Nonplussed

American English is, of course, descended from original British English (English English?). That language, in turn, was descended from a whole host of other languages and pinned together in a patchwork quilt of defeated and absorbed peoples. For such a mish-mash language it really shouldn’t surprise me that the English spoken in the U.K. is different in some ways from the English spoken here in the colonies.

Even various regions of the United States have dialectical differences between them. For instance, in some places you might get a hero, in others a hoagie. In other places, like here for instance, you might just hungry thinking about sandwiches. Whether you order a soda, a pop, or a coke (not necessarily Coke, Pepsi will work, too), you’re still getting some bubbly stuff with far too much sweet, sweet sugar in it.

Food words I get. It makes sense that different parts of the country – and the world – have different types of food and different names for those foods. I live in New Mexico, so we’ve got a huge catalog of cultural food to draw from, but even some of those foods are different depending on where in the state you are. For instance, Gorditas are a completely different experience in Las Cruces from what you get in the northern parts of the state. The Gorditas you get from Taco Bell are even further from what everyone else makes.

But other words have also drifted from the mother tongue over the years. The one that really took me by surprise was “nonplussed.” I wrote a short story last month and had some friends from the other side of the pond beta read it and give me notes and one of the notes I got highlighted “nonplussed.” In the notes, she’d written, “Is that the right word. He’s perplexed?” My first thought was she must have misread it, but upon looking up the definition I found she was right.

Mostly.

In U.K. English, nonplussed means “surprised and confused so much that they are unsure how to react.” In informal U.S. English (the only kind I speak, see also: Bad English), nonplussed means “not disconcerted or unperturbed.”

Most of the time, when you’re dealing with regionalisms the meaning can be sussed out pretty easily. A book written in the U.K. will refer to boots and bonnets instead of hood and trunks. Someone from northern New Mexico reading about Gorditas might have a different vision in their head than someone from southern New Mexico, but it’s all food. Except the Gorditas from Taco Bell; I’m not sure those qualify as food. But when you come across a word that has a drastic enough difference in meaning even though it’s the same word in both languages, it can rock your world and completely change the intent of the sentence.

What gorditas might look like

By the way, this is the sentence I’m referring to.

“The good doctor looked completely nonplussed, like he knew he’d already gotten away with whatever crazy plan he’d concocted.”

So, if we accept the casual North American meaning of nonplussed, the sentence makes a lot more sense than using the U.K. English definition. Otherwise, the good doctor looked confused, even though he’d already won.

That was one of those notes you want to frame and hang on your wall just to remind you that words can, and often do, have drastically different meanings depending on where the reader is. It saved me some potential embarrassment if the story ever winds up in the U.K. In the end, I changed nonplussed to unconcerned and kept my fingers crossed.

They say good writing is supposed to excise regionalisms and, for the most part, I agree with that. Like all rules in writing, that one can be broken to add flavor and texture to a story. But sometimes regionalisms sneak up on you and you won’t even know they’re there until someone from the outside points and asks, “What’s up with this word, dog?” That’s why it pays to have friends from other countries.

Got any good regionalisms that snuck up on you?

Preview

I don’t do this very often, largely because I don’t release books very often, but I’m getting close to finishing the second round of edits on Greetings From Sunny Aluna and wanted to share a bit of it. It’s a follow-on to the events of The Clock Man and represents a few firsts for me. For starters, it’s a true fantasy novel, which is something I’ve never done before. I’ve read fantasy works before, but never tried my hand at writing one. In case you’re wondering exactly what constitutes a fantasy novel (I was), it can usually be summed up by including magic, fantastic settings, mythical beings, and supernatural forms.

Most fantasy works I’ve written are set in a European Medieval setting with knights, sorcerers, and extremely bad villains. That’s all fine and good, but European Medieval history never did much for me, nor did the tales of heroism and knights in shining armor. So I dropped my story onto another planet, shifted a lot of narrative to Chinese martial history, and made my main characters basically normal people instead of knights. There is magic, it’s got a dragon, it’s even got a small dinosaur, combat magicians, and lots of morally flexible characters. Call it gutter fantasy if it helps. Greetings is fantasy from the street level and all kinds of crazies inhabit these streets.

The other thing that’s new to me was a shift from writing the narrative in first person present tense, I shifted this to third person past tense. The change allowed me to explore the four main characters with greater ease than I’d have with first person present.

