Thursday, April 27, 2017

Mentoring and Paying it Forward

I firmly believe that professional writers have a duty to pay forward the help they received to get where they are.  I have achieved what I did because professionals volunteered their time and wisdom to help me, and it's only right to do the same.
So: a bit of money-where-my-mouth-is time on that score.  I've got two upcoming appearances where I will be doing EXACTLY THAT.
First up: Comicpalooza in Houston, where I am on the Literary Track. In addition to appearing on panels where I'll do my best to give decent advice on writing, I will be participating in a Read & Critique Session, where we'll have ten minutes for a speed-date style examination of your work.  And I will try-- stress try-- to be available for further thoughts, questions and discussion whenever I am there.  You can sign up for a slot there-and-then, or right now by emailing
Next up, I am again teaching at the ArmadilloCon Writers' Workshop, which is in Austin and you do have to sign up for ahead of time (the deadline is June 11th).  This is an in-depth, all day workshop which also includes membership to the whole con.  I've talked about it before, and let me stress, this is so worth the time and money, especially if you have no opportunity to do one of the bigger, longer workshops like Clarion or Odyssey.  If you can take a long weekend and come to Austin, this is a fantastic learning opportunity.  More details at
I've got a few more paying-it-forward plans in the works, and when they are up and running, I will let you know.  
Until then, keep at it down in the word mines.

Monday, April 24, 2017

REAL MEN: A Bad Movie I've Watched Many, Many, MANY Times

Bad Movies
Real Men
There’s a strange nether-zone of fame where one is famous enough that you are a household name, but not famous enough that you can open movies based on your name alone.  This zone is most commonly held by actors who were leads on popular TV shows.  The powerful small-screen charisma doesn’t always translate to feature films.  However, the studios will keep trying because, hey, this person is a big name.  During the late 80s, this zone was where John Ritter lived.
51DJ9YQTC9L._SL500_AA500_   Jim Belushi lived there as well, but for different reasons.  He had the famous name, but that was because of his more-talented brother.  However, in the late 80s, he supplemented being less talented than his brother by being more alive.
Someone in Hollywood clearly thought these two added up to enough fame to pair them up for Real Men.  I’m not sure why else anyone would think this light sci-fi/ cold war espionage/comedy/action movie would be a hit.
The plot of Real Men goes a little like this: Jim Belushi plays a government agent of some sort (FBI?  CIA?  MIB?  I don’t really recall.)  who does his job in a super-manly way: shoot first, ask questions rarely, and have plenty of sex with lots of women.  (“I didn’t know you smoked.”  “Only after sex.” “How often is that?” “About a pack a day.”)  He’s introduced being chased by bad guys in a hotel, and he literally jumps into bed with a strange woman as an evasion/distraction tactic before shooting the last bad guy.  (“Ma’am, you’ve just done a great service for your country.” “Would you like me to do it again?”)
Belushi’s job is to get ordinary wuss John Ritter across the country to Washington DC by Friday so he can make a scheduled meeting with aliens.
54916See, the aliens were supposed to meet with some other agent (also played by John Ritter), but he was killed before the meeting, so the best replacement is a guy with no training who looks just like him.  Because that’s what the aliens want.  These aliens are bizarrely arbitrary.  Even though they’ve had several meetings, or at least communication, with proper channels in order to set up the schedule and terms for this meeting… this meeting has to be done by a guy who looks like John Ritter at a park in DC on Friday night.  No other way.
Why is this meeting so important?  Because apparently humanity is doomed.  The movie glosses over the details (mostly because Jim Belushi’s character, being the Real Man that he is, doesn’t delve into technicalities), but the basic gist is some poison got dumped into the ocean, which set off a reaction that will eventually kill everything up the food chain.  All life on Earth will be dead in five years.  Fortunately, the aliens have a cure for our self-inflicted injury, (“The Good Package”), which they will trade at this meeting for a glass of water.  That’s all they want: a glass of water.  The snag?  The aliens are also offering “The Big Gun”, which can be used to destroy half a planet.  So there are some in the US Government who want to get that instead.  This is why the original John Ritter was killed in the first place.
I kind of love this scenario, because the Good Package/Big Gun decision is one of such obvious black-and-white right choice/wrong choice, and the only cost of the Right Choice is, for all intents, NOT making the wrong choice.  But I can actually buy the idea that there would be people in the government who would still choose the “Big Gun”.   If nothing else, it boils down Cold War Escalation to its most absurd: military supremacy is paramount, regardless of its pointlessness.
MSDREME EC004What Real Men really is about, though, is a study of what being a man really is all about, especially in the increasingly touchy-feely 80s.  Jim Belushi’s secret agent is the quintessential alpha male, and suburban John Ritter is a definitive beta.  His passive sensitivity is so ineffective, he can’t even get his son’s bike back from a bunch of teenage bullies.  In essence, we have a road movie where two mismatched guys learn to bridge the gap between them.  Belushi helps Ritter find his inner tough guy, and Ritter helps Belushi get in touch with his feelings.  There’s a mousy librarian type hiding an inner dominatrix who helps with that as well.  Though on some level, Belushi’s character has less of a journey.  He’s already sensitive enough to be completely supportive of his transgender father (“the best looking of all the guys who were at IJ” he says, pointing to the famous Iwo Jima photo on the mantle.)
This movie is packed with strangeness, which is to be expected in a movie with aliens, secret agents and transgender ex-marine fathers.  There’s a bit about supermarket tabloids all telling the absolute truth (later used in Men In Black).  There’s a bit about a crack unit of superspies who are disguised as clowns.  I think this one is solely for the joke of having John Ritter say, “Who are those clowns?” and then cutting away to… a pack of clowns about to ambush them in the alley.  But my favorite joke is how the Russian spies will break for lunch in the middle of a shootout (“They’re just not as dedicated as we are.”), allowing our heroes to easily escape and make it to their rendezvous.
Now, is this a good movie?  Of course not.  This is a movie where Jim Belushi is an action hero/sex god, and John Ritter saves the world.  This is a movie that ends with John Ritter punching out a milkman, then saying, “Try to be more sensitive.”   That should tell you something about the quality at work here.  Still, it certainly is clever, oddly compelling, and with some inspired surrealism.
But don’t make a big thing of it.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Myths to believe in

On the whole, I'm a rational sort. I believe in a world of what can be engaged with one's senses, what can be proven.  I'm not much of a spiritualist or superstitious person.
But I do kind of believe in Borrowers.
"Borrowers", or sprites, or whatever they may be-- beings who take objects from your house, and then return them when they see fit.
Now, the rational person would say, "You're just talking about things being lost and then found again later.  That's just normal disorganization, not mythical creatures."   True.  And I'd tend to agree.
Except, I swear, I've seen some stuff.
Once a camera charger vanished.  We looked everywhere, and couldn't find it.   Then, weeks later, I woke up one morning, got out of bed, went into the bathroom... and there was the charger, literally sitting on the bathroom floor.  Just, right there, appeared in the middle of the night.
I got a stranger one.
A few years back, my wife couldn't find an earring.  She looked everywhere, and it had vanished. Then one day as we came home, I was getting out of the car, and something landed on me.  The earring.  It literally fell on me, and the only place it could have come from is the garage ceiling.
I'm not saying these things make sense, I'm just saying they happened.
I prefer to keep the fantastic in the writing, though.  So: back to it.

Monday, April 17, 2017

BEASTMASTER: A Bad Movie I've Watched Many, Many, MANY Times

So a few years back I wrote a column for a group blog that really didn't end up taking off-- it was largely only read by the people doing it and the circle of people around them.  My column was Bad Movies I've Watched Many, Many, MANY Times.  This was the intro:
Marshall grew up with long, lazy summers and a full cable package.   He had the whole boat: HBO, Cinemax, Showtime and The Movie Channel.  All four of these channels had the Big Movies that would be their major draws… but they still needed to fill out the rest of the 24/7 schedule with whatever they could get.  That means there were plenty of weak movies that were played, over and over again.  And a lot of the time,  he watched those movies, over and over again.
The upcoming months are going to be a bit tight for me (many projects in the air-- hurray!), so for the foreseeable future, unless I have a specific announcement or thing I want to talk about, the Monday column will be a reprint of Bad, Bad Movies.  (The Thursday column will continue to follow the topic-of-the-week from SFF Seven.)  And, in the meantime, rest assured that I've got a few irons in the fire, and soon I'll have sharp and pointy things to tell you about.
So, without further ado, here's the first of those columns, my own personal granddaddy of Bad Movies I've Seen Many, Many, MANY Times: Beastmaster.*

