Bard’s Doggerel

Writing about music is like dancing about math.

Song in the scabbard and stone in the bath.

Hand in my pocket, heart full of dust

Robot Vandal is nothing but rust.

End of the road, bend of the way

the king’s thread-jester has nothing to say.

- Max Madwand, Bard of Gate City


Lunch with a Villain

We met on the patio of Agua Linda – well, it’s not much of a patio, just some plastic fencing, plastic chairs, plastic tables with plastic umbrellas. But it’s outside and it’s nice, so let’s deem it a patio. I got there early and ordered a beer and munched on chips until he got there. I half expected him to fly down from the sky on his golden roc or just freaking teleport in, gleaming yellow and green. But no, he  walked up off the street, turned the corner of the building and sauntered right up. He was smiling, of course. Villains always smile – true, proper villains anyway.

He tucked his brown cloak over the chair back and helped himself to some chips. He started to speak, but instead leaned over towards the glass doors that lead inside and signaled for his own beer. His smile was 1000 watts of teeth.

“You look older,” I said.

“Well, that’s hardly surprising. You’re older too,” the villain crunched on a chip dripping with red salsa. “Just as much gray hair on your head as on mine.”

It was true. His hair was thick and wild, the kind of white-boy afro you rarely encounter in the wild — but silver winked from many places in the brush.

“This already isn’t going like I thought it would,” I said and took a sip of my beer.

“Hey, I just work here,” the villain spread his hand expansively, then folded them behind his head.

“Look, I wanted to talk to someone and for some reason you were that person. I don’t even know why. We haven’t worked together in a while and you’re sort of dead?”

“I was defeated. Not killed, just sort of removed from the scene. It was all pretty vague. What is it with you and these metaphysical—?”

A large frosted glass of brown beer clunked onto the plastic table. The villain winked at our waitress and proceeded to snag the grass-green lime from the rim and toss it into the parking lot.

“I don’t even know why they give the lime. It doesn’t do a damn thing for the taste, in my opinion,” the brown-cloaked man took a long, slow pull at glass.

“It’s nice. I like it.” I waved the waitress away with an apologetic smile. “No food today, we’re drinking our lunch.”

The villain clinked his glass against mine. “As I was saying, I wasn’t really killed so much as expunged. Two ways to look at it, creator mine. From one angle, I was never a real person – just a personality construct created by the sudden influx of infernal might and superior intelligence on a pre-existing mental framework. The boy made his choice and became me. Then at the end of the tale that girl unmade his choice for him and he became him again. I’m like an alternate personality – or a mask the boy wore for a while. So you’re just talking to an old mask, I’m afraid.”

“You said two ways to look at it.”

The villain snickered and took another long draw of his beer, then leaned back out into the aisle to signal for another. He held up one finger, then after giving me an appraising glance raised a second.

“I think you know the other way. All just actors, aren’t we? Playing this role then that role, then we hang out in your head until it’s time for auditions. I had my time on the stage and now I’m back in the wings – is that what this is about? You need a proper menace?”

He leaned forward almost hungrily. I felt a little guilty.

“No, that’s not what this is about.”

“Whatever,” the villain finished off his first beer, then smiled at me through the glass bottom. “Or do you want to wear the mask? Do you want to be the villain for a while?”


“I’m not really the seductive type –“

“God, shut up,” I sighed. “This was a bad idea.”

The waitress brought our beers and departed in the silence that crouched on our plastic table.

“Do you want to get drunk?” the villain asked.

“Yeah, okay.”

The Lines II



Lucas played the lines.

It was easy at first. So simple, bone simple, blood simple, like blinking or drinking or building a nest. He pressed the keys and the the light was there, the music to spare, he connected dots in the dark while the masked man gibbered softly in his ear.

The melody of connection -of this like that – of short, lean, and fat. He could see the Under of things, the Hidden Heart of springs, the Secret tick of the clock in his grandmother’s parlor. Fingertips on keys, black and white, a stone piano singing in the quiet.

And how fine the lines were.

At first he drew them carefully and all one color of light. Bright yellow, fat as a caterpillar daydream, he could still see them when he shut his eyes. The faces of his friends reflected their delight in his beams of wild gold. The dots, the nodes they glowed, like planets brought into alignment, the way that Star Prophet  promised. It was so easy, like squalling off a log, easy as nigh, sundown and moon-mad.