Anyway, this is chapter 1 (of 36). Comments and critiques are greatly appreciated. Other than that, I just hope you enjoy it.

Chapter 1: Information Extraction Techniques

Felix Crow was a badass.

He wasn’t a good man, or even a stable man, but his heart was in the right place and there was no doubt he was a badass.

Seen from behind he cut a mysterious figure as he stalked down an unnamed alley in the Fànzuì Hútòng district of Croatoa. He always felt it was loony to call an entire district crime alley, but he didn’t make the rules. Felix Crow exploited rules, or ignored them entirely.

His keen eyes scanned the alley, seeking out a hidden sign that he was assured wasn’t a joke. In a place like this, calling something Xīwàng had to be a sick joke. Hope, in a crumbling alley filled with the lowest echelons of murderers and drug dealers was, at best, a fresh box to sleep in. But supposedly there was a place called Hope that held a secret he would very much like to know.

Felix walked right down the middle of the alley. The brim of his hat hid his eyes and his long coat flapped out behind him. The hat was lifted from a body he left in an alley a few months ago and the coat was a gift from his sometimes friend, sometimes enemy Chan. The coat supposedly offered magical protection, but Crow had yet to try it out. The hat just made the ensemble look good.

Ahead of him, a shadow stepped into the alley and laughed. It sounded like the giggle of a schoolgirl who just realized she’d traded her life for an endless supply of Johns and synthetic heroin. Madness and anger echoed down the narrow lane. The pale light from Xiǎo Mǔqīn reflected off a long and wicked looking knife that had to have been made of discarded bits of metal fused together in one of the cheap magic shops nearby.

Little Mother’s light was pale compared to Dà Māmā’s light, but it was one of those rare days where Little Mother was up and Big Mother was down. The pale light did little to illuminate the alley, but at least it was daylight; travelling the alleys at night was risky even for people like Felix Crow.

Crow kept walking. He had more important things to deal with than petty thugs with cheap knives. He reached out with his mind and found the knife. His fingers snapped and the blade exploded. The would-be thug, a gaunt thing with more bones than skin stared at the handle in his fingers. Some remaining neuron knocked another neuron around and eventually the message got to the man’s voice.

“Crow,” he gasped.

Felix Crow paused. He knew his antics had spread his name around the city. It was impossible to kill the Clock Man and go unnoticed; even if he had gone out of his way to keep the dirty deed quiet, brother baiju loosened his tongue. The thing in front of him was hardly worth the time, but it was important to keep up his reputation. “Xīwàng,” he said quietly. “Where is it?”

“There’s no hope here, man,” the thug replied. His wide eyes darted around the alley. Shadows moved quietly, hiding in corners and behind trash cans. Maybe, just maybe, enough of them could take down the legendary Felix Crow.

“Not for you, anyway,” Crow said. “But that’s not the kind of hope I’m looking for. A place called Hope. There will be a door. Where is it?”

A trash can tipped over, spilling ramen and rotting vegetables. Crow spared a glance at a kid holding a stick before looking back at the thug with the broken knife. “Not the brightest idea you’ve ever had.”

The thug chuckled. His knife may be broken, but Felix Crow was supposed to have an arsenal on him. If he could get hold of the arsenal, he’d be a king. With that jacket and that hat, he could move out of the alley. Anyone who killed Felix Crow could write his own ticket in the underworld. Hell, it was rumored that the Beast himself offered up a fortune for Crow’s head.

All around Crow the alley came to life. The people, things really, had been here so long they’d started to look like the alley itself. Dark eyes, tattered clothes, and grimy skin rose out of invisible hiding places. Some had sticks, others had knives taken from the dead hands of souls who had lost their way and wound up in the alley.

Crow sighed. It would figure a simple in and out job would turn to lā shǐ on him. The whole alley reeked of lā shǐ, why shouldn’t the job follow suit? Maybe job was too strong a word. Job implied an exchange of services for money. Quest would be a better term. Mad quest, probably. Still, it would figure a simple in and out quest would turn to lā shǐ on him.

He spun in the alley and took in the motley rabble. None of them had eaten in days. Their eyes were full of the madness of Tiāntáng De Fěn. Heaven’s Powder was a new drug on the scene, something for people who couldn’t afford anything more. It was gaining a toehold in the city, and even on Croatoa’s streets it wasn’t uncommon to see burnouts trying to visit heaven. They described it as a religious experience, but like all religion it was an addictive lie.

“Fuck off,” Crow said. “I’m busy.”

