Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Twitter is a Tool

Posted: October 12, 2017 in Uncategorized
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Pictured: Twitter’s preferred user–a troll.

I used to have some variation on a certain conversation about Twitter from people who didn’t use it. They didn’t see the point. They’d tried it out, and couldn’t figure out why anyone would use Twitter. My explanation always amounted to this: Twitter is a tool. If you don’t need that tool, don’t use that tool. Not everyone has a use for it. It’s just that simple.

For me, Twitter was kind of a crucial tool for a long time. I found about open calls for anthologies that led to some of my favorite short stories. I cultivated a community of other people who were crazy enough to take a whack at this lonely, chaotic writing thing. I needed Twitter for marketing when short stories and occasional novels were published because if people don’t know about them, no one will buy them. Even though sometimes it’s like shouting into an indifferent wind.

I started following people who widened my world view, got plugged into social movements that made me a better, more aware person. I’d always advocated for social justice, but Twitter helped connect me to the people on the ground doing the work, helped show me the how much work still needed to be done, helped me shape my narrative to push towards progress.

But no tool is perfect.

That’s been made abundantly clear the more I use Twitter. Their platform is not a public space. Sure, it FEELS like one at times. But it’s not. It’s the difference between a public square that’s owned by the people and a food court at the mall that’s owned by the mall. And the mall has a vested interest in controlling parts of that conversation. And more importantly, monetizing it.

That’s why they ban and silence people who cause waves. Who name names. Who disrupt their paradigm. They’ll allow thousands of pro-Russian bots, actual Nazis, and every flavor of abusive troll under the sun because it encourages engagement. (Note: Nazis are blocked on Twitter in some European countries, which proves that not only does Twitter know who they are, they have ways to ban them here, too.) Twitter played an active role in spreading propaganda generated by foreign intelligence operations. They are partly responsible for Trump, and almost seem to encourage some of the president’s most irresponsible, patently abusive and dangerous online behavior. He’s practically their mascot at this point.

And yet when decades of sexual harassment in Hollywood is exposed to the sun, they silence those trying to hold people accountable.

In Twitter’s logic, blaming Puerto Rican’s for dying, calling for the silencing of voices speaking out against police brutality, and goading North Korea into nuclear war from the highest office in the land is acceptable behavior.

Calling bullshit on a movie star who turned a blind eye and helped cover up decades of horrible sexual misconduct that you were a victim of is call for censure.

We see you, Twitter.

You’re a tool.

And if a tool is toxic, if a tool causes cancer, let’s say, it doesn’t matter how useful it is. It has to go.

So I’m taking a break from Twitter for a while. It sucks, I know. I have a book to promote that just came out. I’m gearing up for a busy month of writing. The world is quite literally on fire and I can’t honestly trust the news to keep me informed of all the nuance of the worst of it.

But I can’t do this anymore. I need a break. I need to be able to get to work and not already be angry. I need to turn off my lights and go to bed and not be terrified, depressed beyond words, or disgusted with what’s happening in the world you put at my fingertips.

Enjoy your trolls.

I’m out.

In like a wet lion

Rainy Spring in Greenwood

He hears thunder and steps outside, eyes on the horizon.

He’s been hearing thunder. It’s been more frequent since November 8th.

Still no storm. But it’s coming.

If history has taught him anything, it’s that the storm is always coming.

He shivers, rubs the goosebumps on his arms. Rubs his aching eyes. He’s been feeling tired, lately. Tired, sad, angry. It is the new normal. He tries and fails to remember a time in the last six months when a day could pass without incident. Tries and fails to remember a day in the last six months when he couldn’t feel the doom creep in.

He saw a doctor and the doctor gave him pills to fight it.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of this,” she says.

“For how long?”

“Since November 8th.”

“Will these help?”

She gives him a sad smile and a shrug. She gives him the pills. He wonders if she takes them herself. He wonders if they help her.

The do pills help. They blunt the anxiety. Blunt the panic. The internal screaming now a dull roar. The stabbing hopelessness now a dull ache.

The pills help. But they can’t stop the storm.

He can see it on the horizon. A wall of rain-fat clouds bearing enough lighting to set this country on fire. It waits there, terrifying and inevitable. His friends have seen it. His family. Most of them, at least. They’ve talked about the storm.

The storm has been building for a while. The rich getting richer, finding more and more things to steal now that people have no savings, now that people live paycheck to paycheck. They tell people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps while, in the same breath, stealing their boots.

Now they steal our future. Our education system. Our environmental protections. Our insurance. Our voting rights. Our civil liberties. God help you if you’re black or brown, because they can steal your freedom or life without consequence.

We’ve watched them do it.

We’ve seen it happen, unfold with our own eyes and raged and marched in the thousands, demanding justice, demanding changes.

No changes. No justice. Just riot police and tear gas. The storm cannot hear our cries over the thunder.

We’ve seen cowards and kleptocrats, despots and opportunists, ignoring rule of law because their peers in power will do nothing to stop them. Then they conspire to change the rules to keep that power. Maybe forever.

Or at least until the storm.

Because a storm is coming.

A storm that will topple the powerful and restore balance, that will wash the streets with its fury. A storm that will shake the boardrooms and penthouses and government offices. A storm that will empty the prisons and tear down the border walls and slums. A storm that will finally crush the patriarchy and white supremacy.

A storm is coming. Because it has to. Because he doesn’t know how explain to some people that they should care about others. Because he cannot understand how some people don’t understand that basic concept.

He hears the thunder again.

No. He is the thunder. We are the thunder. He looks about, sees those close to him, sees the storm build in their eyes.

They rise as one. They become clouds. Rain-fat and electric as the the charge builds to that first bolt of lightning.

Red Leaves, Blue SkyWhen you’re a kid, there’s this concept of the “cool house” where everyone hangs out. I was fortunate as a teen growing up in Durango in that we had several such homes. Places where we could keep ourselves entertained in a what was, to many of my friends, a boring and sometimes downright hostile town.

For the most part, the parents at those houses were distant figures, keeping out of our way. Old before their time adults who didn’t know how to or care to interact with us at all as we undertook whatever activity we assigned to that particular home. We had the house for day-time parties and games, where the parents were often traveling, or where we could hunker down in the basement and play games when they were home. We had the house where we could listen to music late into the night and experiment with underage drinking in a relatively safe environment while the parents slept like the dead at the far end of the house.

And we had Eric’s house.

If we were going to camp out around a television and watch movies or read comic books, 95% of the time, it was going to be at Eric’s, tucked into the narrow den in what had at one point been a garage. The walls were covered with movie poster and a variety of geek artifacts abounded. It was here that we would have “Schlock Nights,” binging on 6-8 crappy genre movies in a row, all night long, fueled by Dr. Pepper and Doritos.

And no matter the time of night, if you had to go the bathroom, you’d wander through the living room and find Eric’s mom, Jan, watching TV or puttering around in her housecoat. She had a problem with her back, as I recall. That meant she slept in shifts rather than straight through the night.

Jan was something of an artist. And a sci-fi geek. And political. And unlike my other friend’s parents, she engaged with me. She didn’t talk down to me. I don’t remember if we had any long conversations, but we had innumerable small ones about all kinds of topics. One in particular, about the TV show The Prisoner when some network began re-broadcasting it, stuck with me particularly well for some reason. When I made my stage debut as Mr. Bumble in Oliver, she came to the show with Eric and proclaimed I was a better actor in that role than Harry Secombe. She even came to my first wedding. Jan was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, one of my favorite adults.

She had a mysterious past. A single mom who raised her only son while teaching on the Navajo reservation before moving to Durango. Apparently she travelled around the world before that. If you told me today she’d been a spy, I’d likely believe you. I certainly have no reason to doubt that.

Eric and I remained in touch, despite living thousands of miles away. I would still ask about Jan, who moved down the street from him in Cleveland Heights over 20 years ago. I was aware her health was failing. None of us live forever, and she had always seemed a little too rare for this world. So I suppose I wasn’t too surprised to learn of her passing peacefully yesterday with her son at her side at the end.

The world is a grayer, more mundane place for her loss.

Jan showed me that it was possible to live life on your own terms. That being an adult didn’t mean you had to stop being weird. That encouraging creative passions and nurturing kindness might not make you rich, but it could give you so much more instead. She was an inspiration and I loved her.

And she’ll be missed.



What the Future Holds for Patrons

Posted: February 28, 2017 in Uncategorized
Novel Fuel

Authorial Essentials

I expect by now you’ve likely heard that I’m undertaking a Patreon model to incentivize me to create Cobalt City short fiction. If not, this is your notice. Click on the link above and you’ll go to the site.

Don’t worry. I’ll ask you to click on the link again after I explain to you, and to my existing patrons, a bit more about what I’m going to be doing there.

Now, in a perfect world, Cobalt City would be something you’d all read in comic book format. After all, that’s where people expect to read superhero stories, right? I don’t have that luxury because 1) I’m not a comic book artist nor do I run a comic book publishing company, and 2) a whole new world of unknown superheroes by someone new to the comics field is pretty much doomed to failure. The only way to make these stories, these characters happen, is through fiction, which I’m okay with. But damn if I wouldn’t love good character art for each of the heroes so I could someday run into cosplayers or fan artists. Ah, dare to dream, I guess.

For those familiar with the characters of Cobalt City, they may be wanting more detail. Currently, I play on setting these stories in two distinct time periods: the “Weird Hero” period of the Seventies, and Contemporary as heroes grapple with the new normal of rising White Nationalism and corrupt and fascist leaders.

During the Weird Heroes movements of the big 2 (Marvel/DC), we saw such characters & books as Howard the Duck, Man-Thing, Satana, Daimon Hellstrom, Swamp Thing, Ghost Rider, Creeper, Ragman, Werewolf by Night, and Tomb of Dracula. It put the focus on black magic, the supernatural, or just plain odd. To honor that, the Seventies-set stories I’ll be doing will occasionally deal with a wave of forgotten, old, or minor gods sliding back into public consciousness and causing problems. This Small Gods arc will feature individual and occasional group stories featuring the nomadic, cycle-riding anti-hero The Devil’s Daughter, the Vietnam vet avatar of Thor known as Cole “Midnight Thunder” Washington, Doctor Shadow back when he was known as The Black Hand, and the vampiric monster hunter The Venetian.

The other stories feature: an ongoing arc with Huntsman and Libertine going to ground to train up his two young successors after his secret identity is leaked to the press; an ongoing arc where everyone’s favorite bisexual Vietnamese anti-hero Bantam works to deconstruct a massive government conspiracy on behalf of former mob assassin Xia Lo, the Harlequin; and an anthology format of solo and team-up stories staring Gallows, Caterwaul, GhostHouse, Kraken, and Madjack–as new and established heroes being brought together as the new Icons by hacker Morgan Lee, the Wrecker of Engines.

Despite the structure of some of these overarching narratives, each story will be self-contained and can be read independently. And as I complete each “season,” the stories will be collected into e-book and possibly print releases. (Though one of the Patreon tiers includes print copies of each story as they’re published in a limited run chapbook format.)

Several of these characters have appeared in other places. Midnight Thunder first appeared in the Timeslip anthology and to a lesser degree in Cobalt City Double Features. The Marcus Castile Huntsman was also in Timeslip, as well as in the novels Chanson Noir, Cobalt City Blues, and has made occasional appearances in the Kensei stories from Jeremy Zimmerman. Libertine has been in the Dark Carnival anthology as well as Cobalt City Blues. Bantam and Xia Lo appeared in the novel Cobalt City: Ties that Bind. Gallows has appeared in Cobalt City Christmas as well as Cobalt City Blues. And the Morgan Lee Wrecker of Engines first appeared in Cobalt City Rookies, written by Rosemary Jones. As for Madjack, she will make her debut in the Behind the Mask anthology from Meerkat Press this May.

As for the others, maybe some brief introductions are in order.

The Devil’s Daughter is the anti-social nomad cruising the back highways of the country on her custom chopper and fringed leather jacket. As a self-proclaimed “spawn of Satan,” she can conjure and control Hellfire, which she uses to dispense with her perceived enemies.

The Venetian is a vampire from mid 1600’s Venice. With his plague doctors mask, enchanted saber, and specialized hand-cannon, he’s made it his singular purpose to hunt the horrors that plague mankind. One of the so-called “Immortals” (along with Doctor Shadow, Tatterdemalion, and the Monkey King), he’s on the front lines of turning back the darkness.

Caterwaul is Felix Joseph, a young man from the Coeur d’Alene reservation who trained at the side of Gato Loco and Snowflake, preparing to take up the mantle of Gato Loco once Manuel de la Vega was ready to retire. He’s still new to the game, but with Manuel still acting as his mentor, he’s a worthwhile successor to the title.

GhostHouse is Mark Obiyashi, the half-Japanese, one-quarter ghost college student, saddled with his dead grandfather, Yoshi Obisashi as his constant companion. In addition to being ablet o communicate with restless spirits, he can harness ectoplasmic energy, making him an object of fear to the unprepared and a bit of a longer to those who know him. Seeking to make a difference with his life and abilities, he is eager to act as an agent for Wrecker of Engines.

Loyal friend to Mark Obiyashi, Lillian Mead was raised in the foster system after her Iranian-born journalist father was renditioned to a secret prison following 911 and her mother, the superhero named Nightmare became the government’s most wanted for trying to break him out. Lily’s heightened strength (and the superhuman strength of her shadow tentacles) and mood swings means she has a difficult time making friends. With nothing left to lose, she joins with Mark and Wrecker of Engines to help where she can.

Come check out my Patreon, where I’m promising a minimum of one story a month, plus ephemera. It’s cheaper than a comic book, and you can quit at any time, so what are you waiting for?

Toos of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

I had a realization earlier today as I was plugging away on the next Cobalt City novel. (Yes, the novel is going well. No idea when it will be done, but I’m writing angry and will keep y’all updated here.) The new novel, tentatively titled RESISTANCE, is the closest thing I’ve ever written to what those in the comics industry call a Crossover Event.

Typically, what these signify is a massive storyline that draws many of the existing titles/characters into a larger-scale story. Some of them are great. Some suck out loud. But they seem to be inevitable as the big companies do them pretty much every year. It frequently signals series being canceled, rebooted, mixed around, or just started fresh. And with RESISTANCE, I’m bringing together characters I’ve worked with for years and characters I’ve developed but not actually written about as more than a mention if even that. And when it’s all done, things in Cobalt City will have changed. The status not so quo anymore if you’re feelin’ me.

So, if you’ll indulge me, this could be a peak of what Cobalt City would look like in the wake of a massive crossover event. And what new series would replace cancelled series.

Parlor Tricks

Largely despised occultist Louis Malenfant and the sorcerer Emil al-Aswan find themselves thrust into supernatural misadventure when Malenfant starts fighting back against the control of his patron, the King in Yellow. Hi-jinks ensue.

The Hunt

The Huntsman, Marcus Castile, goes underground with the Libertine to train his young niece and nephew to be the next Huntsmen while fighting back against a rising wave of Fascism within our own borders.

New Icons

The young Wrecker of Engines re-imagines the super-team, recruiting other solo operatives into a group of dedicated heroes with global reach. Fan favorites Gallows and Kensei are joined by new heroes GhostHouse, Kraken, and Caterwaul.


Ties that Bind‘s conflicted hero and police detective walks a tough path between her various allegiances and a city descending into chaos. And as the person who sees where things break down, she’s going to have her work cut out for her holding it all together.

Kensei (by Jeremy Zimmerman)

Continuing the adventures of the spirit guardian of Karlsburg, it’s time to find a balance between the big leagues and some kind of a normal life. Expect a monthly dose of  action, fun, and roller-derby. (And seriously, if you haven’t checked out Zimmerman’s Cobalt City Kensei books yet, do it. They’re incredible.)


