they did not say this was a 4theLuv market.

4theLuv means you get paid nothing. De nada.

But at least, you would be able to get a contributor's copy, right?

Nope. You had to buy it after it came out.

So let me get this straight. They want a part of my life just for the sheer joy of having my piece buried in an anthology that I have no assurance will be marketed well so at the very least I can get market exposure?

When I started out as a writer, I wrote for several anthologies like that and I was paid nothing. No problem. They stated that bluntly in their submission guidelines. They did not even send me a contributor's copy.

And where are those anthologies today? Well, because they were marketed poorly (actually they weren't marketed at all), they have dropped off the radar. I didn't even get market exposure for my work.

My advice is to take a hard look at any anthology you submit to. I'm not going to say 4theLuv markets are intrinsically bad, but just be fully aware of what you are getting.


Addendum: I have sent reprints for anthologies put together for charitable reasons. Speaking only for myself, I will submit without problem to a 4theLuv charitable market if I know the editor, support the charity, and know for a fact the monies will be ethically distributed.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Conversation With A Dying Unicorn

I did not write this, but I have permission from the author to repost it here. Ken Pick is my writing partner for the Jill Noir series and I met him through this work. The story is not for everyone, but I believe that it will speak to genre authors and readers who hope that the act of literary or artistic creation may somehow impact reality. I was deeply moved when I read this so many years ago and it moves me still. I'm grateful and honored to be able to bring this story to you now.

The Age of Reason Has No Need of Unicorns

Conversation with a Dying Unicorn
by Ken Pick

The rumble of the garage door closing two floors down vibrated through my bedroom, followed by Steve’s motorcycle fading in the distance. With him gone to work, I could put in a couple hours without distraction before I had to crash for the night and go back to live-action Dilbert in the morning.

March was my month to catch up on my backlog of furry art projects, and I was finishing up the one original amid the xeroxed-and-inked copies of my doodle pile that I was sending off for a try at the conbook for the next AnthroCon. And deadlines for the conbook and at work had to coincide.

AnthroCon’s theme this year was “Join the Furry Revolution!,” and from the imagery on their Web page – Betsy Ross as a raccoon – they obviously were thinking “American Revolution.” As soon as I’d downloaded the detailed solicitation for conbook art, my mind had gone fiendish in a way it hadn’t in a long time. They wanted “Furry Revolution” art? They’ll get a Furry Revolution – just not the one they’re expecting!

I’d forwarded a copy of the conbook page and release form to Eric Blumrich – he drew his “revolutionary imagery” from the First Russian Revolution; that ought to be good for a few fried brains on the conbook staff. Steve had suggested a parody on Latin American banana republics and Clint something based on an Andrew Swann novel, but my neurons were already exploding down another path, prodded by memories of Tale of Two Cities, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and Here Comes a Candle. Why should Mary Hanson-Roberts be the only one of us to tap French Revolution imagery?

In all my life, I’ve only had one story, one possible paranormal experience, and two other pictures burst full-honk into my mind like this one – straight into my head, demanding to be drawn. A melodramatic, sort-of-Gothic horror piece – an anthropomorphic unicorn, traditional Western symbol of purity getting the chop during the Reign of Terror. Striking on the surface – the black silhouette of the guillotine looming over the white figure of the unicorn – and symbolic on a couple of levels, my commentary on attitudes both inside and outside the fandom.

I’d never done a unicorn before, but this one came out surprisingly well – sort of a Stephanie Peregrine style, with a facial expression mixing shock and dread that had come about completely by accident I’d dressed her in some simple generic period garb I remembered from my SCA days, and (after a hurried e-mail warning from Blumrich) given her enough points of difference from Vicky Woman’s “Empress Alicia” that no one could possibly confuse the two. Which, of course, guaranteed that some fanboy would. Even more striking when traced and cleaned-up, late at night on that light table at Kinko’s with nobody else in the store, afraid someone would see it and get the wrong idea.

And now, I was puffing the final touches on the piece. Actually, two pieces – an inked black-and-white version, Victim of the Furry Revolution, for the conbook and a color version, The Age of Reason Has No Need of Unicorns (L’Age de Raison n’a pas Besoin de Licornes), for the art show. I had just put my signet and date on the former – dated using the French Revolutionary Calendar – and was getting the release forms ready when the Reality Barrier broke.

“Why?” The voice was female, sweet and musical – and coming from inside the room, behind and to the left, from the direction of my bed.

“HUH?” I spun the desk-chair around, homing on the voice.

