The New Kid Space-Time Void

As, I imagine, most new parents would attest, time becomes a flexible construct when you have a little one on your hands. Ashe, my son and a little hell-raiser, came into being just before pandemic struck. Having a kid immediately puts a spin on any plans, knocks any routines into the haha-nice-try territory, and forces you to look at what’s really important because, if you make all kinds of effort, you might get a tiny fraction of it done before dirty diapers and snuggles demand your attention.

Nonetheless, in the sluggish dream-haze that early fatherhood creates, I spent time taking some courses, playing with the software that spins out the images pasted on the paper printed at the publishers. The stuff that book covers are made of, in other words. It took a bunch of time, but now they’re overhauled, and they’re going up everywhere. Take a look.

I’m also giving out WILD NINES for free. You can pick it up at a retailer, or grab it from the Black Key Books website for an email address. Why an email? Because in this fractured time, a good newsletter with new releases is about the most valuable thing an author has. But if that’s not your bag, you can hop over to Apple or B&N and snag your copy for a big fat zero.

Amazon should be coming along eventually – they don’t like freebies, so it takes a little while for them to come around.

As for me, I’m still busy spinning up the new stuff. Paragon’s Fall 2 is nearing completion, and there’s a couple other new pieces in the works.

Finally, the reason WILD NINES is up there, is that I’m spinning up a new set of stories in that universe. Davin’s tales will go on, with Mox, Phyla, Viola and the rest dragged into his inevitable screw-ups.

So, with a baby in one arm and a plot in the other, we continue on. I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I am.

Heroism in Mediocrity

You see it everywhere: the Starbucks barista that goes outta their way to put the little leaf on your latte as dozens humph about missing meetings, the guy who takes notes on the weekly call without being asked, the neighbor who shovels the driveway for someone who can’t in the dark early morning.

Or, as in the flick Her Smell (shout out to ridiculous titles), Elizabeth Moss holding down the fort amid shaky scenes and fractured storytelling. Moss, rollicking as a punk rock queen sloshing her way through hard times, holds the picture together. Half the movie seems to be spent waiting for her to arrive, as the other characters look around and mutter about their anxieties, and you’re right there with them because if Moss doesn’t trash the scene in two seconds you’re gonna switch this drama right back to Marvel and superhero whack-a-mole.

And, you know, I kinda wish she hadn’t shown up. In real life, those half-way heroes that make a crappy situation bearable are wonders. In film, tv, and literature, though, I’ve come to loathe that one particular piece that elevates something from skippable to intriguing. Time is limited, and I’d rather toss off than add things to my viewing platter.

Why, then, even consider something on that edge? 

Because a great character is a great character, and a great performance deserves attention. Moss elevates her character from a cliche to a scene-dominating presence that’s both scary and fascinating to watch, to absorb, and to reflect upon. Especially as a writer, looking at an act like that and saying hey, how is she (or the screenwriter) pulling this off? 

Figure that out, the combine with a coherent, compelling story for that character to revel in, and that’s how legends get made.

Or, at least, movies I’ll want to watch again and again.

Showshoeing’s blissful peace

Some Sundays, when the snow falls and there’s nothing much urging you to leave the house, there’s a little something to consider. It’s a soft feel, a whisper really, that comes when you look outside the window and see the trees, gilded in their powder cloaks. Eventually, as the afternoon starts its long drag to nighttime’s finish, and the couch’s comfort dwindles in the face of those hours, you might start to heed that call to take a trek out of doors.

And what opportunities are on offer to you!

Today, though, consider the humble snowshoe, that clever device that lets you step across the powder deep into the shaded woods. Moving slow, breathing fast, you might come across wildlife still awake, or even some other people as lost as you are amid the silent trees.

The more life tends to build, with its endless meetings, goals, requirements, and laundry days, I find I crave the quiet moments: morning coffee, a good book with a cat on the lap, a long hike. Winter tends to forbid the last one, but with the snowshoes, I get it. A chance to escape into that natural paradise so often buried by business.

Alas, while showshowing calmed my mind, it did not shovel my driveway. Life, turns out, can only be held at bay for so long.

Office Coffee: A biased, unscientific ranking

It’s about time, folks, for a reckoning. Since just about the dawn of man, the office has served as the domain for BUSINESS. The important stuff. Where the cheese gets made.

It’s also where coffee goes to die.

So, without further adieu, here are my office coffee rankings:

10. The old-style drip coffee pot

Ah yes, we all know this one. Some of us have them at home, where they confront us, armed with value-sized Folgers tins. For those who consider coffee a means to an end, marching into the day’s various battles supported by such acidic stuff is… nah, I can’t do it. I want to make some grand metaphor here, but if this is your particular brand of suffering, then wear it like a badge of honor. One drip, drip drip at a time.

What truly makes this the absolute worst, though, is the constant refilling that must be done to keep the drones supplied. How can one pot hold so little, I ask you? How??

9. The BIG drip coffee pot

You might consider this cheating, but I consider the coffee pot’s mutated companion a similar horror. This gets the nod by avoiding the refill hells that plague normal pots, but soaking stale beans in hot water and leaving them all day long in its giant receptacle makes for a queasy trap. Imagine: You’ve just finished a brutal conference call where endless Karens failed to mute their phones for thirty minutes straight, exposing you to all manner of heavy breathing, office noise, and side conversations about The Bachelor. Now you’re taking your last chance at energy, and you put your hapless ‘Best Dad’ mug beneath the spout, and out comes six-hour old coffee whose only remaining warmth wheezes out before you can get it to your lips.

Then, obviously, Jerry comes in behind you, fills up his own, tosses it in the microwave and tells you it’s good as new.

8. Catered Meeting Coffee

Big cardboard pouches, full of jumping juice and ready to keep you perked up for a PowerPoint parade. Not bad, necessarily, but it’s vendor dependent, and odds are just really good today you’re going to get the stuff the hungover teen at Panera or Starbucks threw together three hours before just to get away from the customers. Now it’s yours, complete with thin paper cups and the need to share the experience with your equally disappointed co-workers. Congrats.

7. The Company Coffee Machine

It makes lattes, they say! And normal coffee! And something that they call espresso but that is really just coffee without the water or the sweetener or the flavor or the soul. You press a few buttons and out comes the miracle water. It’s not amazing, but it gets you through the day, though every time you hear its gears grinding, you start to wonder what terrible choices led you here.

6. The Better Company Coffee Machine

Ah, now, here’s the ticket. The little one, or the one in the other break room. The one that’s always broken but that, when it’s working, oh boy, it’s like going to Starbucks but without, you know, leaving the building. Somehow you feel less despondent when you’re using this one, even though, put to the test, you’re not sure you could tell the difference anyway.

But the Placebo effect is real.

5. Gas Station Coffee

No, this coffee isn’t better than any of the others, but it’s so, so cheap and odds are good you can grab an equally cheap doughnut while you’re filling 20+ ounces with pitch dark goo. Maybe you’ll pick up some chips and motor oil while you’re there. Or be party to a robbery, which, cool? I guess?

Ultimately, the real secret to gas station coffee is that you’ve lowered your standards so far by even considering it, that the stuff is going to taste just fine.

4. Gimmick Coffee

Oh yeah, you saw this thing on Amazon. It’ll whip up something amazing at your desk, all you need is some hot water, some grounded beans, and magic happens without you having to move at all. The little gadget looks vaguely like a children’s toy, like a coffee machine made miniature, but hey, you give it a shot once and lo and behold, you’ve got a nice-tasting caffeine dose.

Then, you forget the beans, the water, the cleaning and never use it again.

3. The Pods

These things don’t really make great coffee either, but at least there’s variety melded with convenience. Pop a pod into one of these (Keurig, others, whatever) and you’ll get your hype in a minute or two, tuned to your current needs, desires, or fantasies. Unfortunately, your needs, desires, and fantasies are going to destroy the environment, so you should downgrade (or upgrade!) to one of the other options on this list.

Also, man, these things make the most annoying noise as they go and go and go.

