Friday, April 28, 2017

Adjust Your Beatitudes

He's watching you. Always watching . . . 
I’ve hit that point in my writing where soul-crushing fear fills every crevice, every phrase, every choice and screams: YOU’RE NOT GOOD KID.  GET OUT OF HERE!

But here’s a writer who kicked ass and took names.  Enjoy:

“For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). But, often with tears in their eyes, the demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.
“Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon?”
― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

Friday, April 21, 2017

By the Blade by David Ekrut

Jax finds himself abandoned far from home in the desert nation of Kalicodon. When any infraction to tribal honor will land him in chains as a slave, he must learn quickly to adapt in a foreign land in hopes of maintaining his freedom. In his struggles to liberate Daren from slavery, he meets Jesnia, a woman from his homeland, who has hunted fugitives from justice to the eastern edge of the desert. Without his own cunning and her talents, Jax may very well meet his end, fighting for his life in the arena.


Jax grabbed the reins of both animals and led them onto the road.

“Hello, outlander,” a deep voice said from behind him. “I believe you have something of mine.”

Jax turned around to see a man, more than half a foot taller, staring down at him. An ugly bruise wrapped around the entirety of his neck, and his mouth sneered as if addressing a stray dog.

The man wasn’t alone. He held the end of a long chain. At the other end of the silver links, a collar clung to the neck of a young woman. Even downcast, her dark eyes glittered in the failing light. While dried tears streaked down smooth cheeks, long eyelashes held back another levy of tears. Hair like midnight flowed about her shoulders. A line of red pooled around a slice near her midsection, but she didn’t move as if in pain.

How could she still stand after a wound like that? Someone healed her with the Elements. It must have been. But why heal her and not her captor? So much about this place made little sense.

When her eyes glanced up to meet his gaze, Jax felt his hand close into a fist. There was a pleading in her stare and the deepest grief. What would this man make her do as his slave? No. It didn’t matter. Virastian code or no, she did not deserve to be collared like an animal. No one did.

The man stepped between Jax and the woman, hiding her from his view. His voice held a mountain of contempt. “This slava bedoine is not for sale, especially to the likes of you. Look upon her again, and I will have your honor.”

Jax noted the red garb, and remembered Geff’s advice to not interfere. He could feel the daggers in his sleeves. A gentle flick, and he could sink both blades into the man’s neck and free her.

The guard gave Jax a deep scowl, and one of his hands settled upon the hilt of the single blade at his hip. His free hand gripped the empty scabbard on the other side. “You have my property. And I want it back. My sword. Now.”

About the Author
Dr. David Ekrut was raised in a small community in Arkansas, where the abundance of nature fostered his imagination. Whether lost in a book, table-top gaming, or roaming the countryside from coast to coast, expanding his mind inevitably led him to the craft of writing.

Only in the infinite workspace of heartfelt creativity has he ever felt any sense of freedom. Ekrut holds degrees in Liberal Arts-Theatre from Arkansas State University, both a Bachelor’s and Master’s of Science in Applied Mathematics from the University of Central Arkansas, and a Master’s in Biomedical Mathematics and Ph.D. in Biomedical Mathematics from Florida State University.

His scientific expertise has aided in creating physically believable fiction with rules and structure to bring his universe to life.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Long Time Ago, We Used to be Friends

I have no use for prisoners. Kill them all.
In many ways, I'm will miss going to the movie theater, but theaters are a dying breed, an archaic way seeing movies. For a long time, they solved the problem of how to watch films without investing in all that equipment and space and whatnot.  But technology was always against them, and it surpassed them a long, long time ago.  It’s our dogged fear of change that has kept them afloat like Jack clinging to a piece of Titanic debris in the icy Atlantic.  Movie theaters themselves, and their advocates like Christopher Nolan, are clutching at straws, as if the movie theater sprung, wholly formed, from Vin Diesel’s forehead, have always existed, and thus should always exist.

'Fraid not, boys.