Bad MoviesThe Beastmaster
There’s a joke out there that I like to repeat whenever I can, though I don’t claim originating it: there was that one summer when HBO stood for, “Hey, Beastmaster’s On.”  This joke is utterly, utterly true.  I think it was the summer of 1983.  Possibly 1984.  I’m not sure, but I’m sure I saw Beastmaster many, many times.  It, more than any other film, is the quintessential reason behind this series.
For the seven people out there who haven’t seen it, Beastmaster is your basic sword-and-sorcery flick.  In fact, by the mid-80s it was one of the few, and possibly best, sword-and-sorcery flick that didn’t involve Conan in it.  Hell, I’ll say it’s better than Conan the Barbarian, a movie that will not be featured in this series because I actually find it a chore to sit through.   I’ll even go right ahead and say it’s probably the best sword-and-sorcery flick to be made between 1975 and 2000.  This is less a statement of its quality and more of the dire state of the genre.
This is possibly one of the manliest images ever painted.
If you're 13 years old, you can't NOT watch a movie with this cover.
The plot goes basically like this: warrior with animal-talking powers deals out some sword (and tiger) fueled justice on an evil priest.  Sounds pretty simple, but there is a crazy amount of crazy going on here.
The movie starts a bronze-age city-state with an evil high-priest and a not-evil king. The high priest Maax (Rip Torn) learns via his prophetic butter-faced witches that the king’s unborn son will be his downfall.  So one of these witches, in a totally creepy sequence, sneaks into the royal bedchamber with a cow and magicks the baby out of the queen and into the cow.  She then takes the cow a fair distance away, gives it a quick Caesarean and gets ready for some ritualized baby-killing.  Unfortunately for her, she’s interrupted by a passing hunter/farmer/whoever who realizes that crazy baby-killing witch-ladies are bad, and he kills her and raises the baby as his own son.
So, right there, we’ve got hooks with a classic trope-- a bad guy’s attempt to thwart his destiny sets the stage for his destiny to come into place.
Dar (Marc Singer) grows up in this village with his adopted father, learns he can talk to animals, and then is the only survivor when his village is attacked by the Jun Horde.  So he spends some time wandering around shirtless, picking up animal friends and killing anyone he meets.  Seriously, this whole section of the movie plays like a D&D campaign where the GM is just winging it and throwing random encounters out there.  Most of note is the creepy, people-eating bat creatures that leave Dar alone because he has hawk and they worship birds.
Ssh. Dar is thinking VERY VERY hard right now.Eventually Dar meets a half-naked Tanya Roberts and decides to follow after her, hooking up with John Amos and a twelve-year-old wearing a diaper.  They first rescue Tanya Roberts, and then go to rescue the captured king in the city-state.  The captured king is, of course, Dar’s actual father, but he doesn’t know this.  There’s also a bit where Dar rescues a kid from Maax’s daily sacrifice by having his pet hawk fly the kid away.  I have to commend Rip Torn in this bit, because he does the perfect turn on a dime of having a “What the fuck just happened?” look to spinning it to mean MORE sacrifices.
The sequence of rescuing the king from Maax’s temple is fantastic, but for all the wrong reasons.  There’s a bit where Tonya Roberts vanishes for a second and comes back in a slightly different outfit, though Dar reacts like she’s now totally decked out in something different.  I swear, a significant portion of my 12-year-old brainpower was spent trying to figure out what he’s so startled about.  Then there’s Maax’s S&M army: stooges who have their brains melted before being encased in spiked leather.  There’s literally a whole bit where we’re shown, step-by-step, the S&M Stoogemaking process. This is important later.  No, sorry, I mean never.
Anyway, they get out of town with the king, who is a total dick to Dar.  Despite this, they all go back to the city to take on Maax, which is kind of a fiasco.  Maax kills the king, but then gets killed in a kamikazi attack by one of Dar’s ferrets.  A ferret is dead, and it’s very sad.  But, hey, they won, all good, right?
Wrong, because the Jun Horde is coming.  Why are they coming?  I don’t recall it ever being made clear, but I’d like to believe Maax had some sort of Dead Man’s Switch deal with them—like, if he didn’t send up white smoke, they’re supposed to come get their horde on.  They do give enough advance notice for Dar to work up a plan.
The plan, I have to admit, is kind of brilliant.  The city is surrounded by a moat filled with oil and tar, so Dar and the rest of the town move the bridge back a few meters, cover the moat with dirt, and let the horde plow right into it.  This mostly just slows the horde down, but it’s also only Phase I. 
Phase II?  Creepy, people-eating bat-creatures.
It really is just like Anton Chekhov said: if you show people-eating bat-creatures in the first act, they must eat a horde of invaders in the third act.
In the end, the twelve-year-old in the diaper is the new king, which Dar could claim since he’s got the king’s Best. Threesome. Ever.brand on his hand.  But he doesn’t want to be king.  Instead, Dar goes back off on his travels to nowhere in particular, since he’s a rebel, a loner.  But then Tanya Roberts follows him, showing up out of nowhere on the top of a mesa, and they make out.  Now, remember: she is his cousin. But the movie glosses over that for the sake of romance.
Beastmaster spawned a couple off well-after-the-fact direct-to-VHS sequels, as well as a syndicated TV series.  None of these are any good, even with the glorious Sarah Douglas (Ursa from Superman II) in pure scenery-chewing mode.
But you can’t deny that Beastmaster is rooted in classicism. It’s full of practical storytelling applications of Greek drama: namely, the use of prophecy for inevitable fate, and the use of dues ex machina.  Deus ex machina, also, can be totally awesome if it takes the form of people-eating bat-creatures.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Spring Fiction and Writing on the Air