“Nice jacket,” a voice said behind him. “Nice hat.”

Crow didn’t bother to turn around. He could see the shadow of the of the speaker waving something around. “I know,” he said. “Now fuck off.”

“I want the hat,” another voice said.

That was the problem with Tiāntáng De Fěn; it convinced people they were already in Heaven. First time users experienced a euphoric high and usually slept it off. But, like all drugs, the effects waned and soon people were constantly chasing the religious high they got from the drug until the heaven became real all the time. A person who thinks he’s already in Heaven will fight over anything. These guys had spent a lot of time believing they were already in Heaven and Nüwa‘s tits were in their faces.

“It wouldn’t fit you,” Crow said. “Now fuck off before I turn it loose on your skinny ass.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Crow saw the shadow move closer. Whatever the weapon was, it had pulled back into position. Crow shook his head. He hated dealing with amateurs. Turns of hard training with legendary Chan had made him cynical when it came to fighting. Crow would readily admit he was no Chan, but he was hardly something to be trifled with.

The shadow shifted slightly and Crow knew the attack was coming. Some young punk, looking to make a name for himself was trying to brain him with a stick. Crow spun and dodged the incoming attack. The punk hit nothing but air.

Crow didn’t hesitate. He was busy and these idiots were wasting his time. He twisted his body, flexing his legs and twisting his hips. Force worked its way up from the ground, through his legs, up his torso, and through his shoulder. A fist flew, fast as an arrow and strong as stone. Knuckles hit the punk’s face, twisting his head to the side. Teeth flew out of his broken jaw.

The junkies watched as their temporary friend staggered. His face went ashen and the punk toppled to the side. Crow didn’t care if the punk was dead or out of it. He kept moving. The punks became targets in his mind. It was one of Chan’s little tricks – it’s easier to punch the life out of a target than a person.

Crow moved with random precision, drawing on the harsh tutelage of the man who became one of Croatoa’s most feared and respected fighters. Never become predictable and hit exactly what you wanted to hit. Chan taught Crow to move and keep moving; a static target was easy to hit. While he moved, he watched for openings and struck at the places most likely to hurt. Another junkie stepped up to swing a piece of pipe at Crow’s head and almost immediately found himself kneeling on a broken knee. He started to scream out in pain, but a vicious chop to the throat silenced him permanently.

Like all drugged up hop-heads, the punks didn’t realize the danger they were in. They thought they were strong, but starvation and drugs had made them weak and Crow was a predator in their midst. For the time being, they worked together, but the alley was a place of constantly shifting alliances as each denizen tried to jockey for a better position. When a threat was great enough, like the time the police showed up looking for a rapist, the alley temporarily banded together. Felix Crow qualified as a threat and the added bonus of killing the guy who killed the Clock Man made Crow a delicious target. The hat and coat were nice, but the street cred from killing Crow would be overwhelming.

They attacked en masse, an uncoordinated mess of junkies wielding weapons culled together from trash or stolen from other junkies. Even with the mass attacking, Crow still had the advantage. He might not be able to work the same kind of magic that shattered the knife – that required focus and small amount of time – but he had the ability to sense when an opponent was about to strike.

It wasn’t much of a sense, maybe a half second, but a half second in a fight can be a lifetime.

The next junkie slashed at Crow with a piece of rusty metal that probably used to belong to a bed frame. Crow deflected the knife and snaked around the man’s arms. He drew the punk closer and head butted him. The punk’s nose exploded; his eyes started to water and he suddenly found he was having trouble breathing. He staggered back as Crow pressed his attack.

What the junkie didn’t realize was Crow could move forward far faster than the junkie could backpedal. Before he could take two steps, Crow had smashed the man’s ribs.

Crow assessed the fallen guy briefly before turning to find the next target. He found a burly man that had gone to seed when the drugs took hold. The big guy held long piece of rebar over his head. A fist hit the side of the man’s jaw and unhinged it with a sickening crack. A large boot slammed into the side of the guy’s knee, cracking bone and tearing tendon.

A lifetime of training, a hint of magic passed to him from a dragon, and a propensity for violence turned the junkies into a simpering mess in short order. Crow took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He looked around for the first guy and almost missed the terrified eyes looking out from behind a trash can overflowing with rancid meat and old noodles.

“Get your ass over here,” Crow snapped.

The eyes shook from side to side and disappeared behind the trash can. Crow muttered a string of Chinese curses and kicked a nearby crying mass in the ribs. “Now!” he yelled.

