Changes Changes Changes

My Kenpo school in Albuquerque is closing down. Our head instructor wants to be able to spend more time with his family and, after decades of running a school six days a week, probably wants to be able to sleep from time to time, too. So, my seventeen years at AKKA on Montgomery came to an end today.

It’s a melancholy time, but I wish Mr. Gilbert the best. He’s certainly earned it. On the plus side, my son got a personal lesson from a man with something like forty plus years of experience today. I’ve had plenty of one-on-one time with Mr. Gilbert over the years, but this was my son’s first chance to get some insight directly from a Grand Master of Kenpo and that’s a pretty special thing.

I’ve seen Mr. Gilbert, who is in his sixties now, punch so quickly I could barely see his hands move. That’s what a lifetime of practice looks like. But, for all his training and stories about people walking into his school trying to cause problems, it’s his reactions that will always stick with me. Bear in mind, this is the same man that once taught me “luck is the intersection of skill and opportunity”. If you’ve ever wondered where I got that phrase from, it would be from Mr. Gilbert.

People sometimes wonder what the Martial Arts is. What does it entail? What do you have to do? What does it all mean? Pure and simple, no bullshit here; the Martial Arts (all of them) are about learning to inflict the maximum amount of damage on opponent in the smallest amount of time without getting hurt yourself. In other words, once you boil away all uniforms and mottos and rigamorale, learning the martial arts is about learning to beat the snot out of someone.

Of course, the best martial artists don’t have to rely on their fists to win the fight. One of Mr. Gilbert’s many stories that stuck with me was one I heard for the first time this morning. It’s an apt story, especially given the caustic environment in this country right now.

It would appear, back when Mr. Gilbert was running a school on Central in Albuquerque, that a guy came in looking for trouble. “I’m gonna kick your ass!” he screamed.

This wasn’t an entirely uncommon event. We even had a loon wander in off the street during a pretest and try to cause some problems. A couple guys and I escorted him out and convinced him this wasn’t the best place to cause problems. No one got hurt, so it was all good.

Anyway, the guy on Central was probably one of the run-of-the-mill nutters down there that lives to look for trouble. Mr. Gilbert looked up from whatever paperwork he was working on and calmly asked, “What’s your name?”

This threw the bad guy for a loop. Here he was trying to look tough and this Karate dude just asked for his name. “Why do you need my name?” he asked.

“Well, I need to make sure you’re on the schedule. If you’re not on the list you’re going to have to come back later.”

Talk about defusing the situation. The underlying statement was there were so many guys looking to kick Mr. Gilbert’s ass that he needed a list and a schedule to keep up with them. In the end, the angry guy wound up walking out of the school with a brochure about learning Kenpo and all of Mr. Gilbert’s contact information.

I gather he never took a class, but no fight broke out and no one got hurt, so it was all good.

Those are the kinds of stories that will stick with me. Punching is punching and kicking is kicking, but learning how to avoid the fight entirely is priceless.

Now, since the school is going away, I finally got around to taking some pictures. These are paintings of the animals (Tiger, Crane, Leopard, Dragon, Snake, and Monkey) of the style. Each of the animals represents are certain movement forward in Kenpo understanding. The paintings were made directly on the walls of the school sometime in the 80s by a former student.


Tiger and Leopard. Tiger is the first animal and represents beginner understanding. Push a button and three attacks come out. Tigers are linear and power-oriented. The Leopard combines the power of the tiger and the ability to move of the Crane.


Crane. The second level. Cranes start to change from linear movement to what we call point and circle defense. Moving around the opponent and firing quick, precise strikes. The Crane actually comes between Tiger and Leopard.


Dragon introduces twisted stances and more movement. This falls at the Green belt level, the last belt before someone hit expert level at Brown.


Snake and me taking a picture. The snake has two components: constrictor and viper. Constrictor elements of Kenpo include methods of coiling around arms and bodies. Vipers introduce very precise shots to small targets like eyes. The three Brown belts compose snake techniques.


Monkey is the Black Belt element. Monkey can use any and all of the other animals and the Black Belt is, at least partially, about learning to combine the elements together.

Mr. Gilbert will still be around, so it’s not like AKKA is losing him forever. And also, as he pointed out, Bill Packer died and the system kept going. Thomas Connor died and the system kept going. Ed Parker died and Kenpo lived on. It’s not an easy change to swallow since I left the system once before and came back primarily for Mr. Gilbert.

