Chasing Magic… A Giveaway of Sorts

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I know I’ve been pretty much gone from the blogosphere for the last few months. To those of you who read regularly, I’m sorry. I have had other matters to attend to since November, some good, some not so good. But attending to them I am.

One of those good matters is the anthology Chasing Magic from the CW Publishing House. The book, which includes my short story, “Unicorn Music,” will be released this Saturday for only 99 cents (for a limited time). Incidentally, I wrote about “Unicorn Music” months ago in this post. Anyway.

There’s an online release party for Chasing Magic over at Facebook and you’re all invited. Go here to tell the fine folks at CW you’ll be there. I’ll be hosting the online party from 1:00-1:30pm CST, answering questions, showing off my internet presence and skillz (z intended, duh), giving away a handful of autographed, paperback copies of my sci-fi/horror/dystopian novel Former. The reviews say it’s pretty good. I think you might like it. I think you might like Chasing Magic too. It’s not just a good book filled with fantastical tales of daring-do though.

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This event CW has put together sounds fun, but not just because I’ll be there. It includes the chance to do a little back-and-forth with many of the other contributors, organizers, and editors on the book as well as the chance to win some cold, hard cash. That’s right, money. It makes the world go round, you know.

From the event page:

You can meet all the authors and organizers. Read mini interviews and learn about other what other things we are all involved in. There will be numerous giveaways, not to mention THREE GRAND PRIZE GIVEAWAYS – A $50/$30/$10 Amazon Gift Card.

To enter the giveaway, just attend the event and upload your purchase receipt in the comments. So, for only 99c you have 3 chances to win a prize. 1st Prize – $50, 2nd Prize – $35, 3rd Prize – $20. Double entry for those that also place a review on amazon for one of the stories featured.

Grand Prize Giveaway’s will close 48hrs after the event starts to allow time for reviews and subsequent double entries. Names will be announced on this event page and the winners will be also be contacted directly.

So head on over to that Facebook page and sign up for the party/giveaway/thing. It’ll be fun.

Midnight Circus is looking for your work . . . .

I sat through the portents of the end of our great nation last night. Now I’m depressed and I wonder if others like me are as well . . . . If so, I’ve got some good news. Writing makes me feel better and, I hope, when people read my work, they too feel better. Or at least they come to some understanding not provided them in their day-to-day lives.

I hope you writers and poets out there feel the same way about your work. I mean, we could all use something to be happy about these days, right? So, if you are a writer, what better way to feel better than to get published? EAB Publishing, the little publisher out of Omaha, NE I edit for is seeking submissions for the 14th issue of their lit mag, Midnight Circus, right now. Check out their submissions page and submit.

I think it will be good for everyone.

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The best villains are… (a writing lesson)

Since the presidential debates are tonight, I thought I’d do a little writing lesson on villainy. Take that how you choo-choo-choose.

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Anyway.

The best villains are heroes in their own minds. They are complex. They are people with loves, hates, hopes, dreams, desires, and friends as well as enemies. They have heart, for evil without heart is weak and can be, from a philosophical standpoint, destroyed by the idea of “what’s right.”

“I want to rule the world and enslave mankind!” or “I’m all about killing puppies!” are so clearly evil that the ideas themselves can be soundly countered. After all, only a madman wants to rule the world and enslave its people and it is universally understood that killing puppies is bad. Villains with no motivations beyond the generic lack of understanding of right and wrong are almost always unappealing.

Now, a villain who legitimately, 100% believes what he’s doing is the right thing to do for all parties, the best thing to do in a given situation, a villain that can convince me his reasoning comes from an honest, sincere place . . . that is the interesting villain. Even in comic books and movies, characters like Ultron and Thanos, I would argue, are more complex than their desire to kill everyone.

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Ultron, after all, believes mankind is a great, multi-headed monster. Every time he takes a human life, he believes he’s doing the right thing. He believes he is making the world a better place. Occasionally it is difficult to argue with him.

