Saturday, December 28, 2013

17246--In Dark Places

At least some of us pay attention to the world around us.

When we do, many of us wonder what goes on in the minds of those who shun the light, those who wear the mask of humankind yet commit deeds deemed dark, violent, and just plain evil against others.  What makes those we call villains villainous?

Is it as simple as attachment?  Is it clinging to desire for things denied?  Not all who want go so far as to impose their will on others, though.  What pushes one person to violate the rights of another?  We've all heard it before.  The common experiences that drive these actions are fear, anger, hatred and suffering.  Fear itself is anticipatory of an experience.  Anger and hatred are indicators of the level of attachment placed on experiences.  Suffering is what remains, the scars of a traumatizing experience typically measured in terms of perceived intensity and endurance.  At its worst, suffering survived manifests as madness, scarring so severe on one's intangible essence of self that the resultant alterations can become utterly abhorrent.  Those whose selves have become so lost as to become a menace to themselves and those around them, may have no chance of recovery.

"Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad," said Prometheus (Longfellow, The Masque of Pandora).

To be cut from the cloth of Moriarty, Keyser Soze, Ozymandias, Morgan Le Fay, Shiwan Khan, Sauron or Emperor Palpatine, is to have found the path to wrangling the wills of others.  It was easily done because the will of others is insignificant next to people whose self-perceived greatness has set them beyond the laws and conventions of ordinary mortals.  Megalomania is a special form of madness where an easily understandable lust for greater power is coupled with genius enough to make it seem attainable.  From there, who knows how far one may try to run with it?

Penguin, on the other hand, does have distinctive personality traits.  His upbringing was that of a studious "mama's boy".  She's the one who pushed him to always carry the umbrella.  He's very intelligent, but also obsessive.  He has been portrayed as greedy, cunning, vengeful, social-climbing, approval-seeking.  His drives come from greed, obsession and insecurity.  Unlike many of Batman's foes, he's not emotionally disturbed or blatantly insane.  He is, however, determined not to be the impoverished, persecuted misfit he was as a child.

Lex Luthor's desire for greatness is certainly megalomania, but his usual entertainment of blissfully crushing the dreams of others (not to mention the occasional bare-handed strangulation) and toying with their tiny lives became overshadowed by his burning hatred for Superman.  Worse than having his spotlight stolen, suffering the humiliation of interference in his plans is more than Luthor is willing to endure.  His greatest goal is to see Superman dead, with impunity, by his hand.  Luthor is so dedicated to this end that he has even helped Superman against other villains to save Superman for himself.

Maybe that sounds crazy, but he's not the only one who'd go so far.  Stop me if you've heard this one...

Joker's stand-out feature isn't that he's a cunning mastermind or even the snappiest dresser (not to say he has anything short of killer fashion sense), but a mind driven to chaos.  Born from suffering and loss, his unbridled unpredictability is one of his greatest assets.  He wants to dance and Batman is the only dance partner he truly cares about.  The steps he takes to lead the way into madness are those he thinks are funny.  He doesn't just kill anyone available or steal shiny things.  He doesn't just spray acid and create mayhem for mayhem's sake.  He does it all for laughs.  How dark is the heart that sees every bruise, broken bone or murdered victim not as perpetrated evil, but as one more punchline in a neverending series of jokes?

Friday, December 27, 2013

17245--Do I need a dust jacket?

The question came up again about judging books by covers, this time even extending to the point of asking if an author should be judged by a book.

No, just…no. Cover art may have nothing to do with what's inside, especially from bigger publishing houses. Judge books by their writing. Authors, like anybody else, you have to know to know. You're seeing more of an author in their book than you are an actor or even a director in a film, but it's all still out of context. Roland Emmerich directed the “Stargate” film, for example, but doesn't believe in ancient alien astronauts. The TARDIS is more than just a blue police box.

A grant was granted and an exhaustive scientific study was done, proving for all time that there’s more stuff inside books. The covers are just wrappers. Just as eating the food inside a package gets you more than just examining the package, reading a book brings on an entirely different experience than simply studying its cover.

Likewise, I am more than animated skin.  Certainly, bigger on the inside.  Or smaller on the outside.  As you like.  Any of us grows over a dozen yards of digestive tract and then miles upon miles of circulatory vessels and neural tissue.

I do occasionally wrap it in a duster, but I never considered a dust jacket.  There's way too much on the inside to even consider that, even if it were all black or had really cool art.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Way of Things

I thought I was going to make it all the way through Festivus and Christmas, maybe even so far as into the next year, without a serious grievance.  Silly me.  Looks like I have a grievance to air after all.  Have you heard of Twitter?  Oh, good.

Out in the virtual world of social media, I've made a habit of mentioning users with whom I've enjoyed conversing or whom I've felt were otherwise worth recommending that people follow.  From what I have observed, it's a routine practice.  It seems as though it's part of being social: passing information about interesting content between users.  The people behind the curtain running Twitter say that's not what Twitter is for and that for me to continue such abuse of their system will result in the permanent suspension of my account.  I've been engaged in the practice for quite a while and really had no idea it was a bother.  I still don't see a problem with it, having received a multitude of grateful responses from other users who seemed to enjoy being a part of the whole networking aspect of the process.

Well, what do we know?

Apparently, that's not what Twitter is for.

I suppose it's still OK to retweet things.  "Retweet" made it into the dictionary, so I'd guess they don't want to torpedo that one.  "Mentioning" was in the dictionary long before even Twitter, so they'd have a hard time claiming that one.  That may be why they don't have the same feeling of attachment to it.

So...if you're a fellow twit, retweeting content is OK, just don't tell anyone who you've been talking with about it.  If you're with the NSA or any other part of the government's alphabet soup, you already know who we've all been talking with and don't care how we feel about you knowing so long as we don't tell anyone else what we all already know about what you've been doing because you want us to pretend it's a secret that we don't know so you can follow what we're up to without us knowing you're there.  It's OK, really.  We're posting in a public media forum.  We're sharing freely.  Hell, they used to be called "bulletin boards".  Sometimes we still call them "community forums".

They're about sharing.  I'm pretty sure that's what we're there to do.

Shows what I know.

One other thing I do know is that bitching about a problem is easy.  It doesn't accomplish as much as doing something about the problem.  So, since I prefer lighting candles to cursing darkness, below are the Twitter handles I'll no longer be sharing on Twitter, but still encourage people to follow if they're so inclined.  Some are writers, others are artists, and some are just people who like to chat or share things you might like to read.  None have been arranged in any particular order, nor have they done anything else special to be added to the list.

@amberrisme @Princess_Nadian @RahimaWarren @DARREN_POOLE @badredheadmedia @sue_whitehouse

@MichelleHughes_ @RachelintheOC @Toonopolis @Pseudohumanist

@ApiarySociety @YogaChikk @Sexxiimanda @KathleenHagburg @KatherynLane @dkkauwe

@Georg_Grey @Literarygrrrl @torque10 @TGLong @RayneHall @Murphyverse @WriterCath

@Frecklesmiley @Kendallgrey1 @TheNeedsofMany @BlakeBooks @Hyphend @juttaheitland @SapphicPixie

@deann_native @littlecinnamon @KnightTrilogy @smreine @AuthorGuy @daezarkian @ToxZak

@K_Einsel @TameTheDrew @SJtheWordsmith @MrsDenAsaan @JulieALindsey @writerredux @aniaahlborn

@LukeRomyn @Lesism @seams16 @kaitnolan @TheNerdyBird @Superherologist @pat_preston @Lillith_Black

@borderfox116 @linesbylyons @LettersbyLisa @AndyHolloman @AllanDouglasDgn @KimberlyKinrade

@AmberWest @louise3anne @EvilVulcanChick @Buck_Fachmann @CMCCreations @Macdougall4

@CassidyJonesAdv @CorinneOFlynn @2r3al2real @brackenonline @CeiCeiH @Killpandakill @MichWritesBooks

@KarenCousineau @almahoffmann @DaddyBookins @leo_g18 @KeeraMcKinney @Ambertarian @Jarrett

@Janice_Hardy @KravensQueen @JROrtiz59 @paultlowe @SandraBunino @mpax1

@djkazoosa @TX_Lisa @DashaBabenko @wilkravitz @SherAHart @sharleenj @Rob__Shepherd

@THESEXXIIMANDA @MonicaInGearMag @lkblackburne @seedpearls @markaleshin @TiredFairy

@MeMyselfandI444 @Asperger_Mom @Kelsye @CuttingRoomMRB @HarveyBurgess

@wanderingstarz1 @DetFrankFrank @DESIRE3795 @dontkillkenny19 @kcrhoads1 @LZMarieAuthor

@gingergander @markfromkent @omaraburtot @chanelle1977 @cheryl_777 @chessmaster34

@natolifreelance @djkazoosa @tattooeddeadgrl @nittni3 @bonusmum @troisfeuilles 

@Clive_SJohnson @NathanTarantla @rpdahlke @MaxChina3 @MondayBlogs @Lilo_Abernathy

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tales from Frewyn

What's so special about it?  Whenever good writers take the time to create work at a level of quality they're confident enough to share with the world, it's special.  With a blog tour, that presentation takes on exponential momentum like the theoretical snowball enlarging as it rolls.  So, now that you have the image of a tumbling mass of writers, rolling over other writers, let's find out what's going on in there.

That tumbling mass will be composed of a unique combination of creators, ensuring that following the path it takes will lead you to treasures you may never have experienced before.  How could that not sound worth the trip?
Featuring appearances from thirty of the Haanta series’ most beloved characters, Tales from Frewyn Volume Two pays tribute to the animals that inhabit the world of the Two Continents. From Mr Cluck, the rooster that refuses to crow, to Tuatha, the stubborn Westren longhorn, the series boasts a multitude of strange and wonderful creatures, including traveling mice, mischievous mares, vicious rats, and eloquent gulls. Join everyone in Khantara Ghaasta, the Diras Castle keep, and the far reaches of Westren and Haantaledhran in honouring their feathered companions and furred friends with this collection of their most daring and delightful episodes.

Try this sample to see what that means:
  It was one day, while Sheamas was bringing his usual consignment of cured pork and cold meats to the keep, that he discovered a mouse in the larder. He took his casks and parcels to the counter and had almost set them down when his eye caught the round ears and twitching nose of their little visitor. The appearance of a mouse would not have disturbed him, but to see it in Martje’s kitchen, knowing how meticulous she was in keeping her working space clean, was somewhat unsettling. Martje, the most officious kitchen master in the kingdom, would be sent into a ferocious rage if she should discover a mouse. Skillets would be got, tempers would flare, and if Sheamas had not placed his parcel down and taken the mouse into his hand, he feared that the creature might be crushed and killed.

  “You just come with me, small one,” Sheamas smiled to the mouse. “I’ll take you outside so Martje won’t find you,” but as Sheamas was about to leave the larder, the mouse sat up, made a slight squeak, sniffed a few times in the air, and turned around to reveal a small sweater vest lining his torso and a tiny rolled-up parchment attached to his back. “Are you someone’s pet?” asked Sheamas.

  The mouse canted its head and looked sagacious.

  “All right, let’s see what you got here,” but before he could unfurl the parchment and read its contents, he heard someone bounding down the winding stair. He knew from the sound of the light step that it could not be Martje, and when he saw the commander appear in the entranceway of the kitchen, he called her to come to him with a fervent wave of his hand.

  “What is it, Sheamas?” said the commander, walking into the larder. “You need not fear my mate attacking you while you’re making your delivery. He shall eat everything only after you have put your consignment away.” She smiled, but Sheamas’ serious expression and the mouse in his hand soon gave her very different feelings. “Oh, that is rather unfortunate,” she said, regarding the sniffing mouse. “In Tyfferim, where mice rage across the fields, having at least one of them somewhere in the house is a matter of course. Having one in the kitchen of His Majesty’s keep, however, is something else.”

  “You don’t know Martje and mice, kin,” Sheamas grimaced. “She’ll grab her pans and chase after this poor thing till it’s dead. I was gonna take him home with me and give him some of the leftover smoked cheese me and Mar had last night, but I saw this.” Sheamas held the small letter up for the commander’s perusal, and pointing to the small sweater vest, he added, “And I saw that too.”

  The commander smirked to herself: only one person in the world should take the trouble of dressing a mouse, and in opening the letter and reading its contents, all her suspicions were thus confirmed.

  Bhudhiika Anonnaa,

  I hope our little friend made it to Frewyn all right. Frewyn is colder than it is here on the islands so I made him a little sweater to keep him warm. Janir was kind to take him as far as Marridon, but then I think Mr Sniffles the Second made the rest of the journey on his own. We have new Ghiosa on the islands: mice Ghiosa from Lucentia! Leraa made sure they were cared for immediately when they came. Mr Sniffles the Second came after our Sniffles family joined us. He was interested to see Frewyn, so Leraa suggested that he live at the temple in Diras for a while until the winter comes.

  Please take good care of him!

  Ghesturaas Dan Anaalon,
  Kai Linaa, Sanhedhran, Haantaledhran

  “Sanhedhran has an invasion of rather small converts,” the commander said, rolling up the letter. “I don’t know whether that is endearing or excessively unsavoury.”

  “If they’re as clean as this small one is here, kin,” said Sheamas, “I think it’s just fine.”

  Sheamas made his chuckling remarks in time for Martje to hear them from the yeoman’s quarter entrance to the kitchen. She was pleased to see that her brother had come so early in the day and hoped that he might be persuaded to take breakfast with them, but upon entering the oven room and descrying the small creature sitting in his hand, Martje’s temper was instantly roused. She gasped and leapt to the scullery to fetch the heaviest skillet. “You little bastard,” she seethed, creeping toward the larder, “I’ll have no mice in this kitchen.” She raised the skillet over her head and prepared to swing, regardless of her brother’s hand being in the way, when she suddenly stopped, the skillet suspended over her head. “Why is that mouse wearin’ a sweater?”

  “Because Kai Linaa dressed him in it,” the commander laughed.

  “Sure, you’re foolin’ me somethin’ terrible,” the cook exclaimed. “You dressed him so’s I wouldn’t kill him.”

  The commander shook her head. “I assure you, this is all Kai Linaa’s doing.”

  The letter was given over, and upon reading the contents, Martje was at a loss for words. A mouse that had wandered into her kitchen being allowed to live: its twitching whiskers offended her, its smiling countenance made her skin itch, and the more she regarded the adorable creature, the tighter her hands enveloped around her skillet. “You can’t keep it here, kin,” she demanded. “It’s gotta find it somewhere else to go before I go mad and all.”

  “You mean you don’t want to invite him for breakfast?”

  “If he ain’t careful, I’ll make him the cat’s breakfast.”

  “Very well,” the commander smiled. “I think we had better bring him to your shoppe, Sheamas, before Martje decides to fustigate him to death.” 

  The small mouse was conveyed safely to Sheamas’ shoppe, where his arrival was met with a celebratory dinner of smoked cheese and cured pork, and once his belly was round and his eyes were closing, he was taken to the temple where he might find refuge under the auspices of the Themari. A small room and bed was given him, visits from Soledhan and Little Jaicobh were due, and Mr Sniffles the Second, as named by Kai Linaa, was in a way to be happy and comfortable during the long Frewyn winter.

For those of you who've forgotten, having gotten caught up in that excerpt, this is only the first stop on a blog tour that's going on for a whole week (Dec. 15-22) to celebrate the release of Michelle's latest work.  Obviously, I think it's worth your time and a few mouse clicks to see where this rabbit hole leads you.

Michelle Franklin is a small woman of moderate consequence who writes many, many books about giants, romance, and chocolate.  If you're a fan of literary fantasy of a humorous bent, explore her work and connect with her on Twitter and/or Facebook.  Tales of Frewyn Volume Two is available through Amazon, Smashwords, iTunes, and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, December 13, 2013

17231--Erotica: afterglow

Free expression is important to me. When it comes to words, images and music, I continue to stand by the opinion that if you don’t like them, don’t look or listen. Not liking them, though doesn’t give you the right to suppress someone else’s expression. One of the things I don’t like at present is Amazon’s current book listing procedure that makes a writer’s work subject to special scrutiny by the company’s personnel. Much like the motion picture rating process, there are parts of the system that remain mysterious to those of us attempting to use it. In this case, it means creators must pass the scrutiny of unknown eyes that have the capacity to literally judge books by their covers and reclassify them based upon image or title no matter what the writer has to say about the content. It means that self publishing writers are left without key controls over the marketing disposition of their own creations.

In theory, this seemingly subtle form of censorship can place a book on a virtual shelf where a writer never intended it to be. Having your deeply religious work end up labeled as philosophy or self-help and your scholarly documentary placed as a children’s book may not seem like much to someone who’s not a writer, but it’s a few exponential steps beyond any of those arguments you ever had with your parents those times when they were being arbitrarily unfair about anything you wanted to do. Fighting with Amazon personnel over it as an adult will leave you feeling about as impotent.

What seems to be the most extreme result of this is that Amazon has the power to relegate a book to the obscurity of a virtual pornography closet if it is deemed that any element of it is too dangerously adult unless it is changed. Again, to some it may not sound like much, but if you’ve been told by some government clerk that the carefully crafted name you’ve bestowed upon your love child (in honor of your beloved grandparents) has to be changed to something the clerk likes, you’re going to be upset. You could decide to stay with your original decision, but when it comes to a book that obscure placement can have a tremendous impact. Suppose that it had been decided that “Moby Dick” could only have been sold in adult bookstores because of its title because…come on, we know what that title means. No, it doesn’t matter what you say the story is about, just look at that title. Seriously? You want high school students reading porn? Now, imagine that “The Scarlet Letter” or “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” had been released under the name “Whore”. How many people would’ve found it on the shelf of the adult bookstores it was hidden in because they were the only places that could carry it? Should some disinterested functionary have had the power to change their titles to “A Small Town Scandal” because it sounded less offensive?

In the realm of independent publishing supposedly governed by free expression, the correct answer is “No.”

If you’re writing, take heed, because the righteousness of your fight is going to matter less than you’d like. Unfortunately, the reality of it all comes down to this: whether you’re pouring your heart into a tragic chronicle of a prostitute’s life on the streets or a passionate virgin’s sexual awakening, don’t name it “Whore”. Sure, you know it’s a biography or a romance or a literary adventure or even a religious redemption, but you may not like how it ends.

Sorry for the spoiler.

How did this get started?  Where do pop culture and politics meet in scandal?  Why don't I watch MTV anymore?

For those answers, the prelude to this post (Erotica: Foreplay) can be read along with video of the historic controversy over at Tears of Crimson where my friend Michelle Hughes weaves her wicked writings about vampires, virgins, and strong men who don't spend a lot of money on shirts.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

17228--Hope? That's the plan?

I assume you're familiar with Superman.

Kal-el.  The man of steel.  Last son of Krypton.  The man of tomorrow.  Tall guy, dark--

Anyway, it's a safe bet that you're familiar with him because most of the world is to some degree or another.  He's a role model and an icon, more recognizable than presidents, popes and kings.  Some of it has to do with the red cape and blue suit.  Some of it is that big, red shield spread across his chest.  Over the last seventy-five years, it has become a symbol that is as widely recognized as its wearer.  The stylized shield is tied to his name.

