The following is not for those who have a problem with foul language or musical theater.
I see you. I see you right now. Running your eyes over the bright, shiny art for our production of Oklahoma! – I can see your expression, the little twist too your lips, the ever-so-slight eye-roll. Oh, this show. It’s so hokey, so old-fashioned, so…cough cough…lame.
You feel supremely confident in this judgement. You take a sip of your fucking Cherry Sprite and go back to yawning your way through your John Green subreddit. It feels good, doesn’t it? Dismissing a faded old chestnut of a show, putting thing in their proper cultural context enlivens your nightly spank-session. The semen-encrusted sock of your aesthetic judgement is a treasured possession that you clasp tightly each night as a Velveteen Rabbit of Irony. It is so pleasant to completely judge and abandon a work of art without any effort or exposure, like knocking the bowl of broccoli casserole off your high-chair so you don’t have to taste it.
You are in a high chair because you are a baby. You are a baby in this metaphor. With a baby face and baby hands and baby drool going down your baby chin.
Well, I am here to tell you something. You are not cooler than this show. I know it is horrible to consider that you might enjoy spirited dancing, bright melodies, and broad humor. I know you think you’ve seen all this show has to offer because you saw a high school production 10 years ago. I know how easy and precious it is to slot this show into your ever growing pile of ‘Art I Don’t Have an Immediate Affinity For or Societal Pressure to Experience, So Why Bother When I Can Watch Netflix and Begin My Slow Descent Into Utter Cultural Stagnation’.
I’m assuming you read this far because you like musical theater. Pick a show, any show — trace the genealogy back and you’ll find Oklahoma! winking at you. Characters that reveal their emotions directly through song? Songs used to advance the plot? The synthesis of different styles of performance and dance in unexpected ways? Shivorees?
You may laugh in your cyclone of pretension and empty fucking souled rumination — but I tell you this show is beautiful. Silly, yes. Dated, yes. Kind of like Beethoven’s Ninth you miserable pustule of cynicism. The form, the shape, the stage language, the music, the movement of its internal pieces – it is something wonderful to behold, you jaded Ass McNugget. As long as human culture exists this piece of art will be performed – I suggest you find a way to open your mind a wee, tiny crack and experience it the way it should be. Live band, gifted performers, and no excuses.
Fuck. Just fucking…just fucking watch the goddamn show you incandescent shit-squeeze.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Will be performed April 4th-13th at the Town&Gown Players in Athens, GA. Ticket information at the link above.
Hey! Here’s that thing I’ve been working on that isn’t Riddle Box. My local and beloved community theater is putting on a production of Hamlet — a freaking rarity in those sort of circles. Here’s the super snazzy trailer video, if you’re in Georgia and want to come and watch . I’m playing Claudius and the Ghost, and I appear briefly in the trailer wearing a crown and an ill-fitting jerkin.
So, instead of focusing on the rough draft of The Riddle Box this week, or drilling down on the lines I have to memorize for Hamlet, or just conserving my energy for the crazy roadtrip we have this weekend or the move I should be packing and planning for — I decided I needed a further distraction. Like a new collaborative writing project with my friends.
Spell/Sword is now available in print and e-book exclusively on Amazon.com. Follow the image above to order. I’m linking the digital version first because:
Amazon Prime members can borrow and read it for free.
Anyone can sample the first couple of chapters using the ‘Look Inside’ feature.
It’s the future!
If this is your first time visiting the site, please poke around. Plenty of my various ramblings in the archives, and several examples of my fiction through the Short Stories and Scenes/Microfiction links above. I know you’re taking a chance on me — thank you for even considering it.
More information about Spell/Sword itself is available on the [Buy the Book] button above.
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.]
I’m a quasi-lucid dreamer, so its pretty common for me to have a reasonably solid recall of what I dream on any given evening. Especially if I discuss it with someone immediately upon awakening, it helps to lock in the memory as a narrative. My beloved was treated to just such an incident Sunday morning when my late morning wanderings through the Dreamworld left me with a pretty solid outline for a television show.
“It’s a CW show, I think. Or at least a faux CW show. Part of how the show works is to get the audience invested in a certain style, then slowly subvert it.”
Dead silence for several moments, then my beloved stalked into the bathroom. I heard the shower turn on. Fair enough.
I’m putting a brief description here on the blog for several reasons:
Some lonely TV exec might stumble across this and want to steal/buy it.
I can only pimp Spell/Sword so much in a given week.
My memory is a cagey beast. It’s good to get some things down while I still have it in my sights.
So, my dream centered around a group of high school kids travelling on an oversized school bus. They traveled from school to school, encountering a different wacky circumstance each week. Teen angst, unrequited love, all the tropes you can stomach. That’s where the CW idea came in — just a bus full of pretty, pretty folks. Except for one weird dude [more on him later.]
Admittedly, in my dream-logic — the kids went to each school to go to some sort of convention. Very DragonCon — lots of people in costumes, events, performances, etc. Clearly that won’t work for the television show, so I think a good conceit would be that the kids are from a Performing Arts Magnet School – they spend 4 months out of every year travelling from school to school, putting on shows.
The goal is to have the first 4 episodes be like Glee — but first half season of Glee when it was actually charming and good. Musical numbers, dance, scenes from famous plays, the works. We’ll get to know the main cast through their roles in the troupe — Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Tech Kid, Beautiful Wallflower, Soulful Fat Kid, Hyper Nerd Girl, etc. The first few episodes are almost pure cotton candy — the kids have a demanding show to put on, and they pull themselves together at the last moment. One of the kids falls in love with someone at one of the school – but OH NOES, they have to leave on the bus at the end of the week . An Important Lesson is Learned About Disabilities/Drug Abuse/Gender Roles/Topic Du Jour.
I think the idea of the ‘School a Week’ premise lends itself well to the format. Lots of opportunities for Special Guest Stars, Themed Schools [Oh NO, this is the Racist School!], etc. For the show to work, the trope must be perfectly executed — the audience must be purely committed to this bubblegum pop show.
Which brings us to Episode Five. And the Weird Dude.
The one kid that doesn’t fit with the group, on the bus, on this show always wears black. The size of a linebacker, he wears a black trench coat with the collar always pulled up, obscuring most of his face almost like a mask. He has a battered backpack that he keeps near him at all times. He never speaks. He always wears black dirt bike gloves.
In my dream, the other kids just seemed to accept that he was there. All of them avoided him, of course, but there wasn’t really an explanation for why he was on board. I think for the show we”ll need some sort of contrivance — maybe he’s a kid from a bad past, who’s on the trip for rehabilitation? Maybe he’s the bus driver’s son — the teacher’s son? Or maybe no explanation at all – the kids think of him as That Weird Kid — accept his presence, but ignore him most of the time.
During the first four episodes, the audience is treated to a few glimpses of him. Staring out of windows into the dark, sitting silently in crowded lunch rooms. A few of the younger Kids on the Bus try to befriend him, but are met with stoic silence.
Most disturbing, the audience sees the Weird Kid collect a weird assortment of what could be considered weapons. Paper weights, letter openers, the arm off a desk — all crammed into his ratty old backpack.
The goal would be that astute viewers feel a growing sense of unease about the Weird Kid, a dark undercurrent to all the wacky hijinks ensuing each episode. Is the show working towards some sort of Colombine/Newtown sitiuation?
Finally, Episode Five.
The episode transpires very much like the first four — the Kids on the Bus arrive, and put on a performance for the school, in between trying to bone up on their course material for the EOCT on the horizon. The main conflict is between them, and the entrenched theatre kids already at the school. They resent these fancy-ass kids coming in and stealing their thunder — but then they learn an Important Lesson about working together, and team up to put on the Best Show Ever.
After the last commercial break, we come back to the lunch room. The Kids are being congratulated by their new friends after the performance, and are packing up their things to get back on the bus. In the midst of this jubilation the Weird Kid stands up and speaks for the first time.
Or rather he screams. A primal yawp, a guttural cry of absolute frustration and pain. The lunchroom goes silent, and shocked students pull back, giving the huge kid in the trench coat a wide berth. Some go for their cell phones to call 911, but they are stopped by the icy gaze that Weird Kid fixes on all of them. He looks at them with a deep well of sadness, pity and contempt — and slowly begins to stalk out of the school A long tracking shot of him walking through the halls, all who encounter him quail and make way. Not a word is spoken — this should be a long sequence. A total departure from the frenetic, happy fun-times of the show previously.
The Weird Kid slams the doors of the school open and walks out into the late afternoon sun, fall leaves are drifting through the air. He looks up into the sky, lost in thought. The two youngest Kids on the Bus [AJ and AJ] creep up to the Weird Kid, and stir up the courage to ask him what’s wrong.
The Weird Kid places a gloved hand on each of their shoulders, and shakes his head. He leads them to the bus as he speaks quietly. “You can not understand. The time is upon us. The dark time, the end time. Ragnarok is a silly word, but it is the time.”
Weird Kid takes his seat and stares out the window again.
The other Kids get on the bus, and they pull away from the school.
They drive away for a few moments, then cross a bridge over a lake — seen earlier in the episode upon arrival. The bus slows to a halt, as they spot a group of people on the far side, it appears to be some sort of parade.
The parade advances — no instruments, no floats, only people in regimented lines. They wear the costumes that the Kids on the Bus wore for this episode’s performance. Their eyes are blank and empty.
And then, things begin to appear behind the parade, making their way along side. Vaguely man-shaped, tall stilt-like legs and arms, small circular heads surmounted with oblong caps.
The Weird Kid springs to action, ripping his backpack open. “Let me off the bus. It’s time, I’ll fight. I’ll fight!”
A mishmash of improvised weapons fall out, and Weird Kid grabs the two largest — he bulls past the teacher and bus driver and out the side door.
Just in time to see the tall things begin their work. They begin to eviscerate the parade – calmly, surgically — cutting off limbs, peeling off flesh, slitting hamstrings, and a dozen other horrors of torture. Weird Kid takes a step forward, but then quails as one of the tall things approach. Through a haze it seems to transform into a dark-haired man wearing the uniform of an EMT.
“You kids allright?” the thing asks. “There’s been a terrible accident, some sort of gas released in the area. Making people see things. Could you all get off the bus so we can check you out?”
Weird Kid flees back onto the bus, and slams the door behind him.
“Drive.” he says. “It’s no use. It’s no use.”
The bus driver floors the bus in reverse, and the Kids on the Bus sit back down in utter shock. The bus drives off into the gathering dark and an uncertain future.
IS THAT WEIRD ENOUGH? NOPE, I THOUGHT ABOUT IT SOME MORE.
This all made perfect sense in my dream, but this is where it really goes down to Crazytown.
All of the Kids on the Bus are the heroes of the Illiad. They are the reincarnations, avatars, whatever of the Greek heroes — and the time has come for them to stand against the might of the gods.
The conceit would be that Homer’s Illiad is a version of a real event — a showdown between mortal and immortal, with the fate of the world in the balance.
If this sounds awesome to you, then you are officially a Classics/English nerd.
The tall things are the gods, or maybe their most powerful servants — something alien and other, some powerful force that was stomped out in the time of Homer. And now its up to this bus full of CW pretty kids to step up to the plate.
I EVEN STARTED FIGURING OUT WHO WAS WHO ON THE BUS.
The Weird Kid is Diomedes [Dennis Mead], he who even the God of War fears. And interestingly enough, not the main character of the show. The two kids who try to befriend him are Ajax and Ajax [AJ and AJ], I think I would flip the script and make Achilles and Odysseus female and the leads of the show. Agamemnon is the teacher, Meneleaus the bus driver. Oh man, I could go on. Helen is male, and so is Paris. Hector is my secondary lead.
I just love the idea of establishing all the Glee/High School tropes — then cramming them into the oldest of tales, to turn back the clock on those tropes to their most primal forms.
And this is what my beloved has to hear on the way to lunch on a Sunday morning.