Thursday, August 31, 2017

Series over standalone

It should come to no surprise to anyone that I'm far more of a fan of writing a series over a standalone.  I am, however, also a big fan of the kind of series where each book tells a complete and cohesive story, while at the same time turning the wheels of a larger arc.  This is the kind of storytelling that appeals to me.

AMurderofMagesMaresca - An Import of Intrique Lady Hentermans Wardobe

Back at ArmadilloCon, I was on a panel about plotting and planing a series, and in part of that, we talked about defining the different things we call "series".  Because there are three different things:
  • SAGA: Where the series is One Grand Tale, which takes multiple volumes to tell.
  • SEQUENCE: Where each book is its own individual story, but there is a definitive order and progression, and should be read in that order to make sense.
  • FRANCHISE: Where each book is a complete and discrete story, and each one can be read with no prior knowledge or expectation.
Clearly, I'm writing a Sequence, and I like to refer to all the Maradaine books combined as the Maradaine Sequence.

Now, people have been asking me, "What's the best reading order for all the Maradaine books?"  There isn't a perfect answer to that, though even still, right now, release order is fine.  Though once we get past A Parliament of Bodies, that's going to get more complicated.

You could also read each series in a run, just as pictured above.

However, I think a lot of value can be gained by reading the books in in-world chronological order.
  • The Thorn of Dentonhill
  • A Murder of Mages
  • The Holver Alley Crew
  • The Alchemy of Chaos
  • An Import of Intrigue
  • Lady Henterman's Wardrobe
  • The Imposters of Aventil
  • A Parliament of Bodies
And that list will get adapted as more books get released/announced.  Now, you don't necessarily have to do that.  Especially since that listing would advise you to wait until after you get LHW in March before you get Imposters next month.  And, no, of course you shouldn't do that.  You should get Imposters as soon as you possibly can, because you're super excited about the Thorn/Constabulary crossover event.



Monday, August 28, 2017

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

Bad Movies
It's high time to get political, or at least political in terms of bad 80s political movies go. Well, sort of political.  Gotcha is kind of a genre grab-bag of movies, in that it tries to be equal parts political thriller, coming-of-age romance and absurdist comedy.  Yeah, it's pretty strange.

We start out with Anthony Edwards being the king of some sort of campus-wide paintball assassination game that could only happen in the eighties.  I mean, you needed that strange combination of casual neglect and reckless behavior that existed only in college in the eighties.  Or, at least, movies about college in the eighties.  The point is: you have a bunch of college kids running around campus with realistic looking guns, and no one really bats an eye about it.  It makes no sense, but it’s a set-up we need so the finale works.  Which is… well, I’ll get to that.

Having established that, we also establish that Anthony Edwards is a complete failure with the ladies.  I mean, I KNOW, who would have guessed that a guy who plays with toy guns in college wouldn’t be a total babe magnet? We see his failure in play when he tries to ask out the girl whose sweater gets ruined by a stray paintball, and she (obviously) doesn't think this is a great prospect for her.  They even have Anthony Edwards complain to his actual babe-magnet friend (Manolo) and roommate about this in the middle of a college lecture.  The only purpose of this scene is so he can say, “I’m never gonna get laid!” loud enough just when everything in the lecture hall gets suddenly quiet.  Which is absurd, but that’s the movies for you.  Although I kind of love that the professor, played to dorkish perfection, says, “As a future veterinarian, you should know that every dog has his day.”  And says it in such a way as to convey, “Hey, I look like a nerd, my friend, but nowadays I am hip deep in the ladies.  Hip. Deep.”   The real purpose of this scene, though, is to let us know that there is a tranquilizer dart gun on campus.  That may come up later.

There's no way this can be mistaken as anything other than a fun college game.
There's no way this can be mistaken as
anything other than a fun college game.
Then the plot starts to move along: Anthony Edwards is traveling to Europe with his horndog friend for Spring Break.  In Paris, they split up, as Manolo decides to pursue a Swiss girl by—and I’m not making this up—pretending to be a terrorist on the run.  THAT’S HIS ACTUAL PLAY.  Meanwhile, Anthony Edwards goes to some bar and has a Monty Python bit with the waiter.