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Thanos, so enthralled by the idea of Death, wants only to make her happy, he wants to give her the gift of trillions of lives. He puts Death’s happiness above everyone else’s. In fact, to a certain degree, by bringing people closer to Death, he believes he is giving them a great gift, for when he is done with them, they are nearer to Death. That, dear readers, is a crazy complexity.

Or, if we’re talking comics, you really don’t have to go any further than Magneto.

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I disagree with his actions, but I understand his motivations. This is one villain (of many in the world of comic books–Deadpool and Harley Quinn, I’m looking at you) who have been so well-liked by fans that they have actually become something akin to heroes.

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Look, it’s simple really. A villain you can empathize with, that shit is crazy, crazy good. A villain that is nothing more than a generic evil, that’s, frankly, lame. Even everyone’s favorite serial killer, Jason Voorhees, has a sympathetic back story to make viewers at least in part understand his anger.

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So, writers, if you’re out there in writer land, trying hard to come up with a profound villain, an evil for the ages, if you will, do your best at making them good. It’s a paradox, I know, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The devil’s greatest trick was convincing mankind we needed the word “paradox.”

On the process

So this summer I finished writing a novel tentatively titled “First Born” that I’ve been working on for a while. Actually, I finished it again . . . . I originally finished it in January or February. I can’t remember. Sometimes when I’m really into something I’m working on time gets squishy and blobish, kind of like a murky lake and I find myself paddling through it on a rickety boat full of holes. It takes my complete concentration to survive. I can’t be bothered with things like time, dates . . . or eating . . . .

Anyway.

When I first finished, I let it rest for a few months. Upon the end of the school year, I returned to it. It took me most of the summer, but I went through the whole thing, editing, adding, subtracting, researching (because it takes place in Nebraska in 1924 because I’m an idiot), and basically swimming through the wide, cold lake of the revision process. It is the lake right next to the one I’m in when I write. Yes, when I’m writing it, the thing feels like a monstrosity that I must stay floating above. When editing, I’m in the thick of it, swimming like an alligator at the water’s surface.

Now, however, I’m sitting on the bank. I’m dripping wet and shivering from the journey through the frigid water. But I’m satisfied . . . for the time being. I have called upon three colleagues and friends to dive into the novel and critique it for me. In case you’re wondering, these people are doing it with a little guidance. I told them lots of things about the book, most importantly though, I told them this: “The last five chapters are awful, seriously, seriously awful.” And they are. They’re more like pale imitations of what will one day be amazing chapters. But I had to stop for the time being. I had to.

Anyway.

Once they’re done, I shall return to the water. I shall dive deep. I shall swim through the fallen trees on the lake bottom and make friends with the trash eating fish who live there. I will learn their ways. I will develop a taste for the waste and I shall gobble it all up, removing it from the story entirely. I shall lose myself in the murky depths.

When I come up for air, “First Born” will be completely edited for the first time around . . . and I will be willing to share it with the rest of the world.

And that, dear reader, is the writing process.

Love, death, and time

After hitting the blog only half as much as I normally do in July, and touching on political and social issues of the day, I’ve decided I’m jumping back into something I’m good at, something that makes me happy (not angry, sad, and/or confused).

I’m giving you guys a writing lesson.

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We all know what a story’s plot it, right? If not, check out this and this. They’ll help. It’s simple, really. A protagonist has a desire and there are all sorts of things preventing them from achieving said desire.

BOOM. Plot.

But premise is a little bit different and that’s what I’m writing about today. The premise is what lies beneath the plot, what directs it. The premise tells readers what the story is really about. In The Art of Dramatic Writing , (which I highly recommend) Lajos Egri explains that a premise can almost always be summed up in a simple statement such as:

  • An unquenchable desire for more leads to a desire for less (The Great Gatsby)
  • An unhappy marriage leads to mental, physical, and emotional pain (Gone Girl)
  • War leads to madness (Catch-22)
  • Arrogance leads to sadness (Great Expectations)
  • Etc, etc, etc, etc . . . .