The junkie’s eyes were wide and his body shook as he slunk from his hiding place. Gone were all the thoughts of getting the jacket or the hat. He’d be lucky if he left with his life. “Please don’t kill me,” he mumbled. His remaining sandal slapped the pavement and squished through gelatinous puddles as he slowly made his way to Crow.

Crow’s arm lashed out and his fingers wrapped around the guy’s throat. With a slight grunt, he lifted the junkie into the air. “I promise I won’t kill you if you tell me where I can find Hope. I have a meeting there, and I don’t like to be late.”

Skeletal fingers grabbed at Crow’s hands. Fingernails that were trimmed like claws dug gouges in his arms, but Crow didn’t flinch. “I don’t have much time and if I have to kill you I’ll waste even more time looking for someone to beat on. So, do yourself and someone else a favor and tell me where I can find Xīwàng.”

The junkie croaked something that could have been anything from “it’s over there” to “go fuck yourself.” Crow squeezed. The man’s face turned blue and the light faded from his eyes. Crow pushed his face closer to the junkie, close enough to smell rotting teeth and a shallow diet of trash and whatever insects or lizards got too close.

“What was that?” Crow asked. “I couldn’t quite make that out.”

A feeble arm, more bone than anything else and shaking from lack of oxygen and food, pointed across the alley. Crow turned his head and peered, but all he could make out was decaying brick and the faintest hint of where a paifang used to stand. The outline of the archway was etched in shadow on the wall.

“Through that paifang?” Crow asked. “Is that there I’ll find Hope?”

The man nodded weakly. His skin was ashen and clammy. Crow knew the junkie didn’t have much time left, but also knew the man was barely alive as it was. When he’d been on the local constabulary, Crow had seen the same man in different skin time after time. It was only a matter of time before the Tiāntáng De Fěn caught up with him and sent him spiraling into a pain-wracked death.

“You’re not joking around, are you?” Crow asked.

The man barely managed to shake his head. Crow knew exactly how long it took to the kill the average person by shutting off the blood to the brain. He’d been counting to himself ever since he lifted the man off the ground. At one hundred and fifteen seconds, Crow dropped the man.

The junkie hit the ground like a bag of meat and collapsed in on himself. With a bit of luck there wouldn’t be any brain damage that couldn’t be made worse by living in this place and using Heaven’s Powder night and day. The drug was odious. Even Crow, hardly the paragon of virtue, eschewed the stuff. Had he still been a cop, he probably would have been stuck tracking down whoever was making and distributing the stuff. But, he was no longer a cop and would never get assigned to the Heaven’s Powder case.

No matter. People could do whatever they wanted with their bodies. Crow had higher aspirations.

Felix Crow wanted the city. He wanted it in the same way that a man wants a woman he doesn’t respect. He wanted to slap it around and control it, keep it on his arm during the day and scream at it at night. The key to the city was controlling the underworld. No matter what people believed, the root of all power in any capitol was germinated by graft and tended by people with knives.

In the dim light Crow could barely make out the faded, dingy remains of letters: Xīwàng. The legends were true, then. Croatoa was an old city, not ancient, but old. Like all cities, it was alive. It breathed and bled and heaved in orgasmic revelation. Croatoa changed and grew after the Dragon Wars. This part of town was old and decayed, quite possibly the first part built.

Crow ran his fingers along the old stone and closed his eyes. The cold mind of the rock told him stories of dreaming gods and magic and dragons bigger than houses. He thought back to his little dragons and made a mental note to pick up some meat for them on the way home. Through his fingers, he felt the weight of centuries, through wars and strife and junkies puking and killing each other for hats or jackets. The stone lived on, quietly watching the world go by, unperturbed by the goings on of Croatoa’s transplanted children.

Xīwàng,” Crow whispered.

His fingers felt along the smooth stone. There had to be a switch or a lever somewhere. The legends of Hope had largely been forgotten, but a musty tome in ramshackle pawn shop spoke eloquently of the place. Hope, it is said, remembers everything, but cares about nothing. Things slide off Xīwàng’s back like baiju tossed in a drunk’s face. The only way to keep hope alive was to let the world move without letting it interfere. The monks that founded Hope dedicated their lives to providing hope while the world itself descended further and further into the madness of the Dragon Wars and the unpleasantness that followed them.