I mention that because it is indicative of how this movie has no consistent tone.  It gives us farcical comedy one moment, sappy romance in another, and deadly serious drama after that, whipping around between these poles.  Seriously, this movie has Russian spies shooting real bullets at Anthony Edwards in one scene, and shortly after that he’s doing “Dave’s Not Here” bits with his parents’ maid on the phone.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

After getting his French drunk on, he meets Sasha, played by the alluring-but-never-quite-got-her-full-due-in-Hollywood Linda Fiorentino.  They have a bit of charming interplay and end up in bed together.  And then we’re in full on romance movie mode, as they have a montage of romancing around Paris, with really, really horrible music scoring it.  This song will kill your soul.  There’s also a whole bit where she “teaches him Europe”, and in turn he "teaches her America” which somehow involves slurping root beer floats.  Given that—SPOILER—Sasha is really an American spy from Pittsburgh, I can’t imagine she doesn’t think he’s a total schmuck for this whole thing.

She convinces him to change his travel plans and go to Berlin with her (while Manolo goes off to Madrid alone), and off they go.  She confesses that she’s a courier, so he knows he’s dealing with a low-level spy, and then they go into East Berlin for the real job.

Now, I have to admit the way Sasha pulls off this job is pretty clever.  She finds an innocent-looking patsy, takes him into East Germany.  Then she gives him a fake “package” (a strudel) that’s nothing, while slipping the real thing (a roll of film) into his bag without him knowing.   Then she ditches him, having given him the code phrase for “GET OUT OF EAST BERLIN”, and lets him smuggle the thing across.  With all his nervous energy focused on the strudel, he doesn’t even realize he’s got an extra roll of film and the custom agent thinks nothing of it.

And then there's a bit more comedy: once he’s back in West Berlin, and confirms that with the American soldier standing there, he turns and screams “FUCK YOU!” to East Berlin, and the soldier deadpans, “I been wanting to do that for six months.”  And then even more: he goes into a Burger King in West Berlin to get the real, American food he so desperately needs.  He was in East Berlin for a day.  ONE DAY.

Hhe goes to meet Sasha at their designated rendezvous, but someone else is there in her stead.  Since he doesn't know what's going on, he gives the strudel to Sasha’s contact, and while she's busy being confused, she gets killed by the Russian spies after him.  He gets chased and shot at, but manages to escape by hitching a ride with a bunch of German punks who inexplicably love Randy Newman songs.

Back home, shit gets real as Russian spies are after him, and his apartment has been tossed by mysterious people, and he realizes he has an extra roll of film.  He tries to talk to his parents, but they just think he's on drugs. He tries to go to the CIA, but he realizes that Sasha is there, working with the guys who trashed his apartment.  So, wanting to get to the bottom of things, he has Manolo use his LA Street Gang connections (WHAT?  Yeah, just roll with it.) to send the CIA on a bit of a wild goose chase, all to put Sasha in a car with him while ditching the rest of the CIA.

And really, as much as I love a “we don’t need no stinking badges” joke, there’s no way a sequence where several dozen Hispanic gang members pull guns on a few CIA agents doesn’t end HORRIBLY for everyone.  But we’re led to believe Manolo can flash a smile and say, “Remember the Alamo” and drive off, rather than end up with ten to twenty in a federal prison.

FINALLY, we get the point where Anthony Edwards and Linda Fiorentino are back on campus, with Russian spies after them.  Anthony Edwards goes back to the lecture hall and gets the tranq gun BECAUSE OF COURSE HE DOES, and we’re at the point where he’s playing the game from the beginning of the movie BUT FOR REAL.

Seriously, the whole movie is an elaborate set-up for this bit that’s only the last five minutes of the movie.  It’s like a complicated joke told by an eight-year-old, and it isn’t that funny.

He takes out two of the Russians, but the head Russian captures Linda Fiorentino, and there’s a tense stand-off where he’s got Anthony Edwards dead to rights.  But then some fratty choad who almost got Anthony Edwards in the game-playing part at the beginning of the movie sees this from a distance.  We’re supposed to remember this guy who looks like his picture could be in the dictionary next to “average white guy”, but he decides this is his moment.  He takes out his paint gun and shoots Anthony Edwards, and the sudden appearance of a red splotch confuses the Russian long enough for Anthony Edwards to make his move and tranq the guy.

The CIA has caught up with everyone, finally, and there’s hints that they might be interested in Anthony Edwards once he’s done with college.  Plus, despite figuring out that Linda Fiorentino is not a sexy European spy, but a sexy Pennsylvanian spy who had to have been dying on the inside during that whole "SLURPING ROOT BEAR FLOATS IS AMERICA" bit,  they seem to intend to stay together.

And then Anthony Edwards shoots the girl-with-the-stained-sweater in the ass with a tranq because she told him to get lost.  That is literally the final image in the movie: entitled misogynistic assault, played for laughs.

