This was a ton of fun – mainly because that jerk lives in Japan and we rarely get the opportunity to speak the Nerd Cant. His podcast is focused on exploring comics and our relation to them, but he’s also a fantasy author himself. Check his blog for his short fiction and keep your eye peeled for his debut novel, The Deadly Troubadours.
Four men sat at a table, rectangular with knife-blade edges. Steam filled the air, blasts of heat and cold.
They each wore floor-length white robes with deep cowls. Runes shone on the edge of each cowl with a fiendish light. Their names were known to each other, their proper names, the names that the world spoke in tones of fire and glory. But when they met here for their Conclave of Secrets and Power they took great care to use their Names of Secrets and Power.
“Where is he?” the One Called Wizzle said.
“Late. As usual,” the One Called [(4x) + 17.3y] sighed.
“I’m sure he will be among us at the proper time. When the moon and the wind and the turning of this fragile earth sing together in perfect harmony,” said the One Called Jambalaya, in between noisy bites of a pine cone.
Wizzle and [(4x) + 17.3y] rolled their eyes. Jambalaya was something of a wood nymph, only occasionally interfacing properly with reality. The fourth man said nothing, but continued to scribble frantic notes on a stack of napkins in front of him.
“How’s that coming, Fardancer?” Wizzle asked.
The One Called Fardancer hissed and wrapped his free arm around the napkins.
“Okay, then.” Wizzle stroked his beard in consternation.
A moment of quiet floated across the table, sickly and ominous like a vomiting ghost. The only sounds were the crunch of Jambalaya finishing his pine cone, Fardancer scribbling and muttering, and the other two men adjusting their cowls to better disguise their features.
“Okay. I can’t wait any longer, we’re just going to get started.” Wizzle oriented his beard at the other three in turn. “Does anyone have a problem with that?”
“But the winds, the winds are not yet proper! Our art will be forever marred and turn the gyre—”
“Can it, Jambalaya.” [(4x) + 17.3y] crossed his arms.
“I think we all know why we’re here,” the beard continued. “A new power has arisen in the South, a troublesome upstart. His followers are legion and the blasphemy that he spews grows and grows with each passing hour. It is a dark fungus, a creeping creep of untold crep. If we are not careful than it will spread beyond our ability to stamp out, much like the the weeds that grow in my garden. Oh, did I show you the picture of me and my son in the garden? Oh man, he did this ridiculous thing with some dandelions, you guys are going to love it.”
Wizzle pawed at his robes, searching for his phone. [(4x) + 17.3y] leaned across the table and shook the bearded man’s shoulders kindly but firmly.
“Please stay focused, my friend.” [(4x) + 17.3y] straightened his glasses. “We do not have time for one of your famous digressions.”
“You’re one to talk.” Wizzle retorted. “How about you explain to me how water flows downhill for thirty more pages?”
“That’s not germane. And a misrepresentation. The water flows uphill in my world due to the reversed polarities of gravity on fluid. It’s why it was so important that my Aquaemancelers could make the water flow downhill, as was prophesied in the 12,785th year of the Jtang Dynasty. Maybe if —”
“Oh god, you’re about to get out a chart, aren’t you?”
[(4x) + 17.3y] folded his hands neatly on the table. “I…might have a few charts in my robes, yes.”
Wizzle pressed the heels of his hands into his forehead and groaned.
“Maybe…” [(4x) + 17.3y] continued. “Maybe when you’ve written more than two books, you’ll learn to appreciate the efficacy of a well-made chart.”
“Excuse me?!?” Wizzle’s head popped up.
“Don’t you see, my friends?” Jambalaya cried, brushing pine cone debris off his black robes. “It’s this new book. This Spell/Sword! It’s tearing us apart!”
Wizzle and [(4x) + 17.3y] stared hard at Jambalaya.
“Weren’t you wearing white robes…before?” the glasses-wearing man tried to appear polite.
“Oh. Yes. That happens.” Jambalaya managed to look slightly embarrassed.
“Jambalaya is right.” Somber Wizzle rapped his knuckles on the rectangular table. “I don’t know why, but somehow this silly little book, this freaking Spell/Sword is tearing at the very fabric of–”
“You boys need a refill?” The waitress leaned over the cramped table with a coffee pot.
The white-robed men blinked at her for a moment. Her brown and white apron was freshly pressed, her gray hair tightly wound in a neat oval. The Waffle House was empty except for the four of them, their thick girth and arcane robes crammed into a corner booth.
“No, thank you, Glenda.” Wizzle managed.
The other three men shook their heads as well, and Glenda smiled and floated away.
