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.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

My Facebook Rant

I was rather surprised to discover how negative, insulting, and derogatory my Facebook feed was this morning so I would like to share with FaceBook what I believe are facts and what I call True North principles.

Dear Facebook:
  1. Yes, I disagree with President Donald Trump quite a bit, but I refuse to indulge in the histrionics that he is Hitler or the Antichrist. Under our current system of government, one man simply cannot bring down a country. To believe otherwise only demonstrates either your debilitating lack of knowing how the US government works or your serious need for medication. And I can maturely disagree with somebody without coming across as somebody so socially inept that I convince people my mental age equals my shoe size.
  2. Yes, I will someday die. I may go via the vaccinations I had as a child, or the Diet Coke I drank yesterday, or the nachos I bought from a questionable vendor, but the reality is that life is neither safe or sane. I'm not getting out of here alive. Neither are you.
  3. Yes, as an author I have not yet sold 250 books and I may even be considered a hack as my motive for writing is solely to entertain, but I don't need your expensive course to learn about marketing or how to trick my readers into buying bilge. I respect my readers far too much.
  4. Yes, as a member of the ordained clergy (1), I am probably doing many things wrong, but God is bigger than my ignorance and my stupidity and I cannot believe that in spite of my own hubris, I can actually bring any of God's divine plans to a grinding halt.
  5. Following that line of thought, no, I am not a perfect husband, father, son, U.S. citizen, Christian, or even a perfect human being. Neither are you, so please do me the honor of shutting up and reminding me of the painfully obvious. I am doing the best I can. Sorry to be such a disappointment to you, but to speak truth, you have become a major disappointment to me. You know, Facebook, you used to be fun. Now you are a tedious bore.
This rant is officially over. Let's move on to better things.
(1) Yes, some of you readers might be surprised that I am a member of the ordained clergy (even though I write fantasy, dark fantasy, horror, dark fantasy romance, and satire). And because of that, my Facebook is filled with advertisements and posts that tell me how much I suck at pastoring even though I've been doing this since 1976.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Becoming an Armchair Shinto Scholar (Researching The Shrine War)

The proposed cover for The Shrine War
When editor Fred Patten asked me to contribute to his anthology, Dogs of War, I was very excited when we agreed on my crafting a tale about a group of kitsune shrine maidens (anthropomorphic foxes) defending their shrine against a group of invading Inugami (anthropomorphic dogs).

Tragically, when I sat down to begin outlining my story, I suddenly realized I knew nothing about Japanese mythology, Shintoism, or the least bit of information on kitsune or Inugami.

So, I did what I do best: I started doing some very intensive and extensive research. Eventually, I learned enough to write a story that Fred accepted, but I am now expanding the story as well as another that takes place in the same timeline. I hope to release the novelette with its accompanying short story later this year.

I have always enjoyed researching topics that I have a genuine interest in, and the list of resources I cobbled together has enabled me to craft a story that dances close enough to Japanese mythology so as not to offend anybody with a passing familiarity with the topic of yōkai.

Admittedly, I am writing about a Japan that exists more in my imagination than reality, and I have taken great poetic license with the kitsune and Inugami, but I hope that people will enjoy the work enough to forgive my literary shortcomings.

So for your reading pleasure, what follows is a list of the resources I used. If you would like to delve into the world of Shintoism and Japanese culture, I hope you find these resources as enjoyable as I have:

Books currently being read:
For books and articles in the public domain, the links will take you directly to websites where you can download the text for your own perusal. Other links will take you to where you can get information for either ordering the work or getting info for interlibrary loan.

I hope you enjoy exploring Japan and its mysterious creatures as much as I have.

Alien: Covenent--A Review

Posing with my posse

Went to see Alien: Covenant last Saturday with a pile of friends and family and I thought I would share my thoughts. There are spoilers in this post and some major spoilers in the comments.

It is rather hard to put my thoughts together about this film as my feelings are so mixed. In 1979 when the first Alien film came out I was blown away by the overwhelming emotions of fear, revulsion, and wonder at what I was experiencing. Aliens (1986) came along seven years later and though a very different film, still added so much to the mythos.

As far as I'm concerned, Alien 3 (1992) and Alien: Resurrection (1997) never happened. They were nothing more than nightmares Ripley had in hypersleep while en route to home from the end of the second film.

Alien: Covenant is a direct sequel to Prometheus (2012) so if you have not seen that film, you will miss much of what is referred to in Alien: Covenant and the motivation of the android, David.

The film opens with the spaceship Covenant en route to Origae-6 that they hope to colonize. Along with a regular crew, they have 2,000 colonists in cryosleep and a few hundred human fetuses.

An emergency forces the crew awake early and with a badly damaged ship, they discover that there is a habitable planet closer than their original destination so they change course.

The new planet is the original home of the Engineers, an alien race introduced in Prometheus, but the planet appears to be abandoned. It isn't. David, the android from Prometheus, is alive and well.

My mixed thoughts:
  • Michael Fassbender is an amazing actor. He pulls off two roles in this film, playing David 8 as well as the other android, Walter, each with different appearances, personalities, and accents and he does it flawlessly.
  • Director Ridley Scott should have learned from the disappointment of Alien 3 where the audiences witnessed the deaths of Newt and Colonel Hicks from the Aliens film that characters the audience has an emotional bond to should not be discarded as unimportant. We deserved a better treatment of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw who was the heart and heroine of Prometheus.
  • The source of the xenomorphs is completely revealed in Alien: Covenant. I was not impressed. Somehow the storyline has lost its magic and the xenomorphs have lost a little of their vicious majesty.
  • The action scenes will put you on the edge of your seat, especially as the survivors attempt to leave the planet for the relative safety of the Covenant. That one xenomorph is worse than a tick.
  • I was surprised to discover that some of the trailers contained scenes that were not in the film and not meant to be there. In fact, NONE of the scenes in this trailer appear in the film:
  • The cinematography is incredible. The Covenant's scout ship soaring over the landscape of the Engineer's homeworld is breathtaking.
  • New xenomorphs are introduced and they contribute to an understanding of the evolution of the more familiar monster that we know.
  • The movie moves too fast. There is important information given in the film and it flies by so rapidly, if you blink, you'll miss it. There should have been some more time spent on the revelation of Shaw's fate and why David betrayed her when he said of her that he had never experienced such kindness from another human being.
  • What happened in 2,000 years that the Engineers apparently devolved culturally and were no longer a space-faring race?
  • Why are Ridley Scott's scientists so stupid?
  • The ending was so necessary for the sequel (Ridley Scott has said there will be two or three more), but it was so emotionally a bummer for me.
Share your own thoughts in the comments.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Japanese Fan As Weapon (with photo and video)

In The Shrine War, I introduced Chiyo's expertise in the use of the tessen, a fan that comes in many forms, but in my story has a metal edge sharpened to that of a razor:
Chiyo nodded, her jaw tight and her eyes grim. “They will not get the mirror, sister. Not tonight. Never.” She reached into the left sleeve of her haori and pulled out a folded fan. With a flick of her wrist, it sprang open with a metallic whisper to reveal itself as a deadly weapon, its edge honed to razor sharpness. “I have not used my tessen in years past counting, but should the dogs attempt to enter the honden…” Chiyo spun the fan in her furred fingers, its deadly edge splitting the air with a fearsome hiss and blurring from the speed of its movement as she expertly guided it through a complex exercise. In her left hand, her prayer beads glowed with a dull azure light. Then, with a sudden movement, she flicked the fan closed with a sharp click and the prayer beads once again became simple tiny ceramic and wooden balls strung on a hempen cord. Chiyo slid her tessen back up her sleeve.
Chiyo, in the story, is a master of Tessenjutsu, a martial art specializing in the use of the iron fan.

And it appears that practitioners of the art continue to keep the martial alive today. Not only can you buy a working tessen on Amazon, but there are videos on YouTube dedicated to the art.

