Word Up, Yo

Here are some fun (if disputable) facts for you. The total number of words in the English language – at least according to the Oxford English Dictionary – is 171,476. Apparently there can be some dispute about what constitutes a word, so that number is just the total number of words they have listed in the dictionary.

Of that 171,476 words the average person knows between 20,000 and 35,000. Average is the key word here. Not everyone knows what fustian means, let alone cares, so most people tend to avoid that style of writing and speaking. Compared to 171,476, 35,000 seems like a small percentage, but it’s still 35,000 words rattling around in the average person’s skull. Some, like fustian or pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis are just hanging out waiting for an excuse to make the user sound smart, others like instantiate or concatenate pop up frequently in specialized jargon or argot but aren’t used in regular speech or writing.

So, how many words does the average person use during the average day? Anywhere between 1200 and 2000.

That’s it. It’s also been estimated that 95% of writing and speaking can be easily understood with just 1 3/4% of the available words in English. With a vocabulary of only a couple thousand words, anyone can usually get by on a day-to-day basis.

And, to make things even more fun, there’s a theory that most writing should be capped at about the 7th grade level. Why? Because it’s easier to digest information when it’s presented in a simpler format. I’ve read books that rely on complicated sentence structure and flowery prose. While I applaud the author’s linguistic skills, the resulting book is exhausting to read. The reason is because it takes time and effort to parse out the language to get to the heart of the meaning. And, ultimately, it’s all about the meaning. Without meaning, a book is just a bunch of pretty words.

So, why do I bring this up? Well, there’s a little program called Pro Writing Aid that, among other things, analyzes the level of writing in your manuscript. My recent one is showing a 7th grade reading level.

When I first ran the analysis and found that out, I was a bit pissed off. I’ve got a damned Master’s degree after all. How did I manage to write something at that level? Shouldn’t it be at least High School? I mean, sure, I’ve got a penchant for sophomoric humor, but I thought I was presenting it at a higher level. After a little research, I felt a little better because, as I pointed out earlier, the more complicated the sentence, the longer it takes to read and you don’t want to leave a reader feeling exhausted after reading your book. Enthralled, ecstatic, elated, or eviscerated, sure. But not exhausted.

How do you keep writing at a 7th grade level when, unlike me, you’re actually trying to? It turns out a lot of the “rules” we accept as writers wind up dropping us into that magical realm. Short, punchy sentences, avoiding passive voice, keeping things simple instead of going for the complicated words. All these tips to increase readability inadvertently drop the writing level to right around 7th grade. And that, as it turns out, is a good thing.

goodjob

Just for a lark, I ran this post through Pro Writing Aid and let it work its magic. It turns out this post contains 568 words, 274 of which are distinct. The most unique words are:

  1. fustian
  2. pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis
  3. punchy
  4. sophomoric
  5. concatenate

It’s got seven easy-to-read paragraphs and one slightly difficult-to-read paragraph. The average sentence length is 15.4 words (good) and two long sentences (over 18 words, bad). It’s also written at somewhere between a 7th and 8th grade level, which is a little higher than it could be, but that’s probably just the evil effects of fustian and pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.

There you go, your interesting but useless bit of trivia for the day. There’s a very good reason for keeping thing simple: It makes it easier to read and easier-to-read stuff sells better.

Further reading:

Oxford dictionaries

The Economist

Quora

BL Copywriting

If At First You Don’t Succeed And So Forth …

Know any youngsters that like to write? Have I got an offer for you…

Raspberry Sassafras

A couple of weeks ago I had one of my brilliant ideas when trying to think of ways to liven up my website.  The site is centered around a series of children’s books I’m writing, so really the only time anything would change would be when a new book was released. Not the most dynamic stuff out there.  What I decided to do was feature writing from young people (high school and under), because what better way to mix things up on a site dedicated to writing for children than writing from children. I called that part of the site Storytellers and have been spreading the word about it, waiting for submissions to roll in.