I've been instructed to write a "spring themed flash fiction" for today's SFFSeven, and as we all know, flash fiction is my bane.  However, instead, I dug up a long trunked project that will otherwise never see the light of day, and it's sort of got a spring theme.  Spring is mentioned.  Anyhow, it's the beginning (the first 500ish words) of something that didn't work, and it's rough as all get out, but: wouldn't flash be as well?  It certainly would be from me.

            Watch duty on the high towers of the Imperial Palace was something of a formality. None of the Imperial Guard minded doing the duty, as it involved little more than staying in the tower for a few hours. Most slept. Rumor had it that in the tenth century the paranoid Emperor Luciex VII had ordered that the guards watch from the towers at all time, and since the order had never been revoked, the towers were still watched seven centuries later. But there was never anything to see.
            Never anything to see, that is, in the most classic sense of what one watches in a tower for—no invading armies, no trouble on the far horizon. Vedix, the capital of the Kieran Empire, had never actually had an enemy army approach it in the entire history of the Empire. And even if an enemy came, word would arrive long before they would be seen. But yet in the towers the Imperial Guard held watch at all times. As a formality.
This New Spring would be unique, or so the Emperor had been told, because on that night both moons would be full, and furthermore the Imperial Astronomers had told him that according to their calculations, on this night the Blood Moon (as they called the smaller red one) would eclipse the Ice Moon (the larger white one), creating a previously unseen spectacle in the Vedix sky. Such a sight was one to be seen, and therefore, the banquet. One in which anyone of any name at all in the Empire would wish to attend. The entire Imperial family, the Archdukes of the greater houses of the Empire, as well as the Nobles of the lesser houses of the Protectorates, the whole body of the Senate and Generals of the Imperial Army. This event was to be unprecedented. So the Emperor had ordered.  
            Today all the Imperial Guard was watching was large numbers of Kieran aristocracy coming into the palace and milling about. Tonight, by imperial order, was to be one of the greatest banquets ever known in Kieran history. This would be the one for the history books, the Emperor had decided, and so he had invited every person of note within the entirety of the Kieran Empire to attend. And by invite, he meant a command. Ignoring the invitation would be an act of political suicide.
            People had been traveling for weeks to arrive in time for the event. The entire Imperial family, the Archdukes of the greater houses of the Empire, as well as the Nobles of the lesser houses of the Protectorates, the whole body of the Senate and Generals of the Imperial Army came at the request of Emperor Gelmin V.
            While the festivities were hours away from officially beginning, several of the guests had already begun gathering in one of the gardens of the imperial palace. For them, it was a casual, relaxing time before the actual banquet, unaware of the busy rush of the palace staff to put all things in order.