“Why do we meet here, anyway?” [(4x) + 17.3y] complained. “None of us even live in this state.”
“Don’t you see. That is the thing. The very thing.” Jambalaya smiled, one tear rolling down his cheek. “Only outside of ourselves can we see ourselves.”
“Time for me to talk.” Fardancer interrupted, displaying his stack of ink-daubed napkins with pride. “I’ve prepared a solid list of reasons why Spell/Sword sucks. As soon as I post this online, the world will know that it sucks, and we can go back to our lives without a further thought.”
“Uh…arr. I’m not sure it’s quite that straightforward, Far–” Wizzle began.
“RESPECT THE LIST.” Fardancer slammed the napkins down on the table, neatly overturning the sugar dispenser. “Okay. Verbal List Power Activatus!
1. No one’s ever heard of it, so it can’t be very important. Only things that people have heard of are worth discussing. I’ve talked to all the very important people I know on Twitter, and none of them have heard of it, so it’s nonsensical to keep discussing it.
2. Even if it was important, it’s different and weird and silly. All of us have worked very hard to earn a little respect and credibility for genre fiction. To have this weird kid come along and try to make what we write about silly again undoes years of work. I like getting paid for my work, and I can’t keep getting serious-work money if all of a sudden people think we’re silly again.
3. Wil Wheaton said he thought it sucked.
4. Spell/Sword can eat my poop.
5. And by my poop, I mean the poop that comes out of my butt.
6. And by my butt, I mean —
“That’s enough, Fardancer!” [(4x) + 17.3y] waved both hands. “I think we get the gist.”
“Yeah, thanks.” Wizzle patted the napkins respectfully. “All good here.”
“Well, I’ll go ahead and put this up on my blog, that ought to take care of things.” Fardancer pulled a smartphone, two tablets, a Chromebook, a Macbook Air, a TRS-80, and an abacus out from under his robe in quick succession.
“I like to write on oak leaves.” Jambalaya said, lost in dreams. “Oak leaves, just as they turn scarlet. I write with a grasshopper’s leg dipped in some Faerie Inkque that my beloved brought me from—”
The newly black-cloaked man’s words were cut off by hellfire engine roar. A massive black motorcycle tore into the Waffle House parking lot, chrome and leather and a Valkyrie’s virginity.
“He’s here.” Wizzle said.
The motorcycle pulled into a spot and then hopped up on the sidewalk. The front tire crashed into red-flecked newsbox. Bent metal and flying newsprint filled the air. The rider got off the bike, and stalked in through the glass door entrance. He wore a sailor’s cap, and his white robe thrown around his shoulders like a cocksure cape. In his hands he carried a massive two-handed hammer, something that would be more appropriate at Medieval Times than Home Depot.
“Darklorrr.” [(4x) + 17.3y] said nervously.
“Coffee!” the One Called Darklorr bellowed as he stumped over to corner booth. “And four waffles on top of five other waffles. No syrup, just bring me some melted butter and three mugs filled with chili.”
Darklorr tossed his hammer onto the table and surveyed the other four men with a paternal eye. “I know I’m late. Deal with it.”
“We were just talking about Spell/Sword, Darklorr.” Wizzle gingerly pushed the hammer off the hem of his white sleeve. “And how we needed to handle it.”
“Handle it? Spell/Sword? HAR.” Darklorr laughed, pushing his sailor’s cap back. “Listen close, boys. I already know how to handle this. I’ll do what I always do with things that people love.”
The four others leaned in close with expectant horror.
“Kill it.” Darklorr smirked.
He picked his hammer back up and leaned it on his shoulder with a cavalier air. Then he started to laugh. The other four men looked at each other uncertainly, then echoed his laughter with their own.
[(4x) + 17.3y] quickly scribbled something on a spare napkin, and slid it across the table to Wizzle.
OR GO ON A TWO MONTH PIZZA TOUR, it read.
Wizzle shrugged in response, but continued to echo Darklorr’s amusement.
The Conclave of Secrets and Power had convened. They had made their decision.
Spell/Sword didn’t stand a chance.
[Just me throwing some eggs at some author’s that I respect, admire, and envy. I’ll send a free Spell/Sword button to the first five people who can name all five.]
[This is what I do when I see a cow out the car window. Just replace ‘blog’ with ‘cow’ and it’s the same dialogue. It is incredibly endearing, and never annoys anyone else in the car.]
So, yeah — let’s shake some cobwebs off. My production of Pippin is finished, so now I can reroute those system resources back to all of the other plates I have spinning in the ether. Let’s list them! YAY, LISTS.