The Japanese never fought with the fan open, preferring to use the fan closed for striking or thrusting. However, the Chinese in their martial arts also used the fan, and I found one video that has a truly beautiful kata (training exercise):

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Belinda McFate: The Literary World's Weakest Female Character!

My Apologia

Years ago I attended a writing seminar that said weak literary characters should never be part of a story and if a man dared to write a weak literary female character, then hanging was just too good for him.

I disagreed and here is proof that you can write stories with a weak literary female character.

They’re just not very good …

Please don’t hurt me.

Belinda McFate: The Literary World's Weakest Female Character!

The door suddenly collapsed and rats flooded the room.

Belinda jumped up on a chair, held up the hem of her dress, stamped her pretty little feet, and screamed like a ... well, like a girl.

"Where's a man when you need one! I need a man!" she screamed.

Sadly, men, chauvinist pigs that they are, will have nothing to do with weak women.

Eight hours later, Belinda pulled the last of the scrambling rats out of her once glorious golden mane and flung it out the window.

As she wrapped the ragged remains of her $2,000 dress around her, two delicate diamond tears beaded in the corners of her emerald green eyes to begin their course down her blushing cheeks.

She shook her little delicate fist for effect and suddenly the universe held its collective breath as the miraculous was about to happen.

Pretty little Belinda McFate was going to make a declaration.

"The next time, “she said. "The next time I need somebody to help me ..."

Her eyes flashed green fire as she set her perfect jaw in determination, "I ... shall ... scream .... louder!"

The Return of Belinda McFateThe Literary World's Weakest Female Character

Belinda McFate's hands trembled as she read the instructions on the back of the package of Ramen noodles.

"Boil two cups of water," she read aloud. Her pretty bow of a mouth turned into a pretty pout as her eyelids trembled with tears. Why do they have to make the instructions so complicated?

She paced the room of her tiny apartment willing herself not to cry. "Boil two cups of water," she whispered to herself. "Boil two cups of water."

She stopped her pacing, sighed, and realized she really, really needed a man to help her. Sadly, she grabbed the bag of noodles and a sauce pan, walked out into the hallway and timidly knocked on the door of the adjacent apartment.

The door opened and Belinda's emerald eyes shot open to take in masculine magnificence.

He stood bare-chested in the doorway, clad only in khaki pants, and top-of-the-line hiking boots. He had his brown hair trimmed to perfection and she knew if she could only touch his chin it would be as smooth as her own. She allowed her vision to wander down his bare physique, past his massive chest, down his slim waist and abdomen with its clearly defined muscles.

"Wow," she said, her voice barely a squeak.

"Yes," he said, "I have that effect. What can I do for you, miss?"

She held out the saucepan. "Could ... could I borrow some boiling water?"

The man looked down at the saucepan and saw the package of Ramen noodles dangling from her right hand.

"Well, now, pretty lady," he said with a smile that made her knees go weak, "I think I can help you here. Come in."

He took the saucepan from her and the package of noodles. "Ah, yes. Ramen noodles. Man food. Let me show you how I cook these."

She followed him into the kitchen that looked more like a gourmet restaurant. The man poured water into the saucepan from the sink's faucet, opened the package of noodles, added them to the water, and then opened the spice packet and sprinkled the contents on top.

Taking two potholders, he grabbed the two handles of the saucepan and gave them to Belinda. "Now hold that pot just like that," he said.

Then taking her face between his two strong hands, he kissed her, long and slow with passion and Belinda’s eyes wouldn't close because they too wanted to know what had hit them.

Their lips parted and he stood back with a smile.

"Wow," she said.

"Well, sweetheart," the man said as he turned and took a shirt from the back of a chair and put it on. "My testosterone is calling me to Cairo."

He grabbed a fedora off the kitchen table and flipped it casually over his head. "I trust you'll see your own way out."

Belinda's lips tried to move. She tried to say, "Please take me with you" and "Hunka, hunka burnin' love!," but the only word that came out was another high-squeaking, "Wow."

