Thursday, December 28, 2017

Books for a Happy 2018

So, the new year is coming, and the question is inevitably asked, "What are you looking forward to in the new year?"

And the answer for me is always: books.  But let's not talk about my books, which I certainly talk about plenty.  Instead, which books am I looking forward to reading in 2018?  Here's an incomplete list of the things on my radar, and they're all things I think you should be wanting to pick up in the coming year.  (In addition to the two I have coming out, but you've already got those wired in, yes?  Yes.)

Still So Strange by Amanda Downum
I've made no secret that Amanda is one of my favorite writers working in fantasy today, and one of my favorite people in the industry as well.  Her collection of short stories and poetry is coming out this year, and you should totally get your hands on it.

The Armored Saint by Myke Cole

Myke has been doing excellent things blending military fiction with urban, modern fantasy, and everything I've been hearing about his first dive into traditional epic fantasy has been incredible.  So I'm very excited to get my hands on this one.

Head On by John Scalzi
I've enjoyed just about everything John's written, including and especially Locked Inwhich this is the sequel to.  It's a very fascinating setting (in which a disease has rendered some people completely unable to use their bodies, but the use of robot avatars called "threeps" lets them interact with the world), and in the first book John did an excellent job of exploring the implications of the core ideas.  So I'm very intrigued to see where it goes.

Stone Mad by Elizabeth Bear
In another example of "Yes, more of that, please," I really enjoyed 2015's Karen Memory, so I'm looking forward to more western-steampunk adventures with Karen and her people.  I don't know if we'll get another steam-powered-sewing-machine-mecha fight, but a boy can dream.

From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris
This is the debut novel from the newest DAW Author, and it's been on my radar for a while now, so I'm quite excited to see it's going to come out this April.  It's set in an Ancient Rome With Magic, and everything I've seen from Cass Morris shows that she's really done the work in her research and worldbuilding, so I'm fascinated to see the results.  Plus, of course: she's DAW, so she's family.

Temper by Nicky Drayden
Nicky already has a follow-up to Prey of the Gods, but not a sequel.  Nicky is another one of my favorite-writers/favorite-people out there.  I swear, she once wrote a short story that was so funny it nearly killed me I was laughing so hard.  So, yeah, she writes so well, you could die.  This is definitely a book to get for next year.  It's a new book by Nicky Drayden, how could it not be?

The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

The Traitor Baru Cormorant was a fascinating work of worldbuilding and structure and defying expectations, and exactly the sort of book I want to see more of.  So of course I want to read the sequel.  I need to know what happens next, as Baru is possibly one of the most fascinating characters in fantasy in recent years.  We've already seen how far she'll go to achieve her goals.  I'm very curious what more there can be to get the title "monster".

So, what's on your radar for 2018?

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas 2017

So here we are on Christmas Day, which I celebrate in the traditional way of my people.

I've got plenty of things on deck for 2018.  We've got Lady Henterman's Wardrobe coming out in March, and more to come beyond that.  It's all very exciting.

So, where can you see me in 2018?  Well, for starters, in February I'll be at Boskone.  And, of course, I'll be at ArmdilloCon in August, and then in November I'll be the Special Guest at PhilCon. I'm sure I'll have more on my schedule over the course of the year as well.

And, of course, I'll spend plenty of time in the word mines.  And speaking of, even though it's Christmas*, it's time to get back down there.
Have a glorious holiday.

*- Back in the day, I remember David Eddings writing to write every day, and you could take a half-day on Christmas.  I've probably internalized that too much.  But that's me.  I don't advocate that you need to do that yourself.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

My Favorite Novel of 2017

It's the time of year when people are writing their "best of the year" lists and such.  Unfortunately, as a reader, I tend to be a bit slow and behind the times, so I'm hardly going to be able to tell you the best books from 2017 that I read. 

BUT, I'm going to tell you about one of the new releases from this past year, a spectacular debut, and definitely the book you should be looking at to give All The Awards to, and that's The Prey of the Gods by Nicky Drayden.

Now, full disclosure, I've known Nicky for a long time, and I even read Prey in rough-draft form way back when.  And I said then what I'll say now: It is delightfully batshit, and you'll enjoy the heck out of it:
In South Africa, the future looks promising. Personal robots are making life easier for the working class. The government is harnessing renewable energy to provide infrastructure for the poor. And in the bustling coastal town of Port Elizabeth, the economy is booming thanks to the genetic engineering industry which has found a welcome home there. Yes—the days to come are looking very good for South Africans. That is, if they can survive the present challenges:

A new hallucinogenic drug sweeping the country . . .
An emerging AI uprising . . .
And an ancient demigoddess hellbent on regaining her former status by preying on the blood and sweat (but mostly blood) of every human she encounters.

It’s up to a young Zulu girl powerful enough to destroy her entire township, a queer teen plagued with the ability to control minds, a pop diva with serious daddy issues, and a politician with even more serious mommy issues to band together to ensure there’s a future left to worry about.
And, I mean, look at the praise:
*A Wall Stree Journal "Summer Reading: One expert. One book" pick for 2017!
*The RT Book Reviews "June 2017: Seal of Excellence" pick!
*A B&N Sci Fi and Fantasy Blog "Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of 2017 So Far" pick!
*A Book Riot Best Books of 2017 Pick!

So I'm not alone in praising it.  Go get it, go read it.  You'll be glad you did.

Monday, December 18, 2017


We're about ten weeks away from the release of Lady Henterman's Wardrobethe second Streets of Maradaine novel.  The Rynax Brothers are back with the rest of their crew, with a brand new heist adventure.  Here's the first excerpt:

THERE WAS NOTHING A thief liked more than a boring, predictable person. Especially when that person was in charge of the security for the place he wanted to break into.
Asti Rynax had spent ten days trailing a man named Nel Pitter, and several more before studying him. In those days he had learned absolutely everything there was to know about the man, which was very little indeed. Pitter worked nights, so he slept during the day. His apartment was a second-floor flat in a whitestone in the tony southern end of Promenade in Inemar, which he shared with three other men. All four men in that apartment worked as security guards for the Pomoraine Building, in different shifts. Most of the residents of that whitestone worked at the Pomoraine. Asti imagined housing was part of the wage, as there was no way a security guard would otherwise be able to afford such an apartment, even shared with three others. The Pomoraine took care of its employees.
The Pomoraine was a seven-story office building, the absolute pinnacle of modern architectural grandeur on the south side of the city. It towered over its namesake street, just one block east of Lowbridge. Perfectly situated where the money of East Maradaine met the commerce of Inemar. It housed offices for trading houses, speculators, and merchant moguls.
And, most importantly, the legal offices of Colevar and Associates.
All of the men who lived in that apartment, including Pitter, were incredibly regular in their schedules. Asti had watched all of them, learning their habits. He had determined there was no viable moment of opportunity where he could count on the apartment being unoccupied, or everyone inside would being asleep. Breaking into the apartment wasn’t an option. But Asti had already dismissed that, since Pitter’s usual activities made him an excellent mark for a different kind of run.
He had explained it to the rest of the crew before they had prepared for the play.
“Pitter sleeps during the day, and wakes up at five bells in the afternoon each day. Helene can confirm.” Helene Kesser had scouted him through her scope from the opposite roof.
“Literally, the bells of Saint Ollickar wake him up. Not the three or the four. Just the five,” Helene had said. “It’s creepy.”
“Wakes up at five, hits the water closet, gets dressed. Always with pressed shirt and polished boots. Presses and polishes himself, every day.”
Asti had seen Pitter come out each day, right at six bells, looking as crisp as the vegetables in his sister-in-law’s garden. He would stride down to Low Bridge Street, arriving at The Gentle Shepherd for dinner. Or breakfast in Pitter’s case. His meal was always the same— alf a roast chicken dressed with pickled onions, cabbage soup, soft cheese and mustard, and a soft cider.
“Each night the same?” Asti’s brother Verci had asked. “You’re sure of that?”
“Not that the menu at The Gentle Shepherd offers much option,” Asti said. “But that’s his place. No change. Which makes him perfect.”
Asti sat in the back corner of The Gentle Shepherd at six bells, slowly nursing his own soft cider. Not what he’d nor
mally choose, but tonight was a run, so it was best to stay sharp.
The rest of the crew were in position. The only one he could see right now was Helene, dressed like a laundry girl. She had been disguised with Pilsen Gin’s ministrations, so her rich brunette locks were hidden under a mousy brown wig and gray kerchief. No one from the North Seleth neighborhood would recognize her. She even wore a set of spectacles— fake lenses— and sat at another table with her nose in a book.
That was the other thing their observation of Pitter had yielded— he man was a reader. His evening meal was taken while reading. When he wasn’t walking his patrol of the Pomoraine, he was reading. He read while eating his other meal at sunrise, and for another hour before going to sleep at exactly nine bells in the morning.
Helene was reading— r pretending to read— he Shores of New Fencal, the war novel that Pitter had been working on in the past two days of observation. She had balked at the idea of actually reading it herself. “I had enough of schooling when I ditched school.”
“You don’t curl up with pennyhearts every night in your bed?”
“You need to not be thinking about my bed and what happens there, Asti Rynax.”
So Asti had read it that morning and briefed her on it, or at least the first five chapters. Enough so she could fake her way. It was a serviceable enough adventure book, set during the early days of the Island War, though it was based on fantastical ideas about a squadron of Druth soldiers holding against an entire Poasian company. Under normal circumstances, Asti would probably enjoy reading it. But this was a job. They had had to get to Pitter. Pitter would get them the Pomoraine, the Pomoraine would get them Colevar and Associates.
Colevar and Associates would get them the client who had paid to burn down Holver Alley so they could force out the residents and buy up the land.
Pitter came in, right on time, his book tucked under his arm. He sat down at the same table he always sat at— right in Asti’s line of sight, and right where Helene could move in on him. He gave a signal to the proprietor, who knew him well enough to simply nod back in reply. In a moment, Pitter’s cider was delivered, and he was deep into his own copy of The Shores of New Fencal.
Almer Cort came in a few steps behind Pitter, taking a place at a far table. His job was simple, at least this part. He had to follow Pitter from his apartment to The Gentle Shepherd, and give signal if anything was wrong. Cort ordered wine and bread, which meant everything was going fine.
That gave Helene her cue. She reached from her seat over to Pitter’s table.
“I’m sorry,” she said, talking through her nose. It was slightly painful to Asti’s ears— Pilsen hadn’t given her much instruction on accents or voices, and she insisted on using one for this job. It was not in her skillset. “I couldn’t help but notice.” She held up her book to him.
“Oh, yes,” Pitter said. “How far are you?”
“Chapter five,” she said. “You?”
“Nine,” he said. He was a bit standoffish, like he wanted to get back to his reading. Helene wasn’t going to quite let that happen. She moved herself, book and cider, to his table and sat down.
“I’m just loving it so far,” she said, putting one hand on his arm. “I mean, it’s the first one of this author that I’ve read, but it’s thrilling!”
Pitter put his book down and locked eyes with Helene. Which, of course he would. Even in the dowdy disguise, she was a good-looking woman, and she had already shown a mutual interest. Now she just had to keep him.
“I’ve been following this writer for a bit now,” Pitter said. “He started out doing serials in— do you read the Sword Pulps?”
“No,” Helene said. “But I want to know about them.”
She scratched her ear, to cue the next step. Mila was in place for that, watching through the window of The Gentle Shepherd from the street.
Mila Kendish wasn’t in disguise, other than wearing a similar laundry girl outfit. She came into the Shepherd and went straight for Helene and Pitter.
“Cassie,” she said to Helene. That was the name they chose when they worked out this bit. “What are you doing? You were supposed to come home an hour ago!”
“I’m having a perfectly lovely conversation with a fellow imaginative soul,” Helene said.
“This steve?” Mila said, prodding at Pitter.
“Who are you?” Pitter asked.
“She’s my baby sister,” Helene said. “And she’s annoying.”
“You shouldn’t—” Mila started, her hands giving a signal to Asti and Helene. She had Pitter’s keys.
“Go home yourself, Sera,” Helene said. “I’ll get there when I get there.”
“Gerry won’t—”
“Not your problem.”
“Fine,” Mila rolled her eyes and stomped off. Perfect performance. “But I ain’t gonna lie for you!” She went out.
“Ignore her,” Helene said. “Tell me more about this writer’s other work.”
Pitter launched into a description while his meal arrived. That, and Helene, should keep him suitably distracted while Mila ran the keys to Verci and Win Greenfield, sequestered in a back alley flop a block away. Win could make an imprint of the keys in a matter of minutes.
That was all the easy part.
Helene kept up her end of the conversation while Pitter went on, eating and drinking the whole while. She was engaging, and he was engaged.
Asti had to admit, he was pretty impressed with her here. He had always known her to be a crack shot with the crossbow. Three months ago, that’s all anyone thought of her, and no one wanted to bring her in on a job. Her attitude had given her and her cousin a bad reputation, and several folks on the street couldn’t stand working with her. But Asti had known her since he had been out of swaddling, and knew she could be better, do more. She just needed a reason.
Getting the folks who burned down the alley, killed her grandmother, that had given her a damn good reason.
Mila was in the window, nodding. Now she just had to get the keys back in his pocket. Time for the big move.
Asti gave a nod to Almer, who loudly ordered a cider from the barman. That let Helene know what was coming. She signaled to the barman for another round of cider herself.
Mila came running in, faking she was out of breath. “I told you—” she heaved. “I told you he wouldn’t—”
“Shove off,” Helene said, getting up.
“Gerry asked where you were, and I said I wouldn’t lie for you!”
“You told him?”
“I told you—”
“Cassie!” A giant brute of a man came into The Gentle Shepherd. “Gerry,” or rather Helene’s cousin Julien, also disguised by Pilsen.
“Why can’t you let me be!” Helene cried as Julien stormed over.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Julien slammed a massive fist on the table, rattling the plates and knocking over the ciders.
“Who is he?” Pitter asked.
“Her husband,” Mila said, cowering near Pitter. “Blazes of a temper.”
“And who are you?” Julien snarled at Pitter.
Pitter held up his hands, open wide. “Hey, she just came over to talk about the book. I didn’t . . . I just talked about books.”
Helene got on her feet, moving in close to Pitter. “He likes books. He’s interested in those things. Unlike some people.”
Mila had clutched on to Pitter. “The last time she did this—”
“Last time?” Pitter asked. “You make a habit of this, you slan?”
Helene gasped, and then slapped him.
That was off script. A bit worrisome, but Mila had already gotten his keys back into his pocket. That girl had incredible hands; she could steal a feather from a bird mid-flight.
“Well then,” Pitter said. He turned to Julien. “Sir, I’m sorry for any inappropriate appearance. I had no untoward intention to your wife, and wish no quarrel with you.”
“Cassie,” Julien grunted. “Get home.”
Helene stormed out of The Gentle Shepherd, inventing new invectives and curses as she left. Mila followed after her.
“Enjoy your dinner,” Julien said, and stalked off.
Pitter huffed in discontent and sat back down. Taking a moment to situate himself back to his meal, he again started eating and reading, drinking the cider he had presumed the barman brought when the old one had spilled.
He hadn’t noticed Almer was the one who had delivered the new mug.
“It won’t taste any different,” Almer had said. “The stuff I’m slipping him pretty much tastes like cider anyway. The only difference is, an hour after he drinks it, he won’t be able to get out of the water closet.”
Asti had been on the receiving end of a few of Almer’s apothecarial nightmares, and he didn’t doubt that Pitter would be in for a horrible night.
With Pitter out of commission, and copies of his keys, they were all set to get into the offices of Colevar and Associates. After a month of planning, tonight was the night.