America! Fuck yeah!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Worldbuilding with Amanda Downum

Hey all-- right now I'm pretty busy, but next month I'm teaching a worldbuilding class with Amanda Downum, through the Writers' League of Texas.  It should be a fun and informative class.
Need help introducing the world of your speculative fiction novel or stories without dumping an encyclopedia of background information on your readers?

Want to learn to integrate your worldbuilding into drama and character?
Strong worldbuilding is the foundation for fantastic fiction, from Middle-Earth of The Lord of the Rings to Hogwarts of Harry Potter. But when and where do you add details, and how much is too much? This class will focus on tools to build rich, believable worlds and techniques to integrate that work into your fiction, whether you’re starting a project from scratch or want to add nuance to an existing story. 
In this class, learn techniques to build a rich, immersive world, without infodumping or overwhelming readers. Particular focus will be given to worldbuilding without dry infodumps and on incorporating worldbuilding into characterization and description.
If you live in the Austin area, come check it out.  More details here.

Monday, August 21, 2017

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

Bad Movies
Is there a movie that is more pure, uncut 80s in its essence than Spacecamp?  I mean, it's got a team of Plucky Young Misfits, there’s a cute robot.   Plus, it all rests on a pretty big gimmick.

So, here’s the gimmick of Spacecamp: teenagers accidentally launched into space.  Hijinks ensue.  But not typical teenager hijinks.  It's not like there's a kegger in the ISS or something like that.  The hijinks of "Oh, damnit, we're in space were a thousand different things can go wrong and five children are going to die", which are less, you know, wacky and fun.  In fact, this movie pretty much bombed for that very reason, because in between production and release, there was the Challenger explosion.  So marketing a Wacky NASA Accident movie was… problematic.

We start with a bunch of kids at Spacecamp, which is a real camp teenagers can go to, where they get trained “just like astronauts—and notice I didn’t say real astronauts, because at SpaceCamp, you are REAL astronauts”.  Word for word from the movie, people: condescension to children who are paying you for the privilege.

First we establish Kate Capshaw as a NASA astronaut hopeful who gets stuck with being a counselor, since her significant other/everyone’s dad Tom Skerritt sticks her with it while he does Real NASA stuff, like a man. This strikes me as a bizarre set-up and even more of an HR nightmare.  I mean, astronauts (and potential astronauts) would have a completely different career path over camp counselors.  I seriously doubt there's people at NASA who don't know before Day One of the camp whether they're training for a mission or going up in space.  The camp people would just do that, and the astronaut people would show up and wave one day and get back to their regular jobs. Kate Capshaw is, therefore, rightly annoyed, but does her job like a good soldier.  Her main team of kids includes the Empty Charmer (Tate Donovan), the Driven Perfectionist (Lea Thompson) the Ditzy Genius (Kelly Preston), the Token Minority (Larry B. Scott) and the Kid (Joaquim Phoenix, back when he was still Leaf Phoenix).
One of these people will eventually be a three time Oscar nominee.  Yeah, I'm shocked too.
One of these people will eventually be a three time
Oscar nominee. Yeah, I'm shocked too.

Now, I just want to call bullshit on the Kid being in the mix here.  There’s some throwaway lines that he’s been at the kiddie camp version of SpaceCamp for three years, and he feels he’s ready for doing the teen one, even though he’s eleven and everyone else is seventeen.  And he's gone there enough that Kate knows him on sight, which tells me that, no, the camp is her real job and she should accept that.  Anyhow, after a brief argument Kate Capshaw caves and lets him stay.  And… no.  Just no.  Camps have age ranges for a reason, largely because on a socialization in age ranges and, you know, vastly different liabilities between handling 11-year-olds over 17-year-olds (or handling them together.) I’ve never seen a camp-- at least a professional one-- that would not only bend the rules that strongly, but allow a counselor the freedom to do so entirely on her whim without checking with anyone.  But, hey, this is a place that's all, "Today you're running the camp, tomorrow you might be on a shuttle mission", so who knows.

Plus there’s the robot, Jinx.  Jinx annoys the hell out of me, in that he moves this movie entirely into science-fiction.  I mean, yeah, there’s a hell of a lot of implausibility otherwise, but Jinx is a robot with complete sentience and free will.  For that matter, the main NASA computer seems to be the same.  I’m getting ahead of myself, but… the kids end up in space because Jinx engineers it.  Which he does by talking to the NASA computer, and the two of them come up with a plan and implement it.  Seriously, there are scenes where Jinx links up with the computer, and they’re all, “So, if I can get the kid on the shuttle for an engine test, how can I make the engine test into a launch?”  “Well, if this happened, then NASA would be forced to launch the shuttle.” “LET’S DO THIS.”   All done by our computer/robot overlords.