Also, last month I appeared on Writing On The Air, and now you can listen to the podcast of that interview.  Check it out!

Monday, April 10, 2017


The cover for The Imposters of Aventil has been revealed:
The third installment of Veranix Calbert's saga puts him in the crosshairs of our favorite inspectors from the Maradaine Constabulary, Minox Welling and Satrine Rainey: 
Blending vigilante justice with epic fantasy, this third Maradaine novel finds student Veranix Calbert returning to fight crime • “Veranix is Batman, if Batman were a teenager and magically talented.” —Library Journal
Summer and the Grand Tournament of High Colleges have come to the University of Maradaine. If the heat and the crowds weren't enough to bring the campus and the neighborhood of Aventil to a boiling point, rumors that The Thorn is on the warpath—killing the last of the Red Rabbits—is enough to tip all of Maradaine into the fire.
Except Veranix Calbert, magic student at the University, is The Thorn, and he's not the one viciously hunting the Red Rabbits. Veranix has his hands full with his share of responsibilities for the Tournament, and as The Thorn he’s been trying to find the source of the mind-destroying effitte being sold on campus. He’s as confused as anyone about the rumors.
When The Thorn imposter publicly attacks the local Aventil constables, the Constabulary bring in their own special investigators: Inspectors Minox Welling and Satrine Rainey from the Maradaine Grand Inspectors Unit. Can Veranix find out who the imposter is and stop him before Welling and Rainey arrest him for the imposter’s crimes?
Available for Pre-order at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and more!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Perils of the Writer: The Process of Planning

I've made no secret of the fact that there is a Big, Crazy Plan to all of the Maradaine books.  I don't get too specific about it, as I don't like talking too much about books that aren't finished or contracted, if not both.  As much as I believe I am capable of accomplishing my goals (and doing it in a relatively efficient manner), I prefer not to say THIS BOOK IS COMING OUT SOON until I know that it's actually true-- or as true as it can be within my power.  This is part of why I talk about Other Things vaguely.  Because too often you can say This Is  A Thing I'm Doing and then there's an Amazon or Goodreads page for a thing that you've decided to shelve.  
But I digress, because I wanted to talk more about the process of putting together the plan-- both for individual books and long term.  I'm, as I said, a big fan of outlines for both things, and working out where things need to go to reach the place I want it to in the long term, while maintaining compelling storytelling and plot in the individual novel.  
This is a pretty personal process for me, that involves a fair amount of sitting in front of a large work area and scrawling notes by hand, which then form a skeleton of the plot.  This is largely solitary, but sometimes I need to talk something out, or hack out the bigger points and that's where Dan comes in.
If you've read the acknowledgements on any of my books, you'll see a big one always goes to Dan Fawcett, who's been my friend and sounding board for about thirty years now.  While there are plenty of people who know Maradaine and understand what my goals for it are (including my editor, the once-again nominated for Best Editor Sheila GIlbert), Dan knows it in a way no one else does.  He knows about the long-term story, about characters you all haven't even met yet, and the deep secrets being threaded throughout.  I've written out about 20K words of Long Term Plan that was essentially for his eyes only.  (My agent has seen this too, but he decided not to read it, because: spoilers.)
However, if with his help, it's still 95% me, sitting down at the table, and hashing it out.
And now: time to get to work.  

Monday, April 3, 2017

Kaboom Time

So, I think I gave my creative-brain a good reboot, because now it's in Kaboom Mode.
What's Kaboom Mode?  It's when my head is just EXPLODING because it wants to write ALL THE THINGS.  Which is great, but not without it's own special challenges.  For example, Brain wants to write ALL THE THINGS and it wants to write them RIGHT NOW.  Which manifests as a kind of ADD where I'm switching between projects (currently have three open on Scrivener) and not properly focusing on any of them because I want to Write All The Things and Draw All The Maps and why isn't this book already written and why don't I have a cover for it should I make a cover for it and ALSO WRITE THIS THING
And... breathe.
I feel really good and energized, but I'm also aware that this is something of a manic swing, and I need to temper and focus it on the things I need to get done in the near future.  Which are, in essence, those three Scrivener projects I have open.
Here's a hint: one of them is A Parliament of Bodies.  The other two are not.
But, regardless: KABOOM.  Back to it.