Tuesday, December 31, 2013

5-Star Books 2013

Here is a listing of the books that I read in 2013 that received a 5-star rating from me. I have not put them in any particular order. Most of them were not released in 2013; in fact, only one of them was, so far as I can recall (and it's New Year's Eve day - I'm too lazy to look it up). There's a preponderance of graphic novels which probably means: 1) I like graphic novels, 2) I am so busy with other projects that I don't have enough time to read too many full-length novels, or 3) I write, but am not a great artist, and am in awe of what artists can do. Probably "all of the above". In any case, these were my favorite reads this past year. I've provided links to each review so you can get more details on each one. Of course, you can probably guess what my favorite novel of 2014 will be . . .

  1. Codex Seraphinianus, Luigi Serafini.
  2. A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess.
  3. Fatale, Vol. 2: The Devil's Business, Ed Brubaker.
  4. Mars Attacks, Len Brown.
  5. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
  6. The Manhattan Projects, Vol. 1: Science, Bad, Jonathan Hickman.
  7. Cinema Panopticum, Thomas Ott.
  8. A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar.
  9. The Manhattan Projects, Vol. 2: They Rule, Jonathan Hickman.
  10. Moby Dick, Herman Melville.
  11. Prophet Volume 1: Remission, Brandon S. Graham.
  12. Roadside Picnic, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.
And there you have it. Here's to a  great 2014 spent discovering new authors, new characters, and new adventures! Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Lovecraft Anthology: Volume 1

The Lovecraft Anthology: Volume 1The Lovecraft Anthology: Volume 1 by H.P. Lovecraft
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jeff VanderMeer gave me some great advice as we were editing the Leviathan 3 anthology: Don't ever put your own fiction in an anthology you're editing. That's proven to be good advice, and, after having edited several anthologies and written my share of short fiction, I've learned that editors are often their own worst critics. And by this, I don't mean that editors are too hard on themselves. In fact, I mean quite the opposite. It is extremely rare that an editor doesn't at least hamper, if not ruin, their own anthology by including their own work therein. The Lovecraft Anthology: Volume 1 is no exception.

Let's do some math. There are seven adaptions of Lovecraft's work in this anthology, including "The Call of Cthulhu," The Haunter of the Dark," "The Dunwich Horror," The Colour Out of Space," "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," "The Rats in the Walls," and "Dagon". Of these, Dan Lockwood, the editor, adapted three. Four of the adaptions are uncompelling. Can you guess who adapted three of the four that I found least appealing? Bingo!

Now, just because four out of seven adaptions were less than stellar doesn't condemn this anthology. Adapting from one media (the short fiction form) to another (graphic novel form) is hard work and easy to bungle. So we have to make some allowances for difficulty in translation. There was bound to be some bad work here.

And the art ranges from good (in the case of Alice Duke's rendition of "Dagon") to very clever (in the case of D'Israeli's "Call of Cthulhu") to comic book genius (in the case of I.N.J. Culbard's "The Dunwich Horror"). There really is no bad artwork in this volume. There is a wide range of styles represented, each with its own strengths.

Unfortunately, the art is saddled with the adaption and, though visually appealing, it is difficult for the dark beauty of the art to overcome the poor adaptions.

Three of the adaptions are excellent: Rob Davis' treatment of "The Dunwich Horror," David Hine's take on "The Colour Out of Space," and Leah Moore and John Reppion's collaboration on "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" are all faithful enough to the original texts, without being unoriginal, that even the most hard-core Lovecraft fan should find a great deal of enjoyment in them. If you're an old hat at Lovecraftian terror, you're not likely to enjoy the others.

If you are new to Lovecraft's work, I wouldn't recommend this anthology outside of the three stories I've mentioned above. The others cut far too much out of the original stories and don't allow the reader to build up to the sort of cosmic dread for which Lovecraft is known. "Dagon," a story which I love, was particularly dull, I thought.

And I'd be ungrateful if I didn't acknowledge that my daughter bought this for me as a Christmas gift. The girl knows her old man!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A History of Weapons: Crossbows, Caltrops, Catapults & Lots of Other Things that Can Seriously Mess You Up

A History of Weapons: Crossbows, Caltrops, Catapults & Lots of Other Things that Can Seriously Mess You UpA History of Weapons: Crossbows, Caltrops, Catapults & Lots of Other Things that Can Seriously Mess You Up by John O'Bryan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A compendium of weapons from pre-history to fairly-recent history, illustrated throughout. This book is NOT for children - more four-letter words than an episode of Hell's Kitchen. But it is for adults with a sense of humor who want to know about a broad variety of handheld and other weapons, not just from European history, but from the Egyptian, Chinese, African, Mesoamerican, Indian, and Native American theaters, as well. As funny as it is informative, I especially recommend it for RPG geeks who don't take themselves too seriously. Douchebag nerds need not apply.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 23, 2013

And Now, the Real Work Begins

Here we go! Just got notes from my editor, +Mark Teppo on the first seven chapters of Heraclix & Pomp. I've only briefly perused them at this point, but I can already appreciate how Mark is able to figuratively pull me back from the novel's plot and characterization to see some mechanical problems that I have entirely missed. Because of this, he's able to point me to some specific moments, words, and sometimes entire paragraphs that just plain don't work. This is exactly what I need right now. I've become so enmeshed in the characters and their story that it's difficult for me to take several steps back, as I should, and look at the overall elements of construction to see where things may have gone awry.

Since the story is told from multiple POVs, it's important to get the right emphasis at the right time. This is difficult to see when one is in the middle of writing. This is particularly true because Heraclix and Pomp both have some very powerful personalities. Once I'm in Pomp's head, for example, I don't want to leave it because she's not a natural fit to my way of thinking. I have to work at trying to see things from her perspective. So there are times when I "bleed" a little too much like Pomp. I try to stay in her POV too long, because I'm not looking forward to the effort of getting back into her head once I leave. I feel that I can pop into Heraclix's POV a lot easier, but with his complex history, I have to be very careful to not reveal things that he does not yet know about himself. But that's a problem that is more easily solvable, so long as I carefully map what he knows and when he knows it (or doesn't), and write accordingly. Unfortunately, I find it all too easy to slip into my "dark" character's heads. In fact, when the book is finally done, you'll notice that Pomp provides a strong counterpoint to my usual, admittedly dark, fictional writing. I think you're going to like her . . . and Heraclix . . . and the other evil, good, and ambiguously-aligned characters they encounter.

So, consider this a shout-out to excellent editors and the work they put in to helping writers present their material in the best way possible. It's difficult for us writers to check our egos at the door, but with the right editor, auctorial humility makes for a much better reading experience for our readers. And isn't that the end goal, to share a piece of us in such a way that people can understand and appreciate the journey we've already undertaken?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Arkham Horror, Maiden Voyage

Last night, my friend Dan brought over his copy of the Arkham Horror boardgame. I had perused the rules with him a couple of months ago, and he's played a few times, but this was to be my true introduction to this beautiful game. My two oldest sons, K and H (or H&K, for gun-lovers), also made the slow-trek home through beltline traffic to join us. They were brand, spanking new to the game, never having seen it in-person before.