Happy New Year, everyone. It’s a time for change and renewal. You can either approach the problem head-on and beat your fists against the wall or you can use a bit of trickery to turn the problem to an advantage.

Book Covers – Transmute

Transmute is almost ready to fly. I’ve got a couple beta readers still flipping through things, but the main text is done. In the interim, I’ve been tweaking the eBook cover and working on the print cover. The print cover is, of course, far more time-consuming. After some back and forth with the good people at Indie Author Support & Discussion, I think they’re pretty much done.

What do you think?


Here’s the eBook version, which has slightly different dimensions than the print version.


And the print version, complete with blurb.


I think it should be Federal law that when a plane is taking off the speakers should be blasting Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone. Imagine that; you’re being pushed back in your seat, the whole plane is rattling, the engines are roaring, and you know – without a shadow of a doubt – this ride is gonna kick some ass. It would detract from the fact that the seats are uncomfortable and tiny and the leg room is nonexistent. At least the ginger ale is still free and, if you ask nicely and have some money, you can even get dark rum to put in it.

But I digress.

In an effort to escape reality for a while, we spent the lead-up to Christmas in Hawaii. More specifically on Hawai’i, the largest island of the chain. We swam in the ocean, visited volcanoes, and drove around the bulk of the island in a rented convertible Mustang. All in all, a good time was had by all.


The view from the suite at Wyndham Kona Hawaiian Resort.


One of the aisles at Kona Bay Books, one of the biggest used book stores I’ve ever been in. It advertises itself as two miles of used books. This is one of ten or so aisles.


Lunch at Kona Brewpub. Pork sandwich, chips, and a Black Sand Porter


No visit is complete without a hat. I got two. This one was from my lovely wife.


The resort was in an area with three sets of ruins.


The first day we went to the beach we went to a place called Two Step. It was calm, had great snorkling, and a plethora of volcanic rocks. I put a gash in my hand that required two butterflies a thick bandage. This shot is from Hookena beach, about 20 miles south of Kailua. If you’re going to the big island, check this one out. Also has great snorkling, but less likely to shred you. Get there early, though. Parking is extremely limited.


The jungle primeval. Entrance to a lava tube in Volcano National Park.


Inside the lava tube. Apparently in certain circumstances the outside of a lava flow can cool and solidify while the inside keeps going. The result is one of these.


The big island has something like 11 different climate zones crammed into 4000 sq miles or so. This shot is from near the crater rim. The vegetation is radically different from the other side of the island – a paltry 90 miles away. Driving around the island puts those differences on full display; everything from the lush forests near Kailua to places in between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea that looked surprisingly like parts of New Mexico.


Big bada boom. The crater floor as seen from the rim.


Poke from Da Poke Shack. I like to try new things. I wasn’t blown away by the calamari, but the poke itself was damned tasty. For those who haven’t had it, poke is a raw fish salad. Think of it as sweeter sushi in a sauce.


Book Review – Anthem For What’s To Come by Kimberly Coleman

They say war is a confusing time for everyone. Not only is the world exploding all around, but allegiances can constantly shift and it’s all too easy to point fingers at people on the same side.

Most books about war focus on the people fighting the war, but that’s really only a tiny percentage of the population that’s impacted by war’s far-reaching grasp. Regular people, the ones who just want to live out their lives and have little interest in the politics of war, wind up being the worst casualties. Look to any war-torn area of the world today – Syria pops to mind – and you’ll find the bulk of the damage is done not to the fighters of war, but to the people caught in the middle. Politicians start wars. The military winds up fighting them. Everyone else gets chewed up and spat out.

It’s rare to find a story about war that not only isn’t directly about the fighters of the war, but also has a hint of the paranormal woven through it. In April of 2016, I stumbled across Kimberly Coleman’s The Blind Girl’s Sword and found it a fascinating look at a place that could be anywhere on Earth, filled with people who mechanically went about the business of living even as things exploded around them. That was Volume 0 of the ongoing saga of war and witches. Anthem For What’s To Come is Volume 1. It’s an intimate look at a world stuck in perpetual war and what impact that has on people. In a way, it’s a treatise on how to make a monster. Take any normal person, put them in extraordinary circumstances, and watch what brews.

Coleman has a way with prose. The narrative is tight and concise. She doesn’t waste words, but still manages to build a richly-detailed world as seen through the eyes of a Blood Witch. Through those eyes, and the stories she tells to a dying girl, we get a sense of how devastation makes monsters.

Anthem For What’s To Come contains two stories: The Blind Girl’s Sword and Before the Sun Goes Down. Both take place in the same constantly-at-war world and look at the effects of that war through the eyes of normal people. Personally, I hope to see more about this war-torn world and its all-too-human monsters and witches.

“Anthem For What’s Come” combines the first two volumes in The Blind Girl’s War Series:
“Before The Sun Goes Down” tells the story of a young girl poisoned in a terrorist chemical lab…
“The Blind Girl’s Sword” focuses on that terrorist’s ill-fated relationship with a seamstress and how that led him onto his malefic path.


Find your copy on Amazon

Check out Kimberly Coleman on Twitter

Book Review and Martial Arts Theories: Nerve Centers and Pressure Points by Bruce Tegner

As was common with martial arts books back in the seventies, Tegner’s treatise on nerve centers and pressure points had a mouthful of a full title: Self-Defense: Nerve Centers & Pressure Points for Karate, Jujitsu and Atemi-Waza. It’s a bit lengthy for a blog title, but an interesting book nonetheless.

I have an extensive collection of martial arts books I’ve picked up over the years, everything ranging from the in-depth examinations of Donn Draeger to a bunch of introductions to various arts. Nerve Centers and Pressure Points is the first Tegner book I’ve come across in the wild.

With any book on martial arts, the author is of key importance. Unlike fiction, non-fiction books aim to provide facts and reading a book on fighting from someone who claims to be an expert is a good way to get yourself in trouble. There are dozens of Ninja books out there that purport to explain Ninjutsu, but are written by people whose sole experience with the art was watching Sho Kosugi movies on Saturday morning. Not that Sho Kosugi didn’t know his arts, but learning from a movie is a dicey proposition at best.

A bit of research on Bruce Tegner reveals he was ahead of his time. In the sixties and seventies, the world of Asian martial arts was still steeped in tradition and it was expected that practitioners would learn those arts exactly as they were taught and that should be good enough. Tegner respectfully disagreed and, decades before “reality based martial arts” became a thing, he was stripping out the parts of traditional Asian arts that simply didn’t fit the bill for realistic defense. This attitude of discarding things that had been taught for decades or centuries earned him no amount of scorn from the traditionalists.

In the final analysis, Tegner created his own martial art – Jukado – which combined what he felt were the best elements from the multitude of styles he studied over the years (Karate, Jiu Jitsu, Savate, Tai Chi, Kung Fu, etc) and rolled them into something effective and easy to learn.

He was quite the iconoclast during his life and it shows in his books. Nerve Centers and Pressure Points paints a very different picture of self-defense than was readily available at the time. He starts by analyzing the need for varying levels of combativeness depending on the situation, rather than saying “go hard all the time”, which is something the martial arts world desperately needed at the time. Tegner then proceeds to tear apart the results from attacking various nerve centers and pressure points. For instance, it’s a commonly held belief that a sharp, upward strike to the nose will push bits of bone into the opponent’s brain and kill immediately. Any study of physiology will reveal this simply cannot happen. At a time when things like death touches were still talked about as realistic, Tegner pointed out the flaws in the logic.

Nerve Centers and Pressure Points is a simple examination of what can happen when a particular point on the body is struck. It’s meant as kind of a layman’s book, but still requires a degree of understanding about how to strike. As a guy with twenty plus years of experience, the strikes made sense to me. For someone with less experience, the text might not be as useful.

Don’t expect a detailed examination of exactly how to poke someone in the ribs and have them fall dead five steps later; this is a simple look at what happens when various parts of the body are struck.

If you’re looking to learn how to defend yourself, this isn’t the place to start. Go find a decent school and do some studying. If you’re a martial artist, this is a good book to read if you can find a cheap copy of it.


Find a used copy on Amazon

Read up a bit on Bruce Tegner. He was an interesting guy. Unfortunately, he died in 1985 from a heart attack.

Using Hyphens For Kick-Ass Wordage

I had three English teachers in High School. One used to call the class retards. One was a decent teacher. The other one hated me because reasons. I’m sure they’d all be pleasantly surprised to know I actually did pay some attention in their classes and picked up quite a few tricks from them. Yes, even from the guy that called us retards. And, no, I’m not kidding about that; he really called us retards on a pretty regular basis.

