Thursday, June 12, 2014

Todays Blog Is Brought To You By....

Sometimes, one of my author friends from Twitter or Facebook will ask me to give them a hand with promoting their work. Because I'm a nice guy, I always agree.

Today, we have my pal Michael G. Munz, and his new book, Zeus Is Dead, available July 21st.

 
THE GODS ARE BACK. DID YOU MYTH THEM?

You probably saw the press conference. Nine months ago, Zeus’s murder catapulted the Greek gods back into our world. Now they revel in their new temples, casinos, and media empires—well, all except Apollo. A compulsive overachiever with a bursting portfolio of godly duties, the amount of email alone that he receives from rapacious mortals turns each of his days into a living hell.

Yet there may be hope, if only he can return Zeus to life! With the aid of Thalia, the muse of comedy and science fiction, Apollo will risk his very godhood to help sarcastic TV producer Tracy Wallace and a gamer-geek named Leif—two mortals who hold the key to Zeus’s resurrection. (Well, probably. Prophecies are tricky buggers.)

Soon an overflowing inbox will be the least of Apollo’s troubles. Whoever murdered Zeus will certainly kill again to prevent his return, and avoiding them would be far easier if Apollo could possibly figure out who they are.

Even worse, the muse is starting to get cranky.

Discover a world where reality TV heroes slay actual monsters and the gods have their own Twitter feeds: Zeus Is Dead: A Monstrously Inconvenient Adventure!



 “Delivering us from a sea of endlessly morose and self-important supernatural fiction, Zeus Is Dead understands that Greek mythology is more than a little bit insane and—rather than ignore the unseemly aspects—embraces them with the appropriate level of snark and style. Munz’s tale echoes the bureaucratic insanity of Douglas Adam’s creations, the banter of Grant and Naylor’s Red Dwarf, and the cynicism of Ben Croshaw in order to bring us a clever, hilarious tale of adventure and grudging heroism. I guess what I’m saying is that unless you really like your supernatural fiction all mopey and dull, you’ll find something to love here.”
—Jonathan Charles Bruce, author of Project Northwoods


Check is out when it hits the store, and if you need more convincing, go check out an excerpt.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Hope Gleaned Via Grimm Circumstances

I make no illusions about the fact that what I write is not mass market friendly. I've always known that finding a major publisher willing to give me, and my odd style, to say nothing of my off the wall characters, a chance was asking for a miracle. I've also always know that miracles don't happen for writers that often.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I am a realist underneath my fantastical imaginings. I know how the world really works, and I know that people like me don't get the big breaks. I never learned to play by the rules, and for that, I've lived with the quiet ostracization one gets for not abiding the status quo.

Zombie slaying lesbian strippers. Insane Elven Druids and the disfigured mercenaries who love them. Ass kicking Halfling monks. Princesses who save themselves. Italian werewolves cruising around in Ferrari’s. Non sassy Latinas. Unicorns with anger management issues. Shy Minotaurs. Necrotic dragons with a fear of heights.

The list of my characters who color outside the lines is lengthy and numerous. I have said on many occasions that I do not accept set in stone rules, and I mean it. Beyond that though, is the simple fact that my imagination is not limited by what others what or expect. I can't write according the guidelines, for when I do, I end up not writing at all.

Because I get bored. Standard characters and plots, the ones that check the boxes on what is currently acceptable, bore me. I lose interest in them almost as soon as I type the first words. I can't help that, nor would I want to. It's the way my imagination operates, and I enjoy every minute of it. I wouldn't trade it for fame and fortune, even if I could.

However, it also means I'm never going to break into the mainstream. That market, and the money that goes with it, is reserved for those who can hit all the right marks on being typical. Normal, acceptable, ordinary. These are things I've never been able to achieve, in my writing, or my life.

I made peace with this a long time ago, choosing to toil in near anonymity rather than sacrifice my rather strange way of going about things. I did it because I felt it was the more honest path. Being true to yourself is never easy, but I'd rather be able to look myself in the eye than afford a mansion.

Then, I saw something that gave me hope.

Not just that my particular way of writing would gain appreciation in the mass market, but that my rather unique characters would as well. It's a hope I've been in need of lately as well, for I have struggled to write anything at all for months, my creativity sapped by a depression I've not been able to shake.

This hope came from the last place I would have expected, but it has made me feel more optimistic. It's fired my creativity again, and I'm feeling that old familiar urge. That sense that anything I do that isn't fingers hitting the keys is a waste of time.

To be direct, this source of hope comes from the NBC series Grimm, and more specifically the character of Monroe, played by actor Silas Weir Mitchell.

For those who have never seen the show, allow me to explain. Monroe is a cello playing, clock fixing, pilates doing, '79 VW Bug driving, slightly neurotic, vegan werewolf.

I'm sure you get where this going.

He's an oddball. A character that shouldn't work in the mainstream. Everything about him goes against the standard. He's different.

Yet, he is a fan favorite. Reading peoples reviews of the shows episodes is to read nothing but love for Monroe. Across the board, he is adored, and is in no small part what makes the show so successful. All while being everything that he shouldn't be in the mainstream.

He gives me hope.

It helps so much that such an excellent actor as Mr. Mitchell plays him. He brings this strange character to life, making him instantly relatable, warm, and the kind of person you wish you had as a friend. All while being everything I've been told won't fly.

I can't begin to express how this makes me feel. Seeing the walls of convention be steamrolled down. Seeing the kind of character I love to write adored, beloved, and on a major network. It's exactly the sort of thing that makes me feel as if there is a place for me, and my crew of weirdos, in this world after all.

I'm 40 years old now, and been actively writing since I was a teenager. I've been submitting since I was eighteen years old, and have gained some few publications in magazines with my choice brand of out there writing. I've also faced a lot of rejection. So much, in fact, that for several years, I gave up and didn't write at all.

Even now that I've dived back in, and gone the road of self publishing, I still try and submit things. I still meet with lots of rejection, and have not had a single yes from an editor in close to fifteen years. Almost without fail, it is because of my characters. They are too weird, too different. One editor flat out told me he wasn't sure how to market me and what I do.

We are told from an early age to be ourselves, but nobody really means it. We are told all our lives that being different is okay, but it really isn't. There is nothing that makes that shame at not being like everyone else go away, except being accepted.

For writers like me, that means publication. Legitimate, big publisher publication. Anything less, and you still carry that feeling that you aren't good enough. That being yourself, being unique, is something to be ashamed of.

Yet, thanks to the guys behind Grimm, NBC, and Mr. Mitchell, I see now that the walls can be broken down. Out of the box characters will be accepted, even loved, by the world over, if they are given but a chance.

I have a chance.

My thanks to NBC, the producers and writers of Grimm, and Mr. Silas Weir Mitchell, for making non-standard characters the new standard. I'm coming to join you guys, in my own time. I know that now.

I have hope.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Market Trends, Schmarket Trends

Anyone who has read more than a few posts here will know how I feel about stereotypes. For those who aren't aware, I really, really don't like them. At all. Almost without fail, they are false, and even when they do touch on truth, it's in a distorted manner.

This is why I pay no attention to market trends.

Now, I know this may seem like a bit of a leap. Most of you are probably wondering what stereotypes have to do with market trends. Not to worry, I'm going to explain that.

Market tends stereotype books.

When a book becomes really popular, authors are urged to rework their own manuscripts to make them more like that successful book. Never mind if their manuscript was ever remotely like that other book, it's one of those things we're told we need to do if we want to get our manuscript noticed. It's a form of stereotyping.

Here's how it works. Book A becomes popular, and now every publisher wants to cash in on that books popularity. They sort through manuscripts, looking for one that can be similar, then urge the author to rework it to be even more similar. This is based in the idea than books are all basically the same. That ideas can be swapped around easily.

Change your happy go lucky werewolf lead for a brooding vampire lead, and you've got the next Twilight. It's not like it's hard. It's all the same thing. Nobody cares. Right?

Don't misunderstand me, I get how publishers are more or less slaves to the idea that market trends will boost their sales, especially these days. However, I've noticed over the last several years that it's become something of a problem as they dive deeper into the belief that if you don't have the next carbon copy, they aren't going to bother talking to you.

More and more, I see sites on the net telling authors to watch the market trends, know what's hot, and strike while it is. Forget originality, just rip off someone else. Tip sheets for how to rework your manuscript as quickly as possible so you can get in on the popular trend now abound.

What none of them ever mention is that the trend wasn't popular until someone made it so by having a fresh take on something, or an original idea. They also never mention that trends tend to fade quickly. What's hot now will be passe in a year.

The reason this is important is because it can take a lot of time and effort to rework a manuscript. Regular editing is a time consuming process, to say nothing of massive rewrites. By the time you manage to make your manuscript exactly what publishers want right now, they'll probably want something else entirely.

Not to mention, you are suddenly competing with every other author out there who is tweaking their work to be exactly the same. The odds of your manuscript standing out grow ever more unlikely in this scenario.

Sorry, guys, but that's just how it is. When everyone is trying to be the next J. K. Rowling, nobody is going to be the first themselves.

This matters because books are not filled with easily interchangeable ideas, characters, or concepts. Each book is a unique expression of the authors imagination. Character arcs can't be swapped out with a push of a button, and plots should grow at least halfway out of the characters story arc, making them impossible to click on and off to meet a constantly fluctuating system of trends.

This isn't to say that trends have no value at all. That manuscript you wrote years ago could suddenly be what every publisher is looking for now, and that's great. It often requires a bit of patience, but that's one thing every author should have an abundance of anyway.

Spend a year working with a cranky character who wants to go left instead of right and you'll get it.

What you shouldn't do, ever, is kept reworking your manuscript until it's something completely different than what you started with just in the fleeting hope you'll slide in on the latest market trend. Stand by the story you've written, have faith in it, and keep pushing. It's better to be the trend setter, than a follower, any day.

Make no mistake, either, because this exactly what we're talking about. Trend setters versus trend followers. I don't know about you guys, but I'd rather be the former than the latter any day.

