Monday, December 18, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

It's good to be bad!
So, Star Wars: The Last Jedi released, and Luke Skywalker was right: “This is not going to go the way you think.”

Ok, that’s a big, fat lie.  It goes exactly the way you think, except for the parts where it doesn’t.  The Last Jedi does . . . or did?  Whatever Yoda would say, and how!

This will be a spoiler-free report, so read on without fear or remorse.

Anyone who pans these films just doesn’t know how to embrace the cheese.  The movies are fun, but they’ve always been light-fare of a local boy who goes big.  They’re space opera, with emphasis on the opera part—big heroes, big fights, big explosions wrapped in a “battle for freedom”.

Lucas forgot this during his “prequel” phase, and we’re well rid of him for these installments.  That may be blasphemy to some, and you’re welcome to it.  Lucas was always, always, always the “big idea” guy.  His ideas have now spanned 45 years, and a franchise that can imagine quite a bit more.  He simply could not execute, and as Harrison Ford once told him (paraphrasing), “You can write this stuff, but you can’t say it.”

Thanks for showing us the Force, George.  We’ve got it from here.

The Kessel Run?  That old thing?
Rian Johnson has impressed the hell out of me since Brick (with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, which everyone should now watch, and then own on Blu-Ray).  Taking the reins of the greatest space opera ever has really allowed him to shine.  He treats the characters as one should for the second movie in a planned trilogy—he beats the hell out of them.  That’s not to say he’s disrespectful.  Anything but.  Johnson, who is only a few months younger than me, grew up with Star Wars.  It’s been a part of our cultural tapestry from the start, a thing that, even if we wanted to, we can’t get away from.

It’s a damn shame that Johnson will not be returning for Episode IX.

That said, The Last Jedi does everything the trailers promised and more.  It is visually beautiful and wonderfully exciting.  There are enough lightsabers and space battles to fill an Imperial starships—not the local bulk cruisers, mind you, I'm talking about the big Corellian ships.  Luke Skywalker is all kinds of in this thing, and Carrie Fisher is just so much awesome it will fill your heart to bursting.

Yeah, the view is great, but look at the location!
Another shame that we won’t get to see her in the next movie.

There was at least one scene that put me right into tears, and another that made my jaw drop at the implication.  Johnson did what every Star Wars film should—provided a good story, well told, that left me wanting more.  What The Force Awakens began, and Rogue One promised, The Last Jedi has now delivered.  See it.  See it again.  Buy it on disc and add to your collection with pride.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Marketing Covers for Flames of Perdition Part 3

As promised, here is the theoretical cover art for Company of the Damned.  This might be my favorite out of all three, as it’s the only book that hasn’t released yet, and thus had no first or second cover to salt the well.

Shaken, but not stirred

Also, as I said, I have some news about an upcoming release.  In addition to being picked up by Ellysian Press for the Aubrey Hartmann steampunk books, a side project for Del’s world has been nagging at me.  I’ve decided to give in and write a Jane book.  Jane was supposed to be a one-note side character, a tough-as-nails member of the shadowy Jaccob/Joshua Smalls group operating out of Salt Lake City that Marrin became enamored of.  She ended up growing and her story-arc became more and more prominent—but she’s always been secondary to Del.

Until now!

I’m still working on titles, but the first chapter of the book is written.  This will be a stand-alone, outside of the Flames of Perdition series, but still within that world.  I’ll keep you posted as the work moves forward.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Show & Tell

Tell me again how to make your drink!
Back in the day, I loved, loved, loved Show & Tell time.  Mostly, I loved to show and tell.  Probably we all did, but I don’t recall a thing anyone showed and told about during Show & Tell.  Probably it was a lot of stuffed animals and real animals and whatnot.  I do, however, remember some of my showing and telling.

Writers are often told “show, don’t tell.”  It’s one of the first things posted on a request for critique.

Telling actually has a place in writing.

It may seem like blasphemy to the masses of new authors eagerly attending their first conference, but it isn't always practical to show.  Some scenes, technical, mechanicals, etc. can't be shown, they have to be told—especially if the character is trying to understand why a thing isn't working in the first place, and they need that thing to work.

But Rob!  Why would a character think through all the aspects of a piece of technology?

Well, Slotted Pig, in real life, we do this in our heads all the time without really thinking. When an app fails to load or function correctly, we start to run through all the steps: turn the device off and back on, reinstall the app, check for updates and patches, etc. Some of that is pretty common, so it’s not very interesting to a reader.  When dealing with a process, tech, magic, etc. that is not common, or is wholly made-up, then some telling is not only needed, it’s downright necessary.

A simple example that nearly everyone can relate to is “trigger discipline.”

Most people don't know what trigger discipline is, even if they've handled a gun a few times.  Books and TV and Hollywood often get it wrong.  Tarantino even exploited this hand-waved trope in Pulp Fiction when Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) accidentally shoots Marvin in the back of the car due to his complete lack of trigger discipline.

In the case of trigger discipline you’re actually accomplishing both telling and showing at the same time.  You tell the reader what the term means, and in so doing, that your character knows how to properly handle a gun, that she’s a trained and even competent professional.

Certainly, there should be more showing and less telling going on in a story.  It's easier to be immersed in the visceral experience of a world that feels real.  But to say you should never tell is just not what storytellers should be hearing.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Aubrey Hartmann Rides Again!

Got steam?
It is with extreme pleasure that I announce my steampunk series, Constable of Aqualinne has been signed to contract with Ellysian Press.  The process was long and fraught (on my end) but I’m honored and humbled that Maer Wilson liked my work enough to take a chance on me.

Similar in scope and scale to Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series and Maureen Jenning’s Detective Murdoch series, The Constable Comes to Town is a page-turning steampunk adventure of duty, danger, honor, bravery, treachery, and mystery as seen through the eyes of a young woman who has been through the hell of war.

Aubrey Hartmann has already appeared in two short stories which are currently available.  Aubrey made her debut in the horror anthology In Shambles, already well into her career as the constable of the small-but-growing town of Aqualinne, investigating a series of gruesome murders in “And Into A Watery Grave.”  A glimpse into Aubrey’s Imperial Army career was provided in the Gears, Gadgets & Steam anthology story, when her division is pinned down under heavy fire on Bourgogne Hill in “Grenadiers and Dragon’s Fire.”

The draft of the first book, The Constable Comes to Town is complete, although a release date will still be some time in the future.  In the mean time, you can read about Aubrey and her world through the following short stories:

And yes, there will be airships.  Airships for everyone!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Marketing Covers for Flames of Perdition Part 2

Hey, thanks for staying with me through the Thanksgiving holiday.  Had a great time with the family—turns out they’re really nice people.  Also, as mentioned a few weeks ago, I went ahead with the next marketing cover for Hell Becomes Her.  I’m still not sure how these will play out, but they are quite lovely, on theme, and on point.

See?  Lovely!  Totally a “Del” cover.  I’m going ahead and having one made for Company of the Damned and will release that to y’all shortly.

I will also have some good/great news in the next week about an upcoming release.  If that wasn’t enough, I will also have some news about a new project that fans of Del should be excited to hear.

Finally, stay tuned for my travelogue to the North Pole aboard the Polar Express!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Contracts and Copyrights and Covers—OH MY!

Don't worry about the details . . . 
Really great article by a buddy of mine who is doing a twelve-part series that everyone should read.  Today’s article is on contracts.  Here's a brief introduction:

This article is the third (of twelve) in my publishing series. This article is going to be long, but worth the read. It’ll cover everything (or almost everything) that you wanted to know about contracts.

Whether you’ve landed an agent who has just received an offer from a large publisher, or whether you’ve dealt directly with a small or medium publisher, the contract is the single most important document you will ever sign. It’s even more important than Copyright. There are a lot of different things that can go wrong with contracts, so I’m going to try to highlight the most important aspects of specific types of clauses, things to question, things to avoid, and a basic explanation of the parts of the contract so that you have a better idea of what you are dealing with.

Friday, November 17, 2017

When Cleaning Goes Wrong

And this . . . is where I dropped my soup!
He came at me before I was even aware he was in the room.  Fists clenched and down to his sides, as if he was a gunslinger about to go to work.  His brows were furrowed down over his narrowed eyes.  He breathed, like a bull, through clenched teeth.