Bold as brass, he changed the lines. Still true, and still bright. But blue and green and red and octavian orange. Big lines, small lines, razor-wire net of thought and light that spread around him like a symphony. He became a wizard, singing the lines, playing the times forever and ever dancing in the dark of things.

And still the man in the mask laughed, right behind his left ear. He could feel the man’s breath on his shoulder, the cold hands hovering when he slept.

Sometimes he would stop. Let the lines fade and let his eyes adjust to the dark. And then the man would hit him until the blood flowed.

“Play the lines, Lucas!” the masked man would howl. “Play them and play them right.”

And so he would play. He would play when his fingers hated the keys and  his heart bled the piano. It was so easy, like dying, like staunching a wound.

It was so hard.

Lucas played the lines and the dark crept closer. No matter how bright, no matter how many new colors he found, it crept closer. The masked man pressed near as a lover and whispered in his ear. Lucas loved the masked man. Lucas hated the masked man. Lucas needed the masked man.

Lucas played the lines. Who was he if he did not? Lucas loved the lines. Lucas hated the lines. Lucas needed the lines.

The masked man giggled softly in the dark and his cold hands slid down his arms and tapped a quiet rhythm on Lucas’ knuckles.

“One day you won’t play the lines, Lucas,” the oil-slick tone came from the mask. “One day you won’t play them right. You won’t play them quick enough, you won’t be sure and you won’t be fast. You’ll stumble in the dark and then I’ll have you. I’ll have you my beautiful boy and drag you down into the river, oh the river, oh the river…”

Lucas played the lines and wept. He played the lines and slept. Amongst the dark he wove and shone, he kept playing riddle and bone. Song and sorrow, ring and stone, forgotten music he played alone.

And the masked man laughed.

And Lucas played the lines.

[Sort of a continuation of this.]


State of Ruin

How does one begin a story?

With thunder and lightning and rain? With the song my mother sang that last night, that last night before I ran away? Should I begin with the ravagers, their black cries and crude crush and stomp through the white-knacker arbor? The blood in my teeth, the blood on my hands, the frantic knot of my scarf around the gate? The trees and the night and the thunder, the lightning, the rain?

Did the story really start there? Did I start there? Or was it when I first laid my hand on the sword?

- – scrap of a journal, found in the Idolobha Mirror

Why are all my heroes runaways? Will this whole post be a series of questions?

I’m in a mood, so strap on your cummerbund and cravat, I need to lay in a bower of lilies and emote with an absinthe-soaked hanky over my face for a bit.

I am creative wormwood at the moment. I’m chugging along in my various storytelling

Artist - Phil Noto

Artist – Phil Noto

projects [tabletop games, mostly], but the big weight on my brain isn’t moving anywhere. By this I mean The Riddle Box – slowly moldering in Edit Hell. I’ve been chipping away at it in fits and starts, even got some seriously potent advice on the first couple of chapters from my supremely advanced colleagues Rachel and Michael — but still it lays there in the hopper, just getting more and more razor-edged by the moment.

I have some legitimate excuses – we just moved, bought a house in the bargain, day job trips, etc. – but I know the real problem is my heart isn’t in it. I kind of despise this type of writer fluff – writing is a craft, you should do it when it’s time to do it, but I’ve just felt gutted and hollow lately and I want to weep on my tortoise-shell mirror, okay?

I know the answer is just to keep moving forward and not beat myself up about it, but when does being understanding and supportive of your own depressive tendencies just morph into bullshit laziness?


This Week’s Sermon -8/3


[I'm creating a character for a new game, John North, a Methodist Minister - someone quite removed from my own personality and experience. I thought it might be interesting to write his weekly sermon before each game. A little dramatic irony, a little character exploration, a little I really need to post stuff here more often. This isn't going to be as long as a 'real' sermon, think more of one that you would see on television to establish the episode's themes.]

Good morning.

I am very happy to see you all here today. I know that’s something I say up here every Sunday, but it’s true. There are a million other places you could be in this world and in your own heads, and yet…here you are. Sitting in this church, together – choosing to hear the Word of God. I know I greet you every Sunday almost by rote – but it’s easy to get in the habit of being polite and not remember what you are really saying. It is a good morning. And I am very happy to see you all here today.

I’ve been thinking about habits a lot lately. Good habits, bad habits – things we do all the time and never even stop to think ‘Why?’. Why am I doing this thing? Every time I drink a cup of coffee, I put in too much sugar and cream, then I stir it up and …then I tap the spoon on the rim exactly three times. I’m sure many of you have seen me do it. It even has the same rhythm each time! A little caffeine jingle that Pastor John does, every time. I don’t know why I do it. I don’t know how long I’ve done it. I don’t know what strange occurrence in my life or in my head made me start doing those three little taps with the spoon.