One of the things that didn’t get covered, though, was dealing with hyphens. It’s possible they all thought it was too advanced a concept, or it’s possible hyphens just weren’t a thing in the mid 80s, but not one of my teachers covered hyphens. We covered the hell out of commas, though.

So, imagine my surprise when I get a book back from a proof-reader and there are all these damned hyphens conjoining things like some kind of grammatical Dr. Moreau. It wasn’t sufficient to say two year old; it had to be two-year-old.

The hyphens had quietly taken over while I wasn’t watching.

Fortunately, hyphens are pretty easy to work with and a little research on the Internet cleared it all up. Sure, there are a lot of rules — this is English, after all — but they’re mostly easy-to-understand rules.

Think back to the idea of nouns and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, and all that other stuff you thought you’d never have to worry about again. Nouns are things, verbs are actions. Adjectives describe nouns: awesome, sexy dude or great writer. Adverbs describe verbs: wrote amazingly or punched quickly. Pretty easy, right? Now, look back at that participle phrase post I did a while back and realize you can use multiple words to act as an adjective.

Hyphens allow us to do similar things with other word phrases. Hyphens are like the kids in High School that always seemed popular; they’re joiners. Take that phrase “two year old” from a few paragraphs back. At its face, if you read two year old, you’d probably have a pretty good idea of what someone was writing about, but two-year-old gives us a better visual cue that those words are about a singular thing. But what about “this joint has little town charm”? If I wanted to describe the charm as related to little towns, the phrase could be misconstrued as the joint having a small amount of charm. So, “this joint has little-town charm” would be better.

It’s all about clarity. Remember the cardinal rule: never confuse the reader.

But wait, there’s more!

According to the American Psychological Association, those fun folks that gave us the APA Style Manual, there are five general principles that guide hyphen usage.

  1. If a compound adjective can be misread, use a hyphen
  2. If a temporary compound is used as an adjective before a noun, and the compound can be misread or expresses a single thought, use a hyphen
  3. Most compound adjective hyphen rules only apply when the adjective precedes the modified term
  4. Write most words with prefixes and suffixes as one word
  5. When two or more compound modifiers have a common base, this base is sometimes removed for all but the last modifier. The hyphens, however, are retained.

The first two points have already been covered, but three through five aren’t complicated. Three is an interesting case and it goes further to explore how hyphens are used to reduce potential confusion. Before the modified word, I use a hyphenated compound phrase: I have a ten-year-old son. After the modified word, though, I don’t have to hyphenate: My son is ten years old. The reason has to do with implied clarity in the sentence structure; notably it becomes more obvious what was being modified when the phrase comes later in the sentence.

Four is pretty straightforward: aftereffect and extracurricular are already words, use them. Counter-terrorism is often spelled counterterrorism these days. Since these are already accepted words, there’s no need to hyphenate two words together, although it can sometimes be done.

Five is the oddball and it speaks to my programming nature. In programming, it’s not uncommon to declare multiple variables in a compound form not altogether different from dealing with multiple hyphenated words. Long- and short-term memory is more acceptable than long-term and short-term memory or long and short-term memory. Since we’re discussing two types of memory (long and short) the hyphenated words share the same base. As a result, it’s acceptable to omit the base for the first example (but keep the hyphen) and only report the base for the last example. First-, second-, and third-grade classes will be late today.

In the final analysis, using a hyphen can be a matter of choice. As long as that choice is to make things clearer to the reader. In a way, hyphenation is a lot like the Oxford comma in the way it reduces ambiguity for the reader. Proper hyphenation can mean the difference between working twenty four hour shifts, twenty four-hour shifts, twenty-four hour shifts, or twenty-four-hour shifts.

Got any hyphen tips of your own? Leave ’em in the comments.

The Social Media Minefield

Back when I first started exploring the Internet in early to mid 90s, the closest the world came to things like Facebook, Ello, Instagram, and G+ were newsgroups on Usenet. Actually, come to think of it, Facebook, Ello, Instagram, and G+ are really nothing more than gussied up newsgroups with some new whiz-bang features thrown in and better targeted advertising.

But back in my day…


It’s especially funny since that iPod is obsolete, too.

In the early days of the Internet, if you wanted attention, you hammered out a crazy whack funky email and sent it to all your friends. They in turn would send it to all their friends and so on and so forth. Eventually it would wind up my inbox where I’d debate just how much I wanted to taunt the Internet gods by deleting it. These emails started out innocuously enough: forward this email to 10 people and you’ll get rich, Bill Gates wants to give you money, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic secretly run the world from the p-funk mother ship, forward this! Eventually, though, they started to get nasty.