His first words streamed out in a vicious path so fast that I couldn’t make sense of them.

“What’s that, buddy?”

“YOU THINK MY ART IS TRASH!?”  My five-year-old made it an accusation, not a question.


Looks like daddy’s cleaning of the house had some unwanted repercussions.

I have an artist in my house.  He’s always making “art”.  Mostly, it looks like a mess to me.  Bits of paper cut up and held together using too much Scotch tape.  This isn’t the first time I’ve stumbled onto the “artistic” world.

“Hey man, what’s all this construction paper doing under your bed?”

“Dad!” the frustrated five-year-old cried out, as if raging against the angst of an unfair social machine.  “I’m an ARTIST.”

The kicker was his next line.

“Mom understands!”

There we have it.  Another artist in the house.  Competition is just what I need.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Marketing Covers for Flames of Perdition

A lot of things have gone wrong over the past year, but a lot of things have gone very, very right.  One of the things that went really, really well is a marketing version of the current covers for Flames of Perdition series (the Del/angel books).  I found some fun images that I wanted incorporated together (perhaps for an omnibus version of the books) and found an artist on Fiverr who works cheap—Bobooks.

For sixteen bucks, it’s actually a really good cover.  Technically, I had unlimited revisions—which is a lot like kicking over every motorcycle outside a biker bar and taking all-comers.  This came together almost immediately, and I only had minor changes to make.

Don't tell Del she only cost $16.
Based on this little success, I’m going to go ahead and build out some marketing covers for Hell Becomes Her and Company of the Damned.  

Keep watching this space for the updates.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Why Poets Are Awesome

And yet, her cold, dead eyes haunt me.
Poets do in a handful of words what it takes a novelist several thousand.

Consider a "simple" Dickinson poem:

Because I could not stop for Death -
He kindly stopped for me -
The carriage held but just Ourselves -
And Immortality.

In just the very first line, Dickinson conveys the sentiment of most mortals. We have much to do, much we would wish to accomplish, much and more that we'd like to see and experience. Some of us, toward the end, might welcome Death (personified in this case), but a good majority of us, if given the chance, would be too busy. And yet, Death is inexorable and undefeatable. Indeed, even within the next two lines, Dickinson provides for not fight, no whining, no excuse for her speaker. Death simply shows up, and the speaker is next in the carriage. But in her final line, we have something of a paradox that is not immediately explained—the speaker, Death and now Immortality are altogether. How is that possible when the speaker is dead?

This is only the first sentence—twenty words—and yet, Dickinson has set up an atmosphere of quiet acceptance, the persona of Death inside His carriage, and is already in pursuit of a meaning, or lack of meaning, to our mortal lives.

That's just scraping the surface and it took me close to 200 words to explain a part of Dickinson's 20.

Were I to pursue these themes as part of a novel, I'd first have to set up the character, the setting, and the plot which is easily a few thousand words before we've even come to the rising action. This is just one "little" poem. Nothing compared with some of the longer pieces like "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" "The Wasteland" or "Paradise Lost".

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Call Up - Movie Review

No Trons were harmed in the making of this film.
The idea of an immersive gaming environment is very enticing.  Add a cash prize for the top player, and a fully VR/AR game suddenly becomes an offer you can’t refuse.

That’s the premise of writer-director Charles Baker’s The Call Up (available on Netflix).  This low-budget scifi, first-person-shooter (FPS) is not a bad way to spend an evening after the kids have gone to sleep.  Set in the near-future, and based on similar FPS games, the idea is one that we’ve seen before: Eight top-ranked players are offered the change to beta a new version of their game with a $100,000 prize.

Most gamers, offered the chance to beta a new version of their addiction, would do it for free, or even pay.  But something isn’t quite right.  Of course not.  There is a plethora of evidence in just the opening credits, from the ominous music, the sinister background checks, that let us know bad things are going to happen to our heroes.

That’s where The Call Up makes some very obvious mistakes.  The first act takes too long in the set-up, and deviates with a secondary character’s hesitation to gear-up, that it never really develops any of the other characters.  It’s not really clear who we should be caring about, or even rooting for—we don’t really get to know any of the characters until the third act.  Baker’s directing is very good.  The visuals, CGI and even the acting are better than average.  There are also some narrative issues with the characters reactions to the FPS situations they are confronted with.  The audience would expect these top players to be, well, top players.  I also wish there had been just a bit more of the FPS to this FPS movie—some discussion or use of tactics, some consistency in respawns, wounds, etc. 
Chris Obi is certain you knew the risks when you signed up!

Most of the players act as if they’ve never even logged onto an account in their life.

Even the computer-generated sergeant (Chris Obi), who also provides narrative instruction and mission guidance, has more personality than most of the players.  There are bright flashes, especially as the characters come to realize that they’re trapped, and sinister things are afoot.

Overall, The Call Up is a nice expression of near-future tech in gaming.  The premise is solid, and even non-gamers will have little trouble understanding the plot.  There’s a decent twist at the end, but a few missed opportunities that could have been explored and exploited to enhance the experience.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

In Which I Feel Really Bad

When a soccer ball comes along . . . 
Last night, at my eldest son’s insistence request, I played scrimmage soccer with his team at their last practice.  Many parents did.

Spoiler: We lost.

I found it interesting to step back onto a field after so many years of just watching my sons play.  It’s one thing to yell, “Pass!” “Take the shot!” or “Clear it!” and quite another to actually be asked to do the same.

I do have a slight edge in that I played Utah AYSO and was on my high school soccer team.  A few of the other parents had also played, and those that didn’t quickly found that they had the advantage of both height and weight when compared to a 10-year-old.

To that point, while I had never intended to play all-out-aggressive soccer, I learned two things.  First, even at a quarter level, I’m a big guy.  Second, I’m waaaaayyyy out of shape to play soccer.  Running a few miles every day is nothing compared to the sprint-sprint-sprint and quick footwork required for playing soccer.

To compensate, accidentally of course, I ended up taking out two players.

One of them was my son.

I’m sure I’ve felt worse in my life.  But when you double-fake and spin into a forward pass, only to find a ten-year-old girl catching the ball full in the face, then dropping like a stone to the ground with painful thud . . . well, yeah.

Fortunately, no one was permanently injured or maimed.  The kids “won” with a last second goal, and everyone was pleased . . . except my lungs, who are still protesting.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Halloween Was Scarier Than Usual

These kids are actually walking and singing.
Yesterday, I received the scariest notice I’ve ever had from my boys’ school:

Good Afternoon Castle View Parents,

At this time Castle View Elementary has been placed on lockdown due to a disturbance inside of a classroom. Riverside Police Department is on site and actively working to resolve the situation. All students are being evacuated to a safe location off-campus. Unfortunately, at this time we cannot release any students until the lockdown order has been lifted by RPD. We will communicate with you again as soon as the situation is resolved and give you further instructions on student pickup.

Thank you for your cooperation

I never did get a follow up message on where the kids were or what needed to happen to pick them up.  I can’t really fault the school district or the administration.  They were busy with the amazing controlled chaos of managing the students at a nearby park, and trying to communicate with the parents who, like me, received this message and believed the worst.

My Three Sons
The news reports, of course, milked this for everything it was worth, but the truth is that the parents were more terrified than the kids.  They’ve been practicing lockdown drills for just this kind of concern.  While it always pains me that this is the reality we’ve created for our children, today I was grateful for that foresight.  My middle son, Tris, said he arrived at the park first, and his biggest annoyance was that he didn’t get to eat lunch (food and water was later provided).  He said he quickly found my youngest, Xavi, and then they played “for longer than a normal recess.”  My oldest son, Porter, true to form, was telling jokes and helping with some of the kids who were nervous.

I have to give it up to Riverside Unified School District, the Castle View Elementary Staff and the Riverside Police and Fire Departments.  All were on hand, keeping control of the situation, providing parents with information as it was available, and working to release the children as quickly and safely as possible.  The first thing I heard when I walked up was that all the kids were accounted for and safe.  None were still at the school.  We also knew that the situation was still “active” but obviously they didn’t provide any more information on that.

To my sons, the biggest concern was their backpacks.  Xavi insisted that a “robber” had come to the school—I guess the theft of his art supplies and monster trucks would be the greatest tragedy he can imagine.  Porter and Tris knew even less and didn’t bother speculating.  They were more concerned about the lack of homework (yes, I have those students).  While the helicopters over the area that evening let me know that the situation was still not resolved, we felt more than safe enough to go trick-or-treating that evening, and there was a great haul.  Friends let me know when the news reported that SWAT had ended the stand-off and that was essentially that.

While this is just a small blog, I definitely want to thank RUSD and Castle View Elementary staff, and the Riverside Police and Fire departments.  They managed this situation with the safety of the children and the concern of the parents first and foremost (at least from my perspective) and handled everything with amazing efficiency and effectiveness.  It totally sucks that our children have to learn lockdown procedures because of the world that we’ve shaped—but it’s far and away better than shrugging our shoulders because, “What can you do?”

After I retrieved my sons, I thanked any staff, fire or police personnel that we passed.  They all seemed happy to be there, doing their best to keep the kids safe.  No children were harmed in the least, and most didn't even realize the seriousness of the situation.

Thank you, again.  Thank you!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

If You Can't Take Back the Bullets, At Least You Can Send More!

I didn't even like the guy!
In what has to be the most blatant and openly political move by the National Rifle Association, bump-stock legislation has stalled and will likely die.

Look, I get it.

As something of a firearms policy wonk, I know that the number of mass shootings, or shooting in general, which have used bump-stocks is exactly one.  The likelihood of bump stocks being used for future mass shootings is marginal at best.  Of course, now that they’re known, your run-of-the-mill non-mass shooting shooter will likely want to shell out the $100 to expand their arsenal.

But goddamn, this is a no-brainer!

This is a total path—nay a super highway—toward the Emerald City lined with yellow-bricks of PR-capital and a singing menagerie. This is a way to do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING and yet LOOK like you're doing something. It's the VERY LEAST the NRA could do while still staying firmly in the well-lined pocket of the gun manufacturing industry.

Of course that's the answer!
Instead of using their little finger to help push this legislation (which will do nothing) the NRA stays, once again, on target and turned up both middle fingers at the American public.

The NRA hasn’t been this transparently evil since they used the Oklahoma City bombings to help fund raise (yes, that's a real thing they did) by painting the federal agents who died in the attack as, and I’m quoting here: “[J]ack-booted thugs armed to the teeth who break down doors, open fire with automatic weapons and kill law-abiding citizens.”

Well, thanks Wayne LaPierre.  I’d already given this year to Every Town for Gun Safety, but no time like the present to contribute a little more, and continue ousting your archaic and blood-soaked stance.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Friday, October 13, 2017

Scouts and the Scouting Scouters

Eagles.  Eagles everywhere.
Girls have actually been able to do "scouting" for some time now, but as part of the "Venture Scouts" program, not the Cubs or Boy Scouts.

I'm mixed on this. The BSA didn't so much decide to accept girls, as they arrived at the conclusion that they're tired of going to court to defend an archaic system of non-inclusion. That system was partly maintained by the LDS church having the BSA in an armlock, and threatening to take their chunk of boys out if the BSA caved on issues like this and LGBT inclusion. The LDS accounted for about 25% of scout packs and troops because its age-groups align nicely with the Mormon young men's structure. I have little doubt that the BSA council sat down with the LDS leaders and let them know that LGBT (right or wrong—I figure right) was a losing fight, and most likely that inclusion of girls (right or wrong—not sure here) was also a losing fight.

Correlation does not equal causation, so to be fair, the LDS Church stated those things had no bearing on their decision.  They began to exit the BSA in May this year.

Unfortunately, BSA membership has been on a steady decline over the past whatever number of years. Scouting is an involved effort with some pretty hefty time-commitments that don't lend themselves to other interests. With the rise of extracurricular activities like year-round academic and club sports (right or wrong), parents and kids (sorta) see more value in year-long training and competition, than the attainment of merit badges and rank advancement.

So maybe this isn't just the BSA bowing to modern convention on inclusion.  Maybe this is really a last gasp of a dying institution trying to bolster its failing numbers.  The Girl Scouts certainly seem to think so.

I don't really know what to think on this.  Exclusion generally seems wrong.  If a girl wants to join an organization, even one with a defined gender right in their name, I don't see why not.  Women have proven they can handle the toughest requirements in the world.  Why not attain the Eagle scout rank, which the military recognizes as giving recruits certain skill advantages.  The military also recognizes the Girl Scouts Gold Award.

Caveat (though not much): I was a Scout, although I didn't get my Eagle.  I stopped at Life, and will always regret not completing the requirements. My oldest son just became a Webelos and my middle son will join early next year when he turns 8. I see value in Scouting and will promote it with my boys, encourage them to get their Eagle.  I don't have a daughter, so I have no vote on that side.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

You Can't Take Back a Bullet

The beginning—not the only, not the end.
There has been NO END of discussion about gun violence, gun control and gun rights.  That’s good.  That needs to continue happening.  That degree of concern and pressure needs to burn and boil and then hiss on the stovetop.  Out of reading and discussion I finally was able to sum up the bulk of my thoughts on the subject.  To do so, everyone should review and donate to organizations like

tl;dr version: Humans aren't responsible enough to handle firearms.

Caveat: I'm a gun owner. I spent part of my formative years in uber-rural Nevada, and we shot everything all the time.

"No one is saying we should ban all guns."

I am and I have.  Publicly even, on the radio.

Usually, that's a conversation killer, which is why I don't lead with it.  But it's the end position that I'd like to see.

The 2nd Amendment, and in fact the entire Constitution, is not sacrosanct. It’s an excellent document, one of the best, and it’s served us well, but the "Founding Fathers" (whatever that means) understood it was a living document that needed to grow with the times and the country.  They couldn't foresee weapons of mass-death being a thing of the future, or they would have worded #2 less ambiguously. If the only reason we're allowing people to be killed is because it's our god-given, natural right as set forth in the Constitution, then that's where we need to start.
But that's none of my business . . . 

Knives, hammers, baseball bats, beer bottles, chainsaws, and cars all kill people, true. They all have a primary purpose, which isn't murder. They are all regulated and legislated from multiple sides.  A gun’s PRIMARY purpose is to kill. They have a secondary purpose—target shooting—but that's related to the primary purpose, which will make the user a more effective killer.

Mass shootings (however you want to define them) only highlight the problem, underlining it with blood and numbers. Daily, hourly, firearms are being used, intentionally or accidentally, to wound and kill. We, as humans, are simply not responsible enough as a species to be allowed this kind of power and be expected to use it rationally. The NRA has adopted a narrative of national myths to perpetuate this rationale. Instead of being the first in line to adopt regulations for firearm safety (the original goal of the NRA), they stand firmly in the path of any regulations—ANY—no matter how benign, and cry foul, preaching a sermon of fear and distrust. They have been so effective, that we now have penetration of guns on an unprecedented scale—more firearms then people. This means that legal or illegal, if you want a gun, you can get a gun for any reason at almost any time. The reports of the use/misuse of guns to solve "problems" and settle scores is a litany of Biblical proportions. In the only first world country where this kind of event happens regularly, we continually shrug our shoulders and claim "nothing can be done". We wantonly put the power to effect tens, hundreds, thousands and NOW tens-of-thousands of lives into the hands of frightened, panicky, scared, irresponsible, immature, and overly-emotional humans.

False equivalency is false.
As much as I'd like a gun ban, an outright ban is, well, out.  SCOTUS' 2008 interpretation of the application of the 2nd Amendment in DC v Heller pretty much did for that.  Right or wrong, that's the current law, and until SCOTUS gets another swing at it, this is where we stand.

Things the Fed CAN do under current interpretation of 2nd Amendment:

Require background checks for all sales.
Close loopholes on gun show and other "out of the trunk" sales.
Require accidental death/injury insurance.
Require gun safety courses and federally issued licenses.

None of these directly touch guns, only how you go about purchasing and possessing them.

The only additional law I'd like to see would actually touch guns: limit the number of firearms.  The penetration of guns is so vast, that any morning after a heavy wind storm, I have to go kick the AKs and the SIG Sauers off the front lawn so the street sweeper can clean them up. The majority of gun violence is only one or two victims. Right now, legal or illegal, I could get a gun if I really wanted it, and no one would know until it was too late.  That’s the trouble with gun violence, it’s usually only known after it’s too late. With 300 million+ weapons available . . .

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Greetings From Sunny Aluna - by Eric Lahti

One of the coolest covers this year!
Friend of the blog and former lifetime roomie Eric Lahti has a new book out: Greetings From Sunny Aluna.  Based on one of his shorts from The Clock Man: And Other StoriesAlunans say The Beast is a myth, a tale told by criminals to their kids about what can happen if they get too far out of line. Almost no one knows who The Beast is and the few who do refuse to talk for fear of repercussions.

Now The Beast has upped the ante and is seeking out a young boy from Earth with magic unlike anything else on Aluna.

In The Beast's way is an alcoholic ex-cop, a famed Wushu master, and a young woman sent by a dragon. Together, they'll navigate a city run by crime to find out who The Beast is and put a stop to him.

Unfortunately, they're about to find out the war never ended.

3 | Dragon Lady

The ends of Huizhong’s dark hair were pink tinted gray, a leftover from her time in Croatoa working in the Clock Tower. The city was noisy and dirty and stank of bad ideas and dark alleys where predators roamed unchecked. She described Croatoa as Dìyù come to life; a living, breathing example of what not to do.

She shuddered slightly as a bit of memory wafted across her brain. It was only her ongoing attempt at centeredness that let her push the memory aside and focus on cleansing her mind of the horrors she’d seen and done.

Huizhong sat cross-legged in the middle of a forest clearing and focused on removing the bad person she  had became from the good person she was supposed to be. But, like the smells of the city, the bad didn’t wash out easily. She felt tainted by it, like Croatoa had soiled her very soul.

All along the edges of the clearing were towers of neatly stacked, barely balanced rocks. Huizhong felt like those towers. All it would take is a gentle nudge to push her over into oblivion. She closed her eyes and tried to calm her stormy mind.

Huizhong wanted to rebuild herself after the Clock Man died. The death of Chenming Zhang was a net positive – less evil in the world – but she felt she had become as bad as he was. When he fell out the window at the top of the Clock Tower a part of her sighed in relief, but a thought nagged at her constantly. For everything she’d done: infiltrated the tower, infiltrated the Beast’s gang, killed a few people, nearly consigned Felix Crow to a slow, miserable death, she felt like a part of her soul had been stomped on and put back in place upside down.

Did the ends truly justify the means? Or was she as bad as Crow and Chenming Zhang? After all, she wasn’t exactly innocent in Zhang’s death. Before he fell, Huizhong had been actively exploring ways of killing him. To get closer to the Clock Man, she’d joined up with his inner circle and done the terrible things inner circles do.

When Chenming Zhang finally died, Huizhong ran from Croatoa and came back to the forest to rediscover herself. Everyone said Nüwa dwelt in their churches and places of worship, but Huizhong only ever felt Nüwa’s presence here in the forest. Specifically, in this clearing. Mab and the rest of the Furious Fae never claimed the great goddess lived here and maybe that was why the sense of her was so strong. No books, no rules, no chanting monks, just the peace and quiet of creation calmly doing its thing.

Xiǎojiě was shining her weak silver rays through the trees, casting long shadows across the clearing. Some people preferred the radiance of Dàjiě, but Huizhong felt Little Sister’s light was less obtrusive. Big sister lived up to her name.

Eyes closed, Huizhong forced her mind to calm itself. She thought of the still waters of the lake she had grown up next to, so calm the surface looked like glass. She felt her hair brush her cheek as the breeze played with it. Slowly, her mind became as calm as the lake and light as the breeze.

Then the vision started again. It was yet another thorn in her spiritual side, a vision of death and blood and horrifying things no one should experience. Each night when she closed her eyes to sleep, the vision took hold. Even in her dreams, she fought to close her eyes and roll into a mental ball to avoid seeing the images.

Maybe it was Nüwa, maybe it was someone else, but whoever was sending the vision was insistent. So far, Huizhong had managed to avoid seeing the details of the vision as it played out in her head night after night. And night after night, the vision came back. Tonight, Huizhong was determined to calm herself enough that she could explore the vision and remain detached from it.