Since his arrival, we've known him by it.  That's what a symbol is for: a shorthand reference to quickly evoke all it has come to embody.  In Superman's earliest lore, nothing was said of it.  It was just a part of his clothes.  Later, when his Smallville background was explored, its creation was attributed to his adoptive father, Jonathan Kent.  That element of his story held sway for several years.  Superman: The Movie, however, put forth the idea that it was not only his symbol on Earth, but that of his family, the house of El, on Krypton.  That planted seed gradually flourished, replacing previous notions to the point that the symbol became a part of the Kryptonian alphabet.

Now, it's not even a stylized "S".  It seems pretty silly for Superman to contend that it isn't one without even acknowledging that it resembles an "S".  He may not be from around here, but he's not new here either.  It may no longer mean "Superman" literally, though it is no less his symbol, but it has certainly never stood for "Stupid".  Granted, there are those who might argue even that point with as many times as his scribes have had him unwittingly blunder into the clumsy kryptonite traps of an underachieving Lex Luthor or just charge into the radioactive substance's area of effect by failing to use the multitude of heightened senses and superpowers with which he's long been graced.

Pardon my penchant for tangents, but Eve Tessmacher did have a great point when she told her boss that he wouldn't be able to get within a mile of the big blue boy scout with a glowing green rock.  Even tricking him into opening the lead box himself should've only resulted in his closing it faster than most of us would recoil from a hot pot on a stove.  Beyond even the consideration of super-fast reflexes kicking into gear at the first hint of such potently debilitating radiation, he's not super-arrogant or uber-overconfident.  When he's charging into the lair of a resourceful king of supervillainy (his PR people insist on such adjectives) who seems undisturbed by the visit, you'd think Superman would exercise sense enough to check for traps, killer robots, mad scientist superweapons of mass destruction...  They haven't let Lex Luthor or really anyone but Zod flex the hardcore superscience muscles on-screen yet, but the real Luthor (the one who's a serious threat to Superman) could run workshop's for James Bond's villains.  Maybe he does.  That would explain where they get their toys, which is about what Luthor would consider them to be.  Or maybe science projects.  Most of his evil genius steers toward better and better ways to assault Superman.  That means producing higher order output and plans than "Guess which hand I have the kryptonite in."  Great heroes and superior villains make each other bring their best game to the playing field.  If you're going to put all that into a movie or on TV, we want to see it.

Now, as I was saying, the symbol endures.  There've been mystifying alterations to Superman's clothes and background, but the symbol endures.  Still, it's no longer an "S".  Sure, it still looks like an "S", but now it's both part of the Kryptonian alphabet and the Kryptonian symbol meaning "hope".  In Man of Steel, when he refuses to acknowledge to Lois that the swirl on his chest looks like an "S" (even though he has lived on Earth as long as he can remember), I have to take her side.  Contemporary writers have chosen to pack both personal and public meaning into Superman's symbol, making it his family's crest and the representation of "hope".  Don't get me wrong, I've always got Superman's back, but the Lois POV makes more sense to me this time: whatever you want to call your swirly chest shield, it looks like an "S" so come up with a name to go with that...something that sounds catchier than "Hopeman".  Being hopeful may sound positive, but it doesn't carry the impetus of definitive confidence that "super" does.

Let's face it, you fly around doing what Superman does and you're going to inspire most people to feel something about it.  The ones who have time to ask "What's the 'S' stand for?" and those who later hear the explanation of the chest swirl are going to be a lot more responsive to the short answer "Superman" than they will be to getting a lecture about having a flag of hope waved in their face.  Using your superhuman powers to help people is wonderful and selfless.  It's the sort of thing that's generally well-received.  Telling people how to feel about it is pushy and I don't think anybody likes that.