Because I don't believe books can be stereotyped. I don't accept the idea of set in stone rules, genres, or formulas. I can not accept them, or I'd never write another word as long as I lived. Creativity and imagination are what matter most, regardless of whether or not they lead to a product that is trending or not.

The two most important words in the world of writing are not 'market trends'. They are not 'focus grouped'. They have never been, nor will even be, 'winning formula'. The two most important words in the world of writing have always been, and always will be, 'what if'.

This not something you can get a grasp of by watching the market. You won't learn it from anything but doing, by writing, through the creative exploration of the limits of your imagination. That is the only trend I mind, the only formula I adhere to, and the voices of my characters are my focus group.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again now; I do not care about fame, wealth, or popularity. I care about what I write. As writers, we should all put the story first. If the market trends are ready for that, then great. If they are not, then it is our job to make them ready for it.

It may take me the rest of my life, but I'm going to set the trend, blaze my own trail, and be known for being me, not a bad copy of someone else.

You really should to.

That's the trend that matters most, in the end.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Testing, testing...

A while back, I became aware of this thing called the Bechdel Test. If you aren't aware of what it is, that's okay, I'm going to explain it to you. If you are aware of it, then I'm going to explain it to you anyway.

Just play along for the ones who don't know, okay?

The Bechdel Test is a series of three questions that is meant to determine if a work of fiction, originally just movies, is women friendly. I say originally just movies, because the Test is now being applied to television, books, comic books, and all fictional mediums. The three questions are as follows:

  1. It has to have at least two women in it,
  2. Who talk to each other,
  3. About something besides a man.

Now, right away, I want to point out, possibly for the millionth time, that I'm the first person to say women don't get treated even remotely fair in any medium of fiction. Regular readers of my blog, and anyone who has read anything I've ever written, will know that I'm not okay with that, either.

I feel I need to say that, because I'm probably going to make a lot of people mad in a minute when I point out everything that's wrong with this test.

Which isn't to say that I don't agree with it. In a lot of ways, I do. It raises all the concerns and brings to light all the problems women face in the fiction arena. Namely, the role of love interest or damsel in distress. In other words, The Object.

This is true of most all fiction, too. Fantasy has a bad habit of making the women the object of entire quests. Rescue the Princess is a particularly big infraction that comes to mind. Pretty much all genres and mediums have a similar grievous breech of belief that women are capable of being anything other than objects for a man to acquire or protect.

My problem with the Bechdel Test isn't really the test itself, but rather, the utter lack of common sense that is displayed in how people use it. I think the Test is a an excellent guide, but without a little common sense, it becomes a set of rules that severely limit what can and can't be done within the confines of writing.

The largest breech of common sense comes in the form of context. As most of you will no doubt agree, context is everything. Things heard out of context can sound truly horrible, but in context, can be quite mundane. So, applying a set of rules without using a bit of common sense to judge the context is not just absurd, but unfair.

Allow me to give an example, taken from something I've written myself. Three reasons I'm doing it this way that I need to cover to shut up all the twatwaffles that love to argue. First, it's my blog, so I'll use what I want. Second, it's a perfect example. Third, I know the context, because I wrote it, so I don't have to listen to anyone whining about how I'm misinterpreting someone else.

Okay, here we go.

"Can I ask," Bunny said as they headed down. "What's the deal with Marco. I mean, he is one of them, isn't he?"

Rosa stopped and looked back up the stairs. "He is, yes. I don't know why he's different, but he is. Saved my life when everything was going insane last night, too."

"Can you trust him?" Bunny asked her.

"Marco? Oh, I'd say he's pretty safe. All things considered, he seems to have whatever this is under his thumb. Regardless, it's not him you should be worried about," Rosa admitted as she started back down the steps.

"Who should I be worried about, then?" Bunny asked as she trailed after her.

Rosa looked up at her, eyes dark. "Peyton."

So, without any context, at least for those who have never read the book this comes from, that is a clear fail of the Bechdel Test. While it does have two female characters, and they are talking to each other, they are talking about a man. Not just one, either, but two. So, it doesn't make a total pass.

Now, I grant you, two out of three is not bad. Most people would call it good enough. That isn't the point, though. The point here is how context changes the entire exchange. Allow me to fill in the blanks.

First thing is Marco, the guy they talk about at first. Yeah, he's a zombie. To make it clearer, he's a very intelligent zombie, but he is a zombie. He's a dead guy, who is still the same person he was, just more dead than he use to be. He's also missing half his face, in case you were wondering if he's a pretty good looking dead guy. He's not.

The reason this matters is because the point of the Bechdel Test is to measure how much women are being used as objects. To that end, most conversations women have with each other are about the men in their lives, or about The Man the story revolves around, usually in the love interest capacity.

Which brings me to my second major point of context. Bunny is a lesbian. Like, very much so. Not on weekends, or when the 'right guy' isn't around, but all the time. Like most actually are.

Out of context, the excerpt only gets a two out of three on the Bechdel Test. In context, it's suddenly not such an easy matter to judge it. Bunny isn't interested in Marco as a love interest. She and Rosa aren't discussing how cool he is. Bunny wants to know if the guy is suddenly going to try and kill and eat them.

Forgive me, but I think that's a valid conversation to have. In fact, I'd go so far as to call it a necessary one.

Which is where the application of the Test falls down. It does not take into account necessary conversations. Like when a friendly zombie is wandering around inside the safe haven you've made against not friendly zombies. That sort of necessitates a conversation about him.

So, in context, and with necessity being a factor, does the conversation still fail to pass the Test? A lot would say it does.

The problem here is that while the Test itself is trying to do the right thing, too many people are applying it blindly, using zero common sense, and not even attempting to measure whether or not there is necessity or judge things within context.

Likewise, Rosa was right to warn Bunny about Peyton, who turns out to be dangerously psychotic. Does that make her warning a failure of the test? Should I have not written that? Seriously, a little common sense would be nice.

Sometimes, as a writer, you have to have these sorts of scenes. Two women can talk about a man and it not be romantic. It is possible. It is often needed to advance the plot or develop the characters. If we are suddenly not allowed to do those things, we aren't writers anymore. We are bureaucrats ticking off requirements.

Last point about the above excerpt. It's taken from my book Bunnypocalypse: Dead Reckoning. Bunny is the central figure of the story. She's in every scene. If it doesn't happen when she's not there, the reader doesn't know about it until she does. Marco appears in about half or less of the book, while Peyton is even less. The guys are the supporting characters.

Does this change anything? The Test doesn't make it clear if it does or not, and people slapping the 'rules' down without a thought don't either. Context, necessity, and common sense go right out the window in the frenzy to measure everything against a yardstick that isn't even a yard long.

This doesn't help. Slapping a pass or fail mark on something without even weighing the extra factors isn't advancing the cause of equality. It's limiting writers.

Before I get to my next example, I'd like to back up a moment and talk a little about the history of the Bechdel Test. This is relevant because my next example is a movie, the very thing the Test was originally meant to measure.

The first instance of the Test being mentioned was in the 1985 comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel. In the strip, one woman explains to another her three rules for whether or not she is going to watch a movie, setting the basis down for the Test. At the end, she mentions that the last movie she was able to watch was Alien.

Not to be a party pooper, but I've seen Alien. Ripley and Lambert do discuss some of the other cast members, all of whom are men, so technically, that movie doesn't pass the test either. That's neither here nor there, but it is something that bothered me.

The movie I really want to mention is Pacific Rim. It's taken kind of a beating because of the Bechdel Test, and is again a victim of nobody applying a little common sense. This is something I do not think is fair, and as you all know, I'm big on fairness.

The argument against Pacific Rim is that while it has more than one woman in it, they never talk, giving it a generally failing grade. What nobody ever asks or even looks at is the question every writer has to deal with when crafting a story. Namely, was there a compelling reason for them to talk.

Every scene in a work of fiction has to develop the characters, enrich the story, or advance the plot. These are the only three considerations that go into writing every single scene in any work of fiction. It's the Holy Trinity of Writing, you might say. If a scene does not fulfill at least one of those requirements, it's a wasted scene and needs to be cut. It is not doing anything but bogging down the story in useless words.

So, with that in mind, lets look again at Pacific Rim and ask, was there any good reason for the two women to talk? Only one comes to mind. Right after Mako and Raleigh have their first Drift. It is reasonable to me that Mako may have wanted to talk about it with someone beside Stacker or Raleigh. Another woman perhaps, since she had just shared not only minds with a guy, but exchanged first person narratives of both of their past traumas.

Oh, wait. They would have been talking about a guy. Nope, that won't work.

Except it should. There is no compelling reason why she wouldn't seek another woman to talk about this experience with. Well, there is one, and it's kind of a big one. She didn't know that other woman at all. Like, not even a little.

Which brings me back to my original question, what would they have talked about?

Now, to be clear, I'm not saying there couldn't have been more women in that movie. With the exception of Idris Elba, Burn Gormen, and Ron Pearlman, I think they could have swapped out any other cast member for a woman and been fine. The reason I say except those three is because the actors did such an amazing job, I can't seem the characters being played by anyone else.

I mean, come on. Who would you trade for Idris Elba and Ron Pearlman? As for Gormen, he's just such a wonderful actor. I adore him.

That's not what they did, and the movie is what we got, though. So, within the context of that, inside the confines of the film we got, what possible reason would Mako have to talk with another woman she had only met in passing?

Because, outside of some small scene that's over in a moment about the state of care the Jeagers are getting, I didn't really see any good motive for it. Nothing that would enrich the story, develop the characters, or advance the plot. Which it would have to do, because in movies more than books, anything that doesn't do that, gets left on the cutting room floor.

The biggest problem with the Bechdel Test, however, comes in the fact that it just isn't very realistic. As a tool for trimming out outdated misogyny in fiction, it's a great scalpel, but as an actual set of rules, it misses the mark very badly. Mainly because real life can't pass the test.

Ladies, how often in life have you had a conversation with another woman about a man? Raise your hand. Yeah. You just failed to pass the Test. Your life doesn't pass the test on gender bias.

Let that really sink in a minute.

This is the problem. There exists an excellent tool for weeding out ingrained misogyny, but due to the lack of common sense in application, appreciation for context, respect for the three major rules of writing, and a basic understanding of reality, it's being abused and misrepresented, which is not helping anything, or anyone.

I'm really not okay with that. I don't get how anyone is.

Before I close, I want to mention the Russo Test, a derivative test that was born out of the Bechdel Test. It applies to gays instead of women and goes like this:

  1. The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.
  2. The character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  3. The character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect.

In a twist that is possibly ironic, while Bunnypocalypse doesn't quite pass the Bechdel Test, it passes the Russo Test with flying colors of rainbow stripes. Go figure that one out.
The world is such a strange place.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Say Hello To My Little Friend

His name is Merlin.


Now, I know it may be a bit odd for a writer to use their blog to talk about a cat, but there's a story here, and as a writer, I love to tell stories. Even better, this is a character driven piece. The best part, though, is that it looks like it's going to have a happy ending.

This story starts just last Wednesday, February 19th, 2014. It was a cool morning, but not cold, as we've been having some unseasonably warm weather. I'd gone to work, and was dealing with some problems there, nothing exciting, just the run of the mill stuff you deal with when you work the restaurant business.

My manager, Sam, and I had stepped outside for a smoke, both of us dealing with the general stress of things in the store, when I noticed something else. This is a little thing, but it has major bearing. This story starts with a mop handle. A broken one at that.

On Monday, when I'd come to work, I'd found one of our mop handles broken and left, for no apparent reason, in the kitchen. I'd asked my employer what he wanted me to do with it, since the handles were provided by the linen company that did our laundry. He taped the broken piece down and had me put it with our rag baskets.

Come Wednesday, the mop handle was gone. I asked Sam about it, and she told me Kelly, our boss, had told her to throw it away. Why, I can't guess, but this is what sent the two of us to check the three dumpsters behind the store. We didn't find the mop handle, since the trash had run since Kelly had told her to toss it, but in one of the dumpsters, we found a tiny kitten.


I do mean tiny, too. He was maybe five weeks old, but certainly no older. Sam and I looked down at him, and both of us knew, just from looking at him, that he was in a bad way. His eyes were matted, and when he tried to hiss at us, no sound coming out, his gums and tongue were almost white. His inner eyelids were half way up over his eyes. I knew, he wasn't going to last long.

We couldn't reach him, so Sam went back inside and got a milk crate for me to stand on so I could reach him. When I picked him up, he weighed almost nothing. I can't guess how long it had been since he'd last eaten, but judging from his state, if had been quite some time. The kid was on verge of starving to death.

I'm not sure how he came to be in the dumpster, whether he was left there by someone, or had somehow managed to get in it looking for food. All I know is that he was there.

Naturally, he struggled to get away from me, which leads me to think he was a stray that had wandered away from his mother. His attempts were so weak, though. Mostly just flailing about in fear, too weak to really even put up any kind of a fight. Because of how frail he was, it wasn't easy to hang on to him, though. I feared crushing him if I gripped him too tightly.

Once we got him back inside the store, we put him in a box, a big one that our paper towels come in, and Sam offered to give up her breakfast burrito from McDonald's so he could at least eat something. It was just egg and cheese, so we unrolled it and laid it out for him, and gave him a small dish of water to drink.

Now, for the stuff some people will complain about. No, we did not take him into the food prep area. He was placed by the back door, near the office door, nowhere near any food prep. Yes, Sam and I both washed our hands before handling food. Obviously, neither of us are idiots. That said, neither are we so heartless as to walk away and leave a kitten to starve to death. Shame on you for having your priorities seriously out of balance.

With the kitten as secured as we could make him, we set about getting the store ready to open. While we worked, both Sam and I took turns giving him little bits of food, as he had utterly devastated the burrito. Seriously, he'd eaten the entire thing and half the tortilla as well.

Once we got things set up, Sam let me pack him up in one of the boxes we get our chicken breasts in, so I could take him home. The box was already empty, clean and dry and waiting to go out to the trash, by the way. The drive home is less than ten minutes, as well, in case someone more cynical than even me was wondering.

I want to take a moment here to thank Sam for not only incredible generosity, but her kindness and understanding. I've no doubt the little guy wouldn't have lasted the day without her. She covered my station until I got back, as well as her own. She is, without a doubt, one of the most wonderful human beings I've ever known.

Thanks, Sam. You are fantastic.


Once I got him home, I had to wake Storm to let her know there was a problem. As many of you may know, she battles with insomnia, and is often awake all hours of the night. So, while I hated to wake her from her sleep, I kind of had to.

We have a rule in our lives, Storm and I. Black cats, and especially kittens, in need always get priority over our own needs. In general, we help out cats and dogs whenever we can, and have both been active for many years in rescuing abandoned and abused pets, but black cats are extra special to us both. I'm sure most people can understand why, with the bad reputation they have, through no fault of their own.

As soon as Storm saw what I had in the box, she was wide awake and already on the way to the kitchen to fix the little guy something to eat. Meanwhile, I busied myself setting up a box to hold him. Much like the paper towel box we used at work, only slightly larger and taller to contain him, I put the box I'd brought him home in inside as well, now filled with a folded bath towel. We fixed him up a litter pan, got him some water, and a small bowel of soft food with vitamins and antibiotics mixed in.

Also, the flour tortilla. He had clung to it when I had gathered him up to take him home, so I'd let him keep it. It was, without any doubt, the first thing he'd eaten in a couple days at least. It was no wonder he hung on to it. It had probably saved his life.

He made short work of the food, and attacked the water just as desperately. This was when it happened. The most wonderful thing. The thing that makes doing this sort of work so rewarding. There's no money in it, and a fair bit of ridicule for doing it, especially in my neck of the woods. There is, though, a moment when it is more worth it than any dollar figure can ever be.

With the little guy, whom Storm had already dubbed Merlin, stashed in a safe place, I got ready to head back to work. As I walked to the door, I heard him start crying. My first thought was that he was in pain, or worse, that our efforts were too little, too late, and he was dying. I hurried back to his box and looked in, only to have him stop crying. He was sitting up, looking up at me.

I smiled, thinking he had just wanted to check and see if we were still there, and went to leave again, only to have him start up the crying once more. I went back, again, and looked in, only to have him stop. I got it that time, and as I leaned down to reach for him, he reached back for me.

Only two hours before, he couldn't muster the strength to run from me. Now, he was reaching for me. There is nothing in the world that feels better. Nothing.

Storm says, “That's it. I'll be right back.” She went and got another bath towel, the second we had dedicated to him that morning, and wrapped him up in it. He was quiet when I left to go back to work that time.

Storm spent the day holding him in her lap, wrapped in a towel, as he purred. By the time I got home, his body temperature was much closer to normal. Still, we knew we had to have a place to put him while we slept, or ate, or tended to the other pets in our care.

This was how Pandora lost her room. Pandora, by the way, is our dog. She's not a big dog, but a solidly built medium sized one, and she loves cats. I mean, she really just adores them. However, she's kind of excitable and a little clumsy, so we have a large dog carrier that she goes in when she needs a time out, or we go to bed.

Pandora is almost two now, though, so we decided she didn't really need a carrier anymore. We cleaned it out, and moved Merlin in. While it's rather spacious, it's what we had. Merlin is still very small, and somewhat scared as he adjusts to his new life. Our other cats are pretty big, and while they aren't mean, they would be intimidating to someone so tiny and frail. For the moment, the carrier was the best place for him to make his recovery.

Which, I need to say, I wasn't sure he was going to. He was in very bad shape when I found him, and I didn't know if he was even going to live through the night. Still, if nothing else, he wasn't going to die cold and hungry. I could give him that much, at the very least.


It's now Saturday, the 22nd of February, and after four days, I'm happy to say he is making a complete recovery. His eyes are clear, with the inner lid fully recessed. His tongue and gums are a vibrant pink, growing better every day. His weight is growing, and he is energetic, playful, and affectionate.

Just yesterday, I was holding him in my lap as he rolled on his back, gave me his tummy to rub, while he licked and play bit my fingers. He purrs so loud you can hear it from several feet away, though he hardly ever meows, unless he wants some more food. Even then, it's more of a soft squeak than anything.

Merlin's story begins with me and Sam trying to figure out why Kelly told her to throw away a mop handle he told me to save. Without that odd event, we never would have even known he was out there. At least, not until it was too late.

I'm not going to question that odd event, mind you. I've experienced enough strange things like that in my life to know it doesn't matter. What matters is that Merlin is alive, well, and growing stronger. That's all that matters.

His health improves daily, as does his energy. He plays with the toys that so many other kittens like him have enjoyed. The difference here, though is that Merlin won't be heading out to another home when he is fully recovered, as so many of those that pass through our home do. He's staying here, with us.

He's our little touch of magic.

Yes, his story starts with an odd twist, but hopefully, it doesn't end there. With a lot of love and care, his story will go on for many years yet. He's so young, so tiny, yet, and has such a sweet disposition. I can't wait to see how big and strong he grows.

Let's all see together. I'll keep talking about him, sharing pictures as he grows, and telling his story. I hope you guys will watch him with me.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Flashback

Well, I've had a crappy weekend, how about you guys?

I'll get to why later, but let me start by telling you guys a little story from my childhood. Yes, my childhood, which as regular readers here will know, was a magical time for me. Okay, so not magical, more like traumatic, but still, stuff that's happened this weekend has brought this one particular memory back from my childhood.

Being the nice guy I am, I thought I'd share.

Mmm... Childhood misery. It's like a warm gooey cookie.

Anyway...

I was about nine or ten when this happened. I can't really recall, because it was thirty some years ago now, so my memory of exactly how old I was is a bit hazy. The event itself, on the other hand, is very clear. It was the day my mother took me to see a psychiatrist because "Something Was Wrong With Me". Dun dun duuun.

Yes, "Something Was Wrong With Me". I'd heard her say that more than a few times over the last couple years, to both my dad and my step father. Never quite a whisper, but not really out loud, either. Like she wanted me to hear it, but not make it like she wanted me to hear it, ya know?

My mom. She was great at those games.

So, one day, off we go to see a child psychiatrist, who would discern and cure that unknown "Something" that "Was Wrong With Me". I forget the dudes name now, but I still remember what he looked like, where his office was, and that he had the most amazing toys in his waiting room. A bit more on that in a minute, as it matters.

Now, my mom, she heads into his office first to talk to him, to explain just how "Something Is Wrong With Me", while I sat in the waiting room, playing. One thing in particular jumped out at me. I couldn't tell you now what the name of it was, but I remember it very clearly. A gray square plastic base divided into smaller squares inside, along with a number of buildings of various shapes. The object, I figured out very quickly, was to fit all the buildings into the base, making a little medieval city. There was a church, that I think was red, and others structures.

I completely lost track of time playing with this thing, putting the buildings in, making and remaking cities. It was like Tetris, only you had something cool at the end of the game.

So, anyway, after while, my mom and the doc come back out and he looks at me playing with this thing. He asks his receptionist how long I've been at it, and she tells him since I got there. I don't recall touching a single other thing, and the guy had, like, a toybox full of stuff.

He takes me in the office, to talk to me one on one, leaving my mom out in the waiting room. Which was fine with me. He tells me how she's worried about me, and I remember thinking, "That's a first", but saying, "Really? Why?", like a good little boy should. He says it's because I don't seem to have many friends, because I'm always off playing by myself, and seem to spend all my time daydreaming. Because there's "Something Wrong With Me".

Then, he asks me, simply, why.

I can't explain how it felt to have an adult ask me a question like that, then sit back and just listen. My mom never listened to me, and my dad, well, he wasn't around much after they got a divorce, so I never had anyone to talk to. I think I talked about this before. How the thing I heard most was, go in the other room and be quiet.

Yet, when I did, suddenly, "Something Was Wrong With Me".

Odd, that.

I answered his question, by the way. I told him all about how I didn't really have many friends because it was embarrassing to tell them I lived in a shed, or for them to see my step dad passed out drunk in the yard. I told him how it was easier to just create my own imaginary things, and play with those. I even told him some about the stories I came up with while playing with my G.I. Joes, or Star Wars figures.

When I was done explaining all that, he asked me about the toy I had been playing with. He asked if I had made up any stories about the cities I made with it. I told him all about that, too.

We talked for about an hour, before he took me back to my mom, who immediately, and without waiting for the doc to say anything, asked, "Does he need Prozac?"

I didn't know what that was, but I remember the doc looking at her and saying I didn't need anything. There was nothing wrong with me. I was just a creative, imaginative kid with a crappy set of parents.

Yes, he actually told her I had crappy parents. I really liked that guy. Wish I could remember his name.

Anyway, my mom gets all ticked off and storms us out of there. Later, I hear her telling my dad how DHS sent her to a quack, and she needs him to take me to a real doctor who will give me Prozac to fix me. You know, because "Something Is Still Wrong With Me".

It was my dad's weekend with me and my older brother, so after we got back to his place, he sat me down and asked me the exact same thing the doc had. Why. It was one of the few times I really remember my dad ever listening to me. I mean, really listening. At least he had the excuse of only seeing me three days a month and working his ass off. I can't really fault him much for not always paying attention when I tried to tell him stuff.

I told him the same thing I had told the doc. So, when he took us back to our mom, he told her there wasn't anything wrong with me. If anything, there was something wrong with her.

It took me years to really get what had actually happened.

Prozac was a pretty new thing at that time, and I think I was around sixteen or so when it all clicked in my head one day what my mom had really been after. The Prozac wasn't for me, it was for her. If she got me the prescription, though, welfare would have paid for it. Free drugs for her, plus a bonus side of pity from everyone she cried to that her kid had to have Prozac, because "Something Was Wrong With Me".

I never said anything to her about it when I did sort it out. There wouldn't have been any point. She would deny it, like she did everything terrible she did when I was a kid.

My mom firmly believed in the theory that she never did anything wrong, everyone else did. All her problems were someone else's fault.

However, I never forgot the feeling of being betrayed that finally understanding this weird event in my childhood left me with. Half the reason I still have trouble connecting with others is because of this, and the many other times, she used me and my brothers for her own personal gain.

Hyenas are better parents.

So, what brought all this back to me?

For about the last month, I was playing a strategy game, that I won't give by name. I got in early on with a what I thought were a decent bunch in an alliance. The cornerstone members had to leave soon after for personal real life reasons, but still, I made some friends and we had fun, even though our alliance broke up after those two people left, and we wandered to different groups.

A couple of these friends of mine were always screaming at the top of their lungs about what a threat a particular alliance was to everyone and how we all needed to declare war on them RIGHT NOW! I took them at their word, as I tend to do until people give me reason not to, and worked hard to build myself up so I could be ready to fight the good fight alongside my friends.

One of them in particular was constantly harping on me and yelling at me to get cities next to hers. Oh, right, the game is all about building and capturing cities. Anyway, it seemed like a good strategic move, so I did my best to comply.

Then, last night, my current alliance reveals to me a lot of really good evidence that my friend, the one who wanted me close by her, was pulling some dirty tricks. I attempted to mediate the argument between them, but ended up just walking away from the debate, frustrated by everyone's desire to argue rather than find a solution.

Well, that's not fair. The alliance leaders didn't want to argue. They were, however, giving my friend a chance to explain her actions, which she couldn't do in a very convincing manner.

So, today, I get up, log in, and see my friend in the very alliance that she was screaming was the biggest threat in the game. Along with a sizable number of my other friends who had been saying the same thing. Suddenly, they wouldn't give me the time of day.

I'm not a kid anymore. It didn't take me long to figure it out. They had always been loyal to that alliance, and been helping them grow by getting people to attack them, giving them battle points. I can't explain how that works without naming the game, but it's a pretty crafty plan.

You just have to betray people who treated you like a friend to pull it off.

See the connection now? Using others for personal gain? Yeah.

The thing is, I've never really understood people like that. Real friends are so hard to come by, especially on the net. When someone, say myself, treats you like one, how do you just stab them in the back? I'll never get people who think that way. Not in every day life, or in online gaming.

Somebody stands by you, you stand by them. It's not a hard philosophy. It's one of the easiest things in the world to do.

I made my apologies to my alliance, logged off, and have no plans to ever play that game again. If the only way to succeed is to act like my mother, it isn't a game I'm interested in playing.

The worst part, however, is that it left me sitting here, with various projects I'm working on open on my screen, feeling like I did when I finally understood why my mom so desperately wanted there to be "Something Wrong With Me".

I've gotten very little done today as I sort through the emotions that memory brings with it.

It's strange how easy it is to derail an otherwise perfectly nice day of writing.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Misconceptualization

First, I spelled that title right on the first try. No reason to be proud of that, yet I am.

Anyway.

In light of my recent difficulties with writing, I've spent the last couple of days digging through my Other Stuff file, and looking to see what I found. Might help if I told you what that was, now that I think of it.

On my desk top, I have two folders for my writing. Current Projects and Other Stuff. Current Projects is the stuff I really want to be working on. Other Stuff is what I end up doing instead. It rarely makes any sense, and is often just stuff I write to play around with ideas, concepts, and styles.

It's also a perfect example of why I'm never going to be a mainstream author. Some of what's in there is just plain weird. Enough so, I thought I'd share some of these ideas with you guys, in case you ever got the idea that zombie slaying lesbian strippers was as out there as I could get.

Also, I just noticed my cat has double chins. That's probably not a good thing.

That aside...

First up, one of my stranger ideas was a novel with the working title of Monster Party. It's a fantasy piece, about a team of adventurers, who also happen to be monsters. A Troll, a Goblin, a Nymph, a Minotaur and a few others, trying to do general good deeds, and be taken seriously be the civilized races. The fun of the story was in the characters themselves. The Troll wizard was highly intelligent, but had trouble standing up for himself, while the Minotaur Bard suffered from a crippling case of shyness.

Far from that, was The Twelve. Now this, it really takes some explaining.

The story is about twelve people from all walks of life, from all over the world, who wake up in a long abandoned city with no memory of who they are. In each case, when they awakened, they saw a word that filled them with dread, mostly because it was clear they each wrote the word the saw.

Any attempt to leave the city was instant death. That wasn't the worst thing, though. Their initial impression that the city was abandoned proved inaccurate, as there were other people present. Dressed in medieval plague outfits, the ones with the long crow like mask. Aggressive and violent, the Crow People were unable to enter certain parts of the city, as were the Others, doppelgangers of the twelve characters, who were twisted and wrong, evil.

The mystery of the words, the Crow People, and The Others was planned to be solved over the course of the story, but the real fun was that I limited myself on chapter length. Each chapter could be no more than eight pages long, and had to advance the story in a meaningful way. It was one hell of a challenge.

I got about ten or so chapters done before I set it aside for a while to focus on more pressing stories, but it's surprisingly good, what there is of it. Better than my usual.

Another one that caught my eye was Azure Dawn, a sci-fi bit about an alien battleship crash landing on modern day Earth, and all the social, religious, and political implications that it brought with it. The majority of the story is told from the perspective of the ship's crew, as they attempt to adjust to their confinement to what they view as a backwater, underdeveloped world.

The concept for the story structure was to do a series of short, 150 page novels in a serialized format. As the crew of the Azure Dawn grappled with being trapped on a planet on the far side of the galaxy from their home, explored our world, good and bad, and gradually, discovered something even more terrible and threatening, something that would divide the human race, and alter the fate of our world forever.

In digging through my Other Stuff, I remembered that one of the things I enjoy most about writing is playing with the format of it. Doing things differently, just to see what works with each story. Because that's something that I believe in strongly, that each story deserves a format that is its own. I don't agree with the school of thought that says there is a 'right' format, or a 'wrong' one. Much less that there's only one right way to write a story.

Of course, there's basic sentence structure, and formatting that I always obey. That's just common decency. But style, that I love to play with. It's my favorite part of writing. It's what I do best.

Sometimes, I need to be reminded of that.

I'm feeling better today, about everything, because I remembered it.