The Sage is In [Round One]

I put up a status on my FB fanpage asking for questions to fuel my next blog post. It’s been a while since I’ve activated my Sage prestige class, so please enjoy the shiny wisdoms here for your consumption. I’ll put up more as they come in.
Why do fools fall in love?

– Laura T.

What is a fool but an empty head?

Unencumbered by malice

or worry

or thought

they fall because

they fall without pause

gravity puts them

where they need to be

safe in the grooves

the record-turn of destiny

while we

the wise resist

our brains heavy and thick

with proud lines and numbers

clatter across the vinyl

while the fools

fall deep

into the simple clasp

of moss and time and

the slow revolve.

If you were going to play a pirate character in Pathfinder would you a) go Rogue or Fighter? b) what two weapons would you use? c) Drow or Tiefling?

– Daniel D.

Interesting question – I suppose it all depends on what type of ‘pirate’ that you have in mind. Are you thinking Errol Flynn – swashbuckler? Or more of an Edward Teach/Blackbeard – hardass murder dispenser? For the sake of this response, I’ll try to take the average of the two extremes.

a) Neither. I would go with a Ranger/Gunslinger multi-class. Dump most of your levels into ranger for the Two Weapon Fighting Style, and then focus all your Favored Terrain and Favored Enemy slots on aquatic types. Also training up a suitably vicious Animal Companion that could fight alongside you at sea would be wise, I recommend a Dragon Turtle.  Stack on 3-4 levels of gunslinger for the firearm proficiency and Grit points – a true swashbuckler could continuously fuel the Grit pool with all their feats of derring-do.

b) Falcata for main hand, Dragon Pistol for off. Your primary damage is going to be through melee, the spray effect of the pistol is mainly to soften up low-level mobs and disperse damage across a large group.

c) Tiefling. The bonuses to INT and DEX are key for a nimble fighter build, as well as the racial bonuses to Bluff and Stealth. Also Drow haven’t been cool since 1997.

On Doctor Who and Why I’m Not Ready

I almost wept into some clean laundry this weekend. I think it was a pair of my girlfriend’s purple jeans.

Let me back up.

I’ve discussed a certain concept a few times here, and at various other locales. [See: My Friend’s Backyard, also While Drunk] That fictional characters have weight, have a presence all their own.  One way to think of it is similar to the conceit that gods grow in power through the belief and devotion of their followers, but more to the point — our relationship with these fictional characters has a very real effect upon us. I think more deeply than we realize most of the time. The heroes and villains that we keep in the pantheon of our mind guide us and teach us. They vibrate in the airwaves between human minds, growing stronger and more tangible as the mental energy grows. Very Science Fiction, you say?

Well, that brings us to the Doctor.

[And, yes, I realize that this concept is the LITERAL PLOT of one of David Tennant’s episodes, the one where he turns into Dobby and Martha tricks the tardis-doctor-whoMaster with the DragonBalls.]

I’m a latecomer to this show. I caught a few of the classic episodes on public television as a kid, even had a friend force me to watch a brace of VHS tapes with the Seventh Doctor. I enjoyed them, but it didn’t really click with me. I filed it away next to a lot of other BBC errata from those years like Are You Being Served? and Red Dwarf. I was aware of the modern continuation, but it remained on my periphery, until a roommate and I finally bowed to the nerd pressure, and popped in the first disc of the Eccleston season.

And it hit me. From the moment he took Rose’s hand and told her how he could feel the spin of the Earth.

I’ve tried to put my finger on exactly what I love so much about this character several times. He’s wise, yes. And powerful, yes. And noble and just and funny and mad, the Wise Old Wizard Writ Large. But there’s something more to the Doctor. Something about the weight of his history, in the world of the show and in the legacy of his fiction in the real world. 50 years of this character, unbroken and irresistible. [Yes, I know the show was off the air for years — but they didn’t stop making the radio plays or novels, NOW DID THEY SMARTY PANTS.] The cumulative force of hundreds of writers and dreamers and actors all slapping on pieces of the Best Person. I’ve always believed that we tell stories to create the things the universe requires. It can’t all be blank rock and stale chemistry — we need gods and devils and heroes and villains and tricksters and sages. And with the Doctor, we tell the story about a person who is a little bit of each.