She was sitting on my bed. The unicornette, exactly as I had drawn her – white fur, disheveled golden mane, liquid golden eyes, petite cloven hooves, white peasant-blouse top and coarse white skirt soiled with prison dirt, hands/forehooves/whatever lashed behind her back and a large cork stuck on the end of her golden horn.

“If I am to be executed, Monsieur, I should at least know why.”

“You – You’re real?”

“Non, Monsieur.” She shook her head, golden mane falling half-over her eyes. “I live only in your mind, and there -” She angled her horn toward my drawing table and the artworks. “- I am about to die.”

tulpa – an imaginary construct that somehow jumps over Planck’s Wall into reality? Or just my neurons gang-firing from sleep deprivation and stress? Or subconscious storytelling making the jump into consciousness, like Clint’s characters telling him “how it really happened”? But in a full-sensory hallucination? The last time anything remotely resembling this had happened – “Thirty Seconds Over Narnia”, that possible paranormal experience – it had come in the form of a vivid mental image, not an apparently-solid critter materializing in front of me.

“You created me, Monsieur, and in creating me you condemn me to death,” she continued. “What crime have I committed to deserve la guillotine, to ‘sneeze into the sack’ before a cheering mob?”

“N-none; you’re – innocent.” Like so many others, from Paris to Phnom Penh, in the two centuries of revolutions patterned after the French.

“But of course I am innocent, Monsieur,” she said, getting the hair out of her eyes with a toss of her head. “I am a unicorn, Non?” She rose off my bed, the futon mattress rising as her imaginary weight left it, and stepped over to my drawing table, her hooves sounding daintily on the carpet. Eyes wide with wonder; she looked over the furry art hanging on the wall; then bending down, she pulled the lamp around with her horn and studied both unicorn-and-guillotine pictures intently.

After a moment she spoke again. “So why must I die unjustly? Do I represent something or someone you hate? Am I a martyr for some cause I know not what? Or do you simply wish to see a unicorn beheaded?”

“No, unicorn – I’m not completely sure myself.” I reached out to touch her on the shoulder; she felt solid, and warm. “If there’s any reason, you’re there because you’re a unicorn and what unicorns represent.”

“Explain, s’il vous plait?”

Great. Where do I start? I tried to tell her how she first came to be, how the image of a unicorn going to the guillotine had come out of nowhere into my head and wouldn’t let go, how everything had just fallen into place when I’d gotten the details on AnthroCon’s theme and conbook.

How I’d poured myself into a picture for the first time in years, and how it had drained me afterwards, and how anything that could have that effect had to have power in it.

About causes gone lunatic, from Libert√©, Egalit√©, Fraternit√©! to Prohibition to militant anti-smoking to Save the Fill-in-the-Blank to whatever was the latest Important Cause of the week, and how the perfect Utopian omelet always required smashing more and more eggs.

About my hyperactive, runaway imagination that had spaced me out until I was well into my twenties, and how that awe and wonder had worn down over the years – like my father; who had lost his ability to dream by the time I was old enough to notice.

How imaginary critters like her had been a part of that imagination as far back as I could remember -classic Poul Anderson and Andre Norton “aliens” with fur and tails, mythical critters like herself, a noble young white lion, a one-shot skunkette glamor-actress, two-legged talking beasts of every species. Then my own critters; imaginary playmates becoming safe rehearsals for how to act on dates which never came, finally growing into full-fledged characters and stories and art as I aged, all expressing what C. S. Lewis had expressed the best:
You had an animal with everything an animal ought to have – glossy coat, liquid eye, sweet breath, and whitest teeth; and added to all that, as though Paradise had never been lost and earliest dreams were true, the charm of speech and reason.
And how those “earliest dreams” had become “adult” nightmares – like that “furban legend” of a Blumrich rant, the one everybody claimed to have seen but nobody could produce a copy of, the one that goes on and on about all that these creatures of the imagination could do or be and ends with “And all you can think of doing with them is to draw them with their clothes off.”

And how dealing with the fandom – the Muckers, the yiffy-boys, the Spandex Commandoes, the way over-the-top lifestylers, with only the occasional thinker amid the droolers and foamers and wankers – had worn me down.

“But they’re not human! They’re Furry!” The cry of the fanboy always used to justify sick and twisted behavior of or towards the critters they’ve created – just like “But I was only role-playing my character” always justified any sort of treachery in D&D. Never uplifting the critters to their level and beyond – transcending the animal – instead of seeing how low they could go with them. Even animals eat, sleep, and play as well as rut.