Forthcoming March 2018

Mixing high fantasy and urban fantasy, the second novel of the Streets of Maradaine series follows the Rynax brothers’ crew of outlaws as they attempt their biggest heist yet and restore justice to the common people.

The neighborhood of North Seleth has suffered–and not just the Holver Alley Fire. Poverty and marginalization are forcing people out of the neighborhood, and violence on the streets is getting worse. Only the Rynax brothers–Asti and Verci–and their Holver Alley Crew are fighting for the common people. They’ve taken care of the people who actually burned down Holver Alley, but they’re still looking for the moneyed interests behind the fire.

The trail of breadcrumbs leads the crew to Lord Henterman, and they plan to infiltrate the noble’s house on the other side of the city. While the crew tries to penetrate the heart of the house, the worst elements of North Seleth seem to be uniting under a mysterious new leader. With the crew’s attention divided, Asti discovers that the secrets behind the fire, including ones from his past, might be found in Lady Henterman’s wardrobe.

Available at Amazon and more!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Writing in the Here and Now

Every once in a while the idea crosses my mind-- what might it have been like to have been a writer in a different time and place?  Writing plays in Elizabethan England, for example?  But most of the time, I'm fairly anchored to the here and now, which is possibly the best time ever to be an SFF writer.

I'm the right age to remember how dire the SFF options were when I was young.  For me, Sci-fi and Fantasy was a single rack of shelves in the back corner of the Waldenbooks. 

Not too long ago, there was a twitter thread , talking about the fantasy genre and the tropes within it. But the whole thing addresses "fantasy novels" in the most painfully generic way. It's not about actual fantasy novels. It's more about the idea of how fantasy novels are, from people who know little more than the cliches, and outdated ones at that.

Thankfully, nowadays, so much of what that thread accused Fantasy Novels of aren't true anymore. Today, just in "mainstream", traditionally published stuff, we've got a ridiculous wealth of new Sci-fi and Fantasy, and there's so much creativity and vibrancy and variation in the genre, it's astounding.  I'm thrilled to be writing in this genre right now. 

And right now, exciting things are happening.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Wrap Up for 2017

So, the year has nearly come to an end.  And what's been accomplished?
Well, the big thing for me, of course, was having two more novels come out.  For the record, both Holver Alley Crew and The Imposters of Aventil are eligible for any Best Novel of 2017 awards, including and not limited to the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, etc.  Both meet the criteria for "novel" in terms of word count (both being more or less 100K), and if you honestly believe either one deserves award recognition, I welcome your endorsement. 

What else is has been going on?  Well, plenty.  In addition to getting Lady Henterman's Wardrobe ready to go into your eyeballs, I drafted A Parliament of Bodies and a few other Secret Things that I will be talking about very soon.

I know this year has been especially hard for a lot of people, and it certainly hasn't been easy for me.  The best thing is that I've had the ability and freedom to immerse myself in my work and make More Stories for all of you.  And that'll be continuing, though I can always use your help. 

How can you help?  Well, if you've been reading Maradaine novels and you enjoy them, talk about it.  Write reviews on Amazon or Goodreads.  Tell your friends about them.  Give The Thorn of DentonhillA Murder of Mages or Holver Alley Crew as Christmas gifts.  Share and enjoy. 

I'm looking forward to plenty of more things in 2018.  Until then, I'll be down in the word mines.  See you down there.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Work Space for my Head Space

I do not have the luxury of being especially twee about my writing space.  For various logistical reasons, I do not have a permanent desk or workspace.  So I've got to be a writing nomad, moving to whatever flat surface I can find.  That's what I've gotten used to, and I've managed to make it work for me, even though it can be rather frustrating at times.

So, for me to get into the creative headspace, it takes a certain degree of focus.  Distractions or interruptions tend to knock me out, and I need to start over again.  So I do my best to minimize them.  Oddly, working in public can be a good thing for me, as long as it's a public space where I'm not expected to interact much.  Coffee shops are good.

BUT, I need the focus, and that means a good set of headphones.

Nothing is more critical in terms of centering me, regardless of where I'm working.  If I can drown out the world and give myself a good dramatic score or thumping baseline, then everything comes together.

That's it.  As long as I have the comfortable place to sit and the outside world can be shut out with a good beat?  I can work miracles.  Everything else?  That's extra.

(Not that I don't want an office of my own.  I so do.  I will also happily accept any offers for writing retreats, if anyone wants to make them.  The advantage of being a Writing Nomad is I can easily go anywhere, including a remote lakeside cabin in the mountains.  If, you know, you've got one of those.)

And speaking of, new works won't write themselves.  Time to get to work.

Monday, December 4, 2017

TURK 182!: A Bad Movie I've Seen Many, Many, Many Times

This is a special entry into the Bad Movie I've Seen Many, Many, Many Times Canon.  For one, it's our first request.  Now, surely you're asking, who can make a request for a movie that I've seen many, many times.  Well, my sister, that's who, since any movie I saw many, many times, she almost certainly did as well.
This one is also strange because, while I've seen every scene in this movie oh-so-many times, I honestly don't think I've ever actually watched it in its entirety in one sitting.  This sort of thing isn't uncommon if you grow up with a all-the-movie-channels cable package, because you'll flip around and settle on a movie that's only got a half-hour left, or you'll watch the front half of something on HBO for forty minutes to kill time before you switch to the movie you actually want to see on Showtime.  Turk 182! is kind of the perfect movie for that.  It's a movie nobody wants to watch, but if it's on, eh, fine.

The movie focuses on two brothers.  Our main character is Timothy Hutton, who's the young, ambitious smart guy in a blue-collar family.  I honestly can't recall if he's got an actual job or career or such in the movie, but he probably doesn't, because there's no way he'd have the time to do everything he does in this movie if he's also got to go to work every day.  I'll get into that.  His brother, played by Robert Urich, is a salt-of-the-earth good-guy firefighter.  Timothy worships his older brother, and Robert will point to his brother and say, "This kid's gonna make something of himself!"  Or something like that.  It's been a while.  Anyhow, one night they're drinking at the local firefighter-bar in New York City when someone runs in and says there's a fire.  Robert Urich, despite being a few drinks in, just charges out and into the burning building, saving a little girl.  But while he's in there, other firefighters burst in with the hose blasting, knocking him out the window and smashing into parked car below.

So, Robert's badly injured, but because he was off-duty and drinking, the city is all, "Sorry, nope" about paying his disability or medical expenses.  Which is a fascinating dick move.  Like, regardless of him having a few drinks, his injuries were 100% because of the negligence of other firefighters.  Maybe that's why his fellow firefighters are hanging him out to dry with the city.  But the point is, he's looking at a long rehabilitation, and no one is going to pay for it.

That's no good as far as Timothy Hutton is concerned.  So he takes it all the way to City Hall to confront the mayor and get what's fair for his brother.  The mayor blows him off ("Your brother's a drunk!") and no help is given.  And I can stress this enough: the other firefighters nearly straight-up murdered him.  Fault is so obviously theirs its almost comical.  But this sort of thing was typical in 80s movies: city officials that are nothing but bureaucratic penny-pinchers who will never do the right thing.

So, Timothy Hutton gets his hot-head on and wallpapers the mayor's office with all the rejection letters his brother's received from the city.  He does this while the Mayor Tyler (Robert Culp) is doing crunches in the next room and his deputy-mayor eats a burger.  I am not making that up.  This was the glory of movies from the 80s that you just don't see today: utterly random, go-nowhere character traits in secondary characters that honestly make them feel more real.  Namely, the idea that the mayor used to be fat, but now has lost weight and is into fitness. 

There's a lot of strangeness in orbit of the mayor in this movie, but we'll get into it.
Anyhow, since Timothy Hutton's character was previously yelling at the mayor about his brother's treatment and then letters to his brother were all over the mayor's office, Timothy Hutton is the obvious suspect and he's immediately arrested and the movie is over.

I'M KIDDING.  That doesn't happen for no real adequately explained reason.  Instead, Timothy Hutton continues to stalk Mayor Tyler, and in the meantime make eyes at his brother's social worker, because she's played by Kim Cattrall.  That's the obligatory romantic subplot, and I'll get back to that. 

See, Mayor Tyler has his own problems, in that there's some inadequately explained scandal involving a guy named Zimmerman who fled the country before his trial.  The Mayor wishes people would forget about that and instead focus on his whole anti-graffiti, clean-up-the-city campaign.  But protestors disrupt one of his events by painting "ZIMMERMAN FLEW AND TYLER KNEW!" on the golden apple that was supposed to symbolize the clean city.  The mayor is incensed, obviously.  Timothy Hutton sees all this go down and then GETS AN IDEA.  Namely, that he is going to copy those protestors. 

This is where we get into the real meat of the movie, in which Timothy Hutton becomes GRAFFITI BATMAN. 

He starts this campaign when the mayor is unveiling this fancy graffiti-proof train, that has some special coating that spray-paint won't stick to.  His tech people assure him, in order to tag this train, someone would have to take a sandblaster to it first.  Cut to: Timothy Hutton sandblasting the train.  Seriously, ALL ALONE he pretends to be a city worker, stops the train before it gets to the event, and sandblasts and spray-paints the train, and ALL THE WHILE none of the people who are on the train adequately question the guy who IS CLEARLY SPRAY-PAINTING THE TRAIN before it arrives at an Anti-Graffiti Event.  The only person who even thinks something might be off is Peter Boyle, the Mayor's Chief of Security.  But by the time he manages to bumble over to check things out, the damage is done and the train engineer drives right into the press event, with ZIMMERMAN FLEW, TYLER KNEW, TURK182! plastered on the side.

Needless to say, the mayor is put out.

I'm just amazed that the logistics of pulling all this off are kind of glossed over.  It's basically, "Every city official, including cops and train engineers, are super-incompetent, so he just gets away with it."  Same thing when, later in the movie, he just takes over the Yankee Stadium Jumbotron to further tweak the mayor. 

That's most of it: we get a whole lot of montages of TURK182! getting tagged everywhere, the mayor getting steamed, and the cops being in full Keystone Mode because no one can catch this mysterious Turk182, whoever he might be.

Except Kim Cattrall figures it out, because it's literally no mystery at all.  Robert Urich's nickname is "Turk" and his badge number is 182.  But he's in the hospital with all the broken limbs, so it's clearly Timothy Hutton.  When Kim Cattrall figures this out, she does what any reasonable person would do: gets naked and waits in his bed.


So Timothy and Kim get together, as the romantic subplot dictates they must.  My favorite bit of all this is, when she presses him about the whole "Zimmerman Flew, Tyler Knew" thing, he admits he really has no idea what that's about, it's just something to piss the mayor off with. 
She convinces him to go public, but Turk182 has become such a sensation, hundreds of people are confessing to be Turk182.  So when he goes to a reporter and gives the whole story, it gets filed away as "just another nutcase". 

The big climax is on a bridge, where there's going to be a huge lighting-up-words on the bridge ceremony, so of course Timothy is on the scene, rearranging the lights while pretending to be one of the workers.  This time he finally gets noticed in the act, because you can't scaffold up and down a giant bridge with cameras literally broadcasting the event live without a few people noticing.  While he tries to finish re-setting the lights to make it read "TURK 182!", Peter Boyle is losing his damn mind about it all, and tries to murder Timothy Hutton, and failing that, kill any city electricians who want to keep the power on.  But Turk182! has become such a beloved folk-hero that the city electricians are all, "screw that, turn the power back on" when Peter Boyle goes away.  So the lights stay on, and the final, giant Turk182 message goes out.

And the mayor... he doesn't really have a change of heart, but he knows a publicity opportunity when he sees it, so he basically decides to just roll with it, telling the deputy mayor, "When he comes down, we're going to say we've been rooting for him the whole time."  All is well, Robert Urich finally gets the financial support he's due, and Timothy and Kim are a happy couple or... something.

So a campaign of public vandalism... works?  Is that the message?  I mean, what he does is the 80s equivalent of getting a hashtag trending, and because the people like a good story that gets the mayor mad, he succeeds. Like I said before, there was a definite streak in the 80s of hating city officials and bureaucrats (like Walter Peck from Ghostbusters), so a story about a little guy winning against a heartless bureaucracy with nothing but wit, heart, and Jason Bourne levels of skill when it came to spray-painting things.

Or maybe it's all about what Timothy said when Kim asked him why he's doing it.

"To get girls."

Yeah, that's about it.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Green Sky: Three Books from my Youth

So, often I'm asked "who are your influences", and a name I immediately go to is Zlipha Keatly Snyder.  And that's largely because of the three books of her Green-Sky trilogy: Below the RootAnd All Between, and Until the Celebration.  

This trilogy was significant to me for so many reasons.  For one, it was very much the fantasy series that I consider my entry into the genre.  Nothing had previously captured my attention as a fantasy world like Green Sky did.  It was a glorious, ardent world of a city in the treetops, where the people could fly and glide from branch to branch.  And it was a world with a dark secret.

The first book focuses on Raamo, a young man who begins his training as part of the elite priest caste, the Ol-zhaan.  He's been sought out to join because he's especially gifted in the Spirit powers, which the Ol-zhaan are supposed to be masters of, but it turns out most of them have little-to-no ability in them.  With two of his plucky youthful companions, he starts looking deeper into the dark secrets of the forbidden ground, which is supposedly populated by monsters.  But when Raamo and his friends discover a girl on the ground, they learn it's not monsters at all, but people, trapped underground.

The second book shifts perspectives to Teera, the young girl, starting with her inadvertent escape from the underground prison her people live in.  They're held in by the magically powerful Roots that are impossible to burn or cut.  The Root was created by the Spirit powers, because those people had been banished by the Ol-zhaan to protect the true secret of Green Sky.  You see, the people of Green Sky came from Earth, which had been destroyed in horrible wars.  (See, it's sci-fi embedded in a fantasy.)  Two factions formed, one who wanted to tell the people the truth of their origins, and the other who wanted to keep it a secret forever, hoping that ignorance of their violent past would help them stay peaceful forever. The tell-the-truth faction lost, and they were banished.  But now the truth is out and public, and there's no hiding it... especially since the reuniting of these two peoples has reawakened the Spirit powers.

The third book does something unexpected. It's all about the messy fall-out of trying to unite these people, and how it does bring about the very violence that had been unknown all this time.  It then goes on to, well, kind of a downer ending, mostly about how saviors and messiahs aren't always going to be able to patch everything up and lead the people into a golden age.

But this series taught be about how fantasy can be anything.  Which is such an important lesson.  If you can find them (which is apparently challenging to do), go check them out.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Crossovers and Revisiting THORN & ALCHEMY

If one thing should be clear from IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL, it's that I love a good crossover.  That should give you a sense about some of my future plans for Maradaine.  But for the time being, I'm so excited about what's happening this week on our televisions:

I mean, I may have watched this trailer, like, 12 times already.  Or more.  I'm pumped.

As far as my own crossover is concerned, it's brought some people back around to checking out The Thorn of Dentonhill and The Alchemy of Chaos, which means everything is going to plan.

But, for example, Gizmo's Reviews just looked at Thorn, saying "a strong start to the series... a high fantasy academy adventure that's rarely been seen before."  And Short & Sweet Reviews reviewed Alchemy: "If you’re looking for a fun, lighter side of fantasy story then I recommend checking out this series."

In the meantime, it's time to get back to work after the holiday.  Plenty more things to write for you all.  See you down in the word mines.

Thursday, November 23, 2017


This will be quick, because I have plenty on my plate but:
  • If you've ever bought one or all of my books...
  • If you've read and loved the stories of Maradaine...
  • If you've been looking forward to the books to come...
  • If you've told a friend to try out my books...
  • If you've left a review on Amazon or Goodreads...
  • If you consider yourself a fan...
Then, thank you, thank you, thank you.  From the bottom of my heart, it means the world to me. 
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Coming up in The Streets of Maradaine

Folks, I had a lovely time at OryCon, and Portland is a wonderful city— wish I had a chance to do more while I was there, but my schedule for the Con meant I had to keep my focus on that.  Maybe another time.  I was fortunate that some old friends played hosts-in-absentia, letting me stay at their home even though they were away, and that made the whole experience far more personal.  (I don’t sleep all that well in hotels, and I slept great in their home.)

And now, it’s time to really start taking a look at Lady Henterman’s Wardrobe, which comes out on March 6th.  This is, of course, the second Streets of Maradaine novel, following up on the first one, The Holver Alley Crew.  Let’s take a look at our team:

The Planner:  Asti Rynax, former intelligence officer, forcibly retired.  The one who can figure out all the angles and put together a plan so crazy that no one will see coming.  Deadlier with an apple and a lockpick than most people are with a pair of knives.
The Burglar: Verci Rynax, Asti’s brother.  Gadget-maker, window-cracker, and the only one who can keep Asti grounded.
The Sharpshooter: Helene Kesser, best crossbow shot in all West Maradaine, with a mouth as sharp as her aim.
The Muscle: Julien Kesser, Helene’s cousin.  Strong as an ox, but not allowed to fight, or you’ll answer to Helene.  Loves cheese.
The Driver: Kennith Rill, carriage driver, master builder.
The Eyes on the Ground: Mila Kentish.  Teenage beggar girl that no one notices until after their purse is already gone.
The Old Lady: Josie Holt, the fallen boss of North Seleth, who may only have this crew left as the people she can trust.

It was an absolute joy to write this team again, especially to put them through a whole new set of wringers after the events of Holver Alley
You have read Holver Alley Crew, yes?  If not, I’ll let Powder and Page convince you:
The final verdict: You’ve GOT to read this book! You can jump into the world of Maradaine starting with this book or with A Murder of Mages or The Thorn of Dentonhill without feeling lost or that you’re missing out on anything. This book is my favorite to date, though not by much, as everything by MRM is of the highest caliber and I would recommend them without reservation.
So go get your hands on that, and then pre-order Lady Henterman’s Wardrobe.  And get yourself ready, because some further Maradaine announcements are coming up.

Blending high fantasy, crime fiction and daring heists, the Streets of Maradaine features Asti and Verci Rynax, two former thieves who tried to go straight, but dragged through the ashes of tragedy back into their old life.

“While Maresca has been building the Maradaine universe across multiple books and connected series, The Holver Alley Crew marks a new chapter in the city’s story, and a great entry point for new readers.” – Barnes & Noble Fantasy Blog

Forthcoming March 2018

Mixing high fantasy and urban fantasy, the second novel of the Streets of Maradaine series follows the Rynax brothers’ crew of outlaws as they attempt their biggest heist yet and restore justice to the common people.

The neighborhood of North Seleth has suffered–and not just the Holver Alley Fire. Poverty and marginalization are forcing people out of the neighborhood, and violence on the streets is getting worse. Only the Rynax brothers–Asti and Verci–and their Holver Alley Crew are fighting for the common people. They’ve taken care of the people who actually burned down Holver Alley, but they’re still looking for the moneyed interests behind the fire.

The trail of breadcrumbs leads the crew to Lord Henterman, and they plan to infiltrate the noble’s house on the other side of the city. While the crew tries to penetrate the heart of the house, the worst elements of North Seleth seem to be uniting under a mysterious new leader. With the crew’s attention divided, Asti discovers that the secrets behind the fire, including ones from his past, might be found in Lady Henterman’s wardrobe.

Available at Amazon and more!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Worldbuilding: Research for Invented Cultures

I've had one challenge that comes up in my worldbuilding process:  How do you research for a culture that doesn't have a real-world parallel?  Or borrows elements from several different ones in a way that makes it its own thing?  And how do you make it work on the page?
Part of the challenge is that, no matter what you do, some readers will bring their own biases to it.  What does that mean?  It means that readers will seek the familiar, and that includes trying to slap on some serial numbers on things that you didn't even scrub them off of.  What does this mean?  It means your readers will sometimes find parallels to real-world cultures that you never intended.
And then ping you for doing it wrong.
Can this be avoided completely?  No, of course not.  But there's things you can do to minimize it.
  • Don't make your racial distinctions stereotypical or offensive. Make your secondary words racially diverse, but try to be aware of how you depict that.  I've found Writing With Color to be a great resource to help with that.
  • Learn where your culture is coming from, from the ground up.  I'm not saying you have to build it entirely from the bottom. But if you understand some underlying basics-- what they grow, how they use that, what they eat, what they build-- that gives you the tools to guide them in their own unique way.
  • Steer their language away from the obvious.  If you're looking at your new culture and think to yourself, "this sounds like Eastern Europe", consider making the language base (and thus how you name places and people) something that is nothing like Eastern Europe.  Vulgar is a great resource for that.
All right, I'm getting on a plane early tomorrow, and plenty to do to get ready, so I'll see you all later.  Or perhaps in Portland!

Monday, November 13, 2017

OryCon 2017

Hey all--

I feel like I haven't quite recovered from World Fantasy, and this past weekend was taken up by a big project with the non-writing job, and now this coming weekend I'll be going to OryCon.  After that, I will probably fall down.  Hard.

Here's my schedule. If this is your town or your con, come say hi.  I don't have a signing time, but I will happily sign books at any reasonable time. 