It begins here: the DESCENT OF STARDUST! Follow Cobalt’s glowing guardian as he falls from grace and works to claw his way back to redemption, featuring Goblin Record’s Ruby Killingsworth.

The Big Tour

Kara Sparx and Lumien join Madjack Atlas McVittie on her world tour. With interstellar operatives dogging their heels at every stop, the’re going to have their work cut out for them.

Cobalt City Silver

An anthology series set in Cobalt City in the 1970’s featuring a rotating cast of creators and characters. The first few arcs will feature Devil’s Daughter, Midnight Thunder, and Tatterdemalion.


That’s if this was a comic book company and I had a stable of writers and artists. As is, we’ll see what rolls out fiction-wise when it rolls out. In the meantime, check out Cobalt City Christmas: Christmas Harder for a recent check in with the heroes of the city. And hopefully next year RESISTANCE will be out sometime late next year.

sell-your-soulThere are few things I enjoy more musically than a well-crafted album that’s difficult to categorize. There’s something both immediate and timeless about Roland Pearsall’s album Sell Your Soul, released earlier this year. On one level, it bears a 60’s garage rock aesthetic, but with a decidedly modern touch to some of the lyrics and with the perspective of being half a century past the era it draws from.

Immediate standouts are the title song, “Sell Your Soul” that brings to mind British Invasion pep. It’s lyrics remind me of  the wit of overlooked Brit troubadour John Wesley Harding which is more of compliment than you probably realize. Likewise, the second track has vaguely menacing lyrics and buzzy soundscape of mid-sixties rockers The Animals. Both songs are excellent but Pearsall and his band have more tricks, and influences, to trundle out and share. Like the electric surf-tinged grove of “Riding On”

As an aside, it’s unfortunate that at least on the digital version of the album, there is no mention of who his other band members are, because they provide a really solid back up. Love the harmonies and the organ in particular.

But forget that. Let’s take a moment to appreciate Pearsall’s voice. He has a strong baritone capable of soaring to a passionate wail that can raise the dead on the track “In the Night.” I swear this sinister gem was ripped directly from the sixties and the original artist murdered and dumped in a gully never to be seen again. It oozes with character and is quite possibly my favorite song on the album. When he lets it rip, holy shit, he lets it rip. Take my word and play this one loud and frighten the neighbors.

Also, whenever that organ kicks in (as in “Next to You” or the psychedelic rocker “Aerosol Can”), I get a smile as wide as the ocean. It’s a personal thing. Having grown up playing the piano, it’s nice to hear someone on the keys bringing the rock.

If this album stumbles it’s in some of the more down-temp numbers. “The Way That I’ve Come” for instance is technically well done, it just didn’t grab me. And “Fog Country,” has great lyrics, I mean, really great lyrics. But while the bluesy ramble of the melody suits it well, I found myself just waiting for the next rocker. That said, an album full of rockers gets tired as hell (coughAC/DCcough), so bravo for showing us a range.

Pretty much without exception, Pearsall and his band swagger through the album with confidence. I imagine big hair, velvet pantsuits with wide collars, maybe leather pants and a puffy paisley shirt. I imagine a cocky sneer, wit, and energy. Ignore the picture of the shaggy-headed singer/songwriter on the cover. I’m certain it’s a filthy lie to avoid scaring someone’s grandparents. I know what I hear on this album.

I also imagine he puts on a hell of a live show that I am unlikely to witness myself as Roland Pearsall is Boston-based and I’m anchored firmly in the graveyard of grunge in Seattle. If you catch him live, hit me back and tell me what you think.

As for Sell Your Soul, you can check it out on his Bandcamp site for yourself, or, you can trust your Unka Nate and just buy the damn thing for under $10. It’s well worth the investment. No selling of souls required.

We have a parade that runs through the heart of my neighborhood every summer. For some, it’s a source of joy. For others, not so much. I got caught in it a few years ago and made the comment “Hell is a parade,” and a friend who is much smarter than me said I should write that story.

