Jun 18, 2016

Hello, CNN, I Just Fixed Seven of your Dad Jokes

CNN came up with a dad joke generator. It's cute. But due respect to dads everywhere, these jokes lack oomph. I guess that's the point of dad jokes. They're supposed to be heartwarming and inoffensive.* 

So I couldn't help a bit of mischief. There was good material to work with. Begging, I say, for some drastic rearrangement. 

Let us begin the exercise.

Why can't a bicycle stand on its own? I can't put it down.

What’s more amazing than a talking dog? A burger that walks into a bar.

To the guy who invented zero: Why is it always hot in the corner of a room?

I was up all night wondering where the sun went, but then it dawned on me. I didn't like my beard at first.

A burger walks into a bar. I'm thinking of reasons to move to Switzerland.

Why is is always hot in the corner of a room? Why can't you play poker on the the African savanna?

What's brown and sticky? A stick. That stick. That one came right out of the orange.

Bonus Round

To the guy who invented zero: I'm thinking of reasons to move to Switzerland. Thanks for nothing!


Mind you, I'm not a comedian, just someone who greatly admires comedians (both the writers and the performers) and I know all too well that comedy is the hardest literary genre to work in.

The CNN Dad Joke Generator awaits your pleasure. Go see where I got the raw material for my... remix.

And now it is time to do the dishes. See you.

*Now, let me point this out -- we live in a universe where children watch Uncle Grandpa or Rick and Morty. The media landscape carpet-bombs their tiny minds with post-modern humor so edgy it has gone full circle and become barbaric again.

Jun 10, 2016

5 Questions with Junkyard Sam, Artist by Night and Artist by Day, Who Only Takes Time Off in Octember, Jaugust or Septembray

Sam says, "I never understood the 'tortured artist' thing." Born and raised in Texas, his career in games took him all over the place until he finally put down roots in Seattle. The man known as "Junkyard Sam" has a brain for art. And that brain overflows with dinosaur riders, duck armies, and quaint notions like pedaling for freedom.  Currently he works as UI/UX designer on Guild Wars 2.

We both share a love for imaginary worlds and tiny happy creatures that defy description, so I knew I had to pick his brain a little. Here we go.

The Small Box by Junkyard Sam

Can you remember the first thing you ever drew?

Yes! I drew square-shaped happy-faced characters with ribbons that looked like gifts. Presents. Kids love cool boxes with neat things inside so I brought them to life. My art has always been about MAXIMUM FUN!

What do you say to people who tell you "they can't draw"?

Oh, I get where they're coming from. I can't either!!!

I'm fascinated by your little cities and towns teeming with ghosts and giants and pint-sized people. How does one of your pieces begin? Can you walk us through your creative process?

Thanks! I like the idea of people living on small terrarium-like planets. So I often start with a sphere or box and add peeps and monsters until something happens!

I also spend time in Google Maps travelling about, looking for buildings or places that inspire me. Next thing I know some Junkyard version of that place is on paper and monsters, ghosts, and little yellow people with round heads are taking over.

There's a randomness to how I work, because the moment I overthink it the life and energy is lost... and what fun is that?

"Duck Army gathering for strength.
Ready now to serve, ready to go the length.
Whether with weapons or ink, these guys are quick to draw.
Ready to paint a picture or enforce the law!"
- by Junkyard Sam

How would you describe the experience of working at ArenaNet, on GuildWars 2? Any advice for people who would like to break into the games industry?

Arenanet is great! It's a rewarding studio full of people with incredible talent and we're making a game I really love. Nothing beats that!

I worry about people getting into the game industry today, though. It's very competitive... and by that I mean the amount of talent out there is almost impossible to compete with. There are really good artists out there literally begging for work. This has a depressing effect on wages. But hey, for people able to find work it's pretty amazing to bring a game to life!

It's changed over the years though. In the 90s you might work on a team with a handful of people. Today, teams can consist of several hundred people so it can be challenging to have significant impact on a personal level.

Also, to succeed as a game artist you have to create art that matches the style of the game. So there's a tendency for people to get caught up in that and never develop their own voice. I know dozens - maybe hundreds - of game artists and very few of them actually create their "own" art outside of work. They're okay with that, but it haunts me. That's why I draw.

I really don't mean to be a downer, but yeah, I think it might be a rough career for people coming up now.

"Three unicyclers ridin' on a narrow road,
with a bottle in each hand, no one knowin' where to go.
They ought to get a tan, 'cause their bare skin is yellow,
Rollin' on a pavement pilgrimage to find a home.

Now they'll never find a place to live, rowing on this path,
On a race to leave behind a life that's going nowhere fast.
Not meddling, but pedaling to settle down and crash,
At a pad where they can relax - I just hope the beer will last!"
Junkyard Sam

What's the one artistic tool you could never do without, and why?

When I was a kid I specialized in pencil because I figured even if I end up homeless I can find paper and draw with those pencils at lottery kiosks.  But luckily I never went homeless. Things worked out and I found my true love: fountain pens!!!

There's something magical about the way a nice fountain pen feels on paper. I see people all the time writing with cheap office pens or drawing with disposable art pens like Sharpies or Microns. Those things get the job done, but a good fountain pen makes you go, "Oh man, I can't believe how good this feels" every second you use it.

My favorite fountain pen is the Pilot Falcon. It's a unique pen with a soft nib that gives a bit of line variation when you apply pressure. Without pressure, the nib is springy and has a bit of a "bounce" as you write or draw. I love this so much that I'm actually motivated to draw just because the pen feels so amazing!

Fountain pens caused me to rediscover my love for drawing... now I can't stop!!! :-)

Dad's Mystical Wonderboat
by Junkyard Sam

Enjoy lots more Samminy goodness over at Junkyardsam.Com -- or connect with Sam on Ello and Google+. He's a nice, down-to-earth guy with his head up in the cosmic winds.

Jun 1, 2016

3 Pre-Made Villains for Your Next Story

The following characters are free to use in your short story, novel, RPG or any other fiction medium.

So. Let's start with your average lowlife and work our way up to cosmic horror.

1. Mel Knotts, slumlord

Likes: Cuban cigars, Pappy Van Winkle, his pitbull terrier Jaws, his 1959 jukebox
Dislikes: A police detective named Watts, a psychic who calls herself Yvonne del Rio
Hobbies: Darts
Prominent feature: A bulging black mole on the tip of his nose
Weaknesses: Fear of witches and magic, greed, his little sister, and gambling

2. "Two Scorpions," black market art dealer 

Likes: Egon Schiele, Arabian thoroughbreds
Dislikes: Twenty-first century art, computers
Hobbies: Collecting exotic animals (rumored)
Prominent feature: Nobody knows what Two Scorpions looks like
Weaknesses: For some time now, somebody has been posing as Two Scorpions and sending cryptograms to the Interpol about TS's operations

3. Vazathlaturknavlrax, God of Breaths Exhaled into Paper Bags

Likes: Nothing
Dislikes: Nobody knows
Hobbies: Cultivating general horribleness
Prominent feature: Vazathlaturknavlrax is so incomprehensible you have to see it through your nose, and you must feel its shadow with your left knee; in its presence, you slowly begin to transform into an airplane seat
Weaknesses: logic and sunlight

Bruce Pennington

May 23, 2016

12 Opening Lines to Start Your Novel Right Now

12 writing prompts in one go. If you manage to tie these twelve into a single, coherent story, I'll gladly call you a genius.

1. In 2001 I buried a man and a woman in the desert, southeast of Pahrump. They claimed to be my siblings, which I know is a lie. In 2016, they showed up on my doorstep smiling, with a bunch of daffodils and a bottle of Volnay Clos d'Audignac like nothing had ever happened.

2. Dead set on making up for 1987, Paul crossed the street clutching the gun in his pocket.

3.  They called him Elbow Wizard on account of things tended to break open when he used his elbow on them — be they heads or walnuts.

Andreas Wiedemann

4. Mrs Belfry turned the unusual potato in the light, her thin old fingers so translucent Maria couldn't help but think of shower curtains and Victorian ghosts.

5. Theodore woke up in the garden, on the ground, about six years ahead of the alarm he had set the night before. He had time-traveled in his sleep again.

6. Silke touched the redwood and stopped breathing.

Ana Markovitj

7. The pigeons all looked suspicious, the crumbs on the ground no less.

8. Peterson turned to face the bay of Biscay and said, no force on this Earth will make me go look for my son when he doesn't want to be found.

9. There, I have come home, said the Tartessian in bad Greek. He pointed to a black pillar standing in the fog that mantled the shore. Howls and woebegone cries rose from that fog and one of the sailors covered his mouth: "Sirens!" he gasped. "No, not sirens," I said. "I smell something worse."

Hans Kanters

10. The disturbance began with a tour of the empty slaughterhouse.

11. A woman threw her glasses on the ground as I drove by and next thing I knew a fist-sized rock flew through my windshield.

12. Marcel sat down, flicked the imp off his desk and picked up his quill. "You will never finish this copy of yours," said the imp. "You do your duty, devil, and I do mine," said Marcel. "I shall blunt your nibs and vomit on your vellum!" said the imp, clambering up Marcel's leg.  

Scorpion Dagger

May 17, 2016

Culture Wars VII:

The naked people came howling down the mountainside! Jane reached for Tomeka's arm, toppling her coffee cup, browning the scratched Formica tabletop. "Chantelle! Lock the back door!" an old waitress yelled.
"They were telling the truth," said Jane. "Not just messing with us."

Dellydel, Make America Great Again

A note on the names used for this prompt:

Tomeka has never enjoyed much popularity as a baby name. It allegedly derives from the Swahili word for sweet, tamu. How you get from point A to point B on that, I can't really say.
A more likely origin would be the Japanese Tamiko, "child of the people."
However, Tomeka is an American coinage. As a forum member on Behind the Name noted, "The name was probably introduced to the United States by the 1963 film A Girl Named Tamiko. This film, though about a Japanese woman falling in love with a White American man, was in many ways an anti-racism story. This appealed to African-Americans back in the 1960s, and some of them who saw the movie named daughters Tamiko because of it."

Jane, on the other hand, has taken root in dozens of languages. From Ivana to Xoana, the name varies from language to language, country to country, until it takes on shapes that challenge belief. But then, Jane means "Grace of God," and what typical parents throughout History would sneeze at that?

Chantelle comes to us from French Chantal, meaning "stony" in its original incarnation. (Or "inlapidation"? "Inlithification"? I don't know.) Now people associate it with chanter, to sing. Which is just as well.

May 13, 2016

5 Questions with Soren Narnia of the Knifepoint Horror Podcast

Do you remember your first campfire story? The thrill of pondering the unknown as a wall of black trees surrounded you under the roof of night?

Two weeks ago I happened upon a podcast that recreated that experience for me. I didn't know what I was looking for — it found me instead. Knifepoint Horror barely teased the contents of each episode, with one-word titles like Sleep, Fields or Staircase.

Lying back in my chair and pressing the play button I listened to Chasm. Told in the first person, it took you on a dangerous journey to lake Baikal where a curious man faces a thing of nebulous contours and dread so immense he won't even look upon it.

Max Ernst, The Temptation of Saint Anthony

That one episode hooked me. I started binge-listening. Then I wanted to know more about the guy who wrote these short, sometimes intentionally artless tales and read them out loud at a slow steady pace.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you 5 Questions with Soren Narnia. And I encourage you to learn the story behind that pseudonym.

Can you describe yourself in three words?

Lazy, daydreaming procrastinator.

Can you remember/describe the first thing you ever wrote?

That would be the super-awesome 'Valley of the Vampires', a 4-page, 28-word handwritten opus complete with illustrations and bound with two stout staples. In the first sentence, I informed the reader that there was such a thing as the Valley of the Vampires. In sentence #2, I assured them that this was a bad thing. In sentence #3, I assured them that it was REALLY a bad thing. That was pretty much where the story ended.

As a writer, I suppose you have a number of favorite authors. Who might they be?

J.G. Ballard for his kind of sad yet disturbing sci-fi writings; Kurt Vonnegut for his humanity, grim ironies and totally unique style; H.P. Lovecraft for his comfortingly repetitive visions in that creepy Cthulhu world; Joyce Carol Oates for the way she writes about the jumble of neuroses and flaws that make up even the most functional among us; Spalding Gray for his likeable everyman adventures; Stephen King for his impressive skill with words and the ability to create such recognizable human beings and situations.

In one of your stories, you mention a fictional movie, "The Language Demons Speak" by the equally fictional moviemaker Thomas Naroth. Do you see a metaphor for the genre of horror lurking in that title, where "demon" stands both for the Christian concept of demon as evil spirit and the Greek concept of daimon as spirit guide? What is horror trying to tell us, then? 

Horror is the spirit guide that takes our hand and offers us a virtual encounter with gruesome death so that our curiosity about what it might be like to suffer one can be temporarily satisfied. Then the spirit takes us back home safe and sound. But if we ask the spirit to show us another death, and another, and another, that spirit starts to become a true demon, trapping us in unhealthy dark thoughts, making us enjoy them too much, causing us to forget that it's not good to look so often into the spidery corners of mortality. Once you're possessed by that demon, it's time to start watching Star Wars movies or rom-coms or something, for the sake of your mental health.

Two Knifepoint Horror episodes feature trees as very prominent symbols -- for example, the trio of phantasmal trees that appear to the narrator's uncle in Sleep. What do trees mean to you?

There's something up with trees. On a lovely summer day, they're beautiful leafy green shade-givers. On a crisp autumn day, a dazzling display of natural color. But on a cold drizzly day in winter, they're intimidating, beckoning, silent and jagged ogres looming all around you on every side, each step in the forest pulling you deeper into the embrace of a silent coven whose intent is unknown. The seasons completely transform their meaning to me. So here's my open statement to trees: I'm not buying your innocent act anymore. I know what you really are. Who the hell do you think you're dealing with? You think I'm a total chump? Do you?

www.soren-narnia.com || knifepoint horror

May 9, 2016

The Monster's Last Meow

"I have... call it a PhD in monsters. I'm not even sure certain things have actually happened to me."
"What things?" she asked.
"Would you like me to slow down time? I've got some of the old juice left, and it's a long story."
"Did you say slow down time?"

Poster by Polish designer Franciszek Starowieyski for the play Oni ("They")

Apparently his posters are in such high demand you have to ask to go on a wait list.
See dozens of Starowieyski's poster designs here.

Apr 22, 2016

Obituary for an Adverb

Men called it Athwart. Once it walked proudly as a warrior among warriors, an adverb among adverbs. But it came to serve a purpose so obscure, so clad in ninefold darkness, that in modern times you could not find that purpose without a 1,500-watt metal halide lamp.

Nobody knew what it did anymore when, around 1915, Athwart retreated to the Orkneys to live among the seals. Or Svalbard, perhaps.

It came from Old Norse stock, with the mighty Thverr for a grandsire, and never lost that cold edge you need to sail the treacherous seas and suffer the chill Atlantic fogs. When red the blood coursed in Athwart's veins it bred with nouns and prepositions. Thus the seaworthy vocable, the broad-shouldered if ungainly word, athwartships, came into this world.

Athwart. Child of a time when blades spoke more often than tongues and only the stars traveled the sky-roads. Explorers fade from memory and so fade their particular yearnings. No dragons populate the edges of this Earth. The dragons have flown to outer space.

Maybe Athwart will come back from a long winter sleep and bring with it a host of forgotten words when the bold and the hungry find themselves on the first ship bound for an alien, life-giving star.

Ettore Aldo del Vigo