In a lot of ways, they contributed to their own downfall by having the corner on the market. If you wanted to see a major studio film, fine, no problem. But if you wanted to see a cult, indie or older film—yeah, that's a problem.  Must we even discuss the behavior that made movie-going problematic from time to time?  Babes in arms, children, and . . . ugghh, teens.  And then, of course, there are those annoying purists who insist on quiet from the audience . . . oh, wait, that’s me.

It ain't me you gotta worry about now.
Well, let’s mention the guy who brought in three—THREE—grocery bags and proceeded to unwrap the nosiest collection of cellophane and plastic I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter.  It’s not my policy to tattle-tale to the usher, but when What About Bob? levels of annoying are being achieved, my Dude-like calm is being harshed.

Streaming and home theaters solve all these issues.  Solve them, and more.  With flatscreens and hi-def projectors not just within range, but well within hand, the movie-going experience is rapidly becoming a thing of nostalgia.  Streaming, online video downloads, and more have expanded the range and depth of movies and entertainment to unprecedented levels.  Consumers consume more hours of entertainment, and from more diverse regions, than ever before.  Movie theaters can’t even remotely hope to keep up, and they aren’t.  I’ve watched movies on the playground with my children at their school for fundraisers.  I’ve enjoyed whole TV series on my Kindle, while taking a soothing bath and drinking a delicious micro-brew.

It's true.  All of it.
The only theater I now patronize two or three times year (for those MUST-SEE movies) is the one with the assigned, reclining seats, and hot meals.

I will, however, miss going. I saw Star Wars in the theater opening weekend.  I know that it wasn’t called Episode IV or A New Hope and that Han shot first, last and only in the cantina.  I’ve enjoyed seeing movies on the silver screen surrounded (mostly) by like-minded folk, engaged in a kind of group hypnosis of experience for 90-120 minutes.  It was clarifying and exhilarating.  But the technology that created movie theaters has well and truly moved beyond the need for them.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

In Defense of Episode IX

There's more where that came from!

Some folk appear to be up in arms that Carrie Fischer (a moment of silence, a raised glass of Scotch) won’t appear in Episode IX.  They claim this proves that the Disney-ification of Star Wars is now complete.  They’ve altered the Star Wars universe, and fans should just shut up and pray they don’t alter it further.

Except they’re wrong.

The most amazing thing is that Disney totally gets what Star Wars is all about.

It’s not just explosions and whizzing gadgetry (which is what Lucas devolved it into), but rather about the relationships—those who are family, and those who become family.  Anyone who doubts this need look no further than Star Wars: Rogue One which took a few lines from Episode IV’s crawl and crafted it into an impressive movie that displays exactly that depth of understanding about the franchise.  This is not to say that Rogue One is a perfect movie—it’s not.  But it is a perfect Star Wars movie because it taps into all the things that made the Original Trilogy great, without relying on the upping the ante from the elements which have started to get tired.  Jyn Erso is plagued with relationships.  She tries to play herself off as tough-as-nails rebel without a cause.  She sneers at any authority figure like Brando replying to the question, “What are you rebelling against?” and says, “What have you got?”  But really, much like Vader, Luke and Leia, it’s her family background—her biological parents and her adoptive father-figure—who have placed her in this position.  To move forward, she has to form new relationships, new ties to unlikely people.  Essentially, Jyn stiches together her own “family” through shared needs and goals.