But I’m ahead of myself here: Team Misfit essentially are screw-ups, at least as a team.  Mostly because Tate Donovan is named Mission Commander, despite the fact that he only has one fuck to give, and he wants to give it to Lea Thompson.  Lea is all “I MUST BE THE BEST AND YOU LOSERS ARE SLOWING ME DOWN”.  Kelly Preston really just doesn’t… anything.  Seriously, she doesn’t even get some token “problem” to overcome.  And Larry is just terrible, and works himself into knots over being terrible.  The Kid is eleven and has no business being there.  Except that’s why we have a plot.

See, Tate at least has the decency to bond with the Kid, but when Tate gets busted for slipping off campus with Lea, he blames the Kid, even though it was Jinx’s fault.  Of course, Jinx is in the dorms because the Kid snuck him in for… some reason?  Anyway, sad over Tate yelling at him, the Kid wishes he was in space, so Jinx decides to make it happen.

Little known fact: "Her" spent decades in development, and the script went through many changes over the years.
Little known fact: "Her" spent decades in development,
and the script went through many changes over the years.

I can only imagine in some script-doctoring meeting, where they couldn’t figure out how to make the launch happen without it being a real, legitimate ACCIDENT—which totally wouldn’t have played after Challenger—so they were all, “Fuck it, a robot does it.”

Meanwhile, there is also an undercurrent of gender politics as Kate Capshaw is totally grinding Lea Thompson down, while letting Tate ride on nothing but a stupid ass grin, which more or less matches her view of what’s going on at NASA.  She doesn’t even get a mission, while Tom Skerritt’s walked on the moon.

So, anyway, there’s going to be an engine test of the shuttle Atlantis, and they’re going to give one SpaceCamp team the honor of sitting in the shuttle while it happens.  Jinx rigs things so the our heroes end up as the selected team, and then while they’re in there, he triggers the THERMAL CURTAIN FAILURE that forces a launch.


So Team Misfit is in space, and NASA is freaking out, and for good reason beyond “We just put five kids in space.”  Because this was just an engine test, so Atlantis wasn’t space-ready, which means there’s not enough oxygen, and the radio isn’t hooked up. All of these contrivances seem VERY convenient, in that they make the plot happen.  Now, NASA can do telemetry stuff to the ship, so they can tell what is going on, but they can’t talk directly to each other. This is stupid, but in slight fairness, they actually make this a plot point rather than a plot hole, in that Kelly Preston figures out if she flicks a switch in Morse code, someone at NASA should be seeing the light flash and figure it out.  Unfortunately, she apparently picks the one thing tied to the one console at NASA no one sits at, because no one notices it until nearly the end of the movie, when FUCKING JINX spots it and decodes it before security throws him out.

This thing with the robot really gets to me.

Anyhow, both in the ship and at NASA, they realize the same problem: the ship only has twelve hours of air, and because of “landing windows” they can’t bring the ship back in for fourteen hours.  All of this sounds like movie-logic bullshit.  I mean, yeah, I’m sure the shuttle can’t just zip into the atmosphere just anywhere in order to land at Edwards Air Force, but the “twelve hours between windows” sounds like arbitrary movie rules to create a plot problem.  Not to mention “twelve hours of air” is also crazy arbitrary.  I mean… I get they didn’t fully stock it. That’s fine. But there’s a little air-counter display showing the time-count, which means it’s automatically doing the math for how much oxygen one adult woman, four teenagers and one eleven year old are using.  Of course, when they get a new oxygen canister, it’s also a twelve-hour supply.  Which makes me think the filmmakers think oxygen has a static volume-to-usage-time relationship, regardless of how many people are using it.

My point is, all the time-based numbers feel like they were written without any thought.  Especially considering they are, apparently, up in space about 24 hours by the end of the movie, and they never eat or get thirsty, and only the kid ever has to pee the entire time they’re up there.

Anyhow, both NASA and the crew come up with a solution separately (since they can’t talk to each other: the space-station in progress, Daedalus, has oxygen containers, so they adjust orbit to join up with the station.  Problem-solving victory.

Kate Capshaw takes it upon herself to make the spacewalk to get the oxygen, since she’s the adult in the room.  So she suits up and goes out there, but some genius designed the grid that holds the containers so an adult in a space-suit cannot get to them.  So they send the kid out with Kate (using Kelly Preston’s very 80s belts to tighten the spacesuit up), and he gets the air containers, and then they almost have a crisis when he nearly flies out into open space.  There’s a jokey moment of, “Wait until your parents get the bill from NASA for you breaking Daedalus.”  Bah.  Wait until NASA gets the countersuit for LAUNCHING THEIR CHILD INTO SPACE.

So the oxygen gets hooked up, and NASA is all, “Yeah, let’s take them home.”  But while they’re automatically setting that up, Kate Capshaw screws up attaching the second oxygen container, and gets smashed with a flying canister and almost flies off into space.  The Kid is trying to reel her in (she’s attached but unconscious) before the doors close, but that isn’t going to happen.  So, in the ship, Lea Thompson is FREAKING OUT since she’s supposed to be in charge and can’t figure out what to do.  So Tate Donovan steps up, and he overrides NASA so they can save Kate.  This leads Lea Thompson to realize she should never ever be in charge of things, and she should just be a pilot.  There might be an idea in here about “book smarts don’t necessarily translate into real world decision-making”, but it comes off more as “girls can’t be in charge!” and it’s just kind of gross.
NASA is all, “What the fuck just happened?” and doesn’t know what to do, since it’s another twelve hours for another window, or something, and again: not enough air.  This window thing makes no fucking sense to me here, frankly.  The movie would have worked just as well had they made these things two hours or something.

The gang on the ship figure out they can land in White Sands as an emergency window—something that NO ONE in the brain trust at NASA can think of, to which again: BULLSHIT.  I can’t believe that conversation number one wasn’t, “Where else can we land these kids?” and that there weren’t fifteen guys in the control room who could rattle off all the emergency window options off the top of their head.

But no, it takes Jinx coming in and seeing the blinking light and translating the Morse code message for everything to work out.  All problems solved, all that’s left is for Lea Thompson to overcome her last crisis-of-conscience so she can land the ship, which involves the video-game like aspect of keeping the ship at a 30° angle while they descend.  Which she does, and the ship lands, and credits roll.  IMMEDIATELY, right over the stock footage of the landing. Because denouement is for suckers.

This movie was apparently plagued with production problems, where a two-month shoot ended up taking six months.  Somehow after day ONE of shooting, they were already six weeks behind.  I’m not sure how that works, but I think it takes highly advanced levels of screwing up to pull it off.  It says something when the disaster told in the movie is less severe than the disaster of the movie itself.  Despite that, and despite Jinx, there is something engaging about this movie.  At least, there was for me at the time, but possibly because I was the same age as the Kid.  That might be why I watched it so many times.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Rewarding the People I Do It For

Odds are, if you're reading this, you're a fan of what I do.  And I appreciate that.  I deeply, deeply do.  And I always feel I can do more for you all.  I'd love to show up to more events, for example.  Right now, I've got three more slotted for the rest of the year: Fencon, World Fantasy and OryCon.  And that will probably be it.  I'm working on having more of a presence online.  I'm leaning toward videos about writing or worldbuilding, but I'm still working on how that would work.

And, of course, I want to give you all more books.  Speaking of more books, here's two possible gifts for all of you.  As I'm sure you're aware, The Imposters of Aventil is just a few weeks away.  But you could get an ARC of it NOW.  (Well, about a week, give or take shipping times.  But still: early.)


Tweet #WhoAreTheImposters with a link to the book.  (Like this one.)  I'll pick one tweet with the hashtag at random, and that person will be the winner.  (Presuming they live in the US.  Else mailing it is a bit too much of a challenge.  Apologies to the fans in San Miguel Allende.)  IT'S THAT EASY.