"Yes. Quite." And with that, he dove out his open kitchen window and she heard his feet going down the fire escape and out of her life.

Belinda smelled something delicious and looking down saw the pot in her hands was boiling quite merrily with Ramen noodles ready to eat.

The End of Belinda McFateThe Literary World's Weakest Female Character

Belinda screamed as she stood on her tabletop. The ninjas that had just burst through the windows surrounded her doing unnecessary katas and flourishes as bad guys are want to do when they have a pretty innocent cornered.

True to form, Lance Bullet, Belinda's next door neighbor, burst through the front door.

He deftly tossed his fedora into the face of the nearest ninja and the resulting second of distraction allowed our hero to send the ninja smashing into another from a blow from Lance's strong right fist.

Flipping his steel pen out of his coat pocket, Lance deftly flung it as a dagger into the chest of another black-clad assassin and as the killer fell to the floor, Lance ducked just in time to allow five shurikens to sail over his head and embed themselves into the body of another.

With four down, the remaining ninja looked about at his fallen comrades and then with several deft back flips, launched himself out the window into the alley below.

Lance dusted off his hands as Belinda stared at the carnage about her. "Well, now," he said, "I've rescued you from interdimensional demons, Illuminati cultists, alien abductors, and now it's ninjas." He looked about at the limp bodies and sighed. "The only way I'm going to get any rest is to just marry you once and for all."

"Wow," Belinda squeaked.

They found a Justice of the Peace and though they had to deal with the sudden arrival of a Martian warlord who fancied Belinda as his new slave, the ceremony went without incident.

That night, Belinda and her new husband prepared for a romantic evening.

She slipped into an almost invisible next-to-nothing. Lance slid into bed and patted the space beside him.

Belinda smiled. "I'll be right back," she said coyly.

Walking toward the kitchen through the dark living room, she casually reached up and plucked a Hashashiyyin from the ceiling where he had suspended himself by his fingers and toenails.

"I will use small words so you can understand," she said, her hand in a firm grip around his throat. The happy, cute smile never left her face. "Tonight is my wedding night and if you or any of your ilk disturb me or my husband, I will make you hurt and make you hurt in a way you've never experienced."

She pulled him close so he could look deep into Belinda’s emerald green eyes that spoke of unmentionable cruelties. "All Lance can do is kill you, but I'm a woman," she said casually. "I can make you wish I had just killed you outright."

She let the assassin go and he hastily backed up bowing and muttering apologies until his backside hit the door. In a flash, the door opened and closed leaving Belinda alone in the comforting dark.

+ + +

Lance looked up from his bed to see his new bride carrying a pot full of water and a package of Ramen noodles. "Let's make supper," she said with a wink.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Sophomoric Story Segment That Spawned A Popular Essay

Many years ago, I wrote an essay entitled To Touch Real Magic and after this blog entry, I would encourage you to read it as it is my major apologia for writing.

But what triggered the crafting of the essay is a story in itself.

Back in the early 90's when I started writing in earnest, I wrote for a small group of friends, using ourselves as characters in the stories. They were silly attempts at comedy and sophomoric at best. One of the fictional characters was Molly Ladanyi, a newspaper reporter who was something of a klutz and getting herself into very embarrassing situations.

The first story was A Very Strange House followed up by a sequel I entitled The Chupacabra. Aside from the segment below these stories will never be released publicly though many will recognize a more sophisticated Molly Ladanyi appeared as the main character in my seminal work, Coventry House.

Anyway, I so enjoyed writing the segment below, I actually felt guilty over putting a fictional character in such a humiliating situation. Also, I confess I was rather shocked at my own immature audacity.

So I apologized to my friends and the one wrote back immediately saying if he was physically present, he would slap some sense back in me.

Thus, the essay was born. You really ought to read it.

So, with the warning that what follows is tawdry silliness, allow me to introduce you to my favorite literary creation:

"I am so sorry, Madam, but your luggage has been temporarily misplaced."

Molly Ladanyi sighed and started to fill out the proper forms. In her first thirty minutes in San Juan, her traditional bad luck had once again reared its ugly head. Fortunately, she only expected to be in Puerto Rico just long enough to write the article her boss had assigned her and then she could bask in the tropical sun for a few days and follow her own personal agenda.

Dressed primly in a peasant blouse and ankle-length skirt, Molly picked up her two cameras, her laptop, and purse and walked through the airport customs searching for the men who were to meet her. Her last run-in with them at a haunted house in Maryland had turned into an embarrassing disaster. This time, she said to herself, I will convince them I am a professional news reporter with class.

She saw two of them waiting for her at the bottom of the long escalator. She pulled up their names from memory; Joshua Nozzi and R. Austin Smith. She waved serenely and stepped on the escalator, setting her heavy purse by her feet. Smiling and standing behind the security gate, they waved back.

When Molly approached the bottom of the escalator, she gracefully knelt to pick up her purse allowing the hem of her ankle-length skirt to become trapped by the motorized stairs as they disappeared into the floor. With all the irresistible force of the cosmos, her skirt, held up only by an elastic band, was pulled down around her hips and thighs.

Screaming wildly, trying to hold on to her purse while clutching at her modesty, she lost her balance and went sprawling on the floor at the bottom of the escalator. Within heartbeats, the inexorable motion of the machinery pulled her skirt off where it disappeared into the floor. The terminal was as silent as death except for the sound of motorized gears shredding her pride into individual fibers.

Suddenly, the silence was shattered when one little boy pointed and laughed. "Mira!" he cried with joy. "Mira! Es Donald Duck!"

Near tears, Molly stumbled to her feet, gathered her stuff and walked to the gate with as much dignity as she could muster, wishing she had selected plain panties that morning instead of bikini underwear bearing the repeated face of a Disney icon. Sadly, her peasant blouse was slightly cut in a midriff style which barely covered her navel let alone her taste in lingerie.

Joshua and Austin stood in stunned silence, their eyes irresistibly drawn to the small duck faces that maniacally stared back at them. "Strange," Austin muttered to Joshua. "Their eyes seem to follow you no matter where she moves."

"Shall we go, gentlemen?" Molly asked icily, trying not to break down in tears in front of these men she had wanted so badly to impress. Joshua motioned toward the door. Leading the way, Molly walked out into the bright Puerto Rican sunlight ignoring the laughter and jeers and delighted cries of "Es Donald Duck!"

ADDENDUM:  Karma has reared its ugly head. After posting this, all my Google ads are centered on women's underwear. How am I to explain this to my wife?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Let's Play A Game!

Many an individual has claimed that I am eccentric and I suspect maybe I am. What follows are several statements that are true, but one of them is false. Can you guess which one?
  1. Except for when I wear a tie, inside my shirt I wear a 900-year-old Chinese coin around my neck on a leather thong.
  2. The first movie I saw in a theater was Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) starring Pat Boone and James Mason.
  3. The first six years of my life were spent living in the Bonacker world and culture.
  4. My first "hero" was Dr. Benton C. Quest from the 1964-65 animated TV show, The Adventures of Jonny Quest.
  5. From 1977 to 1979, I was an avid player of the tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons.
  6. I once was an international radio personality.
  7. From 1975 to 1979, a substantial part of my income came from performing magic shows and the Society of American Magicians listed me as "semi-professional."
  8. I do not have a gall bladder, an appendix, tonsils or adenoids. This is why some people believe I'm "not all there."
  9. Though not a vegetarian, I enjoy the challenge of cooking vegetarian foods.
  10. My paternal grandfather was a Ukrainian refugee fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution.
  11. I absolutely love good ginger beer, my criteria being that "if you scream while it's going down, it's good stuff."
  12. Even though a clergyman, I proudly display on my office wall a large print of  J. W. Waterhouse's, The Lady of Shalott.
The Lady of Shalott
So, have you guessed which one is not true? Well, take your cursor and highlight the black line below while holding down the left mouse button and the answer will be revealed: