Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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!


The Importance of Being Earnest

Posted: January 2, 2016 in Uncategorized
Strange things afoot at the carnival

Beware the wonders you are about to behold!

First off, sorry if I pulled the bait and switch on you here, but this will not be a review or critique of the play The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde which is a delightful play you should all check out at some point.

Let’s start with the definition of “earnest,” shall we?

Resulting from or showing sincere and intense conviction.

It’s feels a bit outdated, doesn’t it? The world often feels too cynical for sincerity, let alone sincere conviction. Perhaps the word and what it represents have fallen somewhat out of fashion. Honestly, it had kind of moved to the back of my lexicon outside of the comic strip Frank and Ernest (which is not only a great play on words, it’s usually a guaranteed chuckle).

A few years ago, I was talking to a co-worker who I quite liked, who I generally thought of as cool. They were plugged into the heavy metal scene and hosted a long-running heavy metal show on a local station. Now, admittedly, I’m not the biggest heavy metal fan. My favorite metal is the kind of stuff that looks good painted on the side of a van–wizards, dragons, over-muscled warriors.

But I do have this favorite band, New Model Army that is kind of metal adjacent. Technically I guess they’d fall into more of a post-punk category. Angry and political with a great bass line and sharp lyrics. I’ve been a fan for over a quarter century now, and my first tattoo was the Celtic knot from their Thunder and Consolation album cover. They’re not that well known despite having been around for over 30 years now. But this co-worker knew them and was immediately dismissive, waving them off as goofy.

Obviously, everyone is entitled to their opinion. And I get that not everyone who knows who the band is aren’t fans. But “goofy” is not a word I would have ever associated with New Model Army. They take themselves pretty seriously. No costumes, no flash. Just music. I don’t think I said anything, but she saw my confusion and clarified, “They’re just so earnest!”

I should have seen that for the red flag that it was at the time. But I’ll get back to that.

Last night I rewatched High School Musical for the first time in about ten years. I was one of those people who stumbled onto it before it was a phenomenon. Skimming through the channels, I clicked into our two leads, total strangers, being pressured into singing a karaoke duet at a party. I like karaoke. The song was reasonably catchy, so it hooked me for the rest of the movie. It was only later I realized this was the second broadcast and it had since become something of a “big deal” for Disney. I enjoyed the movie. I didn’t love it. I wouldn’t rank it in my top ten musicals, or even the top twenty. But I do own three songs from it courtesy of iTunes that I listen to from time to time.

So determined to start off 2016 with something positive, (and unable to find my first two choices), I swung back around to High School Musical. Yeah, it’s a flawed, simple movie. Gee, you’d think it was made for television or something! And yes, Zac Efron didn’t do most of his own singing. I don’t honestly care. It’s no more simplistic than a lot of crap out there that people are more than happy to give a free pass. But the music is good, I like the story, and the central message is one I honestly think we need to do a better job of communicating to kids.

That message is that we’re all complex people with complex interests, and that sometimes those conflict with how people see us. For instance Zeke from the basketball team who loves to bake. Or our heroes Troy and Gabriella who realize that they enjoy singing as much, if not more than the narrow jock/mathlete niche everyone would rather stick them in. It suggests that we be genuine with who we are, what we like, and not try to be someone other people want us to be. And most importantly, it encourages us to support our friends when they figure their own shit out.

It’s a sweet film. And it’s so goddamned earnest!

And here, kids, is the real takeaway.

Fuck being cool. Seriously. Chasing after “cool means spending energy worrying about how others view you. It’s not genuine, and it never lasts.

However being genuine, sincere, and yes, earnest, is the gift that keeps on giving. Yeah, you might lose a few friends. I don’t talk with the co-worker who thinks being earnest is a negative. At one point I thought that we were friends, but slowly they revealed themselves to be more interested in the superficial trappings of things, more interested in being cool than invested. This person is no longer a part of my circle or my life, and I don’t miss them. Instead, my life is filled with weird, creative people who are passionate about all kinds of weird stuff. And I support that. It makes for a better world.

Embrace the genuine. Be your best, most real you. Life’s too short to be anything other than earnest.

Novel Fuel

Authorial Essentials

Last night I celebrated New Years in the traditional manner: booze and dystopian sci-fi. Nothing makes you feel more thankful for the future when the new year rolls around and it’s not as bad as Brazil, Strange Days, or Clockwork Orange.

The cinematic viking funeral for 2015 turned out to be a strange trip. John Carpenter’s Escape from New York from 1981 followed by The Visitor from 1979. Escape from New York is a personal favorite that I hadn’t seen for several years. It was one of my dad’s favorite movies. In fact he once owned a VHS tape with Escape, Blade Runner, and Road Warrior on it, all taped off HBO one month.

But I’d never seen The Visitor. In some circles, it’s kind of a well known film, but I don’t think of it as a well regarded film. More a cult “classic.” But weirdly enough, I was able to glean a little bit of writing/publishing wisdom from watching it. Most important being, there is more value than risk in doing your own thing.

I found it impossible to watch The Visitor without thinking of it as an attempt to capitalize on the success of recent movies. And who could blame them, really? I frequently think of Star Wars, which came out just two years prior to The Visitor as a game changer for sci-fi films for a few decades. Everyone wanted a piece of that pie. But you also had movies like The Omen (1976) generating a huge buzz with veteran actors and a God vs. Evil narrative. As a producer in the late seventies, how much must it have sucked to try and chase those tigers?