Crow’s fingers traced the whole of the stone wall and found nothing but whispered memories. He stepped back and scowled. There had to be a way in. If anyone in the city would know where to find the Beast, it would be the monks of Hope. He hadn’t come this far to be stopped by mere stone.

He reached out with his senses and felt the cold stone. His mind pushed aside the stories and visions and dug deeper. The stoneness of the wall gave way to increasing emptiness. Crow pushed deeper until he saw the first pinprick. Soon the world was filled with pinpricks of light, each vibrating in mad intensity. He didn’t completely understand exactly what he was looking at, but he knew how to make it do his bidding.

His mind gently pushed one of the vibrating things. Crow was no aetherist, but he knew enough to know what he was looking at was intensely tiny. In addition to being able to see very slightly into the future, the dragon in the North gave him a kind of magical power. The stone wall, immense though it was, was essentially the same thing as the knife that exploded earlier. It was matter and all matter was made up of the tiny pieces.

Crow nudged one of the buzzing things and watched as it collided with another buzzing thing. Soon they were all buzzing and knocking against each other. A final push set the pieces atwitter. The air in the alley buzzed and hummed. He’d never tried anything this big before, but like the dragon said, “Magic can create a gold statue or remove a mountain.”

The humming in the air turned in a deep basso thrum, the kind of thing the kids in clubs like to listen to. That music always gave Crow a headache; he was more of the traditional music kind of guy. He slowly backed away from the thumping door. Once the reaction started, it was almost impossible to stop it.

Thunder and smoke rippled down the alley. When the dust cleared, Crow found himself staring through the black and white paifang into an exquisite garden. He pinched himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. The paifang was an archway to another country, one that shouldn’t be in the middle of an alley in one of the many worst parts of Croatoa.

He stood and stared at the garden and wondered where the golden light was coming from. The garden reeked of calmness and peace – promises too vague to be disappointing when they don’t show up. Felix Crow calmly stepped over the rubble of the old stone wall and into the garden. He didn’t need calmness and peace. He needed information and this was as good a place to start as any.

WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

As regular readers know, it’s the last Friday of the month and that means it’s time for your monthly shot of news that doesn’t suck. I have to admit, I had to struggle to find this one, but it does have a nice feel-good vibe to it.

If you’ve been paying attention to US politics over the past 241 years, you’ll notice there’s a trend for demonizing the opposition and appealing to the lowest common denominator rather than doing the right thing. Party above country is the mantra of most of our politicians. Whether or not this philosophy has gotten worse in the past couple decades is up for some debate, but there is a general trend toward toward not being complete dicks to the opposition that’s been happening over the past month or so.

Stories like Jeff Flake (R) defending his opponent Deedra Abboud (D) against online jackasses are rare, but very much worthy of note. It would seem Abboud’s faith (she’s Muslim) prompted a group of our famous mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers to attack her based solely on her religious beliefs. As if such things have any bearing whatsoever in governance. Flake, the Republican incumbent, actually took the time to be a human being and defend her.

Truly a rare thing. Hopefully more politicians will start treating each other better and, as a result, the rest of us might actually be able to have a political conversation without resorting to calling each other Nazis and libtards.

Good job, Senator Flake. And good luck Ms. Abboud.

Read the whole story from a news site that’s totally not fake news: the BBC.

If you’d like to get hold of more news that doesn’t suck, go check out this month’s hosts:
Simon Falk, Roshan Radhakrishnan, Inderpreet Uppal, Damyanti Biswas and Sylvia Stein.

If you’d like to join up with We Are The World Blogfest, I have good news for you: it’s free. Go check it out here.

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To signup, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

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WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

Earlier this week someone released a video from Anonymous claiming that NASA was about to reveal the existence of extraterrestrials on Earth. While that would have been some mind-blowing stuff to drop into the world’s lap, it turned out they did it just for the lulz.

Which is probably for the better.

There’s been an ongoing conspiracy theory that aliens have been among us for a very long time, but hiding out lest they be seen. Whether or not this is true is a matter of some fearsome debate. What is interesting is a little known sub-conspiracy theory that says the powers that be are well aware of the existence of extraterrestrials and are ready to tell the world. There’s just one teeny little problem: that knowledge – especially after decades of claiming there are no aliens on the planet – would likely blow more than a few minds. So, in an attempt to minimize the damage a bombshell like that would cause, the information will be leaked slowly. Like, over years or decades.

