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!