1. Spell/Sword Zeta Draft. This would be an amazing name for an anime. This is the big project, my main focus. Incorporating all the feedback from my Beta Readers, and working my way to the penultimate draft. I’m planning to add about 5000 words to the draft, so I’ll need to get one last set of eyes on the manuscript before I move forward to Self Publishing Ragnarok.
2. Self Publishing Ragnarok. Also an amazing anime title. My goal is to get the book into a buy-able format, through CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing through Amazon. I’m researching all of the technical knowledge needed for doing that, so when I am ready to move forward it won’t be a giant learning curve clusterfuck.
3. Cover Art. I’ve seen some early sketches from Mike/Poopbird, and I can’t wait to see the finished product. Got to make sure I have all the specs for pixel limits, image size, etc. to make it easy and painless for him once the design is complete.
4. Titan’s Wake. My occasional Pathfinder campaign. Time to kick it in the shins and get the PC’s moving toward something approaching the plot. Scheduling has been an issue, leading to some signal loss — gotta get the players on some sort of regular game night schedule, or the campaign is just going to fizzle.
5. The Ocean of Not. New and shiny Legend of the Five Rings campaign! Meeting with the players in early January to make characters, and hopefully kick off the game shortly thereafter. I’m planning on having a forum component for this one, and most of the players are Lodestar alumni —very excited to get back in the trenches.
7. A Few Good Men. I have a small part in the next Mainstage production at the theatre. I get to play an actual person, which is not my strong suit.
8. Regular Blogging. I need to get back on a regular update schedule, 3-5 times per week. Maybe I’ll bring back Story on Demand to prime the pump, but I’m hoping now that working on the book is moving back to my main creative focus, I’ll have more time and writerly thoughts to expound upon.
Lot of stuff. Lot of cows. I love the feeling of energy and mind-space coming online – really looking forward to all of these projects!
All three terms are synonymous, but mainly people that call themselves actors. That identify as actors. The people who leave their day job, drive across town, and work for free for 3-4 extra hours a night. We’re desperate, we’re fiending — we need to get on stage. We need to do that thing. That thing, that art, our art.
Oh, context. I’m directing Pippin for the second time, one of my favorite shows, at Town & Gown. Musings henceforth.
This is a show about drug-fiends. Art-fiends. They hate it, but they need it. Broken pieces, broken things, broken beings.
“We’re actors–we’re the opposite of people!”
-Tom Stoppard / Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
But they can’t do it alone. They need an audience. And they need a main character. The player chosen to fill the role of Pippin is always referred to as the ‘newest member’ of the troupe, a recent addition. Later in the show, Catherine remarks that ‘He touched my hand. They’ve never done that before.” How many Pippins has this troupe chewed up?
They lead him and the audience to the central question of the show. A life dedicated purely to art, seeking the ever-elusive unicorn called Perfection? Or a life dedicated to someone else, to something forever Imperfect?
Will you Serve, or will you Destroy? There it is again! [Sorry, literary sidebar. I’ve been noticing this binary in a lot of my storytelling — interesting that it’s here too, in one of my favorite shows.]
I’m most intrigued by the ‘new’ ending of the show.
In the original Broadway edition the show ends with Pippin refusing the temptation of the Leading Player, and remaining alone on stage with Catherine and Theo. The show ends anticlimactically with the famous line ‘Trapped, but happy. What did you expect for the end of a musical comedy? Ta da!’
The audience is left feeling weird and confused, which I like — but the show clearly leaves us with the belief that Pippin made the right choice, and will find true satisfaction in a less extraordinary life.
But in the newer edition, an alternate ending has appeared. Pippin still refuses the temptation, but as the players slink off into the ether, the young boy Theo calls them back, echoing Pippin’s Corner of the Sky.
So, what is the audience supposed to feel now? Other than vaguely more pleased, because the show ends with a song? Is the show trying to validate both choices? Or are they simply suggesting that Pippin makes the mature choice, and that there will always be stupid kids coming along to chase the dream for you?
Ha. Or am I just projecting way more meaning into this piece then it can truly support? It wouldn’t be the first time? Pippin is definitely a ‘problem show’. It doesn’t quite work, the pieces don’t really line up the proper way to be a perfect allegory. Strange artifacts of its many revisions linger, laden with potential meaning but ultimately dropping the whole thing in your lap at the end.
So, to return in limping fashion to the initial question. What is Pippin about? Well…things? A lot of things?
Two more of my Alpha Readers gave me their criticism on the book, and I’m still picking the shrapnel out of my ego. I picked my first readers well — they’re good enough friends to call me on my shit. And called it was indeed. INDEED.
Beyond the psyche-bruising, all this feedback is making me really excited to get back to work on editing. So far, all of my readers have overall enjoyed the book — and the problems they’ve called my attention to are concrete. Maybe not easy to fix — but definitely doable. I can see multiple ways to change things to evade their criticism, but I’m going to let all of it settle a while longer. I’m still waiting on feedback from a third of my readers, and I don’t want to over-react to the first criticism I’ve received.
Admittedly, a fair amount of the criticism are ‘no-argument’ types. Grammar flubs, word repetition, confusing passages, jokes that didn’t work, etc. Those will be fixed — -it’s the things that deal more with overall structure and style that I’ll need to carefully ruminate on.
Sorry I can’t be more specific yet! Still drafts out in the wild.
Let me tell you about the first time I saw Fairchild.
I was working at Papa John’s — the day shift. I had just moved back to Athens after a blurred year away, and it was the first job I found. It was terrible money, and ultimately destroyed my car at the time — but hey, free pizza.
One of the big tasks that I had to do everyday, was food prep. All of the various pizza ingredients had to be carted out of the walk-in freezer. The cheese had to be fluffed [no-shit technical term], the meats had to be sorted — and all of the vegetables needed to be prepped fresh each day. The tomatoes were chopped, the onions were diced [pure misery], everything sliced and prepped with a big steel knife.
I hated it, but in a mute sort of way. It was systematic and mindless. Plenty of time to plot my escape, or let my mind wander.
For some reason, I really did enjoy cutting up the green bell peppers.
For the uninitiated, here’s the process. You cut off the cap [stem part] with a knife, then scoop out the seeds and guts inside. Then you would toss the whole thing into a big chopper with a crank, a few spins and out would come eviscerated vegetable.
It’s hard to explain exactly what I enjoyed about it. Other than the wanton destruction. The peppers were always nice and cool, and pleasantly crisp when you sliced into them. It was neat and self-contained, a little green world — protected by a thick barrier. Chop up onions, you get more onions — chop up a green pepper, you are Galactus.
One day I cut the top off of a bell pepper, and found something new.
The pepper looked completely normal on the outside, maybe just a little twisty at the bottom — but inside was a tiny green growth, a nub of another pepper growing inside. It was a much brighter green then its host, almost fluorescent green, twisted and strange growing in the center of things.
My immediate thought : “This is what cancer is.”
Because it wasn’t a blight, or a bug — it was something that grew from within the little world, innocent and merry and green, green, green. All it wanted was to grow, and was blithely unconcerned with what that meant for rest of the pepper.
I’ve scanned the internet for a good picture of one of these things, and I absolutely cannot find one suitably impressive.
It was just so pleased with itself — that’s what struck me. So vibrant and wicked and sure of itself – it almost waved in delight to be discovered.
Look what I am doing, it said. It’s so very nice inside of here, would you like to pull up a chair? Things are going so well!
That image sticks with me. And so when it was time to create a villain for the last act of Lodestar — the green, green cancer sauntered into my mind, as blithe and merry as ever. A devil, a prince of devils dreaming of being King. A trickster and a manipulator — one so very, very sure of his success. Fairchild, the King of Glass. He had appeared in bit parts in other stories, but it was time for him to take center stage.
And if the heroes of Aufero aren’t most clever and potent, he will sit on the throne of my little world until the end of days.
But even if they succeed, I know the image of the green pepper in my mind will survive — so Fairchild will too.
A short story that features my green devil – The Cost – if you care to peruse.
Whew — it is getting serious up in here. I still kind of like the “Dracula” poem, I remember thinking of it as the seed of a musical – the attitude and musical stylings of Les Miserables, with lots and lots of lacy cravats and ridiculous black cloaks.
And, there’s the last chunk of Another Story. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, or at least it hasn’t caused your eyeballs to spontaneously implode.
I’ve collected the entire story into one tidy page, accessible from the Short Stories dropdown menu up top. Thanks to the kind comments, and one sharp-eyed editor I’ve corrected some tense issue – making the tale a bit more palatable. I’ve been a writer a long time, even working a brief stint as an English teacher — so I always welcome constructive criticism. I’m a big boy, I can take it. I crave feedback.
Tomorrow, I’ve queued up a bit of micro-fiction, The Parable of the Stone Viper. I actually entered that one into a contest on Lulu.com, and it’s available as a free epub if that’s your fancy.
The next few weeks are very hectic for me, so I have a large amount of old material queued up. Most of it is scenes from a much longer piece, just so I don’t wear you out – and push you into TLDR-land. Let me know if you see a scene or a character you like, and I’ll try to oblige you with some more targeted content.