You don't know the POWER of CGI.
Disney even put money into the iconic characters, like Tarkin, who we’ve been quoting and fan-storying for years.  We get to see the walking, talking legends from another camera angle making new what was once old.  Sure, Tarkin strays into the uncanny valley from time to time, but on the whole, for a character that filled a supporting role, we get an impressive CGI creation that makes you forget that Peter Cushing passed away in 1994.  Even when Disney dips back into the well, with The Force Awakens, they didn’t trot out Han and Luke and Leia and Chewbacca and C3PO and R2D2 and all the rest just for a dog and pony show.  If that had been the case, Luke and R2 would have had lines and actions beyond the few moments they were given.  Think about the “prequels” (those “things” that only exist in a parallel universe for some) and how much fan-service Lucas crammed in with R2 being able to fly, C3PO being “programmed” by Anakin and other such nonsense.  Instead, Disney treated the Original Trilogy with the kid gloves of a high priestess unwrapping the Holiest of Holies to reveal before a congregation of true believers and new acolytes.  They pay just enough fan service to the former, while whetting the appetite for the later, telling both groups, “Yes.  It’s true.  All of it.” 

But you HAVE heard of him!
Chewbacca, what a Wookie, is the perfect example of this.  In The Force Awakens, instead of treating him as a throw-away character present for comic relief and not good even to receive a medal (please don’t retcon in the comments for me, I already know the arguments), we see the deep, deep friendship that had to exist all along between Han and him.  We see that he has friendships beyond the Falcon and Solo.  He argues, cajoles, grows angry and emotional, especially during THAT ONE SCENE at the end.  He doesn’t swing on a vine with a Tarzan-esque cry for the sake of juxtaposed “hilarity”.  He’s an intelligent being of deep emotion that has never been revealed on film before now.  And yet, there he is, and you can just feel, just FEEL the waves that come off him during THAT ONE SCENE.  Of all the Star Wars souls we've encountered, his may be the most . . . human!

There are so many clever nuanced moments that reflect Disney’s deep understanding of the Original Trilogy.  Gone (mostly) are the days when Disney would release sequels direct-to-video to suck at the pockets of parents trying to keep their children silent for thirty minutes.  This Star Wars crew knows they’re dealing with a series that has both hardcore fans and casual viewers.  They’ve walked that line perfectly with both The Force Awakens and Rogue One so much so that I’m willing to cut them a great deal of slack on these kinds of decisions, including leaving Leia out of the “last” movie.

After all, Han Solo won’t appear in Episodes VIII and IX either!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Rejected, Dejected, and Ejected

You suck, kid, and not in a good way!
There’s a file in my email labelled “Rejections”.  Writers, by our nature, love punishment.  We go well beyond gluttony, well beyond fetish.  For us, rejection is the salt we feel we deserve in the wound we ourselves cut, and it is best delivered in heaps by a dump truck.

If not, how in the world would anything ever get published.  A writer would submit a work for review, it would be rejected (with or without notes) and that would be the end.


If every writer gave up after the first rejection, there would be precious little reading material available.  Alas, the bite and sting of rejection is no less deep for having been stung and bitten before.

In short: it sucks cold rocks.

And yet, the fight goes on.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


In Bruges!
While looking for images of canals and castles, I happened across some lovely photos of Belgium.  A strange feeling that I knew these places washed over me, and I was swept away to hard cobble-stone streets, brilliantly lit canals, and open air cafes where people sipped strange and exotic drinks like “coffee” and “tea”.

I may need to go to Belgium . . . for research.  I wonder when a good time to go is?

Also, don't bother me. 

I'm writing. 

Quite a bit.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Fear, Honor, Interest and All Things Fun

“It was in keeping with the practice of mankind for us to accept an empire that was offered to us, and if we refused to give it up under the pressure of three of the strongest motives, fear, honor, and self-interest.
Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War 1.76

And then . . . THE UNIVERSE!
Villains, enemies, allies and friends should all act with motivation.  This is easy for writers to tap into with “good guys”, but it becomes trickier with protagonists.  This largely stems from the fact that we don’t really want to sympathize with the Big Bad.  They’re “evil” and their soul is blacker than pitch, forged in the fires of Hell, and here only to enjoy pain and suffering. 

That’s the end of it.

To be fair, there are certainly those people out there.  They’re largely boring.  As a writer, Black Hats are nice and all, but to truly engage readers, the main antagonist—whether one individual, a small group or an entire “people”—should act rationally with an end state in mind.  Even heroes may justify their means in light of the good to be found at the end—but it’s the lines that get crossed which can define “good guys” from “bad guys”.  To aid this, focus on the Thucydides quote above—the motivation for one nation to attack another is largely based on one, two or all three elements of “fear, honor, and self-interest”.  There are be other, more nuanced motivations, but in general, if your villain (and your protagonist’s allies) stem from these, you’ll naturally end up with a more nuanced and believable story.

Let’s quickly pick these apart.

I Sherlocked before Sherlocking was cool!
It’s primal.  It’s easy.  It’s something all readers can understand.

Whether we’ve been faced with a bully, or that moment when a friend, child, or loved-one appears to be in danger, fear is a basic and key emotion.  Flight or fight is a natural response brought on by our immediate sensation of fear.

Think of any murder-mystery series, and in at least one (if not many) episodes, the antagonist who done did the murder will have been motivated out of sheer fear.  These are the culprits that we can all sympathize with, even rationalize and forgive for their crime.  The “victim” wasn’t really victim, and used their own power and influence in such a way that the “killer” killed out of hasty action, or during a struggle for their very life.  For a wonderful example of this, read the Sherlock Holmes short story, “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange.”  The conclusion of the story is well worth the price of admission.

There ain't no party like a Viking Party,
because Viking Party raids, pillages and plunders!
Fictional author, Joan Wilder gave her heroine the motivation to kill through a quick list of evil deeds, “The man who killed my father, raped and murdered my sister, burned my ranch, shot my dog, and stole my Bible!”  If the villain has thrown down with insult, or even the pretense of insult, motivation for response is clear.  Throughout history, religion has been a quick and easy “honor” motivation for any number of actions, and depending on which side your characters sit, the actions are either villainous or heroic.  Consider Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories, where the hero, Uhtred, finds himself at odds with his adoptive people, the Danes, and his own folk, the Saxons of a fledgling England.  The English (who don’t know they’re English yet) have banded together against the Danes not just out of joint heritage, but also because they’re Christian.  They’ve established the narrative of the Danes as heathens and heretics which, in some cases, works to their advantage with the powerful Saxons lords who otherwise wouldn’t give each other the time of day.  Other measures of honor play plot points throughout the series, especially when Uhtred gives his word, which binds him stronger than his desire for vengeance (honor), gold, or lands and titles (interest).

I say "Pompey" you say "Magnus"—POMPEY!
This could also be called “power” or “stability” if you’d like.  Although the motivation can also be for wealth, whether directly, through the taking of goods, slaves, and treasures, or indirectly, through agriculturally wealthy lands, trade rights, trade routes, etc.  Rome, historically, seized Egypt not only for its great wealth, but also for its bountiful surplus of food.  The grain ships that travelled between the Italian peninsula and Egypt were so important that in the 1st Century BCE, when the Cilician pirates grew bold enough to attack the ships and Roman towns, Rome responded.  First, Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus and later by Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, also known simply as Pompey, who succeeded in stomping them flat.  It should be noted that Pompey’s story itself shows how his own self-interest was served by taking on the Cilician pirates.  Of course, the man was something of a military genius, well-regarded at the time.  He saw how he could solve the problem, and at the same time was granted extraordinary powers to tap into the strength and great wealth of Rome, to accomplish this goal.  He was able to finish off the pirates, who had plagued Rome for nearly a decade, in about three months.

Whatever the goals of your villains and your heroes, they’re ring more believable if their motivations are based on something other than WORLD DOMINATION.  It’s a fine goal, to be certain, but once you’ve slain all the elves, burned down all the forests, enslaved all the humans, and set the dwarves to work in your forges, you’re left with an empire that is orcs and trolls and goblins—great for a party, or a fight, but not much good when it comes to the better things in life.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Pontificating on the Shell and Its Ghost

You claimed WHAT on the internet?!
TL;DR version: I don’t give a damn.  She’s Asian.  I’m going to see the movie anyhow.  So should you.

