Jan 30, 2013

What if I Said that Octopi Have Wings

There was a little girl named Contraire who pulled rabbits out of thin air... Well, no. She didn't.

There was a little girl named Contraire who always agreed with you, no matter what you said. Suicides, drunks and old carnies flocked to her like bewildered sheep.

The Charmer
by Kozyndan
Things I noticed/realized today:

1. The W. W. Norton tumblr brings you six starting lines from books out January 28. None strike me as particularly brilliant. But at least there's this:

"It was a fitful start to the most ambitious venture ever launched in Antarctica."
Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration by David Roberts. Geez, $28 for a book. I'm not sure what kind of game WWN are playing. More about Alone on the Ice right here.

Less-than-stellar writing gets published all the time. That doesn't mean you shouldn't deploy all your powers as a writer -- poetic and linguistic.

A raw egg is a thing of beauty, but it doesn't taste very good.

2. Four days ago Porter Anderson wrote about an emerging picture of the literary agent as impresario. Not only is Anderson's piece all a-shimmer with tasty, French & Italian words, but it also spells out a vision for agents in a world where self-publishing has come to stay. 

Writers can be rock stars if you let them spend more time fingering the fretboard and less time... Hmm, fingering the fretboard. My mind's in the gutter, it seems.

3. Satanists advocate school prayer. No comment from the Church of Satan. Let these guys take care of it, eh?

4. That's it. Put on bouncy tune, exit stage left.

Jan 25, 2013

A Secret Ode to the Dung Beetle (And Breaking Out of a Rut)

"Silence like a cancer grows." — Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel

I'm stuck. It happens. So I couldn't come up with a decent story prompt today. Were my labors guided by the Milky Way! It seems to work for dung beetles. Were I a pigeon, I'd simply follow main roads and highways.

"Already Watt preferred to have his back to his destination." — Samuel Beckett

But finding one's guiding light is similar to carving the Elgin Marbles in the dark. Or unlocking the front door with five pints of Kilkenny percolating inside you. Yet the sculptor knows she will be done sometime; the front door swings inward to admit you, or you pass out on your doorstep* and wake up at the crack of dawn.

But at least dawn came.

I didn't set out to write a blog post about nothing in particular, and yet here it is. Pull up a chair and have a cold one, because we're going to waste some serious time here. Jack taught me it's OK to chew your cud from time to time.

*Never happened to me.

"Tropes then are necessary errors about language" — Harold Bloom

Kilkenny is a city in southern Ireland, named after Cainnech of Aghaboe, a 6th-century saint. (Cill Chainnigh: Church of Cainnech.) A troparion calls him "lover of the desert." One might wonder where deserts can be found in Ireland, what with the average rainfall on the Emerald Isle.

No, this is no physical desert we're talking about, but the inner landscape of the ascetic which, all things considered, approaches the Buddhist void, be the supplicant Christian, Confucianist, Agnostic, Discordian or just a plain old confusionist like myself. Deep down all religions and philosophies interrogate the same fear that the world is made out of nothing and exists for nothing.

So the desert is the place where you go to find yourself; in the absence of prefabricated answers, something is bound to emerge. Up out of the unified field perhaps. Are thoughts made of particles?

John Collier's

"Diana was the first created before all creation; in her were all things; out of herself, the first darkness, she divided herself; into darkness and light she was divided. Lucifer, her brother and son, herself and her other half, was the light." — Charles Godfrey Leland, retelling one of the creation myths of Tuscan witchcraft

"As the female was the first to open and divide into two, so darkness preceded light in the sense that it was the noumenal, the negative state of being, from which existence, the positive state, issued forth." — Kenneth Grant

Venus and Lucifer are one and the same: Evening, and Morning Star. Lucifer, light-bearer, was the Roman Prometheus. To the Tuscan witches he represented Apollo/Helios/Endymion.

Night and day, well, they don't exist. It's always midnight somewhere. Time is an illusion that used to live in your wristwatch. Then the place began to fall apart, the landlord was too cheap to renovate, so Time moved to your cell phone, where it gets to play with sophisticated electronics.

This is how you become unstuck: Find a thread, any thread, and start pulling.

It's turtles all the way down.

Photo by Pelf

"Les sons d'une musique énervante et câline,/Semblable au cri lointan de l'humaine douleur" — Charles Baudelaire

Jan 23, 2013

The Voice of Molten Glass

Lonely Planet
by Eric Fan
Caelum heard it on the eve of his father's death. A bell, the sound of thick bronze, soon as Caelum laid his head on the pillow, relieved now that he'd burned all his baby pictures and the old fantasies with them.

The bell tolled every night before he slept.


Partly inspired by this Cold Cave song.

If this were a horror movie and I were directing, it would open to the low, thunderous wail of I Am the Sun.

Jan 22, 2013

What can Abraham Lincoln teach you about writing?

This one's dedicated to Amber-Lee.

You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.
— Abraham Lincoln

Axeman. War President. Family man.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was the 16th President of the United States of America.

He was assassinated at Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865, a Good Friday. Well-known stage actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth, the man who shot Lincoln, did not know that Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, had surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant a few days earlier, precipitating the end of the Civil War.

Booth's father was curiously named Junius Brutus, after Marcus Junius Brutus, one of Julius Caesar's assassins. When you look back, all these little nothings appear as omens, don't they?

Lincoln was the first American President to be assassinated. His handsome, 26-year-old assassin would be found in hiding and killed 12 days later. However, Lincoln's extraordinary death does not define him.

Illustration by Jason Heuser, a.k.a. sharpwriter

Lincoln didn't ride grizzly bears, nor did he tote an assault rifle as shown above.[1]

He was born on Sinking Spring Farm, Hardin County, KY (the historical Hardin County now forms part of LaRue County). Sinking Spring cost Lincoln's father Thomas 118 English pounds, or $575. That would have been $8484 in 2011 dollars, which doesn't sound like much for a property that included a family dwelling, a handful of outbuildings and a good water source.

Abraham lost his mother at the age of nine. No-one's quite sure what took Nancy Lincoln; it was either milk sickness, brought on by drinking milk from cows that had ingested white snakeroot, or it was tuberculosis.[2] One year after Nancy's death, Thomas Lincoln married a widow, Sarah Bush Johnston, who treated Abraham with affection and encouraged him to read and improve himself. Abraham would support Sarah until the end of her life, growing closer to Sarah over the years than to his own father. Thomas was not a man of learning, despite his onetime success and good standing in the county.  

Thomas and Nancy Lincoln were Separate Baptists, an offshoot of the First Baptists that opposed alcohol, dancing and slavery. The Lincolns moved north across the Ohio river to free territory, ostensibly on account of slavery, although the weightier motive, as Abraham once remarked, must have been his father's losses.

One Denton Offut gave Lincoln his first adult job ferrying goods by flatboat. At the end of a three-month journey, Abe arrived in New Orleans, where he witnessed slavery in action. It was Spring. He walked home.

Flatboats in New Orleans, 1873
Woodcut by A Measom Jr.

So, what can Abraham Lincoln teach you about writing a story, novel or play?

Jan 18, 2013

Even the Guilty Sleep Soundly of a Winter Night

Ásgrímur, lover of nature and eco-warrior, sat down to write a song about baby seals before breakfast, having no idea he would kill three people within the hour.

He would kill them in his sleep.

He would be cycling in his sleep.

There would be no witnesses.

For your reading pleasure: a catalogue raisonné of sleep disorders.*
My favorite's got to be catathrenia... for linguistic reasons, of course. A word you can sink your teeth into. Tastes like blueberry pie and mint tobacco. Flavor of the future. Arrr.

*it's a Wikipedia article. Not an actual catalogue raisonné, for sleep disorders do not constitute works of art -- not that I know of. 

Jan 16, 2013

24th Century Vikings Love their Grandmothers, Too

Before we begin: I'm guesting at Lucy V. Hay's fine blog for script writers and novelists, bang2write, discussing three typos that all writers should avoid, because they induce exploding-head syndrome in other people.

Like that.
Go read it for humanitarian reasons. Your prompt is right after the jump.

Jan 15, 2013

3 Unusual Deaths in 2096

To quote a parody song by BarelyPolitical, "it's the future, and everything is weird."
The following characters and dramatic situations, except for Ray Kurzweil and Jacques Vallee, who happen to be real people, are hereby released into the public domain like the rest of my prompts.


Yuri, monostep dance instructor and community leader at a popular online hangout for the under-20 crowd, CGY (Come Get Yours). Died of complications caused by a ruptured bladder. He was halfway through a one-week dance marathon at CGY, which required him to wear an unfamiliar, parrotlike avatar.


Mieke, retrotemporal investment consultant by day, professional postRPG sniper by night, dies of a metadrenaline overdose caused by biological overreaction to an illegal spell cast by one of her rivals in Shoggoth Arena.*

A thorough investigation discovers Mieke had tampered with her neural ports to allow deeper, realer-than-real biofeedback simulation, going so far as to write hardware drivers that would allow her to experience several simultaneous instances of herself, each with her own supernumerary limbs.

Mieke's unauthorized neural-port driver hacks are now worth $36,000,000,000,000.

*An MMO that hasn't been invented yet.


At an investment conference in Abu Dhabi, Ray Kurzweil and Jacques Vallee get disassembled into their component parts as aliens from Inner Space try to abduct both men.

The audience watches in slack-jawed disbelief. A sentient n-sphere, concealing a paradox regulator and a multilocal data siphon (Jack Kirby called them boom tubes), whisks away most of the two speakers; one suspects that the checksum on arrival won't match the abductors' expectations.

You see, Vallee and Kurzweil could see this coming from a long way off, so they had defensive protocols in place.

Ray and Jacques snuffed it that day, but in the aftermath of the extradimensional attempt on their lives, a composite being was born: Rayja Kursva.

Net of Being by Alex Grey.

Stranger deaths have occurred in real life. I mean, Francis Bacon died stuffing snow into a chicken. I can't think of a single good reason to stuff snow into a dead bird.

As Twain remarked, truth is stranger than fiction because it doesn't have an editor.

Jacques Vallee talking about UFOs and maybe even self-transforming machine elves.

Jan 11, 2013

Your Glorious Vision of a Dual-Boot Planet

The Internet is 120 years old today and has decided to ignore me.

Doesn't matter. I'm going to infect 81 secure nodes today and turn everybody into zombie giraffes.

Can you imagine two and a half billion people locked inside their meat bodies with nothing to do, nowhere to go?

Solitude on Cyanide Lake
by Robin Portnoff

This prompt was touched off by an accidental meditation on giraffes and video games/virtual reality. Ms Giraffe right here has a nasty disposition. Her favorite hobbies include riding motorbikes, propelling cabs into the sky and bleeding to death.

Now let's get all broody and serious because I'm a broody, serious guy.*
(*For example, I don't go out on Sundays. I just stay home and brood.)

The time draws near when some of us will choose to become one with our machines. With that in mind, I'd like to draw your attention to the following video game trailers:

Cyberpunk 2077

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Set aside the misogyny, sensationalism and dubious aesthetic standards, if only for a moment, and ask yourself: What are we heading into? Games are 21st-century pulp, exploring new modes of being and uncomfortable questions, the way pulp literature did.

In this hotbed/cesspool of violence, garish colors and outré characters, grand themes begin to coalesce. Our species thinks itself through narrative, and radical transformation of the self-as-discrete-biological-unit is already underway.

 One question that troubles and fascinates me: What happens when the distinction between an organic and a computer virus becomes obsolete?

Did I mention that there's free shipping on all my postcards, t-shirts, iPhone cases and until January 13, midnight PST? Just grab the promotional code by clicking here.  Other wonderful, talented artists are taking advantage of this promotion and they would appreciate your support.