2. Actually Going Out For Coffee

Yes, you leave the office. Yes, this means escaping the mindless tomb to which you have been consigned to work for THE MAN. This freeing sensation is worth the price. You get variety too, including things that aren’t coffee (we all know what we’re getting with a frappucino) and the chance to believe, even for just a moment, that you’re living that fabulous creative life where every minute is spent among the whirring buzz of espresso machines and society’s cultural chatter.

Downsides? You gotta move. In the long run, it’s expensive. Also, who has the time for this, on the regular?

1. Your Own Magical Maker

I use an espresso machine, where I grind the beans fresh every day. You might use a french press, or a pour-over. Maybe you drink Diet Coke. Whatever, so long as its yours, makes it the top one here. Shared experiences are fine, but what really matters is feeling that warm, soft glow that comes with a deliciously brewed coffee, espresso, latte, what-have-you, and making it with your own hands pushes it to the top.

Obviously, this can be hard to do in an office, but I encourage you to try. Or work from home. Life’s too short to settle for crap coffee. Invest in your coffee, invest in yourself.

Should get that on a bumper sticker or something…

Carnival Row and the Fantasy Buffet

Who wouldn’t want to see Tinkerbell as a vengeful murder-fairy? After watching Carnival Row, which attempts to disguise its true colors under a character menagerie and mysterious deaths, it’s clear the show really just wants to let its pixie denizens loose on the humans and other creatures merely inhabiting its world. That global, fairy-led revolution doesn’t quite happen in the first season, but you can see it coming. The boring city serving as a centerpiece is ripe for a winged reckoning.

Fantasy comes carrying baggage, audience lifting required before you can parse a world’s particulars. Disbelief is mandatory, as is accepting outdated mannerisms, dress, and technologies. Physical laws tend to bend and break as required, and the better tales manage to reconstruct a new reality that they obey and that the reader/viewer/drinker comes to accept. Break down the preconceptions, build up new ones.

Carnival Row is no different in this regard, and while stereotypes linger around its edges like a familiar disease, the core cast carries the show’s conceits capably. Unfortunately, the main story pales next to the broader world hinted at through flashbacks, side shows, and an introductory sequence demanding a more epic tale than what’s ultimately on offer. It’s not bad, but while the camera wanted my eyes on Detective Legolas, they lingered on the multi-species crowd wandering the background. I wanted the full fantasy buffet, and Carnival Row insists on small morsels.

Speaking of morsels – yum? – there’s more of, well, most everything at the usual rounds. Swing by to take a peek at STARSHOT, BLAST’EM, PARAGON’S FALL, and other such delights. None of’em have fairies, but all of’em have things that fly.

The Portable Vibe

Every so often I take a look at the phone that seems to be universally in my pocket – as though it’s some sort of symbiote lifeform that can only exist when attached to me – and wonder how it came to be there. It’s hard to remember at what point the phone ceased to be a tool, a thing that I thought to look for whenever I had a call to make or a haphazard, press three times to get c, text message to send.

But, like the caterpillar to the butterfly, the phone has metamorphosed from a hear-and-there curiosity to an indispensable part of our ecosystem, pollinating our days with endless information dust. 

This, it may not surprise you, fiction ramifications. Reading on one’s phone is getting increasingly popular, and before you stop me and say no, sir, I will not be reading Anna Karenina on my Google Whatsitbot 9000, I must add that this is not our forefather’s reading. At least in my opinion, and apparently in several others as well, mobile fiction’s proliferation is a different art form.

You can slap a novel onto a phone. I’ve tried it. I’m still doing it: you can snag one of my novels on ibooks and read the whole darn thing on the subway, in the air, or waiting for that date to get to the restaurant (they’re not coming, might as well drink all the wine yourself). 

But! Much like a bike is not the optimal way to traverse an interstate, a phone may not be the optimal way to read a literary hulk. Instead, consider the few minutes here and few minutes there you’re prompted to take out that buzzy little device and read it. Are you like me and do you spend that time ruthlessly scanning familiar corners of the interwebs looking for dopamine hits?

What if, instead, you took that time and dove into a quick little tail with familiar folks? What if you let yourself get sucked away from your office’s dry tedium and into 500 words of random entertainment? 

I’m not hinting at anything here. I’m also not not hinting at it. 

Anyway, new chapters drop today around the webs. STARSHOT Wednesdays, I believe it’s called, wherever stories by the chapter are sold. Or rather, given away. You know where to find it. Seek, read, rejoice.

I’ll Have The Sake, Sir

We begin the week with a stiff reflection of the cocktail menu. Laid out, its sections clear and spaced with twisty, elegant black on white paper, a stock that looks just flimsy enough to suggest the restaurant has enough spunk to change its menu every now and again, the drinks on offer seem to cover a vast range.

Who are we tonight? This week? This year? This lifetime?

Are you the nitro ale, splashing into the mug with a frothy entrance, dark and rich, leaving the bite to the cold outside? What about the house red, a staple cabernet from a nameless vineyard whose greatest accomplishment is hitting the price-to-quality bullseye? Perhaps a flight of something stronger, a variety showcase full of potential, provided you even remember any of it after you take the sips? A sugary sweet cocktail, fruit juice flourishing amid flavored vodkas in a wistful dance with not-so-distant springtime?

Or, devious risk-taker that you are, dare you order off menu? Ask for the bartender’s choice and take the leap into unknown air? Do you keep things safe and order the old standby, what’s got you along all these years and has never let you down?

Tell you what I order: whatever’s on special.

It’s a Monday, it’s a new week and after a weekend with more eventing than I’m used to, my body and soul need time to recover. Splendid in so many ways, exhausting in so many others, it nonetheless left me with a sniffly nose and a smiling face. Hard to complain about that. Harder still to find the energy.

It’s a Monday, which means there’s new Blast’em chapters up at the Patreon, which I’ll remember to link one of these days. As a story, that one snuck up on me. It’s still sneaking up on me (I see you, part two). What was supposed to be a short, snappy thing to exercise a different story vein turned into a snarling mess of a tale demanding to be told. So now I’m telling it, here and there. It’s kinda like WILD NINES, albeit with a more military vein. I’m deliberately writing this one without much of a plan, so we’ll follow these mercenaries into the dark and see what happens.

Anyway, the cats are yowling at the moon and dinner needs to be made, and in this restaurant, I’m the chef. At least the prices are decent.

Second Round: Lead Paint and the Lego Movie 2

After a new pregnancy’s immediate shock, the next nine months turn from a celebratory journey into a caustic minefield littered with warning signs proclaiming just how many ways your choices to this point will destroy the coming little one.

Bought a house? It’s probably got a million and one ways of turning kiddo into kibble.

Have a hobby? Nah, bro. All those board games you’ve been filling your murder-house with are gonna choke baby to pieces.

Have a shelf? What, you thought you could keep your games if you put’em up out of baby’s reach? No way! Little kid’s going to have the grip strength and tactile ability of Spiderman at five months to go with approximately zero knowledge of physics and he’s gonna bring that shelf, and those games, down on his precious head.

Have a friend who can keep those games so that you can rid your house of shelves, and everything else? Don’t even think about it – friends have germs, and germs are surefire doom missiles aimed right at kiddo’s fresh, smiling face. Ditch’em.

You can see my mental state had progressed to a frightening place, and in the middle of it all, we discovered that our house, built in the YEAR OF OUR LORD 1928, had lead paint splattered around its basement concrete walls, in myriad colors. What schemes or rituals were enacted down there that prompted such white, blue, lighter blue, and lightest blue coloring, I don’t know and am scared to speculate on.

The ghosts might be watching me.

Anyway. Like most things kept in basements for nearly a century, the paint wanted to escape and had begun chipping off the walls like a poisonous blizzard. We needed it out, but doing this in the Wisconsin Winter has proved a ridiculous escapade. People came, dealt with it, but in our need to clear the remaining smells from the house, we’re huddling in the chill, windows open in January, like sane people.