While Egri’s explanation about premise is a great one, one that I subscribe to, and one that I firmly believe, he leaves out something deeper. All of these premises may be true. But there is more. All premises fall under three distinct themes:

  1. Love
  2. Death
  3. Time

Mankind desires love, mankind fears death, and mankind struggles with time. In many stories one of these themes is prevalent, but in most they work together to offer readers one of any number of premises like the ones I mentioned earlier. So something a writer might want to do is search for these three themes in their work. Is there a desire for love, a fear of death, and/or a struggle with time somewhere in the words? If not, then chances are the writer has no theme, which means the writer has no premise . . . .

Which means the writer has no story.

Which means the writer is no true writer at all.

I’m not a great writer

I’ve tried to write today’s post several times. Unfortunately, I can come up with nothing relevant in the wake of the latest few incidents of gun violence. One is the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. In a better country it would be, like, one dude accidentally blowing off his toe or something equally comical. But in our great nation, it’s 49 innocent people gunned down in a night club. Another is a bit more down-home and has the kind of psychotic aftermath that is par for the course these days. Finally, there’s this sad tale. Lord knows there are probably more . . . .

Anyway.

In the face of this violence and increased anti-gay, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant backlash I have a hard time keeping my thoughts in any kind of coherent order . . . .

You know, yesterday it was 100 degrees in Omaha. We celebrated my daughter’s 11th birthday. At my house there were 14 kids of various countries of descent, ethnicities, skin colors, religions, and socio-economic backgrounds. I don’t know about their sexualities and or gender identification. I didn’t ask (because, unlike some, I don’t care). Anyhow, they ran through the sprinkler, swung on a tire swing, ate brownies, potato chips, and hot dogs, played video and board games, climbed all over a wooden swing set in a sandbox, took photos, and generally were children in June in the Midwest. It was fun. Here’s a pic:

I guess this is actually a collection of pics. You get the idea though.

But I sigh and cry a little on the inside as I think about this party because these children who have, in the grand scheme of things, done nothing wrong, live in a world of hate and violence. In fact, they live in a country born of hate and violence. And sadly, compared to the state of affairs in some other places, it’s pretty sweet here . . . . There’s a sobering thought.

Anyway.

Statistically, some of the children at my daughter’s party will grow up to be part of the hate, where as some will grow up to be victims of it–particularly the girls because, I mean seriously. Go back and follow the link to the New Mexico killer story if it will hep you understand. Or perhaps you’d like to read over this article about rape? Thought you’d get out without seeing anything about that one more time, did you? Sorry.

Anyway.

On a national level our politicians offer prayer. Our stars offer outrage. I understand the prayer and the outrage. What I don’t understand is our lack of action. Hell, what I don’t understand is my lack of action. But then I think, what do I do? Do I suck it up and hope that when my kids and I go to school we aren’t killed by a bullied lunatic in need of massive therapy? Do I hope for the best when my wife and I go out for a night on the town? What other action can I take? I teach my children about the duplicitous nature of hate. I teach my students that bullying is wrong. I try to be nice, donate blood, smile at strangers. I’ve protest marched, donated money to good causes. I’ve written letters to the editor. I’ve volunteered. I’ve voted for people I think would make great representatives. Furthermore, I’m mortified by this. What else can I do? What else can any of us do?

The conspiracy theorists will tell you that our attention is being diverted by these and other such horrible events. If this is true, I wonder, how horrible must the events we’re not supposed to pay attention to be . . . .

Anyway.

The worst part is I don’t even feel the brunt of how messed up everything is. I’m a middle-aged white male in Omaha, NE for God’s sake. I don’t have to deal with the clear and present monsters of racism, xenophobia, and sexism the way many of my friends and family do . . . .

So, can we vote out the people who keep promoting greed, racism, xenophobia, lax gun control, perpetual war, and general ignorance? I’m beginning to think that’s impossible. Someone will simply replace the ones we defeat. The battle, it seems, is constant. Let’s be real for a second though, these politicians are not the illness. Rather, they are, collectively, a symptom of a much greater disease . . . us.

A few years ago my brother-in-law and I were discussing the state of the world. It wasn’t a pleasant conversation because, even prior to 9-11, the writing was on the wall. Violence and hate were everywhere then just like they are now, just like they have always been. He eased some of my worry with this morbid philosophy: The groups that promote things like racism and xenophobia are dying.