I really like Society6. I should have joined sooner.

Jan 9, 2013

Why Seek Out the Sun When it Finds You Anyway

She found him laying in the mud, pointing the twin lenses of his camera at the gods that swarmed up the red stone tower.

And she got down and lay in the mud beside him.

"Hi," she said.

Urr, he said, eyes glued to the mud-flecked viewfinder of his rollei.

Chhinnamasta, one of the ten aspects of Devi.
From an original picture by Arnab Dutta

If this were a movie, I'd like it to open with Meditation is the Practice of Death coloring the scene...

...and, as long as we're daydreaming, let's have Rezwana Choudhury Bannya provide the exeunt for this imaginary romance-cum-spy-thriller about photography, reincarnation and finding love away from home with someone you never even knew was your neighbor for ten years.

Which is not autobiographical.*

*None of my prompts are. Not intentionally.

Jan 7, 2013

You Are So Good at All the Nothing that You Do

The pencilman looked on in grave concern as his son, Burk, shoved another quail pie into his 9-year-old mouth.
"I'm not sure I heard you correctly," The pencilman said to his boy.
"You did, papa. I shall be the most useless man in the village. Indeed I must."


Partially inspired by Jake Fried's video short, Last Meal. Jake is an experimental animator from Boston who's been working with whiteout to produce these animations. Whiteout, yes. Lots of it.

In my mind's eye the Pencilman looks like a cross between Jacques of Savoy...

...and Ian Macneice in Rome.

Jan 4, 2013

Meek Robot, Meet P, the Furious Panda

"Halt, mechanoid," said the panda gatekeeper. "Only organics may pass beyond this point."
"I too am organic," said the robot.
The panda's left eye dwindled to the size of a pinhead; his right grew as big as a saucer. "Have you frazzled your motherboard?" he asked.

Illustration by Dale Keys.

When old Irish hero* Cúchulainn flew into a rage, say the bards of yore, his eyes would go all funny. You know, like the panda's. So I stole that image because pandas are great and the thought of a panda going all Cúchulainn on a tiny robot filled me with glee. 
*Or cattle rustler. Whichever you prefer.

Cú owned a magic spear, Gáe Bulg, which I'd like to call "The Poor Man's Pasupata" and also reminds me of Shiva's weapon, the trident Trishula.

Speaking of tridents, did you know that independent Ukraine chose the trident as its national symbol? And that this trident, the Tryzub, supposedly represents a hawk? Well, I didn't, and am certainly going to read up on this when I have more time.

Western Ukrainian stamp, 1919.
Via Wikipedia.

Jan 2, 2013

Portrait of the Artist's Mother as a Young Dominatrix

or, Sub umbra floreo

She heard tell that it rained men in Belize. Men in suits looking for shade, carrying briefcases blacker than orchids between hotels and P.O. boxes, wearing red ties millimetrically noosed around their necks.

Belize. Now that was a place to do some fishing.

The Monument
by Judson Huss

A brief observation on the Latin morphemes, -or and -ix:

Charlize Theron is set to play a character named Imperator Furiosa in the next Mad Max movie.

Yes, Imperator; He-Emperor. Hollywood writers think bad Latin makes them look sophisticated, I guess. See, Imperator Furiosa = He-Emperor She-Furious. 

Theron's character should be an Imperatrix, unless the script calls for a last-minute reveal of Furiosa as a bona fide Furioso.

Saddling an empress with the title of emperor is the opposite of sophistication.*
Free tip: If you want to give your characters Latin-sounding names, take a few lessons in a Romance language (Italian, French, Portuguese, Spanish) so you can understand how grammatical gender affects words in these languages, which all descend from Imperial Latin.**

*When I referred to Darth Vader as a male dominatrix, that was a deliberate choice on my part; the non-jokey word would be dominator

**But does Peoria give a damn? Does Bhutan?