My roommate and I started watching during the weird in-between time at the end of David Tennant’s tenure. After Donna left, but before The End of Time, when it was just the movie/specials ever month or so leading up to the huge climax. So, we watched Nine become Ten, then Ten love Rose, lose Rose, lose Martha, lose Donna, and the Doctor-Donna. From first love with this character to his darkest hour in the space of a few weeks. And man, the final days of Ten were dark. Waters of Mars to me still stands as one of the most shocking, dire, and unbelievably bleak moments in the Doctor’s long life. Around this time we heard the first rumbles of the new actor chosen to fill the role, and as devastated as I was to see Ten march to his doom — I was eager to meet his new face.

Because, I felt like this could by my Doctor. We were latecomers to Tennant, and no one with an active internet connection should have any confusion about the levels of adoration that he earned and still enjoys to this day. I know it’s petty, but when the whole world loves a character or a show, it’s hard for me to get quite as excited. To get quite as invested.

So we watched Ten become Eleven.

And it hit me. From the moment he threw the toast.

This was my Doctor.

doctor-who-the-god-complex-promo-pics-1Matt Smith came to that role and did the impossible. He owned it without stealing one watt of Tennant’s lightning. He was the heir, the scion of all that came before, with a lovely patina of Two. He was daffy and beautiful and intense and, well, wonderful, as the Doctor must be. I would argue, the finest actor to play the role in its modern iteration. [Mainly because the show’s writing got very dodgy underneath him, and he had to make it all work with his eyes, with his face, with the pure certainty of his portrayal. But enough of that, I came here to praise Caesar.] The pantheon of my mind glowed and I felt that I understood the universe a bit better, as secure as children dreaming of Santa Claus must be. It comforts me to believe in the Doctor in much the same way. To know that that character is somewhere out there in the firmament, mucking about in the TARDIS. A sentinel of my worldview, a fixed point. I’ve watched Eleven’s adventures with great delight [except for long sighs and groaning ‘Moffat…’ every so often], to the point where when I think of the Doctor I see him, just as when I think ‘President’ I see Barack Obama. The role is an office, a mantle, and it comforted me to know that my guy was in there.

But now he is leaving. Eleven becomes Twelve, vicious clock hands. The Doctor’s core is change, regeneration. It’s how the show stays fresh, a new face ushering in a new brace of tales to tell. I know that, and treasure that. Intellectually, I can’t wait to meet Peter Capaldi’s Doctor.

But still.

So, there I was. On the couch, folding laundry. I hate working in silence, so I popped on Netflix. I browsed around a bit, then opted to re-watch one of Smith’s episodes, one of my favorites, The God Complex. I’ve seen it a few times, so I wasn’t really giving it my full attention, just some background noise as I sorted socks and folded towels.

I happened to look up, as Eleven peered into his room. [The episode is about a hotel, every room holds your greatest fear. The episode doesn’t show what the Doctor saw, but because I am just that nerdy, I know what Matt Smith said in an interview that he imagined. Ten men hanging from nooses, with one empty noose waiting for him.]

And it hit me. I’m not ready. I may have said it aloud, though only the dogs can attest to that. This has been a rough year. My mother died from cancer in May, after months of struggle. I’m still reeling now, depression and gloom have me in their grip. This is not a world I ever expected to live in. I’m not ready for my Doctor to go. It’s like swearing in a new President at war time. There’s going to be a gap. The chair’s going to be empty. One of the lights in my head is going to go dark, and it’s scary. It’s scary. I’m not ready.

Silly? A bit. True? Yes.

Psychotherapy via Fiction

I don’t talk about myself much.

It’s part of why I’m a terrible blogger.

Or the BEST blogger.

Or the second-to-worst blogger. Or the knee-high-to-a-june-bug blogger.

Okay, there was a point. I think a lot of people use social media, their blogs, Tumblrs as a natural forum to discuss their experiences, their feelings, whatever dark gloom sits on their heart at any particular space-time juncture. And I envy them. I honestly envy them. Even as I find some of the salient details and naked emotion at play, I don’t know, embarrassing?

That’s the word, it just seems so vulnerable, so undefended. It makes me feel awkward, like watching a movie with an extremely mortifying social situation. My entire psyche is built around defense, guarded input, measured output. I’m built on an old Chevy chassis, the better to conceal the weird, quiet kid inside with flair and panache multifarious. I kind of built a new me through middle school and high school, and now I’m kind of stuck with some of the strange architecture. A lot of it has been broken, admittedly — through tragic events and the stubborn ministrations of my Beloved. But ultimately, I’m still running DOS, underneath all of the upgrades.  Control what people see of me, do not react, weave the perceptions of others into a better version of me. if you know my true-name, then you have power over me, my spells won’t work, my incantations will fail.

So, when others write in a little shining box, ‘I’m hurt. I’m upset. Here is the reason that I am hurt and upset.’ I recoil a little bit, not because I think less of them, but because I can’t fathom the risk they are taking. And I feel superior, because that’s the salve of the insecure. You don’t get the emotional rewards of understanding, comfort, community, sharing — but you can twist yourself into knots and feel superior about your strength, or your isolation, or your wise, wise ways.

I’ve learned in recent years to work past the knee-jerk. Where before I would keep my hurt between my teeth for as long as it took to fade, now I still bite down – – but then slowly let go to a trusted few. Well, some of the time.

Okay, very rarely, but some times.

Which is stupid, right? It’s like being hit with a cannonball, and buttoning your shirt over the wound. “I…I got it, I’ll just ride it out. ” Letting the metal cool and sear inside you, then carrying the weight and carrying the weight and carrying the weight. And since you don’t let anyone else help, your mind has to process the metal somehow.

So I write stories.

Well, it’s not quite that simple of a correlation. I don’t write because I have shit to deal with, it’s just a convenient place to launder my emotional drug-money.

And it’s not like I’m writing simple allegories. I don’t sit down and assign roles to my pain. As is no surprise to many, I’m not a ‘plotter’, I don’t really use outlines or character charts. My writing prep is generally opening  a document and typing. The story’s already out there, in the ether, in the stone, just got to tune the radio between my ears the right way, and I’ll get it.

My subconscious is my co-author. When I go back and edit, or read old stories, I’ll have little to no memory of writing certain details, or when exactly I made certain decisions. It’s like reading something a stranger wrote. And it’s not in the individual moments or scenes that I start to see the pattern, it’s in the long scope. Repeated characters and colors and things that I discover are baked into the bedrock of my fiction. Masked men, holes in the wall, precursors, music, fallen mentors, empty halls, shadows, love, and death.

I’m trying to say something. I’m trying to say something to myself.

And that’s what The Riddle Box is about.

Things that I’m afraid of, things that I believe in. The only way I can explore my interior is through slow interrogation of my sub-conscious. There are moments in the book that make my skin crawl. Because it’s very close to true. It’s very close to taking a risk. It’s very close to pulling out the cannonball. I’m sure most writers understand this, there are words that you carry, lines and bits of description, words that matter. You keep them inside your head, little touchstones of yourself, little puzzle pieces in your pocket until you find the right puzzle. I gave some of them away to the Riddle Box. I gave Rime my younger self’s words, I gave the man in the blue coat the words of vision, I gave the killer the words of the end. There are words I gave in the prologue that break my heart.

[No spoilers. Not even while I lay on the divan with my arm flung athwart my pale brow.]

I’m trying to say something. With this book, with the long journey of Rime and Jonas. I don’t know quite what it is, but as writer, or at least as a me…you point your fingers at the part that hurts and start typing. Maybe it will all make sense when I finish.

Or maybe it won’t. Ha, is this dramatic irony? I’ll bet my readers are fully aware of what I’m getting at, and none of them have thought to share.