All for you, kiddo. All for you.

Also, the Lego Movie 2. It’s a film. It distracted us from the lead paint, which was much appreciated. I laughed some. The end credits were fun. Batman, as per usual, makes a better Lego character than a real one.

STARSHOT dropped new chapters across the web and Patreon yesterday, if that’s your thing. More to come, if we survive.

A Chill Monday

For what it’s worth, it is indeed chill in these Wisconsin environs. January decided it was time to finally do something and attacked this past weekend, spraying snow and ice across SoWis (as nobody calls southern Wisconsin) and turning my driveway into something of a deathtrap for unsuspecting visitors.

It’s winter. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

Nonetheless, the words must continue. BLAST’EM drops new chapters today, as it will every Monday until it runs out of chapters, by which time I hope I’ll have written more. Nothing like a creeping deadline to keep the butt in the chair and the fingers tapping away. Deadlines also have the habit of turning work to utter crap unless they’re fine-tuned to the needs of the author and the assignment, so I guess we’ll see!

Beyond that, the Oscars came out with their 2020 nods today, and yet again I’ve apparently got a lot of work ahead of me to watch all these movies before I don’t bother with the ceremony. Not that they’re a bore, exactly, it’s just, well, there are other things I’d rather do. And other things I’d rather watch. It’s going to be delightfully bad, I think.

Thus, in the dedicated interest of keeping these posts short and snappy, so my words can go where they’re most needed, I shall close. One of the cats is calling, as is a cozy fire, and such things cannot be denied.

2020’s First Pour

New decade, new theme. Somebody said that once, I’m sure.

Why the change?

Too many pictures, too much time. Love the art, but didn’t love squeezing in Photoshop to the end of the day, nor the uploading, formatting, and other hassles that go into making something explode with picture punches to your face. So, we’re taking this back to where I came from. Straight text, no filler.

Know where you can find pictures, if you crave colorful pixels?

Lots of places, actually, but fewer that let you get a heaping story spoonful with the bargain. My Patreon’s hanging out, dishing delectable story morsels in the form of exclusive BLAST’EM chapters every week. And if you’re of the donating kind, you’ll get STARSHOT and PARAGON’S FALL dished out too, along with other random goodies as the story chef continues to cook’em up.

Beyond that, there’s things a-happenin’. I’m knee, hip, and elbow deep into the sequel to PARAGON’S FALL, which is just a bundle of superhero-esque fun. And DRAMA, because that’s what happens when you get a bunch of villains together who all happen to hate each other. Who knows how that’ll end up, but I’m guessing NOT WELL.

WILD NINES, that first novel standby, is at that bargain price of $.99 just about everywhere, so if you’re looking for a quick little adventure, it’s out there for the taking. Get it with your latte, or your scotch and let the lasers keep you warm in the winter. Doctor’s orders.

INTERLUDE: My personal beverage of the week is a Glenfidditch 18 year that we picked up during a random run to Scotland a couple years back. Managed to sneak it into the US under the beverage limit because, well, it came in the tiniest bottle. 200 MLs will make you feel like a champ, because it vanishes so fast. As for the scotch itself, it burned enough going down, though I personally could do with a bit more moss in my drinks.

In the back half, I’d like to note that any of you visitors who happen to partake of web fiction can also snag some of my stuff, and a wide variety of other fascinating material, at such scribing hives as Royal Road, Moonquil, Scribblehub, and Webnovel. STARSHOT and PARAGON’S FALL are on a slow rollout there, so if you want to take a peek, journey over that-a-way and see what’s going on.

Lastly, wow. I don’t think I can leave this blog post behind without recommending the fluffiest dog movie I’ve seen in a long while. Hiding square on the big banner when you log into Disney+ is TOGO, and it’s like Balto but real and better. Willem Dafoe does his cranky old man thing, except here he’s cheering on sled dogs the whole time and it’s just magical. Not much CGI pupper action here, which does wonders. It’s not quite a tear-jerker, but makes for a great way to enjoy a winter evening.

That’ll do it for this week. More to come. Stay warm out there.