On a night like this, Colin Tyson didn’t care that he had been effectively exiled to Orchid Street.
Sure, he was still a captain in the Rose Street Princes, in charge of holding their territory against the Red Rabbits, but that didn’t mean a thing to him. Ain’t no one seen much of the Red Rabbits since Vee—since the Thorn—demolished the Trusted Friend, as well as the brewery where they were cooking their version of effitte. Old Man Jensett was dead—everyone presumed by the Thorn’s hand, though Colin knew better—and most of the Rabbits ended up in Quarrygate. Whoever was still left out there was staying out of sight. The Waterpath Orphans moved in on their blocks without even a scuffle, from what Colin heard.
Orchid Street—at least his block between Bush and Waterpath—had nothing worth his time. Sure, the cheese shop was nice, and The Old Canal was a decent enough place to sit with a cider and plate of sausages, but it wasn’t right. There wasn’t any business worth hustling here, nothing to draw Uni kids over to drop some coin.
The only thing this block really had that was worth taking from the Rabbits was the sew-up and his offices, but he was so damn annoying that Colin wanting to crack him across the skull. He gave them no trouble, so long as there was some bird servicing his pisswhistle, but Colin didn’t have any interest in feeding that vice. He certainly wasn’t going to turn out any of the birds in the Princes to that end.
And, of course, there was his new crew, the dullest bunch of bonecrushers he had ever met. Ment, Kiggy, Vandy, and Sella. The first three were the kind you wanted around if you had to crack some skulls, but nothing else. Not an ounce of thought or charm in the lot of them. Sella, she could scrap well enough and muster up some charm if she wanted, but most of the time she laid about the flop, dosed on the sew-up’s doph supply.
None of that mattered on a night like tonight. The streets were filled with folks from every part of Druthal, all looking to have a good time and drop plenty of coin. Every inch of wall and lamppost was plastered with paper jobs, promising food, drink, and companionship at affordable prices. The Old Canal was bustling. People stood around gawking. They were eager to experience “the real Maradaine”, whatever the blazes that meant to them.
What that meant to Colin was full pockets all around. He dropped a crate on the walkway right between the cheese shop and the sew-up and started running a five-card switch game with anyone and everyone who would dare to get close to him. He hadn’t done that in ages—wasn’t a soul living in Aventil who would fall for a five-card switch—but tonight it seemed like just the sort of classic swindle that these wander-throughs wanted.
Saints, it was like being fleeced was part of some show, and they loved it.
The two Uni girls from some southern school were eating it up.
“Come on, ladies, come on. You find the Duchess, you walk with five crowns.”
“It’s that one!” the fair-haired girl told her tall friend, pointing to the card that was torn and bent in the corner—just like the Duchess card they had seen earlier.
That one was not the Duchess.
“No, no!” the tall girl said. “You said it was that one last time and we lost!”
“I’m telling you—”
“I don’t know!”
“Ladies, tell you what,” Colin said. “I’ll take these two cards off the table.” He flipped over the two—Two Moons and The Soldier. “Now you’ve only got three cards to choose from. Surely you can find the Duchess with only three cards.”
“It’s got to be a trick,” the tall girl said.
“No trick, no trick,” Colin said. He held up his hands, flipping them back and forth. “Ain’t got nothing palmed, and nothing up my sleeves. Blazes, ladies, my sleeves are rolled up!”
They both laughed as he showed them his arms.
This was the most fun he had had in months.
“Wait,” the fair-haired girl said, her accent getting even thicker. She pointed to his tattoo. “So you’re a Rose Street Lad, right?”
“Rose Street Prince, ma’am.”
“Aren’t we on Orchid?”
“That we are. If you’re lost, though, I can see what I can do about getting you a guide through the neighborhood.”
The tall girl flipped the card with the torn corner. Man of the People.
“Not the Duchess!” Colin said. “’Fraid I keep your coin, ladies.”
The tall one was reaching into her pocket for another half-crown. She was ready for another round.
The fair-haired one grabbed her arm. “Ketara, we need to stop. Opening ceremonies are starting any moment now.”
“One more,” Ketara said. “I think I figured—saints, look at that!”
She pointed up to the top of the building behind them. The fair-haired girl gasped, and Colin glanced up—making sure to sweep up all the cards before he did. He wasn’t about to take his eyes off them, if she was trying that old shift.
“Is that the whoever we heard about?” the fair-haired girl asked. “The Thorn?”
Colin couldn’t believe it. There he was, just crouched on the roof of the sew-up’s building with a bow and a crimson cloak. Just up there, in plain view.
Colin wondered what the blazes Veranix was thinking, because it was the stupidest thing he had ever seen the boy do.
Ketara and her friend both cupped their mouths and shouted. “Woo! Thorn! Woo!”
That got his attention. He dashed out of sight. Maybe he realized how dumb it was.
“Is it true what they say about him?” Ketara asked.
“I don’t know,” Colin said. “They say a lot of crazy stuff, though.”
The girls went on for a bit, but Colin was only half listening. He was still in shock. Since the Trusted Friend, Veranix had been cautious, even prudent. The Thorn was still hitting the effitte dealers in Dentonhill, but he wasn’t making a point of being noticed. Colin had thought he had learned to lay low.
If he was getting careless again, Colin wasn’t sure what to do. He had already risked everything he had keeping his cousin safe, and now he was out here on Orchid. More than that, he was indebted in more than one way to the reverend over at Saint Julian’s.
Colin found himself saying a silent prayer that this was just a slip, and not an sign of terrible things in store for Veranix.

Forthcoming October 2017
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 Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and more!

Monday, August 14, 2017

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

Bad Movies
Dennis Quaid had a pretty good run as a leading man in the late 80s, and while he dipped, he did come back later pretty solidly in his later years, carving a decent niche for himself in those “So you couldn’t get Harrison Ford” roles. These parts were his bread and butter in the 80s.  Tell me Tuck Pendleton in Inner Space didn’t have Han Solo in his DNA.

But reaching the top of the marquee does mean paying your dues, and one of Mr. Quaid’s dues was definitely Dreamscape.
This poster is designed to trick you into think you're getting Temple of Doom. The kid is barely in the movie.
This poster is designed to trick you into
thinking you're getting Temple of Doom.
The kid is barely in the movie.

The gist behind this movie is a well-worn trope of the 70s and 80s, in which the government and government-adjacent scientists delve into psychic research in the hopes of expanding human potential. I mean, we saw that in Stranger Things, and this movie is one MK-Ultra reference from being the same thing.  And, of course, once we're delving into psychic powers and shady research, we're going to be dealing with weaponizing those things.  That's what it always comes to.  But we’ll get to that.

When we start, the President (Eddie Albert) is having nightmares, and this is causing some serious concern among the his inner circle.  The President is terrified of the prospect of being responsible for a nuclear war (imagine that!), and his people want him to, I don't know, be ready to nuke at a moment's notice?  Yeah, I don't know.  But since the president's problems are rooted in his dreams, that means more money gets shuffled into Psychic Dream research.  Which brings us to Dennis Quaid.

Dennis plays a two-bit con man who spent his younger years being poked and prodded by Max von Sydow’s psychic experiments.  He uses his psychic gifts for grifting and conning, and when he gets into some trouble with shady people, he reluctantly signs up with von Sydow’s new dream project.
Von Sydow—with the help of Kate Capshaw—wants to use psychics like Dennis to go into other people’s dreams, for the benevolent purpose of helping people deal with their anxieties and traumas through dream therapy.  And just like I said, there's a government jerk who’s hovering around to weaponize it. That’s Christopher Plummer.

So, there are two psychics who are doing the dreamtripping: Dennis Quaid and Crazy Eyes.  That’s not his name, but he’s just CLEARLY CRAZY from the get go, and you know that’s not something good.  So the scientists have made this giant hook-up machine so they can jump into other people’s dreams, and they put Dennis or Crazy Eyes on one side, and the Dream Recipient on the other, and then we have our dream sequences.

The dream sequences really are the showcase of this movie.  They’re all done with a fair amount of style, including a touch I always liked: each time Dennis goes into a dream, the effect of it includes sound from the end of that dream merged into it.  The other nice touch is how, in each dream, while he’s an active, conscious participant, for the other person, it’s just a dream where this guy happens to be around and that’s nothing strange.  I like that because it fits with my own experience with dreams: no matter how outlandish they are, within the context of the dream itself, everything feels normal.
So Dennis’s venture’s into dreams have a somewhat perfunctory progression: first a relatively pedestrian dream just to show that he can do it, even though it involves falling off a high-steel construction site at the end.  It’s really just a scene to show that he can do it.

The next two are about actually helping test subjects.  First, the light one, in which he helps a nebbish of a man’s anxiety.  The nebbish is having nightmares he can't remember, so it's up to Dennis to go in and find out what's going on. It turns out the guy’s have cuckolding nightmares where his wife is having sex with EVERYONE.  His neighbor, his brother, his golf buddies, the gardener, EVERYONE. I don't think it's really resolved at all.  It's just, "Oh, that's what his nightmares are." and then we move on.
When this movie says "Snakeman", they mean it.
When this movie says "Snakeman", they mean it.

The other one is the real NIGHTMARE, where he helps a kid who feels abandoned and isolated from his parents.  And he helps the kid for real, by fighting the SNAKEMAN.  And the Snakeman is some serious scary stuff that spooks Dennis, to the point he even draws pictures of it.  This will be important later.

Then, finally, Dennis jumps into Kate Capshaw while she’s napping and goes full on sex-dream with her.  She wakes up and gets justifiably angry until he points out that he did it without the machine helping him out.  Meanwhile, Crazy Eyes is also exploring his powers, by which I mean MURDERING PEOPLE IN THEIR DREAMS.

Dennis hooks up with Norm from Cheers, a sci-fi writer who has been researching this stuff, who more or less lays out that Crazy Eyes is crazy, and probably killed his own father.  Over the course of all this, Christopher Plummer, who is more or less controlling Crazy Eyes, has Max von Sydow and Norm from Cheers killed, leaving Dennis and Kate on their own, knowing they are neck-deep in trouble.
In case you wondered what a "dream ninja" looked like.
In case you wondered what a "dream ninja" looked like.
Especially since the President is coming into the clinic for help with his nightmares.  His nightmares are all about nuclear apocalypse, which means he’s considering disarmament talks with the Russians.  Christopher Plummer is very much against these peacenik ideas, so he’s sending Crazy Eyes into the President’s head to dream-assassinate him.