The nastiness started out simply enough: Forward this or you’ll have bad luck. Of course, that didn’t go too far enough, so the web trolls kept upping the game until your inbox was a mass of “If you don’t forward this email to 10 people you’ll be forever lonely and a curse will be brought down on your head that will make all your hair fall out and your genitals shrink. Also, the electrical wiring in your house will crawl into your veins and shock you a lot.”

It was like getting email from North Korea.

When I got my first email account (, I got about a dozen of those a week. Usually they came from well-meaning, if slightly deluded, friends. Like a good friend, I kept that crap going and dutifully forward the emails. At first.


Hi, I’m Eric. I’m a recovering forwarder.

Then I got a really nasty one that promised butt cancer for everyone in my family and a whole host of other maladies like a plague of locusts o’er the land and decided I was done with chain emails. Rather than forward the email, I hit reply to all and ripped into the sender. Turns out she was a friend of mine and was just trying to cover her own butt from cancer and locusts. I had to apologize rather profusely, but we’re both locust free after all these years so I guess I broke the power of the email.

It seems to be human nature to do this kind of stuff. Nowadays there are less of the chain emails promising endless riches and eternal punishment. In their stead we get fake news stories pushed by friends because the stories sound good, endless streams of “like this and something cool will happen”, “share this and it’s worth, like, 20 prayers”, and the ever-popular “I want to see who’s paying attention to me. Like this or you’re off my friends list”. Of course one of the funner games to play is to put up a status message like “I’m getting a monkey!” or “I just slaughtered a whorehouse!” and see who responds. The respondents then get told they have to put their own silly status up and the cycle of violence continues.


Get it? Cycle of violence! Seriously, though, I could use throwing stars on my cyclocross bike.

Why is this bad? Well, I’m friends with a bunch of people who might actually get a monkey or slaughter a whorehouse. Granted, that last one is less likely, but I wouldn’t put it past some of them. Now I’m left wondering, do I say, “Congrats on the monkey!” or “That whorehouse was a wreck, anyway!” or do I quietly click Like and hope no one notices I just did the least interactive thing possible?

Usually, I go for clicking Like. But every now and then I’ll write something like “Don’t get caught spanking that monkey!” (I have a pretty immature sense of monkey humor) Then – BAM! – I get that direct message that says I have to pick from a list of boring statuses to put up.

Well, just like with the email that promised butt cancer and locusts, I think I’m done playing the little games. But I’m not going to ignore them; I’m just going to make my own rules. The next time someone tells me I need to pick from a list of embarrassing statuses that I “have” to use because congratulated someone on their monkey, I’m gonna get schwifty and make up my own status.



If it happens to you, feel free to pick from this handy-dandy list of witticisms and freakery.

  • Does anyone know how to get blood out of a clown suit?
  • I am the basset hound king!
  • Trump trump trump diddily ump.
  • My ass has just been voted best in Macedonia!
  • I like the pretty lies.
  • Sharted.
  • I just stole William Shatner’s pants!
  • Got schwifty!

Or you could just do what I did with that email that promised butt cancer and locusts: Ignore it. Smile, nod, and do whatever you were going to do anyway.

Got anything you’d like to add? Comments are always appreciated.

Playing with POV

Tense and point-of-view are a couple things I’ve played around with. To be perfectly honest, had I known where the Henchmen series wound up going I might have considered writing it in 3rd person. As that series gets more and more complicated, keeping it in Steven’s limited point of view gets harder and harder. On the other hand, by limiting it exclusively to 1st person, it allowed me to go a bit deeper into his head than would normally be acceptable in 3rd person.

Now I’m working on what some people would consider my first traditional book: Greetings From Sunny Aluna. It’s the first book I’ve seriously approached that’s outside the Henchmen series and it’s the first book I’m writing in 3rd person past tense. See, old dogs can learn new tricks. Even if those new tricks are actually really old tricks.

Why the switch? Honestly, there’s no real reason other than I felt like trying it out. As I started plotting out the novel, I realized I wanted to explore the world of Aluna through multiple eyes. That necessitated a change from 1st person to 3rd person. The tense change was arbitrary. I figured if I was going to shift things up, I may as well go full bore.