As my mother would say, it’s gone over like a lead banana.

Never before have I been ignored for so long by so many.  And frankly, I’m a little surprised. I’ve been reaching out to…

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My Style Is Better Than Yours

brucelee

I actually saw this in the theater. It was awesome seeing Chuck get his ass kicked.

There’s a saying in the martial arts, “It’s not the style, it’s the stylist.” The gist of the saying of the saying is there’s no one system that’s inherently any better than any other. They all focus on different aspects of fighting and emphasize different theories. Some people are drawn to the high kicks of Tae Kwon Do while others like the joint locks of Jiu Jitsu. Some people, myself included, appreciate the varied approach systems like Kenpo, Krav Maga, and the various forms of Kung Fu take to fighting.

So, why are there so many martial arts styles out there? It has more to do with the practitioner’s preferences and predilections. I’m not a stellar kicker, so Tae Kwon Do is right out the window and Jiu Jitsu just doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve always gravitated toward the hand arts because they appealed to some part of my brain and I had a measure of skill with them to begin with. That’s not to say the other systems are inherently flawed, they’re just inherently flawed for me.

The masters that developed these various systems had certain things they were good at – stuff that worked well for them. For whatever reason, those systems prospered and grew into what we have today. Although, new systems pop up all the time and some of them catch fire. Kenpo was born in Hawaii in the 1940s. Krav Maga grew out of the ashes of World War II. Heck, even Aikido was born in the 1920s.

I guess what I’m trying to say is there are dozens – if not hundreds – of various martial arts out there and they’re all pretty good at what they’re trying to do. In the final analysis, though, it really comes down to artist more than the art.

I’ve seen black belts in Karate that couldn’t win a street fight. I’ve also seen Karate students break 2x4s over their shoulders. I’ve seen Tae Kwon Do students who can do amazing kicks get slammed to the ground by one punch, but I also saw one break someone’s back with a side kick. It’s all about the student and the way they approach the art. If you walk into a school hoping to look good throwing high kicks, you’ll probably be less successful than the student that looks at the system as a way of getting out of life or death situations more or less intact.

None of this new thought, though. So, you’re probably wondering why I’m bringing it up. Funny story, really. The other night, my son and I stopped off at Walgreen’s to get milk after Kenpo. We’d just spent the last hour learning to deal with multiple attackers. We were both sweaty, tired, and sore. So, as we get to the checkout counter, the guy running the cash register mentions that he had done some Kenpo back in the day. He then continued on to tell a story about worthless it was and how he only learned to fight once he joined the army.

Nice. Thanks, asshole. Not only did I not need your life story, I didn’t need you to shit all over the last twenty years of my studies. I just needed milk.

But, his feigned badassery got me thinking. There’s a pervasive belief that most traditional martial arts systems are useless for real fighting and only things designed from the ground up for actual combat are any good.

Here’s the thing: Army combatives are designed to be simple and effective. I believe the Army is currently using a system that they’ve put together over multiple years. It’s called the Modern Army Combatives Program and it’s derived from various martial systems around the world. In a lot of ways, it’s similar to the Marine Corp Martial Arts Program. Both are tough, effective systems and, at least according to a Marine buddy of mine, all stem from a single night during the Vietnam war.

Back in the day, military fighting was limited in scope. It incorporated a handful of things like punching and stabbing people with bayonets because that’s what most people could adapt to. It was something that had to be taught effectively during the six weeks or so of basic training so soldiers would have a measure of survivability on the battlefield. Of course, some soldiers already came in knowing some classical fighting styles. Michael Echanis, for instance, was skilled in the little-known Korean art of Hwa Rang Do (Hwa Rang Do was born in the 1960s, by the way) and used it effectively during his stint with the US Army Rangers and later as a soldier of fortune.

Anyway, according to my Marine buddy, there was a particularly bad night where the Viet Cong were desperately trying to overrun a gun position. The Marines guarding that position couldn’t let it fall, but they ran out of ammo. They held that position all night long using hand-to-hand techniques cobbled together from various systems. The brass noticed that and thus was born what would eventually become the various US military martial arts programs.