If insanity was part of these times, we’d embraced the madness as thoroughly as Paris 207 years ago. Our mobs of fanboys howling for spooge, up to and including stuff that would make the Marquis de Sade vomit. Our factions and denunciations, our Girondists and Jacobins, our high-sounding Robespierres, our gloating Heberts, our vicious Marats.

And me? I’d come into this like Lafayette only to wind up with a rep like Dr. Guillotin, the part of me that could dream those “earliest dreams” slowly dying in writer’s block, artist’s block, stories sitting half-complete and art commissions sitting unsaturated for years. Until her.

Vive la Revolution de Pelage.

She listened quietly, with an occasional flick of her tail. When I finally finished rambling, she spoke again, thoughtfully.

“I believe I understand. I am the innocent who finds herself in the path of a cause so ‘righteous’ as to justify any evil. I am a creature of imagination, who cannot possibly exist in an ‘Age of Reason’, so I cannot be permitted to live. And to you, mon createur, who can see virtue only when embodied in such creatures of imagination, I am something else.”

“I represent what was worn away in you, what these – pelagists – throw away when they make of their creations less than animals.” She shrugged against her bonds. “You do not kill me, they do; your art but records the fact, and my – execution – mirrors what they have done and what they have become.” Her voice softened, turned even more thoughtful. “When to be called ‘Virgin’ is an insult, to whom can a unicorn appear?”

“To me.”

“Oui, and you know why.” Oh, I knew – all the years of embarrassment and ridicule, direct and indirect. The biggest continuing failure in my life; blindsided by another revolution, saving myself for a marriage that never came.

“Unicorn, I might be able to spare you. I’m no Scarlet Pimpernel, but -” I was babbling now, my stomach doing slow sick backflips. “- I can shred the pictures – or at least not submit them or show them. Nobody will ever see them, and you’ll keep your head.” I didn’t like destroying artwork, any artwork, especially my own – but ink on paper and Prismacolors on illustration board was one thing, but to actually take a living, breathing unicorn-girl – even in imagination – and slice off her head  

“NON!” A hoof stamped against the carpet, sounding through the room. She shook her head like a stallion in triumph, eyes flashing golden fire; I remembered the earliest tales of unicorns, and how they could vanquish elephants in a one-on-one fight. “Mon createur, I now know I die for a reason, not just amusement or titillation.” She paused, seemed to shrink a bit. “You may take my head.”

Anything I said now was going to sound really stupid – especially so to an imaginary critter about to die an imaginary death – but I said it anyway. “I don’t want your head, unicorn. I don’t want you to die – not after actually meeting you.”

“Neither do I, but we both know I must. You drew me for a purpose, and I fulfill that purpose by giving up my life. And with that life you drive home your point” – she tapped my head with the corked tip of her horn – “to the mob. Perhaps some will listen.”

“They won’t.” I had enough experience along those lines – Clint quitting in disgust halfway through his grand story arc, Canuss gone to ground, Blumrich’s on-target rants, the pros who’d bailed because of “one fanboy too many”, the career-killing reputation of being “one of them!” More eggs cracked for the perfect Furry omelet. Vive la Revolution? Vive la Terreur.

“You don’t know that” She shrugged again. “The draw of the card, the roll of the dice – you never know the results before you make the attempt.” She took a deep breath, stretching the ropes that bound her; and power entered her voice. “And for whatever purity and virtue remains in you, and by my blood about to be spilled, YOU MUST MAKE THE ATTEMPT.”

She stood tall, head high, nostrils wide and eyes blazing. “And I shall be part of that attempt, sealed with the lifeblood of a unicorn. Perhaps my death will bring that part of you back to life.

“Now, mon createur,” her voice returned to normal, “I ask one last favor from you, before I go.”

“What?” I had learned long ago never to answer “anything” to an open-ended favor – especially when magic was afoot – and physical courage was never one of my strong points. What could she want? She’d refused my offer to spare her; she was a classic unicorn of pre-mass-market Western Christian tradition, not some fanboy spooge-i-corn…

“I know I am not ‘real’, and do not die ‘for real’, yet still -” Her voice started to quiver; her expression changing to the one in the picture. “-I am afraid. Embrace me – s’il vous plait?”

I gathered her in my arms, crushing her against me until she stopped shaking, her heart hammering faster than mine at my father’s funeral; her breasts pressed against my ribs, her ear and mane tickled my nose and her snout rubbed against my cheek, her tail flicked against my thighs. So unicorns must have lain in the laps of other virgins, so long ago…

“Mon createur?”