Though we could have carefully-doctored the setup to our best advantage, Dan and I thought it would be best, in the true spirit of Lovecraft, to make things random and "hidden" so as to preserve that element of horrific surprise. So I randomly picked Jenny Barnes, dilettante, as my investigator.






Not bad! Jenny does a little bit of everything, and her $1 a turn trust-fund means that you can buy a lot of equipment/spells/etc over the course of a game. She's very well-balanced, in terms of her sanity, stamina, and stats, and gets a wide range of random possessions, not to mention $10 starting money as her Standard Possession (remember, folks, this is 1930's dollars). Dan had the Salesman (a few jokes about work were shared - Dan and I work at the same place), K had the Scientist (appropriate for an Aerospace Engineering major), and H had the Photographer (who turned into a gate-crashing fool by the time we were done - who woulda thunk?).

Random possessions were really a game-changer, especially for Jenny. She pulled the Sword of Glory, instantly changing her from Dilettante to Death-U-Taunt.

After spending a good hour going over the rules (yes, it's a little complicated, but not bad once you get going), we started off. I'll save you the blow-by-blow, mostly because I don't remember all the details. I was having too much fun to document everything!

Suffice it to say that, before too long, we had inadvertently opened a few gates. For some reason, the Unvisited Isle kept coming up as the place to be. We encountered cultists and crazy old men, opened a gate there, had a baddie walk in through the gate, and clues kept popping up there like workplace rumors after an office party. It was all a bit strange, seeing that we had two characters up there by the second turn of the game, and it just became the hub of a lot of (nasty) stuff. This is not a complaint, mind you! We thought it added to the creepiness that the Unvisited Isle was such a hotspot of weirdness.





The only downside to all the insanity (well, there was a little insanity, anyway), was that before too long, I found myself stuck in Arkham all alone with four gates to other worlds gaping wide open. Everyone else was either in the Abyss or the Dreamlands getting all kinds of cool gear while I was wandering the streets hoping not to get overwhelmed by creatures coming through the gates.

Of course, my luck didn't hold out. I took on a Gug and, with a little luck, was able to kill it. You can see the trophy down at the lower-right of Jenny's investigator card. The Sword of Glory made me a little cocky (what, me? Cocky?). Now I was jonesin' for a fight! And the cosmos accommodated me! The turn after I took this picture, what should pop out of that southernmost gate but a Maniac (all juiced up because the Terror level was so high by this point) AND The Hounds of Tindalos. Gulp!

Here I thought it would be wise to take on the hounds first, since Maniacs are a dime a dozen (go for a drive through Las Vegas, and you'll know what I mean), but those dimensional dogs are rare and nasty. The dice were on my side and the hounds became my second trophy. So, on to clean up the Maniac. Take him by the scruff of the neck and toss him into a homeless shelter, right? Wrong! I had forgotten that the terror had mounted so high that the Maniac was strengthened by all the horrific energy in the world. Guy kicked my butt. Thankfully, he only took one stamina from me, but that's 1/4 of my stamina! When another Maniac gated in next turn, I was starting to get a little worried. That's when H the Photographer returned from the Abyss and started kicking booty. Now, he had to churn through some clue-sacrificing re-rolls, but he made his way through the second Maniac (Grr! I have the Sword of Glory!), then proceeded to gather more clues and close that gate. In the meantime, Dan the Salesman and K the Scientist had each returned (from the Abyss and the Dreamlands, respectively) and sealed a gate. I head over to Ye Olde Magicke Shoppe (or however they spelled it) while H the Photographer went on a gate-sealing rampage!



Feeling like I was a tiny pseudopod of this gigantic cosmic amoeba, I decided to go do some more exploring/monster carving. I made it to the Witch House, where a gate opened and, next thing I know, I find myself in Another Dimension with H the Photographer by my side.

And then . . .

And THEN . . .

Time ran out. H had to get to bed, as did my wife (who was in another room working on school-teacher stuff). So we had to wrap it up at that point. 3 1/2 hours is apparently not enough to run a full game, at least it wasn't for us. Given the frequency with which we were closing and sealing gates, we could have been there all night before we got to the Big Baddie. So we called it quits. Our last gesture was to reveal who the Big Baddie actually was. We had chosen one randomly and "blind" so it would be a surprise when we got to that point. The big winner was:

Cthulhu himself!

Overall assessment: HOLY CRAP WHY HAVEN'T I BEEN PLAYING THIS FOR YEARS?!?!? In other words, I quite liked it. Spot on, brilliant, rathah! I haven't had a good look at all the supplements, but I'm hoping they do an At the Mountains of Madness expansion set, if they haven't already. We're planning on doing this again sometime (between all of our incredibly busy schedules). I can hardly wait. In the meantime, K, H, and I will content ourselves with a few rounds of Munchkin Cthulhu. So if you're looking for us, you can find us in the Arkham Asylum!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Skyrealms of Jorune

Skyrealms of Jorune (3rd Edition)Skyrealms of Jorune by Andrew Leker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A beautiful setting with overly-complex game mechanics, Skyrealms of Jorune works best as an incredible sourcebook for science-fantasy role-playing. The world of Jorune is unlike any other you've encountered in role-playing with rich cultural and historical details akin to those of MAR Barker's Tekumel.

Jorune has its own pseudo-magic system based on Isho, the energy that emanates from the planet itself. Character races are wide and varied, from one of three different human races to a trio of biologically-uplifted races, the woffen (uplifted wolves), crugar (uplifted cougars), and bronth (uplifted bears). The non-player character races are really the most fascinating of all. The cleash, a nasty insectoid race, the giant pseudo-reptilian corastin, the tall, exo-skeleton-armored ramian, and the mystical eyeless shantha are just a few of the intelligent races inhabiting Jorune. The non-intelligent races are even more bizarre and, one can argue, more dangerous than the intelligent races (who can sometimes be reasoned with - maybe - for a price).

Like Tekumel, Jorune's humans are descendants of colonists who have been cut off from their home planet (Earth, in this case). While ancient technologies (read hi-tech weapons, etc) do exist, they are very rare and very valuable. There are also some high-tech items native to Jorune, most notably those constructed by the shantha.

Skyrealms can be played on its own, but I find it best to borrow elements from it and shoehorn them into other systems, mostly OSR systems, such as Labyrinth Lord, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or good old AD&D. Translations take a bit of effort on the DM's part, but everything but the usage of Isho (equivalent to "mana" in some magic systems) can be ported over effectively. If nothing else, Skyrealms of Jorune shows how a sourcebook ought to be done. The artwork throughout is beautiful, the anecdotal fictional sources are entertaining and teach the reader what it means to live on Jorune, and the depth and breadth of cultural information is truly amazing. Jorune has a bit of a cult following out there, small, but dedicated. Seek them out, and I promise that your campaigns, whether based in the Skyrealms or not, will be enriched.

View all my reviews

Friday, November 22, 2013

Heraclix & Pomp "Clues Museum"

I've created a new Etsy treasury list containing several items related to my forthcoming novel, Heraclix & Pomp. Have a look at it and, if you're so inclined, buy something from the shop owner. Note that the purveyors of these goods have no connection with me outside of the fact that we both use Etsy. If you don't know what Etsy is, you're missing out on one of the primary things that makes the internet great: the entrepreneurial spirit! Take a while and browse around there - I've done some of my Christmas shopping on Etsy and have never been disappointed. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Creative Process, Exhibit A: Heraclix & Pomp

Writing is a joy. This is especially true when you have created characters that you love in a setting that fascinates you with ideas that challenge you. This is how I feel about my novel Heraclix & Pomp.

On the other hand, writing is a lot like real work. I wanted to show you what that work looks like to me, at least in the creation of Heraclix & Pomp. For those of you who either want to know what it's like to write a novel out of sheer curiosity or because you have a similar project planned, here is a 30,000 foot view of the process. You won't get any scholarly wisdom on how to write - for that I'd recommend Michael Moorcock's excellent book Death is No Obstacle and Stanley Fish's How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One. These two books have helped me in my writing pursuits more than any others I've read. So this blog post isn't a "how to," it's more of a peek around the curtain.

I'll start . . . where I always start. By generating ideas. I've found that hindsight is anything but 20/20 when it comes to finishing a novel. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of threads that go into your novel, some picked up with intentional research, some subconscious, some gathered in a relaxed dinner conversation, some from listening to the radio . . . you get the point. But I cannot over-emphasize the need to read and read a LOT! I recommend reading primarily outside of your genre while you are writing, so you don't taint your ideas or inadvertently plagiarize someone else's work, thinking it was your own. Before or after writing the novel, go for it! I have a stack of fantasy novels that I need to read once this novel has gone out to the masses. So I'm reading primarily non-fiction and science fiction, for the time being.

For Heraclix & Pomp, I've looked back and seen, in the rear-view mirror, at least 20 books that inspired me before and while writing the novel. But three of them really stand out. Here they are:






These are the three that really got my thoughts going and planted the seeds in my brain for Heraclix & Pomp. The top two are pretty obvious, even with my poor camera work: Meyrink's The Golem and Schacter's Searching for Memory. I'm not telling what the third one is, the one that is opened up on top. Many of you will recognize it immediately, some of you won't have a clue. For those who don't know, start asking true geeks - it won't take long before you find One Who Knows! In fact, it this exercise should calibrate your geekometer's precision by a factor of 10.

After the rush of inspiration and pondering for a while, it's time to start writing.

Many of the younger generation will have forgotten about this very cool invention called "the pen". When a pen is applied to paper, ink comes out, allowing you to write words. There is no auto-correct feature. Sorry.

Seriously, I have to handwrite to get the creative juices flowing. I'm a kinesthetic and visual learner, so I really have to feel the story as I write it. In fact, I keep different sizes and weights of pens around so I can force myself to write faster or slower, more carefully or carefree, depending on the writing tool. I am a pen whore, I admit it. Keyboards are more for editing, in my view. Your mileage may vary. So, yes, I hand-wrote Heraclix & Pomp. The whole thing, start to finish. Here are a couple of pages, randomly selected from my notebooks, to prove it:





Now, I understand that my cell phone camera is not the best for taking pictures, but if I had used a high-resolution camera, it wouldn't have mattered. That's my handwriting. I'm one of the few people who can actually read it. Maybe I should have been a doctor.

After many months of writing at night or on lunch break at the day job or on my days off, I had my first completed draft of the novel. This is the result:


That's four notebooks worth. Truth be told, there are probably little snippets of stuff - character sketches and such - on any manner of note cards or post-it notes, too. Oh, and there's a map I drew in my drawing notebook of the Shadow Divan's sanctuary/laboratory/library. But that's something for a different day.

After handwriting the novel, I type. This allows me to edit and correct as I go. I usually do this a chapter at a time, rather than waiting for the entire novel to be done, so my process is: hand write chapter 1, enter chapter 1 in computer and edit as I go, hand write chapter 2, enter chapter 2 in computer and edit as I go, etc. ad nauseum.

When all my typing was done, I printed up the novel. Yes, the entire thing. Here's what it looks like:

That's a hardcover Roget's Thesaurus next to the stack, just to give some perspective on how many pages are there. It's a chore to carry that anywhere, so it usually stays in my writing area, unless I feel like I'm needing exercise. I actually took this stack to Mexico with me, when I went down there for The Day Job and tried to do some editing over dinner. Not the wisest choice. I'm still not sure it that's enchilada sauce or flan that made its way into the first page. Either way, it was delicious:


Now that I've printed the monstrosity, I go through the printed pages and do another editorial run-through. In fact, I just completed that last night. Here's an example of corrections made to the printed manuscript:






Hey, look at that! You can almost read it! Heh. I don't think the NSA could crack the code of my handwriting. Even though it's not a code . . . on purpose.

After making these corrections, I go back through, page by page, and make corrections in my electronic copy. This is a good time for me to make meaningful sentence and paragraph-level revisions, which I have done.

Now, I wait for my editor to get me the editorial letter outlining the issues he sees and how the book can be even better than it is. It's good to have an editor that you trust to tell you where you've done well and where you need to change things to improve the novel. I'm sure I'll have more on that in future days, but for now, there you have it. How I write a novel, in one neat little blog post. Keep in mind that my methods might not work for you. Each writer is different, which is pretty cool. Just remember: Your mileage may vary!
_______________
Addendum: The editorial letter has arrived! And now, the real work begins!












Wednesday, November 20, 2013

LotFP Spell: Black Flame

Alright, fellow RPG geeks, I am working on a Lamentations of the Flame Princess supplement to accompany the release of my novel Heraclix & Pomp, which is due out from Resurrection House press next Fall. I chose LotFP because I think the novel's ouvre best fits with the weird fantasy system. More on that some other time.

I have created the following Magic User spell, which is used at a certain point by my main villain, and wanted to “throw it out there” to see what your collective thoughts are. Things like “is it the appropriate level?”, “Would it unbalance the game by being either too strong or too weak?”, and “Does the range, duration, etc make sense?”

Note that Heraclix & Pomp takes place in an alternate Eastern and Central Europe in the 1750s-60s. The setting is low magic, I just happened to write about heroes and villains who are deeply steeped in magic, despite their mundane surroundings.

Here's the spell. Any help would be appreciated:

Black Flame

Magic-User Level 7
Duration: 1 Round/Level
Range: 80'

This invocation creates a curtain of black flame 20' square per caster level. This curtain can be “wrapped” around the spellcaster, so long as the total square footage is not violated. The wall emits non-damaging, but palpable cold up to 10' from the wall on either side, though the caster is not affected by the cold. Touching the wall in any way causes 1d6 of damage for every 4 levels of the caster's experience. This is treated as cold damage. Fire-using creatures suffer double damage. Anyone walking through the wall suffers the same damage as touching the wall, but must also save against magic or suffer one of the following effects, determined randomly:

  1. Character permanently loses sense of smell.
  2. Character blinded for 1 day
  3. Character permanently loses 1 point of constitution
  4. If the character is a Magic-User, he or she loses ½ of memorized spells for the day, randomly determined. If the character is a non-Magic-User, the character falls asleep for 1d4 turns
  5. Character is badly burned and loses 2 points of Charisma, permanently
  6. Character loses 2d4 points of Dexterity for 1 day

Note that the caster must maintain concentration for the wall to remain up.

Material components are a bone from an undead creature and several fresh drops of the caster's blood.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Jetsons go to the Library

I've got some pretty smart and talented kids. One's studying Theater and Political Science, another is studying Aerospace Engineering, my third is a senior, so he's applying to some pretty high-octane schools to study biology on a pre-med track, while my youngest is only a sophomore in high school and isn't too concerned with what he'll study, though he's talked about becoming a writer (like his dear old dad – well, at least a part-time writer).

Needless to say, I've visited a few college campuses. Between my own visits when I was young and those of my kids, I've visited BYU, Humboldt State University, University ofCalifornia-Riverside, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Case WesternReserve, Purdue University, Northwestern University, Iowa StateUniversity, and University of Chicago, as well as a number of other small schools and reservations against Stanford and/or Princeton, should my son be accepted to one or both of these schools.

Each of these fine institutions has a large library. I think UW-Madison's is the largest, in terms of holdings, though BYU's and Northwestern's are pretty formidable. But the coolest library, by far, is one of those at the University of Chicago.

And there aren't even any books “on the floor”.

Let me explain. Like any other major University, University of Chicago has several libraries. Their flagship library is The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library. On the outside, it is merely a strange looking building, something quite out of character with the rest of the campus (where most of the buildings are modeled after or direct replicas of the buildings of OxfordUniversity - think Hogwarts in Chicago). It's reminiscent of a futuristic Disney building or something from a science fiction movie:



Our tour guide called it her “personal snowglobe”. In the winter, she would stand in the middle of it and watch the snow falling onto it with an relatively unobstructed view of the snow storms that often hit Chicago.


Here's the strange part, though. Take a look at the interior and tell me what is missing?



Duh! No books! What the heck?

Well, things get even more science fictiony. You see those pillars rising up from the floor? Each of those is a kiosk with a terminal on it. When you key in the book you're looking for, an underground robot finds and retrieves your book or books out of the 3.5 million slots and sends it up the chute into a tray by the terminal.



It's The Jetsons come to life!


Is this the future of libraries? Are we seeing the seeds of a Terminator of librarians?



I doubt it. Libraries and librarians will adapt in new, creative ways that us civilians have never conceived.

 Long live our fortresses of books and those who keep watch from the towers! Librarians rule!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Heraclix & Pomp's Top 20

Every author has been influenced by the books they've read. Sometimes, this manifests itself in a work, whether in a blatant retelling of another story, or in more subtle ways, by inference. My novel Heraclix & Pomp (forthcoming from Resurrection House press) is no exception. So I wanted to acknowledge the books that influenced me while I wrote Heraclix & Pomp. Some of them are works that had a more subtle influence by way of atmosphere or structure,while others were more "up front," sometimes used as reference works. I won't parse out which is which, but when you read Heraclix & Pomp, you'll be able to tell that some of them by a direct reading of the test and others only after reading the novel, then reading the other books and pondering a bit on how they relate. I admit that some of these were largely subconscious influences, and it took me some time to meditate on them and draw out the connections. You might have to do the same. But, hey, the greatest rewards in reading come from these kinds of exercises. Here's the list, Heraclix & Pomp's Top 20:

  1. The Golem, Gustav Meryrink
  2. The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe
  3. Magic Prague, Angelo Maria Ripellino
  4. Searching for Memory: The Brain, The Mind, And The Past, Daniel L. Schacter
  5. The Marquis: Inferno, Guy Davis
  6. Europe in the Eighteenth Century, 1713-1783, M.S. Anderson
  7. Official Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual, Gary Gygax
  8. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  9. Dueling: The Cult of Honor in Fin-De-Siecle Germany, Kevin McAleer
  10. By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions, Richard Cohen
  11. Lamentations of the Flame Princess, James Edward Raggi IV
  12. Die Leiden des jungen Werther, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  13. The Bridge on the Drina, Ivo Andric
  14. Gustave Moreau: Between Epic and Dream, Genevieve Lacambre
  15. Islamic Art, Barbara Brend
  16. Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories, Franz Kafka
  17. The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri: Inferno, Dante Alighieri
  18. Traveler's Companion: A Collection From Harper's Magazine, Harper's Magazine
  19. Numbers in the Dark: And Other Stories, Italo Calvino
  20. Burnham's Celestial Handbook, vol. 1, vol. 2, and vol.3, Robert Burnham, Jr.
OK, so the last one is three volumes, but it's really only one book.

I'm sure there are other influences I'm missing. In fact, you might know some, not even having read Heraclix & Pomp. What books do you associate with those in the list above? Let me know and I'll add to my infinitely long To Be Read list on both Goodreads and Booklikes!

Searching for Memory: The Brain, The Mind, And The Past

Searching For Memory: The Brain, The Mind, And The PastSearching For Memory: The Brain, The Mind, And The Past by Daniel L. Schacter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was originally introduced to this book while in graduate school taking a graduate seminar on historiography. After reading and discussing it, I had a whole new view on history, perception, and life. It really changed me. I often refer to Schacter's work when doing research for my fiction writing. To say it informs my work is a gross understatement. Searching for Memory provides an underpinning from which most of my fiction arises. Questions of memory and perception are always in the forefront of my mind when developing characters and plot. Whenever I put a pen in my hand, the specter of Daniel L. Schacter is looking over my shoulder. The man haunts me, always asking: "Did your character really remember that correctly? Or did they even participate in the incident that led to the memory at all?" Thanks, Doctor Schacter. You make a man feel paranoid, and you probably don't even remember doing it. Or do you?

View all my reviews

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Real Deal

Last week I made an informal announcement regarding the sale of my novel, Heraclix & Pomp, to Resurrection House publishing. Here is the text of the announcement at the Resurrection House website. Writing Heraclix & Pomp was a joy - one of the most fun writing exercises of my career. I learned to love these characters, in a strange sort of auctorial way. They're  . . . well, there's no sane way to say this, so I'll just blurt it out - Heraclix and Pomp are good friends who live in my head. Needless to say, I am very excited to share their story with the rest of the world. Here's the formal announcement or, if you want all the clever graphics and such, go here:

"Now that we’re done sucking all the helium out of the launch balloons and the white doves carrying our message have all fluttered off to the ends of the earth, it’s time to get down to business. It’s one thing to talk about books, but it’s another to actually get them into your hands, and so we’ve taken the first steps in getting that done: buying some books and getting distribution lined up.

We’re happy to report that Resurrection House and its imprints will be distributed by Publishers Group West (PGW) and its various affiliates.

On the acquisition front, we’ve purchased a couple of books. HERACLIX & POMP by Forrest Aguirre, and CHIMPANZEE and TOTEM by Darin Bradley. HERACLIX & POMP and CHIMPANZEE will be part of our Fall 2014 schedule, and TOTEM will be out for Fall 2015. We’ll get catalog pages up for them when we get the art squared away, but here are some brief descriptions of the books to whet your appetites in the meantime.

HERACLIX & POMP

Heraclix was dead and Pomp was immortal. That was before Heraclix’s reanimation (along with the sewn-together pieces and parts of many other dead people) and Pomp’s near murder at the hands of an evil necromancer. As they travel from Vienna to Prague to Istanbul and back again (with a side-trip to Hell), they struggle to understand who and what they are: Heraclix seeks to know the life he had before his death and rebirth, and Pomp wrestles with the language and meaning of mortality. As they journey across a land rife with revolution and unrest, they discover the evil necromancer they thought dead might not be so dead after all. In fact, he might be making a pact to ensure his own immortality . . ."

PS: My writing fez actually makes an appearance in the book. Well, many appearances. And not as my writing fez, but as a symbol for something far more sinister. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Great News!

Now that the ink is dry on all the contracts, I can announce that Resurrection House publishing has bought my novel Heraclix & Pomp for publication in Fall, 2014. WOOt!

This weekend is insane, so I'll post more details early next week. In the meantime, I'm going to have to wind down to get some sleep. Busy days ahead - my middle son runs Cross Country sectionals tomorrow and will very likely run at State next weekend, then I'm immediately off to Mexico for the day job.

I am so pumped! I don't quite know how I'm going to get to sleep . . . maybe when the adrenaline wears off, I'll crash. More later! I promise!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Roadside Picnic

Roadside PicnicRoadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another gem introduced to me by my friends at Goodreads. This short novel is a "how-to" on sidelong insinuations, information gaps, and inferences that make for a wholly satisfying story. The main character, Redrick Schuhart, starts out as an entrepreneurial collector of alien artifacts, and becomes a hardened, curmudgeonly, but effective artifact hunter searching for (view spoiler). The Strugatsky brothers use multiple Points-of-View, switching from first person to third person, moving in and out of people's thoughts as they go. I tend to like stories done in this way, when it's done well, and it is done well here. In this case, the shifting viewpoints allow the authors to focus in or telescope out on events and attitudes, as needed. The result is a very rich narration, especially for such a short book.

The premise is simple. Aliens have left some things behind. They reside in "The Zone," a contaminated area from which the government is trying to protect its citizens. "Stalkers" go in and collect the artifacts, then resell them. No one quite knows the full functionality of the artifacts, and no one understands the full dangers of "The Zone". This makes for some intriguing and intense moments throughout.

The tone of the book is akin to that of some noir works, dark, gritty, getting darker and grittier as the tale wears on. I suspect that many of the discussions and plot line centering around the artifact trade are reflective of the Soviet-era underground economy (i.e., Black Market). I have no proof of this, but I wonder. Some friends of mine in high school traveled to the USSR in the late '80s. They had heard rumors about what a pair of American jeans could buy over there, so a few took over extra pairs, in case opportunity presented itself. One came back with one less pair of jeans and one more Soviet "bear hat" from one of the border guards that "inspected" their bus. Crazy, and true. But I digress.

Like many great books, the meaning of the ending is left up to the reader. Is this novel about triumph over existential angst? Or is it about the inevitability of our naivete conquering our logic and good sense? I don't know. But the fact that I am left meditating upon these questions shows clearly that Roadside Picnic was no mere picnic.

View all my reviews

Friday, October 11, 2013

Solos and Outros

Those of you who follow me on twitter or who know me in real life know that I have very eclectic tastes in music. My MP3 player is schizophrenic, to say the least, ranging from modern classical works to electronic trance to death metal to swing jazz. But I'm not gonna lie to you. At heart, I'm a rocker. The first two records (yes, I'm that old) I bought as a kid were KTEL's The Rock Album and Black Sabbath's Master of Reality. I could have bought an Earth, Wind, and Fire LP just as well and been fully satisfied, but, as fate would have it, I was corrupted enlightened by a bevy of rock musicians, at least one of whom (Tony Iommi) I was privileged to talk to on the phone and thank for making those teenage years a little more bearable. By the way, Iommi is a gentleman's gentleman. Would love to meet him in person and sit down and just talk life and music with him for a while. But I digress.

If you gather a group of old rockers together in a room, given enough time, the conversation will quickly turn to "who is the best guitar player (insert state of being here: alive, dead, undead)?". Those of us who have gone through what is surely going to explode into a full-blown brawl have wisely learned to turn the conversation to a question that's a little (very little) less likely to progress to fisticuffs. That question is: "What are your favorite guitar solos or outros?" Thus, we avoid the contentious debate on who is "best" and turn the discussion toward "which is best for you?" So, in an effort to facilitate future conversations and in the name of peace among middle-aged rockers, I present my five current favorite guitar solos. I reserve the right to change my mind and excuse it as early-onset alzheimer's. I also make no apologies. These five solos may not be the best in the world, these five (actually there are seven) guitarists may not be the best guitarists in the world (in fact a couple of my all-time favorite guitar players are absent from this list), but they are my current top five. When I really want to blow the tubes, these are the solos and outros that I crank up. I present them in no particular order:

Glen Tipton and K.K. Downing - Judas Priest: Turbo Lover

Yes, this solo has two soloists. It's difficult enough to separate these heavy metal conjoined twins when they are playing rhythm guitar. The "solo" to Turbo Lover must be seen as one solo between two guitarists. Definitely the least technically savvy of the five solos, there is something about K.K. Downing's melodic interludes contrasting against Glen Tipton's raw animalistic power that propels this dual-solo into the highest ranks for me. This is a bare-bones, headbanging solo of ripping simplicity. Beware of the official music video version of the song, which is stripped of Downing's beautiful (and equally simple) intro to the solo. If you'd like to see the song live, I recommend this video.

Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson - Night Ranger: Don't Tell Me You Love Me

Another dual-solo. The best description of Gillis and Watson's co-masterpiece is "face melting". For the longest time, I thought that this was a solo by a single guitarist. It took a while for me to figure out that the strange (and utterly cool) warbling in the middle of the solo was actually Brad Gillis signing off and letting Jeff Watson take over. Now, from what I can gather, both guitarists claim to be the lead guitarist for Night Ranger, but with Brad Gillis continuing to tour with the band and Watson having left the band just a little embittered, only Gillis can claim that role now. But I prefer going back to a happier time when both of these geniuses (geniui?) were shredding together. Can't we all just get along? After all, this solo wouldn't be as great without both players.

Buck Dharma - Blue Oyster Cult: Veteran of the Psychic Wars (Live)

Buck Dharma may be one of the most under-rated guitarists of all time. The problem, I think, is that most people haven't seen him play live. His studio albums are, of course, great. But his true prowess can only be seen in a live performance. The video I've linked above shows the song Veteran of the Psychic Wars being played live in Hollywood in 1981.This solo is so incredibly complex that it's hard to know where to begin in praising it. It begins innocuously enough, then slowly sneaks its way into a jaw-dropping fireworks display of total heavy metal awesomeness. I love the way he occasionally strums (if you can call killing your guitar "strumming") above his pickups to get more "bite" into the sound. I wonder how many boxes of bandaids he had to go through to soak up the blood that must have been streaming from his fingertips by the end of the concert. Talk about a guy giving it his all. This is the only solo for which I would reserve the word "Epic". It truly is a long journey through Buck Dharma's breadth of talent. And then, at the end, the mad calliope of shredding stops and drops into the lilting melodic outro, Dharma, being who he is, then humbly, and literally, steps out of the spotlight to let his band-mates steer, as if in zero-gravity, the rocket he has launched into space.

Zakk Wylde - Ozzy Osbourne: Mister Crowley (Live)

Purists will, no doubt, point out that this solo was written and created by the immortal Randy Rhoades. And, while I would argue that Randy Rhoades is/was one of the greatest guitarists of all time (sorry, had to get the plug in), I am stunned by the feat that Zakk Wylde pulls off here, something I thought impossible: Wylde not only stays faithful and true to Rhoades' original solo, he actually makes it better. Yes, I said it! Better! Don't believe me? Watch the video. Now, if you want to start another argument, get in the middle of a bunch of old rockers and ask "Who was the best guitar player for Ozzy Osbourne?" then step out of the way! I think that the proper answer is "all of them". From Tony Iommi to Randy Rhodes to Brad Gillis to Jake E. Lee to Zakk Wylde to whomever else is the guitarist-du-jour for the metal madman, Ozzy seems to always be able to get the most incredible showboaters out there. But watch and listen carefully to the live performance of these various guitar players, especially when they play each other's work, and it becomes apparent that Zakk Wylde seems to be able to trump them all. I could just have well put Wylde's rendition of Bark at the Moon as the contender here, but I have to defer to Rhoade's greatness. Still, I never thought a guitar player would be able to out-Rhoades Rhoades, but Wylde has done it here. Try listening to the song with the visuals off if you need further convincing. Your ears will tell you that it's true: this is one of the greatest solos of all time.

Tony Iommi - Heaven & Hell: I (live)

While I am a fan of early Black Sabbath, I feel that Tony Iommi really hit the height of his career during the time that Ronnie James Dio sang for the band, whether during their first stint together, reunited for the Dehumanizer album, or in their last incarnation, before Dio's death, as Heaven & Hell. "I" is one of his more obscure offerings, or was until Heaven & Hell released their Live at Radio City Music Hall DVD. This solo made even the most hardened of hardcore Sabbath fans look at each other afterward and ask "What just happened? I think I was just hit by a planet." Dio's "Whoa!" at the end of the song is really the only appropriate response to the outro, which shows Iommi's prowess as a technical guitar player of astounding ability. No more muddy bass-amp fuzziness. This solo can't be hidden under a wall of distortion. It is pure guitar playing at the highest level, something that any professional guitar player would be proud of.  If the other solos on this list are "face melting" and "epic," this solo, along with the outro, will rip your head off. "Whoa," indeed.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Shadows & Tall Trees 5

Shadows & Tall Trees 5Shadows & Tall Trees 5 by Michael Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I owe my writing career to the small press. My first story published in print appeared in the February 2001 issue of Indigenous Fiction. Since then, my work has appeared in over 50 venues, some of them prestigious or popular, but most of them in the small press universe (both literary and speculative). So, feeling nostalgic, I bought a copy of issue 5 of Shadows & Tall Trees. The cover art is amazing, and the submission guidelines rang a happy bell in my head, the kind that says "you just might like this".

Now, I've done a little editing here and there. I'm pretty keen on having a unifying theme or at least a unifying sense of atmosphere in the anthologies I edit (or have edited - it has been a while). Still, I understand that most anthologies and magazines are mixed affairs. As Stepan Chapman once said, remarking about Leviathan 3, "there's something for everyone to hate".

While I didn't truly hate any of the pieces in this (let's call it what it is) short anthology, it was a bit of a roller-coaster ride, in terms of quality. I was a little worried, at first, as the introductory story really didn't do it for me. "New Wave" gave too much away early on. Today, on NPR, I heard the writers of Breaking Bad extol the virtues of telling a story by what is not said. I tend to agree with them. Give the audience 2+2 and let them figure out it's 4. Unfortunately, this story seemed like it felt the need to explain everything. It gave me 4 - I'm giving it a 2, as in 2 stars.

"Casting Ammonites" was much more moody than the first piece. It left enough unsaid, building the skeleton of a story around the bones of dialogue between two characters, but leaving the meat of the narrative up to the reader's imagination. This helped create mystique that added to the brooding nature of this 4 star piece.

"A Cavern of Redbrick" telegraphed the ending way too early. Still, it was a decent story; 3 stars worth, at least. One note: A lot of these stories had children as either protagonists or narrators. Long ago, I was given advice by Jeff VanderMeer, with whom I was editing Leviathan 3, at the time. He said, in essence "never include children in your stories - it's too easy to rely on sentiment to get a response from the reader". I've only spurned that advice a few times (all of them here). It's good advice for you writerly types. Writing about children often slips into child-like writing, which is not good if you're not writing a children's book.

"Laudate Dominum (for many voices)" continued in the same sombre mood that pervades the earlier stories. Again, the author "telegraphed" a bit too much for my liking. As soon as the narrator stated that his milk was sour, the gig was up - I had a pretty good idea of what was coming. The surreal central conceit of the story, however, knocked me back on my heels. So, despite knowing (view spoiler), I found this an enjoyable, very creepy, 4 star story.