All born from classical martial arts.

And there’s nothing magical or special about the way the military is training these arts. Someone does this, this is how you respond. Don’t be afraid to get mean, there’s no such thing as a cheap shot. All things that are common in Kenpo. Sure, we have some people who are just there for the belt, but most of our students are pretty damned effective because the instruction is still based on the idea of not pulling punches.

When you look at martial arts through that lens – surviving the encounter – they take on a whole new meaning. Sparring isn’t so much about how to get the point as how to take the hit and find the targets. Bowing and being respectful are just good things to do. But, ultimately, it’s all about how to break an attacker with a minimal amount of effort and keep yourself alive.

So, Mr. Walgreen’s Badass, the problem was never the system. It was always you.

How about you? Got a favorite martial art? I love talking martial arts.

Could It Be…Satan?

Back in the mid 1980s, I was walking in the ass-end of nowhere with a pastor from one of Farmington’s local churches. I had gotten suckered into going on a “retreat” with a buddy’s church group. At the time, I had no idea this meant driving into the desert and drinking Kool-Aid. You can derive your own subtext to that statement.

At the time Farmington was largely run by the Baptists and they ruled it with an iron fist. Most of my friends were involved to some degree or another with one of the churches, so I wound up going on the odd retreat or spending the night at a lock-in, or any number of the other wholesome activities they ran.

Anyway, I was walking with this guy and we were chatting while the rest of the kids were off doing whatever it was they were doing. Now, I’m going to stop you right here: nothing untoward happened, so if you’re looking forward to a juicy rape scene or something, it didn’t happen. He was a nice, if strangely devout guy.

The moon that night was so full you could walk across the mesa and see every speck of dust. So, we just kind of wandered away from the group and talked. In time, he guided the conversation to the church and ongoing war that Satan was waging against the world. He told me a story that’s stuck with me over the years. It seemed some concerned parents had brought their son to his church because they were worried he was falling into Satan’s charms and were hoping this guy’s church could bring him back to the light of the Lord. “This kid,” he told me, “wanted to curry favor with Satan so badly that he sacrificed a rabbit by putting it in a box with a bunch of maggots. The maggots ate the rabbit alive.”

That’s the kind of thing that belongs in a horror story somewhere, so needless to say I was shocked. But the story got better.

He was driving the kid to a church somewhere to drive the Devil far from him when he put some clean Christian rock in the car stereo. The kid, probably used to heavier fare, was apoplectic. Without warning, the tape erupted from the tape deck and flew across the car! The power of Satan had flooded this young man and the Christian music was painful for him to hear.

When you’re sixteen and walking through the desert under a huge full moon with a guy who’s not supposed to lie – ever – stories like that take on an amazing gravitas.

I know what you’re thinking; there’s no way any of this happened. It has to be just another story I made up to sell books or something, but I assure this conversation took place. I can’t vouch for the events in the car or the existence of the kid, but this pastor actually took me aside and told me this story. It ended with a warning about the power of the Devil and an admonition to go his church and be safe.

I never did find out what happened to the kid. I suspect they read the Bible at him until he cracked. Fuck his religious rights; those only count if you’re following the right religion.

In retrospect, with thirty years of experience under my belt, the whole event was nothing more than the usual brainwashing attempts. Get someone separated from the pack, feed him some scary stories, and get a quick and dirty convert.

But at the time, it didn’t seem all that out of place. The whole country was nuts about Satanists. They’d become the new commies now that great Communist empire of the Soviet Union was cracking at the seams we needed someone to be scared of. Someone, somewhere, trotted out the old standby and started blaming everything that went wrong in the world on devil worshipers. It probably wasn’t a difficult thing to pull off. This was, after all the heyday of hair metal and plenty of bands were turning to evil for the shock value.

What? You thought Marilyn Manson was the first person to use shock music? Fuggedaboutit.

Satanists were even the main antagonists in movies.

The threat, back then, was very real and in deeply religious Farmington, New Mexico, we actually had school gatherings about the dangers of Satanism. Our dress codes at school extended to ban shirts that were evil or in any way promoted Satan. Basically, any shirt Iron Maiden ever made.

Nowadays, in the enlightened 21st century, most people have forgotten those time and Satanism has faded into the background noise. The idea of sacrificing animals to the Devil to get favors is pretty much gone, and if you tried to tell the story of a Christian rock tape getting pushed out of a cassette deck people would think you were bonkers.

Except Jack Chick; he’d think you were totally onto something.

All that mania, all the paranoia, and the sheer bonkers madness of the time has stuck with me over the years, even as I over-analyze the meaning of it all. Sure, it was another power grab by the religious right, but it was a fascinating time and it got me wondering what the world would be like if all that craziness was real. If sacrificing a rabbit – in an admittedly gruesome way – would net you the power to forcibly eject Stryper cassettes, what other things could be lurking under the covers?

A few years ago I scrounged up a copy of the Satanic Bible and actually read the damned (get it, double entendre there) thing. It was interesting – a bit over dramatic, but it had some good zingers in it.

Don’t try this at home. It’s impossible to get the smell of brimstone out of your drapes.

The Satanic Bible, 80s hair metal, and the general mania of the time all congealed late last year into a story. Any of you following me on Twitter have probably seen the tweets about Roadside Attractions; that book is a direct response to all of those things I grew up with.

It also got me thinking about the way we tend to blame groups for our problems. No jobs? Must be the Mexicans. Things seem out of place and scary: Liberals. Anything bad happens in the world? Smells like Muslims. I’ve lived through the ever-present threat of Communism, the existential agita of Satanism, and enough made-up threats to know it’s all just another bullshit power-grab by someone or another. Keep people scared and you keep them in line.

Or maybe it’s always been Satan. He is the father of all lies, after all. All I know is, I’ve got a kick-ass book in the works and I learned to avoid blaming The Other for all my problems.

Got any good stories of the 80s? Let’s hear those comments.

Molon Labe

rant

I’m sure everyone is familiar with the tale of the 300 Spartans who stood tall against Xerxes and bought ancient Greece time to muster its forces and repel the Persian invasion. It’s a tale of standing up against great odds and defying kings, fighting to the last man to protect family and freedom from a great foreign oppressor. Sheer tales of manliness are still told of Leonidas and his die hard group of badasses. Dienekes, the second prototype for badassery after Leonidas himself, made a name for himself when Xerxes’s messenger threatened to send so many arrows at the Spartans they would blot out the sun. Dienekes replied simply, “Then we will fight in the shade.”

Another phrase that came out of Thermopylae was “molon labe”. This is what Leonidas said to Xerxes when the Persian emperor ordered the Spartans to lay down their arms. As you would probably guess from the awesome badassery that was Leonidas, molon labe means “come and take.”

In other words, Leonidas stood in front of his 300 Spartans, facing down the massive army of Xerxes, and said, “come take ’em.”

A phrase that was used 2500 years ago by a man standing tall and protecting his country has since been co-opted by a group of people living in a country that grants them nearly unparalleled freedom is now using molon labe to refer to standing up to a government that has shown precisely zero interest in taking away their guns.

Sit down, kids, this is going to sting a bit.

Some of you might have heard of LARPing. It’s live action role playing, a game where people dress up as their characters and act out a game in real life. It takes creativity, some costuming skill, and an extreme dedication to the cause. Think of it as a cross between Dungeons & Dragons and a cosplay convention.

American gun culture is very different from when I was a kid. We had the same kinds of weapons available to us – my dad had a few full-auto weapons that he went to great pains to acquire and keep legally. Those guns were insanely fun to fire, even if it did take forever to collect the brass and reloading all the spent rounds could take up an afternoon. When he died, I sold those to a friend of his who had also gone to great lengths to be able to legally purchase and own full-auto weapons. Everything was completely above board and all the guys my dad knew in the AZ shooters groups at the time were rational people who just really liked shooting things.

Gun culture now has shifted to LARPing and the LARPing has shifted to this fantasy world where the guy in the lifted 4×4 with his modified AR-15 variant and Molon Labe sticker thinks he’s the last bulwark between tyranny and freedom. It’s this belief that the tyrants are just around the corner and someone has to put on tacticool outfits and collect gun mods to keep American safe from itself that has pushed gun culture into this insane fantasy world.

The NRA has had a hand in this shift from gun enthusiasts to people who seriously think they’re going to save the world from the bad guys, or worse yet, protect us from the evils of the government. Look up what happened to the NRA at the Revolt at Cincinnati and how the NRA shifted from a group of people who taught marksmanship and gun safety to Boy Scouts into the group they are today.

People like Alex Jones – lying conspiracy theorists looking to make a quick buck – have pushed gun culture even further toward the edge.

There used to be a time when gun enthusiasts kept things neatly in check and the idea of walking around a Target with an AK-47 was unheard of, let alone the idea of shooting up a concert or a church. Don’t get me wrong, I really like shooting and would hate to see a world where all the guns are rounded up and disposed of, but the culture needs to start pulling itself back from the abyss.

I get it, LARPing is fun. It’s fun to dress up and pretend you’re going to save the world, but it’s just a fantasy, a fun game to play and not necessarily a bad skill set to have. But it ain’t real and it’s likely not going to be.

When Leonidas uttered the words “Come, take”, he was facing down a huge army bent on his destruction and subjugation of his homeland. He was standing tall against a very real threat and he died doing what needed to be done. There is no army of angry Persians knocking on our door. The government has no great plans for taking away all the guns. Even now, with two of the top ten deadliest shootings in American history happening within thirty-some-odd days of each other, there won’t be any serious legislation to curtail to gun ownership in this country; it would be political suicide to try that and everyone knows it.

The bottom line is: there is no real threat out there. If someone is crazy enough to try to invade this country, they’ll find out quickly we’re not to be trifled with, but we don’t need American gun culture to keep us safe from tyranny. We’ve got the brave men and women in the armed forces to handle that.

So, go out, dress up and find the coolest mods for your guns. Have fun. Shoot the living shit out of targets and enjoy every second of it. Just realize it’s just a game. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s time to start bringing gun culture back from the brink and realize the rampant paranoia has no basis in reality. It’s also time to realize a gun is not the ultimate solution to every problem.

Information Density

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I had an epiphany the other night.

My son and I were early for Kenpo class and took a bit of time to practice a few things on the empty secondary deck. He hasn’t gotten into any fights, but as he gets older he’s seen people doing some specious things at school like getting rougher with each other. While he doesn’t want to get involved with that kind of thing – he gets plenty of time punching me in class – he wanted to know if there were any techniques we could come up with in case someone decided to put the moves on him.

School in his day is very different from school in my day. Back in my day (a phrase I never thought I’d use unironically), shoving matches turned into fist fights and usually both parties walked away with no serious problems from the school. At the very worst, you’d get an afternoon’s detention unless someone got seriously injured, which they almost never did. While I’m not condoning the behavior, it was kids establishing their own place in the world and we all had our own set of rules about how to do that.

In my son’s school, both parties in the fight – whether they started it or not – are subject to detention or expulsion. It’s that beautiful zero tolerance policy that schools have adopted that frees them from things like critical thinking or assessing the incident. As a result, even throwing a mock punch can get a kid in serious trouble. For better or worse, that’s the way it is now. So, my son was curious to know if I could come up with anything where he could defend himself without fighting should the need arise.

My first thought was, if someone throws a punch at you, clobber him. After several years of Kenpo training (he’s almost a Black Belt), my kiddo should be able to knock the snot out of anyone who decides to push his buttons. Unfortunately, as my son pointed out, fighting is a serious no-no on school grounds. Fighting in general is usually frowned up and even in the real world, both parties can wind up facing serious consequences.

This left us with things like motion and soft blocking. Basically, getting out of the way and hoping that’s enough. So, guess what we practiced? Moving. My old teacher had a philosophy he liked to call “guarding the area that’s not being attacked”. While our version of Kenpo doesn’t explicitly call that out, the information is there if you dig deep enough.

That’s where my epiphany came in. I’ve never been a big fan of kata. For the unitiated, kata are those pre-programmed movements you see martial artists do. Block, move, kick, punch, and so on, all against imaginary opponents. They can go from simple to complex, a handful of movements to a few dozen movement. In some schools, the entire martial system is taught through kata. The idea being, if you know the kata and understand the kata, you know and understand the system.

Understanding is the rub. It’s easy to learn some movements and regurgitate them as an almost dancelike routine. Understanding the individual components – and why they’re being done – is the tricky part. As I said earlier, I’ve never really liked kata, but when my son and I were working out, I realized everything we were doing was in some kata somewhere and I had just glanced over it. So, I guess you could say the teaching mechanism worked to a point. Like any other kind of teaching, martial arts are dependent on the student to explore and attempt to understand the material in their own way.

So, how do I feel about kata now? Well, I still don’t care for them, but I’m looking at them in a new light. There’s a lot of information packed into those movements, but it requires examination to pull it out. And then it requires more examination to come to grips with it. Each one to three minute kata has a density of information you simple can’t get through basics or techniques. Show, don’t tell as the writing world calls it.

At the very least, doing kata correctly is a hell of a good workout and, apparently, even if I’m not fully paying attention, some of the information is leaking into my head.

Firestorm

On the evening of October 8, 2017, I was enjoying pizza and beer with friends in Santa Rosa, California. We’d had a reasonably fun day of empanadas, beer, Pokemon shopping, a couple dips in the pool, and ended it up with the promise of beach day on October 9.

At about 4am on October 9, we got a phone call. The town was on fire and our buddy had been ordered to evacuate. Let me tell you something, I’ve seen plenty of photos and videos of encroaching wild fires and there’s nothing quite like seeing that tell-tale glow in real life and knowing what was on the other side of it.

We never got the order to skedaddle, but left when ash started falling from the sky. It was the first time I’d ever been smack dab in a natural disaster and wasn’t entirely certain what to do. Some people were panicking, others calmly going about their business. We were in a unique position; we didn’t have any skin in the game. At the very worst, we’d be ordered to evacuate Santa Rosa, drive to San Francisco and spend the night in the airport before flying home (we wound up getting a hotel in San Fran). Other people, our friends included, had serious skin in the game.

Our friends, through various machinations, have two house a few houses apart from each other. One gets rented out and they live in the other. While that sounds cool and all, bear in mind he was ordered to evacuate because his entire neighborhood was about turn to ash and blow away in the breeze. So far, his places have been fine, but talk about losing it all in one feel swoop.

Fire’s some scary stuff. I saw some before and after images of a few places that got hit by flames. One day we were driving past that joint, the next it was a smoldering pile of blackened wood and twisted metal. I met a man walking his dog who told me he’d be told to evacuate, but had seen the fire crest the hill and tear-ass down into some of the local mansions. In minutes they went from five-million-dollar homes to nothing. It happened that fast. Apparently the fire went from 0 to 20,000 acres in four hours. The fire chief admitted that not only was the fire 0% contained as of Monday afternoon, they had no idea how they were going to contain it.

High winds – upward of 60mph/96kph – and low humidity conspired to create firestorm that ravaged a large portion of northern California, including Santa Rosa. Last I heard, the fire had spread to 70,000+ acres.

So, if you’ve been reading about the northern California fires and they seem distant and unreal, let me assure you they are quite real and there is nothing like meeting people in San Fran who tell you they still haven’t heard from some of their friends up north.

While we were driving south out of Santa Rosa, we were joking about being refugees. Of course, we were never in any danger, so calling ourselves refugees was facetious at best. But driving through the ash and sirens and choking smoke gave me a bit better understanding of what real refugees actually do have to go through. Not much of one, mind you, because we knew our home wasn’t going to be torched unless the fire got extremely out of control and scorched the entire Southwest, we also didn’t have anyone shooting at us, and knew we had a plan that would work to keep us going.

That’s not necessarily the case with a whole lot of people who are going to go home to smoking rubble.

As I said, I’ve seen plenty of pictures and videos of fires and nothing really captures the event as it exists in real life. This image, though (It’s from the SF Chronicle, if y’all want it removed, please just tell me), captures the very human side of fire tragedy perfectly.

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Good luck to everyone who’s going to be picking through the mess up there in the next few weeks.

Lost Americana

Perhaps I’ve watched too many Scooby Doo episodes, but one of the things I’ve always wanted to see was one of those old mechanical fortune tellers and see what my fortune was. You can still get a fortune from a wide variety of sources. In fact, a quick Google search yields 6.4 million records for people doing online fortune telling.

Those sites lack the gravitas of seeing something crafted by artisans in a factory somewhere in Jersey. See, there’s a mystique surrounding the mechanical fortune tellers of yore that you just can’t recreate with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Even if you go wild and dump some C# into the code, you’re still missing the weight, the sheer physical presence of seeing a several-foot-tall box with an animatronic person pointing at cards before a piece of paper pops out of the bottom like magic.

Red right hand?

There’s a slight problem, though: no one has produced those things since the middle of the last century and they were notoriously cantankerous beasts to begin with.

So, imagine my surprise when I found not only a mechanical fortune teller, but one from 1944 that still works.

Cheryl can keep her old Gypsy lady, I’ve found something better.

Out North of Sandia Park is a small part of lost Americana, a bombastic example of where we came from. It’s not the usual slick and soulless stuff we’ve converted to lately, and it’s not always pretty, but it’s real and tangible, and has a working mechanical fortune teller that will gift you with the secrets of your future for only a quarter.

Beyond that, there’s also a fully functioning machine that will tell you what career you should choose, a mechanical one-man-band, and more hand-carved miniatures than you can possibly imagine. That place is the Tinkertown Museum. It’s a tiny place tucked into the side of the road and adorned with every bit of history you can imagine. It’s a pop-art history shack that doesn’t take itself too seriously and comes complete with everything from the over-the-top giddiness of the big top to the grotesque mannequins displaying horse-hair jackets.

I’m not sure Love Pirate is a career, but if anyone’s hiring, I’d like to apply. Dictator would be good, too.

Among other things, Tinkertown is an homage to a part of our culture that disappeared with the advent of reality T.V. and fast food; it’s a throw-back to the time when we still felt the creative urge to make something instead of just consuming things.

Now, maybe I’m just being cynical – my fortune did say I have destructive tendencies, after all – but it seems to me that the creative urge has dissipated. And that’s a very sad thing because there are some tremendously talented people out there with stories to tell, miniatures to carve, worlds to build, and images to share.

Yes, the museum has a yacht built in the 30s in it. The owner of the yacht sold everything he owned and sailed that boat around the world for 10 years. It was a really long picture. Just imagine it as one continuous piece.

A while back I was having a conversation with my Kenpo teacher when the subject of winning the lottery came up. His take on it was, if you really want to do something, you don’t need to win the lottery to do it. Just go make it happen. I responded by telling him I wanted to buy a Senator and they’re not cheap. We chuckled, but he was dead on the money: There’s never going to be a perfect time to do what you want, you just have to go do it. That was my Kenpo fortune for the evening.

As for the my Tinkertown fortune, well, that’s between me and Grandmother Esmerelda.

Check out some more of the fantastic stuff at Tinkertown and if you’re ever in Sandia Park, go check it out. Just go early, it’s a small place and it fills up fast.