“I am honored to have spoken with you, as if I were real.” She pulled her head off my cheek and looked at me with great golden eyes. “I came from you, and I am always a part of you. You know Who we unicorns – at least our males – have symbolized in every Medieval Bestiary. You once wrote Stauros how much you ‘longed to romp and play with the furries in Aslan’s Land’. If and when you do, I pray that I shall be one of them – given substance in reality instead of imagination.”

I squeezed her tighter, kissed her on her snout, between the nostrils; her breath smelled like fresh roses mixed with cinnamon. She pulled back, blinked once in astonishment, then raised her head to where our mouths met – para-equine to human – and reciprocated with a long, gentle kiss. Just like my only girlfriend had, on our first date, all those years ago…

“Merci – and adieu.” She stepped back, radiant despite the bonds and prison dirt; I brushed her mane back from her eyes. “And now, if you will excuse me, I must go. La guillotine is waiting.”

And turning around, with head held high and tail flicking, she walked through the wall and was gone.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Inspiration For An Incident At A Carnival

Paperback Cover
Not all my ideas for stories come from dreams.

My short story, An Incident At A Carnival, is a piece that is entirely in dialogue and was first published in the March 2012 issue of Cover of Darkness magazine that unfortunately is out of print. However, the story is still available in my collection, Dark Dreams and Darker Visions, both as a paperback and an eBook.

The narrator, Madame Gianopoulos, is a carnival fortune teller with a "wicked pack of cards." Written completely from her point of view, An Incident At A Carnival is her one-sided conversation with a young lady who decides to have her fortune read resulting in tragic consequences. Here are the story's opening lines.
“Please come inside. Sit down there across the table from me.
“My, my. What a pretty one you are!
“No, no, my dear. Don’t be concerned over a silly old lady like me. Sit! Sit!
“So you want to know the future? Maybe the past? Yes?
“Well, of course you already know the past! At least you think you do, but my cards have a way of helping you remember it.
“Ignore the noises of the carnival outside. Here it is just you and me.
“Now I will unwrap the cards and we shall begin.
“Yes, that’s real silk they are wrapped in. I’m not some carnival hack, not Madame Gianopoulos. I have dealt these cards for over seventy years.
Madame Gianopoulos found her genesis in Madame Sosostris, one of the subjects of T.S. Eliot's epic poem, The Waste Land (written in 1922):
Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.
You can read An Incident At a Carnival in its entirety along with nine other tales including The Pond, Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, Killer Lullabies, and The Pig and is available internationally through your country's

eBook Cover
Amazon USA Paperback

Amazon USA eBook

Amazon UK Paperback

Amazon UK eBook

My Subconscious Decides to Make A Superfluous Point

Last night I dreamt I lived in a steampunk version of Victorian England that would have been cool in and of itself, but my nightly excursion was evidently not for my own enjoyment, but to teach me a bully pulpit message with all the subtlety of a baseball bat.

Yes, I could have wandered a steampunk vision of Victorian England, but why should I have any fun? So points to Carl Jung and let us continue.

And a warning to special snowflakes. This post is politically incorrect and gravid with triggers. Proceed at your own caution.

I dreamt that in this fascinating world, a lecturer had made himself famous by setting forth some rather odd and stringent rules about diet. Because his theories were so nebulous, I decided to attend one of his lectures just to hear what the man had to say for himself.

I traveled to the hotel where he was lecturing to discover he and his followers had basically taken the establishment over and were in the process of turning it into a commune.

The place was packed with humanity and I did not realize at first the audience was completely composed of women and children. Not only were there no adult men present, I was the only adult man present.

As I wandered among the crowd, I was basically ignored, but there were two middle aged women off by themselves and I took it upon myself to strike up a conversation. "I look forward to the doctor's lecture," I said.

The two ladies rolled their eyes at each other and one with a voice dripping with contempt said to her companion, "Oh, he wants to hear the doctor's lecture."

"Well," I said, determined to remain civil, "What word would you use instead?"

"Yes," the other woman said to her companion, pointedly ignoring me, "he wants to hear the doctor's speech."

The other woman snickered. "Yes, he wants to hear the doctor's talk."

Turning my back on them, I walked away to discover there was to be a communal breakfast so I wandered into the dining room. With at least two hundred women and children in attendance, I took my place at the first seat at one of the tables.

A large platter of blueberry pancakes, a carafe of syrup, and a large bowl of butter was placed in front of me, but before I could help myself, the child sitting next to me, grabbed the food, took his share, and passed everything on. I stared as the child wolfed down his food as fast as he could, barely pausing to chew, and then saw to my surprise everybody following suit. I learned that one of the doctor's dietary rules was to serve yourself and eat as rapidly as possible. Within a few scant minutes everybody in the room had gobbled down their food and were leaving to go to the lecture room.

I walked down to the end of the table to see if there might be any food left, but the leftovers were so filthy and in such terrible shape, nothing edible could be saved.

I turned to discover that a group of young girls had gathered behind me. "We don't need you," the one child said, her voice dripping with contempt.

"Yes," said another. "I am never getting married."

"No?" I asked in some surprise. "Never?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "No need. Say a man asked me out on a golfing date? After dinner and playing a few holes, it's 'piff, poff, poof'' and I'm done."

I was shocked to hear that from a young girl barely 8 years old. "And then you just move onto another?" But her response was lost when the phone beside my bed rang to wake me from a sound sleep.

When I hung up the phone, I mused about the oddity of my dream, a world marked by wanton promiscuity and weird theories where the 'old ways' were held in contempt for momentary trends, where youthful innocence was destroyed as soon as possible, and where immediate pleasure was prized over commitment.

I am so very glad I don't live in a world like that today.

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Dream That Would Shake the Foundations of the Literary World

Some year ago, I read that you should keep a dream journal by your bed and since a goodly number of my stories find their seeds in my dreams, I thought that sounded like a rather good idea. Like most people, I have these incredible dreams, but I can barely remember them at all upon awakening.

Last night I awoke from a dream so profound and so exquisitely moving, I grabbed the notebook and, in the dark, hurriedly wrote down the dream particulars.

This morning, I eagerly grabbed the notebook to remind myself of what was going to be a future story that would momentously move the hearts and minds of my readers and I read,
Lady of the
2 rules
Only when visited
Could take
nothing with her
She sought to understand
Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd... I got nothing. Sorry. Mind's a total blank. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Change of Plans: Introducing Jill Noir

A number of years ago, I met a gentleman at a convention named Ken Pick who had written and illustrated a fascinating fantasy dream sequence about an anthropomorphic unicorn being led to the guillotine during the French Revolution. The name of the piece, translated from the French was, The Age of Reason Has No Place For Unicorns.

Ken's Interpretation of Jill Noir and companion

Since then, we have collaborated on the first book of what we hope will be a science fiction trilogy loosely titled, The Adventures of Jill Noir. A braided novel, each chapter can be read independently, but together they tell a complete story about a genetically engineered, anthropomorphic ferret named Jill Noir and her struggles to be accepted into society. Unfortunately, she has these continuous run-ins with a human Roman Catholic priest named Father Eric Heidler who is something of an enigma himself.

The chapters in the first book are:

Episode 1: Mask of the Ferret
Episode 2: Ferret and Rabbit
Episode 3: Down to Cathuria
Episode 4: Dyads, Part 1
Interlude: On the First of Winter
Episode 5: Dyads, Part 2
Interlude: Breaking News
Episode 6: Dyads, Part 3
Episode 7: Nameless Guild
Epilogue: Until Then...

The projected titles of the three books are:

Book 1: The Ferret and the Priest
Book 2: Ice Vixen, Golden Marten
Book 3: Sargasso and Saint Dismas

Some of the chapters have already been published in assorted anthologies:

The anthology, Infinite Space, Infinite God (Karina L. Fabian and Robert Fabian, editors) contains the opening stay, Mask of the Ferret that was reprinted in Fred Patten's anthology, Anthropomorphic Aliens (currently out of print)

The anthology, Different Worlds, Different Skins (Will A. Sanborn, editor) carried the story, Down to Cathuria.

Infinite Space, Infinite God II (Karina L. Fabian and Robert Fabian, editors) contains the full novella, Dyads.

In 2008, Ken and I received an Honorable Mention at the 2008 Washington Science Fiction Association award for Mask of the Ferret.

Needless to say, this means putting aside Return to the Vicarage. And that is for the best. Jill needs her final time in the sun and the Vicarage story shares too much in spirit with my recently released, Strange Streets.

So Sunday, I travel deep into WebFed space and track down an illusive anthro-ferret thief with ADHD paradoxically combined with some serious thanatophobia.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Return to the Vicarage: List of Characters and "Cheat Sheet"

I have begun the process of writing Return to the Vicarage (working title only) and I have cobbled together a list of the characters and a "cheat sheet" to remind me of personality traits and the "rules" the Vicarage and the Presence follow. This is a rough draft and very much subject to change.

The Vicarage
The Vicarage and the Presence that lives within it are universal, mythic characters—archetypes—that reside within the collective unconscious of humanity and accessed only through dreams. All humanity dreams of the Vicarage at least once in their lives (you included) though the actual appearance of the building depends upon the culture of the dreamer. The two main characters of the story, Scott and Jenny, perceive the Vicarage as large, two story Victorian mansion that contains a furnished basement. 

The Vicarage contains several mysteries. The three most prominent are: 

1. A chapel devoid of all religious emblems and symbols. All is constructed of polished dark wood. Ten rows of pews are divided by an aisle and behind them, elevated on a small balcony, is a moderately-sized pipe organ. The organist, if there ever was one, sits with his or her back to the congregation, facing away from the altar, pulpit, and lectern. Heavy, dark red curtains hide the walls behind the organ and if one pulls aside the curtain on the left, an entrance to a "priest's hole" can be found. This location is the only safe place where one can hide from the Presence.

2. On the second floor one of the bedrooms contains access to a crawlspace that can only be accessed by a small child. The crawlspace goes back some distance and toward the rear, the walls are painted black with what appear to be obscure and complicated mathematical formulae. Unfortunately, children cannot understand the import of what is inscribed on the walls and adults simply are too large to enter the crawlspace.

3. When people first dream of the Vicarage, they awaken in a furnished basement bedroom that is inhabited by the Presence, an invisible entity that is perceived as intelligent and malignantly evil. The victim spends the night cowering under the sheets, paralyzed with terror. There are people who have actually died from their exposure to the Presence, but Jenny (see below) is the only person whose soul has ever remained trapped within the walls of the Vicarage. If a person has future dreams of the mansion, she or he will appear in a random spot in the mansion and they have the freedom to explore the house, though they will always avoid the basement bedroom. Only 5% of people who dream of the Vicarage ever return in future dreams and those that do, only 3% of those can remember their experiences when they awaken in the real world. Occasionally, the Presence leaves the basement walking "primal and serene" throughout the mansion and those trapped in the house with it are consumed with an overwhelming terror of encountering it. People either flee before it in the circular hallways of the mansion or they eventually hide in the sanctuary of the chapel's hiding spot where the Presence cannot enter. There are never more than four people in the house at any given time and one of those is always Jenny.

Scott James Thomas
, our narrator, was born Saturday, August 31st, 1957 in Bonneauville, Pennsylvania. The story takes place in the present day when Scott is in his 58th year. Scott dreams often of the Vicarage, usually about once a week and has been doing so for about 45 years, often enough that he can easily draw the floor plans from memory. Though aware of the Presence that walks the hallways of the Vicarage, he seldom has to deal with it leaving its room and the dreams center on his interactions with Jenny (see below) and his attempts to solve the various puzzles and mysteries of the mansion. Scott believes that Jenny is nothing more than a recurring aspect of his dreams and in the beginning of the story is unaware that Jenny was once actually alive. Married on Saturday, June 17th, 1978, Scott’s wife passed away rapidly from malignant cancer in 1980. The marriage was childless. On the Jung Typology, Scott would test as an ISTJ—Introvert(38%) Sensing(12%) Thinking(34%) Judging(25%). His major personality traits are:
  1. Keen sense of right and wrong
  2. Noted for devotion to duty
  3. Often gives the initial impression of being aloof and perhaps somewhat cold.
  4. "Just the facts, Ma'am."
  5. Usually keep his feelings to himself unless asked and when asked, doesn’t mince words. Truth wins out over tact.  

Genevieve Morgan Lee
Genevieve Morgan Lee was born Tuesday, May 1st, 1883 in Chiltonville, Massachusetts. She passed away in her sleep on November 14th, 1897 at the age of 14 years, 6 months, 13 days during her first dream of the Vicarage. Her soul is now frozen in time and trapped. Other than the Presence, Jenny is the only permanent resident of the Vicarage and she acts as guide and guardian to dream visitors. On the Jung Typology Jenny would test as an ISFJ—Introvert(62%) Sensing(1%) Feeling(19%) Judging(47%). Jenny’s personality traits are summed up as follows:
  1. Strong desire to serve others, has a strong "need to be needed."
  2. Very much bound by prevailing social conventions of the 1890s.
  3. Can be relied on for loyalty and unstinting, high-quality work.
  4. "If you want it done right, do it yourself."
  5. Methodical and accurate worker.
  6. Very good memory and analytic abilities.
  7. Good with people in small-group or one-on-one situations because of her patient and genuinely sympathetic approach to dealing with others.

Return to the Vicarage

For those who have read my short collection, Come Into My Cellar: Darker Tales From A Cerebral Vault, you were introduced to the Vicarage, a recurring nightmare I have suffered from for years:

All my life I have enjoyed the experience of being a dreamer. At night, I wander dreams flowing with color, rich in plot, and often stay with me upon awakening. Yet, no other dreamer has ever mentioned one aspect of my daily nocturnal wanderings. My subconscious, much like a Grade-B film director, has for six decades repeatedly used the same sets as if the budget for backdrops and scenery had vanished. One place I always return to is the Vicarage.
I have been dreaming about the Vicarage for almost four decades now, a setting so commonplace I can actually draw the floor plans for you.
Well, last night I returned to the Vicarage and it felt like I was there all night long. However, unlike other nights spent avoiding the unholy, otherworldly, and invisible Presence that walks its halls "primal and serene," I met a young lady of about 14 who is as much trapped in the house as I am, but she never leaves simply because she can't.

Looking at her oddly dated clothes, a strange thought came to me and I asked her what year it was. "Oh, it's 1897."

Poor child.

So, when I awoke, a full-blown story popped into my mind, a story about a young child trapped in a nightmarish mansion that others visit in their dreams, a Vicarage that holds a primal terror that walks its halls and, if it finds you, it will kill you, but only if it's in a merciful mood.

(sigh) I'm busy as it is, but as the cliche goes, you strike while the iron is hot.

I'll keep you abreast of my travelogue as I plumb the mysteries of the Vicarage and try to save a young girl who has been trapped inside its walls for almost 120 years.

I've got a gut feeling this is NOT going to end well.

Monday, April 4, 2016

One Final Review for Rowan Dreaming

 The last review I will post, but I am grateful for all of them, regardless of how many stars are attached. As my biography states:
Loewen also makes no bones about his writing: he writes solely to entertain, his first desire to be a storyteller. If the reader discovers some great universal truth in a Loewen-crafted tale, that's icing on the cake, but as Loewen has said, "I want my readers simply to enjoy themselves in a story of my own creation. If they feel their time has not been wasted and they liked the story, I have achieved my primary goal."
Thanks to all who bought the chapbook and enjoyed the tale. Feedback inspires me to write more. Rowan Dreaming is still available for your enjoyment and at 99¢ is, in my humble opinion, a bargain.

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon Germany

Amazon Australia

Saturday, April 2, 2016

And Another Rowan Dreaming Review!

I am deeply grateful for those who take the time to leave a review regardless of how many stars are given.

Rowan Dreaming also includes the short story, Strange Streets, and according to Amazon takes 90 minutes to read in its entirety, the length of a feature length movie. Here in the United States, a first run film can cost you anywhere from $6 to $15, but for 99¢ you not only get two stories, but one you can read over and over again as many times as you want.

You can buy your own copy of Rowan Dreaming here at any of these fine sites: 

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon Germany

Amazon Australia

Rowan Dreaming Receives Its First Review!

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Raven Series, by Richard Kirk: A Review

In mid-2014, I picked up a fantasy book entitled Raven: Swordmistress of Chaos for a quarter at a used bookstore and finished it on August 11. I would have stopped there, but I discovered to my delight that the author, Robert Kirk, was merely a house name for the writing team of Angus Wells (1943-2006) and Robert Holdstock (1948-2009). Though I confess I am not familiar with Wells, Holdstock was the author of Mythago Wood, one of my top five literary fantasies of all time. With that tidbit of information, I made the decision to read the entire series.

The next three books in the series were gifts from Eric Hinkle, a friend of mine who shares my interest in fantasy and is a wonderful writer in his own right, and I devoured them as soon as he found them and sent them to me. The first book in the series was written by both Wells and Holdstock as a team, but the second and fourth books were the sole works of Holdstock, while Wells worked solo on the third and final book in the series.

I polished off Raven: A Time of Ghosts on November 24, 2014 and then had to wait five months for the next book in the series: Raven: The Frozen God (April 28, 2015). The fourth book followed quickly:  Raven: Lords of the Shadows (July 20, 2015) and this morning I finished Raven: A Time of Dying. From start to finish, as the books (which are out of print) were acquired, it took me a total of of 1 year, 7 months and 24 days to finish the series.

One side note before I continue: Ignore the cover art as displayed above. Wells and Holdstock know their stuff and though the series is clearly R-rated, Raven is first and foremost a warrior. When she walks around, she is fully armored.