Friday, November 17 • 6:00pm - 7:00pmThe Quest for the Ultimate SuperheroWhat makes a super hero a superhero? What would make a superhero the ultimate example of his or her kind? Power, talent, heart, courage, or self-sacrifice? And could an ultimate super hero connect to the average human, as Superman seems to or, like Doctor Manhattan, end up estranged from the rest of us?
Barry Deutsch, Eva L. Elasigue, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Robert B McMonigal, Tom Whitmore

Friday, November 17 • 7:00pm - 8:00pmI am GrootHow complicated is it to give nonhuman comic book characters human elements?
Louisa Ark, Benjamin Hsu, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Brandon Seifert

Friday, November 17 • 9:00pm - 10:00pmFantasy as Political AllegoryWe live in "interesting times" for sure. How does the Fantasy genre speak to current events? The Vorkosigan series, The Others series by Anne Bishop, and the Discworld books of course. What else?
K.G. (Karen) Anderson, Craig English, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Shawna Reppert

Saturday, November 18 • 10:00am - 11:00amSuperheroes!Beyond the big and little screen. They're in print media and novels as well. Who's writing them? How does one create a written superhero with no special effects other than the use of written language? Without pictures?!
David Boop, Lee French, Marshall Ryan Maresca, S. B. Sebrick

Saturday, November 18 • 11:30am - 12:00pmREADING: Marshall Ryan Maresca

Saturday, November 18 • 3:00pm - 4:00pm
Star Trek: Discovery
Whoo hoo! Another Star Trek series! It's been far too long. What do you think? The political messages should be epic...
Curtis C. Chen, John C. Bunnell, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Jennifer Willis, Rob Wynne

Saturday, November 18 • 5:00pm - 6:00pmEscape With Us!While film is often used to explore complex social themes and situations, the movie theatre also functions as a refuge from reality. The nature of the escape changes depending on the larger social landscape. Does the current proliferation of films about super heroes and live-action fairy tales reflect a cultural desire to be rescued, or is it something else?
Erica L. Satifka, Judith R. Conly, John M Lovett, Marshall Ryan Maresca

Saturday, November 18 • 8:00pm - 9:00pmCrime and FantasyFrom vampire assassins to wizard private eyes to undead thugs, crime has been mixing it up with fantasy for years. What is it about crime, noir, and the paranormal that's so appealing? Also - what are some really good titles?
Diana Pharaoh Francis, Fonda Lee, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Rory Miller, Erica L. Satifka

Sunday, November 19 • 12:00pm - 1:00pmSuperheroes in Times of CrisisDo superhero comics reflect times of crisis?
Marshall Ryan Maresca, John C. Bunnell, Eva L. Elasigue, Blaze Ward

Thursday, November 9, 2017

When stories grind to a halt

As is inevitable when a bunch of writers get together (such as a gathering like World Fantasy Convention), there is a natural tendency to talk about process and craft, including the things that stop us up.

Now, I'm not immune to getting blocked or stopped up.  Even though I'm known as being efficient in getting books out, part of that is because I build a certain amount of "things might get stuck" into my schedule.  As much as I would want the writing of every novel to just be a powerhouse, "writing X words a day, every day", that's rarely been the case.*  Most of the time, even with my outline, there will be some point where the connective tissue from A to B just isn't apparent, and it's going to take me a bit of time to let my subconscious hack through it to figure out how it'll work.

So, what to do in the meantime?

I've got three go-to tactics.  (All of which were rejected by one friend who was stuck in her novel.)
  1. Write a scene further ahead.  I've not written a single novel in order. Not one.  There's always some point where I jump ahead and write some red-meat bit down the line and then go find the connective tissue later.  It's a simple solution to the Point A To B problem: just go directly to Point B and often the writing of it gives the answer of how to go back and fill in the details.
  2. Play with maps.  I do love messing with maps, and it's a good process to use a different set of brain muscles so the subconscious can grind away at the problem.  It lets me also do some worldbuilding work for other things down the line.  I've often said I really only have the illusion of being a fast writer, because I've spent a long time at planning things far in the future.
  3. Write something else.  There's always a "secondary" project in the works.  If not two.  Usually things that don't have a contract or deadline involved, so if and when I need to stop and get to the "real" project, it's not a big deal.  I've got a few things cooking along those lines right now.  
So, what are your techniques to break through the wall?

*- The one exception is The Alchemy of Chaos, which I did the draft of in a little under five months.  There were a couple weeks that dragged, in that I "only" wrote the minimum for that week.

Monday, November 6, 2017

World Fantasy Debrief

Friends, World Fantasy was excellent.  And now I need to fall down and recover.  (Not as much as some people, as there was A Thing going around and some people got quite ill, which is quite a shame.  I hope all of them are doing better.)

But many wonderful things happened, including dinner with the wonderful DAW editors and authors.
I also signed many copies of many books, including copies of Rayguns Over Texas, which some brilliant person made one of the free swag-bag books.  There's a lot of good stories in there that deserve to be read.

Also, over the weekend, several great reviews of The Imposters of Aventil showed up.  Kings River Life says, "I’ve been waiting for this.  I’ve hoped it would happen for a long time.".  Gizmo's Reviews says, "If you are a reader who loves epic fantasy, then you will love these series. You will love the world building. You will love the characters of all three series. You will love the danger & action & adventure."  And Powder & Page says, "Every single one of the Maradaine books have been adventurous, fun reads that leave me with a sunnier disposition by the end. Can’t wait for the next one!"

Now, fall down, and then: back to the word mines.  Many things afoot.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Housekeeping before World Fantasy

Rushing around before heading down to San Antonio for World Fantasy this weekend, but a couple things:

Publishers Weekly on The Imposters of Aventil: "As always, Maresca’s busy city of Maradaine and its multicultural denizens reveal his skill at creating lively, believable settings. Readers unfamiliar with the series will need to get up to speed with all the characters and subplots, but the effort is repaid by this fun, pulpy fantasy adventure."

Powder and Page on An Import of Intrigue: "His skill at both character and world building do him tremendous credit as a writer, planner, and creative mind. I am yet again justified in saying he is one of my favorite authors and I think he’s grossly underappreciated (or unknown) by fantasy consumers."

German language editions of The Thorn of Dentonhill and A Murder of Mages are coming out next year!  If you want to order either of DIE CHRONIKEN VON MARADAINE, you can do that here.

In the near future I'm going to be telling you all more about Lady Henterman's Wardrobe (that comes out in March!), A Parliament of Bodies and what's to come beyond!  Until then, down in the word mines.

Monday, October 30, 2017

THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN: A Bad Movie I've Watched Many, Many, MANY Times


Getting to the movie itself, Helen Slater plays the titular Billy Jean, a girl whose righteousness is matched only by her stupidity. I’m serious, she is not smart at all. This movie’s entire plot is centered on her stupid choices.

Let’s talk about Helen Slater, an actress whose career peaked with her second movie, The Legend of Billie Jean.  Helen Slater, who had lead roles in her first two movie, started with the atrocious Supergirl, and followed it up with this, where she really tries to show that she can act. After this, she had romantic interest roles in Ruthless People and Secret of My Success, and then more or less slipped off the cultural radar completely. She didn’t have another significant role until four years later, where in City Slickers she only exists to keep the cattle-drive portion of the movie from being a complete sausage fest. Beyond that, she spent much of the nineties doing straight-to-video and tv movies, such as the not-Groundhog Day Jonathan Silverman vehicle 12:01. The 2000s were spent doing the sort of guest-star roles on TV shows that needed a recognizable face that won’t overshadow the actual stars. You know, like the killer, victim or key witness in SVU, or a Significant Patient in Grey’s Anatomy.
Legend-of-Billie-Jean-the-legend-of-billie-jean-2973229-353-250My point is, she never again reached the level she had with Legend of Billie Jean, which should have been her chance to get as much work as possible. Instead, we have this as her signature role. Rest assured, when Helen Slater’s obituary is eventually written, this and Supergirl are the movies that will get the key mention. And that’s a shame for Helen, because neither one is a good movie.
In fact, when Pat Benatar plays the central theme song, “Invincible”, in concert, she prefaces the song with, “This is from the worst movie ever made”.

I don’t think Ms. Benatar is entirely right with that claim, but lord, it isn’t good.

Anyway, she’s a teenage girl who lives in a small Texas town with her brother, and no apparent parental figures, and a vaguely incestuous relationship. I mean, really, she rides on the back of her brother’s bike, legs wrapped around him and says, “Don’t you get tired of vanilla?” Then they lounge around by the lake in their underwear. It’s the kind of town that 80s movies love, where a group of boys can blatantly sexually harass girls, and then beat up said girl’s brother (Christian Slater, no relation), steal his motorbike, and then suffer no consequences. But it should be noted they suffer no consequences because Billie Jean and her brother Binx (SERIOUSLY?) are STUPID. So is everyone else in this movie.
Pictured: Perfectly Normal Sibling Behavior

Billie Jean's particular stupid is shown when when they go to the cops after said beating and theft, but somehow can’t manage to express “these boys beat up my brother and stole his motorbike” in a way that gets Detective Peter Coyote to take “assault and grand theft” seriously. I mean, if you want to spot where this movie goes off the rails, this is it, right off the bat. The ENTIRE PLOT hinges on cops just shrugging off serious crimes, which forces Billie Jean to take matters into her own hands.

Of course, that’s the kind of small town it is: boys assault someone and steal his motorbike, and the cops are all, “Eh, boys will be boys.”
Which is exactly how the lead boy’s dad—Mr. Pyatt--reacts when Billie Jean goes to him to get him to pay up for the damage his son caused. He decides that, rather than take responsibility for the actions of his son, this is the prime time to attempt statutory rape and coerce a young girl into prostitution, but failing in that, actual rape. However, while he’s attempting to molest Billie Jean in the back of his store, Binx finds his gun in the front of the store. Binx, with the man’s gun in hand, opts for waving it in vaguely at Pyatt until he shoots the man in the shoulder. This was after Pyatt told him it wasn’t loaded.


So Billie Jean, Binx, and their two friends, Dumb Girl and Lisa Simpson, go on the run, since they shot a man. I don’t know why, since the cops in their town would clearly treat it as “wacky misunderstanding”, but they do. After some time as fugitives, with Pyatt talking them up on the news as “armed and dangerous”, they decide to hide in what they presume in an empty mansion. But it turns out it isn’t empty, it’s got some bored rich kid who loves video cameras. He thinks it’s cool that she’s on the run, but tells her she needs to control her side of the message. This more or less makes him the least stupid person in the movie, which is a low bar to clear. So he sets up a camera for her to record her side of the story—namely that Pyatt and his son are both assholes, and they only want the $608 dollars to repair the bike—but first she’s inspired by watching a Joan of Arc movie. So she cuts off her hair, which is apparently a radical act in small town Texas in 1985. Seriously, everyone is all, “A GIRL WITH SHORT HAIR?”

Someone, somewhere, apparently
thinks this is what badasses look like.
So she sends her message out to the news stations, and they all drive off, the rich kid joining in as their “hostage”. They go on the run some more, and in the meantime Billie Jean becomes an icon to all the stupid teenagers in Texas. So much so, Pyatt starts making a killing selling Billie Jean t-shirts and other merchandise. THIS IS HOW STUPID THESE KIDS ARE: Pyatt is LITERALLY the bad guy that Billie Jean EXPLICITLY NAMES in her video, and the kids who are looking up to her GIVE HIM THEIR MONEY.

Life on the run isn’t easy, so Billie Jean explicitly ditches Dumb Girl and Lisa Simpson to save them.  She turns them in.  That just gets them brought to their mom, who slaps Lisa Simpson in the face. Lisa Simpson responds by grabbing a pair of scissors and gives herself a Billie Jean cut.
After further life on the run splits Billie Jean from her brother and the rich boy, she gets picked up by some strange girl sporting her same haircut. This girl is part of a whole network of kids who help move Billie Jean around from place-to-place, so she can be everywhere and nowhere at once.
You know… a LEGEND.

After a bit of this, she finds her brother and rich boy again, and they come up with a terrible plan to turn themselves in and get the $608 from Pyatt. It becomes a whole beach party, and things go badly, ending up with Binx getting shot in the shoulder. Finally Billie Jean gets a public confrontation with Pyatt, and he admits to being a horrible human being—or at least he admits to doing all the things Billie Jean claims, though he thinks he’s still awesome. So, all the Billie Jean followers burn their Pyatt merchandise. She slips off into the night, and then she and her brother are both fine, living in Vermont.

Because $608 is all it takes to live off the land up there in winter.

Also, Dean Stockwell shows up here somewhere. Honestly, I forget what he does, but Dean Stockwell is always cool.

But everyone else is STUPID.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

World Fantasy Con

Briefly: I will be at World Fantasy Con next week (since it is in San Antonio, practically next door).  I've got plenty on my plate right now, but in the meantime, here's my schedule:

Signature Event
Friday Nov 03   08:00 PM to 10:00 PM (2 hours)
Sometimes called the Autograph Reception, sometimes the Mass Autographing, there is only one autograph session at a World Fantasy Convention.  Every convention member is invited to come to the Fiesta Pavilion, pick up their name plate and choose a seat at the autographing tables. This is a reception; hors d'oeuvres will be served.

Urban Fantasy Detectives: Mystery and Detective is a Genre for a reason.
Saturday Nov 04   05:00 PM to 06:00 PM (1 hour)
The proliferation of urban fantasy with mystery and detective story elements is creating its own subgenre. If vampires, ghosts or werewolves have always existed or if magic works, then the effect on society could be extensive. What elements of detective fiction make for satisfying urban fantasy? What elements of urban fantasy make for satisfying mysteries? Does justice prevail? Is this a subgenre for short fiction as well? (Joe R Lansdale Bill Crider Marshall Ryan Maresca Carole Nelson Douglas)

If you're coming to WFC, I'll see you there.  If not, then maybe I'll see you at OryCon in a few weeks.

Monday, October 23, 2017

FAST FORWARD: A Bad Movie I’ve Watched Many, Many, MANY Times

I swear, every once in a while I’ll remember one of the Many Many Times movies film and think, “All right, THIS movie is the apex (or perhaps ‘nadir’) of 80s-ness. No movie can be more 80s than this.” And then I realize that it’s a false bottom, and there is something EVEN 80s-er than that.

I think Fast Forward is truly the bottom. It is as 80s as possible. But maybe there is something more 80s. And that frightens  me.

Forward is directed by Hollywood giant Sidney Poitier. Yes. Sidney Poitier, acting powerhouse. He is not noted for is directing. This movie gives you a good idea why.

So, we start with eight kids in Sandusky, Ohio, a town whose major industry is making kids who’ve got one shot to get out of this place, and they pretty much sort-of-secret rehearse a dance number. I say sort-of-secret because there’s a whole sense that they’re being clandestine about it—they sneak into the abandoned warehouse to do it, the radio is hidden under things… but then they blast music and sing and dance, so… what’s with the sneaking?

Anyhow, these crazy kids have a dream of going to New York and winning a contest to show that they’ve GOT WHAT IT TAKES. About these eight kids— the Amazing Eight—two guys, who I’ll just call Manager Guy and Dancer Guy, and six girls who are multiracial but largely interchangeable. I mean, I think two of them are explicit girlfriends of the two guys, but… eh, doesn’t matter.  As characters the six girls are The Six Girls.