The whole thing has required a change in thinking. 1st person present tense allows for a depth of character that’s largely unprecedented anywhere else. 3rd person past tense doesn’t have that depth, but it does allow more things to happen simultuously. All in all, kind of a mixed bag.

Does that mean I’ll never got back to 1st person? Likely not. There is that last Henchmen novel to write and it would be weird to write one of the four books differently from the rest. For right now, though, I’m appreciating the breadth I can get into with 3rd person.


For the handful of people out there unfamiliar with point of view and tense, here’s a quick refresher. Pick one that works and play with it. They all have their ups and downs and, no matter what anyone says, none are right or wrong. Never let anyone tell you how to tell the story you’re telling.


Past: All the action takes place in the past. Past tense storytelling removes some of the immediacy of the story, but allows an author to manipulate time more easily.

Present: All the action takes place in the present. Present tense storytelling can add immediacy to the story and, if handled well, can draw a reader into what’s happening right now. The downside to present tense is it makes things foreshadowing more difficult.

Point of View

1st Person: The story is told from a single character’s point of view. It uses words like I and we to refer to the narrator. 1st person allows some serious depth of character development because the entire story is told through the eyes of the narrator. The downside to 1st person is it gets difficult to juggle plots where a lot of things are happening at the same time.

2nd Person: Fairly rare in fiction. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever come across one. 2nd person makes extensive use of you and yours. Think about the last letter you wrote to your grandma. And then about reading a letter the side of a novel.

3rd Person (limited and omniscient): 3rd person is, by far, the most common style of writing fiction. In 3rd person the narrator is telling a story and has either limited understand (limited) or complete understanding of the entire story (omniscient). The upside to 3rd person is it allows for complicated plots. The downside is authors tend to head hop and the narrator can seem distant.

What do you think? Do you have a favorite style to read or write in?

A Writing Tip: Participle Phrases

Having done something, I proceeded to do something else somewhat related to the thing I had already done. Sometimes, while I’m doing something, i continue to do something completely unrelated to thing I thought I was doing.

Douglas Adams, mad genius that he was, once described a book on English for time travelers. It contained, among other things, modifications to the language so someone could describe an event that was going to happen in the future, but they jumped forward in time to avoid it, and were describing to future people as something that happened in the past. Past future imperfect tense or something like that. Willoen haven been making cookies when a burglar woulden have brokened in and …

The joke was the language became so complicated that no one read it and everything after chapter two was left blank to save on printing costs.

Which brings me to our good buddy participle phrases. For those of who slept through English grammar classes in High School like I did, a participle phrase a word group consisting of a present participle (ending in ing) or a past participle (ending in en or ed) plus modifiers, objects, or compliments. Shocking, I know. It’s amazing how English grammar classes could make an already cloudy language even stranger.

So, how about an example?

Having devoured the souls of his believers, Cthulhu kicked back and binge-watched Jessica Jones on Netflix.


Writing his memoirs, the president struggled with which best words to tell his ghostwriter to use.

A participle phrase is an a collection of words that act as an adjective. In the above sentences, “Having devoured the souls of his believers” modifies Cthulhu. It’s a bit of linguistic legerdemain that combines a pair of thoughts without tedious words like “and”. Is there anything wrong with participle phrases? Of course not; they’re perfectly cromulent ways to write. Are they the best, though? Aye, that’s the rub.

When I started writing, I had this insane idea that sentences needed to be complicated to be good. I also had a pretty crazy idea of what constituted good. Since then, I’ve found myself analyzing sentence structure in books I read and finding ways to integrate what I find into my own writing. One of the things I’ve found is participle phrases stand out in text, especially if they’re overused.

If every sentence consists of participle phrase followed by something happening the text tends to drag. Paragraph after paragraph of “Having done x, so-and-so proceeded to do y” is draining to read. Also, participle phrases tend to result in longer sentences. Longer sentences, especially in action-y or intense sections, slow things down because they take longer to parse.

That’s a bad thing. You never want to pull a reader out of the action. When the world is blowing up and the lingerie-clad armies of darkness are rolling over Duluth, you want the reader right there in the action, not pondering what part of the sentence modifies what other part.

Short, sharp sentences may not look as pretty, but they’re effective. While it would be nice to have a review that says, “This author’s mastery of the gerund and participle phrases was second only to an Ivy League professor” it would be better to have a review that said “I was sucked into the story and it never let me go.”