I read that theory a long time ago when I was in college and for some reason or another, it stuck with me. Now, every time I see a new bit of news about new planets in habitable zones or the possible existence of microscopic life out there, I always wonder if it’s just interesting news or if the plan is proceeding as expected.

That said, we’re living on a planet that’s getting a little rough around the edges and run by a bunch of jack offs that don’t seem interested in fixing it up. So, it’s nice to see this might not be the only planet out there that can support life somewhat similar to ours.

We still have that pesky problem of actually getting someplace that’s multiple light years away, but at least we have a good idea that there might be something to get to. NASA has recently discovered ten new potentially habitable planets, so when the Earth finally kerplodes, we might actually be able to find a new place to live as a species.

Hopefully the new planets won’t be run by the slumlords that run the current one.

Check, check, check it out here.

If you’d like to get hold of more news that doesn’t suck, go check out this month’s hosts:

Lynn Hallbrooks, Michelle Wallace,
Sylvia Stein, Sylvia McGrath and Belinda Witzenhausen

If you’d like to join up with We Are The World Blogfest, I have good news for you: it’s free. Go check it out here.

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To signup, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

Father’s Day 2017

A few jokes for you for Father’s Day 2017.

dad-jokes-will-just-never-get-old-5

During the Middle Ages intelligence was just as important as it is now. Wars are won and lost by intelligence and while a strong army is necessary to win the day, it’s intelligence that tells that army where to be and what to expect. Without good intel, armies can wind up in the wrong place or get smashed by a vastly superior force that could have been defeated if only they moved the fight to Thermopylae.

Gregor Badnick wanted desperately to rule the country. He had the best army, the best weapons, and the best uniforms. The problem was, he was fighting an invisible force. The best way to fight a numerically superior force was with hit and run tactics and since Badnick’s army was the best, his enemy nipped at his heels and disappeared into the wilderness.

Badnick understood intelligence and his spies managed to capture an incredible asset: the Count of VanGoodstan. The good Count was responsible for commanding his small, but mobile army in the ongoing war and he knew where the small army was going to be next.

The Count of VanGoodstan was strapped to a wooden bench with a masked man holding a giant hatchet standing next to him. He knew that telling Gregor where the army was would mean death for everything they stood for, so he clenched his fists and refused to answer any questions.

“Where is the army?” Gregor roared.

Nothing.

“Tell me or I’ll slice your head off and decorate my carriage with it!”

Nothing.

Gregor snapped his fingers and the masked man brought the blade down in a sweeping arc, stopping inches from the Count’s throat. Count VanGoodstan gulped hard. His resolve was already wavering.

“Where is the army?” Gregor asked quietly.

“What army?” the Count asked.

Gregor snapped his fingers and the blade swept down through the air. This time, the blade caressed the Count’s throat. Blood welled up through the cut, thick and warm, and dripped down his throat.

“Last chance,” Gregor said.

The Count steeled his resolve. He didn’t want to die, but he didn’t want to see anyone else die. “Never,” he whispered through white lips.

Gregor snapped his fingers again. The blade arced through the air like a mighty sliver blur. Thoughts poured through the Count’s mind as time seemed to slow down. He saw his wife, all flowing hair and beautiful smile. His son’s bright eyes flashed.

“Wait!” the Count said, “I’ll talk!”

But it was too late. The hatchet took his head. Gregor roared his anger to the heavens. His last chance at success was bleeding out all over the floor. In the end, Gregor Badnick lost the war and his head because he forgot the cardinal rule of warfare: Never hatchet your Count before he chickens.

dad-jokes

People say “mad scientist” like it means something. Every idea that changes the status quo is called “madness” by small-minded people who cannot understand the great plan.

Dr. Wilford Ostenhoffer was not man who cared what the little people thought. He wanted immortality and when it was right he would offer it to the world. Then they would appreciate his greatness.

So, Dr. Ostenhoffer did what he did best: he stuck his middle-finger in Mother Nature’s face and found a way to clone himself.

The clone was perfect! A magical creation that looked and thought just like him. While the clone Ostenhoffer traveled the world speaking about the wondrous new science being created, regular Ostenhoffer continued on his quest for immortality.

Unfortunately, the clone began to break down. It started with his mind. First, he just started using smaller and smaller words, but soon he started releasing the occasional obscenity during his speeches. Eventually, the speeches were nothing more than shrieking tirades.

