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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Indie Authors & Fantasy Art

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This isn’t exactly a guest post, but it’s kind of a guest post, so bear with me.

For anyone interested, a buddy of mine is holding a Facebook discussion panel tomorrow (02/24/2017) on Fantasy Art, Book Cover Design, and the Indie Author. Come by and check it out. I’ll be on over my lunch break, so I may be chowing down at my desk while I’m answering questions. My slot is 12:30pm to 1:30pm, but the event runs all day and Michael Dellert (the host) has a whole host of indie authors, cover designers, and illustrators slated throughout the day. If you’re an author, designer, or illustrator, come on by and chat it up. This is a great opportunity to meet some new folk and share some ideas and stories.

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Research & Why

The background research for the Henchmen series was based on experience. I had already worked with things like the locks in Radula and Mosler safes. The fight scenes were based on years of training in Kenpo, Kenjutsu, & Okinawan Karate. Some of the later stuff, especially the spin-offs in the Saxton series and a couple of the stories in The Clock Man required looking a few things up, but again, it was all stuff I was relatively aware of. In other words, I didn’t have to do a lot of original research to get those books off the ground.

In some ways, I guess this is to be expected. They say the first novel is always somewhat autobiographical. Not that I’ve fought gods and monsters, mind you, just that a lot of the background details were already firmly in place.

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What a Mosler may look like

I’m working on a new book, a follow-on to the events of The Clock Man novella, that explores the world of Aluna further. It’s moving along nicely. Thank you very much for asking. Greetings From Sunny Aluna takes a look at the fallout from the events The Clock Man and, more importantly, asks the question of “Why”?

Greetings is my first true fantasy novel in that it takes place on a planet that doesn’t exist and makes use of magic. At least, that seems to be the functional definition of fantasy. Aluna is a world populated by people from Earth at some point in the past. Magic there is a fundamental force; someone with enough skill or training can handle it, but most people use it to turn on their lights.

The magic part is neither here nor there. You can research magic until the cows come home and never get to the bottom of it because there’s no scientifically valid research to do on it. Seriously, even the Time Life Mysteries of the Unknown series doesn’t do a very good job with magic. This leaves me with non-standard research sources.

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My Zatanna comics didn’t help much, either.

In the end, I decided the magic part was best handled delicately and in small doses. And no, Zatanna doesn’t make an appearance.

Other research I wound up doing – stuff that is a bit more grounded in the real world – pertained to the cultures that would spring up when people were transplanted and forced to deal with an alien world. Certain things, like mammals, would be forgotten after a few generations on a planet that doesn’t have those things. A simple thing like a dog would be incredible. Other things – food, for instance – would adapt to the available buffet. In a world with no mammals, steak simply wouldn’t exist. Fortunately, I can look to extant cultures and extrapolate what the food would look like. Probably fried tarantulas and extremely large bird barbecue.

Those are the fun things about building a new world and, I have to admit, I’m having a lot of fun integrating a culture with heavy Chinese influence into a world where magic and dragons are very real. Speaking of Chinese, integrating the language into text has been, at best, problematic. I would like to take a public moment here to thank Google translate. Without that, I’d be dead in the water.

But the best part about writing fantasy is realizing that no matter where you go and who you talk to, people are still people. Organized crime will still exist. Drugs will still be peddled. And, most importantly, the quest for power will still be there. All good fantasy should focus on the characters; the world and all the accouterments that come along with it are window dressing.

In case you’re wondering, yes, Greetings From Sunny Aluna spends a lot of time in the gutters of Aluna. Consider it fantasy crime noir with a touch of wuxia.

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Power is always a good motivator.

Which leads to the “why”.

I studied LEAN Six Sigma some time back because my job decided we all needed to be Six Sigma certified. For those unfamiliar, Six Sigma is a process for examining (among other things) efficiency and defects in manufacturing. We were shoehorning it into a programming environment to mixed results. One of the things I did pick up on was the Six Sigma concept of root cause analysis. That’s the idea that for a given problem there might be dozens of symptoms, but when you dig down far enough, you’ll find a single cause that explains the myriad of problems. I took that one to heart in development.

Root cause analysis can also be useful in writing. We already know we need conflict and fun characters and all kinds of wacky adventures, but the root problem isn’t always easy to ferret out. Why did the Clock Man go off the rails like he did? What precipitating event kicked off the events of that story and lead Felix Crow down the path he wound up on? In the story, I hinted at those things, but they were guesses from Crow’s point of view. Greetings From Sunny Aluna is told from a lot of different points of view and when each character realizes they have a part of the solution, the whole reason is laid bare.

Trust me on this, it’s a doozy. To find out what it is, you’ll just have to read the book when it’s done. In the interim, have a fried tarantula and revel in the fact that you live in a world where you can get a steak.

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Supposedly they’re pretty tasty.

The Darkness is back …

Darkly Wood was an amazing book. The sequel looks to be pretty incredible, too. It’s good to see Max Power (the man whose name you want to touch, but you mustn’t touch … Max Power) taking us on another tour of the Darkly Woods.

Maxpower's Blog

I have a secret.  The thing about secrets is that the minute you spill the beans the secret is gone and it loses all of its power.  In a sense I have lots of secrets because every book I write has something waiting at the end that I don’t want to reveal until the moment is right. Today I published my fifth book and it is the second in a series of three.  I always say that every book I write is completely different in subject and genre but today I theoretically at least put that idea to bed by releasing a sequel.

That being said I do have a secret.  Writing is much tougher than many people think.  I find the actual creative bit easy and I suspect all writers feel much the same.  The difficult part is the work that goes in after and in my case, my five…

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Book Review – Born Of Shadow by Richard Murray

It’s really hard to set yourself apart in the monster-hunting genre these days. The market is saturated and it takes a clever hand to pull something new out of a genre that some people say has been done to death.

Enter Richard Murray, who would like to kindly explain there are new things under the sun.

The thing about the monster-hunting genre is it was pretty clever back in the day. “Hey, instead of running from this vampire, let’s whoop his ass and take his castle.” John Steakley did it with Vampire$. Laurell Hamilton did it with a whole whack of books. Hell, I’ve done it. What sets Richard Murray apart from all of us is how he treats his subject matter. There’s a certain moral flexibility at play and an idea that not everything is as obvious as it first looks. Those a great things to play with in a story.

Take a hefty dose of action, a cast of interesting characters, introduce an unexpected element, shake well, and you’ve got Born of Shadows. One of the things I look at to determine if a book is “good” or not is whether or not I go back over it in my head at a later date. I’ve relived some of the key elements more than a few times and wondered how I would handle those things were I inserted into the story.

All in all, Born of Shadow (Shadow Walkers Book One) was an entertaining story that leaves enough questions to make you look forward to the next book in the series.

The world is full of monsters. At least Lena believed that was true. After all, she’d once witnessed a monster tear apart her family, leaving her broken and bleeding. All alone in the world except for the one person who was always there for her. Her best friend, Evelyn.

Her search for the truth reveals not only was she right, but that she is one of those supernatural creatures that fills the world. Taught how to use her powers, she joins with a team of hunters in their war against the supernatural monsters.

She soon finds that not only is she fighting the monsters, but also her growing feelings for the one person she’s terrified of losing. As truths are finally revealed, Lena will come face to face with the creature that’s haunted her nightmares and be forced to choose what side she’s truly on.

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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?

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

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And the print version, complete with blurb.

SIBA 2016

SIBA, for those of you not in the know, stands for Summer Indie Book Awards, an annual award for indie authors promoted by Metamorph Publishing. It’s a great (and free, free is important) chance for indie authors to get our works out a little further and explore some of what other people are doing. All in all, it should be fun time, especially since the rules are pretty lax. Essentially, during the nomination phase, you’re allowed to vote for as many books in each category as you feel like each day for ten days. Then some magic happens and something else will happen. I’m honestly not sure what will happen next; I was nominated and was pleasantly surprised to find Henchmen came in 2nd in fantasy. If it goes further, great. If not, that’s cool, too.

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This was my shocked and awed face.

Honestly, I just thought it was cool someone nominated me. And contrary to what you might have heard, 2nd place is not the first loser.

Now, all in all this should be an easy thing. Vote. Count votes. Announce winner(s). Easy peasy, right?

Apparently, during the nomination voting phase a couple authors had to be removed from the competition for sending threatening emails, at least one winner that I know of got a 1 star review on his book from a friend of the 2nd place guy, and there were apparently vast accusations of cheating and other chicanery. I know a guy who’s getting off Facebook because he won his category and has gotten nothing but grief and nasty messages.

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Now, let’s be clear here: As far as I know the winner gets bragging rights and a featured spot on Metamorph’s web page; nothing more. It’s not like we’re all competing for a million-dollar contract or anything (those don’t really exist anyway), you get a featured spot and the ability to say you’ve won.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s cool stuff right there – and I applaud whoever wins in the end – but it’s hardly something worth threats, nasty messages, and accusations of cheating. And how, exactly, do you cheat in a contest where you can vote every day for as many books as you want and rope your friends into doing the same?

So, for a group that always pats itself on the back about how supportive it is, there are at least a few indie authors being real dicks. To those people, I say, “You’re acting like children, grow the heck up.”

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In case you’re wondering who won the fantasy genre nominations, it’s this book and it looks like it might be interesting.

And thanks to Metamorph Publishing for doing this award and putting up with all the nonsense that came along with it. You people have the patience of saints.