This post will probably make more sense when anyone other than me has read Riddle Box.

So, now, even I’m confused. What was the point of this? This post? The vague feeling of unease left at the end of the road, when you can’t remember how many crows you saw, or how many trees with no leaves. Did I even travel, was I even there? Is this the same me that started typing?

I’m not 100% sure. Is this even the same dimension? We slip, you know. Often in our dreams, but not uncommonly between blinks or when we check around the corner.

This is weird.

I know.

But it’s an admission. An un-guarded output.

And it’s a start.

Buy my book.

Spell/Sword joins Kindle Matchbook

Sorry, I’ve been super quiet on the blog lately. Kefka isn’t going to defeat himself.

In the never-ending quest to get more copies of my book out there in the world, I’ve enrolled the book in Kindle’s new Matchbook service. This is where when you buy

Original Cover Art - Mike Groves/poopbird
Original Cover Art – Mike Groves/poopbird

the paperback copy, you can then get the Kindle version at a reduced rate. And because I am a benevolent and kind author/publisher I have made the Kindle version free when you purchase the paperback. This also means, if you’ve bought the Paperback version previously, you can login to Amazon and download the Kindle version for free RIGHT FREAKING NOW.

 

Amazon Kindle – Matchbook!

 

Click that link!

I still remain committed to the belief that people reading my books is FAR more important than people buying the book, so please don’t be shy. I’m also running another Free Download special of the book in November, if you have friends on the fence about giving the book a shot.

Time Travel Hat

A few weeks ago, I cleaned out my old room in the house I grew up in. My mother was something of a pack rat, a custodian of a thousand pieces of paper chronicling my childhood. I pawed through box after box of old report cards, half-completed math worksheets, programs from graduations and honor’s ceremonies from Grammar School through High School.

Most of it went in the trash. A lot of it was too sterile, boring. A page of me practicing cursive from second grade has no connection to me now. A blurry picture of a tree I took doesn’t mean much when I don’t remember taking the picture, the tree, or even why I was taking the picture.

But then there was some stuff. Some cool stuff. Some embarrassing stuff. Some interesting stuff. Stuff that I did feel a connection to, that I could still feel the timeline stretching from me now, just shy of 34, to the weird kid in middle school and high school that made these things. Especially because, one of the first things I found was my Time Travel  Hat.

Ingredients: The inside of some sort of sports helmet, a claw attachment from an old Transformer, and a pronged light purloined from an old robot set.
Ingredients: The inside of some sort of sports helmet, a claw attachment from an old Transformer, and a pronged light purloined from an old robot set.

It never fit me, when I first made it. I had a huge head as a kid, but it’s only now that it fits like a glove. I love the tiny coincidences and time overlaps of life — it’s all up to interpretation of course, we’re all creating out own mythology. And maybe that’s what this is all about. I’ve always believed that the art reveals the artist, and in many ways my writing is a tool to interrogate my subconscious. A wily foe, if ever there was. There’s things I write, symbols and characters and repeated themes, that I only have the vaguest notion of what it means.

So, now I have a time capsule…and a Time Travel Hat. I have old pictures and stories and poems and toys, scribbled doodles on the backs of folders. Posters and 2013-10-16 12.28.02stories and all sort of strange errata, the output of the Derek Prototype. Time to dig back through the evidence, like a good detective. It’s a cold case, but the Truth is Out There. I’ve only skimmed through this stuff, grabbing the things that I still felt a little heat on. The first whispers of Aufero, the Gray Witch dangling her long fingers into my young mind, maybe even the early shadows of the long Dark? And some really dorky pictures, of course.

Over the next few days or weeks, I’ll be throwing the best stuff up on here for due investigation. Random pictures and errata I’ll probably just put up on my Tumblr, if you’d care to follow along.

I’ll be creating a new category, Time Travel Hat, and tagging all posts like this with the same.  Come along, Gentle Reader, let the investigation begin — the Hat begins to blink and whir…

 

Nuts and Bolts

Okay, time for some depressing math.