Real Ostenhoffer knew he had a problem on his hands. He still had work to do and the clone was causing problems. Ostenhoffer wasn’t a violent man, though, and couldn’t bring himself to shoot the clone. He lured the babbling clone to the top of the biggest building in the city and they both watched the city below. As the clone continued ranting, Ostenhoffer pushed it off the building.

Unfortunately for him, a CCTV camera caught the event and, before Dr. Ostenhoffer could finish saving the world, he was arrested for making an obscene clone fall.

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Have a happy Father’s Day, everyone. Try to at least crack a smile when us dads casually toss around some bad jokes.

Cover Fonts – Evoking Emotion Through Typography

Since the explosion of self-publishing, a cottage industry of graphic designers has cropped up to create the covers that sell the books. I know, I know, you should never judge a book by its cover, but let’s be realistic here: we all look at covers as our first line of decision making. Imagine for a moment you’ve never heard of Ray Bradbury. He’s just another guy cranking out books. You come across this cover.

Booooring.

Would it catch your eye?

Probably not. To be fair, I just grabbed some clip art I had lying around and threw some text on the cover, so it’s admittedly not my best work. The font, by the way, is the default Inkscape sans-serif font, cleverly named “sans-serif”.

If you’re unfamiliar with Fahrenheit 451, drop what you’re doing and go read it. It’s an important piece of literature and that’s not something I say lightly. If you are familiar with it, you’ll recognize the element of a burning book that is central to the story.

So, okay, it’s not a good cover from really any point of view, but rather than worry about the images of the flames and the book, we’re going to focus on the fonts and the emotions they invoke. That’s right, your font choice can elicit an emotional response. And that’s a very good thing, provided you’re eliciting the response you intend to elicit.

Inkscape’s default sans-serif font doesn’t do much to evoke a response, but it probably wasn’t intended to. It’s clean and easy to read, but it’s about as emotional as VCR instructions. Fahrenheit 451 is a very passionate book and saddling its cover with a font meant for memos and yard sale posters isn’t doing it credit. This is where exploring your font choices can make a huge impact. Just like you’d take the time to find the right images, it’s extremely important to find the right fonts – and that’s where a lot of beginners take a hit.

I’ve harped on fonts and typography in general before, so if you want a bit of background (including some cool free tips on Inkscape and GIMP), check these out. This post is going to be less historical and technical than some of the past ones, but no less important in terms of effective design.

Back in 2006, the Wichita State University’s Software Usability Research Laboratory conducted a study to see how people perceived certain fonts. Attaching something as nebulous and fleeting as an emotion or a perception to a font is no easy task, but the results were interesting. Using some standard Windows fonts, the researchers asked people to associate a font with a personality trait. You can go read more about that here, but the takeaway was people associate fonts with traits, sometimes quite strongly. Interestingly enough, sans-serif fonts didn’t seem to raise any noticeable good or bad personality associations, which would explain why the cover text for our mock-up of F451 looks so bland. But they did make some interesting associations (from blog.hubspot.com/marketing):

  • Serif fonts were rated as “stable,” “practical,” and “mature.”

  • Sans serif fonts didn’t receive any particularly positive or negative personality associations.

  • Script fonts were perceived as “feminine,” “funny,” and “casual.”

  • Modern fonts were categorized as “masculine,” “assertive,” and “coarse.”

  • Monospaced fonts were called “dull,” “plain,” and “unimaginative.”

Recently, CreativeMarket.com had a font sale – a whopping 43 fonts for 21 bucks (link at bottom). Some of them I’ll likely never use, but there were enough standouts in the collection to warrant purchasing it.

Just to show how font choice can affect the tone of a word, I chose a handful of the fonts and applied them to one word: Evolution. The word itself is something that could conceivably fit almost any genre of book from sci-fi to romance to horror. Watch what happens:

Inkscape default sans-serif, not bad, but not exciting, either
Inkscape standard serif font. At least has a bit more oomph, even if it’s evocative of newsprint.
Flanela Sans. Now we’re getting somewhere. The stark, thin lines could be good for sci-fi or a thriller. There’s a certain coldness to the font. Very computer-y without resorting to the standard monotype fonts that people seem to think computers still use.
Beautiful Friday 01. A playful font that’s more evocative of harmless fun. This would definitely not work for horror or thriller; it’s too happy. Would be good for romcom or feel-good fiction.
Castrina Typescript. Maybe it’s just me, but this feels very feminine. Probably a good choice for romance or summer beach reading.
Mutiara. The harsh lines don’t speak of safety or even sanity. Mutiara has an almost sinister, slasher-like feel to it. This would be a good choice for horror, but probably not a lot else unless it’s paired with another font; it’s too rough thrillers and far too in your face for romance.
Lost Volution. The Gothic lines are neat and tidier than Mutiara’s, but the decorative nature of the font is still overpowering. Emotionally, this has a somewhat sinister feel to it that would work well with horror or even steampunk. Westerns could possibly make good use of this one.
Solid70 Type System. Even though this is really retro font (those of who grew up in the 70s will recognize the style) it’s been modernized enough that it could work today. It’s a playful font, but the harsh angles still give it a very technical feel. With a bit of work, this could be effective in sci-fi or cyberpunk settings. Especially a 70s cyberpunk with big, clunky, plastic phones and loud keyboards.

Just a gander at those should evoke different emotional responses. They feel different. And even though each of them spell out the same word, that word takes on a different sense of meaning based on what font is used to present it.

So, if a font can impact how we feel about a word, it’s easy to imagine how a font can change the feel of a cover. Take the Fahrenheit 451 cover above, for instance. We know it’s not a lighthearted tale, so Beautiful Friday and Castrina are right out the window. Mutiara wouldn’t work on its own (more on that later) and Lost Volution is far too fussy. That leaves the default Inkscape fonts (which we’re going to ignore), Flanela Sans, and Solid70.

Much as I love Solid70, it doesn’t fit with the rest of the cover, but Flanela Sans just might work.

Not great, but better

The problem with Flanela is the coldness it inspires with its thin lines and tall letters. It’s a good font, but Flanela alone ain’t going to cut it a book about burning books; it needs some heat.

Which leads me to another point. There is no rule that says you can only use one font at a time. Mixing fonts is a bit of an art form, but it’s not completely inaccessible. Creative Market has a bunch of infographics on how to do it and do it well.

Let’s see if we can do some mixing and evoke more of an emotional response. Rather than sticking exclusively with Flanela, I’m going to bam it up a notch with Mutiara.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

The images and the layout still aren’t spectacular, but the text is looking pretty good. Now we’ve got Flanela’s cold, sterile feel combined with Mutiara’s in-your-face passion and a title that is a hell of a lot more eye catching than the original. And bear in mind, we did it with two fonts and only white. Adding yellow or orange to the 451, especially with a faint glow effect, might make it pop even more.

FahrenheitColored
Bam.

 

You can have the absolute best image for your cover and completely blow it with the font choice. Fonts elicit an emotional response and that response has to match up with what the book feels like. Just like it wouldn’t be appropriate to use Castrina Typescript or Beautiful Friday 01 for Fahrenheit 451, using a combination of Flanela and Mutiara for Lady Chatterly’s Lover or The Girl On The Train would be a recipe for disaster. Although, I guess if you were to rewrite Lady Chatterly’s Lover and include zombies (Lady Chatterly’s Zombie Lover?), Flanela and Mutiara might work.

And, please, unless you’re designing the interface for Microsoft Bob, avoid Comic Sans.

Got any comments or other tips you’d like to add? Drop ’em in the comments. I love comments.

Get Lostvoltype’s Mega Font Bundle on Creative Market for only 21 bucks.

A couple posts about fonts and emotion.

By the way, if you’re wondering what the current cover for Fahrenheit 451 looks like, it looks like this. It’s a clean, clever play on the book and matches with a start font-set and stark color scheme that’s evocative of repressive governments everywhere. Brilliant, if you ask me.

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Celebration Week Marches On

Freebooks

Today (6/1) and tomorrow (6/1 + 1) will be the last days of the celebration week, celebrating this week by giving away free ebooks on Amazon. I had intended to have the Complete Saxton free, too, but due to some error or another on Amazon’s end, that will have to wait for another time.

Still, you’ve got some time to get the latest and greatest in the Henchmen series: Transmute for the cost of absolutely nothing. You don’t even have to leave a review (but it would be nice if you did).

All he wants is a dinner date with his girlfriend, but there are jerks everywhere.
As if Steven doesn’t already have enough problems dealing with the Dreaming Lands actively rebelling against his rule, the freshly minted God of Dreams has to learn how to be a god, deal with overzealous followers, and generally get his head in the game. To make things worse, a powerful enemy has set its sights on Steven and Jessica, and the entire world could be at stake.
New god. New powers. New problems. At least he’s still got friends.

transmutecomiccovercs2

Get your copy here