Story on Demand – Dinosaur Music Lesson

Harvey-Stein-2

“Most people entertain a pleasant superstition that Robert Johnson went down to the crossroads and sold his soul to the devil in return for unparalleled skill with the guitar,” the professor wiped a daub of chalk of his wrist, then turned his sharp eyes back to his Montana-like classroom, his words echoed with plenty of empty chair-space to reverberate.

The black student continued to thumb away at his phone, barely hidden under his desk. The two girl students managed vague eye movements of interest. The fat kid on the side tapped his pencil and seemed to be quietly humming to himself.

The professor continued, “But what would you say if I told you that the true explanation if far more strange and alarming?”

Black:thumb. Girls: eyes. Fat: tap.

“What if I told you that instead of any mythic manifestation of Evil, Robert Johnson was met by a SPECTRAL PTERODACTYL?!?” he bellowed.

The pencil, eyes, and phone all hit the floor.

“Like…a dinosaur?” one girl asked slowly.

“Exactly,” the professor crossed his arms with satisfaction.

“Uh…” the fat one vocalized in an acceptable D flat.

“Sir.” the black student raised his hand, the professor nodded. “I know that maybe we haven’t been paying as close of attention as you’d like in your class–”

“I’m not yanking your chain,” the professor interrupted. “I am telling you something important and true. Robert Johnson was taught to play the blues, better than perhaps any other human before or since, by a ghostly flying reptile.”

“But that’s crazy, sir. I don’t know why you’d say—”

“Let me ask you a question. How did he get the skill then? If NOT from a Pterodactyl?”

The second girl chimed in.” Natural talent.”

“Practice.”

“Good marketing.” the first girl supplied.

“No no, what we know about the situation is very clear. Before that night he was an okay player, after that night was a god. This fact is not in dispute. Hundreds of reliable, ear-witness accounts – even the recordings that survive. A clear-cut piece of musical history. Something happened that night, some event, something extraordinary. None of the things you’ve suggested could have caused such rapid improvement.”

“But the devil explanation is just as plausible as the…”the fat student winced. “…dinosaur explanation. What makes you so sure that it’s the correct one and not the other?”

The professor sighed with weariness. “Because the Devil is a hadrosaur and only plays country.”

Resurrected my long dormant feature ‘Story on Demand’ to help get my writing dynamos spinning again. Someone suggests an idea and I write some flash fiction about it. Today’s ‘winner’ is Brent Thomas – who is also a writer with a new book BOUT TO BE OUT.

storyondemand

The Lines II

Puimun/DevianArt
Puimun/DevianArt

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.]

 

Disingenuous Promotion

pow-hi

CAN YOU CONVINCE ME TO DO SOMETHING I WAS GOING TO DO ANYWAY?

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

CAN YOU GIVE ME THE RIGHT KIND AND QUANTITY OF INTERNET?

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

BUT PERHAPS IF I PRETEND I AM not GOING TO DO THE THING YOU WILL GIVE ME MORE INTERNET.

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.

 

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 – poopbird.com – 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!

Judge Me By My Cover – Day 5

Oh, we’re so very close. This is just a line drawing of the final design. I had gotten used to seeing the ‘straight on’ view of the Bride – so when Mike dropped this different perspective in my lap, I was immediately in love. Stay tuned for the final cover reveal tomorrow!

Design Sketch - Mike Groves @poopbird
Design Sketch – Mike Groves @poopbird

 

[Sketches for the cover illustration of The Riddle Box, my upcoming novel. I’m showing off the design process and sketches this week before the final reveal of the cover.]

Final Cover Reveal: 7/12

The Riddle Box – Click the link to add to your Goodreads!

Judge Me By My Cover – Day 4

And now we’re back to the ‘bride’ – I was a little bit nervous about not putting Jonas and Rime [Our Heroes] on the cover, but our earlier discussions about a truly ‘evocative’ cover gave me courage. Here are two different versions of the ‘bride’ that Mike developed.

Design Sketch - Mike Groves @poopbird
Design Sketch – Mike Groves @poopbird

More of the ‘floating numbers’ from the cover of Spell/Sword – and the appearance of the secret symbol! It’s massively important to the plot of The Riddle Box, and also to other stories beyond for those that have been following since the Lodestar days.

Design Sketch - Mike Groves @poopbird
Design Sketch – Mike Groves @poopbird

I don’t know what the flowers are all about – but they look great. I also really started to enjoy how the Bride’s ‘skull’ could read as her literal skeleton or as some sort of creepy mask. Also the decolletage and blood – so tasteful.

[Sketches for the cover illustration of The Riddle Box, my upcoming novel. I’m showing off the design process and sketches this week before the final reveal of the cover.]

Final Cover Reveal: 7/12

The Riddle Box – Click the link to add to your Goodreads!

Judge Me By My Cover – Day 3

And then things got a little weird. As often happens, Mike surprises me with a design that I love, but has very little connection to what we had originally been working on.

Design Sketch - Mike Groves @poopbird
Design Sketch – Mike Groves @poopbird

 

Now, I love this illustration. We had some discussions about going with a very evocative image on the cover, instead of something directly related to the plot. The mystery transpires in the Manor of the Heart-Broken Lion in the novel – and Mike really responded to that. We ultimately decided to go back to the original trajectory, but SPOILER ALERT: this sketch will find its way onto the back paperback cover of the book and potentially tattooed into my flesh at some point.

[Sketches for the cover illustration of The Riddle Box, my upcoming novel. I’m showing off the design process and sketches this week before the final reveal of the cover.]