So I did. It is short. It is brutal. It is the meanest thing I’ve ever written.

And since that parade descends upon my neighborhood again this evening, it seemed only fitting to share it with the world.

Warning for language and violence. So kiddies, have your parents read it first.


Finding Zen

Two faces of Buddha.

This is going to get personal. Perhaps uncomfortably so. But this has been on my mind a lot recently. Bail out now if you must. I won’t judge you.

Last warning.


One of my most dominant memories of my dad was how no matter how early I woke up, he was already there, sitting in the dining room in the dark. He was one of the first things I saw when I padded down the hallway towards the kitchen. Sometimes he’d have music playing quietly, and my morning would be set to a soundtrack of Vivaldi or Beethoven or Dave Brubeck Quartet. He would sit alone in the dining room, a cup of coffee in his favorite mug, stolen from a diner in Denver when he was much younger, maybe a Camel filter or two, which he stubbed out in this salmon colored motel-style melamine ashtray, or maybe the abalone shell he reserved for just such a purpose.

Dad liked silence–quiet time with his books, or sitting in the sun on the back porch.

I owe a lot of who am now to him. Until the last few years, I didn’t realize how much. While mom took a very active role in our lives, dad’s aloofness left a different fingerprint.

When I was in 8th grade, I started having pronounced problems with school. At the time, I think they were viewed as a problem with authority, which I know has been an issue for me time and again. But there was a certain self-destructiveness that I couldn’t understand. I failed assignments I was perfectly capable of doing. I just didn’t bother putting in the work.

It drove my 8th grade English teacher crazy.


At one point, as I was in danger of failing the class (despite acing all the quarterly tests), she suggested in a parent teacher conference that maybe I had a learning disability. Dad was outraged and I remember him kind of exploding at her. But he was frustrated at me because we all knew I could do the work. I just wasn’t doing it. My parents even sent me to see a psychologist for two unfruitful sessions.

I didn’t know what to tell her. She didn’t know what to tell me. We were back at square one.

I failed 8th grade English.

It was devastating. I knew I let my parents down. But I didn’t know why I couldn’t just handle my shit. I felt broken. Useless. I wanted to die, but in saying so, in saying I wanted to kill myself because I was such a fuck-up, my kid brother started crying because he didn’t want anything to happen to me. That was a bit of a wake-up call.

I don’t know if I actually would have killed myself. I doubt I would have. But it was the first time I actually thought about it.

I was 14.

I failed 8th grade English the second time, too, for the record. I don’t know if it’s possible for a teen to have a nemesis, but that particular teacher has been one of only two that I every truly cultivated. By my senior year, I was in AP English, a class in which I did quite well.

But I never quite figured out what was WRONG with me.

Then my dad died eleven years ago, and with that came a certain kind of distance that my mom felt comfortable sharing things that had never been shared before.

One of these was that my dad had struggled with extreme depression for most of his life. He generally woke up in tears and needed an hour or two by himself in the dark, steeling himself to go out and face the world. Sadly, that information was kept secret, even from my brothers and I. When I finally found out, I was halfway through my 40’s. I’d known several people quite well who were being treated for severe depression, but hadn’t seen the symptoms in myself.

Of course, once I knew, my deep funks and long, dark tea-times of the soul started to make a lot of sense. Knowing I was predisposed to depression made it easier to deal with, made it easier to take preemptive self-care as needed.

A few weeks ago, I read something about how depression manifests in complicated ways. It isn’t just sitting in the dark being sad. It’s also a messy home, or failing at work that you’re 100% capable of doing.

Just like I had in 8th grade.

Apparently, my parents were looking out for what they thought of as warning signs for depression, and they didn’t realize there were a lot of signs they missed. If they had been upfront about the history of depression in the family, maybe those two sessions with the psychologist would have gone differently.

But they didn’t. I continued to fail and flounder and wonder why I was broken for decades.

Around the time my dad died, maybe a year or two later, my son started having severe problems in school. There was only so much I could do about it, as he lived with his mom half-way across the country at the time. I could tell that his mom was at her wit’s end because she turned to me to help find out what the problem was.

The thing was, I didn’t know what the problem was.

See, I still didn’t know about the depression. I didn’t know about the role it likely played in my academic dysfunction. So ultimately I ended up as frustrated as my dad did.

Looking back, all the signs were there.

I’m proud to say that my son pulled it together, despite the burden of our blood. He’s a brilliant young man with a bright future, a spirit for adventure, and a real talent in the kitchen. And he knows the pitfalls that we’re dealing with because we’ve discussed depression since then.

Depression was something people kept hidden in my dad’s time. It was viewed as a flaw of character, a sign of weakness. And that’s bullshit. Depression is just like every other mental illness: an illness. It can be managed. There is a wealth of resources that weren’t available three decades ago. Part of what really helps me, I’m discovering, is being honest and open about it. And I’ve got good people around who I can talk to. I’m doing well now.

Maybe not NOW, now. But I know this comes and goes. There are bad days, and for me at least they’re greatly out-numbered by the good ones.

And that’s enough.

Neighborhood Eagle

Guardian Sculpture

I grew up in the land of cowboys and Indians.

This is not hyperbole. The cowboy part of the equation included several western wear shops in town, at least one annual rodeo, and I knew many people who wore cowboy boots unironically and rode horses. There was even a western movie hero named after my hometown–The Durango Kid–who was featured in 65 movies from Columbia Pictures. And with both the Southern Ute and Navajo reservations very close by, I knew several Native Americans growing up. With the usual myopia of childhood, I figured my childhood was more or less universal.

See, even growing up in a western town, I figured I had an idea of what the “Old West” was like, though this vision was largely informed by movies and television and the cultural makeup of small-town Colorado in the 70’s-80’s. And that vision was, by and large, white. Growing up in Durango, our minorities were Hispanic or Native American. Black people in Durango? They were mythical and lived only in cities or television. In the “West”–in the land where regional TV networks would have “Put up your Dukes Week” where they showed John Wayne movies every afternoon for a week–black people didn’t exist.

Of course, Hollywood lied.

The truth of the matter is quite different. For starters, the Cowboy evolved from the Mexican/Spanish vaqueros, a tradition which dates back to the 16th century.

Cattle ranching, particularly cattle drives, was damn hard work. And most of the time that work fell to black cowhands who, during “peak cowboy” numbered as many as 1-in-4 (some say as high as high as 1-in-3 in some areas). There is even some speculation that the word itself was used to distinguish black cowhands from their white counterparts, though I have been unable to find a reliable confirmation of that. The number of Mexican cowhands was even higher which shouldn’t come as a surprise as much of the Southwest had been part of Mexico as recently as the 1840’s. That means less than half of the buckaroos on a cattle drive were typically white.

And then you have Bass Reeves, the legendary U.S. Marshal who, over the course of his career arrested over 3,000 felons and killed 14 outlaws in self defense. There is some speculation that he was one of the inspirations for the Lone Ranger.

Not that you’d learn how diverse the real west was from watching Rio Bravo. (And for what it’s worth, Rio Bravo is a damn perfect Western, but it’s as historically representative as Lord of the Rings.)

Thankfully, historians are starting to address the imbalance and recover the real Old West that Hollywood fictionalized. CNN did a lovely piece on it not too long ago. The Black American West Museum in Denver, Colorado is also a great resource. The Real Cowboy Association hosts the annual National Black Rodeo, which only makes sense as bulldogging steers (jumping from a horse to grab a steer by the horns and wrestle it to the ground) was invented by black cowboy Bill Picket. And there is the Federation of Black Cowboys based out Queens, New York (of all places) keeping the tradition alive.

And if you want to correct the balance by watching some pre-Django westerns with a more diverse main cast, here’s a great list to start with.

But the important thing is to understand that history isn’t a science: it’s a narrative. We need to examine it from time to time, consider where that history comes from and who is telling it. Because it is full of biases, some intentional, some purely accidental. And the deeper you dig, the more fascinating, rich, and complicated that history is revealed to be. It’s a rewarding experience.

Cody the Timid Pirate Sample Page

Cody the Timid Pirate goes adventuring. Art by Jeremy Madmardigan Matthews

You feel that on the air? That’s the anticipation of this year’s Norwescon, though the convention itself isn’t until the final weekend of March. This will be the 39th Norwescon, it would seem. After this year it be early bedtimes and complaining about how everything hurts. Or is that just what happened to me when I turned 40?

This year’s theme is “Remembering the Future” and features guests of honor Tanya Huff, Janny Wurts, and William Hartmann. Norwescon is a great convention, and draws a good crowd of pros and fans alike. There seems to be something for everyone who is eager to let their geek flag fly.

Except karaoke, sadly. Why they haven’t thought to bring in a karaoke company for one night up in Maxi’s, the lovely lounge in the sky, is beyond me. I can’t be the only one wanting to bust out some Ziggy Stardust. Especially not this month!

This marks my second year putting together the Horror track, which feels weirdly apropos as I just wrapped an edit pass on my haunted house novel The Lictonwood. We had some great panels last year, and this year looks like it could be even better. In fact, most of the tracks have some inspired panels. If you’re a geek about town, Norwescon is going to be the best convention bang for your buck in the Northwest if not further.

But primary reason for this post is to let my rabid fan base…no…um, morbidly curious stalkers? That seems off too. Um, how about “those who might give a crap?” Yes. Better. This is to let those who might give a crap a heads up on my panel schedule along with a bit of a sneak preview.

  • Thursday – 5 pm – Cascade 10: Horror’s Fantasy Roots. Join moderator Logan L. Masterson, K. M. Alexander, Jason Vanhee, and myself as we take a look back at some of the fantasy influences that help make horror what it is today.
  • Thursday – 10 pm – Cascade 10: Let’s Do some Comics Fancasting. I won’t lie. This is the panel I was born to do. Judging from the other names on the panel, you should show up for the romp. There might be some out-of-the-box actors bandied about! The amazing Mickey Shultz will lead myself and Logan L. Masterson in a journey down the casting rabbit hole!
  • Thursday – 11 pm – Cascade 10: Son of Terror in Space. This will be the follow up to last year’s Terror in Space which I missed out on. Expect a rousing hour geeking out about sci-fi horror with me, Jason Bourget, and Burton Gamble.
  • Friday – 4 pm – Cascade 9: You Are What You Eat: Cannibal Horror. Things might get freaky here, just in time for dinner! We have a great group of panelists with a wide range of experience–not in eating people, I hope, but in the sub-genre. I’ll be joined by Lisa Bolekaja, Jason Bourget, and the fabulous Arrin Dembo moderating.
  • Saturday – 10 am – Cascade 1: Story time! I’ve got half an hour to read and say howdy. Due to the early time of day, I will not be reading anything as dark as last year’s “Hell is a Parade,” but I will most likely be reading “The Last Real Man” from the Selfies from the End of the World anthology. Other possibilities are a novel chapter from Ink Calls to Ink or Ties that Bind. We’ll see.
  • Saturday – 2 pm – Cascade 9: The Ghostbusters Effect. With the new movie coming out, what better time to look back on the effect this classic had on not only horror but on the study of paranormal science? Ghostbusters expert Christopher Stewart will moderate a panel consisting of me, Amber Clark, and Nina Post.
  • Sunday – 11 am – Cascade 13: Worldbuilding: Standards of Beauty in Secondary Worlds. Alex C. Renwick will ride rein on a panel consisting of myself, Rhiannon Held, David J. Peterson, and Sar Surmick. I’m thrilled to be on this panel. It should be fun and informative for writer and readers alike!

Unlike previous years, my schedule is really front-loaded on Thursday, with all the other days spread out and earlier in the day. This will free up the rest of my weekend to haunt other panels, readings, parties, and should they bring in karaoke, the microphone.

If you don’t have your ticket now, get it.

It’s going to be one hell of a time!