Book Review: Transmute

Gotta love the good reviews. Go check Bryan’s own works; they’re pretty great.

bryan the writer

TransmuteTransmute by Eric Lahti

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To be fair, I am already a fan of Eric Lahti so I was excited when this book came out. I have read the entire “Henchmen” series starting from book 1 and have now finished “Transmute”. I love books in a series where I can get into the specifics of the characters. I get to grow to like and know those characters as if they were family members. You smile when they triumph, you wince when they’re in pain, and you feel sad when they fail.

Eric has a storytelling style all his own. He takes you from the beginning of the book to the end and pulls you through by your nose. His books offer the same adrenaline filled ride every time and consistently. With a mix of martial arts, witty humor, and his own brand storytelling I found…

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Why Monkey Knife Fighting Is Important

One of my Theatre teachers (note, The Theatre, as opposed to the pedestrian theater that screens “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”), liked to say, “No one writes plays about people brushing their teeth.” Her point was we, as an audience, want the exceptional, the crazy, the amazing story, not the pedestrian stuff we all do every day.

There was a scene in The Simpsons back in the day where Homer & the gang took Mr. Burns’ yacht out into international waters. Now, for those of you in the know, that means US law no longer applies and the sky’s the limit. Of course, also for those of you in the know, it doesn’t quite work like that, but for The Simpsons, it was a great excuse to go nuts.

How did they go nuts? Monkey knife fighting, of course.

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Actual scene from Canada, monkey knife fighting capital of the world. They just want you to think they’re all nice up there.

Whether or not monkey knife fighting is a thing – and I’ve heard it’s extremely popular in Canada and Yonkers, NY, but that could fake news – it served as an example of what Homer thought going bonkers was. That and drinking in the nude, if memory serves.

Of course, as the Canadians will tell you, monkey knife fighting isn’t really all that bonkers. For true, balls-to-the-wall, pissing-on-cop-cars, pants-on-head-crazy, you really need to turn to the master of the art. The man who made Gonzo Journalism a thing; the one and only Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.

“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.” Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Dr. Thompson lived the life he wrote about and not all of us have the iron-clad constitution to wake up every morning to a glass of whisky or the balls to pull a gun on a crowd of people during a speech. But that was Thompson, he lived his life like he wrote about the world and we, as a people, are better off for him doing it.

Writing fiction shouldn’t be about people brushing their teeth or sitting in offices hammering GPS code; that’s boring stuff that we all do every day. Or at least I do. So, if your audience is already living it, or worse, inured to it, it’s probably not a great thing to work with. Likewise, if the story has already been told, don’t tell it again. The world needs to be amped up if people are going to want to lose themselves in it.

Sure, even The Bible (Ecclesiates 1:9) said there’s nothing new under the sun, but that doesn’t mean there’s no new way to tell that tale. Rather than building a fantasy world where the spotless hero is trying to take the castle from the evil villain, how about a fantasy world where the bad guy took the castle because he wasn’t really bad, just a victim of bad press? What about an alien abduction story where the people getting abducted steal the UFO?

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Chimps are apes, so this technically isn’t a rehashed monkey joke. The more you know…

The bottom line is, we live in a world where the president of the United States communicates through Twitter and has accused his predecessor of tapping his phone lines, what seemed crazy and abnormal last year is becoming the norm this year.

Don’t be afraid to include monkey knife fights in your story, maybe not literally, but figuratively. Unless you’re planning on selling a lot of books in Canada. Get nuts, make the dragons duplicitous bastards who’ve managed to turn religion into a drug or make a main character a Valkyrie who thinks Odin isn’t doing enough to hasten Ragnarok.

It’s time to put on the tinfoil fedora and go a little nuts. Make it surreal, make it fun, make it so outside the ordinary people will have to sit up and notice it.

As usual, Hunter S. Thompson has a quote that needs to be applied to more fiction.

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Go bonkers with your writing. Don’t be afraid to write that scene; I assure you its only problem is it’s not crazy enough.

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