To pick on Cthulhu again – don’t worry, he tough – consider this sentence: Having devoured the souls of his believers, Cthulhu kicked back and binge-watched Jessica Jones on Netflix. The word use implies the worst is over and the action can slow down now. This is good place for a participle phrase.

What about this one: Devouring the soul of his high priest, Cthulhu smacked his lips and squeezed the life out of the puny thing shooting at him. There’s implied action in that line and taking the time to process twenty-two words pulls the reader out of that action. Cthulhu smacked his lips and devoured the soul of the high priest. A tiny thing shot at him. The Mad God squeezed the life out of it.

The action in the participle phrase seems to be happening simultuously, while there’s more of an x then y then z feel to the second example. You can afford to slow down when the action is over. Longer sentences take more time, but they allow the reader to slow down and relax a bit. Short sentences come rapid-fire and contribute to the excitement of the story.

Does that mean you should never use a participle phrase and stick to short sentences? Of course not. There’s no real right or wrong here. It’s largely up the author to choose how to present his or her story to readers. But, making good use of sentence structure can speed up or slow down a story. Participle phrases are a kind of grammar trickery. Use them to slow things down and give the reader some breathing space. Just watch out for using them too much, because like all kinds of trickery, if they get overused, they lose their luster and the writing begins to look lazy.

What do you think? Are you a fan of participle phrases?

Book Review – Psychedelic Cure of a Narcissist by Katerina Novotna

The full title of the book and the author is actually Psychedelic Cure of a Narcissist: Power of Kratom and Opiates by Katerina Sestakova Novotna, which is a little unwieldy for a blog title.

This is the second book Novotna has written. The first was a collection of horror stories set around Hawaii and called Hawaiian Lei of Shrunken Heads – you can read that review here. Psychedelic Cure is a change in direction, away from the horror stories of Hawaiian Lei, but still an interesting story set in an interesting land. Rather than following the slow-burn horror stories, Novotna has turned her sharp mind inward and shown us the world through the eyes of a narcissist by the name of Eric.

Don’t worry, he’s not me. At least, I don’t think so.

Eric has, shall we say, issues. In the classic vein of narcissists everywhere, he views the world filtered through his own perceptions and sees everything only as it relates to him and his wants and needs. Like Lionel Hutz before him, Eric is a user of women. In his desperation to get back to the girl of his dreams, he agrees to be her guinea pig as she experiments with various mind-altering and mind-expanding chemicals. The result of this experiment is, shall we say, interesting. Just not in the way you expect it to be.

Here’s the thing about Psychedelic Cure, it’s not the book you really ever expect it to be, but it takes you in fascinating directions. It tackles some big issues including the relationships between men and women, discusses the idea of control in a relationship, and looks at the beneficence of chemical use for fun and profit. Much like the philosophers of yore before her (no great surprise since she has a Master’s in Philosophy), Novotna examines the issues through dialog between her characters. The story is, of course, important, but the sparkling elements of it are the underlying philosophical engagements with Miriam playing the role of being free as Eric plays the role of being a slave to his own desires.

I won’t go so far as to say it’s an easy book to read, not that it’s technically difficult, you just feel like you need a shower after being in Eric’s head for a spell, but it’s an excellent book to read and the ending is worth every word in the rest of the book. Don’t look for anything in your face (that’s my realm), Novotna plays things cooler and after reading Psychedelic Cure, you’ll find yourself going back and chewing on parts of it. That bit of subtlety is hard to pull off and makes this one of those books that you never really put down.

Eric is a selfish man who likes to come back to his exes for sex and money, but he does not pursue them as hard as he pursues new girls. Miriam, a student of psychology, becomes an exception to his rules. Three years after their break-up, the woman he thought he knew all too well to be impressed with suddenly claims to be able to guide people into a magical 4D porn experience.

Eric is trying to earn his place in Miriam’s privileged circle, but the girl who purports to be a therapist like no other is remarkably unstable herself. Eric suspects that she may have a different agenda than to entertain him, but the promise of a new form of sexual bliss seems worth the risk.

Does she want him back? Does she want to cure him? Does she want her revenge? It’s not clear what Miriam truly wants, but her wishes do not matter to Eric as long as he gets what he wants. But his own goals change, too, as the time goes on.

Miriam volunteers to be Eric’s guide in his psychedelic experience, but she also unintentionally becomes his teacher. He wants to learn to guide and fix others before he is fixed.


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