"Moonstruck," by Karin Tidbeck, was the jewel of the anthology. It is a brilliant piece of speculative absurdism that avoids becoming silly. I was reminded of one of my favorite authors, Italo Calvino, which is some of the highest praise I can give to a story. The main child character in this fable is held in check by her staid, logic-driven mother. By far the best story in the volume, and possibly worth the cover price alone. 5 enthusiastic stars!

"Whispers in the Mist" is a ghost story set on its head, a'la The Others. At least that's how I read it. It was more emotive than most pieces in this volume, but not super compelling. I liked it, didn't love it. 3 stars.

Interestingly, this volume of Shadows & Tall Trees contained a non-fiction piece entitled "A Woman's Place". This essay examines Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper in the context of fin-de-siecle feminism. It was an intriguing take on Gilman's story, with little substantiating evidence (in the form of cross-referenced sources). The reader in me enjoyed it, the trained historian bathed it in red ink. Still 3 star worthy.

"The Other Boy" continues in the child-as-central-figure vein. I really enjoyed the characters in this family ghost story, but it was a very slow read. 3 stars.

The volume closes out with "Widdershins," the story of an American expatriate in Ireland who finds himself enmeshed in the local scene a little more than he would have liked. This story is an excellent example of giving 2+2 to the reader. I give it 4 stars.

From a rough statistical viewpoint, the anthology rates a 3.44. But, given the absolutely stunning cover art and the fact that editor Michael Kelly can keep a theme (children) and an atmosphere (brooding and a touch sad) running strong throughout, I have to "cheat up" to a 4 star.

Seriously, you've got to read Tidbeck's story. Wow.



View all my reviews

Friday, September 27, 2013

Exile

Exile (Forgotten Realms: The Dark Elf Trilogy, #2; Legend of Drizzt, #2)Exile by R.A. Salvatore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

. . . In which Forrest's children con him into reading yet another book that wasn't originally on his TBR pile . . .

Yet another inadvertent social-science commentary, this time of a more psychological bent than sociological. Here we see Drizzt, the renegade drow-elf, struggle to regain his . . . well, his self. It's a lonely life out in the tunnels of the Underdark, worse, even, than the halls of your local middle- or high-school (if you can believe that). You see, the Underdark is full of bullies. Not your pudgy, freckle-faced, push-you-into-a-mud-puddle class bullies, but bullies that really want to kill you and eat you (and not necessarily in that order). As a result of this environment, the kind, gentle Drizzt has become a killing machine, a survivor, a bully's worst nightmare.

Worst of all, Drizzt has suffered abuse at the hands of his own sisters and mother. No, that's not exactly true. His mother wants to kill him. More than anything else in the world. This does nothing for his self-esteem.

I'm no psychiatrist, but it shouldn't take a PhD to figure out that this guy is pretty messed up.

Still, he has to have friends, right? Even the most awkward social reject has friends (who are also awkward social rejects). Enter Belwar, a svirfneblin that Drizzt encountered in the first book, Exile. Yes, there was the relationship-limiting issue of Drizzt having ordered Belwar's hands being cut off (if I'm remembering that right), but let's let bygones be bygones. Can't we all just get along? And who better to forgive an outcast, "good" drow who has abandoned the evil ways of his family, than a gnome with a pickaxe and magical hammer for hands? Reasonable, no? While we're at it, let's throw in a Pech that has been polymorphed into a Hook Horror (if I were the wizard who did this think, I would have changed him into a slug or a pudding or a soggy cardboard box or something, but what do I know of wizarding?). Three buddies, all trying to help Drizzt overcome his evil inner self.

If that's not enough, let's throw in some foes. Of course, there's Matron Malice, Drizzt's mother. Then there's the undead corpse of his father, Zaknafein, which is being controlled by Matron Malice (who really wears the pants in all this?). Add in a few random encounters with mindless whatnots, and a whole section of Mind Flayers, and you've got a recipe for a pretty good book.

Seriously, as much as I mock, I admire. Not the writing. Salvatore has a penchant for using words that don't make sense, though they sound like they should make sense (we call those "malapropisms," children). In the words of Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." But other than a bit of grammatical sloppiness, and a touch of overly sappy dialogue (both external and internal), I do like this book. It was written for teenagers, no doubt, and I'm a little older than that. Just a little. But the action was exciting, the characters were good, but not great, and the Underdark is fascinating. What really pushed this from a 3 to a 4 star book, however, was the intrigue between the drow themselves. Homeland set the stage for this, but watching the theory play out into practice was absolutely amazing. Hopefully I'll see more of that when I kowtow to my son's desires for me to read the final book in the trilogy and maybe even take a sidestep into one or two other Forgotten Realms books.

View all my reviews

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mort

Mort (Discworld, #4)Mort by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a previous review of Pratchett's The Color of Magic, I speculated that I might have become jaded since high school. I noted that I enjoyed that book, but it was not as hilarious as I had remembered it, initially. There will be no such danger with Mort, meaning, I probably won't be re-reading it. Again, this one was funny, but not hilarious, and more cutesy than clever.

Still, it has its moments, the best of which, I thought, was the interchange between the Sun Emperor and his Grand Vizier, a game of wits, really, and a contest in the manipulation of societal niceties to one's lethal advantage. Death's own search for what it means to be human was very funny and almost poignant, though the lure of mortal banality was idealized with a bit too much treacle.

I will give Pratchett one thing, though: he understands teenage awkwardness. I thought the book really hit its stride when Mort's unrequited love of Keli and Ysabell's growing fondness of Mort lead to a few uncomfortable moments. Again, these themes are almost emotive enough to be compelling. But Ysabell's sudden switch from being annoyed by Mort's very presence to her fawning on Mort, with no real indication of why she changed, left me feeling just a little cheated.

I'll admit it - I like Pratchett best when he's off-subject. His little asides are what make this book enjoyable. The plot line is fairly flat, with big ideas that go unrealized. But it's the little ideas that I love and that make this a book worth reading, like valuable gems in a rather ordinary diadem. I'll search out another Discworld book, maybe two, looking for those same gems. But I can't say that I'm dazzled by Discworld . . . yet.

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Writer's Gear and My Writing Hideaway

I believe strongly that while things themselves don't bring happiness, surrounding oneself with material objects that one loves does bring a certain pleasure to the soul. Maybe I've read A Rebours one too many times, but I'm a fan of creating an environment in which I can flourish, creatively speaking. Now, I'm not wealthy, so I can't carve out the creative space I'd really like. Then again, having to scratch together my creative space is a creative act in and of itself.

I also believe in dressing for occasions. If you're going to go to an Opeth concert, for example, you probably want to wear black. Going out canoeing? Put on your PFD! If you don't know what a PFD is, you shouldn't be canoeing. Hunting? Best to wear Filson gear. Sitting down (or in my case, standing up) to write? Put on your writing shoes!

Yes, writing shoes!

And your writing fez!

Yes, WRITING FEZ!