Though written for a male audience and though the books are clearly a product of the late 1970s, toward the end of the series, Wells and Holdstock found their respective voices and broke free of the chainmail bikini mindset into one that began to explore the greater themes of purpose and free will.

The first book was pure pulp, but in the final book, Wells almost touched more upon epic fantasy with lyrical writing that was not present in the opening volumes. And unfortunately, there is no more. The series ends with none of the larger questions answered.

The entire series is narrated by Spellbinder, half human and half mage, trained in the magical arts by the mages of Kharwan, an island in the middle of the sea that is concealed and protected by magic. In the books, he wanders a world that has lost almost all vestiges of civilization and though in the series, he is Raven's tutor/lover/bodyguard, he walks the world alone speaking of Raven in the past tense. His hand is heavily bandaged and the implication is that it was badly maimed by a friend, but the series ends with none of these questions answered. It simply ends.

And unfortunately, we will know no more. Both Wells and Holdstock have unfortunately passed away and it is clear that Ace Publishing never had any desire to continue the series after the fifth book. So we will never know why the mages of Kharwan chose Raven, a former slave, to be their Worldchanger, the ultimate agent of Chaos, or why they even meddled in the affairs of the world to begin with. The post-apocalyptic world in which Spellbinder wanders telling his tales to anyone willing to listen is certainly not the end the mages strove for. We will never learn whatever happened to Raven herself or her other companions, Gondar Lifebane, the pirate, or Argor, outlaw and leader of a band of mercenary horsemen.

And though the Raven series is not high fantasy in any understanding of the genre, I confess I feel cheated as a reader. A series should come to an end that brings a modicum of satisfaction, so instead, I will simply ponder the mysteries of what might have happened and move on.

The world is full of books and there is never enough time to read a good tale.

My Favorite Online Comics

Below are links to my favorite online comics. Some of them do not support my personal world view, but if they make me laugh, make me care about their characters, amaze me with their storytelling or world construction or they make me think, I have included them. Caveat emptor and surf responsibly.
The links, which are in no particular order, will take you to the current comic. You will have to use the archive links to take you to the beginning of the comic itself and some of them go back years.

Direct links are the titles of the comics.

Rated PG-13 for frank references on sex and relationships, Brook McEldowney has drawn some very artistic panels. Starting his characters in high school, they have now graduated and well into their adult lives.

I would also rate this one PG-13 due to its medieval-era violence, but the world building in a universe of "funny animals" is top notch along with a surprisingly complex story line. Very sporadic in updating.

 The title character is a professional thief in Earth's far future and her escapades keep the law enforcement quite busy. However, you will quickly discover she has a heart of gold and even though she doesn't like to wear pants, the fan service is kept at a bare (no pun intended) minimum.

Set in another "funny animal" universe, the complex story line of civilized animals still dealing with prey-predator relationships will certainly keep your attention. The strip takes place in an anthropomorphic Australia and sometimes the references go over my head, but give the strip a try. One warning: the artist is addicted to puns big time.

Set in a not-so-distant post-apocalyptic future, artist Aaron Neathery has crafted an amazingly complex world and story line where underground residents of a virus that has transformed them into various anthropomorphic animals are in constant danger of their lives from what true humans still exist. One does not read Endtown. One invests in it. Not for the kiddies in spite of the "funny animals."

It is impossible to praise this delightful comic enough. The husband and wife team of Robert and Margaret Carspecken have effectively constructed one of the most wonderful comics around about animals living on a farm that provides animal actors for movies and television. Do read this one. The characters are wonderful and 100% family friendly.

The steampunk world of Agatha Hetrodyne is brought to life by the husband and wife team of Phil and Kaja Foglio. Follow the adventures of a super-smart heroine who can build marvels that out-MacGyver, MacGyver.

 I fell in love with this delight from Day One. Though the artist repeats a lot of the strips (what he calls classics) the ongoing adventures of gods and goddesses as children attending school for future deities is as charming as it gets.

With very simple art, Rich Burlew draws and writes a comic where your classic Dungeons and Dragons characters enact an adventure to save the world, but somehow know they are living and acting in a role-playing game. 

Cute and funny, character Phoebe tries to live out her grade-school life with nerd parents, the popular and pretty girl who is also a bully, as well as a magical unicorn who is as vain as vain can be.

I can't help it. It's the art. I just love the way Vivienne Medrano draws.

I know I have missed plenty. There are numerous comics that are now in graveyards because the artists and writers moved on and someday I may compile a list of comics that I dearly loved, but are no longer being produced. In the comments, please let me know some of your favorites.