The group has an in to this contest, in that the head of the record company came through town, and the two guys dressed like waiters and snuck into his hotel room. Despite annoying the everloving piss out of this guy, they still got his card. He agreed to help them out when they come to New York. Unfortunately, in between then and now, he died, and the New Jerk In Charge isn’t that interested in these kids. Plus the actual contest isn’t for three weeks, so, come back later.

That last part is strange. I don’t mean that it’s three weeks away, but given that it is three weeks away, you would think the line-up would already be locked down.  Or maybe it is locked down, but the guy doesn’t confirm that. Instead he talks numbers of how many will be in the finals (ten), and how many can win (one), and thus these hick kids from Ohio should just go home.

Disparaged but not defeated, they decide they need to prove that THEY CAN MAKE IT IN THIS TOWN, if they just have gumption. And they have gumption in spades. So they pool their money together (wouldn’t they have done this part already?) and find an apartment to share. Which makes me ask: in Plan A, where were they planning on sleeping that night? I mean, did they think the record label would put them up for the three weeks?

The apartment they rent is an absurd hole of a place. I mean, let alone that it has three designated harassers out front, but it’s in comically bad condition. Rot, mold, nastiness and shambles. What makes the rental sequence into art, though, is how the landlady shows it to them with cliché big-city cynicism. Not an ounce of shame as she shows them just how crappy the whole thing is. She even looks genuinely shocked that they’ll take it, because who would dare live in such a horror show?

Except, of course, its badness is mostly cosmetic, since a montage of scrubbing, painting and low-cost furniture acquisition ends with it looking perfectly serviceable. (Though, paint’s not free. How they could buy that and not just find money for a less horrible place, I don’t know.) But then they have to solve the next problem: eating. (This is despite the fact that they even SAY they’ve been cleaning for three days.) So Manager Guy HAS A PLAN.

The plan is basically to crash a fancy hotel restaurant. I swear, Manager Guy is sitting alone at a table, wearing what must be his only decent jacket and looking utterly out of place. After a bit of looking around suspiciously, he reaches under the table and turns a boombox on. Music blares, and everyone who works the restaurant just looks confused. Like, I swear to God, the guy at the piano looks perplexed at his own hands, like he’s thinking, “WHAT? WHERE IS THIS NON-PIANO MUSIC COMING FROM?” Then the dancers all show up LITERALLY OUT OF NOWHERE on the convenient dance floor. Seriously, seven people in bright, skin-tight leotards just show up, one-by-one, and they did not exist in the restaurant before appearing to dance. These kids really should have listed “teleportation” on their resume.

Once the dance number is done, while the restaurant people have their collective panties in a bunch, the crowd applauds, but Manager Guy plays the game Obvious Ringer Is Obvious, where he insists on putting all the money in his pocket into their hat, and then tells others to do the same. So they make decent money, but the restaurant people are mad at them. Little is made of it: it smash cuts from the maître d’ saying, “I want to talk to THAT GUY!” to the group laughing and eating steak in their apartment, everything cool even though Manager Guy clearly had a long conversation with hotel staff.  So, no consequences.

Next, they take to street dancing, and seem to do fine enough. They make some money, pass out cards, and the Designated Rich Girl Love Interest sees Manager Guy and eye-fucks the living hell out of him. But she’s an 80s-movie Rich Girl, so she has a disapproving mother telling her to come along to the car.  All 80s-movie Rich Girls have a disapproving mother.

The kids adjust to varying degrees to living in the city, whether it’s avoiding the Neighborhood Rapists, or hanging out with the Rich Girl Love Interest, or making sad, wordless phone calls to mom and dad in Sandusky. They also attract some negative attention by a SERIOUS Street Dance Gang, and they have to go to some club to defend their honor.

So there’s a dance-fight against the world’s only Vibe Cosplayer and his gang of dancers, and I have to give the movie credit here that they clearly show our heroes getting TROUNCED. Like, they have solid form and technique, but they can’t hold a candle to the raw energy the other group is putting out. This depresses our heroes, but they also double down and decide they have to get their street skills together before they are in any real competition. So they watch other street dancers and learn new moves.

Meanwhile there’s a few subplots. Rich Girl Love Interest (who, of course, refers to her mother as “Mother”) gets involved, in that she’s wanting to set up a gig for them to work a party at her estate, so Manager Guy meets with her. This apparently annoys everyone else, like he’s getting too big for the group because he’s... meeting with someone who wants to hire them.  Mind you, he doesn’t act like he’s now too important to rehearse or deal with them—they just give him crap because he’s interacting with the Rich Girl at all. Well, and some making-out.

Also the Neighborhood Rapists need to make quota for the month, so they up their game. When one such attack—which the two girls involved do a damn fine job of fighting off—brings the cops, the girls get brought down to the station, and the cops call their parents in Ohio. AS IF THIS WAS A THING THAT WOULD HAPPEN. (Mind you, I’m not sure why the girls try to run away when the cops show up.) Angry Ohio Dads show up, and glower, but decide to trust these kids to give it a shot.

The Rich Girl subplot culminates with Manager Guy getting caught in the kissing, which irritates the one of the Six Girls who is his nominal girlfriend, and she wants to quit and go home. Until she doesn’t, but for the sake of the group, not Manager Guy. Drinking may have been involved in the resolution of this one.

Subplots over and new moves learned, they go back to the club and school their previous schoolers, which earns them respect or something. Now nothing can stop them from winning that competition!

Well, except for the small fact that they aren’t actually in that competition. Partly because Manager Guy pissed off Rich Girl’s Mother and Boyfriend, so the record exec isn’t going to give them a shot. So it’s time for a long shot: going straight to the widow of the former executive of the record company. She also calls Rich Girl’s Mother, but when Rich Girl’s Mother trashes them, that convinces the Widow—who actually doesn’t like Rich Girl’s Mother—that they must be worth a shot.

However, the actual Executive in Charge isn’t taking the Widow’s advice. He’s Big Business! He has a New Way of Doing Things! Time to make money instead of “keeping promises”. So they aren’t in.

Except the Widow is too old for that shit. She decides FUCK EVERYTHING and she’s going to help them. This involves her dressing up like a punk old lady and using the people in the company who are still loyal to her to sneak the Eight into the competition.
Now, there’s a whole thing that the New Exec has his favorite band in there, and he’s sort of rigging things for their sake so he can sign them up. And that’s bad. As opposed to the Widow, who is rigging things for the group she likes. Because that’s good!

But, honestly, couldn’t the exec just sign the band he likes without the contest? Or the Old Lady sign the kids? I’m saying the contest is a needless hurdle given they already have the support of people in the company.

Of course,  our heroes win because that’s what happens in these movies. Let’s ignore the fact that this for a recording contract, and everyone else in the competition is a band, you know, with instruments, and the Eight are dancers who also sing to canned music.
But they win! And Manager Guy and Nominal Girlfriend make up, because of course they do! Widow is taking her company back from New Exec because she says so, and that’s that! Everything will be awesome now!


There’s half an idea here about how these kids are the real deal because of their hard work and dedication, while the band the exec wants is just empty flash, but.... that’s kind of garbage.

I’m just saying, if the part of the message of the movie is for the winners to be people with heart and realness over flash and spectacle, because they worked so damn hard, then maybe it shouldn’t be that the winners we follow are more flash and spectacle than, you know, actual music.

Or perhaps not have the endgame of the movie involve dancers winning a battle of the bands.