Pardon me if I get a little crazy about my writing . . . accoutrements. It's not that I can't stand up (more on this later) and churn out a chapter without them. With my busy life, much of my writing is done on the fly, in-between other tasks, waiting while one of the kids gets a haircut, while cooking dinner, in line at the bank (that one got a few stares), etc. But when I can block out a chunk of time and I want to get serious about writing, I put on my writing gear and crawl into my writing cave.

It really is kind of like a cave, being in my basement and all. I have four kids and a small house, so space is at a premium. As they grow up and move on, I might be able to have a room to myself, though I sometimes wonder if I really want a larger room all to myself. There's something about my dark little corner of the basement that actually helps me focus. Sure, there are all kinds of distractions down there, I've surrounded myself with them. But they're the kind of distractions that fuel my creativity, rather than divert it.

So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorite things, the gear and space and knick-knacks out of which I create my little auctorial universe. Now, if you'll excuse me, after I'm done with this, I'm going to disappear into my lair . . .

Writing Shoes:





Here they are, my writing shoes: Dr. Martens Mens Brogue, size 9 (I'm a small guy). Comfort, quality, inspiration. And the high soles give me a little more lift for writing. No, seriously. You'll see why later. It's not just my Napoleon Complex.

Writing Fez:




Selfie! OK, I hate them, too. Don't focus on me, focus on the out-of-focus fez. Look into its voided eyes. Deeply. Deeply. That's it. No, wait! Stay awake! Keep reading! It's a blog, for crying out loud, you're here to read! Seriously, now, this fez holds great meaning for me. I bought it for myself after I finished writing my novel Heraclix & Pomp, which I'm very proud of. A skull-embroidered fez plays a key symbolic role in the book, as a matter of fact. Agent Kris is still pimpin' it to editors, so if you want to read more of my completed fiction, you can go here, here or here. If you're interested in reading the beginnings of the sequel to Heraclix & Pomp, chapter 1 can be found, rather conveniently, on my blog, here.

Behind me:




This is actually the view behind me, as I write.  The left side is a mirror, the right a corkboard. You can see the reflection of my writing desk in the mirror. The interesting blob at the lower left of the mirror is a melting-face theater mask that my youngest son made in his art metals class. The mirror and corkboard are surrounded by white Christmas lights. In fact, Christmas lights are ubiquitous in my little cave. The mirror isn't there for vanity - it's to double the light provided by the Christmas lights. On the corkboard, from top to bottom are: 1) a string of pictures of my children, oldest to youngest, 2) a particularly cool digital art piece of skeleton keys that I bought myself after selling my story "Keys I Don't Remember" (which you can read in my collection, Fossiloctopus), 3) a venetian mask (Do you sense a theme here? Me too. Hmm. Curious.), and 4) a framed collection of some of my favorite dark chocolate wrappers. I'm a little obsessive about dark chocolate. But not as obsessive as these guys!

Knick-Knacks




This is my knick-knack shelf, below the mirror and corkboard. I'd be here all day explaining all the full details, if I tried to tackle this open wunderkammer. I'll just hit the high points. There is a bit of my own artwork there, a framed, signed print by collage artist Michael Shores. I also have here a collection of several lead miniatures, including a fantastic set of martians by Eureka miniatures, some Mi-Go (with a brain cylinder), and a pair of pulp-era science fiction killer robots (I can't, for the life of me, remember who I bought these from - someone whom I contacted through theminiaturespage). Behind the minis is my well-provisioned box of cone incense, which I often burn while writing (hit all the senses, I say!). To the left is a jester statue by the very talented Lisa Snellings (over which is draped a bloodstone mandala that my brother made for me), and a vinyl copy of the E.T.L., Extraterrestrial Live album by Blue Oyster Cult, which is a work of art on many levels.

The Corner:


The corner. I find myself staring at this area when I need to think. Mostly because my World Fantasy Award trophy is there - Lovecraft all decked out in a beanie with a fake Pinocchio nose (the beanie was from a reading I did once, the nose was from Halloween one year).  Staring into Howard's vacant eyes helps the brain juices to get boiling, somehow. Below that, we have a set of medieval silver coins, a cup of my writing pens, and, of course, my writing fez. Up in the air, there, you'll see my caged origami ravens. Here's a closer look.

The Book Shelf:



Many, many wonderful books. Some of them for reference, some just because I love them. One of these days I'll have to list them all. On top of the shelf there's a pic of my lovely wife and a set of Moebius trading cards, along with an angel smurf my youngest gave me. There are a couple of rayguns there (one of them the notorious Fizziwig Thresher Mark II Ioniser), a tentacle that my middle son made in ceramics class (what's a fantasy writer's den without a tentacle somewhere?), and at the bottom is a  . . . thing . . . a lightbox, I suppose, that I made out of an old ammo box. 

The "Desk":



Confession time: My writing desk isn't really a desk. It's an old phonograph cabinet that someone was putting on their curb one day, when I asked them what they wanted for it. "You want it? Go ahead and take it!" Apparently, I'm not the only one who doesn't have enough room in his house. So I scored it for free. I found, years ago, that I'm much more energetic and much happier standing at a desk, rather than sitting. This is true at the day job, as well. And this is why my writing shoes, with their extra bit of lift, add to my writing enjoyment. Sure, I could go all Gene Simmons, I suppose, but those writing shoes are comfy and stylish! Anyway, inside my writing desk, you'll find several composition notebooks, pen cartridge refills, a can of coconut water or two, and mmmmmaybe some dark chocolate.

Where the Action Happens:




Whoa! What's that? Could it be a bar of dark chocolate on top of the writing desk? Why yes, that's exactly what it is, along with yet another raygun (that's three within arm's reach - watch it, alien scumbags!), my Google Nexus (playing Krzysztof Penderecki's De Natura Sonoris No.2 - you may remember this piece from the movie The Shining - via Pandora), a beautiful wooden pen I inherited from a wonderful friend who passed away recently (sorry for the sad note), and chapter 19 (right in the thick of it, in fact) of the science fiction novel I'm currently working on, entitled Solistalgia.

So there you are, from shoes to schrift, a tour of my imagination factory - well, at least the portion outside of my head and closest to my body, as I write. Hopefully the internet doesn't up and croak as I post this, my most memory-hogging blog post to date. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to tweet me @ForrestAguirre. If you'd like to read some free fiction of mine and purchase some almost-free fiction (both long and short form), pop on over to my Smashwords page and have a look. In the meantime, I'm going to head down, stand up, and do some more writing!
 _____________
Addendum: The skull fez makes a cameo appearance, well, many cameo appearances, in my novel Heraclix & Pomp, which I just sold to Resurrection House publishing!
_____________
Addendum 2: I have added the wonderful Bronze Hugonaut to my writerly cabinet of wonders. He offers a lot of inspiration when I'm stuck.