This discussion grew out of, what else, an online argument about Ghost in the Shell and the apparent white-washing done to the main character Major Motoko Kusanagi when Scarlet Johannson was cast.  The work was enough, it seemed only right to keep it and share it.

If we're seriously discussing this, then let’s start at the basics. Masamune Shirow is the penname for Masanori Ota, born in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. The penname comes from the famous Japanese swordsmith Goro Nyudo Masamune. Shirow’s manga, including Ghost in the Shell were first published in Japan, in Japanese and thus intended (outliers aside) for a Japanese audience with main characters who all have Japanese names. We can go on from there if you'd like, but I think we both agree where the preponderance of evidence lays.

Beyond the very surface evidence offered, there’s Kusanagi's body (yeah, there is, buddy!).  It's "generic" precisely so that she can be inconspicuous and blend in as a civilian to do her job.

Blend in where?

Oh, excellent question!  I'm so glad you asked.

Well, that's one way to sell a movie.
While Public Security Section 9 (fictional) operates as part of the Japanese National Public Safety Commission (not-fictional), and can conceivably function internationally, most of the action for Kusangai and the other characters takes place in New Port City (fictional) located on the north side of Osaka Bay (not fictional) in the Niihama prefecture (fictional) which is, as everyone may have guessed by this point, part of Japan (not fictional).  There are any number of other connections to the wheres and whens of the show, and I'm happy to offer them if requested.  Suffice to say that Ghost in the Shell characters and action is pretty exclusively based in Japan.  A quick Google search (YMMV) suggests that Japan is, aside from the 1.5% foreign residents, Japanese.  Thus, the Japanese government, when selecting a body and a face for their inconspicuous operative to blend in as a civilian would, without much of a logical leap, choose Asian features and even more likely choose “generic” Japanese features.  While her body mechanics are most assuredly other-than-human her outward appearance is very-much-human.  In the role of infiltration, and because the overwhelming bulk of the population is Asian/Japanese, Kusanagi is very-much-Asian/Japanese.

The character's actual background for the brain that runs the body (and sure, perhaps she was a housewife from Des Moines) isn’t known and frankly doesn't really matter.  The whole point of her current name and appearance are required to be Japanese.  We can argue this point if you'd like, but the simpler answer often (though not always) being the best, the Japanese government would most likely use a Japanese citizen for Kusangai, or at the very least an Asian citizen, if for no other reason than general availability.  There are, of course, other reasons, but I'll defer on this particular point given the preponderance of evidence.

That preponderance of evidence continues and if you haven't read the Manga (which I have) or watched the anime (which I also have), I'll offer the following comparison between how Shirow draws his Asian characters in comparison with how he draws his "Western/European" characters.  

One of these things is different from the others!
This is actually pretty typical of Manga in general as viewed by Western audiences.  But a quick look at any Japanese artwork, especially during the Tokogawa Era when anything non-Japanese was generally regarded as not just wrong, but bad, and you'll quickly see that the features we Westerners assign to Asians/Japanese aren't as prevalent as we would think—just like modern Manga (among a few other reasons, like attracting a wider audience).  For example, here is a "Miyamoto Musashi woodcut" and you can see how Japanese artists represented one of the most well-regarded samurai of all time.

Does this haircut make me look European?
All that said (and thank you very much for coming this far with me), I don't give three damns what race Kusanagi is cast for this particular movie.  I understand how movies are made, and some movies require a big, bigger or biggest name to even get bankrolled.  Ghost in the Shell required a pile of green stuff to be made, and (at least visually speaking) made right and that means that a biggest name needs to be attached.  ScarJo pretty much typifies that name.  I do think it's a damn, damn shame that a movie like this can't get off the ground otherwise, but that's the name of the game, and I'll continue to comment as I see fit.

So, is Kusanagi Asian?  Most assuredly.  Does that mean I don't see the movie.  Most assuredly not.  Should people boycott it?  Are you kidding me?!