Saturday, September 13, 2014

This House That Hunts Vampires For You



The modern world has not done enough to safeguard against vampires. The corrupt the young and drink the old, but the bravest hunters still travel in Trans Ams and fight on even footing with these monsters. That’s why we’re introducing a new product: your house.

LoreHouse ™ is not a mobile home you drag on a trailer hitch. No Sir or Madame, this is a titanium-reinforced domicile, coming in one- and two-story models, mounted on indestructible chicken legs using our patented Baba Yaga technology. Not only is the house capable or pursuing and crushing any folklore you encounter, but by becoming your new legal residence, it is impossible for biters to enter unbidden. Simply leave the front open and any undesirables that accidentally fall inside will combust.

Ever wished you had more silver nitrate or crucifixes as you were stranded in a wheat field, surrounded by bat noises? With LoreHouse ™, you’ll never worry you left something at home. Home will come with you, ensuring you’re equipped and have had a good night’s sleep before you stake your claim.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Last Murder Mystery You'll Ever Need

How impractical would it be to get Angela Lansbury, Tony Shalhoub, David Suchet, Emily Deschanel and Benedict Cumberbatch to star in an Expendables-esque murder mystery*? Each playing peculiar and familiar personalities, if not necessarily named "Monk" and "Bones." I promise this isn't an excuse to have an 88-year-old Lansbury hit on Big Ben Cumberbatch, though it is an ulterior motive. No, all the detectives are on the same case to clear their names, because they are the suspects of the same locked-room murder.

Thus each will be suspicious of the others, and some directly investigating their competition. Poirot suspects Monk’s phobias are a fa├žade that would let him get away with it; Lansbury finds Deschanel suspiciously sanguine about the whole thing. But Lansbury was a mystery novelist; could she have cooked up a murder?

Whodunnit? That would spoil the fun. But the victim is most certainly their host: a butler played by Tim Curry.



*Yes, very impractical. I know.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Shame of Flash Thompson

From Pinterest.
Perhaps you know Venom. He’s the coolest Spider-Man villain. Just ask my fifteen-year-old self and he’ll tell you so. Venom has an evil costume that Spider-Man tried to throw away, and it gives him all Spidey’s powers, but also makes him stronger, sneakier, and gives him fangs and tentacles. A consummate 90’s villain.

Perhaps you know there have been multiple Venoms. The current one is Flash Thompson, a bully from Spider-Man’s high school who has since reformed, joined the military, and is using the alien super-costume to help defend his country. He became “Agent Venom.” He just joined the Guardians of the Galaxy. Yes, that one. 

Hasbro made a prestige action figure of him. Then they decided not to sell it, probably because of his niche appeal. You read the above paragraph, right? Nobody cared.

Except I cared. The costume was cool, okay? I don’t want to talk about it. I want to talk about Hasbro and Marvel recently agreeing to sell Agent Venom exclusively at one retailer.

What retailer would you pick to sell a superhero toy? Toys R Us? Target?

Try Walgreens. Not Wal-Mart. Walgreens, the chain pharmacy you can’t tell apart from CVS and Rite-Aid, is the exclusive home of Flash Thompson Venom

So I went to my local Walgreens, because that’s where I’m at in my life. I checked their toy aisle, which was more of a toy rack. There were some Ninja Turtles, Batmen and football supplies. No Marvel goodies at all.

Before I slinked away, I approached a staffer in a lavender scrub, who was re-stocking the energy bars. She immediately perked up and asked if she could help with anything.

“Do you have a Spider-Man toy called ‘Agent Venom?’” I asked.

She looked blank at me, like for a moment she’d forgotten how to be human. Then she smirked. “Black Spider-Man?”

“Yes,” I said. “Black Spider-Man.”

She led me to the freezer cases. Propped up beside the case was a cardboard box full of Flash Thompson Venoms. Dozens of their tentacles pointed at us from behind plastic wrap.

The clerk made a show of handing me one of them. I thanked her, and slinked to Check-Out.

It feels like a universal truth. Flash Thompson, a non-entity turned into a non-entity hero, then turned into non-entity merchandise you can only buy next to the freezers, far from the toy aisle of a non-entity pharmacy most people don’t even know sells toys. It’s likely that more people in my town will read the name “Agent Venom” on their way to grab a pint of Ben & Jerry’s than will ever read it in a comic book.

Now he’s sitting on my desk. We have a lot to talk about.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Happy Birthday: In Defense of the Worst Year of My Adult Life

At the last hospital visit before my birthday, the nurse said I’d had a bad year. Nurses tend to be far more positive, so when she said that, it stirred me.  In the last couple months my mother, friends, fellow writers, and even acquaintances I didn’t know were following my story said this was a bad year for me. I don’t want to agree.

I turn 33 on Thursday. Last week I realized that will mean it’s been twenty years of this neuromuscular syndrome. For our anniversary, my body began rejecting medication, and the latest thing the doctor put me on only endows me with new and unwanted side-effects. Much of 2014 was waking up every two hours with muscle spasms, of being unable to think straight, and being so beat down I couldn’t even write anymore. Family begged me to take it easy on myself, to just take May easy. May slips so easily into June, especially when all you do is suffer.

Part of me knows I’ve done more than that. As my mind’s been bogged down by pain, I reach for oversimplifications more than I ever used to let myself. Depression is alleged to work like that. So I dwell:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Walking through a nursing home after hours

Walking through a nursing home after hours, the halls are empty but full of our sounds: generators, air pumps, washers. It's a symphony exclusively associated with human presence. Disorients when it all plays in absence of voices, footfalls and clothes swishing. This is probably what so many Horror movies/games/books strive for in mood, and I can see how it might be creepy, but it's not. It's a tickle, like my brain is waiting for society to load in with the rest of this setting.

Monday, August 11, 2014

LineCon to Otakon: A Photo Diary of My Bad Choices

It was Thursday in Baltimore, and I got in line for Otakon at around 6:45 PM. I was hungry, but figured I'd wait an hour, get my ticket and then grab dinner. After half an hour of weird line etiquette, which snaked in inexplicable loops in front of the lobby entrance, the people behind me started getting particularly angry. They bailed to get food, while I brought out my phone. I thought it would be funny to catch what they missed.


The line eventually curved around the left side of the building, where we saw it eventually snaked again and brought everyone back in the opposite direction. I tried to see where it was going to turn around again...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I haven’t read most of the great books, or, Doing the Diligence


Nope.
A fun game at conventions is to dance around what you haven’t read. There are so many nerds who get so little face-time validation elsewhere that they’re quick to condescend and lecture on behalf of the Great Roberts Heinlein and Jordan. This leads many con-goers faking having read books and participating in empty conversations. I’m not sure who it’s fun for, but it must be fun given how frequently it happens.

A game I play at conventions is confession. Bring up an old Jack Vance? I’ll admit to never having read it and ask what spoke to you about it. I’ll confess to never having read Theodore Sturgeon or Octavia Butler, or only having read Samuel Delany’s non-fiction, or only the first book of Wheel of Time and Ender’s Game. The fun of this exercise is watching people around me relax, because by going first (and going at all), I’ve let them give up pretense. Tension leaves their shoulders as they realize it’s okay.

My excuses are legion. I didn’t grow up with LeGuin and Zelazny, and only ever heard of G.K. Chesterton after I graduated college. I’ve gone out of my way to collect books by canonical authors in order to catch up – what I call “doing the diligence” – which yields a mixed bag of results. LeGuin and Zelazny amaze me, but if I never read another Asimov short story that’s a thin fictional veil over a science lesson, I’ll be fine.

Nope.
My troubles are compounded by interests in literary fiction, which has its own far broader canons around the world. The many years I spent reading Mark Twain, John Steinbeck and various translations of The Divine Comedy seem to be the same time others were getting familiar with The Sword of Shannara (only read the first one and can’t remember it, sorry). And then there are all those superhero comics that ate up my adolescence, though they seem to be more useful now that Marvel films are dominating the earth. Don’t get me started on Beta Ray Bill.

Nor have I have I given up my other loves. I’ll get to A Canticle for Liebowitz, but I’m probably going to read Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth and G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel first. So maybe I’ll always be behind, but that’s not always bad.

I own it, but...
As frustrating as it can be to listen to geniuses dissect apparently great works I’ve never heard of, this slower pace has also yielded great pleasures. I’m not sure I would have appreciated the works of Shirley Jackson as a teenager, though having started reading her a few years ago with We Have Always Lived in the Castle, she is now one of the most inspiring authors in my life. So there’s the frustration of finding two more important books for every one I knock down, this hydra of literacy, but there is also the wonder of finding true masterpieces vetted by decades of readership.

It may just be the way I look at things, but I am far happier to have read Lord of Light late than never at all. No one I know of writes this way today, and as far as I’ve read, no one else used to, not even Zelazny.

If you’re curious, the next authors I intend to do the diligence on are Lois McMaster Bujold and Samuel Delany. I’m told I’ll love Nova. The two keep getting postponed because I’ve taken such a long detour through Jo Walton, even though she so strongly recommends both of them.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Three Positive Things in Three Days, and Cheating

This wasn't my best week. Starting Monday and hitting hard Tuesday, my body started rejecting my new medication. I've only gotten some clarity in the last day or so, and am struggling for productivity. I see the doctor for the next consult on Thursday.


In related news, Ross Dillon cheated recently. He was tagged in a Facebook game to post "three positive things for three days," and he posted nine all at once. He's a man after my own heart.

I read his list minutes after finishing a short story and was quite exhausted. I played along. No reason not to be positive here for the span of nine items.



1. Marathoning the first season of Lost.

2. A writer I respect saying he was compelled to stay up late to read to the end of a story he beta read for me.
3. Ice cream cakes.

4. Homemade ice cream cake substitutes.
5. Grilling hamburgers.
6. People who smile when the rain reaches them.
7. Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead comic.
8. Telltale's The Walking Dead game.
9. Hearing the version of the ending theme of Naoki Urasawa's Monster, an instrumental song which always creeeped me out, and finding the lyrics inspirational and reassuring. 


I confess just listening to For The Love of Life cold won't have the same effect.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The ideas we discard are not wasted

I've had this short story idea for over a month and have been gathering good lines, ideas and character moments. Today I finally had the strength to begin writing it. Five scenes in I realized two thirds of my existing material won't make it into the story. It wasn't a waste - it was a cocoon from which the fiction is emerging.

In related news: I'm writing again. I've written more in the last two weeks than in the previous two months. God willing, this short will be out to a market by the end of the month, and by then we'll be off to the races.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Readercon Wrap Up

I wanted to do a Readercon post earlier but was wiped from my trip. It was a miracle I didn't fall asleep as soon as I plopped into the car, but I didn't. The convention was a wonderful success and I'm glad to report my health held up nearly the entire time. The new medication seems to be taking to my system. The ability to think through the pain and enjoy so much good company made this feel like another world from the last two months.

If you're in the New England area, I strongly recommend Readercon. It's an excellent small-scale convention with a fiction focus that attracts an impressive number of accomplished and excellent panelists. Scott Lynch and Elizabeth Bear are regulars though had to miss this year; this year saw the premiere of Max Gladstone. There was at least one rep from Crossed Genres and a significant presence of Strange Horizons folk, as well as Tor's Ellen Datlow. It was easy to bump into Kameron Hurley and Peter Straub in the lobby and simply chat with them. You don't get that kind of access and informality with such guests at most cons.

It also led to many fine panels, my favorite being back-to-back discussions of Magic: "Difference Between Magic and Science" and "When the Magic Returns," which contrasted magic and science, and then explored narratives of magic brought into the modern world. Lev Grossman and Max Gladstone were on both line-ups as their incomparably erudite selves, digging into the differences in how we experience our world and expect the magical. Even the greatest technology can feel clunky and exclusionary, whereas magic, with its precious commodity of being fictional, can meet a spiritual need the real world can't.

Julia Sidorova was the most impressive of anyone here for me, a Russian writer positing that technologies like a cell phone are "a science experiment anyone can perform," unifying us as experimenters, and soon openly disagreeing with the guest of honor about our place in evolution. Can you imagine the intelligence and confidence it takes to argue with a guest of honor about the nature of the universe in front of a crowd in a second language? Her approach to science has me hunting for her debut novel.

But the main draw of Readercon was face-time with friends. I skipped several panels simply to hang out in the bar with authors and Viable Paradise graduates, and when I could get up early enough, spent time in the lobby chatting with con-goers. It was a completely different experience from last year's Readercon where I knew few people; knowing folks enables conversations that rapidly expand into clusters. The sad point of this is when other con-goers linger nearby, looking and listening, but can't jump the social hurdle into joining. I know I'm awful at inserting myself into other people's conversations, and you never want to be intrusive. When I could, I'd reach out to such folks. As con-communities, I'm still looking for ways to systematically open us up to more low-key exchanges. Otakon, with its younger demo and enormous attendance, seems more natural at this.

And seeing friends after the crap of the last two months was worth every penny and midnight muscle spasm attack. Mostly I fraternized with Viable Paradise graduates, the first time I've seen several of them since the workshop itself. David Twiddy even organized a massive dinner for professors and grads on Saturday. What a mensch. Events like those enabled my personal highlights, as there's nothing better than getting smart people you like to double over laughing. Jokes about Christ Chex and dinosaur fellatio... well, clearly some of the old me is still around.

There are some sweet photos of highlights, like catching one of my writing mentors in the middle of a magic trick, but this laptop doesn't have an SD card reader. So perhaps another time. For now, I've got to catch up on sleep.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

ReaderCon 2014

A short update this evening: despite my health, I will be at Readercon.

It feels like my system is responding to the new medication. I've already written more in the last three days than in the last month, and I was actually able to do some chores tonight.

Kids: when you get old, you'll feel pride in chores. Sorry.

This means I'm good to go to my first convention since February. Readercon is a lovely little lit-focused SF/F convention in Burlington, MA. No, not Vermont. Burlington, Massachusetts. Yes, my friends were confused by it too.

It attracts a wonderful collection of authors. While I'm bummed to see Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch will be absent, Max Gladstone is making what I think is his first appearance. I just finished his Three Parts Dead, which is quite fun and I'd love to pick his brain about it.

So, I'm packing and hope to see people there.I may be scarce at the evening parties, but I'll be as social as I can. Feel free to say hello. If my health is terrible, I'll apologize and excuse myself. Allegedly, I'm very friendly at these sorts of things.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Purgatory of Illness (and Jokes)


This picture will make more sense
by the end of the essay.

We weren’t sure what was wrong, but this week doctors believed either my body was rejecting all of my medication or I’d had a nervous breakdown. Even if you know nothing about my condition, we can all agree that if you can’t tell which of those two things is wrong, you’re in deep.

If you know nothing of my condition, it’s possibly because I scarcely write about it. It’s never appeared in my fiction, rather drawing me to sympathy and study of the illnesses and disabilities of others. But ever since I was thirteen and the recipient of some radical medical malpractice, I have had a crap immune system and have been in constant pain in every part of my body. Most recently, it began taking my hearing and my ability to focus thought.

If you didn’t know that every time we’ve ever talked I’ve secretly been in pain, it’s because I’ve been conditioning myself since puberty to manage the load. Two months ago, when I could no longer speak in coherent sentences, and when walking to the mailbox became too much of an ordeal for me to imagine (literally: I could no longer think straight enough to envision the trip), pain management was all I had left. Empathy seemed to evaporate from my mind. Beneath compassion, humor and creativity, all I had was the ability to not lose my grip on my body.

Today, I’m proud of that. I’m proud of having held onto that much when my entire nervous system turned against me.

At the time, I had no idea what was going on and felt guilty for bothering so many people about it. This is why The Bathroom Monologues have been particularly quiet for the last two months. I’ve completed no piece of fiction in the entire period; editing a novel became excruciating in ways I wish upon none of you. That little review of X-Men: Days of Future Past went up a week late because it took me an entire week to type that many coherent sentences.

If you’ve made it through those five paragraphs, then please bear with me for this: I don’t want you to apologize for my pain. Some of the worst parts of the last two months have been people frowning and trying to commiserate with me. All it does it perpetuate mood and fatalism.

Instead, join me in regarding the few instances of hope people gave me by being ridiculous. The first time it felt like anything could improve was walking through a Wal-Mart (of all places on earth). Out of the freezer section came a cart, pushed by a teenaged girl in huge, furry boots. Sitting inside the wire cart (not on the baby seat, but lounging inside the food carriage) was another teenaged girl in huge, furry boots, with as demure a grin as grins can allow within their city limits. They were half-grown adults enjoying something ridiculous, chatting about what to put on their Eggos.

I’m pretty that the next time I smiled was in learning someone had the gall to name their band “The Style Council.” Or it was a reclusive friend linking me to the strangest Vines he’d found that month.

Of everyone, my mother was the most worried for me. It’s something moms excel at, isn’t it? Some days she’d invite me out, I think just to give me a change of scenery. Funny to think asking someone to drop off the recycling is altruistic, yet in my easily overwhelmed state, I showed up to the car half an hour late. I was sure she’d be furious, and was prepared to apologize into her frustrations.

Instead she had found a rope swing and was happily spinning around a tree in the yard. She didn’t even hear me come out. She reminded me what a damned good role model is.

This is what I need, and in bulk. Don’t wish me well, and don’t put on grave tones, and don’t say the hardest part is over or is yet to come. I’ll take your prayers (and thank you, Father Andre and David Twiddy – that really did mean something to me), but I’ll also be glad to see you decorating this world with quirks. It reminds me of my purpose.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Haunted House, Holy House - #fridayflash



Sometimes you call a setting evil, or hallowed. There’s good houses and bad, at least according to home owners associations. But there’s this one house crumbling on the city limits, near the Target no one wants there, the last house on the right. The one made from white bricks that have yellowed with too many seasons, and that everybody says they’ve seen angels in the windows of, even if they don’t have a photo. People park outside but you seldom see the lights on.

People still aren’t sure what that house is. It does something to you, to be sure, though I think most of the stories are lies. Everybody wants to say they stayed there and were molested by angels or something.

The first documented tenant of the house lost his mind and said he was walking on air. This was in the eighties. Some of the time he was right, and there’s ample video of the man walking upwards of ten feet above the floor of his room at the sanitarium. His problem is that he always thinks he’s walking on air, even when he’s not. There’s a claim that the airport twenty miles from the sanitarium sees more accidents whenever he’s hysterical. There’s a scientific study going on to check this.

There are a couple of people who claim the house turned them into geckos, but their visits are unsubstantiated. The next documented tenant is a woman who rented the house for four consecutive weekends in the early nineties, and claims to have used a door in its basement to transport herself to Mars, from which she has returned with four garbage bags full of artifacts from Mars’s ancient civilizations. Whenever she is asked why astronauts have never found remains of such civilizations, she responds, “My relics aren’t from our Mars.”

The third documented visitor grew wings. They’re very pretty, turquoise and oily mauve, though they’re flightless and don’t fit in her smart car. Skeptics say she might have always had wings.

The fourth person to stay there was cured of her manic depression and catastrophic writers block. He’s self-published four books in the last thirteen months and has bought his way out of debt. He just paid off his parents’ house. This convinced many people that the Awful House was a miracle, even though the man’s books are mostly about glorifying violence. Copies were found on the phones of two school shooters. There’s a serious question of how much this has helped his sales.

In fact, it can’t be proven that the original documented man wasn’t a deluded telekinetic before his stay. Skeptics dispatched three people with fully recorded histories of normal behavior to reside in the house. They livestreamed their entire stay and reported the week so uneventful they wound up playing tech support.

The streams captured all of their heads detaching at various points and flying about the house. Two of the three were seen to go invisible at seemingly random intervals, while the third seemed to become super-visible, appearing in no less than three parts of the house simultaneously. There is at least video of him talking to a second self who’s on the roof, cleaning the chimney.

But if there’s an oddity to the skeptics’ tale, it’s that they don’t believe it. Given audio and video evidence, the threesome routinely debunk or cast doubt that the events were anything more than digital tricks. They claim no memory of random beheadings or invisibilities. Since their stay, they’ve also lost belief in many other things, such as that anyone actually disbelieve in manmade global warming, or the George W. Bush won the 2000 presidential election. In fact, they are skeptical to the point of certainty that Bush was never President of the United States.

A second threesome of skeptics spent a second week in the house, but went missing. There is no video or audio evidence as to where they disappeared, causing many internet commenters to joke about how tame a fate the house gave them. They were hoping for gargoyles to eat them or something. Gargoyles show in the backyard every so often. The trust pays me to clean them when they appear.

Is it an evil house? Since it started getting famous, there’ve been murders there. In 2011, ten kids were chopped up inside, stalked by the shadow of a coat rack. That time police beat the skeptics to the punch, and found the two tweens who’d faked all the videos. The house hadn’t done anything.

Seven of the kids came back to life, discovered in an attic closet, their graves inexplicably empty. Three graves, though, remain full. The house isn’t saying why.

Personally, I still can’t tell what sort of house that makes it. I’m only sure that, if there’s ever been a problem with that place, it’s the tenants.

Friday, June 13, 2014

An Alternate History of Friday the 13th



Anyone who cares already knows that Jason isn't the killer in Friday the 13th. It's his mother, avenging his drowning. He then rises from the dead in the sequels with decreasingly comprehensible continuity, but how funny would Friday the 13th Part 2 have been if it was just about teens making the tarnished camp work? Camp Crystal Lake has an awful reputation, but just like most real life sites of horrors, there isn't another massacre. Just teens with nowhere else to go trying to make cash out of a camp.

Then Friday the 13th Part 3 features too many rich people buying lakefront property, and the counselors wishing a serial killer would whack them. But he doesn't. The zoning board is the villain. It's probably a bad Comedy, nothing like the next movie.

Friday the 13th Part 4 was the film no one expected to be nominated for an Oscar. It opens with kids playing in the lake while their parents ignore them, referencing the drowning of Jason Voorhees. What we don't expect is the children discovering Jason's body. It's not a monster, but the fish-eaten remains of a child no older than themselves, and the public discovery shakes the Crystal Lake community. More Stand By Me than a Slasher flick. Adults are finally brought to trial over negligence, and children reckon with how the adults in their lives haven't prepared them for mortality. The parents reckon on their shortcomings. "We are all the shadow of Jason" becomes a national slogan, a t-shirt, and a meme before the internet.

Part 5 is the movie everyone said you couldn't make, because how could you do a sequel to the deconstruction of the American dream? But it is made, and it sucks. It's a clumsy teen romance that the director later apologizes for.

We loosely call the next film Part 6, but it was actually a reboot given the minimalist title "13." Its cardinal sin is attempting to re-tell too much in one movie, containing extensive prequel material of Jason's tortured childhood, his death, his mother's rampage, and the pathos of his body's discovery years later. There's so much in it that it never delivers on its individual elements, and it never settles on a tone or characterization. It was the Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom of camping movies.

It's a strange alternate universe, probably the same in which Transformers is a series of educational engineering videos, and Godzilla is about the contributions of Asians to establishing the fossil record. In that world, Friday the 13th still isn't a particularly beloved series, but everyone agrees it's still go more merit than the Jungian snoozers of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Counter est. March 2, 2008