Aug 29, 2014

The Rain that Parches Your Throat

Lev and Callista woke up at six as the sun rose in the west. Lev scratched his nose. Why was it dark outside? But not too dark. Just the wrong kind. Oceanwise the breeze that came at crack of dawn didn’t come. And why did the light move so slowly?

Hans Kanters

If by any chance you see the sun rising in the west, just play this song. It won't fix anything but you might feel better about cosmic anomalies in general.

Aug 22, 2014

Voltheimer’s Instant Breakout Machine Wasn’t So Instant After All

Anger tucked his portfolio under his arm and marched into that hive of pompous windbags, the Hagiographic Institute of the Avant-garde.

He stomped into the meeting room, where Blaise d’Osorio-Cavanagh chaired the session. Anger threw his portfolio at them. “You swine aren’t ready for this!” he shouted, per instructions.

by Tomek Jankowski

… And then he found out there aren’t any quick and easy routes to success, especially not machines where you turn a few knobs and slide a few sliders and voilà, you get your 60-foot limo and your gold-plated toilet handed to you on a… on a… on a diamond platter, I guess.

To quote Adrien Brody,

My dad told me, ‘It takes fifteen years to be an overnight success,’ and it took me seventeen and a half years.

The way I see it, success comes from the combination of three key ingredients:

Ϫ Loving what you do; so much so that ‘success’ becomes secondary and getting the work done is your first and foremost priority

Ϫ Outbound: Getting your point across
Ϫ Inbound: Being open to others and willing to learn from them, paying attention, listening and observing

Ϫ Working to hone your skills, even when it feels like an uphill struggle
Ϫ Sticking with it though the rewards seem few and far between (see “Passion” above)

Meet the Beetles
by Eric Fan

I found the phrase "hive of pompous windbags" here, and liked it so much I had to steal it.

Aug 20, 2014

Don’t Be a Fool! Make the Most of Your Spam to Master Your Ultimate Writing Mojo

Let’s see, what’s in the spam folder today? A person named Kaylee Stokes offers me the opportunity to become a “shagadelic Casanova.” Um, person, in my field of expertise we call that pleonasm. The very prospect of an un-shagadelic Casanova threatens to make the universe implode. What use would it have for a dickless Casanova?

An entity called Birith Weksdas, or something, informs me that my robot-building license has expired. Thank you for the heads-up and the stern admonishments that followed — no, wait, Weksdas just wanted me to look at a website that sells “Cilais.” So no admonishments.

Pictured: A Cilais. Possibly.

The Beast in the Garden, by Sebastian Feraut

I have been drawn to emails from merchants with the dubious promise of "yes, we have no atomic bombs." Pals I never knew I had wrote to me saying, "Our best friend has been arrested; sign up here for free newsletters."

But what am I getting at? A simple point, no more. You can harness the power of spam, its beauty — yes, sometimes spam is beautiful — to generate powerful, poetic, whimsical stories, poems… and blog posts. Think of spam as raw material for existentialist comedy. Just don’t click on any of the links it offers and you’ll be fine.

Now I wonder, does anybody blog about spam? Not from a securitarian/marketing/SEO standpoint, but its clandestine poetics?

To my delight, yes, people have and people do. I found
On the Strange Poetics of Spam
Poetics of Spam
The Poetics of Spam (Sample quote: “This article made me feel shines.”)
Artist Clare Yow, who collects spam quotes and creates visuals for them

Got any favorite spam of your own? Let me know.

Aug 15, 2014

Three Departures from Medieval Romance; or, Nightmare Dwarves and Restless Nights

It was a mean and spiteful night for travelers on the road to the city of Troyes. At the head of a small procession, the man they called The Christian stopped walking. He turned to face his travel companions and clapped his hands. A ruined house loomed in the dark.

Soria Moria Slott
by Theodor Kittelsen

Chrétien fell from the great height of his bed; it took him a second or ten thousand years. Even after his body hit the cold stone he couldn’t tell. The dream-pain that roused Chrétien from sleep, the bite of a knotted scourge, it lingered in the waking night.

Dancing Fairies
by August Malmström

For two days and nights Erec followed the ugly knight across meadow and moor, traveling in circles. The knight and his dwarves never stopped to eat or drink or even rest. None in their company spoke. Erec hesitated to call them ghosts — they left visible tracks in the mud.

Lancelot and Dragon
by Arthur Rackham

Chrétien de Troyes was the 12th-century French poet who created Lancelot. We don't know much about his life or his literary sources. In fact, Chrétien ("Christian") was something of a cognomen, not the poet's actual name.

For these three separate prompts, I drew inspiration from Chrétien's romance Erec and Enide, which follows Erec son of Lac, a knight of the Round Table. He accompanies queen Guinevere as Arthur takes his knights out to hunt the White Stag, and while escorting the queen Erec suffers general unpleasantness at the hands of a singular dwarf. Said dwarf works for Yder, a knight of "evil intent." It's a free book and an interesting read, so go get it in the format of your choice.

Aug 13, 2014

The Second Coming of Gweed, the Obnoxious Hydrophobic Sailor God

First things first: The winners of the 2014 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest ("Where 'WWW' means 'Wretched Writers Welcome'") are in. Do you feel ready for these excessive and extended bursts of emotionlessness? These displays of uncannily prescient anachronism?

Second things second. Today I found out that Captain Marvel (now known as Shazam, ugh) outsold Superman comics in the 1940s. To my brief dismay.

Jakuchu Ito

Third things third. Did you know that leopards didn't used to be their own species, but the illicit offspring of lions and pards? And what, pray, can a pard possibly be -- I hear you ask. Well... Nobody quite knows. Perhaps future generations will puzzle over the zonkey, and find no reliable record of the animal's existence either.

By the way, did you know that the lady who designed Jar Jar Binks* has no idea how to pronounce the word chimera? Talk about booklish! That drove me bonkers. But you should watch the video, especially if you like to draw and learn from other artists. And IF -- no small feat, that -- if you can forgive her for the "shimmurrah."

Maybe shimmurrah means dogzilla in some language I've never heard of.

Fourth things, uh, fourth. I believe you wanted a story prompt? OK, here it is.

The two rent-a-cops followed the hooded thing down to the basement, where it left human garments behind on a stinking heap and plunged into the shadow lanes.

It burst from the dark in Paris as a 22-year-old brunette. The thing-now-she carved a message in her thigh: “Ready for the quake.”

Well of Nightmares II
by Tomek Jankowski

*I believe the Rifftrax guys described Jar Jar as "Roger Rabbit redesigned by Satan."

Aug 8, 2014

We Are But Shrimp to Your Cavernous Magnificence

“For the last time,” Vermillion shouted, “I will not join your cabal of cowardly muskrats!”
The Wiezerds wrinkled their noses in disgust. Hortensio, the Chief Wiezerd, shifted his pipe from one side of his mouth to the other and said, “You do not fear the vampire whales?”

3 Wiezerds have their photo taken for posterity.
No, I have no idea who these people were in real life.

This prompt started out as a skit about expired mayonnaise, but after two rounds of edits I dropped that angle.

I don't have any pictures of vampire whales, so here's a lovely photo of asparagus to make up for that. 

Wikipedia has the following linguistic gem on asparagus: "In Turkish, asparagus is known as "kuşkonmaz," literally "bird can't land," in reference to the shape of the plant."

Aug 6, 2014

A Brief History of Reinventing the Wheel

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an actor out of a job must be in need of an audience; so the budding solopreneur Matthew de Bont, a young man with nothing to lose but a name not worth the keeping, decided to stage a production of Hamlet for dogs.

For this dog, specifically.

Or not.

The wheel was invented by Shakespeare -- you know, Jane Austen's uncle -- and yeah, I cribbed this prompt almost wholesale from Pride and Prejudice. 

Or was it Sense and Sensibility? I can never get the plot of those two completely different books straight in my head, though I believe one involves sea monsters, and the other one zombies. At least the reboots do.

Speaking of reboots, why do we think it's acceptable to remake a movie, while the idea of rewriting a book would make us gasp in horror? Although I must add, for clarity, that I don't think literary mashups like Android Karenina belong in the "reboot" category. Allow me to elaborate.