It started as it always did; she was walking through a long passageway with Felix Crow. He was edgy and irritable, even for his already edgy and irritable personality. Someone was behind them. In her mind, she turned to see who it was, but all she saw was a tall man in a dǒulì that covered his eyes. He was wearing rough clothing made of canvas. Crow was wearing his trench coat and hat. They were following something, something young and male. Whatever it was, it felt tremendously powerful. The follower felt dangerous, like getting too close to a downed magic line. Then the vision degenerated into skeletons and blood and fire.

“Your friend Crow is an interesting thing,” a deep, rumbling voice said from behind her.
Huizhong’s eyes popped open. Part of her wanted to snap and lash out for interrupting the vision. The other part knew neither of those things was a good idea. Instead, she touched her neck and remembered.

“He’s not my friend,” Huizhong said.

The voice moved around the periphery of the forest. A sound like silverware lightly clattering followed its movements. Then, as if someone flipped a switch, the clattering sound stopped. “You treated him like a friend. A special friend.”

She felt like he was hunting her. In truth, he probably was. It was his way. “That was part of the job and you know it.”

Huizhong’s face burned in embarrassment. Of course, he would know about … that. How could he not? But he didn’t have to remind her of her shortcomings. “Do not fret, child,” the voice said. “Human mating rituals are beneath my concern.”

The voice moved around the periphery of the clearing. He was so silent, Huizhong never knew where the voice would come from next. Even though she’d conversed with him before, she couldn’t get over how such a large being could move so silently. It must have been eons of predatory evolution and centuries of practice.

“Then what does concern you?” Huizhong asked.

“Power,” he said. “The same thing that drives you drives me. We are not all that different, physical aspects aside.”

Huizhong brushed a stray hair out of her face and leaned back to look at the stars. “The only power I want is the power to find a nice bed and sleep in it forever.”

This time the voice came from left. “I, too, enjoy sleep. But sleeping forever would be a waste of a life.”

“Are you going to wander around the forest all night?” Huizhong asked. Her mind was still too much of a mess to deal with his games.

The forest fell silent. The usual chittering calls of insects and muted chirping of the tiny dragons stopped suddenly. A primal part of Huizhong’s mind tensed. When the forest critters went dark it meant something dangerous was lurking nearby.

If they only knew, she thought. If they could only understand exactly what was skulking around in the woods.

“I will never understand how you manage to do that,” she said.

The forest exploded. One moment it was deathly silent, the next a huge blur sped at her. Huizhong didn’t even have time to get her hands up before she was face to face with a dragon as black as the night itself. The creature’s eyes were glowing amber, as if lit from within by very fires that powered its breath. Fangs that could rend a person in two glowed in Little Sister’s faint light.

The multitude of whiskers on its snout pointed up in the air and bounced gently as it made a series of short growls. The dragon chuckled to himself, pleased with his ability to hunt and kill. “Do what?” he asked.

Huizhong’s flight response faded from her body even as adrenaline was still surging through her veins. Dragons were odd creatures; undoubtedly intelligent, but their intellect was far different from humans. The fact that humans had fought a war with these creatures and fought it well spoke more to numbers than any intelligence or skill on the humans’ part.

She took in a deep breath and tried to calm her raging heart. “Turn off the forest like that,” she said a little more breathily than she would have liked.

The dragon coiled around himself. Normally, dragons in this part of the world had long legs and majestic wings that made humans want to drop to their knees and worship them, but the big creature before her didn’t fit that bill. He had short, stubby legs. While he had wings, they were smaller than the normal Northern dragon, more evolutionary leftover than functional. He looked like a three-hundred-hand-long snake that someone had added wings and short legs to.

He cocked his enormous head to the side and bared his fangs in dragon-y grin. “Trade secrets, my daughter,” he said.

About the Author
He'd be prettier if he smiled more.
Eric Lahti hates writing bios. In fact, he hates them so much he writes about himself in the third person as if he was somehow writing about someone else. Photography doesn’t agree with him, either, so his pictures always make him look crazy. He’s the author of the Henchmen series and the nascent tales of Aluna as well as some really cool short stories about captured gods, the bogeyman, and a guy with a talking gun. Eric is currently working a new book surrounding the captured ghost of a woman, a roadside attraction, and the end of the world.

He currently lives in Albuquerque with his wife, son, and dog where he spends a large part of his day programming and studying Kenpo. When he’s not busy doing those things, he writes bios about himself.