We see that in the fiction game now. Vampires were huge, everyone started writing/publishing vampire novels. Then zombies. Then apocalypse. There are cycles and trends. There are always people leading the charge with original ideas that they’re passionate about and a bunch of people ready to surf the wave with similar projects that they’ve either had ready or have planned for a while. And then there are the ones chasing that wave not really clear what that wave was.

The Visitor is a prime example of the latter.

Here’s the IMDB description for those too lazy to have clicked through on the above link:

The soul of a young girl with telekinetic powers becomes the prize in a fight between forces of God and the Devil.

What this description leaves out is an alien bloodline, space Jesus, psychic control of birds and a few hits of acid out of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s private stash. It also features veteran actor/director and champion beard grower John Huston as this khaki-clad eponymous “visitor” come to mentor/kill/confound the central young girl. Speaking of, the young girl bears an uncanny resemblance to another troubled young girl *Cough*Exorcist*Cough*. Like The Omen, you also get old-school Hollywood mainstays Glen Ford, Mel Ferrer, and Shelly Winters, plus a young, evil Lance Henrickson. You get this weird light show near the climax that evokes Close Encounters of the Third Kind so hard it’s impossible for me to think it’s coincidental. You get an alien psychic bloodline with a bearded mentor that might as well be carrying a light saber. And let me say it again because it bears repeating: space Jesus.

Despite a few well shot scenes, it’s a largely incoherent and crazy as fuck. The music defies description. Sort of a seventies action movie vibe with a disco element. And it’s dropped into the movie without any rhyme or reason. Here’s 10 minutes of it to satisfy your curiosity:

Even now in the brilliant sunshine of the first day of 2016, I don’t really know what the hell I saw. I don’t know if I liked it. But it was fascinating in the way a fatal circus accident is fascinating. For fucksake, it had a cameo from Kareem Adbul Jabar in a basketball sequence early in the movie (one of my favorite in the movie, weird and unnecessary as it was).

I wish I knew what kind of movie this would have been if it hadn’t been built on the ideas and expectations of the movies that came before. But I also don’t know if The Visitor could exist without the DNA of all those other movies. Take away all those influences and I’m not sure what’s left.

Ultimately it failed in it’s primary mission–to get a piece of that fat Star Wars pie. It wasn’t an expensive movie to make. IMDB estimates put the budget at around $800,000, which wasn’t even a lot by 1979 movie budget standards. Alien, the other sci-fi horror of note to come out that year had a budget in the $11 million range. But even so, The Visitor failed to make a mark as anything other than an oddity. And I doubt they made their money back. Alien, however did okay.

And here’s the weird thing–Alien itself was built on other influences, namely the art of H.R. Geiger and the 1965 Mario Bava film Planet of the Vampires. But these influences were used to inspire a entirely original masterpiece an not a mishmash of dissimilar elements. Also, watch Planet of the Vampires. It’s not as extreme as Bava’s more straight up horror films which require a strong stomach.

Oh, and the number 1 film for 1979 for the curious among you? Kramer vs. Kramer. A movie that could not possibly be further from everything The Visitor was trying to be.

Authorial Essentials

Authorial Essentials

There are a several checkpoints when you’re an author–little squares on the career Bingo card that are pretty much inevitable. They’re marked with things like “Join Writing Group,” or “Submitted First Short Story,” or “Finished First Novel.”

One that all writers who’ve been in the game long enough encounter is the one marked “Meet person who dismissively says that they could write a novel.” Now, I won’t lie, there used to be time when I met that statement with a bit if ire. No one wants to have their accomplishments dismissed, diminished.

And let’s be clear. Writing novel is an accomplishment. Doesn’t matter if it’s good. Sitting down and putting in that kind of effort, word after word after word–at least 50,000 of them, for example–that’s something to be proud of.

To have someone who, to the best of your knowledge has written nothing since college, proclaim that they can do what you just slaved over, and do it like it’s nothing. Well, yeah. It can hurt.

But I’ve learned to take a different track when I hear this. Because I’m never going to stop hearing it. And I’ll be damned if I want to be dismissive of someone’s goals!

Because what? You can write a novel! It’s not like other arts where materials are expensive (for instance, my cohort might sell someone’s kidney for high-quality markers in the near future). Writing requires pens and paper at the very least, access to a computer with a word processor being even more ideal. That’s a threshold most people can reach. The only other thing that’s required is encouragement, an idea, and effort.

That’s why I love National Novel Writing Month so much. The goal is to write a novel in a month. 50,000 words. 1,667 on average every day for 30 days. It isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. It is both easier than you think and harder than you can ever imagine. And it’s a challenge I encourage everyone to take.

For everyone who thought they had a novel in them, this is their chance to find out. For everyone who needed an excuse to start that great book, get writing on November 1st. Don’t find time to write. Make it. Carve out and dedicate an hour before work or school, or maybe an hour when you’d usually watch television. There are a lot of empty hours we fill consuming media that you don’t actually need. An hour a day. More if you can. Aim for that 1,667 a day and don’t beat yourself up and quit if you fall behind. Look for a weekend to try and make up the deficit. You’ll get faster as the month goes on which will make up for the days when writing 100 words is as painful as peeing a flaming bowling ball. But you have a novel in you, and sometimes birth takes a bit of pain.

In short, put up or shut up.

Because I believe in you.

You can write a novel.

All it takes is to do it.