Final Cover Reveal: 7/12

The Riddle Box – Click the link to add to your Goodreads!

Judge Me By My Cover – Day 2

Never forget the wooden pigs.
Never forget the wooden pigs.

After the initial thumbnail, Mike got very fixated on the exact design of the ‘bride’. [Sort of like how all he wanted to draw for the first book was wooden pigs. It’s a long story.] He has a dozen different takes in his sketchbook, but here are the ones he sent me next for feedback. I, of course, was tremendously helpful – most of my notes disintegrated into – ‘looks awesome’ and ‘god I wish I could draw.’

 

Design Sketch - Mike Groves - @poopbird
Design Sketch – Mike Groves – @poopbird

Design Sketch - Mike Groves @poopbird
Design Sketch – Mike Groves @poopbird

You can start to see the signature ‘numbers’ creeping into the inked sketch.

[Sketches for the cover illustration of The Riddle Box, my upcoming novel. I’m showing off the design process and sketches this week before the final reveal of the cover.]

Final Cover Reveal: 7/12

The Riddle Box – Click the link to add to your Goodreads!

Judge Me By My Cover – Day 1

And so it begins. I am beyond excited to reveal the cover to my upcoming novel, The Riddle Box…but I have been over-quiet on the blog of late – so I’m going to need to ramp up to it. Just clog up your feeds with me for a few days, that’s basically what I want. I thought it might be fun to show a little bit of the process by releasing the sketches that lead up to the final design, before revealing the final cover on Saturday.

First the OG cover design, made by yours truly. YES, bask in its awfulness.

Or maybe it was a reanimated Jackson Pollack.
Or maybe it was a reanimated Jackson Pollack.

I think it’s safe to say that this cover is amazing. Sadly it requires a refined artistic sense to truly appreciate, so it’s probably for the best that I went for something a little more mass market.

All of the art you will see henceforth in this series will be from my illustrator, Mike Groves.spell_sword_cover_final [poopbird.com]. You should immediately click over there and take a gander at his work – it is delightful and amazing. The sketches I’m sharing here are rough and you should do  yourself a favor and look at more of his finished stuff. He is the perfect person to draw zombies or robots for you. Fans of the first book will immediately recognize his style from the cover of Spell/Sword – I was really fortunate that he had time in his hectic schedule to work on the cover for The Riddle Box.

And now – the first sketch.

 

Design Sketch - Mike Groves @poopbird
Design Sketch – Mike Groves @poopbird

I can tell you, my heart skipped a beat when I saw this thumbnail. The book’s lived in my head for so long, to see even this sketch of my heroes got me ludicrously pumped. The final design came a long way from this starting point – here would be a good point to thank Mike for his patience with my endless vague emails and texts during the design process.

Stay tuned throughout the week for more sketches and then…DUN DUN DUNNNN…the Final Cover Reveal.

Final Cover Reveal : 7/12

The Riddle Box — Follow the link to add the new book to your Goodreads!

 

The Audience

Who do we write for? Who do you imagine when you type the words in the glowing white box of your choice?

Maybe it’s a side-effect of my own checkered past in the theatre, but I spend a lot of time wondering about them, out there in the darkness.  In all my art 2014-02-27 23.36.04[ARTZ tm] there’s a need for the receiver, a tacit covenant with the other end of the line. I cannot transmit into a vacuum, I have to know that someone, somewhere is tuning in – and like many monkey-brains I need immediate verification of that fact. The few times I’ve tried some mediums without that component I’ve felt like my feet are nailed to the floor.

I worked for a radio station for a brief stint, back in college.  Even got a few shifts here and there on the microphone – but it made my flesh crawl. I knew intellectually that people were listening, but me – alone – in a booth, cracking jokes to the empty air is my idea of purgatory. Something about that strange Limbo where I knew there was an audience, but I could neither see nor verify them drove me batty.  Once again, a mutation derived from the stage – if you land a joke and nobody laughs – -did you really land it? Without that feedback loop, I feel myself diminish, crawling ever inward to my own navel as THE FIRES OF UTTER DISDAIN CONSUME MY FRAIL PSYCHE.

Ahem.

Which brings me to Twitter. I’ve been on there since January, in fits and spurts. I keep jumping out there on the dance floor, but then become immediately self-conscious – the death of rhythm.  I keep asking Who am I talking to? What is the purpose of this space? Who is the audience? How does speaking hear differ from other spaces? What do I gain by speaking here?

So, sure, I’m over-analyzing, but that’s what you get, son. It’s clear that most people use it for riffing – humor noodles tossed against the uncaring internet wall. And some people use it as a pressure valve, an easy space to vent their frustrations. And for some it’s a stream-of-consciousness companion, recording the banal and profound events of their lives as a record of validity. Or some strange combination of all three. Or the people that just PIMP THAT SHIT.

When I want to say funny thing, I pull up Twitter. But where do I go when I have some serious feels? Here? Eh, I know I’ve emoted plenty here, but it feels unguarded. I could ramble on my Twitter – but then, even more  of a ‘no audience’ vibe. But should I really need an audience when I’m talking about private matters, or just want to spill out into text?

When I want to ‘unpack my heart with words’, why don’t I just jam it out onto Twitter or WordPress or Tumbler or shudder Facebook?

Because I need to feel the audience out there, shifting in their seats – but I don’t trust them.

Here’s where I would make a joke about Google+…but why mock the lumbering undead as they unquietly writhe in the shadows?