His theory is that racism and its brethren are obsolete ways of thinking and have been since mankind wandered out of the cold caves of pre-history. And, when looking at the big picture, we haven’t been here that long. So, slowly but surely, the hate, the violence, and those who breed them, will end. To survive as a species, you see, we need love and acceptance, and if mankind is good at anything, it’s surviving.

But I don’t know if he’s right anymore. I don’t know.

Great writers point out mankind’s foibles and offer up solutions, paths toward change and progress.

Today I’m not feeling like a great writer. Today I’m feeling exhausted and confused.

God’s Grandchildren

Many moons and seasons ago when I graduated with an MFA in creative writing from the University of Nebraska, I was lucky enough to give the commencement speech. Looking back with a detective’s eye, I still can’t figure out how that happened. I learned all of my detection skills from Batman too, so you’d think I could . . . . Anyway, I had what I thought was a great idea. Unfortunately, I was nervous. I was happy. I was excited. I was sad. I was scared. My emotions were in one of those blenders from the 50s–big, loud, shimmering silver, and full of remnants of previously mixed emotions . . . .

I can remember only two other times when I felt anything similar. The first  was during my wedding. Almost 15 years ago I married a neighbor girl I had known most of my life. It was 11pm on the Las Vegas strip. We were in a little chapel that has long since found its home in the romantic stars. The second was when my son was born with a congenital heart defect that left him little more than a seven pound slab of meat for the first few seconds of his life. He has since recovered and only has a few scars across his chest, abdomen, thighs, and heart to remember the traumatic occasion of his birth. I don’t include my daughter’s birth in this list because for me there were no worries during or immediately after. There was no mix of emotions, only joy. As far as I could tell, she slid right out and started screaming at me to pay attention to her. She hasn’t stopped since. My wife would probably disagree about this description of our daughter’s birth, so don’t tell her about it, okay?

I’m getting away from myself here . . . again. That sometimes happens . . . .

Back to the commencement speech then. The summer I graduated, I had this idea milling around my brain, this concept, if you would allow me the hubris. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I had spent the previous two years fully immersed in both creating and studying the creation of art. I was beginning to see art in all its sundry forms as something more than. That is to say, I was coming to the conclusion that art was not only what it was. Rather, art was is a holy thing in so much as people are holy things. If we are God’s children–and I like to believe we are, though I haven’t figured out what God or how God or who God yet–then I posit that what we create can surely be considered God’s grandchildren.

When I gave my speech on this somewhat ethereal topic, the aforementioned mix of emotions got me all tongue-tied and twisted (there may have also been a few drinks lurking in that emotional mix as well, I can’t remember too clearly). It wasn’t only the emotions and the drink though. It also had something to do with this concept that still today may be too philosophical for my provincial mind.

But I’m going to try, damn it.

So, speaking of art, I like to think I have created some beautiful art for the world, henceforth to be called grandchildren for the omnipotent above us, around us, and within us. I like to think God is fond of the grandchildren artists birth in the world. It is the natural order of things after all. How many of us have witnessed our own parents stumbling over themselves to bask in the glory of their grandchildren?

If I’m on to something here (and I’m not claiming I am, more like hoping) then we, God’s children, are more than simple creations made to bring glory to a magnificent being by singing praises, praying, and even helping people. These are all fine endeavors, some more noble than others, but there is more. We are made to create grandchildren. And that, dear readers, is what artists of all stripes do. We take up the cosmic cause and bring beauty to the world with our prose, paintings, sculptures, buildings, songs, plays, poems, etchings, carvings, tattoos, jokes, photographs, dances etc, etc, etc. We bring glory to God in what we create. We take up arms against the ugliness that exists on this weary plain and fill it with the light of creation. Our artistic children are God’s grandchildren.

It’s a point that could be argued, I know. It’s a philosophy that isn’t fully developed, I know. But it’s mine and I stand by it. Also, I’d like to give it to all artists out there. So when someone asks me why I waste my time with poetry or stories, I have the perfect answer:

I am creating God’s grandchildren.