Put your imaginative muscles to work. You are a successful author, though not successful enough by your publisher's reckoning. You've been working on a series you're proud of, which you saw fit to call The Motherlander Wars -- or something in that vein.

The Motherlander Wars, Book II: The Sequel: Revenge of the Sovietskis: Tactical Tank Driving Manual I

Yet your publisher, Victor-Werner-Foxhill (just made that up, don't bother to google it), unilaterally decides to take your series away from you, give it to a more successful writer and tell them, "Why don't you go ahead and rewrite the entire saga from book one."

"But, uh, those books have already been written," says the successful writer. At this point the writer still has something that resembles a conscience, mind you.

"They're not good enough," says the publisher.

"That's not really an answer," the writer says.

"They're not good enough for this generation of readers," says the publisher.

"So you want me to... what? Dumb down the books?" the writer asks.

"Oh, nonono," says the publisher, which at this point I will have to anthropomorphize in some way, lest you think the writer has been conversing with an abstraction. So by "the publisher" I mean a guy who speaks for the company. I could flesh him out more but I'm hardly in the mood.

The publisher continues.
"Kids these days want more. You know? They want more out of their books."

"What do you mean, more?" the writer asks. Writers ask lots of questions. This is a truth universally acknowledged. "More dialog? More in-depth psychological characterization? More complex moral dilemmas?"

"Pfaugh," says the publisher, "and here I thought you understood the business. Who has time for those things in our day and age?" The publisher snorts a pinch of snuff with evident gusto. "No, I mean more explosions, more romance, adventure!" The publisher leaps to his feet. "Good vs. evil, explosions -- have I mentioned explosions? -- heroism, the triumph of human will!" The publisher's wooden teeth fall out. They rest on the publisher's desk like a dead, wet dog grinning at the Grim Reaper.


So, seriously, what is it with reboots? There's just too much of that going on, Hollywood. And NO, I'm not one of those people who complain about it all the time but then pay to watch the movies they complain about.

Aug 1, 2014

Excitable Chicken vs Metaphor Man

They say that the god Priapus created her after a night of drunken revelry. They are wrong. They are almost always wrong.
— Joubert de Montignac*, regional financial comptroller for the Swedish mafia

Excitable Chicken perches on a stone gargoyle and surveys the city she has sworn to protect. Six blocks away an explosion drowns out the traffic, and a column of black smoke worms up into the clouds.

Let the fire crews handle that.

But oh. The smoke has a face.

A white leghorn.

Originally, I intended to have Excitable Chicken be a secret agent, rather than a superhero. But -- do those have to work as mutually exclusive categories? Just look at Black Widow.

Speaking of secret and not-so-secret agents: I bet you didn’t know that there was a James Bond between Sean Connery and Sean Connery. “What do you mean?” I hear you ask. “That doesn’t even make sense,” you say. And you’d be right, so let me explain.

In 1968, producer Albert R. Broccoli met one George Lazenby at his barber, and shortly afterwards gave him a chance to audition for the role of Bond. Lazenby got the part when he accidentally punched a professional wrestler in the face and impressed Broccoli with his ability to come off as a sexy face-puncher. Everyone believed women would melt when they saw Lazenby on screen.

Artistic interpretation of melting.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (OHMSS) came out in 1969. It’s the only movie where James Bond gets married, and, as surely as the moon smells of Gruyere, James’s bride gets killed on the drive to their honeymoon suite because, hey, there is no “Bond” in “marriage.” Can you imagine 007, that force of wanton property destruction, sipping afternoon tea while his 4-year-old builds a functional ballista out of DUPLO bricks? No? Neither can I.

The moon.

Although OHMSS didn’t perform quite as well as the previous Bond movie, it did make some decent money at the box office, despite an overall lack of brilliance. Suffice it to say that it doesn’t feature any space walks, pygmies or people in clown makeup.

Sean Connery would return for Diamonds Are Forever, where he engages in a long-winded battle against critics and the laws of probability, coming out on the losing side — or the winning side, depending on how forgiving you feel.

"Melting Woman" by Leon Alegria.

 Moon photo: "FullMoon2010" by Gregory H. Revera - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons