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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.

A Change In The M.O.

Being a writer in these rapidly changing times, after literally thousands of years spent in a system built on writing the work, getting someone to publish it, then getting on with the next, requires being nimble. Trying new things, understanding what you do and don’t like about the current process and how to improve it, and so on.

It’s like a business, in other words, instead of a fanciful reflection from one’s mind.

For a while now, I’ve played (to some degree), the Amazon game. And while that’s been fun, limiting my work to Amazon alone has always kinda sat ill with me. I started ‘wide’, with my stories available all over the place, and I’d like to move back to that model. Yes, it’s far easier to only manage a single storefront, but if a little bit of upfront work means readers on all sorts of platforms get a chance to find a story they love, it’s worth it.

So, while it’s going to take another month or so to fully proliferate all my stuff across retail channels, if you’ve been waiting for STARSHOT or RIVEN to come to Google Play, Barnes and Noble, Kobo or Apple, it’ll be coming.

Along with that, I’m making some other adjustments too, mostly because… why not?

First and foremost, I’m announcing a new book and a new series today, both (conveniently) titled Paragon’s Fall. It’s a superhero sci-fi saga that explores a world in which those with superpowers decided to take the reins from those without, and the consequences and chaos of those decisions decades later. Check out more on Paragon’s Fall here.

As part of rolling out Paragon’s Fall and these series of changes, I’m also starting a Patreon page. These, as the name suggests, are ways for readers (or anyone) to support a creative or business apart from buying their products. In my case, what you get based on the level of support is, generally, access to cool new stories while I’m writing them – if you’ve been enjoying things like The Recruit and Blast’em here, they’ll be migrating to Patreon. This is still a bit in the early days, so plan on seeing all sorts of new stuff hitting there.

Lastly, for those of you who prefer reading your stories in bite-sized bits, you’ll see new links appearing on Black Key Books to sites like Royal Road and Creative Novels. These places let readers browse and read for free, with few gatekeepers. They’re neat places to go if you’re looking to explore a wide variety of genres that don’t often make it to your neighborhood Barnes and Noble. If that sounds like you, you’ll be able to find my books there (gradually) too.

I’ll go more into each of these changes in the coming days, so stay tuned. I hope you take a look at Paragon’s Fall, or even read some of its chapters on the Patreon, and keep your eyes out for more stories hitting soon!

Paragon’s Fall: The Recruit – 3

You’re not sure what’s going to happen when the leaders ditch the lot of you underground. The eleven others in your group stare at the elevator along with you as it whisks away the only guidance you have, leaving your squad to determine who gets which of the scattered bedrooms, who gets a hot shower, and which of the assembled bags of clothes goes to whom.

“Our first challenge,” announces an intrepid girl as it becomes clear nobody is going to be offering commands. “We have to act like Paragons and work together.”

“Work together to do what?” a boy says, and while you notice the wide diversity of skin tones, hair styles, and body sizes, the omnipresent blue uniforms have a way of blending everyone together. “Choose our beds?”

“That’s exactly what I mean,” the girl replies.

“Maybe they want us to fight?” another girl says. “Like in those movies. The winner gets out alive?”

The words kick off a cascade of ideas, from a powers competition to forming teams to a full-scale breakout, a push that gains traction until everyone remembers they’re in the middle of nowhere and it’s cold outside.

You’re pretty tired, so in the silence that momentarily takes hold after that dismal revelation, you decide to speak up and throw your lot in with the first girl, who’s looking a little miffed on one of the two couches in this otherwise sparse living room.

“I think she’s right,” you say, proud that your voice isn’t trembling in the slightest. Exhaustion breeds a disregard for consequences. “Why don’t we pick out the beds, grab some clothes, and if you want a shower, take one.”

Questions and demands come back at you, and the spotlight makes you wince. But you’re still tired, and you still want a bed, and yeah, maybe a shower too. So you shut them up in the new way you’ve learned, the way that brought you here.

You breathe, but more than that. Targeted, and as your lungs fill with the scrubbed air, your mind fills with the feelings of everyone in the room. Like instinct, like intuition, you know who said what, and you know why.

The girl in the back, still demanding a fight, is doing that because of a lifetime spent scrabbling with her brothers for every toy and after-dinner dessert. The questioning boy is too frightened at being away from home, being ripped away from his family to accept anything right now. He’s craving certainty, is too afraid to accept it.

You parade through the rest of the room in an instant, and then you exhale and all the buzzing fades from your head. Everyone’s quiet, too, until you send them back their voices, their mouths open like gulping fish. They start coughing, one laughs in a shrieking, scared sort of way. The girl whose side you’re on, whose only thought when you looked her way seemed to be an exasperated frustration with her fellow recruits, gives you a steeled appraisal.

Showing your gift, though, turns out to be a huge mistake. Even with the insights into each and every one of them, your knowledge proves to be a poor weapon against the desire to show off. One kid after another pops their power, and eventually you grab your clothes, slink off to the shower, and collapse in a bed with the sounds of crackled lightning, laughter, and future problems echoing the halls of your new home.