Urban Fantasy

Back when my son was still wildly into dinosaurs, I found a book called Dinopix by Teruhisha Tajima. It was a bunch of photo edits that posited what the world would be like if dinosaurs had lived into the current day. It didn’t concern itself with the struggles early humans would have had to deal with when encountering a hungry T. rex or a pack of Deinonychus, nor did it deal with what evolution would have done with those creatures over the past 65 million year. Dinopix dropped dinosaurs, as they were before they went extinct, straight into the modern world.

Please clean up after your diplodocus. Carry a very large bag and a shovel.

The result was brilliant and enchanting. Although, as I recall, my son was less than impressed with it than he was with Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs, which melded two kiddo favorites into a fun little adventure complete with pronunciation guide for those of us reading aloud who had forgotten how to pronounce Giganotosaurus.

Both books did a fantastic job with melding the real world with the fantasy world that all kids and writers seem to inhabit. That’s the beauty of looking at the world through different eyes and rather than seeing a normal checkout counter, wondering what crazy thing has happened or will happen there. Maybe the person manning the cash register is a werewolf just trying to make ends meet. Lycanthropy, after all, doesn’t pay very well.

This kind of melding of the magical and the mundane is often referred to as Urban Fantasy, but I’d argue it could also easily fall into the magical realism world. Both deal with the idea of magical or extraordinary events happening in a predominantly realistic world. Werewolves running cash registers or vampires running night clubs. Or even a rogue Valkyrie trying to kick off Ragnarok. The differences are pretty trivial, but magical realism has been a thing in Latino literature for a very long time while the rest of us were only made aware of it when Narcos premiered on Netflix.

I recently read where someone said urban fantasy – as a genre – was for lazy writers. The argument was that urban fantasy was essentially fantasy without all the world building and was, therefore, easier to deal with than real fantasy.

In case you’re wondering, this is the gist of this post. I just felt like rambling on about dinosaurs, pirates, urban fantasy, and magical realism.

As an essentially urban fantasy writer, I bristled at that admonition. I have no beef with fantasy, I’ve even dabbled with it a bit, even though Greetings From Sunny Aluna would probably be better classified as wuxia than traditional fantasy. If we’re going to insist on classifying everything, that is.

So, are urban fantasy writers lazier than traditional fantasy writers? I’d have to argue no. Even though urban fantasy takes place in a largely realistic world, snapping robot dinosaurs into it takes a lot more thinking. In a traditional fantasy world, seeing a dragon isn’t that far out of the ordinary. It’s fantasy; it’s supposed to have dragons.

Probably not run by actual dragons.

But the real world isn’t supposed to have dragons wandering around running hot dog stands or selling drugs on street corners. Making that kind of thing work takes finagling or it feels fake. Which means, the world that dragon inhabits has to be aware of at least the idea that dragons could not only be real, but they could also get a license to run a hot dog stand.

It’s that license part that requires world building inside of the real world. Twisting the mundanity of penetrating bureaucracy into something a dragon had to do means you have to build hooks into the real world that will allow things like that to happen. That’s world building.

World building is more than describing castles or various tribes running around stabbing each other. It means making the world of the book be internally consistent with itself. Or, at the very least, making it seem real enough that the reader doesn’t hit a page and think, “What the holy fuck just happened? How did we get from elves to zero point energy?”

Well, you see, elves have always been big proponents of not only zero point energy, but also cold fusion.

And, let’s not oversell the world building done in fantasy. Most of the fantasy genre sits plainly in the European Middle Ages, just with less disease and more magic. Sure, some people have done some amazing jobs with it – The Dragonriders of Pern series comes to mind – but a lot fantasy is just kings and dark wizards throwing down over land rights. Now, before you grab pitchforks and torches, yes, I know McCaffrey’s dragons are usually classified as Sci-Fi. Let’s face it, though, there are a lot of traditional fantasy elements to those books. Besides, it could be argued that sci-fi is fantasy that replaced the magic with technology and the dwarves with aliens.

Not amused.

Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that. I enjoy sci-fi, usually more than I enjoy fantasy, but I’ve certainly enjoyed my fair share of fantasy stories, too.

So, is urban fantasy just fantasy for lazy writers? Hell, no. It takes a lot more effort to believably shoehorn dragons selling hot dogs into downtown Albuquerque than it does to have that same dragon snatching up damsels and swilling the blood of knights out of a very large mug.

What are you thoughts on it? Is urban fantasy for lazy writers? Do elves really have a thing for zero point energy? Is sci-fi just fantasy with technology in place of magic?

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Book Review – Vices and Virtues: A Horror Anthology

Sure, it would have been nice to have gotten this review up before Halloween, but like Ministry said, “Every day is Halloween.”

You might remember about a month ago there was a guest post on this blog by one Ashley Holzmann. Ash made some good point about what writing is about and why it should be approached without fear. Which is kind of ironic since he’s a horror author. But, the best horror authors write without fear of what they’re writing in order to instill horror in the reader. It’s hard to be scared of writing when the author is scared of what they’re writing. That kind of thinking seeps through the story and readers, like dogs, can smell fear.

Anyway, Ash and his crew got together and put together an anthology of horror short stories. Like all anthologies, it can be a mixed bag with some stories that really resonate and others that are less interesting. But that’s the beautiful thing about short story anthologies; there’s a little bit of something for everyone in them. The stories I didn’t enjoy as much might resonate with someone else. They’re also a good way to get introduced to new authors you might not have come across.

There are some decidedly creepy stories in here, ranging from the college kids on spring break who find more than they bargain for, to the government agents searching for missing stone, to a very classic horror story about a haunted pit.

I won’t play favorites and mention the stories I liked best by name because that’s not how I roll and I don’t want to influence anyone. Suffice it to say, there are some real gems in here. If you’re into horror, go check it out.

Discover some of the best up-and-coming horror writers today. Vices and Virtues will touch the center of your soul and leave it burning. This anthology truly demonstrates the range of the horror genre. These stories explore the best and worst aspects of human nature, each story based on a vice or virtue from the cultures of human history.

Get your copy on Amazon.

Happy Halloween

I’ll keep this short and sweet. Have a safe and happy Halloween. Dress to the nines, hand out candy, worship the Dark Lord of the Night, whatever floats your goat. Go out and have a little fun and don’t worry about what people think of you.

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Happy Halloween and Don’t Hate Me

Our Kenpo instructor opened class on Thursday with an odd statement. A cup of butter has over 1600 calories in it. My immediate thought was I’d better stop drinking a couple cups of melted butter in the morning, but it went further than that and ultimately digressed into a discussion of how many burpees it would take to work off one small piece of Halloween candy.

For those unfamiliar with the dreaded burpee, this is what it looks like. It’s a squat jump, a mountain climber, and a push up all rolled into one thing.

They’re just as uncomfortable as they look like, but they’re a damned good workout that I largely eschew because reasons.

We didn’t get a final count in class, so I took it upon myself to do a bit of research and what I found may shock you. First up, a single piece of candy, like one of those small Snickers bars you give out on Halloween, has about 100 calories. That doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up quickly.

Now, there’s no exact measurement of how many calories a single burpee burns because it’s somewhat dependent on weight and athletic prowess. Studies have show that a 125 person doing 30 minutes of vigorous calisthenic similar to burpees exercise can burn about 240 calories. The larger the person, the more calories burned in the same time frame with 185 pound person burning off upwards of 355 calories in the same time frame. I’ll go with the larger number and assume a single burpee takes a few seconds to complete. That means 20 burpees in a minute and 600 in a 30 minute stretch. That means a small person would need to do about 12 minutes of burpees to burn off 100 calories and a larger person would need to do around 8 minutes. So, to burn off a 1.25 small Snickers bars, you’re looking at between 160 and 240 burpees. Per tiny candy bar.

Of course, there are other exercises out there that are a bit easier on the body.

  • Weightlifting: 112
  • Walking: 186
  • Yoga/Stretching: 149
  • Stair Stepper: 223
  • Swimming: 223
  • Cycling: 260
  • Rock Climbing: 298
  • Rowing: 316
  • Elliptical: 335
  • Running (6 mph): 372

These numbers came from here, by the way. If you can’t trust the LiveStrong group, who can you trust?

So, why bring all this up? No real reason. Enjoy Halloween, enjoy the candy, dress up and scare kids. It’s once a year and it’s supposed to be fun. You can always do more burpees tomorrow. Or ride a little further, or hit a little harder.

And now, because it’s almost Halloween and I’m current writing a book about a woman who gets killed in the first few pages, enjoy a ghost.

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.

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

For those of you unfamiliar Joe Arpaio or “America’s Toughest Sheriff” as he liked to be called, he was the sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona. He made quite the name for himself back in the day by treating prisoners like animals and flaunting his power. Among Arpaio’s many bad decisions was setting up a tent camp in Maricopa County to house prisoners, feeding them nothing more than bologna sandwiches, and making them all wear pink jumpsuits because reasons.

The rationale behind the tent camp was “if tents are good enough for soldiers on deployment, they’re good enough for prisoners”. I’m pretty sure the bologna sandwiches and pink jumpsuits were just for the lolz, though.

Those are Sheriff Arpaio’s more forgivable sins, though. Even though the area around his famous tent camp could hit well into the 106 degrees Farenheit – I’ve seen Phoenix hit 118 – it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Although, Joe himself did brag that the temperature inside one the tents could hit 145F in the summers and the fans may or may not have been working. What was among the worst things in the world was his abuse of power, misuse of funds, failure to investigate sex crimes, improper clearance of cases, unlawful enforcement of immigration laws, constant racial profiling, and election law violations. He reintroduced chain gangs, intimidated political opponents, and had guards that stood by and watched as a woman chained to a bed went into a diabetic coma and died.

In other words, he was (and still is) a pathetic racist shit bag with a mean streak and a strong lust for power. Toward the end of his tenure as iron-booted madman of Arizona, the DOJ took a good hard look into Arpaio’s dealings and found him guilty. At 80-something, Sheriff Joe was about to get a firsthand look at the Justice System he’d helped put in place.

Fortunately for Joe, Donald Trump pardoned him before he could get his own taste of justice.

Now, that’s all the bad news. Arpaio’s still an asshole, still free, and Trump still pardoned him. It’s all water under the bridge and there’s not much we can do about it now. But there is a light side to this story. Arpaio is no longer Sheriff of Maricopa County, he’s the Sheriff of his couch where he spends his free time yelling at Mexicans on his TV. The new Sheriff of Maricopa County, Paul Penzone, takes a different view of justice. Whereas Joe’s version of justice was punishing people a lot over every little offense, Penzone seems more interested in justice as a rehabilitation process.

The new Sheriff of Maricopa County is turning the old (and recently shut down) tent city into a facility for drug rehab with new sleeping spaces and classrooms. Penzone has an eye on the future; he’d rather see people leave the jail in better shape to cope with the world than when they went in.

Read about it here:

http://deadstate.org/the-sheriff-who-replaced-joe-arpaio-is-turning-his-tent-city-jail-into-an-opioid-treatment-center/

We Are The World Blogfest is a loosely organized group of like-minded bloggers all trying to shine a little light in the world. This month’s hosts are:
Shilpa Garg, Sylvia McGrath, Mary Giese, Guilie Castillo and Belinda Witzenhausen
So be sure to go check them out.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: 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.

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And now, your moment of Zen

Neat!

guestpost

It’s not often I get the opportunity to a guest post on someone else’s blog, but I had the opportunity to write a guest post on why dialogue is important in a story and some ways to improve it. It’s actually a pretty fun piece and not only does it showcase my buddy’s theory about picking up women in bars with only a fake accent and an Armenian Air Force uniform, but it goes into rambling depths about what you can do with your characters and their propensity for talking.

Check it out on Rebecca Cahill’s blog and then stick around to check out the rest of her blog.