And now you’re all thinking – ‘why is Mr.  North going on and on about his coffee?’. That’s fair. I bring it up, partly because I like coffee a lot, but mostly because it’s a habit. Something that I do and never think about.

Something that I do and never think about.

Now there’s something that I think we all do and never think about. Hate.

Not the grand sin of Hate or Rage that Jesus warned us against – that fills our head and our hearts and we know we are doing it. It’s a hard battle sometime to remember to Love and Forgive as He taught us, but at least we know we’re in the fight. All of us have that struggle. We win some, we lose some, but as long as we strive with Christ at our side, as long as we choose the better path, then we are truly blessed.

But sometimes we don’t know we’re in the fight. Sometimes we miss the struggle. Sometimes its just a habit. And now I’m talking about the sin of Judgement.

It’s a very easy habit, a very easy darkness to let in your heart – especially now when we all have our screens and our quiet. You look at your phone or your computer and you see someone and you think ‘They are foolish.’ ‘They are ignorant.’ ‘I can’t believe they did that.’ ‘I can’t believe they said that.’ ‘I live my life so much better than they do.’

An easy sin. The sin of Pride – for only when we prize ourselves so highly would we dare to judge another soul. Let us read the Word, Galatians 6:3 – 6:5

For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden.

This is from one of Paul’s letters. He was quite the busybody, old Paul. The first Blogger if you like – always writing letters to the different communities of early Christians. The fifth verse is especially fine – ‘every man prove his own work’ – which is a perfect way of saying ‘mind your own business’.But the third and sixth are what stick with me this morning.

We are nothing compared to God. Compared to the endless love of Jesus, how could we ever hold ourselves up above our fellows? We are all nothing and it is important to remember that.

And then the sixth verse: For every man shall bear his own burden.

It hits me in the chest every time. When we judge our brothers and sisters, not only do we commit the sin of Pride – but we also forget this simple truth. Everyone must bear their own burden. And none of us can truly know what the others carry. How heavy, how sharp the edges of their life. God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to teach us and die for us, only He truly knows our burdens and is fit to judge us. Only He can lift them from us when our time comes.

The rest of us should remember – and seek to ease the burdens of all we meet. Just as we can say ‘Good morning’ a thousand times, but never truly hear ourselves say it – just as I tap the spoon on my coffee cup – so must we become aware of our habits, our darker habits. Really think about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Get in the fight and don’t just blindly repeat the same tepid little evils over and over and over.

It’s going to be hard, but you can do it. I believe in you and all of us that chose to be here today believe in you — and most important God and his son, Jesus Christ are at your side.

Let us pray. I know it’s not as popular, but I’d like to use the Wesley Covenant today.

Thank you all – and now Mrs. Vonda will lead us in our next hymn.

[Any feedback on this post is much appreciated. I'm not trying to mock or parody anyone's faith - please let me know if I used the wrong term or otherwise said something a Methodist minister would never say.]

Disingenuous Promotion



If I receive a sufficient number of internet, then I will do A Thing.


The Thing is cool, and there is absolutely no way I am not going to Do It. I crave attention.


My demands are simple. Internet. Pile it up. On me. BURY ME IN INTERNET.

I wish to be the Caligula of Internet. Touch me with your web phallus and dance on this crazy ass boat I built. I will appoint my horse a senator. I will perform a play with my paramour as thousands starve in the street.

You need to give me Internet. Maybe then I’ll do the Thing I was Going to Do Anyway.

Please send Internet postmarked Me, attn: Me. Bring it to my house, knock on the door and run away.


Cover Illustration - Mike Groves @poopbird

The Riddle Box – Cover Reveal

At last – no further preamble – here is the cover illustration for The Riddle Box!

Cover Illustration - Mike Groves @poopbird

Cover Illustration – Mike Groves @poopbird

Yes! Bask in it’s glory. So many thanks to Mike Groves – - for his fabulous design.

Thank you for enduring the flood of activity from the blog, but I’m afraid there will be more to come as the release of the book in August gets closer.

Shares, presses, tumbles, and retweets very much appreciated – but please always credit Mike Groves/poopbird as the artist.

Stay tuned at this spot for more ramblings, poorly planned self-promotion, and pretty good recipe for peanut butter cookies.

Please follow this link to add The Riddle Box to your Goodreads queue!