Jul 31, 2013

Nine Hundred Years of Bad Taste

Icarus Falls Upward
by John Magnet Bell

Nobody took the Architects seriously until every building of a certain size began to rumble and take off into the clouds. On April 23, 0984 AG (anno Gliesi), plenty of people spilled their coffee on lovers, v-boards, friends and coworkers.

And my Architect boyfriend pierced me with an arctic stare.

Louisiana State Museum and Sports Hall of Fame
designed by Trey Trahan
photographed by Timothy Hursley
via Architectural Record

My prompt today was inspired by the picture above -- but wait, there's more. Please take the time to read the article and browse the comments. You won't regret it. There's a vitriolic discussion going on there as to the merits of this particular building and, needless to say, a couple ad hominem attacks. Godwin's Law had not yet come into play at this writing.

Sample comment:
"In a town that is older than New Orleans, and is famous for its plantations and townhouses, this building is a travesty and a disgrace to the Historic District Development Committee of Natchitoches. Its so-called allusion 'to the to the shaded porches of Creole architecture' is totally without merit, as the form has simply nothing to do with Creole architecture (...)"

So you see how, between rabid architects and zealot fanboys, things could explode in less time than it takes you to look up the word spandrel.  Or splaundrel. What a juicy, juicy word. Splaundrel. Splaundrel, splaundrel, splaundrel. *smacks lips* *ahhhhhhhh* 

Music for Warring Architects
(click here if you're reading via email)

Jul 30, 2013

16 Ready-Made Goals for your Protagonist

The Rider
by Ken Wong

Goals. What would life be without them? Farkin' paradise, that's what. Just imagine:
You got ahold of a magic lamp. You rubbed it once, you rubbed it twice... and out popped a genie, still washing his privates, because you interrupted his shower.

Have you ever seen a genie's dong? It's kaleidoscopic. Don't look at it too long, you might go blind. Or insane.

The genie covered his magic wang and worked his facial muscles into a bitter, bitter scowl.
You delivered your best impression of a partially inflated sex doll.
"Hurry up and wish for something," said the genie. "I have a meeting with my social media strategist at 10."

Now, if you're like me at all, your first wish would go like this:
"I want a food replicator that runs on free energy." 

Your second:
"Give me the power to print money."

Your third:
"I'd like to change into a spider monkey at will."

But life doesn't work that way. Genies have long since died off or gone into hiding. (At least George W. Bush seems to think so.)

And this, boys and girls, is the reason why we must have goals -- there are no genies left to give you food replicators, free money, or shape-shifting powers. Because fiction resembles life, elementary logic demands that the protagonist of your story have a goal.

It doesn't matter how trivial the goal, as long as it keeps the story going. Take the movie Signs, for instance: Mel Gibson wants to become a priest again. The Matrix: Neo wants to make out with Trinity. The Happening: Plants want to kill everyone. Sinister: Ethan Hawke wants to wear flannel and watch home movies.

Goals are really hard to come up with, so I thought I'd provide you with a few. You might feel a little stuck at this juncture, yoked under a bad case of analysis paralysis, who knows. Despair no longer! Here comes John to save the day...

Jul 26, 2013

25 Ways to Reinvent Werewolves

Do you love lists? I certainly do. Literary lists, even more so. They say lists attract traffic and comments to your blog, and by "they" I mean other bloggers who make lists. Usually those lists are useful. Or inspiring. For example, they inspire you to make lists of your own.

Eh, it beats getting stabbed in the face.

Because I love lists -- and werewolves -- and I honestly think that the topic of werewolves can never be exhausted -- I give you

25 Ways to Reinvent

1. Wolves turn into humans, not the other way around.
2. Wolves turn into different wolves that turn into humans.
3. A mysterious new form of lycanthropy only affects people who play Scrabble once a month.
4. Wolves that turn into Gila monsters that turn into macaws that turn into humans -- it's complicated.
5. Men that only turn into werewolves when they're single.
6. Men and women that turn into werewolves when they experience stage fright.

Baby Werewolf
by ZombieGirl

7. Lycanthropy as a form of cancer, where each successive transformation brings you closer to death.
8. Men that turn into werewolves if they experience more than one orgasm every 24 hours.
9. Men that turn into crossdressing werewolves.
10. Lycanthropy only affects horses.
11. Lycanthropy stems from an ancient gypsy curse that you draw upon yourself when you kick an old lady's dog.
12. Lycanthropy only affects intersex people of Laotian descent.

A British Gentleman Werewolf
by Peter Kramar

13. Time-traveling werewolves from Pluto.
14. Lycanthropy only affects cloned dinosaurs.
15. Lycanthropy causes an insatiable craving for Hostess fruit pies.
16. When in werewolf form, only eating self-help gurus and life coaches will appease the pangs of hunger.
17. You only turn into a werewolf if you think you're ugly.
18. Lycanthropy proceeds from an apparently incurable fear of bees.

The Awesome Werewolf.
by Alejandro Giraldo

19. There's a drug out there that turns you into a differently-shaped werewolf, depending on how much of it you snort. An overdose doesn't kill you. No. It turns you into two werewolves. Changing back to human form is a bitch.
20. Every once in a while you turn into a winged werewolf. With cute butterfly wings. Kawaii!
21. When you turn into a werewolf you have asthma.
22. Turning into a werewolf gives you mad Photoshop skills. However, you tend to smash your Wacom tablet and your keyboard every time you sit down to work. So you have mad skills but you can't actually use them.
23. You turn into a werewolf in the presence of space aliens. So you might never know you have the lycanthrope disease if you don't happen to meet space aliens.
24. When you turn into a werewolf, it's all you can do to spend the night finger-painting.

by Andertype

25. Werewolves now rule the Earth, so every child over 12 gets turned into a werewolf. Widespread consumption of Frankfurters before they even exit the sausage factory breaks the sausage industry. Nobody wants to work anywhere but in sausage factories or slaughterhouses. World economy collapses. Time-traveling werewolves from Pluto try to avert disaster by changing the past, but that only works in a multiverse. Because multiple timelines do not exist in this particular story, our Plutonian brothers fail in their noble pursuit to save us all from the Sausage Famine of 2022. FML.

Now let VSauce educate you on a fundamental issue: should you eat yourself?

Jul 24, 2013

Nature Builds a Burning Bridge

Carlton dropped the pot on his foot but the pain didn't register. He could only hear the buzzing.

Butterflies can't scream. Small favors. A squad of beewolves zoomed around Carlton's head, landing on his flower-winged friends, impaling them, taking them away. Butterflies can't scream.

by Shadow Chen

Tip o' the hat to Justin Zimmer for sharing this great video on Google+.

Fun Facts About Flutterbies:

Queen Alexandra's Birdwing is the largest butterfly in the world, reaching a wing span of 31 cm (about 12 inches). Walter Rothschild named these butterflies after Alexandra of Denmark in 1907. Oh, and they're poisonous, so keep your hands to yourself. I mean, that's what I would do.

Male of the species.
Photo by Robert Nash

Now the Western Pygmy Blue sits at the opposite end of the scale, boasting a proud wing span of half an inch. It's the smallest butterfly in North America.

Photo by Stickpen

Some butterflies have false heads. Others have 'eye spots' on their wings. Yet others sneak into your left ear at night and burrow into your brain, where they lay their goopy eggs and wait for them to hatch. Like the Alien Queen from the movies. Hang on, butterflies don't do that. Mushrooms do.

Not-so-fun fact: Bees are dying en masse.

Jul 21, 2013

Poodle Duchess IV: The Revengening

At two in the morning, Angela Silliphant got the call she dreaded most.
Angela’s wife, Regan, spoke. “The Voice didn’t make it,” she said.
Angela sighed and rifled for Lorazepam in her nightstand drawer.
“Shit. Any signs of press?” she asked.
“Nope. Just a sleeping kid with a phone.”

via Fun Gallery

As I conceive it, The Poodle Duchess is a movie franchise revolving around the exploits of an Anglo-Swedish aristocrat, Mercy Tolentina Bielkenstierna-Cavendish, who gets turned into a poodle by a romantic rival after it becomes apparent the two ladies share an interest in the same man, investment banker and arctic explorer Johnson Johnson Kalckreuth.

So basically it's The Golden Ass

The titular character would be played by 3 different dogs over the years but voiced by the same actress ("The Voice"), who, as our prompt begins, has succumbed to a deadly cocktail of painkillers and crystal meth. Suicide? Foul play? Who knows.

Other movies in the series, in chronological order: 
  • Poodle Duchess (1989)
  • Poodle Duchess II: Ninjas on Ice (1992)
  • Poodle Duchess Presents: Steak and Kidney Pie (1993, spin-off; universally lambasted, gains cult status as VHS tapes extremely hard to obtain; no DVD edition)
  • Poodle Duchess III: Haircut and a Half (1996, huge box-office hit)
  • Poodle Duchess IV: The Revengening (1997; The Voice dies before she records all her lines)
  • Poodle Duchess V: Sniff my Butt Why Don'tcha (1998, prequel, box office bomb) 
  • Poodle Duchess: Peas and Mash and Broken Glass (2004, planned gritty reboot, stuck in development hell)

Jul 19, 2013

The Kingdom of Kevin

Driving a car into a swimming pool isn't smart, but I needed a change of pace.

I was struggling with Levi's ideas about the structure of kinship when it hit me: I should get out more. Leaving the house without wallet or phone, I hopped a freight train and prayed.

by Mathieu Clauss


Steve Aoki - "Pursuit of Happiness"
See people dancing, twerking, licking each other, driving a car into a pool.

Driving cars into swimming pools - the results of an enlightening YouTube search.
More people driving cars into pools, because I really truly want you to see that.

Jul 17, 2013

Make Way for the Kitchen Slayer

I can sneak into a cave and slay a party of 20 thieves and thugs with my trusty bow, but I can’t cook a welsh egg to save my life.

Jamie's parents are coming in 24 hours. He's promised dear old dad I make the best welsh eggs. Cripes.

Painting by Till Rabus
via arte a un click

So last night I was talking food with my significant other (sorry, ladies, I'm taken) and it turns out she'd never had welsh eggs. Forsooth!, I said, shaking my wondrous bloated head. If welsh eggs you have not had...

No, let's not break into verse right now.

The picture above shows another inspiration for my prompt today: That's my main character in Skyrim. I called her Fury. She's great with a bow and when she started out it was all about cleaving to the shadows, lurking around corners and shooting arrows into eye sockets -- but when she wields a sword and a dagger, why, Fury can whittle a mountain down to carrot size quicker than you can say 'Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis'.

That's her wife Mjoll in the background. Very tough lady. She killed a bear while Fury and Star (that would be the horse) posed for this picture.

welsh egg
via Adventures of a Foodie

Some people need work/life balance, while others find themselves in dire need of gaming/life balance:

This gamer complains Ultima Online has magic life-ruining powers.
Joseph Bernstein admits to KillScreen readers that Ultima Online provided the venue for a childhood trauma. (Ultima Online again? Am I sensing a trend here?)
TheManchild claims that games all but destroyed his life, but a wife and new baby have helped with his gaming addiction.

I'm hungry. I'm also done. Why don't you listen to some music while I eat?

Jul 15, 2013

My Faith is like a Spaceship Made of Grapefruit and Rainbows

Everything is easier to do when your head is growing back, except maybe eating and breathing or getting around.

The Everlasting Friends, who had seen the light for the second time -- they took care of Marvin. They watched his catheters and feeding tube. They washed his diapers. They sang.

by Nicholas Lockyer

Sources of inspiration for this prompt:

Worms regrow brains, memories after decapitation
Rosemary's Baby - the film

And this video. Say Hebbo! from Torvakian on Vimeo.

Jul 12, 2013

If You Ever Go to Houston, Make Sure You Go to Houston

Mark, the half-Nepalese, quarter-Cherokee mosquito abatement man, would like to share some koans and life tips with you.* These thoughts have helped him push through the darkest days of his life.

Sometimes you talk to water.

The tigers of wisdom at a random K-Mart.

Poetry has this way of making things more complicated that need to be complicated anyway.

Never play chess with a mammoth unless.

by Wilmer Murillo

When you need answers, black metal is a good place to go.

What would Woody Harrelson do? I mean Larry Flynt. 

During a storm, light a match. 

Grand Theft Auto teaches the bare necessities of the mouse and keyboard.

by Nick Sadek

There's an empty cup of coffee waiting for you. Fill it.

Farting is nature's way of deflating your ego.

I'm a half glass type person, so when I break I'm also half titanium.

Remember that mosquitoes have legs.

Brent Spiner would have been the greatest actor alive, if only.

Grow a mustache and life is one big excuse for napkins.

by Oleg Dou

Mark has never earned brownie points for coherence. Or logic.

*Yes, this is a story prompt, or many prompts in the guise of one. It's fiction. Mark does not exist. The Mark that can be spoken is not the real Mark. Nothing is true and everything is permitted. Want proof? Babirusas.

Mosquito abatement may be one of the best-worst jobs in the world. I first read about it in an interview with comics creator John Porcellino. My only gripe with the guy is that he loathes Peter Bagge's awesome series, Hate.

After the jump:
Music that Mark Would Enjoy

Jul 11, 2013

Only a Ghost Doctor Can Treat Imaginary Flea Bites

The two-faced boy has been following me through the fog for two days. If only I could find a stone...

... Can't even scoop up a handful of sand. It vanishes, slips through my fingers, slips upward in tendrils like the smoke of a snuffed candle.

No weapons against him.

paintings on old books by
Ekaterina Panikanova

What if ghosts were affected by parasites, diseases of the spirit world?

I got started on Matt Ridley's The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature, and quite a few dozen pages deal with the evolutionary role of parasites and immune systems. I learned that frogs don't have an immune system, which I found quite surprising. [Correction: It appears that they do. Where did I get the idea that they don't?]*

Plants do not have immune systems, strictly speaking; they attack foreign bodies by means of chemical emissions.

*Yeah, my biology is rusty.


Great news: society6 is running an artist promotion again, so you can get free shipping on lots of great stuff  (prints, t-shirts, phone cases & skins) if you click my promotional code. Other great artists are participating, not just me. Offer expires July 14, 2013 at Midnight Pacific Time.

Jul 10, 2013

The Far Side of Nothing Is Not as Empty as it Seems

A kid in my old neighborhood stole a pair of binoculars from a pawn shop and ran like hell and walked into the wrong house, they say.

He dropped out of sight a couple of months.

One night in July he snuck into my room through the open window.

a portrait
by meme

Snuck vs. Sneaked: A classic grammarian conundrum.

Grammarist on snuck: "people seem to like it."

Ah, but can you use it in a sentence? How a couple of indie devs snuck into E3 for the good of games and their mental health.

Finally, on a completely unrelated note, your WTF tumblr of the day: Actual Facebook Graph Searches.


Jul 7, 2013

Swimming Trains, Somersaulting Airplanes, and Primate Hanky Panky

Have I got some great art for you today - AND a story prompt at the end!

So, first, there's a startling photographic series by Charles Bergquist, What Happens in the Dark, viewable on Flickr. Bergquist writes that there will be 10 of these, but so far he's only posted two.

What Happens in the Dark, 1
by Charles Bergquist

Jul 5, 2013

Pity the Miners: A Tale of Dwarfs and Mucus

My first foray into a giant's nostrils as dwarf leader was turning into a disaster.
While the others slept, Plugsel crawled up to me and grabbed me by the earlobe. "Rovayrt," he said, "I sense a buildup, a rumble. This giant's about to sneeze."

by HabbenINK
Words that we ought to retire

Certain words have come to remind me of this fungus-ridden potato I found in the pantry once. (I took pictures. I'll show them to you sometime.) They've mutated beyond recognition -- mutated through overuse, that is, and lost all their nutritional value. Like that ganky potato.

Don't get me wrong, I like potatoes, but as far as I know, man cannot live on potatoes alone. After all, the food pyramid includes bacon and moonshine too. And cigarettes. I don't smoke, but I'll look into it. According to scientists in the 22nd century, tobacco's really good for your health.

Anyway. Certain words no longer have a place in fantasy. I'm not going all zealot on you, but do you seriously still need to use


without a trace of irony? Well, do you?

Now, I don't have anything against medievalist fantasy, in the sense that I don't have anything against potatoes, either. All I'm saying is, this particular set of words represents a certain attitude -- aversion to risk, a preference for imitation rather than innovation, and subservience over subversion.

Of course, there are people out there subverting fantasy tropes and I appreciate that. I'm not saying you can't have wizards in your stories, no. It's just that the very word, wizard, along with the others I mentioned, skews the reader's mind in unhelpful ways. 

Now more than ever we need new recipes and pioneering cooks, 'cause dem potatoes aren't gonna bake themselves.

Music for people who can't stand wizards anymore

Jul 4, 2013

Lard Is a Reasonable Substitute for Brain Cells

And at last, smitten by the ineffable love as by a sting, and, like the Seraphim, filled with the godhead, we shall be, no longer ourselves, but the very One who made us.
— Pico della Mirandola, Oration on the Dignity of Man

Dick McAvoy broke his desk in two when they told him No, he couldn't get that chin implant. He kicked through the halves of his desk and knocked down his office door and hailed a cab and drove to the surgeon's practice.

Missing Person
by David Olenick

What is a beautiful woman, or a beautiful man?

Dick McAvoy, last indirect descendant of Pico della Mirandola (by Dick's account, "some Italian zealot who wrote way too many words, and most of them bullshit"), wants a chin implant he can inflate at will. Dick figures the implant will make him more of a hit with the ladies.

Where does beauty reside? If it only exists in the eye of the beholder, could it be that the object of love, desire and contemplation need not exist?

painting by Atsushi Suwa
via arte a un click

That sounds a bit solipsistic. Just think for a moment: If you felt absolutely certain that you were alone in the universe, i.e., that no mind existed save your own, your capacity for love would be seriously undermined.
Isn't love the quintessential act of collaboration, and art a metamorphic reflection of that act?

photo by Hendrik Kerstens
via If it's Hip, it's Here

Happy 4th of July, 2013. May all your dreams come true but one, so you'll always have something to strive for.
I'll even throw in some fireworks.
This picture is called Love. Can you see it on your wall?

I will leave you with a final quote from Pico della Mirandola:

Considering that we are born with this condition, that is, that we can become whatever we choose to become, we need to understand that we must take earnest care about this, so that it will never be said to our disadvantage that we were born to a privileged position but failed to realize it and became animals and senseless beasts. 

Jul 3, 2013

Today It's All About Book Covers

They say the art of cover design is dying. NPR talks to Chip Kidd, who brings his usual brilliance to the conversation. I certainly don't think cover design has gone the way of the Apple Newton.

Longtime Twitter friend Michael J. Lee and his co-author, Tawny Stokes, have a brand new series coming out, Carnival World. I've been granted a glimpse of the cover for the first episode:

click to enlarge

Looks mysterious, doesn't it? I also found the blurb quite enticing.

For six teens and one young boy, an innocent ride at a summer carnival becomes a harrowing trip into another dimension where everything they've ever known has been destroyed and everyone they’ve ever loved are gone.  Now they have to travel a road through a harsh and unreal world where mutated creatures hunt them and a mysterious man with an ugly scar dogs their every move.  Guided by the Barker in their dreams, they each must face their past enabling them to perform a task in the present that will help them find a way home.  Every game played is a piece closer to solving the puzzle.

For Darien, the Strong Man, Nicole, the Tightrope Walker, Maddie and Justin, the Conjoined Twins, Summer, the Escape Artist, and little Sam, the Fortune Teller, dreams are lost, nightmares are real and Carnival World is the place they need to survive if they want to make it back home.

Elsewhere on the web:

Kafka would have been 130 today. When readers overestimate their intellectual capacity and fatally misread a book, this happens -- Goodreads member Lark complains that The Trial is weird for weirdness's sake. Better stick to Mortal Kombat novels, then.

A smattering of Kafka covers

Shall we take a small detour? Because I found this almost by accident and I simply must share it.

click to enlarge

Last but not least,  see Chip Kidd launch into a fantabulous display of wit and verve as he takes you through the process and sensory rewards of cover design. Oh, and Chip's dance move at the beginning. You have to check it out. If you're reading via mail app, click here to watch the video.

I'll post a writing prompt tomorrow, July 4.
So worry not, my faithful reader, this blogger's well has not run dry. If anything, my cup runneth over and staineth all my fine table linenth.