This information is not for the feint of heart or anyone considering self-publishing. But that’s who I’m putting it up for [beyond my own information and planning for The Riddle Box], anyone else thinking of taking the plunge. It’s one of my proudest achievements and I don’t regret it – – but damn, she do cost, don’t she?

Spell/Sword Sales – Year to Date

Promotional Card in the Wild
Promotional Card in the Wild

Paperback – 65 units …….$114.10 total Royalties

Kindle – 58 units …….$63.65 total royalties.

  • Free Downloads: 316

Spell/Sword Gross Profit: $177.75

Incomplete List of Spell/Sword Costs [approximate]

  1. Cover Illustration, Layout and Design:  $500.00
  2.  Purchase of unique ISBN number: $100.00
  3. Printing of Beta Copies for review and proofing: $150.00
  4. Giveaways and Promotional Material: $175.00
  5. Shipping of Giveaways, Promotional Material: $50.00

Approximate Total Publication and Promotion Cost: $975.00

Spell/Sword Net Profit GRAND TOTAL:

-$797.25

Hoo. Ouch. Damn, buy some books, people.

This was way more depressing than I thought it would be. I clearly have an expensive habit, and it is called Swordpunk.

Why am I self-publishing again?

 

Can’t Stop the Music

One morning, I heard a story on NPR.

As is often the case [and as my Beloved can attest] I have no memory of any of the specific details. I don’t remember the name of the city, or the name of the reporter, or the name of the country it took place in. All I can remember is the shape of the story.

A city on a crossroads, a mix of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. Musicians found each other in tiny bars, in parks, in hidden nightclubs. And they played. They combined their styles into something new,  a new song, a new kind of music. I remember it sounded like a kind of heartsick jazz, but electric and wandering.  A crossroads of melody, an exploration more than a fusion. It was new, so new — and it only existed in one city in the wide world.

Then the War came. I don’t remember the dates or the enemy or the cause. The musicians fled, or hid. Their religions or creeds or skin colors a danger. And the new music was gone.

War crushed the music under his boot.

Art by Kay Nielsen (1914) from the book, EAST OF THE SUN AND WEST OF THE MOON.
Art by Kay Nielsen (1914) from the book, EAST OF THE SUN AND WEST OF THE MOON.

Years later, a wanderer came to the city. A woman, a musician’s child. She stumbled into an antique store to buy a mirror, a memento of her journey. Her father came from this city and had filled her young ears with tales of the time before, and the music he had once played. The peddler wrapped the mirror for her and the woman told him about her father. The peddler stopped and laid the mirror down on the counter. He vanished into the back room and returned with a box, a box of old photographs and sheet music.

[Almost none of this was in the broadcast, this is what I saw in my head while I listened.]

“I played with your father,” the peddler said.

And the woman had an idea. She asked the peddler if he knew if any of the old musicians were still in the city. He did. Her idea grew brighter.

Phone calls and letters and emails and the woman’s feet pounding down the dusty streets of the city.

The musicians came together again. They came together and they played. For the first time in decades.

The new music, the melody of the crossroads, the forgotten jazz of the dusty city.

The NPR story played clips of them performing in New York, apparently they’ve been touring for the past several months. But that’s not the point of this story.

The point is why I had to turn my head away from my carpool buddy, so they wouldn’t see me tearing up. This story got me, even though I can’t remember any of the details.

Because the shape of the story is this: the Music won. Just like it always does, like it always will. War and Death and Time and Decay and Rot lost. They fucking lost. The primal powers of the cosmos defeated by a melody. The last magic in the hands of the human race, the best product of our wayward minds and stutter-light souls.

And that’s why it moved me. The NPR story that I barely remember.

I don’t talk about my beliefs. But let me say this. I believe in the Music.

Let all we make be the Music, that turns aside the grip of the universe, that outpaces the weapons of War and Death, and shines brighter through Time and the Dark.

This was a weird story.

Thanks, NPR.