So now we have a third-act mission. Dennis Quaid has to sneak into the building so he can be physically close enough to the President to get in there as well, and then its full on dream-battle between Dennis and Crazy Eyes within the president’s nightmare-psyche.  Unfortunately, Crazy Eyes has been training himself to be a full on Dream Ninja Killing Machine, while Dennis was busy with cuckolding hijinks.  So Dennis is at a tactical disadvantage.  Plus Crazy Eyes decides to go Snakeman to really freak out Dennis.

Now, I have to say, I was always vaguely annoyed that Crazy Eyes’s Snakeman didn’t really match the one in the kid’s dream.  But now that I’ve thought about it, he never saw the real one, he only saw Dennis’s sketches, so of course it wouldn’t be a perfect match.  Snaked-up Crazy Eyes chases them around and seems to take Dennis out, but that’s about when Dennis figures out how to be a Dream Ninja, and makes himself look like Crazy Eyes’s father and gives him a guilt distraction.  This buys the president time to ram a pipe through Crazy Eyes’s chest and kill him—in the dream and for real.
The President wakes up and gets out of there, but manages to run into Dennis for real and thank him.  He’s worried about Christopher Plummer, but Dennis has it covered.  Later he slips into Plummer’s head and dream-kills him.  Because dream murder of government officials is fine if you’re the good guy!
Sex Train Time
Sex Train Time

Finally, we have a pseudo-happy ending where Dennis and Kate go off somewhere on a train, where everything is exactly like her sex-dream. Including the ticket-taker being the same guy.  WHAT DOES IT MEAN?  Nothing, really, other than they are probably about to make it the sex train for real.

All and all, it's a frothy bit of psi-fi fluff, coasting on Dennis Quaid’s natural charm and some neat dream sequences. But, yeah, it's not going to be in his Lifetime Achievement clip reel or anything.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Touching the Third Rail

Some moments at ArmadilloCon, at the panels and in the writers' workshop, reminded me how there are a handful of... let's say challenging topics to handle when writing SFF Fiction.

Now, I wouldn't necessarily say these topics are Third Rails, in that you DEFINITELY SHOULD NOT TOUCH THEM.  Rather, it's more like an Beach Full Of Jellyfish.  With a big sign that says SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Here's the thing.  Sometimes you've got a story that, in your gut, you know the right choice is something that will get people riled up.  This is, in and of itself, OK.  Go ahead, write that story.  I mean, think it through, do the research, and batten down your hatches.  But write it.

And then be ready that someone will smack you across the nose with the newspaper and say, "No, bad.  You did this bad."

(Yes, my metaphors are all over the place.  Cope.)

And you have to take it.  I'm sorry, but that's part of the deal: you take the risk, you accept that stings are part of the business.  Embrace it with grace.  Say, "Yeah, I could have done that better" and listen to the criticisms.  Take them, and integrate them into the next thing.  Use it to grow.  Use it to improve.

Because you're going to get right back into that ocean.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Post ArmadilloCon Fall Down Go Boom

Folks, ArmadilloCon was a wonderful run this year.  The workshop went swimmingly, thanks to Rebecca Schwarz, and there were many great panels and conversations and seeing people I never get to see enough.  Hats off to all the folks who work so damn hard to put it together.  This year had a lot of people who were new to ArmadilloCon (and new to the Con scene in general), and I hope I gave interesting and useful advice to the SFF writers of the future.  Or was, at least, entertaining.

That's all my brain's got right now, though.  I must fall down now.


I think someone needs to win an ARC.  Maybe someone who posts interesting Maradaine FanArt somewhere.  Hmmmm....

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Scrambling my ducks, or... something.

So, I'm scrambling to get my ducks in a row before ArmadilloCon, so little in terms of a proper post.  If you are at ArmadilloCon, come say hello.  You might just walk away with an ARC of The Imposters of Aventil.  And speaking of,  check out the first review for The Imposters of Aventil, which just hit the net.
 Maresca has form in this area – a slow burning plot, with investigations, discoveries, false leads and revelations, leading to an explosive conclusion. He doesn’t disappoint this time either. I was turning pages to work out exactly what was going on, trying to understand what drove the murders, who was behind them and why – and then, as that started to gel together, kept turning pages to see what would happen next. It’s a sharply observed investigative thriller, this one, in a mature and well crafted fantasy world.
The Imposters of Aventil releases on October 3rd.
Available for Pre-order at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and more!